Zesty Mumma's Words

A life lived without passion is a life half lived

Archive for the tag “memories”

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

Step out of Your Comfort Zone and feel Alive

Learning to drive  a car for most people comes during teenage years and offers your first taste of freedom from parental constraints. I however didn’t get my licence till I was thirty two! Living in a coastal village it was easy to get myself around town on my bicycle; work, shops, beach, everywhere. Friends still remind me of the massive amount of grocery bags that could often be seen dangling from the handle bars.

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Even when my children were born I still had no motivation to get my licence. “Why do I need it, I can walk with the pram, it’s good excersise,” I told myself. Not until we moved to a rural property did it quickly became apparent that me getting my licence was indeed a necessity.  Now many years later and thousand of kilometres of driving under my belt it is unthinkable for me to imagine living in a world without my licence.

Then I came to Spain two months ago and couldn’t possibly imagined driving around the countryside. As I’m sure most are aware, like the Americas, European countries (except the United Kingdom) all drive on the right hand side of the road and therefore so does Spain. For those of us that learnt to drive in the 30% of countries that do so on the left, the thought of even attempting to make the switch is inconceivable.  I even get confused when  I am asked to give directions, I inevitably choose right when I mean left and visa versa. The thought of me hurtling down a Spanish motorway at 120 km an hour was never on the cards, but then the weather got hot!

When I say hot I mean baking oven, burnt to a crisp, hard to breath and not only did my friends husband have to work but my friend had answered a question wrong when renewing her Australian licence online. The Australian government, ever scarred of fraudsters and illegal immigrants, doesn’t give you any chances and refused to allow my friend to complete her renewal online. This left us unable to go for a swim without Victor. In an act of extreme desperation Selena asks me about five weeks ago if I wanted to drive. I thought she was joking at first but she was deadly serious. I was quite impressed with her courage I must say but the fact the beach is actual only ten minutes, four right hand turns and one left hand away might have had something to do with it.  My confidence however, was not so easily strengthened.

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Which brings me back to the reasons I didn’t drive till I was thirty two, basically I was scarred. I know I said all that other stuff about not being necessary etc, but the honest ” face yourself in the mirror” truth be told was; I was scarred. When I first turned out of our street on the road that took us Mazagon I felt like I did in those days when I was learning to drive. Nothing is natural, you have to be reminding yourself constantly of what you should be doing. I even developed my own mantra, ” keep Selena in the gutter” which translates ” the passenger is alway on the right”.  It felt like the car was driving you not the other way around.

After a relatively short time I ventured further a field, Zara, Sfera and many other Spanish clothing brands decided it was time for sales and we weren’t missing out on that. Then a couple of weeks ago we drove to Sevilla (about an hour away) to visit yet another group of Roman ruins. This time I had to travel on the motorway, which I would like to point out has a speed limit of one hundred and twenty kilometres an hour, ten kilometres faster than  Australia. Since that day driving on the right has suddenly become second nature and I am pretty chuffed with myself.

I even drove a friends car in Portugal, which has a very old, narrow and poorly maintained road system, when the friend I was with wasn’t feeling well. The fact she quickly recovered after I took the wheel could’ve had something to do with the fact I have a heavy lead foot and she suddenly realised that I had only been driving on the right for a matter of weeks.

When I chose to take this Solo holiday  I did so for a variety of reason, one in particular was the opportunity to put myself into uncomfortable situations and find answers. Truly driving on the right hand side of the road was one of those situations for me and surprise surprise, I found I could not only do it but do it comfortably. The thing about human nature is that it is easy just living our life in our usual routine and we have a measure of happiness. However, if we choose to push ourself, step outside the everyday, suddenly you feel alive. Each little achievement makes the blood flow and gives you confidence.image

That was my pep talk for the week, now for Portugal. To say Portugal is special is an understatement. I have been across the border a few times during my stay in Palos and noticed that inspite of the similarities with Spain it is also quite different. This trip took me a little further along the south coast to the exquisite Praia de Marinha. This section of the coast and hinterland is called the Algave. It features not only amazing beaches but the remains of lairs of Portuguese smugglers and pirates from a world long disappeared. These bandits notoriously laid in wait for Spanish galleons returning from American, laden with gold and other cargo

Southern Portugal has many resorts  for Northern Europeans but if you venture beyond this artificial world you find the rustic lifestyles of the people is still very authentic and simplistic. My only regret is I didn’t find any surf to photograph for my son and friends but that is further round on the west coast.  I really only scratched the surface of that beautiful country and what I saw I loved, this is definitely a return destination!

Tips

  •  Never leave your home country without an international licence – you just don’t  know when you will need it.
  • Step outside your comfort zone, you just might surprise yourself!
  • Try Portuguese flame grilled Tuna- it’s like no Tuna steak you have ever tried before!

 

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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