Follow our travels through France, Italy, Switzerland, Vietnam, Spain and Portugal

Never let the Truth get in the Way of a Good Story!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Barcelona again, Dubai, Singapore and Home!!!

October 12, 13, 14

Very fast train from Madrid Atocha station, picked the worst possible time to try to get there as a massive military display was taking place, closing all main streets in the district! At one memorable moment we were underneath the station in tunnel, with the GPS happily announcing that we were at our destination! Grrr..
Barcelona was extremely quiet the second time around. We found a cosy little bnb near the station, and spent a few hours exploring this side of town and nervously spending our remaining euros. There is some stunning architecture here, especially a modern building looking very much like a bullring.

Flight home was not memorable: a 9 hour stopover in Dubai, where it was still 34º at midnight, catching a few hours sleep on the 'comfy chairs', only to be jolted awake at 5.30 by the muslim call to prayer.....

Short stop in Singapore, only to be told to start queuing up almost straight away, and everything had to be re-checked and scanned, very frustrating. I decided to take my sleeping pill as soon as we were back on board.... I woke up over Australia with stir fry all down my shirt. Apparently I insisted that I was awake and hungry, but didn't quite make it to dessert!

And so to Tullamarine- Bliss! Except... 'Sorry, there is some luggage which has gone missing. We suspect it is still in Dubai.' Well, there had to be a third disaster, we reasoned. As it was, after waiting around for a couple of hours, and being told to go home and they would courier the luggage to us when it turned up, it was 'discovered' in a warehouse at the airport somewhere.

So, what did we learn here?
*We have always been lucky in our travels, but it couldn't last forever.
*Don't let a setback (or two) ruin the trip.
*Speak nicely to Consular officials and Insurance assessors.
*Get off the tourist trail occasionally, for your sanity.
*Stilnox tablets work very well.
*Do not rely on GPS for everything- have a backup plan.
*Trust people- they are usually good, and helpful towards tourists in difficulties!

Monday, December 1, 2014


October 11

Back in sunny Spain, first to Salamanca, then to Segovia. Both beautiful cities, amazing architecture and history, but to be honest we have had enough and are looking forward to coming home (not the 27 hours in an airplane part) and catch up with everyone. I shudder to think what my golf swing is going to be like....
The predominant building material here is sandstone, which is used to great effect, the lines are very clean, and there seems to be little mortar used. The Roman Aqueduct at Segovia is 2000 years old, made from huge granite slabs. An unbelievable piece of engineering, still in good order today, and dominates the town. "What did the Romans ever do for us, eh?" How about a continuous water supply from a source 18 kilometres away?
Off to Madrid in the morning to have discussions with Europcar about costs for car repairs, then on the Very Fast Train to Barcelona. We fly out the next day.

Adios, over

and (maybe) out!


October 9 & 10

Well, you won't believe this (we hardly believe it ourselves)- we got robbed again! This time the car's rear window was smashed and the GPS taken, right outside our Oporto apartment. Oh well..... So after police reports, etc, and new car from Europcar (who were very good) we were off on our way again to Salamanca. Rhonda was all for flying straight home there and then but we thought it through and here we are in a great apartment next to the Plaza Mayor.
Sadder but wiser, although this time it was just bad luck, we think.
Here are a few shots of Porto city, featuring some of the ceramic tiled walls that are a feature of the city, and the Douro river.

Monday, November 24, 2014


October 6,7,8

Hello - hic! - from Oporto, home to the wonderful port industry. As a long-time port, muscat and tokay drinker I felt the need to get in touch with my spiritual side. I wasn't disappointed! Fabulous booze, so much to sample, such little time. And we had a driver, too. Can heartily recommend it to any prospective travellers.

The strange part about this part of the country is its strong British connection. The port wine was a British development, solving the difficult problem of how to get good wine across the channel without it going off (after the French decided not to sell to the poms any more). Simply add copious quantities of "brandy", in actual fact rocket fuel, a bit like grappa, 70% alcohol and it gets better with age as well as travelling well. So now the port here is full of English -sounding names like Grants and Taylor's. Are the portugese the only Europeans who are friendly with England? They are the only ones we have come across.
We also had a couple of days in Coimbra, a lovely university town, again set on top of a hill. (Oh, my aching knees!) the students wear black, with a gown, while attending classes. It was like graduation day every day. A feature here is an old nunnery which was built on low ground, very unusual for them, and which promptly started to fill up with water from a nearby river. Their solution was prayer, with limited success, and building extra levels just above the rising water, which kept the girls dry until the last one died in the 18th century. They had a new one built up the hill subsequently, which is now full of silent, chaste and dentally-challenged sisters (they are famous for their pastries, on which they apparently do a lot of product testing, albeit silently).
Tomorrow, back to Spain!


Lisbon & Coimbra

October 2, 3,4,5

Time for an update- it's been a while! Evora to Lisbon via the A2- 120km/h most of the way, when Rhonda wasn't looking. It's one of many toll roads that I wanted to avoid, but in the end I relented in order to cross the mighty Lisbon bridge, a 3 or 4 kilometre engineering marvel. It, together with the Christ statue (like Rio's) dominate the skyline of the city. 
We had a cosy little apartment in Belem, a trendy area on the water with lots of cafés, bakeries and of course castles and monasteries! But the real highlights were to ride the #28 tram through the Lisbon hills, around impossibly sharp corners and coming across breathtaking views on the way, and to finally swim in the Atlantic! My bucket list is getting shorter, only the Indian and Arctic to go. I'm counting Bass Strait as the Southern ocean, by the way.

 Now we find ourselves in Coimbra, (quimbra) a university town about 200 kms north of Lisbon. It is reputedly the second oldest university in Europe after Padua, although this is hotly debated! The students here wear black robes all the time, and possibly still speak in Latin. I'll ask one tomorrow about the state of Caesar's health, as that is all I can remember from school. Interestingly, it seems they avoided the big earthquake here (1755 if you have been paying attention) and put it down to their enthusiastic efforts in the inquisition , whereas certain other places felt the wrath of the almighty for some shoddy work in that department.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


September 30/ October 1
Bona dia!
Evora is a very interesting town. Our hotel is a former bull-ring, we are told, and there are more students here than tourists for a change! Our cafe of choice is a vegetarian establishment where you pay by the weight of the food you have chosen. I had a meringue and a fairy cake! I am pleased to report that the midriff situation is as forecast- no muffin-tops here. Roman influence is very

strong here, notably including an aqueduct carrying water from kilometres away.

Had a short trip to another hillside village/fortified castle today. Monsaraz was a medieval castle, fought over variously by the Moors and the Christians, and given as a thank you gift to the Knights Templar. Dan Brown, eat your heart out! It looks out on the (apparently) largest reservoir in Europe. It is hard to know if these facts are true, we just nod wisely and move on. It is certainly the biggest body of water we have seen in Europe. The area also features many megaliths from the Stone Age. We had to check them out- a little underwhelming, to be honest!
Off to Lisbon tomorrow.

Monday, November 17, 2014


Ola, mi amigos! If you can notice a change in my accent it's because we are now in Portugal, home of nandos chicken and piri piri sauce. The experts say that while the Spanish are proud and passionate (like Hawthorn supporters), the Portuguese are melancholy and morose (like Bulldogs supporters). They once ruled the seas, they discovered much of the new world- then they lost it all. The massive Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 was the sealer. Still it's a very interesting country, not unlike the Australian bush in some parts, especially where the roads are lined with gum trees as far as the eye can see. One photo from today has a stand of eucalypts next to an old windmill! Don Quixote meets Ned Kelly.
The south, the Algarve, is a collection of beach towns of varying types. The one we went to today was a cross between Torquay and Philip Island. Things are very quiet now, but in July and August the place is crazy, apparently.

We travel to Evora next - a university town with some historical buildings, including the obligatory Roman temple (which until recently was the town slaughterhouse!) It's come up alright for the tourists, though. It's also the town of bare midriffs, which makes for a refreshing change. I may bare mine tomorrow!
Obrigado, hombres.