Archive for August, 2012

La Festa de Gràcia. (August 2012)

Saturday, August 18th, 2012

Almost every year since the early eighteen hundreds, La Festa de Gràcia has been held in the old district of Gràcia in Barcelona.

This year is the 196th anniversary of the festival.

It starts on August 15, the Assumption Day public holiday, and runs for seven days.

It’s the height of summer in Barcelona, so it’s hot and the streets are full of tourists.

This year 18 streets and plazas will take part in the festival. Each one is decorated in a theme and prizes are given for various categories.

Not everyone in the streets help, in fact there is some resistance to the disruption caused by scaffolding, painting and the crowds of extra people flooding into the narrow streets.

Life has to go on, so the residents work around the mayhem by squeezing past the weird and wonderful creations that are now dominating their normally quiet environment .

Hayden has spent four years living in Gràcia, three of them in Carrer Progress, one of the participating streets.

This is the third year that he has been part of the dedicated group who make it all happen.

As we were in Barcelona, staying with Hayden, we volunteered to put in a few hours work on the last night before the festival opened.

When we arrived, at around midday, I wondered how it would all come together, there appeared to be more to do than had been done.

When we left at 8:30 that evening, it still seemed an insurmountable task to get everything completed for a 2pm start the next day.

Hayden, like a number of other volunteers, didn’t get to bed that night.

Carrer Progrés had chosen Star Wars as their theme and images from the George Lucas classic were everywhere.

Apart from Darth Vader there were Jawas, Chewbacca, Jabba the Hutt, C-3PO, Yoda, several Storm Troopers and the Mos Eisley Cantina band.

All were very popular backdrops for the hundreds of people who personalised their visit with a snap in front of their favorite character.

Right message, wrong place.

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

This poster can be seen along the roadsides around Interlaken.

A ‘cool’ looking Archangel Gabriel, imploring drivers to slow down.

The trouble is the motorists in this area don’t speed, well not as much as they do in many of the countries around Switzerland.

Placement is an important factor when buying media, so I think this particular poster might do a better job in Bulgaria, Romania, Montenegro, Croatia, France and Italy.

After all Gabriel is honored by many faiths.


Faster than Contiki. (August 2012)

Saturday, August 11th, 2012

I have never done a Contiki Tour and probably won’t, as they are aimed at target market half my age.

Apparently they pack a lot into a small amount of time, with many destinations viewed only through the bus window.

We have just done our own version of a Contiki Tour, driving through 9 countries in 6 days, covering over 2,700 km.

We started in Split, Croatia and then drove through Slovenia, Italy, Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, France and finally into Spain and Barcelona.

We spent one night in Trieste, Italy and in Turna Malbun, Liechtenstein, then two nights in Interlaken, Switzerland and the final night in Thiers, France.

We had an evening walking around the beautiful old city of Trieste and the Piazza Unità d’Italia, with it’s Hapsburg inspired municipal buildings and palaces. This is one of the largest squares in Europe and faces the Adriatic Sea.

High in the mountains in Turna Malbun, the wild flowers are still in bloom, while around Interlaken the kids cool off in the freezing aquamarine waters of the alpine lakes.

Even the old industrial revolution town of Thiers, famous for its cutlery, has its charms. The abandoned forges along the river are either being reclaimed by the forest or converted into trendy apartments and art galleries.

While the grave yard at the church of St Jean also has an industrial feel, with many of the memorials being made out of locally forged and fabricated steel.

There is a benefit in driving all day, as you arrive at your destination late in the afternoon, just as the summer sun is sinking into the west.

These are the magic hours for light and therefore photography.

Our summer holiday. (July/August 2012)

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

We are in Croatia for a week or so, with Hayden and Andrea to share the experience a European summer holiday.

I guess to most, everything we have done in the last six months of our travels has seemed to been a ‘holiday’

But believe me, constantly travelling, experiencing new cultures and learning about old ones, is a lot more strenuous than a week in the sun.

We firstly spent a few days in Dubrovnik, one of the world’s most spectacular and well preserved Medieval walled cities.

It has survived the Ottomans, Venetians and more recently the Croatian War of Independence.

Walking around the almost 2 kilometers of uninterrupted Dubrovnik walls gives you a sense of why they were never breached by a hostile force.

The Walls of Dubrovnik, as we see them today, were mainly built, modified and then extended, between the 12 and 17th Centuries.

The best way to get an overall picture of city is to take the funicular up to the rocky outcrop overlooking Dubrovnik and the port.

This was the cultural part of our Croatian experience and much the same as we have been doing for the last 6 months.

Next we caught the ferry to Brac, a small island off the Croatian coast near Split.

We rented an apartment in the centre of Bol, one of the main resort towns on the island.

The island is alive with holiday makers from all over Europe and other parts as well. There is a very famous pebble beach, Zlantni Rat, about a 30 minutes casual walk from our apartment.

Apart from walking you can get to the beach by a small ‘Train’ and a large number of ferries that leave from around the harbour in Bol.

Zlantni Rat is on a promontory and the shape of the beach shifts due to the winds and currents. There is a reliably afternoon breeze known as the Maestral that blows in to cool down the holiday makers baking in the hot Croatian sun.

And there are thousands of them crammed onto this small peninsular. Many lying on the pebbly beach but far more on the rented sun lounges, under rented umbrellas.

They can also retreat from the heat into the shade of the trees that run part of the way down the peninsula.

If something more strenuous is needed then there is no shortage of water activities like tubing, Banana Boat rides and a hybrid pedalo/water slide.

And when the Maestral blows it’s perfect for wind surfing and kite boarding.

We were told that on the north of the island was Lovrečina, a stretch of ‘long sandy beach’.

It was a beach and it was sandy!

It was also very shallow, which meant that it was perfect for families with small children. Stumbling over pebbles gave way to running flat out through the shallows and building sand castles on the beach.

Some of them had a remarkable resemblance to the fortifications at Dubrovnik.

We then took the ferry from Brac to the mainland and Split, an ancient town that is built around the Roman palace of the Emperor Diocletian, in AD 305, as his retirement home.

Between two mountain ranges on the outskirts of Split is Klis Fortress. It has a commanding view of the city and coastline. It’s little wonder that it was able to withstand a siege by the Ottomans for over 25 years in the early 16th century.

Rejuvenated again, we were now back into our more familiar and strenuous pattern of site seeing and stumbling over ruins.

After all we had just had a holiday.

The highs and lows of Montenegro. (July 2012)

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

Having spent the last few weeks near coastal resorts, during a heat wave, we decided to head for the cool of the mountains in Montenegro.

The rugged mountain ranges near Kolasin and Zabijak are dotted with glacial lakes that are set amidst world heritage national parks.

During the winter months, and they are long and cold in this part of the Balkans, these mountains towns are ski resorts.

Summer tourism is relatively new and the infrastructure is still under development.

Much of the accommodation is in apartments or 70s’ hotels that have seen better days. The meals are big but the beers are small (250mm) and warm.

However the scenery is spectacular and well worth the winding, bumpy mountain passes you have to take to get there.

We eventually did get down to the coast at Kotor, which was still in the grip of the heat wave.

Due to the lack of any real beaches, this medieval walled city isn’t as crowded as Budvar which is further south on the Montenegro Riviera.

The mountains are never far away and they loom large as an impressive backdrop to the town.

The harbour is almost in the centre and the cruise ship docked there appeared to be parked in the main street.

Dwarfed by the liner were the the usual array of sleek, tax evasion yachts, flying the flags of Nassau and the Cayman Islands.

The resorts are only now getting back to the tourist numbers they experienced before the Bosnian War (1992-1995).

As a result there is a big contrast in the service you receive, not only between the city and the country but also within the same establishment.

We were soon to discover the difference between waiting and serving.

On two nights we ate at the same restaurant in Kotor that was right on the water’s edge.

The first night we were served by an enthusiastic guy from Bosnia.

He was very attentive and continually checked on our progress and satisfaction level.

So much so that we engaged him in conversation and learnt a bit about him.

This gave us a richer cultural experience.

On the second night we were served by one of the locals from Kotor.

The service was prompt and efficient but there was no interaction.

He got a tip, just as the guy on the first night, but he didn’t earn it in the same way.

He served us our food but didn’t wait on our expectations.