We have a car now! Which is at times terrifying. At least I’ve stopped reaching for the gear stick with my left hand, and no longer feel a jolt of terror when moving into the overtaking lane. France as a nation seems to view road rules primarily as suggestions; at least in Carcassonne most of the streets were one-way, so I didn’t need to navigate oncoming traffic as well as avoiding snapping off wing mirrors.
Sim kind of wrapped up Porto last time, but let me add my two cents. Portugal generally was fine. I would rather have been there than in the office. But for my money, I prefer Spain. I like the food better (except the tarts in Portugal, the tarts are great); the cities seem less likely to contain massive hills you have to drag your luggage up; the language is basically recognisable if you speak a smattering of any other Roman language. Portuguese is decipherable if written down, but aloud it sounds like French being spoken by a Russian.
So yesterday, I was happy to return to Spain, despite their absurd ideas about it being appropriate for a bakery to be closed until 9.00am. We flew from Porto to Bilbao via Lisbon. Our luggage flew from Porto to Lisbon, and no further.
Sintra is a town a short train ride from Lisbon, built by the Portuguese in order to have somewhere to put their fancy buildings. It has a population of some 377,000, and contains five palaces, an historical convent, a hilltop castle, and several stately homes. Apart from the tourist industry, it appears to have little economic or political value, though the castle, at least, has some military advantages, being on a hill overlooking the Atlantic.
It’s the thing I was most excited about in Seville! The Real Alcázar. A network of palaces originally built by the Moors, it was then added to over the centuries by the Castilians, and even today includes the official residence of the King and Queen when in Seville. (Side note: did you know there was still a monarchy in Spain? I did not. This is something I possibly should have googled before I came here; the Catalan situation seemed more of an immediate issue at the time but in the end our entire interaction with it was seeing flags hanging from windows.)
It’s Gaudí day!* The day we set aside for leaving the twilight embrace of the Gothic quarter in order to go to both Park Güell and the Sagrada Família cathedral.
After a pair of very annoying flights occupied by people put on this earth to increase my blood pressure*, we have touched down in peaceful, politically stable Barcelona. Everyone seems very chill for being dangerous revolutionaries, though Catalan flags are hanging from many, many buildings. Also signs that say “Hola Democràcia”, which seems like the most benign political slogan ever but I’m sure is actually very incendiary. Possibly the general air of goodwill owes something to the fact that a glass of decent wine in a restaurant here will cost you less than a bottle of water in a restaurant in Sydney.
When we knew we were coming here to ski, we figured we’d need a couple of days either side to make it more a holiday and less a humiliating exercise in defeat and sore muscles. Since we’re flying in and out of Christchurch, we picked another town in the region more or less at random, which is how we ended up in Kaikoura.
As you will be aware from Sim’s previous post, I bailed VERY early from the skiing experience. As such, it fell to me to fill in a day by myself while Sim went up the hill (an expression I overheard some locals using at the pub). The town of Methven is pretty grim if you’re not into winter sports and/or putting non-traditionally-made pizza into your body. It’s basically just here to cater to snow tourism; what happens for the other nine months of the year I have no idea. Accordingly, I laced (zipped) up my boots and set out to achieve the following.
The day starts pretty early when you sleep on a boat. First, at about 6am, the generator starts (incidentally, that also means the toilet will once again be flushable – an important point, and, I suspect, the rock upon which many a relationship has dashed itself to pieces). Then the anchor is hauled up, which when you’re anchored in a fjord with sides that go straight down 40 metres, involves the winding of quite a lot of noisy anchor chain. Finally, the engine coughs into life, and you’re off. I consider myself to be pretty adept at sleeping, but if you can sleep through all that, you’re a more accomplished sleeper than I.
While in Dunedin, we stayed for two nights in accommodation located on the beach in a suburb called St Clair, in a building proclaiming itself to be MAJESTIC MANSIONS. As a lover of Agatha Christie from a very young age, it immediately occurred to me as the perfect spot for an unlikely amateur detective to solve a murder.