Zesty Mumma's Words

A life lived without passion is a life half lived

Archive for the tag “sightseeing”

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

It’s Twistn’ Time, Twisting By The Pool That Is!

Finally my time in Huelva Province has come to an end and I am on the road again, not that I am sad to be moving on but having spent over two months in this relatively peaceful backwater, it is not with out some melancholy and sense of fondness. The two hundred and forty seven kilometre journey to San Pedro De Alcantara takes me from the far western edge of Andalusia to the most Eastern side, the playground for most of Northern Europe, especially Britain. In Australia we have the Gold Coast, the US has Miami but Spain has the Costa Del Sol.

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The road from Sevilla onwards takes a steadily climbing path to the Serrania De Ronda mountain range. Dotted here and there amongst the fields are the remains of castles and fortresses, it never ceases to amaze me how quickly we humans become jaded to the point of being dismissive of something truly magical when there is abundance. I can be just as guilty of this flaw.

Having never planned to come to Spain (that’s a whole other story) I hadn’t done a lot of research about the country. So the fact we were now heading into a mountain range that extends to the coast and  whose higher peaks quite obviously experience at least a smattering of snow in winter, was a total surprise. The mountains themselves are sharp and jagged with a sparse covering of vegetation while the valleys and lower slopes are dotted with the now familiar “Pueblos Blancos” or  white villages.

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Our first stop on the trip was a small village of Sentenil De La Bodegas. Built on a valley floor, it is famous for the house that are built under overhanging cliffs. Having experienced an Andalucian summer I totally understand the genius of this building method, just not so sure about winter but then I suppose there is always a cozy fire to sit by.

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We arrived at Sentenil via a narrow country road that wound its way through quaint fincas filled with olive groves and black pigs that feast on acorns, whose meat Spanish farmers cure to produce the famous Spanish Hamon. So quiet and idyllic the journey I was unprepared for what awaited us. Being a little insulated in Huelva from the influx of tourist to Spain at this time of the year it was a steep learning curve when we arrived in Sentenil. Parking in every village in Spain is difficult on a normal day, the narrow streets were never meant for the 21st century. The fact that it is summer, only about fifty kilometres from one of the biggest tourist destinations in Europe and a Sunday made it impossible, so we parked at the entrance to the village and walked down the hill. I really shouldn’t have had the second drink with lunch cause the trip back up wasn’t pretty!

Under the overhanging rocks the temperature drops dramatically, a great protection in the August sun. The actual name of the village comes from a Castillian word meaning “seven times” and refers to the fact that it took  the Catholic Spanish seven sieges to defeat the Moors and capture the village, the cliffs being so effective as a defence.

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The dramatic mountains of this range are matched by one village in particular, Ronda, the home of modern bull fighting in Spain. Precariously perched on top of a narrow ravine, the houses appear to be teetering on the edge. This is also a Mecca for tourists and any thought that you may be able to experience the glorious vistas should be dispelled, “it just ain’t gonna happen my friend”.

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The “New Bridge” at Ronda spans the El Tajo canyon and is the draw card for most of the tourists. It is very impressive from which ever angle you look and definitely worth the trip. However, I am reliably informed that the rest of the year is nearly devoid of sightseers and with many better photo ops.  Ronda too has a Moorish background and suffered greatly during the Spanish Inquisition. Interestly, to escape the persecution many Arabs escaped to the Huelva area and began new lives there.

Like most mountain towns the air in Ronda is clear and I can imagine crisp in winter, though not quite so in August. There are many amazing restaurants that sit on the edge of the gorge but unlike other tourist destinations are very reasonably priced.

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Taking the main road once again we continue rising up into the Siera as it winds around the mountain sides before the decent down to the coast.  I was struck by just how close the mountains are to the sea, with a clear view of the Rock of Gibralter and Jebel Musa, a mountain in Morroco. The closeness to sea reminds me very much of the kiakoura on New Zealand’s South Island but that is where the similarity ends.

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The Rock of Gibralter with Jebel Musa, Morocco to the left.

The Costa Del Sol is Australias Gold Coast, Miami in the United State or any of the other amazing beach destinations around the world that have been loved, in many ways, almost to death. Not that it is unpleasant, just filled with resorts, housing estates and shops for kilometre upon kilometre but the Mediterranean is blue and it has no sharks so I am looking forward to that.

So in the words of the inimitable Mark Knoffler  in “Twisting by the Pool”

We’re going on a holiday now
Gonna take a villa, a small chalet
On the Costa del Magnifico.       (That’s code for Costa del sol)
Where the cost of living is so low
Yeah, we’re gonna be so neat
Dance to the Eurobeat
Yeah, we’re gonna be so cool
Twisting by the pool

See ya next week.

 

 

 

 

 

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