Harps and baguettes
[Original post at emad.nomadlife.org - may not see pictures in FB note]
3 different land masses and over 3000 miles of driving in 3 weeks time has left me with a significant amount of fodder for this post. One of the great things about not keeping a travel journal is that you can reflect on your trips in an unbiased manner when trying to sift through all those wonderful experiences to reach those that remain etched in your mind fairly quickly. Of course, the downside is that stories are short and fairly non-descriptive. Oh well.
Ireland, Republic of.
To be perfectly honest, it was never the obvious choice for a weekend away, but when C moved down there to work for G, the clock was tickin'! I'm a big fat waste of a traveller on most occasions, because things and places have a rather hard time fascinating me. People's always the make-or-break. And oh lord, do the people make Ireland a fantabulous place to visit, or what! Random strangers stop you on the street to explain the stories behind things you appear to find interesting, cab drivers sing along to female pop songs in a thick accent.
They drive on the correct side of the road (mine), yet they use metric units. They are an improved version of Britain. Hell, even their airport announcement dudes make jokes over the big announcer! Land of harps, I'm a fan.
(my official photographer is still working her magic on the photographs, so we all have to wait for those).
When you live on the island of Britain, people often share stereotypes about France and the French - pride, arrogance - score high up on that list. So armed with that all that cultural insight, I was prepared for the worst. Wrong.
Dune du Pyla
I'm no fan of French food, but customer service in that country ranks better than most places I have been to on this planet. As for pride, there are so very many things that have made it into pop culture from this great country, that if I was French, I would not let you hear the end of it! Camembert, Dijon, Bordeaux.. products, no, cities! The list goes on. This land's made a contribution that is significant and humbling. There's culture on every corner, and history on every turn. Now, if only they spoke in English..
French radio leaves a bit to be desired, but we were entertained by how regardless of which channel you tuned into, there seemed to be a coordinated record of the day! 'Over the rainbow' on Monday, 'Time of my life' for Tuesday, and so on. Funny. Oh and there's free and unlimited wireless broadband access, like, everywhere!
Honourable mention for the vineyards of St Emilion, Honfleur's baguettes, and Dune du Pyla. Dishonourable mention for the toll taxes. I find paying for roads as toll offensive at an academic level and the fact that we paid an arm and a leg in them was less than impressive. The roads were pretty great though and on occasion, I secretly prayed for a faster car, as my co-pilot tried to work out our next destination of interest, and cars overtook me from the wrong side.
There's way too much to do, and I'm glad it's this close, so a return trip is being planned no doubt.
On the way to Spain, I cursed the EU under my breath as the entrance into Spain, a country I had looked forward to going to since I was aye-high, was an incredible anticlimax. All I wanted was a picture under the 'Welcome to Spain' sign, and all I was got 'France ends in 1000 meters' sign. In French.
Before I left, the things I was looking forward to most were: Spanish food, and Barcelona. Things turned out to be somewhat different.
Pintxos (pron Pinchos) is essentially bar tapas in Basque country. While the variety was overwhelming, they did undeliver every time I had one. By the end of our pintxo-trail, all I wanted was a big fat fithy burger. But then again, I always want a big fat filthy burger. However, that was the only underwhelming part of San Sebastian.
The sun was shining and it was 22 degrees on the 29th of December, which alone would be worth it. The atmosphere was chilled out and the wind was combed. It was definitely the highlight of the trip. Saw the crap outta that place!
Zaragoza was sorta cool, and the one night spent there was well worth it, and not just because I got to meet the biggest cotton candy I have ever come across. We had some epic food, which only got ordered through sign language and some expensive bit of data roaming on google translate. I did feel like this city's architecture was constantly hinting at a past that involved some form of Islamic influence, and I want to learn more about it.
Reflection time in Zaragoza
Finally, Barcelona. The intensity of my time makes me want to shed some tears of frustration. Now, don't get me wrong. It's an epic city. It's just more than a handful in so many ways, and my expectations were probably quite different. There's loads to see, and Gaudi's influence over that city is unmissable. In fact, besides the fact that the tourist authority couldn't be f***ed off to make sure the timings for opening hours on the wall are correct (you can tell I hold a grudge), the Sagrada Familia in the most fascinating structure I have come across in my life. And it's still being built! I'd really like to see it completed in my lifetime.
Inside Sagrada Familia
There was no place to have dinner on NYE and there were no fireworks. Although we eventually got an overpriced, late, but incredibly funny meal, I don't rate it as a city to spend the end/start of any year. The beach was nice, and I found a ritual around eating 12 grapes at midnight amusing, but where's da party, yaar? Magical fountain was neat, but only if you haven't seen the Aqua Fantasia at Dubai Shopping Festival. All in all, it was intense. It was good, but I want more, and I know that city has more. I want to meet more.
I love the language, and I want to come back having learnt it. New year's resolution #2. Just need to ensure I take account of siesta hours next time.
Also, I came in and out of Brussels (well, actually given the icy roads and the summer tyres, I more skated-without-any-control in and out), I haven't got much to share at the moment. Honestly, I am finding that I am not doing Belgium justice despite the frequent trips. This shall be rectified.
Regardless, arguably the most epic holiday ever taken!
More pics will be on my FB as soon as they've gone through the requisite processing.