A Travellerspoint blog

Barcelona to London to Hong Kong to Adelaide to Melbourne

We bid a fond farewell to our Hotel Vrabac hosts. A lovely place to stay in the Barri Gotic in Barcelona. We would stay here again, the only difference we desire is a kitchen as the Barcelona market just begs you to cook!.

We can be brave, but we decided to taxi to the airport rather than trudge up an incline to the aerobus port with our over laden baggage.

The taxi drive was worth it as we drove through another part of town which was pretty as. Even the airport was new and shiny.

Then the flights began. Barcelona to Heathrow then a 7 hour wait. London to Hong Kong-a good flight, we even slept some, then a 6 hour wait. However, at Hong Kong we tracked down the travellers lounge and for a worth-it fee we had access to shower, a complimentary drink, free beer coke etc, free chinese buffet meal ... and a massage, and I happened to catch the two goals Germany scored against England. Hong Kong to Adelaide then an hour's wait. How could we have been so cruel to ourselves? At Heathrow, a 1 hour was endured to get passport checked and admitted to the country/airport.

On the flight from Hong Kong to Adelaide two toddlers were not happy chappies for approximately 2 hours from take-off as we and others were trying to seize some zzz's, then on and off throughout the flight they would signal they were awake and not happy! We also sat next to the most communicative couple we have ever met. He and she talked non stop, I kid you not, for the flight. True, they did not talk when they slept but they would have if they could and they rarely slept. They were so loud too, they were catching up on business before a meeting in Melbourne, they seemed to be business colleagues with slightly different opinions hence the tension with elevated voices. If only they had spoken English then at least we could have been entertained!

We feel replete, our holiday complete so we are happy to be home. I even got through customs because I did not declare my sense of humour, phew!

On reflection, what would I do different: maybe stay 2 or 3 nights in a hilltop medieval town like Les Baux de Provence or Gordes. Even though they are tourist towns they don't congest until about 11am and the hordes thin considerably by 6pm. With the long daylight hours it leaves much time. Our B&B hosts were great but the B&Bs lack kitchens although it did allow us to just concentrate on seeing the areas. Make room for Aix en Provence. Book earlier for the excursion we could not do so as to get a seat. In St Remy one enthusiastic chap offers to take small groups at dusk, around 10pm, on a spotlighting expedition to see the European Eagle Owl, Europe's biggest avian predator, and other wildlife. We booked in but there were not enough takers. The advantages of hindsight.

But now we are so looking forward to catching up with our kids (including Ben), family and our special friends.

PS: thank you Missy, you were respectful, trusting and non judgemental. A true friend.

Endofblog: a real real bummer.
Epilogue: maybe next summer.

Posted by lesnkaren 16:49 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Barcelona: June 25

sunny 26 °C

A leisurely breakkie followed a slow and difficult wake up. We decided upon another slow day: lunch at the market, Karen to shop and wander. I to chill out to some music. I have had enough of crowds, not of Barcelona, just crowds.

After breakfast Karen said this was our last full day. This is what I said back to her:
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I found a choccie shop; you may recall the Spanish had something to do with bringing chocolate to the west. Following a lead I tracked down a chocolate shop 'xcocoa' and it turns out the shop was in the neighbouring street. The owner/person selling didn't speak a word of English but she knew what I wanted. I pointed in English, she nodded in Catalan and several chocolates were whisked away to a better home. There were creamy, and one in particularly had a yummitif coating of cinnamon and something else.

We ensured we would lunch at la Boqueria. I confess I made a judgement based on first sight. I wasn't impressed with the look of the food. We grabbed a couple of stools as soon as they became available. You sit round the bar like you are at a bar. Our not so dapperly dressed waiter (he looked like he was just one of the road gang) suggested a plate of their peppers. Just peppers fried. The caramelisation of the peppers was the tasty sauce so to speak.

Peppers de la Boqueria:
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We also tried their combination seafood plate. Guess: the seafood was fresh, and we had razor clam, monkfish, prawn, little octopi, mussels, clams. The beer was good (any cold beer would be good). One of the cooking guys was keen to make sure we had our bags in front of us and protect us from pickpockets. I think they grow pickpockets here. The Mercat de la Boqueria is definitely worth a visit when you go there soon.

After our lunch I got to chill out and Karen got to wander and backtrack and look and smell and try on and contemplate and imagine and plan all without a heavy hanger-on; her bloke.

However, I reckon Barcelona as a city is prettier in many ways than Paris. I find the architecture more varied and likeable. As for Gaudi, I know of no other but am keen to be educated. However Barcelona does not have the green parks, a bunch of trees on a stone or paved square can qualify to be called a parc in the B. Not a competition, just reflecting on the differences and similarities.

We siesta'd; getting real good at that. Then after showering off the humidity and sweat and a little grime ventured out to wander and probably to eat dinner. Upon our host's recommendation we elected to visit a place he thought cooked with a little Catalan flair.

We were the first there but within 5 minutes others followed. Has anyone noticed how I am a trendsetter the way I wear my glasses around my neck at times. In all the time away we have only seen one other person do the same.

Who is the so cool one eh?
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Anyway, the inspiration we drew from the restaurant was some small potatoes in a Roquefort sauce (we don't think that was Catalan but then what is). Karen liked the simple tapas (read as entree) which was white bean, a little pepper and tomato and a subtle tuna dressing we think. I finally got to try some goat. I liked it, lean, tasty, slightly gamey. The local wine we tried was very pleasant and before that we tried the house Sangria, again pleasant and cool. We don't really know if we got much Catalan but it didn't matter.

What every young Barcelona visitor drinks now:
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Karen, on the way home, had her last ice cream form her favourite Barcelona ice cream shop, Amoretti, we think this Franchise has stores here and in other countries

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Trying not to think of leaving (although we are ready to come home to our loved ones) we just had fun until sleep would wait no longer.

Posted by lesnkaren 04:35 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

Barcelona: June 24

sunny 26 °C

Remember in Hong Kong we arrived on the occasion of a festival and they held the Dragon Parade in our honour? Well, we arrived in Barcelona on the 23rd. That night Barcelona partied on until dawn with dancing, drinking and firecrackers. They say it is something to do with St John's day, (Sant Joan). Apparently fire symbolises a purifying and curative element. In the afternoon we witnessed the beginning of the festival with police escorting various locals and community groups through the streets. This included a small contingent of scouts with a little tacker running in front holding a stick and a perpetual flame. Every car passing by felt obliged to honk their horn. The celebration is also linked to the summer solstice. It did seem to be a lot of effort just to welcome us to this great city.

The fireworks persisted over the night. What puzzles me is that there wasn't the slightest sign of a hangover or a hard night on any of the faces of the young or less than young the following day. Perhaps their firewater is different here.

We have heard people comment on how Barcelonians pronounce the word Barcelona. To me it sounds like "bath-a-loner" and you are responsible for any visual imagery as you think those words. Point is we haven't heard it pronounced like that yet, although I am getting harder of hearing.

Our host explained that because of the late night, breakfast would start at 10 am instead of 9 am. That was okay with us. After a pleasant and contemplative breakfast we made an unusual decision to get on a tourist bus to see the city and some of the Gaudi sites. This is an on-off bus with several stops around the city. If you're quick enough or patient enough you can sit on the top level which has no roof.

I knew it was going to be a hot day. I looked up on the bus I noticed the seagulls and the swallows above not flapping their wings, they were just soaring on the thermal uprisings.

You have heard me whinging about crappy architecture across the planet and I think this Antoni Gaudi guy was onto something. I liked his sense of organic curvatures which are seen in various buildings across the city and in particular in Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell. I'm in love with this guy, really like his architecture and other designs.

Entrance to Parc Guell:
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View from Parc Guell, notice the tiles and curves:
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Harpist in Parc Guell:
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Sagrada Familia, the unfinished cathedral:
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Gaudi's residence in Parc Guell:

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This was like being beneath a scaly centipede:

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At the park we had been warned about the prevalence of pickpockets and we heard they were on task. We reckon on the train coming into Barcelona we outwitted a couple and we picked one or two at the park this day, sorry I should have said recognised one or two.

Back to the architecture, the French and Spanish along with Australians do ugly urban areas equally as well as each other. End of whinge.

We had decided we would reward our efforts in the hot sun with a walk through the market and a lunch at the bar. Today was a bank holiday (read that recovery day) and even the market was closed! Nostrils flared we just decided to follow them and instead ended up following our ears as we tracked down the source of what sounded like my new favourite instrument, a hang drum, and my second favourite instrument, the soaring tones of a clear female voice. As we turned the corner there they were playing. We bought a couple of CDs from this amateur couple. Later at a guesthouse when we bothered to read the cover and found the hang drummer had the name of Robert Garrett, was lanky and tall and bald, and looked freakishly like Peter's long lost brother.

Hangdrummer; I was entranced so I forgot to line up the camera well:

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We noticed diners on a terrace above them, noticed the menu was different to what we wanted but we were desperate for cold bubbles and some food. It turned out to be a ho-hum move for Karen although with one inspiration, and a good move for me. Karen's dish was accompanied with what we think was shaved dry roasted coconut. Quite yummy. I was taken by the menu item listed as codfish with burnt young garlic gratin. If anybody says "burnt young garlic" to me I am theirs. I will even wash your floors for a week.

We are fairly quick learners so after finishing this late lunch around four o'clock we hit home for a siesta.

Afterwards we rose for a walk and dinner in that order. A fairly long walk to the beach, it was hot and crowded but we felt we had to check it out. There were the usual market stalls; Africans selling sunglasses and bags and moving according to the flow of sales; dawdlers, lovers and cyclists and a reasonable police and municipal presence. They have a port police as well and you will love the writing on their cars. They are known as 'gardamolls' (I am not joking on this one).

Once we got to the beach it was crowded. We sussed out a small bar on the beach, grabbed a vacant table and began to realise that in the shade the breeze was quite cool. It was here that Karen fell in love with a Jamaican with a sugary minty kiss. His name was mojito. He was made of rum, ice, a bucket full of mint leaves, sugar and in this case a lemon. I settled for coke and then a beer.

Later in the Gothic quarter (Barri Gotic) we tracked down another tapas bar which turned out to be okay but a little disappointing. We did however draw inspiration. One of the tapas we tried was shaved fried artichoke leaves, interesting. Karen very much like the cava the barman recommended. We were sitting at the bar liked a couple of food and drink groupies. Later I tried the lemon sorbet with oruja ('Galician firewater' was written on the menu). We were offered a taste of this first and although similar to Slivovitz it was different. A quick chat to my friend at Wikipedia revealed it is made from grape skins, seeds and stalks after the grapes have been crushed for their juice. This was not the inspiration. Inspiration came from the way the orujo seemed to merge really well with the taste of slightly sweet lemon sorbet. Galician yummeralda.

Karen ordered some profiteroles which were a little ho-hum unlike the sherry which she really liked. The barman liked us so much afterwards he gave us a taste of their green herbal liqueur which had a likeness to Chartreuse. Not sure why he offered the couple next to us the same drink.

Around 10:30 we wandered back. The occasional firecracker was still to be heard and at 11 pm the church bells attempted to lullaby us into smiling sleep.

Posted by lesnkaren 07:20 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Perpignan to Barcelona: June 23

25 °C

Breakfast at 7:30. Oh, did you notice we did not have much to say about Hotel Ballandin. Not much to say. No complaints other than the coffee grindings they had gathered together from the next door tatoo-ist to offer as 'coffee' for breakfast. You don't have to be a coffee snob to know they came from a grungy floor.

Getting in to the carriage was easy. Getting into the wrong carriage was easier. Getting useful information from the attendant was difficult, language I guess. We heaved our cases into cabin 9 because we were booked into cabin 2. you don't know which cabin you are in until you are in the cabin. The French railways haven't thought of labelling the cabins on the outside yet. I was scared to get off and race to cabin 2 in the throng in case they thought we were leaving.

At the border town the French police did the passport check (I reckon the police were just celebrity hunting). Later Karen heroically rescued the cases at the border. She bravely took their smiles and nods as permission to hurry along the station to the other end of the train and remove the cases. They knew and stirred her and pretended to blow the whistle as she was hurrying along.

It was exceptionally relaxing on the train trip. I didn't have to drive so I could gaze mindlessly at the passing scenery and do those inner ooohs and aaahs.

View of the Mediterranean from the carriage:

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Heidi was right, we had too much baggage. From the Barcelona station we negotiated the subway well. Seems like the infrastructure and trains were borrowed from the French (or vice versa). However, the Barcelonians like stairs. The tourists with heavy cases most certainly do not.

We arrived at the metro station near our guesthouse a little late due to the hold up with a fare dodger in an earlier town. We then struggled into the daylight on the main street La Rambla just like skin divers surface for air when they have been pushing the limits. The street was busy but thankfully not like Hong Kong (yet). Our phones were slow to get reception and when they did the Barcelonian systems refused to co-operate with our global roaming. I asked an information booth guy something in English. What was the point. I pulled out the trusty iphone and pointed to text 'Mercat de la Boqueria' and he pointed in English in the right direction. Pointing in English does not indicate distance but it was a start.

Phew, we were actually close to the guesthouse so the trudging and hauling did not take long, just effort.

Our hosts was great. She and he helped us upstairs with our 'how long are you staying?' cases. We loved the room and the hosts and before long a sweeter shower has never been had before in all human history.

Vrabac guest house:
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Refreshed we determined to find lunch so we headed to the market across the street. Karen was fatiguing having almost skipped breakfast so the first thing we found was Starbucks. Turns out the food was good, a cut above our Lygon St experiince a couple of years ago. Her blood sugar up, my dose of nice coffee finally in my veins, we both felt better.

A few steps to the right as you exit takes you to the Mercat de la Boqueria. Heidi was right again, great market, lots of colours, lots of food, but we decided to return the next day when we had not had lunch. We tasted some chirozo; what's Catalan (they say it is a different language to Spanish) for 'yummificent'?

We walked La Rambla the main tourist drag and it is most definitely a tourist strip but it is a good start. Hit the port and the boats and the huge Christopher Columbus statue.

Flower fall against grey slate:
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The boat John and John and Ian and I have just bought:
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We located a 'tapas bar'. I located a cold beer.

Karen and her cava and her tapas snack:
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On the way back we chanced upon the Barcelona cathedral, Gothic and added to over the centuries. It was stunning; I think more so than Notre Dame. We spent some time there. A small mass or service was happening in one part and a christening in another before us as we sat. The atmosphere, the fact David would have loved the cathedral, the significance of the christening/baptism, the flute and guitar and singing overwhelmed us. We miss him so.

Cathedral:

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Prior to entering the chapel we were entertained by a trio. Still trying to work out how they got the piano there. They were fun. They were packing up as we left the cathedral.

Trio of fun:

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We noticed that late afternoon when you are in the shade it cools. There seems to be a constant breeze off shore and it is refreshing and cooling. Siestas are simultaneously sensible and restorative.

We wandered a little then decided to eat at a restaurant Ben and Heidi were happy with. They were open early. Fish soup, paella (I do make it better smugly said I), beer and cava (spanish sparkling white) later we wandered back as the night was slowly closing in.

What's Catalan for bonne nuit?

Posted by lesnkaren 03:16 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Caux to Perpignan: June 22

sunny 23 °C

We farewelled Mark the night before. He took a 9Euro flight to England to do some training.

We farewelled Michael and Alfie this morning after another filling breakfast of croissant, half a pain du chocolate, some baguette, some yoghurt and fresh local melon. Le Yum. Alfie gets excited when he sees guests coming down the stairs with their bags because he figures a car trip for him is on the cards. He coped.

We decided to travel down to Perpignan along the motorway as our check in was 12:30, we were travelling slower due to the tyre repair, we wanted time in Perpignan, and most importantly we worried about how long it would take to do the administrative stuff we are told the French do thoroughly when the car was returned.

When you next go to Europe, hire a car and experience some appropriate anxiety about driving, fear not. The French motorways are usually 3 lanes, right most for slowcoaches and trucks, middle lane for cruisers and left most lane for those that sit at the limit of 130 kph or beyond. Protocol is that when you overtake you immediately return to the slower lane. If you wish to go slow and take in some views or not be hassled by overtaking, just sit behind a slower truck. No one will hassle you.

So 2 hours later we arrived in Perpignan to have the usual trouble finding a park to unload the bags at the hotel before returning the car. Fortunately I went down the wrong way again (go figure) and a tiny toot from a blue helmeted man got my attention. He babbled in French and then I sheepishly said "je suis australie". He smiled it became clear with gestures I had goofed. He allowed me to complete a u-turn despite a bus driver looking put out and gesturing at me. Then in the middle of the u-turn we found the external return your Europcar rental car park that the French never think to advise you of. So, clever silly me and nice cop together solved the park and unload baggage problem. The hotel was 50 metres from the Europcar agency.

We had determined to purchase some cabin luggage for Karen 'cause we put on a few pounds of excess luggage. Les pretending he was having the best fun in the world shopped with Karen. She was merciful, stumbled into a shop within 10 minutes and bought an Aussie brand of luggage. Within the next 5 minutes we happened upon a bar for lunch known as the Australian Bar.

Australian Bar at Perpignan:
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Salade and beer was pretty reasonable. The bar was decked out with some aussie flags and some french waiters who spoke no English. We should a spoken oz-slang at 'em. Mighta worked. Don't get me wrong, they were bonza frogs all smiley and helpful. Almost as wide mouthed as Kermit too.

We also purchased some cakes and quiche for eating in the hotel. Didn't really want to go out again; so we sorted through our excess luggage, did some turfin' and repacked and went slow. Been moving pretty fast the last few weeks and I have been told Barcelona is faster again.

Oh, by the way, after queuing briefly to deal with the return of the car Mrs lovely French lady and we confirmed we had taken the pre-purchase a full tank option, then handed her the car keys and she was all a-smiling. That was it. Done. I reckon it took 30 seconds at the counter. Hey :-)

I took some time out to conduct a critical scientific experiment. How does water flow down the ole plughole in the norther Hemisphere. Is it different to the south? Well only one way to tackle it. Use French wine:

After you have done your experiment let me know the results.

Not much else to say so I have included some extra photos we had missed on Karen's iphone.

Ella and proud Alfred:
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Marcus and Les gadget shopping:
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Hong Kong market meat:
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Les in Paris, his first noisette:
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Sunday in the Marais and French families:
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Our proud cafe owners in the Marais:
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Wolf Man - be very afraid. I want one:
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Visiting butcher man at Goose Farm:
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Les Jeannine 'Illy' and guest at Goose Farm:
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Cathedral outside our window at Mirepoix:
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Supreme navigators trying to look competent:
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Ingrid at town of Chateauneuf du Papes:
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If you can't sleep because of the experiment, check out "Coriolis effect" on Wikipedia.com

Bonne nuit!

Posted by lesnkaren 14:41 Archived in France Comments (0)

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