Tuesday, May 22, 2012
16/5 We left Georgia to sleep while we took in a scenic coastal jog taking in kilometers of splendid beach and runways. The French being the epicurean leisure lovers they are left the tracks mostly to us with only a few other runners en route. I jogged and snapped photos along the way, while Ant finished the 8km round trip with a dip in the ocean outside our hotel. Georgia ticked off her list of to dos with a ladylike walk from the hotel to the ocean, a compulsory dunking then back to the room to shower. Keen to explore, we came across a food market in a nearby street. I partook of some oysters and wine for 6.90€ before purchasing meat and small goods for a beachside picnic. A swimming cove Ant had found was a perfect spot. We ate our snacks al fresco, enjoying the view of naked locals and family fun before reclining on the shore for an afternoon snooze. Grateful for sunshine we inadvertently burned a little. Mid afternoon, we climbed a little higher in the cove and enjoyed a cliff side aperitif maximising the exquisite spot. The marine museum was on the list and handily located on the opposite cliff. A seal show at 5pm proved a non event but the 3 floors depicting varietal marine life was. Back to the room to rest and snack then off to find dinner as we were in danger of fading. Unable to decide on who was hungry or thirsty we settled on a nice patch in the sun taking in an ale and a lung full of cigarette fumes, as well as a meat pizza as accompaniment at a roadside cafe. Wandering the boulevard a couple of hours later we fell upon the main square and a table for three to continue our progressive meal. Georgia realised a dream in the form of a whole pot of mussels, tiny but tasty. Tiring we returned to the room where I won the longevity award, dozing till midnight watching a disturbing Chinese movie dubbed in French. 17/5 11am checkout meant we were able to take in a walk to the lighthouse before breakfast, consume more baguette and fruit purchased from the market and shower leisurely before ousting. The friendly efficient staff made us a map we followed incorrectly to the bus stop. We fumbled our way to the train station, purchased tickets and almost missed the train due to platform error. Georgia thankfully, asked all the right questions at the right time while I blithely looked on. A quick train ride then a metro ride left us a stranded on a San Sebastian street vainly looking for a taxi. A local mad woman took pity on us and phoned one. The hotel San Sebastian was four star and located on the wrong side of the bay, a lengthy saunter into the hub. The wifi was sensationally slow and more often non apparent but Georgia managed to hook up and find out what we needed to know. A quick look around the centre of town taking in tapas or pintxo dependent on your dialect; Spanish or Basque, on demand and a cursory look around the shops of the thriving old quarter. Back to the room around 7pm for a regroup I never recovered from. Fatigue had crept up and felled me like a great oak leaving me cast in my bed for a solid 12+ hours while Ant and Georgia pressed on deep into the San Sebastian sunset utilizing the foreign fantasies and all they had to offer. 18/5 After waking from the sleep of the dead, I agreed to realise my latent energy and join Ant on a running tour of the bay. A jog/crawl up the steep steps to view Santo Cristo up close was worth the asthma attack. The chapel directly beneath was beautiful and unexpected. The parishioners must be really dedicated. Back to collect Georgia who waited hungrily at home for our return like a baby bird, keen to hit the streets for some fodder. A rapid early morning tapas or pintxo was consumed at a nearby cafe then we headed around the corner and fell upon fruit stalls and bakeries abundant, regretful of our earlier decision to purchase additional fresh fruit supplies at the supermarket. Back to the room to prepare bags for the day then a taxi to the other side for a days entertainment. Ant grabbed a local experience of a clipper cut for 10€ while Georgia and I mingled around before the impending shop closure around 1pm. With a newly shawn husband in tow, we headed for a basement restaurant and enjoyed a full three course meal including wine for 16€ a head. Fabulous service with tasty food was worthy of the rave reviews we read about on our departure from a framed local rag magazine. Back out into the afternoon and we were accosted by light rain. Shower proof wind breakers were donned as we mooched about the damp city streets vainly walking off our courses. The cathedral proved a welcome haven and was on the list. We sat in the pews taking in the austerity as well as relieving our pained calves. The labyrinth of San Sebastian streets in the old quarter came alive at night with locals and tourists lined up in and around bars supping on wine or Sangria and pintxos galore. The variety in size and offering of snacks is commendable and difficult to resist. A plate is loaded, drinks ordered then the bill sorted at the end. Someone keeps count! From baby eel to chicken nibbles, delectable delights are piled high on sliced bread sticks or skewered, and adorn the bars feast like. As a result, drunken patrons are few. We took in three separate bars to be sure we had it covered then wandered back home across the bay pausing to snap the vista and had "one for the road" waterside to complete our San Sebastian experience. On our return to the room, Anthony made a bee line for bed while Georgia researched our next leg. I blogged till I dropped. 19/5 An early rise, taxi to the bus station, then a 9.30am bus to Bilbao at 10€ each was a great pick for the 97km journey. Georgia was excelling at this travel game. A last minute wifi meant contact with Harriet at home who was living our trip vicariously through my contact. A breakfast picnic in the back seat of the large bus was enjoyed en route while we spread out comfortably over five seats, far enough away from the 'devil public'. Destination Bilbao, an hour and a half later. A light rain showered our arrival. Out of the bus straight into a taxi across the road and directly to the Guggenheim Bilbao. Our previously purchased Tickets worked a treat as we sidestepped the growing queues and checked our luggage for free. The museum saved the city, rebirthing it as a 'go to' destination. The architecture itself messes with the senses, confounding logic. The exhibits or installations as they call them are spread over three floors as well as stretching outside around the building. The 'art' ranges from classic to new and the sizes from small to uber large. A steel 'installation' spread out over most of the ground floor and could be viewed within and from above. Artist's like David Hockney had large exhibits that showcased his various talents over the years and willingness for flexibility utilizing modern tools like the iPad to paint and print out. Taking a break from the culture we wandered into the city as opposed to the museum cafe and dined in style. Feeling adventurous, I ordered several things by pointing to them on the menu, oblivious as to what they were. A large steak arrived as one course much to my delight. The rain hampered any further attempts at exploration so we returned to the museum to complete our cultural experience. At around dinner time we finally left. Scurrying into a waiting taxi we whizzed through the rainy streets to the airport to complete our days journey to Seville on Spain's airline Vueling. Touching down ten minutes early we collected our Eurocar rental and set about navigating the ten minute ride to the hotel. Almost an hour later we arrived at the Seville Hotel Congreso, having botched the GPS instructions badly. Hungry and tired at midnight we piled into our room, 'cheap and no so cheerful' (should have taken the reviews seriously) and collapsed. Ant did an emergency burger shop run and we ate a Spanish fry up off our dubious floor before turning in for the night. 20/5 Muggy indoors, chilly out, with thunderstorms and sunshine. The Spanish weather did not hamper my enthusiasm for the pre researched Seville bike tours. I had the address, price, route and time but not the opening hours. Like a dog with a bone, I phoned the 'reservations required weekends' number and tried my luck at a late notice one. A happy English speaking voice answered and assisted, promising to collect us ASAP for the tour. My kind of service. Injected into an existing tour we joined a ladies book club from Galway and a handful of Dutch tourists on a well run three hour tour of the city on rickety fold out bikes. The wind whistled through our hair and clothing as we followed each other obediently through narrow streets pausing to take in the ambience and some local narrative from Alana our erudite guide. The city is chocker with must see sights most easily accessible by bikes. After returning the bikes we headed straight back to our favorite bits that included; local tapas at a roadside cafe, the impressive palace gardens complete with fish and peacocks, the third largest cathedral in Europe plus a jaunt up the 31 floors to the bell tower and finally more tapas at Bar Gonzalo with a Michelin suggested dish to boot. Negotiating our way home from the car park proved too easy so we added on a tiki tour. Ant and Georgia, fueled by their navigational successes went down to the hotel bar to celebrate while I climbed wearily into my bed, down but not out. 21/5 As we had forgotten to set the alarm, we all woke alarmed at 9.20am, our hopes of an early departure dashed. Deciding on the hotel breakfast as a necessary evil we ate the dried out buffet offerings and carb loaded in preparation for our first road trip from Seville to Granada, 250km. This hotel must have connections to the Spanish mafia with its four star rating. About three more than is justified. With road trips, the start and the end like flying, are the hard bit. The in between, simple. Spain spread out around us like a bumpy counterpane quilt for miles, edged closely to the highway with acres of olive groves. The time sped by from the back as I navigated mouth agape, lost in slumber. We chose our next hotel on line the night before and were pleased with our choice situated close to the Alhambra, the reason for our visit. A plan was formed at the bar for the day; lunch a short walk into town, then back to the Alhambra mid afternoon for a few hours on our pre booked tickets (thanks again, Georgia) then a final decision on a tourist tour to the gypsy caves at night. The walk into town downhill through a park like setting was calming. Granada town itself, a thriving mini metropolis. The main roads burst with activity. We followed our hotel maps to the tapas area in search of Spanish delicacies. We performed our obligatory march up and down the same lane repeatedly finally all agreeing on the ' right' place. Authenticity was the key and we achieved it this time. Ant bonded with the cook/owner bent deep into the oven at the bar professing his cuisine as the best in Europe! We sat sated in the sun and watched the world for a minute before heading back up the hill to our alpine village hotel to regroup. The Alhambra is a world heritage site, built by and for a sultan about eight centuries ago and later taken by the Catholics. It has a series of palaces with vast modern gardens boasting a multitude of water features and ponds teaming with fish. Exhumed ruins lie around the outside easily viewable with access to most areas of the remaining buildings still standing. The intricacies of the Nazrid palaces are unique, intriguing and remarkably intact. The on site souvenir shop equally as impressive, housed relics of the past alongside trinkets of today. Considering the battle with the tour loads of 8000/day and the area covered we escaped relatively unscathed over four hours later. Back at the hotel for another regroup at he bar, we were joined by a fellow Australasian, keen for company and an audience. John and Margaret from Bateman, out of Sydney regaled us with tales of their Spanish exploration. Third time back in Spain they took brand new cars around Spain for less than the price of a rental and covered massive areas at their own pace, at times 8000km in eight weeks. We bid them farewell as they left for the gypsy caves tour and we wandered back into town. Turning right at the entry to the town this time we found ourselves in the ancient Moorish quarter that almost made me squeal with delight. Buoyed with my nocturnal achievement, not yet seen on this trip, the three of us strolled down the very streets the ancient Moors did centuries before us. Keen to keep it Spanish we snubbed the Morrocan cafes popular this end and headed back to the other side for another dose of tapas. Crammed in (a good sign) like the sardines they served floured and fried, we ordered up large. Breaking my cardinal rule of eating after ten at night, I gorged happily on the dishes as quickly as they could serve them. Brimming with pleasure and provisions, we trotted happily back up the hill for the second time today astounding Georgia with our energy surges, spontaneously racing to the top. Unbelievably still not tired, we mooched about the hotel and decided to check out the advertised swimming pool. Closed due to the hour and the season, I did my best to impress my family with my contortionist skills, unsuccessfully trying to climb through the narrow bars on the gate that Georgia insisted I couldn't get my head through. I did get my head through and one of my legs. It was just my middle that wouldn't play ball. Georgia was so stunned with my acrobatics she fell backwards into a concrete empty umbrella stand, denting her shins excruciatingly. Time to quit while we were ahead we returned to the room and prepared for the next leg, 500km to Denia, a short distance from Valencia and on the Mediterranean coastline. 22/5 The alarm did its job of annoying the crap out of us at 7am and we reluctantly rose. After another hotel breakfast that provided joyless nutrients we left Granada, culturally satisfied. Traveling with his 'only stop when essential' attitude, Anthony plowed through the Spanish desert 'taking no prisoners' with his newfound European driving skills. Confounded by the need for petrol, we took a detour into a little town and refueled, almost detained by a street protest if not for some quick reflex re-routing. Back on the highway, and another hour or two the relentless desert finally succumbed to the magnificent Mediterranean as we approached the coast.
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Holland and Spain 10-27 May 2012 1.15pm NZ time. First entry 2 hrs after boarding a delayed flight from Christchurch to Singapore. Back to back: Chc-Sing-Amsterdam-Gouda-Tilburg-Brussels-Biarritz-San Sebastian - Bilbao - Seville - Granada - Malaga - Valencia - Barcelona - Sing - Chc trip. With my 84 yr old mother in law in tow, we departed Christchurch at 11.45am (55mins overdue). Joanna took the delay in her stride being the seasoned traveller after sixty years of to-ing and fro-ing between Holland and NZ as a necessary evil for the emigrated. My husband of 23 years paced the departure lounge panther like, unused to unproductive downtown. I fought with the snack machine and lost; the second bag of prized Kettles fries. Singapore airlines is an Asian fantasy. Perfectly coiffed women and overly groomed men efficiently delivered food and drinks while we grappled with the technologically retarded inflight entertainment system. Two cabinet savignons later, I was cocooned in an alcohol enduced nirvana viewing Johnny Depp on screen, ensconced in my polar fleece blanket anticipating my Kung -po chicken about to be served. Nek minut, Changi airport, Singapore. "Why walk when you can legitimately travel in a wheelchair?" I suggested to Oma. She took up my offer and we pushed her through the many kilometers of two out of the three terminals. Tour stops included a dip in the outdoor swimming pool, the butterfly garden and a underwhelming Chinese meal at the ridiculously named 'Peach Gardens'. Back on board for the second and final 13 hour leg to Amsterdam we fought off soporific urges until after the dinner was served, then welcomed sleep aided with chemical assistance. Thirty physical hours later we were delivered to the open arms of Amsterdam airport. 11-14/5 Family time in Holland was enjoyed by all. From being greeted at the airport by cousins and reunited with our oldest after five months apart, to reunions and catch ups, we swam gaily within the gene pool. First stop, a trip to beautiful Gouda, hosted by the Ant's first cousin Frank and his wife Sylvia. A sanctuary 75km from Amsterdam, complete with winding roads, cows, lush farmland and of course, windmills. We were wined, dined, shown the local cheese haven and ensconced in five star residential service, second to none. Two morning runs with their dog Dot, and a twilight cycle ride around this idyllic area ensured we captured all the serenity we grasp. Second stop for Ant, Georgia and myself was a train ride into Amsterdam for the day to meet up with our host's daughter Suzanne for a day out. A quick look around her city apartment, reminiscent of Kiwi student accommodation but more erratically constructed, then off in search of hire bikes to explore the city. Cycling within our five strong (picked up another cousin) peloton through the city streets was an unmissable experience. Cars, trucks, motorcycles and other cyclists melded magically through the maze of cobbled streets with only two accidents witnessed along the way. Flea markets picked over, we stopped at a roadside cafe. After double locking our hire bikes we joined the urban sprawl dotting the sparse outdoors tables drinking in the spring sunshine, local wine and beer. The afternoon spent we returned to the train station, farewelling our wily city slicker and made our way back to Gouda for one more night. Reluctant to leave but excited to continue, we all drove in Franks VW to Tilburg, 115km south to the familial heart of Holland. More excited greeting ensued with our dear cousin Ans and her husband Leon. A linguistically confused Oma met up with us again as she switched unnaturally between Dutch and English amongst the crowd. After another gourmet spread at Ans we made our way to a Tilburg city cafe and met another 30 family members for the official Cruissen family reunion organized by Ans. People aesthetically familiar and genetically linked mingled happily for hours in the sun while I frantically tried to record how they were actually linked for posterity (and Harriet) in my travel journal. Farewells and many triple kisses later we left with Ans and Leon for a quiet mother's day dinner at a tasteful restaurant close by. A night in Oma's brothers apartment in his absence, for Ant and me while Georgia took her last opportunity to be spoiled by Ans. Transported in Audi A5 style the 119km to Brussels was much appreciated. A lunch in the Grand Place enjoyed with 'Mrs Bucket' and her loyal escort before we tearfully parted company for this visit. 15/5 Charleroi, Brussels sounds prettier than it looks. So does the airport Ibis hotel. Both are seriously average but a necessary evil for transition from Holland to France on this trip. Biarritz is our next stop departing happily from this place at 10.40am today. Brussels was a blast. Not a must visit, but if you have to, the highlights are; mussels, beer, waffles, Manneken Pis, The Grand Place and of course chocolate. Mussels were consumed in prime position at the Grand Place, cocooned in the seven hundred years of market history, beneath the magnitude of the town hall, Breadhouse and other grandiose buildings worthy of their UNESCO world heritage ranking. Beer was chosen and downed from the over 2000 choices at the Cafe Delirium alongside other young and old revelers. We were drawn in by the one euro waffle sign and left with a 4.90 euro waffle stacked high with fresh strawberries and dripping in flowing Nutella atop a sugary crunchy sensation worth every euro and potential future artery blockages. Manneken Pis, like the Mona Lisa was a smaller than expected. So small we passed it once unwittingly before returning to the site. A cast iron version of its four hundred year old self stood on the side of the street surrounded by tourists while the original lay far from the thieves in a nearby museum. Legend of the little man peeing (literal translation) varies from his saving certain city destruction by bombing, with his pee flow on the fuse, to him taunting marauding invaders by showering them. Chocoholics beware. You have arrived at your Mecca. Drawn inexplicably into the 'Mary' branded shop of Belgian chocolatiers, I marveled at the range while the haughty purveyor extolled the virtues of their hand made, preservative free, made to order delights. They had us at, "official suppliers to the Belgian royal household". Having farewelled the hospitality and convenience of our Dutch family we were left to navigate ourselves and 60 kgs of luggage to our next stop. Charleroi airport en route to Biarritz, France. Following our seasoned traveller daughter like puppy dogs we watched her skillfully negotiate temporary storage, train tickets and taxi options. 15/5 Georgia spends her downtown (airports, taxis, trains ) catching up on sleep. I use it to play on my i-Instruments and Ant to pace amiably. Our flight to Biarritz, France included an interlude at Charleroi airport. Our proximity thanks to the budget Ibis, afforded us a relaxed transfer. After dining on expensive brekky foods at the monopolized Paul Cafe, I got a free full body pat down after setting off the security buzzer with my stylish silver cross necklace.