Saturday, June 22, 2013

Cruising the Med

First time aboard a cruise ship and thoroughly enjoyed it. We were aboard the 'Island Escape' and visited Gibraltar, Tangier, Malaga, Cartagena, and Ibiza over 7 days. Great ship which was surprisingly stable with over 12 decks accessible to passengers, heaps of bars, entertainment and food. It was refreshing to be in a place with poor mobile reception and expensive WiFi, meaning everyone left their phones in their cabins.
Super-calm seas of the Mediterranean Sea
Gibraltar = Britan (pretty much) although features 'The Rock', a 400m high ridge overlooking the area, which has a number of artefacts from previous conflicts including WW1 and WW2, and a number of not-so-shy Barbary macaques. The monkeys are super alert for fresh fruits, and will steal them from passers by if they see them - one hopped onto my back to pinch a banana taken out of my bag. Saw another pinch an apple from the basket under a stroller. 

The view from the top
Barbary Macaques at the top of 'The Rock'

Tea House Owner and Our Guide
Tangier is a busy city in Morocco with a lot of new development happening in the port area., Although the local population speaks primarily Arabic and French, we got by with English. We took a guide from the wharf to the top of the old town via taxi and walked back down visiting the markets and clothing factories on the way (with a few small purchases). The food markets were interesting - fresh red meats and chicken hanging out in the open air (unrefrigerated of course!). Ship's Captain did advise us not to eat anything in Tangier... hmm.
[Really] Fresh Meats
Malaga and Cartagena were next, both coastal towns of Spain. Visited the castles here which have the best view of the surrounding area. Malaga had fantastic tiered gardens leading up to the castle, and well kept rose gardens next to the city hall. It was Saturday and the streets were very quiet apart from the main shopping area.
Malaga - View over Town
Cartagena - Roman Amphiteatre

Ibiza was similar, although had a much bigger party vibe. Many opening nights advertised for the islands clubs including DJ's such as Armin Van Buuren, Pendulum, Chase and Status, etc, but as our stop was during the daytime only, I did not get to see the party side of the island... next time.

The 8 days of the cruise seemed to fly by (perhaps due to the all inclusive package - got well used to unlimited food and beverage, beer, wine, spirits, cocktails... phew). Liver will be taking a break for a little while.

So cruise completed we spent the next 3 days in Palma at the Hotel Majorica taking things slow. Rented a car one day and drove up the mountain road to Soller. It was fun learning to drive left hand drive manual on the right hand side of the road with narrow streets. The remaining day was spent lazing by the pool and getting some sun-time (not that we didn't have enough time in the sun already). 

Said farewell to the family today and flew to London to catch up with Anthony and Chip over some beers, and will hopefully see Katrina again, before a few more days in Leicester/Manchester/Devon/Cornwall (if there is time) then back to Sydney. 16 degrees here in London, bit of a change from the 30 degrees in Palma... aww.

I did get a little running in over the cruise and time in Palma. Ran up the rock of Gibraltar, Castle Bellver in Palma, and over some hills in Ibiza past some pretty crazy mansions. No waving from passers by like in central Europe - runners here are too serious heh.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Krakow, Vienna, Bratislava, Palma... phew

Since my last post I've covered some ground. Krakow was great for party and historical aspects, and also fantastic for a run around. The old town houses plenty of bars and cafes, and 24 hour pierogi with various fillings (polish dumplings).

Hostel has been the best (Mosquito Hostel at the north end of the old town). Staff are amazing and take the time to run you through whats best to see in the local area, warn of scammy currency exchange places, and also keen to head out for a drink!

Following a few days in Krakow I caught the overnight train to Vienna, with a sleeper cabin to myself. Two nights in vienna provided time to visit the Vienna state opera which was showing Tosca. Standing tickets are available 90mins before the show for 3 to 4 euro, and the opera hall has small displays behind each seat/standing area showing the English translation of the performance.

From Vienna I travelled to Bratislava, Slovakia, before flying out to Palma de Mallorca, Spain. Spent the day seeing the castle, and getting lost on a run west along the Danube, which was experiencing some flooding. Spent a few days with the family in Palma exploring the local area including the castle which has fantastic views over the city and trying out the local fare, before boarding our cruise around the Mediterranean. Our ports of call: Gibraltar, Tangier (Morocco), and the Spanish ports of Malaga, Catagena, and Ibiza before returning to Palma for a few days.   

I've been for a few runs in each of the cities and its rather interesting. Fellow runners in Poland and Vienna will go as far as give you a wave when passing (an upgrade on the acknowledging nod which is occasionally exchanged). Not so in Palma however. 

Writing this from Malaga, Gibraltar and Tangier were interesting but will have to save this for a future post. Back to the ship in 2hrs so time to explore (photos to come).

Monday, June 3, 2013

Chill times in Leicester, escalating in Krakow

Got up to Leicester on Tuesday ok after a shady start (thanks to a BBQ and two bottles of red the night before, shared of course - but I'm a bit of a lightweight), BBQ'ed Camembert (awesome - bringing this one home), a last minute hustle to Victoria coach station, whilst attempting to consume a half-drinkable Starbucks filter coffee... should have bought the small...

BBQ Camembert - dip some bread - go on!
Leicester is a lot nicer in the summer, than in the middle of winter. Weather has been pretty awesome for the UK, around 16-19deg most days, and it got up to 23 which felt like summer here. The last few days have involved uni work (should have completed that before I left - doh!), a bit of running around town, visiting aunts and uncles and chilling with my parents and brother.

Beautiful UK weather!
Flew to Krakow this afternoon, via Ryanair. Heard mixed reviews about this airline - if you are thinking of flying with them just be prepared to be sold an upgrade or product every step of the way, and doing it all again when you go to print your boarding pass. Oh and make sure your bag fits in the carry on bag test cage thing (i.e. don't overpack - it was humorous watching people cram their bags into the cage at the boarding gate). Given all of that they did arrive on time.

Krakow is awesome, although I've arrived late so haven't had a good chance to take a good look around this beautiful city. Went for a quick wander into the main square and bumped into a fellow TNF100 runner who ran in the original 2008 event. Taking it easy tonight, and so is the hostel crew after a big weekend - I've heard this town likes to party.