Zesty Mumma's Words

A life lived without passion is a life half lived

Archive for the tag “life”

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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Peruvian Grannies Selling Flowers In Buenos Aires Are Not To Be Messed With!

I first saw the colourful Peruvian Jasmine sellers at the end of my street. The family were strategically stationed in a prime position to attract passers by as they existed the subway after the daily commute. Grandma, mum, a little girl of about four years and a baby boy around six months of age. The baby had caught my attention on that cool, damp BA evening, wrapped warmly in his vibrant Peruvian blanket. Strands of black hair sneaking out from under the traditional bonnet and a happy little smile on his face, he was just so cute as he sat snuggly in his cardboard box on the sidewalk. I couldn’t help myself, the photo opportunity was too good; but as I pulled my phone out of my bag the grandma reached into box and took the baby out.  

When I saw the same family only a couple of block from my house I was again struck by how cute they were. Different location but exactly the same scene, minus the Granny. The opportunity to get that shot I had so desired a few weeks previous was invigorating, I couldn’t believe it. The sun was shining, the air was clear and life was good. I got the first photo no problem but I new it wasn’t good, so I walked half way across the road preparing for the next. That’s  when granny came barreling around the corner, screaming Peruvian unpleasantries at me. I did attempt to explain, for about ten seconds, but there was no placating her with my limited Spanish. All I could do was turn and walked away, granny still raging.

I have no idea why she objected, it could have been any number of things; fear of the authorities as there has been recent changes to immigration laws, maybe fear that the baby would be considered at risk. Really though it didn’t matter what the reason was or how picture perfect I considered the scene to be. It wasn’t just a photograph op for them, it was their life and that was hard enough without worrying about some foreigner taking photographs of them.

In a land where welfare support is virtually non existent or you aren’t a citizen you do what you have to, it’s all about survival. The number of people estimated to be living below the poverty line is approximately about 20% of the population of Buenos Aires. With another 10 – 20% considered vulnerable should prices increase or the bread winner unable to work. Considering the inflation rate for 2018 was 40% i that could be sooner rather than later

Sellers of every description inhabit the streets, alleyways and metro of Buenos Aires. The Subte (as the BA metro is called) provides the perfect market place for street hawkers. Sometimes they begin in booming voices explaining in detail what circumstances have let him or her to be in the position of needing to sell a product on the train. Other times they weave through the carriage placing their product on your knee. It could be chewing gum, a pair of socks, chocolate, hair ties or any number of other items. After they have covered the carriage they come back to either take the product back or take the money. On some lines you can be approach by three to five sellers in a journey of 15 minutes.

The “Cartoneros” though, take the award for the most original occupation and definitely fall under the banner of “only in Buenos Aires”. Hauling their huge carts around the street they serve the city as recyclers and actually receive a basic retainer. They are also able to sell whatever they find in the huge bell shaped recycling bins placed around the suburbs. There are approximately 5000 government appointed “Cartoneros”, however another 50000 also work the streets illegally but only get money for what they can sell. The dirty, hot and tiring work is not for the faint hearted.

… And what of my Peruvian flower sellers you may ask? Yes I have seen them at the end of my street once again but the baby now has his own pram. So I’m guessing that the main concern of the granny was the baby. I even think that on the very first occasion I noticed them, she had also noticed me and my attempt to get my camera out. Don’t mess with a Peruvian granny I say!

Hip Hip Hooray to International Women Day! But How Far Have We Really Come?

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Let me start this week’s blog by telling a little story….

An immaculately dressed women walks past a mirror and glances quickly at her reflection. As she does her focus zeros in on the aspects of her appearance that she particularly dislikes. She flinches, averting her eyes from the image of herself, as if she were the Hunchback of Notre Dame caught in a spot light. A man walks past the same mirror, his baggy tracksuit pants hang just below his jiggling belly and his ripped Tshirt wears the remains of breakfast. He glances in the mirror and thinks to himself, “looking good”! The point of this story is that women will always look at themselves and think there is something wrong with them; where as men will always see an image of themselves and think they are a chick magnet, no matter how they look.

So lets go back to International Day of Women.

Does it mean we women are suddenly at peace with ourself’…. I doubt it

Does it mean that we are kind to each other…. I doubt it

Does it mean that we like our body…. I seriously doubt it

Does that sound pessimistic? Well it was meant to be. I just despair sometimes that in spite of all the fanfare that goes along with initiatives such as International Women’s Day, women still judge each other harshly and judge themselves even harsher. If we are totally honest there isn’t a woman that hasn’t looked at a photo of some starlet in a magazine, gleefully noticing that tiny bit of cellulite on her butt and rejoiced. Let’s forget the month she may have spent raising awareness for street children in Cambodia, no lets just focus on the cellulite.

I’d like to blame the media for subjecting us to the barrage of images and stories we are exposed to daily, the same images and stories that feed our obsession with beauty over achievement. However I don’t think we can totally dump the blame on the media, I believe the problem starts a little closer to home. It’s a secret passed down from mother to daughter from generation to generation, the signs so seemingly insignificant that most men would never even notice. But we girls know the code don’t we?

It starts very early in life, the little girl watching her mother as she flinches at the glimpse of herself in the mirror, the child takes it all in. Picture a family gathered for dinner, but mum is on a diet so her meal is different from the rest of the family, her daughter sees all. These and the other thousand of unspoken signals women send to their daughters train them where to focus their attention far more successfully than words ever could.

Of course it isn’t all doom and gloom, there are great role models out there; Amal Clooney for one, the brilliant human rights lawyer that represents the likes of Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange. The trouble is the first thing we think of when we see a photo of Amal is that fact that she is stick thin, beautiful and managed to bag the worlds most eligible bachelor, because that’s what we were trained to focus on.

So if focus is the problem, what can we do to change it? Maybe it’s not focus, maybe its just perspective! Do you remember the story I told at the start of this blog? Well by chance I told this story to a group of friends thinking I would get a laugh, which I did. After the laughter and discussion ended a wise male friend gave me his perspective on my little tale. He told me that the real truth of the story was that neither perspective were balanced, they were both extreme. The fact was that while men are never as good looking as they think they are, we women are never as bad as we perceive ourselves to be. In fact most of the time we are pretty darn awesome!

Stepford Wives to Kim Kardashian -The pressure on Young Women

Long ago in the dark ages, the 1950’s that is, poise and the ability to dress attractively were desired attributes for the cultured young woman. These and the ability to clean a home and cook a roast dinner all the while dressed as a Stepford wife.

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You may think that these standards are long since resigned to the depths of history, but let me ask you what is the difference between the pressures on those 1950’s housewives and the images the likes of Kim Kardasian and her ilk are transmitting into the brains of young women today.

Poise was important then and just so today. Think of the skill involved in presenting the perfect selfie to the world. Surely the poses required in those social media posts are a reflection of the type of “poise” desired for the young in society today.

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Ok so the Stepford “pearls and twinset” look has well and truly gone by the wayside but young women today are faced with an equally unattainable standard splashed over the internet and magazines. Thanks to the same Kardasian clan and lesser media starlets it is not good enough for young wives and mothers to be just cute, they have to be sexy as well. Seductively posed pouting in the bathroom mirror or suggestively filmed with breasts partly exposed, while driving their children to school. This is standard fodder for the all powerful social media platforms. So while the unattainable 1950’s and 60’s standards of perfection is thankfully no longer valid, it has been replaced by an equally unattainable standard – pole dancer style.

You might call me a dreamer but in the words that just dropped out of Amy Farrah Fowler, as I write this blog and watch The Big Bang at the same time, “why can’t we go back to the time when brains were sexy.”

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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

Verdant Mountain Peaks and Gravel Pits -What Contrast!

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This weeks blog is the first part of my truly solo journey, dragging my greatly overpacked bags with me. I usually don’t make such a huge mistake with my estimation of what will be needed for a trip, but what can I say, we all screw up at sometime.

I’m heading north to Granada via Malaga by bus, which in Spain is a great cheap way to get around. The buses are modern and clean, with many many services to choose from. They also offer exceptional sightseeing experiences along the way.

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As the gentle hills of the coast give way to the towering peaks of the Sierra Nevada they form a dramatic gateway to the old Arabic fortress city of Granada. The modern day city however, is a melting pot of locals, tourists, artists and a strange phenomenon “German Hippies”. Two nouns I haven’t found synonymous to a large extent in the past, yet here in Granada they exist in great numbers complete with multiple piercings and dreadlocks.

The city is packed on this long weekend but in this case it only adds to the atmosphere. Colour and music fill the streets. Above the city the mountains are ever present and in spite of the heat it isn’t hard to imagine a winter backdrop of snow capped peaks. Sitting atop a smaller hill, watching regally over the chaos below, is the Alhambra ( the old Moorish palace) and its exquisite beauty can not be over estimated. Abundant clear fresh water gushes or tinkles or drips from the sides of the hill resulting in verdant, shady gardens and natural forest. Moorish poets described the Alhambra as “a pearl set against emeralds”.

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When the might of the combined Catalan and Castile Empires of Spain finally rested Granada from the Arabic Moores it caused great sadness. The last Emirate of Granada was so distraught at the loss of his beautiful home he sobbed as the caravan of family and possession’s made its way out of the palace gates. His mother, a woman that could give Cruella Deville a run for her money, was heard to to tell her heart broken son not to “weep like a baby for something he couldn’t hold onto like a man”. Ouch, that’s one tough mother!

Viewing the palace in the late afternoon from a neighbouring hill; the golden haze from the setting sun dripping like melted gold over her ancient turrets while flamenco buskers serenade the on lookers, it was easy to understand how this city could inspire such passion.

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The bus to Alicante, my next destination, didn’t inspire anything but a sore backside but the scenery was still worth the discomfort. Spain is essentially one gigantic rock. I know I have told you all about the romantic olive groves, the hectares and hectares of berries and of course the very very cheap wine Spain produces ( made with them grapes they grow) but to see the terrain as we head to Valencia state is to look upon a gravel pit. Popping up amongst the rocks here and there are the beginnings of the citrus groves this part of Spain is so famous  for.

However, there is a down side to all this agriculture in a country that essentially is desertlike in many areas. In 2011 a massive earthquake struck at a very shallow depth causing devastating deaths, major damage to infrastructure and left 10,000 homeless. A year on from the tragedy and an investigation ruled that the cause was the extraction of ground water, which had been going on for years.

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The scary thing is that the agriculture is still going on and it still doesn’t rain much in Spain.

Tips

  • When booking buses – if you are booking connecting buses that are run by different companies always make sure you have a couple of hours between the connection. In Spain buses run to there own timetable and you need to account for any delays that usually occur.
  • The Alhambra – Makesure you book your ticket to the Nazarid Palaces and Generallife at least a month before you leave, if you are visiting at peak time.
  • It is only about €15 for the ticket to all Alhambra attractions so don’t book on a sight that says it is €35 or €40 as these sites are for guided tours.

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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What do Christopher Columbus and Berries Have in Common, You’ll be Surprised!

The actual town I have based myself in for most of my stay in Spain is called Palos De La Frontera, which apparently is the berry capital of the world. If you take a look on google maps and change the setting to satellite what you notice is fields on fields of white. Before you start thinking that you are witnessing some sort of new hybrid berry crop let me tell that it is actually field on field of plastic covered green houses, mono culture at its zenith.

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Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries ( sounding a tad like Forrest Gumps friend Bubba at this moment I’m sure  – “pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup” etc) but the queen is definitely the strawberry. Just in case an uneducated person like myself failed to recognise this fact we have a giant strawberry planted in the middle of the roundabout not 250mtrs from my house. Coming from the land of big things (think big pineapple, big cow, big prawn, big banana and oh so many more biggn’s) you might think I’m not impressed, well you couldn’t be further from the truth. The fact that they chose to put a mammoth strawberry in the middle of the roundabout instead of the other most important connection to Palos De La Frontera, the one and only Christopher Columbus, shows the importance of the industry to the town.

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Palos, much to my surprise when I arrived is the place of Columbus first voyage to the Americas. In fact many of the sailors on the expedition were pressed into service from Palos and the two smaller caravels ( La Niña and Pinto) were owned by the Pinzon brothers from Moguer, the next village down the road. They set sail from the Palos dock near the Monastery of La Rabida on 3rd August 1492 and change the world forever.

The village, while playing a huge roll in the  exploration of the globe is often forgotten entirely in any discussion of Columbus’s journeys. On the plus side it remains a sleepy village to this day. The white washed houses with terracotta roofs externally are probably very similar to the homes occupied by the residents of that time. Its one moment of fame over Palos settled back into obscurity and the never ending sun of southern Spain. Far more cataclysmic to the history of the town, even more than Columbus and berries was the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. This devistating natural ddisasters destroyedmost of Lisbon and changed the geography of the coastline of southern Spain so much that Palos is now an inland town on a river rather than a sea port.

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Back to the present day and how is my Spanish going I hear you ask?  Gracias, for asking, it’s ok. I managed to buy shampoo and conditioner by my self the other day and have perfected the purchase of “cafe Americano”. That’s a long black a bit larger than a Spanish black coffee but still only about 150mls and not the humungous sizes drank in Australia and the US. Thankfully that’s how I drink my coffee so it is “perfecto” ( just slipping in a bit more Spanish to impress you) for me.

The Spanish food however is taking a little more time to get used to and trust me I’m not a person who is scared to try new things. There are a few secrets about Spanish cooking that surprised me completely and  I think I should tell you. The first is that other than garlic and salt they don’t use herbs and spices very much and they definitely hate chilli. Another secret is the lack of vegetables used, most dishes lean heavily on meat, however they do incorporate legumes and rice into many dishes. Generally if you ask for “ensalada” or salad it will consist of tomatoes lettuce and onion, sometimes tuna as well. Very different to the extravagant creations from home

The Spanish however have a love affair with potatoes which rivals that of the Irish, bet you didn’t know that. They have no hesitation with eating potatoes for breakfast, lunch and tea; and as a snack in between. There is no shame in chowing down on Tortilla (potato and egg pie) for breakfast, potato salad swimming in mayonnaise for lunch and chips with tapas in the evening.  I have seen the light and been released, my long suppressed yearning for potatoes has been fed and I feel fine. No fear of the dreaded carbohydrate in Spain, no  irrational all consuming phobia about bread either. One thing I have noticed, the Spanish for the most part don’t eat much western styled fast food, don’t get me wrong it’s here just not as much. Also the bars that people mostly eat at prepare there own food and don’t buy in frozen pre prepared. Surprise, surprise Spanish women don’t have big butts!

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My tourist destination of the week is Córdoba, a beautiful inland city  of about 350,000 and has the second largest urban area in the world deemed world heritage by UNESCO. Córdoba was at one time the capital of the Roman region of  Hispania Ulteria and later the capital of the Moorish state Al-Andalus. The many existing examples of architecture, including the remnants of its Jewish history make this a must see destination.

Tips

  •  enjoy your holiday  – eat freshly prepared food, not processed food and don’t worry about theories that have only been around for a relatively short time.

 

 

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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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