Saturday, September 15, 2012

City to Bay 2012

Having thankfully recovered from the exhausting croquet tournament the day before, woke up nice and early on Sunday. Enjoyed a nice light breakfast, double checked the back pack for race numbers and safety pins, then JB and I rode into the city and joined the 39000 others (well a lot of them would have been at the 6 & 3 km starting points but whatevs) lining up for the 40th City-Bay fun run.

And we lined up for a good long time too. Didn't get across the start line until 8:31 (made sure to check that in case my timing chip stuffed up like last year). As always spent the first 2kms dodging and weaving to find a clear space to run in, then going through the same process again after hitting the 6km mark, although our later start this year meant that most of them had spread out by the time we arrived so that helped.

Got lots of motivation from the supporters, bands, and one group of Morris dancers along the way. Surprisingly kept pace with JB the whole way, and the last 500m when the end was in sight and the rain had just started, I managed to find a little extra reserve of energy and just snuck across the finish line in the lead (he may be injured but it still counts). And despite lack of training, my jetlag and his seperated shoulder we still managed to finish with 2 personal best times. Go us!

Found the Booths and later Ana for a celebratory brunch before bracing the traditional crush of a tram ride home. Now to get training for the 34km Trail Blazer in a few weeks :-)


Croquet at Chateau Tanunda

With still 2 more official days left of my holiday (back to work on Monday), decided to head up to the Barossa to use up a few of the vouchers I always seem to have on the side of the fridge. After a realxing morning watching Sophie's swimming lesson and cuddling tiny Annabelle headed to Sarah's place along with Maggie and the three of us headed for Chateau Tanunda.

Indulged in a spot of wine tasting to get into the spirit, then picked up our gear (and a set of instructions on how to play, cos its been a loooooong time for me) and headed for the lawn. Then we headed back in when we realised that we were missing the hoops but a short while later we were actually ready to go. Spent the first round trying to get the hang of things (except Maggie who nailed it right off the bat). Picked up an audience when the tour buses started rolling in so then the pressure was really on. Maggie won the first round easily. I got the hang of things after that and claimed round 2.

After that (and lots of exhausting posing for photos and chasing each other arond the lawn with croquet mallets) we packed up, returned the gear and eagerly awaited the arrival of our cheese platters and sparkling Shiraz. Sooo many delicios goodies on the cheese platter, and yet we still found room for plenty of sampling when we migrated to Maggie Beer. Wandered around the beautiful farm and the lake, then found  a spot on the balcony for brownies and icecream to round off the day.






 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The journey home

Well folks, guess that just about wraps it up for this year. Had a very long trip home from London, via Frankfurt, Singapore (didn't find out about that one until I arrived in Frankfurt) and Sydney and finally home to Adelaide yesterday morning. Managed to stay awake all yesterday so hopefully jet lag may not be too horrific (maybe?), so now it's just the always fun getting back to reality  and planning the next trip. Thanks for following along all :-)


Monday, September 10, 2012

London, Cambridge and Liverpool


Yay London. Arrived on Thursday night on the Eurostar (why can’t there be a train from Adelaide to London is what I want to know!), found my way to Tim’s place and spent a nice relaxing night catching up with him, Amy, Killian and Dominy.

Set out on Friday for a day trip out of the city. Basically went to the train station and the first name on the departure boards I recognised was Cambridge so I figured that sounded as good as anywhere. 45 minutes later I arrived and based on the number of bikes thought I’d ended up in Amsterdam accidentally. Turns out (as I learnt on the free walking tour I found) that the students aren’t allowed to have jobs or to drive so its bikes or nothing. Kooky. Anyway, got taken around the city, past the botanic gardens where Charles Darwin hung out and they have a replica of Newton’s apple tree grown from a branch from the original, into a few of the beautiful colleges and their chapels, along the river and finally to the stunning King’s College chapel which is bigger than some cathedrals back home. Found out lots of history about the town, the university and some of the more famous students (Steven Hawking for one), also the guide got into a fight with some guy at a church so that was interesting.

Explored Kings College and market square, then rejoined some of the people from the walking tour to go punting on the river to see all the beautiful bridges and the backs of the colleges. Very relaxing and the weather was just perfect for it. Found a patch of grass that you were actually allowed to go on (like Versailles, if you walk on the grass in the colleges someone with a whistle will come chase you off) and had a little picnic with myself before meandering through the back streets to the train station and back to the house. Joined Killian for a funfilled night at the pub watching soccer, which I’m getting marginally closer to understanding after the Barcelona v Real Madrid game we watched at Pueblo Ingles (apparently I’m a Real Madrid fan). Got to meet plenty of the locals and bitched about the price of beer in Australia (seriously its so frickin’ cheap over here!).

Saturday I made my mooching around the city day. Headed into Piccadilly Circus to see what tickets were available. Les Miserables having been completely sold out my entire visit last year I wasn’t holding out a great deal of hope, so I nearly keeled over when they had a seat available for that night! Happy dancing around the Cupid statue completed, I made my way to Camden, possibly my favourite place in London where, between strolling and enjoying the sunshine and whacky fashions, I managed to buy a whole new wardrobe. Now I just have to fit it in my bag! Headed back to the house to drop off my shopping and relax for a bit, then back into the city.

Enjoyed my traditional Boots meal deal at Piccadilly Circus (cos I just love getting into people’s holiday photos eating a sandwich), though it was dampened a little when I discovered that Boots no longer seem to have chocolate brownies which is basically the whole reason I come to London all the time L Found Queens Theatre and got settled for Les Mis. I was literally on the edge of my seat the whole show, though that was largely due to the fact that I was in the front row of the upper circle and the only way to see the stage was to lean all the way forward on the railing (cheap seats). Doing that though the view was perfect J And the show was amazing! They have a rotating stage and incredible sets and the songs were all brilliant. I laughed, I cried, I got a cramp in my back from sitting in that position for 3 hours but all worth it.

The last official day of my trip I headed out to Liverpool to hang out with Stephanie (of Pueblo Ingles fame). About 5 minutes before arriving however I finally got the phone call that I had a 6th niece, Annabelle Jorja. So close! Anyway, Stephanie met me at the train station and we spent a great day wandering around the city with me saying “this city is so cool” around pretty much every corner. Looked at the beautiful old buildings and museums around the train station, grabbed chai lattes in a very funky coffee shop, then wandered around restaurants and shops at the docks (Port Adelaide needs to take some lessons from Liverpool, seriously). Had a look at the Mersey and its ferries, then just cos you have to, we found the Cavern club and stopped for a beer and a little groove to Beatles covers. Went back to the docks for a lovely Italian lunch, then did a bit more wandering, got yummy icecreams and hiked up to the massive Anglican cathedral before returning to the train station and back to London to repack and relax before starting the trip back home.





Sunday, September 9, 2012

Paris part 2


The next day I decided to brave the Louvre. Having been tipped off to a few secret entrances during the walking tour I was all ticketed up and inside within 5 minutes of getting off the metro. Take that people lining up at the main entrance! After stopping by the Venus de Milo (awesome!), decided to just get it over with and headed for the Mona Lisa. I survived but it was touch and go there for a while. Fought my way to the front, got a photo, did the ‘huh, I thought it would be bigger’ thing, and got the hell out. To be honest the rest of the museum, especially the Egyptian and sculpture wings were much more interesting, and I spent quite a while getting lost in the quieter sections where the crowds who only go for that one painting never get to.

Once I decided that if I hadn’t seen everything, I’d certainly seen enough I headed to Notre Dame. Took a quick circuit of the inside but found myself far more impressed by the exterior. Lined up to climb the towers and got up close and personal with the amazing gargoyles. Enjoyed a spectacular view which did in include the Eiffel tower, and saw the enormous main bell which had to be almost twice my height. Definitely worth the 400 steps, if only for the amazingly expressive features on the gargoyles.

For my last night in Paris, I returned to Monmarte and treated myself to a very nice French meal of almond encrusted goat cheese salad, salmon steak with pasta, crème brulee which arrived fully aflame and a glass or 2 of pinot noir, because honestly eventually you just have to accept that no handsome French millionaire is going to swing by the hostel and insist on taking you out for dinner so you better spoil yourself. After all that indulgence I continued on to the Arc de Triomph which I may or may not have broken into as it was a little unclear as to which parts you did and didn’t need tickets for. But the security guard that saw me enter via the exit (oopsy) didn’t seem overly fussed…and I wasn’t set upon when I tried to leave the country so I think I’m ok.

Having finally figured out what that niggling feeling that I’d forgotten something was all about, checked out early on my last day and made my way to the Catacombs. Chatted with a few people during the wait in line and eventually made it inside (glad I got the tip to go early!). Just incredible. Its over 2km of tunnels through old limestone quarries with thick walls of bones and skulls from when Paris emptied the cemeteries in the 1700s, in most places stacked taller than me. Very cool and creepy, definitely the highlight of Paris for me.

Back on the surface I found my way to the Musee d’Orsay which, for me, was so much more rewarding than the Louvre, having a huge collection of more contemporary artists such as Renoir, Monet, Toulouse Lautrec, Picasso and some more of my very favourite Van Gogh pieces (the painting of the church that was featured in that Episode of Doctor Who is simply mesmerizing in real life). Lots more of the same at the Orangerie, but with the added bonus of Monet’s Water Lillies Certainly none of that size based disappointment so common around the Mona Lisa with each of the 8 being almost 2 metres tall and running the length of the walls.

Since I was in the area, wandered to the Hotel de Invalids and had a gawk at Napoleons tomb which is just about as humble as you’d expect from him, being a giant marble sarcophagous under the golden dome of the church and surrounded by Roman style carvings of himself as emperor with all his minions looking on in awe. Yikes. The rest of the complex is a military museum so zipped around there before racing back to pick up my bag and heading to catch the Eurostar to London.


 
 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Paris part 1


Ah Paris. Really, what can you say? I actually avoided Paris on my last trip because I just didn’t think I’d find it that interesting (and I was afraid they’d be mean to me cos I don’t speak French). Well I officially stand corrected.

After a very relaxing night on the sleeper train from Barcelona, I arrived bright and early, checked into my hostel and headed straight out to join the always excellent free tour. Got a Scottish guide named Billy (good combo) who took us by (or at least within sight of all the major attractions and kept us amused with obscure histories, movie trivia and waving at passing river cruises. Afterwards, raced back to the hostel to change into something less…slept in on a train-ish and then joined a different guide, Adam, for an evening tour of Monmarte.

Started at the Moulin Rouge and then worked out way through the back streets past fascinating spots I would never have known about solo (such as the apartment where Van Gogh lived with his brother, and a bust of a French pop star whose boobs you rub for good luck) up to the magnificent view of the city from Sacre Coeur. Ducked into the church as well which, on top of being an oddly harmonious blend of at least 3 major architectural styles, has one of the most beautiful interiors I’ve seen. Meandered back down the hill past Picasso’s workshop, and finished with a complimentery plastic cup of wine at the Café de 2 Windmills (from the movie Amelie).

Set out next morning for another tour led by Adam, this time to Versailles. About 3 minutes after arriving I had decided that Louis XIV, Marie Antoinette and everyone who came in between were the very definition of more money than sense because that place, while beautiful, is just ridiculous. The tour was only of the gardens and in about 4 hours we saw maybe an 8th of them. There are 55 fountains, which can’t all run at the same time, and only get turned on at all for an hour and a half on weekends because of the insane amounts of water they use. We got a lot of history of the whacky royals who lived there, and after the regular tour finished, Adam took me and a few others around the grounds of the Grand and Petite Trianon which was sort of the private domain of Marie Antoinette, including the miniature village she had built for herself to herd around a flock of oink, perfumed sheep. Just nutty. You really begin to understand the motivation behind the revolutionaries pretty quickly. But despite the crazy, the whole place is honestly just gorgeous. The gardens themselves took the whole day so I can only imagine what the interior of the chateau must be like!

Headed back into the city with the last few girls from the tour group and grabbed a delicious, cheap meal of falafel and chips from the unfortunately nicknamed ‘bacteria alley’. After a relaxing sit down at the hostel, headed back out after dark to the Eiffel Tower which, despite having seen it all over the city from various vantage points, was still damn impressive up close. Got there a few minutes before the hour too so got to enjoy the couple minutes that is sparkles, but decided not to climb it as, even  at midnight the lines were mental and, as Billy had pointed out, people get really disappointed when they get to the top and find themselves with a view of Paris that doesn’t actually include the Eiffel Tower :P





Linares and Valencia


(Cast of characters for the non Candeleda folks: Giselle, Stephanie and Max – Amazing Anglos

Sergio, Miguel Angel, Monica, Sandra, Mamen, Noelia, Maria Jose and Delfa – Super Spaniards)

With the bulk of the farewells completed an expedition was launched by myself, Giselle, Stephanie, Max and Delfa to find the car rental place and get back on the road. We believed this would be a simple task having been informed that the El Corte ingles next to where the bus had dropped us had one. So we headed into the department store, and between startling perfume sample girls and nearly knocking out customers with my backpack we eventually found the rental desk 10 minutes later. Then, while Giselle and Delfa sorted out the logistics, Max, Stephanie and myself relaxed. Turns out that while we could arrange the car rental there we still had to take a train to Chamartin to pick it up, which we did, disembarking from the train to find every rental agency but the one we wanted in the area. So, while me, Max and Stephanie relaxed, Giselle and Delfa (our heroes!!) went to find the car…for nearly an hour :s.

Finally on the road in style (ahem, in an Audi no less and with the brave Giselle at the wheel as neither Stephanie or myself had any faith in our ability to drive on the right hand side of the road) we dropped Delpha and Max off (more goodbyes, L) eventually convinced the GPS lady we didn’t actually want to drive around industrial estates all night and were on our way to Linares with a stunning sunset and the most amazing full moon as a backdrop. Stopped along the way for dinner and knife shopping (I have no idea why but every petrol station and roadside restaurant we stopped in the whole trip had a display case of knives). Just after midnight we made it into town, checked into our beautiful hotel and fell immediately to sleep.

In the morning we slept in as long as we wanted to, quite the luxury after a week at PI. Found a spot for breakfast and then started exploring the town. For us this mostly consisted of wandering down the main street to the statue of a miner, past a bunch of slightly confusing Chinese restaurants, getting distracted by the Flamenco dresses in el Corte Ingles (where we ran into Mamen), looking at one of the churches, then spotting the older part of town and strolling down the Linares equivalent of Rundle mall for a bit of shopping, then finding a bar for a couple of drinks. Unfortunately when we got back to the hotel we discovered that while all this was going on, Sergio, Monica and Sandra had been waiting to take us out to lunch and sightseeing. Eep! Luckily they had only just given up on us and were at a bar down the street with Maria Jose and so we were able to join them for a lovely afternoon.

Enjoyed some drinks and tapas and were joined, then took a tour of the old part of town we hadn’t been able to find, down narrow cobblestone streets and past beautiful ornate buildings. With the Feria going on, there were many women walking about in just stunning flamenco dresses that we ooohed and aaahed over all afternoon. Stopped for coffee and icecream, visited a rock and roll bar (where we met Miguel Angel) the bullring and then headed to the Feria (to find Noelia). Imagine the rides from the Adelaide show, but with about 30 tents all with different themed music and dancing, and strawberry mojitos :D

Had a bit of a drink and a dance, then headed back to the hotel to briefly visit the pool, rest up and get all pretty for a big night. Monica picked us up at 9 and we went to a bar where we each got a litre of beer and 5 huge, delicious tapas for under 6 euro each! Sergio and his girlfriend joined us, and after a very fun meal, we headed back to the centre of town to meet Sandra and stake out a good spot for the half hour fireworks show at midnight over the fair. After that we grabbed some drinks, found a good spot in the park for a drink, more laughs and a bit of a boogie (well I was dancing to myself anyway). Finally, we had to say goodbye again L Walked back to the hotel via the street markets and fell gratefully to sleep.

Checked out of the hotel nice and early after the previous night’s festivities as we had a long way to travel. My new plan was to drive to Valencia with the girls, then take a train to Barcelona with enough time to switch stations and go overnight to Paris. So we checked out, jumped in the car, engaged in further arguments with the GPS lady who seemed to be determined to send us the wrong way down one way streets, and out onto the highway. Stopped along the way for breakfast and passed by Cuenca along the way (I’m not explaining that reference to anyone but trust me, its funny :P).

Made it to Valencia with plenty of time to drop off the car, print out my ticket and say goodbye to Giselle, then do a little exploring and have a last lunch with Stephanie. Looks like such a cool town, I definitely have to revisit when I have more than an hour and a half to spare! Finally, back to the train station and back to travelling solo. Spent a thrilling hour in Barcelona which consisted mostly of crossing the city to find the other train station, then boarded my train to Paris with many plans for my next return trip to Spain, not least of which includes actually learning Spanish at some point in the interim!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Candeleda


Another fabulous week at Pueblo ingles, many more amazing new friends and a lot of laughs. This time the venue was at Candeleda, a little closer to Madrid but still very isolated and in a beautiful hotel with mountain views that seemed to have been painted onto the horizon. Was lucky enough to be sharing a room with the amazing Giselle for the week, even if we almost never had the energy to communicate while we were in there :P

Spent the days walking, talking, eating, laughing, talking some more, swimming, napping, more talking and eating and then more laughing. Too much delicious food as always and it was a joy watching everyone, Spaniard and Anglo grow through the week.

The day after the party night we took our excursion to Candeleda and the Bee Museum. Now I, like many of you I’m sure, had doubts about a museum dedicated to bees being as interesting as the MC claimed but it was genuinely fascinating edge of your seat stuff. The curator spoke no English but even being translated by a few of the students he was a wonderful presenter (if mildly crazy. I for one would not let a bee sting me and then film the stinger as the venom went into his hand for 10 minutes for example) and it was really, really interesting to learn about their societies (girls are in charge, so nyah). Plus there was a gift shop, and I do love a gift shop :P. After that we had some time in the village which was mostly spent taking photos of the goat statue and retiring to the nearest pub for beer and tapas but it seems like a lovely little area…an did I mention the beautiful, beautiful mountains.

Somewhere during the party on the last night (or number 2 party if you will, where a few of us Anglos gave a demonstration moshpit and I got whip lash from headbanging without limbering up) I found myself reshuffling train and hostel bookings for the following few days. I was supposed to have a night and a day in Madrid, overnight train to Barcelona, day in Barcelona, overnight train to Paris…and then I heard about the Fiera (town party) in Linares where several of our Spaniards were from and, well it didn’t take much to twist my arm to tag along :P

Before that however were the emotional goodbyes, the fun bus ride back to Madrid and many more goodbyes on the sidewalk as I once again found myself wondering how I could become so close to so many diverse people in the space of one week, and how on earth I would survive the next few days without being brought free food and wine by handsome Spanish men J