November 2017 - January 2018
  • Day82

    Madrid

    February 2, 2018 in Laos

    Madrid

    This is our second visit to Madrid. We came in Nov 2015, as the first stop of our first ever Europe experience, Spain and Portugal. This time, it will be the last stop of our second Europe experience, Italy and Spain. Both visits included 5 nights in Madrid.

    We loved Madrid the first time round, and the love deepened this second visit. Our favourite churros and chocolate cafe, Chocolat in Calle Santa Maria is still as good, with additional "heart attack in a cup" combinations on their menu. Kai and I swoon over Bora Bora, a mocha made with their dreamily thick fudgy hot chocolate, strong coffee, condensed milk and whipped cream. Talk about swooning, Alfonso the owner was eye candy swoon worthy 2 years ago, and he is every bit so 2 years on. He does not speak any English, so we communicate through his staff who translates for us. I have watched Alfonso interact with his staff and customers and have concluded that he is just the nicest, sweetest man ever. When he found out that it was Kai's birthday, he played "Happy Birthday" over the music system as he presented her with an enormous slice of his yummy chocolate cake with a candle. Kai was horrified that happy birthday played in every conceivable language, and was left playing all the time she was in the café. Most hilarious.

    We also revisited our other foodie haunt, Mas El Sur, for dinner. Again just as delicious as we remembered, and the staff are lovely, although they are all different from 2015. Whilst having dinner there on our second last night, we met John, a gay guy from Philippines who now lives in Munich. He and his friend sat at the table next to us, and as the tables are quite close together, we got chatting. Within half an hour, we got the life story of him and his entire family. It was most entertaining, and he was delightful dinner company. "Darlings, I've been to Perth, but what is there to do in Perth for a gay guy? So I had to, Had to, visit my friends in Melbourne and Sydney. Perth. It's so quiet, I can hear the birds!"

    We also paid our respects to our other Madrid acquaintances (the artworks) in the Museo Reina Sofia, Museo Sorolla, and Museo del Prado, all art galleries. Some familiar faces were there, and it was lovely to meet new ones. They were all still as captivating in their beauty and composition. The big change that we noticed that was that photography was not allowed anymore in the Prado. All the attendants said that it was only allowed in the main gallery, but no one seems to agree on where the main gallery was. Some said that it was in the basement, whilst others said that it was on the first level. So, we did not take any photos. Grace thought that we did progress through the gallery much faster not taking any photos. We were all there from 10am till 6pm, with about an hour for lunch. Grace and I retired after to a food court on the 9th floor of El Cortes Inglese to watch the last sun set on our wonderful 82 day holiday, and to await the girls who still had stamina to shop.
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  • Day80

    Madrid

    January 31, 2018 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 8 °C

    This is our second visit to Madrid. We came in Nov 2015, as the first stop of our first ever Europe experience, Spain and Portugal. This time, it will be the last stop of our second Europe experience, Italy and Spain. Both visits included 5 nights in Madrid.

    We loved Madrid the first time round, and the love deepened this second visit. Our favourite churros and chocolate cafe, Chocolat in Calle Santa Maria is still as good, with additional "heart attack in a cup" combinations on their menu. Kai and I swoon over Bora Bora, a mocha made with their dreamily thick fudgy hot chocolate, strong coffee, condensed milk and whipped cream. Talk about swooning, Alfonso the owner was eye candy swoon worthy 2 years ago, and he is every bit so 2 years on. And, he remembers us. He doesn't speak any English, and is so shy that he just smiles. I'm sure his smiles are the secret ingredient in his food. It certainly lights us his little café. We communicate through his staff who translates for us. I have watched Alfonso interact with his staff and customers and have concluded that he is just the nicest, sweetest man ever. So, we go there for breakfast of churros, hot chocolate, patata tortilla ( potato omelette), coffee and Bora Bora (Kai and I hope to survive tomorrow morning's last dose). What is not in the menu but we do partake of in great amounts is the warmth and smiles from Alfonso. When he found out that it was Kai's birthday, he played "Happy Birthday" over the music system as he presented her with an enormous slice of his yummy chocolate cake. Kai was horrified that the happy birthday CD was in every conceivable language, and he left it playing all the time she was in the café. Most hilarious. He even whispered "Happy Birthday" to her in English.

    We also revisited our next foodie haunt, Mas El Sur, for dinner. Again just as delicious as we remembered, and the staff are still lovely, although they are all different. Whilst having dinner there on our second last night, we met John, a gay guy from Philippines who now lives in Munich. He and his friend sat at the table next to us, and as the tables are quite close together, we got chatting. Within half an hour, we got the story of him and his family. It was most entertaining, and he was delightful dinner company. "Darlings, I've been to Perth, but what is there to do in Perth for a gay guy? So I had to. Had to, visit my friends in Melbourne and Sydney. Perth. It's so quiet, I can hear the birds!"

    The other revisit we did was to Museo Reina Sofia and the Prado, both art galleries.
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  • Day76

    Toledo

    January 27, 2018 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 9 °C

    Toledo what an adventure , through windy streets and narrow walkways. When we finally arrived in Toledo after missing the bus.

    We decided to explore the town. As the awesome foursome do when we arrive anywhere on our travels. We go on a walking tour to try and avoid getting lost. The walking tour took us through the Jewish Quarter of Toledo, which is a district of the city of Toledo where the Jews lived in the Middle Ages. It is my favourite part of the city. It has gorgeous souvenir shops and very yummy mazapan shops.

    We only had 3 nights in Toledo so I would like to put it in one post. 4 of us got a tourist bracelet which gave us access to 7 of the mains sights of Toledo. Well worth getting it if you visit Toledo. It gives you access to different churches and a mosque which was a lot smaller then I thought.

    My highlight of Toledo was the zip line . Adrenaline, excitement and scary . It’s the biggest zip line in Europe what an adrenaline rush. Over the river in toldeo beautiful day with blue skies.

    Mum and Dudo treated us with an amazing lunch at a Michelin star restaurant at El Carmen De Montesion. It was a three course meal not just a three course meal 5 entrees and 3 main courses with two deserts with amazing flavours and different sorts of food from meats to seafood . They even were nice enough to change one of the dishes from Pork to venison because we don’t usually have venison at home.

    After the small city of Toledo . We are on our way to Madrid for our last 5 nights before we head home.
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  • Day74

    Our Taxi Did Not Come !!!

    January 25, 2018 in Spain ⋅ 🌧 6 °C

    After Cuenca, we were booked to catch a 6am bus to Toledo. Our apartment host booked the taxi for a 5.30am pick up. We waited till 5.38 before deciding to walk the 2.2km downhill to the bus station. Fortunately, we'd put our 4 suitcases into luggage lockers at Madrid Atocha Train Station and are traveling light with daypacks. We passed a pharmacy with a sign outside that showed current temperature, -2'C. Opps. We expected to go from taxi to bus to taxi and were not really layered for low temperatures. The half walk half run did very quickly warm us. We got to the front of the dark and closed bus office to see an oncoming bus. Whilst silently congratulating ourselves for just making the bus, (we were all too puffed to speak), we watched the bus pass us and turn the corner. What! We missed the bus! At 6am in deserted quiet streets, we were left standing in sub zero temperatures, and we missed the bus. The bus driver saw us and did not stop.

    We need another plan. Grace tried to call the taxi company to price a taxi to Toledo. "No taxi go to Toledo. Taxi only to Cuenca." We needed another plan. We're needed to get out of the dark and quiet road. We needed to sit down and rethink, somewhere safe, and preferably warm. We walked back to the main road and found a bench to sit on across the road from a petrol station. Seat, safe, still freezing; 2 out of 3 ain't bad.

    Eventually, the petrol station opened its doors, and Grace went across. The attendant called a taxi to take us to the train station. It was train to Madrid and then train to Toledo. We were not looking at getting to Toledo much before lunch time. The taxi arrived, and the driver agreed to take us to Toledo for €200. It was a 2 hour drive one way, and he'd have to return with an empty taxi. The reason we caught a 6am bus was that train tickets via Madrid would cost about €40 each. We tried the Chinese thing of bargaining on price, but very quickly agreed to €200. It was a wonderful ride. He was a great driver and we all had a nap on the way to Toledo. We were even delivered right to the doorstep of the cafe near our apartment so we could wait for our host in warmth and comfort. We happily paid his fare and gave him a small tip for coffee and cake (typical Spanish breakfast) before his drive back to Cuenca. He was really a nice man and seemed really pleased to have helped us.
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  • Day74

    Cuenca

    January 25, 2018 in Spain ⋅ ☁️ 8 °C

    Cuenca is an old fortress town in the middle of Spain, an hour on the train, east from Madrid. It is perched on top of narrow gorges carved by the Huecar and Jucar rivers, and known for its medieval buildings that cling onto the edge of the cliff, modified in the 1920s to include balconies that hang off the edge of the cliff. These used to line the cliff edge, but there are only 3 such houses left, and looking at them, I shudder to think of what happened to the others. These balconies really hang over a drop of over 300m, supported by nothing. Not even ineffectual toothpicks pretending to give some structural support.

    Just about 25km from Cuenca is the Enchanted Forest. It is not a vegetative green forest of trees, but one of stones, rocks and monoliths carved through limestone by nature. The resultant formations resemble chatting faces, dog's head, ships, whale's tail, and even a city with high rise buildings and streets. All very amazing, amusing and, enchanting. Not driving, we needed to hire a guide. We found Alberto of Ecotourismo Cuenca for only €100 for a 4 hour tour. The tour included the Devil's Window, a lookout where he sets up a telescope for us to watch vultures nesting. He locates their nests by the white steaks their poos leave on the cliffs. It was really fascinating watching the nurturing side of these much maligned birds. Alberto also pointed out the effects of global warming to the ecosystem. For example, there is a population explosion of caterpillars that feed on pine leaves. The cold snowy winters curb their destruction of the native pine forests. However, without the extended days of cold, these caterpillars continue their life cycle throughout the winter months, and the poor pine trees have no time to recover. Indeed, as we were walking around the Enchanted Forest, we saw caterpillars, huge nests of larvae, and the butterflies.

    There are many trails and treks that surround Cuenca town, around and along the rivers. We just explored and did little treks as none of the trails are very well marked, although attempts have been made at the town end to mark the direction of each trail. Once on the trail, the markers disappear, and one just follows whatever looks like a trail. It either leads somewhere, or to the cliff edge, which always presents great views. Being such a beautiful place, and with nowhere in particular to go, and no time restrictions, except "before it gets dark", we had a great time just walking. We must be starting to get travel weary as we also managed to watch a couple of episodes of House that Kai streamed onto the TV via a HDMI cable that we packed from Perth.
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  • Day69

    Granada

    January 20, 2018 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 9 °C

    Granada is a lovely melting pot of the Catholics, Muslims, and Spanish influences. The catholic kings tended to alter Muslim buildings and convert them into churches whilst still maintaining the Arabic nature of the buildings.

    We arrived at noon from Malaga, and headed straight to Papa Elvira's for lunch. It is a tiny cafe that seats only 6-8 people. Food is amazing. Simple home cooked, cous cous, empinadas, and tea with delicious desert cakes and tortas.

    We had booked for the night entry into Alhambra but silly me overlooked the fact that tickets needed to be printed. So at the very last minute, I was chasing around trying to find a photo copy shop. I finally managed to print the tickets at a pharmacy near by. The pharmacist was so kind, she didn't even take money for the printing. After a super quick dinner at a Syrian restaurant called Puerta Syria, we hurried up the hill to the Alhambra.

    The Alhambra at night was simply unimaginably beautiful. It was stunning. Quite different to see the Nazrid Palace lit up. An architectural marvel. Even the photos we took does not do it justice.

    Choo arrived with 3 friends from UK and Gibraltar. The whole group were a real nice bunch of people. They were very generous and would not let us pay for meals while they were with us. Choo stayed with Ruby and I while Jian, Jack and Hanky went snow shoeing with the girls. Ruby, Choo and I did the historic walking tour and the Sacromonte tour while the young ones besides snow shoeing did a tapas crawl.

    We loved the Albyacin area which is the Muslim area of Granada. There you find a great lookout from San Nicolas mirador, and yummy teterias where you have teas in what looks like a Persian dens. There is even a mosque there now.

    We also managed to catch up with Victoria and her daughter Lupe on our last night in Granada. Victoria is the mountain guide for Sierra Nevada that we met 2 years ago, who was also the girls snowshoeing guide. Victoria does not only run tours, either hiking or skiing or snowshoeing but she is also a professional cross country skier and a ski rescue worker. She knows everything and everyone on Sierra Nevada.

    We have had the good fortune of meeting some lovely people here. Granada is turning out to be one of my favourite places in Spain.
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  • Day69

    Sierra Nevada

    January 20, 2018 in Spain ⋅ ☀️ 5 °C

    I have only been to the snow 4 times so I was extremely excited to be going again. We were going to Sierra Nevada for snowshoeing. Snowshoeing is hiking in the snow with what looks like tennis racquets attached to your shoes. They have sharp spikes under it for gripping the snow and ice.

    Never have I ever seen snow so soft before. Basically, the snow had been there for a few days already meaning there was a thin layer of ice over some parts of the snow. Under the ice layer was snow that was softer than icing sugar. Felt like how a powdered marshmallows might be. The only bad thing about this was that the snow could not be compacted to make a snowman or have snowball fights.

    Our guide explained to us about the different skiis, snowboots and avalanche rescue methods. This was an incredible learning journey as I always thought there was only 1 type of ski. No! There are skiis that are for downhill skiing, cross country skiing, attachments for skiis for going uphill skiing and skiis for going through difficult paths or for going super fast. We learnt that the average speed for competition skiers are 80-90km/h. So, imagine going faster than that! The danger of such a sport was seen when a man zoomed past with one arm in a sling. I think I know where and how that injury occurred. We saw the people and snow dogs who were training for avalanche rescues. The dogs help find the people buried in the snow and the people are trained to dig them out in a specific way so the snow does not collapse and the person is safely extracted.

    It was amazing to see the workings of the ski mountains. From the little 4 year olds skiing to the dogs and people at training, rescuers, the locals and us who were just taking it all in and have a magical time. Seeing the amazing views and hiking through the powder snow and seeing all the skiers wizz by made me want to learn how to ski.
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  • Day67

    Spain, Malaga

    January 18, 2018 in Spain ⋅ 🌙 12 °C

    We have ended our Italian leg of the journey and have started the Spanish one. We begin in Malaga, where once the people traded in salt as a currency. Malaga had a very checkered past, a melting pot of Roman, Visigoths, Muslim, Christians and Franco influences on their culture, music, and architecture.

    Malaga's claim to fame is also that this is the birth place of Picasso, and Antonio Banderas, who was suppose to be filming a documentary on Pablo Picasso for National Geographics.

    Kai found a well reviewed free walking tour and from that we extended to do 2 other walking tours with the same guide who was very good.
    The first was a night mystery tour to highlight paranormal, ghost, and miracles tour. The 2nd was a tour of the historic centre of Malaga to highlight her history, architecture and food. Lastly we did a tour of the Alcazaba, the Muslim fortress that protected the once walled city of Malaga.

    Food was super yum. We had breakfast at a typical Malaga place serving dips with bread, churros, paella and Malaguan salad and Moscatel fortified wine.
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  • Day62

    Herculaneum

    January 13, 2018 in Italy ⋅ ☀️ 13 °C

    What an adventure to Herculaneum.

    It was an experience which was mind boggling. We saw a lot of houses and villas which were destroyed in the earthquake.

    What was interesting was the mosaics on the floors of the villas and on the walls of bedrooms and dinning areas. They get the pieces so small and the size of the pieces are the same.

    The shop fronts had different coloured scrap marble to make benches. The pots are made to fit inside the marble bench top which means are never washed.

    Those days nothing was wasted, and I mean nothing. Something I learnt was they actually collect human urine which is used to wash clothes as a detergent or to remove stains from clothes.

    There were Skeletons, that where not even moved after the eruption . It was heartbreaking to see even young children lying down and the facial expressions are in describible.

    Herculaneum was closer to Mt Versuvius when she erupted. The damage happened at 0100 the night before it struck Pompeii. Herculaneum was buried in lava, so it was not as plundered as it is much harder to dig through then in Pompeii. The paintings, wooden structure like door frames, beds, rafters and even food like bread, seeds, fruits, all turned to carbon instantly by the pyroclastic combustion. But the damage to the structural buildings was greater in Herculaneum because of the weight of the lava.

    It was very sad when we were chased out at 5pm, because there was so much more to see. We where first in at Pompeii and the last out at Herculaeum. What a heartbreaking experience.
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