Savouring a Slice of Seville

The Linney women let loose in Seville for the weekend. We stayed in a small but cosy Air BnB near the centre. A fantastic tour with Devour Seville Tours  on the Saturday gave us a brilliant immerse tour through the tastes of Seville from the excellent coffee and Beef Stew Tostadas for breakfast, Iberica Jamon, orange flavoured sweets from the nuns to deep fried Sand Shark and Manzanilla del Fina (dry sherry) and orange wine. Oh, and we dressed up in flamenco outfits too! 

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Back to Buenos Argentina

Eight years after spending a month there at the beginning of my year (and a bit out) I returned to Buenos Aires to find the city much as I remembered (late night dining, Dulce de leche, good ice cream, lots of walking, romantic tango, raffish architecture, bizarre modern art, corner cafes, beautiful cemeteries, crazy dog walkers) with some good bits added (cycle lanes, thriving street art, closed door restaurants, a giant metal flower).
We stayed in a comfy and spacious Air BnB in a high rise between Palermo and Recoleta which will forever be the place with the life size Storm Trooper helmet.
We pootled around Palermo, Recoleta, San Telmo, the Ecological Reserve with frequent cafe stops. I fell in love with the giant metal flower which opened and closed throughout the day and reflected the evening sunsets on our early evening jogs!

There were tango lessons and tango shows and enjoying tea whilst watching tango in the Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo. We immersed ourselves in the richness of Street Art in Buenos Aires and the amazing murals on two tours with graffitimundo.com (one of them by bike). We’re thoroughly unimpressed by such modern artistic musings as ‘Look at my Mango’ in MALBA.

We flew down to El Calafate in Patagonia for a few days for some fresh air and grand scenery. We stayed in the gorgeous  Hotel Esplendor with beautiful views of the lake and town, marred only by the birds chirping loudly at dawn in a nest above our window! We spent a day visiting the Perito Moreno Glacier and ice trekking over deep blue icy ravines and drinking cheap whisky with and a second a wonderful day horse riding  with  cabalgatasdelglaciar.com over the most breathtaking scenery and enjoying an asado in a forest glen.
 

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Dzongs and Divine Madmen

Punahka (60)SMOur shortened trek did mean we had time to visit Punakha, another town three hours drive from Thimpu. The dzong is one of the most beautiful in the of country, sitting at the confluence of two rivers in the base of the valley, framed by lilac flowers. We also visited the temple of the divine madman, one of Bhutan’s most beloved, and from the stories, most lecherously drunken saints. We walked through rice paddy fields back to the road and saw some of Bhutan’s prevalent phallic house paintings that definitely left little to the imagination!

Punahka (111)SMPunahka (120)SM

We ended up trip in Kathmandu which compared to the calm, relaxed, peaceful atmosphere that pervades everywhere in Bhutan, Kathmandu was quite an assault on the senses. We walked up then busy steps to the monkey temple and then sought refuge in my favourite place in Kathmandu, the Garden of Dreams.

 

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The Land of the Thunder Dragon

imageBhutan. The Land of the Thunder Dragon. One of the world’s youngest democracies, a hidden kingdom nestled in the Himalayas between China, India and Nepal. A small population of people who believe in the importance of Gross National Happiness, driving economical growth but preserving their culture and ecosystems and who wear traditional dress while driving to work in their new Japanese cars. Where century-old monasteries nestle on the precipices of towering cliff faces, prayer flags flutter on the slopes above the towns, and demons and saints walk through the everyday stories of the country’s history and culture.

imageIMG_8471 SMOur trip began with one of the most unexpectedly unsettling landings I have ever experienced in a plane. I hadn’t been aware that Paro airport in Bhutan is one of the most dangerous airports to land in the world and few pilots are qualified to make the landing. The sharp turn during the dissent whilst almost on the runway and the very sharp breaking was a bit of a shock to the system.

Our trip began in Paro, nestled into the Paro valley, populate by large traditional Bhutanese houses with painted wooden eaves, white walls and painted animals on their walls. We visited the Paro festival, an annual Buddhist celebration of music and dancers, and one extremely large scroll. The locals (and tourists) gathered in huge numbers in their finest traditional dress to watch the vibrant performances. We even got to briefly see the King, coming out of the Paro Dzong on the final day of the festival he stopped to talk to the waiting crowd and thanked us, eagerly hovering near the front, for visiting his country!

imageFrom Paro we spent a day visiting the beautifully if perilously situated Tiger’s Nest Monastery. It was a steep but scenic climb up the hillside past woods and fluttering prayer flags to reach this Buddhist sanctuary gazing out across the valley.

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Scaling the Greatest Wall on Earth

Our final activity in China was to take a two day hiking trip out onto the Great Wall. It’s hard to really describe the incredible feat of construction that is the Great Wall of china. We visited a rather secluded area at jinxou where the wall has not been restored so the surrounding forest is crawling over parts, erupting through the stone and crumbling sections into the countryside. The wall itself follows the highest ridge as it zigs and zags over the hill tops creating the most incredible views and routes.

Every watchtower we reached and every corner of the wall we turned seem to open up a completely new and equally stunning view of the wall. We camped overnight in the shadow of wall and the next day had the ‘adventurous’ part of the hike. Sections of the wall narrow so much you can grab both sides with your hands and so steep you struggle to get up each tall narrow step. On the other side of the wall the forest drops straight down into the valley hundreds of meters below. Parts of the wall has also almost completely crumbled away. Instead of steps a near vertical wall of uneven rock face confronts you. So we did some hair raising rock climbing, scrambling through the forest and gazing down at vertigo inducing views.

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Beijing Bikes and Bustle


Beijing looks and feels very different to shanghai. The skit line is less dominated by huge skyscrapers, there are more traditional buildings, more traffic, and the mandarin is layered with rrr’s, almost as if the Chinese came via Cornwall. 
I’d picked the Emperor hotel as the Roof terrace over looked the forbidden city and up to Jingshing hill. Our room was named, as all the rooms, after a Chinese emperor. Ours Chong Zhen, the last emperor of the Ming dynasty who famously hanged himself from a tree in Jinshin park.

Our next day we walked up to the temple atop this park to look down overt the rooftops of the forbidden city, via trying on some rather fetching outfits, before spending the rest of the day walking in the footsteps of courtesans, eunuchs and emperors of five hundred years ago.

Beijing has many faces. From the beautifully tiled buildings and sculpted gardens of the forbidden city, to the traditional grey stone Hutongs creating hidden mazes and courtyards, quiet lakes, to the high rise glass towers downtown where we had amazing Peking duck at DaDong, to the red lantern lined Ghost street with steaming bowls of Mongolian hot pot. We also went out to an art district on the outskirts of the city centre called District 798 with Viv and Trevor. A huge area or former industrial buildings and factories that now house sculptures, galleries, cafes and shops.

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Stepping into the future in Shanghai

We arrived in Shanghai just at sunset after a five hour delayed flight from Amsterdam. We fled straight from our hotel, Casa Serena, down to the Glamour Bar on The Bund to join Viv’s birthday celebrations and watch the myriad of light displays across the glass skyscrapers across the water in Pudong.

Downtown shanghai, seen from the glass floor of the oriental pearl looks like a scene from a sci fi film. Glass, greenery and steel in a landscape that seems to change by the month. Further away we had brunch at Kommune, a brunch spot in Tai Kang road’s maze of gift shops, galleries and cafe across town. The menu adorned with a retro illustration of the communist ideal. Not sure that Mao would have approved of the tongue in cheek reference! We spent mornings in Fuxing park watching the city’s elderly ballroom dance practice tai chi or sing in outdoor choral sessions. Watched fluffy white dogs with orange dyed ears and wearing converse trainers strolling along the pavements.

Before leaving for Beijing we took a day trip out to Xitang, a water town, with Viv’s family and friends. We walked along the waterside under the red lanterns exploring shops and alleyways before lunching and catching an old school long boat back to our start.

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A glimpse of the Northern Lights

After two flights and the world’s most expensive airport pizza we found ourselves within the Arctic Circle, right on the top edge of Norway in the town of Tromsø, under a blanket of snow. We managed to see the Northern Lights a few times over the next four days however it was more a question of the camera confirming the presence of a green streak of light (which generally looked much like a long cloud to the naked eye) and less of the eruptions of light we had been hoping for. None the less, Tromso was a great place to spend a few days. We went out into the middle of nowhere to have dinner in Sam huts, went dog sledding, snow shoeing, saw seal performances, learnt about the explorers of the North, rode cable cars, snuck into the back of a Norwegian wedding, mastered the art of night photography, and had one of the most wonderful meals at De 4 Roser.
  

   

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