Just in One Day, Spain, Travel

San Sebastián/Donostia in Just One Day

Upon arriving in San Sabeastián or Donostia as it is known in Basque we were immediately captivated by the grand majestic atmosphere of this upmarket city resort. San Sebastián established itself from a modest fishing village into a classy seaside resort, favoured as a holiday destination for the Spanish royals. It is located on the coast of the Bay of Biscay a mere 20kms from the French border.

We arrived by car after an easy 36 minute drive from our accommodation in Lesaka. The easiest place to leave the car appeared to be in the car park beneath the train station and the central location made for a leisurely walk along the river (Urumeato Itsasadarra) to the old town (la parte vieja). At the beginning of the walk we marvelled at the Puente María Cristina (María Cristina Bridge) with the four monumental obelisks that stand 18 metres high and guard the entrance on each side of the river.

Puente Maria Cristina
Puente Maria Cristina

La Parte Vieja (Old Town)

There are a number of places of interest to visit in the old town of San Sebastián as well as experiencing the culinary delights of pintxos (pronounced ‘peen-chos’) the basque equivalent of tapas. The sophistication of the modern city slowly slipped away as we entered the narrow cobble stoned streets filled with alluring architecture adorned with filigreed balconies of classical elegance. Even the moody overcast weather couldn’t spoil our eagerness to discover the richness in this part of the town. Our first stop was at San Bizente Eliza – Inglesia de San Vincent’s (Saint Vincent Church). This gothic style church was constructed during the 15th and 16th century and is the oldest in the city. It is free to enter the church and very worthwhile as the impressive stain glass windows are enhanced with the natural light from outside. The church also offers one of the finest Romanesque altarpieces as well as a sculpture of the ‘Pieta’ by artist Jorge Oteiza.

San Bizente Eliza - Inglesia de San Vincente
San Bizente Eliza – Inglesia de San Vincente

A short stroll towards the west side of the old town leads you to Koruko Andre Mariaren Basilica – Santa Maria del Coro (Saint Mary of the Chorus). The first thing that struck me about this church was the majestic size of the ornate niche flanked by two bell towers. Above the vaulted niche stands the figure of Saint Sebastián and the main altarpiece dedicated to the Virgen del Coro (Virgin of Chorus) the patron saint of the city. The facade is incredibly delicate in its decoration, a masterpiece in stonework. We were so enticed by its graceful charm that it was hard to leave this place of magnificent behind.

Koruko Andre Mariaren Basilica - Santa Maria del Coro
Koruko Andre Mariaren Basilica – Santa Maria del Coro

Once we forced ourselves away we meandered into the heart of the old town which took us to Plaza de la Constitución (Constitution Square). The square was constructed in 1817 by architect Ugartemendia after a devasting fire started during the battle between French troops and the Anglo-Portuguese army in 1813 that claimed much of the old city. The square was originally used as a bullring, the numbers displayed on the buildings mark the bullring boxes and are a permanent reminder of its history. In recent times the square has become a place to enjoy a glass of wine and pintxos at one of the many bars.

Plaza de la Constitución
Plaza de la Constitución

Monte Urgull

Monte Urgull is located on the north-east side of La Concha Bay and is one of three natural settings within San Sebastián. Access to Monte Urgull is closed during the night, for current opening times click here. The walk can be accessed from several start points, Plaza de Zuloga, next to Basílica de Santa María or Paseo Nuevo. Each way meanders through the lush vegetation along well defined pathways and offers numerous picture perfect views of the Bay. During the 12th century Monte Urgull due to its elevated nature became the site of a military fortress protected by walls that were subjected to many sieges and attacks. The summit is topped by Castillo de la Mota, a castle built in the 12th century and the grand statue of Christ (Sagrado Corazõn) that has been overlooking the city since 1950. The walk took us about an hour to complete with our two children and this was at a leisurely pace whilst stopping at several view points and fortresses along the way. Once we arrived at the summit we were rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views of the city, harbour and the surrounding mountains. Contained within the castle is the Casa de la Historian de Urgull, a small museum that showcases 800 years of the city’s history. Despite there being a lack of English translation on the exhibits it was still a valuable experience.

 

 

La Concha (Kontxa) Beach

The walk had stirred up an appetite so we wandered back to the old town to partake in a gastronomic delight of paella and a fine drop of wine. Satisfied from lunch we opted to take a relaxing amble along the beach ‘La Concha’. It’s not hard to appreciate why this strip of coastline was voted the second best city beach in the world by Travel and Leisure Magazine. The beach sits harmoniously with the backdrop of the city and is flanked by the natural wonders of Mount Urgull and Mount Igueldo. The eye is drawn along the 1350 metres of honey coloured sand and compels you to remove your shoes and feel the sensation of sand between your toes. It was not warm enough for us to swim in the sea but we couldn’t resist paddling through the frothing surf at the edge of the tide. Whether you decide to swim, stroll along the sand and surf or remain on the sophisticated promenade it is sure to delight your senses and uplift your spirits.

La Concha Beach
La Concha Beach

Mount Igueldo

On our way to Mount Igueldo we decided to stop for a refreshing beer at the Wimbledon English Pub. As well as serving great beer there is also some very interesting memorabilia on display. I really liked the style of the building, you could almost believe that you were in England.

Wimbledon English Pub
Wimbledon English Pub

After a refreshing pint we could virtually stumble to the base of Mount Igueldo. Located directly behind the pub is the furnicular railway that carries passengers up to the old fashioned amusement park at the top of Mount Igueldo. It is also possible to drive to the peak, where you can choose to stay at the Mercure San Sebastián.

We purchased our tickets (return €3.15 adult, €2.35 child) and eagerly awaited the arrival of the wooden carriage. There are two carriages on the cog railway that run on a single track and they pass each other at the midway point. The furnicular carriage operates between 10am – 9pm, every 15 minutes and it travels a distance of 320 meters through dense woodland up a steep cliff face. The minute you step out of the carriage you are transported to a bygone era that feels like it got left behind from the rest of the world. The amusement park opened in 1912 and has continued to provide pleasure with its mix of old fashioned and modern fairground attractions. There is also a bar, restaurant and coffee shop for the more faint hearted. Unfortunately the weather closed in on us and the incredible views that can usually be witnessed were enshrouded in misty cloud.

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Funicular Railway
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View from Mount Igueldo
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Enjoying the train journey

It was an unbelievably amazing day with so much squeezed into such a short time. Even though our time was brief in this suave highly cultured city it was enough to make us fall madly in love with its charm. This destination is most definitely on my list for a return visit and I plan to stay much longer than one day.

I’d love to hear about other people’s experiences of San Sebastián.

Spain, Travel

Pamplona – more than just the running of the bulls

I have to be honest in admiting that before I visited Pamplona I was naive in my belief that this town could be anything more than the ‘running of the bulls’ festival. I was wrong, very wrong!

We had planned a stop for lunch in Pamplona and to stroll through the city to break our 3 hour journey between Calatyud and Lesaka. Knowing that our visit was so short I hadn’t bothered to look up any information about Pamplona so my only knowledge of Pamplona was the Running of the Bulls or the festival of San Fermin as it is officially known. Now don’t get me wrong, it is a very worthy reason to visit Pamplona as the San Fermín Festival is certainly unique but I discovered there are so many more reasons to visit this beautiful city.

We arrived late in the morning, the weather was grey and the rain fell intimitantly. Unperturbed by the gloominess of the day we ventured out of the underground car park to immediately encounter the Plaza de Toros (the bullring). Our sense of direction was telling us to walk through the streets on the opposite side of the road. By chance we stumbled upon Plaza del Castillo, a square encased by ornate residential buildings dating from the 18th century. The central location of the plaza set the stage for main events including bullfights up until 1844. The bandstand situated in the middle of the square was installed on 28th June 1943. A wonderful place to relax and soak up the beauty of the buildings, it’s not hard to see why the locals fondly call the plaza ‘Pamplona’s living room’.

We continued to wonder through the shiny cobbled laneways, imagining what it would be like to get chased by several bulls. The shop fronts were filled with San Fermín mementos of the usual touristy particulars. The festival is celebrated every year from 6th to 14th July. The running of the bulls actually developed from a need to move the bulls from the countryside on the outskirts of the city to the bullring. The festival only became popular in 1926 due to Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises, however it dates back as far as 1592. San Fermín, a native bishop during the 3rd century was martyred and allegedly dragged through the streets of Amiens in France by a bull. Prior to the ‘encierro’ or running of the bulls the participants chant a benediction of praise to San Fermín before a rocket is fired signalling the release of the bulls. The runners then traverse along the 875 metre route ahead of the charging bulls over 3 to 4 minutes hoping not to get gored. Surprisingly there have only been 15 deaths since 1910, although many participants are badly injured. Personally I would not want to witness this spectacle and fortunately for us we were in Pamplona in early June and not July!

It’s also worth knowing that Pamplona is the first major city on the Camino de Santiago (the Camino Frances), a pilgrimage walk also known as ‘The Way’ that starts in St Jean Pied de Port in France and ends at Santiago de Compostela in Spain. This route follows the streets of La Curia, Mercaderes, San Saturnino and Calle Mayor before leading up to the medieval walls of the city.

Along this route we were able to observe the Cathedral, a Neoclassical Roman Catholic Church designed by Ventura Rodríguez in 1783. On such a grey day the cathedral appeared to glow displaying the intricate stonework of the cloisters. We admired the Cathedral from the outside due to our time constraint. Had we had more time I would have joined one of the tours that include a visit inside the cathedral, the cloisters and a small museum. Apparently the 11.15am tour visits the bell tower where you can see the 2nd largest bell in Spain.

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Continuing on our exploration we emerged at The Citadel and Vuelta del Castillo Park. The Citadel was built by the order of Phillip II of Spain in 1571 to align with the murallas (walls). It is now considered by many to be one of the finest examples of military architecture in the Spanish Renaissance style. The walls stretch for 5km around the Casco Viejo (old town) and are considered to be among the best preserved walls in Europe. When the military function of the Citadel was no longer required it was turned into Vuelta del Castillo park, the largest green space in the city. It is possible to walk around the walls between Media Luna and Taconera Park to admire the impressive stonework and soak up the soothing green colours in the background.

After a leisurely lunch in a traditional Spanish bar it was time to make our way back to our car and finish our journey to Lesaka. I have to admit we were a little lost so I couldn’t say which route we took back to the Plaza de Toros. Along the way we accidentally stumbled across the Monument to the Fueros located at the eastern end of Paseo de Sarasate parade. Fueros de Navarre were the laws of the Kingdom of Navarre from the Middle Ages up until 1841. The monument is made of bronze, marble and different types of stone, it was constructed in 1903 and is 23.4 meters high. Even on a gloomy day the monument was awe inspiring and simply looked majestic.

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It really is amazing what you can discover in a matter of a few hours when visiting such a great city. Our final surprise was a gigantic red back inflatable spider crawling down the Teatro Gayarre.

Considering we only had a few hours in less than desirable weather, it was enough to fall in love with Pamplona. It had culture, history, great food and a relaxed atmosphere for a city of its size. I will definitely return and spend more time delving deeper into the character of Pamplona, it just won’t be in the second week of July!

Australia, Camping, Travel

Eight Blissful Days in Bermagui

We had the luxury of spending eight full days in Bermagui where we stayed at Reflections Caravan Park. The caravan park is extremely well run and the facilities are modern and clean. The owners Tom Starr and Sara Wilson are really friendly and went our of their way to make our stay fantastic. It’s also excellent value for money, an ensuite site cost us $491 for nine nights. That also included a long weekend, when rates usually sky rocket. The caravan park is located just a few hundred meters from the town centre where you will find lots of boutique shops as well as a supermarket and other essential supplies. Many of the sites offer a breathtaking view of the beach at Horseshoe Bay.

The information centre is located in the centre of town on Bunga Street. The centre has a great selection of information on the local and surrounding area. Armed with a multitude of leaflets we were ready to explore this beautiful coastline.

Coastal Walk : Haywards Beach to Murunna Point

The coastal walk covers 10km one way from Beares Beach to Wallaga Lake but we decided that we would walk a shorter section from Tilba Road to Murunna Point. We parked our car along Tilba Road and we joined the bush track at the corner of Tilba Road and Wallaga Lake Road. The first section was through typical bushland with banksia’s and majestic gum trees. There was a beautiful fragrance wafting through the air with the spring flowers in full blossom. We emerged from the natural bushland onto a track that took us to the Camel Rock Beach car park. Here you will find a picnic area and toilets. Camel Rock is probably one of Bermagui’s most photographed icons. It was identified and named by Bass and Flinders during the first mapping of the coastline. As the names suggests it’s a rock that juts out from the shore line and resembles a camel. Its magnificence is hard to ignore and you quickly become mesmerised by its beauty.

Camel Rock Beach

The walk continued at the northern end of the car park past the Yuin Cultural Heritage sign seen below, through a grassland area where the flora was not as tall indicating a windswept landscape.

Once we appeared at the top of this section the walk progressed through taller shrubs that created a tunnel like effect, it was like entering a secret magical kingdom. The aromas of the bushland with so many springtime flowers was entrancing, our senses were in overdrive. This was my favourite part of the walk, we felt like we were miles away from anywhere and we had the place to ourselves.

Every so often the bushes thinned out and we could see the glistened blue ocean. A word of warning that in a few places there were steep drops at the side of the pathway. Our children are old enough now that it’s not so much of a worry but if you have younger children is worth being aware. About 10 minutes into this section you can clearly identify Horse Head rock, among one of the oldest rocks in NSW.

Horse Head Rock
Horse Head Rock

Once we surfaced at Murunna Point from the overgrowth we were rewarded with the most stunning views of Lake Wallaga and the Pacific Ocean.

The view from Murunna Point

From here you can either return along the same path or you can continue onto Lakview Drive. We choose the latter and managed to find our way back to Camel Rock car park. We then returned back along the original path until we reached Montreal Goldfield and the Big 4 Caravan Park. Within the Big 4 Caravan Park is Camel Rock Brewery. What better way is there to finish a satisfying walk?

Blue Pool

This is another iconic image from Bermagui and it is definitely worth a visit even if the weather isn’t being kind to you. We were able to stroll for 300 meters along Pacific Drive that ran along the back of our caravan park to the Blue Pool. Along the way there is a water tower that has been decorated with Joe McKenzie’s work entitled “Spirit Dance”. The original artwork was painted to assist children to get to sleep with friendly, protective spirits warding off the bad spirits. It is a beautiful piece of Indigenous artwork on a grand scale.

The Blue Pool is located directly opposite the water tower and is reached by descending 70 steps from the car park. The weather wasn’t warm enough for us to swim, however we saw others take the plunge. I can only imagine how refreshing this pool would be on a hot summers day. We walked around the edge of the pool, watched the ocean and listened to the the powerful force of the waves as they crashed into the rocks.

Montreal Goldfield

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Montreal Goldfield is 7km north of Bermagui and is located beside the Big 4 Caravan Park at Wallaga Lake. Admission is by guided tour and they occur daily at 2pm and it takes about 1¼ hours. It cost our family $25, please be aware that you can only pay by cash. Our tour guide was a volunteer who was passionate about the history of the goldfields and it was very interesting to learn about this special place. Montreal Goldfields is one of only two coastal goldfields in the Southern Hemisphere.

Mystery Bay

Mystery Bay is located 14kms north of Bermagui and is definitely worth the short drive to visit. First impressions suggest that it is a small town surrounded by abundant bushland with a picturesque sandy beach. We wanted to do a couple of walks and to witness the reason for the its namesake ‘Mystery Bay’. As the name suggests the bay is enshrouded in a baffling mystery. In 1880 a government geologist, Lamont Young and his assistant Max Schneider were visiting Bermagui to inspect the Montreal goldfields. Along with three other men they disappeared and were never seen again. A few days later a small boat was discovered at what is now known as ‘Mystery Bay’ with a bullet hole shot from the inside and several of their belongings including a pair of glasses and Lamont’s surveying equipment. There are many theories surrounding the mystery but no one knows what really occurred to the five men. A memorial plaque is displayed at the beach car park.

Mystery Bay to 1080 Beach and Mystery Bay to Billy’s Beach

There are two worthwhile walks to enjoy from Mystery Bay beach car park. The first walk is 5km return to 1080 beach. It is a moderate walk along a well graded track through the Eurobodalla National Park. The walk starts from the entrance along Lamont Young Drive (approximately 200 meters from Mystery Bay Beach. We encountered so much wildlife including wallabies, echidnas, colourful native birds, a sea hawk and a python! The python was actually resting on a timber beam above the toilet at the end of the walk. Fortunately we weren’t desperate for the toilet.

The second walk is only 1km return and graded very easy. To access the track you need to walk northwards through the campground. It was late afternoon so we each packed a beer to enjoy once we reached Billy’s Beach. This area is an important Aboriginal site and is ideal for families as the beach is enclosed and sheltered by headlands. The rocks here are churt, slate and mudstone and are around 500 million years old. The rock formations have been created from the pressure during movement of tectonic plates known as foliation.

Tilba Tilba

Tilba Tilba is a 19 minute drive from Bermagui and is located in the tranquility of green rolling hills and pastures at the foot of Gulaga/Mt Dromedary. It is a very small village, protected by a National Heritage listing.

We decided to visit Foxglove Gardens after reading it had featured on two television shows. We were welcomed at the car park by one of the owners who was very friendly and talked about the history of the garden. It cost us $22 for our family of four to enter the walled garden and we were keen to get some inspiration for our own garden. The house situated within the garden is very attractive and around 100 years old. As other people have mentioned in reviews of the garden, it is a little run down from how it would have been originally. The owner explained to us that the property had been on the market for 6 years when they purchased it and it had become very overgrown in the meantime. What was very apparent to us was the love and care that is being restored to the garden. We thoroughly enjoyed strolling around the lake and soaking up the calm and peaceful nature of the landscape.

Central Tilba

Fellow campers at our caravan park recommended a visit to Central Tilba and the mention of a lolly shop had our children enthralled at the idea. Central Tilba is a couple of kilometres further along Corkhill Drive from Tilba Tilba. As soon as you enter the main street (Bate Street) you are transported back in time to a bygone era. The ABC Cheese Factory is situated at the north end of Bate Street where there is also a car park and a picnic area. There are a selection of cheeses and different flavours of honey to sample before you decide to buy. We absolutely fell in love with every cheese we tried, so much so that we returned a few days to buy more to bring home. My favourite without a doubt was their Brie which oozed just as a soft cheese should and tasted divine.

After enjoying a picnic lunch we ambled through this quaint old fashioned village and browsed in several of the stores. Every shop front was so adoringly attractive, some had small gardens in full flower. Our next stop was Lindy Quin’s gallery where many of her photos are on display to purchase. I could have spent a fortune, Lindy Quin has such great talent.

Another short stoll and we arrived at the Tilba Sweet Spot, an old fashioned lolly shop. If you have a sweet tooth, like my children, then you simply cannot walk past this shop. There was such a great variety of lollies and chocolates including many from overseas.

The Dromedary Hotel is an impressive building known to the locals as ‘The Drom’. The seating area at the side of the hotel gave us much amesement, I wonder how many people sit there!

Narooma

A 32 minute drive from Bermagui takes you to the coastal town of Narooma. I am so glad we fitted in time to explore Narooma as we got to see some amazing wildlife.

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We parked our car at Bar Rock Lookout and absorbed the crystal clear views of Montague Island. From the lookout there is a short walk down to Australia Rock and as the name suggests it looks like a map of the mainland of Australia.

It is then possible to walk along the breakwall to the end of Wagonga Head. As you begin this section there are warning signs about seals resting here. This came as an unexpected surprise for us, I had never seen seals in the wild before. We sat at the top of the rocks and observed the seals, we witnessed them doing aerobics in the water and we were amused when they were fighting over certain rocks to rest upon. It’s worth noting that you shouldn’t get too close no matter how tempting as they can be very aggressive.

Once we dragged ourselves away from the extremely entertaining seals we drove over to the opposite side of Wagonga Inlet to Mill Bay Boardwalk. The boardwalk is an easy 20 minute return but it will more than likely take you longer as there is lots to see. We were lucky enough to observe two enormous stingrays gliding through the shallow water. We were also fortunate to watch a large number of pelicans chilling out on the rocks.

We loved every minute of our camping trip to the picturesque Sapphire Coast. There is something for everyone to enjoy. Click here for more information about this stunning region. Thank you for reading my article, I hope you have as much fun as we did in around Bermagui.

Camping, Travel, Uncategorized

Travelling to Beautiful Bermagui

The journey to Bermagui included some unexpected highlights. A six hour car trip from North East Victoria over the snowy mountains, winding our way through scenic surroundings and witnessing the final stages of a once filled snowy landscape.

Our son, who has never experienced real snow was awestruck by the patches of white on the side of the road. A quick stop to run, jump and absorb the crisp crunch of the snow was enough to quell the desire to play in snow. Even the ‘bigger kids’ enjoyed the experience. Another hour in the car and we arrived at Adaminaby in time to have a picnic lunch. Afaminaby is a small town located in the plains of the Snowy Mountains situated at over 1000 meters above sea level. The town is well known for its trout fishing and to highlight this they have a ‘big trout’ displayed in the park (located on the corner of Baker St and Denison St). If you enjoy your big icons around Australia then this is a great place to stop for a break.

The Big Trout at Adaminaby

All refreshed we set off for the final two and half hours of our remaining journey to Bermagui. The final stage of our trip was an easier drive with less winding although it was a steep decent at times. At around 3pm we arrived at Reflections Holiday Park in Bermagui.

Our Jayco Swan Camper

We had booked an ensuite site for our camper trailer at a great price of $491 for 9 nights. A quick set up and we were ready to explore this beautiful part of the NSW Sapphire Coast.

Click here for my exciting article on Bermagui.

Spain, Travel

Lesaka – A Picturesque Place of Mystique and Intrigue

Situated in the rolling green hills and dramatic mountains of the Pyrenees lies a small town called Lesaka.

Lesaka belongs to the Cincos Villas (five towns) in the community of Navarre. Geographically it is located in the Basque region close to the French border and only 45 minutes by car from Donastia (San Sebastian).

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Historically the town has a rural background rearing livestock but it has also carved it’s way as an industrious town. Structures such as the ironworks, flour mills, cider cellars and carpentry workshops have helped retain the charm of it’s past. Industry has provided a great deal of wealth for the municipality and this is very apparent in the elegance of the architecture in and around the town.

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Wandering the picturesque streets of Lesaka

We based ourselves at Duplex Usuaia on Eltzeta Kalea booked through Booking.com. Click here for a link to this property. The house was located on the 2nd and 3rd floors of the building and provided three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a well equipped kitchen and a lounge/dining area. The decoration and cleanliness of the house was outstanding and we had everything we needed (except a kettle!) for a very pleasant stay. The host was very friendly (only spoke Spanish) and had baked us some very tasty cakes. The location was perfect being right beside the river Onin and within 100 metres of a well stocked supermarket.

Outside of Property - Duplex Usaia
Above: Outside of Property – Duplex Usaia Below: Kitchen and Dining room Photos courtesy of Booking.com

The weather was not altogether compliant with our plans although we did have one day where the sun appeared through the mountain mist. We took the opportunity to explore the quaint tranquility of our surroundings. The cobbled streets were like a maze weaving around the characteristic facades of the ornate buildings. We traversed our way up to the church on the hill, San Matin Eliza. The church was deserted and we were unsure about entering but curiosity led the way. Once inside we were amazed at the beauty of the alterpiece and the impressive organ. It appeared rather majestic for such a small remote town.

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San Martin Eliza
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The beautiful altarpiece

We countined our exploration along River Onin and stumbled across the stone bridge beside the Kaxerna (Zabaleta) Tower, a fine example of a noble 15th century armoury house.

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Kaxerna (Zabaleta) Tower

For such a small remote place Lesaka had several options to stop for a well earned drink and tapas. Bar Zialdo was our place of choice because they had tables and chairs outside. Whilst we enjoyed the warm air and our cold beers the small square suddenly became a hive of activity adding to the amazing atmosphere of this quaint yet mysterious place.

I really enjoyed the natural and traditional beauty of this area. I would love to hear from other people who have visited Lesaka. What did you think of this unique place?

Spain, Travel, Uncategorized

Madrid in Just One Day

Interestingly enough I have never spent more than one night in Madrid. It tends to be a place to refresh after a long flight before setting off to other delightful places in Spain. One day I do hope to stay a little longer to delve deeper into the beauty of this magnificent city, it’s architectural prowess, culinary delights and it’s artistic elegance.

But for those like myself on a time poor budget it is possible to experience many of the delights this city holds.

Our most recent stopover in Madrid was after a 20 something hour flight from Melbourne that landed at Barajas Airport late at night. Fortunately immigration was very straightforward and we didn’t have to wait very long. We had booked a family room at the Crowne Plaza Madrid Airport for just AU$125. They offered a free shuttle service but we decided to jump into a taxi as we were exhausted. The taxi ride cost us €25 which was a little more than we’d expected. Mental note: always use the free service!

The minute we stepped inside the Crowne Plaza we knew we had got outstanding value for money. The reception was professional and the receptionist spoke fluent English and was very efficient. Upon arriving in our room we were so impressed. The decoration and furniture was classy and the room had all the necessities we needed after such a long journey. The next morning we were treated to an excellent choice at the breakfast buffet also included in our room rate. I would definitely stay here again if we had a late flight into Madrid.

Tropical garden at Atocha Station
Tropical garden at Atocha Station were you can watch the turtles in the pond

After a good nights rest it was time to hit the streets of Madrid to discover for ourselves what this amazing city has to offer. We were able to catch a bus around 200 metres from the hotel that took us directly to Atocha train station. Atocha train station has a left luggage area located behind the tropical garden and turtle pond. Before you enter the left luggage room you need to place your bags on the security machine. Once through to the locker room you have a choice of three sizes; small – €3.10, medium €3.60 and large €5.20. We opted for a large locker for our four carry-on size bags. Make sure that you have some small change to pay for the locker, as the machine doesn’t take large notes.

 

 

 

We had to be back at Atocha station to catch a train to Calatyud at 3pm so I had extensively researched ideas for such a short visit to Madrid. It appeared that our best option was to do a self-guided walking tour. After extensively searching the internet I came across an excellent article on a website called Laurenonlocation.com. The link to the self guided walking tour can be found at: https://laurenonlocation.com/diy-madrid-center-sights-walking-tour/#

This fitted our time frame perfectly and allowed us to enjoy lunch at a restaurant along the way. The itinerary included all the major sites around Madrid and if you have more time it does give you the opportunity to visit some of the tourist attractions along the way. We took a metro train from Atocha to Sol (line 1) and then Sol to Opera (line 2) where the self guided walk starts. The directions were very simple to follow and it was great that they included the walking time and distance between stops. It was also fantastic that the walk concluded at Atocha train station so we didn’t have to catch anymore public transport around Madrid.

Our Favourite Parts of Madrid

There were so many highlights from the self guided walk it’s hard to narrow it down to just a few. Eating delicious pastries from the famous La Mallorquina was memorable and the shop has been serving these delicacies since the late 1800’s. We tried a Napolitana de crema as suggested and it didn’t disappoint.

I really loved the architecture of Madrid, especially the facades of buildings in the well known Plaza’s. It’s a great idea to stop for a refreshment and absorb your surroundings. If you are on a tighter budget then just sitting in the Plaza with a shop bought drink is just as good.

Then there are the iconic images of Madrid. El oso y el madrño (the bear and the strawberry tree) a statue that appears on a vast array of tourist merchandise. Tío Pepe a historic illuminated sign and kilometre 0 a little plaque and mile marker where all Spanish roads begin.

Whatever you decide to do in Madrid be confident it not disappoint. A big shout out and thanks to Lauren and her website, Laurenonlocation.com that allowed us to discover Madrid in such a short time.

What’s your favourite part of Madrid? I would love to hear other peoples stories and experiences.

 

Creating a travel journal, Keeping your travel memorabilia, Travel, Travel Journal

Creating a Beautiful Travel Journal for your Children

In five and a half weeks we are embarking on a holiday over to Europe and stopping in Singapore on our way home to Australia. One of the many pleasures with the organisation of such a trip is to create a travel journal. On most of our travels I have produced a journal for each of my children that is age appropriate so I thought I would share with you the journals over the years.

There are many reasons why I think a travel journal for children is important. Firstly it gives them a chance to reflect on their experiences each day and offers an educational opportunity. This then becomes a lovely memento that they can share with their friends and extended family when they arrive home. I also found that it was an excellent way to keep them entertained (when they were younger) whilst we were in a restaurant or trying to have a quiet drink in our hotel room after a busy day sight seeing. The journal can be fun and educational at the same time.

In the early years I would buy a large scrapbook and stick a title page on the front with the place names and the dates we would be visiting. I would cover the front and back with contact so it would be better protected from dirt or small amounts of liquid.

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Front Page

Next I printed off free colouring-in sheets based around some of the activities we would be doing and placed them in the back of the scrapbook. I also purchased stickers and other embellishments so my children could paste them into the book. What child doesn’t love to glue things onto paper! My daughter’s first scrapbook at the age of four was mainly drawings and we would write underneath how she described the picture. If we were in a restaurant we would pull out a colouring-in sheet related to that days activity and stick it into the book when completed. It was also a lovely way to store postcards and other memorabilia that she collected.

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A memento page of Disneyland Paris
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Postcard and drawing of a trip to the beach at Calpe
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An example of pasting in pictures from the wildlife park

A few years later when both my children were able to read and write I decided to make the journal myself from card and printer paper. I printed off lots of different activities, for example, games to play, word searches, colouring-in pages and quizzes. I tried to tie as many of the activities into what we were going to see and experience. A few examples were the ‘Chinese food match up’, ‘Dubai sights’ and ‘Jonker walk’.

I also added in some blank and lined pages for my children to explore their own creativity.

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My sons creativity at the age of five

Once I had all the pages in order I stapled them together as close to the left hand edge as possible. I then found a piece of coloured card slightly wider than A4 and I wrapped it around the front of the book and attached it with double sided sticky tape. The image below shows how it looked when finished.

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Front of the journal

To protect the journal during our travels I placed it in an A4 sheet protector. My children loved filling in this journal and it gave them something to do at the end of each day when we were too exhausted to entertain them!

My latest creation is my best to date (well in my opinion anyway!). I managed to finish these in time to give to my children as part of their christmas gift (along with lots of other travel related items for our trip in June).

Here is a list of the supplies I used to create these journals:

  • A5 spiral bound notepad
  • Coloured and patterned paper
  • Stickers
  • Embellishments
  • Double sided sticky tape
  • Scissors

I used my computer and printer to research and print off pages for the journal.

It was handy that I knew most of our itinerary for this upcoming trip so I could coordinate the pages to suit. For some of the sections where I was unsure of our plans I kept the pages neutral.

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I wanted to create pages that didn’t require too much writing and would showcase my children’s creativity. I thought it was important to put as much information and details about our trip so that it could be looked at before we leave. The pages in the above picture were easy to produce using a printout of our flight details with a small lined area for writing and a page with a sleeve to keep the boarding passes. The sleeve was made by attaching doubled sided sticky tape around the side and bottom edges of the yellow patterned paper.

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Maps are a great addition to a page
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Information about the city of Madrid

My children love having their own copy of maps and by placing them their journal they won’t get lost or damaged and are always at hand. The information provides an educational experience and gives your child a better understanding of the place before they get there.

The above pictures show how you can embellish a page instead of leaving it blank and still allow your child to use their creativity.

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Games, quizzes and activities are an excellent way to amuse your child whilst travelling and what better way than to add them to their travel journal. We love playing the alphabet game as it can be played anywhere so why not place it next to the page corresponding to a train journey. A couple of pages about the local food is also a fun activity, it not only teaches your child about the local cuisine but it may encourage them to try new flavours. I also like to include treasure hunts or search and find activities. The picture above has paintings from the National Art Gallery in London, once my children see the painting they can record the name of the artist and the painting. It’s then a great memento of the time spent at the gallery.

I made sure that some pages were designed to store tickets and other memorabilia that gets collected along the way. I found clear pockets (usually used for selling cards) could be stuck to the page using clear double side sticky tape. I used letter stickers to spell the word tickets. I also wanted to leave blank pages at the back of the journal (I left 10 pages blank) for photos, scribbles or anything else my children would want to record.

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The final addition was to make a bookmark and of course I wanted it to have a travel quote on it! By cutting part of the heart out it can slot over the page.

I have to admit that I had so much fun and I learnt so much whilst creating these journals. My children have read them several times already and it has added to the excitement of the trip.

I hope that the pictures will give you some inspiration and help you to create a lovely travel journal for yourself or your child.

 

 

medication and travel, Travel, travel insurance, Travel Visa Requirement

Preparing your Documentation

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I’m afraid there is no sugar coating this step in the preparation of your trip. It’s not exciting or fun, however, it is vital to have your documentation in order as you won’t be going anywhere without it. Even seasoned travellers like myself have slipped up and I can tell you it’s a very stressful situation best avoided!

There are three categories of documentation to consider and organise before you travel:

  • Passport
  • Visa Requirements
  • Health and Medical Documentation

Passport

I hope it goes without saying that everyone is aware they need a passport to travel overseas. What people may not know is that your passport needs to have a certain amount of validity for entry to certain countries. I recommend that you find out what the up to date entry requirements of the countries you plan to visit (and transit through) with the relevant foreign embassy or consulate. I have devised a table further down for the most popular destinations from Australia. Please note that other country requirements may differ from these.

Visa Requirements

I am one of the privileged few that enjoys the benefit of being a dual citizen. This has huge advantages as sometimes I can use the alternative passport to avoid needing a visa. As mentioned at the start of this article I did slip up before I became a dual citizen. Before I became an Australian Citizen I held a Residency Visa in my British passport that I assumed would be valid forever. How wrong was I!! Upon leaving Australia with my two children (aged 3 and 6 years at the time) for a holiday I was informed by immigration officials that my residency return visa had expired (it only lasts 5 year) and that when I returned I would need to organise another visa. I was horrified and distraught, after living in Australia for 10 years it appeared that my future there could be uncertain. After numerous phone calls to the Australian Embassy it did all work out upon my return and I have to say the immigration officials were very nice to me. Having said that it was a harsh lesson and ultimately made the decision to become an Aussie much easier.

To avoid complications at immigration it is necessary to do your research and obtain the most recent information about your visa requirement for the country you are visiting and how to acquire it.

The following table highlights the passport validity and visa requirements for Australians*.

Country Validity of Passport Visa Requirements
New Zealand For length of stay No visa required
United States 90 days Visa Waiver Program for under 90 days
Schengen Zone** 6 months No visa for under 90 days
United Kingdom 6 months No visa for under 6 months (tourist only)
China 6 months Yes visa required
Vietnam 6 months Yes visa required
Fiji 6 months No visa for under 4 months. Return ticket is required
Indonesia 6 months No visa for under 30 days
Thailand 6 months No visa for under 30 days
Canada For length of stay No visa required

You will need an Electronic Travel Authorisation (eTA)

*Valid at the time of publication date

**Schengen countries include: Austraia, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia,Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

Health and Medical Documentation

It goes without saying that our health is extremely important and there are a few considerations to make before travelling overseas.

  • Travel Insurance

The first decision will be whether to take out a travel insurance policy before you head away. We’ve all heard the stories about tourists involved in accidents and unable to get treatment or left with debilitating medical bills. Numerous organisations offer travel insurance and it does pay to do some research into which policies are the best for your own needs. Many credit cards offer free travel insurance to their clients so check with your card provider to see whether that is the case. Be aware though that many insurance brokers will not pay out if you have been involved in an incident and you have alcohol in your system.

  • Vaccinations

It is worthwhile to visit you doctors’ clinic or local pharmacist to discuss whether you will need vaccinations for the country you are visiting. Many Asian, African and South American places have diseases that have been eradicated in much of the western world. We found that when we travelled to Vietnam our children had been vaccinated through their childhood immunisation program against most of the risks so they didn’t require many needles. It’s also a good idea to keep the immunisation card as a record and carry it with you on your trip. The following websites offer more information about health and vaccinations needed for travel:

http://smartraveller.gov.au/guide/all-travellers/health/pages/health-checks-and-vaccinations.aspx#general-recommendations-about-vaccinations

https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/travel-vaccinations

  • Medication

If you regularly take medication it is imperative that you carry it with you whilst overseas. Be mindful of how long you are away for and whether you have enough to last the trip. It is also a good idea to ask your general practitioner to write a letter with details of the medication you take, how much you take and state that it is for personal use. Some countries have restrictions on certain medications; for example, you are not allowed to carry narcotics into the UAE and strict penalties such as imprisonment can apply. Always read the travel advice and check with the foreign embassy of the country you are visiting.

Now that’s all finalised…

Once you’ve organised all the necessary documentation it’s time to get back to the fun part of planning your trip. My next article will focus on how to create a beautiful travel journal.

Booking flights, Cheap flights, Searching for flights, Travel

Planning an Overseas Trip

Planning an overseas trip can feel extremely daunting; there are flights and accommodation to book, local travel and activities to organise as well a myriad of other matters to arrange. Add to that a foreign language and different currency and it can seem like the odds are stacked against you.

Fear not though as the process can actually be enjoyable once you have strategies in place.

I am currently organising a five-week trip to Spain, France, the UK and Singapore with my husband and two children. I will offer my experience, strategies and tips in order for you to accomplish a wonderful itinerary. I will break the information into several sections so that it is easier to follow and won’t feel like an overload of information in one go. I will start with the process of booking flights as without flights you won’t get anywhere!

Searching the Internet

Of course, some people still like to arrange their trip through a travel agent and that is fine if you are happy to pay a little extra for this convenience. However, most people nowadays are confident enough to book their own flights on the Internet. The first step is to decide which search engines you will use to find the best deals. I personally like to use the following websites (please note, I am not affiliated to any of these sites) they are just my preference:

www.Momondo.com.au

www.skyscanner.com.au

www.budgetair.com.au

www.jetabroad.com.au

I will be honest and say that I have never booked through any of the above websites. I only use the sites to provide a comparison as to which airline is offering the best deals. I then search on the airline’s website with the identical search criteria. I know many people who have booked through the above websites companies and everything has gone to plan. Personally, I feel more confident booking directly with the airline as I like the security that if anything in the booking goes wrong then you are dealing directly with the airline and not a third-party. In the majority of cases the airlines’ price is comparable to that of the above sites.

The key to finding excellent deals is searching regularly and as early as possible once you know your dates. In days gone by airlines would sell seats for bargain basement prices at the last minute. Sadly those days are over and airlines put the prices up as the departure date gets nearer. I learnt this when I had to fly to Spain unexpectedly at the last minute.

I have read so many articles claiming that six weeks prior to departure is the ultimate time but in my opinion it’s a good idea to keep an eye on flights as early as possible and to continual monitor prices.

My family has found amazing deals for flights just because we happened to search at the right time.

Date of Travel

If possible be flexible with your dates as this can drastically reduce the cost of a flight. There are many articles on the Internet claiming that a Tuesday is the cheapest day to fly and in contrast Friday or Sunday are the most expensive.

If you can be flexible most comparison websites allow you to tick a box that will produce results for 3 days before and after your selected date of travel. The majority of the time I do not have the luxury of adjusting our dates as we have to give a long period of notice for holiday leave and of course we want to make the most of every day we have off work. Having said that I have always been happy with the deals we have managed to find.

Origin and Arrival Airport

I will always search alternative origachievement-art-camera-970203 (1)in and arrival airports as this can make a huge difference in the cost of travel. For example, when we fly to Spain to visit family I always compare flying to either Madrid or Barcelona. The distance to our final destination is roughly the same to each of these airports. I also go one step ahead and check train prices from each airport as that can sometimes cancel out any savings on the flights.

If you are contemplating a stopover it is also worth exploring different places as part of your search. For example our flights to return to Melbourne from Madrid worked out cheaper with a stopover at Singapore as opposed to Dubai with Emirates.

Top Secret

No I don’t mean that you are going to become a spy! Have you ever noticed the adverts that pop up based on what you have been looking for on the internet. This is called behavioural targeting. It is a technique used by online advertisers to increase the effectiveness of their advertisements based on information collectedon an individual’s Web-browsing habits, such as the pages they have visited or the searches they have made. It is also claimed that these companies will alter pricing based on your search history. I have never noticed this myself, however, I always turn on incognito mode just in case.

Sign Up

Signing up to several airlines will give you the latest news regarding their sales. I have an email address set up just for such correspondence. That way it doesn’t clog up your everyday email with numerous offers and bulletins.

Added Extras

It is worth checking to see what is included in your fare before pressing the purchase button. Many budget airlines add

on exorbitant fess for luggage, seat selection and meal plans. It is also worth noting that some ‘all inclusive’ airlines are venturing down this path. For example some ‘all inclusive’ airlines now charge a fee for seat selection if you purchase a saver/economy fare. Of course if you don’t care where you sit then these fares are excellent choices.

What..Not More Charges!

bank-banking-blue-50987It matters a great deal how you pay for your flights. Paying by credit is very convenient, however, most airlines will add an extra fee for this payment method. Personally I am happy to pay the extra fee as we get the added benefit of free travel insurance from our credit card provider. The credit card provider may also add an international transaction fee to the total amount if the payment is made in a different currency.

Other ways to pay to avoid extra fees can be by debit card, BPay (although you may still be charged if it is linked to a credit card) and POLi (an Australian based payment company). It is always advisable to check on the airline’s website to find out the best and cheapest way to pay.

It’s an amazing, somewhat exhilarating feeling once the flights are booked and the foundation for your trip has been created.

Now the fun begins…bon voyage!