After having driven around the South of France for the last few days then having spent eight hours on the road driving through to Spain I can say with a certain amount of authority that drivers in the South of France are the most arrogant, inconsiderate, dangerous and rude sons of bitches I have ever come across. And I've got about 6000 miles of driving through several different countries under my belt to compare. While the maniacs in South East Asia are outright crazy, they're ALL crazy so they're predictable. And, there's no malice or rudeness. In the South of France you don't know whether it's the little VW shopping carts with motors or the big BMW's or Audis that are going to pull a crazy manoeuvre on you. They're highly unpredictable and bad mannered with it. Screw you you crazy froggie maniacs. Now where was I.
27/08/13 Finally,we arrive in Etxarri, a small village about 45 minutes out of San Sebastian Spain, to meet up with our friends Tracey and Tony and their kids Emma and Hamish. Great for us to finally catch up with some friends from back in the old country and good for the kids to have someone else to play with.
|Some high stakes chess action, don't let the innocent faces fool you, they're good|
|Callum cutting the cheese, look at the anticipation on their faces|
Bonus for me was I had some motivation to push my lazy arse out of bed for a half decent run and someone to push me up a few hills. Thanks Tony.
No big plans today. Lunch in the little village, a couple of wines and a catch up day for journaling and blogging.
28/08/13 We all headed into San Sebastián today. A gorgeous and very popular seaside town of about 190,000 people. It sits in the belly of the Urgull, Ulia and Adarra Mountains in the Basque country that lies in the North of Spain. We went to ride the Igeldo Mountain Funicular and check out the Funfair. It was a grey, overcast and drizzly day and the crowds were down. Lonely sideshow stall holders sat reading newspapers and called desperately to anyone within ears reach that looked like they had a euro to spend. We shouted the kids to a "river boat" ride but that was it.
|Not exactly class four rapids but the kids loved it and the view was awesome|
One thing the weather could not dampen was the stunning view of the town and it's surroundings. The old city sits nestled in the arms of the surrounding mountains while the fortified hill of Mount Urgull, with it's famed twelve metre high statue of Christ, stands guard,looking out to the distant aqua blue horizon of the Bay Of Biscay, the view was incomparable.
|Looking out over the Bay of Biscay|
|A wonderful memory|
Small boats bobbed at their moorings and squadrons of manoeuvring kayakers could be seen negotiating the little inlets of the island that lies in the Bay Of La Concha.
From here we ventured into the city in search for the famous Spanish tapas, we were not disappointed.
|Searching the streets for that perfect tapas bar|
|Suddenly they're everywhere, but very crowded|
There is bar after bar after restaurant all serving up the most delicious little morsels. The hard part was deciding where to go. Oddly enough the place we finally settled in was probably the only place that didn't do tapas. HAHAHA. But, with a party of eight and everyone now seated and hungry we decided to stay and made our own tapas plates by ordering heaps of entrees. Same thing really. It was all superb.
Afterwards we did a slow trawl around the city and ended up on the shores of the Bay watching schools of fish swim amongst the rocks and locals jump from a nearby jetty.
|Everywhere you turned there were calories, calories and more calories|
It was a stunning sunny day. The slow long arch of beach was surprisingly quiet. I leaned against the warm railing pondering what the chances would be of jumping from the quay into the school of fish and grabbing one with my bare hands. Just a thought.
29/08/13 We had plans to go into Pamplona to see where the running of the bulls happened and grab some lunch while the Metcalf's headed back to San Sebastian to take in some of that beautiful beachyness from yesterday. Unfortunately, after they had headed off, we discovered that the house key had been misplaced and we couldn't leave without locking the place up. So, we googled running of the bulls and had a look at a very impressive map of where they ran. Not quite the same but what can you do. They got back from the beach around four pm and Tracey finds the key in the one spot of the entire house I didn't look. Aaarrgghh.
Christina and I headed in anyway. It was our last day here, the sun doesn't go down till late and the restaurants don't even open till eight so, why not. We were told most of Spain is on holiday till September and I think that is more the case in Pamplona than anywhere else we have been. The place was deserted. Still we found a really nice park to walk around. It was built over the Bastion of Taconera. The gardens here are quite famous but it was the menagerie of animals that were kept in the grassed area between the two walls of the old fortress that were fascinating. Geese and deer and partridges, swans and ducks and chickens. I'm guessing they're there for when the city council has a formal dinner.
|The larder for the local council|
Still, it was nice to have a walk around by ourselves. The boys stayed backed with Tony and Tracey, Emma and Hamish.
Last night tonight before we pack and head to Barcelona. A very big thank you to our wonderful friends, The Metcalfes,for sharing their beautiful farmhouse with us and allowing us to be part time intruders. It was a real treat.
30/08/13. Another six hours in the car today. You pay through the nose for the privilege of driving on the roads in France and Spain and while the continual gouging of the toll booths gets a little monotonous, when you can average 150km an hour and it feels like your still in third gear, thats kinda worth it.
|You don't see a ten story bull everyday|
We have landed in Barcelona for a few days before we head to our cruise ship and twelve magical days sailing the seas, not driving, not catching trains and not lugging suitcases. Oh Bliss.
Barcelona is quite the city. Established in the 3rd century BC by Hannibals dad, Hamical Barca, it is now the second biggest city in Spain with a population of over 1.6 million and is one of the worlds leading tourist, science, media, fashion and cultural/sport mecas.
The name Antoni Gaudi is stamped all over the place. From his magnum opus, The Sagrada Familia, The Church of the Holy Family, to the totally surreal Casa Batllo and the bizarre 17 hectare Park Guell which is now a UNESCO World Heritage listed site.
Born in 1852, he died in 1926 with the Sagrada Familia only 20% finished. Building was interrupted over the 20th century by wars, wars and more wars. Namely, WW1 and Two and the Spanish Civil War, 1936 to 1939. It is now back on track and due to be finished in 2026. The centenary of his death.
Christina has once again excelled at apartment locationism. We are literally two minutes walk from the Sagrada Familia and a throng of restaurants but enough off the tourist track to not be bothered by crowds.
|The local Paella is ok, but nothing on The Smedleys or Janet S's back in Perth|
|Finally, the family together, fittingly in the shadow of Gaudi's, Sagrada Familia|
|The detail is extraordinary, he must be a very happy Gaudi|
We headed off early to see Casa Batllo, one of the many Gaudi masterpieces. The pictures on the internet while intriguing and magnetic, were nothing compared to the real thing. It was like walking into the architectural love child of Tim Burton and Salvador Dali. It was gothic meets curvaceous modernism, from the smooth melting walls to the curved oak doors, from the irregular oval windows with stained glass and the flowing sculptured stone work to the golden oranges and greenish blues of the scaly dragons back that decorated the external facade.
|From the very first step, it's like walking into a dream|
|The famous Mushroom shape courting area, couple to the right, chaperone to the left|
|This place had the boys full attention|
|The central light shaft was a work of genius|
|Just a simple Gaudi door|
|Even the chimney stacks got the full Gaudi treatment|
|The man did not like straight lines|
|Unfortunately the true colour is a little lost here|
It is like walking through a dream. Outside, the massive turret and cross dominate the facade. It is supposed to represent the lance of the patron saint of Catalonia, Saint George, plunged into the back of the dragon. The balconies could be anything from the Mardi Gra masks of Carnivale to the skull of some mythical creature. Only Gaudi and his small team really knew. The house is the proverbial enigma cloaked by intrigue and wrapped up in mystery.
It was truly one of the man made highlights of our trip.
From here I was desperate for a coffee and the nearest thing was McDonalds. I remember in the US that as a back up they were passable so I thought why not. I have obviously been spoilt since being in Europe. Absolute dishwater.
It was a beautiful day so we thought lets head to the beach. I must say there is something endearing about a people who embrace the culture of topless bathing as heartily as the Spanish do. The sun was warm, there was a puff of a cool sea breeze and with the seagulls and the bobbing boats there was plenty to look. We took our time and meandered down the boardwalk before jumping in a cab and heading back home.
|I apologise for the lack of nudity, I was not in control of the camera|
There was a seafood place around the corner from our apartment that served up seafood that was still swimming that morning. You buy it by the kilo and they cook it up and serve it with a salad. I am happy to go record as saying it is the best seafood I have ever had in my life. Oysters, Tiger Prawns, Calamari, Squid and Razor Clams, some fried, most grilled. It was the best Jerry, the best!
|You buy it by the pound here and...|
|.... they serve it up freshly cooked here.|
2/9/13 Last day in Barcelona. Christina's folks, Mike and Eleanora are joining us today to sail off into twelve sunsets on the newest liner in the Princess fleet, The Princess Royal.
|Mike giving me some tips on what it takes to be a successful cruiser|
OMG. We arrived at the port today to be met by this massive floating palace, The Royal Princess. The scale of this thing is enormous. It is the newest in the Princess fleet having only been christened by Employee Of The Month, Kate Middelton, in June of this year. At a whopping 141,000 tonnes, it is by all accounts the jewel in the crown.
I don't want to rave here about all the "stuff" this behemoth has. Needless to say, we won't be going hungry and we wont be getting bored.
The rooms are very generous in size with a queens size bed, very clever use of space and a decent size balcony to swan around on when the mood strikes. The gym is bloody fantastic. Huge range of equipment, tonnes of weights and the best view in the world.
I look forward to sharing more about this floating Club Med in our next post.