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The Smiffs' Travel Page 2011

We begin this year's adventure on Wed 3th August when we head down to Sydney to catch our early morning flight to Seoul on Thursday 4th. After an overnight there we head off to Paris on Friday.
Then it's Barcelona, Valencia, Granada, Sevilla, Madrid, Salamanca, Bibao, San Sebastian, Biarritz and on to "Kermasi" farm in St Emilon for a fortnight.

We arrive home in Newcastle on Wednesday 28th September.

Diary Entries

Friday, 09 September 2011

Location: Biarritz, France

Sorry about the delay but WiFi here is a bloody pain!! I'm gunna wait until I get to St Emilion an d bombard you from there with pics/vids and entries!! THAT IS if the WiFi there is working better than the last few places.

Off to the Chocolate Museum/Factory for a 2pm visit.

Wednesday, 07 September 2011

Location: San Sebastian, Spain

Salamanca was a delight. We really enjoyed this delightful city. Great sights, sounds and tastes and the buffet breakfast at Hotel Rua was astounding. We even tried the baked egg custard on our last day.
Anyone who plans to come to Salamanca must try to book at Hotel Rua – it just makes the stay being so close to everything.
And now to Bilbao! Our time in Spain is drawing to a close. 3 days in Bilbao then 3 in San Sebastian and we head back into France with a 3 day stay on the beach at Biarritz before heading off to St Emilon.
The 6 hour train trip to Bilbao was interesting; with the landscape changing as we travelled from the plains to the mountains as we neared the coast. Luckily the steward in the cafeteria carriage told me to go back to my carriage at Miranda as the train separated, with the front 2 carriages going in one direction and our carriage to Bilbao!!
We are staying at Hotel Bilbi just up the “hill” from the old city centre. You might like to go to www.bookings.com and read some of the comments about it that were written AFTER I booked it in May!!
Our room is on the top floor (8th). It is quite large and has a huge balcony/verandah. We get a 270 degrees panoramic view of the city. A fridge would be nice!!
After checking in around 4.30pm we did a wander down to the old city centre and found the Tourist Office to collect maps, info etc then wandered about and found a cafe for a pre dinner drink. As we were both a wee tired we decided to call into the local Carrefour (Supermarket chain in Europe) and grabbed some fruit, (bananas are a steal compared to home) bread, cold meats and a bottle of Rioja red (2.2 euros)to enjoy the evening ambience on our balcony/verandah accompanied by some wonderful Spanish music – courtesy of the CD we picked up in the Plaza Mayor in Salamanca – played through my notebook computer.
Tomorrow we attack the Guggenheim!!!!
Guggenheim was fantastic! We spent almost 4 hours in and around it.
Other highlights of Bilbao included;
• The Maritime Museum
• The Fine Arts Museum – which had a marvellous visiting exhibition of ancient Colombian gold works
• The trip on the funicular railway for a panoramic view of the city and surrounds (and the Guggenheim)
• The excellent tram system
Catching the bus to San Sebastian – just over 1 hour away and hope to spend some time on the beach!!
I’ll try and put a few pic/vid galleries together when we get some better WiFi connections. Bilbao was absolutely hopeless. As we have a reasonable one here in San Sebastian, I might give it a go as we can’t check into our Biarritz hotel until 5pm and it’s only 20kms away from here. Even here the WiFi connection drops in and out!! Bugger!!! That’s why I’ve taken to drafting these Planet Ranger entries in a Word Document and then doing a cut and paste when I happen to get lucky enough to keep a connection long enough to send it.
BUT I can let you know that San Sebastian is delightful – even though it was drizzling with rain just after we arrived!

Saturday, 03 September 2011

Location: Spain

Sorry folks - WiFi is not good here we are heading to San Sebastian and will post again when we get back into France.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Location: Salamanca, Spain

Travelled through a variety of terrain on the train trip to Salamanca. Saw what looked like an interesting town (Avila) on the way. The countryside all along the way was very dry until we reached the outskirts of Salamanca which used irrigation from the Rio Tormes.
As suspected, the taxi couldn’t get to our hotel because of the Spanish equivalent to the Tour de France (LaVuelta) was in town. But it was not far to walk to our hotel – Rua Salamanca, which was only a couple of minutes walk from the Plaza Mayor, where today’s time trial section finished.
I picked well here! The hotel is right in the centre of the old section of town, within easy walking distance of all the major monuments, buildings and museums AND the room is quite spacious with an old glass panelled balcony that looks out into a wide street that leads from the Plaza Mayor to the Cathedral.
From this balcony we could see down to our right the last 150 metre section of the bike course, so once we had stowed our luggage we wandered down for a closer look. I managed to squeeze into a spot at the 75 metres to go mark and got a couple of short video shots of the sights and sounds. As I did this Creaky smelled out an Irish Pub, just a dribble down the street and we sat in the bar and had a couple of drinks and watched the last 4 riders finish and the presentations on the big screen.
Then we wandered back up the street and into the Plaza Mayor where they were dismantling all the La Vuelta scaffolding and barricades etc and managed to pick up a La Vuelta pack for someone we know will like it. (it comprised a cap, t-shirt, sunglasses, set of four wristbands in the colours of the 4 category leaders’ jerseys and a mobile lanyard – all in a handy little string-thing backpack)
We then visited the Informacion Tourimo and picked up a map and a sheet about opening/closing times and visit costs. Amazingly, nearly all are free!!
After Madrid, this place is magic!!! I’m sure we are really going to love our stay here.
Had a great meal for dinner, followed by ice cream in the street as we promenaded with the rest of the locals and tourists; then to a supermarket to get water and then retired to our room, ready to attack the sights/sites tomorrow (Tuesday).

Monday, 29 August 2011

Location: Madrid, Spain

Anyway, after checking in we picked out the Prado and Thyssen Museums for a visit. We especially wanted to see the Antonio Lopez photographic exhibition at the Thyssen. We headed off to the Plaza de Castilla Metro station.

The ten-ride metro ticket is fantastic. Ten trips including interchanging cost 9.5E and a single ticket is 1.50E. If you wanted to, you could get on the metro and ride all day for 1.50E - just like the singers, orators, accordion players busking through the trains all day. They must make money to do it. When we arrived in Madrid and realised how big this city is and how far our hotel is from the "action", we were considering a quiet time, but the metro cured all that and by the time we got into Sol and wandered around a bit, it wasn't long before we had chalked up a couple of art galleries and a museum and decided to forgo the red tourist bus.

Brian was concerned we wouldn't be able to get tickets for the bullfight, but we found a ticket agent in a plaza near Sol. We didn't expect that we couldn't get tickets for the Antonio Lopez exhibition - that was sold out. We took a photo of his work outside the FNUC store in Seville, so I was looking forward to seeing his exhibition.

On Sunday, we looked for a pair of sandals and a short-sleeve shirt in the Summer sales but no luck. Most of the shops are already stocked with Winter clothes and boots so we had some lunch and "did" the palace and cathedral - waiting in the long, long, long queue. After about 30 minutes Brian decided it wasn't worth another half-hour wait to see more opulence so opted to take pictures from the outside. After that, we found a nice little hotel looking out on the Palace to share a bottle of cava for my birthday. Back to the hotel for siesta and got ready for the bullfight.

Emerging from the metro we walked into the crowded Plaza del Toro - lots of stalls selling t-shirts, bottles of water - bullfighting trinkets etc. There was a massive queue lining up to buy tickets, but we walked straight in, hired a couple of cushions and were shown to our seats. We had purchased the dearer in the part sun tickets, but the sun was only shining on the side of our faces for about 20 minutes and then we were equals. We were close to the ring, above where the horses exited and very close to heavy cigarette and cigar smokers. In front of us there was a man and his son - Australian working in London, and a couple of Americans. The American wanted to know what the bull fight was all about and Brian gave them some information that we learned from the tour of the Plaza de Toros in Seville.

All we can say is that it was a "been there, done that" experience. From what we gathered a "quick-clean" kill gets huge applause. We were very close to when a bull attacked a horse and upended it and it's rider. As the horses have protective armour now that is quite heavy, a number of attendants had to assist in getting the horse to its feet. We'll tell you more about it when we catch up face-to-face.

Our overall impression of Madrid is that unless you are a real Art fanatic, it's probably just too big to really enjoy - particularly after the wonderful buzz of Seville - and to give it a miss and spend your time in the smaller cities and towns.

Unfortunately being so far from the centre of town it meant that we didn't get a chance to enjoy the tapas of Madrid. The Plaza de Castilla really had no restaurants or cafes just some bloody big towers. a huge bus terminal and this 4 star hotel with NO BAR!!!

And now it's off to Salamanca were we might have some trouble getting close to our hotel without a bit of carrying of luggage, as the Tour d'Espana bike ride is in town and the streets around the main plaza are closed AND our hotel is 30 seconds from the Plaza!! We'll see what happens and let you know!!

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Location: Madrid, Spain

Ah! Sevilla (Seville)!!
It’s sitting in the train typing time again. Just 5 more minutes and our high-speed Renfe AVE train will be off to Madrid.
Sevilla was an enjoyable 4 day stay. Our hotel was very handy to lots of sights (and sounds) so we saw lots and did lots – including eating and drinking!!
Perhaps the highlights were;
• Going to the top of the Giralda at the Sevilla Cathedral – up 34 ramps and 17 steps to the top of the 93 metre’s tall bell tower;
• The Alcazar – the Royal Palace – its rooms and gardens;
• The Plaza de Toros where we learned about bullfighting – its rules and customs. I now know that there are usually 6 bulls and 3 matadors (they get 2 bulls each and 20 minutes to “subdue” it, but can claim a 10 minute extension) There is also a marked difference between what a novice and an established matador is paid. 1800 euros to 180,000 euros per event and from this they have to pay their “team” and other costs. Each bullring has its own private chapel and hospital. Our guide mentioned Belmonte as perhaps the greatest matador seen in Sevilla. AND our favourite restaurant was named after him and 8 heads of bulls he “subdued” adorned its walls. Great tapas and cold cerveza and verdejo!!
• The Inquisition Museum (Castilla St Jorge) This was where the Inquisition had its “headquarters” for 3 centuries and was aptly called “a place of reflection”.
• The Plaza de Espana and the Maria Louisa gardens; and
• The general “buzz” of this vibrant and historical city!
• DISAPPOINTMENT – not finding The Barber of Seville!!!
Not looking to do too much in Madrid over the weekend. Do the hop on-hop off bus to get an overview and then pick a couple of places to visit. I also hope to get tickets to take Creaky to a bullfight on Sunday for her birthday. Checked into the Hotel Silken Puerta Castilla in Madrid and am reading through the tourist blub to get orientated before we head out. From the length (and cost) of the taxi drive from the station her we arrived, we seem to be a bit out of the city c entre but the Plaza de Castilla metro station is just across the road from the hotel.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Location: Sevilla, Spain

After taking the second on the right we walked by quite a few restaurants and the thought of some tapas was too strong to go passed without venturing into one of them. The one we chose, "Belmonte" had the heads of 8 losers from the Plaza de Toros! Bloody huge they were! After some sizzling garlic prawns and a fine glass of wine we continued on our way to find the Tourist Office. This took us around the Cathedral AND it is gigantic!

Anyway we found the tourist office and were given a map and asked where we came from by the woman more intent on surfing the net than giving us any meaningful info - and that was it!

Walking back to our hotel we were approached by a bloke on a bicycle who happened to be an Aussie (who's lived here 13 years and married 2 Spaniards - not at the same time - and is currently single and a sole tourist operator) He sold us discounted entry to the "famous" El Patio Sevillano Flamence night spot for the 9.30pm show and a couple of 48 hour Green Hop On-Hop Off Bus tickets. He gave us some good tips about what were "must sees" and tips generally about Sevilla. Paul also gave me his phone number in case we need any more help during our stay.

So it was back to our digs for a siesta and shower and off to the flamence show.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Location: Sevilla, Spain

GO BACK AND READ THE ENTRY FOR 22nd AUGUST AS I'VE COMPLETED TH BARCELONA ENTRY AND ADDED VALENCIA.

FROM TOMORROW I PROMISE TO UPDATE DAILY AND GET SOME PICS TO YOU - ALTHOUGH IT MIGHT BE HARD NOW WE ARE IN SEVILLE - as tomorrow I'm gunna try and the The Barber of.....!!

We arrived around 1.30 in Sevilla and were immediately taken by the imposing Cathedral on the way to our digs. From 4 star modern to Historic Site!! We had to walk into the place from where the taxi dropped us off as the street/lane is too narrow for a car. BUT despite it's age there was a lift to our floor , the room is small but comfy and hs aircon, which we hope not to se as we have a small balcony whih opens on to the 3 crosses plaza.

On the train I discovered again that I am human and had buggered up our booking! I had us checking out of Sevilla on Friday morning but the train to Madrid is booked for Saturday - as is the hotel in Madrid. Not to worry!! We were able to extend our stat here - and by the looks of the place, we'll need at least 3 days to really see it.

So after we'd settled the luggage we ventured out to find the local tourist office, located near the Catherdral - 'just a turn to the left and then the second on the right"


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Recent Messages

From Rp
Hi, Hope your trip to France is as good as Spain. let me know if it rains there is on the plains waiting for the next lot of photos Rp miss you both
Response: Got rained on to saturation point in San Sebastian!!
From rp7
Happy birthday. We have had a big weekend. Oxfam over for another year. Hard work by all.
speak soon Mxxx
Response: Thanks! See you when I'm looking at ya!!
off to a bullfight this evening.
From Rp7
guess what????? we are off to the Brewary for Dinner an than the movies. we are taking visitors Brian & Creaky Smith with us tonite.
speak soon Rp
Response: We hope hey enjoy their evening. I'm gunna catch up on my entries as I've been a bit slack. Catch up on the train from Granada to Seville tomorrow (Tues)
Both well and enjoying 40= dergree temps in Granada.
From Button
Wow! Looking at the staircase, it's amazing you only fell down half a flight, guess (luckily) you weren't at the top!
Response: I was at tht TOP!!!