Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Home sweet home

Well after 3 flights, about 20 minutes sleep at the Madrid airport and a super fast shopping and ambiencce soaking up expidition around Hong Kong, I finally made it home nice and early this morning, yay :)
So, the final tally for anyone who's curious;
8 flights
16 corresponding panic attacks
20 trains (not counting all the inner city trains or we'd be here all day)
8 countries
16 town/cities
far too many bottles of that same damn red wine at La Alberca
lots of museums
more kilometres walking than I care to count
and 1 amazingly good time

Thanks everyone for bearing with my ramblings for the last 6 weeks. Next year is the US and hiking the Camino Santiago.
Adios, dag, auf wiedersehen, ciao, au revoir and goodbye until then :)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Pretty brief this one as I covered Madrid pretty thoroughly last time I was here so this visit I’ve mostly been using to catch up on sleep. After returning from Segovia on Saturday and taking a quick nap, headed to the Prado art gallery as it is free after 6. Spent about an hour wondering why they don’t just call it the Goya gallery since there are at least 14 rooms dedicated just to his works. Really enjoyed the El Greco pieces though and also found some more beautiful Roman style sculptures before giving up and going back to the hostel for an 11 hour nap.
Met a few of the PI girls in the morning for a quick coffee and found our way to the sprawling street markets around La Latina. Did a little shopping and a lot of browsing and then found a pub for a glass of gazpacho and a quick lunch. Spent the rest of the day just chilling and repacking my bags for the final time. Met the girls again in the evening as we had planned ot visit the Reina Sofia gallery but unfortunately being Sunday it had closed early so went for a quick walk around the park.
Caught up with Tim back at the hostel and met a few of the guys for dinner and drinks while occasionally being deafened by the people fixated on the Barcelona v Madrid soccer match on the telly behind us. Headed back to La Latina which had by now become a massive street party with people wandering through the crowd selling cheap cans of beer, heaps of food stalls, some pretty crazy dancing and a bunch of carnival games…also bingo which was a little obscure. Hung out and drank and danced and chatted for a bit, then with the always exciting prospect of 2 travel days with no sleep rapidly approaching, said my goodbyes and headed to bed.
After Tim’s less than stealthy departure from the dorm in the early hours of the morning (there is now a Tim shaped dent in the locker:P) checked out and joined my final free walking tour from Plaza Mayor to fill in the last few hours before heading to the airport which firstly involved climbing over the 100 odd bags that had been stuffed into the luggage room infront of mine, and battling my way through all those pesky young Pope fans to find the bus stop J

Sunday, August 14, 2011


So after finishing up at Pueblo Ingles and enjoying a fun, rainy night out in Madrid with a few new friends, got up early(ish) and eventually got myself to the correct train station to visit Segovia. Did not realise that the train station is actually way outside of town so I was a bit disappointed to arrive and find nothing but paddocks, picturesque though they were. Hopped on a bus into town itself, which was considerably more impressive.
My first stop was the Roman aqueduct which was probably the most impressive water pipe I’ve ever seen.  It dominates the skyline anytime its visible and is in surprisingly good condition given its age. Next I found the beautiful gothic cathedral, building of which started in 1525, but the building wasn’t consecrated until 1768. The artworks in the cathedral were unique amongst all the others I’ve seen in that along with the paintings, there were also quite a lot of detailed, almost lifelike statues, mostly depicting the gorier aspects of the bible. What I especially liked was that amongst those blatantly ignoring the no photos signs which were up everywhere, the highest number snapping away with their cameras were nuns :P (so of course I figured if they could get away with it…).
Headed down through the windy streets and perched right at the edge of a valley found Alcazar, a castle dating from at least the 12th century and which was the inspiration for the Disney castle. Toured the beautiful rooms many of which featured exquisite decorations on the ceilings and in one room a highly detailed frieze depicting all the Asturias, Castille and Leon monarchs. Climbed the 152 stairs up to the top of the tower for a pretty spectacular view over the city and the surrounding farm lands and then spent the rest of the afternoon roaming aimlessly among the narrow cobblestone alleys until it was time to head back to the train.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

La Alberca

Okay, quick higlights summary of my time at Pueblo Ingles in beautiful La Alberca as I only have half an hour of free time and then its back to talking. Firstly, just to make you all jealous ;) the hotel is lovely, the pool is awesome, the food is ridiculous and the scenery is gorgeous. The weather has been sunny and warm all week and the people are great.

Spend all day talking, eating, talking while eating, drinking while talking and eating, and then we go to the pool and repeat the whole process in the afternoon. Had a big party on Tuesday night which was followed the next morning by a walk into the actual village of La Alberca.

So the village is heritage listed and the buildings are all maintained in their original styles. There are religious inscriptions above many of the doors and one was a torture house during the Spanish Inquisition and they found a shackled skeleton in it when renovating a couple years ago. It is also on the Camino pilgrimage trail (expect to hear more about that over the next year cos thats going to be worked into my next big trip). There is also a town pig which roams freely around the village and is fed and housed by everyone, and every year they kill it and hold a raffle to see who gets the meat and the proceeds go to buy the pig for the next year. The other pig in town is a concrete statue outside the church and if you go there at midnight and touch the pig's testicles (which are pretty hard to miss :P) you'll have a baby 9 months later so we all steered clear of that end of the pig.

We visited a bodega to sample some wine (well sample's the worng word since its the same wine we drink copious amounts of at every single meal) and some fresh sliced jamon. Got to try drinking from a bota which is a traditional bottle for drinking wine which is actually very difficult to do because the wine coumes out very fast, but is very fun and quickly turned into a competition to see who could keep drinking the longest. Mostly though, the trip to the village was exciting because everyone has got sick at some time this program starting with Tim who lost his voice the first few days, followed by almost everyone copying him a few days later so I can now say with certainty that if you walk into a store in a tiny Spanish village and buy 7 packets of cough lollies, you will get stared at :).

Last night was an exciting night for wildlife as we were standing outside the bar listening to one of the Anglos sing when someone noticed hte stone next to them start moving. It was actually a huge toad and there was extensive discussion about whether it might be poisonous or not before it finally hopped(ish, it was quite a lazy toad) away. I then headed for my villa and found a huuuuuge spider in my bathroom. Luckily my housemate was still at the bar cos I do believe I screamed like a little girl before finding my thongs and using it to practice my karate moves, then moved my bed into the middle of the room just in case anything else was lurking in the curtains :P

Today is our last full day here and we head back to Madrid tomorrow afternoon :(
hanging on La Alberca

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Back to Bareclona

About 10 minutes after the train arrived in Barcelona, a bunch of guys on the metro immediately initiated Susan into the not so exclusive club of people who’ve been pickpocketed before they even get to their accommodation (something like 75% of tourists get robbed on their first day in Barcelona). Luckily after about 3 minutes of shouting, one of the other 30 people on the train realised that we weren’t going to let the door close so the train could leave until something was done, and with their subtle retreat somewhat foiled by all the commotion, a helpful Samaritan managed to retrieve the camera from the a-holes (the rest of the people on the train who sat there and did nothing are free to get bent) and we made it to the hostel with all our belongings intact for a well earned sleep.
I got up for an early morning train station visit to book my seat to Madrid which took all of about 10 minutes (compared to the 2 ½ hours I spent at the same station last time) and then after breakfast, we headed out to explore. Headed to Park Guell, the park estate designed by Gaudi at the turn of last century but abandoned and now left as a city park full of mosaics, bizarre buildings that seem to have grown up out of the ground and beautiful ironwork fences and gates. Can’t imagine what it would have been like had it gone ahead as originally intended but was very nice to wander around up there enjoying the sunshine and the view of the city from the top of the park was amazing.
Did a little shopping and returned to the hostel where I was finally able to do my laundry (and there was great rejoicing) while we had a picnic lunch in Plaza Rieal and went for a bit of a wander through the gothic quarter. Enjoyed a little siesta while I repacked my bags with clean clothes for the first time since I was last in Spain :P
Just to compare notes with the one I visited in Amsterdam, checked out Barcelona’s Erotic Museum which houses a much smaller collection but generally along the same lines (Amsterdam's definitely the best one to go to just in case anyone was wondering). This one obviously draws a much smaller crowd as it advertised a free drink and wi-fi as part of the ticket to lure in more people. Enjoyed our free drinks in the lovely courtyard in the centre of the museum, and then carried on shopping and sightseeing through the gothic quarter until we found our way to a tapas restaurant for a tasty dinner and huge glass of sangria.
Has been so lovely having Susan to travel with over the last few days but sadly we split up tomorrow morning and I am heading for Madrid to meet Tim and spend a week at Pueblo Ingles. A whole week in the same place, gonna be sweeeeeeeeet J
exploring Park Guell
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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

French Riviera

Had a nice train ride to Nice (haha, get it, try the veal folks) and headed up to the hostel. A few hours later Susan arrived, yay! Had a few drinks and split a pizza while we caught up and then turned in for the night. Yay for a real conversation finally (hostel conversations rarely count as they mostly consist of “Where are you from? Where have you been? Where are you going? Nice talking to you”). Enjoyed the free hostel breakfast and sorted out our train tickets to Barcelona in record time before jumping on the train to Monaco.
Really beautiful town set between the harbour full of huge yachts and the mountains. Hiked up to the Prince’s Palace, the official residence of the ruling family and did a quick tour of the lavish formal state rooms which were all very creatively named (Yellow room where there was yellow wallpaper and so on) and filled with numerous artworks and portraits of the Grimaldi family. There was a beautiful portrait of Princess Grace and the interior courtyard was covered with frescoes. The views over the city from up at the palace were just spectacular as well. Kind of saw the changing of the guard (bit like in London, you need to get there and look at nothing for 30 minutes before if you want to see anything other than the tops of their helmets) and grabbed a quick lunch at a cafĂ© in one of the alleys behind the palace.
 Just down the street from there was the Monaco cathedral which was rather interestingly decorated with a mix of the usual classical religious artworks and a range of brightly coloured modern abstract pieces. Found the graves of Prince Rainier and Princess Grace and then headed back down the hill and up the hill on the opposite side of town. Up here was the Monte Carlo area with all the designer shops and a lot of Porsches, Ferraris and all that stuff. Headed into the casino foyer but you have to pay 10 Euro just to go into the gambling rooms but I’m sure its lovely in there if the foyer was anything to go buy. Pretty warm and worn out by then so crammed back on the train and jumped off at the nearby town of Villefranche.
Just from the train station the view of the beach was absolutely amazing with clear blue water and white sands and sunbathers (many topless) lying about everywhere. Hiked down to the beach and discovered at least part of that was an illusion as there was no sand to be found anywhere but rather all small gravel. It was smaller gravel than any of the other beaches in the area so as advertised as being sandy, and at least you didn’t have to spend 10 minutes trying to get the sand out of everything when you left, but can’t imagine it would have been comfortable for the hours of lying on it that must have been required to achieve the levels of tanning/sunburn that most people down there had done. Headed into the water which was beautiful and really deep. 2 metres off the beach I couldn’t find the bottom even by diving down, makes a big change from Adelaide beaches.
Enjoyed the beach for a while and then took a little wander through the markets that popped up at the edge of town, lots of funky jewellery. Squished back onto the next train and back up to the hostel for a very yummy dinner.
That just left us this morning to explore Nice so dropped our bags at the train station, despite the best efforts of the snooty luggage room attendant to thwart us, and then started walking. Found a really beautiful Russian Cathedral nearby and had a wander along the incredibly rocky beaches on Nice’s coast which alternated between free beaches and paid areas covered in sun lounges and umbrellas. Headed into the old town for nutella crepes and eventually tracked down the fruit and flower market which probably had more soaps, olives and paintings than flowers but very interesting all the same. Currently on the second of 3 trains to get to Barcelona where, I’m really praying there is a laundry cos still haven’t quite got around to that as I keep finding surprise clean clothes buried in the depths of my bag…which is extra confusing as I swear that my bag is getting lighter and easier to pack as I add more stuff to it. Maybe I’m just getting more awesome :P
overlooking Monaco
dried fruit at the flower market
Russian Cathedral

Saturday, July 30, 2011


Having heard all manner of horror stories about the queues in Florence, set out very early and eventually found the quite drab Galleria Dell Academia a few minutes after it opened and joined the other unorganised folks in the line for people who hadn’t called ahead for a reservation. Settled in for a long wait despite being only having about 12 people in front of me (2 of whom had also been in my Vatican tour group) and so was quite surprised when we all got let in after only a 10 minute wait. Headed straight for Michelangelo’s David which is just amazing, and was nice to get there while the gallery was still relatively quiet too because the several times I went past it later you could barely see the base of the statue). Stood around admiring for a bit and then had a quick look around the rest of the gallery which mostly houses religious artworks and a collection of early musical instruments. Stopped by to admire David a few more times before I left, I dunno what it is but even though you’ve seen it a million times before and there are at least 2 full size copies around town (and that’s not counting the souvenir statues on sale everywhere) there’s just something about the original that really draws you in.
Anyway, spent the rest of the morning exploring Florence which is a lovely old city. Checked out a few old churches, which seem to be a lot less ornate than in other cities but absolutely huge and still filled with artworks. Visited the Duomo cathedral who’s painted dome dominates the skyline, and St Lorenzo which is Florence’s oldest cathedral and contains works by Donatello (not the Turtle).  Found Piazza Della Signoria which was where the David originally stood and which now has a copy, as well as a big open air collection of other sculptures. Nearby was the Galleria degli Uffizi, another gallery featuring the Birth of Venus and many, many other works, but there was at least a 2 hour wait in line and I was suffering from art overload by this point anyway so skipped that one. Climbed back up the hill to Piazzale Michelangelo, home to another fake David, which by now was full of tour buses and people enjoying the amazing view of the city and back to the campsite for a nice relaxing afternoon enjoying the view and the sunshine.
Wandered back the city for a stroll around sunset. Checked out a few more piazzas but mostly sat amongst the statues in Logia de Signoria listening to the musicians play for diners at the ristorantes. Also found Il Porcellino, a bronze statue of a boar which (according to the most popular stories) will ensure you return to Florence (or give you good luck, or grant a wish) if you rub its snout and drop a coin from its mouth into the grating below...also apparently it was in Hannibal?? Hiked back up the hill for a great view of the city all lit up at night. Another exciting day of riding the trains for 7 hours tomorrow to get to Nice where Susan will be joining me to (hopefully) soak up some sun and glam it up on the French Riviera…also I’m really close to finishing my 100th Sodoku puzzle on the trains so exciting times ahead folks J
overlooking the city from Piazzale Michelangelo
fake David
Il porcellino
'Rape of the Sabine Woman" at sunset