A Travellerspoint blog

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Day 16

MADRID

We set off from Lourdes early in the morning and had another big travelling day. We crossed the France/Spain border near the coast and it was amazing the difference between the two countries. The multitude of fields of sunflowers and maize continued but it quickly became drier and more like Central Otago.

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We arrived in Madrid at 5.00 and immediately took the bus on a tour of the city with a local guide, Julianna.

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It is like London and Paris, a very large capital city and combines the old and the new in its history. We explored the Place de Mayor and other prominent buildings around the old city.

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I came across a couple of small children in a doorway. As soon as I approached them they set a pose for a photo and called over their younger brother. Very cute and reminded me that some people have been brought up to respond to tourists.

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After we had settled into our hotel we set out again about 8.00pm(late for us) for a meal and entertainment at the oldest restaurant in Madrid.

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The meal was just OK but the entertainment brilliant. We went back to the hotel full of Sangria and with Spanish music ringing in our ears. We just had to finish that off with a group of fellow travellers in our room for a nightcap.

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Posted by Ian.jenny 23:13 Comments (0)

Day 17

MADRID

A slow start to the day! Good job we weren't driving today - the sangria levels were still high. The bus took us to a few special sights in Madrid. A favourite was the statue of Miguel de Cervantes, one of Spain's most famous writers. As I had read the stories many years ago, I was thrilled to see the man himself gazing over a serene setting with Don Quixote and his faithful servant Sancho Panza nestled in front of him.

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Later we experienced a moment the reminded us we were still naive tourists. A lady dressed as a "headless person" approached us put a hat on our head a "suggested" a photo with her. When we had finished she held her hand out and said MONEY! We literally had no coins and said sorry. Her angry reply was " NO SORRY, MONEY! We managed to get away when somebody else took an interest in her but we're staggered to find her behind us again five minutes later demanding money. A lesson learned.

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Soon we were in the bus again and off to Toledo, the former capital of Spain and about 70kms away. What a beautiful old city. It has been well cared for as it tries to retain the old town centre. Full of tourists like us but hugely interesting with its Roman and monarchical influences.

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It was fascinating to wander through its old, narrow streets and drink in the ancient atmosphere. The shops were full of suits of armour, replica swords, bullfighting clothing and equipment, and the lovely dresses reminding us of the Spanish dancers. Jenny managed to buy a dress for Ella and I bought a couple of T-shirts watched over by a large Spanish bull, similar to the ones on my shirt.

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In the evening a group of us ventured into the Madrid nightlife and had a tapas meal at a local restaurant. Great fun, the owner, Miguel, took us under his wing as a result of our awful Spanish attempts and even shouted us shots at the end of the night. A tiring but great day.

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Posted by Ian.jenny 08:05 Comments (1)

Day 18

BARCELONA

How can these days keep getting better? We made another early start and had another long drive from Madrid to Barcelona but that was the only do wnside all day. I was amazed by the subtle change of scenery from Castille through Aragon to Catalonia. The endless sunflower and maize fields gave way to olives and fruit trees. The landscape became stoney, dry and rugged and you could imagine Don Quixote and perhaps El Cid riding the trails through the hills and valleys. The countryside was dotted with old villages and their castles and monasteries and it was a pity we could only flash by.

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We were immediately impressed with Barcelona when we arrived in the afternoon. We took a tour with a local guide and went to Montjuic overlooking the city. I was delighted to see the stadiums of the 1992 Olympics as I clearly remember so much from those games, including shooting the arrow to light the flame. It was all I imagined and more. The view from the lookout was amazing and the only thing that got us back on the bus was the 35+ heat.

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The sights around Barcelona were impressive. We were shown many of the local highlights including the impressive but strangely designed Sagrada Familia. We were getting tired by this stage but found Barcelona to be a thriving, passionate city.

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Then came the highlight of the day - our clever tour guide, Lucian, organised tickets to the FC Barcelona game at the main stadium. It was a rush to get there but when we eventually sat down amongst the 85000 crowd we couldn't believe that we had scored this extra event. It was the most amazing sporting experience we have had and I can't believe the passion and enthusiasm of the crowd. What a way to finish day! Barcelona won 1-0 but the result for us was unimportant, the experience was what will remain with us forever.

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Posted by Ian.jenny 15:35 Comments (0)

Day 19

BARCELONA

Barcelona is such a great party city. It's a shame that the warnings about pickpockets etc are all around (thanks Rachel) because is clearly a vibrant, beautiful city, one that appears attract people, mainly young ones, to its shops, restaurants, night clubs and beaches. We had a great time and will be sad to leave in the morning.
We started the day with a trip to Monserrat with our local guide. This is a mountain in the Catalan Range and perched near the top is a Benedictine Abbey, Santa Maria de Monserrat. It is very special and we were all impressed by the serenity of the church itself. It just goes to show that you don't have be religious to appreciate the faith of others.

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In the afternoon we went a small group of us to the city and had free time wandering up La Rambla and into the city squares. La Rambla one of the most popular tourist spots in Barcelona and we were on the lookout for any dodgy characters. Fortunately we found none but found plenty of shops and good cafes.

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After a siesta back at the hotel, we travelled into town again for a meal and a show at the Tableo Flamenco. This was a rare treat of various different Spanish dishes accompanied by copious bottles of wine and, yes, that Sangria again.

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The show was a Flamenco spectacular. The energy and passion of the dancers was obvious and we were treated to an hour and a half of rhythmic singing, dancing and toe tapping entertainment. We were still shouting Ole Ole as we climbed on the bus.

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As a finale for a great dat we drove to see Christopher Columbus's monument at the end of La Rambla and then on to the Magic Fountain for a look. It seemed half of Barcelona was also there and what a spectacular show. What a way to end a day!

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Posted by Ian.jenny 13:41 Comments (0)

Day 20

CANNES

A quieter day today. That's a welcome relief! We set off from Barcelona early in the morning and crossed the border into Southern France on our way to Cannes.

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It was a long day in the bus but the countryside was interesting, we had left the dry, rugged fields of Spain behind and were now heading through fields of lavender and sunflowers again. The crossing of the Rhone was a highlight as it was very picturesque and surrounded by the remains of ancient Roman walls.

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There a sobering moment just out of Beziers when we passed the spot that Jerry Collins and his family had their accident. It was such a straight and innocent looking piece of road, hard to believe it was the scene of a tragedy. We were quiet for a while after that! When we arrived in Cannes we immediately went on a tour of the city. It's really quite a mixture. There were fabulous villas on the hillside and opulent yachts and boats in the marina. But there were also old and tired apartments and hotels down on the waterfront and other parts of the city that were just like the rest of France. It is obviously a playground for the rich and famous and there was plenty of evidence of wealthy people with their all year round tans. Quite a spectacle for the pale Kiwis coming out of a cold winter.

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The hotel is a Holiday Inn and although it looks good from the outside it is just OK inside. We were spoilt in Madrid and Barcelona so we have no complaints really. It does have a pool so a group of us had a relaxing swim before tea at the hotel and retired to the balcony of one of our rooms for a nightcap. Not a bad way to finish a day - chatting with friends overlooking the sea in Cannes on the Côte d'Azur. Magic!

Posted by Ian.jenny 00:25 Comments (0)

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