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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)

Pisa & Rome - Tourism on Steroids, but it has to be done

Day 61, 62, 63, and 64 - Pisa, Rome and getting to Aix-en-Provence

sunny 35 °C

We leave Toscana with sadness as we know we were leaving tranquillity and launching ourselves into two of the most tourist visited cities in the world.

The first part was a flying stop off in Pisa which is exactly what I did last time. Luke and Eleanor did us a huge favour by dropping us off at Pisa train station saving us heaps of time and hassles. We made our way down the main mall with the hordes of locals and tourists and after about a 2 km walk, the suburban streets opened up to a huge lawn area. The area was surrounded by museums and there in the middle is the Duomo and the monument to stuffed up civil engineering, the Leaning Tower of Pisa. This is basically what everyone comes to see in Pisa and they get in and get out! That is exactly what we did. You can't appreciate the lean on the tower unless you see it with your own eyes (we calculated about 6 degrees).

Jen quickly took some photos, we walked around and then had our snack on the lawns. Just as fun was watching everyone at some point in time get a Pisa photo pushing it over, leaning, holding up, finger on top and numerous other ways. So what did we do? - exactly the same!

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Surprisingly, Pisa actually has some nice architecture and buildings, but sadly most don't get much of a look in.
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Once done it was the walk back to the train station which did have a seedy feel about it so we were glad to catch our train to Rome. Italian train schedules lived up to their reputation and we had about a 1 1/2 delay, Eventually we arrived at our apartment, approximately 200 m from the Spanish Steps. The apartment was lovely, tucked in a tiny lane and close to most things including an ice cream shop 100 m away. That night we decided to cook for ourselves and enjoy the beautiful apartment. Jen whipped up a spaghetti pesto washed down with some Chianti.

Day 1 was a full on self managed walking tour of Rome combined with a 4 hour tour of the Colosseo and the Roman Forum. First stop was the Fontana do Trevi with the mass of tourists.
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Fortunately Jen's camera is very good and it can get all of the fountain and hide the fact that there were over a thousand of other tourists there. Do not ask Jen about what she thinks about people taking photos with their phone or iPad at tourist locales...

From there we walked to see a number of tourists spots:
St. Ignazio di Loyola,
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the very unique Pantheon,
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down along the Fume Tevere,
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stop off at Ponte Fabricio,
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top end of the Roman Forum,
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down along Via del Fori, Imperiali,
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and finally we made it to the Colosseo. All in one morning!
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The Colosseo stands majestically amongst all the other ruins, very well preserved and about double the size of the one we saw in Pula.
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For the history buffs, some really interesting facts about the whole gladiator thing and the Colosseo:

  1. The Colosseo operated with games for about 500 years from the first to the sixth century.
  2. In that time it saw about 500,000 people killed and 1,000,000 animals of which a significant number were lions, to the point where they were almost extinct
  3. It was built on the site of a park where Nero had a massive statue of himself. Nero was not popular, so the locals were happy to pull that down.
  4. I assume most of you have watched the movie Gladiator and it happens to be quite accurate especially how the Colosseo looked and how the gladiators, animals and the like, were kept underneath the timber floored arena.
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  1. The arena was covered in sand to absorb all the blood - which is understood to have been in its day quite horrific. Part of the floor of the arena has been reinstated to show the magnitude of the theatre but also the extent of underground facilities.
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  1. It held 70,000 people and had seating up to top where there were sails for sun protection. Every person was given free entry and a cup of wine. Every citizen was issued a bone tablet with a number to show gate entry and seating area. Let's call them corporate boxes for the senators, the emperor right up front and the poor supporters had the nose bleed sections. Nothing has changed, right?

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The Colosseo walls are covered with pock marks which are holes remaining after all the iron was pulled out when the Roman Empire began to crumble and residents and trades of Rome collected what they needed.
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The steel was needed for making cannon balls, horseshoes and other military stuff. Portions were also restored in 19th Century, and the contrast is clear.

The whole structure also originally featured a façade of Travertine and marble - the majority of which is now gone. Apparently, the steps of St Peters at the Vatican are built from Colosseo Travertine and much of the finery and marble now adorns the Vatican buildings. Italians have a saying that they don't steal, they 'recycle'. Our Vatican guide informed us that there are more Egyptian Obelisks in Rome than in Egypt, so many of them were "recycled"!

A 19th century earthquake caused a portion of the structure to collapse and it was repaired, hence the unique line we know today.
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The Games would be held irregularly, at the discretion of the Emperor as a "gift" to the people for entertainment, but normally after a battle had been won, food harvests or other significant celebration days. The rough schedule comprised: in the morning, animals would be forced to fight other animals and next it was animals fighting humans. Next, mythical theatre plays during lunch which included the real death of "the actor" who would be a convicted criminal condemned to execution. For example, the fable of Icarus was recreated with the condemned, launched by catapult, all during lunch for the spectators.

Finally, the day's main event would be Gladiator vs. Gladiator. This was much like our current UFC. It was not normal for a gladiator to die, they were to valuable to their owners due to the gambling that went on the side. The Gladiators would fight just enough to have one be over powered. If he fought well, with bravery and honour, the crowd would show a thumb down to indicate put your sword away and he fights another day. If the crowd thought it was a poor fight and the gladiator do not put up a worthy show then the crowd would pull their thumb across their throat meaning kill him.

After the Colasseo it was down to the Roman Forum and I must say this was very impressive.
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The condition of the ruins, the history of the area, the massive buildings built during the Roman Empire and just the sheer magnitude of how big this city would have been. We learned much about the chronological timing post the Roman Empire, which declined in from about the sixth century.

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The Roman Forum was taken over by other eras, built over the top. The church we dubbed the Lasagna Church has distinct layers of roman foundations, medieval footings, then middle ages below an 18th / 19th Century building.
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Our guide also explained to us how much of the finery during the height of the Roman Empire was pinched from Jerusalem, including a mythical Menorah, the actual is long gone, but records of it remain.
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Eventually, the site was abandoned and eventually sediments filled it in and it became a paddock with cows and livestock. It was not until 1899 the area started to be excavated and unearthed this amazing area. We went down along the Fori imperiali, Fori de Cesar and through the arc di Constantino. There is a Basilica in ruins, identified by three large arches, which is bigger than any Basilica we still have today, which is impressive.

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A great lookout of the area - Palentine Hill - is called the Palantino, the actually birthplace of Rome and the basis for the word "palace". Unbelievable in its size and remnants of grandeur, including yellow marble shipped whole from Africa.

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Behind the Palantino was the original emperors' palaces. This place in its time would easily rival any palace in the world but now lays in ruins.

Final walk was along the Circo Massimo (being set up for a Bruce Springsteen concert), back along the Fiume Tevere, Piazza Navona
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and eventually home. Those of you who have been to Rome know that's a big walk and that's only 2/3 of Rome excluding the Vatican.

The next day was the big one, "The Vaticano". Jen did well and got special early start with tour guide and headphones. On arrival at the Vatican we quickly appreciated getting these special tickets, as the queue was 200m long at 8.30am. The tour was made up of 4 sections: the museum, the Sistine Chapel, St Peters Basilica and the front area of St Peters Basilica, including the Pieta. The first part was a corridor of over 100m with the walls covered in massive tapestries depicting the life of Jesus. Their quality is amazing, and the eyes seem to follow you around the room. They are cleaned on a rolling basis, exclusively by a sect of nuns, and only them.

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The second corridor was even more impressive being 170 m long and the walls covered with accurately surveyed geographical cartography frescos of Italy.

Now it was into the Sistine Chapel. This was a shuffle one by one along a corridor and steps and then into the chapel. No talking, and no photos although there was still some idiot tourists who disrespectfully took photos, despite being told not too, playing cat and mouse with security. Simply because they could sneak a photo, didn't mean that they should - especially in the crypts. There's something icky about taking photos of a coffin. Makes for a most disrespectful experience. I won't go into historical detail other than it took 3 years to paint and 10 years to clean. The chapel has only been recently cleaned and a couple of uncleaned patches have been left to appreciate the task. The pre-cleaned state was almost black! To be fair to the Vatican, the whole process went pretty smoothly and yes it was crowded but nothing we did not expect. You have to keep moving and not linger. It is a very impressive piece of art work.

Next into the Basilica, the biggest in the world standing at 150 m high and 250m long.
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It is impressive, ornate, historical, massive in size, fascinating, renaissance art and tourism at its peak. All the art work on the walls are mosaics, the frescos disappearing a long time ago. The mosaics however have faithfully replicated the original art and are magnificent. Because the tiles are immune to fading, flash photography is allowed - again, just because one can photograph something, doesn't mean you should. Flashes going off everywhere makes for a different experience and not one that is ideal for appreciating the space.

The theme of today is Michelango's first, last and greatest works. The Dome was his last work (finished after his death) and the Pieta, his first at the age of 23, and of course the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is his most magnificent undertaking. Looking at the Pieta, you just marvel at how can somebody convert a single block of marble and make something so detailed, folds of fabric, body details and emotion in a face. This is very much like his statue of "David" in its lifelike quality.

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After this it was a wander around the front courtyard which you all know is where the pope stands to give his services. Witness the Vatican Guards change.
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The funny side of things was entering the religious tourist shop where you can buy all forms of stuff including a calendar of the pope or the top 12 hottest priests.

Phew we got through that without totally being overwhelmed other than a little churched out. Home was another walk along the Via Cola di Rienzo, Ponte Margherita and the Piazza del Popolo. We stayed in and again cooked a delicious pasta but the night was not finished.

Jen wanted to get some night photos of the Trevi fountain thinking its 10 pm and crowds must have gone by now. We ventured off, and as we passed the last corner into the square, we were met with a couple thousand people all gathered around the fountain.

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In fact there was more people at night then there is during the day.
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This kind of summed things up: you will have thousands of tourists in Rome, Florence and Pisa in what ever you do but "you just have to see it".

Arrivederci Italy.....now onto Aix-en-Provence.

Our transfer from Rome, Italy to Aix en Provence, France was all straight forward and our bags arrived this time. The weather has cranked itself up again and now we are in the south of France and we are back up to the low 30's and dry heat. Another AirBNB and settled into an apartment about 50 m of the main drag.

Posted by tszeitli 10:32 Archived in Italy Tagged churches history church italy crowds rome photos tourists vatican michelangelo roman_ruins trevi_fountain pieta Comments (1)

Born to be Wild!

Day 38 and 39 Zagreb to Pula

sunny 28 °C

Get your motor runnin'
Head out on the highway
Looking for adventure
In whatever comes our way

- Steppenwolf

Today was all about picking up the car, getting out of Zagreb and driving to Pula in a manual left hand drive car and driving on the right without a scratch, 250 km's away. We are in our Road Trip with no firm plans" phase of our holiday. We walked to the car rental and pick up our super machine.....brand new Ford Festiva with 6 km on the clock. Maps-Me app at the ready, we head for Pula and we were "looking for adventure, in what ever comes our way"!

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Off we went, Jen perfectly navigated us out of the city and we hit the highway, feeling quite pleased without ourselves. And stop, crap, toll gate and no Croatian Kuna and we did not organise automatic tolls. With a tricky manoeuvre, we had to do a U-Turn and found a shopping centre to get some cash. Okay back on the highway and we were off, take 2. We discover though that the toll gate is the entry gate where you only collect a ticket and can pay when you pass through another zone, or exit later on. Oh well. By the end of the trip we're experts at the process.

We were on the A1 and it is a great road - quite new and our civil engineers back home would be very impressed.. Speed limit is 130 km / hr but in reality the locals treat this as a guide, whizzing past me at something more like 150 km / hr or more. Me, I was happy with our Buzz Box revving the crap out of itself at 120 km / hr and letting the BMWs and Audis fly passed me.

We arrived in Pula, our apartment was in a great location, a "Lovely" apartment and Valter, our host, greeted us with a bottle of home made honey schnapps.
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We are quite chuffed with our location, about 50 metres from restaurants, icecream cart at the door which makes Jen happy.

Croatia plays Spain, so we head out for dinner and to watch the game.

It was one of those perfect holiday moments, sitting in a restaurant taking in the atmosphere, friendly waiter with a blankie for Jen as a cool air comes off the water, watching the sunset while the town kids play football in the square.
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We had a delicious fresh fish and seafood dinner that was amazing - eat bite was sensational. At half time we headed down to the "Forum" to catch the second half along with 2000+ Croatians all dressed in red and white checks. The score was 1-1 and a great game. The atmosphere was huge! When the Croatian keeper saved a penalty and the crowd went nuts - beers sprayed in the air, flares and firecrackers. Croatia only needed to draw, and the crowd was happy with that, but with two minutes to go Croatia scored a magnificent goal and the Square erupted with beer, flares, fire crackers, cheering and dancing, ecstatic with their win. Great fun and luckily Croatia won. If they had lost it might have got ugly!

Next day we are back on the tourist trail. After getting our bearings with the nifty scale model, and went to the Colosseum - conveniently 400 metres from our Apartment.
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I had visited 30 years ago and when Jen first saw it she could not believe the size. Amazing piece of architecture and the second biggest Colosseum in the world. Jen and I wandered around and inside and Jen took some fantastic photos. It was a place where we could feel the history, both standing in the middle of the arena, where gladiators battled to death and many many many innocent souls were lost for the entertainment of those that would have occupied the galleries above.

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The Arena is now often used for Rock Concerts and a stage was being erected. We not sure if the HSSE inspector was having the day off or existed at all...
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After local pastries and coffee with an okay view,
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we wandered around the cobble stone streets, quaint narrow lane-ways, through the now quiet Forum,
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Up to the small Roman amphitheatre and to the look out.

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears

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Our apartment is about two doors from the chimney structure. We wander the waterfront, marvelling at the clarity of the water. Tonight we decide to have fish for dinner.
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(fortunately these guys were safe)
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It was nice not having too many tourists around but we knew this won't last as Florence and Rome will be over run with tourists.

Tonight we have a date with the European Cup. We donned our Hungarian soccer shirts on and made our way down to the square to watch Hungary vs. Portugal game.

Happy Hour is rather good...
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We found a restaurant with a TV and devoured a great meal and put down 0.5 l jugs of beer. It was a great game at 3 all and this meant Hungary moved into the next phase. well done Magyars!

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After the game, being so close, we could take some very special night photos of the Colosseum, the shiploaders on the dock that are lit up at night in a clever light display and walk along the waterfront..

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Pula was a great first stop and that night we also decided to throw our original plans out the door and head down the coastal road towards Zadar. Ah the beauty of travelling on your own, make the plans as we go.

Posted by tszeitli 22:49 Archived in Croatia Tagged football adventure driving car seafood roman_ruins tolls european_cup Comments (3)

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