Friday, November 1, 2013

SPAIN (and a bit of Paris too)....

 Do I need to tell you which of these is in Paris and which is in Spain?
Hello All. Please forgive my ridiculously long lapse in writing. No excuses…. Just got caught up in life abroad.

As many of you may know, I’m heading back to the U.S. in about 10 days, so it somehow seems fitting that I should spend my last week abroad completing my blog. I’d like to return home with a finished blog – a year’s worth of travel in writing. So this I shall do!

And now allow me to pick up where I left off: about to leave Sydney after 6 weeks there.

I left Sydney on Tue, 14 May, mentally prepared for a couple looooooong days of journeying. Day one involved n 8-hr flight to Singapore, arriving at 7pm that evening. Because I wasn’t departing until 9am the next day, I decided to arrange a place to sleep (i.e. a BED) for the night, rather than crash at the airport. I found a fairly nice and reasonably-priced place through AirBnB and, even though it took me two buses to get there from the airport, I decided it was worth being horizontal in an air-conditioned room for the night. In the morning, I reversed my trip back to the airport, with relative ease, and boarded Air India for the first of my two flight legs that day. My itinerary was to fly to Delhi (5 hours), have a VERY brief (45min) layover, then fly to Paris (9 hours).

We arrived in Delhi late and I was concerned that I was going to miss my connecting flight, but fortunately Air India had reps waiting for the half dozen of us going to Paris. They, quite literally, RAN us through the airport to meet our connecting flight. As I charged through this beautiful, HUGE, modern airport, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed that I didn’t have a chance to shop! (I have been so shopping deprived!). But, seriously, I was so glad to have made it to my flight.

I arrived in Paris on schedule, found the bus I needed, and headed into the heart of the city. Before going there, I had arranged to stay with the parents of one of my travel companions, Nevine (you may remember, we traveled together in Laos and then again in Burma). Nevine’s parents, Diane and Danny (who are my age, btw), live very near to the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Elysees – making staying there quite a treat.

Diane met me at the bus stop and escorted me to their lovely condo a few blocks away. There we sat down with Danny, had a bite to eat, a glass of wine (but of course!), and got acquainted. I felt comfortable with them immediately and so enjoyed visiting with them. In fact, every evening I was there (6 in total), we sat down to a delicious, home-cooked meal (always with wine) and talked for hours. Such a delight.
Diane and I spent my first couple days there tromping the city. The weather was a bit cloudy and cool (a bit of rain at times), but that didn’t stop us. She was such a fantastic host and tour guide. I really got to see a ton of the city – AND get some well-needed exercise (in the form of walking).

When making my plans to go to Spain, I decided to fly through Paris, rather than London, for a number of reasons. The most compelling one, however, was that I knew I’d have a chance to meet up with my sister, Jane (& brother-in-law, Russ, and niece, Alli), who would be there at the same time. I had arrived there on May 15 and they were scheduled to get there on the 18th – so, of course, we had planned to rendezvous and explore Paris together. How great is that?

And that we did. We spent two, full (& somewhat rainy) days walking and exploring the areas that Diane & I hadn’t covered yet (and some that we had)…. the Eiffel Tower, the Montemarte area, all around Notre Dame, and several cafes in between. We managed to carve out a good amount of time to just sit and talk and catch up, which was the best part, as far as I’m concerned.

Ahhhhhh, Paris! What fun. And so, after a wonderful 6-day tour, plus time with family, I left Paris VERY early on the morning of May 21, headed for Malaga, Spain.

I was going to Malaga to meet Anne Hunt, who owns a B&B called "Casa Ana" in the Alpujarras mountains ( and who was going to be my host for the next several weeks (which turned into 11!). Anne & I had found one another on one of the work/exchange sites (, which matches hosts who need help of some sort with travelers who are looking to help AND stay for free. The hosts offer full room and board in exchange for about 25 hours of work per week.

Anne met me at the airport and we headed off to have lunch then do some errands in Malaga before driving back to Casa Ana (2.25 hrs away). We hit it off immediately, both feeling as though we’d met before. We had such a fun day…. lunch, including a “tinto de verano” (red wine with lemon juice – it’s yummy!),  then some shopping for her. Anne had a trip to Copenhagen planned for about 10 days later and wanted to buy some clothes for that trip. It was fun to help her pick out some outfits (I bought nothing).

We talked the whole time during the drive to her B&B, arriving well past sunset, so I wasn’t really able to see where we were going. Suffice it to say that it was a VERY windy road (esp. the last half hour) and it was foggy, so it was a bit of a white-knuckled drive for me. But Anne seemed utterly relaxed, having driven that bit thousands of times, so I just tried to relax as well and assume she knew where the turns were! We arrived safe & sound and I absolutely crashed into bed.

I woke up the next day surrounded by mountains and sunny, blue skies (reminded me a lot of Boulder). Gorgeous. Anne lives in a tiny village, Ferreirola (pop. 38), that is situated among several other similar villages. And it is exactly as you might picture it in your mind…. quaint, old, white-washed buildings, often with brightly painted shutters (which they USE), meandering along the hillsides. Most villages have a parking area outside the village, meaning you can’t drive into the center – only walking through the village.

I did my exploring little by little, but within a few weeks I had hiked (and sometimes run) on nearly every trail nearby (and there are many), I had visited several other villages, and had met many of Anne’s friends. Generally speaking, my days looked a little like this: wake up at 7am, get out for a brief and fast “hun” (hike/run), shower and change, then head down to the diningroom to set up for breakfast; serve guests a most delightful breakfast at 9am; once they’re settled and have what they need, go back upstairs and sit down with Anne for our breakfast together (we made yummy coffee in her French press – and that was my favorite time of the morning – well, besides the hike, which was pretty special); after breakfast go back down and clear/clean breakfast and then, depending on the arrival/departure schedule, set out to cleaning a room or two (or three). After that, it was usually time to relax and read or write (yea, I know, THAT’S when I could have been writing this blog!!). Most of the time I was there, it was fairly hot (in the sun) during the day, so we absolutely honored “siesta” time – meaning relaxing or napping.

Anne & I would always prepare lunch and dinner together, sitting down to a nice meal each time. That, too, was such a nice thing to do. With all my travel, I’d sat down to many a meal alone and it was so nice to have company… AND to do some food preparation. Our evenings varied…. sometimes Anne’s guests wanted dinner, in which case she brought in a local chef, who made a 3-course dinner for them (and us!). We would serve their starter, then go upstairs and eat ours, then we’d do the same with the main and the dessert. Other evenings, we just sat and read or watched a movie or talked or visited with friends….  Life was wonderfully slow there in that tiny village. I enjoyed it very much.

One day we drove to Granada (1.5 hrs away), so that Anne could get her hair cut, run some errands, and I could explore. The drive was beautiful and I just loved Granada. I wasn't able to get to the Alhambra on this particular day -- too late to get tickets -- but I was able to take photos of the city and of the Alhambra from afar.

For two weeks in June, Anne hosted a “writer’s retreat” at her B&B (something she’s done many times before) and six writers attended. It’s designed for writers to have a block of time at a quiet place to just work on whatever project they have going. This time was a little different than the other writers' retreats, as Anne decided to bring in a “mentor” so that the group could meet with him individually (to get feedback on their writing) and as a group as well. The retreat was billed as “all-inclusive” so that they could focus their attention solely on their writing, without having to worry about buying or preparing food. To that end, we served them 3 meals/day in the diningroom, making for a very busy couple of weeks – but also quite fun. I very much liked the writers who were there and was lucky enough to be able to sit in on their group “readings” and hear what they were working on. Those evenings were always great fun and included plenty of wine.

After the 2-week writers’ retreat ended, things were supposed to be fairly slow at Casa Ana, so Anne & I decided to take a little road trip.We did some research, found a great place to stay (through a website similar to AirBnB) and on July 4, hit the road! We were, basically, driving across the southern part of the country to the southwest coastal region (Costa de la Luz – Coast of Light). We meandered our way across, taking about 9 hours when we could have gotten there in six. But we decided to take some back roads (gorgeous!), instead of only highways and we stopped whenever there was something that looked interesting. One of the places we stopped was Ronda, which has since become one of my favorite cities. Love everything about it: the buildings, the feel, the people, the surroundings, the shops, the parks…. just a great city.

[DISCLAIMER #1: I will apologize right now for the condition of the rest of my photos. I do know there are spots on many of them. Somehow my lens must have gotten wet and I simply could not figure out how to get rid of the spots. Hopefully, you'll still get a good idea of the beauty of this place!]

We finally made it to our destination – Vejer de la Frontera – at 9:30 that night. It was almost dark, so we couldn’t really see much of the town, but the condo we’d chosen was great – and within walking distance to the center of town. The next day we awoke to see a most lovely and magical little village. It’s hard to describe how wonderful it was, but suffice it to say that EVERYONE we met was smiling and helpful, the place itself was stunning(!), and it just felt good. Hopefully, the pics here will give you some idea…..

[DISCLAIMER #2: I found this town so unbelievably picturesque and charming, that I could NOT stop taking photos. So now YOU have to look at them. :)]

During our vacation (6 days), besides exploring and enjoying Vejer de la Frontera, we also explored all around the whole area, visiting a different town or beach every day. While it was sunny and warm the whole time we were there, it was also quite windy -- especially on the coast -- so we never had the opportunity fo have a 'beach day" -- even though we did GO to the beach.

One of the first days, we headed to the coastal "town" of Bologna, where there still stand Roman ruins right on the beach (unfortunately, my photos didn't come out so well...). 

Another day we drove down to the tip of Spain – the city of Tarifa – where a friend of Anne’s lives and from where you can actually see Morocco! Tarifa is a beautiful, albeit quite windy, city – and Anne’s friend, Zoe, was absolutely delightful. She’s nearly 80 and such a youthful, fun woman. She owns and runs several vacation (self-catering) rental properties and lives in one of them (renovated gorgeously). We sat and talked for at least two hours and it was a joy to meet her. For some reason, though, I neglected to take any photos of her (I'm bummed), but did take some pics of Tarifa (and our drive down)....

The next day we headed north to Cadiz (pronounced CA-dith), another city on the water (actually surrounded on 3 sides by water), where another of Anne’s friends, Glyn, lives (along with his partner, Leslie). And again, we tromped around a really wonderful city, stopping to eat or drink, stopping to talk (always great conversation), or stopping to watch the locals play on the beach. I so enjoyed hanging out with Glyn and Leslie.

Finally, on day six, it was time to head back to Ferreirola. We took a slightly different route back cross-country and arrived back just in time for dinner. It was such a wonderful trip.

Shortly after returning from our road trip, Anne received another “workaway-er” (helper, like me!), Franzi from Germany. The plan had been that I would be departing shortly after Franzi arrived, however, I hadn’t yet found a place to go (on work/exchange), despite having sent out several emails. These work/exchange sites, by the way, are so wonderful in many ways, but it’s not always so easy finding a place to host you – unless you plan way ahead. SO many travelers are using these sites, that often the hosts are booked for weeks. I had sent out many emails – to hosts whose places sounded so amazing – only to get either no response or the “sorry, we’re full” response. I was crestfallen each time. So, since I didn’t have a place to go, Anne suggested I just stay on for a while. In fact, she had a retreat planned for the following week and thought it would be helpful if I were at the B&B with Franzi, since she would be new to everything. So I stayed…. for another 5 weeks!

The time with Franzi there was great… I was glad I could be there to show her how to do everything and it was great to have her as a hiking companion. The 3 of us prepared & ate meals together, played games, worked some jigsaw puzzles (Franzi is a master!), did lots of hiking, and oh yea, worked the B&B!

We had another opportunity to go to Granada with Anne and, this time I wanted to get to the Alhambra. Franzi and I tried booking tickets online and, while we were able to get tickets to see the grounds, unfortunately, the tickets for the inside were sold out on that day. Of course, we went anyway, and while I'm sure the inside of the Alhambra would have been incredible, we certainly enjoyed touring the entire grounds -- which were stunning.

One of the tiny, neighboring villages, Busquistar (pop. 150) hosted a "jazz fest" one weekend. Amazing, given the size of the town. But, sure enough, they set up a large, high-tech stage there – on the school grounds – and had a bonafide jazz fest. We attended on two of the 3 nights and, I must say, the first night was absolutely stellar. They invited an American jazz pianist (and his band), Aaron Goldberg. As we arrived, he was speaking to the audience in fluent Spanis. So, even before he started playing, I was impressed. And, boy, can that man play piano! It was a sheer pleasure to listen to him. When we got back home, after the concert, I googled him and found out he would be playing in a night club in SOHO the very next night. Then off to Rhode Island then back to Europe. Wow.

On my last weekend in Spain, one of the other neighboring villages, Atalbeitar, had their annual fiesta. We attended one evening and, oh, what a scene. Here’s an excerpt from an email I sent my family the next day:

Last night we went up to the village of Atalbeitar (about 2mi up the mountain) to experience some of the festivities and to see the fireworks. We arrived to the sound of the brass band playing, well, marching band-like music. Not exactly danceable, but people were dancing nonetheless. It was charming. We positioned ourselves in the brightly adorned plaza -- with band behind us -- chatting before the fireworks (see pic: in the center of the photo are me on the right, Anne in the middle, and Franzie on the left).
As we stood there chatting and listening to music, I wondered when we'd all exit the plaza to go watch the fireworks. Since the plaza is fairly small, surrounded by buildings, and festooned with strings of flags (see pic), I knew there was no way to shoot off fireworks from there nor to even see them in the sky. But, oh, it turns out that we didn't need a bunch of space nor to see the sky in order to watch these fireworks....

At around 10:30 or so, a man walked into the plaza and put a large metal stand (a bit like an extra large Christmas tree stand)  on one side of the plaza. Someone turned to me and said that was for the *fireworks*. I was befuddled. He left and then returned with a tall (12ft?) metal pole with other metal "arms" coming off of it, and strapped with cords of some sort. He then lit one end of the cord with his cigarette(!!) and the thing started to go crazy.... fireworks strapped to a pole! (the man didn't step very far away, by the way, while this thing was going crazy). It was absolutely hilarious and spectacular.... and loud! I was in awe -- and in stitches! The thing sort of whizzed and screamed the whole time, as multi-colored sparks shot off in all directions. Then when it was finished (about 3mins), it made several very loud booms (like very loud gunshots) and it was over. Well, not quite. The man then went away and came back THREE MORE TIMES with 3 differently-shaped metal structures and lit them all in the same way. All the while, the brass band was oompah-ing along behind us. I felt like I was in some sort of foreign, slapstick movie. Loved it. Best *fireworks* show EVER.”

It's rather hard to see, but those are the "fireworks" (coming out of the crazy apparatus) in the second "collage" photo. In any case, I got to experience a real, small-town, Spanish fiesta!

And my time in Spain was shortly coming to an end. What you may not know (I didn’t, until I got there) is that foreigners are only allowed to stay in the Shengen area (which includes 26 European countries) for 90 days out of every 180 days (roughly 3 months out of every 6). These 90 days don’t need to be consecutive; in other words, you can go in & out of the Shengen area multiple times during the 180 days, as long as you never exceed 90 days in the region. But if you over-stay, it’s possible to get banned from ever returning. THAT would be a bummer. Soooo... my 90 days was going to expire on Aug 14th – so that was my limiting factor. I needed to leave Spain (and the whole Shengen area) by then. I was looking to go to one of two countries: the UK (which, interestingly is NOT part of the Shengen) or Turkey. I sent several emails to hosts in both countries and, well, you know who responded first. So I made a plan to head to the SW coastal region of Turkey – near Fethiye – leaving Spain on Aug 13. (I will, very soon, write my Turkey post and then you can read all about it, but for now I’ll finish this post).

Anne  decided to host a “bon voyage party” for me on my last night in Ferreirola. We invited all the people (Anne’s friends) who I’d gotten to know while there and did a “pot-luck” sort of thing. Oh, it was so fun! There were about 14 people there, along with fabulous food. We ate, drank, talked, told jokes, laughed, and hugged good-bye. It was the perfect way to wrap-up my time in Spain.

My flight to Turkey was scheduled for very late the next night, so Franzi & I decided to meet a friend, Kitty, in Malaga and spend the day on the beach! We caught a ride with a couple who were headed to the airport and arrived in Malaga at about 9:30am. It seemed to be a foggy, chilly day … then, around 11:00, the fog broke, the sky cleared and it was perfect. The three of us spent the entire day on the beach, grabbed dinner in one of the restaurants, then I headed to the airport (for a 11:55p flight). I had plenty of time to hang out at the airport before my flight departed.

And that completed my time in Spain.

Thanks for reading all the way to the end. Look for my Turkey post, coming in the next week.