A Travellerspoint blog

Spain. Andalucia to Catalunya

Heat waves, disasters, damage control and spanish art and culture

sunny 36 °C

From lagos beach to an oven. Seville was freaking hot, it pretty much stayed around 40 degrees the whole time we were there. it was too hot to go outside and explore during the day so we did most of our sightseeing in the evening. We visited the Alcazar (castle) and it's gardens which was excellent, one of the best we have been to.

We spent many hours just walking the streets, checking out tapas bars, looking for the elusive flamenco. We eventually found a place, with lots of locals and expensive drinks (€4 for a 200ml coke....ouch!) another night we joined a walking/bar tour and were taken to some of the better spots (maybe) and found places with cheap drinks and a flamenco club. it was great fun trying to join in with the locals, who were very encouraging and tried in vain to teach us the complicated flamenco. i just couldnt work out the beat or the timing.

A great speciality that Fi sampled at nearly every occasion was the Vino Tinto Verano, which is a red wine mixed with soft drink, usually a lemon flavour like solo or lift. It was very popular, and even available on tap in some bars.

Home of the Alhambra, we loved this town, with beautiful streets and free tapas with your drinks. we were up early one morning to get in line, and only had to wait for 45! to get in. The Alhambra is surrounded by beautiful grounds and gardens, Carlos V's palace, the Alcazar and the Generalife gardens. The Alhambra itself is an old islamic temple/palace. the carving and detail in the palace was quite astounding.

Sunset on the Alhambra

Despite being in spain and portugal for about 3 weeks, we had our first, second and third churros (spanish doughnuts dipped in chocolate) here. this resulted in us singing a song munch on some churros, to the tune of munch on muncherros, or the one tonne rodeo song. if you know the song you will know what we mean.


We saw flamenco here again. this time is was a semi professional show where we had to pay to see. The performers were all in costume and they put on a spectacular act.

we booked a bus ticket for an overnight bus to barcelona, and headed into town to have a few drinks and tapas to help us sleep on the overnight journey, but when we turned up for our bus we found that we had read the departure time wrong and had missed our bus by 2 hours! doh!! we figured we could swap it for the later bus (which left in 1 hour) but the ticket guy was a jerk and was having nothing of it. did we mention this was the most expensive bus trip we have taken so far (€70 each) Fi even tried crying but the jerk said you have to buy another ticket and you have to move aside there were other customers to serve.

So we decided to head down to the bus and try our luck with the bus drivers sympathy. As soon as the bus arrived the driver abandoned the bus and we thought this is going to be easy, just put our bags on and we'll be away. To our dismay there was a couple guarding the baggage compartments saying no-one could put bags on as they were trying to give their dog some air. This was a complete freaking joke as she was sitting next to the dog smoking!!! we looked on board and could see there were a few spare spots up the back but decided it would be too obvious if took our packs on the bus. so we waited 30 min for the driver to return and put our bags underneath then snuck on the back door. we kept our heads down as he came on board to collect tickets and didnt ask us for tickets. he then did a head count, and then redid the head count, then finally pulled away. silent hi-five!! it was still a nervous ride as every hour the bus would stop and new passengers would get on and the driver would show them to their seat and often kick someone out of the seat.

we made it to the border of Catalunya, the bus driver changed and 2 police in helmets with big batons came on and asked all the non spanish looking people for id and passports. they didnt ask us, however the driver asked us for our tickets and we gave him our unvalidated ticket for the bus we missed. he took it without question as by that time the bus had been going for 11 hours and the departure times would have not been as obvious. he was also the 3rd different driver for this trip. he then did a head count and ticket some things off on his list, then came back and asked for our ticket. he stared at it for a long time then gave it back to us and we pulled away. Woo hoo!! we made it!

We stayed here 3 days which wasnt close to being enough. we got a fair dose of spanish art and architechture. we visited all of gaudi's masterpieces. the sagrada familia, casa Mila, casa batlla, and park guell, parlou guell. Gaudi was an absolute genius, his architechture was inspired by nature and Fi loved it because it used shapes and colours and he made ergonomic chairs and door handles. we did a day trip to Figures to see Dali's museum, another fascinating excentric genius. We also went to the picasso museum.

Wandering the streets we explored la ramblas, la baroque market and the barri gothic distric. At night most of the sights on the block of discord were lit up and the magic fountain provided a spectacular show of light and water to classical music.

Roof of the casa Mila

We are currently resting up in Dublin with Irish Dave, getting in somelast minute training against the Irish in preparation for the world Kubb Championships which start on fri- we fly into Sweden tomorrow. Wish us luck!

Posted by hutchie 07:16 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

Portugal part 2 - Sintra to Lagos

pena palace, ocean frolicking, kayaking adventures, too many cocktails...

sunny 30 °C
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This place is home to the Pena Castle and gardens, a cute village and a Moorish Castle. It was only 40 mins by train from Lisbon. The highlight of Sintra was their extravagant palace and gardens, previously home to King Ferdinand II and his wife Amelia. This King was an artist, and decided he wanted his gardens to be a mixture of home (Germany) and other exotic places - even had a section dedicated to Australian/New Zealand rainforest ferns. The result was magical - and then you hit the palace - talk about a fairytale. We spent hours here just wandering. This is one of my most favourite places so far.

Pena Palace

The gardens


Well known as a party and beach town, Lagos held up to its reputation. Again we ran into our Sydney mates and hung out on the main beach with them, bodysurfing some pretty aggressive waves, and Nick enjoying watching old people and kids get dumped by the surf - he reckons it was like watching funniest home video show. (I hate that show).

the boys body surfing

We finally ate Piri Piri Chicken - not as hot as we expected - but you could just ask for more sauce and that spiced it up plenty! The party scene was impressive - so many bars with so many cheap drink specials... There was one bar that is famous for tallying beer bongs consumed per country (Australia was winning, surprise surprise, and all the boys added one to the tally - but were very very very sorry for it later...) They also had a ¨9 deadly sins¨competition, where one had to shot 9 shots as fast as possible - if you beat the record (8.5 sec for men, 11 sec for the ladies) you didn´t have to pay the 30 Euro they cost. But you got a tshirt. Wisely we did not attempt this. The 2 for one cocktails at 5 Euros, and the free shot on arrival at Red Eye bar were enough to keep us in bed most of the next day as it was...

The highlight of Lagos was the kayaking adventure, where we paddled 3 hours along the coast exploring secret caves and grottoes that you could paddle right into. Glorious!


Posted by hutchie 04:48 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Madrid to Portugal

Walking tours of Madrid, Art Gallery perusal, ancient Segovian aqueducts and castles, plus drinking Port in Porto and a whirlwind tour of Lisbon...

sunny 26 °C
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We travelled by overnight bus to Porto in Portugal - 8 hours traveling, but lucky to get 4 hours sleep. This was despite trying to exhaust ourselves in Madrid the day before, conquering both the Reina Sofia art gallery for 3 hours, then Fi went out to Segovia in the afternoon.

The Reina Sofia is a modern art museum, most famous for holding Picasso´s Guernica piece, and lots of surrealist Dali work. I don´t know much about art - but these two crazy artists are definitely my favourite so I was super excited to go. It was a really good exhibition - showing the progress of these guys work, from early days portraits (pretty standard) into the art they became famous for - some of it bizarrely minimalist - eg another cool artist called Miro (similar style to Picasso) last few works were giant canvasses with nothing more than a couple of black dots?! Thats art?!
Nick liked Luna, an artist who did many wartime pieces (ww2) in black pen only, just thousands of lines in so much detail it was jaw-dropping.

We also did a walking tour of Madrid which made us fall in love with this city - rumour had it that Madrid was missable, but we found it anything but! A clean modern city with plenty of character, the "oldest door in europe" a street called "fist in the face" street, the largest palace in Europe, and free tapas with drinks if you know where to go. Again I was fascinated and astounded by the turbulent recent history - cruel dictators ruling up until near the time I was born? Its hard to believe. They say this is why Spain has such a festive feel about it now - enjoying their freedom...

Segovia is an ancient city an hour out of Madrid, and its famous for its aqueduct and castle and cathedral - all very impressive. Most impressive however was the torrential downpour that descended upon us just before we left - we got completely saturated!

the aqueducts of Segovia

The castle with stormy skies

Our first impression of Portugal was how wonderfully helpful and lovely the Portuguese are - but then again we did arrive at 6am on a Saturday morning - we were catching everyone on their way home from a big night out! Famous for port and chicken, we really wanted to visit to taste the port, despite not having much time. We were exhausted, but still managed to see the sights and get the feel of this beautiful, but gritty city. The port was pretty good - you got to do free tastings along the river where the warehouses were, and we did a tour of one - the most well known - Sandemans. Awesome advertising, and the best of the ports we tasted. But not as good as Aussie port!

The cellars of Sandemans

View of Porto, old town

Portuguese architecture seems quite different to Spanish - purely in that they cover all their outdoor walls in tiles, which makes for very pretty contrasts among the houses along the streets.

We are staying in the coolest hostel - what a view! we are on the major square and have the castle on the hill in the background. Awesome! This afternoon we toured the castle, and took a tram (just like ours) through the hilly cobbled narrow streets of the old town - just beautiful! you could reach out the window of the tram and run your hand along the walls.

at the castle in Lisbon

We also went to a district called Belem to visit its Monastery (which closed two minutes before we got there, bugger). This little part of town was also know for its custard tarts - some say the best in Portugal. And you should have seen the line out the door! They were amazing - puff party base which was sweet and crispy. hmmmm.

The eating of the custard tarts. freaking tasty

Going to try and catch a Fado show tonight after dinner at the hostel, then will check out Sintra tomorrow, before heading down to Lagos for more beach time.

more photos on flickr

Posted by hutchie 12:46 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Spain Part 1

San Sebastian - pinxtos, beaches and the euro cup final, San Fermin Pamplona running with the bulls festival, and Madrid

sunny 27 °C
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Wow, the Spanish know how to party! What a lifestyle, long lunches followed by siestas (everything closes for 4 hours), tapas late afternoon, then late (I mean really late!) dinner and partying! And the sun doesn´t set until 11pm - We love it!!

San Sebastian

After Bordeaux we trained it to San Sebastian, a beautiful beach town renowned for its unique Basque style of tapas called pinxtos. Here we stayed for 5 nights to soak up the sun, relax by the beach, eat drink and party!

This town really came alive at night, hundred of bars displaying elaborate pinxtos and serving cheap wine and sidra. The way to eat dinner here was to wander bar to bar, pick what you like off the plates on display and eat it, then tell the barman at the end how many you ate before paying. This was accompanied by red wine costing 90 cents a glass, or the even cheaper option of sidra, natural cider that nick fell in love with (but Jane described as olive brine), poured from 1 meter above the glass.

Pinxtos tended to be bread covered with seafood, say tuna or crabmeat with mayo and eggs, or salmon. There were vege stacks with brie cheese warmed, and bocodillos - little rolls often filled with prosciutto or seafood. There were also lots of tapas with sardines and anchovies - but we didn´t really get into those. We also tried Paella from ¨the best paella place in town¨- and it really was the best I have ever eaten - jam packed again with seafood.

Pinxtos in the old town

We were also there for the euro cup final between spain and germany, and everyone packed into an irish pub to watch the game. Pretty crazy and very exciting when Spain won, and the celebrations overflowed into the streets after the match, cars beeping and flags out windows. We were surprised however that the celebrations weren´t bigger than they were, as an hour later, the night life was pretty average. Apparently this was because we were in Basque country and they don´t consider themselves really part of Spain, and they are currently campaigning for independence.

The beach was beautiful - pontoons were the highlight as they had a waterslide. Unlucky for us we only got 2 days of sunny weather, the rest were overcast and cold.

Yep we have a new underwater camera!!


We have survived a week of festivities in Pamplona for the world famous San Fermin festival - aka running with the bulls. This bit is gonna be pretty long - as i have never experienced anything like it. Ever.

We stayed at the fanatics campsite and I now remember why i hate camping - worst sleep Ive had in years (made all the more difficult by 1200 other ppl partying around the tents til the early hours... jeez im getting old...! The festivities at the campsite were almost as big as those in town with live bands, backyard cricket and my favourite, lying by the pool.


Opening ceremony

San Fermin officially started at midday on the 6th of July, when thousands packed in to the square awaiting the announcement from the mayor. This is the craziest partying I have EVER seen. We arrived at 10am, Sangria already flowing, and waited for two hours, filling in the time with singing, chants, drinking some sangria, but mainly squirting more of the same all over everyone.


Opening ceremony celebrations

The human crush towards 12 was worse than any mosh pit, and due to the copious amounts of broken glass on the ground, this claimed more casualties than the first run with the bulls. After the announcement at 12, with everyone holding up their red scarved, and now being allowed to wear them around their necks, the procession headed towards the muscle bar - a statue in another part of town. Here, the craziest of stupid people would climb this 4 metre high statue, and throw themselves into the crowds. No joke that this part of the festival really does claim more lives and injured than the rest of all the bull runs put together. Somewhat good to watch in a car crash sort of way, and fortunately we saw noone seriously hurt - a few broken noses and feet though. The rest of the afternoon was spent at white horse square to mellow out, where one unfortunate soul apparently overbalanced while relieving himself over a wall, and fell to his death. Stupid and ironic way to go in such a dangerous festival.

We watched the first bull run the next morning from the finishing arena, catching the bus in at 5:45am - ouch. The atmosphere from the arena was even better than watching a cricket crowd at the MCG - the spanish have so many chants! It was very exciting counting down the hour until the 8am run - bands played, we saw footage from previous years and from bull fights, and then met all the bulls by name and weight. The largest was 620kg. Thats gotta be as bad as being hit by a car?! The first canon at 8 signals that the bulls are ready in the pen - the second signal is the gates are open - this is when the run begins - the aim being to pass ¨dead mans corner¨ before the bulls catch up to ensure your safety. Then its sprint like hell to try and make it into the arena before the 3rd and 4th the canon signals´meaning the first and last bulls have entered the arena. Not everyone makes it before the gates to the arena are then shut. Hopefully for the runners, the big bulls (there are 6) enter one end and exit the other. Sometimes if they get split up, they get mad, and run dangerously around, both on the course and in the arena. this is when people get hurt. There was one straggler causing some trouble on day 1 - we thought some guy got gored in the guts on the fence, but he was alright. We saw the pics in the paper the next day of this - he hd a horn either side of his torso - luckiest man alive!

Bull gone wild day 1

Once the bulls have exited, they release young bulls to play with the crowd in the arena, one at a time. This is actually pretty funny and almost looked fun, many people getting head butted or thrown in the air - but all getting up fine afterwards, feeling like heros (clowns).

Day 2 saw Nick joining in the run - Ill let him describe his experience later in the blog. Needless to say he survived to live to tell the tale....

Thanks Fi, well the day began at 5:15am, getting up and going in on the bus to the course. I found a few other friends who wanted to run and we found ourselves a place on the course by about 6am. this was the worst part of the run - the anticipation. Just standing there talking tactics and generally just shitting myself and fearing the worst. Sorry mum i know i promised i wouldn´t run....and i nearly didn´t. so we wandered down the course a bit and suddenly the police had blocked off the course and kicking everybody off the course that was too far down the track. So we dashed around the streets and found another way in and found a good place to start. The clock was going so slowly, but it finally came to 7:50 and they opened the course. we walked down a little and then boom the rocket was off and the bulls were on the course. they were so quickly on us and past us. it was over in about 90 seconds. apparently the record for the fastest run is 45sec for the bulls to run 850m. i made it to the arena and the bulls went out quickly, then it was time to play with the little bulls. lots of running around and dodging, i managed to slap one on the bum, but at the same time some clown pulled its tail and it spun round quick as a flash and i was face to face with the bull. luckily someone else attractted its attention and it ran in another direction. ahhh good fun. Back to you now Fi...

Wheres Wally (Nick). Clue. Hes the one in the fanatics top.

Later that day Nick and the boys went to a bull fight (not for me) and partied hard. The street parties were the best thing about the festival - live bands roaming the streets, drummers roaming the streets -its hard to explain just how fun it was...

Sorry Fi, ill just jump in here again. the bull fight was excellent. not for the weak of stomach though. the atmosphere was just amazing. we sat in the midst of the locals. as every person entered the stands they would be showered in drinks from everyone, and drinks were constantly thrown throughout the event. after the 3rd fight everyone opened their picnics and shared food, then threw what was left!! some bad sports brought a 20ltr tub of spaghetti and threw it on our section. others told us this was poor form. anyways it was so much fun it was like a really good game of cricket, with the crowd going off and sometimes it was hard to believe anything was happening in the arena. After the bull fight we followed bands through the streets then met friends and partied in the streets.

We have finally made it to Madrid to enjoy a real bed and eat more tapas (these ones come free with your drink purchase if you find the right place!), and I think I will go see the Reina Sofia Art gallery tomorrow to see some Picasso and Dali works. Its a really nice city, we did a walking tour today, and the history - especially recent history is quite fascinating.

The famous bear statue in Placa du Sol Madrid

Then its off to portugal!

Posted by hutchie 10:13 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

France - Nice to Bordeaux

beaches, baguettes and bordeaux wines

sunny 30 °C
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The French riviera is absolutey gorgeous. We stayed in nice for 4 days, doing day trips to Villefranche, Monaco, Cannes and Cap de Ail. All the beaches were packed to the brim, everyone enjoying the perfect weather. We found the strength of the sun to be much weaker than Australia, we could stay out in the sun for 3 or 4 hours in the afternoon with no sunscreen without burning. Needless to say we have the best tans of our life now.

Monaco was pretty impressive, the casino was a great sight to see, an endless procession of very very expensive cars. There was a 10$ cover charge just to enter the gaming room. The harbour was full of multi million dollar yachts too. The princes palace and gardens were quite nice but the rest of the town seemed to be getting on a bit and did not look as impressive as we were expecting.

Cannes was also really cool to see, lots of shopping and good beaches. We walked along the promenade and took photos in cutouts of spiderman etc.

Cap de Ail was one of our favourite beaches, we could swim out to a beautiful cave and jump off rocks. And it turns out that pebble beaches are not so bad, if they are small pebbles they arent too uncomfortable to walk and lay on and no sand to stick to you!

But the highlight was actually Nice itself, when we arrived it was in the middle of a free music festival. There were live acts all along the streets - singers, dancers, drummers, dj´s. excellent! In the main square they had put up a massive stage and there was a french band singing Queens songs. The lead singer was hilarious! Dressed in white with a little yellow jacket. Nice itself was really cool, we found it quite similar to melbourne, it was very multicultural, which we hadnt seen in many other citys.

Ahhh Bordeaux.... just about the best place in europe. ok well i may exaggerate, but seriously we had a good time. We had originally just wanted to go to taste the famous bordeaux wines on a wine and cheese tasting course run by the tourist center, but when we got there they told us that the course was full but Bordeaux was having a 4 day wine festival - Fest de Vin. which is held every 2 years, that just so happened to be starting that day!! So we bought a ticket to taste wine at the festival and a ticket on a wine tour of the graves and sauternes districts.


The Festival was excellent, we got great value for money as most of the stalls would not even bother to take the tasting ticket or we would chat with them and they would give us more tastings. There were many free stalls and free bavarian ham (sweet proscuito) all around. Fi won a bottle of wine at one stall too! they had a live entertainment shows - classical orchestra, light show and the most entertaining quartet! The end of each night was finished with a MASSIVE fireworks show, it was setup on a barge on the river. including some types of fireworks i have never seen before. they would shoot flares on the water, some would then explode up later like normal fireworks. there were one that fall like a chandelier and others that were like fairy lights suspened with parachutes at each end. these fireworks lasted for so long i think they were even better than the turn of the millenium ones

Our favourite wines were the reds from the medoc region and the sweet whites from the sauternes.

Wine tasting in Sauterne - famous for its sweet white

So sad to leave bordeaux, wished we could stay another night or two, but spain was booked, san sebastian awaited us and it is great to be seaside again.

Posted by hutchie 06:17 Archived in France Comments (0)

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