Thursday, October 25, 2007

Madrid 17th September 2007

Well, our first day in Spain is nearly over and we are having a ball !!!! We had a long flight between Taipei and Amsterdam with a stop-over in Bangkok. This was for 1 ½ hrs at 2.30am - just what we didn’t need or want !!! But, we made it through. We were very disappointed with the in-flight entertainment on the longest leg of our trip - there wasn’t any - apart from the one screen at the front of each section of cattle class. They showed three movies over the 16.5 hrs - Marvel (twice), Pirates of the Caribbean (1st movie) and The Wendell Baker Story (which we all started to watch but then gave up after a short while). We ate meals at the most odd times - noodles and pork / fish and spaghetti at midnight, similar again at about 3.30am and then minced pork and fried rice / scrambled eggs in pancakes and a chicken sausage at 7am. Thank goodness they had nice rolls and yoghurt and we could say no to the meals which we didn’t want.

We made the connecting flight but only just ! Landed in Amsterdam on time but then had to walk miles to the transfer counter - got there and the lady told us to wait in the queue with a gazillion other people. Al went to check we were in the right place and she looked at the tickets and said yes. When it got to 9.40 and we were still a way away from the front of the queue I went back to her and said “Are we in the right place if we are supposed to leave at 10am” “Oh no - I’ll issue your boarding passes for you”. Then we had to walk another 15-20 mins to get to the departure gate plus we had to go through customs. We were waiting there and the lady a few people in front of us was with the customs guy for ages before another customs chap came and took her away - the queue went a lot quicker after that.

We ran down to the departure gate and managed to tag onto the last people who hadn’t walked onto the plane yet. Needless to say, we didn’t even have three seats together but as the flight was only 2 ½ hrs, it wasn’t a problem. I think Al slept a fair bit and Kaitlin and I read. Our luggage made it all the way (Kaitlin watched them unloading it while waiting to disembark) so while we were waiting for it at least we were reasonably happy that it had made all the connections with us.

The airport is a little old and they seem to be doing lots of renovations - there was one lone customs chap at the exit - nowhere near the “Goods to declare” sign. When we walked out there were a couple of TV crews waiting to film someone (was everyone so happy / keen to see we had arrived ?????) - there was lots of speculation between us about who they were waiting to film and when we were trying to organise a lift to the hotel, the chap at the desk said it was a soccer team who were coming to play against Real Madrid - if only we could have got tickets !!!!!!

The desk couldn’t organise transport for an hour so we decided to brave the taxi rank and see how successful we were - initially, it was a bit of a mess trying to find where the queue was but then a whole bunch of taxis pulled out, another bunch took their place - stopped in both lanes and Kaitlin managed to find a price for us to get to the hotel (2/3 of the price of the shuttle service) so we had made (saved ??) some money before we even got to the hotel. What a taxi ride - weaving in and out of traffic, taking gaps that nobody should be allowed to take, and driving up the loveliest little cobbled streets - barely wide enough for a car never mind a car, sometimes a scooter or two as well as some pedestrians who were brave enough to step outside of the little barriers that mark the line between road and pavement !! What an experience - they really are up there with taxi drivers from New York and Taiwan !

As we were driving from the airport, we couldn’t help but notice how dry and barren the landscape was - no doubt they don’t get much rain here during this time of the year. It also reminded us a little of Taiwan - lots of high rise buildings with washing hanging out and satellite dishes balanced precariously between balconies.

We arrived at our hotel and paid the taxi driver (20 euros) only for him to open the door and show us a sign (in Spanish) which said to add 5 euros to the price if being collected from the airport - why they don’t just start their meter at 5 euros is anyone’s guess. The room is good - very Ikea style - not much in the way of furniture. Kaitlin is sleeping on the bottom of a double bunk with the top bunk turned into the wall - she has already hit her head on the top bunk and managed to fall out of bed when turning over as there are no night lights of any sort and the room is pitch black when the lights are off - we did leave the curtain open a little but that didn’t really help much.

We decided not to have a lie down (although maybe we should have) and rather go out walking and try to get into the same time zone a little quicker - not many other people had this idea as a lot of shops were closed for siesta time !!!!! We left the hotel at about 2pm and (except for a few trips back for various things - see later) we only got back at about 8pm - 6 hrs of walking and just being amazed by the sights. Well not even the sights - the work that has gone into the buildings is just amazing and the photos that I took really don’t do them justice. I could have just wandered around looking at the buildings all day. Kaitlin found a bag shop (2 mins from the hotel) and we were in there for a while - she is deciding on whether to buy (another !!) bag and will think about it over the next couple of days before we leave. Shoe shops abound as well - her bank balance could be reduced very quickly at this rate !!!!!

We walked to Plaza de Espana and took some photos as the fountains there. Walked up Gran Via to lots of little squares with statues galore. We went to the Sabatini Gardens and Royal Palace but at this stage Kaitlin was getting blisters (from wearing shoes Al and I said weren’t suitable) and she said “I know you are going to say I told you so but could we go back to the hotel to change my shoes !!!” We both laughed and said no problem but in future when we say put runners and socks on - no argument !!!! Just hope the blisters don’t bother her too much until they heal. Having said that, I’m not sure how much walking we will be doing today - when we were walking back from Puerta de Calcala my legs felt a little itchy and I looked down and I had the most amazing rash on both my legs from the knees down. We were going to a chemist to get something for Al’s lip so thought we would ask there at the same time - she said to take an anti-histamine (we had at the hotel) and put on some cream (we bought from her). We went back to Plaza de Espana to a little market we had seen during siesta time (most of the stalls were closed) and then went to a store to get some drinks before heading back to the hotel. We didn’t land up having any supper as after showering none of us felt like going out again so we were all in bed by about 10pm. Thank goodness the beds are really hard as my back was starting to feel it after all that walking.

The room has WIFI in it but unfortunately our WIFI card isn’t working - Al is going to see if he can connect and download something to get it working otherwise I am going to type up our travel diary each night and will just mail it when I get a chance.

I woke up a few times during the night and we were all awake by 6am this morning - it was pitch dark outside so Al tried to get us to go back to sleep - no such luck - Kaitlin and I kept on finding things to make us laugh and so he decided to let us wake up and wish him happy birthday and give him his presents.

While I wouldn’t say we have already had our money’s worth - we certainly have enjoyed the 18 hours we have been in Spain with lots of laughs between the three of us - lots of smart alex bantering - and lots of wonderful memories to share for years to come.

Unfortunately there is no improvement in my legs this morning - if anything they are worse so I think we will go back to the chemist to see what she suggests. While they don’t look very pleasant - the problem is that it feels like I have a band of barbed wire around above my ankles and this causes shooting pains up my legs with each step - not a good start to a holiday which I see as being a walking holiday. But, I am sure that we will find out the problem, it certainly isn’t life threatening - just a little inconvenient.

There are a couple of things we noticed while walking around which haven’t impressed us - all the people who smoke in the streets, restaurants, cars and taxis as well as all the graffiti around the city. The other thing is that there are quite a few beggars around - something we haven’t seen since in Taiwan when we went to visit Alan. There are times when it seems like we are in a Star Wars movie - the pedestrian crossings make a noise like you hear in Star Wars and when there are a couple of pedestrian crossings close together, it can get really annoying !!!!!

On that note, our stomachs are telling us it is time to get moving and find something to eat for breakfast. We are not sure of our plans for today - depends to a certain extent on my legs - possibly a bus tour around Madrid then tomorrow it will be to the Prado Museum, the Sabatini Gardens and the Royal Palace (we only passed those on our way back to the hotel for Kaitlin to change her shoes yesterday).

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Madrid 18th September 2007

After getting up this morning we bought some breakfast from the bakery across the street and then wandered around a little until we found a stand with a sign about the bus tour around Madrid. One or two day passes to jump on and off buses along two different routes.

We bought the two day pass as it wasn’t much more than the one day pass and decided that we could use it to get to the Prado Museum and the botanical gardens if we were running out of time and couldn’t walk the distance and still leave us enough time to look around.

While I don’t know if I could live here - it really is such a lovely city. There are so many tree lined streets with too many to count gardens and fountains - it is just so pretty. I can’t tell you how many little café’s there are with outside seating under the trees - if only every second person we saw wasn’t smoking. I said to Al yesterday it is almost like they don’t know about lung cancer over here. There are very few places where you actually see No Smoking signs - we did see one today when we went to the Natural Sciences museum.

We hopped on the bus at about 9.50 (they start running at 9.30 but we had to wait for it to get to us) and did the whole of the ‘red’ tour before hopping onto the ‘blue’ tour bus. While we were driving along we made a note of the places we wanted to hop off at so that we could go back to them. I had to laugh this morning - while we were waiting for the bus to arrive, a lady stopped to ask if we were waiting for the Madrid Vision bus and I said yes. She started chatting (an American) and then asked if we were Australian, so I said yes we are. She said “Oh I just love your accent” and laughed when I told her it was a South African accent saying “I can’t tell the difference “ !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

After doing the two tours we stopped and had some lunch - at least when we are in the timeshare places it will be a little cheaper to feed the three of us - it is starting to get a little pricey eating out and maybe we will have to resort to the two meals a day we spoke about before leaving !!!! It is just a little difficult when we are doing so much exercise (not as much today as yesterday but still quite a bit if we only eat twice a day - plus how can I say to Kaitlin no you can’t have anything to eat when she says she is hungry ??????)

We went back to the chemist today and Kaitlin did a really good job of explaining to him that we had been in the day before and got this particular cream but that my legs had got worse. He said I needed to see a doctor. We left there and decided we would wait until tomorrow to see if it was worse before worrying about trying to find a doctor.

After lunch we went back to the Natural Sciences museum - at first we couldn’t find the right place even though we went into the building which had a sign saying words to the effect of Natural Sciences and then had a difficult time trying to work out what the security lady was saying about going out, to the right and three doors - just to the right were three doors which Al wanted to go into but Kaitlin said that the sign there said School of Technology and Industrial Engineering - he still wanted to try so she told him he would have to go and ask because she wasn’t embarrassing herself by asking when she knew it wasn’t the right place !!!! In the end we walked a little further down and found another entrance with a sign to the Natural Sciences museum - went in and it was 5 euros. Al really wanted to see it so we went in and went to pay when the lady handed us our tickets and said we could go in - without paying. We thought - what a bonus - until we started to walk around - then we were REALLY glad we hadn’t paid 5 euros each !!!!! There were a couple of stuffed animals, some insects and fish in bottles and some animal heads mounted onto walls - really not worth paying for at all !!!! It was very strange as on the tour they said that it was the most advanced and interactive Natural Sciences museum in the country - but maybe what they meant to say was that it will be the most advanced and interactive NSM when it is finished as there were a couple of sections which were cordoned off which maybe they were working on (they were just empty halls as far as we could see) . Anyway, after that we walked across a couple of streets to save sitting on the bus for the whole of the top loop of the tour again and caught the bus back to the stop where we got off for lunch and came back to the hotel for a siesta (it didn’t take us long to get into the Spanish way of life !!!!!!!!) The trouble was we didn’t set an alarm and 4 ½ hrs later I woke up after someone slammed a door outside only to find that it was too late to visit the Templo de Debod which is what we were going to do after our siesta.

Al has just woken up and had a shower, Kaitlin is jumping in the shower and then I will shower before Ignacio (a chap who used to work with Al in Taiwan) is coming to meet us and take us for a walk down some little narrow roads into a big square and then onto some tapas bars for dinner - it should be a great evening. I just love seeing the little narrow roads with the cobblestones - I probably wouldn’t like to drive down any of them but they are so quaint to see. I have a feeling that our two nights in Barcelona is not going to be enough especially as it is going to take us the better part of the first day to get there and we have to leave reasonably early on Saturday morning as it is going to be a fairly long day driving down to Malaga - so much so that I think we are going to have to split the drive and find somewhere to stay overnight on Saturday night along the way and only get down to Malaga on Sunday sometime.

Ignacio arrived at 8.45 to take us on a walk and talk around Madrid - thank goodness our hotel is so centrally located. It was so interesting listening to him telling us the history of so many of the squares and statues - much better that the recorded voice on the tour bus !!!! He took us to two tapas bars and we had some tapas at the first bar and then went to a second tapas bar where we had a few more - while they were tasty I don’t know that I would like to eat like that too often - it was mostly fried and came dripping in olive oil !!!!!!

He also showed us some short cuts to the squares which came in very handy today. We ate in the tradition of the Spaniards - at about 11.00 but it was closer to 12.30 before we were finished and they still hadn’t brought one of the dishes that we had ordered so he cancelled the order and we walked home through another square.

The weather was great although a little chilly when we set out this morning - so much so that we all landed up with our jackets on. It warmed up later in the afternoon but it wasn’t nearly as hot as yesterday. When we left the tapas to come home, the three of us landed up putting our jackets on again but Ignacio was just in his shirt sleeves.

It was close to 1.30am by the time we got home and rolled into bed - very happy to have such comfortable hotel beds and happy that we had had such a great day and an even better evening.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Madrid 19th September 2007

This morning we were all awake quite early despite the late night last night and so were up and moving by 7.30. My legs had improved tremendously so decided not to worry about a doctor. Unfortunately the bakery across the road wasn’t open so we couldn’t get our croissants before we starting exploring. The bus did not start until 9.30am so we decided to just walk to where we wanted to go until the buses were running.

Our first stop was the Royal Palace - we were very disappointed to find out that there was an official function on today so no visitors were allowed. We took some photos of the outside - once again, the architecture and the amount of work that has gone into the adornments on the buildings is just amazing - each time we go and I see the buildings, it never ceases to amaze me at the amount of work which has gone into each building. I just love the feel and the look of the city.

After the Royal Palace we stopped at the Sabatini Gardens. This is where Alan got the timer on the camera to work for the first time and we had great fun watching him set up and then run to get in the photo - the good thing is that is means that we can have some photos of all three of us and not make them all ‘two people’ photographs. What a clever boy !!!!

From there we walked to Templo de Debod and took some photos there - again, what a lovely park with lots of trees and shady spots for people to enjoy during the day. I keep being amazed at the number of gardens and parks and the number of tree lined streets which there are in Madrid - it is so beautiful to be able to walk down a street, in the shade, because of all the lovely trees during the heat of the day (of course in the early morning when the sun hasn’t come up and the wind is blowing it is bloody cold but you can’t have it both ways can you ?)

Once we were finished at Templo de Debod, we found a little bakery (who would have thought !!!) across the street where we got some breakfast. While walking to the bus stop, we saw the funniest parking - well I shouldn’t say funny - more like strangest parking - Kaitlin was so amazed she took photos (see photos from Madrid 19092007) - the first one - there must have been about 1cm gap between the two cars. Most cars here seem to have lots of dents and scratches and we are sure they all park by sound - when they hit the car behind (or in front) they stop !!!! About 4 parking spaces down the road, we saw a car which was only half in the parking because he (definitely not a she driver !!!!) couldn’t fit completely in the parking !!!!! He was actually touching front and back (see photos from Madrid 19092007 for this scenario). We laughed about that for ages down the road. Not long afterwards we saw a crane, in a one lane one-way street - stop, put down the stabilisers and off-load a whole bunch of stuff - making a huge traffic jam behind the truck - people were hooting and shouting and they just kept off-loading, then when they were finished, some chap came out and was arguing about where they had off-loaded the stuff so one guy from the truck was arguing with him while the other pulled up the stabilisers and then they both jumped into the truck and drove off. It was just amazing to watch the whole thing happen. Everyone then started their cars and drove off !!!

After that we jumped on the bus and went to the Prado Museum - there were a couple of artists which we wanted to see - Goya, Rembrandt, Reubens and (I can’t remember the other one) - I now know why I never did art at school (apart from the fact that I battle to draw a straight line with a ruler) - I really wasn’t impressed with what we saw - am glad it didn’t cost us too much to get in !!!!!!! It was strange to see paintings which I felt were rather out of proportion and hands and feet which I am sure could have been done better and sometimes the colours and shading weren’t too flash either - now I guess that the fact that some of those paintings are hundreds of years old may have something to do with it - maybe the colours were good when they were painted but have deteriorated over the years - I don’t know - but I definitely wouldn’t be dashing off to any other art exhibition except in Malaga where Picasso’s grand-daughter donated a lot of her paintings to be hung in a gallery there as he was born there.

Last night Ignacio gave us a very well put together list of things to do in Barcelona and then on the way to Malaga and in and around Malaga as that is his home town and he obviously knows the area very well. So we certainly have our next 10 days very well planned and we know that we won’t be missing out on anything which we should see.

After the Prado Museum we were going to go to the botanical gardens but had to pay to get into there so decided to go to the bigger gardens a little further up the road - have photos of the ‘pond’ there as well as one of the fountains.

After that and another bus ride on the blue route, we decided to come back to the room - not for a siesta but to catch up on labelling the photos from yesterday and today. After doing that we went back down to the road which runs past the Royal Palace as Al wanted some more photos of Madrid !!!!! Then we seemed to wander around for a while - going to a few more squares which by now were extremely busy with people leaving work and wandering around. They have people busking in all the squares and most cafes and restaurants have outside tables for people to sit at and eat - it is just such a different way of life to what we are used to both in Australia and South Africa. It is very much like Taiwan from this aspect - lots of outdoor community living.

We decided to go without dinner tonight as none of us were really hungry so instead we had Ben and Jerry’s (ice-cream) and then came back to the hotel at about 9pm - ready to have a shower, pack and have everything ready for our 6.30am start tomorrow. This is going to be a real CrankyPants test - driving on the wrong side of the road in a manual car and not really knowing where we are going but relying on Gloria (the GPS) to get us to Barcelona !!!! Today we each a CrankyPants moment but they passed soon enough which was good - would hate to spoil all the fun we have been having with too many CrankyPants moments !!!! But, I suppose having the three of us live in one room and spend every waking moment together (no Kaitlin hasn’t been allowed to go shopping by herself !!) will lead to a few tense moments in the 28 days we are away !!!

Well, the two little darlings are now asleep and it is time for me to say good-night. Maybe when we are in Barcelona we will have a chance to get to an internet café to upload some mail - otherwise it will just have to wait until we get home.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Madrid - Barcelona 20th September 2007

This morning we left the hotel at about 7.10am and walked up to Gran Via to catch a taxi to the airport to pick up the car for our drive to Barcelona. We picked it up without any trouble - a Peugeot 307. It did come with some dents on it and we had decided (after seeing the driving around Madrid) that it would probably be in our best interests to take out comprehensive insurance for the +3 weeks we are going to be driving around Spain. Thank goodness for Gloria - she got us on our way with only one mishap (which wasn’t actually her fault !!!) although it did takes us a while to actually get out onto the motorway and on the road to Barcelona.

We had a few laughs at the toll road - stopped a little way away from the toll booth because we couldn’t work out which booth had someone in to take our money. Drove up to one only to find that what we thought was a booth was actually just a holding place for something so reversed out and landed up pulling up way to the side of the road. Al then got out to see if he could see how much it we had to pay and where we could actually drive through and pay someone (with his luminesce vest on) and came back laughing saying it was one of those toll roads where you have to take a ticket and then pay when you leave the toll road. I don’t know how many km’s and 19.40 euros later - we were off the toll road. Kaitlin was amazed at how much we had to pay as the two people before us only paid 3.25 euros then when we got there it showed 19.40 - she thought that was very unfair until we explained to her that they had obviously not been on the toll road for the whole 12 sections.

She did a great job of finding us some accommodation in Barcelona - it was about 4pm and we hadn’t found anything so she started to phone around some of the places in the Lonely Planets guide - she did an excellent job of telling the hotels what we wanted. It take about 7 or 8 hotels before she found two nights accommodation for us - we had forgotten about the big festival which is on here this coming week and so obviously accommodation is at a premium. Anyway, the hotel we are staying at is one street back from La Rambla. I have to be honest and say that I don’t think I will like Barcelona as much as I liked Madrid - it is a lot more dirty and there is heaps more graffiti around the blocks where we were walking tonight. The buildings are a lot dirtier and not as well kept as those we saw in Madrid. I understand that we may be staying in a different area when compared to where we stayed in Madrid (having said that we saw plenty ladies selling their wares in the streets just over from our hotel) but Al has also just mentioned that he didn’t feel particularly safe while walking around just now.

Tomorrow we are going on the bus tour for the day - with the time limitations we have, we think it will be the only way we will get to see all the sights that are on the ‘must see when in Barcelona’ list. No doubt they will include a few we didn’t know about. The buses run from 9.30 in the morning and as breakfast is included in the price of our room, we will have breakfast before finding out where the closest pick up point is and hopping on the bus.

Al was a real champ today - he managed the right hand drive manual car very well although to start with kept on moving his left hand down to open the door instead of his right hand down to change gears. He was only hooted at twice - a great record given how they drive around with the hands permanently on the hooter !!!! We had some difficulty trying to get to our hotel as they are doing road works outside and Gloria wouldn’t recognise any of the road names I was typing in so I managed to use her to get us as close to the hotel as possible before using the little map in the Lonely Planets guide to get us the rest of the way. The problem was that some of the roads were marked in the book as being one way and they weren’t and then many of the roads in the book were un-named soooooooo - when we got as far as we could with the car, Kaitlin and I hopped out and ran down to the hotel to find out the easiest way to get the car there as we were in spitting distance from the hotel but couldn’t get the car there without picking it up and carrying it !!!!!!!! About 40 mins later we finally managed to get the car there, checked in, dropped our bags off and went out walking. It was still light but got dark (and chilly) rather quickly. Considered getting the three of us sketched to put in the pub but didn’t have jackets and were too cold to sit there for 30 mins while he sketched us - maybe tomorrow night we will be able to do it if we don’t stay out too late with the tour. We also want to get to see the musical fountain with the lights tomorrow night if possible.

At this stage we are looking at leaving for Toledo directly after breakfast on Saturday morning - not sure how long it will take us to get out of Barcelona although at least we will have Gloria to help us as we will know where we are going (roughly) which is more than we had when we were aiming for here today.

Unfortunately Kaitlin has a head cold and hasn’t been feeling too flash today. Last night she had a sore throat and was saying she felt like she was coming down with something - she did bark a few times last night and you could hear her nose filling up. We weren’t able to find a chemist open in Madrid before we left but did manage to stop at Zaragoza (pronounced Tharagotha - if you can keep your teeth in while saying it) and the two of us ran into a chemist where she explained to him that she had a cold and a runny nose and managed to get some tablets from him. Plus she managed to get me some more anti-histamines to take for my legs which have still not settled down but which have improved a lot.

It has been a long day - both Al and Kaitlin have been champs at what they have done and it is now time for bed. Tomorrow will be another big day for us all - thank goodness Kaitlin had a good sleep in the car today as I think it will help her over the next couple of days of racing around trying to see as much as we can. Maybe we will have to go back to work for a holiday !!!!!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Barcelona - 21st September 2007

This morning we were up bright and early, went upstairs for breakfast (continental with the loveliest custard pastries !!!) and then were out the door just on 9am to get the bus. We did all three tours before deciding where we wanted to go back to and hop off the bus for a closer look.

We were going to stop off at Sagrada Familia but after seeing the queues to get inside, we decided to stay on the bus and took photos from the bus. The Olympic Stadium was a stop we made - it is more impressive from the outside than from the inside. We were unable to get up close to the Torre Agbar building (the round one with no corners) and so landed up walking there in the evening (about a gazillion miles away from the hotel) and only when we got there did we think that we probably should have caught the Metro !!! We did manage to get the Metro to the Fountain Show (having first got on the subway going the wrong way so hopped off and caught the next one going the right way !!!) The musical fountains with lights was just lovely and so impressive. We had learnt our lesson earlier this evening and got the subway back to the hotel.

We went to see if we could find the cartoon artist but he had already left so will have to keep an eye out to see if there is anyone else who does something similar.

We are staying in the Gothic Quarter and it sure has been an eye opener for us. It is just amazing to see how different everyone is.

Kaitlin was fascinated when Al was showing her how the gangs work to pick-pocket the tourists (well anyone they can but more often than not a tourist !) - not that they actually saw anyone get pick-pocketed but she was fascinated watching them all work together. Now she can understand why we keep asking her if she HAS to take her big bag with her everywhere she goes !!!!

Barcelona is so different to Madrid - I really feel like I left my heart in Madrid. Barcelona is much dirtier and, while the buildings are still impressive, they are not on the same sort of scale of “amazingness” that the buildings in Madrid are. I think it is also because we feel a lot more unsafe here - we were always careful about where we were walking and where our bags were in Madrid but it just feels different here. By mid-morning we had all agreed that we prefer Madrid to Barcelona and, given the opportunity, probably wouldn’t come back. It has been interesting to visit but I will be glad to leave.

It has been very tiring on and off buses all day and that amount of walking we have done is phenomenal - Kaitlin has done very well keeping up with us but I have to say that I am looking forward to some down time when we get to the timeshare.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Barcelona - Toledo 22nd September 2007

This morning we were up and having breakfast by 7.15 and on the road by 8am. It took us a little longer than we had hoped to get out of the city - sometimes Gloria doesn’t know where she is going !!!!! When we both agreed that what she was saying was wrong - we went our way and just made her recalculate her way !!!! Nothing like being the boss and making her change her mind.

We decided to drive down the coast to Valencia and then across towards Madrid before taking the turnoff to Toledo. We didn’t have very good weather with rain on and off the whole day. Plus we seemed to go through I don’t know how many toll roads - maybe we will have to tell Gloria not to take us on the toll roads when she is calculating our route for us !!! The scenery was very different to what we saw between Madrid and Barcelona - that was funny because there would be mountains on one side of the road and flat plains on the other. Often there were fields and fields of very well racked stones - what they grow there is anyone’s guess but the soil looks like it couldn’t support a colony of ants never mind grow anything. We did see olive orchards and grapes - not sure which of those can grow in yellow cracker dust (because that is exactly what it looks like with some bigger stones thrown in for good measure !!!)

Today the scenery was a lot more green - between mountains they seem to have more rain and therefore more greenery around. But we still went through some barren stretches where it looked like nothing would grow.

We have pictures (curtesy of Al) of I don’t know how many castles and churches on hill tops - most of them too far in the distance to actually be able to see what they are !! I think the same can be said for narrow alleyways and balconies (this one curtesy of me !!!) What happens is we see a castle on a hilltop / narrow alley / balcony and think - gosh that is amazing and forget about the other 10 ‘amazing’ sites we have already photographed !!!!

On the way we were wondering if it was going to be worth the trip as it was a little out of our way - well, we couldn’t have been more wrong. It is just magnificent - I thought I had left my heart in Madrid but now I have to bring half here and leave it here. It is like stepping into a time machine and going back 1000 years. The city of Toledo itself sits on the top of a hill - parts of the city wall still stand and a fair proportion of the city is surrounded by the Rio Tajo. As we drove past we were amazed at how old the buildings are - they have a festival on here this weekend (from what we could understand) it is the festival of no cars in Toledo. So, if we had managed to get accommodation within the city walls at a hotel which had parking, we could have driven in today but then not been able to take our car out until Monday. Needless to say we couldn’t find any accommodation within the city limits and the first place we stopped at wanted to charge 70 euros (+- A$125) per person per night. We had sort of got an idea we couldn’t afford it when we walked in wearing shorts and thongs and people walked out in suits and fancy dresses (not ha ha fancy dresses - real fancy dresses) with their hair all done and really dressed to the nines - all off to mass at the cathedral. Anyway, we eventually managed to find a lovely little hotel not too far from the city at a very reasonable price so we dumped our gear, put on our walking shoes and headed off.

After last night we wised up to the use of public transport and managed to get a bus to take us into the City Centre (a rather long walk if done without the help of the bus) and managed to find out that the last bus left at 11pm. We had our map and off we set - I wasn’t paying as much attention to where we were going as what I should have been as I spent too much time picking my jaw up off the floor at the sights !!!! We landed up on the outskirts of the city on the side we didn’t really want to be on so we walked back up to the City Centre (Plaza Zocodover) and started all over again. This time I gave the map to Kaitlin so that I could spend more time looking at the narrow cobble stoned roads and the amazing architecture. I can’t say enough about how amazing it is - the trouble is that the photos really don’t do it justice either.

I was reading in the Lonely Planets guide that the city is slowly dying as nobody wants to live within the city limits and eventually they expect it will consist only of souvenir shops, ice-cream parlours, cafes and bars. Everyone is moving down the side of the hill, outside the city limits, and living and working in the surrounding areas. I have to say that I can’t imagine living there and having to battle to find parking each day (I know some people in Sydney who have to do this anyway !!!!) - driving down street barely wide enough for your car at the same time as having to miss hitting the tourists who flock there in their thousands. It seems to me that a lot of the people who live there are elderly people who have maybe lived there for years and years and don’t want to move away. It had the feel a real community living - something which the Spaniards do very well. Unfortunately there was still a lot of graffiti around which was sad to see.

We stopped at one café for dinner - Al had spaghetti bolognaise, Kaitlin had fettucine fungi and I had paella - it was delicious. They served it in a cast iron skillet and it was just wonderful. We decided to make this Al’s birthday dinner as we hadn’t really had a birthday dinner for him when we were out with Ignacio. We managed to catch a bus at about 10.20pm and after the walk from the bus stop to the hotel got here, showered and the other two are in bed and asleep. The bath is the smallest bath I have ever seen (or used) it is even smaller than the bath we used to have in the house where I grew up !!!!!!

I really feel that if I had to go home tomorrow, I would have had my money’s worth on this holiday - it has been such a fantastic experience. There are many times when I have compared Spain to other places we have travelled to - there are many similarities but there are also so many differences. We are still not used to having to put up with people smoking wherever we go - we got into the hire car on Thursday and the first thing Al said was “People have smoked in here” - I really appreciate the stance that Australia has taken with people smoking in public places. I truly believe you have to travel before you can fully appreciate what you have at home.

I would also like to have some down time - this past week has been totally exhausting. Between the long flights over - 3 days of jumping on and off buses - together with all the walking we have done - plus with Al not used to the roads and not knowing where we are going, I haven’t been able to do my usual ‘get in the car and 20 mins later I’m asleep’ trick as it wouldn’t be fair to leave him to try to navigate it all by himself. I guess I could sit in the back and leave Kaitlin in the front except she has been sleeping a lot of the time in the back herself !!!!!! I would rather she slept and didn’t turn into Miss CrankyPants than I slept and make us both have to live with her !!!!

It is now 1.10am and if I am going to want to get up tomorrow morning to do another whirlwind walk through Toledo before leaving for Malaga, I had better get to sleep - it should be a fun night as not only are we in a double bed (we are used to a king size bed) - we only have one looooooooooooooooooong pillow to share between us (instead of our usual 4) !!!!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Toledo - Malaga 23rd September 2007

The hotel we stayed at was very good value for money - especially as we were only wanting somewhere to wash and sleep. This morning we were up and out of the hotel by just on 8am. Walked up to the bus stop and caught a bus into Toledo and walked down to the gate and bridge across from the ‘mainland’. We then walked back to the square and caught the bus back to the hotel - luckily we managed to get back by 10.40 and so had time to shower before we left. We had to make a few photo stops along the way as we hadn’t been able to get a photo on the entrance when we went in via the bus. My legs were quite tight today and I am sure will be a little like that tomorrow - the hills in and around Toledo are rather steep to say the least. Add to that sitting in the car for another 6 hours certainly doesn’t help arthritic knees. Our driving today saw us take our total driving for 3 days to just over 2000 kms - with another 2 ½ weeks still to go !!!

We had a good trip down to Malaga from Toledo. Gloria got a little confused at times because they have built new roads since the maps which she has loaded and so would occasionally tell us to “Go to nearest road” even though we were on the road already and she would show a picture of us travelling along nothing !!!

Once again, the scenery kept on amazing me. From the barren flats on one side of a hill to the forests on the other side. Then every now and again, you would see a cathedral standing out way above the houses - a very Mediterranean feel along the way with the olive groves and white houses.

We got into Malaga at about 5.15 but it took us a little longer to find the resort as Gloria didn’t recognise the address (she can be quite difficult like that). Anyway, we eventually found the resort - it is too big and too commercial for my liking. Having said that, we went out to try to find a laundry as we have run out of clothes waiting to get to the time share with the laundry - this one is different from others we have stayed at where we have had a washing machine and dryer in the room - this one there is a laundry on the 2nd floor but you have to leave your washing there for them to do and return the following day for the princely sum of 15 euros per load - geez we won’t be able to eat if we get all our washing done here !!!! So, off we went to explore to see if we could find a Laundromat (the lady at reception said you won’t find any where you can do it yourself - you have to leave it and pick it up the next day). We did find one - but we had to leave our washing there - the good thing was it was only 8 euros per load !!!! What a pity we had only taken our ‘have to wash’ pile and not all the washing that needed to be done - we didn’t want to spend all night doing washing so thought that we would only take the absolute necessary pile. Anyway, we can collect it on Tuesday at lunch time so will take whatever we have up until then and get it all done as the people there seemed very nice.

I cannot believe how much like Surfers Paradise this place is - not what I expected at all. I am not sure what I thought it would be like but certainly nothing like it actually is. There are pommies galore - red as lobsters walking around. The tourist strip is just like walking down Cavill Ave except it is a gazilloLn times longer. We had fish and chips and pork chop and chips for dinner tonight - there is no shortage of places to eat / drink and the prices are certainly more reasonable than what we have encountered since arriving in Spain - no doubt thanks to the number of pommie visitors to the area !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

After dinner we decided to have a walk along the beachfront and stopped at a drugstore to get an ice-cream. Al came up to me with a bottle of Amarula and said “Guess how much” “30 ?” “No” “60 ?” “No - you could get 6 bottles for that” - it was 9.80 euros (approx $17 rather than the $30 at home) so he bought a bottle as well as a range of beers for him to try when we have a quiet drink one evening (hopefully before we leave for home !!!!!!)

This morning when I woke Kaitlin up I said tomorrow would be a rest day as we have had a really big week since leaving home last Sunday morning. She sounded very pleased to hear that as we have had quite late nights as then early starts each day. When we got here and were talking about what we were going to do according to what we had wanted to do as well as the suggestions that Ignacio had given us, we realised that we actually don’t have any free days while we are here - the extra two days we took to stop at Toledo (well worth every minute we were there) cut into the time we have here. So we have a day trips to each of the following : Malaga, Marabella and Ronda, Granada, Cordoba and Seville.

Tomorrow we are planning to catch the bus into Malaga - apparently the parking can be a bit of a nightmare so think we will get the bus in and out and just have our walking shoes on for in-between the bus trips - we are hoping this won’t take all day and we can have some free time in the afternoon. Hopefully the trip to Marabella and Ronda also won’t take the whole day as they are a lot closer than the other three. I can’t believe the windy roads that abound in Spain - it doesn’t seem to matter where we are (apart from on the freeway of course) but the roads are always really narrow and really windy. I took a photo in Toledo where they have actually cut away part of the wall to allow side mirrors through the corner !

There are some computers downstairs with an internet connection but no way for me to upload anything so will just send short e-mails and upload the travel diary to our blog when we get home.