Week 31 – Last week of our Gap Year

  • Saturday was a little warmer and not raining so we headed out for a cruise on the Bosphorus. This is the waterway that separates Europe from Asia in Istanbul. I have never seen so many ships, but we were advised that for 12 hours each day the ships can go one way, and the other 12 hours, the other way. We got some great views, and one not so nice – the burnt out remains of a nightclub bombed by ISIS terrorists.
Suleyman’s Mosque
Kempinski Palace. We marked this for a visit next day – see below.
25 young people died in the attack – they don’t really know what to do with the site.
The old town is surrounded by very impressive city walls
We were taken up to a local park for lunch, views and a cable car ride back down – all the while just marvelling at the sheer size and vibrancy of Istanbul
  • As usual it was back to our local “Duvares” for drinks and dinner. This was our last night in Europe as on Sunday evening we headed for Doha on our way home.
It was warm, cozy, and served good food at a good price
  • Sunday, our last day, we took a taxi and went over to Kempinski Palace, and we were not disappointed. This is right up there with the great palaces of Europe – it is magnificent while being completely over the top in places. The Ottomans knew how to do opulence. I took a few photos, (and got scalded by the security staff for it), but this is a must see. Caserta Palace in Italy was magnificent architecture, while Kempinski is more the decorations.
Front entrance. After the Ottomans were thrown out, Ataturk took over the palace and died here, so somewhat of a shrine
Photo forbidden but I think a Lalique crystal chandelier
A sneaky shot of the ballroom
Now that’s a toilet!!
They did like a crystal chandelier!!
Our last photo in Europe – Asia in the background
  • We collected our bags and headed for Sabiha Gokcen airport and on to Doha. The flight was great and I got a window view of quite a spectacular lightening show over the Persian Gulf. Doha airport is all new, and like everything in Qatar is a bright and shiny statement of wealth and economic power.
  • It was nice to be out of the cold and we explored Doha with interest. I had been to Doha when we lived in Saudi Arabia and it was a quiet little seaport – but now it is a modern city of futuristic skyscrapers, construction cranes everywhere and some of the most amazing and interesting architecture. It would be easy to dismiss Doha as “Dubai lite”, but the Emir of Qatar is taking his small but rich state headlong into the 21st century and challenging the other rich Gulf states for a share of the economic pie.
I love the old fishing boat slowing heading out in front of the futuristic city
Our erstwhile tour guide Muhamed saw himself as a photographer of great skill – so Grant and Adrienne from a different angle
This image of the emir is everywhere from buildings to tee shirts and bumper stickers
This photo says it all in terms of the architecture and the green spaces in between – we in the new world could take some lessons!
  • We spent an afternoon in the Museum of Islamic Art. This is a magnificent edifice built on the harbour, and holds some amazing treasures, but for us the highlight was the “Syria Matters” exhibition. It is brilliant and sad – ISIS and Basher al-Assad have trashed one of the cradles of civilisation. To see before and after shots of Palmyra, Aleppo and many after fabled ancient cities is a crime against humanity. The care and attention put into this exhibition just amazed us – it really is not to be be missed – and like everything in Doha was free admission.
The museum of Islamic Art
This is just the foyer and coffee shop
Emeralds, rubies, diamonds, gold – and very thick glass!
Adrienne loves a good avenue of palms – Souq Waqif in the distance – a lovely walk along the Corniche
The souq closes for the afternoon and wakes up after prayer time.
I love this photo – the old gentleman sitting at the front of his shop quietly sewing
  •  Adrienne found a perfume shop where the vendor spoke English and had a lovely time buying middle eastern perfumes – we both smelt like we’d bathed in herbs and spices by the time we left.
  • After that it was home for a shower and off to a 5 star hotel for an extremely expensive meal, but that’s the only way to get a wine in Doha so needs be as needs must.
  • Next day we headed for the Villaggio Mall. This place is seriously weird – the photos will tell the story.
The sky is fake – painted on – and it was cold – they need to turn the air conditioning up a few degrees
You can go for gondola rides around the Venetian canals in the shopping mall under the painted sky with the false upper stories above the shops
  • The next photo is out our hotel window. This is the last section of “old town” and will be bulldozed in the next few months for more of the city renewal. The multitude of satellite dishes on every ramshackle roof cracked me up.
Going, going, almost gone
  • Our driver insisted on taking us to one of the urbanisations – homes to the rich and famous – lots of dodgy money floats around this part of the world.
The locals travel around in golf carts. The Mercs and Bentleys have to stay outside
We wandered over to the Ponte di Rialto …..
  • We decided to make our last night of the gap year one to remember and booked ourselves into a 5 star modern Asian fusion restaurant in one of the skyscrapers. Again having red wine and beer was a deal clincher. It cost the price of a small car, but was brilliant.
The restaurant is on the 61st floor – I almost got airsick in the elevator
Dessert served in a dish resembling molten lava – it was beautiful
  • The last day we had to burn a few hours before going to the airport so we went to another shopping mall. Adrienne found another good perfume seller and we again ended up smelling like a middle eastern souq, (but I love it).
  • We then headed for Sydney and the end of our gap year. Our daughter was late getting to the airport and my car was in desperate need of a wash – why was I not surprised about either of these?
  • I will write another blog next week with reflections, observations, recommendations, and our thoughts about all the different places we have visited and loved – what’s good, great, bad and ordinary. But as an initial thought – we gave up work for 8 months, we leapt into another world – would we do it all again – in a heartbeat – it was the best experience of our lives!!


Week 30a – Gallipoli

  • After visiting the ANZAC battle sites of Montecassino, Crete and Passchendaele, (where we visited the grave of Adrienne’s great uncle, killed in 1918), my visit to Gallipoli, (where my great uncle Eric Sargisson was killed), took on greater significance as we have come to understand the horrors and pointlessness of the wars that claimed generations of our young men.
  • I was collected before 7 am and we headed for Gallipoli – a rather dull 5 hours away through rolling hills mostly now ploughed and waiting for new crops to be sown in the spring. But I found a friendly Canadian and we chatted for most of the way.
  • After a quick lunch we, (Crowded House Tours), headed for Gallipoli with our excellent guide, Burak, and I hope I am now far better informed as to the where, why and how of the whole disaster. The first thing that strikes you is how small and rugged the area is, and how many were lost for so little gain.
Grant at ANZAC cove. It was a very cold day
ANZAC Cove – 600M long by 20M wide – and cliffs above it, (the road did not exist in 1915)
This is what they faced as came ashore, but without trees. The locals had cut them all down for wood.
The Sphinx from the beach
  • The NZ film director, Peter Jackson, has created an exhibition in Wellington dedicated to the Gallipoli campaign. His research partner in Gallipoli was none other than our guide, so I felt we were in very knowledgeable hands.
A couple of likely lads
  • We headed for Hill 60 where great uncle Eric was mortally wounded but were blocked by roadworks. Hill 60 is an inconsequential bump in the landscape, but was on the path to Chunuk Bair, so obviously of some importance.
Hill 60 – a small bump in the middle of the photo, (taken from Chunuk Bair – the high point and goal of the campaign)
NZ cemetery and memorial at Outpost 3
  • From there we headed up the hill to the Australian memorial at Lone Pine. This battle cost thousands of lives for a piece of land the size of 3 football fields – it was almost too much to visualise and comprehend. The Turkish trenches were where the memorial now stands, the Australian positions at the other end of the  field, about the same distance away. I took a video to show the size of the area.
    The Lone Pine memorial and cemetery – many soldiers are buried in either mass graves or not even recovered due to the ferocity of the fighting. The tree is not the original tree, but was planted some years ago in memory of the fallen


  • Only a few hundred metres away is The Nek. This was the site of probably the most senseless waste of lives – in a few minutes some 400 Australians were killed in 4 charges straight into entrenched machine guns across a piece of ground the size of a good backyard. The Australian officers pleaded for the charges to be called off as the barrage had been bungled, but the high command ordered them forward, despite the futility and carnage.
The Nek memorial
  • We then went a few hundred metres more to Johnson’s Jolly. Here the trenches were 8 metres apart. When they were not fighting the soldiers would throw gifts to each other and chat.
Australian trench in the foreground – Turkish trench on the other side of the (modern) road
The maze of trenches – this is where the term “Digger” came from – the faster you could dig, the more likely your survival
This diorama is in the nearby town of Eceabat but is regarded as a quite accurate depiction
  • But everything at Gallipoli is not about the ANZACs. The toll on Turkish lives was equally horrendous. The memorial for the 57th Regiment, Ataturk’s regiment, describes a regiment that was all but wiped from the face of the earth, and 100 years later no regiment in Turkey is called the 57th in memory.
The 57th memorial
  • Our last stop was Chunuk Bair – the highpoint of the peninsula and the whole point of the campaign. The NZ forces actually took the site at one point, but could only hold on for two days before a major counter attack drove them off, never to return. The main NZ memorial is here, with the memorial to Ataturk, and the Turkish losses.
Grant at NZ memorial
Chunuk Bair memorials
  • And so ended our tour of Gallipoli. It was a very cold day and two very long bus rides, but I would not have missed it. Gallipoli is a word seared into the minds of all Australians and New Zealanders and to put the horrors into context was extremely moving. I would recommend anyone do it – but not on the 25th April, just quietly when you can take time to hear the reasons for it all, and understand as best we can.
  • Turkey and the CWGC have spent a great deal of time and effort to create this National Park and memorials and the efforts then and now are appreciated.



Week 30 – Our last destination – Turkey

  • After a brilliant run of weather during our gap year we finally ran out of luck on Saturday and it was cold and raining in Marbella. I reviewed matters for our return to the “normal world”, while Adrienne sat in bed trying to work out what she could leave behind to make room for handbags and shoes ….

    These are just the new shoes – Can I pack my clothes in your suitcase??
  • On Sunday we really came to the conclusion that our time away was done – Adrienne ran out of vegemite …. there could be no greater sign!

    Tourists are gone, pop-up restaurants are gone, sun is gone, time for us to be gone
  • We had a few walks and managed to get wet, but on Tuesday we packed up our lovely house in Benehavis and headed for our last stop in Turkey.
  • The flight over to Istanbul on Turkish Air went without a hitch, (new aeroplane, excellent service), but then we got to Immigration at Istanbul airport – what a circus – the queue must have been 1.5 km long, and took 1.5 hours in a hot, confined space. But with the exception of four chaps from India who made the mistake of trying to push in front of Adrienne, (and were chastised severely and sent packing), most folks were well humoured and stoic.
We became BFF’s with other people in the queue – I’m expecting Christmas cards
  • The hotel is right in the heart of all the major sights – the Blue Mosque is right outside the restaurant window, spectacular viewing.
  • Wednesday morning we headed straight up the hill for the Hagia Sophia Cathedral / Mosque, (and now museum), and straight into the clutches of Sonny, (our new BFF and would be tour guide and carpet seller). We were ushered straight past the ticket queue, (Sonny knows people), and into the largest free-standing dome in the world, (prior to St. Paul’s cathedral in London). It was built by the roman emperor Justinian of solid stone sourced from all around the Mediterranean, (no expense spared),  and opened in 537 AD as a cathedral, having taken only 5 years to build. It was refurbished as a mosque in 1453 AD by Fatih Sultan Mehmedand, (having conquered this part of the Ottoman Empire), but still has many Christian mosaics. It is staggeringly huge and beautiful – a wonder of the world still.

    The Hagia Sophia from the massive square between it and the Blue Mosque
Adrienne and Grant in Hagia Sophia
The scaffolding is to facilitate preservation and restoration works – there is work going on everywhere in Istanbul – most impressed
Carafe carved from a single piece of marble, (I almost got the Chinese tourist out of the frame, but she is a good measure of the size)
Christian mosaics in a Muslim mosque – exquisite and so thankful the transformation from cathedral to mosque did not result in total destruction of the past
This photo really shows the enormity of the Hagia Sophia – all under one stone dome
  • But Sonny was on a mission – he had carpets to sell, so we were guided to his shop with promises of “best prices in Istanbul”. Try about 4 times what we would pay in Sydney, so after much negotiation and apple tea Adrienne settled on a silk scarf, (probably still $20 too much), and we headed to the nearest cafe for a few wines and a regroup. It is probably worth noting here that the shop and restaurant touts are ubiquitous – you cannot move 10 metres without at least one harassing you and wanting to be your new friend. Adrienne is now afraid to even stop and look, and will leave Turkey with almost no new acquisitions!! What riches are they loosing by being so in your face??
  • We then headed for the Topkapi Palace complex, (right next to Hagia Sophia). In the 15th century, it served as the main residence and administrative headquarters of the Ottoman sultans. It is a huge complex, the kitchens had to feed about 5000 people who lived in the complex, so they were impressive in their own right.
    Topkapi Palace front entrance
    I could fit in these pots – cooking on an industrial scale
    Adrienne in front of one of the many museums in the complex
    The pain and suffering this room must have seen ….
    Offset perhaps by the pleasures of this place nearby
    The Harem was a large complex on it’s own. This is the main room where the Queen held court – sumptuously decorated

    Typical in every room – large fire places and tiles from floor to domed ceilings
  • After these two complexes we were in need of food and drink, so retired to one of the dozens of restaurants on our little street.
Duvares was so good we went back 4 nights running – we even had our “own table” and no harassment!
  • Thursday was cold and wet, but there were things to see, and places to go, so we headed for the Blue Mosque, and straight into Sonny …. but we extracted ourselves with a few white lies and instead headed for the Basilica Cistern – a huge underground Roman water source held up with 336 marble columns covering 9,800 sq. metres, made even more famous in the James Bond movie “Skyfall”. This cistern held over 100,000 tonnes of water when full – it is staggering to think it was built in the 6th Century, but it was noted that many hundreds of workers lost their lives during the construction.
For all you James Bond fans
  • We then headed back to the Blue Mosque, (keeping an eye out for Sonny) – one of the largest mosques on earth, capable of holding 10,000 people, and called “Blue” due to the colour of most of the tiles on the inside. Outside it is a dull grey!
The courtyard in the Blue Mosque
Inside the Blue Mosque. It was packed so don’t quite know how I got a photo with so few people.
I got the head spins from looking up in these buildings, but what can you do!!
  • But the day was not done – next stop The Grand Bazaar – and I have to say “Why did we do that?”. It is the largest covered bazaar in the world with over 4000 shops peddling just about everything from gold to spices to leather goods to slaves. It was chaotic and has something like 300,000 visitors every day – it took us about 10 minutes of having every shopkeeper’s tout harass us to want out. Nothing has a price on it – everything is a haggle – we were not buying anything here.
Not for the fainthearted
The guard standing in the doorway with an Uzi sub-machine gun said this was real gold. I was not about to dwell!!
  • We headed back to Duvares for dinner – and a very nice Turkish red wine. Friday I headed for Gallipoli, but that is a blog on it’s own.



Week 29 – Cordoba – Islam and Christianity intertwined

  • Our last week in Spain, so with the weather starting to have a European winter feel to it, we headed out for our final road trip to Cordoba, an important Roman city and a major Islamic centre in the Middle Ages. The city now has a population of about 300,000 but at one stage was the biggest city, (almost a million), with the most important university, in the world. We were not disappointed and found some wonderful sights, but it is not quite as “alive” as Seville or Lisbon, (which could be a very good thing!!), and is probably a little down the tourist list after these cities and Granada.

    Cordoba streets are narrow as they are over a thousand years old
  • The highlight of Cordoba is without doubt the Mezquita-Catedral de Cordoba. The first grand mosque was built in 784 AD and was steadily enlarged until the Christians resumed control in 1236 AD during the Reconquista, and the building was converted to a Roman Catholic church, culminating in the insertion of a Renaissance cathedral nave in the 16th century. It is a fascinating and beautiful building and we took about 2 hours to explore it, but you cannot escape the fact that this is a total fusion of Islamic and Christian architecture and for us was almost confronting.
There are about 900 pillars and archways of Islamic origin
The pillars are almost endless in all directions – the footprint is huge
The guide to Mecca for prayers
But then, right in the middle, let’s insert a cathedral
With the most ornate and grand choir stalls
Throw in some Christian statues, having noted the lack of idolatry in the Islamic religion

And add over 50 saint’s chapels – all incredibly ornate – just infill some of the archways
And dig up the floor all over the place to entomb all these saints, martyrs and miscellaneous bishops and dignitaries
And with the obligatory, priceless “mummy, pappy, bling, bling” (you had to be there), you are in business!
  • So after about two hours of head-spinning beauty and incongruity we wandered outside into another beautiful Spanish square to view the undoubtedly Islamic walls and Christian bell tower. We have visited some amazing buildings both before the gap year and now during it, and the Mezquita is right up there in terms of must see.
Catholic bell tower through Muslim archway
  • Cordoba has many museums both large and small, and it was a small one that blew us away. The Galería de la inquisición is a museum dedicated to the torture inflicted in the name of the Inquisition, and the implements on display with graphic drawings as to their use, was both fascinating and the stuff of nightmares. The Spanish Inquisition started in 1478 and was not disbanded until 1834 – less than 200 years ago!!
  • The chair below has over 500 sharpened spikes and various ways of tightening the shackles to further impale the poor sod, (most often women!!). There were six rooms of “equipment” ranging from various models of the rack to simple things like thumb screws and rakes with sharpened spikes to rip the flesh off backs …..

Image result for gallery of the inquisition

  • We needed something a little less confronting so headed for Puente Romano, originally built in the first century BC, but the current bridge is rather more modern having been built by the Moors in the 8th century AD
Roman bridge with Torre de la Calahorra at the far end – built in the Middle Ages to guard the access to the bridge
Who doesn’t like a triumphal arch, (guards the other end of the Roman bridge)
  • Torre de la Calahorra was built by the Moors and has a museum dedicated to the science, medicine and philosophy of the Islamic scholars. These folk were about 800 years ahead of the then barbaric Christians, (and probably are still ahead of some of today’s Pentecostal nut jobs in terms of their thinking on social justice), and the displays are a testament to their advanced thinking and education
    Surgical tools over 1000 years old

    Cordoba from the Tower. The skyline is dominated by the Mezquita
  • We had a lovely apartment. Cordoba is very “Middle Eastern” in that the streetscape is rather bland but when we could see inside the doors there were beautiful courtyards
Our courtyard
And next door
Especially for our “Camino de Santiago” friends Richard and Carolyn – one of the paths passes here – anyone for 2021??
  • Right next to the Mezquita is the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, (Spanish for “Castle of the Christian Monarchs”), also known as the Alcázar of Córdoba, is a medieval alcázar located in the historic centre of Córdoba. The fortress served as one of the primary residences of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon. The gardens are quite beautiful, and in the tower there are a number of large third century Roman mosaics found during renovations nearby in the Plaza de la Corredera.
Yes, another bloody castle!!
The alcazar from the gardens
The gardens from the tower
Adrienne’s check pants bum with one mosaic
The portico in the tower was built around the original Roman city walls – the doorway on the left cracked me up – why???
I can’t take her anywhere – is there any fruit safe from Adrienne’s foraging?
  • Cordoba has taken great pains to build anything new sympathetically with their history. Cordoba is a city drenched in history and like many others our advice is to see it and appreciate it as we did.
A Roman temple integrated with the city administrative centre
  • We headed back to Benehavis for the last few days of our stay in Spain. We have done some more long walks along the beach in Marbella and where are the tourists!!! It seems that last Saturday was the last day of the tourist season. The beach was empty, many of the pop-up restaurants have been dismantled and the beach chairs and umbrellas are gone. Time for us to head home we think ….

    The world’s loneliest life guard


Week 28 – A place in the winter sun

  • With only three weeks to go in our gap year we decided to have a quiet week and find some different walks around Marbella. As the photos show the tourists are few and almost all are baby boomers like us. But the weather is really nice – sunny and low 20’s so it’s still very pleasant.
Marbella – a few weeks ago this beach and waterfront was pumping – not much demand now for sunbeds and umbrellas – we baby boomers prefer a walk and then a cafe for beer and rosado
Fuengirola – the English place in the winter sun, but not many tourists left here either
Castillo Sohail near Fuengirola – 10th century Moorish castle – makes the walk rather more interesting than Kellyville park
Playa San Pedro – same story, but at least we could get a table!
  • We really feel for the dozens of Africans who walk up and down the beaches all day, laden with cheap knockoff handbags, beachwraps, sunglasses and other cheap junk trying to earn a living off the tourists. In the last few days we have seen them becoming more desperate as there are few folks lying on the beach, and less interested in their wares. I think many are in for a long winter until the weather warms up in April.
    Endless cheap knockoffs

    How many cheap handbags can a girl want !!!
  • We have done some walks around Benahavis and found another country walk yesterday. It was reminiscent of the Camino and was a nice change from walking the waterfronts. The local councils in Europe put a lot of effort into the walking trails – they are clean and well marked and make it so easy to head off without fear of getting lost.
The irrigation canal like most local rivers was dry
I have no idea why Adrienne took a jacket – it was about 23oC!!
But then a Spanish river with water flowing – quite a change
  • All in all a very relaxing week – if walking 10 – 12 km and swimming each day can be called relaxing, but we have both lost a number of kgs on our gap year and are determined to go home fitter and healthier than when we left.
  • Next week we are heading for Cordoba, our last road trip, and a day trip to Gibraltar if the weather is ok.

Week 27 – Roadtrip to Lisbon

  • A month before we return home to Sydney,  so with time running out we headed off for a week in Lisbon, Portugal. We stopped for lunch in Faro on the Algarve – we must have gone in the tradesman’s entrance – all a bit run down, but we found a nice restaurant in the harbour and headed out via a far more attractive part of town.
  • We expected Lisbon to be old, a little tired, and somewhat sleepy compared with some of the bigger European cities – how wrong could we be – Lisbon is pumping!! We discussed this with a taxi driver, (most speak good English), because we saw many places from the outside, but the queues to get into the main attractions were just way too long for us. He told us that the explosion in tourism really only started a few years ago and many are still hesitant to employ more people – sadly this meant that we left many euros unspent, including restaurants we actually left because the service is so slow.
  • The first two days were showery so we took two day passes on the tourist buses and saw a lot of Lisbon – it is a beautiful city full of magnificent boulevards, gardens, fountains and buildings – but has odd areas of urban decay and rampant graffiti – add this to often chaotic parking and you have a city that is not quite aligned in it’s self image, but is definitely on the up and worth a visit.
Padrão dos Descobrimentos – monument to the Portuguese explorers – they are rather proud of the likes of Vasco da Gama
Belem Tower – medieval defensive fort at mouth of Lisbon port – note queue across entry bridge on left – Adrienne started thinking Morandi bridge collapse so we did not venture in
Jerónimos Monastery – World heritage listed Gothic monastery – queue was about 200 meters long, hardly moving, and there was a storm coming – we reluctantly got back on the bus
Arco da Rua Augusta – what’s not to like about a triumphal arch to enter the old city!! We had lunch in this square every day – it is beautiful – surrounded by an ornate portico and great restaurants that employ staff!!
We added a few grams back to the waistlines with some fabulous treats, and they have Pauls Boulangeries – baguettes to tempt the strictest diet. The famous Portuguese tarts, (bottom right),  are delicious.
Elevador de Santa Justa – built in 1902 – queue out the door, (so no visit for us), but still a stunning construction and view over the old city
  • So we didn’t get into some places, but that gave Adrienne more time to trawl through the endless shoe and leather handbag shops ….
  • Portugal is cheaper than Spain in many ways – we had some lovely lunches with a couple of glasses of very nice wine each for about 45 euro all up.
  • We found a number of supermarket wines for 5 euros that are really very good – their Syrah pushed Portugal into second place in my European wine order of merit list. (No one will pass Puglia Primitivo …)
Luscious brownie and tangerine sorbet – all for 4 euros after a very nice “modern” fusion lunch
  • Thursday we headed for the Fado museum. Fado is a distinctly Portuguese style of music originating in the late 1800’s in shady lanes and houses of ill repute. It is now very mainstream but has had a very interesting evolution. Adrienne now has a “best of” CD so be warned – if I was to suggest “sounds a bit like” Edith Piaf you will get the drift.
  • We then headed for Castelo de S. Jorge, (11th-century, hilltop Moorish castle and royal residence with palace ruins and archaeological museum), but who would have thought – an entry queue stretching down the hill for about a hundred metres!! Did we need to queue for another castle – afraid not – we headed back to the square, did lunch, and went shoe shopping.
    I’m sure it is a nice castle but after Ghent and the Italian castles we don’t feel the need to queue for more
    Odd brand name if you are Australian …. but nice leather shoes made in Portugal for 35 euros

    Portuguese food is very heavily slanted to seafood and there are shops dedicated to canned fish – there are cans of sardines going back to 1916! It is a real “thing” to have artistic cans.
  • Friday was set aside for a trip to Sintra – one of the premier tourist destinations with spectacular castle and palaces. We headed for the train station, (don’t drive to Sintra, no parking), and OMG – the queue for tickets just to get there stretched around the station and out the door – the quick decision was “stuff this” so we headed for the Oceanário de Lisboa.
  • This is the largest aquarium in the world with ocean habitats for sharks, rays, penguins and tropical fish and is well worth a visit. These folks are utterly devoted to preserving the seas and sea life and the aquarium is a testament to their work and research. Their enthusiasm is palpable and make it a wonderful experience.
The main tank is 9.5 million litres – the figure bottom centre is a diver cleaning the sand with a vacuum cleaner
The rays actually show off by coming to the glass and pausing for photos
They have an active sea otter breading program – these otters showoff like crazy – they hold food in their forearms and lie on their backs to eat it
The rays all stay by the glass where the children are
Sunfish can grow to about 2 tonnes – this bloke wasn’t there yet but was still about 1.5 metres across
Everywhere you look you see different vistas into the main tank. the small fish hang out in this area as the big fish can’t get in
A couple of moray eels just hanging out waiting for a feed to swim by
Estação do Oriente – Modern, Gothic-influenced railway hub near the World Fair exhibition site – another spectacular building
  • So we did not get into a number of premier historical sites due to long queues and the lack of staff in some places was irksome, but Portugal must be on any bucket list – it is being discovered so again – get there soon before the queues get even longer! The food and wine are brilliant value, and the leather goods are soooo cheap – what’s not to like!!

Week 26 – A wet start but then Seville

  • We started the week with a showery Saturday, but as we are determined to keep fit we did our 10 km Marbella walk anyway. We only found one person on the beach – a lonely sand sculptor.
Three weeks ago the corniche was pumping, now it’s a just a few hardy Scandinavian and English tourists
Just the activity for a wet Saturday – although not many crocodiles in Spain
  • Sunday we headed through a very heavy thunderstorm to Castellar de la Frontera near Gibraltar. The storm passed over and we had a lovely lunch and afternoon with Sonya and Tonio at Origen Castellar restaurant, (owned by Tonio’s brother). Sonya, (cousin of my friend Dorothy), is from Melbourne and husband Tonio from Spain. We had lots of delicious vegetable dishes, a welcome change from the very meat oriented Spanish “tourist” food.
L to R: Grant, Adrienne, Sonya, Tonio
  • Monday was back to sunny so we headed for the old town in Marbella. When we came to here in 2007 we found Plaza de los Naranjos and it is still a beautiful public space – gardens, orange trees and lots of lovely outdoor cafes and classy shops. It really is a most inviting place – we find ourselves lamenting daily about the short-sighted, mean spirited, politicians and bureaucrats in Australia who do not see the need or benefits of human scale, inviting, community social space in their town planning.
Adrienne in Plaza de los Naranjos
The small church next to the plaza
  • This week we headed off for another road-trip and drove up the steep highway past Ronda and on to Seville. We were blown away – Seville is a beautiful town, full of stunning buildings and huge, well kept gardens and public spaces.
  • We had a few adventures trying to find our apartment but decided to park and take a taxi – great idea, Adrienne – as the old town is a complete maze.
    Our street – not for out of town drivers

    Turn around and you have the “shack” at the bottom of the road
  • I could write pages and add all of the 50 odd photos I took, but to start with the “shack” – Seville cathedral is the largest Gothic cathedral on earth, and quite literally is head-spinning in it’s size and beauty – this really is a “bucket list” place.
    The front facade – mercifully not melted by acid rain like many in northern Europe
    No single photo can capture the immense size and grandeur
    One of the dozens of “smaller” side chapels and alcoves
    These objects are all solid gold with emeralds the size of dove eggs. They were “gifted” by the most generous Cardinal of Mexico – no mention of where he got all the gold and precious stones!! And there were many cabinets of these artefacts.
    Another side chapel – the carvings are all covered in gold leaf – Seville was the jump off point for Christopher Columbus – these sailors did well in claiming the Americas for Spain!
    The long axis – use the people in the bottom left corner as yardsticks to understand the sheer enormity of this magnificent edifice

    Adrienne is going to remodel the quad at James Ruse High based on the square outside the cathedral
  • We did the open top tourist bus – a glorious warm day about 28oC – what’s not to like about a city of beautiful buildings and wide tree lined boulevards?
Many of the city buildings have Moorish influence and are stunning – the Islamic builders of 800 years ago were certainly more far sighted and talented than today’s ISIS fools
Torre del Oro – built in 1220 A.D. – Gladys, (NSW Premier), would have had it down by 1240 A.D. – lucky Seville is not in Sydney
  • Next up – Plaza de Espana – and to suggest that Adrienne “was going left AND right” is a complete understatement – this is a landmark building lined with ceramic tiles representing every province of Spain, and just blew us away. One photo cannot do it justice so have attached a video. This is a city of 700,000 in a country that has struggled economically in recent times, but it is proud and vibrant and we have fallen in love with Seville!! Please watch the video.
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Still in use for government departments
The view looking out from the centre – the Spanish love a fountain framed by a portico, (and so do I)
Your intrepid writer is sitting here looking like a twat because we are quite proprietorial about the Camino de Santiago and we departed from Sarria in Lugo province, (bottom centre)
Looking back to the centre portico
  • We then walked into the Parque de Maria Luisa – defined on google as “Sizeable, prominent park featuring scenic plazas with landscaped gardens, plus fountains & monuments” – and nature girl was in heaven
No, I can’t build this in our backyard
Or this ….
Or one of these …
  • But after all this we arrived back in the old town and I could not resist –
“The Barber of Seville” (see opera)
Grant – I hummed Rossini while getting the grey locks cut – crass but enjoyable, especially because he spoke more English than the bloke in Ostuni!!
  • After such a huge day we needed beer and red wine so we went in hard, (channelled Bruce and Paul), and found a place that served good Italian food with loads of atmosphere. Great pizza and even some Italian beer.
It’s only been operating since 1386 – but the pizza was really good
  • The next morning was planned to be the “Royal Alcazar of Seville”, reputed to be the finest Moorish palace outside of the Alhambra, but I’m afraid the outside photo is all we got – the queue was about 2 hours long, and we don’t do that sort of time in the hot sun …
Check the queue and it went about 200 meters back around the corner – we should have booked on line!
  • So we sat in a cafe on our street and people watched. I have to say we saw a number of “old people” in tour groups, and we thought the poor sods looked like groups of walking cadavers – being dragged about while being force-feed endless info they would never remember – all when they would rather just have a glass of rioja and a sit down … do they know where they are and what day it is? We are so happy to have made the decision to travel when we are physically and mentally able to appreciate it all at our own pace, but we’ll cover that in our reflection piece in a few weeks.
  • We did some shopping, (who would have thought), and headed for home through the spectacular gorges below Ronda. We have a few rest days and next week are off to Lisbon in Portugal on a week long road trip.


Week 25 – Visitors, rest and planning the last weeks

  • We spent a busy weekend with Georgina and Rachel – the last visitors during our gap year. We have had the pleasure of sharing our adventures with many of our family and friends, and we are sure there will be lots of fun and experiences revisited over a primitivo or rioja in years to come. We still have 5 weeks before heading home but the planning for our next “gap year” is underway!! 2021 based in France is looking good – pencil it in.
  • It was only 44 km up to Ronda, but with a very slow scooter holding up traffic on the windy road the whole way we needed a beer “settler” on arrival. Ronda was pumping with tourists – like everywhere we have been it seemed so much busier than when we visited in 2007.
LtR: Rachel, Adrienne and Georgina on the bridge between “old” and “new” Ronda
The spectacular bridge from below in the hanging gardens, but the lookout is packed
  • Ronda is also home to a very traditional bullfighting arena, but I am happy to say it is only used one day a year. As our visit did not coincide with the day we filled in for the bulls ….
The toros preparing for battle
The intrepid matador taking guard …
Apparently only one matador has been killed in the Ronda arena – bloody miracle looking at the size of them compared with the bulls!
The “old” bridge in the foreground but typical southern Spanish landscape in the background – hot, dry and tough on farmers
  • Sunday was always going to be a big day as we headed for the Alhambra palaces in Granada, and did not start well – we headed straight into heavy rain and when a red light started flashing on the dashboard we worked out that our diesel car required something called AdBlue or it would stop – between google and some keen observation we found that all servos have a huge tank of the stuff and we were back in business, (drivers blood pressure going back to normal).
  • But there was more – between the inadequate arrival instructions from the Sixthrills tour company,(inadequate because they failed to note that we could not actually park at their meeting point and received a 60 Euro fine for following the GPS and driving into the restricted square!!),  the 15 euro per person “rebooking fee” for when we finally got to the meeting point an hour late and had to take a later tour, and the final “snafu” when the guide was denied entry to a major section of the castle, the day did not seem to be heading for a success.
  • The guide then called the tour off, (much to our delight, but lots of anger from the rest of the tour group – and we are still waiting for the promised refunds), and we then headed off for the “Kiwis go large” jogging tour of the Alhambra. On our own we were able to head off and see a large section of the spectacular palaces and gardens – this is a truly beautiful, mystical place – the Moorish buildings and the fabulous gardens are stunning. At every turn I could “hear” Loreena Mckennitt singing “The Mystic’s Dream”.
The Alcazaba fort
King Carlos V palace
The courtyard inside the Carlos V palace
Georgina being artistic in the gardens
Granada framed by Moorish palace window
Inside the Paseo de las Torres – the Arabic carvings are exquisite
The summer Palace and Generalife Gardens
Alhambra from the Summer Palace
Courtyard gardens in the Summer Palace
Started badly – finished very well
  • Given the number of things that we had overcome in a few hours the day was outstanding. Put the Alhambra on your bucket list, but book months early to get into the Nazrid Palaces and do it on your own, (no need for tour guides and lots of forgettable statistics) – this is a place for seeing not hearing about.
  • By popular demand we dedicated the rest of this week to walking, swimming and lying on the beach. We have found a walk along the beach into Marbella that takes 90 minutes there and back which is perfect.
  • We have planned a couple of roadtrips for the next two weeks – Seville next week and Lisbon the following week.

Week 24 – Road trip to Cadiz and Jerez

  • Sunday we headed up the coast to the white hill town of Frigiliana. The whole town is on board with the white town theme, making it a most attractive place, so despite being a hot day, it was well worth the drive and walk from the car park. The locals have, (very wisely), made it a real art destination so there are art galleries by the dozen. Adrienne resisted the temptation but we found a nice restaurant in lovely shaded square and whiled away the afternoon with a few local rosados and a very nice rack of lamb.
Beats the view at Kellyville Woolies fruit and vege section anytime
Adrienne found some ideas for Anna’s new courtyard – I hate to think how heavy our bags might get!
  • Next day was still hot, so we headed for Playa Cabopino beach near Marbella. It is on the “25 most amazing beaches on the Costa del Sol” list. To quote the webite “The fine golden sand and the calm, clean water, makes it the perfect family destination.” The beach description is true, but given a large proportion of the beach is zoned “Naturalistic” there were more “willies” on display than in a Scottish phone book!! (I wanted to don a batik bandana and join the throng, (pun intended), but Adrienne suggested I wasn’t up to it …). So we walked for about an hour on the boardwalks across the dunes and up and down the beach – where is a set of scorecards when you need them ???
Boardwalks to allow regeneration – no photos on the beach – some things are best not recorded as you cannot un-see naked grey hippies.
  • Tuesday and our first roadtrip. Destination Cadiz and Jerez about two hours from Benehavis. We drove past Gibraltar but did not go in – we heard the English border guards are very over-zealous in their checks – apparently we are all busting to get to England and overstay, while importing packets of cheap cigarettes to avoid the english taxman!! It seems no one has told them people are wanting to get out of the UK, (see Brexit fiasco), not in!!
  • Found our very nice apartment in the old town of Cadiz and went for a walk. This is a lovely “old town” with gardens, beaches and public spaces all accessible within a few hundred metres.
  • We visited an exhibition in the Santa Catalina Castle dedicated to the Cadiz Explosion in 1947. The Submarine Defence Base nearby was actually a facility used by the Germans in WW2 and over 200 MT of TNT and amatol blew up destroying not only the base but a large part of the town around it. Some 150 people died and the photos look like the aftermath of Hiroshima – the town was flattened. Interestingly the military enquiry findings were never published and were “lost” in a mysterious fire.
    Playa de la Caleta Beach with former spa in the centre
    Santa Catalina Castle – built to protect Cadiz when it was one of the richest trading ports in the world.
    Parque Genoves – beautiful botanic gardens on the seafront

    There are two Moreton Bay figs this big – stunning trees
  • Wednesday was overcast and showery so wandered around the old town. There was a huge cruise ship in and we guess the departure ports were all English – Cadiz felt like the Blackpool Bingo Hall – all grey hair, bad teeth, socks and sandels, and a gridlock of mobility scooters.
    Old city walls and gates

    We climbed the tower – they built the fortifications because they were sick of being raped and pillaged by the English and Dutch – not much has changed over the years!!
  • Thursday dawned with thunderstorms and we headed for Jerez and the dancing horses. I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy what could have been a little “circus-like”, but it was a show with beautiful horses, skilful riders, and very little “stunt work”. Sure there was one act that had horses doing some tricks on their back legs, but the rest was about skilful stepping, (dancing), and coordination that was really quite impressive.
Fundación Real Escuela Andaluza Del Arte Ecuestre
The show arena, (to the left), is in the grounds of a stately home, surrounded by parklands and a huge equestrian facility.
  • Friday is a domestic chores day with a bush walk. Our niece, Georgina, (and friend Rachel), are joining us for a second time tonight, and we need to rest up ahead of trips to Ronda and the Alhambra Palaces in Granada.

Week 23 – Our final destination – Southern Spain

  • After a quiet last day in Normandie we headed for Paris airport thinking we had plenty of time as it was Sunday morning. We had an easy drive, but then we got to Paris and roadworks, (with attendant traffic jam), all around the airport!! While Adrienne spotted and translated the completely inadequate car rental return signage we finally found the Hertz yard, grabbed our bags, handed the keys to the bloke, (suggested all was in order, but over to him), and ran for the terminal. We made the flight to Malaga with about 10 minutes to spare.
  • We found our new house in La Heredia near Benehavis without any problem and moved in. The house is large, has all the facilities and fabulous views over the area and out to the Mediterranean sea.
La Heredia from our balcony
Views all the way to Gibraltar
  • We are here for 8 weeks so spent a couple of days investigating the new ‘hood. Headed down to Estepona and found a lovely old town with heaps of alleyways, shops and restaurants. It also has a large Carrefours on the outskirts for weekly groceries – no Italian wines but four Australian.
A shady square in Estepona
Can you imagine Sydney councils allowing the blocking street access so restaurants can spill out into the streets!!
  • We have two good sized public pools in the village, so I have taken the opportunity to get back into daily exercise regime. I’m the only one there in the mornings so no need to dodge other bods. Adrienne prefers our terrace plunge pool.

    Only a few steps to the pool
Dawn Fraser eat your heart out – this women can knock out 20 lengths in minutes!!
  • Our local beach is about 10 minutes drive. It has been quite windy these last few days but that does not deter the northern Europeans – they lie out in the sun no matter what! We’ll try again tomorrow – the weather forecast for the next month is mid 20’s and sunny so plenty of time to add to our tans.

    We walked along the beach and retired to a nice bar for drinks and pizza
  •  We have found dozens of walks around the area – hiking seems to be a real thing here so we drove over to Benehavis and headed off up a trail. We walked for an hour and a half and did not see another soul, but the trail was well marked so we weren’t concerned.
Not quite the Camino but this is Southern Spain
Over 300 sunny days a year does not lead to rainforest – the landscape is dry and barren
I guess this “river” flows occasionally, but not at the end of summer
  • Our new house is great, and we’ll get into exploring next week. We went to the white hill town of Casares today – it had great raps in Trip Advisor, but what a disappointment – very small, and not a lot to see. Great views of the surrounding area but does not beckon us for a return.

    Casares, (with Adrienne’s bum as usual)
  • So instead of absorbing the village ambience we went to the huge shopping centre just out of Marbella and bought new running shoes. The Camino de Santiago was pretty tough on shoes so ours were just about out of bounce. Is it just me or do all modern running shoes look like they were designed in a post apocalyptic art class?