In every way, 2011 was an amazing year. Jamie Talbot and I travelled the world, visited 15 countries, and met countless inspiring people. We spent time with our families and friends in Australia and England, and made new friends everywhere else. Eight months on the road was revitalising yet tiring, but we’ll never forget the opportunity we had to take the such a huge chunk of time off work, pack up our lives and travel, free of worry, debt and responsibility. The trip brought us even closer together, too – so we got married at the end of it! And now, we start 2012 with a new home in San Francisco – overjoyed at what 2011 brought us and excited to see what’s ahead in 2012. Here are my favourite memories from the year on the road.
There isn’t a lot to say in this post. All I can say is that these artists took up 95% of the airtime on EuropaFM in Spain, which was the only English music station available across the whole country. Needless to say, after a few thousand kilometres, I never want to hear these artists again*.
Jessie J feat. Bob(?) – whatever, the song was Price Tag
*Except Katy Perry’s Firework. That song is undeniably catchy. Even Monkey loves it.
(Image supplied by Google)
When planning for our time in Spain, I had my heart set on San Sebastian. I remember reading about it having one of the best inner-city beaches in all of Europe, beautiful views and delicious food, and it lived up to the hype. Although the weather wasn’t kind to us the whole time we were there, we made the most of the sun while it was out and wandered the streets, spent time on the beach and hiked up a small mountain to enjoy the views. Eventually we tracked down a restaurant called La Cuchara, and feasted on the best tapas I’ve ever tasted. If you can find the place, it is absolutely worth it – I’m only disappointed we didn’t find it sooner! I took a bit of a break with photos while I was there, but managed to capture this small set before we packed up and headed for Rio de Janeiro.
The more ‘hyped up’ a place is, the more pressure I feel to do it justice with my photographs. That feeling came to me on arrival in Barcelona, which in three words I would describe as colourful, cultured and confident. When I took my camera out on the first day, I was overwhelmed and came home with almost no photos. Fortunately we had three more days to explore the city and the surrounds, and I got my photo-mojo back – just in time for all the Gaudi, Dali and Picasso I could handle. Hopefully this set, although it’s not my biggest, captures the highlights of our time in Catalonia.
First and foremost, let me be clear that everything in this post is only my opinion. I am not a designer, an architect or an expert critic of the fine arts. I went into this after recently admitting that when it comes to travelling, I’m not really fussed by two things – religion and architecture. Big churches, ornate cathedrals – I hate to say it, but they all look the same. So it may be controversial, but when it comes to Gaudi, I’m not really fussed.
I know, I know. A revered architect, one of the most famous Catalans of the 19th and 20th centuries, and designer/builder of the Sagrada Familia and six other UNESCO World Heritage sites. On paper, I shouldn’t really be messing with this guy. He designed and built these famous buildings and monuments from scratch, without using plans and blue prints, but just his imagination and some 3D modelling work. But seriously, maybe if he’d done some more planning and spent less time building the ‘abnormal’, he might have finished something.
That sounds a bit harsh, maybe. But the Sagrada Familia, which I am going to see tomorrow, is still not finished. Gaudi’s magnum opis, work began on this huge church in 1883. And it’s still going. Gaudi worked on this for the last 43 years of his life before passing away in 1926, but still 85 years later and the job’s not done. As I said, I’m not an architect, and I’m also not a builder, but if a builder I’d commissioned for a job took this long, I’d be pretty annoyed.
There is no doubt that his work is interesting. Curved walls, open spaces, lots of light and colour, compared to blocked buildings of grey cement. But it’s not exactly functional. How did one fit a flat bed frame against a curved wall in the Casa Battlo? Not sure what the feng shui would be in that situation. Gaudi did create furniture though, which must have helped when decking out his house with the essentials. Can’t find a chair that fits? Sit into a huge ball of clay, mould to your body, and create the chair from that. Which is what he did, actually. The chairs, benches, seats and door handles on display in Casa Battlo are carved to perfectly fit the average human form. That’s pretty nifty, I’ll admit. But these original chairs and seats are also on display in Park Guell, and who knows what other Gaudi properties around Barcelona. Original? Seems the guy took a leaf out of Ikea’s book and got into some mass production.
Gaudi is everywhere in Barcelona. Even the footpath tiles are an homage to his work. And if the catholic church has it’s way, there’ll be even more of him around soon – an application has been submitted for his beatification. As I understand it, that usually takes a bit of time. But so does Gaudi.
I’ll hop off my cubed, structured, solid and finished soap box now
Update: Have seen the Sagrada Familia now and it’s ok. But I imagine it might look a little strange when it’s finished in 2026, when the new stuff is all shiny while the rest of it is moulding from age. Otherwise, inside, it’s huge and spacious, but with so much detail it’s overwhelming and made me dizzy.
I can’t be certain that I knew any more than this about Valencia: they have good oranges, and The Decemberists sung a song by the same name. But even with this limited knowledge, we packed a full day in the coastal city. First up was the old town centre, with huge halls, cathedrals and markets to be found through the winding streets. Here we enjoyed our first and only Valencian Paella and a fresh juice from the city market, busy with locals and tourists on the Saturday we visited. In the afternoon, we made our way to the City of Arts and Sciences, an eye-catching, futuristic complex that reminded me of scenes from Battlestar Galactica. The area houses Europe’s largest aquarium, so we spent a few hours here enjoying the touristy attractions Valencia had to offer.
Ohhh Valencia. We came, we saw, we ate paella. A little salty, if you ask me, but my informants, err, inform me that the seafood would be to blame for this. We only had two nights in Valencia, and with long driving days either side, it meant just one full day to explore the town. Unlike the other cities, this time we opted to stay just out of town in a gorgeous bed and breakfast called Villa Casablanca, run by the absolutely charming Lyndon and Roy. Best bacon and eggs we have had all trip, and highly recommended if you are ever in Valencia! Just a 20 minute drive into the town from there, we set off for a full day of roaming the streets, taking photos and eating paella and oranges. By afternoon, we had covered the old centre and headed to the new, to check out the City of Arts and Sciences. A few hours at the aquarium (thus the dolphin), a quick IMAX film at Hemespheric, and we were back to the B&B for an early night before the drive to Barcelona.
After 2 nights in Madrid and another night in Toledo, we packed up the car and headed south to Granada, about 5 hours south of Madrid. It’s only about 70kms from the coast, but still has a backdrop of snow capped mountains even now in June. We settled in to Hotel Carlos V and when the sun finally set, we were out to dinner for some quesadillas and enchiladas. Om nom!
On the first full day here, we set off for a walking tour of the city. There is heaps to see – cathedrals, markets, colourful buildings – but a lot of the fun stuff required us to make our way up steep hills with hundreds of stairs. The last time I saw so many stairs was in Jordan, and there I had a donkey to take me up the hill. Here I had no such luck, and we slowly made our way up the hills on Wednesday afternoon to Plaza San Nicolas, where we were assured the best view of the Alhambra was.
We stayed up in the plaza for a while, listening to the guitarists playing spanish music, and absorbing the fresh air and beautiful views of the Alhambra. By then we’d seen a lot of the city and were keen to come back to this spot for dinner, so we headed back down the hill for a rest before catching a bus up in the early evening for dinner and drinks. We must have been just before the crowds because we got prime position in a restaurant on the cliff, overlooking the Alhambra at sunset. It was a gorgeous night, with clear skies revealing the snow left on the mountains behind the castle. Just stunning.
The next day we were up early to hike up the hill (again) for our 8.30am visit to the Alhambra, Nazarid Palace and Generalife, all a part of the fortress/castle grounds. They restrict the number of tickets sold each day, and split it into morning, afternoon and night sessions. Even a week in advance, we could only get the opening time, with nothing else available. But there was a huge advantage to this – although the photos don’t capture it, the air was so fresh, the sun was making the buildings glow, and builds were filling the open plazas within the complex. We tried to keep just ahead of the tour groups and fortunately got heaps of photos with no one in them – success! Although the average visit to the Alhambra is about 3 hours, we were there for five. But we had a packed picnic lunch and the place was just stunning, so we stayed until almost one before heading back down the hill for a rest before more quesadillas for dinner.
To be honest, I had no idea what to expect of the Alhambra, and because I didn’t get an audio guide when we visited, I still don’t know what it’s there for. All I know is that construction began in the 12th century and continued for many more, and was used as a fortress, castle and palace. I should do some more research, but for now I will make do with the 200+ photos I took while we were there, a selection of which are on my Portfolio page if you’re interested. The photos below are of Jamie and I around the town, enjoying the tapas and sangria. Must stop drinking sangria though – too much sugar!
Today we leave Granada and drive to Valencia, another 5 hours away. Again I’m not sure what to expect of Valencia, although we’re told they’ll have the best paella and orange juice in Spain. Ole!
This may be my largest set to date! Despite Granada being the most popular city in Spain for tourists, more so than Barcelona, Madrid and even Ibiza, neither Jamie Talbot or I managed to do any research for our trip here. All we knew was that it was famous for the Alhambra, a towering fortress, castle and palace, perched on top of a hill in the centre of town. With tickets purchased for the 8.30am time slot (they have to do this to control visitor numbers) we trekked up the hill and explored the grounds, taking almost 5 hours to absorb everything there was to see. We also took ourselves on a walking tour of Granada, and on Wednesday night we found ourselves at Plaza San Nicolas, sipping cerveza and watching the sun set on the Alhambra across from us. In the four days we had in Granada, I took so many photos that I couldn’t help but include all my favourites here. There are a lot to get through, but there was a lot to see in Granada! Enjoy
We had just one night in Toledo, but that is still more time than most visitors spend here. By 6pm, the streets are nearly empty, as the tourists file back onto their buses to Madrid. But then you can wander quietly, taking in the narrow streets, towering cathedrals and spectacular views. I’m really glad we made time for a night here, and not just because it meant churros for breakfast the next day! Next stop: Granada!