Sylvia & Trevor - proud members of the SKI Club (Spending the Kids' Inheritance)

Busy days in Spain

We've spent a few busy days in our little apartment in Barcelona.  Lorraine and Bill have had a few problems sleeping, as the apartment is directly above a very busy, very noisy tapas bar which opens late and goes all night.  One night we decided, after a drink or two in our room at 2.00am, that if we can't beat'em we would join them, so we toddled downstairs to mingle with all the beautiful young people intent on keeping us awake.  

Well, we tried to get a drink at the bar which was manned by only two people, and after waiting around 20 minutes we gave up.   On our way out, Lorraine gave the doorman a piece of her mind (I think she may have been just a little bit inebriated), then we moved on to the nearby Irish Pub where they were very happy to serve us - we poured ourselves back into our apartment about 3.30am, a little the worse for wear.

When travelling to new places, I love to visit the local food markets to get a snapshot of the 'real' town, where people meet, eat and buy their groceries.  I find it fascinating to see 99 varieties of chillies hanging in bunches in a stall that sells only chillies, or a stall that sells 200 different versions of ham, chorizo, bacon and cheeses.  The Mercat Boqueria in Barcelona was wonderful - food was beautifully presented, if you wanted to buy a freshly squeezed fruit juice, there were so many varieties all lined up and sitting in shaved ice - lovely.  And olives - I really dislike olives, but I'm travelling with 3 people who love them - so of course we had to buy some to go with the beautiful fresh prawns and cheeses that we bought from the market to have for dinner that evening.  

After picking up our car from the railway station on Thursday we went for a drive down to Sitges, about 40mins south of Barcelona, where Trevor and I had stayed on a previous trip to Spain.  We walked around the marina and had a delicious pizza and a couple of Caipirinha cocktails and beers for lunch.  Afterwards we had a swim in the Mediterranean, where Trevor and Bill tried really hard (seriously????) not to look at topless young (and not-so-young) ladies.  The water was very refreshing in the 30 degree heat.  We then drove into the main town, had a look at the beautiful church and the interesting shops before heading back to Barcelona.  A good day out.  Next day we were leaving Barcelona and heading for Valencia for a couple of nights.

Barcelona Architecture

Here is a link to a Picasa Album on Barcelona Architecture
Barcelona Architecture

Walking, walking...

Since arriving in Barcelona on Friday I've walked around 41km, according to the walking app in my phone.... no wonder my calf muscles are aching! 

First days in Barcelona....

Next day we did some more exploration of the area while waiting for Lorraine and Bill to arrive.  We took a walk down to the marina, Port Vell, which was redeveloped as a major recreational area and marina prior to the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.  There are lots of activities, shops, restaurants to keep you occupied while viewing the 400-odd yachts and sailing craft in the harbour.  There must have been a race on while we were there, as the bridge was opened to let 20-30 yachts and crew from various countries through to the ocean - very entertaining.
Lorraine and Bill arrived around 4.00pm from Paris and joined us in our apartment.  It was good to catch up with them and hear all about their travels over the last month or so.  We had a 'set menu' dinner at a little tapas restaurant a few streets away, but it was pretty ordinary.
We decided to get a good overview of Barcelona by purchasing a 2-day pass for the 'Hop-on-hop-off' Bus tour for 35Euro.  We spent the next 2 days on the bus, and visited sites such as The Pedrera (Casa Mila), built by Antoni Gaudi, a famous and controversial Spanish architect who built many unusual buildings in Barcelona.  We also visited the Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell, both built by Gaudi, as well as several churches and the beaches of Barcelona.  

The bus is a great way to get around and get a feel for the city.  I love the architecture here, the old, the new and the downright outrageous!  Most of the buildings are so elegant, with wrought-iron balconies (or balconettes), and not a lot of high-rise.

Chargrilled squid &
grilled pepper puree
Duck carpaccio with mango salsa
We've had some interesting meals here - the best one so far was Shoko, at one of the beaches - we all enjoyed our meal which was 3 courses, a drink and coffee for only 11.50 euro pp.  Really interesting food for a very reasonable price.

Tomorrow we'll probably have a swim at one of the beaches and have a serious think about where to eat next....

Starting our Spanish Sojourn

The next chapter of our travels takes place in Spain and Portugal.  We are travelling to Barcelona, where we will meet up with friends, Lorraine and Bill, before hiring a car and driving a full circuit back to Barcelona.

Our flights from Canberra were with Qantas/Emirates via Adelaide, Dubai then Barcelona. We were lucky enough to bump into Bronnie's friend, Nori, at Canberra Airport, who arranged for us to be bumped up to Business Class for the Canb-Adelaide leg - very nice, thanks Nori!

The Emirates flights were excellent - mostly on time, plenty of room, comfortable seats and well serviced.  No complaints.

We arrived in Barcelona, where we were very happy to reunite with our luggage (haven't seen it since Canberra), then caught a taxi to our home for the next week - a 2 bedroom apartment in the middle of Barrio Gotico, near La Rambla.  The location is excellent, plenty of restaurants, bars, supermarkets around, so I think we'll be OK for a while.  We did a bit of grocery shopping, and wandered the streets for a while before heading home for a rest.  Travelling is soooooo tiring!

Later in the evening we wandered out to find food - plenty available, and we stopped in a little tapas bar a couple of streets away where we had the tapas 'set menu' of three tapas, paella or fish for 11 Euro pp.  Topped off with a half litre of sangria, we are finally in Spain!

Pre-Cruise Tour - Fairbanks, Denali, Talkeetna

We spent two nights at the Wedgewood Resort which was lovely - the suite was huge, set on a large resort which also housed a Vintage Car and Vintage Clothing Museum. As part of the Royal Carribean Cruisetour we had a tour of Fairbanks Town (which we already knew quite well by now), the University of the North, the Alaska Pipeline and panning for gold at Gold Dredge No 8. Trev and I managed to find $27 worth of gold between us, and Ruhani and Gary ended up with around $36. I had the gold set into a little necklace which actually looks quite good.

Next up, all aboard the Wilderness Expess Dome Train to Denali National Park. This train journey is definitely a pleasant way to travel. Luxury leather seats, plenty of leg room, clear-domed carriages so you get a good view of the surroundings, and first-class food in the dining car below. I loved it. After several hours of travelling through mountainous, changing scenery, we arrived at Denali - we stayed in the Grand Denali Lodge, perched high on the mountain overlooking the town. The room was very good, with excellent views.

Next morning we boarded a coach to take us into Denali National Park, hopefully to spot some wildlife and enjoy the scenery. Well, we were very lucky. We saw Bald Eagles, Caribou (Reindeer), a porcupine, a couple of tiny ground squirrels, two separate sightings of grizzly bears, and finished with a sighting of mother grizzly and two cubs playing in the water. Other tours were not so lucky with their sightings.

Next morning, it was back on board the Wilderness Express to take us to Talkeetna, the town where the TV Series "Northern Exposure" was partially filmed. Talkeetna Wilderness Lodge was beautiful, with views (on a clear day) of Mt McKinley (Denali), the highest mountain in Alaska. Unfortunately, we didn't get one of those magical clear days, so we are yet to actually see Mt McKinley. But we watched the sunset, around 11.30pm from the balcony, and that was good.

Breakfast next day was at an interesting and very popular place called the Salmon Bake - not one of the walls or floors was straight, and you felt like you were drunk without having a drink! And of course, the meals were huuuuge! They don't know how to have a small meal here in Alaska. I had a breakfast burrito, and Trev had a standard breakfast and they really should have seen us through till dinner time. But, of course, they didn't. After breakfast, it was back on a coach to take us through to Anchorage.

Our Next Adventure - Canada and Alaska

We started planning this trip in March, and it's finally here.  Our friends, Ruhani and Gary, have joined us on this adventure.  After two 10-hour flights (Sydney-Seoul-Seattle) we arrived in Seattle to have one night's stay before flying on to Fairbanks, Alaska.  We had a brief look around Seattle to check out Pike's Market and the area of the Space Needle, and I have to say I'm so impressed with the Seattle transport system.  We stayed out near the airport, and used the light rail to go into the city - cost us $5 for a day ticket which covered all light rail and bus systems around the city.  Although we didn't have a lot of time there, we got an idea of what to have a look at when we return to Seattle in August for 3 days before coming home to Canberra.

The next day we caught an Alaska Airlines flight to Fairbanks - around 4 hours.  We arrived around 10.30pm and contacted Allan, our host at the Downtown Log Cabin, to pick us up and take us to our cottage for the next 2 nights.  He was a great host, and had lots of interesting stories to tell, having moved to Alaska many years ago with his wife, Verna and four kids, to work on the Alaska Pipeline.  They own a couple of properties which they rent out during the summer, and we had rented the Hall House, a two bedroom cottage.  It was very comfy and cosy, and had everything we needed - including lots of supplies to make our own breakfasts over the next two days.  We got ourselves organised, and watched the sun 'set' just after midnight, only to 'rise' about 3 hours later.  Very strange, trying to sleep in daylight - even after 24 hours of flying time. 

Trevor and Gary had booked a trip to the Arctic Circle the following day, while Ruhani and I were left to our own devices.  They were picked up around 7.00am, and Ruhani and I had a chat with Allan who suggested a walk into town along the Chena Riverbank, have a look at the Fairbanks Visitor Centre and grab some lunch, then he would drive us out to the Riverboat Discovery Tour.

The Visitor Centre was very good, with excellent displays of Alaskan Native culture, and information on the Alaska Pipeline and Mt McKinley (Denali).  We had lunch at the local 'Diner", which was not great - I ordered eggs benedict, and they came out covered in lumpy yellow sauce which was not terribly appetising and looked awful - you win some, you lose some.

We headed back to our cottage and Allan drove us out to the Riverboat Discovery Tour.  This was excellent - well done, well organised, and the young people (mostly students, and many of them Athabascan Indians) were very knowledgeable about their culture and history.  The paddle steamer took us down the Chena River past many amazing and some 'creative' homes, log cabins and mansions.  We stopped at the Dog Mushing property of Susan Butcher, four-time winner of the gruelling Iditarod Dog Sled Race.  We watched a demonstration of the dogs pulling a quad bike, and they were just amazing - they were so excited and keen to get going, they were nearly jumping out of their skins.

Next, we paddled up to where the glacial river, the Tanana, meets the non-glacial Chena River - it was quite obvious where the silt-filled glacial river met the Chena - two totally different colours and temperatures.  On the banks of the river were fish traps - large contraptions which scooped up fish and dumped them into a central bucket.   

We stopped at an Athabascan Native Village, with presentations by some of the young students about their way of life as nomadic indians who have now adapted to a more western style of life while still keeping their own identity.  The skins of wolves, wolverines, arctic and red fox, muskrat, beaver, and bears were on display, as well as salmon drying and smoking huts.  We returned to the Riverboat Discovery centre and had our photos taken in the '40 degrees below' room.  Quite chilly!

Ruhani and I finished the day by having dinner at 'Big Daddy's BBQ' then returned to our cottage to find that Trev and Gary were home after their big day out at the Arctic Circle.  So Trev has crossed that off his bucket list now.  Next morning, Allan drove Trev and Gary out to the airport to pick up a car rental.  Trev gets to drive on the wrong side of the road again!

We did a bit of shopping at Walmart, had lunch (a very good Thai meal) then headed out to Chena Hot Springs, about 60 miles away.  It was a lovely drive, and we had our first moose spotting on the way out there.  Chena Hot Springs Resort was lovely, with plenty of activities available, but unfortunately we got out there a little late to do many of them.  But we did have a dip in the very hot springs - lovely.  Headed back, moved to our new Hotel, the Wedgewood Resort, did a bit more shopping at Fred Meyer - where you can buy your guns along with groceries, then dropped the car off at the airport and returned to Wedgewood for the next part of our trip - the start of the land portion of our Royal Caribbean Cruisetour.

Canberra Balloon Festival 2013

I spent the early hours of this morning on the Lawns of Old Parliament House in Canberra, taking photos of the wonderful Canberra Balloon Festival.  What a magic morning - and some amazing balloons.  Click on the link to view.  Enjoy.
Canberra Balloon Festival

Lawn Hill Gorge - an oasis in the desert

Wow, what an amazing place!  After travelling about 300km from Mt Isa, mostly on dirt road, we arrived at this beautiful oasis.  We had booked into Lawn Hill National Park for 3 nights, with us at one end of the park and Carole and John in the 'tent' area at the other end.  Each campsite was located to give everyone a bit of privacy so we weren't all sitting on top of each other.  Near us was a boardwalk area where we could go down to the river for a swim in the crisp, cool water. 

There are several good walks in the national park, and we did most of them over the 3 days.  On our first full day there we walked to Indarri falls, which was a series of waterfalls into a lovely turquoise lagoon, surrounded  by palm trees and eucalypts.  There were plenty of fish just taunting us in the lagoon, as of course there is no fishing allowed in the national park.  We continued on for a walk up to the upper gorge, with spectacular views over the gorge, then back down through the falls and up a ''short' walk to Duwaddarri Lookout.  Well, that walk may have been short, but most of it was uphill over very slippery shale, then of course a difficult walk down the shale back to camp.  It was a good, if tiring, day with spectacular views.

Next day we walked to the cascades, which unfortunately wasn't actually cascading, then the walk up the Island Stack and 'Wild Dog Dreaming' which again was spectacular, with a variety of birdlife flying and diving into the river, and some lovely wildflowers.  We followed this with a 2-hour paddle in a 2-person canoe.  I was rapt - the bright red colours of the gorge we paddled through, brilliant blue skies, a turtle on the bank of the river (though we did miss seeing the freshwater crocodile that everyone else seemed to have seen!), the clear turquoise water, and bright sunshine - what a magic day.

We had not originally planned to go to Lawn Hill, but Carole & John told us it was worth the trip - and they were totally right.  The scenery was spectacular, the colours brilliant, the birdlife abundant, and the vegetation amazing.  All in all, it's been one of the highlights of my trip so far.  

The only problem we had with this place was the booking system:  you have to book through a central office in Brisbane (which is responsible for ALL national parks in Qld), and we were given two nights on one site, with a third on the site next to us because it was fully booked.  However, when we arrived the place was half empty  - we ended up staying all three nights on the one site, because the people who were supposed to arrive didn't, which was good for us.  But everyone we spoke to about the booking system agreed that it hadn't worked  very well for them, and some had had to stay at Adel's Grove just up the road for a night or two before coming into Lawn Hill because it was apparently full!  I think even an honour system would work a lot better than booking all national park sites through one system in Brisbane, when the people in Brisbane have no idea of what is actually happening in the parks.

Boulia Camel Races - Finally!

Well, we've had some very wet, soggy, windy, days here at Boulia!  We've trudged through the mud and rain so many times to get to the toilets and showers and the main grandstand that we're all pretty good at mud-skiing.  Everyone is still in very good spirits, even though we don't know whether the track will ever dry out for the camels to actually run.  Lots of vans and cars are now so encircled by mudholes that there's no point trying to get out anyhow - and all the roads out of Boulia are cut because of rain, so we might as well just make the best of it.

The organisers are doing their very best to make sure that other events are still happening, and trying to provide entertainment in spite of all the problems.  The Rock n Roll night still went ahead, and I'm happy to say that we Canberrans were the ONLY people to actually get dressed up in our 50's gear and do a bit of Rock n Roll dancing on the Friday night!  We certainly made an entrance, and had a great time.  There was another group from Newcastle, I think, that dressed up as Elvises and they were having a good time too.  Our little group, together with some of the Camel Riders (all girls) had our photo taken to go in the North West Star newspaper in Mt Isa.  We had a ball!

The Camel Races didn't actually run on the Saturday or Sunday, but they did some camel tagging, rodeo events, gumboot throwing and tugs-of-war throughout the weekend, with a really good fireworks display on Saturday night.  The organisers finally managed to bring in  a grader to clear and grade the track for some races to go ahead on the Monday, so we did actually get to see some of the camels run on Monday morning before we headed to Mt Isa.  Trev and I had a bet on the second race, and came second - the odds that the only bookie left at the track was giving were so bad that we bet $10 and won only $6.50!  Not a great effort, but we can at least say we had a bet at Boulia Camel Races!

Monday afternoon we split up - Lai and Garry are heading for Winton, Lorraine and Bill are going back to Brisbane, and we are headed for Mt Isa together with Carole and John.  However, all the caravan parks were booked up (everybody escaping from Boulia once the road was clear), so we spent the night about 40kms south of Mt Isa on a clearing at the side of the road.  We had a good meal, another roaring fire, then arrived in Mt Isa early on Tuesday morning.  

We visited 'Outback in Mt Isa' and booked an underground mine tour, then arrived at our caravan park where we caught up on washing before going on the tour.  It cost $44 pp (seniors concession) and took a couple of hours.  It was very interesting, but probably a bit expensive for what we actually got.  

Tomorrow we are heading to Lawn Hill for a couple of days - it's supposed to be beautiful, and the weather has cleared up, so we're looking forward to it.