Zesty Mumma's Words

A life lived without passion is a life half lived

Archive for the tag “Food”

The Argentine Art of Exaggeration and Land Mines!

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My first few days of pounding the pavements of Buenos Aires were fraught with peril. The mean streets of BA, as the residents like to think of their city, definitely hold many dangers for the unsuspecting traveller, but not all are what you might imagine. Yes there is crime and all the usual suspects; pick pockets, bag snatchers and worse. However, in spite of all the poverty and human woe it is surprisingly safe. What I like to term the “Agentinean art of exaggeration” without a doubt can take some responsibility for this belief by the city dwellers. If it wasn’t safe the Argentinean habit of going for dinner after 10.00 pm would have been extinct along time ago. 

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The volume of people moving around the streets of the capital late at night proves that this aspect of their culture is alive and well. One of the most endearing aspects of Buenos Aires, the abundant small cafes and restaurants, with their outdoor seating and twinkling lights, would likewise have closed their doors for good. The public transport buses run for 24 hours a day and while their regularity is questionable in the early morning hours, they do eventually turn up, so you can get home.

 

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Which brings me back to my early days in BA and my steps laden with perilous pitfalls. The culprit; Buenos Aires shocking (truly this is not an exaggeration) footpaths. Consisting essentially of large tiles that often spurt water up your legs when the slightest pressure is exerted on them, made me feel like I was picking my way through a field of land mines. These are not the only land mines pedestrians have to navigate. Those left by the canine inhabitants are everywhere, as well as their pee. So when the tiles spurt water after the rain, it’s not just water that you get hit by. Then there is the holes. The only thing I will say about them is if you have ever seen photos of bombed roadways, pock marked by mortar shells in a war zone, then you have seen many of BA’s footpaths.

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Those early weeks spent wandering the city resulted in many evenings of pain because of the twisting torture my ankles and knees experienced. Then I noticed something remarkable, I leant to walk like an Argentine and this is a very particular skill. Buenos Aireans  through necessity walk great distances to and from public transport, to work, to their homes and anywhere else in the city they need to go. All this walking as I have already explain could be very dangerous for your health without this skill. How do you walk like an Argentine you may ask? Simple, you never fully plant your foot down completely when you take a step, being ready to quickly glide over a tile that shows signs of movement. At the same time your vision is both directed to the distance and directly in front of your path. In this way you are also able to avoid falling into bomb craters.

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You would be right in thinking that the poor condition of the footpaths really limits the type of footwear the women of BA can safely wear and you wouldn’t be wrong. There are more joggers worn here than I have ever seen in my life. Having said that, we all know however, that women have a particular love for shoes and to deprive the female members of Buenos Aires citizenry of heels would be a crime. 

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Now let me introduce you to Frankenboots. This particularly unique Porteno fashion statement answers a need by utilising my old friend, the Buenos Airean “art of exaggeration”. These oversized platforms keep women raised above the the splashing water, while the soft rubbery sole minimises the impact of any smaller holes  they may miss. The sky is the limit with these platforms, just when you think you’ve seen the highest or most outlandish example you notice a version that boggles your mind.

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So while I walk the streets in my low open sandals, squealing inside everytime a splash of putrid water touches my skin, my Buenos Arian sisters glide around their city.

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I Love Paris – part 2 – Ooh Lah Lah. – How Could Anyone Complain!

img_1605“Free wine and cheese for happy hour between 5.00 – 7.00pm, every night, really?” I gushed during check in at my exquisite new hotel, followed with ” I love Paris”, and so began the happiest five days of my trip. Honestly there is very little bad you can truly say about Paris, that’s why I have purposely separated last weeks blog from this one and yes I’m going to say it again Paris is amazing!

In contrast, what I’m now about to say may seem a little harsh and at this moment just want to point out I do truly love the Spanish. They are kind, generous and passionate but for the most part if something in Spain is beautiful it is either built by the Romans or Moors or by accident and don’t get me started about their food presentation. However, the French do nothing by accident, it’s all about the beauty and ascetic’s, whether it be architecture, dress or humble food presentation.

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My week in Paris was dominated by clear blue skies, so very perfect for walking, and walking I did. The main tourist paths around the city are for the most part flat and easy to get around by foot, however, if needed the metro is a useful choice with minimal difficulty and should you need help there is always someone to ask. Most French living in Paris have at least a little English and freely admit it is the international language, unlike the Spanish. I know there is a lot written about the attitude of the French but I simply didn’t find it to be true. Ok so they don’t gush all over you and sometimes appear to be growling and love to argue but they treat each other in exactly the same way!

By far my favourite mode of transport was the many bush bikes available for a small fee at docking stations around the city. Having blistered my feet walking hundreds of kilometres while wearing inappropriate shoes, the bikes were a welcomed relief. More importantly I knew I never wanted to be Lucy Jordan, who realised to late “she’d never ride through Paris with the wind blown in her hair” (it’s a Marianne Faithful, song check it out). Really, if I ever had a out of body experience on my trip it was that moment, riding to Galleries Lafayette on one of the hottest days of the year was worth the third degree sunburn I got!

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The only downside about Paris at this time (due to no fault of their own) is the confronting moment you are happily strolling along, turn left into the Rue Du Temple and come face to face with two French soldiers walking toward you with machine guns. Honestly though, even soldiers with guns walking around your neighbourhood becomes ordinary when you see it enough but I can’t imagine what it is like for Parisian’s living with the situation all the time. In spite of this there wasn’t a single point I felt unsafe in my entire week (except of course the climb up the ancient staircase come slippery slide belonging to the Appi Hotel).

Don’t go to the Louvre on a Tuesday it’s closed! A sad fact I discovered too late so ended up at the Musee D’Orsay instead, which as it turned out was the better choice. From the outside the Louvre is extremely impressive and containing such a huge percentage of this worlds history, would be no less inside I’m sure. However, from what I gleaned from others who managed to actually get inside the experience while still amazing was greatly marred by the vast numbers of other tourists they were sharing it with. The beauty of D’Orsay is the fact that there is only a fraction of the crowds compared to the Louvre yet still contains many examples of the worlds most famous works of art. Degas “la Petite Danseuse” , the beautiful bronze of a fourteen year old ballerina is exquisite while Van Gogh’s “Starry Night Over The Rhine” is breathtaking and just some of the amazing pieces on display.

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In fact the forecourt of the Louvre was actually the only place during my stay that I came close to being robbed. The involuntary response all tourist develop when viewing places of beauty, much like a nervous tick, is to drag out whatever photographic device they may have and begin snapping away. This practice can make you a clear target for those of the human race that only see dollars signs ( or in this case Euro’s) painted on your back.

Dragging the iPad out of my for the thousandth time I had barely entered my passcode when a good looking Frenchman with sparkling, broad smile appeared, offering to take a photo of me in front of the Louvre. Instantly alarm bells went off in my brain, I may not have been in Paris long but it was definitely long enough to know that the French never smile at you like that so he obviously wanted something. Thankfully I’d also seen “French kiss” enough times to know that Meg Ryan’s character had her bag stolen from the same type of slimy lothario when she let her guard down. So frowning at him I declined his offer but he tried one more time before taking his beaming smile of insincerity off to target the next hapless victim.

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Yes Paris is full of amazing buildings and museum and of course the Eiffel Tower but the other thing that it has in abundance is parks and those parks are overflowing with masses of brightly coloured flowers and succulent green grass. Having just spent eleven weeks in a baking Spanish oven where the grass (if there was grass at all) resembled dried golden wheat, I just wanted to squish it between my toes and roll around in it. You’ll be happy to know I settled for squishy toes!

Paris is of course a Mecca for travellers from all over the world and rightly so, however for one group of visitors it apparently does not live up to their imagination thus causing such severe disappointment that they suffer a breakdown. The Japanese are the main sufferers of a debilitating illness called Paris Syndrome ( no that isn’t the all consuming fear that Paris Hilton would once again be the constant source of news for the worlds media). This relatively new mental disorder is characterised by a number of psychiatric symptoms such as acute delusional states, hallucinations and feelings of persecution.

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The Japanese often picture Paris as a land of their dreams; the land of beauty, culture and sophistication. However,  thev soon find the dizzy heights of their imagination does not fit with reality. French women aren’t as stick thin as models, they don’t wear high end designer cloths around the street and Paris isn’t as sterilely clean as they imagined . To add insult to injury, the fluctuating rhythm and harsh tones of the French language create the impression that the French are rude, as a result the Japanese government is forced to repatriated a number of their citizens home every year. There is even a hotline set up for suffers so they can get help quickly!

All I can say is no city on earth is perfect but Paris comes as close as you can get!

Tips

  •  When in Paris walk walk walk – breath it in, immerse yourself in it, experience it!
  • Parisian supermarkets sell great salads, sandwiches and readymade meals at good prices

I love Paris but try to avoid Faulty Towers

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Barcelona’s Sants Train Station is grey and strewn with the jetsom of human travellers at 4.30am, most standing, some leaning drowsily on the external wall. All of us willing the clock to tick round to the magical 5.30 hour when the entrance doors slide open and we can resume our waiting inside. Not that it is uncomfortable standing in the concourse, let’s face it, it’s summer and its Spain. I’d had at least a 4 hour sleep but it was plainly obvious that many of the others had been there all night. Having slept uncomfortably for a few hours inside, they were then forced to exist the building at 1.00am when the terminal closed and wait like “lepers thrown out of the city” till it reopened.

Thankfully the Train to Paris is sleek and modern, and miraculously has enough luggage space for everyone’s bags, which is not always the case on some Spanish internal services. We quickly cross the border into France and the difference in the countryside is dramatic. Green and glorious, France shimmers in the morning sun, while river after river runs deep and wide to the sea.

The warm air of a late summer afternoon embraces me as I finally emerge from the Paris underground onto the Boulevard de Strasbourg, which in comparison to the madness of the overwhelming throng of Las Ramblas in Barcelona appears almost deserted. I hadn’t originally planned to visit Paris when I first considered my trip, it just wasn’t high on my list of priorities. However, as I left the metro it was love at first sight, Gigi”, “Springtime in Paris” and my favourite, “French Kiss” had never prepared me for how truly amazing this city really is. The elegance that is its lifeblood pumps through the streets infusing even the most humble of man made structures with beauty.

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The Appi Hotel, a quaint friendly hotel according to the listing on a well known booking site, appears as a doorway between two shops and on entering I almost run over a tiler who is working just inside. His presence is not unwelcome as access to the hotel is via reception on the first floor and my gigantic bag was not making it up the ancient spiral staircase without his help. The threadbare carpet could not fully disguise how easily the stairwell could be converted into a slippery slide, with each tread so worn they angled sharply to the ground.

In reception I unfortunately paid the full price for my six night stay without even looking at the room, which turned out to be a floor above. The room itself was not disgusting, just nothing like the photos on the before mentioned website. A spongy feeling the size of a 40cm circle under the faux wood vinyl flooring, directly in front of the wash basin in the narrowest part of the room, was a bit worrying. Being hot and tired from my trip all I could do was fall onto by bed and hope that I could rest. However, after an hour of meaty heat as well as banging and crashing, funnelled up via the internal cavity from the workman below, I did the only thing I could and left for the afternoon.

My return that evening with goats cheese, red wine, avocado and tomato felt much more promising but just like a slippery slide it was all down hill from there. The shared toilet was situated on a half floor between mine and the one below.  To get in meant tippy toeing to the narrowest part of the stair treads as the door opened outwards and without a landing you had to climb around it and up into the room. Inside the decor, very reminiscent of an outhouse found on farms, was complete with graffiti carved into the aubergine paint spelling the word “taken” (referencing the well known Kidnapping movies). Lets just say my breathing was becoming slightly exaggerated at this stage.

My hope for the bathroom above to act as a defibrillator was dashed after a similar climb inside (this time from below). With the door shut the gap between the doorway and shower cubicle was approximately 30cm (or two tile widths), the lack of towel rail or hook to hang cloths and towels on meant the floor had to be used. The shower, like the rest of the place had seen better days and likewise didn’t have a hook on which the shower nozzle could rest, rusty pipes and fittings also goes without saying. However, my favourite feature in an already overflowing tableau of dreadfulness was undoubtedly the cracked corner of the Perspex cubicle roof; into which generations of travellers had chucked the used soap packets and remnants of the fluoro coloured complementary soap. This and the accumulated dust producing interesting shapes by the dappled light shining down upon it from above, like some domestic post modernist artwork.

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The rest of this precautionary tale has highs and lows, the later being that I left after the first night with the owner refusing to refund my payment because apparently “there was nothing wrong with his hotel” and I am still in the process of trying to recover it. All I can say is thank goodness for credit cards because had I paid cash or eftpos I probably wouldn’t have a hope of recovering anything ( never thought I would say that).

The high, well while I was drinking a not so nice French red and feeling totally sorry for myself for being stuck in an extremely bad Fawlty Towers episode with Manuel. Who on this occasion was replaced with a French speaking Indian night clerk who suddenly couldn’t understand English the moment I told him I wanted my money back, I checked out another booking site. What I discovered was due to certain terrible events in Paris tourist numbers were down considerably and they were heavily discounting even the best hotels. The one I finally booked in an exquisite inner suburb called The Marais was reduced by 70%, which meant I was able to get five nights in luxury for the same price as squalor. Even faced with this amazing revelation I still hesitated cause I knew I would have a fight on my hands to get my money back from the evil wannabe Basil Fawlty. What finally pushed me into action was the fact I checked out the weather for the rest of the week. I knew that I would probably die in that tiny room with no ventilation in the coming heatwave ( which did turn out to be a doozy) and the only thing that would let let them know I was in there would be the smell wafting through the corridors.

Tips

  • Never pay for you hotel room until you have seen it.
  •  Quaint and friendly doesn’t equate to clean and comfortable
  • Always have a bottle of wine ready in case or unexpected trauma

The Wonders of An Undiscovered Oasis

My first taste of the Med is wind swept and turbulent but is a nice change from a Huelva summer. No extreme heat, no showering three to four times a night just to sleep. I think the fact I survived a Huelva Summer needs an award now I come to think of it. A large balcony in the apartment we have rented is that reward and a perfect place to let the constant

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Mediterranean breeze help me recover and feel cool for the first time in two and a half months. Our apartment is located in San Pedro de Alcantara, that’s on the western side of Marbella as many English would know. The reason I say that is because in the years since I left Great Britain as a child I have never since been surrounded by so many English, the Marbella/Malaga coast is little Britain and there is an advantage in that; menus, signs etc all with English translations.

As it is the Costa Del Sol you would be right in thinking that most people come for the beach but even here there are surprises waiting to be found. Just twenty kilometres down the road from San Pedro and five kilometres off the motorway lies a small rural community called Manilva, a pretty enough little area, though quite dusty now at the end of a long dry summer. Hidden at the end of a dirt track is a little known historic site that is still used today.

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The Hedionda Banos (Banos meaning baths) is a Roman bathhouse set at the bottom of a small hill. The first recorded mention of the mineral spring that feeds it is in 63 BC when the baths were constructed. The original condition of the pool is remarkable and I’d like to see if some present day structures could last as long. The water itself is crystal clear and cool but not cold as is the creek it runs into. There is a slight sulphur odour but it isn’t as bad as some of the hot springs I have been in and is not uncomfortable.

The healing properties of the water were quite well recognised, apparently Ju Ceasar bathed there to heal a herpes infection (yuk) and ordinary Romans went to cure themselves of scabies ( double yuk). I’m sure 2000 years is enough to flush the water! I can’t confirm the healing power of this beautiful place but I do know there are very few tourist spots in the world that compare for history, ambience and it is free ( for now anyway). I must say that I felt pretty darn good when I finally got out and sat in the sun. On the day we were there a local was even playing a handmade flute, so if I closed my eyes I could actually imagine I was back in Roman times, obviously I wasn’t a plebeian but rather a patrician (not explaining you have to look that up).

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The really amazing thing about this unique spot is that it is virtually unknown, I’m not saying that when you go the you have the place to yourself. However, when you consider the crowds of holiday makers visiting Spanish beaches in August the fact that for the majority of time we only had to share the pool with a maximum of ten people and that wasn’t the whole time. There were more people wandering around but not swimming. Even a search of the Internet reveals very little information and if you have forgot the name it is even harder to find.

With a stream constantly filling the baths another stream must run out, this water meets a small creek about fifty metres away. The limestone rocks it is exposed to before it gets the creek has an interesting effect on the water. The once crystal clear blue water suddenly becomes a milky blue. This is not unpleasant but just interesting. A walk further down the creek reveals another relic of the past. A small Roman bridge over the creek, as picture perfect as could be.

 

This is a special place in the world and I hope it remains so. As we were leaving a backhoe arrived and begins clearing reeds turning the water in the small waterway running out of the baths muddy brown. I am reliably informed that large roughly sawn block of stone were neatly placed on the sides to avoid erosion so I am sure the water has now returned to its original clarity.

Other than the baths I honestly couldn’t say that I would consciously plan to return to the Costa Del Sol. A playground for the English in particular it may be and I haven’t disliked my stay but it just didn’t stand out for me, with the exception of the Hedionda Banos! However, always a swimmer the fact I could swim in the Mediterranean Sea without a single fear of sharks, not that it stops me at home but you are always conscious that they are there, was a nice thing.

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I nearly forgot, we found the best homemade Tapas at a small bar attached to an Italian restaurant callrd Pavarotti ‘s on the water front at San Luis De Sabinillas. Tapas can be hit and miss it’s designed to be nibbles with drinks. Accordingly it can be as simple as a piece of cheese or a bowl of olives with you drink but it can also be taste test of main meals. AT Pavaottis it was the later and at €1 a plate it was a bargain, epspecially when a glass of red is only €2.

The only other advantage of staying in this area is the proximity to Gibraltar and therefore Africa. It is so close, twenty five kilometres to be exact which means you can have a day trip to Morocco. The return ferry only costs €67 but as most of Spain, United Kingdom and the rest of Europe are on holidays you need to book in advance, which I didn’t do and that’s all I am going to say about that!

Tips

  •  Don’t go on holidays to the Costa Del Sol in July or Augus
  • If you do, make sure you book a return ferry to Morocco at the same time you book accommodation.

 

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The King and Queen of Merida Invite you to take Journey Back In Time!

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As I am sure most of you realise I am an Australian and this is an important fact in understanding of this weeks blog. In Australia we have very little architecture that is over 150 years old. In fact on the Sunshine Coast where I live the majority of the buildings are actually under 30 years. Yes you read correctly, under 30 years old. To say we are a young country in architectural terms is an understatement to say the least. So if any of you Europeans out there feel my prattling on about Roman ruins is a little “ho hum” then I hope the facts I have just shared explains my position. It is simply mind blowing to me that the amazing designs and workmanship of humans living a minimum of 2000 years ago still exist and functions in our modern world.

Which brings me to my tourist destination of the week – Merida, Badajoz Provence, Extremadura Region.

Merida is simply amazing!

A relatively small city of approximately 60,000 residents, it sits quietly in a lovely rural area that produces grain crops and wine. Lying in a south westerly direction approximately three hours from Madrid, it is easily accessible by both road and rail. What I had originally planned to do was stop in Merida on my way to Sevilla and I have now come to realise was actually the best idea, oh well you live and learn and I got there anyway!

Why is Merida amazing, simply put it is the sheer number of buildings and structures that not only exist but in some cases are still functioning, such was the skill of the Romans, much of which is an easy walk from one site to another. As with the other historic towns I have visited these sites are generally situated in or around the original heart of the city.

We begin our walk on the edge of the city centre and head to a path that follows the Rio Guadiana. My first taste of the Roman ruins that Merida has in abundance is the Acueducto de los Milagros or Miraculous Aquaduct. Tall and proud it stands in the middle of a public park, with an actual walking track running under one of the arches. This in itself miraculous, no guard rail to keep you a safe distance away no hordes of tourists. In fact the day we were there I only saw one other tourist taking in its beauty.

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The next stop the Roman Bridge, built in 25BC, over the Guadiana River is a marvel to this day, thanks mainly to incredible Roman workmanship but also to conservation efforts by the subsequent invaiders, the Visigoths and Moors to name a couple. This bridge still retains 60 of its original 62 arches and is today a foot bridge for residents and tourists but was still in use for vehicles up to 1993 and was in fact the main access route into town. At 700 mtrs in length it is the longest Roman Bridge in the world one of the most beautiful.

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The overlapping of conquering nations truly epitomises Spain’s cultural heritage, it’s sometimes hard to tell when one period of rule ends and the next begins. At the enterance to the bridge stands the Alcazabar (Arab fort) that the Moors seemly built in every major town they at one time controlled. In the shade around the northern wall we found tables and chairs set under pencil pines and other trees, with only two other customers it was peaceful and cool. The food was rustic and extremely tasty and perfect way to break our sightseeing for an hour. I chose a nice meal of chicken, salad and homemade chips for €6.00 but I could of had goat stew or partridge pie for approximately the same price.

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Resuming our wandering we passed the remaining ruins on the way to the prize. The Temple of Diana, Portico del Foro and other historic sites, all however, pale into relative insignificance in comparison to the King of Merida, the Roman Ampitheatre. The Ampitheatre in particular demands your imagination to picture not only the crowds cheering gladiators but the slaughter of man and beast. It is a powerful place and a prime example of what is good and bad about mankind.

An interesting but sad side point for me was the realisation that bull rings of Spain were actually throw backs to these Roman sports. For me the round shape was the give away and when I researched it I found this was in fact the case, present day bullfighting is a continuation of entertainment popular in Rome.

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The highlight for me however, was the grace and beauty of the Queen of Merida, the Roman Theatre, which stands regally next to the ampitheatre and serves in contrast as an reminder of what height of culture and art the Romans achieved. On the day of my visit a theatre performance was scheduled for that evening only 2041 years after the first performance in 25BC.

Merida is beautiful clean town that has obviously taken to heart the message of the poster below.

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It reads in English ” educate your owner”. I personally think it should also say ” I can’t do it on my own”

In closing I just want to say if you don’t ever go to another Roman historic site, go to Merida, everywhere else cannot compare.

Tips

  • Try making your trip in either spring or Autumn. The heat of summer is the only thing that will marr your visit. I used a parasol all day but I still felt like I could almost get heat stroke by the time I finished at the theatre.
  • On the same note make sure you carry a huge bottle of water. There is age eat fountain at the entrance but no other water for the rest of visit around both the Ampitheatre and Roman Theatre.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cadiz – City of the Ancients, Sunbaking Cats and Smooth Talking Old Spaniards!

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Cadiz, Cadiz, the city of the ancients, what can I say that hasn’t been said before. With a history dating back to the Phonecians it holds the title of the oldest occupied city in Spain and one of the 10 ancient cities of Europe. Sparkling like a gem in the summer sun for thousands of years, the Romans obviously knew a great holiday destination when they saw one and occupied the city from 200 BC, leaving their own unique mark. Cadiz is surrounded by water on all sides, except for a narrow spit of land, running for a few kilometres, that joins it to the mainland.

As you enter the city through the massive gates that form part of the fortification built centuries ago ( once again primarily to keep out the English) you can’t help being drawn back to a time when running battles between Sir Francis Drake’s ( or  El Draque  – the Dragon, as the Spanish so affectionately like to call him) English Navy and the Spanish Armada were a common occurance. From 1586, thanks to the first of El Draques attacks, a series of “bastions” were built. These forts, eventually saved Cadiz from English invasion and for travellers 500 years later gave some of the best photo opportunities in all of Spain.

However, like all Spanish cities the never ending rows of high rise apartment blocks lie between the main road and the beach front as you head to its heart. Some time ago I watched a documentary showing the amazing ruins of the early incarnations of these blocks of flats in Rome. They were called “Insulae” or islands and due to the staggering population growth the Romans built thousands of them, today surviving examples still stand up to five storeys. It seems that the Italians had a fascination with concrete even then.  Take the New York skyline as an example and how can we forget the “concrete boots” favoured by the Maffia. My point in all this is that the Romans occupied Spain for more than 700 years and the Spanish didn’t complain much, so it’s not surprising that a lot of habits rubbed off.

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Closer to the Old City the architecture changes, the ever present cobble stone lanes, wrought iron and narrow alley’s return. What Cadiz has, that the other old places I have up visited up till now haven’t had, is the ocean and a brilliant blue Atlantic it is. The sea wall that protects the city from the ever present surging ocean almost surrounds its entire circumference. Gigantic concrete blocks big enough to with stand the lashing storms of an Atlantic winter not only protect the inhabitants but also offer a home for the scores of feral feline Cadizians.

These cats I must tell you are quite well cared for by their human neighbours with food left at feeding points and bedding for them placed deep inside the blocks. One this hot June day they are sprawled out on the baking concrete, a gentle breeze wafting over them, oblivious to the interest of passerby’s. On the cold winter days when icy gales from the southern Atlantic close in they burrow deep into the walls cavities, warm and dry.

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Walking further along the wall you come upon a Roman Ampitheatre not 40 mtrs from the water. It is not hard to imagine the ancients lounging like the cats enjoying a sort cultural programme.  What can I say but “everything old is new again” and the present cult of summer festivals was old 2000 years ago. I’m sure I could just make out a poster on the wall advertising the “Summer Sun and Sea festival 100BC” (that is if my primary school Latin was correct). All joking aside it would have been an awesome spot for a concert.

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The highlight of the day was the Castillo de Santa Catalina and a little inlet that runs underneath the causeway joining it to the mainland. Built in the early 1600’s it forms part of the fortifications I mentioned earlier. Pitted by sand laden winds from North Africa ( the Moroccan coastline is only about 100 kmtrs away) the Castillo sits perch on a narrow isthmus, it’s low hexagonal shape giving it an appearance of solid security.

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The inlet running under an arched section of the causeway is purposely designed to allow water to flow from one side to the other in order to relieve any pressure than could create cracks  and therefore damage the wall. What it  has created over time is a clear, deep swimming hole; that on this melting day is enjoyed by groups of teenage boys showing off their diving skills and flexing their muscles to the ever present groups of teenage girls and of course  I went swimming too.

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On the walk back to the car I was approached by a lovely elderly man, who appeared to be in his seventies. Quite well dress and clean, with a present smiling face and a slightly lyrical voice, I didn’t hesitate when he held out his hand to me and automatically extended mine back to him. He grasped my hand firmly and continued smiling and talking to me in Spanish. I was becoming quite confused, especially when he wouldn’t let go of my hand.

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Thankfully my friend,who was walking with his wife a little way in front turned around and came to see what was happening. The two men then engaged in a brief conversation and I heard the mention of money at one stage but couldn’t understand anything else. I had been just able to extract my hand by this time, so when my friend flick his hand in a sign of rejection and walked away I scurried after him.

When I asked him what the old guy wanted, “oh he was just asking for money” Victor said. I told him I was relieved cause I thought he was asking if he could buy me and thought they might have been sick of me by now and actually considered his offer!

Tips

  •  Makesure you bring a hat – with 300 days of sunshine it’s always need it!
  • have lunch at the small cafe at the causeway entrance of the Castillo
  • never extend your hand to old men – you might just have to cut it off to get away!

 

 

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How To Make It To SevilleWithout A Complete Meltdown – A Sangria or Two Helps

 

The air is surprising when I wheel my bags out into the street on my first day in Spain, clear and cool but with the hint of what is to come. Like a tap you turn on that first runs cold but slowly you feel warm water mixing with the cool, till finally all you have is hot.

My 500mtr walk to the metro is not uncomfortable, with the help of a couple of passerby’s, a little English and a bit of sign language, what I already knew was confirmed (the metro was straight down the street). I really didn’t need to ask I think it was more just for reassurance.

Once I had taken the escalator to the first level of the Metro it was another thing, no ticket office, no one to try and speak to, only machines, but thankfully a large map and three really lovely Canadian boys. You really don’t want me to bore you with the details of how I manage to hold on to all my bags, get my money out and pay for my ticket, lets just say it was hard. Getting through the turnstiles was just as difficult but thankfully Spanish men are really helpful as well.

Intercity trains are run by Renfe, which is situated at  Atoche, the largest of Madrid’s stations, the old terminal having been transformed into a tropical covered garden.  It was easy to find the customer service to enquire about tickets, but as it turned out, not quite so to buy one. After being directed to an office and a machine that spat out tickets notifying you of your place in the queue,  I realise in horror that my ticket said A244 when the LED display notifying the next customer to be served was only saying A103. With a single customer service representative working I quickly realised my dream of getting to Seville by lunch time was out the window.

During the next hour and a half I noted with perverse glee the many travellers that walked into the office and looked around in confusion, only to be told by another customer about the machine. Once they’d taken their ticket I waited for the inevitable series of reactions. Firstly a quick glance down at their number, then a corresponding glance at the flashing display for the current ticket to be called, followed by one of two actions when they realised how long the wait would be. The first was horrified disbelief, really entertaining. The best however, were the people that nervously scanned the seated customers with a half smile on their lips, certain that someone was playing a huge joke on them and they were about to “get punked”.

To be honest I’m really not that sure there wasn’t some comedy show being secretly filmed for Spanish television cause here is the rub, when I finally arrived at the glorious moment of my ticket being called, feeling like I had won the lottery, I was told ” sorry but this office is for pre booked tickets, you have to go to another ticket office to purchase tickets for travel today!”

All I want to say is I arrived in Seville at 4.30, took me longer than it should have, cost more than it would if I had booked and paid before I left Australia and it is my own fault. Train travel in Spain is actually brilliant, fast and clean and once you get the hang of it, very easy.

Seville is a seriously beautiful city, particularly the old Jewish quarter, which really is the only place to stay. There are far too many awesome sites to visit that I won’t mention them here, just google images and research them, totally worth it. The train station was relatively close to my hotel according to the map, so once again McDonalds, their black tea and free wi fi was greatly appreciated. I sat down drank my tea, had a wrap and sent a few messages to assure friends and family that I was still alive.  Unfortunately the last message to my son finally depleted my iPad battery and I realised with horror that my phone had died as well. Aargh!

I almost crumbled into pure panic at that moment because I hadn’t written the address of my pension down on paper and had no  idea of the name. However, just before I opened my mouth to scream I realised I had actually printed out the booking form, handing it to a taxi driver I sank with relief into the seat. Again as much as it pains my to say it, without a charged phone to follow google maps, there was no way I would have found the hotel if I had taken the bus. The taxi took me straight there and only cost €8. The narrow rabbit warren of streets and lanes in the old city was too hard to navigate on your own.

I had chosen La Montorena because of the position and price of course but also because of the mosaic lined foyer and roof top terrace and it turned out to be a good one. My single room was a shoe box but the bed was fine and the small bathroom opposite was mainly used by me alone. Again it may only have been €26 a night but the cleanliness was remarkable.

As I mentioned before but my trip to Spain is an extended one, nearly three three months in total then a month in England, so my bags are heavy. The narrow marble staircase up to the first and second floors made it impossible to drag up my huge rolling backpack. I had actually anticipated this and packed everything I thought I might need for the weekend into my  overnight bag, so I store the big one downstairs.

Seville was my first taste of the heat of summer in southern Spain and it is strong, but being dry it is bearable at the same time, not the sticky ever present humidity of the tropics. Walking around the scenic sites is therefore a mostly comfortable experience. Bars are abundant, food is cheap and beverages (alcohol included) is even cheaper so once the heat drains you a little it is easy to recover your strength. Sangria in particular is an effective medicine.

Low cost accommodation can have a bad reputation for many reason, noisy young travellers for one thing. Not that they weren’t present at La Montorena but they weren’t that noisy. These days however, you are just as likely to find older travellers, just like yourself, they love to talk and the roof top terrace was the perfect place meet the other guests.  I met a lovely Danish couple who had just arrived and were making a return visit. There is a definite comoraderie that you don’t get in resorts and upmarket hotels,  maybe a sense of shared experience!

Tips

  • Work out your metro train trip prior to taking it – mine involve taking 3 different train lines to the main station which I do think is weird when I was actually on the airport line to begin with but hey it’s Spain. And write it down – you will not remember!
  • Book and pay for your intercity train ticket before you leave home – you do not want to star in Spanish Candid Camera!
  • Buy a power  converter also before you leave home – we rely so much on technology today you CANNOT be stuck without your device, that is unless you want to have a nervous breakdown!
  • cafe/bars are cheap but even cheaper is grocery stores, the small corner store variety no exception. So if you are really trying to live cheaply  a knife, rice wafers, avocado, tomato and some smoked salmon under a roof top cabana, with a €2.99 2011 bottle of red is fabulous ( just make sure the wafers you buy don’t have some sickly sweet creamy substance inside because you couldn’t read the label otherwise your eating with your fingers)

 

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From Lunar Landscapes to Patchwork Quilt Cultivation

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Never, never, never book a long haul flight from Australia to Europe without at least one night stopover somewhere, that is unless you have the luck of travelling first class and that probably isn’t likely for most of us. This is my first piece of advice, it just isn’t worth the stress on your body.

Flying out of Brisbane at 5.00 am having not slept for twenty four hours seemed Like a good idea. My reasoning being that I would be able to sleep longer  and better on the flight if I was tired, but no this didn’t happen! I did manage an hour or so as we flew over Australia, then woke up only to find we were still hadn’t  even left the Northern Territory. It was then another hour till we exited via the coast of Western Australia.

You cannot help but be impressed by the enormous oasis in the middle of the desert that is Dubai and the airport a fitting match. Dubai Airport is enormous, so big that it takes a train to move you speedily for some distance to your departure gate. Like many of the other man made structures that appear in that part of the world it is a vast spiralling monument to those in power at the time of construction.

Peering down on the gulf states from thirty two thousand feet as we headed out of Dubai exposes the true expanse of the lunar landscape. No trees, water or seemingly vegetation of any sort (I know there really is some I just can’t see it ). I can’t help thinking in wonder at the resilience of the people that have called the region home for much of human history. Tankers, too numerous to even mention, steam back and forward, filling man’s insatiable appetite for petroleum products.

I handled the long, long trip from Australia to Dubai quite well really but the next leg of my trip however, was a different story. About half way over the Mediterranean I was ready to jump out of the plane. Again, not that it was a bad trip, it was just doing my head in being cooped up, too, too long! Even the magnificence of eastern Spain from the air wasn’t enough to totally dispel this feeling, and magnificent it is! A patchwork of gigantic proportions, laid out as intricately as any of their famous mosaic murals; fields under cultivation producing varying colours and textures, with small nutmeg kernel hills popping up here and there dotty the tableau.

Madrid Barajas Airport is a giant mausoleum on this Friday evening at 8.00 pm but later discovered that we had actually arrived at the newest and as yet under utilised runway. This also turned out to be another very fast, few kilometre train trip away from the main airport, it being much busier and just a little scarier.

There is a smell in the air that I can’t explain, I won’t call it a scent because that would elude to something pleasant. Not that it was offensive either, although I think it could be, if a little stronger. My nostrils tingled but realised that I better get used to it since it wasn’t  going away anytime soon!

My hotel booking was supposed to be very close to the airport, walking distance even, but I quickly felt like someone standing on one side of a raging river needing to get to the other side without a bridge.  After twenty three and a half hours travelling and a couple of failed attempts to find a shuttle bus I opted for a taxi. What I would have found if I had researched the transportation options better was that the train from the airport would take me one stop and  cost under €2.00. I then had to only walk 500 mtrs in a straight line to my hotel instead of costing €20.00 by taxi. Then again, as I said I’d had it and all I wanted to do was arrive at my hotel.

There have only been two times in my life where I have been genuinely happy to find a McDonalds (I haven’t and never will be a regular consumer of fast food) and both occasions involved an overwhelming desire for a cup of tea. The first after a long and uncomfortable bus trip from the middle of Laos to Bangkok, a city that never seems to close, except for a two hour window between about 4.00 and 6.00 in the morning, unhappily coinciding with our bus arrival. The only thing open in the whole of Khao San Rd was Uncle Ronald’s restaurant and those Giant  arches gleamed like the gold of El Dorado and made my heart happy as I sipped my “Lipton”.

The second was my exhausted 9.00pm Friday night arrival at the Hostel Aeropuerto, made even more euphoric by the unexpected discovering of the same gleaming arches directly across the road, calling me to my pot of gold (a cup of black tea and a garden salad), bliss!

My Tips

  •  Never book a long haul flight from Australia without an over night stop over.
  • Always research transportation option – including key words if not in English speaking countries e.g tickets – billetes (Spanish)
  • Sometimes it’s just worth it to pay a little extra to get where you are going
  • As much as it pains my to say it but MacDonalds can be a saviour.
  • Hostel Aeropuerto – immaculately clean, great staff,  comfortable, only €30 single room or €35 double

Gardening – Monica Style

Monica, a seventy seven year old who just happens to be my mother, is unique in oh so many ways. Up until two months ago when she had knee replacement surgery she was still playing tennis three times a week, riding and walking kilometres a day as well. There is so much more I can tell you about her exercise obsession, needless to say though you now see why a knee replacement was necessary.  As you will see not all excersise was welcomed by my mother.

When our family home was sold fourteen years ago Monica chose to down size and purchased a unit. Three bedrooms, two bathrooms plenty of room for all the kids, grandkids and great grandkids to visit. Like many retirees of her generation she had absolutely had enough of gardening.  Our particular property was approximately half an acre in size and other than the percentage of land used by the house and shed, most of it was lush green lawn. All of which was mown by Monica, in her gum boots and lycra leggings. She could be observed most weeks pushing that lawn mower up and down the length of the yard cause she couldn’t bare to have a blade of grass out of place.

When Monica finally moved into her new unit the first thing she did was rip out any blade of grass or garden that existed in her long “L” shaped court yard, replacing the offending greenery with terracotta paving stones. No living thing was spared, never more was she going to be tied to the upkeep of a garden and the regular mowing it required.

There was however one aspect of gardening that she did actually like,  Monica really loved her strawberry plants and thanks to the horses that lived in the paddock beside our house, were the biggest, juiciest and sweetest strawberries that anyone had ever tried. Monica perfected the art of composting horse poo so that the stimulating effect on the strawberry plants had to be seen to be believed. There was no match for her strawberries, they were legendary.lawn-mower_17497_600x450.jpg

When she took her one year old lawn mower back to the shop for repairs, they mower mechanic was stunned at the poor condition of the machine. He had never seen a lawn mower disintegrate the way hers had or as quickly. He said he simply didn’t have an explanation for the state the mower was in.

He may not have know how it had happened but my mother certainly did. She never actually admitted to the mechanic but every week she ran over piles of manure collected from the paddock. Back and forth, breaking up every last nugget of horse poo gold to spread on her beloved strawberry plants.

Boys Need Strong Mothers, Otherwise They Will Never Grow Up to Be Good Men

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I listened with delight to a news report today about an Australian Rules football player being left in Jail for four days because his mum refused to bail him out. If you are a younger person (or maybe someones son)  you may be thinking that was a bit harsh but believe me I am sure the decision by his mum was a long time coming. Most mothers love their sons and come to the tough love decision after more than one infringement by that same child.

It starts very early with your son, they nick the chocolate frogs from the fundraising box your daughter has been asked to sell for her ballet class and they swear that they didn’t do it. You know quite well that it is them but they snuggle up to you and there is nothing you can do.  They learn very early to wrap you around their finger, but eventually you wise up. My son moved to Mackay when he was twenty two. He and a mate went to North Queensland for a change. They spent the first couple of weeks sleeping in the back of a ute, chasing crocs and eating crabs and fish they caught. They were broke and being just after christmas none of the local builders had started back to work so they were stuck. It turned out however,  to be the best thing that could have happened to them. They literally had no money so they weren’t able to touch alcohol or any other stimulant that they may have previously resorted to.

Then a cyclone came and I had to help them out with a roof over their head. For some months after that there were any number of reasons why I should help them out. They were working but there always seemed to be an excuse for why they needed a little bit of help. That is until I did something that put a stop to it, stone cold dead.

My son rang one day saying he was totally out of food and wouldn’t get his pay for a few days. Poor starving child I thought but wasn’t going to be stupid enough this time to give him cash. So I negotiated with a large supermarket in downtown Mackay to allow me to buy a gift card over the phone, which for some reason they found to be a very hard thing to do. Anyway, once this was organised I rang my son and told him what I had done. To say he wasn’t happy would be an understatement to be sure. The coup de gras came when he tried to buy cigarettes with his groceries and discovered that I had imposed a limitation on the items allowable with that gift card. He was incredibly embarrass and because boys being as shame phobic as they are, it goes with out saying that he never asked me to give him money again.

In the case of footballers there doesn’t seem to be a week that goes by without some incident with a player from one or more of the codes played in Australia. I am sure this is the same in most western countries, footballers headlining the morning news because of trouble with alcohol, fighting and women (usually all three together).  I think they should sack the managers and employ mothers, we’d fix ’em!

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