Thursday, September 27, 2012

Bordeaux monochrome

Calle & Isabel P1110911
Today’s visitor tour was to more distant Bordeaux. We were anticipating rain and a lot of shopping, so Munson had to stay home. That put me in a monochrome mood, the results of which is the set of images that sit somewhere between a dated issue of Paris Match, and a volume of Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopaedia (I can almost smell them!).

 P1110913 Gustav à BordeauxP1110918 P1110921P1110925 P1110939


Pyrenees (2)

We took Isabel and Calle for a drive around the area west and south of the farm to give them an idea of the landscape. They’d arrived by train at Agen just after sunset so missed a lot of the delightful drive south. Somewhere between Eauze and Vic-Fezensac I noticed that despite the generally overcast weather, we had quite a good view of the Pyrenees about 120km due south. Their highest point of the
range is Aneto at 3404m which is just across the border from Bagnéres-de-Luchon.

Strip-mining the portion of the photo with the mountains and resetting the contrast gives this little bit of magic. It seems that a small portion of Munson’s hair has settled in the upper reaches. I recommend good-quality hair tyres if driving through the Pyrenees this season.

Pyrenees accentuated crop

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Regular Swedish Massage Time

Gustav, Calle, Isabel, Munson
This week we have Gustav’s sister Isabel with her boyfriend Calle visiting from Sweden. Purely by chance they’re headed for a vacation in the Algarve and southern Spain.

It’s not even breakfast time on their first morning, and Munson is eager to exploit the two Swedes on the sofa for a morning belly-rub.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Gascon boulevards

Gers boulevardsNear to 5pm we started passing through some of the gorgeous boulevards that decorate the last past of the route back into the Gers. Munson begins to recognise the familiar sights and scents: home is in the air! Our journey through Spain, Portugal and Gibraltar was 3500km (2200 miles). I’ll be quite happy to drive no further than the local shops for the next month or more.

A special thank you to Peter for inviting us down to beautiful Medina-Sidonia. We look forward to catching up with you again in Condom in October.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

SPAIN: Pasajes revisited

Pasaia looking from San PedroOne of my favourite days out in the San Sebastian area was walking the narrow channel leading from Pasajes (Pasaia in the Basque language) out to the ocean. On each side of the channel are the areas known as San Pedro and San Juan. When I first tripped over this area, on a warm November weekend I took Bondi out along the pathways on each side of the water-way. There’s a lot of interesting buildings early in the walk, but once free of those it was more the paths of memory, somewhat independent of time, that stuck with me.

Pasajes is only a few minutes off the highway home, maybe fifteen minutes short of the French border. Symbolically it was a good place to stretch our legs after traversing the mountains into northern Spain. 

P1110769  P1110782
We parked on the western San Pedro side and caught a small paid launch over to the other side. I think it was mainly used to get people to the Victor Hugo Museum on the other side – he’d only stayed there for a few days but was impressed enough to call the dark thread of buildings overlooking the water a “little radiant Eden”.
P1110773-76_stitchginger cat  P1110800
To be honest I find the inhabited section of the walk rather unwelcoming, as if the locals would prefer that visitors stayed away. Surrounding the multilingually friendly museum (which draws mostly French visitors), the cafes and so on are forcefully Basque-only, making it hard to even order a drink when you don’t have something to point to. A lady came up to talk about Munson, but I couldn’t figure out what she was saying. I tried to clarify in Spanish but she insisted on Euskera, making it impossible to do anything but smile and shrug. As I noted in an earlier post, regional identity is much stronger than national identity in this part of the world.
Munson has a dipOnce past this area, the scenery is timeless, the air fresh, everything is removed from the temporal concerns that knot lives in identities outside our skin. The waters along here are alive with squirming shoals of fish, often gathered around waste-water pipes. The tide was lower than on my last visit, exposing intricately weathered sandstone rocks on the shore. Denied a swim in Portugal, this was Munson’s moment to take one last plunge into the Atlantic.

fort dancing across the sand
Munson on the Pasajes crossingeven the walk sign is too weary to continue We didn’t walk all the way out on the narrower pathway to the sea as I had done before; Gustav and Munson were happy to respectively poke among the rockpools and leap about like a car-confined fool.

Balcony dogs

Jessica Lange  balcony dog - Boston terrier
When I’m walking around a new city, I pay a lot of attention to ephemeral street posters which give some flavour of local entertainments. Well I’m also a compulsive reader, and even if the posters are in another language, I’m trying to ferret out bits of meaning from any word fragment that catches my eye.

In Valladolid, I saw this poster for an exhibition of photographic work by Jessica Lange. It reminded me of all the quick shots I’d taken of dog heads appearing on balconies, roof-top terraces, and out of upper-floor windows over the last two weeks. I don’t know why, but Boston Terriers are far and away the majority of the dogs we saw, on street and off.

balcony dog window dogwindow dog balcony dogbalcony dog Boston terrier - balcony dog

SPAIN: Valladolid

Munson car blissWe rolled out of Portugal early enough to miss the worst rush-hour traffic and had a relatively uneventful drive to the Spanish border, which we hit about 1pm. I think it was 1pm, but as we were relying solely on our iPhones for time information, and they may or may not have changed over timezones, it was hard to say. We were three further hours into Spanish territory before they woke up to the fact that they were no longer registered on Portuguese cell networks. I’m thinking that Apple, Google, Microsoft et al should just pay me to drive around Europe and tell them what doesn’t work when you cross borders.

Munson at least had no such concerns, and was happy just to poke his head out of the window and enjoy his magic carpet ride of new scents.Valladolid (3) - Cathedral & Plaza Mayor

We intersected with our journey south at Salamanca, continuing on to Valladolid (pronounced Vah-yah-tho-leeth) for our final night’s stay away from home. It’s probably less well known outside Spain than its fellow Castilian cities: Salamanca with its university, Segovia for its magnificent cathedral, and the walled city of Avila, yet is in fact the capital of this autonomous community of Castile and León. This is the largest of all Spain’s “states”, built from the old kingdoms that united during the Reconquista period of the middle-ages when the Iberian peninsula was taken back from the Moors.
Iglesia de San Benito el Real Iglesia de San Benito el Real (2)
For some reason when I stayed in Salamanca years ago, I had a vision of Valladolid as some dusty old town and I never thought to visit it. On entering the town, I found almost the exact opposite: what appeared to be a gracefully, attractive and thriving city. I also found the people I met that day to be much friendlier than the haughtier folk of Salamanca. The more I walked around, the more I wished that I had stayed there instead and just visited Salamanca for a day trip.
Valladolid (1)
Cervantes lived here at the beginning of the 17th century and finished his great novel Don Quixote during this time. An older contemporary of Shakespeare, they died one day apart in 1616.

Christopher Colombus died here in 1506, although his remains were transferred to Seville then to the Dominican Republic, then to Cuba, and finally back to Seville Cathedral nearly 400 years later. In recent years I have unintentionally retraced most of his major European haunts, beginning with his birthplace of Genoa; Salamanca where he was encouraged to proceed with his voyages; Lisbon where he later lived; Cadiz, from where he set out on his second voyage; Seville, where he was (twice) interred; and now Valladolid.

Munson auditions with Don Quixote to be Rocinante's replacement  River Pisuerga
The river Pisuerga runs through the centre of the city, and appears to not only to be popular for boating and fishing, but there’s a sandy beach within a few hundred metres of the Plaza Mayor.

Munson under bridge

Valladolid (2) - by the river

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

PORTUGAL: Lisbon evening

Avenida da Liberdade
After our Simpons-led recovery we pointed ourselves downtown again, taking a detour along Lisbon’s attractive Avenida da Liberdade. About as wide as two Olympic swimming pools, with a central tree-lined park, it' was a much more soothing approach to the city than one normally finds.
building drapes  beer and chips
Skirting the main street grid we climbed many storeys of stairs to get to Bairro Alta. There we stopped for refreshments at an outdoor cafe. I headed for a nearby toilet to fill Munson’s water-bowl and was intercepted by one of the old ladies who manage them, who was one step ahead of us with “água?”, scuttling off to find an even bigger bowl. As we sat enjoying our respective wine, beer and water, a couple of other old ladies circled our table at a distance, winking and cooing at Munson.
Bairro Alta, with vodka
Searching for a place to eat, we passed a number of restaurants in narrow alleys, their tables lining the walls and already filling with diners. A few streets on the mood was more party-like, and I spoke to a couple of Australians drinking in the doorway of a bar.
 overlook park statue of Adamastor
We emerged near the Miradoura de Santa Catarina, a viewpoint park filled with groups of backpackers, drinking and watching the sun go down over the 26th of April Bridge. Surveying them in turn was a statue of Adamastor,  a Greek mythological figure symbolising the struggles of Portuguese sailors against the perils of the sea. The small human figure on the statue looking up at Adamastor seemed to be holding a schooner of beer. I don’t know if that symbolised the peril, the solution to the peril, or just inspiration for the drinkers around us. We hadn’t got far into the park when I overheard “now that’s a dog!” in an unmistakeable Aussie accent. The four guys sitting in the centre of the park had been hanging out in Lisbon for a few months, saying it was an extremely inexpensive place to live.
Munson's new Aussie mates   sunset gold
Munson's new Mexican friendAs I was admiring the metallic gold light falling across the harbour onto our street, a small creature darted out of a shop doorway. The owner beckoned us in to introduce Munson to her rather jittery chihuahua.

After days of Medina-Sidonia’s feisty little dogs having a go at Munson, it was almost refreshing to have one that was happy to return the same measure of respectful interest.
evening in the square
Feeling pretty hungry by now, we returned to the first set of restaurants and picked one out that had an attractive menu. After Salamanca I had my fingers crossed that the actual menu was the same as advertised, but that wasn’t a problem. I think the restaurant had a bit of a French accent to it – the beef was advertised as being Mirandaise, the breed we first had on the farm. The table behind ours had a French couple with their two year old daughter who was rather obsessed with poking Munson. At least I was able to reassure them directly that he was kid-safe. The food at the restaurant was quite good but they had a miserly approach to side dishes – if we ate the bread, butter or other items put out on the table when we arrived, then we’d be slugged for every bite. I think they counted on guests not being able to read the menu, and gobbling up an extra ten euro or so in buttered bread and bits of cheese.

That was as much of Lisbon as we got to see in our available time. If I were planning it out or stayed a day longer, I might have taken one of the sightseeing buses, at least so we could get to the Belém area a few kilometres oceanwards. The other place I meant to get to was Sintra, a World Heritage town not far northwest of Lisbon. However on these sorts of road-trips, too much cultural splendour in too short a time can dull the senses. One day I’d like to return to Portugal and see more of it at a more leisurely pace. I’d hoped to do that when I was travelling with Bondi in years past, but at that time Portugal required that Australians (not malamutes) have a special visa that wasn’t required anywhere else in the Schengen travel zone. Getting these visas was too much hassle as the host countries (France and Spain included) required that you fly back to Australia for an interview just to be a brief visitor!

So even though Portugal was the only country in Western Europe* that Bondi never visited, I’m very happy that Munson now has a couple of unique places on his travel record. Not bad for a kid from the middle of Queensland.

(* not counting pocket-sized places like Andorra)