A Travellerspoint blog

On to France

semi-overcast 19 °C

Yesterday we woke up fairly early and decided it was time to catch up on some fitness, so we ran up and down the waterfront in San Sebastien. That done, we went for lunch. The schedule of life here is a little unusual compared to what we are used to and it is taking a bit to get used to. We first saw it in Pamplona when the restaurant we wanted didn't open until 9pm. We arrived in San Sebastien on a Sunday and just about everything was closed. On regular days the shops and restaurants advertise that they open between nine and ten, yet sometimes they don't seem to get around to opening. We arrived at the restaurant for lunch yesterday at 12:30 to find that lunch didn't start until one. So we had a coffee and enjoyed the waterfront view. Lunch was simple, but delicious and it was a bit grey so according to local habit, we went for a siesta. Natalie did some research and discovered a restaurant in the next town over that was run by a Spanish celebrity chef and we decided it was a good time to go for a drive. Sean, our Irish GPS tour guide, took us on a bit of a wild goose chase, but we managed to find the right place. Aside from deep frying cannelloni our dinner was delicious, we were happy to check out a new town and find a menu that was something other than tapas. This morning Nat had to say goodbye to her friend Piturri (the cat).

Today we drove into the heart of the Pyrenees mountains, luckily we had the ipad map as our GPS didn't have any maps for France....we will be having a word with the car rental company about that one! We left San Sebastien and drove along the French coast until we got to the town of Biarritz. We thought about having lunch here, but it seemed a little uneventful and our hotel was a few hundred kilometres away and pretty specific that check-in was between 5 and 7pm. The roads were easy to navigate and we ended up in the town of Lourdes for some lunch. Arriving at 3:30pm in rural France means that all of the restaurants are closed for lunch, so we grabbed some sandwiches from a little bakery and sat at a little roadside pub that we bought a beer from. A thirty minute drive from Lourdes and we arrived in Cauterets, a little town that must be all hiking/biking in the summer and all skiing in the winter. We are in the shoulder season so if we are lucky, half of the things are open for business, this could be why our hotel was so specific about the check-in time. We managed to get a room on the top floor with an epic view of both sides of the valley, I hope we can ride the gondola tomorrow that runs past our window. We explored town a little bit, a lot of it seems closed, but we did find a great grocery store as well as a restaurant that served the most amazing soups. Mine was a duck leg stew, that came with a soup on the side and Nat had a fish soup that would serve two. The perfect end to a chilly evening. Tomorrow we hike, we'll get some more great photos.

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Posted by colincampbell 13:21 Archived in France Comments (1)

Some days it takes a good sense of humour

sunny 19 °C

We had a nice lazy morning yesterday with our checkout at noon, we figured it would be a piece of cake as we had only an 80km drive to San Sebastien and I had booked our accommodation before we left Barcelona. The trip advisor app on our Ipad has been pretty good so far for matching us with great food, lodging and sites. With that and our new GPS that takes us to whichever address we type in, what could go wrong. We probably should have guessed when the address we typed into the GPS didn't work exactly that something was amiss. In our hurry, we settled for the option of just getting directions to San Sebastien City Center as we figured, how hard could it be. Even in Turkey without the GPS, as long as we ended up in the middle of town, someone would point us in the right direction. The drive was epic as we are on the edge of the Pyrenees mountains, so the big mountains were in the distance as we drove through some pretty stunning foothills and valleys.

It wasn't long before we were parked next to the ocean and finding ourselves some lunch and some local directions. We found a bar that was in the middle of their version of Sunday brunch, plenty of beer and wine with a few little plates of tapas, primarily various kinds of ham and cheese. The bartender was very nice and stopped everything to get most of the staff and patrons involved with figuring out where our hostel or the address we provided was located. When everyone was stumped, he actually dialed the number for the hotel that we had which was when I thought I should return the hospitality and at least start sampling the tapas and tap a fresh keg. When he got off the phone he had the solution, we had booked a hotel on the absolute opposite end of Spain in a town called Cadiz, I blame trip advisor, but apparently there are two "Pension Bellas Artes" in Spain.

When we did find the place we had tried to book, it reminded us both of a doctors office and was ridiculously overpriced so off we went in search of an alternative. You have to understand that Europe likes their long lunches when everything closes (even some restaurants) and they definitely don't work on Sundays, so the hotel search proved more difficult than expected. It was 6 o'clock before we managed to find the place we are at, so our 80 km drive ended up taking about 7 hours start to finish....but we found a great little spot, with a cat for a host.

We had a great night exploring the city, we started with the local red wine at a few locations with a few more tapas. Then on to another restaurant for some sangria and some dinner. The architecture is stunning and the vibe on the street is fun. After the day we had, it was an easy evening, home by midnight.

When you are traveling for six months you need to take some maintenance days and today was one of those days. Nat has some serious concerns about letting anyone loose on her hair in India or Vietnam/Thailand, so this week is her last chance for a few months. She found a place that spoke english and she was happy. I on the other hand brought clippers, but letting this guy do his thing could be a little less drastic. This doesn't need to be a long story as I'm not sure how else to say it; I gave the guy a bit of a long leash....and now I have a mohawk. Natalie describes her colour as "Beach slut blonde", we make quite the pair. The good news is, it will grow back and we had a good laugh. Now I am driving a Citroen Picasso, with a mohawk...you can't make this shit up.

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Piturru, aka Mr.Bigglesworth, he is the cat that lives at our hostel this week

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Nat in front of the old part of San Sebastien, just to her left is the beach

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The river runs through the center of town, on the right is a beach full of drunk surfers, I don't see them drinking, but they must be drunk to get in the water when it's this cold!!

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No comment...

Posted by colincampbell 10:31 Archived in Spain Comments (5)

Dean is going to be so disappointed with me

overcast 20 °C

The more time we spend visiting big cities, the more we realize that they just aren't for us. Barcelona has plenty of sites to see, but it also has quite a pollution problem (at least it did this week) and we just don't like crowds that much. We had a fantastic time with Anna and Jordy and highly recommend their place as well as the airbnb service we used. When we went looking for the famous Gaudi Church Friday night, it started to rain and when we tried to catch up with some friends who happened to be in the city, that didn't work out either...it was a sign we needed a change of scenery. With our trip to Nepal on hold until I get my passport back with my visa to India, we have some time to kill and it was time to do some driving. We figured we would rent a car for two weeks and go and see some of Northern Spain, Southern France and maybe Monaco or Italy if we have time.

My good friend Dean used to build cars for BMW's Formula One Team so he has spent a lot of time in Europe, he appreciates a good road trip and he has a passion for fine automobiles. We have spent many an evening at The Red Piano discussing his favourite trip along some of these roads, particularly France, Monaco and Italy. He even emailed me this week to remind me of some of the details and to make sure I splurged on some good wheels. He suggested the Lamborghini, but I checked and our luggage wouldn't fit. When I went through the website and reserved the car I picked a little Audi that I thought would have to suffice and was quite looking forward to the drive. Apparently I missed the small print. We arrived at the rental agency just ahead of 2 busloads of people also picking up their cars. The paperwork went smoothly and I even opted for the TomTom GPS to alleviate what Nat might call "unwanted scenic routes" that can make our trips somewhat more beautiful, and definitely hours longer. Instead of a car inspection, the lady at the counter handed us our keys and a parking spot number and sent us on our way. She assured me it was a "great car", her "favourite", "very sporty" ... notice that those are all direct quotes. Don't forget the two busloads are people standing behind me that just got off very long international flights from somewhere. We wandered out to parking spot 23 and it may as well have been 13. Where I was expecting my 2 door Audi rocket to be, someone had parked a diesel Citroen Picasso... there must be some mistake, maybe my keys won't open it and our car is close by!? Nope, she had stuck us with a 4 door cubed shaped family vehicle that is far too sensible to be any fun. And when I turn around to consider going to make a trade I look at the line wrapping around the building and compare it to the dwindling number of cars in the lot. I picture us going into the office, at the back of the line and when we come out again every car in the lot is gone and we are stuck with nothing. Nat tries to reassure me that it will be fun and all I can hear is Dean's voice..."YOU ARE DRIVING A WHAT?? What's a PICASSO...that's not a car!"

As we drove off in our "Magic Bus", we plugged in the GPS and figured we would head to Pamplona for the night and then on to San Sebastien on the Northern Spanish coast near the French border on Sunday. Our GPS comes with a multitude of accents in both male and female so our tour guide for the first part of the trip is a drunken Irishman named Sean. He did manage to get us the 500 miles without too much trouble and we checked into our hotel by 8pm. The temperature had dropped almost 20 degrees during the drive so we looking pretty funny in our shorts and tees while everyone else was bundled up. We made a quick wardrobe change and headed in search of dinner. Pamploma is famous for their Running of the Bulls and for their Tomato Festival, but we missed them both. Fortune did smile on us once yesterday as we arrived just in time for Restaurant Week. The pictures below are of the busy streets and bars and the food we managed to find. Natalie picked the restaurant and when we arrived at 8:30 we were informed that they didn't open until 9, strange but okay, we went out and sampled some tapas and the local wine. Very little english speaking here, but we manage. By the time dinner rolled around, Natalie was pretty hungry and rushed her Spanish a little bit, I don't think she meant to order a small bottle of water for herself and a large bottle of wine for me, but I didn't argue. It was a quick stay in Pamploma, but it was fun, it is less than 100 kms to San Sebastien so that should be a piece of cake...I'll write about that later.

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The "Meat Bars"...not only a good selection of alcoholic beverages, but hanging over the bartender is more cured meat than I know what to do with!!

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The streets are Pamplona are packed for restaurant week, despite the frosty temperatures

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Dinner at strange upstairs back room...not bad....

Posted by colincampbell 15:11 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Life is Full of Choices

overcast 29 °C

It is the end of our second day in Barcelona and things are going great. We are experiencing our first stay that we booked through a website called www.airbnb. People with an extra house, apartment or even just a spare room can rent it out for whatever they think it fair. We (ok, Nat) did some research and found a couple (Anna+Jordi) here is Barcellona that had a good looking apartment and said they enjoyed food and wine and showing off their city. At $50/night, it sounded like a deal.

We had heard horror stories of Barcelona's pickpockets and after being lost in Mallorca for the better part of five days, we decided we weren't ready to brave the public transit system and just grabbed a cab yesterday morning. Luckily, "Speedy Gonzalez" (our cab driver) had a TomTom GPS as we were little help with directions in this city of almost 5 million people. Anna was waiting for us by the door and she showed us into our home for the week. They have a small apartment, but they have done a great job at renovating it so it feels as if we have an ensuite bedroom, a living room, a large balcony all to ourselves and we share a kitchen with them. It is our first experience with "airbnb", but they have set our standards pretty high for any future bookings.

One project we need to take care of here is sorting out my Visa for India which has been an ongoing hassle. Thanks to Jordy this morning, we got to the bank and filled out all the forms and with any luck, we should be ready to head East in a couple of weeks. That done, we had all day to explore the city and they had suggested we go and find some of the amazing architecture here of some guy name Antoni Gaudi (I'm clearly not a student of architecture as he is quite famous.) We did find one of his houses, somewhat by mistake, as we forgot to bring the map with us. As Natalie was getting hungry, I figured one was enough for now and it was time for tapas. We found a tapas bar set up similar to a sushi bar, but instead of carefully prepared bait, they serve delicious plates of various meats, cheeses and vegetables often served on a large crouton. They didn't serve sangria by the glass, so the pitcher we ordered was nobody's fault but we struggled through it. I think the bill said we ordered 24 plates, but I thought it was possibly more so we couldn't argue.

We did manage to explore a little more, but without the map and with a full belly, siesta time seemed appropriate. Our next adventure is going to be planning how to kill some extra time we have while we wait for my passport to come back with the Visa. We are thinking of a road trip by train or car to Northern Spain, Southern France and maybe Monaco or Italy. If you are reading this and are in any of these places, please let as know and we will try and catch up. If you want to be in these places and can get on a plane, let us know and we'll get a bigger car!

Maybe tomorrow we will find this Gaudi fellow...

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This is a building by Gaudi that we found...tomorrow we will find his churches

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The shrimp and ham skewer was good, the cuttlefish with pesto was great!

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On the left, deep fried camembert and asparagus in puff pastry, centre is a duck breast and left is obviously a big slab of cheese with a puree of grilled red peppers and garlic

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Dessert was good too, the centre piece is a solid gin and tonic with lemon sherbet - BRILLIANT!

Posted by colincampbell 19:01 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

Palma de Mallarco - She's a difficult mistress...

sunny 28 °C

We really love everything we have seen in Palma. Thanks to our friend Tina for taking us in and giving us a home for the days and nights we have been here. The road trip on Sunday to Valldemossa and Deia was spectacular with a great lunch at the end of the world's most winding road which took us from the top of the mountain to the sea. On Monday, Tina was off to work early so we were on our own...she suggested we go and get ourselves lost to find the best parts of the old city of Palma. We took her words VERY literally and have been lost for 3 days now. Even the Ipad map can't help us here...I can't emphasize enough just how lost we have gotten; yesterday we missed dinner with some friends and today we ended up in the wrong train station on the wrong side of the island. And the rest of the time we are just generally "exploring"...that's how we describe it when we don't know where we are, but aren't late for something.
Last night we caught up with another friend from St.Maarten, Amanda and her daughter Ruby for a drink on the waterfront, which was great. After that we had some more exploring to do...and the nighttime version of Palma is an amazing tour of food and fun. We got properly lost on our way to a little neighbourhood across town that proved worth the walk as we found some tapas....my favourite was the dates stuffed with fois, and cooked with bacon and apple. Nat found pumpkin stuffed raviolis and some tempura shrimp with wasabi aoli (the tempura was more like shredded wheat than tradition tempura, awesome!) so she was happy too. And the Mallorcan wine is a nice giant step up from the stuff we were choking down in Turkey.
Today we took the scenic train ride through the mountains thinking we were on our way to visit Amanda and spend the night in the country. We found the scenic town of Soller and also found out that Amanda lives in Sineu, which is on the other side of the mountain. We still had a great day, grabbed the last train back to Palma and enjoyed a meal with Tina and friends.

It has been an excellent week, as hard as this place sent us in circles and tried to chase us away, we have really fallen for it. We will return! Tomorrow it is off to Barcelona for 4 days with our www.airbnb.com stay, we'll let you know....

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Posted by colincampbell 14:31 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

A Night in Rhodes and on to Spain

semi-overcast 29 °C

We were ready for a change of pace after a great month exploring Turkey, as our next big flight leaves Barcelona on October 10, we decided we may as well get to Spain and do some exploring. The cheapest flights were from the Greek island of Rhodes so we spent a night in the old walled part of Rhodes Town. Even in the daylight, the neighbourhood was a labyrinth of narrow streets and winding alleys so when it came time to find dinner, even our trusty Ipad map couldn't help us. Just as we started to give up on finding something other that sad looking restaurants who's menus obviously catered exclusively to cruise ship passengers we bumped into an older group of Italian ladies. They steered us away from the place they had just finished happy hour and took us by the hand to their favourite place for great food. It turns out the Marco Polo Mansion is rated as one of the top restaurants in Greece and it was absolutely fabulously. http://www.marcopolomansion.gr/index.php We took it easy after dinner as the taxi was arriving at 4am the next morning for our early flight.

Heading from an island in one country, to an island in another country takes some work, so our travel day on Friday was a bit of a tour. Rhodes to Athens, Athens to Barcelona and Barcelona to Palma de Mallorca was a long day, but was made bearable by the absolute beauty of the Barcelona Airport. Our layover was about 3 hours which gave us just enough time to explore all the shops and marvel at the 5 star tapas restaurants.

We came to Palma because a lot of friends happen to live here. We are staying at a great little Apartment right in the old part of the city. The coffee is light years ahead of Turkey, so Natalie is having a field day with that and the charcuterie and tapas are brilliant, so I might not leave. We have just been wandering around town in awe of the architecture, the markets and the cafe's so far. Today Tina is taking us on a tour of the countryside and for lunch, so it should be another great day!

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Posted by colincampbell 02:31 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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