Monday, 30 August 2010

A day in Gibraltar!

OK so we are actually home now, but I thought I would try to keep filling you in on the events of our holiday.

After our police escort from Jerez we headed down to Gibraltar. For those of you who may not know, it is the southern most point of Europe and is part of Great Britain. The trip from Spain and into Gibraltar was a very slow grind, with a traffic jam that backed up for miles as the border controls took place - or so we thought! When we got to the border they just waved us through no questions asked maybe because our car has British number plates! We arrived at our hotel 'The Bristol' and were slightly less than thrilled with the hotel, but the location was great as it was only 30 seconds walk from the main shopping district!

We started with a bit of a wander and then thought we would go for a drive to Europa Point to see if we could see Africa - it is only a few miles across the Straits of Gibraltar. Unfortunately the conditions were terrible and although we think we may have seen the African coast we are not sure. It was amazing though how many ships were either waiting to go through, or had just passed through. Unfortunately trying to photgraph even them was a waste of time because of the mist. The point itself is undergoing a renovation (believe me it needs it!) and seems to be the only area of Gibraltar that is going ahead.

The lighthouse helping the shipping traffic to identify the end of Europe and somewhere out there in the mist is Africa!

The mosque that is out on the point with the famous 'Rock of Gibraltar' behind

Harvey came along for the ride!

After visiting the point, we decided to head up the rock to see if we could see some of the Barbary Apes. We drove up the hill and came across some sitting a little way off. I decided to try to take a photo and wound down the window (should have known better!). As I sat there, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and tried to wind the window up again and couldn't do it (I always push those damn buttons the wrong way!). I tried to tell Richard to drive - he didn't understand what I was saying and stayed put. Next thing I knew I had a male ape coming through the window at me! Canon to the rescue! I shoved him on the shoulder with my Canon 450D and he backed off - just a little anyway. I eventually managed to get the window up and he than sat on the rear vision mirror and the windscreen near me and peered through! My heart was racing! He was then joined by a little friend and we had two sitting on our car. We tried driving (only very slowly) - they peered through to try to see what goodies we might have. The little one thought it might try our windscreen as a slide and slid down it in front of Richard! I am so glad we have Bruce (the Volvo) - what's a few scratches on the paintwork between friends!
My friend the male monkey - unfazed by being shoved out of the car with a Canon!'Let's see, what interesting things do you have in there!'

Sorry we got no photo's of the little one using Bruce's windscreen as a slide! Eventually they got bored and moved off our car. We moved around the bend to see all these people out among the apes, and they and the apes were very relaxed! What a dill I felt for being so terrified! Richard decided to get out of the car and after a quick calm down (just breathe!) and a few minutes of seeing Richard was OK I braved joining him!

Butter wouldn't melt in my mouth! That's Spain in the background across the Bay as opposed to the Strait

A small family gathering

Mum and baby were sitting quietly until a bigger male became agitated and charged through carrying on - I think he and some others were having a 'bit of a discussion'. Mum took off and the baby fell off her.
The baby then charged up onto a thin little branch (big male couldn't follow) and kept yelling until mum could eventually come back.

OK there had been enough excitement for the day. We headed back to our hotel and then out for dinner. At dinner we worked out just what we had been missing and promptly decided we couldn't wait to get back to Spain! The food was fairly ordinary! OK maybe a good night's sleep would help! So we headed back to our hotel. Within about ten seconds of climbing into bed we just knew a good night's sleep was not on the cards. It felt like trying to sleep on bloody Brighton beach - thats the one here in the UK with all the pebbles and not the one in Melbourne with all the nice soft sand! Every single spring in the bed was very, very obvious! Richard describes it as sharp corrugated iron! I put a pillow under my body, Richard resorted to the fold out bed and said at least the lumps in that were soft!

Our overall feelings about Gibraltar were somewhat tainted by the hotel. It is very tired (actually that statement suits both the hotel and Gibraltar as a whole). Gibraltar probably has problems as a result of the reduction of the presence of the British forces and the money they would put into the community. It seems the whole place needs a facelift, but there is no money in the community to do so. A bit sad because there is lots of potential!

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Our single day visits

OK so I have got a bit behind with the blogging! I thought I would add something today about our single day visits and try to get back to Cordoba and Sevilla a bit later!

Our first one day stay was in Alicante. It is a little coastal town and was quite pleasant other than the occasional waft from the drains. We started our time there by going for a wander around town. This is one of the avenues we wandered down. I just love the pattern of the paving!

As we walked around we came across the following graffiti in one of the less salubrious areas of town, but again I thought these were great!

In the centre of the town is a big, old, run down castle. It is on the top of a very steep hill. To get up to it we walked through a long underground tunnel and then caught a lift up through the centre of the hill. A much more comfortable option than trekking up the hill, given how warm the day was.

After our trip up to the castle, we went for a walk along the seafront and sat in a bar and enjoyed a cool drink. We decided that Hervey Bay's beaches have a lot to offer when you see the crowd gathered here!
Dinner in Alicante was our first sampling of Sangria. I really like it, although apparently as soon as the locals see you drinking it they KNOW you are a tourist, because none of them would be seen dead drinking it! It is traditionally made by soaking fruit in something like brandy (this varies from place to place with other spirits used in different places) they then add fifty:fifty cheap red wine and lemon squash and then add some cinnamon! Yum! We also had our first real tapas here and decided we love it. Now almost a week and a half later we are very comfortable with ordering tapas!

Our next one day trip was a couple of days ago when we drove from Sevilla to Cadiz, spent a couple of hours in Cadiz, and then back tracked to Jerez for the night because the accommodation in Cadiz was ridiculously expensive! Cadiz is another seaside town and the old part was lovely. It was delightfully cool after the 40+ degree days in Cordoba and Sevilla! It was a cool 32 while we were there and had a beautiful seabreeze blowing through town. We walked along the seafront:-

and then out to the point when we saw this ahead, so decided to walk out to have a look:-

but this is what we found at the end of the walkway:-

Again the beaches were very crowded....

After lunch in one of the cafes in a little alleyway....
we drove on to Jerez.

In Jerez we stayed in the most fabulous hotel in the old area. They had one really quirky piece of art in the foyer that we both loved. The first photo is the face of the sculpture in the second photo. She was just beautiful and obviously thought the painter had done a great job!

Now the next morning leaving Jerez was an adventure to say the least! Portia once again became a problem child and started telling fibs again! We were trying to get out of the old part of town and came across a police car. We stopped and tried to ask how to get out of the area, they didn't speak much English and we certainly don't speak much Spanish! It ended up with many hand signals for us to turn our car around and follow them - hence our police escort out of town! We were highly amused as I think, or at least hope, were the policemen! From there we headed for Gibraltar. Now this is very long so you will just have to wait to hear about the monkey attack that happened on the same day as the police escort! ....that's what you call a cliff hanger to make you come back! (Richard has just said 'Yeah, subject to you writing it!')

Wednesday, 11 August 2010


Last Saturday we visited Montserrat. It is about 40 km out of Barcelona and well worth the trip. Montserrat was/is a retreat of the Benedictine monks. It houses the 'Black Virgin' that was supposedly brought there by St Peter and is the home of the apparently famous Boy's Choir, although they were on holiday when we were visiting. In the time we had available we only managed to visit the cathedral, but there were other areas that maybe one day we will get back to.
We are going right up there.

The ride up to the mountain top was extraordinary and provided stunning views of the surrounding area - why didn't it feel that way coming down? The day was quite hazy, but the views still spectacular. As we neared the rock formations they were overwhelming beautiful.

Aeri de Montserrat as we leave the carpark level to make our way up the mountain.

The view as we start to make our way up.

Some of the rock formations.

Harvey is excited at having made it to the top!

The gateway to the cathedral gives you some clues as to what you are about to see.

The are some fairly modern sculptures....

...and the cathedral is in the most amazing setting. It is nestled into the most stunning rock formations which look like they may at any stage, just march over it all. Some of the rocks almost look human!

... and has an ancient bell tower.

....and every now and agan you come across sights that make you go ohhh!.

At the end of it all though we had to go back to the car! Here comes the cable car to collect us and Bruce is one of the cars you can see in the car park below on the bottom right of the photo!

I think I turned green on the trip down...felt very weak at the knees and needed to hang on! Harvey on the other hand, got upset because he couldn't see out and then was much happier when he could sit on the window sill and enjoy the view!

....ooops nearly forgot to add that I also visited the Musea de Montserrat while I was there and saw work by people like Caravaggio, El Greco, Degas, Monet, Picasso and Dali! Wow, very exciting and thrilling. I think the one that most took my breath away was 'The Old Fisherman' by Picasso. It was painted when he was about 13 and was incredible in its depth and feeling. It is hard to imagine a thirteen year old boy having either the abilty to do the painting or the insight to capture the feeling that Picasso has managed to.....a stunning piece of work. Google it some time and have a look.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Siesta Time - the food we are eating!

Well it is almost 4:00pm on Tuesday here. We are in Cordoba and have retreated to our room for a break from the heat. It is about 40 degrees outside and oven dry hot! I thought I might just do a short blog to answer a few questions that have been asked.

Firstly the question of what we have been eating - Spanish, Spanish and more Spanish! We have had paella, and tapas and a couple of other different dishes. This afternoon for brunch (we had a very late, lazy start to the day) we had fried anchovies and pimentos stuffed with fish in a tomato sauce. It was delicious and I followed it with a strong, strong, strong expresso coffee, yum!

One night we did eat in a Japanese restaurant but it was with a Spanish twist - long story but we went there as a last resort - and had grilled seafood it was actually very good. They had these things that are shaped like a cylinder and are bivalves related to clams I think. Again I am not sure but I think they are called razor clams or navajas. We had one of those grilled on a hotplate it was delicious - sort of tasted like a scallop. We have also eaten the spicy potatoes and had melon and jambon (think prosciutto) salad. I have had cuttlefish and squid and lots and lots of other yummy stuff. Ordering can be an adventure in itself as we try to make the translations, mostly we do ok! Last night we had a degustion meal, part of which was mussels in a red wine sauce they were fabulous!

One of the things we are having to be very aware of is the amount of alcohol we are consuming. Wine comes with almost every meal and we tend to be sharing at least a bottle with a meal. Add to that our afternoon and sometimes lunchtime tipple and there is the threat of it easily becoming excessive if we do that every day for the four weeks of our holiday! In Alicante, a couple of nights ago we finally got to try Sangria - yum - it reminds me of pimms or cinzano!

Coralie you asked about the fruit hanging in the market in Barcelona - I think they were actually dried plums. If you click on the photos you can zoom in for a closer view - unfortunately the photo quality is not great once they are downloaded, but you may be able to make it out. There are also strings of chillies and corn on the cob if you have a closer look. It all looked absolutely fabulous.

I will add more photos and adventures soon.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

A steep learning curve

We spent our second and third day in Spain in Barcelona. I loved it! We decided to take a two day ticket on the Barcelona Bus Touristica. They have three different routes around Barcelona and we managed to go on them all. Our first day we went to Santa Maria del Mar a Catalan-Gothic style church and then wandered around the district for a while until we got to the Ramblas. This is a street that has a pedestrian area down the middle under the shade of fantastic Planes trees. There are basically four sections to it: food, pets, plants and books. Scattered all along were people dressed in all manner of costumes ‘busking’ for photos with them. Some of them were extremely well done. Off to one side of the Ramblas we came across the most fantastic market with some of the most beautiful displays of fruit and veges I have seen.

A view along the Ramblas - note the buskers on the right.

The entry to the markets

One of the fruit and vege displays

After visiting the Ramblas we hopped back on the bus and went to the Sagrada Familia. This was the most amazing church designed by Gaudi and just mind boggling. He designed it knowing he would never see it finished and even to this day it is unfinished! I had not really seen any of Gaudi’s work before this trip and at this point Richard and I had discussions about the English word ‘gaudy’ and whether or not there was a link to the artist Gaudi (we later Googled and found out that it is not so). On my first day of exposure to Gaudi’s work I was speechless really. There are no words to describe how ornate and outlandish his work seemed at this stage. It sort of reminded me of a child’s drawing of a fairytale castle with bowls of fruit and animals added on where ever possible. There seemed to be no small surface that had just been left – every square inch was ornate. We were running out of time so decided not to go in – with what I know now, I am not sure that we made the right decision, but then we would not have seen other stuff we managed to get to!

One section of Sagrada Familia unfortunately they are doing more construction so there were cranes in the way where ever we pointed the camera.

Check out the fruit and the snails!

Not yet Gaudied out, we then went on to the Parc Guell. I am so glad we went there! Once again we really could have had longer there but what we saw was fabulous. In all my years in horticulture I have never seen a park that is this fanciful. The entry has the most magnificent stairway and then there are surprises at every turn. It was incredible, but at this stage I was still somewhat confused about my feelings regarding Gaudi’s design style. I was struggling to work out how he became recognised in the first place. What made the powers that be in the early 1900’s take notice of him? And why wasn’t he seen as a crackpot? Why weren't his designs seen as being over the top? Again Richard and I had long discussions about this as we walked around the park, sat on the bus and later ate dinner.

On Friday we set off again on the buses. I have to say they were open top buses and the weather has been fantastic for touring Barcelona in that way. We decided to do a little bit of shopping (first pair of fabulous shoes bought!) and then went to Casa Batllo – Gaudi’s house in Barcelona. OK this is the point that I became an absolute fan! The house is absolutely fabulous. The façade was interesting to say the least and again when I was standing out the front I was wondering if I should be spending my money and going in – Richard had decided not to – but in the interest of learning I decided to press on.

I got inside and the battery on my camera immediately died so you will need to go to the website to get some idea of how beautiful it is. One word WOW! The design elements in this house are astounding and having seen it, there is now no question in my mind as to how he became so well renowned. I still think that as Richard has said he must have been a fast talker to have managed to have convinced some of the more conservative folk of the early 20th century, but I also think that if there were doubting Thomases in his day he would have just needed to invite them over for dinner – actually I am not sure whether he actually lived there or just designed and managed the building of it! Every detail of this house leaves nothing to chance there is thought and reasoning behind it all. The smallest elements like door handles and stair rails are designed ergonomically and still look absolutely fabulous. The chaotic patterning on the outside is greatly reduced inside but the shapes of the rooms, doors and windows are anything but standard. It was extraordinary! The inside in fact makes sense of that extraordinary facade. After I came out of there we went for a bit of a walk and then a bit more of a bus ride and then back out to our hotel.

Downstairs from our hotel Richard found a Bata shoe shop and yay they sold the fantastic as opposed to the drab Bata shoes and yes I bought yet another pair – a girl can never have enough shoes!!! I would have had at least two pairs but the ones I bought were the only ones I liked in my size and they were a bargain marked from 75 euros down to 29 (about $42 in Australia).
Wow this is going to be a long blog if I add Saturday to it so I might leave it here and add Saturday as the next instalment. It was a great day too!