Into Provence: Arles to Avignon 2017

We were up early for a start on the next part of our trip; Ubering to Marseilles St Charles and aboard the 8.18am train North West to Arles.  We arrived at the station at Arles and, following some clever research by Lynette, rolled our bags 30 metres from the station to Taco and Co, where we left our bags in safe hands and were fitted out with city bikes and a recommendation for coffee before a ride of just a few minutes along the bank of the Rhone and through a couple of narrow streets to the Place de Forum, which was still quiet before the onslaught of tourist groups.

A coffee at the place next to the cafe made famous by Vincent Van Gogh when he painted it back in 1888 and a look at our maps saw a plan formed and it was off to view the Roman Arena and Theatre before winding our way through the gorgeous little streets and alleys, enjoying the sense of colour and vibrancy.

As we rounded on corner, there, straight ahead, was a neighbourhood boulangerie, with a nice little green nook opposite; perfect for a couple of fresh croissants; (80 Euro cents each) and a breather.  As we watched, lots of locals strolled by with a variety of dogs.  We’ve seen dogs in cafes, shops, on the train and pretty much anywhere.

We decided that we’d take advantage of having the bikes and head out of town a couple of kilometres to find the bridge made famous by Vincent. I figured that the Google maps navigator option sounded like a good idea and got the iPad mini set up in the bike basket to help us find our way.

Despite it being difficult to hear the navigator instructions the directional arrow worked well and we soon found ourselves across the river and riding out along a canal toward the bridge.


Along the way there has been time to reflect on the notion of ‘disruption.’

These days, we talk about the impact of new information and communication technologies on a whole range of practices which seemed embedded through the last decades of the twentieth century only to be massively disrupted by the development of a ubiquitous internet and the evolution from web 1.0 to web 2.0 and then the semantic web moving toward and possibly beyond the internet of things.

Just imagine the investment and sheer hard work of the ‘navvies’ digging and building ‘navigation’ through the construction of the vast systems of canals and locks throughout Europe only to be massive disrupted in the nineteenth century by the rolling out of railways and faster, more efficient ways of transporting the inputs an outputs of the industrial revolution.

Luckily, we arrive at the bridge when there are no tourist groups there and are able to drink in the almost palpable silence and imagine the bridge as Van Gogh painted it, with horse and cart and women going about their business.


Our musings are soon disrupted by the arrival of a tourist coach and a wave of tourists squeezes out of the coach, expelled by expectation; cameras ready: ten minutes of clicking and back on the bus before the coach rumbles off toward the next destination.


We get back on the bikes and roll on back into Arles, seeking out more places of relevance and having an amazing lunch at a recommended restaurant before heading back across the tracks to find the ‘Old Mill’ and the places where ‘Starry Night on the Rhone’ and the ‘Yellow House’ were painted.  We then chill for a while with gelatos and shade before our reunion with our bags and the TGV train which took 18 minutes to reach Avignon; half the time that Google maps tell us that it would take for the same journey by car.

We’re constantly reminded of just how beneficial it would be to have a high speed rail link facilitating the development of the Sydney/Central Coast/Lake Macquarie/Newcastle belt.  One day perhaps.

Our taxi driver at Avignon uses the sensors on the Merc to avoid scraping paint as we head into the old town of Avignon and pull up outside our next AirBnB: a fourteenth century building about fifty metres from the Palais des Papes; where the Popes resided back in the 1300s.  We get ourselves organised, find the local Carrefour supermarket and stock up on essentials before a great dinner at the Vache and Carreaux, a few hundred metres from our crib. Looking forward to exploring the city.

Take me away to Marseille 2017

Gimme the sound of the rolling dice
Gimme a whiskey, don’t think twice
Deal me the card that takes my blues away
Take me away to Marseilles

The Angels – Marseilles (1978)

We’re really enjoying exploring Marseille and, after an excellent evening ramble and dinner last night we were up early this morning to check out the area around our apartment using the shared bikes.  Luckily there’s a rack just outside our apartment front door and we were able to create access codes online last night.  It costs 1 Euro for a seven day access code which has to be entered to hire a bike. The first half hour is free and then additional hours are charged at 1 Euro per hour.  The intent is to encourage riders to use the bikes for short trips between destinations.  The system in Marseille is virtually the same as the Velib system in Paris, although there are fewer docking stations. For anyone travelling overseas we can recommend the CityBikes app which gives access to pretty much every shared bike system in cities around the world.  It will tell you the location of bike stations and show in real time both the number of bikes available and the number of vacant docks available.  In cities like Paris and London this is invaluable as it can be frustrating to try to find a dock within your first free half hour and find that there are none available.

Our pedalling takes us to the entrance to the Old Port and the old fort buildings there which have now been turned into a museum.  As usual, it is so much quicker and easier to cover some ground and see lots of things from the seat of one of these heavy three speed bikes.

As we head back around the port, dodging the gathering throngs of tourists lining up for Hop On Hop Off bus tours, we find that the morning fish markets are attracting attention on the edge of the port as they have done for many many years.
The boats are moored on the dock and the catch of the day, still wriggling, is sold to those waiting for some ingredients for a fish stew or whatever else takes their fancy.





We then continue on around the other side of the Port where we can see the entrance to  and the clean looking water with the mountains in the background.  It certainly is a lovely coast and this city has been a melting pot of many peoples and cultures for a huge amount of time.

It’s such a nice day that we decide to get onboard one of the ‘Petit Trains‘ which carry loads of tourists around the Corniche JFK and up to the high point of the city where the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde sits, imposingly overseeing the city.

The train looks like the type of thing that parents cram aboard with excited children but it provides a great trip for the princely sum of 8 Euro each and, when we see people puffing and perspiring to make the steep 30 minute trudge up the mountain on foot we’re glad of our choice.  The view from the top is spectacular 360 degrees of the entirety of Marseilles.

After checking out the view in all directions it’s back in the queue for the train and a more direct descent back to the port before grabbing a couple more velos and heading around to find a restaurant offering the three course Plat de Jour for a leisurely Sunday lunch.

Marseilles is showing that it’s well worth a visit. Here’s just a snippet of some cycling sights around the Old Port.



Back to Europe 2017

Since our trip to the Danube and Portugal and Spain this time last year, we’re back in Europe for some more cycling and exploring.

We decided to fly into Nice this year and to explore some of the South of France before heading to Paris to join the Upper Cape Ski and Sports Club for a bike and barge journey aboard the Zwaantje from Paris to Epernay in the Champagne region.  We met the fun folks from the Upper Cape Ski and Sports Club on our Danube trip last year and then visited their home town of Falmouth on Cape Cod in Massachusetts last October where Roger took part, as one of the tellers, in a Tales and Anecdotes evening over two nights at the Woods Hole Theatre Company.  We’re looking forward to catching up in Paris next Saturday.

In the meantime, to avoid having a really long layover in Dubai waiting for connecting flights, we opted to fly out of Sydney at 6.30pm heading first to Bangkok and then on to Nice via Dubai. Well, it reduced the layover time in Dubai but added significantly to flight time, so we got a good chance to see the inside of an Airbus A380 and then a 777 on the Nice leg.  Besides the usual long haul grind and sense that these are hours of our lives that we’ll never get back, the flights were uneventful and we arrived in Nice and checked into a hotel for the first night before heading out for a wander along the promenade and a magnificent dinner at a local restaurant which Lynette had managed to ferret out, before getting a good night’s sleep to hopefully reset our body clocks.

As we walked along the promenade our thoughts returned to those horrific events on Bastille Day last year where a truck was driven through the throngs of people celebrating the birth of the Republic.  We notice the next morning, rows of fairly new bollards and remember that our own public events like Anzac Day have now been accompanied by the strategic location of garbage trucks to minimise the risk of copy cat attempts.

Out bright and early on Saturday morning we watched the joggers, walkers and cyclists as they pedalled and puffed along the promenade past the large pebbled beaches and the beautifully coloured sea from which the Cote d’Azur takes its name.

We wandered on into the Old Town and found the Saturday markets where a vast array of beautiful looking vegetables and flowers drew locals along with their wheeled shopping baskets.

Stall after stall of plump tomatoes, asparagus, aubergine and a host of other vegetables covered one end of the markets while, at the other end, beautiful flowers brought splashes of colour to the vibe.

There was a sense of relaxation amongst the people as we sought some decent coffee in the Place de Palace de Justice.  It seemed as though the people had let go a collective sigh of relief to have had last weekend’s presidential election see a victory for a reconfirmation of the fundamental principles which informed the foundation of the Republic itself: Liberte, Egalite and Fraternite.

We headed back to our hotel to check out and grab an Uber, which delivered us in comfort to the Gare de Ville in Nice, ready to catch our train to Marseille where we play to stay the next two nights in an AirBnB.

The train is comfortable and quiet; paralleling the coast as we speed through places heard about and just now being seen: Antibe, Cannes, Juan le Pin etc and then through countryside to Toulon and finally into Marseille St Charles.  As so often happens, the lyrics of one song or another pop up inside my head:

When you go on your summer vacation, you go to Juan le Pins; with your carefully designed topless swimsuit, you get an even suntan; on your back, and on your legs. Where do you go to my Lovely, Peter Sarstedt.

A short taxi ride takes us to our AirBnB apartment just near the old port of Marseille.

The apartment is clean and spacious, with an excellent view across the rooftops to where the harbour sits below the fort on the opposite side of the harbour.  We head out to explore, with many more pictures to come, before hitting the local supermarket for some supplies and back home for a rest before an evening walk to the Western entrance to the port and a great dinner, before a good night’s sleep in readiness for some bike riding using the share bike system on a Sunday which is predicted to reach a very respectable temperature in the mid twenties.

Pamplona, San Sebastian and Leon. 2016

Pamplona turns out to be a great city, even when the San Fermin festival is not happening and there are no bulls being run in the street.

The narrow streets of the old town are filled with bars and restaurants and packed with people who clearly have this on their list of Spanish places to visit. After checking into the Tres Reyes Hotel, we walk the short distance to the old town and stop along the way for a street band and a couple of drinks before tracing part of the route of the ‘Running of the Bulls’ and seeing the Pamplona Bull Ring where the run ends.

DSCN6529For a relaxed dinner we couldn’t help but choose Cafe Iruna in the main town square; famous as a place frequented by Ernest Hemingway in his fascination for Pamplona and the cultural aspects of the San Fermin festival and the bullfights. The only fight we come close to is with the only waiter we have encountered on the whole trip who oozed attitude. It’s a nice place to sit, however, and we enjoy the passing parade of people and the rising moon above the character filled buildings.

DSCN6530While Pamplona has its core of the old town with all of its traditions, the city itself spreads out to a range of new suburbs and is a green city, framed by the distant mountains. We spend some time the next morning exploring some of the outer areas and find planned suburbs with large blocks of housing arranged around communal open spaces and sporting facilities.

Then, it’s time to head further North to the coast and the beautiful seaside city of San Sebastian, or Donostia, part of the Basque Autonomous Community.  Arriving on a Saturday, with large crowds of tourists ambling around narrow streets and across pedestrian crossings proves quite a challenge both for the GPS and driver patience.  We eventually locate our AirBnB apartment and Gustavo, our host, jumps into the car to show the way to the underground parking garage where we have a space to go with the apartment which is situated right in the old town itself.

SDSCN6601an Sebastian boasts a number of excellent bayfront and seafront beaches; leading onto the Bay of Biscay, and it’s not uncommon to see people in wetsuits walking seemingly incongruously through the streets with a surfboard under their arm.

Having a few drinks in any one of the huge amount of bars nearby also introduces us to the pintxos, small snack like servings laid out on the bar, often in a huge display and with a large variety.

pintxosAfter choosing a drink it’s then possible to choose a number of pintxos and the cost of these is added up and paid when settling the bill.  Pintxos can range from 1.5 euros to 3.5 euros and are a delicious way to eat cumulatively.  We find that having sampled plenty of pintxos in a few bars that there is no longer a need for dinner and, after finding the only dedicated craft beer bar in San Sebastian we call it a night and look forward to hiring some bikes the next day and having a better look around.

Sunday morning dawns bleak, cold and very wet.

With no chance of getting out and about to see much at all we decide to take the opportunity to head West to Bilbao for the day and visit the Guggenheim museum.  It’s an hour or so drive to get there and the route takes us along a number of toll roads, or auto pistes, all of which charge a reasonably hefty toll of up to about 11 euros, or around $16 AUD.

DSCN6598The roads are superb though and we find an underground carpark around 100 metres or so from the Guggenheim and take the time to see the sheer size and spectacle of the beautiful building and the surroundings. This not the first time that we notice that one way these cities deal with the parking issue is to create underground carparks and then create open spaces in the form of plazas or green space at ground level above them.

DSCN6553It’s good to have the chance to reacquaint ourselves with the living Westie: a giant puppy created by Jeff Koons with greenery which is blooming. It’s a very worthy addition to the steadily growing collection of #westiesoftheworld.

We’d bought our entry tickets online so avoided any queues to get into the gallery and spent a number of hours marvelling both at the extent of the work on display and on the scope and scale of the building itself.  We were able to interact with a number of the displays and, after taking in as much as we could inside, we were able to brave the icy wind which had sprung up and explore the outside area around the gallery as well.

DSCN6576The sheer scale of the magnificent Guggenheim at Bilbao is really impossible to convey on a small video, but there’s a taste in the video below.

In an amazing piece of visionary thinking, the Basque government approached the Guggenheim Foundation and offered to build the Museum on former dockland land in Bilbao for $100 million if the Foundation would agree to manage the display and rotate parts of the permanent collection through the spaces. This approach was a key aspect of a revitalisation project for a city undergoing great changes in relevant industry and usage.

The result has seen millions of Euros per year return to the Museum and spin off into a range of other service areas within Bilbao. It just goes to show that courageous investment in bold projects can actually have extremely positive returns for the city or region. Culture and art is not simply a matter of value judged on percentage use by an immediate community but rather in the value it adds to us as humanity. In this case, that value has also led to quantifiable value add in dollar terms which goes way beyond the initial investment. I’m sure that, given the cost of tolls on auto-pistes to get to Bilbao there would have been those who may have suggested that the initial $100 mill be spent on roads or other services. Having been there yesterday with people from around the world, I’m pleased they chose a bolder form of cultural entrepreneurialism.

Guggenheim Bilbao from Roger Pryor on Vimeo.

DSCN6594Outside the gallery, the redeveloped dockside area also shows the way the various forms of transport have been arranged to take advantage of the space and provide a cycleway, footpaths, traffic lanes and dedicated light rail, giving an impression of how this can work.

Sunday night, after our trip to Bilbao is spent back in San Sebastian where we walk along the seafront to La Madame, a restaurant which serves up some great food and some very nice locally brewed craft beers.  We find that the other two couples eating there are a couple from San Diego and a British couple who usually run a B&B in France. We all end up having a bit of an English language fest and it’s fun to share stories and interesting bits and pieces.

San Sebastian to Leon

DSCN6612Leaving San Sebastian on Monday morning we find a narrow road which winds Westward toward Bilbao, providing views where each competes to better the last as every corner is turned.  Cows and sheep graze in paddocks and green fields slide down the hills toward the green of the sea.

DSCN6617In other places, the road skirts the sea, clinging to the base of the cliffs and opening out to reveal small fishing villages where steep prowed trawlers lie alongside ready to go and challenge the Bay to give up its fish which are hawled onboard from huge nets which lay ready now on the dockside.

Eventually we give up the smaller road to make some ground toward our destination for the next overnight stay in Leon and turn again to the auto piste and access to dual carriageways which snake through the mountains, roaring through tunnels and across huge viaducts, with traffic moving steadily along at at least 120kph.

DSCN6630Along the way we take a punt and turn off the auto piste into a small village where we find a restaurant which is clearly popular with locals and travellers alike.

Most of the food is cooked on a grill which sits on a platform above hot wood coals which can be moved up or down to provide an optimum cooking temperature.  We’re glad that we’re able to manage enough basic words of Spanish to get through an order where the only menu is what is handwritten in Spanish on the server’s order pad and enjoy a paella with chicken and some grilled fish and beef along with the usual crusty bread and a choice of postres; desserts.

DSCN6641Booking dot com had a daily special for our hotel in Leon for our last night in Spain, the Parador. It’s had a number of roles, including a past as a monastery, and even as a concentration camp during the Spanish Civil War. Michelin rate it at 5 gables. We enjoy the discount rate, and the walk through the city which boasts around 130,000 people. This is a city which has some wonderful buildings and a very substantial ‘feel.’  Despite its housing density at the city core we marvel at the amount of people who have come out after the afternoon siesta to stroll and catch up with others.  We see numerous couples, stopping to chat with each other, reminiscent of Saturday mornings in country town main streets many years ago, where community is sustained and enhance by the people who share it.

Leon is a lovely city and certainly worth a visit.  We find an excellent local brewpub, the Four Lions, which has some very good draught craft beer options and then move on to find a large number of restaurants to choose from, where we find some dinner before heading back to the Parador for a great night’s sleep.  We’re heading back to Portugal tomorrow.


North to Pamplona

DSCN6523After a fabulous final night in Valencia which includes a dinner at Canela restaurant, in the shadows of the Torres de Quart, and a bit of fun at the Open Mic night at Radio City, we get our stuff together and set the GPS for Pamplona and a course Northward toward Barcelona before heading inland to see much more of the Spanish countryside.

The colours are superb, with shades of green in the paddocks and hills with dark rich red soil in places and poorer sandy areas. Stratified sedimentary ranges ruggedly frame the horizon, and the panorama is tinged with a range of hues from red through to soft pinks as the Spring flowers stake their claim on some pollen and regeneration.

There is a stark beauty about much of the scenery and it’s impossible to ignore the huge amount of infrastructure which has been built in Spain with dual carriageway roads everywhere carried across rivers and gorges by huge bridges.

Screenshot_20_05_2016__4_27_PMAll the way around Spain we have also seen massive investment in renewable energy.  Distant hills appear to sprout sticks until we get closer and the focus reveals hundreds of wind turbines; vanes turning languidly in the light breeze.  In other places huge farms of solar panels face South into the sun, with nearby sub-stations connecting their energy to users. It seems that this would be such a worthwhile outcome in the upper Hunter where, as open cuts are due to be regenerated they could be leveled and levied to fund installations of solar arrays which could use some of the poles and wire infrastructure which currently serves coal fired power stations.

The autovia moves into the Teruel district and  the hues of the landscape are dotted every so often with small villages, clustered in their terracotta and white around the steeple of their church. It’s interesting to imagine how life may have been in the days when this plateau was a much more isolated place.

Screenshot_20_05_2016__5_14_PMNow, it is home to a huge collection of aeroplanes which are stored here at a ‘ghost airport‘ before returning to or entering service or prior to salvage.  The sight of row upon row of aircraft in the middle of a flat plane, 1000 metres above sea level, in clear dry air, is surreal as we rush past.

Every now and then, a piece of roadside sculpture appears.

Screenshot_20_05_2016__4_28_PM Screenshot_20_05_2016__4_29_PM Screenshot_20_05_2016__4_30_PM

It seems that the Spanish like the idea of integrating art with some of the more mundane aspects of our modern life and the roadside installations certainly add variety to the trip.

After lunch in Zaragosa, we head up the auto-piste toward Pamplona, paying for the infrastructure spend along the way with three separate tolls.  Off in the distance, the last vestiges of snow decorate mountain tops and, elsewhere, low stone barns and shepherds’ huts give a sign of the winter climate. The glare of the sun is building, however, and it’s easy to imagine that summers here give good reason for the siesta.

We’re overnighting in Pamplona tonight before spending the weekend in San Sebastian.  Later on, we’ll go and have a look at the streets where the bulls run.



Our time in Granada comes to an end and it’s time to pack the car again and head to Valencia.  The route takes us through Jaen, which is surrounded by an enormous olive oil growing area which produces 20% of all olive oil produced in the world and which produces more olive oil than the whole of Italy. Entire valleys stretch into the distance studded with the grey olive trees.  We wonder about harvesting methods and find that it still must be a hugely labour intensive operation.

DSCN6464We call into a department store in Jaen to get our Orange data SIMs topped up and continue on toward Valencia, stopping in a small town along the way for another great Menu del Dia where, with a combination of the server’s lack of English and our lack of Spanish, we still manage to strike up a rapport before turning North East again toward the coast.

Along the way, we see the clear evidence of massive infrastructure spending.  Huge bridges span deep valleys to carry the dual carriageway autovia which burrows its way through the spurs of ranges where necessary.  In the distance we see a Renfre high speed train racing at over 300km per hour toward Madrid. We wonder what has happened over the years to the provision of infrastructure like this in Australia where there has been talk for years of high speed rail options but no actual outcome.

DSCN6466We arrive at our AirBnB apartment to find an absolutely magnificent apartment: the work of a Spanish interior designer who is currently living in London,  The apartment is on the eight floor of a renovated building right on one of the Gran Vias which run through the city.  It’s huge, and we’re glad that we’ve booked three nights to stay here at a fraction of the cost that a 23 square metre hotel room would have cost.



DSCN6467Valencia turns out to be an amazing city, with a mix of old and new.  There’s also a burgeoning craft beer scene here and we’re able to walk to a couple of nice bars and slake our thirst with a very nice pale ale and some Belgian style blonde beer.

We wake on the next morning to beautiful sunshine and walk a few blocks to a bike rental shop where we hire a couple of bikes for the day.

Through the narrow streets and onto the Gran Via del Ferran el Catolic for the last few hundred metres to intersect with the Jardines del Turia.

It seems that back in 1957, 80 people were killed and a huge amount of property destroyed when the Turia river, which used to loop through Valencia like the Seine through Paris, flooded for another time in a long history of devastating floods. The leaders at the time got on board with a plan to divert the river 3km to the South and, by the early 70s the work had been complete, with the former river bed now a green space with cycleways, jogging tracks, playing fields and coffee kiosks. It is truly a magnificent place to ride and we enjoy each new sight as it emerges.

DSCN6468Nothing prepares us for the wow factor of the arts precinct, and we take time to enjoy the great public spaces and pools which surround the soaring buildings with a coffee stop and a chance to take stock.

It’s then out of the river bed and onto one of the cycle paths which takes us around the other half of the circle route that we’ve found ourselves on, passing market gardens and abandoned buildings and block after block of high density living.  Eventually, we’re back the the beginning of the Jardin de Turia and we complete our circuit before another great Menu del Dia in a local restaurant not far from our apartment.

DSCN6487We top off the ride with a freestyle excursion through the maze of narrow streets and alleys in the El Carmen area of Valencia, inside the former walls of the old city.  A late afternoon storm cuts our ride short and we drop off our bikes and wander back to the apartment to relax before our evening adventure which involves us working out DSCN6498the local Metro system and riding to Colon metro station from where we can walk a number of blocks through a very nice up market shopping and dining area to another great craft beer cafe: Valencia on Tap, where we watch Sevilla beat Liverpool to the tune of 3-1 in the European Champions League before a lovely Asian fusion dinner in the repurposed DSCN6501Mercado Colon building: a former local market, now a collection of eating and drinking outlets.

Unfortunately, by now the Metro has stopped running and we’re forced to grab a cab and manage to explain the address to the driver.  All in all, a great day.

My flip camera seems to have developed a mistiness of its own, but if you’d like to get a feel for the ‘view from the saddle’ around parts of Valencia then the video below should give you a good idea.

Hooked on Valencia from Roger Pryor on Vimeo.

Ambling through Andalucia

DSCN6399We left Seville on a lovely Sunday morning, heading South to take a look at the old port of Cadiz, from where so many Spanish journeys began, including the huge Spanish Armada which sailed in the late 1500s with the intent of invading England and providing them, amongst other things,  with a lesson in response to the despatch of the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots.  For some time prior to this the Spanish had also been very miffed that privateers like Sir Francis Drake had been harrying their galleons returning from the ‘New World’ and relieving them of many of their valuable cargoes.

Word of the build up of the armada clearly reached Drake’s ears and he launched a bold raid on the harbour of Cadiz in 1587 in which he managed to destroy almost forty ships and, very tellingly, destroyed a huge number of wooden barrels and barrel staves for making barrels. Barrels were critical for storing salted meat and other foods as well as water. The result of this was that when the armada finally sailed in 1588 their supplies were in inferior barrels with unseasoned timbers which rotted and made rations spoil. Along with some other rather bad luck and some clever tactics from Drake and his ships, the Armada never achieved anything close to its objectives and ended up having to sail North of Scotland and limp home via Ireland, with many ships being wrecked and the survivors killed.

ORIANA_8Cadiz now plays host to cruise ships and flocks of tourists.  The P&O’s latest incarnation of the ‘Oriana’ lay alongside, getting into the swing of the upcoming summer cruising season.

We turned further to the South and headed for Gibraltar; still in British hands and still an amazing sight as one of the original ‘pillars of Hercules’ or as the place which has held such strategic significance for the entrance to the Mediterranean since the times of the Phoenicians.

DSCN6412The Rock of Gibraltar towers above the surrounding landscape and, after crossing the British frontier checkpoint we circle the rock; driving through tunnels in two places, excavated through the solid limestone.  Within the rock there are over 55 kilometres of tunnels of varying sizes; up to the ‘Great North Road,’ driven by British engineers during World War 2 to be large enough to drive lorries full of equipment and supplies from one end of the rock to the other.

After an unexpected queue to get back into Spain, we set the GPS on a course for our next AirBnB overnight accommodation at Benalmadena, near Malaga on the Costa del Sol.  We pass through 3 different toll points and are grateful that the Spanish tollroads still have a couple of lanes available where it’s possible to pay the toll with a credit card and be on our way. As we get nearer to our destination we are directed from the Autovia, or motorway, down a maze of small roads reminiscent of the Amalfi coast in Italy with holiday villas lining the hillsides in white and terracotta, and golf resorts taking up any space left over.

DSCN6413We find our apartment for the night and enjoy the great view back down the coast; the sea clear and fresh in the afternoon sun.

Down by the beach a group of Brits is celebrating a wedding and other bars and restaurants provide a spot for a quiet drink at the end of a long day’s driving. We climb back up to the main road past a huge hotel full of other Europeans getting in early for the summer package season and find a restaurant where we are able to enjoy a nice meal and the unusual opportunity to watch the final of the Eurovision song contest without getting up at some silly hour. The twitter stream keeps us amused, especially with the converted maps of the world demonstrating that Australia really is part of Europe.

DSCN6437Monday morning provides us with a chance to walk down by the beach where pebbles glisten and people rake and ready the sun-lounges for the day ahead.

Lynette can’t resist a paddle and collecting a few memento pebbles. We find a place to have some desayunas, (breakfast), and get ourselves ready for the next leg of our adventure which will take us inland again to Granada.

The drive takes us north east to Malaga and then turns away from the coast and up into the foothills before crossing the range and providing us with valley views full of olive groves and hillsides studded with wind turbines.  A side excursion off the Autovia finds us in a small town where families gather in the town square for lunch and young boys amuse themselves shooting goals and dreaming of playing for Barcelona FC who have just won La Liga; the premier football competition in Spain.

DSCN6440Despite our lack of Spanish, we manage to order and enjoy a nice meal of various seafood, include calamari, cuttlefish and cod cooked in a batter similar to tempura.  Washed down with the ubiquitous ‘cervesa; grande por favor’ – big beer please, we’re ready to head to Granada and find our next AirBnB accommodation in central Granada.

Granada has a really colourful past and is still dominated on the skyline by the Alhambra which shows the past as a frontier of Islam and then the reconquest with the addition, by Queen Isabella, of parts which demonstrate her commitment to Catholicism. Granada also played host  to much of the terror of the Spanish Inquisition and Bibarrambla square became the scene for lengthy ‘trials’ from which those accused were removed for burning or some other hideous fate.

It seems that, throughout history, this gross cruelty by some humans against others, in the name of religion, or in seeking to control or appropriate lands and possessions has served as ugly stain on our common good.

DSCN6447We check in and wander off for a look at Granada, finding the cathedral and the surrounding narrow lanes full of Arabic traders selling all sorts of good including, bizarrely, boomerangs!

Granada is also famous for its serving of tapas in a traditional way; as an accompaniment to a drink.  This was originally thought to be in the form of a small serving which could actually be served on top of the drink as a lid; or tapa, keeping flies or other nasties out of the drink.  Now, when each drink is purchased, you are served with a small tapa: a small serve of a Spanish style potato salad, arancini style balls, jamon with curried mushrooms; the list goes on. We wander to a few different bars seeking out ones which don’t appear to be quite as oriented to the tourist trade and finding that Granada certainly subscribes to the Spanish custom where people don’t actually go out to dine until around 10pm or later.

After navigating our way through narrow streets and lanes, grateful for the blue dot on Google Maps, we find our way home and get ready for our cycle tour of Granada which we’ve booked for Monday morning at 10am; starting from the Alhambra, high above the city.  This will be our first time that we’ve tried e-bikes, or electrically assisted bikes and we’re looking forward to the chance for a good look around.

You can see some shots from our cycle tour in the video below.  The e-bikes certainly make a huge difference, as we were able to climb hills which we’d probably baulk at walking up under usual circumstances and our ride profile shows that we climbed around 36o metres vertically reaching a total elevation of about 920 metres above sea level.  We’re very happy at the end of the trip, having ridden right back up the mountain to the Alahambra, to find a shady restaurant courtyard and enjoy a leisurely lunch.

Granada – Bike Tour – 16 May 2016 from Roger Pryor on Vimeo.

Now it’s time to decide where we head for tomorrow.

Portugal to Seville

We checked out of our AirBnB apartment in Portugal on Thursday morning and grabbed an Uber to head out to Lisbon airport.  The Uber came within minutes and dropped us at the airport with no issues.  We were then able to join a shuttle to our rental car company’s garage nearby.  We’d booked this car ages ago via and have always found them to be a good site for rental car bookings as they access a number of different companies and provide options for adding different types of cover etc.

We ended up with a nice diesel VW Golf wagon and set up our GPS to head for Seville, in Spain, as our next destination.  The company, Drive on Holidays, added the Portugese equivalent of an eTag to the car so that we could use the good tollroads in Portugal before crossing into Spain.

DSCN6357A few hours of uneventful driving later and we arrived at our Seville apartment, right near the bullfighting arena in Calle Arenal. The host had to work, so his friend, Juan, met us at the door and showed us how to access the underground parking and apartment etc.

DSCN6355Once again, AirBnB has provided us with a great outcome, with a very nice apartment built to replicate the local style of apartments grouped around a central ‘cool well’ and with balconies providing views into the street outside and to the nearby Mercado Arenal, or market.

We settle in and then head out for a look around the streets nearby. It’s clear that there is a multitude of bars and restaurants to choose from in this part of town and we also take note of the local sharebike system which seems to use the same bikes and docking mechanisms as the Velibs in Paris.

Just around the corner we find a restaurant for some dinner and have a great meal featuring pork and veal and then head for our new ‘home’ to relax and hope for fine weather tomorrow, after it having rained pretty much all the way from Lisbon to Seville.

The apartment is spacious and well appointed and we use the washer to get a head start on some of our washing. When using AirBnB it’s always a good idea to use the search filters to ensure that the place you choose has all of the things you need. In our case, wifi is always at the top of the list!

DSCN6367Unfortunately, Seville has been experiencing an unusual spell of wet weather and we wake to the prospect of continued rain, but decide to get out amongst it anyway; walking to some shops to pick up a few things and then heading to the nearest Sevici bike station to get an access number.  Then, it’s onto the bikes for a leisurely ride down the canal and across a bridge toward the Place de Espana; before a thunderous rain storm drives us indoors to find coffee and watch the rain drench the riders in the horse drawn carriages.

Rain gone and sun out again, we saddle up with a couple of new bikes, catching the chance to chat to a young Aussie guy who is visiting from Berlin and showing a South American couple how to access the system.  With a huge expanse like the Place de Espana it turns out that bikes are an excellent way to get around.  You can get an idea of the beautiful place which was created back in the 1920s for a huge expo here in Seville in this video.

Untitled from Roger Pryor on Vimeo.


DSCN6368It’s then on to find a docking station and time for lunch.  Last time we were in Spain, we learnt about the menu del dia: a choice of first course, then a second choice, followed by dessert and accompanied by ‘pan’ (bread) and ‘bebida’ (a drink). We each had the paella, followed by ‘bitoke ternera’ (veal rissoles) with a beer, bread and dessert. Cost? 10 euro each.  The iTranslate app was once again useful for working out what the choices were as this was a part of town frequented by locals rather than tourists and our command of Spanish is hopelessly lacking.

Some places don’t display their Menu del Dia outside, so it’s worth asking inside as it is usually an excellent meal and great value.

We enjoyed our meal and the chance to dodge another rainstorm before finding another bike station and taking a couple more bikes to use the ‘on footpath’ bike lanes: seeing remnants of Roman aqueducts along the way.  DSCN6370

It is absolutely fascinating to think of the waves of invasion, settlement and displacement which has taken place here over around at least 2500 years.

It was here in Seville that Columbus met with Ferdinand and Isabella to discuss his voyage westward, and the river in Seville saw a wealth of trade bringing goods from far away places.

We find that a number of the bikes have issues like broken pedals and poor brakes or whatever.  It pays to check the bikes in their dock before taking one out.  When a bike with issues is found it can be useful to leave the seat reversed so that it is clear to others that the bike is unserviceable.

DSCN6379To top off our wandering, we find a barber’s shop so that one of the many barbers of Seville can ply his trade. He is good at his work and has me sorted out with a ‘numero tres’ with a minimum of fuss.

The ‘Barber of Seville’ experience satisfied, we wander through the narrow, twisting streets of the old town, past the huge cathedral; the third largest in Europe, incorporating features from its Moorish origins as an Islamic mosque.


DSCN6383The huge bell tower, formerly a minaret, towers above us and the city.

The plan had been to end the wander with a visit to a Craft beer bar nearby, but, unfortunately it won’t be open for a couple of hours, so we shelter instead in a neighbouring bar with a host of Iberico hams hanging above the bar and a loud party of Frenchmen bantering beside a cigar smoking local.

Replete, we head home for the day.




Explorers and adventurers: journeys beginning and ending

We set off in Lisbon today to find some decent coffee.  Lynette had seen a place that the guys from Holy Belly, in Paris, had recommended on social media from a trip they’d made to Lisbon. The Montana Cafe turned out to be an excellent suggestion, with great coffee and food and an excellent India Pale Ale brewed here in Lisbon.

DSCN6331Out there, the wind is buffeting the big ferry cats which ply the waters across to the other side.  Now, as they skew into the wind to find a safe mooring at the pontoon we can muse about the caravels we might have seen many hundreds of years ago as the Portugese explorers set forth down along the coast of Africa and to the spice islands and Asia: gathering spices to make spoiled meat more palatable in those pre-refrigeration days.

Not far from here, Vasco de Gama returned from his voyage around the Cape of Good Hope at a time when many believed that the horizon was the place where giant eddies swirled or sea monsters lay ready to reduce boats and humans to memories.

Until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore, you will not know the terror of being forever lost at sea. – Charles Cook

A chat with the waiter led to his suggestion that we’d like to see the area in Lisbon where the lovely IPA I’d been drinking had been brewed.

DSCN6333A cab ride through twisting streets later and we found the Oitava Colina microbrewery tucked away in a street in Graca. The brewers are apologetic that they have no taproom on site and recommend a nearby restaurant which stocks their products.

We climb back up the cobbled street to the Fire Station and left to find Damas; a bar and restaurant which looks like it’s been created in a former bakery.  Besides having more of the cerveza artesanal (craft beer) on hand they also have an excellent playlist happening including great Australian sounds from Tame Impala and Chet Faker.

DSCN6337A room out the back on the way to the bathroom is set up with lights and decks, speakers and some formidable looking sub-woofers.  It will clearly get a bit more boisterous here later.

We decide to find our way back down the hill and set off to find a cafe we’d located using Yelp which promised good views over the city and the nearby Castle of St George.

It’s right, and then a climb up the hill before a hard left and a stroll through a peaceful square to the cafe which is a booth on the terrace overlooking the city.

DSCN6342We enjoy the view to the sound of the huge bell from the nearby church, taking in the colourful buildings and street art and the distant bridge across the white capped water; whipped and whirled by the gusting westerly winds.

The wind is getting cooler as we zip our jackets closer and head downhill again in search of somewhere to have some dinner.


DSCN6346On the way, we get to see the narrow streets and lanes which form a labyrinth where humanity jostles along sharing sights and sounds; where laundry flaps, Lisbon style, on lines outside windows.

We pass small cafes and restaurants inside low doorways, and negotiate steps and cobbles, compromising space for passing people and cars, down to a small square where we can look over the tram route which worms its way up and down these narrow streets: sharing the space with all sorts of other traffic and making the concerns of Newcastle regarding shared road spaces in Hunter and Scott streets seem like a long way away indeed.

DSCN6349We can see a restaurant which looks like it should have a view out across the harbour and we are not disappointed. An excellent dinner is enjoyed; ended by that funny sense of awareness when we realise that two of the other couples quietly having dinner are also English speakers.  I recommend the lamb curry which had been excellent and we share small talk before continuing on our downward passage.

We have no special navigation skills but simply let gravity take its course. Further downward, deeper into what appears to be a circulatory system of local vitality: fado restaurants and hole in the wall cheese and wine shops. This is the Alfama district, with a history stretching back hundreds of years and buildings which seem to exude the past and a welcome to the present.

Walking legs now weary, we hail a cab and are pleased to be able to make the driver understand our broken pronunciation of the address of our AirBnB apartment and head ‘home’ to pack and get ready for our next adventure. Tomorrow morning we’ll grab an Uber and head to the airport to pick up a rental car for the drive down the coast and East into Spain.

Tomorrow night we’ll be in Seville: I need a haircut.