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Wanderings from Madrid

Daytrips to Toledo and Segovia


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My first day trip from Madrid was to Toledo which is an interesting city that was the capital of Spain until the 16th century and is a nice day trip approximately an hour from Madrid. The city is now famed for the co-existence of the three cultures, Jewish, Christian and Muslim however in reality this was only for a specified period of time and Toledo was also the battle line for the Muslims and Christians. It is a history that seems based as much on heresay and half truths as it does actual factual history.

The city itself has a very medieval feels about it enhanced by the massive number of shops selling knives, swords, crossbows and templar/Spartan (oddly) like amour. Apparently the city was also famous for its iron production, particularly swords before being replaced by Madrid as the capital. As in all European cities of this type it has a quite nice Alcazar and cathedral as well as some nice synagogues to be seen. The city also has a very labyrinth type feel about it as well owing to the very small nook like streets that go in every direction but straight.

Overall a very cool city and one well worth visiting if only to get out of Madrid for the day and see a different city. The most difficult thing we found was actually getting there after finding out that the information in both books was wrong and after asking two different information desks and getting two different answers. Once we actually got to the right bus station however we were able to get there and back quite comfortably.

My second day trip was to Segovia which is again about an hour out of Madrid by bus, this time however I had no problems finding where to go and was on my way before I knew it. This city was used more by the Romans and the Moorish kingdoms and has a well preserved old town that highlights this.

The main attraction here is the Aqueduct of Segovia which is apparently among one of the best preserved and most significant structures built by the Romans left in Spain. However local legend also has it that the aqueduct was in fact built by the devil to either impress a local water seller named Juanita or as part of a pact towards obtaining her soul. The aqueduct transports the water from a river approximately 18km away at ~30L/s utilizing a grade of approximately 1%. The aqueduct uses weirs and baffles to provide natural decantation therefore remove the dirt by sedimentation and purify the water. The aqueduct reaches a maximum height of ~28m in the city and runs for almost a kilometer to completely dominate the city skyline as well as demarcating the entrance to the old town.

The alcazar here is also impressive and it yet another candidate to be the model for the Disney castle. This castle like a lot in this area started off as a Moorish fort and was embellished by the Spanish after conquest to the spectacle that it is today. The castle has also been through many transitions from residential palace to prison to military academy and now to a display castle. The castle is also the site where Fernando II married Isabelle I and includes an inscription above the throw that translates to both monarchs having equal authority (very unusual for the times). The castle also has a nice tower of some 1000 or so steps that provides a nice bit of exercise (if only a tad dizzying due to their spiral nature) and some spectacular views of the city especially of the cathedral and its littering of spires.

The cathedral here is also quite spectacular with an incredible number of spires that are well displayed within the gothic architecture. The cathedral itself was built with 23 different chapels and its beauty has earnt it the moniker of “the lady of all cathedrals”.

Here I tried some of the local delicacy which involved Castilian soup and roast pork with fries. The soup itself is quite curios, a mixture of garlic, eggs, garlic, bread, garlic, sausage and more garlic. Seriously I quite like garlic but this was just ridiculously! They did however round out the menu with a jug of wine (ice cold red which didn’t inspire me as to the quality) and profiteroles so one cannot really complain.

Posted by rhinoc 08:21 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Bienvenidos a Europa

Madrid


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Returning to Europe with stories and wonders from the new world I assumed I would be welcomed in much the same way that Columbus was. Alas all that awaited me was a seamless border transaction and a readily available subway to my hostel location. However given the fun that I had at my last border crossing and the fact that a taxi from the airport is usually the only way to get from the airport to your hostel in South America this was more than welcome enough and it felt nice to be in a more civilized society.

After I arrived at my third hostel chasing but one bed (apparently there are people in Spain now) I finally found somewhere to setup not as cheap as I wanted but this is after all Europe. This turned out to be a very strange hostel that had an abnormally large selection of stupid rules that were inconsistently enforced and therefore largely ignored. Surely the stupidest rule though had to be the prohibition of drinking alcohol bought outside the hostel inside without the hostel having a bar of its own.

After asking the front about their recommendations for what to do she basically highlighted the entire map of Madrid, not the specific help that I was looking for but I must admit that it is quite a nice city to walk around with plenty of the architecture well worth seeing. The other advantage is that the city has a fantastic metro system that is easy to access however it is rendered nigh on useless for tourists by the fact that it is so easy (and beautiful) to walk from place to place.

Madrid is a city that is famed for art museums, architecture and also for its all night parties – indeed it has/had the title of the city that never sleeps (although New York now disputes this). The city curiously also uses the symbol of a she bear eating from a strawberry tree which caused me a quick double take as regards to where strawberries normally grow but I later confirmed that the tree does not actually produce strawberries.

As with every European city Madrid has its own castle and cathedral that despite their commonness they are always on the list of attractions to see. The palace site here has been occupied since approximately the 9th century when a Moorish king decided to build a small palace overlooking the river. From modest beginnings this palace has been embellished by further monarchs to become the largest royal palace in Europe (it is however no longer utilized by the royal family for residence). Immediately next to the palace lies the Almudena cathedral a modern cathedral due to it being built as recently as the 19th century, very young by European standards. This is mainly due to Toledo being the capital until the 16th century.

My first night in Madrid just happened to be Halloween instead of the early night that I should have had I attended an organized pub crawl until 4am. Yeah this city does love its parties with the opportunity to eat tapas and drink pretty much all night but things not really beginning until well after 2am. The best thing for me was seeing ¾ of the population dressed up and embracing Halloween, needless to say I felt very under dressed for the occasion. Annoyingly here the dress standards are ridiculously high and not to the point where in Perth they will not let you in here you can get in wearing anything but it affects the cover charge that you will pay severely as well as the time you need to wait in line. Needless to say bouncers on a power trip and a floating cover charge are close to the worst inventions in the world especially if you are a guy – damn you girls that don’t even get a cover charge half the time.

The next day it was off to wander around the bien retiro the most famous and visited park in Madrid earning the local name “the lungs of the city”. It is common for people to just be wandering through the park at any time of the day along with musicians to play there after sunset particularly on Sundays. In the centre of the park is a nice lake in front of a large semi circular monument to Alfonso XII, this is probably the nicest monument I have seen as far as how it is laid out and if you want you can even take a row boat in the lake in front. The park also includes a rare statue of the devil and a crystal palace that is exactly the place where someone should not throw stones if you catch my drift. When I was there it was empty but it looks destined to be an open art gallery of some sort. All it made me think of was choosing the arch window on play school. The nicest thing about this park is its wide expanses and semi organized roads that make it equally easy to find your way around or simply get lost.

The best way to eat through Madrid is to utilize the “menu del dia” or the menu of the day which generally includes a couple of courses as well as desert or a coffee with a glass of wine for 10€. Here the food is quite nice with plenty of fresh ingredients. After some varieties of pasta and steaks to get through the day it was off to find something a little bit different. Something different involved a bar which seemed to be populated only by college students and us. This served up some of the oddest food at very cheap prices. With the largest ham and cheese sandwich you could imagine, seriously this could feed a family of four comfortably. We would share a sandwich and some salted green peppers between two people and with a beer to wash it down, both be full. A Dutch guy we met tried one on his own which predictably ended in failure and disappointment. Not exactly typical Spanish fair but great value none the less, I am saving tapas for the south of Spain where it is supposedly perfected.

Posted by rhinoc 09:10 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Adios Latin America

Rosario


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This was my final new city in South America and one that is famed for beauty both the city and the women, Rosario. Without much in the way of things to see and the bike/kayak tours closed for the non tourist season this was more a place for me to relax and enjoy my last couple of days here rather than madly rushing about ticking off sites.

The area around the river is quite nice and peaceful, similar in many ways to Perth except that in Perth the beaches and foreshore are far better utilised. Still it was a nice couple of days walking along the foreshore and indulging in lunch and the odd beer looking over the river watching the world go by. Here as opposed to anywhere else in the world a place that has a prime location and looks expensive is still no more expensive than anywhere else so I spent a couple of hours a day with an English guy I met just sitting on the river watching the world go by with a quiet ale– very relaxing.

The main attraction site wise is the monument in the city that marks the place 9well close to it anyway) where the Argentinean flag was first raised and also acts as a crypt for Manuel Belgrano that rasied it. At the same site they also have a tomb to the unknown soldiers and a triumphal propylaeum (what I can only describe as a wall of columns) sounds a bit strange but it all looks quite nice when it is put together. There is also has a civic courtyard (not exactly sure what makes it civic but anyways) and this is the main spot for people to congregate and watch many street artists performing various skills to varying degrees of success.

The other claim to fame here is the girls which are apparently the most beautiful in Argentina and locally have earnt the name Rosalindas (linda meaning nice in Spanish). The girls here are certainly very nice, as far as the best in Argentina well that’s a tough one but they certainly don’t make it any more difficult to sit by the river and watch the world go by.

Overall I thought that South America would be a difficult place to leave and with the unique combination of culture, history, attractions and great people it proved to be so. I am sad to be leaving so soon when I still have so many places that I want to see but alas for me just like Columbus it is time to leave the New World and return to Europe where Madrid and its own unique style and history await. Esperanza de volver pronto!

Posted by rhinoc 10:19 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

The Mightiest Falls in the World

Iguazu Falls


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With now only two weeks left in South America and having got my final Che fix it was time to return to Argentina and check out my main reason for going there - the mighty Iguazu falls. This involved simply crossing the border back to Salta and then catching the bus there, back to back 20+ hour bus trips which is never ideal!

The border crossing was however one of the most frustrating things I have ever experienced, I guess kind of fitting since I had been ticking it off as my last one in South America. Firstly arriving at the border at 4:30am we had our first problem with the border not opening until 6am, not a major drama as we were the second bus in line, therefore I anticipated getting across the border shortly after opening. Boy was I ever wrong! It did in fact take us until 10:30am to fully clear the border after an odd priority systems saw other large groups go first. After this we had the baggage scan and luggage check, very thorough and the first time I have had this crossing any borders. After this it just became a joke with the whole bus stopped and every bag searched 5 times in the next hour, sometimes with less than 2 kilometers between the checks. Talk about doing things to the absolute but I made it through with the bus playing a Chuck Norrisathon, yep 5 Chuck Norris movies back to back to back. Just what you need. The good thing was you could doze off during one movie and wake up in another and the plot had barely changed, only the bad guys looked a bit different. However after the fifth check we were finally free to ago and arrived in Salta a little late but in time for me to catch some sleep and take my bus to Iguazu.

With a less eventful bus ride behind me I got to Iguazu where after talking to some other travellers urgency became the name of the game due to bad weather expected over the weeked (in all fairness this turned out to be true and was some of the worst weather you could imagine). So quick decisions were made and I decided to get to the falls first thing the next morning and take in boat ride underneath and make the most of the good weather expected (turned out to be a great decision as I met some fantastic people to share the falls with including Alex who became my Iguazu buddy).

The ride was quite simply awesome as we went went up close to one of the biggest sections of the falls watching 2 x 250 hp motors on back of the boat struggling against the awesome current produced. Simply listening to the them roaring down was awesome and you can´t help but appreciate the raw power of so much water - its simply amazing. I could try and describe it forever but it simply doesn´t do it justice, it is just one place you must visit to appreciate. Hopefully some of the videos that I have will atleast provide some insight.

After getting thoroughly soaked underneath the falls we walked around the park checking out some awesome views from both underneath looking up and then from the top looking down. It really is just incredible the volume of water that is everywhere and with 275 different waterfalls its almost impossible to be at a place where you can´t see a waterfall, it is impossible to be anywhere and not hear the waterfalls. After what seemed like endless photos and videos (I think I might have about a 100 from the two days) we decided to dry off and head to the nature walk because the devils throat was closed due to the high water levels. This was a bit of a dissappointment as it is a major attraction.

Along the nature walk which was basically mud at this stage (no idea how bad it would have been like on the sunday) we managed to spot some pretty looking butterflies (but impossible to photo), lots of giant lizards and a couple of apparently very poisonous snakes (sorry mum). Sadly the monkeys and toucans were in hiding but oh well you can´t have it all and we still had an amazing day anyway.

With the next day half price it was a no brainer that we would come back however the weather had other plans and it absolutely bucketed down not good as I had already booked my bus for the day after. But as the rain cleared up a bit we were desperate to get there and see what had seemed incredible the day before with even more water. Alas when we got to bus we were told that the falls were actually closed due to the dangerously high water levels so we tried to find out if we would still get half price if the park opened the next day. The response nobody knew - this was the first time they had ever closed the park!

A quick change to my bus ticket was easy enough as we decided to gamble on the falls being open the next day and that we would still be able to use our tickets. This turned out to be a masterstroke decision as not only were they open (and we allowed to use our half price tickets) but so was ¨the devils throat¨ which is the most intense of the waterfalls at Iguazu and one of the must see´s. Today the water level was absolutely incedible and where you could go out and get sprayed the day before, today you got soaked. I think you would actually be less wet after a shower it was incredible, hopefully there is some great photos. Despite not being able to see because of the water and me trying not to laugh as Alex tried to keep the water off her contacts whilst taking the photos!

As if the park wanted to further reward us for our persistance on returning, both the monkeys and toucans were out playing we got a few good pictures and plenty of time to watch them. After that it was only the jaguar left to see but that proved well and truly elusive.

The second day I think I took probably another 30 photos which was considering I almost didn´t take my camera. You would expect to be almost over waterfalls after one full day but the second day was just as great and perhaps more so given the water level. All in all simply spectacular and if you are even thinking about coming this way then you have to visit, perhaps because it is fresher in my memory now but I think it is at the top of my list as far as the most amazing places that I have been. Hopefully these videos provide some idea.....

Posted by rhinoc 05:52 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

The Final Footsteps of Che

Samaipata & Santa Cruz


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After returning to Bolivia the planned itenerary was a trip on the final route of Che Guevera in Bolivia and also hopefully a visit to the wetlands area shared with Brazil. Unfortunately in Santa Cruz there is not much happening and very little in the way of tourists making it difficult (and too expensive) to organise the patanal tour but atleast the Che tour is possible to do by yourself.

After I arrived in Santa Cruz I met a brazillian couple that were in a band and they invited the entire hostel along to see them play that night. The night was really good as they put on a good show with music from the slums of Sao Paolo combined with a bit of theatre which added to the act and was quite funny. Pretty much the whole hostel turned up and we had a good night even though most of didn´t really understand what they were singing about and required a lot of explaining! Overall though a very cool night.

With a few people from the hostel also heading my way we took off the next day to Samaipata to follow in Che´s final footsteps. Arriving at the hostel my work was done for me as I met up with a couple of German girls who were doing the Che trip the next day and if we went together it was going to be cheaper. Easy!

Starting off by visiting Vallegrande utilising one of the worst roads I had ever been on which is saying something (little did i know what was coming after). Whilst sealed in patches it full of pot holes half finished pieces and laden with mounds of dirt in the middle of the road forcing traffic off to the side. But after taking 2.5 hours to travel the 100 kilometres we arrived in Vallegrande famous for being the place that Che´s body was shown off to the world in the laundry room. The town has a small museum dedicated to him which is nice but is really only rehashing stuff from other museums so after a quick visit we headed to the hospital laundry.

The laundry where he was famously shown off to the world has been done up quite nicely to include a small garden and an incredible amount of pro che graffiti that now adorns the walls. After this we headed off to the airport where after 30 years an army officer admitted that he was probably buried. After almost a year of searching they finally located a mass grave where Che and his amigos were indeed buried. They were buried on the airport land because this could only be visited by the military and was thus a means of controlling access to the site and remains. Here they have changed it quite alot and as opposed to the very plain initial option of a mass grave they now have a quite a nicely setup mauseleum there. It is kind of weird to see him so heavily celebrated now in Bolivia given the no nonsense way they decided to execute him on the spot. I can´t help but think it is only now they have realised the money involved that they have tried to associate themselves with him, putting the Bolivia flag next to the Argentine and Cuba flag is going a bit far though!

Next it was off to La Higuera a little town about 50 kilometres down and even worse road (yes thats what I said), another 2.5 hours saw us get the 50 kilometres to the little town of only 29 families. It was here in the school of all places that Che was exectued via a burst of ammunition and then transferred to the hospital laundry room to be shown to the world. The school has now also been transformed into a small museum, again mimicking so many other but still a nice tribute I suppose but the place has very cold and definite feel about. Well worth visiting for those that know some of Che´s history but not a massive amount of pretty tourist things to do. After this we were supposedly able to talk to a guy that knew Che in Bolivia but however it almost predictable fashion the guy was not available as he had to work elsewhere that day.

After this was the long and tiring 4.5 hour trip of which the german girls reaqlly hated but also made longer by their constant use of the natural bathroom!. Typically for Bolivia nothing goes smoothly and with about 20 minutes to get back to Samaipata there was a traffic jam. Why was there a traffic jam you ask? Well two trucks had both entered a one way lane and both of them were refusing to budge so they were out of their trucks having a cigarette waiting for the other to move. After about 20 minutes finally the ambulance came up spoke to both men and may as well have said ¨cut the crap and don´t be children¨ because a minute later traffic was flowing again - very Bolivian! Again it was a very good trip for those that want to see where he came to an end but the long driving and roads made it not the most pleasant tours and the german didn´t appreciate it as much as they maybe could of but you get that.

On a side note two other girls I was travelling with had some serious issues here and I would suggest that anyone visiting not use a guide by the name of Roberto for Condor trips and also not stay at the Hostel Paola because they were very unhelpful in resolving the situation. The dutch couple at Black Sheep tours were however very helpful and willing to spend half a day helping the girls out.

Posted by rhinoc 10:45 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

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