Thursday, July 10, 2014

Edinburgh

When last we left our intrepid travellers, they were departing Spain. Um...yeah. We've been so busy enjoying the UK that blogging has once again taken a back seat.


Anyhoo....Scotland was a blast. First impressions? Awesome. We got to passport control at Edinburgh airport and the queue for all the non-Brits, non-EU residents was a bit long. *sigh* Surprisingly, it moved quickly and we were greeted very pleasantly by a lovely Scottish man, who politely asked us a couple of questions, smiled, briefly discussed beer with Bike Boy and then wished us a good holiday and waved us on our way. A huge change from the Spanish officials we dealt with, who couldn't care less about you and don't even make eye contact, let alone have a conversation.

We then found the airlink bus to the city and WOOHOO! It had free wifi. On a bus! It also dropped us on Waverley Bridge, right across the road from our hotel. 

As soon as we were checked in we headed for the nearest pub - which was about 50m from the hotel, AND was one on Shauna's recommended list. A pint for Bike Boy, a G&T for me and our evening was off to a great start.



Edinburg itself was fun. We were right in the Old Town, where you couldn't stumble more than a few metres without happening upon another pub. The castle was only a few minutes walk away, along with a number of other historical sights. The town is just charming, if a bit wonky like most old places, and there's no shortage of things to do. 


There was also pretty much any kind of food you could want - although we drew the line at haggis nachos. That's taking fusion food a little far....

One of our favourite things in Edinburgh was the Literary Pub Tour. If you ever visit, look it up. It's worth a go, especially if you like literature and/or pubs. ;)

We had far too little time to enjoy Edinburgh before we were in our rental car and heading for the highlands. I "knew" intellectually that driving through the UK wasn't the same as driving in Australia. You know, you're off to Bright, or Shepparton, or Wodonga for the weekend. You turn onto the Hume Highway, set your cruise control for 110kmh and barely vary your speed for the next three or four hours. Not in Scotland, Sunshine! 

First, the roads are only two lanes wide. Two narrow lanes. No emergency lanes, no kerbs, no footpaths... If a wide vehicle comes the other way, you may have to move over into the roadside bushes. Or back up a-ways. Then the roads go up and down and around blind corners, often with sheer drops and no crash barriers. Not exactly relaxing driving, but boy, is it pretty! 

We made it to Inverness unscathed though. Turns out there's way more than whisky to see around there. This post is already getting a bit long though, so Inverness will have to wait. 

More anon...



P.S. Sorry, can't seem to add links. Will have to wait till I get home to a real computer, not some shitty mobile device.


Thursday, July 03, 2014

Tales from Spain, continued

Our brief stay in Seville was good. The restaurants still mostly offered poor service and overpriced food and we walked away from quite a few...but we eventually found a gem just around the corner from our hotel. Seriously the best food we had in Spain. Dinner was so good that we returned for breakfast the next day.

The other highlight of Seville was the Real Alcazar (royal palace). It's the oldest palace in Spain still in use by the royal family. The courtyards and gardens were spectacular.


Real Alcazar: The courtyard of the maidens. This beautiful space featured in Ridley Scott's "Kingdom of Heaven". The pool was removed and the whole thing paved in marble for the movie, then returned to its former state afterwards.


The tiling was beautiful and the colours were mainly teal, blue, ochre, white and black. Just my thing. :)


Acres of gardens, fountains, and more. So much to see!

From Seville, we took the train to Granada. After a very short time wandering around the town, we decided that Spain was pretty much forgiven - that town rocks! It had a whole different vibe to the other places we'd been. Restaurant and bar staff treated us like they actually wanted our business. Plus, there were heaps of locals out shopping, eating and just doing their thing. It felt safe and relaxed and we thoroughly enjoyed our time there.

The whole reason for our visit though, was to see the Alhambra. It lived up to all our expectations. From the Alcazaba to the Nasríd Palaces to the beautiful gardens, it was just amazing. Well worth the detour south. I fact, if this had been the only thing we'd seen in Spain, I think we'd both have been satisfied.


Just a small part of one of the three Nasríd Palaces. Breathtaking.



The Alcazaba. Fascinating old fort, well preserved - and great views from the walls.



More of the Nasríd Palaces. Sorry, formatting is tricky on the iPad. Makes it difficult to keep photos in order....


After Granada, we flew back to Barcelona, as it was the only place we could fly on to Scotland without it being an epic adventure. We made the most of our short time back there, visiting the one Gaudi building we'd missed the first time around, Casa Batlío. Although the entrance price was an outrage (€21.50 each - that's a total of more than $60), it was really something. We both agreed that we were glad we went, but spent quite some time bitching about the price.... As you do.


We also scored a hotel room on the 20th floor, giving us a top view of Joan Míro's "Woman with Bird" sculpture at a nearby park. Who needs art galleries? ;)


And I added a Sagrada Familia charm to my Pandora bracelet. So all up, a satisfactory return visit to Barcelona. 

Spain highlights: 
Barcelona: La Sagrada Familia & Casa Batlío 
Logroño: Food & storks
Madrid: Museo del Prado
Segovia: Roman aqueduct & alcazar
Seville: Real alcazar
Granada: the Alhambra

We're glad we went, but neither of us is very interested in returning.


That's Spain all caught up. Next instalment: Scotland.









Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Spanish adventure continues

We're more than halfway through our Spanish sojourn, and we have mixed feelings about Spain. Barcelona? Gaudi is awesome, with la Sagrada Familia leading the "top sights" stakes. The Museo Picasso was pretty good too. The rest? Meh. We could take it or leave it. People were generally unfriendly or uncaring, with a few notable exceptions: our hotel staff, the señora who ran a coin laundrette and the staff at two bars we ventured into. 


Logroño is a different story - that town is tops when it comes to food, wine and friendliness. Many/most people don't speak much (or any) English, but they are willing to try to communicate, and are happy little Vegemites, keen to ensure that you're enjoying your food or wine or whatever. We had some hilarious exchanges with staff in tapas bars, complete with sign language, charades and all. The young ladies at Bar Angel speak no English but there was good service and plenty of laughter. And our hotel? The staff went above and beyond in helping us, printing boarding passes, organising a taxi to the airport and arranging breakfast for us on our last day at stupid o'clock, even though it was really way earlier than they needed to cater for.




Logroño - the old bridge.


Storks. EVERYWHERE in Logroño.

We're in Madrid now and we loathe it. The city is dirty, crowded - seriously, you can barely make your way along the streets, there are so many people - and there are homeless, beggars, drunks and prostitutes everywhere. There is also a big police presence, which is more disturbing than comforting. Of all the places we've been in the world, we feel the least safe here. On the positive side, the architecture is stunning, the Museo del Prado utterly amazing, and we managed to get to nearby Segovia to see the incredible alcazar & the Roman aqueduct. But we're not sorry to be leaving tomorrow morning.


Segovia's alcazar. Fairytale castle.


We thought France's Pont du Gard was impressive. Nope. Spain wins. This thing is estupende! 

We're seriously over churches. Blah. We appreciate the history and the architecture, but seriously? The over the top gory statues and the whole voodoo saints-performing-miracles thing? Geez, Louise. I'd far rather believe in science... I am looking forward to visiting St Paul's or maybe Westminster Abbey in London, but no more Catholic Churches, thanks. 

We'll be catching a Renfe train to Seville in the morning. We only have one night there, but the main sight I want to see is the alcazar, so that should be plenty of time. It's also one of the few cities where I've booked us into a posh hotel. Looking forward to a bit of luxury and hopefully less people!


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Viva España!


France was wonderful. Apart from the appalling lack of signage - and let's not discuss the perils of driving on those completely mental roads....at 130kmh. I may never recover.

Anyway, we enjoyed the beautiful alpine scenery around le Bourg d'Oisans, spent an idyllic couple of days in a little B&B at Saint-Gervasy, before finishing our French tour at historic Carcassonne.


18th century stone cottage in Saint-Gervasy. Perfect location, comfortable bed, private living room and terrace - AND use of the pool.


The incredible example of Roman engineering that is the Pont du Gard.



Carcassonne. Medieval fortified town with intact chateau and ramparts. Amazing.

After that, it was goodbye to France and hola! to Spain. We've spent the last three days in Barcelona, which is a bit of an ugly duckling city. Sprawling blocks of flats and office buildings from the 60s and 70s, mostly. Its redeeming features are its Gaudi buildings, the Montjuic attractions (palace-museum and castle-fort) and the old Barrio Gotico - the gothic quarter. The waterfront is quite nice too.


Palau Montjuic - set high on a hill, with multiple terraces - and thankfully, many escalators too. My poor diseased lungs aren't up to climbing all the stairs.

We executed a perfectly planned visit to la Sagrada Familia. Pre-planned Metro trip, pre-purchased tickets, scoping out the entrance procedure, and a quick breakfast before we headed across the road to wait for our 9:00am admittance. Only one problem....I left my camera back in the hotel room. 

Bike Boy offered to dash back on the Metro and retrieve it, but I decided that it was enough to just soak in the many details of the building and enjoy the whole experience. It was the best thing I've seen on this trip....and this is the only photo I have, complete with photo-bombing pigeon:


The gothic quarter is very interesting, but also very touristy. Way too many hustlers selling crap on the streets, and too many places selling overpriced and not very good food. It takes some work to find an authentic and reasonably priced meal around there. The architecture is stunning though.


Tomorrow we plan to fit in some final sightseeing before we wave goodby to Barcelona and travel by train to Logroño, in the north-west.

==============================

I've been as sick as the proverbial dog for almost two weeks now; it's been at least a week since I've been able to sleep without propping myself upright on a pile of pillows. The horrible virus finally buggered off about six days ago, but it left behind a lovely chest infection as a souvenir. 

Today I discovered that in Spain, you can buy antibiotics over the counter at pharmacies (we tried in France, but no go). So I'm all set now to kill this bug dead...hopefully I'll be feeling normal again in a couple of days. I'm fed up with not sleeping, coughing my guts out and feeling wiped out after walking one or two kilometres.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

France: the Readers Digest abbreviated version,

Where do I start? We've been in France for ten days now, and this is the first chance I've had to blog properly. I think I'll stick to dot points:


- French drivers are insane. One-way streets? Pedestrian crossings? Parking restrictions? Pfft. "They're more what you'd call 'guidelines' than actual rules, Missy..." 

- French people are 99% friendly and helpful and appreciate your clumsy attempts to speak their language. But just quietly, THANK GOD so many speak at least a little English. "Le chat noir" is (surprisingly) not a very helpful phrase when travelling. We have negotiated restaurants, pharmacies, boulangeries, supermarkets and all sorts of places with my appalling French and the patience and kindness of the French staff.



- French tourism is a bit hit and miss. Signage is frankly dreadful. And I don't mean because it's in French - I mean because it's non-existent. You get to a railway station or parking area for a major, world-renowned (and probably UNESCO world-heritage classified) tourist attraction and there is ZERO SIGNAGE to guide you in the appropriate direction. Cue much frustration as you set off in the wrong direction, backtrack and finally figure out by sheer good luck where the hell you're supposed to be.

- French scenery is breathtaking. Yes, just like on the telly when you're watching the Tour de France.



- French roads are great. At least the major ones, although the toll booths are a bit mystifying and -again - not always signed appropriately. Stressful? Hmm. Oui.

- French food has been mostly fabulous. Pastries and coffee for breakfast suits me perfectly. A baguette stuffed with ham and salad for lunch? Bon! And we've had a huge variety of dinners, from traditional French home-style to Parisian haute cuisine to a picnic of cheese, meat, bread and wine in our accommodation.



We adored Paris and wished we'd had longer there, but we managed to cram in a fair bit of sightseeing in five days. We visited art galleries, M. Monet's garden and Versailles and sampled some of the local food and drink. Paris is expensive, but it's less so if you can avoid the tourist traps. Luckily the neighbourhood we stayed in featured plenty of local cafés and restaurants with local prices.

The highlight for me was the Musee Rodin. Yes, the Louvre was fabulous, but the quiet and peaceful grounds of M. Rodin's former home were so restful and uncrowded and cool on a hot Parisian day, and the sculptures were like old friends.



Lyon and Bourg d'Oisans should have been enjoyable, but I was far too sick to appreciate them and spent more time in than out of bed. Cue sad face. :( 

I'm still pretty sick, but improving. Bike Boy recovered enough from the lurgy to pedal his rented bike through the twenty-one hairpin bends of l'Alpe d'Huez, so that was mission: accomplished for him. I'm very impressed by his determination - but still think he's a little crazy.



We're now in Saint Gervasy, which is a small village near Uzes, in the south of France. We have the most perfect accommodation via AirBNB - a picturesque 18th century stone cottage in the centre of the village, with off-street parking,air conditioning and a pool.what more could you want?



Tomorrow we move onto our final French destination: Carcassonne. After that, its hola! to Spain!


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Bonjour from Paris

My blogging apps are being really buggy, so I was unable to post any photos while we were in Paris. We've since moved on - first to Lyon for an overnight stay, and then to le Bourg d'Oisans, at the foot of the beautiful French alps, where I'm currently lying in bed, coughing up a lung, while Bike Boy pedals his way through the twenty-one hairpin bends of l'alpe d'Huez.

I'm hoping I can get these few photos to publish.... If I succeed, I'll make an effort to write some catch-up posts in the next day or two and share more photos.

Obligatory pose at the Trocadero, with Le Tour Eiffel in the background. Yes, it was cold that morning.

A train ride to Giverny to spend the morning at Monet's beautiful garden was definitely worthwhile.

View of the Seine from Pont Neuf, with (I think) the law courts on the right - this was only a 5-minute stroll from our hotel.

Here's hoping this works... Fingers crossed.


Sunday, June 01, 2014

It's today!

The day has finally arrived - we're heading off on our Big Travel Adventure tonight. It seemed such a long way away when I booked our flight to Paris back in the middle of last year, but here we are. Somehow it's the first day of June already and Melbourne has turned on a grey, rainy day for us that we're definitely not sorry to be leaving.

Quite honestly, I'm happy to be running away from our real life for a few weeks. There's been far too much stress and sadness in the past two months, so this trip will be a welcome escape.

I'm taking my trusty iPad with me, and if my blogging apps play nice, will post updates on our adventures. If not, you'll just have to go check out my Instagram feed if you want to see what we're up to (my user name is @kerryn_w). Even if you don't have an Instagram account, you can view my feed over here.

First stop on the itinerary is Kuala Lumpur - assuming that the volcanic ash cloud over Indonesia and northern Australia doesn't cause our flight to be cancelled - so my next check-in will be from there, wifi permitting.

Tomorrow's KL weather forecast is for temperatures between 25º and 33º. Hard to handle, I know, but I'll do my best - with a cocktail in hand, of course.




Photobucket

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Fitness & fun - FILEX 2014

Yes, I know: Filex was way back in early April. I had planned on blogging about it within a few days, but life decided to chuck some not-so-great things my way. Damn you, life! So this draft has been hanging around waiting to be finished for almost seven weeks. I'd have just ignored it and moved on, but the photos were already uploaded, so here you go...

I've attended Filex two or three times previously in Sydney and have always learned a lot and had more fun than you'd think you could cram into one weekend. I hadn't been since 2010 (or was it 2009?), as it's an expensive exercise when you have to travel interstate for a three day convention, and I'd had other financial priorities over the past few years. 

But this year, the whole shebang was moved to Melbourne, where it's staying for the next four years or so. Woohoo! No excuses, I was going. 

It was a grey start to the weekend, but that didn't dampen anybody's spirit. I caught the train to the city, armed myself with coffee and got set for a huge weekend.


The keynote presentation got off to a banging start with Brazilian dancers, wearing not much besides feathers on their heads. That was the highlight...


As usual, half an hour into the speechy part of the keynote, I was bored out of my brain, so slipped out and went to check out the Australian Fitness Expo next door instead.

The rest of the program managed to hold my attention though... This year I only chose one hands-on session, which was a really great bodyweight based training workshop run by Dan McDonogh. The rest were lectures on various subjects and apart from one that got a bit kooky for my liking (chakras and faux-science, aargh!), were all good value. By the way, if you ever get the opportunity to attend a presentation by either dietitian Joanna McMillan or Len Kravitz (the exercise scientist, not the rock star), take it. Those two were my stand-out presenters of the weekend. Their sessions were lots of fun, as well as really informative.

The Melbourne Convention Centre was a great venue. Except for the toilet queues. *sigh* Why do they never build public venues with enough women's toilets? And the stairs were a workout in themselves. I was up and down those suckers so many times over the weekend getting to and from my sessions, I swear my butt was noticeably perkier by Monday.



The location at South Wharf provided plenty of delicious choices for lunch, like these mussels from Bangpop.


Or second breakfast at the Boat Builders' Yard


If you're in Melbourne and you haven't checked out the South Wharf development yet, shame on you! Get yourself down there, pronto.

There were freebies from the Australian Fitness Expo, and even some from FILEX presenters.


The sun even shone on the final day....


....Necessitating the use of deck chairs on the boardwalk


Plus I got to hang out with some old mates. One of the best parts of Filex is catching up with fitness industry friends from interstate. *waves to Liz and Caroline*


And fit chicks always know where to find the best food - Like dinner at Movida Next Door. I've been promising to take Liz there for ages, and we finally managed to coordinate it. We discovered that if you're stupidly early, you can walk right in and get a seat at the bar. No queueing for early-birds like us! :)

We also got to take a look at the latest street art in Hosier Lane


 And even caught some artists in action


There was way more to Filex than I've described here, but hey, it was weeks ago now and I've had a lot of other things on my mind, so this is all you get. Was it worth the money? As always, YES. If you're in the fitness industry, you've never been and you aren't sure about it, I highly recommend it.

Did anybody attend Filex this year? Or even the Fitness Expo? What did you think?


Photobucket