Author: countessofbb

SANTA ‘CRUZING’ at CARMEL by the SEA.

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A girls’ weekend by the sea..Oreo (the dog) Phoebe and I spent the weekend in Sant Cruz and Carmel by the Sea battling the intense Californian traffic. I was startled to learn the California has the entire population of Australia!- no wonder we were stuck in traffic jams, in the middle of the summer school holidays.

The last time I visited Santa Cruz was in just after Christmas 3- 4 years ago, in their winter and it was empty-this time it was PACKED in an overwhelming manner. However I still think you can not beat the Australian beaches-for beauty and lack of population pressure.

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My daughter had arranged some stunning restaurants-all farm to table-and it was fabulous to eat healthy organic gourmet food, ( in this case it had to be vegan as well) something you do not always associate with the American diet-but that good coffee is still so elusive.

Carmel by the Sea was inundated by tourists -including us. In the frenzy we lost the car keys which are now still marooned at Carmel., never to be seen again. Thankfully we were able to open the car with an ‘APP’ to retrieve the other set. Who knew you could do that? I have only just mastered the art of Uber, as we do not have it in the small town where I live. A big milestone for me.

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There was a sizeable population of homeless next to our hotel, which as usual I find very confronting and disturbing. A homeless man on a walker stumbled and fell in front of us-and we were at a loss as what to do. Some workers across the road refused to come and help us lift him up, and then his vodka bottle fell out of his coat -so we left him to his own devices and as we looked back he had lifted himself up-we were frightened that he may have pulled a knife or a gun on us. The incident left me feeling very confused about the morality and the correct, caring manner to deal with these situations. What would you have done?

We stopped at Capitola Beach which was a mini Cuba or Mexican village-again packed to the gills, and the weather for mid July was not even that hot. The little section of the seaside village was painted in bright, bright colours, matching my dress.

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On our way back to San Fransisco we stopped off at the local farmers’ market- which was old hippy central. I am so glad there are people living in the 60’s in Santa Cruz. Everything was organic and vegan and the produce looked wonderfully fresh and healthy. An Appalachian band entertained the crowd of alternative lifestyles of all ages- and now I am back in a totally opposite environment, fast food land at Millbrae near the airport-ready to fly to Vancouver tomorrow.

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Just loved this guy dancing on the roof of his van in Santa Cruz.

 

 

CALIFORNIA DREAMING.

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The Cannabis Emporium underneath the apartment in The Mission/ Castro..goes by the fancy name of APOTHECARIUM. Now that it is totally legal, I went in for a peek-it was like a packed waiting room for the dentist.. Everyone looked a bit uncomfortable and a tad guilty-sadly I declined their offer of a free consultation. Then I had a manicure next door- and I was the only female, but at least Bob, Chad and Steve were wearing clothes-it was cold. It has been very chilly for July- a reminder of Mark Twains words..

“the coldest winter I ever spent , was a summer in San Fransisco!”

The flight over was fabulous and I am now a converted business class customer and it is really worth scouring the the internet for a good deal. Darling ..I can only fly BC.

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Visited the new MOMA in San Fran with a significant slab of jet lag and even though I was overwhelmed by it all it was worth it.. some amazing work as well as specialty exhibitions; Rene Magritte being one.IMG_7344

The first day disorientation soon kicked in, and soon I was walking the wrong way, turning left instead of right, then I tried to catch the BART instead of the MUNI..ahhhh. I am sure I was heading to Google Headquarters…all roads lead to Google in Tech City.

Beach Blanket Babylon has been on my list every time I have been to San Fran-the longest running revue in the city. It is a political satire with ‘stunningly gorgeous’ hats-as you would expect for this city. Of course Trump was top of the list for the skits but both sides of politics copped it-it was hilarious.

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The food has been superb but I still have trouble with the American version of coffee, even though more Australian run coffee outlets are popping up around the city,  ‘a long black with hot milk on the side ‘still is met with a blank look! I tried the all time favourite of waffles with fried chicken with chilli maple syrup, which was interesting but nothing I would queue for again.

Ended up in an amazing jazz bar on Saturday, near the dodgy part of town-The Tenderloin-at the back of a sleazy pub with famous singers and musicians popping in for quick drink and performance between gigs. We had found out about it through Phoebe’s contact who was a performer. Fabulous night, served my a very grumpy gay guy who only served me-couldn’t be bothered with the young millennials.

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The San Fransisco Botanic Gardens held a Piano in the Gardens performance where pianos and jazz musicians were scattered throughout the shrubbery-free for local residents, but I managed to get my seniors’ discount without asking..how rude!

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We decided to stay for a week in Mountain View right in the heart of Silicon Valley, the complete opposite to The Mission/Castro area where my daughter lives. The CAL train out to Silicon Valley was full of TECH nerds who stared at their devices for the entire 1 hour trip.; mainly male and under 30. While it is touted as being sterile and full of GOOGLE employees which some equate with suburban ‘beige-ness’, it is nice not to be stepping over the bodies of the discarded homeless and filth and junk, of the inner city-and no noise! No wailing and midnight screaming or sirens blaring.

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A GOOGLE bike that should not have left the Google compound..

Mountain View’s main drag is Castro St which was surprisingly buzzy for a Monday night- all those wealthy Techies with no cooking skills were filling all the restaurants and bars.

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San Jose is not too far away from Silicon Valley-so when I flippantly asked the train conductor ” Is this the way to San Jose?” he nodded at me and I hopped on the light rail. BUT I should have hopped on to the CALTRAIN which also goes to San Jose in 10 minutes with a bullet train. Meanwhile I spent an hour and 15 minutes on the light rail which did a circuitous route through Silicon Valley and stopped at every TECH Company known to the world, and more! Boring is not quite the right word to describe that adventure.

I had come to San Jose to visit the WINCHESTER MYSTERY HOUSE built by Sarah Winchester the widow of the Winchester Rifle magnate. She spent 38 years building 160 rooms with bizarre stairways and doors to nowhere-some say to appease the spirits of those who were killed by the Winchester rifles.. as long as the renovations kept going the spirits were appeased or kept at bay.

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It was a creepy experience and as much as I hate tours it would have been impossible to navigate the house solo with all its weird twists and turns-stairs to nowhere and doors on blank walls. I will now have to watch the movie.

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Mountain View has not been as vanilla as I thought it would be-a decent coffee is impossible to find- it is predominately young male driven. Next stop is Santa Cruz and Carmel by the Sea.

 

 

 

Queenstown- an Orthopaedic’s Delight.

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A 2 hour car ride back from Waipu to Auckland and a 2 hour flight and we landed in Queenstown- Tourist Central, but stunningly beautiful. I was unaware that it was such an old settlement of historical architecture and narrow lanes, full of bars, cafes and boutiques. A steady stream of ambulances wailing, assured us that the orthopaedics were rubbing their hands with delight at the bungee jumping, white water rafting, sky diving and extreme sports that make Queenstown so popular- and the ski season has not even started.

I had read that the locals are tired of the tourists, especially the Freedom Campers who are using the surrounding area as a great outdoor toilet. I wonder how they are going to police that?

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The first night, after checking into our amazing Airbnb in Frankton with the most stunning view over the lake, we  ventured into the CBD of Queenstown. WOW. We headed to the much acclaimed Botswana Butchery. The roads were jammed with traffic, parking spaces were unavailable and the joint was packed with a huge assortment of adrenaline fuelled backpackers, wealthy Europeans, masses of Chinese. It was very much ‘ Spot the Kiwi.’

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The foreshore of the lake was festooned with hip bars and cafes which spilled out onto the promenade. As the sun set the Scottish pipers farewelled the day. It has been unusually hot, over 38 degrees and being so far south the sun does not set until after 10.00 pm. ( way past my bedtime). The bars and the clubs were just starting to rev up for the night.

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The next day we drove to Arrowtown on the River Arrow, a car is essential to visit the area. We were confronted with busloads of tourists and while the town is very picturesque it is also an ultra expensive tourist rip off. Gold was discovered here and boosted the town’s prosperity, and it still retains that old fashioned vibe. It reminded me of Silverton the cowboy town in the Colarado Mountains.

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What is a trip to New Zealand without a visit to the wineries! Rippon Wines in Wanaka is truly stunning and is one of the few wineries left that do not charge for tastings. It’s Alpine location above the  brilliant blue lake contrasts withe snowy mountain peaks and the warm beaches on the sandy shores of the lake. I felt like yodelling, and breaking out my Heidi dress and Alpine hat.

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Onwards we drove to the Mount Difficulty Winery, in contrasting landscape. Dry, barren, rocky decorated with spinifex and cactus. Huge Arizonian buttes and sandy desert formations- how could a winery be here? A winery with an acclaimed restaurant? Over the hill and around a bend and here was another spectacular restaurant with another amazing view. There were bonus cowgirl hats provided because of the heat- quite unusual weather for this part of the world.

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The food was probably the best we have had in all of New Zealand- and reasonably priced, prompt efficient service and served with their wine suggestions. But the cowgirls were getting hot! Lamb rack on pea puree with quails eggs, snow peas, blanced capsicum and anchovies- with Mt Difficulty Sauv Blanc or Roaring Meg Rose.

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It was a brief visit to Queenstown, the average visit is usually 3 days. I would love to move to New Zealand, it is such a pity about the expensive real estate!

WAIPU…and WAI NOT.

imageWaipu is 2 hours N.E. from Auckland in New Zealand. Strangely enough it is next to Uretiti,and the locals find these to be perfectly normal names, and frown upon any sniggering and tittering.image

Waipu  was settled by dour pious Scottish and still retains a strong Scottish identity. The local pizza joint is called McCleods and has tartan pizza boxes! They also have a fabulous Wearable Art event called ART N TARTAN, not bad for a small town of 2,000. Apparently it was settled by these ‘ party boys’, as the local Maoris had been killed by their neighbours during a tribal war, and so there was no opposition. The First Fleeters, as they call themselves arrived in a series of boats via Adelaide from Nova Scotia.

imageIt is a very popular holiday destination for Aucklanders, who obviously enjoy camping in the rain. It is lush and verdant countryside, and the reason it is so green is because it doesn’t stop raining, and is very humid- almost tropical.

The small town of Waipu is tripled during Summer as are most holiday beaches the world over. However the charm of this location is its lush countryside, its laid back Kiwi style and arty, alternative vibe. So different to Batemans Bay! The realestate is horrendous which some believe keeps the riff-raff out.

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There are NO rubbish bins, just signs asking people to take everything away with them, and amazingly enough everyone does!

The neigbouring towns of Mangawhai and Whangarei introduced me to the phonics of NZ- as the WH are pronounced as F. The Mangawhai weekly markets are full of interesting art and craft and fresh produce, and has a very alternative population of artists. Whangarei is a bigger town with a large marina lined with cafes and galleries. Some of the Maori names are difficult to pronounce, Bro. Especially Whakapapa!

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We were there for Mr French’s 60 th birthday which was celebrated ‘French’ style. An enjoyable evening in their new house on a small farm. Interestingly they do not go for fly wire on the windows,in NZ, the flies are not as bad as in OZ but the mossies are! Ouch.

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We have now moved from Waipu to Queenstown, via Auckland.

Madam…We only serve Champagne.

These words were uttered by the barman at the Doha Business Class Lounge- and of course madam was only too happy to drink champagne, instead of sparkling wine! The lounge was enormous and offered fabulous food and drink. We spent our time like Ancient Romans lying on the couches and showering ( and eating and drinking) ..probably the Ancient Romans were not that into showering after a long flight or a bit of conquering. Just saying.

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But it was not without some dramas. Initially we were going to spend our 20 hours visiting Doha which we had to have a visa for… Ahh!!..  but dear traveller, you could not get a visa before 30 days of travel.We had been travelling for months, so I had to apply with my trusty ipad 30 days before, on this antiquated application system embedded into Qatar Air. Surprise , surprise it would not accept my highly attractive passport photo-the one that makes me look like and escaped mental patient out on an evening spree. I travel with my ipad only. Well there I was half way through this cumbersome application and there was no way I could minimize the photo on their system.I am sure all you computer nerds could do it, but I was unable to progress…so no visa for Doha.

I am posting totally random photos in this post of our trip as photos of the Doha Airport are not that riveting.

Sagrada Familia Barcelona

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Then I foolishly thought I will contact them…uh-uh…you can not contact them. They never answered the phone in Madrid( the only office in Spain) and never, never replied to the emails. They just sent me these standard replies..”Thank you for your email. ” “Our staff are processing this” Liar Liar, pants on fire! This was from the customer service department, or Lack of Customer Service as I like to call it. Weeks went by and still no response.Then I sent a fax, -no reply-and the day before we left Barcelona  mysteriously our visas were granted.

Girona-the Jewish Quarter

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Our first flight from Barcelona to Doha was held up by hours because (and I find this hard to believe) the ground staff had lost the paperwork! Things were not looking good. Their partners are Sri-Lankan Air and I think we were on that section. They took to poking us to feed us on the 6 hour journey, just as we had gotten to sleep. We arrived in Doha super jet-lagged and disorientated from the poking.

Dali Museum

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Then we had to clear security to GET OFF the plane, as obviously everyone had found a bomb on board. The full catastrophe..belts and shoes off and my knees that go BING had to be checked. We stumbled into the Business Class Lounge and then foolishly thought we would use our hard earned visas to check out Doha. There was 3 hour bus tour that sounded fantastic, which was booked out at 7.00 am!! But Hey you can catch a bus to the Souk instead. Through security yet again.

Poblenou Beach full moon

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Then we were blasted by the super hot temperatures.. I thought I was on Mars and after 5 minutes ( sweating profusely and swaying in the heat, mixed with jetlag) of waiting for the bus that might arrive in the next hour, we decided to call it quits and crawled back into the safety and  air-conditioned comfort of the lounge. Joy of Joys..through security yet again.

Feeling a bit miffed by this stage. I was hoping they would have offered me a camel or a diamond by now, for all the inconvenience. I forgot to add that after our visa kerfuffle I was sent copious apologies, – and I WAS expecting a camel as an act of good faith. Nothing- we couldn’t even get on the bus tour! Then I discovered afterwards they offer free hotel accommodation to entice the tourists in! We did not get such an offer.

Bussaco Palace..OMG is the spelling correct?

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However the Business Class Lounge made up for the disappointment. We found the ‘quiet area’ where there were rooms with lounges, showers and food..did I mention champagne..

To summarise the trip..and I would really like to hear other seniors opinions. so please comment.

  •  Driving was a huge hassle-as Australian seniors, we did  not understand the tolls and it was very expensive when you added everything up. (tolls, GPS and insurance) Some of the narrow tiny lanes in the villages were almost impossible to navigate -It was far cheaper and stress free to use public transport which was very good in Portugal: and then there is Senior’s Discount which is 50%! I did hear some horror stories about the French Railways.

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  • Portugal is still cheaper than Spain, but prices are going up rapidly.
  • Avoid major capital cities unless you like navigating large groups of European Bogans on their pensioner bus trips.
  • AIRBNB is no longer the cheapest accommodation now they are adding all their extra fees.
  • Favourite places..well Monsanto was up there as well as Bussaco Palace, Afurada the fishing village and the Stroganov Hotel and the dolmen in the middle of no-where…loved that dolmen…IMG_6188
  • How does one ring Australia when using a local sim on a mobile and staying in an Airbnb with no landline phone? In particular a 24 hour secure bank or insurance number? I could not do it on skype or messenger on my ipad. I have since  been informed that the Australia Post has a viable and good option.
  • The crowds on the move are becoming horrendous and taking the pleasure away from travel. In the early 70’s it was just the adventurous hippy types and the very rich who travelled and now everyone is doing it. Cruise ships disgorge 1, 000’s at each destination, sometimes 3-4 ships at one time. It does not cost much for retired Europeans to take a bus tour to other parts of Europe , and they do.

The big burning question..is where to go next??Asia does not really appeal but I like to escape Australia in our winter..Any ideas?

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DALI in MY MY MY GIRONA and POBLENOU BEACH.

imageDali’s Theatrical Museum in Figueres is a few hours out of Barcelona, and on the way we also visited the incredible medieval city of Girona. Apparently it is now famous for having been the latest setting for Game of Thrones , which I have never seen! It is also where the book ‘Perfume’ was set.

imageThe Jewish Quarter has been preserved since the Inquisition when the Jews were expelled until post Franco. The warren of narrow streets were blocked, and surprisingly only unblocked in the mid seventies! Quite incredible. The perfect setting for the Game of Thrones.

imageGirona was settled by the Romans and the city walls are built on the early Roman stones. Intricate cobblestoned roads and pathways add extra intrigue to this quaint town on the River Onya. The architecture is a mixture of Roman, Gothic and Medieval.. It also was a pleasant respite from the very crowded, pushy and HOT Barcelona.

imageThen it was on to Dali’s town of Figueres and his Theatrical Museum. Probably not as shocking or outrageous as it was when he opened it..and NO we did not see The El Gran Mastubador. The museum was overcrowded and very hot..full of pushy sweaty tourists, which I am sure Dali would have enjoyed. The cadillac was at the entrance.imageMuch of his better work was missing from the exhibits, but there was still plenty to see, and plenty of other tourists to push. His jewellery was quite impressive. We were on a day tour and met a NZ couple who were impressed that The Panama Hat looked like Kif Richards. We thought they were bogan farmers from NZ, but apparently they were huge Rolling Stones fans..you never can tell.

imageWe then moved to Poblenou Beach and a quaint B and B one block back from the beach. It was complete bliss after Barcelona which was crowded, hot and hassly. In fact I think I will avoid majot tourist towns from now on as I find it all so unpleasant and not an enjoyable experience at all. I am so glad I travelled a lot when younger, and experienced a lot of fabulous places without other tourists.

imagePoblenou Beach is about 30 minutes out of Barcelona and is becoming the ‘IT’ area. A former working class industrial location by the sea, now being renovated and renewed. It is so hip ALL the lifesavers on the beach have man buns.The Ramblas was authentically local,  with no touts or tourist hustle. Locals strolled the promenade and sat discussing the local goss. There were outdoor tables festooning the shady Ramblas, whereas the city was just so HOT.

imageThe beach was packed until the full moon was up and shining. No-one seemed to have a job to go to the next day. Music was blaring and the party was happening, but we couldn’t stay up after a jug of sangria.

imageNow we are off to Doha..waiting in the Qatar Air lounge and winging our way home… Cheers!

GAUDY GAUDI in BEAUTIFUL BARCELONA.

imageMy last day in Porto there was the usual thick blanket of sea mist, that pervades the coast of Portugal, where the Atlantic meets the rivers. A micro- climate, but an hour away it can be scorchingly hot. The large intimidating seabirds squark and swoop, they are much larger than our seagulls.

I stayed in a chain hotel which I rarely do..The Novotel,at Porto Gaia  and I enjoyed the air-conditioning and the pool, but probably not the crying children. It is very much a family hotel, and I did feel out of place on my own.

I also spent a lot of time in shopping malls, trying to sort out IT problems. For me this has been the most frustating aspect of travelling as a senior..when things go wrong. Apparently the Apple man told me, you should never upgrade your IOS on hotel WIFI (did you know that) . I jammed my phone yet again, by doing what the settings told me to do! Aahhh!

Then I had been attempting to contact Qatar Air to sort out a transit visa, which would not upload with an ipad. You can not contact these people. They never answer the phone, and do not reply to emails. It is like so many of these online organisations( airbnb and uber etc) everything is fine until you have a problem and then you can not speak to anyone. We may well be sitting in Doha airport for 24 hours!

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Barcelona is HOT , and as expected very crowded, and far more expensive than Portugal. Las Ramblas no longer has the multitude of performers and musicians, apparently they now have to pass an audition to perform.. But the drinks are still expensive, I had the most expensive glass of sangria ever!

The bus tours, while touristy and kitschy, always orientate me to a city. We did it on the day it rained…oh those weather gods! But it was still very humid, and the photos are very dull indeed. When it is not raining the heat is overwhelming, and we tend to hide indoors in the afternoon.

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Park Guell was so horrendously hot- all that cement, I thought I would faint among the millions of tourists, all pushing and yabbering. All tickets to the Gaudi sites are now bought online to ensure you can get in, at an extra 5 euros a go. Park Guell was once free. I just managed to get a ticket for 3.30.. Very much mad dogs and tourists out in the Spanish sun.

imageimageLa Pedrera was a little less frantic and was cool inside, except on the roof…ooff it was hot. His mosaicked ventilation shafts and huge attic acted as great insulation. What a fabulous set of apartments they were. Of course I had to go to Sagrada Familia, and only just got a ticket for that. They were turning very disgruntled people away who had not booked. It was still a bunfight and the skip the queue tickets still required queuing in the sun..well that was money well spent!!

imageimageWe knew it wouldn’t be the best time to visit Barcelona, and it has been way too hot and frantic. I am also a bit over cheap paella, sangria and tapas. We are moving to a beach suburb of Poblenou which should offer some respite, but first we will visit Dali in Figueres.

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