Jun 22 11

EuropaFM

by Emily Benjamin

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*.

Jason DeRulo
Usher
Katy Perry
Ke$ha
Michael Jackson
Jessie J feat. Bob(?) – whatever, the song was Price Tag
Nelly Furtado
Shakira
Enrique Iglesias

*Except Katy Perry’s Firework. That song is undeniably catchy. Even Monkey loves it.

(Image supplied by Google)

Filed Under → Words
Jun 15 11

A finished piece about Gaudi’s unfinished works

by Emily Benjamin

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.

 

 

 

Filed Under → Words
Jun 12 11

Paella and Oranges, Valencia-style!

by Emily Benjamin

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. 

Filed Under → Words
Jun 10 11

Grand Granada and the Awesome Alhambra

by Emily Benjamin

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!

Cheers, Em :)

Filed Under → Words
Jun 4 11

Happy Birthday Jamie Talbot!

by Emily Benjamin

MonkeyBday

Filed Under → Words
May 27 11

Expectations of Travelling

by Emily Benjamin

Before this year, the longest I had been away from home was 5 weeks. Even with conferences, sales training, and extended holidays, the longest time off I’d had from doing something was 8 or 9 weeks, for Christmas Holidays while at school. And when school ended, I threw myself into work, and often accumulated more than my 4 weeks of leave a year quite easily. After 3 years in the same role, I got itchy feet for the first time, and went to Europe for just over a month. A European summer, through more that 10 countries, with a backpack, a passport, my dad, and the limited French/Italian/German phrases I’d been listening to on CD’s over the past month.

This trip, however, was an entirely different story. I was asked by many how I would survive seven months out of a suitcase – scratch that, a backpack – with no home, no friends, no family and no creature comforts. Not forgetting actual creatures there, either – because Benny Sparkles was going to be missed so very dearly. But each time I was asked, I just shrugged to the suggestion of home sickness, travel sickness, and all other plane/culture/food/foreign related illnesses that people would throw at me. I would respond, of course I’ll miss things… but that’s human nature.

Half way through the trip, and my sister asked the other day – how am I doing it? She had just been to Japan for a week, and hated the suitcase restrictions in just that short time. It was a fair question. To be honest, I really don’t think it has affected me very much. Normally – in real life, working, earning, appointments, priorities, I mean – I am highly organised. I like structure, planning and knowing where everything is. I like to set timetables, and have objectives. (Sounds really boring, right? Trust me, I know!) But over the past 4 months, there’s been hardly any planning. I can look one or two days in advance – maybe a bit more if flights/bookings are involved – rather than knowing a year in advance where I’ll be and when.

But the organiser in me hasn’t completely disappeared. I’ve just found new ways to express my preference for structure. I’ve already tried a few different ways to pack my backpack, different websites to book our accommodations, and experimented on Google Maps to find the perfect driving route through Jordan/Spain/USA. It seems to be doing the trick, because I’ve not had many moments of terror, fear, worry or despair. Nor have I broken down and demanded a flight home immediately – even if dinner at Himilayan Cafe with my brother and sister was tempting. And as for the backpack, it got a little too close to 20kg at one point, but I hadn’t even used the expansion pack yet. I certainly overpacked for the first half, which I’ll be attempting to avoid this week when we pack for the second.

More than the backpack, and the ‘lack of home’, I suppose I just readily accepted that there are certain comforts and discomforts that come from lugging your life around on your back in foreign countries each day. Sometimes the language barrier is testing, and being constantly on guard in some areas is tiring. Being ripped off is annoying, but that could happen anywhere, anytime. There are days when you just want a damn good ham and salad sandwich, and to sit on your bed, painting your nails, watching Sex & The City re-runs (or is that just me?) but instead you’re tired, picking tuna from a can and putting it on stale pita bread, sharing a picnic on an uncomfortable bed with itchy sheets to avoid going outside. That might be an unfair comparison, but it has happened.

It more than balances out, though. In 3 months, I have seen more of the world than I had in 25 years. I’ve visited countries that I previously couldn’t have even identified properly on a map. I’ve eaten foods I’d never eaten before, and foods I’ll never eat again. I’ve seen Angkor Wat, the Pyramids of Giza, Petra, Halong Bay and Stonehenge. I’ve met people from all over the world, in random places. So, who really cares that my clothes are creased, my shoulders are tight, the hotels aren’t 5-star and I can’t find a clean, matching pair of socks. I’m on holidays, for another 3 months at least!

 

Filed Under → Words
May 27 11

Cheese, Wine and Crepes in France

by Emily Benjamin

FranceWordsMontage

Filed Under → Words
May 15 11

Back ‘home’ in the United Kingdom

by Emily Benjamin

Before anyone mentions it, the United Kingdom is definitely not my home. But it feels like it now, as the ‘home base’ for a month in the middle of our seven month trip. It is to be a welcome break spent with family and friends, in somewhat familiar surroundings, and a chance to recharge the batteries before we set off for Spain, South America and North America in June.

We started our time in London, after a particular heinous experience through immigration at Heathrow. The unexpected and unwanted barrage of personal questions left me frazzled and thirsty, so we set off for a proper pub lunch in Holland Park, where we were staying with friends for six nights. By the time we got there, there was only enough time for a few pints of beer, some potato wedges and of course, my first decent chocolate brownie in months. Delish!

During the time in London we did a bit of the tourist-y stuff, but I had been there before, so it was mostly limited to a bit of shopping, a spot of pub-hopping, and catching up with Monkey’s friends. I’m not even ashamed to admit that I made the typical purchases for a foreigner – all in H&M, Marks and Spencer, Top Shop and Zara – but with the aussie dollar performing so well the purchases were all much cheaper than expected. An opportunity to buy more, if you ask me.

In between the shopping and beers, we had lunches/dinners with Monkey’s university friends almost every day. Friends of ours back in Brisbane will be surprised to hear that Monkey does in fact have his own friends, despite our teasing back in Australia, and they report he has always been a nerd. Maybe most surprising is that he was almost the cool one in the university years… although I’m not sure if I believe that one!

On Tuesday we left Holland Park and hired a car for a day trip out to Stonehenge, Avebury and Bath, before arriving for a night in Bristol. Stonehenge was pretty amazing, and despite it being roped off, it actually works well because I could get photos without hoards of idiot tourists ruining the shots. I know, how pretentious of me! An hour later and we were in Avebury, for an even larger circle of stones, and now the oldest monument/sight I have visited ever. Lesser known that Stonehenge, Avebury is in fact older and was started in about 3000BC. Unlike the pyramids though, historians have no idea what the circles of stones were used for – it is assumed it was for burials or sacrifices, but there is no solid evidence.

In the afternoon it was onto Bath, but the blue skies were replaced by grey ones and a touch of rain, so we didn’t stay for long. Just enough time to have a late lunch, walk around the traditional English town, and check out the outside of the old Roman baths there. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough time left for us to go in, but at $25 a ticket, it wasn’t really in our budget anyway. After that, we set off for Bristol as the rain hit, on our way to dinner with another of Monkey’s friends. And here I might mention, in case she reads this, that Lucy of Bristol made one of the best curries I have ever tasted for dinner. I have to get that recipe!

On Wednesday it was time for my first scones with jam and clotted cream in England. A scone is a scone, if you ask me, but all the difference is in the condiments. Specifically the clotted cream, which is made by heating and cooling cream, and because of it’s high fat content (average of over 60%) it would be considered butter in America! Needless to say the scones were very tasty and filled us up before our 6 hour bus ride to Liverpool.

Now we’re in Liverpool, staying with Monkey’s mum in Heswall. We’re here for 10 days, to truly rest and recharge, before taking a week off in the south of France. After that, we’ll return to Heswall again for another week, celebrate Monkey’s birthday here with his family, and then it’s time for Spain in June.

The blog updates have slowed a little since arriving in England, but I think that’s because being here doesn’t feel so foreign, and there is little to report on. I’ve been shopping, I’ve had lots of western food, and we’ve caught up with lots of friends – none of which is all that interesting. But I’m still taking photos so I’ll continue to blog those as often as I can. For now, though, let me get back to my raspberry Bacardi cocktail and Eurovision! Not kidding, by the way…

– Em :)

PS. See the photos below? The awesomely talented and brilliant Jamie Talbot has created a tool to montage photos easily and quickly, to my own personal specifications, so if you need a montage check it out! :)

UkMontage

Filed Under → Words
Apr 28 11

Cyclons, Cadbury and Coke

by Emily Benjamin

Battlestar Galactica, Cadbury chocolate, cans of Coke and Cheese & Spices flavoured Doritos. Welcome to Egypt.

As we disembarked from our five day Nile cruise, taking in Luxor, Aswan and everything between, we checked into the Nuba Nile Hotel for two nights before our return to Cairo. There doesn’t seem to be much to Aswan – besides the Philae Temple and the High Dam, it’s just hot, dry and dirty. It’s the last stop before the Nile becomes Lake Nasser, stretching the final 350 kilometres to the border of Sudan in the south. And as we’d seen both the temple and the high dam on the last day of our Nile tour, our time in Aswan is mostly for relaxation, and as the departure point for our visit to Abu Simbel.

At 3.30am today we left the hotel by guarded convoy for a 4 hour trip to Abu Simbel, two temples in excellent condition in the very south of Egypt. Here lies the temples for King Ramses II and his wife Queen Nefetari. In the 1960′s these temples were slowly and carefully taken apart and moved to a higher spot sixty metres away, when the Aswan High Dam and the pooling of Lake Nasser threatened to submerge the temples in their original position. When you see the temples, you can understand the reason for such effort and focus in the relocation – they are in fantastic condition. Both temples are carved into the rock face, the larger temple fronted by four 20 metre tall statues, two on either side of the entrance. Both temples go deep into the rock with more statues within, numerous rooms and deeply carved, colourfully painted hieroglyphics. But perhaps the most spectacular part of these temples is that twice a year, the morning sun strikes perfectly through the front entrance, and lights all the way through to the sacrifice table in the back room. Yet another outstanding example of imaginative and awe-inspiring construction surviving almost 4000 years.

Our return from Abu Simbel was after lunch and to escape the heat, we returned to the hotel for – you guessed it – more tv shows, chocolate and soft drinks. You might ask why were not out and about, enjoying the foreign places, the food, the traditions and the experience. And we did the same thing yesterday – stayed indoors and did nothing except sleep, eat, and watch a tv show from 2003. But truth be told, we’re both tired. The heat really is suffocating, the air is thick, the streets are frantic and disorganised. The locals call out, offering tours, food, water, or just yelling and whistling. I have no doubt they mean well – but their curiosity is sometimes exhausting. 

For lots of places, it’s more than the sights, the people or the climate – it’s a feeling. And sadly I don’t get a great feeling from Egypt so far. I thought maybe it was just Aswan, but it has been a feeling of slight discomfort, exhaustion and frustration for two weeks now in Egypt. Maybe it’s the heat? But Thailand was maybe hotter, and at least Egypt is a dry heat. It’s not the food – I love falafels! The sights are magnificent, some of the oldest in the world. But there are many of them, so maybe I’m templed out. The hotels might have something to do with it – in Cairo, Luxor and now Aswan, the rooms have been old, tired and unwelcoming – the buildings decrepit and maybe even slightly haunting. Being cut off might also add to the feeling – 5 days without the internet on the cruise was fine, but it’s now dangling like a carrot in the hotel. There is a wifi signal, but we’re unconvincingly told ‘no password – broken’. But fortunately we return to Cairo on Saturday, back to Hotel Isis. There the signal is weak but works, the hotel slightly scary but the people are welcoming. And there is some suitable falafel nearby. So overall, I’m looking forward to the return to Cairo. Four days later, London! And hopefully this feeling will pass.

– Em :)

Filed Under → Words
Apr 20 11

Cartwheels in the Sahara

by Emily Benjamin

Today we took a day trip from our hotel out into the desert – the Sahara Desert, no less. We were joined by an American woman, her Moroccan husband and her son, a typical 15 year old American boy, except for the fact they all live in Cairo so this boy knows more about the middle east than most Americans will in their entire lives. At 11am, our driver arrived to collect us in a sandy Toyota Landcruiser- he was introduced as Desert Fox.

For the next 8 hours we drove through the Sahara Desert. That in itself doesn’t sound very interesting, does it. But that’s all it was – driving, sometimes at very high speeds, over sand that reached for miles and miles in front of us and behind us. It didn’t take long to get lost, to forget which direction we’d just come from – there were no trees or buildings or shadows to act as landmarks, or to guide us in the right direction.

You can picture the photos – all blue skies and white sand. Sand dunes mostly all look the same. Some big, some small, and in the middle of the day, when there are no shadows, there isn’t much contrast for the camera to pick up. Your eyes can pick up a bit, but that won’t translate here. But maybe you can imagine being shrunk, like in the terribly lame cult-classic Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, and being dropped into a 4 litre tub of Paul’s Extra Creamy Vanilla Ice Cream. A brand new tub, with the perfect ripples of frozen cream on top, waiting to be scooped up. Even the blue tub that it used to come in fits perfectly as the colour of the sky. That’s what I felt like today – a tiny human speck on a tub of creamy, silky ice cream.

I know it sounds like a ridiculous analogy. Maybe I’ve got heat stroke or, given I was in the desert, I was just hallucinating and seeing ice cream mirages. But saying there was blue skies and white sand just doesn’t cut it. It was more like this; endless tidal waves of buttermilk coloured sand, in two shades – a matte version and a silk version. The matte sand was the base coat, the sand that had settled hard, into ridges and ripples from the wind. The silk sand was softer, creamier and lighter, falling over the sand dunes like a piece of silk thrown over a sewing table. The two shades of sand together gave just enough contrast to the dunes for the eye to see – without it this very slight visual aid, we would no doubt have ploughed over the edge of one of the massive waves head first into a valley ten metres below.

We did that anyway, though. Desert Fox got more adventurous as the afternoon went on, and the final dip of the roller-coaster was massive. The car surfed down the maybe 20 metre high wave of sand, while Desert Fox laughed and the five of us squealing in delight and fear. Mostly delight, but still – an edge of uncertainty that the old Landcruiser wasn’t going to make it. But we were never in any danger – if there is one thing Toyota commercials have taught me, then it’s that these cards are made for these off road adventures. And that thought seems fitting, seeing as it felt like the whole day could have been the making of a Toyota Landcruiser commercial.

In the afternoon we visited hot and cold oases, and by sunset we were sipping Siwan tea next to a fire atop a sand dune. The sun set quickly, and offered only a quick rainbow of colours in the clear sky, with no clouds to give it context. The temperature began to drop and by 7pm, we were whisked back into the car and sped back to the town for a dinner at the hotel.

I was surprisingly tired from the days adventures, which seems odd because I physically did very little. And it wasn’t overly hot, either. But I suppose I did taboggan down a sand dune, walk up and down a few dunes, and did a lot of star jumps for photos as well – all very exhausting stuff! Oh, and I did a few cartwheels too, so I can tick that off the bucket list. I have done a cartwheel in the Sahara Desert – check!

– Em :)

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