Dear readers, my apologies for the tardiness of this post, it has been a while and a lot has happened since we last spoke.
If you recall, last we spoke, I was in France and heading down to Spain for about 3 weeks. Our first stop was the irrepressible Barcelona. An old friend that never fails to disappoint. Although this time around I was considerably more sober and existing beyond the subsistence level of 3 euro Dönar Kebabs for every meal – a welcome change from my last visit about 5 years ago.
Our four days there consisted of long walks on the beach and through parks, a day of Gaudi, lots of great food and a trip to the Picasso Museum which would have to be one of the best curated museums around. I adore his interpretation of Diego Velázquez’s Les Meninas.
From Barcelona, we flew south to Granada – the first stop on our tour of Andalucía. Andalucía is Spain’s southern most region and without wanting to offend my German brothers, Andalucía is to Spain, what Bavaria is to Germany – when you conjure up an image of Spain Andalucía is what comes to mind.
Of course we stuffed our selves silly on free tapas in Granada and started tasting a few different Sherries from the region. However the highlight came from one of the two Flamenco shows we attended in Granada. We had a hunt around online for some less tourist orientated shows and found a venue that exhibited modern Flamenco, described as ‘Flamenco with a touch of David Lynch’.
We were not disappointed. The music was haunting, half the singing was essentially spoken work by a woman with a deep husky voice, but most importantly the dancing was spectacular.
Listening to the chromatic scales of the male singer I was also reminded of the influence Islam and Arabic/Northern African culture has had on the region and, indeed, the rest of the Mediterranean – a theme I continue to be fascinated by (surely communism is the only other idea that has spread so quickly and had such a world changing impact.)
Our next stop was Rhonda, somewhere I hadn’t been before. It turns out that the Rain in Spain falls mainly in Rhonda. The place damn near flooded whilst we were there. However there is a spectacular bridge (we have pictures of it being rained on) and the bars have barrels of Sherry behind the counter which they poor from liberally. It’s a stunning town that was once the capital of the region and is the home of modern bull fighting – if bull fighting can be modern that is.
Our next stop was the current capital of Andalucía – Seville. It was the first sunny weather we had enjoyed in a few weeks and we hired an apartment which meant cooking at home. I quickly rushed to the super market to buy a bottle of Fino Sherry which turned out to be cooking Sherry – no wonder it was only 1.50 euros. I drank it regardless.
From Seville, it was just a quick hop to Cordoba which was probably my favourite town in Spain. Again, the skyline is dominated by a Mosque come Church (always curious structures) and small winding streets riddled with little bars which I could drink Sherry in. Blissful.
Our last stop in Spain was Madrid. It was a’s birthday so we went to a fancy hotel and booked a fancy restaurant. On the day of her birthday we took a picnic full of local produce to the park then I rowed her around the lake in an act of unbridled chivalry. The next day we dined at a place called Asiana: Next Door which we both agreed was one of the best meals of our lives. The chef had been trained by someone famous and he produced a 12 course Asian fusion degustation to die for.
During our time in Madrid we also spent quite a few hours wandering around the very impressive Museo del Prado which contained Velázquez’s original Les Meninas. It is a painting I could stare at for hours. I also finally got to see Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights whose image I have been wearing on a T-Shirt for a couple of years now.
From Madrid we flew to Tiranë, the capital of Albania, via Milan where we had a 6 hour stop over.
Whilst sitting in the transit lounge in Milan a voice came over the loud speaker, in Italian, to remind people that smoking was not permitted in the terminal, followed by a voice with the same message speaking English with a thick South London accent. Someone at that airport has a sense of humour.
Albania. A lot of people have asked my ‘why Albania’ at which point I launch into a brief history of Albania in the 20th century. It’s the only European country that split from the USSR to formally align itself with China. Then, after the death of Mao they simply went it alone. In all of my readings of the history of Eastern Europe during the 20th Century Albania is always the exception. Of course the real reason for heading to Albania was that it was on the Mediterranean coast so a bit warmer than the rest of Europe and was cheap to fly to from Madrid. Moreover, it was an attempt to get back to something vaguely resembling the holiday we were meant to be on.
It’s also an incredibly beautiful country with a mountain range running down it’s spine.
We spent 3 nights in the capital which included many conversations that resembled something out of Everything is Illuminated and a trip on a cable car to the top of the mountain that Tiranë sits in the valley of. At the top was a rotating restaurant which was empty and didn’t serve food although they did get it rotating for us which made us both a little motion sick.
Albania can be a confusing place. In Albanian ‘yes’ is ‘po’ and they shake their head for yes and nod their head for no. So when I asked the shop keep for a beer they had a tendency to shake their head, say ‘Po’ then pour you a beer.
From there we headed north west to Skhodra near the border with Montenegro. It was on our first day here that we got the news that a very close friend had died in a sudden and tragic canoeing accident. All of a sudden Skhodra seemed like the arse end of the world and the furthest we could possibly be from where we wanted to be.
Thankfully we had a good wifi connection at the hotel we were staying at and could stay in regular contact with home and other friends abroad feeling the similarly isolated but in a more suitable timezone for our calls.
We immediately started exploring the possibilities for getting home, booked flights to Athens and then a return flight from Athens to Melbourne so we could be where we most needed to be. Within 48 hours we were home and with our loving friends and family.
…and 12 days later we were back in Athens.
I take back anything negative I may have said about Athens in our time in Melbourne. As second time round it struck us as a very ‘liveable’ city (despite the traffic congestion) which is honestly about the highest complement I can pay a city.
We spent 3 days wondering around, seeing ruins, eating Gyros and having a wonderful time – albeit with moments of profound sadness interspersed.
I started operating on the ‘Gyros’, rather than the Euro (it’s about 2 Gyros to the Euro) just so that I knew exactly how many Gyros I could buy at any one time.
The Acropolis is amazing, and the Acropolis Museum was also impressive as well as being an amazing piece of architecture and a superbly curated.
Now we find ourselves in Cyprus with a’s Family with whom I get along with famously… but we’ll save that story for another post.
Sorry about the lack of photos – but the alternative is further delays to this post.