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The Final Leg of España

Days 87 and 88 Seville, Antequerra and Ronda

sunny 45 °C

Seville

We left La Linea early and headed north towards Seville to see the Royal Palace, Real Alcazar.

The journey took about 2 hours by car but we stopped off for a typical Spanish road side breakfast. The place was lively with people coming and going. We both fitted in, order our ham, cheese sandwiches and coffee in Spanish and started to watch the Olympics with a couple of Australians winning their heats in swimming. The waiter joined in as we cheered. It is a great community atmosphere that is wonderful and genuinely lovely social interaction to start the morning. The waiters are the heart of the place and the customers are like family.

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Real Alcazar is still an operational palace for the royal family. It is unique as from its initial existence in XI century AD its been a capital for numerous tribes and different religions over the centuries. The buildings and associated gardens are a combination of Christian, Jewish and Islam cultures.

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The Royal Bedroom

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Inside the building with all its open areas and tiled walls and floor makes a great place to get away from the out side heat. We spend the first hour (no photos allowed) in the upper palace which is still the functioning area for the King of Spain. It was simply decorated and lovely to walk through and steeped with history of past royal families. We continued our walk around including the gardens. The architecture, with ceramics being the defining theme for everything - the colour of the floor and wall tiles, the way the sun comes into areas and the ability to look into 4 rooms at one time make the whole walk quite surreal. It's a place you have to walk around very slowly to make sure you see all the detail.

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The Queen's private swimming baths.

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We get a great feeling from Seville. Its a wonderful city with beautiful parks where the shade is cool and great boulevards. Lots of history and very green with all its parks, and it is cool to see Australian gum trees which have been exported to Spain (as well as other countries).

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We enjoyed exploring this city, taking a long lunch between 3 and 5 as its simply too hot. Yes, that really says 45 degrees at 5:30pm!

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I'm not sure if it was the heat but we had fun exploring this town.

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Antequerra and Ronda

Our final day with the car and staying in Caserbemeja is a road trip to Antequerra. Antequerra is only 20 km's north and 10 times bigger than Caserbemeja and also contains an old part of the town with a old church and castle, an Alcazar, on top of the hill. We managed to manoeuvre the car up a bunch of narrow windy streets and did a quick photo stop. Initially we wanted to spend our time here but never really found accommodation that ticked off the specification like Casabermeja.

Still it was nice to see and maybe I would have spent all my time playing golf if we had stayed here.

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Next stop a further 1 1/2 hours away is the ancient town of Ronda. We walked into town and through a park and came to a spot overlooking the valley. Ronda is famous for a bridge that spans a gorge in the heart of the town and the numerous building that precariously have been built on the edge of the gorge.

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With various literature luminaries spending time here.
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Hemmingway famously wrote about bull fights and there is a bull fighting museum which Jen and I avoided.

The trail to the bridge is lovely to walk along with its outlook and 10 minutes later we arrive at the bridge. Scattered on both sides of the bridge and both sides of the river are numerous restaurants that seem to be hanging on the edge.

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The drive back was a big loop to the coastline through the Andalusian mountain range. Coming down from the range I now understand why they call the coastline Costa Del Golf. Tucked away in the valleys are carved out lush green golf courses and resorts. Again I fought off temptation and drove past all of them. Jen just smiled as I caught a glimpse of each one.

Back home and our Spain travels are now complete. It's gather our things, pack our bags, final dinner in town, adios to the locals and switch back to travel mode. We are now entering our final 3 weeks of travel, leaving Europe for now and looking forward to our next adventure.

Posted by tszeitli 13:29 Archived in Spain Tagged architecture alcazar scenery hot graffiti islam roman_ruins ceramics christianity muslin sevillia Comments (2)

La Vide Del Pueblo

Days 76 to 84 Casabermeja

sunny 40 °C

We have arrived in Casabermeja. Where is Casabermeja and why go there you ask?

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Well, the specification was: find a small traditional village in the South of Spain, away from tourists and live like locals for a couple of weeks. After hours of research, we found Casabermeja, Gateway to the Andalusian mountains, near Seville, with access to the beach at Costa del Sol and small enough to force us to immerse ourselves in Spanish life. We knew this town ticked all the boxes and more, especially when we arrived at our 200-year old rustic Spanish town house where we would spend 13 days.

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The town is about 30-minutes’ drive north of Malaga, at the eastern end of Costa Del Sol. The extremely touristy coastline goes all the way down to Gibraltar. In contrast, Casabermeja is a village of white painted houses and, with the exception of 4 days during our stay, nothing much happens in a hurry. Its history dates back to Moorish times, and was established in 1550 by Spanish Emperor Carlos I.
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1. Vivienda Rural - Calle Real, 86

Casabermeja is a wonderful little town with a population of about 3000. The pace of daily life is beautifully slow. The town goes about its chores, punctuated with siestas and time to chat. During breaks or when the day’s tasks are done, Los Abuelos and Las Abuelas bring out a kitchen chair, parking themselves in their front doorway, which is practically in the street and there they sit, for hours, watching the day go by and well into the evening.

Our abode is a wonderfully rustic, 200-year old farmhouse with loads of charm.
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White plaster walls, old stairs, and a lovely cobbled courtyard.
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The men of the village congregate in the Main Square, Centro de Mayores no doubt regaling each other with the same stories of past glory over and over, for years. Benches near the church are a great spot to pass the day chatting, watching the comings and goings from the bus and the market.
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A highlight during the day is to watch the local Malaga bus drive up the hill, do a reverse 3-point turn beside the church with absolutely no room for error. The driver seems to have manhandled the massive coach enough times to know exactly how far to drive the bus past the church, easing backwards, full lock one way, then the other, with the nose sneaking past the corner of the house on the other side of the street with the merest of clearances, and deftly slotting into the bus stop. We caught the bus a couple of times and still not sure if its scarier watching from the street or from inside the bus!
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Most of the restaurants for dinner are at the bottom of the town, one small Mercado half way up, with some smaller Carne and Pane Tiendas scattered.
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English is rare. We often felt bad, after greeting a kindly Abuela or communicating what we needed, it was assumed we could speak more Spanish than we did, launching into a conversation which we could not understand. We found though a smile and nod, or if the body language indicated – usually La Abuela complaining of a crook hip or the heat or the little girl at the pool intent on explaining something to us – a frown and lo siento was enough.
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We relished buying local food - feeling quite chuffed with ourselves being able to order what we wanted and communicating the correct quantities to eating at the local restaurants – figuring out the menu and even when we got it wrong, we were rarely disappointed, adding a new delicacy to our repertoire (or knowing what not to order next time). Ordering from horseback on the other hand, needs some skill....
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although getting a ride home would be cool.

The Main Street has a gradient of around 10% and unfortunately our villa is almost at the top of the town. Heading down for lunch or dinner is a commitment knowing it’s a long hike back up the hill.
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Days are long in Summer. Mornings are slow to get started, with locals starting to venture about at about 9. Sunset brings an end to the day and start of evening routines at about 9pm. Often we were first to wander in for dinner at 9:30pm.
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Rarely in bed by midnight, with townspeople still chatting and hanging out, as we dragged ourselves up the hill to bed. We quickly adapt to the lifestyle! It is both a young and an old town with kids happily playing in the streets or in the small kids park while their parents ate dinner and grandparents sat on their kitchen chairs in the street, well past bedtimes of every Aussie kid we know.

We were able to slow down, do some cooking for ourselves in our wonderfully rustic kitchen and recharge a bit for the final legs of our journey.

Mealtimes were often arbitrary - this was technically breakfast, but eaten at lunchtime - we made sure we had our juice, old grape juice!
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The biggest decisions each day were which out of the half dozen restaurants we were going to eat at that night, would we start with Cervesas or Tinto Limon (half red wine and lemon squash which is wonderfully refreshing) and whether to try something different on the menu, but also discovering some favourite dishes we’d order again and again.

Our host Luis was a lovely man and a wealth of information, if we had a question, he knew someone. He even arranged a private visit to the local Ceramic Museum.
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The whole area is known for its ceramics and we adored the street signs and beautiful murals in the town.
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2. Felices fiestas.
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The weekend of the 5, 6 and 7 August saw the village have its Felices Fiestas festival for which we still don't quite know what for. It was a trip down memory lane dodgem cars and side show alley, a band, donuts, mechanical bull, jumping castle, trampolines, fairy floss and our previously sleepy village is suddenly transformed with the whole town donning their best outfits – the women must have been sewing for months creating dramatic flamenco style dresses for themselves and their daughters and cute outfits for little boys, all out of the same material. Even Los Abuelos arranged a street party that was pumping well into the AM.

Our usually quiet restaurants are packed, doubling, even tripling the number of tables and we still struggled to get a table.
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What was crazy though was the festival each night did not start until very late. Whilst the Kids Rides started a bit earlier, the Dodgem Cars didn’t launch into action until about 11pm – the flashing lights, sparking wires, pumping music and the siren heralding the call to race onto the floor, jump into a car and get ready to seek and destroy. The Siren wails and we're away, then the grimace as cars lined each other up, slamming into each other.

Jen and I did have a go at the dodgem cars and both reminisced when was the last time we rode one of these things. We both accepted a long long time ago!

Jen was treated with a little more respect and did not get smashed too many times, but I was immediately the target of the posse of young Spanish teens. “Gringo!”

They ganged up on me. I did the Aussie flag proud and gave them as good as I got.

The night’s festival would continue into the very early hours of the morning, long after we’d gone to bed. Saturday night was the big night with some still hanging around at 8.30am when we ventured out for our morning walk.
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3. Natacion en La Playa y La Piscina

The heat was at times unbearable, especially between 3 and 5 each afternoon, and we had a few days where we just stayed inside – given our hectic travels to date, it was a welcome enforced sojourn or we hung out at Piscina Municipal Pablo Ruiz Picasso, the local pool, alternating between the pool and the shady tree over the course of the day.

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In Summer a special bus is arranged for €1.65 per trip, to Playa De Las Acacias, a beach about 10 km north of Malaga. It is stinking hot at 38 deg c and we get to the beach around 11.30 am.
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It is still early and the morning haze hasn’t yet burnt off. Fortunately, the beach is still quiet. We stake out a great spot on the grass under palm trees. By about 12.30 pm the beach is packed and with no room at all. We spend the day, again alternating between swim and laying in the shade of the palm trees, adjusting our position, following the shade as the sun moves across the sky.

A couple of interesting observations of beach culture in Costa de Sol.

1. The beach is brown grey dirty sand and sand finishes about 5 m from the water’s edge.
2. From where the sand finishes it turns into a dirt dust bowl that is scalding hot.
3. The locals do not know how to body surf.
4. Locals don't wear hats and stay in the sun all day. How they don't get burnt to a crisp is still unknown.
5. There is a lot of rubbish on the sand and in the water, which is unpleasant. Finding a spot to swim is difficult. We didn’t mind that we looked a bit conspicuous coming out of the water with chip packets, plastic bags and other rubbish, putting it in the bin where it belongs.
6. Swim wear for the girls is worn with their bikini pushed up their bum to convert it into a G- string style. It can’t be comfortable. They are often topless, which doesn’t bother anyone, but is somewhat inconvenient when they have to make a run for the water across the hot sand – things tend to take on a life of their own.

4. Malaga.
The city of Malaga has the largest airport on the Cost a del Sol so it's a prime spot for travellers (usually Poms) to get off and go to the beaches. It also dubbed Costa del Golf as the area all the way down to Gibraltar is filled with resort golf courses.
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No, I didn’t play a round. It is also a place for cruise ships to dock while travelling through the Mediterranean.

Malaga is also the birth place of Picasso so we did spend a couple of hours in the Picasso museum.
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It did have some nice pieces, e.g. Woman with Raised Arms,
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Acrobat which can be viewed from all four sides and still be anatomically possible, as much as a Picasso can be,
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and Jacqueline Seated, a portrait of his last wife,
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but in comparison the one in Barcelona was better. The Malaga curators may have taken a few liberties with history and Picasso's connections back to Malaga. It was made out that Picasso was very much connected to the town, even though he never visited again after leaving in his early 20s.

The whole of Spain has high esteem for Picasso, nominating and naming many things after him. Given he spent most of his life in France, we're not sure how much of his thoughts remained in Spain.

Malaga is a pretty cool town though with a mix of old and new, modern and traditional.
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We spent the day walking along the town mall, the marina and the local beach.
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The area has been redeveloped and is a well thought out and a lovely place to visit.

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I braved the waters and the rubbish and went for a quick dip, while Jen people watched and kept an eye on our bags. It was refreshing to get in the water with the temperature still in the high 30's but as with most beaches here the sand back to the path way is blistering hot and you need to sprint across, or risk blisters.

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We returned to Malaga a few days later to collect a car to do some exploring. Once we escaped the town, through a maze of tiny one way, ridiculously narrow, dead end streets (although GPS showed otherwise). We took the scenic route home via Montes de Malaga. The mountain ranges are spectacular and it is hard to understand how life and farming (olives, almonds, goats and sheep) succeed here in the rocky and harsh environment.

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5. Caminar en Las Montanas

All around the town are a series of walks through the Andalusian hills and we picked a 10 km walk Fuente de las Parras Viejas (or The Fountain of the Old Grape Vines) walk.
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The walk took us to the top of the town, around the back and then to a natural fountain. This fountain has significance as it was the first source of water to the area to allow the town to develop and also for trading.
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About one km from town, it was built in the 18th century (but its location as a water source is documented back to the 16th century).
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This ended the first part of our life in Casabermeja.
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Our rustic stay was doing the job and as an added bonus we were now also able to watch the Olympics, although coverage favours 'Espana'. I think the neighbours heard the yell when they left the mens swimming relay featuring Australians to cross to the bronze medal playoff between Espania and USA in trap shooting.

Posted by tszeitli 01:09 Archived in Spain Tagged hiking history hot village_life living_local slow_down sideshow_alley dodgem fairy_floss casabermeja hablar_espanol Comments (1)

Real Madrid - Nos encanta España!

Days 73 to 76 Madrid

sunny 38 °C

The weather is HOT and we don't have air conditioning so trying to stay cool is a challenge - which we happily meet. We have AWESOME bars, restaurants and yummy food on our door step.

Venturing out for dinner on our first night, we fell in love with the area. This is the Real Spain!

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Roaming the Plaza del Sol with street performers whose skills are on a whole other level, mariachi bands who are always off key, street vendors selling anything and everything. The crews selling knockoff handbags, sunglasses, hats and shoes, with eyes constantly scanning the crowds for police, laying out their fake wares on sheets tethered at each corner, ready to be whisked up and flee with the sacks thrown over a shoulder at a moment's notice.

I made friends with the local general store owner who happily sells me Beers, Wine, Cava - Jen's new favourite drink - and as I discovered, Spanish Sherry, the renowned Tio Pepe's nonetheless, which I thought was Dry White Wine, but was actually not too bad, over ice.

The TV has a tragically awesome HIT-TV channel streaming current and recently current hits. Neither Jen or I have watched music videos lately, so we receive an education on what the Kids are Doin' these days! It reminds Jen of Saturday morning Video Hits.

Our Apartment overlooks a bustling street right off Plaza del Sol which is busy 24 hours a day. After our daily siesta, we open our double french doors (once the extreme heat between 3 -5 pm passes) and let the sounds and smells of Madrid envelop us, and then we head out for dinner.

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Our first morning it's off to do a Segway tour to get a quick feel of Madrid and also go to the Bernabéu, home stadium of Real Madrid, voted by FIFA as the greatest football club of the 20th Century. I actually thought it should have gone to Collingwood but I will let that slide. Given it was FIFA, voting had to have been rigged.

We met our guide to get our instructions and crash course in How to Segway.

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We have some apprehension as to the process of hopping on one of these contraptions. But how hard could it be we asked ourselves? The sum total of our briefing comprised the guide saying, "Step on, here is the stick, push forward, it goes forward, pull back it goes backwards, move left it goes left, move it right it goes right, OK, practice over there." directing us to an adjacent laneway.

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One minute later, "Okay, be careful, leave 1 m space, don't hit anything and let's go!". Great safety talk!

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Vamos, We're off.

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[A bit difficult to take photos on Segway but this was the most quintessential Retro building I've ever seen]

We then speed for the next 45 minutes zipping through the streets of Madrid - with our guide pointing out key city features - to arrive at the famous Bernabéu.

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For the Non-World Game followers, Real Madrid is Cristiano Ronaldo's current team and has been by far the most successful football club in the world, ever.

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11 Copas de Europa, 19 Copas del Rey, 32 Campeonatos de Liga Champion, 1 Copa Mundial de Clubes de la FIFA. The stadium holds 85000 people and when full of screaming supporters it would be intimidating.

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The Tour is very well done, starting with a view from the top section.

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What we would ordinarily call the NoseBleed Section, but when en Español...

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The tour is very well put together.

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The anticipation builds as we enter the trophy room, a multi media extravaganza, with display cabinets overflowing with trophies and memorabilia through the ages, video displays of past and present players, famous matches and the history of the Club.

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The presentation was interactive, and walking through the area it gave you a huge sense of awe and the tradition behind it.

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I could have spent all day in there watching the clips from historic matches and the theatre of penalty shoot outs and great goals.

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I have previously talked about the great Puskas, one of my father's idols and a Hungarian Legend. He played 254 games for Real Madrid and won 3 European Cups, so a little link back to my Dad.

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A most impressive collection of silverware.

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All of this culminates in the room everyone comes to see. As we walk the tunnel, through pulsing lights and the sound of a thumping heartbeat, gets everyone aroused.

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We enter the darkened sacred inner sanctum which houses Eleven gleaming Copas de Europa,
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along with Ballon d'Ors awarded to legends of the game each year.

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No other side has come close to matching the success of this team, ever. FIFA therefore created a special award, Copa Mundial de Clubes de la FIFA for the Best Club of the 20th Century.

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We get to wander the change rooms.

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There's plenty of twinkling eyes and giggles from the girls, knowing that Ronaldo has been naked - RIGHT HERE!

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Compared with the visitors quarters, they do have a very nice set up.

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"We never want to look too far ahead. We take one game at time!"

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Then out through the ramp to ground level - where the magic happens.

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Looking back up into the stands, its easy to see this as the modern Colosseum where today's gladiators fight with honour and determination (and for rewards far greater than any Roman Emperor could have imagined) to the fanatical cheers of passionate supporters.

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I was in heaven but Jen also got a kick out of seeing what a club like Real Madrid is like and how the locals love this Club so much.

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Having Ronaldo, probably one of the two of the best players in world toady, also helps.

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Its a wonderful rivalry between Madrid with Ronaldo and FC Barcelona with Messi - Spain is almost the Futbol centre of the Universe. I visited a few sports shops in both Barcelona and Madrid. Not surprisingly, they stock almost exclusively EVERYTHING FC Barcelona or Real Madrid, and very little else.

The ride on our Segway was just as quick back as we spent a little longer at the Stadium as we planned. You all will be happy to know we got back safely, no accidents, no falls, no near misses.

Lifestyle in Spain is very different to back home. People wake up late, things slow down between 2 and 5 pm, and come alive around 9pm. Dinner kicks off with a sangria and normally finishes around 11.30 pm.

When in Spain....do as the locals.

Next day, two words......day off.

Slept in! Headed out at lunchtime to something that should be introduced in Australia. It's Museo de Jamon. Vegetarians avert your eyes.

Basically a delicatessen with a stand up bar serving Bocadillas (sandwiches) as simple as can be with gloriously rowdy waiters yelling your order to the crew in the back.

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Within moments, fresh bread, with your choice of cured ham cut off the bone and local cheese for €1.50 and €.90 Cervesa appears in front of you. No butter, mustard, lettuce or other fancies.
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You get a little appetiser when you order (a bowl of crisps, a mini hamburgesa or olives) .

There are hundreds of smoked and cured leg hams ageing in tiers hanging from the ceiling.
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The noise and chatter is a glorious messy atmosphere.
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Local workers, office people and tourists roll in and out all day. We ate here a couple of times - the Bocadillas were amazing and for the sheer entertainment of the waiters and the customers. Today we got takeaways heading off for a picnic in the park for a siesta under the trees.

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The park is near the Palacio Real Espania and the Catedral Al Mudena.

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Reminds me of Buckingham Palace

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Despite it being baking hot, its cool in the gardens.

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Back to our apartment with a stop off near the Plaza de Mayor coming across the Peluqueria de Caballeros. What's that you ask?

It's a barber shop and I needed a haircut. Apparently this is one of (or could in fact be) the oldest barber shop in Madrid.

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No one spoke English but a few gestures, and the barber taking one look at my head, we were good to go. The old photos on the wall of well dressed and likely important clients, telling of its history as the prime barber shop of of its day. Once it was a long room with 30 barber chairs lined up. Whilst Barber shops like these are making a resurgence back home, its a place where tradition is its pride, not a fad for hipsters. Great value at with €12 euros and the barber was meticulous with the little hair I have.

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Emboldened by our Segway hire, we elected to hire bikes for the day. A five hour bike ride around the outer area of Madrid.

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As Madrid is very bicycle friendly, it was nice to be able to stop and start at will and especially enjoy two huge parks that are only 2 km out from Plaza Del Sol to roam around.

We visited: Palacio de Cristal, Garriera De St Jeronimo, Paseo De Prado, Estanque, Templo de Bod, and back to the Palaceo Real Espania for a lovely lunch of Tapas.

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We were just in time for Turtle Feeding

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"I like Turtles"
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Dinner was in our local street that we've come to love and it had to be Paella. Again we washed down our food with sangria, and the paella traditional and delicious with the streets always alive.

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Overall we found Madrid to be closer to what we hoped Spain would be. Food, culture, vibrant, alive, friendly and great place to hang out. Our Spanish is kind of getting better but so many people speak English now, we often get tongue tied, as we figure out what we want to say in our heads, start to speak only for them to answer in English - so a weird Spanglish ensues.

Next stop will be Casabermeja, most likely the opposite as this small town is away from the tourists and very traditional.

Travel day to Casabermeja. If you go to the map, it's 1 hour bus ride north from Malaga which is the start of the Costa Del Sol. The main beaches run from Malaga all the way down to Gibraltar a distance of about 140 km. Overall the trip to Casabermeja went well and was made simpler with the instructions from our host Luis.

Although, it did not start off well as we entered the subway at 6.15am. After buying our tickets to get to the train station, 3 metro stops away we read the notice board that said the line was closed down for refurbishment and we had to either take a bus or take another line. The joys of travelling on your own and we had to catch a train in 1 hr time. Plan b into action, catch a taxi. Disaster avoided and we're on our way.

Hola Casabermeja, home for the next 13 days.

Posted by tszeitli 05:26 Archived in Spain Tagged food bikes madrid hot tapas sangria segway cava cervesa Comments (1)

Bienvenidos a Barcelona: Gaudi, Picasso and Ramblin' On

Days 69 to 72 Barcelona

sunny 38 °C

Jen and I have always wanted to visit España, especially to have a chance to hablar Espanol, even though its been a while since our lessons.

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Renowned for its architecture, unique Catalán culture and cuisine, Barcelona's sights are so immense it has two different circuits on the HopOnHopOff bus. Today was see as much as possible and get our bearings.

Past the Torre Agbar, Barcelona's Water Board tower.
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And most famous of Gaudi's work, La Sagrada Familia, we then continue along to the foothills of Tibidado and its architecturally significant Hospital of the Holy Cross (incidentally where Gaudi expired),
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and then back into the town near Plaza de Catalunya.
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Barcelona is a celebration of Gaudi, and his distinctive style is everywhere - Casa Batllo and various aspects of the cityscape. We see his influence in numerous buildings in the city streets.
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He was a visionary. Although he would have been wise to keep an eye out for trams on 7 June 1926 in order to avoid his untimely demise. Nevertheless, his design lives on forever in Barcelona and his loyal disciples have diligently continued to work tirelessly on his greatest masterpiece for over 100 years.

We swapped across to the orange line west, down through the Arco de Triunfo de Barcelona,
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down past the el Bonn, World Trade Centre and up Montjuïc hill to the Olympic stadium.

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Another Olympic Stadium ticked off but then the heavens opened (which has been incredibly rare for our whole trip) and we're marooned for 40 minutes. First bit of serious rain since we were in Moscow wandering through Red Square in mid June.

Back on the bus and continued to the Place de Espanya, FC Barcelona stadium - Camp Nou, where Messi, Neymar and team mates are demi-gods.
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down Avinguda Diagonal and back to nearby Place de Catalunya. We then walked the path of the Orange bus via the Arc de Triomphe and ended up at the Beach. It did seem strange that earlier in the day we saw people with surfboards walking through the streets, now we realise why, not realising there was a surf beach.
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Then as the old buildings changed to boats and marinas we see the beach and surf at Patja del Bogatell. Again, we appreciate how unbelievably lucky we are in Oz for the beaches we enjoy.

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Thousands of people along a 10km stretch of beach. Not a spare piece of sand - and not sand like we enjoy, more akin to the underlay we buy by the cubic metre from landscaping suppliers for paving the back patio - in addition to being littered with rubbish and cigarette butts (both in the water and on the sand).

We walked along the beach road back onto the Green bus and made our way back to our apartment. We realised how enormous Barcelona is and the volume of tourists that visit. Out apartment host warned us that Barcelona is not the real Spain but has developed more into a tourist attraction. We are immediately struck by the "Tourist Version" of everything - especially Tapas for Tourists: jamon, queso, patatas bravas, albondigas and tortilla - en mas together with the usual tourist menu of hamburgers and pizza, after a few rounds of tapas, the lack of variety is a little tiresome.

The city itself is very well laid out with wide avenues, diagonals to enable quick cross city journeys, and loads of bicycle tracks. It has four distinct areas; the Gothic Quarter; the normal shops, churches, old Spanish buildings and apartment areas; the hill with the 1992 Olympics and palace area; and then the beaches. Each area is so different, full of tourists and loses its Spanish feel. Think of a bit of Melbourne for its old style, Sydney for its beaches, the Rocks and the marinas and Adelaide for all its churches all wrapped into one with swarms of tourists in 35+ heat.

The next day, Jen woke up with the dreaded stomach bug (damn, Tourist Tapas!). We had tickets for 9am to go into the unfinished La Sagrada Familia.

A little bit of history first.

Gaudi devoted himself to this church right up until his death in 1926 his altercation with a tram. When he died they had only built a small portion of the church but the building project continued. It started in 1882 and the forecast for completion is 2026, commemorating 100 years since his death.
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The building was designed with 6 towers with the main one at over 173 m tall is still to be built. From an engineering perspective it would be a nightmare of a construction site and would have been difficult to comprehend how this church would be built without modern construction techniques.

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The church is nothing like any other church you will see and its ideas around the structures was based on numerous types of environmental concepts. The use of natural light and the lead light is what hits you the most. Jen & I have become a bit jaded with the almost grotesqueness of some churches we visited - gold, gilt, dark, and heavy.

Gaudi's vision is for a celebration of life and nature. The way the light comes into the building and changes colours throughout the day is spectacular and unique.
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The internal columns are variously porphyry, granite and sandstone and the shaped to represent trees reaching up to the heavens. The natural light gives life to the trees and creates a feeling of being in a magical forest. We could sit there for hours as the sun moves and continuously casts different shadows and colours on the walls and columns - Blues and Greens in the morning as the sun beams in from the east and Yellows, Reds and Oranges as the day progresses, with the sun radiating from the West.

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Whilst unfinished, the magnificence and magic is already becoming evident. The stained glass at the very top tier isn't yet coloured, but gives a hint of what is to come.

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The outside is heavily Gothic and quite weird with fruit on top of steeples made of glass so they sparkle like gems, sections telling stories, pigeons, turtles, rough cut stone, curves everywhere and somehow how it all makes sense.

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The light and colour is quite hypnotic, and we could have stayed there all day and not taken it all in.

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We also walked up one of the towers to get a spectacular view of Barcelona. You get a better appreciation of how unfinished it is and how difficult it will be to finish this magnificent piece of architecture that was designed over 100 years ago.

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Back inside we took a little more time to soak up the place.

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The next day, we walked the Gothic Quarter which has retained its charm, en route to the Picasso museum.

Picasso was born in Malaga but as an early teenager he moved to Barcelona to master his trade. This museum took us through a journey of this life in art. His early years as an 11 year old art prodigy in the late 1800's to around 1915, starting with traditional styles and his development through the Blue and Cubism periods and then pushing boundaries and his style changed dramatically to what we all come to recognise as Picasso. What hit me was how Picasso saw the world, especially faces differently, as if his eyes refracted the image differently, breaking it down into its essential components. He was able to paint simply and efficiently. One piece, "Portrait of Sabanes with ruff hat and feather" of his long time friend and personal assistant Jamie Sabanes, who requested Picasso to paint him as a 16th century aristocrat.

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His friend quoted on the painting as saying, in relation to the warped likeness, "it exactly captures all my distinctive features as efficiently as possible". I think this describes Picasso's work perfectly. He only includes in a work, those features that are absolutely essential to capture the true nature of the subject - features and emotion. Picasso, in summing up his own work, "it took me 4 years to paint like Raphael and a lifetime to paint like a child". He was prolific with the volume of pieces, as well as experimenting with different media including ceramics and stencils. The last part of the museum was a body of work by Picasso and his detailed interpretation of another painting called
Las Meninas.

A painting of the Royal Spanish family first painted by Diego Velázquez, the leading artist of the Spanish Golden Age, in 1656.
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Picasso had been fascinated by the piece hanging in the Prado in Madrid since a young man. Having been a successful and prolific artist most of his life, despite the lean times in France in his twenties, Picasso was able to indulge his desires devoting an entire series of 58 paintings during 1957, performing a comprehensive analysis, reinterpreting and recreating several times.
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The little princess was singled out many times as well as the dog, who was reduced to a childlike version. Poor Perro!

After lunch, we then spent the rest of the day walking through the Gothic Quarter where it is possible, down the alleys and lanes, to get a feel for the Real Barcelona.
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Then along the waterfront and along Las Ramblas, keeping an eye out for pick pockets with the sea of humanity.

Our assessment of Barcelona is that its a little too touristy for us - we can appreciate the history and vibrancy of this city but in only a short visit, its difficult to distance from the tourism overload.
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Next its on to Madrid. Our original plan was to catch the train, but after some frustrating research, I found that the 3 hour train cost nearly as much as a 1 hour flight. So we flew.

We set off early.

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I had to do a fair bit of research for this day and it involved hiking with our bags, airport bus, a massive Barcelona airport, an even bigger Madrid airport, subway to Plaza del Sol with 3 changes and finally our apartment. I was very impressed as my scheduling, all went beautifully smooth! We got to our apartment at 12.30 pm, great location, only to be advised check in not until 4 pm. This was no appreciated especially when the temperature was 38 deg c.

After chilling in a cafe for 4 hours, we got into our apartment, directly above the bustle of Madrid and hit the streets for dinner. We are instantly struck by a totally different vibe than Barcelona. Just 50 m from our apartment was full of little restaurants and bars with proper traditional Spanish food and plenty of locals. It is much easier to relax in a place when surrounded by locals, rather than tourists. This was the Spanish Experience we were after! We drank sangria and devoured delicious tostadas followed with grande calamares. We closed the night with a stroll around the Plaza del Sol along with hundreds of other locals and street entertainers. The place was full of life, and we knew we would enjoy the next three days.

Madrid is also a few degrees hotter than Barcelona so now we are hitting a laconic heat of 38 deg c and at night time it does not get lower than 30, even still close to 35 at 11pm. But we don't mind, there is such great energy in this place.

Hasta luego Barrrrr-the-llooona.....Hola Ma-drrrrid.

Posted by tszeitli 01:14 Archived in Spain Tagged beaches art architecture barcelona culture train olympics gothic gaudi aeroplane tourists hot tapas sangria hoponhopoff Comments (3)

Kayaking, Eating Too Much, Football and its HOT

Day 42 to Day 44 Split

sunny 35 °C

We booked a day’s sea kayak adventure two nights ago and arranged to be picked up this morning by a company called Red Adventure. Life of a traveller in 2016 is so easy compared with my backpacking days. All you need is wifi and a credit card, with everything arranged to perfection via email.
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Jen was looking forward to a kayak as it was bringing back memories of kayaking on the Dalmatian Coast in Kotor, Montenegro some 5 years ago. The weather was 35 deg C, the water temp about 25 deg C, the water was calm, the water crystal clear, so perfect conditions for us to enjoy a past time Jen and I love to do regularly at Rainbow Beach.
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We get out on the water with our guide, Marco, a couple of offsiders, and a lovely family - Mum was born in Glasgow, got married and moved to Iceland and had two children and now lives in Sweden with her two teenage kids.

Kayaking is Jen's Happy Place, so Jen starts paddling at 100 km/hr with the adrenalin flowing she gets over excited with the exercise, water and freedom! "Slow Down Buckaroo!" We have 8 hours of this. We get into a nice rhythm and paddled across to the island of Otok Ciovo. The sheer rock faces are spectacular. Marco's offsider (who spent the entire 8 hours in just those speedos...) is a rock climber and managed to haul himself out of the water (via short ropes anchored into the base) and pick his way over the sharp rocks up to about 10 metres.
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This day was also a big test for the GoPro with action shots on the kayak with some underwater scenes. The kayak trip went perfectly and can be summarised in the following: crystal clear calm water, beautiful scenery, paddling along rocky island water’s edge, snorkelling, beach lunch, diving out of our kayaks in the open ocean for a swim, engaging with other travellers and the locals, GoPro success, overall lots of fun! I will let the photos speak for themselves.
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That night we watched the Croatians lose to Portugal with a very different atmosphere to the time in Pula. The Split Croatians did not get dressed up and there was no central square to gather which kind of made it a flat night. There's a significant proportion of tourists - so the mood isn't as patriotic. That night we drank way too many beers and I had one of the best pizzas I have had for a long time, devouring a large Pizza all by myself. Let’s see if I get get a better one in Italy. The night was stinking hot so we were glad to end it back at our room in air conditioned comfort.

The next day was again a scorcher and we spent half the day wandering the streets and buying our ferry ticket for our next adventure until it got too hot and we retreated to the refuge of our air-conditioned unit.

Past the statue of Grgur Ninski (Gregory of Nin) a medieval Croatian bishop of Nin who strongly opposed the Pope and official circles of the Church and introduced the national language in the religious services after the Great Assembly in 926. Until that time, services were held only in Latin (being under the jurisdiction of Roman influence), not being understandable to a majority of the population. Seemed like a decent bloke, so we gave his toe a rub for luck, as is the custom.
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A little retail therapy, note the poor guy on the "Husband Bench".
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Then through the Place of Diocletian. It is an ancient palace built by the Roman emperor Diocletian at the turn of the fourth century AD, that today forms about half the old town and city centre.
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While it is referred to as a "palace" because of its intended use as the retirement residence of Diocletian, it more resembles a large fortress: about half of it was for Diocletian's personal use, and the rest housed the military garrison.

Most of it is converted into shops and restaurants. Its lovely to wander the cool laneways and window shop.
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Parts of the place are open spaces and a grotto are cool - literally, much cooler than outside.
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I am fast coming to a realisation that Jen is an ice cream addict (she never told me that before the wedding) and unless she gets one a day she gets a little edgy!
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Lucky all the countries we are visiting are also big ice cream fans. Happy Wife Happy Life.

There is also an excellent smoothie bar in a breezeway that offers a cool oasis from the heat.
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The night was sadly watching Hungary get thrashed by Belgium 4 – 0 but still a great effort. Great to see Hungary being competitive and holding their heads high. Dinner was a grilled whole fish and salad. Whole fish is always tricky but it is cooked to perfection. The meals we have had in Split have been delicious and great value normally with a litre of local beer.

The next morning, we packed up and got back on the road to commence a three night stay on the island of Brać. Jen again perfectly navigated to the ferry terminal in Split and we hit chaos. The organisational skills of the locals and directions around the ferry terminal are unclear and we circled the area a couple of times. Finally, after some stressful moments of u-turns and stops and starts we were semi confident we were in the right queue to get to Supetar.
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Fortunately at the allotted time the ferry pulls up and the vehicular dance of cars and trucks commences. We drive on board without scratching the car and head upstairs for breakfast, looking forward to Island Hopping.

Posted by tszeitli 10:37 Archived in Croatia Tagged kayaking swimming hot ice_cream happy_place saltwater_therapy airconditioning Comments (2)

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