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 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.