A Travellerspoint blog

Chillin in the Mountains

BARCELONA TO TREFFORT

We’d had enough of 30+ by the time we said our goodbye to Spain, but didn’t think it would be over once we reached Italy. So rather than stick to the humid coast, as was our original plan, we opted to head up into the French Alps to escape people and pollution, and hopefully get some slightly cooler weather for a few days.

Judging by the scenery on the drive through, we made the right call…

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We didn’t really think we’d see cliffs and valleys like this until we reached Norway! And I hadn’t seen snow for the first time in my life until we’d been to Reykjavik in January this year so I’ve never been to any little alpine villages, winter or summer, or even seen a ski lift until we travelled through the Rhone Alps. Several mountain peaks were still topped with ice and snow, which was a magical background for the villages with their ski lodges, full trees and gorgeous green sloping hills. The narrow roads leading us to our destination, winding along the edges of shear cliff-face, hundreds of feet high, gave us a bit of a scare, but nontheless it was a truly spectacular drive.

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We spent a night at near a ski resort in the tiny 4 horse town called Bouvante. I say 4 horse town because we had resident ponies on site, running around being all cute and eating grass as they do so well. And just as we’d hoped, it was significantly cooler than it had been since we got back to Europe – I had to actually put on long pyjama pants to go outside, and we could see stars again! It was such a beautiful setting, and a very welcome change.

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Whilst searching the Camperstop book for somewhere cheap to say the next night, a place called Treffort caught our eye thanks to the picture… it showed plenty of shady spots and a blue lake. It looked really nice and figured we could deal with the bugs and mozzies and stay there, and it was worth it ☺ We got to spend a few hours that afternoon watching people kiteboarding and windsurfing, schoolkids being towed along in their own little sailboats like ducklings, and people just generally cooling off and splashing about in the inviting waters, all from the comfort of the van. And just over to the right was a couple of large snow-capped mountains, with a grassed one in front just behind the lake. It was picture perfect ☺

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I really wish we could have spent a bit more time in the alpine region, if only so we could stay cool for a while longer, but time was ticking away so we decided to make tracks for Italy.

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Posted by Mr n Mrs Awsme 13:14 Archived in France Comments (0)

Keeping it moving

MADRID TO BARCELONA

sunny 35 °C

As mentioned in our last entry, we took a pause on our roadtrip and were back home in Sydney, and back to reality for a short while. We are lucky to be back in Europe to continue on our journey, and even though the will to write has somewhat waned slightly in light of recent events, I figured we’d better get to it as the last week or so has been absolutely hectic! So I’ll label it as “part 2”, which begins in Spain’s sprawling, inland capital city of Madrid.

It felt like a huge change coming back from the cool, quiet winter of the Blue Mountains in Sydney (with snow forecast, as mum told me just after we left) to the hot, bustling streets of the Spanish capital, but it was a welcome one. Local weather reports advised we were going to be in for at least a week of 30 + degree-days and sunny skies. We remembered the amount of seemingly never ending rain we had at the very start of our trip and figured we’d better risk heatstroke and get out amongst it while we could.

We took the Metro from our campsite into a station in the centre of town, Opera (their Metro system is extensive, runs well and is fairly cheap), and began searching for Plaza Mayor so we could purchase tickets to a walking tour that afternoon (EUR4.00 each, from the tourist information centre). The plaza itself is quite nice, plentiful bars and art to be admired and purchased.

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We then took ourselves down Carrera de San Jeronimo past the typical city fast food and souviner joints but also past Museu de Jamon, which had fantastic bocadillos, pastries and tapas at just the right time – we needed a bit of fuel for the walking tour! We met our local guide at 6:30pm outside of Fuente de Cibles, a gorgeous building that is open to the public and provides people with leisure facilities and exhibitions

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And spent the next 2 hours walking around the east part of the city and concentrated on the Parque de el Retiro and the Real Jardin Botanico. The parks were full of families, couples, skaters, bladers, bikers and runners but is still big enough to be able to find some peace and quiet if you so choose.

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The tour finished at the Museo Nacional Del Prado, and at this point Paul and I decided to race back into the depths of the park to an outdoor bar we had seen that had big EUR3.00 glasses of sangria – perfect way to cool off after the walk!

As we had to head back into town to get the Metro home, we thought we’d get some dinner at a lively and fun looking market we’d been past earlier in the day. We ended up in the middle of a big trade union protest taking place around Sol, in the centre of town. It looked peaceful enough, but the riot police were in force, just in case.

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The market at Plaza de San Miguel has a vast array of foodie and drink options – lots of deserts too of course, but it’s a battle to find somewhere to sit down long enough to enjoy your meal. I guess the locals do put more emphasis on the social aspect of eating and drinking, and do tend to do so standing up and mingling more often than not.

Back at Opera station, we sat down to rest our sore feet and watch some young bladers pull off some figure skater-esque stunts and moves around traffic cones set up along the ground, then headed back to the van.

The next morning I did a bit of interet research to suss our camping options and public transport for Valencia – we were aching to get back to the coast and were hoping for just a bit of relief from the heat. As well as somehow coinciding with the F1 Grand Prix weekend, thus assuming the sites and town were going to be packed, the weather reports didn’t let up on 30+ days. Oh well, we thought, at least we’ll be near the water again!

Once in Valencia, we took the bus into town on the Saturday afternoon and ended up at the square between the Town Hall and Post Office buildings, which are pretty grand – I took the chance to get some overdue postcards sent off, then we made a beeline for the Torre del Micalet which is part of the cathedral. The 207 stairs to the top gives you a great view all over the city, and we could hear the F1 cars doing their qualifying laps at the racetrack just outside town.

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From there we went to the Museu de Belles Arts (Fine Arts Museum) which has free entry, many timeless works and a courtyard complete with water feature and sculptures. We rounded out the day walking along the city’s crowded beaches (it was still bright, sunny and over 30 degrees at 8pm) and had dinner at a beachside café - a huge serving of the regions best known dish, paella -

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before burning it off by walking back to the new Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences – a big, modern complex to the south-east of the city with a large aquarium, a science museum and an IMAX theatre) to finally get a taxi home.

(Edit – Kate forgot to mention that somewhere between the Tower and the Art Museum, she managed to lose her passport, which I might add she only had with her because eshe had already lost her drivers licence, so was without any other ID. After I completely flipped out at her for being so careless – which I later apologised for – we retraced our steps for about 4km and thankfully it had been found and the café we bought our lunch from, it had fallen out of her purse when she got her wallet out to pay. She thanked the café staff and gave them a huge tip, which they did not want to accept, but did in the end. Let this be a lesson, ALWAYS LOOK AFTER YOUR PASSPORT!!!)

The next day was a driving day for what was to be our last stop in Spain (Paul = ☹ ). As we arrived in Barcelona, we realised that we were going to end up with 3 of the biggest cities in the country under our belts in 5 days. And it was still over 30 degrees!

We found a Park and Ride just outside of town (no campsites anywhere near Barcelona), which conveniently had a tram and Metro stop right nearby for all our transport needs as well as toilets, showers and power (pricier than most campsites, at EUR30 per night). The night was full of loud bangs and fireworks – we thought the locals were celebrating an FC Barcelona victory? Turns out there were no games on, and that we had arrived for the firecracker portion of the annual Dia de Sant Joan festival, where fireworks displays are made in the town plazas, and kids rule the night letting off bungers until 4am. It put Guy Fawkes night in the UK to shame.

Needless to say it was a pretty rough sleep that night, but it was Ok, not like we had to worry about work or anything! We completely wore ourselves out on the Sunday though… we each got a travel 10 (the best value for money ticket on their public trasnsport system – single tickets cost EUR2 no matter how near or far you’re travelling, so by the time you do 5 trips you may as well get the 10 which was under EUR10) and started looking for attractions. First stop was the Museu d’Historia de la Cuitat, and it was closed. Apparently today was a public holiday. Next we joined the big, but quick moving line to have a look at the Catedral. I saw a sign just as we were at the front indicating that conservative attire was required to enter – the line was moving so quick because anyone, mostly ladies, wearing short shorts and tank/singlet tops were being turned away. That included me. So while Paul was allowed in I waited patiently for him outside, warding off gypsies offering to sell me sarongs for 50c.

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After weaving through the gothic streets and alleys of the old town and finding the popular and almost tropical Placa Reial,

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we tackled the La Rambla – a packed pedestrian street full of snack stalls, souviners, street artists and almost everyone in the city.

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We took an hour to rest our feet and heads in a café with some gelato then headed right to the south end of La Rambla to Port D’europa, then around to the city beach of Platja Sant Sebastia for some people-watching.

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Back at Placa Reial, we met up with a guide for a walking tour of the city highlighting the incredible work of Gaudi, with the famous Sagrada Familia as the important last stop (walking tour was great, by the way – the company we went with was Jumping Bean Tours and the cost is based on how much you think the tour is worth once it’s completed. It gives the guide great incentive to provide an informative, interesting and fun tour but doesn’t break your bank – e.g, if 15 people on the tour all give them EUR10 each, which is a lot cheaper than the EUR40 or 50 other companies charge, that’s EUR150 for a few hours work).

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After the tour, we headed back to the van and collapsed, knowing we still had another day of full sightseeing ahead.

We got up bright and early on Monday and caught the funicular railway up to Montjuic – a hilltop area with lovely parks, a castle and views out over Barcelona. An information officer had let us know this was the Olympic site as well, and what a great place for it! After first climbing the rest of the way to the top to check out the Castllo de Montjuic, from which you will find stunning panoramic views of the city, we then made our way back down the hill (I say ‘hill’ but in reality it was a mountain) to the Olimpic stadium, and surprisingly the stadium was not only open to vistitors, but it was free! The stadium has definitely become dated by comparison to some other stadiums, but none the less, it still had a very grand ‘Olimpic’ fell to it.

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We made Parc Guell our final sight in Barcelona – Gaudi designed the park with the purpose of selling land to the rich who could enjoy their own landscaped bushland, privacy, and whatever Gaudi felt like coming up with as their homes. Only 3 houses were built, one of them being for Gaudi himself, so now the park belongs to the city, it’s residents and tourists and it’s free entry.

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Posted by Mr n Mrs Awsme 04:54 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

For a Friend....

Another long gap between entries, but not for the normal reason of us being just too busy doing the annoying tourist thing. As we left for Madrid a couple of weeks ago, we received the tragic news that one of our closest friends, Tristan Holdsworth, had suddenly passed away. The news shocked and saddened us both more than I can possibly describe. After a last minute round trip to Sydney to be with our friends and say our goodbyes, we are back trying to make the best of our travel plans, all the while stricken with the knowledge that there will be someone missing when we finally get home for good.

I was not sure of whether or not to add this in to our happy little travel blog, but I realised that we are writing this not only for the enjoyment of friends, family and anyone interested enough to read it, but also for ourselves to look back on when we are old and forgetful, and I don’t think it would have felt right to go on writing like nothing had happened. So, with a heavy heart, I would like to leave this message in the hope of somehow honouring our friend, and of keeping his memory alive….

Tris,
You have always been that which is rarely found… a true friend.
Though you were loved just like a brother.
You will be missing from our lives, but never from our hearts.

Goodbye bro, may you rest in peace.

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1985 - 2012

Posted by Mr n Mrs Awsme 13:19 Comments (2)

3 for the price of 1!

JUNE 1 TO 8 - SEVILLA TO MADRID

sunny 26 °C

Picking up from the last line of the last entry, we had a great week in which we’ve been able to check out 2 other countries whilst staying in a 3rd! Pretty cool, huh? I’m sure most of you know that I’m talking about Morocco and Gibraltar, whilst staying in Spain. What a world!

We found ourselves in the kite-surfing capital of Europe, Tarifa, on one of the southern tips in the gorgeous Andalusia area of Spain, for a few nights. Tarifa is one of the main ports for ferries over to Morocco, and there are a couple of companies that offer day trips to Tangier, and overnight trips as well including other nearby destinations.

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Originally, when putting ideas for this trip together, we had planned to take the van over on a ferry and spend a few weeks in Morocco with the purpose of surfing and soaking up a culture vastly different to our own. As the purse-strings have tightened and the Atlantic winds have picked up, we’ve also lagged a fair bit behind schedule on a continent with already so much to see, and have a van that we’re placing a bit of caution on as it’s already seen some rougher than expected roads. In short, we spent a fair bit of time weighing up the pros and cons of visiting on our own and made the executive decision to leave the van at the campsite in Tarifa for the day and join one of the guided day trips operated by ferry company FRS.

The FRS ferries are pretty pimp! Lots of seating, a bar with snacks and drinks (typical ferry/ship prices though) and from Tarifa to Tangier it only takes 35 minutes (some of the other routes are a bit longer). No visa requirements for us at least, but passport needs to get stamped on board the ferry by the Moroccan police after you’ve completed the arrival card.
Upon arrival, we were greeted into Morocco by our local guide Bashir, who showed us to our coach, and began a very informative tour of the city.

Everything about Tangier is very different from Europe, with its bustling streets, hawkers galore and a constant, manic atmosphere. The people for the most part were very friendly and welcoming, many of them were obviously just trying to make a buck, but you can’t blame them for trying.

After a tour of the outskirts of town, we were treated to an amazing lunch of chicken and lentil soup, shish kebab and cous cous, topped off with a honey soaked pastry and the most delicious mint tea (all while a traditional band played some highly energetic music) . From here we were taken to a rug showroom and given a presentation on the intricacies of the craftsmanship, before politely being asked if we would like to purchase anything ;). Next up was another really interesting presentation at the local herb and spice market, which is essentially the Moroccan version of a chemist. Despite the thinly veiled sales pitch, and the no doubt ‘tourist prices’ of the products, it was actually a very enjoyable experience learning what another culture uses to cure their ailments – plus we were able to purchase some of the delicious mint tea that we had with lunch! From there we were lead back towards the ferry through a throng of hawkers, who were waiting for us as we exited the spice market. No doubt wise to the fact we were on our way back to Spain, and this was their last chance to make a sale, they were much more persistent than they had been previously during the tour. Interestingly I noticed that they were very forceful with Kate despite her valiant efforts to be firm but polite, but would back off quite completely when I would tell them she was not interested. I can’t be sure, but I suspect partly because their culture frowns upon a man speaking with an unfamiliar woman except under certain circumstances. No luck for the blokes on the tour though, we copped it constantly, and I probably would have caved if I had had any money left! I was even about to swap my Billabong hat for a carving of a camel, just cause the little kid was so sweet and innocent looking (despite his shrewd bargaining skills!), but we were ushered onto the bus before we could close the deal.

After a couple more nights at the campsite in Tarifa we made our way to La Linea de la Concepcion, which is the border town before you cross into Gibraltar. We inadvertently planned our acttivities for June 5 – the final day off the Diamond Jubilee celebrations for Queen Elizabeth the 2nd (we’d been away from the UK just long enough to forget when it was)…. And being the British colony it is, the town was going off! Masses of people up and down Main Street, Union Jack flags, banners, streamers and the Queen’s face everywhere, and most people seemed to be in quite a festive mood. We took the cable car to the top of the rock for some incredible views over the region and the Mediterranean Sea (which was covered by an eerie cloud). We made friends with the rock’s famous local residents, the Barbary Macaque apes, and gradually made our way down the rock after learning about it’s history via St Michael’s Cave and the Siege Tunnels.

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(One of the locals checking us out)

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(Inside 'the Rock' - St Michaels Cave)

The next night we stayed in Carchuna, on the coast south of Granada and decided to make Madrid our next destination. Stay tuned ☺

Posted by Mr n Mrs Awsme 04:29 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Soaking it up, from Sagres to Sevilla!

MAY 22 TO 31 - LISBON TO SEVILLA VIA THE ALGARVE

sunny 27 °C

Well! Our last entry had us leaving Lisboa and the main coast of Portugal and headed south into the Algarve, of which we had heard many rumours of tacky, built-up resort towns overrunning the rugged coastline (personally, part of me thought bring it on – I was really looking forward to some more lazing on the beach), so we kind of expected this to be true of the whole area. Thank god that’s not the case!

Our entry into the area was greeted with a gorgeous, sunny and warm evening as we headed to Sagres, situated right down near the most south-western tip of not just the country, but also the continent (Sagres is also the name of a popular Portuguese beer). Home to a surf loving population with plenty of stores to rent from, beautiful sunsets over the Atlantic Ocean, and the Fortaleza de Sagres – an imposing fortress overlooking the coastline. It is where Henry the Navigator was supposed to have founded the navigation school and lead the country’s next batch of eager explorers.

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Not too far from Sagres is Cabo de Sao Vicente. This is officially the most south-western point of Europe, marked with a lighthouse.

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I know all the guidebooks say this, but it really is some awe inspiring, end of the world type stuff out there! The land just drops off over the sheer cliffs into the ocean in the most dramatic way, as if it really could be the edge of the world. There are constant reminders of the instability of the coastline as well, where house-sized chunks of cliff-face have broken away from the mainland and taken a dive into the ocean.

We free camped in the carpark overlooking the largest but also probably the most sheltered beach of the town, Praia Mareta (great, safe beach for swimming and sunbaking – plenty of cafes and bars in this part of town as well, short walking distance) for our first night before we moved onto the local campsite on the road out of town. We spent the next week driving between the 4 or 5 different beaches on both the west and south coasts of the tip to see which one had the best surf conditions of the day (these beaches are nothing short of spectacular, by the way – overlooked by the tall, red, jagged cliffs with water as blue as you could imagine). Every day Paul left the water thrashed but satisfied ☺ we were really sad to leave!

We next headed to Lagos, without any idea of what it had to offer. All I knew was there was a campsite just a 5 minute walk out of town and I thought we should stay there so we could go for a wander, and that it was potentially one of the tacky, built-up resorty places we’d heard about. We checked in at reception and grabbed a bunch of brochures for the local zoo, water-fun parks and town map. The next day we rode the pushbikes in (it really is only a 5 minute walk though) to find that whilst it doesn’t look like it’s overly built, it really is a haven for those who come from further north seeking a warm sea-change, whether they’ve retired, set up a business or visiting their holiday apartment once a year. After a bit of a walk through town to check out the surf shops and a new business called Funny Tees (we saw it advertised in the map – set up by a really friendly Polish couple who gave us some really good local tips) we headed over to the water and walked along the cliff-tops to check out the small beaches and grottos below.

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Later that night, we headed back into town for dinner and a couple of drinks. You won’t have any shortage of choice for a bite to eat; the streets are just lined with eatery after eatery, offering up pretty much whatever you could possibly want, but sadly for your typical overly inflated tourist area prices.

The following day we set off for Sevilla, stopping at the Lagos Zoo for some frolicking with the resident primates. The Lagos Zoo is on the smaller side of your average zoo, but by no means cramped. If anything I would describe it as more intimate. It’s unique layout uses water as the boundary for the monkeys, apes and lemurs rather than fences, giving it a very open and natural feel.

Heading into Sevilla that afternoon there was a clear change in weather and landscape. The jagged red coastline of the Algarve, with its cooling sea breeze faded away into the scorching hot, agricultural areas of southern Spain. Upon entering Sevilla, we were greeted by our first 30-degree + afternoon, topping out at 36 deg. around about 5pm. Thankfully we had found a camperstop on the river just outside of the city, with the breeze around the water providing some relief from the heat. The next day we were in for another scorcher, with the temp set to hit 37 deg! With full knowledge of the impending heat we headed into Sevilla to explore and get our culture fix! After a stroll through the this amazing little city, with its beautifully landscaped gardens and towering Iglesias (churches), our first stop was the Plaza de Toros (Bullfighting Arena) for a guided tour of the arena, and a lesson in the history of bullfighting in the on-site museum. The tour was one of the most informative and interesting I have taken to date; the guides explained everything from the historical beginning, where bulls were used to train and select military horses, before being finished off by the helpers know as 'Matadors' once the training was complete, right though to the modern day event and the process/ritual in which the fight takes place, highlighting the necessary skill and courage it takes to be a modern day Matador. That said, the tour is a very unbiased view of the spectacle, and for us, being strictly against animal cruelty, it was a very real eye opener to the realities of this cultural tradition. A must see for anyone who has an opinion on, or interest in bullfighting, no matter which side of the fence they sit.

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After our tour we headed from the bullfighting ring to the dancefloor…. Flamenco! Sevilla has an entire museum dedicated to Flamenco, which also has nightly performances during the high season. On the recommendation of the tourist office we elected to head to one of these performances in the museum, rather than try and find a restaurant or club, the reason given is that the restaurants can be a little focused on getting bums on seats for meals, rather than the dance, so the performances can be somewhat lackluster, whereas the museum was founded by the premier Flamenco performer and teacher Cristina Hoyos, and anyone who performs there has been taught by her, and they see every performance there as an opportunity to showcase the dance they hold very close to their hearts. So after an insightful visit to the museum, we headed down stairs to take our seats for what would turn out to be one of the most fantastic displays of dance you could imagine. The performance that we saw that night was by far one of the most intensely passionate we had ever seen. It is hard to convey in words how such a performance can incite an emotional response, but all throughout the show you could feel something welling inside you, something very raw and powerful. I can’t speak for everyone who was there, but I can say at one point Kate even had tears welling in hers eyes.

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We left the Flamenco museum feeling very uplifted, which is saying a lot, as we had been trudging around in 37 degree heat all day! It was time to cool off with a couple of monster glasses of sangria, and some typically delicious Spanish cuisine to round out one of the most enjoyable days of the trip so far.

Next up, we head down to Tarifa to suss out the African continent!

Posted by Mr n Mrs Awsme 16:06 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

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