Thursday, 19 October 2017

Snow in the Sierras, brisk sunset over Eroski.

After weeks of sunny days the long anticipated drizzly patch arrived. By opting to sit out the cloudiness at Beas de Granada in the foot hills of the Sierra Nevada, others' momentary drizzle for us meant a couple of violent thunderstorms and 24 hours of solid downpour. Luckily the site has excellent WiFi so I dodged cabin fever by updating the blog which by this point lagged behind us by almost a fortnight. If anything I think campsite WiFi is getting worse generally. Perhaps as most people access planet Zog through their smart phones these days there is less demand for WiFi. It does make blogging on the move trickier. My solution is to write the blog on a 'Simple Notepad' app on my phone as we go, then stitch it together with photos later; at least that way it remains a journal not a memoir.

Rain hammered down most of the day, eased off for a while, then returned with a vengeance in the middle of the night. Gill snored through it all. I lay for what seemed hours listening to the deluge hammering down on the rooflight less than three feet above me gently serenaded by my beloved's porcine accompaniment.

Our aim was to make an early start. By morning the storm had passed but the mountains were still hidden in cloud. In clear weather the view of the Sierra Nevada from this site is stunning. No such luck today, the clouds did lift momentarily to reveal that even the lower slopes were now dusted with snow. The outside thermometer, down here at 1200 metres, read 8°, that's 25° less than it was two days ago. Thankfully because the site operates all year round the shower block is heated. I can do bracing, but I do prefer to be acclimatised gradually. 

In the end we departed by 10.30am, by our relaxed standards that counts as an early start. After a flurry of WhatsApp exchanges and phone calls with all three off-spring we have decided to stick with our Bilbao ferry booking for the 28th of November, and visit Sarah and Rob in Lisbon in the middle of the month rather than at the beginning as originally planned. Now they're in Lisbon lots of friends from London are heading out to visit them. We need to fit around all these plans as they're the workers and we are the leisured wrinkly ones. Consequently we now have almost a month to wend our way through Seville and Huesca provinces, along the Algarve then up the south west coast to Lisbon, an alluring prospect, especially as the weather is forecast to return to warm sunny days until the end of the month at least.

With more time than we had bargained for what we are planning are shorter hops interspersed with longer stays on sites where we can unpack the outside kitchen toys and drum-up some seriously delicious food. Once we get to the Atlantic beaches perhaps finally I will be able to test the vintage bodyboard that is stored in the van's rear garage; I came across it when clearing the loft of the house garage in the spring . I intended to give it a go in Les Landes but the shenanigans around 'fridgegate' screwed that plan. Of course the ocean will be much chillier now, but I do have a trisuit. We shall see. It is possible that I have lost my surf nerve altogether.

Back to today. Browsing through Campercontacts we have found a place to stay a couple of hours drive west of here at Osuna. The photos and description didn't sound too salubrious - in the corner of a supermarket car park. However the reviews were very positive and we do need a supermarket. Also, dear old Lonely Planet is quite perky about Osuna itself, the gist of their report that it's an unexpectedly interesting town set in a boring landscape.

In the event both reports proved accurate. The Areas Caravanes consists of six blue lined bays in the far corner of an Eroski car park. The service point is well maintained at the opposite side. Ok for a stopover. It's not perfect. Only two of the bays are long enough to accommodate a 7m van, all the others have hazards to the rear like lamposts, trees and signs. Only a campervan would fit in these. The immediate surroundings are a bit grim too. The place is dominated by the big Eroski store on one side and a large hospital on the other, built in the most utilitarian style imaginable. A relic of the Franco era it has the appearance of somewhere that you would visit to have an in-grown toenail seen to but emerge with only one leg. There is a a view of olive trees and distant hills from the car park, but across litter strewn waste land between the store and the A92 dual carriageway. The proximity of the road would be a problem if it was busy all night, luckily it becomes quiet after about 9.00pm, so we slept well.

The guidebook is perfectly correct about Osuna. It is not immediately obvious as you walk through the ordinary outskirts that the extensive old centre is utterly delightful. The oldest part of the town occupies a very steep hill. Cobbled streets of ancient white houses slither up to the walls of a big church - Colegiata de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción. - a plain square lump with highly decorated doorways tempting irritatingly knowledgeable travellers to emote about the glories of the plateresque. We unstudiously ignored the architecture and were stereotypically English emoting over the view instead.

Spread out below the old settlement the remainder of the town seems to have developed in the eighteenth century. Plaza Major is built around a small park with fountains. On one side is the town hall adapted from one of the original twin arched town gates. Opposite it, up a few steps, is a market hall. It was afternoon by the time we visited so the stalls were all shuttered. I imagine in the morning there would be excellent local produce on sale; it's a shame we missed it.

A warren of streets run off from here, some narrow barios, but most a little grander than that, rows of handsome town houses reflecting a place which seemed to have been 'well-to-do' for centuries. Scattered among these bourgeois enclaves were grand churches and blank-faced monasteries. Some the houses went beyond being bourgeois dwellings and could only have been built by people of considerable wealth. None were palatial, but a few might be considered small mansions.

Typical was Hotel Palacio Marques De La Gomera, which unlike the others was possible to peek inside, well, for the princely sum of €2.70, the price of two cortados sitting in the tranquil courtyard. You sense the Moorish influence in the beautiful proportions of the interior arcade and the way the quietness was broken only by the sound of a small fountain. The curvaceous roofline too might have reveal oriental roots, but this is a rococo era house, so it would be surprising to see straight lines on the façade. As we stood outside taking photos it struck us how you could see a direct linkage between the Alhambra, this rococo mansion and Gaudi's exuberant stone concoctions.

A couple of posts ago, when we in Ubeda, I wrote how I found the monumental Renaissance palaces overpowering and oppressive. The mansions in Osuna are much lighter, built on a more human scale, they charm the eye rather than oppress the soul. Though they may be the product of a deeply conservative and autocratic culture, it did not surprises me to learn from a plaque on one of the mansions that it been occupied by a poet and Enlightenment scholar. Even in deeply Roman Catholic and reactionary Spain the light of Reason and Humanism glimmered a little in the late 1700s; as well as jewel encrusted effigies is 'Our Lady' the country did produce Goya, who must be one of the most radical artists who ever lived.

In all we wandered for more than two hours around Osuna, simply looking at this and that. We know this because Gill has an NHS approved app on her phone designed for those of us deemed at risk of having to see a doctor. One of the key aims of the NHS these days is to reduce visits so the staff have time to complete the necessary paperwork to prove how much they have missed their targets. What the app told us is that we had walked for 180 minutes, 20 briskly. Briskness is the thing apparently, ten brisk minutes per day reduces the chance of cardiac arrest significantly. The app informs us we are supremely brisk, indeed we bask in a warm glow of briskness every day.

Now late afternoon, we walked briskly back to the motorhome. While Gill briskly cooked I strode briskly across to service point four times carrying a 20 litre Jerrycan of water. I was now feeling so brisk breathing became difficult and I resorted to sign language.

It was a spectacular sunset, as is often the case after stormy weather. As the light faded and the sky lit up, glowering orange, Eroski's big neon flickered on. Why is neon at twilight so hauntingly beautiful?

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