Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Croatia, Portugal, Spain and France 2014

On 17 August we arrived in Paris refreshed, thanks to a surprise upgrade from premium economy to a very comfortable flat bed in business class on China Southern.  Good airline, friendly efficient and attentive staff with spotless cabin and toots.  Food was so-so, like most airline food!

Just an overnight in Paris near CDG airport then a flight to Split to meet our NZ friends Larry and Deb. 
Deb & Larry on Chinano
We joined them on their lovely 43ft yacht, Chinano, for 4 nights mooring and exploring some of the stunning islands of the Adriatic including Palmizana and Hvar by motor, not sail, thank heavens.  I am not a sailor! 

 ‘Chinano’ is ultra- comfortable yacht and Larry and Deb were generous and wonderful hosts. We shared many delicious meals, gorgeous sunsets and lots of laughs together

Deb takes control!


Cobbled street in Hvar
Deb, Larry & John in Hvar
Overlooking Hvar from the top of the  16 century fortress 

Hvar the party island

We said goodbye at the Marina in Split and collected a rental car to snail trail for 2 days up to the charming Istria Peninsula in Croatia. On the way we visited Krka National Park, a smaller version of Plitvice. Krka has lakes and waterfalls but unlike Plitvice, swimming is allowed in certain areas. It's more developed and less of a natural paradise than Plitvice. Very lovely and popular with the locals.

Driving along the Adriatic Sea

Istria is the largest peninsula of the Adriatic Sea bordering Slovenia and Italy.  It is a triangular peninsula pointing down into the Adriatic and oh so scenic. Istria’s proximity to Western Europe makes it a haven for sun-seeking tourists.  As is our custom, we drove on minor roads (some dirt) through quaint villages and found beautiful coves and beaches. This has to be one of the most stunningly beautiful areas I have ever visited enriched by friendly locals, good hotels and fabulous fresh and tasty food.


We travelled the minor roads to explore little villages

The remarkable Romam Amphitheatre in Pula

Lovely little beaches dotted throughout Istria

Piggy on the spit. A Croatian speciality

Piggy on the plate - delicious!
Waiting for the bus to take us to Trieste Italy from Rijeka Croatia

Portugal, our next destination meant a day travelling.  We flew from Trieste to Rome, Rome to Lisbon then the final leg Lisbon to Faro. Collected another rental car and drove the 21kms to Olhao where I had enrolled into an Art School for a 7 day course. (www.artinthealgarve.com) . Olhao (pronounced something like Olly-ow)  is  a quirky little fishing village with a maze of narrow crooked cobbled streets and a lovely shore front with many cafes and restaurants and wine bars plus two prominent  undercover market halls…..one for fish and the other fresh fruit and vegies.  The park along the water is an open market place selling colourful clothes etc.

Cobbled street in Olhao

The Art School on the left

A rooftop view of Olhao

I absolutely loved my time at the Art School. Just too short! The accommodation was eclectic and good – lots of nooks and crannies, terraces, a large dining/sitting room where we ate fantastic home cooked meals and of course the art studio; a lovely bright airy place learn and develop painting skills. The relaxed classes were what we choose to make them.  Full speed or time off to swim in one of the two pools or wander the village and little shops if one wanted. We had 14 in the class (only one bloke) with two skilled Australian tutors Georgina Hart and Jude Fleming.  Some churned out many paintings, I completed only four.  One of mine was bought by the School’s English owner, David Clark, that was a thrill! . Now everywhere I look, I can see scenes or sights or people I want to paint!

The painting I sold to David Clarke, the owner of the art school

Georgina Hart, one of our tutors demonstrates her fabulous painting style and technique

Morning tea time

Supper at the art school

Leading to my room at the art school

At the markets

John stayed at the Art School sometimes and spent some days away exploring other villages in the Algarve. I took one day and a morning off class and John and I drove up to Lisbon to overnight and celebrate his birthday. He has not been to Lisbon before. Snared a lovely room in a nice boutique hotel right on Rossio Square (Pedro IV square) with a balcony overlooking the square and a gorgeous view of the castle.    

Birthday boy

View to castle from our hotel balcony in Lisbon

View at night from our hotel balcony 

Leaving the art school was sad, my stay there too short.  Maybe next year!!!! 

A farewell song

Just some of our art class

David Clark, the owner of the art school,  bought my painting of a house in India
By the Lake - my third painting

Prep for my last painting

 Onto Seville, a four hour bus ride, where we stayed in the old centre an easy walk to the main attractions of this city.  

Recommend this lovely hotel - foyer below

From here we took a train to Madrid. The hotel we booked was just around the corner from the hotel where our Interlude Tour group  stayed last year so it was like coming home. I like this city; walking around the cobbled streets, browsing in the wonderful shops and just sitting and people watching in the squares. Our biggest discovery (apart from the exquisite shoe shops still not carrying ‘grande’ size shoes to fit moi) was that Macdonalds sells mug of beer for 1 Euro! Just imagine if the big yellow arches tried to sell beer in nanny-country Australia!!!!   We caught the fast train from Madrid to Paris via Barcelona.

So here I am in Paris once more, the elegant city of light; I love it and feel right at home. Our lovely small hotel is on rue Monge right near the Latin Quarter. I love the beautiful architecture of the old buildings with the chimney pots lined up on the roofs. The tiny fancy wrought iron balconies draped with red geraniums and ferns.

 I love the tree lined boulevards, the markets selling fresh fruit and vegetables that taste like fruit and veggies used to taste when I was a kid, the variety of cheeses and freshly baked baguettes and pastries all to die for and the cafés bulging with patrons, many with dogs waiting patiently at their heels and often on their owners laps. I could spend hours people watching in this city. 

Parisian characters are fascinating, from the street entertainers to the coiffed madams and their coiffed little dogs.  The efficient user friendly metro is such a great way to get around and runs to time; safe too.
Last night we again went to a Jim Haynes’ famous Paris Sunday Soirée. Jim remembered us bringing our Aussie group last year and kindly fitted us in.  Jim has been called the godfather of social networking by The Guardian for good reason. For over 40 years every Sunday night, Jim has created a tradition with open dinners for people from all walks of life and countries to mix with local Parisians.  One needs to book and for a 30 Euro donation (plus your card in an envelope) enjoy a fantastic 3 course meal whilst mingling with around 60 guests in his Paris atelier. There were 68 guests last night adding to over 150,000 guests he has had visit to date. This is a lovely thing to do if you are visiting Paris and enjoy mixing with and meeting interesting people of all ages.

John with Jim Haynes
Tomorrow we say goodbye to the magic city and the lovely warm sunny days and head for home.  I’ll try and bring some sunshine with us.
Au revoir for now