Saturday, February 18

Spain & Portugal

At the end of January we took a trip to Spain and Portugal. You might think we're always on holiday (and you wouldn't be far wrong!), but our trips are usually crammed into a weekend. This time I took a week off work and we had a great break! We flew into Malaga on the southern coast, in the Spanish region of Andalucia.

It was a welcome break from the cold temperatures in Geneva, with days around 18 degrees and sun! Peter had booked a car, but we didn't worry about pre-booking accommodation, so were free to decide where to head for each day and how long to stay. Our trip took us to many interesting places, the highlights being the mountain-top town of Ronda, Flamenco dancers in Seville and the two relaxing days we spent in Tavira, Portugal.

Ronda, SpainAfter arriving in the morning on Saturday, we headed straight up into the mountains to a town called Ronda. It's situated at an elevation of 723m and has a stunning 100m deep gorge running through the middle of town. About 34 thousand people live there, so it's fairly large, and definitely catering to tourists.

Bullfighting Ring in Ronda According to our trusty Lonely Planet guide, Ronda is also the home of Spanish bullfighting. We didn't get the chance to sit through one of those gory spectacles, but we did visit the bullring and museum.

As you can see from the pics, the sky was beautifully clear, but it was cold.

Coming down the mountainThe next morning we awoke to find previously sunny Ronda, covered in a blanket of snow. We were saying "oh, how bewdiful", until we realised that it might be difficult to get off the mountain in our little rental car without snow tyres or chains.

After burning rubber to just get up the icy car park ramp, we set off down the road. Thankfully we quickly met up with a backhoe that was clearing the snow, making it safe for us to drive. The snow in Ronda must have been a rare thing. As we drove down we saw heaps of people playing in it on the side of the road, and there were pictures on the front page of the next day's paper. It was great to see, but we were in Spain to get away from the snow!!

Barbary Apes on GibraltarNext it was off to Gibraltar, a British colony on the southern most tip on Spain. It is basically a large lump of limestone rock(5km long, 1.6km wide and 426m high), which has been under British control since 1713 (despite Spain's efforts to get it back). On top of the rock is a national park that is home to the Barbary apes, Europe's only wild primates. They are quite used to humans visiting their home, and as we pulled up in our car, one jumped onto the bonnet and started peering in the windows looking for food. She seemed very friendly, as we got out the car she was sitting near us and even put her hand in my pocket. I decided to give her a pat - BIG mistake! Costa de la Luz, SpainShe freaked out and took a swipe at me, I turned and jumped out the way, but she kept coming at me and then bit me on the arm! It hurt, but there was no blood, just a little bruise. Lesson learned!

The next leg of the trip was a drive along the coast known as the Costa de la Luz. We were hoping to stay in a small beachside town, but nothing much seemed open, so we kept on driving to El Puerto de Santa Maria, past Cadiz. This was where Christopher Columbus's set off on his 2nd and 4th expeditions across the Atlantic.

Casa No 6, El Puerto de Santa MariaThe town wasn't all that interesting, but our acommodation was great. We stayed in a beautifully renovated 19th century Spanish 'casa'. Here's a photo of the patio, the entrance and centre of the house.

Next stop was Seville, the capital of the Andalucia region. This is a big city (population over 700,000) with plenty to see and do. The highlight of our visit here was the Flamenco show we saw that night. It was fantastic! There were three in the act: guitar player, female singer and a male dancer. They were all excellent, the dancer must have burned so many calories with his incredible foot stomping and dance moves!Plaza Espagna, Seville

At this stage of the trip we had two choices: head east to Cordoba and Granada (the other big cities in southern Spain), or west to Portugal. In the pursuit of visiting as many countries as possible, we had to choose Portugal! We were very happy we did, because it was lovely. Hotel pool

We went to Tavira, a fishing village about 30km over the Spanish border. It was quite busy with tourists (mostly British golfers), a noteable difference to Spain at this time of year. Not that more tourists is an attraction, but it generally means more places are open and things happening.

We had a relaxing stay, reading on our hotel room balcony (see photo on right of the view) and wandering around the town checking out the tiled houses. The seafood and wine here were excellent, especially at this little restaurant recommended by the tourist office where the "locals" go. The prices in Spain were cheap, but Portugal was cheaper again. Our 4* hotel cost €45 a night, including breakfast, and the most expensive bottle of red wine in the supermarket was €4.20.

The beach!After two days in the sun, it was back in the car for the 380km drive to Malaga, then the flight home the next day.

When we landed in Geneva it was -2 degrees. A long way from the beach, but it was nice to be home!

Thursday, February 16


Vatican CityOn the last weekend of Simon's visit, we went to Rome. It was the first time there for Simon and I, and the second for Peter. As with most of our trips, we were on a tight schedule. Our flight landed early on the Saturday morning and our first mission was to get to the Vatican and see the Sistine Chapel before it shut at 1pm.

We dashed onto the Metro and arrived to find the queue snaking around the city walls (as we'd been warned). A woman was milling about waiting to get unprepared tourists to join her expensive but 'no waiting in queues' tour. Given the time limitations, we parted with a pile of euros and went (pretty much) straight in.

St Peter's Square, RomeAnyone who has been to the Vatican Museum will know, the place is absolutely packed with tourists!! The artwork is incredible, but what an amazing display of opulence and wealth. Towards the end of the guided tour, we joined thousands of other people in the Sistine Chapel, where the crowds had to compress from about 100 wide down to single file to get out of the narrow door at the other end. You definitely wouldn't want to be claustrophobic!

P1080098People say that Rome is a great city for walking, so we spent the rest of the afternoon, wandering back towards our hotel and soaking in the atmosphere. The weather was beautiful with the sun shining and temperatures around 8 degrees (much warmer than Geneva in early January!).

PantheonSunday was a full-on day of sight-seeing. First we did the hop-on, hop-off bus tour to get an overview of the city (bit of a time waster), then it was straight to the Colosseum and the Roman Forum for a long wander around the incredible ruins. In the afternoon we went to the Pantheon (wow!) and the Trevi fountain, ending up at the Spanish Steps, where we watched the sun set over the city.

Rome is an amazing and chaotic city - the history, art and of course, the stylish Italians. We definitely enjoyed our whirlwind tour, but I didn't toss a coin in the Trevi fountain.

Friday, February 10

Happy New Year!

NYE 2005Hi everyone! It's been so long since I've updated our site - a belated Happy New Year to you all! I have no good excuses, except the usual being busy... and we bought a new computer that took me ages to get everything set up on.

We are both well and getting through our first northern hemisphere winter, while hearing the news of the full-on heat in Australia. It's awful that it can be -25 degrees in Moscow and 40+ with bushfires in Australia. We certainly can't complain, the daytime temperatures are rarely below -2 here and lately as high as 7!

We have a lot to report on since Christmas. Firstly, I should write about our New Year's Eve in Paris. Peter & Simon in ParisSimon was here for his 3 week visit and we wanted to him to see a bit of Europe. The train trip from here is only 3 hours and well priced, so heading to Paris for the weekend is achievable. We had a great time (despite being bloody cold), walking along the Champs Elysee with a million other people and waiting under the Eiffel Tower to see in 2006.

We were a tad disappointed when midnight came and there were no official fireworks! Apparently they're only a "summer thing". I had just assumed that NYE and fireworks went hand in hand.

Still, we enjoyed the atmosphere and checking out the sights the next day. Peter has climbed the Eiffel Tower 3 times this year!NYE 2005