Just a place for my old thoughts
It doesn't get better
Monday, 29 September 2008 12:05 pm
Well, I am sitting in a plaza cafe in Granada drinking beer and listening to a flamenko guitarist play. A very nice way to spend a few hours. Oh, and the fact that I found an open wifi hotspot just makes it better.|
We went to a bullfight last night but only stayed for the first one. Definitely not our cup of tea. The other guys stayed to the end but where pretty screwed up by the time we met them for dinner. It is clearly a blood sport but not something I ever want to see again.
Dinner though was awesome with plates of hot and cold tapas and tons of great wine. It was so good that we are going back for dinner tonight.
I should give this back to Deb before I flatten the battery.
Hope everyone is well, please send money so we van stay.
Hello Mudda, hello fudda...here I am in Spain, Granda
Sunday, 28 September 2008 12:31 pm
It has been a few days since my last chance to post from Spain. I have been dearly trying to fight the feeling of holiday express as the days just race by. We are trying to hold onto every bit that we can get but the sense that it is a new town each day is hard to fight.|
I am really enjoying Spain. From Seville we headed down to a town called Tarifa. It was actually a very very cool beach town, the southern most point in Europe and just a jump across to Africa. It is also a major hangout for kite surfers who come here for the flat oceans and the strong winds.
We had a free day to check out the town with an option to head over to Africa. Deb and I were both feeling pretty bushed from the trip so we opted out and spent the day in the town. After a late start we headed out to checkout the town and find some lunch. There was a heavily touristed strip near the main square but I was really not in the mood for over-priced rubbish so we headed into the back streets to see what we could find.
In a back lane we found a little cafe that was serving fresh seafood from the markets done anyway you liked as long as that was lightly battered and fried. Deb had declared it Daniel Day so we tucked into plates of prawns, calamari and croquets. All washed down with Spanish beer and local wine. A very very nice afternoon.
I should say that I had no real preconceived ideas about doing a 'Moorish Spain' trip but I have come to appreciate the impact it has had on their culture and particularly architecture. There had been a battle back and forth over a thousand years first of the muslims and then the christians taking a town and adding to the buildings. In some cases they flattened stuff and just built on top but in most cases they kept the previous structures and just added. It makes for a striking environment.
Also the Franko rule in Spain kept the borders closed for many years so the introduction of english, which is widely spoken to some degree around europe is pretty limited in Spain. But with a few words, some hand gestures and a 'Si' we are doing pretty well. I should feel guilty at how well Deb has taken to Italian and French considering my awful grasp of Spanish. But we are getting by.
From Tarifa we headed down to a town called Ronda. It is famous for a bridge which crosses a deep gorge that runs through the middle of the city. History has it that the Christians were on one side and the muslims on the other. They sort of tolerated one another because it was too much hassle to go all the way around. At some point the muslims built a bridge across it to unify the trade through the district and it became a very important city to traders.
Our days in Spain are either spent checking out the town we are in or travelling to the next location. From there we head out for lunch which is usually tapas and then a snooze before heading out again in the afternoon. Dinner is late...like 9-10pm, which I am having a hard time getting used to.
The Spanish eat their main meal at lunch time and then head home for a sleep. They surface around 4-5pm and head out for a walk and to finish their days work. From there they have a coffee and finally head for dinner around 8-9pm. I am trying to eat heavily at lunch and lightly at dinner but it is not always working for me. I feel like I have been eating constantly for the last 4 weeks. Life is tough I guess...the things we have to do.
We are in Granada today which is a major regional town in mid-east Spain. Tonight we are off to a bull fight which I have mixed feelings about. In Spain a bull fight either ends with the death of the bull or the bull figter being carried away in an ambulance. Generally the bull won't get to fight another day. Apparently one in 40 or so fights will see the bull taken away for breeding stock because it is so good but that is rare. But...it is a deep part of the Spanish culture, this is a regional arena so the fight will happen if I am there or not. It isn´t staged for tourists. So I'll go and see what I think.
Anyway, we are having a great time and have taken hundreds, and I mean hundreds, of photos. We are here in this town for a few days so I will try to find an opportunity to upload a couple if I can get the chance.
I hope everyone is well.
Musings from Spain
Wednesday, 24 September 2008 11:04 am
Today is a free day on the trip which means that everyone is out exploring the city on their own and we have had a chance to get our laundry done. Considering that it has been a fair break since the last chance we have actually done very well. Unlike Sorento in Italy the laundromat in Spain looked like something out of the dark past. The guy running it didn't speak a word of english and as Deb is quickly discovering I don't speak much Spanish either.|
Hell, I can order a beer or a bottle of wine without a problem in the world. But beyond that I just stare at people like a dear in the headlights trying to remember the phrase for 'No speak Spanish'. (ie: No hablo espanol)
Having said that we did get a very nice cup of coffee this morning and a toasted role with jam. Food in Spain is quite a bit cheaper that we found in Italy, which is a positive but we don't have very many included meals on this trip so we feel like we are chewing through the same amount of cash. Swings are round-abouts
Anyway, I am really enjoying Spain and Seville in particular. It is a fantastic city with a mix of little streets, big shops and amazing architecture and history. I have always enjoyed tapas style eating and to be in a place where it is the standard approach is awesome. Last night we went to a riverside place that had nothing but tables setup along the pavement. They served seafood with whole sardines being a specialty. Washed down with a couple of beers it was a great finale to our day. Prior to that we went to see a flamenco performance which was beautiful and very exciting. There are apparently 7 styles of Flamenco performance with the one we saw considered the most technically difficult for the dancers and musicians. The music, which included the singer doing a sort of mornful type of song/howl type of singing was definitely different from the tourist versions I have seen on tv. I simply don't have the words to explain it but worth the time to experience it.
Overall I am loving Spain, it is different to Italy and can't really be compared at a 'place to place' level. Things are similar but different. Italy has Proscuitto and Spain has Jamon. They are similar but cannot be compared. Their langauges are similar in many ways but completely foreign to listen to. Two countries that both embrace a passion for everything, from food, to sport to history but in quite different ways.
Well, it is 12:45 here to off to lunch, tapas of course, shortly. I hope that everyone is well back home and missing us dearly...
Hola from Spain
Tuesday, 23 September 2008 3:39 pm
Wow, how do I explain Spain after Italy. It is the younger cousin who doesn't mind breaking some of the rules. For the guys leaving the Italy trip, who missed their beer, definitely book Spain next time. Una Cana (pron: Oon-a ka-nya) is a small glass of draft beer and is awesome.|
We started off in Madrid which is an amazing city. Again, young, vibrant and very very cool. Tapas is not just a way of eating it is a way of life.
To recap. We were very very happy when flight actually took off from Rome. It was an early start with Deb and I packing ourselves to the train station for the 30 minute ride to the airport at 6am. From there they booked us in and we were on the flight to Madrid. A sense of relief.
In Madrid we decided to take the metro (rail) to the city rather than risking the taxi. As it turned out that was a good idea (4 euro)because one of our tour group got done for 195 euro on the trip by a rip-off taxi. It should have cost about 30 euro.
From there we headed down into Madrid for our first experience of Tapas. Deb had a recommedation for a Tapas area so we headed there. It was cool. Three plates of prawns, one in a garlic hot pot, one fried and one battered with a couple of glasses of wine and a couple of beers topped it all out. Definitely a very good entry into the country. And the prices are pretty good.
For dinner we caught up with our group and Jose (our leader) took us out for more tapas. Again it was awesome, so good we went back again the next night and had basically the same meal again. The day was spent checking out the city and looking in the Prado Museum. You know when you are seeing too much outstanding art when you start to skip through rooms of 16 century art looking for the Rubins.
From there we headed the next day to Cordoba to checkout the Muslim/Christian churches. Understand that we are on the Moorish tour of Spain which means they are dragging us to cities that have a Muslim influence. So it is actually a really interesting way to see the country. In Cordoba we checked out a building that swapped hands about three times between Muslim and Christian during their history. Unfortunately it started to rain so the afternoon didn't really pan out very well.
Today we headed down to Seville which, in Deb and my opinion, looks more like the Spain that I was expecting. The streets, the squares and the bars look like the little places you would expect.
Lunch has been outstanding with a trip to one of the local tapas bars. It also involved about 6 bottles of the local rose which left many of us looking for the siesta and a good snooze.
It is now 5:30pm, I am showered, feeling good and looking forward to the nights activities.
Spain is very very cool.
Welcome to Roma
Friday, 19 September 2008 1:55 pm
Well this will be my last post from Italy. We fly out very early in the morning for Spain so tonight we sleep in Italy, tomorrow we sleep in Spain. It is a tough life.|
Rome is an amazing city and one that I think I am appreciating more after seeing the rest of Italy. It is a city with the dial wound up to eleven. Everything is over the top. The shop keepers try to rip you off a couple of euro on everything you purchase, the architecture is absolutely amazing and the food is outstanding.
We got in yesterday after a long train ride out of Sorrento to Naples and then through to Rome. The weather held for an orientation walk through the city. We have pictures of the Pathenon and the Colloseum (sp!?) which I had no idea where so close to the city centre. Italy is a country living with a long history and trying to be a modern power. Our guide jokes that they hate digging holes to do anything like build a road or a subway because they always hit ruins and then have to spend years digging it up and cataloging everything.
Dinner last night was a really nice affair at a local resturant and then a few of us headed out for Gelati. Fred, our leader, had mentioned a bakery that opens at 11pm and starts selling fresh pasteries that are covered in fresh cream and chocolate sauce. We make sure we took long enough to walk back with our icecreams so that we could get down and try one. Apparently they are supposed to look like a certain part of the female anotomy but under all that cream it was hard to tell. It was though one of the best things I have eaten on the trip.
Today we took a slower start and headed over to St Peter's Cathederal. The lines were literally hundreds of metres long but I figured if we came this far it would be a shame not to see inside. And as a building it is one of the most amazing things I have seen. Again they have cranked the dial to 11 with the most amazing sculpture and decoration I have ever seen. Simply amazing.
We have been very lucky with the weather on this trip but today it started to rain and has not let up at all. It has poured steadily for at least the last 5 hours. Not a big problem but Deb and I were looking forward to poking around the shops and maybe getting Deb some boots. The weather has made that difficult though.
On the upside we had lunch in a little tratoria that we found that does Roma style pizza which is different to Napoli pizza. The crusts are super thin and very crispy. Wash that down with a half litre of Vino Della Casa (House Wine), top it off with an espresso and Tutto Benne (All good).
For a country that I had no pre-conceived ideas about Italy has turned out to be a wonderful place to visit. The rest of the guys on the tour are getting ready to pack up in the next few days and head home. I am so glad we have two trips booked back to back because I am NOT ready to come home yet.
Tonight is our departing dinner and then we are away in the morning. I will certainly miss Italy and would definitely consider a couple of weeks in Positano as a way to recharge the batteries at some point.
Thanks for the notes about SMS. We are not getting your entries coming through, but at least we know ours are making it to you eventually. Maybe we need to leave the phone turned on for a long period of time and see if the network figures it out. So far only Libbette's note came through that she got ours late. Oh well, so much for technology.
Ciao from Italy and Hola for Spain!
I am not going to want to come home.
Wednesday, 17 September 2008 5:05 pm
Well, since the last time I wrote we have passed through Naples on the way to Sorrento. We went to a pizza place which is rumored to be the oldest and first pizza restaurant in Italy. They only do two types of pizza and they are both so simple and so outstanding.|
Napoli is a bit scary with the mafia apparently having a very strong hold on the area. It was the most 'city-fied' place we have been to so far. All the other cities are beautiful and very clean but Napoli is just a little rough around the edges. I can understand why people would grow to love it with so may interesting sights.
It is also the gateway to the Amalfi coast. This is one of the most beautiful places you can imagine with towns flowing down the cliffs into the ocean. Simply post card views from every location. I think I have already taken nearly 700 photos on the trip so far and we are still only in the second week.
Positano has become my favorite place so far. It is this stunning little town that runs down to the sea. It is full of interesting little shops and has some amazing restaurants. We had lunch there at a place up on the hill overlooking the ocean and then went down to the beach for a swim. I had not brought a towel but was able to rent one for 2 euro. The water is so warm that we didn't want to get out. Luckily one of the bars on the beach let us use their shower and change rooms and from there it was back to the main port to catch a ferry around to Sorrento.
Did I mentioned the food on this trip...it is amazing. There is no way I could keep up the pace of my eating when I get back but while I am here I am going for it.
The trip does include a few lunches and dinners so I have been taking advantage of those as well. Unfortunately I have started to think of euro in terms of dollars. So you look at something and say, 3 euro, that isn't too bad. Then you think, hang on, that is really $5 with the exchange rate. Oh well, I am in Italy, what am I going to do!
About the only hassle we have is that our airline from Rome to Spain looks like it is going to go under, which is a bit of a problem. We are playing it day by day to see what we do about it but luckily it was booked by an agent so we have contacted them about it and they are monitoring the situation.
I have to run, we are off to dinner in 30 minutes to a little seafood place that our guide loves. It was run by an old woman who only passed away a month ago so it has been closed in honor of her passing. Tonight is the first night it will reopen.
Oh, while I am thinking of it. We have been sending SMS messages to JT, Serena & Libette on occation but am not sure if they are getting through. If you have got them please flick one back or post here to let us know they are making it.
Hope you are all well and having as much fun as us.
Saturday, 13 September 2008 8:38 am
Well, I couldn't say ciao considering that Deb has already said that. We are 'stuck' in Florence for an extra day due to a local train strike. I use the word 'stuck' very lightly. How can you be stuck in Florence. So far it has to be my favorite city. I think Deb's favorite is still Venice.|
Nah, give me Florence. The food is awesome, the Chianti is outstanding and the art and architecture is simple enough to make you weep. We visited the Uffusi gallery yesterday and saw (sp?!) a Da Vinci, Michaelagelo and a Bottacelli. They really did bring a tear to my eye they were so simply beautiful. They had paintings that have been hanging in the gallery from before Australia was even discovered. We are talking 'hanging' here. They were already considered a work of art to be conserved before Cpt Cook'y baby even pulled on stockings. Whoa!
The Italians are really nice once you get past the brisk facade they use on tourists. Deb has really got the hang of Italian and once she gets into full swing we have had some great experiences just chatting about stuff. Our trip to a supermarket was pretty awesome because the guy serving us spoke Italian and French so Deb was switching through languages faster than you could imagine.
Venice was a pretty amazing city and once that I could have definitely spent more time in. From there we went to Modena which is the home of Balsamic Vinegar. We are now the proud owners of 100ml of genuine 25 year old Balsamic Vinegar. At over $1AU per ml I am looking forward to sampling it when we get home.
From Modena we headed to La Spetzia which is a jumping off point to the coast. Imagine those pictures you have seen of villages clinging to the side of cliffs over blue oceans and you get the idea. It was pretty amazing. From there we headed here to Florence.
All up I am LOVING Italy and it is a country that I was never really interested in visiting. But the culture, heritage and FOOD. Have been outstanding.
Let me talk quickly about the food. The Italians either eat at 200 miles an hour or take threee hours for lunch. There does not seem to be a middle point. The cafes have two prices. One is for if you stand up at the counter and eat/drink there and the other is if you sit down. It is more of a Northern Italy thing but they will walk up, get a sandwich (white bread, tons of filling with the crusts cut off) handed to them in a napkin,3-4 bites later an espresso lands in front of them, 3 sips...gone. Pay and leave.
On the other hand they will sit down and start with antipasto, then pasta, then meat or fish and finish with something sweet plus espresso. That is not an unusual lunch for an italian, although dinner is a very light simple affair.
Oh, and the coffee has been great too. All up we are having an outstanding time. The group are great and from a fairly wide mix but not foodies like ourselves. We had to explain what half the food was on the menu, which was fun. They are getting the hang of it slowly though. Oh, I ate a horse steak in Modena and it was awesome. I had to put that bit in.
Oh well, my net time is nearly up. We hope that everyone is well and missing us deeply as we swan around Italy.
Ciao from Cinque Terre
Wednesday, 10 September 2008 4:27 pm
I know, the Ciao is getting old, but it goes so well with Cinque Terre. I am in the hotel in La Spezia resting my feet after our trek through the five villages of Cinque Terre. It was supposed to be 37 degrees today, they are having an unseasonably long summer in Italy. The tour arranged a pass for us which lets you travel from La Spezia to the five villages by train (although how they ever got a train line into them is beyond me) and also around to Levante.|
The villages are those picture-postcard terracotta painted terraces clinging to a hilltop above the azure mediterranean. We got the train to the first one, Riomaggiore, and walked to the next two. The first walk to Manarola was fine, it went through 'lover's lane', where there is a love seat and people lock padlocks onto it. They clear it every few weeks but it is still covered in padlocks (and graffiti). The second trek, to Corniglia, was fine too, but the third to Vernezza was a bit of a struggle - it soon became hot and rocky but the views were wonderful. All the hillside is terraced with vines and herbs and weeds and gardens all together.
As we kept climbing and climbing there was a village far above us, which made no sense because you can get to Vernazza by boat. I was starting to believe the village didn't exist and that we were on the path to the last one, Monterossa, when suddenly we started going down (almost worse than up after a while) and finally came down the final steps to see firstly two cats washing each other on a blanket in the sun, and some of our group drinking beer at one of the cantinas.
We took the train after that and are now washed and footsore and eagerly awaiting our dinner. Our guide Fred (Federico) is hilarious about the locals, who are Ligurians, and how stingy they are. So I should get off the hotel pc before my free internet becomes expensive!
Salve and talk to you in Florence,
Tuesday, 9 September 2008 6:17 am
I am posting from an open wifi point in Modena. Having an awesome time and the food and wine is outstanding. Ate a horse steak last night and it was great. Off to see the home of balsamic vinegar today. Looks like we won't want to come home.|
Ciao from Venezia
Sunday, 7 September 2008 4:52 pm
We have been in Venice now for two days, and it still doesn't seem quite real. We have been struggling with the language to try out all the food and wines and making some progress. On the first night we tried one of the outdoor bars with tables that face the street, expecting that we would probably pay too much. We had a fabulous waiter who put up with my very jet-lagged Italian and English and fed us some local wine. Then we saw the people behind us had a wonderful looking antipasto plate, so I managed to ask for that. It was the best food we've had so far, wonderful parma ham and buffalo mozzarella and local cheeses. Food is generally expensive and like the UK is not worth translating to AU dollars or you will never buy anything. All the shops are very beautiful and only Venice's age and sense of decay saves it from looking like a big Hastings St. We visited the Basilica di San Marco which is amazing, it is built of different types of marble 'liberated' from the Byzantine era and has wonderful mosaics that have been restored over many years. Mercifully they have now banned feeding the pigeons in the square so it no longer looks like Trafalgar Sq in London!|
Today we went with the tour to the nearby island of St Giorgio and took the lift up to the belltower for wonderful views. We went across to Murano where they do glass blowing but the furnaces were all shut - Sunday and also a big regatta for the gondolas was on so everything was shutting. Tomorrow we leave for Modena where we go to an acetaia where they make balsamic vinegar, and then to Cinque Terre and then Pisa and Florence, where I might manage to write again (and do laundry!).
The trip was long and the first night was very strange in our tiny hotel, but I've now adjusted and am loving every minute. Wish you were all here - but then who'd feed the cats?!
On the road
Thursday, 4 September 2008 6:30 pm
Well, it is some ungodly hour in the morning and we are in Singapore for a 1hr stop-over. To be honest it is a relief to be able to stand up and walk around after the last 8hrs on the flight.|
I am loving Emirates as an airline. The inflight entertainment even kept me amused for the whole time.
We are off to Dubai very shortly on the next leg of the trip. I hope that I can get some sleep during that run.
Tuesday, 2 September 2008 12:37 am
"On da first day of Burfaday Monf my true love gives to meh..."|
Shakespeare by Bill Bryson
And Another Thing: The World According to Clarkson by Jeremy Clarkson
...and pizza for dinner.
Let the Burfaday Monf commence!
Monday, 1 September 2008 1:36 am
Yes, it has finally arrived. Not only are we heading away on a our first European holiday together but it is also the start of my Birthday Month! W00T!|
I intend to start out by going for a steak lunch today with a couple of the guys at work and then home for my favorite pizza down on Oxford street. You have to get an early start on these things.
As for the weekend we spent Saturday giving the insides of the house a good going over. Surfaces got dusted, floors got vacuumed and mopped. All very good. That night Libette came over and cooked us her signature Duck Curry. It was very good. Had it for dinner on Sunday as well.
Sunday morning I got a fairly early start and had the lawn mowed and edged by mid-morning. From there we headed over to DFO and Bunnings for a few last items. Deb and I both got satchel packs for our trip. I am a bit paranoid about using a day pack when out and about due to the fact it is just swinging behind me. So a satchel will rest on my hip, right under my hand. As is often the case Deb had no intentions of buying one but ended up getting the best example. I really liked it but it the strap was a little too short and it didn't really suit me. Oh well.
We have also realised that some museum tickets that Deb purchased using our pre-fraud credit card need that credit card to pick them up. Oh well, it is only 26 euro worst case.
It did get me thinking though that booking overseas tickets was the last "out of the ordinary" action on the credit card prior to someone trying to use it fraudulently. So I figure some ticket seller has helped themselves to our details.
And I am very happy with my new GPS software for the car. It has two 'Australian' voices available for navigation. It is funny to hear the male version, who I call Bruce' because he has such a strong accent. Do I really sound like that? And the female version sounds just like Noni Hazelhurst so I have called her Noni.