Tag Archives: Spain

Adventures In Andalucía

Well after a whirlwind exit from Melbourne and with everything I own either sold, in storage or in the suitcase I’m now travelling with, I find myself in gorgeous Granada. It’s been a few weeks of good living here as my great friend Paula and I have made the most of everything that’s so wonderful about Spain – tapas, vino tinto, picture-postcard scenery, fascinating history, and the quintessentially Iberian laid-back approach to life.

Cadiz, city of intrigue

Cadiz, city of intrigue

I’m missing my motorbike, of course – but happily we’ve got a car for a bit and have been doing some great road-trips to some of Andalucía’s most beautiful areas. We drove via Gibraltar and Tarifa to Cádiz in the west of the province – a magical city where the cobbled lamp-lit alleyways and fading centuries-old buildings reek of sailor’s stories and shenanigans from times gone by.

Following a tip-off from a friend, we then headed north to El Puerto de Santa Maria to seek out the Bodegas Obregón and sample their extraordinary sherries – fino, amontillado, and my favourite, the “Oloroso.

Mmmm, sherry....

Mmmm, sherry….

Warmed by a few tipples – and with a case in the boot! – we then drove the incredible Pueblos Blancos (White Villages) route, along precarious twisty roads climbing up through steep mountain passes leading to gorgeous whitewashed villages like Grazalema and Ronda.

The road to Grazalema

The road to Grazalema

After getting hopelessly lost as darkness descended, we arrived late to friends with a villa in La Viñuela, a tiny village somewhere north-east of Málaga and shared sherry, cheese and stories from the road with them until the small hours. Next morning, we woke to the sound of birds and the sight of more green rolling hills generously dotted with little white cottages. Bliss.

So as you can probably tell, it’s all good here in Spain! It’s still winter here, with chilly temperatures and a lot of rain, so I’ve already made a conscious decision to hold off getting a bike until the weather improves a bit. I also need to do more research into whether I’ll hire or buy and the places I want to explore, both here in Spain and further afield. I’ve seen a few Suzuki Van Vans but, having had a preview of the kinds of roads that are out there, I’m already starting to wonder if one would be cut out for Europe, North Africa and beyond.

Still, plenty of time to figure all that out. First, another fino and a generous helping of tapas, I think… 🙂

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The Road To Spain

Yes please! I want to ride through these mountains just outside Granada

The mountains near Granada – can’t wait to ride my bike through here!

Well, the clock is ticking now till I hand back the keys to my Melbourne apartment, and in the nick of time I’ve booked some flights: yes, all roads lead to Spain!

Plan A – ride Volty across Oz – was in the end a non-starter, alas. Even doing things cheaply, prices here in Australia seem to be escalating by the day, making long-term travel a bit of a no-no in terms of stretching my dollar to the max. (I was chatting to Austin and Lois at the Adventure Travel Film Festival this weekend and they said their latest trip here is woefully short because everything’s so expensive). Add to that the vast distances (huge tracts of nothingness) between places in Australia and the fact that all the most interesting areas are  hundreds of clicks off-road, and I finally had to admit that my 250cc Suzuki road bike just isn’t cut out for the kind of trip I really want to do.

Good to go - my bike gear, ready to be packed for new adventures!

Good to go – my bike gear, ready to be packed for new adventures!

So, long story short – Plan B! Head to Europe and look at picking up a Suzuki VanVan or similar to go touring through Europe, North Africa and beyond. And, well, that’s all the plan there is. With the money pocketed from selling my possessions and my beloved Volty (sob! I can’t talk about it, it was a wrench!), I’m heading first to Granada in southern Spain. I’ll base myself there at least to start with, and start checking out bikes and potential routes while living as frugally as I possibly can. I was there a couple of times last year and couldn’t believe how cheap it was to live. A good friend has a house in the Moorish part of town – the Albaicín – so I’ll head there and figure things out as I go.

My Spanish is rusty as f*** (I did a degree in Spanish and French and used to be fluent), but hopefully it’ll come back as I mingle with the locals again. Obviously the money’s a worry longer-term but I’ll work that out on the fly – hopefully by doing a bit of freelance TV work in Europe and using my TEFL certificates to get some casual teaching work. Oh and then there’s the writing, of course.

Yup, they even have GSes in Granada!

Yup, they even have GS-es in Granada!

So there it is. I keep calling it the “Non-Plan” because it’s a plan that isn’t really a plan. And I must say, I’m rather liking it so far!

I’m now in a final frenzy of cleaning, packing, selling my last items on Gumtree, and generally winding things up ready to hit Melbourne Airport Tuesday afternoon. Then it’s all change as I head to Spain to start a whole new chapter.

Let’s see how it goes, eh…? 🙂

A Fork In The Road

Hey, hey. Well a week since my last post, it’s been all systems go as I start packing up my Melbourne apartment, ready to move on. Life’s become a whirlwind of op shop runs, Cash Converters dashes, and other cross-city errands to sell, trade or otherwise offload the vast majority of my material possessions. Furniture, car, household goods…all are gradually being “re-located” to new owners. And all I can think is: How the hell did I end up with so much stuff?!

Which way next?

Which way next?

Happily, Volty’s been keeping me sane – regular daily rides down the coast are my “Happy Pill”, as I feel the sea breeze through my helmet and riding jacket, and enjoy the sensation of freedom on the road all over again.

I’m making the most of these rides. I’m still undecided about whether to do a cross-Oz trip on the bike or head to Spain to cook up a whole new two-wheeled adventure exploring Europe and Africa. But right now, it has to be said, Europe’s looking like the more viable – and cost-effective – option. And that being the case… it means I’ll have to sell my beloved Suzuki in a couple of weeks. This is of course gutting – regular readers will know how much I love my TU250X – but having looked into shipping/freighting options, I just don’t think I can afford to take the bike with me. 😦

On the up-side, once I’m in Andalucía I’ll hopefully be able to buy the new bike I’ve already got my eye on – the sturdy, characterful Suzuki Van Van – which hopefully will be the start of lots of new moto adventures! 🙂

At this fork in the road, I’m excited about what’s to come but also rather trepidatious about which road to take. It’ll be another week or so before I finally make up my mind – I’m going to enjoy the Adventure Travel Film Festival next weekend and then see how I feel after mingling with the great and good of the adventure world!

Whichever path I choose, I can’t wait to be out in the world again, exploring new places, meeting new people, and soaking up lots of fresh life experiences. Bring it on! 

New Year, New Adventures…

So here’s the thing. Christmas Day, I’m sitting at home staring down the barrel of yet another year spent thinking about lots of adventures I desperately want to do but can’t afford. Maybe it’s the rather nice Spanish jerez I’m sculling, but from somewhere very deep within something suddenly clicks: Fuck it, life’s too short. If you keep waiting till you have enough money, you’ll be sitting here till Doomsday! Within the week, I’ve handed in notice on my TV job (much to the chagrin of my employer!), on my rented Bayshore apartment…in short, on four years of life in Melbourne. That’s it – I’m off!

So what’s the plan, I hear you cry?! Well…Let’s just say it’s evolving by the day. No, really. First task is to drastically “downsize”. That means clearing out the contents of my flat, putting personal items into storage, selling the car, the furniture, getting rid of the cat… (oh hang on a minute, scrub that last one – I don’t have a cat!).

Plan #1: Head off across Oz on Volty?

Plan #1: Head off across Australia on Volty?

Then, somewhere swirling in the back of my brain – as yet not fully formed – is “The Plan”. Well, it’s two plans, actually. First is to take off with minimal luggage on my beloved Volty – yes, the Suzuki TU250X that has been my absolute joy and salvation since I purchased it a few months ago. I’ve put nearly 5,000kms on it from new so it’s well and truly run in, and I’ve got this idea of a kind of “last gasp Australia”, in which I’ll head across the country for an indeterminate amount of time and actually experience some of this vast continent I’ve been living in for the last few years.

Plan #2: Head across Europe on a Suzuki Van Van?

Plan #2: Explore Europe and beyond on a Suzuki Van Van              Photo ⓒ Suzuki (promotional)

Then again… After such a long time in Oz, I’ve a real hankering to head east for a while, to Europe. I’m craving history, culture, old buildings, speaking foreign languages, joie de vivre! After a couple of trips to Andalucía last year, I’m thinking of going back to hatch a plan that – surprise, surprise – also involves una moto! I’ve been looking at a particular motorbike there – the Suzuki Van Van – and reading about people crossing the Alps, Mongolia and other far-flung places on just such a bike. It looks like a kind of “off-road” version of Volty, with chunkier wheels and a more rugged set-up, and I’m thinking what an adventure it would be to buy one and ride through Europe, North Africa and beyond…

So there it is. I’d love to tell you the plan is more formed than it actually is, but there’s something rather delicious (if bloody scary!) about making it up as I go. Which plan I’ll plump for (or maybe I’ll do both!), I have no idea just now. All I know is, 26th Feb I have to vacate my apartment and hand back the keys once and for all – so I guess I’d better make my mind up by then, eh?! Maybe you guys can help me decide…

PS For anyone who’s wondering, yes I will still be at the Adventure Travel Film Festival 15-17 Feb! I’ve been working hard on the press and PR for it and wouldn’t miss it for the world! Come join us for a weekend of adventure and cold beer! 🙂

http://www.adventuretravelfilmfestival.com/australian-festival/

Moorish Musings

View of the Alhambra from an Albaicin terraza

If I was ever going to live in Europe again, I would definitely think about southern Spain. Having just spent another glorious week there – in beautiful Granada, Andalucía – I’ve been struck once more by its fascinating history, vibrant culture, and wonderfully laid-back atmosphere.

This time, I stayed with my good friend Paula, a writer who has a house in the very heart of the Albaicín, the old Moorish quarter of Granada. A perfect fusion of Spanish and North African cultures, the Albaicín’s rabbit warren of narrow cobbled alleyways, whitewashed walls draped with pomegranates, and dramatic views of the mighty Alhambra palace quickly recaptured my heart.

The Albaicín is truly an assault on the senses. In addition to its visual beauty, a cacophony of sounds punctuates the day. Pealing church bells jangle away periodically across the city. Laughing schoolchildren clatter down the alleys, calling to each other excitedly in high-pitched Spanish. Battered scooters vroom about intermittently, as residents expertly navigate the maze of steep narrow paths. Then in the evening, stillness – a soporific calm that envelopes the soul, broken only by the low strum of a flamenco guitar or clarinet somewhere close by.

Piononos and coffee – yum!

Then there’s the food. This time, I tasted the delight that is one of Granada’s signature pastelesthe pionono: a thin layer of pastry rolled into a cylinder, infused with super-sweet syrup and topped with toasted cream. What a treat. It’s rich and indulgent, a guilty pleasure – just like Granada itself! Impossible to have just one, though…

And oh, the tapas! On a sunny Sunday afternoon, Paula and I sat in one of the Albaicín’s picturesque squares watching the world go by with ice-cold Alhambra beers. With every order came a plate of delicious tapas: prawns, white fish, risotto, lamb morsels, all beautifully cooked and presented. Even more amazing was the bill – the beers were a mere 2 Euros apiece and the tapas were free! God, I love this place.

This was a woefully short visit, but even as I boarded the plane to head back to Melbourne, I knew I would return. Soon. Very soon.

Alhambra Dreaming

The mystical Alhambra, Granada, Spain

I’ve just returned from one of the most magical places on Earth. The mighty Alhambra in the Spanish province of Granada is a dreamy blend of exquisite medieval Moorish palaces and calm-inducing gardens, standing proudly atop a plateau on the Assabica hill south-east of the city. It’s not one of the Seven Wonders of the World, but it should be.

I’d always dreamt of visiting the Alhambra in the golden warmth of a balmy Andalusian afternoon. But, alas, the rain descended from early morning, sluicing down Granada’s cobbled streets and threatening to wash away any hopes of a truly magical experience (and any decent photographs!).

I needn’t have worried. As I rambled through the vast Alhambra site, marvelling at the intricate architecture, Arabic inscriptions and geometrical patterns, the perfectly-positioned colonnades and pavilions, and endless gardens showing off their golden and russet autumn colours, I found myself indulging in the most incredible feast of the senses. The rain actually enhanced this sensory overload, heightening the smells of the flowers and shrubs, and leaving the ancient stones and brick glistening magically in the half light.

Pausing in the Generalife, a 14th-century summer palace and gardens where the Nasrid Emirs (kings) would escape their daily stresses and strifes, I was struck by how quiet it was up here. Only the steady trickle of the fountains filled the air, lulling the senses into a soporific peace. How those Moors must have loved this haven in the heart of Andalucia, a rare treasure indeed.

Flamenco in the Albaicin

Later, in a picturesque cobbled square in Granada’s Albaicin quarter, I mused over my afternoon with a glass of vino blanco and some tapas. As I sat in my reverie, a striking raven-haired woman in a crimson dress quietly lay a wooden board down on the cobbles nearby and, accompanied by a singer and guitarist who slid silently into view from a side alley, began the most beautiful impromptu flamenco dance. Her whole body moved as one with the music, with an intensity and feeling that appeared to totally consume her. It was captivating. And after the sensuality of the Alhambra, it was the perfect punctuation to a truly magical day.