Travel bits and pieces

Once again, my trail has brought me to Glasgow to see Mum. The hiking boots and the rucksack went south and I came north. Just a Virgin train and the No 4 bus from Central Station and I'm quickly back in another world. I had said that I would come...

Yesterday we went walking. We returned to Los Josefos and Cariatiz where, two years ago, we stayed when we first came to Spain to retreat from winter’s worst. I must admit, though, that this wasn’t the plan when we set out. No, we had planned a new walk to an...

  Bar La Montana (BLM), as its name suggests is up a mountain. Well, up a hill might be more accurate, the hill above Bedar, in fact, where it stands in a tiny pueblo called El Campico, reached by a series of sharp hairpin bends. It looks like a great little...

There’s a bar on the corner of the seafront in Garrucha. It stands out from the rest of the seafront bars for its air of tradition: wooden shutters, old letters spelling out Meson de Adriana, a dark doorway with intimations of plants and tiles, barrels, lace-edged tablecloths. A taberna in the...

Back in Spain. Back on the blog. The third year of taking time out, escaping winter, sloping off to the sierras. It’s Day 3 – still settling in. Jim is into his stride quickly: his easel is up and a canvas is already well worked. In fact, I see he’s leaning...

Pure white heads attached to fabulously fluffy bodies in a fashionable mocha brown, Herdwick sheep are like horizontal cappuccinos on legs and, by some distance, are the most attractive of the sheep we've encountered on this sheep-strewn journey. The lambs are black from head to toe, making the Herdwick 'en...

So we’re getting ready to leave. We just packed up and cleaned the cortijo to a gleaming spotlessness, repositioning bits of furniture we had moved to accommodate our particularities (mainly making space for books), hoping that we’ve returned everything to its rightful place. The diary checking started a few days ago:...

AVE – the Spanish acronym for Alta Velocidad Española – the high speed trains. Of which Spain has the most extensive system in Europe in terms of miles of track laid. ‘Ave’ is also the Spanish for ‘bird’ – so I guess a happy coincidence? The AVE, at least seen from...

So, onto lunch, and one of those eccentricities that travel has a habit of throwing up. Imagine the scene. We’re back in the one-horse pueblo of El Pozo, with its 200 Spanish souls (and that’s a generous guess), its bar on the main street and a tiny foodstore but not much...

So now you’ve met Amaya. We were invited to spend a day with her and her husband, Miguel, last weekend. They live in Almeria but spend the weekends in the house they used to live in and still own in a tiny pueblo about an hour’s drive south from our cortijo. We...

Sitting outside Casa Enriqueta for a tiny tapas lunch of cheese and bread with some tomatoes on the side unadorned save for the sprinkling of salt and a drizzling of the most delicious olive oil, bright green and full of fruit. Enriqueta served us herself – an enigmatic woman running...

Sunday morning and we have walked into the village in search of some Spaniards. Beyond the señoras of the supermercado, the panaderia and the peripatetic Postie, sightings have been rare. Not that we’ve been in the least exhaustive in our efforts to locate them. We’ve been reasonably contented on our...

Still no luck working out how Filabres might translate into English but I’ll keep trying. Meanwhile, here’s a funny story shared with me by Tom, geologist, artisan bread-maker extraordinaire and now, raconteur. He posted this as a comment to my blog piece on Bedar. Tom recalls: “Sierra de los Filabres...

Here I am sitting in the coolth of the living room in Cortijo el Curato. This translates as the Parish Farmhouse - although the Curate's Farmhouse would somehow be more intriguing and suggestive ……. Our cortijo is a modest, squat little house, its stone-clad walls blending quietly into a south-facing hillside....

It was quite a journey. 1286 miles not counting the bit of cross-channel lurching twixt port and starboard, Portsmouth and Le Havre courtesy of Brittany Ferries and the sea state of La Manche. As the ship and I rolled about this way and that, my mind turned to the huge...

The time comes again, time to go, travel’s inevitable destination. Feeling ready to go home but not feeling ready to leave. Time of ambivalences and contradictions – I call it brimful of emptiness.  I wrote some of this when I was still in Buenos Aires but I couldn’t finish till...

So as the days count down to journey’s end, a few reflections on some of the charms, quirks and oddities of this intriguing city. Forgive the silliness of alliteration but a string of B-words was just too tempting: bumpers, bicycles, bulldogs and beef. I tried to find F-words but alas,...

For a rapid transition from the ‘real South America’ of Bolivia to the bustle of one of the continent's great cities, what better than Street Art? So, off the plane, some shut-eye, a bit of freshening up and I was off to join a tour. Buenos Aires is famed for its street art, helped no...

A little tribute to Doña Elizabet is necessary. The visit to Candelaria was incredible - but it could have been quite different. You can't help being from another place, another planet, certainly another era, with your modern dress, your money, your view on the world. What made the difference for us...

Isabel is 26 years old. She’s been weaving for 10 years and now has the skill to make the most exquisite pieces on her crude loom - just a couple of strong vertical poles of wood notched to support two horizontal ones. Isabel’s mother died when she was very young...

I think this was my first hacienda; the next one has a lot to live up to. An earlier hacienda built by the Jesuits had fallen into disrepair and the land into disuse. A few owners bought and sold it over the years, including a rather colourful old rogue who made...

There is so much to say about Candelaria, where it is, what it is, what it meant and all the many trains of thought that it set off in my head. Far too much for a single blogpost, so there will be a few. The communities around Sucre are renowned for...

Like I said in the last blog, in Sucre you are in a much more indigenous society. Skin tone and facial features are striking - smooth skin the colour of burnished walnut, high cheekbones and jet black hair distinguishing the majority of the city dwellers. How they dress sets apart...

The city is bigger than I imagined, sitting in a valley surrounded on all sides by gentle hills. Red brick buildings have crept up all these hillsides, many of them looking like works in progress, but this is South America so you can never tell! The colour is arresting as...

Eek the errors! I put it down to the soroche! Twas not anyone 'in your skulk trying tondig theur way out'!! Although that about sums up the headache. But, 'someone in your skull trying to dig their way out'. Apologies.        ...

Sorry about the little break in blogmission in the last few days but, well, since having that bad air day, we've been flat out - and I use the term advisedly.  Flat out busy being tourists and, alas, forced to be flat out suffering from soroche. All this has kept...

We booked to go to Bolivia for 5 nights, leaving Wednesday and making the most of public holidays over Easter when Natasha was off work. Destination Sucre, the old capital of Bolivia and a centre of textiles, weaving and chocolate - paradise in other words. A connecting flight in Santa...

The Palacio Barolo is a secret masterpiece of neo-Gothic extravagance hidden right in the heart of Buenos Aires, just down the road from Congreso (parliament). It's not established on the tourist trail of must-see destinations, but for the culturally discerning or the visitor looking for something quite bizarre and incongruous, it...

The asado is an institution here, Argentina at play 'en familia', the focal point on a warm weekend, a feast of food, drink and company, when the hombres flex their culinary muscles and set to work feeding family and friends. My tiny dictionary, the one that makes it to the...

The city is a spectacular blend of order and chaos, a contradiction that has you thrilled and flabbergasted. First off, it's on a huge, flat coastal plain and, with no hills to navigate, the town planners could just put down a perfect grid. Long vertical avenues are intersected by long...

I was back with the abuelas on Thursday. They have a regular outing to the Plaza de Mayo on a Thursday afternoon at 3.30 so I planned my day around it. I wasn't sure what to expect from this, a weekly ceremony that's become iconic, a real destination event. So...

24 March is a big day in the national calendar. It's the day the dictatorship or Dirty War started in 1976. It lasted 7 years and cost more than anyone here could count; most indelibly fixed in the minds of the Argentinian people, it cost the lives of 30,000 desaparecidos...

I don't know if I should be worried that my daughter decided on Day 2 of my stay that a visit to a cemetery would be a good plan...

Buenos Aires packs so many punches it's difficult to know where to start. But an hour on the No 63 bus scorching rubber through the endless streets to the south-western suburb of Mataderos is as good as any. And I do mean scorching rubber. Bus travel here is akin to...

So, not great being back in Blighty. Glasgow is snowy, windy and bitterly cold. Feels like it doesn’t get fully light. But boy, it's good to be back to the BBC. For all the criticism it gets, some of it justified, it sure beats the hell out of its commercial...

Have you ever done that quaintly British thing whilst on a holiday to the Costa Brava/Blanca or Sol? You know the one where on about your second day you buy the postcards to send home, write them rather wearily towards the end of the holiday and then panic about getting...

Like I said, we came away from our tapas experience pondering what it must be like to live here permanently, inhabiting a strangely hybrid society of disconnected individuals in the corner of a foreign land. Of course, one makes all sorts of possibly scurrilous and certainly baseless assumptions about the lives...

Devoted readers will know of my dislike of, nay prejudice against microwaves. Darn things, I can never work out how to set them. Just as I think I’ve got it sorted, all the watts and the times and the little pictures of a trussed chicken or a dead fish are...

So, Almeria. Maybe it’s a city. Not sure. One of those in-between places. Massive port though with all sorts of ships moored alongside regular ferries to Morocco – a crossing that takes anything from 5 to 9 hours – I think that’s more about destination rather than simply that some...

Just an hour down the road – and what a road – is the lovely town of Almeria. But before launching into its delights, I have to tell you about the journey. From Los Josefos the N340a (a road that seems to pop up all over the place) takes you West....

As I counted down the weeks and days to setting out from London bound for here, I contemplated the culinary opportunities that a long stay in a country rich in markets and produce would offer. In particular, I decided I’d get down to some serious experimentation – and after some...

Artist’s impression of where we’re staying is attached to this post (I hope).  Before you get any ideas, we are tucked away at the back. See the stairs going up to the roof terrace? Well our front door is left of those and that’s our wee bit. Attached to the...

So, let’s start with where we are - 1,370 miles from London virtually due south. Three days of driving in the super sexy, deeply dependable, beautiful blue Berlingo brought us here. What a motor! Our village or ‘pueblo’ is called Cariatiz and claims 55 inhabitants (now 57, of course!). Were you...

I'm back! Blogging from Spain's very own Deep South. We've swopped the trains, hostels and cities of southeast Europe for a rural backwater in the driest corner of this amazing continent. 7 weeks here to escape the damp chill of a Blighty winter, another blog is, well, irresistible. So, Tales...

Can you hear the haunting sound of the bugle? Yep, this is the end of the road and I'm posting this from Teddington where the sun is shining and the living is easy. The last leg of the journey and another adventure! Those adventures, they pop up when you least...

Smoking! We had forgotten how much it used to be part of our culture and how dramatic the change has been in the UK these last ten or twenty years. The further east you travel, the more you travel back to a time when smoking was the norm. Lots and...

Brands are what unite is, reaching across language and culture. Starbucks is where the world comes together. Were we naive to think we would escape the dreadful corporate with its truly terrible coffee? Yes, probably. The first shock was early on. There's a Starbucks in the Grande Place in Brussels...

It seemed an appropriate place to end the continental part of the journey, not least because it's one of the few points where you can get across the Channel 'on foot' as it were! Pitch up on spec for Eurostar and you'll need a bank loan; our precious interrail passes...

I wrote this yesterday as we sat in a very crowded ICE train between Koln and Bruxelles. The 'journey' is nearly over and I have so much in my head that blog posts are starting to go forth and multiply. Travel like this, with long periods where you surrender responsibility...

For any German-speaker, apologies but I can't find the Umlaut for Koln. A very long day on the trains started with the 0852 from Vienna's West Bahnhof and ended at 1815 on the doorstep of the cathedral here, The Koln Dom. Quite a setting for a cathedral, right by a massive...

A day in Vienna and you don't even scratch the surface of all those amazing buildings that look like they're cakes, nay gateaux, decorated with magnolia icing. A bit of a fairy-tale city, too much really. Could not be more different from Istanbul. We had a day. I suppose we...

We arrived at the dull but adequate Tulip Hotel and the night concierge was already on duty. Jim thought he had something of the Herbert van Rompuy about him, so he called him Herbert, but I prefer Ernst. So let's call him Ernst - it suits his style. Mid-50s, balding,...

We had planned to reach Istanbul about the time our interrail passes expired and then take a flight back to the UK. Ahead of schedule by several days, we had the option of heading home by rail, but couldn't quite face the night trains or buses through to Sofia and...

Sights (not sites), sounds and other stuff The city has a great transport system, from the most sophisticated to the most archaic and much in between. Top of the archaic category is the little trolley bus that trundles slowly up and down Istiklal Caddesi (Istanbul's answer to Oxford Street) and must...

[caption id="attachment_288" align="alignnone" width="300"] Just a regular mosque Mosque[/caption]...

[caption id="attachment_287" align="alignnone" width="270"] Detail of the Blue Mosque[/caption]...

A sketching and writing stop beside one of the gates to the Topkapi palace. Jim perched on a wall, Lizzie a few yards away under a tree. Enter Ahmed, tall, dark, with a neat beard, twinkly eyes, denim jeans and a pale blue shirt, immaculate. The ultimate Turkish cool? Perhaps...

There's a huge mosque just the other side of the Galata bridge and another one up on the hill further left, near the Grand Bazaar. These are the attention grabbers as you walk over the bridge and approach the old part of Istanbul from the north and you are amazed...

Impossible to do justice to this amazing city but here goes. We're sitting at the water's edge on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. The sounds are those of the sea and boats; ferries pass by back and forth across this small stretch of water so frequently that you can always...

I've  got to thinking that the worst possible arrival point in a major city is the train station. They're often dismal places with dark unpleasant corners where rubbish collects and people loiter. Ironically, the opposite is true in Istanbul where the Sirkeci station, located just below the Topkapi palace and...

So, in Sofia we are nearing our journey's end - at least in the sense of achieving the goal of Istanbul. Trains become really quite complicated the further east you go; there are few options and those that are available are slow and dismal as a rule. Work on bits...

No, we don't know if his name was Boris but it's an odds on possibility given the number of Borises in Bulgarian history. In any case he's Jim's new buddy and they shared and exchanged views on matters political and economic. His is an interesting story that's probably been repeated...

The language stuff I keep blogging about is probably getting a bit tiresome now. But just to say, the famous four words are much more of a mouthful than in the other Balkan countries but that 'ciao' travels very well. The really tough thing, though, is that if you shake...

Introducing a couple of characters we encountered on our short stay in Sofia. Hostel Nightingale - charming name, flattering leaflet we picked up in Belgrade, it's a bit down on its luck these days, a little scruffy, not always fragrant thanks to the age of the building and the inadequacy...

Sofia's central station has all the features of a communist era low-budget structure, whose mean concrete lustre has faded while its contents slowly crumble - every escalator is broken, paving stones cracked or ripped up, unlit corridors connect grim platforms. Under grey skies we climbed down from the night train, tired,...

The night train to Sofia - it sounded so romantic, exotic and adventurous as we sat at breakfast in Arlington Road one winter's day sometime late 2013. We'll take a couchette, the perfect way to get a decent night's sleep. 'Couchette' - it has an alliterative quality somehow - cushiony,...

The language thing gets easier. All four former Yugoslav nations basically share a language with only a few local variations. The Serbs have resolved the Zbogom issue for us - they have adopted 'Ciao' for their goodbyes. But before saying ciao to Serbia, a few things Serbian that we came...

Our last day in Belgrade before catching the overnight train to Sofia just before 10pm tonight. We knew it would rain but right now it's absolutely tipping it down, bouncing off the pavement type of rain! A perfect day for seeing the galleries but most of them are closed for...

Lodging at the economy end of the market here in Serbia's jaded but fascinating capital, we're staying in the Hostelche hostel. Housed in a rather forbidding block of flats, it's a warm colourful place with a fridge stocked full of beer and a rack stocked full of leaflets to entice...

We had hoped to travel via Sarajevo, dropping into the famous city in the 100th year since its most famous event. They've even reopened the City Hall where the infamous Princip did the deadly deed. However, to say train travel to Bosnia, in Bosnia and from Bosnia is problematic would...

So I learned the usual four words in Croatian. Hello (in the 'Good day' sense) and thank you are the same as Slovenian - really helpful and now tripping effortlessly off the tongue! 'Please' has similarities (molim rather than prosim) but 'Goodbye' is a whole different ball game. Hello, as...

Zagreb redeemed itself today. What a great city. Fabulous buildings, lots of green spaces, hidden nooks where there's usually a beer or a coffee to be had and you can slip away from the crowds, trams in the brightest blue cross-crossing the city, a Museum of Arts and Crafts with...

Sitting in the Gallery of Modern Art and lucky to be here when a huge thunderstorm set off! Seeing how unprepared we were for the weather (shorts, sandals) the staff here suggested we just take a seat in the gallery and wait for it to pass.Jim set to sketching to...

So the 'Human Fish' thing got resolved on a trip to the Tivoli Gardens here in Ljub. A billboard display of Slovenian ecology has a picture of the Olm, or'human fish' in the direct translation from Slovenian. A cave-dwelling amphibious creature that was first identified here and lives down in...

In another example of how things get a little lost in translation how about the top billing on this board standing outside a little bar in Stari Trg - one of the many quaint backstreets of Ljubljana (which I will call Ljub) whence this latest blog comes. It is a...

Grow your own They're all at it in Slovenia! From the moment we crossed the border at Jesenice they're all around. Vegetables. Allotments run along the side of the railway line, planted in pleasingly straight rows, so many varieties, tightly packed and at that perfect stage of bloom - out and...

Jaka, who runs the place where we're staying, suggested a walk to the Vintgar Gorge might suit folk like us. I guess she has us down as 'bright light refusers' - either she's very astute or we're easy to read. In any case, we cleared out of town early, with...

So, we trod gingerly down the 1 in 6 gradient to the station this morning, knees tender and complaining from the efforts of yesterday, and caught the 11.11 to Villach. There we changed to a Slovenian train to take us across the border, destination Lake Bled. Hmmm - the lake is...

A little tribute to the wonderful Helga, owner of the Fruhstuckspension Sunnhauesl in St Veit and a supreme example of Austrian hospitality. The name of her establishment may be a bit of a mouthful, but her welcome was faultless, the place spotlessly clean, comfortable and quiet and her apricot Kuchen...

The hills are alive with ...

So, salzburgrooms.com, despite its lack of 'soul' was a triumph - clean, comfortable, and with sufficient kit that we could self-cater for dinner. And we both had a fantastic sleep setting us up perfectly for today and the next leg of the journey...

The 0909 from Ulm to Munich and just beyond Augsburg our first glimpse of the Alps. Trying to work out the economics of the German railway system. This is a standard 2nd class carriage on an ICE train. It's morning and close to peak time. Yet the train is almost...

Agnes done good! Four splendid train journeys each one punctual to the half minute. What joy - oh, and the sun was shining too! Hopped on the 0833 to Strasbourg and with changes at Offenburg and Karlsruhe we finally reached Ulm (however it's pronounced) just before 2pm.   A footbridge across...

Before I catch up with today's progress I have to share the story of Agnes. As we braved the rain yesterday, thoughts turned to our next destination on the trail ever southwards and eastwards. We had some ideas and I had found a gem of a hostel on the way to...

Whose idea was this? Ah yes, Jim had this notion that continental Europe is perpetually sunny from about mid May. And I was gullible enough to believe him! Who's he kidding? We tossed a coin at Bruxelles Midi Zuid this morning and the 10.33 to Luxembourg just pipped the Frankfurt option...

Room 303 (three times worse than Room 101) at the Hotel Continental - sounds very grand but is anything but. Strangely, the TV in the lobby is tuned to Sky Sports 2 and 1-day cricket between England and Sri Lanka! I have to tell you all that the omens are astonishingly...

Monday afternoon, Teddington - and creating this blog is one of the many things that should have been done many weeks ago so that I would wow you all, my audience of friends and family interested in (amused, concerned, stupefied by?) the forthcoming journey of Lizzie and Jim, with my...