A Lazy Sunday at the Beach

First impressions were not great. The beach looked grey and deserted, and a lady warned of jelly fish.  However, a little cove by the Paraiso de Nerja was just inviting enough to tempt DinQui down the steps to explore. In worst case he could have a coffee and then head off to find a better place.

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At a pleasant 26 degrees with clear sky and an off shore breeze, Nerja started to feel like a place to stay for a few hours. Close up the gritty grey sand was not so bad and some inviting parasols clustered amongst palm trees were enough to convince DonQui to shell out €4 each and stay a while.

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As Duchess basked in the late morning sun, DonQui went off exploring. He clambered over the rocks at the bottom of the grey slate cliff, which gave its colour to the sand and then paddled back along the shore.

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Apart from a lone fisherman and a couple of other humans, DonQui had the place to himself.

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After a little rest on the sun bed DinQui was in need of some refreshment. Fortunately just a few metres up from the beach was El Avalon – rated on TripAdvisor as the #1 place to eat in Nerja. DonQui agrees. The food was delicious and the setting on a high terrace overlooking the beach was hard to beat.

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The pawns in garlic butter sauce were the highlight…

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…but all the dishes were excellent.

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Than it was back down to the beach. There were more humans there but still pretty peaceful. DonQui found a nice shady spot under a fan palm and had an afternoon nap, the sound of the breaking waves gently sending him off to sleep.

DonQui Recommends:

El Avalon for a long, leisurely, luxurious,  lunch

A Chocolaty Breakfast

Yes it it probably true that DonQui is slightly obsessed with breakfast.

chocolate con churros

When he came across this chocolateria in Granada he just had to try out their breakfast special of Churros, hot chocolate and fresh orange juice.

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It was rather delicious. Churros are super light fried dough, served hot for dipping into the very thick pudding-like hot chocolate — all rather delightfully decadent!

Lunch in Paradise

DonQui rather likes Granada — a city built for Donkeys not for cars.  The narrow, rough-cobbled streets of the ancient Moorish Albayzín district made him feel quite at home and he could imagine his ancestors carrying baskets up and down the hills to build the famous Alhambra.

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Now the Alhambra is justly famous and should not be missed. The problem is that everyone else knows this and the number of visitors each day are strictly limited.

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Buy a ticket in advance was the advice.

Excellent advice it was, except that when DonQui went online to reserve in early September, every day was booked out through to the end of November. The only option was a guided tour.

DonQui cannot abide guided tours.

Not to be put off he searched various websites. Most were fully booked but then Ticket Bar came up with availability in the afternoon of his first day in Granada. There was no immediate receipt for payment which gave DonQui a few nervous hours in case it had been a scam and then to his delight a voucher came through with an entry time to the Palacios Nazaríes at 15:00.

On the day, after wandering around the centre of Granada and looking in at the Baroque cathedral — all of which were so-so — DonQui trotted up the steps of the tourist information office.

By now it was around noon and DonQui’s ticket to the Alhambra did not allow general entry before 14:00 with a set entrance time to the palaces at 15:00. He wanted to know if there was a possibility to have lunch at the Alhambra before starting his visit.

The lady in the tourist office looked at DonQui — her face a picture of incredulity.

“But you will only have an hour. That is not nearly enough time!” she said, regarding DonQui as if he were a barbaric fast food Anglo-Saxon.

Suddenly her face cleared. She had a solution.

She told DonQui that he could take a taxi to the Parador which is a 5 star hotel in the centre of the Alhambra. It has a separate entrance and if he went there DonQui would not be bound by the entry times on his ticket. Looking at her watch the lady saw that it was nearly 12:30. A taxi from the centre would cost around €6 and would get him to the Parador before 13:00. This would give him a bit over 2 hours for lunch. Barely enough time, she acknowledged, but it might work.

And work it did.

DonQui often waltzes into 5 star establishments to have a drink and then use their facilities even though he is not staying. In his experience if one is dressed reasonably well and acts as if they own the place then no one questions their right to be there.

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So a taxi whisked him up the winding road past all the hapless tourists to drop DonQui off in front of the grand entrance where he was met by a suitably obsequious minion who guided him to a waiting table in the aptly named ‘gardens of paradise’ which had been designed for the Sultans’ pleasure many centuries ago.

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Duchess had a Gazpacho Andaluz…

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…while DonQui could not resit what the English translation of the menu called “fowl stew wrapped in fine dough”. The latter (Breua de pollo in Spanish) turned out to be very similar to a Moroccan bastilla — a delightful mix of chicken and/or pigeon, egg, almonds saffron and cinnamon amongst layers of ultra fine phyllo pastry. Washed down by an excellent rosé it was just what DonQui needed to set him up for his visit to the magical Alhambra.

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He suggests you should enjoy discovering it for yourself.

DonQui Recommends

Book Alhambra tickets in advance. The entrance times to the incredible Palacios Nazaríes are fixed for an exact hour but you can spend the rest of the morning or afternoon (depending on your ticket) wandering the grounds.

The Granada Card is worth considering as it gives entry to all the major sites, including the Alhambra, as well as the use of public transport.

Set aside at least 3 hours for the Alhambra visit. It is a place to enjoy at leisure not to rush around.

The Parador and the Hotel America are located in the middle of the Alhambra. You can go to them outside the official visiting times. Both are good for lunch or drinks with the former being top end and the latter more casual with old world charm.

Ticket Bar is a good Dutch website for obtaining tickets to various attractions. They got DonQui tickets to the Alhambra when Ticketmaster failed and there was no big mark-up.

Thieves and Vandals

DonQui knows that the Vandals took over much of Spain in the early 5th century. He thinks that some of their descendants still live their today.
Continuing his tale of car woes — in Tarragona the radio antenna and front licence plate were stolen from his car while it was parked overnight.

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In Granada DonQui woke up to find that thieves had smashed in the back window and then attempted to access the boot by pulling down the back seat to see if there was anything there worth stealing.

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There wasn’t but the bright Gold Car sticker on the back had obviously told thieves that it was a rented car and may have stuff inside.

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Now DonQui had a car without a back window. As he previously pointed out in All that is Gold Does not Glisten what he thought was full insurance was anything but.

Taking a deep breath he called Gold Car.

A very nice lady on the other end of the line told DonQui to take the car to Granada airport where it would be exchanged for a new one.

So far so good.

At Granada airport there was again a big queue at the counter. When DonQui got to the front an angry man told him he would have to wait until all other customers had been dealt with.
“We have to do a long report because of all the damage you have done to the car,” he barked.
When DonQui pointed out that he did not do any damage the man simply replied that it was DonQui’s fault for not taking out extra insurance on top of the extra insurance he already had and that he should go and wait in the café until they were ready to deal with his case.
Half an hour later a different man (not so angry) told DonQui that they were ready for him. He again pointed out that as DonQui did not have insurance with them he would have to pay for the damage himself and then try to claim it back of the non-insurance he had taken out with rental cars.com.

He told DonQui that he had two choices:
1: get it fixed himself and the man at the counter gave DonQui an address – CarGlass – where it could be done; or
2: They would exchange the car in which case they would charge more than what it actually cost to fix and “an additional €42 per day that the car could not be rented our while waiting to be fixed.”

“How long might that be?” DonQui ventured.

The man shrugged — a few days? a few weeks? He did not know.

DonQui went for option 1.

He now has a plastic rear side window fitted by the very friendly and efficient people at CarGlass and is waiting for the real window to come in. The men at Car Glass pointed out that Gold Car was actually fully covered for glass on their insurance policy so even though they would have charged DonQui huge sums it would have cost them nothing to fix it.

The Moral to the Donkey’s Tail

Before signing up for any extra insurance policy from any of the car rental websites check out the details and make sure that you understand the fine print. All the web booking sites such as rentalcars.com and holidayautos.co.uk seem to offer full insurance when in fact they are selling a separate policy to cover you if you have to pay something for not having insurance. Even when you read the fine print this may not be obvious as the websites dress it up to look very much like full insurance buy using words such as “full protection”.

By all means use web comparison sites to see what is available but if you want full insurance in most cases you will need to buy it from the car rental company.

If you rent from a budget company such as Gold Car, be aware that, like Ryanair, they make money by selling you all the extras such as a tank of petrol, drop off charges and their overpriced insurance policies. It may end up being cheaper, not to say less frustrating, to go to a larger more established company. Also many budget companies are off site in big airports like Heathrow so it may also involve a shuttle bus trip as well.

In Spain Gold Car’s low starting prices seem to ensure there will be very long queues at the airport and you may have to wait an hour or two before you get to pick up your car.

Car theft is a major problem in Spain so never leave anything at all inside the car. If you can take off all advertising stickers that tell would be thieves that it is a rented car.

Best Meal in Spain so Far

Before DonQui continues his tale of car woes, he would like to talk about something more pleasant, namely food.

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Spanish meals and meal times are quite different from what DonQui is used to. As he already observed in The Importance of Breakfast, in Spain this is barely more than caffeine and a snack. The big meal of the day is lunch, usually from 2-4pm. This is a little later than DonQui is used to but as he rarely has much lunch at home anyway, waiting an extra hour for a substantial multi-course meal is no great hardship.

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The evening meal is even later with restaurants rarely serving food before 9pm. Usually this is lighter fare such as a few tapas with drinks. Once he got into the rhythm of it, and made the long leisurely lunch his main food focus of the day, DonQui found the Spanish meal times quite satisfying.

The food on offer in Seville was universally good and excellent value for money. Even in the fairly obvious tourist haunts the prices were reasonable, atmosphere excellent and the quality high. Some were better than others but DonQui never had a bad meal there.meal3

Without a doubt DonQui’s most outstanding dining experience in Seville was at the Puerta Osario Restrobar. It was evening, it was raining and the Puerta Osario was just around the corner from the apartment he was staying at. He had not looked it up on TripAdvisor nor checked out their reputation anywhere else in advance. His choice was based on the simple practicality of not wanting to go very far on a rainy evening. And what a fabulous choice it was too.
Food service began at 9:00 pm. DonQui had arrived a bit earlier and was content to sip a fine glass of red wine while he waited and have a look at the blackboards which displayed the food and drink on offer.

He and Duchess ordered 3 tapas which arrived one after the other, each one for sharing:

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mushroom risotto which was exquisite…

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chicken skewers with oriental vegetables which was equally good — as you can see they were mostly eaten before DonQui got around to taking a photo…

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and wild boar filet on a bed of sliced potatoes which was to die for!
The boar meat was succulent, tender and juicy. Deep red in colour it had a rich taste without being gamey. Most of the ‘wild’ boar one gets in the UK is farmed and as a result is relatively pale and more like pork. Proper wild boar which has been roaming the forests of Spain like this one, is closer to beef and venison. The dish was mane-curlingly good and after three such excellent small dishes DonQui was feeling satisfied but not bloated. He had just enough room to finish things off with a shared chocolate mouse with a gorgeous raspberry concoction underneath.

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The atmosphere was understatedly cool, with a friendly unobtrusive vibe. All of this for a very modest price.
Worth going to Seville for!

DonQui Recommends:

Puerta Osario Restrobar for exquisite haut cuisine tapas in the evening. During the day it is a great café where one can come to have a drink, read, write or chat with friends. It is also open for coffee in the morning.

Carmen’s lovely apartment just around the corner available on Airbnb

All that is Gold does not Glisten

DonQui wanted to get around and see a bit of the Spanish countryside so he looked on line to see what a rental car would cost him. He saw what looked like a pretty good deal on rentalcars.com £75.00 for 8 days, pick up at Seville and drop off at Alicante with “Damage Excess Refund — Full Protection.”
What could possibly go wrong?
Well quite a lot actually.

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DonQui’s heart sank when he saw the queue at Seville airport. The car was booked with GoldCar and if DonQui had read the reviews on TripAdvisor he would have avoided them like the plague.

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It took one and a half hours before DonQui made it to the front of the queue. There were three people working at the counter but it took them ages to process each person.

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DonQui cast his eyes dolefully at the other rental car counters – no queues and when someone approached they were processed quickly and efficiently.

“You do not have full insurance,” the man behind the counter said after signing, photocopying and doing all kinds of stuff with lots of pieces of paper. “We recommend you take out ours.”

“Ah… but I do have full insurance,” DonQui replied smartly. He handed over the voucher, feeling pleased that he had signed up for the full coverage when he booked on-line. It cost more than the daily rental but he felt it was better not to take any chances.

“This is not insurance, this is ‘damage excess protection,” explained the gruff man across the counter.

Surely this was the same thing.

No it wasn’t at all.

The ‘non-policy’ that DonQui had bought from rentalcars.com had been dressed up to look like a full insurance policy but if he had read the fine print DonQui would have realised that it provided no coverage at all. What it did say it would do was to reimburse DonQui if he had to pay any excess to Gold Cars in case of accident or theft. They would take a €950 deposit, or block a credit card for that amount, and if something went wrong DonQui would have to pay and then try to claim it back from rentalcars.com.

The man behind the counter gave DonQui a rather patronising look and again recommended taking out additional insurance.

Not wanting to throw good money after bad, DonQui declined.

“Now you just need to pay for the tank of petrol,” gruff man informed him, “…And the drop off cost at Alicante.” That came to €100 each. When DonQui snorted in protest, gruff man tapped on the fine print in the contract. Gold Car’s policy was to sell you a tank of petrol at double the price and then the renter can return the car empty rather than the usual return with full tank. Although the car had been booked from Seville to Alicante for the £75 price quoted by rentalcars.com at the bottom of the contract was the note that explained the requirement to pay the car rental company an additional drop off charge. Gruff man’s face had an even more patronising look than before.
More than two hours after joining the queue at Seville airport DonQui was finally in the car and on his way to Granada.

“Thank God that is over, DonQui thought to himself,” with a sigh of relief.

However his car troubles were only just beginning!

To be continued…

Seville

So what did DonQui get up to in Seville? Well, the usual tourist stuff…

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He visited the Real Alcázar and was amazed at the incredibly fine Moorish architecture

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…and the maze of gardens with their fountains, pools and wide variety of plants. He could have spent all day there but after a while his feet began to hurt and he felt in need to a drink.

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A glass of sangria did the job rather well

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Then he went inside the huge cathedral and saw that the gates to heaven were apparently closed for the moment.
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He also considered the huge amount of stolen Inca gold that it had taken to decorate the altar and .wondered how many donkeys it had taken to carry it all away.

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And he saw Christopher Columbus’ final resting place, after a journey that took the explorer’s bones from Seville to Santo Domingo, then to Cuba and finally back to Seville again.

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He climbed to the top of the Giralda tower (once a minaret of a Mosque) and looked out at the city below him.

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His head rang along with the bells as they chimed the quarter hour and DonQui was rather glad that he had not found himself in the bell tower at 12 noon.

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In the afternoon Duchess fancied a horse drawn carriage ride around the town. Horses tend to take on a rather superior attitude towards donkeys so DonQui thought it a rather fine idea to sit back in comfort while letting a snooty horse do all the work for a change.

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Later he wandered around the winding lanes of the Santa Cruz area, had a glass of wine or two and a few tapas before heading home.

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it was a bit touristy but it was atmospheric too and without any of the kitsch and tackiness that is all to often prevalent in such places. The prices of food and drink were very reasonable and the quality high.