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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Andalucia: The Bare Bones

Moorish Column Seville

When we arrived in Seville, the bus station was scorching - full of hot revving buses and the ambient temperature was 42 degrees a baking dry heat taken higher by the fumes and engine heat. Seville proved to have atrocious connections to the airport, so after trying to catch a city bus to link to the airport shuttle we gave up and caught a taxi for 24 euros to make our connection to our Gold Car rental car through Amigo Autos two hours late after managing to phone them to tell them we were on our way.

The church in Carmona

We then tried in the sunset to find a camp site at Seville but after finding it non-existent, began a long tortuous evening journey first to the historic town of Carmona, striking with white narrow streets a walled inner city and scored a cheezy pizza in the evening in the park where everyone was celebrating the evening in bars and cafes after the hot afternoon siesta.

We then drove on in the night up into the mountains through anther historic town Constantina and then San Nicholas del Puerto to a dusty winding 7 km dirt track through the olive-groved mountain park almost by accident finally arriving at the remote little camp site by the river we had been seeking all evening at around 11.20 Spanish time, after getting hopelessly stuck in the evening traversing the towns, sometimes stuck in streets no wider than the car having to make right-angled turns into another street sometimes even narrower, or with parked cars giving you only inches to squeeze through.

Enclosed Garden of the Mesquita in Cordoba

Next morning we set off for Cordoba, again getting lost in Constantina and drove into Cordoba's central historic district staging a scorching walk through the old Arab and Jewish quarters to the Mesquita mosque converted to a cathedral. We didn't explore the interior, because it is expensive and freely available on the internet, but captured the atmosphere of the historic district.

A section of the Cordoba Mesquita where Christian and Muslim architecture meet

The day was seriously hot enough to cause heat stroke when we had to walk several blocks back in the sun to get to the car.

The approach to Zuhiros

From there we set off on a long trip out to Priego de Cordoba another historic Spanish hill town which reputedly had a camping site nearby. On the way we climbed in the late afternoon to a little cliff top town called Zuhiros famous for its Moorish Castle, bat caves and precipitously panoramic views from the central plaza overlooking the escarpment and surrounding terrain managing to drive right up into it with the elderly men all gathered in the square in the cool of the lat afternoon.

Gypsy camping above Zagrilla Alto

We then took off over the mountains on a little back road reaching Priego at sunset, finding that the camp site was supposed to be closed and after driving through finding the youth hostel closed and the only backpackers inaccessible down a side alley with no parking finally succumbed to driving up into the mountains and gypsy camping in the moonlight on a mountain hilltop which proved in the morning to be overlooking a huge old castle and sweeping views of the mountains.

An excruciatingly narrow street in the old bario de la Villa in Priego hanging with flowers,
whose major alleyway is Calle Jasmine, although like its compatriot in Cordoba,
it also harks back to its Jewish getto origin in Calle Maimonides.

Today, after wandering through Priego which was charming and recharging at a cafe and failing to find a free internet, and watching the news that the 45 degree heat was becoming lethal in Madrid, we finally managed to get a booking for a hostel for tomorrow night for our two nights in Barcelona by going to an internet cafe, something that was becoming a crisis because of he lack of internet access and the fact that Barcelona proved to be 99% booked out days in advance, taking out all the hostels in Lonely Planet even in the dorms.

Looking back over Ronda's escarpment from the pebble-paved ascent

We then headed as fast as possible across country to Ronda, flagging Granada because we hate the big cities in this blazing heat, arriving after the siesta. At first Ronda looked like another slightly hideous middle sized Spanish commercial city, but once we found a map in the city centre I recognized the ravine that I had seen in photos of the city and having for once resorted to a Burger King hamburger and chips, we drove down to the precipitous ravine that has all the stunning historic buildings and sweeping views.

A Moorish castle overlooks the dry Andalucian landscape

I noticed in the distance a car making the seemingly impossible vertical ascent up through a little medieval arch in the city wall and after filming the ascent. followed up a steep set of exceedingly narrow hairpins so steep that it was barely possible to keep going in first, passing all the best sights in turn one after the other.

Finally we descended and almost immediately saw a sign for el Sur camping and arrived at a palatial camp site with free electric plugs throughout the men's toilets and permanent internet while we are here for a 3 euro fee, so here I am blogging to the world in the john.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Land of the Four Leaf Clover

The river in Dublin outside James Joyce's house

We landed at Dublin airport in pouring rain at 8.30 am local time but a searing 8 hours ahead of our California time of 2.30 am and 6 ahead of Chicago and Mexico time, bleary and as severely jet lagged as when we arrived in Chile from New Zealand.


The airline staff immediately tried to treat me as a disabled person and tried to escort me down the stairs and put us in a disabled vehicle to get to immigration, which was full to overflowing with a huge snaking queue of several flights and there were only two immigration desks functioning leading to a chaotic scenes of people almost missing their ongoing EU connections, before a few more official sauntered in half an hour later and the queue began moving. What Ireland thinks this does for the tourist industry is anyone's guess.

Driving out on the N7

Far from our fears of being refused a rental car, Budget didn't turn a hair at my crutches, but insisted on and additional $13 a day full insurance cover or they would take an additional advance fee of $1200 euros for any accident however trivial as a penalty for loss of hireage.


We took off through Dublin and eventually found our way on the motorway to Naess then getting caught in a string of congested towns when we tried to drive across country to see a bit of Ireland, Bu the time we got on the motorway heading west to Port Laois I was beginning to black out every time I blinked my eyes and starting to veer across the lanes, so we pulled over and had some lunch, passed on through a heritage town called Abbeyleix.


Naess panorama (click to enlarge)

One of the most surprising things is how many Irish people speak Gaelic to one another, rather than English.

Heritage house Abbeyliex


Panorama of Abbeyliex (click to enlarge)


After driving through several villages in search of a place to stop and a concerted search through the lonely planet, we settled on trying to stay awake long enough for a 40 km drive to Cashel where we found a neat farm hostel and camping site with panoramic views up to the famous "Rock of Cashel", with showers and kitchen facilities for the unseemly total of 20 Euros a night.

The Rock of Cashel

Two traditional views of the Rock

The Rock of Cashel was the traditional seat of the kings of Munster for several hundred years prior to the Norman invasion. Few remnants of the early structures survive; the majority of buildings on the current site date from the 12th and 13th centuries. Cashel is reputed to be the site of the conversion of the King of Munster by St. Patrick in the 5th century.

So now we have finally used everything we have dragged through Latin America, including the tent, maths stove, inverter for powering everything in the car, and all our coldest weather gear we through we might discard after leaving Chile. So camping in Europe is the phoenix from the ashes of Latin America and the metamorphosis of the caterpillar of dragging the tent so far through ten or so countries into the butterfly of cheap accommodation in Europe (as long as it doesn't rain!).

Campsite overlooking the Rock

Christine emerging in the morning

More on Ireland and its green hills and mossy peninsulas next blog!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Chicago Chicago

Confused American Airlines passengers at San Francisco airport

We made it into O'Hara Int. airport Chicago on American Airlines after an absolutely chaotic check in at San Francisco and discovering at the last minute on the screen at the boarding gate that they were only going to provide drinks but no food of any kind, apart from paid snacks. So much for considering One World customers who paid high international fares!

Oakland area

In addition I was repeatedly scanned because my crutches set of the metal detectors. The security personnel seemed to have mission to put anyone and everyone on a potential terrorist resisting search status so when he scanned every metal dome on my short and trousers and I tried to take my shirt off to get through the endless bleeping he threatened me with adopting a stress reaction to cover something I was hiding, before giving up completely and letting me through.

The 680 heading over Mt. Hamilton area

The overflight landscape was varied, from diverse California images of freeways, mountains and lakes to the deserts of Nevada and then the endless patchwork of the Midwest.

Hills behind the Oakland area

The central valley of California agricultural production

Sierra Nevada mountains separating California and Nevada

Lake Tahoe on the boundary, with Nevada behind

Nevada desert and irrigation circles

The great Midwest

Chicago's O'Hare airport

Lake Michigan

Chicago was boiling, with a dryish 90-99 degree summer heat. We took the blue line, and transferred to the brown elevated line which had some good over views of the city before exiting at Fullerton. All the stations had disabled elevators which made dragging the luggage trolley straightforward, but then we had to negotiate a sweltering stretch in the sunshine, with no food and then when we crossed a six way junction and tried to get into Macdonalds, Christine cut her thumb nearly though to the fat in the entrance door.

Several scenes of Chicago from the elevated brown line

The Chicago Getaway Hostel (left) and Arlington houses and street

After a couple of Big Mac hamburgers and doing emergency dressing we struggled on the four blocks to the Chicago Getaway Hostel, which was a combination of Chicago prices $79 US for a double, a free breakfast, lots of party party activities and a slightly decaying hotel building with few toilets and spring doors almost impossible to get through.

Real vegetables in the supermarket at last!

The immediate neighbourhood main street

In the morning we took a walk through the well-to-do northern neighbourhood to the North Pond in the park by Lake Michigan, getting caught in an absolutely wild thunderstorm in a gazebo in the park with massive lightning strikes right over the tops of us and winds strong enough to blow rain right through the building we were sheltering in.

Trapped by a wild thunder storm in the park

After a lunch and retrieving our baggage, we struggled back to the metro, catching the subway back to the airport. We slightly missed out on the best way of doing this. Instead of taking the brown line which does a reverse loop around the central city and is partly, elevated giving further good views, we took the first train coming, a red line one which cut through the central city underground.

Panorama of Chicago from the North Pond

In any event we only made it out to the airport in time to check in with a very courteous American Airlines agent giving us three seats together in the centre aisle to stretch our legs and finding that if I discarded my crutches and hobbled through the security gate my hip didn't actually set off the sensors avoiding a full body scan.

The flight was pleasant and the food was good although characteristically for AA even on an international flight, they charged a staunch fee for any alcoholic beverages unheard of on any other carrier we have experienced.