Purple Haze

If you’ve ever read a book involving Provence you will have a fair idea of what the villages are like here.  You know the type of book I’m talking about (if not, spoiler alert) – woman discovers husband shagging his secretary, decides on a whim to pack it in and move to Provence having never been there before (her friends think she’s crazy), she invests her life savings in a dive of a house and spend her first few weeks lonely and wondering what the hell she’s done, she gets her mojo back, learns French, becomes an integral part of the village, employs a hunky builder (Stefan) to renovate the house, falls in love with him and learns to make an epic tarte tatin.  The same story can also occur in Italy – simply swap Provence for Tuscany, Stefan for Stefano and the tart for a tiramisu.  Et voila!

Those books are obviously the work of romantic fiction, but the picture they paint of Provence is not.  The towns and villages here are just as charming as those books suggest.  Our wee village of St Remy de Provence (pop 10,000)  is so lovely – it’s got beautiful cobbled streets, loads of cafes and restaurants, tons of bakeries and boutique stores and a lovely public plaza just across the road from our house.  I knew it was going to be a good stay when, on our first day, I opened the front door and found myself in the middle of a flea market with people selling gorgeous French linen, crockery, original Tin Tin comics and some fairly hard-core vintage pornographic photos.  Our house is also right across the street from the town church, which has the advantage of meaning we are up bright and early every day – those bells get a work out in the morning!

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Randomly, it seems that there could be something of a Kiwi contingent in our village.  I say that even though we are yet to meet another Kiwi, but we did stumble across this -not exactly the place we expected to find a whole store devoted to All Blacks merchandise.

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We decided to immerse ourselves in village life on our first full day, so trotted along to the pub to watch France play Ireland in the first knockout round of the Euro Football World Cup.  We ended up at an absolute rip-off of a bar for the first half, so we nursed our 10 Euro beers until half time and then went in search of something more to our liking.  We finally stumbled across a nice, dingy sports bar.  The bartender sorted us out with two glasses/vases of beer (1 litre per glass) and we found ourselves a spot amongst the crowd to watch the second half.

It was a hilarious afternoon, due in part to the fact that there was a delay between the two big screens in the bar so that our side of the pub knew what had happened a good 5 seconds or so before the other side.  It would be an understatement to say that the French are passionate sport spectators.  The whole pub sang and yelled their way through the game, with cheers of “viva la France” whenever France scored, or looked close.  Turns out language is no barrier when you’re watching sport – you just cheer and yell and scream when everybody else does.  Thankfully for everyone, France won and there were no sobbing Frenchies to contend with.

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We’ve had wheels during our stay in Provence – a brand new VW Golf turbo diesel. Campbell is particularly impressed with how gutsy it is, and has been driving it like a boy racer doing laps round the Basin Reserve.  We’ve been out almost every day exploring the neighbouring villages and taking in the countryside.  It really is beautiful here, and it’s hard not to be swept up in it all.  There are far too many villages to get around, but we have ticked off a whole bunch.  Particular highlights include Vaison La Romain (thanks Dave for the recommendation), Gordes (a stunning hillside village), Roussillon (hands down the prettiest village we saw) and Aix-en-Provence.

After visiting Aix on Tuesday, we decided to keep driving and try to see some of the coast.  We had a few false starts, but after some robust strategising over lunch we finally settled on a visit to Camargue, a national park between the Med and the two arms of the Rhone.  We were travelling along nicely, but couldn’t figure out why Google kept telling us it was going to take 2 hours to travel 30 km.  Turns out that we’d both failed to spot that we’d need to catch a ferry to get to Camargue, and that would account for a good 1.5 hours of the trip.  Once that wee gem popped up on Google, we pulled a u-turn and headed for home.  All we really saw on that excursion was a good chunk of the A7 (which cost a shit load in tolls), so the coast will have to wait until our next stop in Nice.

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Wednesday in St Remy is market day, and the market is regarded as one of the best in Provence.  I was awake at 4am with the street cleaners and got to watch the entire village transform over the next few hours as the market set up.  Vendors come from all over Provence to sell fruit and veges, meat, fish, bread, cheese, pickles and condiments, nougat and nuts, antiques and collectibles, clothes, linen and homewards, soap and lavender (lots and lots of lavender).  Hundreds of stalls set up in the town square, outside the front of the church and down all of the alleys.  Local musicians play in the streets and people pile in from the surrounding villages to do their shopping.  Wandering around the stalls was an incredibly nice way to spend the morning, and we picked up heaps of bits and pieces for nibbles at home (feeling oh so local while we were at it – “baguette”!).

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Today was our last full day, so we hit the road on a mission to see some of the Provence Lavender Trail.  Provence is known for its lavender, and the region has creating a staggering number of products that taste, smell, include or are inspired by lavender.  First stop was the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque, a 12th century monastery known for its beautiful lavender fields.  Photos of the Abbey and its lavender in full bloom are on every postcard, calendar and tea towel on sale around here.

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We thought the lavender fields at the Abbey were just ok.  We wanted to see something bigger, better and really spectacular.  We’d read about lavender fields so beautiful that they caused summer time traffic jams, but the Abbey didn’t exactly make us want to rip on the handbrake.  We decided to carry on along the trail and see what else we could find.  Our perseverance paid off when we arrived at the town of Valeson and saw fields and fields of lavender, like these.  It really was pretty (even Campbell said it was “cool”) and the fields of purple spread as far as you could see.

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Our time in St Remy has now come to an end.  We are both sad to be leaving tomorrow, having well and truly settled into a routine (of sorts) in our little village.  I, for one, would love to come back (hopefully for reasons not related to either of us having a mid-life crisis).  Tomorrow we make our way to Nice, where we will have a couple of days to soak up the sun before moving onwards to Italy.

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Foux Du FaFa

Whenever I think about visiting France I almost immediately think about Foux Du FaFa by Flight of the Conchords.  I speak very little French and butcher the few words that I do know, but whenever I’m doing anything remotely related to France I get struck with an overwhelming desire to yell out “baguette!”, or other really cliche French words.  It’s like a form of country-specific Tourettes.  It’s only slightly better than Campbell’s tendency to do that pervy French laugh (kind of like Pepe Le Pew) whenever he talks about France.

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This was my second visit to Paris, having already spent a week there with Mich five years ago.  It was really nice to go back, especially since our apartment was in the same neighbourhood as last time and we could hit the ground running a little bit more as a result.  There were some noticeable differences about Paris this time around – the key one being the overwhelming number of armed Police and military personnel.  The city was literally crawling with security trying to manage the influx of people for the EU Football World Cup and the annual Paris Pride festivities.  Day to day security has also stepped up a notch (as you would expect given recent events) and there are security checks at places you  wouldn’t necessarily expect, like major department stores and shopping centres.  I was incredibly pleased to see that most Metro stations now have Police in attendance, which went some way to dampen my fear of the crazies who live down there.

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Our time in Paris was short given all the things there are to do, but we had both agreed to bypass any museums or galleries which pretty much obliterated TripAdvisor’s “must see” list before we’d even started.  We limited our sightseeing to a walking tour of the major central city attractions (the Louvre, Tuileries Garden, Hotel De Ville, Pont Neuf, Notre Dame etc), a walk to the Sacre Couer in Montmarte, a stroll up the Champs Elysees, a trip to the Catacombs and some gawking at the Eiffel Tower from Trocadero.  Campbell decided he didn’t want to go up the Tower itself, which was a bit of a surprise but also a welcome relief.  When I visited with Mich we not only went up the Tower (which was great), but then also had to take photos of it from every possible vantage point in Paris.  I think Mum would have one of the most complete photographic records of the Eiffel Tower, ever (she’ll be outraged that I wrote this, and then realise it’s actually true).

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We also managed to tick off a major bucket list item by having lunch at a Michelin-starred restaurant – Septime.  Septime has one star and just got ranked as being in the top 50 restaurants in the world.  It took a bit of planning and a lot of help from our Air BnB host, but we managed to get a reservation for lunch.  It was a really lovely experience with great food and service and, thankfully for us, the Prix Fixe menu meant we didn’t blow the budget entirely.  The rest of our time in Paris was spent eating cheap pastries, cheese and kebabs from the Lebanese man down these street.

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Yesterday we left Paris and caught the train to Provence where we’ll be for close to a week. Our train was supposedly a bullet train, but the experience was more akin to death by a thousand paper cuts.  We arrived at the station to find our train was “retardo 15 mins”.  We’re relaxed at this point and were giggling like school kids at the word “retardo”.  We weren’t laughing when our train was retardo 50 mins, and then 75 minutes.  After initial delays and then further delays en route, we arrived in Avignon four hours after our scheduled arrival time.  We then got off at the wrong train station.  We then arrived at the rental car company to find it rammed with angry Texans whose train had also been delayed.  We then couldn’t find our carpark and had to do laps of our village until we could finally speak with our Air BnB’s host’s Uncle who could speak to us in English.  It was an absolute mare of a day, but we’re here now.  Our house is lovely and we have five full days to hoon around in our little VW and see the countryside.

Time for another instalment of things we’ve learned on the road:

  • What my natural hair colour is:  After six months of not dying my hair, I think I can now confirm with certainty that my hair is in fact the same mousey, dishwater brown that prompted my love of dying it in the first place.  Sadly, I can also report that there’s a bit of silver in there too.  First stop when we get home will be to see Miss Jo at the salon.
  • Window shopping sucks:  Staying in a neighbourhood with “arguably the best boutique shopping Paris” is a bit of a downer when you actually have no intention of shopping.    Campbell said that walking the streets of Paris with me was like walking down a street full of lamp posts while walking a dog.
  • Having a backyard is awesome:  Our apartment in Paris was cute and big enough for the two of us for four nights, but we could not live like that on a permanent basis.  Having space, a backyard and room to move is so under-rated.  We don’t realise how good we have it at home sometimes.
  • Working isn’t that bad:  As much as not working is awesome (and it is), I think I will actually look forward to going back to work.  Everyday feels like a Sunday for us at the moment and, unless you plan something or make a conscious effort, it is actually really easy to fritter away hours doing nothing.  I also miss the office banter (and gossip!).
  • Bigger isn’t always better:  Paris was great and we both enjoyed it but, on the whole, we’ve definitely developed a preference for staying in smaller cities and towns.  We like places where you can walk pretty much everywhere, that have a bit of charm and character and where even the most directionally challenged individual (i.e. me) can find their way home.

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Step by Step (ooh baby)

Our time in Barcelona has come to an end and it’d be fair to say that we’d give it a mixed review.  Sadly, for us, Barcelona falls into the same category as LA – we expected, and wanted, to love it, but for some reason it just didn’t hit the spot.  If I had to sum it up, I would have to say that Barcelona lacked the charm of the other spots we visited in Spain.  It is bigger, more metropolitan and a little more impersonal that both Seville and San Sebastian, which I guess is the pitfall of being a big city.  Don’t get me wrong, we still had a great time, but it was missing a little something-something.  Our Air BnB apartment was also a little bit of a flop – nothing says ‘home sweet home’ like climbing 83 of the narrowest steps you’ve ever seen to your front door!

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I’d like to think that we gave Barcelona a fair crack despite knowing pretty early on that it wasn’t entirely our cup of tea.  We once again joined a walking tour and explored the Gothic Quarter.  We saw a couple of Gaudi’s many masterpieces – Sagrada Familia (which is still unfinished, but now has a scheduled completion date of sometime in 2026) and Casa Batllo.  These buildings have to be seen to be believed.  They are so whimsical and a real oddity amongst the more modern buildings in Barcelona.

We visited the Barcelona Cathedral and took in the views of Barcelona from the roof.  We also got to see the 13 geese who call the courtyard of the Cathedral home.  There are always 13 geese in reference to the age of Saint Eulalia (the co-patron of Barcelona) when she was martyred, having suffered 13 tortures.  Legend has it that, having withstood all 13 tortures, Saint Eulalia was finally killed by decapitation at which point 13 white doves flew from the wound at her neck.  The Cathedral originally had 13 white doves in residence, but decided to trade them in for geese which wouldn’t bugger off all day leaving loads of disappointed and annoying tourists asking after them.

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One real highlight was our walk up to see Font Magica (or the Magic Fountain).  It’s effectively an enormous water fountain that does a choreographed display to music every evening.  It sounds naff, but it’s actually pretty cool and it draws a massive crowd of tourists and locals.  There’s great views across the city (including the bum on that statue) that gets better as it turns from dusk into night.

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On our last day we made it down to Barceloneta Beach and the other beaches right on the city’s doorstep.  The beach vibe in Barcelona is awesome, and it is a massive drawcard for the city to have such top notch beaches right on its doorsteps.  There are cool beach bars, shops and restaurants and, when the weather is fine, the place is heaving.  Tan lines are definitely not in vogue in Barcelona, so we got to see a whole lot of boobies during our walk.  Campbell tells me that it was “disgusting”, but all the perving he was doing behind his mirrored sunglasses suggests otherwise.

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Perhaps most importantly, Barcelona provided the opportunity to see a familiar face. On our last day we got to have brunch with Simon, a friend from work.  It was so lovely to spend some time with someone from home and speak Kiwi for a little bit.  I look deranged in this photo, but I was actually just really excited to see Simon!  We have now been on the road for 12 weeks and we both miss our friends and family.  Family obviously goes without saying, but I definitely have a renewed appreciation for how important it is to have good friends.  There are times when I’d love to pop out for a coffee, see a film, go for brunch and “a walk” (which is really just getting from the car to the brunch), or have wine and fries after work.  Equally, I know Campbell would dearly love a night in his garage watching sport with his buddies, a round of golf with his Dad and the golf guys and a few beers with Trev.

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This afternoon we arrived in Paris.  We have an action-packed few days ahead before we head to the south of France for a week in St Remy de Provence.  Our Air BnB apartment is very quirky, but a huge upgrade on Barcelona.  Only downside – 95 steps to our apartment!

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Yummy yummy yummy I got love in my tummy*

We have just finished 5 great days in San Sebastian.  It’s been another relaxing wee stint, due mainly to the fact that there isn’t a great deal to do in San Sebastian other than eat.  San Sebastian is in the Basque region of Spain, which shares with Tokyo the honour of having more Michelin starred restaurants than any other region in the world.  There is an abundance of bars, cafes and restaurants and the quality of food across the board is amazing.  I know that not everybody gets as excited about food as I do, and that photos of food are usually really boring (typically I could not care less about seeing photos of what other people have baked, or eaten for dinner), but the food here really was something to write home about.  Bear with me.

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The cornerstone of the San Sebastian food scene is Pintxos.  These are bite sized dishes that you typically help yourself to from the bar.  The variety is totally overwhelming and there are both cold dishes and hot ones that you select, which are then whisked off to the kitchen to be cooked and returned to you.  The idea with Pintxos is to have only 1 or 2 at each place, and to bar hop your way around until you are full.  It’s intended to be a social experience, rather than getting stuck in like it’s your “birthday” and you’re dining for free at Valentine’s.  There are often no tables or chairs in the bars, which encourages people to eat, drink and move on and make room for new people arriving.

Understanding the etiquette and how all this works can be tricky, so we thought we’d sign up to do a Pintxos tour on our first day.  Only problem was that the food tour was an absolute budget-buster, so Campbell (we’ll call him “husband of the year” for the purposes of this story) elected to sit the tour out and sent me off solo.  The deal being that I would use all of my new-found Pintxos knowledge to take him on a few Pintxos crawls of our own.

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The tour was an absolute highlight, notwithstanding the fact that I was the youngest member of the group by at least 40 years.  I had a wonderful afternoon with Ruth, Margaret, John, Douglas, Stuey and the rest of the salt and pepper gang, and Stuey’s dodgy knee only slowed us down a little.  Our guide Vicky was really lovely, and got us boozed up on local wine and sherry and gave us the most amazing Pinxtos to sample – prawn bruschette, deep fried chillis, squid stuffed with softshell crab, pine nut and wild mushroom tarts, scallops in an almond cream foam, beef tenderloin, iberian ham, braised veal cheek and deep fried french toast.

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To balance out all of that eating we also did a fair amount of walking in San Sebastian.  The weather wasn’t flash, but we got out when we could.  The best walk we did was a section of the Camino trail, which took us from San Sebastian to San Pedro.  It was a 3 hour walk, which started out with an absolute arse kicking set of steps.  I absolutely hate walking up steep hills or stairs, but that deep fried french toast was weighing heavy on my mind/thighs, so we persevered.  The pay-off was the most amazing coastal scenery and bush tracks.  There was loads of other walkers on the track, including those who were doing the entire Camino pilgrimage.  We’re toying with the idea of adding that to the bucket list – final decision TBC.

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When we got to San Pedro we jumped in a tiny little boat (check out the Captain’s builders’ crack) that took us 100 metres from San Pedro to San Juan de Pasaia, a really cute little fishing village where we had lunch and wandered the streets looking very touristy.

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We also did walks around San Sebastian’s famous La Concha, and Zurriola beaches.  These are beautiful stretches of white sandy beach, which the locals enjoy on the 165 days of the year that it doesn’t rain in San Sebastian.  At the merest hint of sunshine everybody strips down to their togs and makes a beeline for the beach.  We didn’t brave the water, but there were plenty making the most of it.

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After a 6 hour train ride we now find ourselves in Barcelona.  Sadly, our AirBnB apartment is veering towards the “shit pit” end of the spectrum, but it will do the trick for 3 more nights.  We spent this morning listening to the All Blacks game on the radio and eating bacon and eggs.  You can take the Kiwis out of NZ . . . .

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*For the record, Campbell had no part in naming this blog.

Bailamos (the Enrique Iglesias version)

Today we drove 900 km from Seville to San Sebastian in a car resembling a Ninja Turtle (complete with body armour).  Believe it or not, the Ninja Turtle was actually an upgrade.  We were originally supposed to be driving a Fiat Panda, but the woman at Europcar took one look at us and our luggage and simply said “no”.  We hit the road at 8.30 am and made it to San Sebastian at 5.30 pm.  It was a long day, but it’s nowhere near as stressful as doing the same length trip in New Zealand.  It’s 13okm/h all the way on fantastic roads.

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I know a few people would think we were mental for tackling that drive, but we’ve learnt during the trip that, 9 times out of 10 and when it’s a realistic option, we would prefer to drive ourselves about than rely on buses, trains or planes.  It’s nice to be able to hit the road when you want, go to the loo when you want and stop and take photos when you want too.  We also get to listen to our iPod.  Anyone who has ever been to our house for a beer, or spent any time with Campbell will have experienced his epic iPod playlist.  It is the car, bach, BBQ, wedding, Sunday school, after-work drinks, hanging out in the garage , sitting by the fire pit and every other social occasion, playlist.  There is nothing on the playlist from this century, and it is amazing!  When we get in the car and crank it it’s like being transported home for a little bit, which is really nice.

Trips in the car also provide the opportunity for valuable life lessons:

Key lesson from today:  In the song “Bad Moon Rising” by Credence Clearwater Revival the words are “Don’t go around tonight, Well it’s bound to take your life, There’s a bad moon on the rise“.  The words are not “Don’t go around tonight, Well it’s bound to take your life, There’s a bathroom on the right“.  So good to have that cleared up.

Anyway, back to Seville.  We arrived in Seville by bus from the Algarve.  Safe to say we’d learned our lesson from that whole Porto train incident, so had an early night beforehand and a much more pleasant journey as a result.  On arrival, we discovered that we were getting our first upgrade (sort of) of the trip.  The apartment we had booked had a broken toilet, so we got moved to a much bigger, better one with its own rooftop terrace – Smokey Joe was in heaven!  The apartment was in the centre of the Santa Cruz district, which is the former Jewish Quarter.  It is very quaint with tiny cobbled stones streets, lovely cafes and bars, loads of shoe shops and (randomly) bridal boutiques.  It was the perfect location for our 4 night stay even though the maze of streets meant we were lost the entire time.  Even Campbell, the human compass, gave up on any notion of finding his bearings.

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We did a little bit of sight-seeing during our time in Seville, but we’ve really buttoned off on that.  There is a certain amount of attraction fatigue that kicks in after a while, and we found that we were becoming a bit blasé.  We’ve also decided that we’ll focus on the stuff that actually interests us, rather than the things the guidebooks say we should see.  This time around we did a walking tour (which always touches on the key sights and deals with any FOMO about missing those), checked out the view from the top of the Metropol Parasol, visited the Alcazar of Seville and went along to a Flamenco show at the Museo del Baile Flamenco (highly recommend).

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When we weren’t doing that stuff, we really just mooched around.  Our apartment came with access to a gym, so we went to the gym in the morning, called into the local for coffee on the way home, did trip/life admin and then ventured out to get lost and have lunch.  The food in Seville is amazing – seriously amazing and seriously cheap.  Campbell says he can tell how much I love a dish by how often I say “honestly” when talking about it – “Honestly, wasn’t that the best meal ever!”, “I honestly can’t get over how good that octopus was”, “Honestly, we have to come here again” . . .. you get the picture.  We systemically worked our way through the list of recommendations from our AirBnB host, and every meal was better than the last.  The title of “meal of the trip” changed hands three times during our stay in Seville alone.

We fully embraced the Spanish siesta, and would (eventually) find our way home after lunch and read books on the terrace or binge watch “Making a Murderer” on Netflix.  Late afternoon in Seville meant temperatures of 40 degrees and it really was too hot to do much else.  Everybody hides out indoors for a few hours and then ventures back out at about 8 pm for drinks and dinner.  Thankfully everywhere in Seville also has air conditioning, because the sweaty beast from our Cuba stay was back with a vengeance.  Restaurants even have water misters under their canopies, which turn on at regular intervals to keep diners cool.  Quite the contrast to New Zealand where you’re hoping that the canopy has a built-in gas heater.

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Our time in Seville marked a bit of a transition for us.  It no longer feels like we’re just on a short(ish) holiday, and it’s finally sunk in that we’re going to be doing this for a whole lot longer.  As a result, the urge to run ourselves ragged seeing and doing everything has pretty much disappeared.  We’re enjoying just hanging out, trying to absorb what we can from the places we visit and doing what we want when we want.  It’s quite nice to have crossed this line, because shit we were getting tired!  Our 5 nights in San Sebastian is shaping up to be very much the same, although now we’ll be scoffing Pinxtos instead of Tapas.

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Rock the Boat

We finished our last night in Lisbon by visiting some Fado clubs.  Fado means “fate” and is a style of music unique to Portugal.  Fado is often described as the Portuguese version of the blues – it is sad and soulful and tragic, which actually sums up pretty nicely how we were both feeling after our night of Fado club-hopping.  Our train ride to Porto the next morning was just horrendous.  We’d both thought that we’d be able to sleep off the night before during the trip, only to discover that we had been seated in the only seats in the carriage that faced backwards (sitting backwards in any vehicle makes me want to vomit almost immediately) and faced two passengers sitting opposite (envisage a little 4 person booth).  The elderly man facing me obviously hadn’t got the memo that it’s creepy and weird to watch other people sleeping, and I could feel him watching me every time I tried to drift off.  After about half an hour we admitted defeat and slunk off to the bar cart (not ideal given our state) and promptly curled up in the fetal position and fell asleep with our heads on one of the dining tables.

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As you can imagine, our first night in Porto was pretty uneventful.  We went for a bit of a wander, but were really just killing time until it was acceptable to go to bed.  Campbell did manage to tick one thing off the itinerary by indulging in a Franceschina for dinner.  A Franceschina is a Porto speciality and is effectively the mother of all sandwiches.  You start off with a regular sandwich filled with ham, a piece of steak and chopped up sausages.  That sandwich is then encased in cheese and grilled, before having a spicy sauce of beer and tomatoes poured over the top of it.  In case that wasn’t enough, it’s served up with fries.  Legend has it that the Franceschina was developed by a Portuguese man who, upon returning home from a lengthy stay in Paris, was dismayed at how conservative the ladies of Portugal were.  Playing on the traditional French Croque Monsieur, he set about developing a spicy sandwich that would get the girls hot under the collar, reaching for a refreshing beer, and subsequently getting their kit off.

Porto is the second largest city in Portugal.  It is situated along the banks of the Douro River and is incredibly picturesque.  Its primary claim to fame is that it is part of the exclusive and legally demarcated zone for producing Porto wines.  It’s also getting good mileage out of the fact that JK Rowling lived here for some of the time she was penning the Harry Potter books (the Hogwarts school uniform is modelled on the one worn by Porto University students).  Porto has the same type of shabby chic feel that Lisbon has with the additional edge of being a student city.  Current estimates are that 20% of all buildings in Porto are abandoned – due in large part to the inability of the Port wine industry to sustain an entire city, and also the impact of historic rent control measures, which have resulted in landlords earning such poor rents that they are unable to maintain their properties.  There is quite an eerie feel to the place as a result.

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We learnt all of this during the walking tour we did on our second day.  Our tour took us through the commercial centre of Porto and also down into Ribeira, the historic heart of Porto.  We had great views of Porto’s various bridges on the way, and stopped for cake and dessert served by an old lady from her back door (you’ll note there’s a bit of a theme here with old Portuguese women feeding us in back alleys during these walking tours).  We hopped across the bridge from Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia after the tour to wander the shops and have a bit of lunch on the promenade.

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Our final day in Porto was another busy one.  We decided to hire bikes in the morning to see more of the river and make our way up to Praia de Matosinhos, an urban beach frequented by Porto locals and tourists looking to surf.  It’s not an amazing beach by any stretch of the imagination (it overlooks a container port), but the ride was fun and we got to see a bit more of the city and its surroundings.  We’ve also decided that when there’s an option to combine sight-seeing and exercise that we’ll get into that, rather than parking ourselves on a bus or a train.

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By the time we got back, it was time to hit the showers and get ready for our Port wine tasting at Sandeman Cellar.  It’s pretty much mandatory to do a wine tasting when you’re in Porto and all of the major cellars have tours on offer.  In addition to tasting the wines, you learn about the history of the particular cellar and the process of making the wines.  Neither of us really liked the Port wines, so we avoided any tricky discussions about how much we could carry, how heavy our bags were etc.  We finished the day with a boat trip along the river to see Porto’s 6 iconic bridges.

On Saturday morning, we left Porto and picked up a rental car to drive to our final stop in Portugal – Lagos in the Algarve region.  The Algarve is a cluster of beautiful towns and villages that run along Portugal’s southern coast.  It is a massive tourist hub, full of resorts, and exclusive holiday homes.  Luckily for us, summer in the Algarve doesn’t properly kick off until July/August, so it’s been busy, but not unbearable.  The fact that it is so incredibly beautiful here also means that you’re prepared to put up with a bit to be able to enjoy it yourself.  Our time here has been really relaxing and probably just what the Dr ordered before we head further into Europe.

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The one organised activity of this leg of the trip was a kayaking trip around the coast to see some of Lagos’ famous beaches and sea caves.  It was a lot of fun, albeit we had to have a few “team talks” to get our paddling in sync .  The photo below accurately sums up some of the early “syncing” issues.

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The highlight of our trip was when we had to paddle our kayaks up to the shore of a beach where we were going to spend some time hanging out.  The sea had started to get a bit choppy and it was touch and go whether it was safe for us to paddle ashore.  We were in favour of giving it a crack and persuaded (or maybe rail-roaded) the rest of our group into agreeing.  There was one American girl who was particularly reluctant and was threatening to derail things.  We used all of our Kiwi charm to convince her that things would be fine – “what’s the worst that can happen?”, “you’ll be great”, “just give it a go”, “don’t be an egg”.  What we didn’t equip her for was the reality that we would catch a massive wave into shore, T-bone her kayak, then ride straight over the top of her, banging her on the head and knocking her off the kayak and into the water.  Cue much screaming and hysteria as she flopped about on the shore pretending to drown in an inch of water.

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When it came time to leave the beach the swell was even bigger.  Given we’d orchestrated the trip ashore, we decided we’d have to man up and be the first kayak to attempt to get past the breakers.  We rolled our kayak on our first attempt, but then navigated an enormous wave to make it out of the bay.  Having witnessed us spill out of our kayak, our American friend decided she was not having a bar of it, and channelled all of her American-ness into an epic temper tantrum on the beach.  We couldn’t hear much (I was really trying!), but there were a lot of hands waving around, people storming off, placating boyfriends and other theatrics.  Twenty minutes later our little group was reunited and we began the trip home.

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Today was our last day in Lagos, so we took the rental car for a spin to see some of the other villages in our neck of the woods.  First stop was Sagres – a rugged coastal spot known here as “the end of the world”.  Sagres has huge towering cliff faces and beaches loved by surfers and kite surfers.  It reminded us both of the area around the Twelve Apostles in Australia.  We carried on from there and picked up some souvenirs from a pottery studio and had lunch at Portimao.  Portimao was pretty, but didn’t have nearly as much charm as our little village of Lagos.

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Tonight will be a quiet one as we get ready for our early morning bus trip across into Seville, Spain.  I am beyond excited to get into the tapas action – stretchy pants will also be on the menu.

A&C

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