The Finale

IMG_6827“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.”          ― Pat Conroy

“…there ain’t no journey what don’t change you some.”
― David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

23 August – train to Rome (Blogged Crib Point – 25 August)

The Torre

The Torre

I chose to eat at the Torre again on Wednesday night.  It was just the prefect end to a prefect day.  The meal was …… I was going to say scrumptious but scrumptious always makes me think of biting into a ripe crisp apple picked straight from the tree.  This meal was delectable with fresh tuna steak, cut so finely it was almost translucent, and seasoned very lightly with cracked pepper and olive oil, extra virgin of course, with a second course of local sea bass steamed whole and served off the bone with local herbs and lemon.  The dessert was an individual pastry filled with crema di limone and pear. Not only did the full moon break through the clouds to illuminate the surrounding sea but off to the south west there was an amazing thunder and lightning storm, too far away to hear the thunder but the light show was pretty spectacular.  A memorable way to spend my last evening in such a memorable place.

An apartment block for the dead, Amalfi

An apartment block for the dead, Amalfi

I caught the bus back to the hotel, getting on the wrong one.  I was supposed to catch the one to Pogerola; I got on the one to Agerola which was way up in the mountains to the north west of Amalfi, 15 km away.  Fortunately I realised before getting to the major turn off and the bus I needed was directly ahead.  The driver was very helpful and managed to contact the driver of the bus I need so it waited while I jumped off one and got the other.  Another little adventure to add to the story.

The ridge down from Pogerola to Amalfi

The ridge down from Pogerola to Amalfi

Had an easy start to the day.  I had paid for an extra night already as I had changed my plans at the last miute realising that it was more sensible to spend the night in Naples than risk missing the train.  Originally I was flying back to Roma from Naples but it was cutting the check in time too fine so I reorganised to train it but it left at 9 in the morning.  It’s only a 70 km ride but having experienced some of the traffic jams in the area, I wasn’t prepared to risk it.  I had booked a cook lesson at a local restaurant in Pogerola and was due to be picked up at 10:30. Bags packed and ready to go by 9:00 I had intended to blog but I couldn’t find the will power or desire; I just wanted to sit and enjoy the view.

Pogerola

Pogerola

The cooking lesson was fun.  I didn’t do much cooking; well, none at all really, just stirring the mixture a couple of times.  I just got to watch but I picked up some great tips and the 4 course meal I watched being prepared was simple but delicious.  It was very seafood orientated with a focus on local produce.  It include fresh pasta, of course, which wass different from any other pasta I had come across; scialatielli.  It is thicker and shorter than most strip pasta.  After watching it all prepared, I sat down and ate it, consuming half litre of white wine as well.  The meal included skewers with shrimp and provolone cheese, which is beautifully aromatic, dipped in tempura and fried in olive oil, scialatielli with mussels and cockles cooked in garlic and a little white wine, fresh sea bass, filleted and cooked in foil with shrimps, mussels, cockles and herbs, garlic and butter and finished with a crème and cherry pastry. By the time I had finished I was ready to curl up for a nanna nap but that wasn’t an option.  I decided to walk back to the hotel as I hoped that would help settle all that food down a bit.

Farewell Amalfi

Farewell Amalfi

At 3:15 I left the hotel via shuttle bas, caught the ferry to Salerno and began my journey back to reality.  The trip down the coast from Amalfi to Salerno mimicked the coast from Positano to Amalfi; towering cliffs, buildings and terraces clinging to rock faces, deep ravines, all stunningly beautiful in an awesome way.  Then suddenly it ends.  The gully becomes a valley, still steep on one side but the other slopes gently to crest a series of hill, with ample flat land in flat between the hills and beach.  The valley is broad and seems to go on forever before disappearing into the haze and the mountains.  This is where Salerno is sited, a busy modern city with a large port and little of the charm of the other places along the Amalfi Coast.

Looking down at Amalfi from the hotel

Looking down at Amalfi from the hotel

I found the train station, waited for forever for my train, arriving Naples around 8:30.  Twelve hours later I was back at the station, keeping my fingers crossed that the high speed train to Rome would be on time.  Italian Rail do not, fortunately live up to its reputation and the train was both high speed and on time.  Arriving at the airport, I got myself organised by repacking my bags, checking in and readying myself for the final push; 10 hours to Bangkok and another 8 to Melbourne.

I am writing this sitting in front of the fire back in Crib Point.  I arrived home after 10 last night feeling a bit flat.  It was all so prosaic, arriving home after 54 days away, travelling the world, no-one to meet me, picking up my car and driving myself home.  I would be lying if I didn’t confess to feeling a bit sorry for myself and terribly lonely.  I bought myself some Maccas in Hastings, a bit of a come down from marinated anchovies and freshly cooked sea bass, and pulled into the drive way; at least the porch light was on.  I opened the front door, threw on the lights and burst in a flood of tears.  Wanda, Jenni and Sally had prepared a little surprise for me and there were streamers and balloons and flowers and a banner saying “Welcome Home.”  I can not thank them enough; it was wonderful and greatly appreciated.

So this is my last blog – for this journey.  Thank you to all of you who have joined me on my “Around the World in less than 80 Days” voyage.  It has helped me to know that there were people interested in my travels and that I could share it with you all.  Travelling alone has its advantages; you can go where you want, when you want and do what you want without having to negotiate with anyone and compromise.  It does however have a number of disadvantages; the first among them is not having anyone to share your experiences with.  I have been lucky on this trip to not only have visited and shared parts of my journey with friends and family; Rob, Kris, Richard and Tibby in California, Ben, Ursula, William, Michael, David, Veda, Jean, Anna, Paul and Alick in England and Judit, Henry and Zsiga in Budapest, but also to have shared through the blog.  I appreciated your comments and thank you for putting up with my whinges when things got tough.

“I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.”      ― Helen Keller

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.”Pooh?” he whispered.
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s hand. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

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Living the dream

21 August – Amalfi

A little bit of rain coming in

A little bit of rain coming in

It sort of rained this morning which sent a number of holiday makers into a bit of a tizz but it was wonderful in that it cleared the haze so that for the first time I could see quite clearly as far as Salerno.  My phone was just about flat so while it charge I completed a blog, resulting in me not leaving the hotel until nearly noon.

You know, travelling with all the gadgets, such as phone, camera, computer and tablet is all very well but do you have any idea how much time is wasted charging things.  In most hotels the power only works while the card is in the slot and so unless you have two cards, charging can only occur when you are in. Another disadvantage to travelling

alone.

Outside the taverna at Pogerola

Outside the taverna at Pogerola

I decided to walk up to Pogerola to have lunch but on arriving I discovered that the little old man, probably in his seventies was there by himself and the taverna was full with more people arriving all the time.  I opted for a coffee and pastry finished with a gelato and caught the bus down to Amalfi.  My knees were not happy with me after the stairs the day before and I think they would have cried if I had attempted to walk down.  I couldn’t even walk down the three flights of stairs to the breakfast room, the pain was intense; walking up was okay.  Anyway I caught the bus and got experience an Amalfi traffic jam first hand, the last 300 metre of the ride taking about 20 minutes.  Passengers were busy asking the driver to let them off ‘cause they could walk quicker, but I stayed on until the end to savour the experience.  Besides I had nowhere in particular I needed to be.  By the time we got to the piazza, the driver was in a bit of flap, diving off the bus before all the remaining passengers; he was due to drive any bus on a different route and he has late.

Positano from a distance

Positano from a distance

I decided over yet another expresso and water, to go to Positano by bus, both for the road there and the town itself, reputed to be breathtaking, and I wasn’t disappointed.  The road is cut out of the cliff, with tunnels cutting through particularly craggy bits and viaducts spanning impossible gullies that disappear below into bush or bay.  In some places the views were spectacular, with the rock face falling away below the road to the blue, blue of the Mediterranean, century old watch towers built from the some stone as the crags on which they sat looking as if they had grown up as an extension of nature, pretty little hamlet clinging to the hillside where there was at least some access to the sea and more modern buildings that had been deliberately designed to make the most of some natural beauty.  Unfortunately for most of it I was stuck in the aisle seat, but, fortunately the young teenage girl sitting next to me didn’t take up too much viewing room.  All along the coast, where ever there in space, buildings have appeared.  A lot are hotels that make the most of the incredible setting, others are locals’ homes, not as grand but still with unbelievably good views, with the occasionally residence that has obviously been architecturally designed to enhance its surrounding and probably only used a couple of time a year.

Positano close up

Positano close up

Then there was Positano itself.  The buildings give the impression of being piled up on top of one another, covering both sides of the steep gully that houses the township, running down to a reasonable size beach.  They are painted in the most wonderful colours and from a distance look like lego gelati blocks, vanilla, lemon, pistachio, and pale orange with lashings of raspberry thrown in to brighten it up.  The buildings seem to disappear into the cliffs and vegetation as if they are organic creations.  The bay is deep blue fading to turquoise by the beach and is dotted with boats, big and small.  Out further in the deeper water, away from the smaller fishing boats and local boats were the most extravagant symbols of wealth to be seen; huge ocean going motor cruisers.  I counted 7 multi-million dollar cruisers lying at anchor when the bay of Positano came into view from the bus.  There was also a cruise ship and a good handful of smaller cruisers that were probably only worth under 10 million apiece.

Positano and beach

Positano and beach

The beach was crowded with holiday makers, brightly coloured umbrellas and sun lounges.  The streets were, in most places, to narrow for cars, and steps were the order of the day rather than paved streets.  The shady alley ways were full of shops and traders and tourists.  The sights and sounds were such that I didn’t bemoan all the steps I had to walk down…..too much.  The place was magical.  There was one particular shop that stood out from all the rest.  As I have mentioned before, white is very popular; it shows off the tan.  Beige, light blue, navy and a mix of all four colours are the predominant colours for both genders.  On the corner of a narrow but main alley way leading down into Positano, was the most amazing collection of eye-popping colours you can imagine.  It was such a shock after all the muted tones of the buildings and the clothing.  To set it off, just as I went past, an Asian gentleman, dressed in two different tones of purple was standing in front taking a photo of the alley way ahead of him.  He blended in almost perfectly.

Bland but nice

Bland but nice

Not so bland

Not so bland

As I was walking towards to beach a group of people walked past, all dressed up to the nines on a very hot day in August at 2:30 in the afternoon, looking rather out of place; wedding guests.  They were all British and definitely suffering from the heat, particularly the men in their shirts, ties and jackets.  Although it had started out raining by now it was hot and humid.  Later, as I climbed back up to look for an ATM, who should walk by but the bride, her attendant and her poor father who was looking incredibly hot and annoyed probably wondering what he had done to deserve this.  At some stage, sometime, the bride had decided, “Let’s get married in Positano! That’s where we meet,” or “That’s were you asked me to marry you,” or “It’s so romantic,” because there wasn’t one Italian voice to be heard among guests and bridal party.  It probably abounded like a great idea ot the time but from the look of a fewer of the guests, particularly the guys and other ones, the romance was melting pretty quick.  If they then had to go through a full Catholic wedding service, I think a few friendships will be strained………..unless there is lots of free drink at the reception.

From the water taxi between Positano and Amalfi

From the water taxi between Positano and Amalfi

Anyway, the reason I had gone back to the ATM was I had decided to splash out and take a water taxi back to Amalfi, all to myself.  It wasn’t that hard a decision to make as it gave me the chance to be on the blue, closer to the coast so I could see it properly without having to fight with dozens of other for a good view.  So that’s how I returned to Amalfi in a water taxi, with my own private driver, the wind in my hair, the sublime coast line to my left and uninterrupted views, except for the up and down caused by racing across the waves.  I looked a fright because while wind in the hair may sound and look spectacular if you are some glam trophy wife of someone who can affors a ocean going motor cruiser, it doesn’t do much for me, but it was bloody marvellous and I would do it again tomorrow.

A tower converted into a summer house

A tower converted into a summer house

At the moment I am back in Amalfi about to enjoy my second G ’n’ T before deciding on where to eat tonight.

God, this place is beautiful

God, this place is beautiful

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Just breathe, your music will come.

20 August – Pogerola – Amalfi Coast

Amafli from the sea

Amafli from the sea

I think I am in love….with Amalfi and its coast.  It is so stunningly beautiful but then again it is not.  There is harshness to it that belies its beauty.  In a strange way it reminds me of the beauty of the true outback where you stand in awe and at the same time you know it could kill you.  The entire length of this coast is rock faced cliffs with intermittent gullies where enough streams have combined forces to carve a way out into the sea.  Three, four, five hundred feet above sea level there are occasional plateaus stuck between towering cliffs of stone behind and precipitous cliffs below.  In both these environs, humans have settled.  House cling to the hillsides, garden clings, plants cling, roads cling, everything clings because if you loosen your grip for just one second it is a long way down.  IMG_6713What drove people to settle in such a harsh environment?  What was the compelling force that drove them to live on the edge, quite literally in some places, where there was little but rock and scrub?  Every terrace has been made by hand, with rock stacked up to create barriers to keep the soil in place, soil that was brought in from somewhere else.  The rocks were plentiful; you can either create them yourself from the cliff face or collect the one that came down in rock slides.  These terraces became the platform for homes, olive groves, vineyards, lemon groves and gardens.  When humans first moved in and created settlements they probably thought they would be left alone because who would want what they had, but they did such a good job of terraforming the places became valuable assets in protecting the coast.  Between the 9th and 16th centuries guard towers were built all along the coast.

Amalfi at dusk

Amalfi at dusk

The true beauty of this place is created by man’s impact on nature; his tenacity to build and survive.  The natural environment is majestic, the cliffs impressive and the mountains imposing, but it is man’s work that has turned impressive into stunning.  The people who live here need to be patient and tenacious because everything must be difficult when your house is on the side of cliff.  Other than in the gullies were the main towns have been built, everything is up and down.  You also have to be either brave or foolish to drive anything bigger than a scooter around here.  The roads are barely wide enough for two small vehicles to pass and some of the bends are so tight you wouldn’t want to meet a bus coming in the opposite direction.  This place is so rocky the dead can’t be buried in the ground.  You would have to use a stick of dynamite every time you wanted to inter a body.  Instead cemeteries are built and the coffin is place in a concrete box like tiny apartment blocks for the dead.  Along with a plaque naming the resident there is an electric candle so that at night you can see, from a distance, who is home.

Amalfi – Bar Savoia

The easy path

The easy path

Have just descended from Pogerola twice.  I actually started writing this after the first descent by Via Nuova per Amalfi but the courtesy bus turned up just as I started to write and I wanted to go to the beach to swim in the Mediterranean so I had to make a mad dash instead.  I am now back at the Bar Savoia, which is in the main piazza of Amalfi, Piazza Flavio Gioia, after making the descent again, this time by Via Sopramare.  I am not sure my knees will ever forgive me after a 300 metre descent by way of stairs.  That’s 300 metres straight down in altitude but a lot further when snaking your way down a cliff face. When you look at the map, the path only has a couple of very short flat places; I do not, however, remember them, neither do my knees.  The other way, while longer, was easier on the knees, on the eyes and, for that matter, on the nose.  Sewage was not a major consideration when these streets were first created and when it was put in it probably wasn’t designed to deal with heavy down pours and/or increased usage.

A lock and abandoned terrace

A lock and abandoned terrace

It is sad but perhaps not unexpected to see a number of the terraces that were once farmed, lying in ruin.  I guess there are a lot easier ways to earn a living these days than trying to farm the side of a steep unforgiving terrain where everything has to do brought in by foot and back.  Walking down via Sopramare, there are a large number of houses that are obviously the houses of the modern residents of Amalfi and it reaffirmed the tenacity of the locals.  To get to your house you either walk up numerous steps or down.  Coming or going you have to do both.  Which is easier; carrying everything, food, furniture, the baby, down or up?

Torre di S. Fransceso

Torre di S. Fransceso

Last night I had dinner in the most romantic setting ever.  One of the old watch towers has been converted into a restaurant.  Torre di S.Francesco sits on the rocky promontory between Amalfi and Atrani.  It is isolated in that the road runs between it and the rest of the town.  The moon was full, the skies clear, the views to die for and the evening prefect, except I was alone eating the most exquisite anchovies marinated in olive oil, garlic and herbs, with just a hint of chilli followed by sole steamed between two lemon leaves with fig tart to end.  The meal was the best I have had anywhere on this journey.  After finishing I wander through the streets of Amalfi before catching the last shuttle bus back to the hotel.

Bar Savoia, not at rush hour

Bar Savoia, not at rush hour

Sitting in the piazza at rush hour, of which there seems to be at least two, is an experience in itself and I recommend to anyone who is fortunate enough to come here to take time and sit at Bar Savoia and observe the circus.  There at least four police on duty, directing the traffic. As well as cars and buses and scooters coming from what seems like every direction, there are cars parked all over the place, including in the no parking/tow away zones which tend to block access.  There are tunnels through the cliffs on one side and one of these is particularly narrow.  A large bus cannot go through at the same time as another vehicle coming in the opposite direction so with buses entering and leaving the piazza on the hour every hour and those entering on the return runs, there is chaos.  There is an imaginary round about; well actually it’s not imaginary as there is a small palm tree in a pot with blue direction signs around it.  IMG_6672Two police stand in this area with whistles and walkie talkies while another stands on the far side of the tunnel and the fourth in the little square up in the town itself which can only be accessed through a one way alley.  Now everyone is in their place, the traffic is ready, the pedestrians are ready, the main performers (the police) are ready, let the ballet begin.  The police blow their whistles, wave their hands, dance from one side of the piazza to the other, point at vehicles to move this way or that, yell as only an animated Italian can when drivers fail to follow instructions and a particularly intense snarl up occurs.  Then to add to it the drivers begin blowing their horns.

IMG_6716As I mentioned earlier I went to the beach today, joining the holidaying masses, for a dip in the Mediterranean, my first since 1992.  It was lovely.  The salt concentration must be quite high as it is easy to float.  The water is so clear you can see the bottom even when you are quite a way out.  It is blissful just lying back with your legs up and your arm spread, floating on top of the blue.  The only waves tend to be created by the wake of passing boats and generally you hardly notice the peaks and troughs.  Mind you occasionally a large boat goes by at high speed and you definitely notice it then.  While the sea is sublime, the beach isn’t.  It is full of rocks, umbrellas and humans lying on sun lounges.

IMG_6827I am sitting here watching the day come to a close and the night begin.  It is after seven and the madness that is Piazza Flavio Giaro is beginning to calm.  There are fewer whistles and less arm waving by the police are still there ready to leap into action if required.  I have had two gin and tonics and my biggest worries are where and when to have dinner and which bus to catch back to the holiday.  Still living la dolce vita.

 

IMG_6868

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Living La Dolce Vita

Sitting with my laptop, looking out over this.  Pretty special ah?

Sitting with my laptop, looking out over this. Pretty special ah?

18 August – Sorrento (Typed and posted on the balcony overlooking Amalfi.)

View from my balcony at hotel

View from my balcony at hotel

I am sitting on the balcony of my room, (in Sorrento,) listening to some dreadful holiday entertainment drifting through the air from one of the many hotels in the vicinity of this hotel, perched on the cliffs overlooking Sorrento.  Electric organ and vocals; Tim would have loved it. (NOT!)  I have come to two conclusions about Sorrento; one is that it is a stunningly beautiful place and two that a large percentage of the locals need to read “How to win friends and influence people.”  I think I understand the reasons for their general surliness and in some cases, plain bad manners.

The garden through the gate

The garden through the gate

Firstly, they have to work when everyone else is on holiday and as the majority of the holiday makers in Sorrento seem to be Italian, that must grate a bit.  I have noticed that Italians want to enjoy themselves to the fullest when they are on holiday, so they don’t let little things like manners get in their way; they want it their way and they want it now!  I know we tend to bit sarcastic about the way Americans behave when they are overseas and in a group and I have heard Australians don’t have the best reputation when travelling together but it must irritate even more when it’s your own nationality.  I guess this is when regions come into play. Bloody Romans!  So the fact that they’re on holiday and making the most of it, while you’re not and having to deal with them, is probably enough to set anyone’s teeth on edge.

On top of that, all the young guys, who don’t have to work in the evening, are out hitting on all the young female holiday makers which probably upsets the local girls and the young guys who do have to work miss out, making them unhappy as well.  The same probably goes for the local girls if their mammas and papas let them out amongst all the hopeful partying boys.

The garden through the gate

The garden through the gate

Thirdly, the weather is hot, not Australian summer burn you to a crisp and suck you dry hot, but hot and humid.  Humidity sits around 65%, rising in late afternoon, so even when the temperature begins to drop the humidity stays.  Combined with a temperature of mid to high 30 it is sticky to say the least.  And no, it’s not just me, the locals are complaining about it, so if you’re serving in a shop or working in a restaurant, even one with a fantastic view, when you could be at the beach or the pool or even in a dark air conditioned room sleeping, I guess your ability and desire to smile decreases.

And finally, you live in this stunningly beautiful place, where the sun shines, the sea is warm, the food abundant and tasty, so la dolce vita, only to have it overrun by loud demanding holiday makers.  At least if they were tourists, you could pretend you didn’t speak their language!

The garden through the gate

The garden through the gate

Chilling out

Chilling out

Now back to my day, which was quiet.  When I woke this morning I still didn’t feel too crash hot so I decided to take it easy.  This meant making the decision not to go to Pompeii, which hopeful I will not regret. (I will have to come back in Spring or Autumn, when it is cooler and quieter.)  I didn’t actually leave the hotel until after 4, walking down to the town centre.  Just off the main piazza, through an elaborate gate, I found the most beautiful garden with separate garden rooms for sitting quietly in the shade or gazing out over the harbour and Mediterranean. It was right beside the very steep road that leads down to the porto.  It was so tranquil with incredible vistas.  I was sure I was trespassing and yes, I was.  It was the gardens for the Hotel Excelsior Vittoria and the official gatekeeper wasn’t in his little box when I walked in so I spent a good half hour sitting and enjoying an atmosphere, the antithesis of the world outside the gate.

It's nice to dream

It’s nice to dream

Sitting by the Port in Sorrento

Sitting by the Port in Sorrento

I then walked down to the port which is directly below the town and is accessed by one very steep road cut through a gully or an even steeper set of steps.  I arrived at exactly the right time of day, late afternoon, as all mini cruisers and holiday makers were arriving back after their day out.  This is where you too can live the life of the rich and famous, hiring a motor cruiser for the day and swanning around the shores of Capri or cruising the Amafli Coast.  You can take it yourself, if you can drive it, or hire crew to take you from place to place.  “Look at me, I must be worth something, look at my boat.”  Problem is nearly everyone else has done the exactly same thing so they know the boat doesn’t belong to you and then you come across a motor cruiser that really does belong to the rich and famous and you realise, “It’s nice to dream.”

2013-08-19 10.18.52After a drink and a light snack, literally drop in front of me by a particularly surly waiter, (I swear he almost snarled at me,) I climbed back up the stairs to the town.  From the ease and lack of puffing and huffing involved I guess I am actually a lot fitter than I was when I began the trip.  I went shopping, buying some lovely linen clothes before making my way back to the hotel. On the way just as the shops ran out I discovered a little shop run by a little old lady who sold bathers for the more mature figure – okay, bathers that would fit me.  I now am the proud owner of a pair of bathers so I hope to put them to use in Amalfi.

2013-08-18 17.44.50Sorrento is truly a beautiful place, even overrun by holiday makers and if it is a taster for what’s around the corner along the coast I should have a great last few days on this trip.

Sorrento from the water

Sorrento from the water

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Battling the Google God

17 August – Sorrento

The view from my balcony at dusk.

View taken from bus window while stuck in a traffic jam.

Arrived late last night after a 2 hour bus trip from Naples to Sorrento, not due to the distance but to the traffic.  At one stage we crawled through a tunnel, taking about 30 minutes to do what should take 3.  When we came out the other end, it was dark and there were trails of lights all trying to merge into one spot.  This place is a holiday centre for hundreds of holiday makers and it would seem that most of them have either arrived by car or have hired one or a scooter when they got here.  I specifically use the term holiday maker because generally they are not here to see things but to enjoy the sea, sun and fun and everything that it entails.  The cost of things is set accordingly; in other words, extortionate. The average cost of a taxi to travel the 2.7 km from train/bus station to the hotel is an average 22 Euros, that $32AUD.  I have spent more on taxis so far than anything else, (at time of blogging, this is now definitely untrue, but I’ll talk about that later,) 25 Euros on the first trip to the hotel, second trip last night when I missed the final courtesy bus (21 Euros) and the third, this afternoon when I couldn’t have walked another step as I think I would have passed out (22 Euros.)  Now I either walk or wait for the bus.

View from my balcony at hotel

View from my balcony at hotel

I was starving when I arrived last night, having been on the move for more than 12 hours.  I hate travel days; they seem to go on forever but you really don’t do anything other than sit ‘round.  The hotel, when I finally arrived, was a bit of a disappointment.  I would say that of all the hotels I have stayed in on this trip and this is the ninth, this one has not met expectations.  Check in was disorganised, the welcome not so welcoming and the room basic.  Fortunately the bed, though single, is comfortable and the view from the balcony is everything it was purported to be on the web.  There was no food available in the hotel so I headed down town into the bedlam that is Sorrento on a Friday night in summer.  I have arrived in the middle of the main Italian holiday season; i.e. while there is a smattering of other languages audible in this Babel, the majority of holiday makers are Italian.  I found a restaurant, discovered a new, (to me,) decent red wine, (Aglianico D.O.C.,) and had a very late dinner, although not so late by the number of other diners, and finally got back to the hotel after midnight.

The pool before the madding crowds.

The pool before the madding crowds.

After breakfast I decided to walk to the train station as I had planned a trip to Herculeum today, followed by a visit to Pompeii tomorrow.  Walking down narrow winding roads is taking your life into your hands and hoping for the best due to the lack of footpaths and Italian drivers.  The buses and the scooters are the scariest.  A high percentage of the scooters are driven by holiday makers and their plan seems to be to get where they are going as quickly as possible, swerving in and out of cars and cutting corners like mad.  That wouldn’t be such a problem to pedestrians if there were footpaths but as there are not in many places you have to watch out you don’t get collected by a scooter.  Anyway I made it safely, bought a ticket to Herculeum by train with everything going to plan.

Herculeum

Herculeum

That’s probably why things started to go wrong over the next hour and half.  The God Google decided to punish me for my cockiness.  I decided I would find my own way, be Ms Independent, so I plugged Herculeum into Google maps and without double check, headed off with gay abandon and great gusto……….in completely the wrong direction, (but right according to Google,) uphill in the full heat of the midday sun.  The saying, “Only mad dogs and Englishmen…” comes to mind.  I climbed through these streets, through suburbs, seeing very few people, until I came to a main road and a corner ristorante and decided to check how much further.  “No, it’s downhill,” I managed to understand.  I could have cried.  I stood, leaning against a lamp-post while I double checked, something I should have done at the beginning, and discovered, sure enough, I should have gone downhill from the station, in fact you could see the entrance to the ruins at the bottom of the hill from the piazza on which the station stood.  So I staggered back down the hill, trying to keep in the shade as much as possible, finally making my way to entrance.

Herculeum

Herculeum

I collapsed at a table of a little ristorante, who were doing a roaring trade and had the audacity to charge 7 Euros as cover charge, and tried to cool down.  People were throwing rather concerned glances in my direction as I was bright red, resembling a lobster rather than a human.  I reckon I was pretty close to having a severe case of heatstroke.  I was sitting there discretely pouring cold water onto my scarf to cool down the back of my neck and head.  Having eaten something cool, drunk another litre of water and a can of Fanta with salt, I tackled Herculeum. It was extremely hot and humid in the ruins with the sun absolutely beating down.  You are essentially in a hole in the ground with little to no shade, so when the first part of the complex was disappointing with limited access and many areas closed even though the audio guide took you through the buildings as if they were open, I was beginning to wonder whether I had made a mistake.  So many building seemed to be closed for restoration or something I was thinking, “I bloody nearly killed myself getting here for what!”

Herculeum

Herculeum

Fortunately the second part of the complex was more accessible and fascinating, the frescos, the statues, the mosaic floors and walls and the other remains of everyday life.  The most amazing, if not the most beautiful, was the wood that has survived because of the type of eruption that occurred in Herculeum.  You can see floor joists and stairs, even furniture.  In one place they discovered a body lying on a wooden bed in an upstairs room.  Herculeum is well worth the visit and it is a lot less crowded than Pompeii but whether you are visiting Herculeum or Pompeii, don’t do it in the middle of summer.  The temperatures are extreme due to little shade and reflected and radiated heat.  Even without the drama that preceded my visit I doubt you could manage more than a couple of hours.

I climbed back up the street to the train station where there was a train bound for Sorrento at the platform as I arrived.  I was still getting looks of concern or disgust the entire trip back because I was definitely overheated.  I wasn’t dehydrated as I had drunk plenty of fluid, mainly water but as soon as I got back to the hotel I took a cool shower and lay in the air conditioning for an hour or more.  I started to feel okay and hungry so I took the shuttle bus down town for tea.  I wandered around looking at shops before choosing a place to eat.  Even though I picked light and little food I couldn’t eat it as it made me feel sick.  The owner of the place took pity on me and gave me a bag of ice to place across my neck to drop the temperature.  I left to catch the shuttle bus back and my attention was distracted by the most beautiful shawl, made from cashmere, wool and silk.  In my weaken and confused state, (at least, that is the excuse I am using,) I bought it.  I refuse even under threat of torture to disclose the price but let’s just say I should frame it!

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Hungry for Hungary

Reposted 19 August with pictures

9 to 16 August – Hungary – with Judit, Henry and Zsiga. (Blogged 18 August in Sorrento, Italy)

Alice being cute, she's asleep.

Alice being cute, she’s asleep.

Alice being not so cute

Alice being not so cute

The last week has been great.  I had an excellent time with Judit, Henry, Zsiga and Alice, the Hungarian Vizsla.  She certainly has everyone on their toes.  She is very cute but as she is only nearly 4 months old, she can be very naughty as well.  She and I had lots of talks about appropriate behaviour for a dog but as I spoke English and she’s Hungarian, I doubt very much went in.

Velem where we stayed on Saturday night

Velem where we stayed on Saturday night

Henry, completed 2km in 7 minutes 50 seconds

Henry, completed 2km in 7 minutes 50 seconds

We started the week driving around the countryside.  Henry wanted to compete in a 2km race on Saturday evening but the event was in Austria, near where he and Judit had been on a training camp.  So we packed everyone up, including the puppy and set out for a place called Velem, which while in Hungary, was not far from the Austrian border and we were staying there the night.  Judit had been up very early as she had developed an ear infection and needed medical attention as she was in considerably pain.  The drive to Velem was long, 230km and while some of it was on the motorway, most was on secondary roads through villages so it seemed to take a very long time.  We finally checked in at the little holiday house where we were staying and immediately struck out again for Stinatz which was a further 50km into Austria.  It is a pretty little village and Henry’s race was just part of a much bigger meet with the first one for under 5s which was very cute, with their mums and dads running with them around a park in the centre of the village.  Henry did well, coming in second in a time of 7 minutes 50 seconds.  He was very pleased with his time but a bit miffed about coming second as last year he won his age group.  I suggested that perhaps there were better runners this year as his time was better which he conceded could be the case.

The boys swimming with Judit's cousin in Lake Balaton

The boys swimming with Judit’s cousin in Lake Balaton

Zsiga gets as bored as anything when Henry and Judit are running and spends most of his time grumping. I gave him my camera and told him to spend his time creating.  He had a go but still grumbled.  The main event was a half marathon and while we watched the start, we needed to get back to Velem and were stuck in the middle of the race course. (We hadn’t thought about that when we parked.)  With a bit of co-operation and sneaky driving we managed to escape without too much trouble or causing too much trouble.  After spending the night we headed for Lake Balaton, visiting Judit’s uncle and cousin before going back to Budapest.

Storks!

Storks!

 Hungarian Steppe Cattle

Hungarian Steppe Cattle

Guess what I saw in Hungary? Storks, real storks, the ones that bring babies, nest on top of tall chimneys and poles and fly thousands of miles during their migrations.  As we were driving the day before, I had seen evidence of their nests and a few birds in the distance but nothing to photograph.  We kept our eyes peeled for a photo op on the way back and boy did I get a great one.  The boys couldn’t understand my excitement and interest in seeing storks for the first time, but it was really great to see a creature that you have only ever seen in photos or documentaries in the flesh as it were.

Where we had lunch on Saturday before arriving at the Balaton

Where we had lunch on Saturday before arriving at the Balaton

Zsiga's photo of my starter.

Zsiga’s photo of my starter.

We stopped for lunch at a winery with an amazing view out over the Balaton.  The entire setting was very picturesque looking out over the vines, towards the lake.  The food was great too.  Alice caused a bit of a sensation amount the other diners.  Nearly everyone wanted to come and pat her and make a fuss.  Zsiga got really jealous, not the attention she was getting but the fact people were ‘hogging’ his dog. “Why don’t they get their own dog?” “She’s our dog. Tell them to leave her alone.”  Anyway after an excellent lunch we resumed our journey, arriving at Judit’s uncle’s summer house late afternoon.  Judit’s cousin and the boys went for a swim in the lake but as dogs are not allowed on the foreshore or in the water, Judit and I took Alice for a walk before we continued on our way to Budapest.

Andrassy Way

Andrassy Way

Heroes' Square, Buda

Heroes’ Square, Buda

On Monday we went into town, Pest side and strolled along for a while.  After a stop for a drink, we decided to take the subway, the second oldest in the world after London, to Heroes’ Square, but Alice wasn’t allowed on the trains so Judit walked with her while the boys and I went by train.  Of course we got there a lot quicker and had time to kill.  The square, containing the Millennium Monument, is quite impressive and attracts numerous visitors and locals.  The millennium has nothing to do with marking the turn of the century but commemorates 1000 years of Hungary as a country from 895 to 1895. I was keen to look and explore but the boys weren’t so the whinging and teasing started.  Zsiga wanted something to eat and drink and I had no Hungarian Florint.  I had Euros but I had forgotten to withdraw some cash at an ATM so we went drinkless and foodless while we waited.  Henry got bored so he decided to entertain himself by teasing Zsiga.  Fortunately Judit is a fast walker.

The streets in Budapest Castle

The streets in Budapest Castle

The roof of the cathedral

The roof of the cathedral

We went for a walk around Varosliget Park and Vajdahunyad Castle which is an amazing hodge podge of styles.  Apparently it was created as part of a trade fair or something and the castle was formed to represent all the different styles of castles around Europe.  It is quite beautiful in a schizophrenic sort of way, each piece is lovely but as a whole it is a bit overwhelming.  After making our way back to Heroes’ Square, Judit and Henry left Alice with Zsiga and me while they caught the subway back to get the car.  We were all pretty tired by the time we got home so it was probably just as well as cool change had come in overnight and the weather was great on

An OTT foundation in the grounds of the palace

An OTT foundation in the grounds of the palace

Tuesday morning thus we had a lazy morning at home.  In the afternoon we tackled Budapest Castle which was really interesting with a mix of old and new, houses and palaces, streets and parks.  There were fantastic views to be had over the Danube.  I also bought some beautiful handmade embroidery, which I probably paid too much for and will struggle to do anything with.

On the Danube

On the Danube

The boys mucking around on the boat.

The boys mucking around on the boat.

On Wednesday, the boys and I went on the Danube to Visegrad.  Alice wasn’t allowed on the boat so Judit met us there.  It was my idea to go on the boat as I wanted to travel on the Danube.  The river trip didn’t quite have the romance I had hoped for but it was fun.  The boys were fine to start with but boredom set in after about an hour.  Elephant jokes came to the rescue fortunately.  It is actually very interesting telling jokes to an audience for whom English is not their primary language.  The boys speak English pretty well, but the nuances in jokes require the ability to recognise play on words.  The footprints in the butter jokes were fine but I had to explain the Tarzan ones a bit.  When I ran out of jokes, I started playing their game with a version of “Are we there yet?”  Mine being, “Where’s the castle?  I want to see a castle.”  Eventually I got to see the castle and the boys said they really enjoyed the trip on the boat.

Finally a castle!

Finally a castle!

At the castle of Visegrad

At the castle of Visegrad

The boys enjoying the Bobsled at Visegrad

The boys enjoying the Bobsled at Visegrad

We met Judit and Alice at the quayside and headed for the top of the hill, which provided incredible views of the valley, the castle and the surrounding countryside.  It also had a great restaurant where we had lunch.  From there we walked to the castle and explored it thoroughly before walking back to the area where we had parked the car.  The next hour and a half was bliss for the boys as they got to go on the mechanical bobsled runs.  With that over we returned to the bottom of the hill, grabbed a delicious ice cream and made our way home to decide how the next day was to pan out.

Judit and I had planned to go to Vienna but in the end time was against us.  It was a very long round trip as we were going to drop the boys with another of Judit’s cousins who has children of a similar age and was holidaying at the Balaton.  This meant it would take us about 4 hours to get to Vienna and in the l

Close up of one of the horses in Heroes' Square.

Close up of one of the horses in Heroes’ Square.

ong run I was more than happy to spend more time with the family than go shopping.  It also gets me an excuse, not that I need one, to go back to Hungary sometime in the not too distant future.  There is still plenty to see to the east of the capital.  In the end it all worked out well because the day wasn’t the expected 30C day but quite cold and overcast, not a great day at the lake for the boys.  Judit’s cousin, family and friends decided to do some sightseeing instead of spending the day on the lake so we left in the afternoon when the skies had cleared.  The boys were still keen to spend time at the lake, well at least Henry was.  Zsiga wasn’t quite as in the mix as fast once we finally met the group but he was happy to be there.  We had a great dinner and then Judit, Alice and I headed back to Budapest so that I could catch the plane early the next morning.  Initially we were going to stay at the lake but then the logistics of fitting my bags, all their bags and Alice’s basket in the car along with two adults, two kids and a puppy were a bit too much.  After dropping me off, Judit and Alice returned to the lake.

So here I am, in Italy, one week left and then home.

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From the ridiculous to the sublime

Reposted with photos 19 August

6 and 7 August – Granada (I am having trouble uploading photos so the photos in this post will have to wait, sorry)

A cada paso brota un manantial, y el murmullo constante del agua forma como una música que llega a arrebatar nuestros sentidos. (At every step comes from a spring, and the constant murmur of the water as a music form that comes to snatch our senses.)  Teofilo Gautier

The style of house found throughout the older areas of Granada.

The style of house found throughout the older areas of Granada.

Me on a 4WD segway - I really want my own!

Me on a 4WD segway – I really want my own!

After the farce of Tuesday morning, I have had a totally excellent two days.  Having completed writing up the blog on Tuesday afternoon, I headed out to get some magnesium to try and sort out the cramping in my left calf muscle but instead took a guided segway tour of the Sacromonte area of Granada.  The segways they use here have huge tyres so they are bit like the 4WD equivalent of the San Fran ones.  I also got a personal tour.  The company I went with take you there and then be you one or four.  Javier wass my personal tour guide and while he obviously has a few lines off pat that he offers up in his heavily accented English, it was great fun and he was pretty well informed, answering most of my questions.  If he didn’t have a definite answer he would say, “I am told…” and if it was a historical question he would adjunct it with, “..but I wasn’t alive then.  I am too young.”  Some of the time I couldn’t understand him but then everytime I said ahh, in response to something he said he thought I was asking why.  Must have been my accent.

View from above the Sacromonte Quarter.

View from above the Sacromonte Quarter.

Anyway it was excellent fun riding around the streets which are narrow, winding, cobbled and pretty bloody steep in places.  The Sacromonte was essentially the gypsy quarter of the old city where a large number of the houses are honed out of the soft sandstone that make up a major component of the hills around here.  We climbed, on the segways, through the streets and alley ways to the top of the hill opposite La Alhambra, close to the new city walls which were only built about 600 years ago, according to Javier, but he was born then so don’t take his word for it.  The view across the valley to La Alhambra with the original Sierra Nevada behind was pretty damn specky but so was the one of the city of Granada spread out across the plains below.  (There seems to be a bit of serendipity in that on this trip I have visited both the new and old Sierra Nevada.)  The history of Granada was evident throughout the tour with many of the churches we cruised by, and there were a lot, once being mosques, altered to erase the dreaded heresy that was Islam.  The former lives of these churches is often denoted by the small covered wells and fountains which were used by the faithfully to cleanse before entering the mosque.  Interestingly most of the houses still maintain the Moorish architectural style with a central courtyard like the one in the hotel where I am staying.  When you are up high you can see the structure of the houses below.

One of the cave houses in the Sacreomonte Quarter

One of the cave houses in the Sacreomonte Quarter

The cave houses in Sacromonte are generally painted white exactly the same as all the other houses.  Well that’s probably a bit of an exaggeration, not all the houses are white but who ever sells whitewash must be doing okay.  A large number of the cave houses along the main street, which is really the only accessible by car, are now restaurants with Flamenco shows.  In fact as we came down one particularly steep street I recognised the place that Elizabeth and I had been to on Monday night.  I can tell you that travelling by segway is the best way to see Granada quickly; you can always go back and visit a place of special interest.  The number of envious looks we got from tourists, tramping their way around up and down hills, walking over the very uneven surface that are cobbles, was too many to mention.  After completing the tour I had a quick tea and went to bed early; that is 11 o’clock which for here is early.  I wanted to get an early start in the morning and tackle La Alhambra.

View from Generalife across to La Alhambra

View from Generalife across to La Alhambra

one of the garden rooms in the Generalife

one of the garden rooms in the Generalife

I am very proud of how quickly and reasonably effortlessly I climbed back up to the ticket office using the quiet and steep Calle Real de la Alhambra, the road, come track, I had walked down on Tuesday morning.  I was there at 8:00 to find at least 100 people ahead of me in the queue.  As we slowly moved forward, it was announced that there were no more tickets available for the morning session for general admission and people would have to purchase tickets for the 14:00 session.  They have monitors outside the ticket office that counts down the number of tickets available for each session and type of tour.  I was determined to remain positive and began to think of the things I could do until 2 o’clock, then as I got closer to the front of the line I noticed there were still two tickets left to the morning session.  There was a man also alone about two ahead of me in the queue and I noticed when he came out he had a smug smile and the counter went down to one.  SO when it was my turn I asked, “Can I have the final ticket to this morning’s session, please?” and lo-and-behold it was mine and the counter went down to zero.  (There are, apparently, some advantages to travelling alone after all because, unlike many of the people ahead of me and all the people behind me, I got to go in.  Not that I’m bragging or anything.)

Another garden room

Another garden room

Water, water everywhere

Water, water everywhere

Was it worth it?  You bet ya!  The gardens were phenomenal, the buildings majestic, the decorations exquisite and the atmosphere bewitching, despite the hundreds of other tourists sharing it with you.  To try and describe the entire complex would be too tedious and it was more of a visual feast than anything.  The gardens were to die for; an absolutely banquet for the senses.  They are laid out in beautiful mathematical symmetry with hedges and paths creating separate garden rooms, each one show casing something special.  In some rooms, it is the sense of sight that is heightened with views  enhanced and framed by the skilfully maintained hedges.  An army of gardens must just spend their days cutting and trimming these hedges to their controlled desired shapes.  They have special tools and gadgets they use to keep each wayward leaf and twig exactly in line with their neighbour.  There are box hedges only a foot high, waist high hedges and 6 foot high hedges with arches cut into them so even the tallest can walk through.

IMG_5126

Inside the Generalife

Inside the Generalife

These gardens surround the Generalife, which was “The Heavenly Garden of the Sultan,”  sited opposite La Alhambra, on El Cerro del Sol or the Hill of the Sun.  In other rooms there are beautiful planting of range of scented and colourful flowers and shrubs to engage the sense of smell as wells as sight.  In still others it is water in fountains, in ponds, in channels that excite the senses of hearing and taste as the water constantly moves creating noise and moisture.  The quote at the start refers to the music of the water and it is everywhere as it is transported from one area to the next under your feet invisible but audible.  The constant movement creates moisture in the air that is missing in other places in this hot dry climate.  The use of water is the most impressive aspect of these gardens, creating magically places that, even though there are hundreds of other tourists around, you can sit and enjoy a moment of tranquility.

Inside the Generalife.

Inside the Generalife.

One of the channels of the water steps.

One of the channels of the water steps.

While it is difficult to identify a favourite room, one I particularly enjoyed was the set of steps called the Escalera del Agua, (the Water Steps,) three flights of steps framed on either side by channels carrying water down to the palace below.  In the words of Lawrence Bohme, who is the author of the guide book I am reading; “[The water] cascades joyously down towards the palace.”  It is surrounded on both sides by large hedges so it is green and cool and beautiful.  Although most of the gardens that surround the Generalife are modern, planted in the 20th century, they provide a perfect passage to the palace and in spring they must be spectacular as there are wisteria vines everywhere some of which have trucks as thick as my leg and as we’re talking about my leg, we talking thick.  I would love to come back here in spring to see the gardens clothed in different flowers and light.

IMG_5097IMG_5110The other main beauty of the complex is the decorations in the palaces.  The most amazing thing about this is that they survived at all when you read of the history of neglect and deliberate vandalism that occurred over the intervening 500 years.  From the intentional defacing of the incredible plasterwork by successive occupiers  because it didn’t illustrate their religious beliefs to the simple neglect of previous generations who used it as they saw fit and sold off bits or altered them to suit their purposes, we are lucky to be able to view what is left of craftsmen’s work even if it is a pale reflection of its former glory.  In places the plasterwork drips from the roofs of various rooms throughout the palaces in a style referred to as stalactites. At one time these were painted in blues, gold and probably other vibrant colours but there are now only hints of their former beauty.  I am sure that Coleridge used the stories of La Alhambra as inspiration for Kubla Khan although he attributes it to opium and a book about the Mongol ruler.  Words such as ‘A stately pleasure dome,’ and ‘gardens bright with sinuous rills,’ surely describe this place. IMG_5239 IMG_5387The wood and stone work is equally detailed and beautiful with wood inlayed roofs and doors and window grills and column created out of three different types of stone.  To have seen these rooms in their full glory must have been amazing and it is no wonder that stories of rooms dripping with gold and studded with diamonds existed.  It is too difficult to describe the beauty of these rooms and photos do not do them justice, well at least, my photos don’t do them justice.  I am reading a book “Granada – City of my dreams,” by Lawrence Bohme which is a fascinating read, telling the history as well as describing what you see as you visit every area of Granada.  It is worth reading, even if you don’t plan on coming here.

The Red Gate

The Red Gate

IMG_5385After 5 hours I was tuckered out so I left without going to the Nasrid Palaces, as I was returning to visit them specifically that night on a special night tour.  BIG MISTAKE!  I was disappointed with the night tour.  I expected it to be better lit within the Moorish style but there was very little light in the rooms and non in the gardens.  I really don’t understand this as I am sure the gardens would have been lit in some way during the time of the Moors as they would have been used to escape the stuffiness of the rooms. The only out-door space that lived up to any level of expectation was the Patio de los Arrayanes where the cleverly lit exterior of the surrounding buildings reflected in the still water of the large pool that ran the full length of the courtyard.  It decorations in the various rooms were lit quite well so you could appreciate the exquisite craftsmanship but it was not possible to take decent photos for two reasons; one, the quality of the light and two the number of people.

The Red gate at night.

The Red gate at night.

IMG_5675If you used flash everything was too stack and too dark for holding the camera still long enough.  I took a tripod but was not allowed to use it.  I have absolutely no idea why.  I was not planning to place it anywhere other than the floor so it wasn’t going to damage anything.  Secondly, the number of people in these relatively small spaces meant it was almost impossible to get a shot off without someone walking in front of the camera just as you pushed the button.  So I will have to make do with the memories and the photos taken by professional photographers without hoards of tourists and, yes, I know, I was one of the rampaging hoard.

One of the rivers that run through modern Granada

One of the rivers that run through modern Granada

The ceiling of one of the Palaces.

The ceiling of one of the Palaces.

In between visits I took another segway tour with Javier, this time through the Cathedral quarter and beyond to modern Granada.  This area is flat compare to the rest of Granada, particularly those areas that are perceived by tourists as Granada. There are two distinct parts to the tour, one through the old area around the Royal Chapel in which the bones of Isabel and Fernando are buried.  It was built next to the main mosque of Granada which was torn down and replaced with a huge cathedral.  This of course gives its name to the quarter but there were buildings in its vicinity long before its creation.  After zipping through various streets and alleyways, avoiding running people over we headed for the new part of the city.  For all that this area of Spain is hot and dry, there are three rivers that flow through Granada, all fed by the snow melt from the Sierra Nevada mountains in the background.  I can tell you, summer here is HOT, a bit like a Melbourne heatwave only continuous although the nights are cooler due to the altitude.

IMG_5473IMG_5476I expressed a dislike for tagging which is rampant here in Granada.  Nearly every shop shutter that isn’t painted with a scene of some sort is tagged.  When all the shops are shut the place looks terrible.  I told Javier that I had however seen some street art, graffiti that was pretty good with thought and care put into its creation so he decided to do a detour and take me by some real works of art.  This was after I tried to wipe myself out on the segway.  We were in a big open plaza and going flat out when Javier decided we were going right.  I forgot to lean back to slow down and kept leaning forward, did a sharp turn and just about collected a concrete bench for which I got a right telling off.  If I did that again I would be back down to turtle speed.  The graffiti we went to see was very good and it added another element to my trip with graffiti art in Bristol, Liverpool, Belfast and now Granada.

Granada, an amazingly beautiful place

Granada, an amazingly beautiful place

SO from despair and homesickness to inspired and enthralled in 36 hours.

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Construir un puente y superarlo!

Warning: photos don’t necessarily relate to blog.  When you read it you will find out why.

Little minds are tamed and subdued by misfortune; but great minds rise above them. – WASHINGTON IRVING,

Hoy tengo un poco de mente, pero me estoy esforzando para elevarse por encima de ella.  (Plug it into Google translator and see what comes out)

 

A gateway leading up to La Alhambra on the north side,

A gateway leading up to La Alhambra on the north side,

Today I start a new journal as I lost the first one or at least I am hoping I have simply left it somewhere and I hope I can retrieve it.  This is the first of many mishaps that have beset me over the past 3 days.  This blog is a long winded tale of woe interspersed with moments of exploration.  So lettuce start with the journal which I believe I left in the restaurant in which I ate on Sunday night.  It could just be in my mess of a bag but I have looked and couldn’t see it.  I went to investigate but the restaurant was closed.

(Stop the presses! I am sitting writing this in the courtyard of the hotel when one of the girls who works here walked past and saw my new journal which is similar to the first and asks, “Do you have another? We found one outside in the street.”  Can you believe it?  My mind is continuing to rise.)

 

Looking up at some of the buildings as you descend the steep path.

Looking up at some of the buildings as you descend the steep path.

Yesterday, trying to get the lie of the land, I went for a walk up and around La Alhambra.  I didn’t go in because I want to have a good long look inside, starting early and finishing late. I walked back down the less attractive side but probably the original road into the citadel. Once reaching the piazza again I thought I would do an e-bike tour around the city so I went to book one and my troubles began.  My ANZ travel card wouldn’t work and I didn’t want to use a credit card or cash so I went to the ATM to get cash.  The bloody machine did not spit the card out properly so it was semi-sticking out but I could actually grab the leading edge of it.  The machine then ate it.  I got a few strange looks from people in the street as I stood there and screamed profanities at the bloody thing.  I high tailed it back to the hotel to call ANZ travel card and then the real tantrum begun.  I am still using the UK SIM card because it is cheaper than using the Aussie one but when I tried to call Australia it said I didn’t have enough credit.  I was sure I had at least 30 pounds but who knows, maybe I was reading the messages incorrectly.  I then tried to top up using the phone but it kept saying we only accept Mastercard and VISA which is exactly what I was using.  By this time I gave up on the UK phone, found, started and rang using my Aussie phone.  Got that sorted, second card activated, primary card cancelled.

 

View of the Albaicia on the hillside opposite La Alhambra.

View of the Albaicia on the hillside opposite La Alhambra.

I then returned to trying to top up the UK card using both the phone and the internet but it still wouldn’t accept any of the cards.  The level of frustration was through the roof by this point so I had a little melt down.  My phone is my lifeline to the rest of the world when I am out and about.  I use it to navigate, to translate and simply communicate.  At home, if I leave the phone at home, I couldn’t care less, but here I am lost without it.  Once I had pulled myself together, I decided to try the Spanish SIM card I had bought on Sunday, swapping cards and following the instruction to activate the data access component.  Of course this did not work as planned and I started receiving text message after text message in Spanish.  I took the phone down to the receptionist and asked her to translate for me.  Amazingly having only just put the card in and receiving 4 messages from the phone company I had already spent 2.50 Euro, but if I topped up they’d give me plenty more.

 

That is the window to my room.

That is the window to my room.

As this was not all that helpful I was returning to my room to try and contact Vodafone UK when I meet Elizabeth, a Bostonian living in Basel visiting Granada.  She asked if I would like to go to a Flamenco show that evening that she had heard extremely good things about.  She was keen but didn’t really want to go by herself and her extended family with whom she had come to Granada had left for Seville.  I was more than happy to go as I love Flamenco so over tea in the courtyard we planned our departure etc..  After this pleasant interlude of civility in the most gentile surrounding I returned to the fray.  I rang Vodafone UK on my Aussie phone, explained the problem, to be told that I could top up over the phone or internet unless I had a UK credit card and my only options was to purchase a voucher.  “I’m in Spain,” I exclaimed, “that’s a bit difficult.”  Just before I hang up I asked for my balance.  Nearly 32 pounds!!!  For Christ’s sake, why didn’t it let me make the god damn phone call in the first place, if I had that much credit?  HONESTLY!  All that stress, frustration and exasperation for nothing.

 

 

 

An example of a courtyard

An example of a courtyard

To get some fresh air and clear my head, I went for a walk through the streets behind the hotel.  The area is called Albaicin.  It is a maze of narrow streets and alley ways all cobbled with beautiful traditional buildings on every side.  Some are typical Spanish homes while others obviously belonged at some time to wealthier families. Settlement in this area actually dates to pre-La Alhambra.  Being so old, residents have had to come up with some interesting ways to access modern living, some of which is not particularly attractive but every few meters a stunning view appears either of an alleyway bedecked with iron balustrades and intriguing doors through which, occasionally you glimpsed a private courtyard or La Alhambra appears spread gracefully across the top of the opposite hillside through a sudden break in the houses.  As I wander through this surprising place, the sun was slowly dropping towards the horizon so the quality of light began to change and the walls of La Alhambra began to take on a rose hue.  These alleyways and narrow streets can be quite disorientating as I found I had wandered in a large circle, and continued to as I made my way down to the hotel again as each little piazza seemed to have three or four entrances and you criss-crossed your way up and down, thinking you were going in a different direction but somehow ending up back in a familiar spot.

 

A view of La Alhambra from Calle Chrimias

A view of La Alhambra from Calle Chrimias

Not my photo, I deleted all mine, along with 600 others

We walked back to the hotel through the cool of the evening.  The place comes alive after 9 at night as people make the most of the cooler temperatures.  It gets really hot around 4 in the afternoon and doesn’t start to cool down until sunset.  The whole place was lit up beautifully and there was plenty of music and stamping coming out of various building as Flamenco is obviously a big money earner here.  La Alhambra was lit up like a fairy tale castle, much nicer than Disney’s castle.  As I hadn’t eaten I stopped off for pate and cheese before heading for bed.  I slept reasonably well, waking up in the early dawn to close the windows and turn on the air conditioning.  I awoke felling positive about the day only to create another crisis.

I was looking at the photos on my phone that I had taken throughout the previous day, deciding which ones to Bluetooth to my computer when I decided I really needed to clean the gallery up a bit.  I did, after all, have over 600 photos on there.  Well now I have NONE!  I thought I was deleting all the photos taken on a particular day but no I was deleting the whole damn lot.  Even as I pushed the button I knew what I had done but it was too late.  There were photos of Tim taken in January last year just after we got the new phones along with a lot of shots I had not transferred.  As a result I had another little melt down.  I rang Bill and Jeanette and when Jeanette answered the phone I told her she needed to calm me down and have some sense talked into me as I was ready to call the airline and catch the next plane home.

 

Inside my room.

Inside my room.

Fortunately, as I am still in Spain, sitting in an elegant courtyard, drinking herbal tea and writing this, whatever they said worked for now.  I am taking their advise and having a restful day and trying to be more positive or in the words of Washington Irving “Rise above it.”

There is a certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse; as I have found in travelling in a stage-coach, that it is often a comfort to shift one’s position and be bruised in a new place.

WASHINGTON IRVING, Tales of a Traveller

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Serene and settled majesty

4 August – (Blogged 5 August Granada)

Sweet is the memory of distant friends! Like the mellow rays of the departing sun, it falls tenderly, yet sadly, on the heart.

Washington Irving

Today was one of those days that started in tears of frustration and ended in tears as befits the quote above.  You may wonder who is Washington Irving.  Well he was an American diplomat in the early 19th century who was posted to Spain and travelled extensively, writing books about his journeys and adventures.  (I read his book on Granada before I came

Back to the day; it began with very little sleep.  I had gone to the theatre with Alick, Tim’s cousin and Paul, a friend of Alick’s to see “Private Lives” by Noel Coward.  We then went and had a marvellous meal at Brasseire Zedel just off Piccadilly Circus.  By the time I got back to the hotel it was late and having a full tummy wasn’t conducive to falling asleep in a hurry and I was also worried about sleeping in as I had a horrid start to the day. Several streets in London were closed due to the rerunning of the Olympics road race.  I could not get from the hotel to Victoria station anyway other than walk.  I had taken my big bag across to the Grosvenor Hotel on Saturday evening so I didn’t have to haul that the 1.4 miles in the morning.  Everything went well in that I got up in time, hi-tailed it across to Victoria, got my bag and just caught the Gatwick Express.  This turned out to be less of an express and more of a crawl.  Once arriving at Gatwick I was trying to find where Lufthansa was and I couldn’t.  The tiredness crashed in and I started to cry.  Unfortunately nobody takes notice of a distress middle-aged woman so I stopped a young woman who obviously worked in the airport somewhere and she was very helpful.  Finally checked in I went through security, which of course is heightened at the moment because of possible terror concerns, and had breakfast. (Post note: even more infuriating is the fact a family arrived at this hotel at the same time as me having left London at 3:30 from the London City airport and flown directly to Granada.  From leaving hotel in London to arriving at this one took me 12 hours!)

The flight to Frankfurt was uneventful, arriving on time.  Unfortunately, once we had landed, the stress levels started to rise.  I had to go through Immigration even though I was only in transit.  This officious individual proceeds to quiz me on why I am going to Malaga, where I had come from and how long I was planning on staying in Spain.  I felt like telling him it was none of his business, I wasn’t planning on entering his country so where I went, what I did and how long I did it had nothing to do with him.  Of course, I smiled politely, answered his questions and left only to go through security again this time with a bunch of officious but not necessarily efficient Germans.  It was a long way from where the incoming plane landed and to where to next plane was departing from.  The flight was full, with everyone heading to Spain for their summer holidays.  In business class, where I was, it was almost completely taken up with people of Middle Eastern appearance, with one group looking particularly intimidating.  It was a weird group, obviously a family but with hangers on.  They were holding up all the passengers trying to get to their seats to the extent that the attendants had to come and investigate.  In the end I reckon I worked it out.  There were two body guards, a nanny, two kids and their parents.  They obviously had a lot of money and were used to travelling in more rarefied situations such as first class where they didn’t have to deal with plebs walking through the cabin.

My first view of La Alhambra

My first view of La Alhambra

The difference between Frankfurt and Malaga could not have been more extreme.  There was no immigration and no security that I could see.  There was also no baggage handler or, at the very least, the only one available was at least 50 with a bad back.  When he needed to move a whole plane full of luggage he called on his ancient mother to help.  It was either that or they were scared the whole conveyor belt thingy would break down if there were more than 4 pieces of luggage on it at any one time.  Finally got out of the airport, took a taxi and arrived at the bus station.  It was probably during the taxi ride that I realised the adventure really began as I was definitely not in Kansas anymore but in a country where everyone spoke a language I did not understand or speak.  Got my ticket to Granada, found the bus and sat back to enjoy the ride.  I texted Doreen just to let her know I’d made it to Spain and was very surprised to get one back straight away.  The next minute the phone rings.  Honestly Doreen, lovely to hear from you but get some sleep. (It was 2.22 am in Melbourne at the time.)

looks a lot greener through the bus window than it really is.

looks a lot greener through the bus window than it really is.

See the Olive Groves

See the Olive Groves

My initial impression of the country side between Malaga and Granada was one of certain colours, brown, gold and olive green; brown for the soil, gold for the dried grass and olive green for the thousands of olive trees that cover the hill sides in ordered rows.  Where it is too steep for olives, the hills are scrubby and seem to grow grey boulders quite well.  As you climb up onto various plateaus the level ground is obviously quite fertile as towns and farms cover them with the olive groves continuing on the hills on either side.

Casa 1800 central courtyard

Casa 1800 central courtyard

Finally we arrived in Granada which is a largish city of over a half of a million people.  The area that tends to be thought of as Granada is only the small area around La Alhambra and Albaicín which are the older parts.  I exited the bus station and took a taxi to Casa 1800, where I am presently writing this post.  The driver spoke no English so I showed him the address and off we went.

Where I am writing this.

Where I am writing this.

As we started off, for whatever reason, the driver decided to change radio stations to one that played predominately English language songs.  The song that was playing, as he tuned the radio, was Dusty Springfield’s ‘Son of a Preacher Man.’  Tears started to roll down my cheeks.  Somehow he is always with me, in many little ways.  In Ireland as I drove around I saw an inordinate number of VW Caddy vans parked up 2013-08-04 21.09.05beside me, in front of me, behind me.  It is just as well the taxi driver couldn’t see my face, he would have wandered what on earth was wrong.  The Hotel Casa 1800 is up a back little street, and is located at the Miguelete´s house a seventeenth century building. My room looks out over the street so last night I turned off the air conditioning, threw open the windows and slept well, but I am getting ahead of myself.

I wandered out into the evening, with hundreds of other tourists.  I couldn’t decide what to do but I decided I wasn’t going to scramble to see La Alhambra, I want to savour that experience.  I decided on Flamenco and a meal afterwards.  By this time it was 10 o’clock anyway.  I sat in this small cavern, with an arched brick roof, waiting for the performers, reading another guide book on Granada and sipping a delicious local wine, red of course. 2013-08-04 22.49.27As soon as the guitarist started playing I was in tears.  We both enjoyed classical guitar and I knew he would have loved this.  Next the singer came on.  Flamenco music is so good at pulling at the heart-strings at anytime.  With me already emotional I got even worse.  Just as well I was sitting right at the back at the bar with no-one who would notice.  The dancer came on, strutted her stuff in the manner that only a Flamenco dancer can and then they took a break.  By this time, I needed to leave and pull myself together.  I will, however, go back for more.

There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.

Washington Irving

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‘Sláinte chuig na fir, agus go mairfidh na mná go deo.’

May the blessing of the rain be on you—
the soft sweet rain.
May it fall upon your spirit
so that all the little flowers may spring up,
and shed their sweetness on the air.
May the blessing of the great rains be on you,
may they beat upon your spirit
and wash it fair and clean,
and leave there many a shining pool
where the blue of heaven shines,
and sometimes a star.

29 July – Belfast international Airport – Doesn’t have quite the same ring as LA does it?

Ballygally Castle

Ballygally Castle

Well, my last night in Northern Ireland, spent in a very rather bland but perfectly fine hotel at the airport.  A bit of a come down after last night and Ballygally Castle which lived up to all expectations. “A stunning 17th century castle which overlooks the golden sands of Ballygally Bay and has uninterrupted views towards Scotland.” It was pretty good actually; luxurious rooms with appropriately fine furnishings.  They are proud of their food provenance, serving locally made and sourced ingredients where ever possible.  They won’t serve Guinness because it is no longer owned by the Irish.  I had a very delectable steak, cut straight from the hide, actually that’s wrong, it was an air matured piece of steak.  Well whatever it was it was damn nice.  The zesty lemon tart to follow was pretty good as well.  Yum, yum.

Summer at the beach

Summer at the beach

After a good nights sleep in a very comfortable bed, I set out to cover as much ground as possible before handing back the car at 5 o’clock this afternoon.  I followed the coast all the way from Ballygally to just outside Belfast, where I skirted the city before heading back to the coast, this time up the west side of Belfast Lough, through Holywood, Bangor, Donaghadee, Groomsport, Millisle and Ballyhalbert all the way around to Portaferry where I had lunch.  Taking the ferry to the other side of Standford Lough, I headed off again through Downpatrick, Ballynahinch, Dromara and Laurgan before finally arriving back at the airport.

Sunshine and rainThe countryside north of Belfast is beautiful.  All the towns/villages between Holywood and Ballywater just about merge into one long thin holiday camp with the occasional fishing harbour still in existence to pay tribute to their former lives. The rest of the Ards Peninsula is perfect farming land.  Dairying would seem to be the main industry.  The smell on the morning air was fragrant to say the least.  The cows are obviously well feed on the lush green grass.  IMG_4767The herds do not seem to be very big but the richness of the grass probably helps off set it a fair bit.  There were also fields and fields of grain at varying stages of maturity.

The countryside on the east side of the Belfast Lough is far softer in appearance to the country I travelled IMG_4762through yesterday and from Ballygally to Whitehead this morning.  On the Ards Peninsula there are amazing vistas of green field after green field stretching out over hill and dale, hedges defining boundary after boundary.  There are lots of stately homes in the landscape, some in ruins but other obviously still lived in and managed.  I’d say the British upper crust were rather fond of this patch of Northern Ireland until life became a bit too uncomfortable.  Even the coast on the entire peninsula is gentler with farms and towns spread leisurely along the shoreline.  All the way along the coast from Bushmill to Larne, the towns were clinging to existence pressed between the cliffs and the sea, generally where a valley cuts through the surrounding hills running down to the sea. IMG_4773 In places the road runs between the sheer cliffs and the sea, in others they simply gave up and went inland ’cause it was too bloody difficult.  The towns and villages are defined by the amount of buildable  space that’s available.  On the Ards Peninsula along the west side of Belfast Lough, it is hard, at times, to work out where one town finishes and the  next begins.

IMG_4785Once you got past Ballyhalbert there were virtually no villages on the coast, until you got to Portaferry.  Build on the west side of Stanford Lough, opposite Stanford at the Narrows, Portaferry from the Irish: Port a’ Pheire meaning “landing place of the ferry,” is a pretty little place with a lovely pink hotel.  The speed at which the water rushes through the Narrows at any time other than the turn of the tide would make crossing it in a human powered vessel, rather treacherous.

On the ferry crossing the Narrows of Stanford Lough.

On the ferry crossing the Narrows of Stanford Lough.

Could make for an interesting spectator sport though, betting who would make it and who wouldn’t.

The weather was amazingly spectacular today.  One minute it was beautiful summer sunshine and the next huge storm clouds were bearing down on you and, BOOM, thunder and lightning, torrential rain with raindrops the size of twenty cent pieces going plop on the windscreen, followed just as quickly by glorious sunshine again.  When the sun

There be thunder 'n' lightnin' a comin'

There be thunder ‘n’ lightnin’ a comin’

comes out after sudden, quick, heavy rain it has a magically quality to it.  The fields seem to be greener as they glisten in the sunshine, the air has a special freshness about it.  I love that moment just after the rain has ended and the sun comes out, before everything starts to dry out.  Mind you, I put a rider on that, as long as I don’t get caught out in the downpour and get soaked to the skin.

The little car that travelled 700+ miles in 4 days.

The little car that travelled 700+ miles in 4 days.

Anyway, I made it back to the airport, checked into the hotel, returned the car and discovered I had driven over 700 miles in the past 4 days.  The guy who checked the car in reckoned it would need a holiday after that amount of travel in just 4 days.  Just as well as I didn’t tell about some of the places I had taken it.  I’m quite proud of that – 700 miles in 4 days!  I have been east to west and back again, coast to coast, backwards and forwards, north and south across the top end of Ireland, both Northern Ireland and Eire, from County Donegal to County Down and a hell of lot in between.  I would highly recommend it.  I wouldn’t necessarily say put it on your bucket list as a must do like Glacier Point but if you have the time and the will, make a point of travelling the highways and most particularly the byways of the North of Ireland.

‘Sláinte chuig na fir, agus go mairfidh na mná go deo.’
Health to the men, and may the women live forever!

 

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