Road Trip 2012 – France, Spain and Portugal

Whilst I bide the time in preparation for the trips I have planned for the future, I want to make a few posts about the travel i’ve embarked upon in the past.

As i’ve mentioned in the ‘About Me’ section of this blog, it was a month long trip in September 2012 that really gave me the travel bug. I’d been away previously but this one really got me into the whole travel vibe.

I started out in Nice, France with my buddy Matt for a week. Nice is a great place to relax and the hostel we stayed in had a bar in which it was easy to meet people, suffice to say it was remarked on how I was one of the last to bed and the first up for breakfast (sleep, whats that?).  There was rock bar in the old town called Kings Pub which we spent a fair amount of time in too. Can’t remember the name but there’s also a god Irish bar in the heart of old town, deffo recommended for watching football in if you’re a fan. Throw in some great scenery and an ace pebble beach and it’s a must see spot in Southern France.  I really liked chilling out in the Parc du Mont Boron, t had some great views of the city, a lovely waterfall and general pleasant atmosphere. One highlight for sure was us 2 Brits enjoying a picnic there with a Belgian, a Luxembourgian and 2 Germans.

Sitting on the beach during sunset is pretty much a must in Nice. If you happen to be eating pizza at the same time then bonus.

It’s also a great base for exploring the area. We took in Cannes, Antibes, Menton (right on the border with Italy, it’s basically Italian!) and Monaco.  The latter blew my mind to some extent. As a pretty left-wing guy it’s not exactly my favorite sovereign state politically, but I found the imagery astounding, the way they had built the city around the harbor up onto the hills really is a sight to behold. It probably helps to have a tonne of money mind.

travelling 2012 071
How not to pose for a photo. Still that backdrop….wow.

The other towns were all great, worth the trip if your staying in the area for a few days. It’s pretty cheap to get around by bus and train….I think was a single euro from Nice to Monaco!

After Nice Matt went home and I met my buddy Vas, to embark on a fast paced road trip (oh for the record I can’t drive, I just navigate/snooze/be unhelpful). After a mini-disaster of not understanding French cars, and food rage around Grasse which resulted in my somehow perfect speaking of French to order us food when we finally found a takeaway that was open (seriously, normally my French is terrible) we camped for the night in Castellane. In the morning we got to see the very epic Verdun gorge, before heading to Marseilles with a couple of picturesque stops on the way (a view of Trigance and the village of Valensole).

Marseilles.is very impressive, it’s a sprawling city and panoramic views from Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde are spectacular, I will always remember them. The nearby harbor was fun to explore as well, there’s 2 forts there, though we only walked around Fort St Nicolas.  In the evening we managed to find a English supporting punk pub, to watch an England Euro qualifier (yup, football). The hostel was great as well, chatting away to some French Arab guys, 2 Candian guys and a Dutch girl. Explaining to the French speakers that Vas is from Russia was amusing….having to point at myself and say ‘Anglais’ then at him and saying ‘Rus’….’Rus? Ah Ruuuuusss *insert French I didn’t understand*’. Oh and I got reminded again that I can not roll my ‘R’s for shit.

The next day we visited Avignon, Arles, Montpellier and Ceziers before staying the night in Narbonne. A packed day for sure!!!

I’ll be honest I can’t really remember Avignon, it was a brief stop (there some bridges that were cool) and I was hungover, One to revisit.

We didn’t go inside, but the Roman forum in Arles great to walk around. And some French kid saw my Gojira tshirt and got mega excited as he had one on too….que many French school kids gathering around.

I can pose better than you hat girl - in Arles, France
I can pose better than you hat girl – in Arles, France

Montpellier was lovely, we wandered around for a while, the area with the Porte du Peyrou (L’arc de triomphe de Montpellier), Place Royal du Peyrou and the Promenade du Peyrou with it’s statue of Louis XIV and the Sant Clemets Adequate stick in mind in particular, And the painted houses as well, they were beautiful.

Painted house in Montepellier
Painted house in Montepellier

Narbonne kind of felt like it was in the middle of nowhere. There was a huge Cathedral dominating the town, but that was about it. We struggled to find a bar and gave up after 1 beer. The Canal de la Robine was kinda cool. Plus they had really nice Pizza. I generally eat a lot of pizza whilst in Europe (I’m Vegetarian so it’s always an easy option).

The next day we explored the fortified city in nearby Carcassonne, it was really something, fascinating to see how they enclosed a population within a fort like that! Plus weird seeing shops and a hostel and other habitats inside a fort.  Then back to Narbonne where we dropped off the hire car and grabbed a train to Barcelona, where we met our buddy Nath who’d flown in from the land of the Swiss where resides. Tapas and getting horrendously lost then ensued. Damn that was good tapas.

I’m probably the only person whose been to Barcelona and not been to the beach. I meant to, I just didn’t get round to it. We spent the next day exploring some of the city, and me and Nath went and dd the tour of the Nou Camp, i’m a big football fan so was a must. We then went to check out the Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família (aka that Cathedral that is taking forever and a day for them to build), didn’t go in but had a good look around it and the exterior which what fascinated us. Following lunch we climbed up many steps to reach Park Güell, with it’s incredibly long bench and Gaudí’s artistic input. In the evening (after sleep and more food) we found a couple bars in the backstreets of the city, including an awesome one which I think was named ‘Grunge’s not dead’ (at least it had the written in graffiti style on the outside). Man, I seriously love Grunge, and they were playing other alt rock bands like Kyuss and Janes Addiction too, so this probably goes down as my favorite bar of all time ever. Many, many cerveza’s were drunk that night. Tres cervezas, por favor! (Yeah, I can’t really speak Spanish….)

Next day, grab another hire car, and the long drive to Madrid via a couple hours stop over in Zaragoza, with it’s very picturesque Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar and river Ebro.

A major highlight for me of the 3 nights we spent in Madrid was seeing Atlético Madrid beat Rayo Vallecano 4-3 in the Vicente Calderón. Falcao was at his height, and being a fan it was amazing to experience. Asides from that the city itself is nice, the Royal Residence and Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor squares and surroundings in particular. We checked out a modern art museum as well, which was a mixed bag. We made a trip to Toledo and that was fascinating, it was the old capital of Castille and famous for it’s steel, many shops displaying knives and swords. One of my favorite all time hostel moments came later that night, walking down to reception to find an Aussie guy swinging around a huge sword he’s bought that day for ‘200 dollars’. The reaction when someone asked him how he was gonna get it back to Australia was priceless. Of note in Toledo we also went around the ‘Alcázar of Toledo’ which houses the Army museum. Several hours were spent staring at guns, swords, cannons, uniforms and all other kids of military related items and regalia.  Just another note on the hostel, as well as people shagging in the rooms whilst we attempting to sleep (that was…amusing) there was a mini nightclub underneath it. I mean sure bars in hostels great but a nightclub…that was odd! Certainly that hostel had it’s fair share of characters staying there.

The day following Madrid we visited El Elscoria, exploring the art gallery to great degree and Avila, which was a work of art in itself with it’s impressive medieval walls, before staying the night in Salamanca which was pleasant to walk around and absorb the atmosphere of what is a very ‘studenty’ city.

The 3 of us in Avila.
The 3 of us in Avila.

Next up came Portugal. Unfortunately Vas had food poisoning that morning which made the journey….sketchy. There was one point in a dead end town on the  Spanish-Portuguese border where we weren’t sure we would make it. But we did! Just.

First up, 2 nights in Porto. This city is all about the views of the banks of the spectacular river Douro. Majority of time was spent walking around the city soaking it up, checking out the old streets and buildings, the bridges and the fort. Oh and dealing with extremely drunk Belgian guys in the hostel whilst chatting to a stunning German girl.

Porto
Porto
Porto
Porto

After that we went down to Lisbon. What really struck me about both cities is how old and run down many of the buildings are. You can definitely see that Portugal once had money, but not any more. It was quite fascinating. Clearly times have been bad since the decline of their empire.

Lisbon
Lisbon

After looking around the waterfront area we spent a few hours trekking up to and exploring Castle of São Jorge. Great views of the city and the castle itself very impressive, including some Roman ruins along with the medieval buildings. I also got very excited to find a shop selling tonnes of heavy metal t-shirt and other merch, The Hostel we stayed in was very social too, which was great as I was worn out, though before we joined people there me and Nath did trek into the city for a pint, and on our return we counted we got offered drugs I think 12 times in 10 minutes (weed is decriminalized there).  It was a bit disturbing as a couple of those offering were kids.

Next day we stopped at the beach on Porugal’s southern border, before heading back into Spain to stay a night in Sevilla.

Sevilla is a very scenic city, the Alcázar being the number 1 highlight.

Alcázar in Sevlla
Alcázar in Sevlla

As well all the beauty inside, it is also a great garden which we wandered around. It was cool seeing all the Moorish architecture.  The Plaza de España was also another highlight, t’s a very scenic Plaza basically, and although we didn’t go in the Cathedral was impressive too (at least I don’t think we did, my memory is a bit fuzzy there). The Metropol Parasol was weird and cool at the same time.

Following Seville we journey to Gibraltar to pick up our friend Parbs for the next phase of adventure. Gibraltar is mind blowing for me, it’s a huge massive rock with a town straight from 1980’s Britain!  The rock itself was amazing to behold…and the fact that you have to walk across the airport to get into the place makes it even more quirky. HUGE ROCK. HUGE!!

We stayed in night in Jerez which mostly consisted of stuffing our faces with Tapas.  Then to the ferry! I shall cover the tale of time in Morocco in my next blog post. CHEERS!

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