Work finally begins
when the fear of doing
nothing at all
trumps the terror
of doing it badly
Alain de Botton
Alain de Botton
It’s too easy to wait until we get really unwell to do something about how well we live:
Eat and exercise like you’re a diabetic heart patient
with a stroke – so you never become one.
A great reminder – if only I could remember where I read it (apologies to the author).
… because if you’re anything like me, you’re doing this right now!
Don’t keep putting things off, waiting for 12 doves to fly
over your house in the sign of the cross before you begin.
Just start. Jack Canfield
While I’m not a huge fan of hop-on|hop-off buses, it’s worth taking one when you arrive in Valencia, on Spain’s southeastern coast, for a snapshot of the city. But you’ll need to get off the bus and take to the streets to really get a feel for this amazing (and dramatic) place…
Science, technology, art and nature merge perfectly in Valencia’s City of Arts and Sciences – and it’s no surprise this is one of the 12 Treasures of Spain.
Futuristic buildings house an IMAX theatre complex, a science museum, an arts palace, and the largest aquarium in Europe. To be here is to be awestruck.
Wait, did someone say aquarium? I’m in! There are hundreds of aquatic and marine species at the Oceanogràfic, some in massive underwater towers that represent the major ecosystems of the planet.
But we can’t stay here forever watching those cruising sharks and graceful manta rays, or the cheeky sea lions and sassy penguins… or can we?
What could top the underwater wonders of Oceanogràfic? A walk on the wild side at Bioparc Valencia of course.
This has to be one of the best zoos you will ever visit. It’s so carefully and cleverly designed that the animals seem less hemmed in and more relaxed in their environment.
And you feel like you’re right there with them in the forests of Madagascar, the savannah and equatorial Africa. I could go on (and on), but they speak for themselves really……
Back streets, cobblestone alleys, abandoned buildings – the urban canvas inspires edgy and incredible artwork. It’s definitely my gallery of choice – and here in Valencia I’m in street art heaven. Here’s two of my favourites (more coming soon).
It’s hard to miss Estación del Norte when you’re leaving Valencia by train – but this is one gorgeous station. Opened in 1917, the original porcelain tiles, carved woodwork and lamps instantly transport you to a time when train travel was fresh, exciting – and slower!
It’s a fitting end to our visit, and we leave feeling we have barely scraped the surface of this delightful city. Adiós y gracias, Valencia.
From museums, art galleries, gardens, enormous monuments and stunning architecture, to delicious food and wine, and welcoming people… Madrid knows how to switch it on.
One of the things EB and I love to do when we hit a new city is to walk. A lot.
So it’s no surprise that hitting the streets with a bunch of like-minded food and wine lovers, and getting the inside goss from a local expert, is the perfect thing to do.
In many of the cities we visit, we’ll book into a foodie and vino tour, just to get a feel for the place.
This time we’re off on Viator’s Madrid Tapas Night Walking Tour. Apart from practicing weird cider pouring methods and learning the joys of tapas and Spanish wine on a tour like this, we often pick up tips and tour ideas from fellow travellers and have heaps of fun doing it.
Back out on the streets on our own, we soon discover some favourite places to hang out, like Vinoteca Vides on Calle Libertad (freedom street). It’s the place to be for brilliant wines, switched-on service and a great atmosphere…
With our thing for Asian-fusion food, we can’t walk past Bambubox and we’re not disappointed.
This is Thai food with a delicious modern twist, served by our lovely waiter (now friend) Thao!
Of course, there are so many great places to eat (it is Spain after all), but it’s not just about the amazing food, wine and people (well, it kind of is…).
There are wonderful – sometimes overwhelming – palaces, monuments, galleries, gardens and buildings in Madrid, and it seems that around every corner there is something divine or surreal!
Ah Madrid, such a colourful, welcoming and fascinating city. But don’t take our word for it – put it on your wishlist and see for yourself. We might even bump into you there…
It’s Friday – here in Spain anyway. So here’s our Five for Friday great things to do in the beautiful city of Cordoba (and on your travels, wherever you are in the world).
Don’t walk past La Furgo on Calle Ronda de Isasa! We found it by accident (or divine intervention) and knew we had stumbled upon foodie heaven.
Chef Manuel Morilla is passionate about creating innovative food and it shows – so be ready for divine flavours, great wine and service with attitude (in a good way).
We just had to go back for lunch the next day and Manuel invited us to taste-test a new dish. I’m a pescatarian but this could convert even me. Stunning.
And yes, there are delicious choices for vegetarians (I think I tried them all!).
Immerse yourself in history and tranquility at the Hammam Al Andalus Arab Baths.
Once a vital part of Islamic hygiene and public health, the hammam was also a meeting place where people could relax and socialise.
When we were in Ronda, it was the weekend so the hammam was fully booked. But we booked in early at the Cordoba bathhouse – and we weren’t disappointed.
There were a few tourists unfamiliar with the routine in the bathhouse and a little anxious about what they should do.
So be prepared to go with the flow – from that first icy plunge, to the tingling lukewarm soak, on to the hot bath, then the steam room.
Along the way there is time to relax with a massage, mint tea and cool water. Perfection right there.
Okay, these aren’t exactly playmates – but they are fun to watch. This was another unplanned visit (because we like to discover stuff along the way), but Zoo de Cordoba is so worth it!
I’ll let the pictures do the talking with these content, cute and sometimes crazy creatures…
Be sure to get out on the streets at dusk and into the night. It’s safe, beautiful – and you never know who you’ll meet out there!
It’s too easy to just tick off all the tourist attractions – and to get caught up in the dreaded FOMO (fear of missing out).
I’m sure we’ve missed so much along the way – but we’ve also discovered amazing places, met great local people, and had exceptional experiences.
So wherever you are in the world, be there.
It’s the difference between being a traveller on this planet – or a tourist.
A local station attendant, who was helping us buy train tickets from S.Pedro to Cascais today, asked us what we liked about Portugal the most.
“A gastronomia? O vinho? A música?”
All of that but mostly the people, we said.
He was pretty-much blown away and was high-fiving us all over the place (we nearly missed the train!).
But that’s the Portuguese.
Take the beach culture. There is nothing uptight about the Portuguese. And I’m not talking about flashing bits here.
In this region, the locals are just comfortable in their own skin. Well, if there are any body image issues, I’m not seeing it.
Yes, there’s Zumba on the boardwalk (and it’s a hoot!). Yes, there are women running (but not an ‘I believe’ tee-shirt or flashy tights among them). Yes there are fit blokes hanging about (but not a muscle-man to be seen).
And down on beach, women of all shapes, ages and sizes (and I mean ALL) are rocking their bikinis. Eat your heart out Botticelli.
Away from beaches and bikinis… more than one local Portuguese creative on our journey from Porto to Lisbon has told us they are good at what they do – but they suck at marketing themselves.
I agree. These people are (mostly) warm and wonderful and creative and talented (and, of course, they make exceptional port and wine).
No, I’m not talking about more tourist buses arriving at monuments (even though there are a lot and they are remarkable).
I’m talking about who they are and what they create. Time the world sat up and paid attention! Cheers to that!
I’m sure that would have been the original version of Wordsworth’s poem – especially if he’d written it in Switzerland.
On our way back down from the stunning Mt Titlis, we jumped off the cablecar at the mountain lake of Trübsee to walk the rest of the way back down to Engelbert (and yes, downhill walking is weirdly harder on the legs and knees than going uphill).
Along the way, the cow-studded hills were literally alive with the sound of … cowbells.
Whether they’re walking or grazing, chewing their cuds or flicking off flies, those bells are full-on ding-dang-dong.
It probably sends them a tiny bit mad, but it’s certainly music to our ears as we make our way down the mountain. Just a brilliant way to spend a few hours in Switzerland…
From urban edgy to outdoor rec heaven, from the steamy heat and energy of a city jammed with people to the crisp alpine air of a town nestled between two lakes – flying from Tokyo to Zurich and jumping on a train to Interlaken in Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland feels like intergalactic travel…
Yet both Japan and Switzerland have much in common, including their love of sticking to the rules, their stunning scenery, their strong connection to culture – and how they seem to come alive at night.
In the evening in the village of Interlaken, everyone is out promenading, eating, drinking, chatting and lapping up the long days before winter sets in.
And when the sun comes up, out they come in their walking gear, with their hiking poles and backpacks…
On our first day here, we join them on Europe’s highest train ride. Along the way, some jump off to walk between alpine villages.
But we’re going all the way – through tunnels chiselled in the mountains, on a railway that is an impressive feat of engineering, up to Jungfraujoch… 3454 metres above sea level.
Here the scenery is epic – but there’s no time to get comfortable. EB has spotted a snowy trail disappearing off in the distance.
So off we go, slipping and sliding in the snow. Apparently there’s a café up there somewhere, but it’s way out of sight right now.
This reminds me of our trek in Nepal where the sherpas would smile and say ‘bistaarai, bistaarai’ (slowly, slowly).
With the altitude affecting us a little, we’re taking that advice here… and we definitely lap up the beer and soup in the café that really is there (that’s what I love about Switzerland – you can get food just about anywhere).
As we head back down the slippery slope towards the impressive station at the top of Europe, it’s hard to believe that just a couple of days ago we were bathed in sweat as we walked the streets of Tokyo – and that two countries we never had on our bucket list have managed to capture our hearts.
Some travellers come to Japan just to catch a glimpse of the iconic Mt Fuji – but many leave disappointed.
A local tells us she only reveals herself one or two days of every week so, to the Japanese, Mt Fuji is a beautiful and shy Shinto goddess.
With a typhoon sitting off the coast this week, she’s staying comfortably shrouded in clouds and misty rain. But there is plenty to see in Hakone…
Down in the valley, Lake Ashinoko is clear and sunny.
We walk around this volcanic crater lake, following part of the old Tokaido road from the Hakone Checkpoint to the Hakone Shrine.
While the Tokaido is now mostly modern highways, this stone-paved section is much like it was back in the Edo-era (1603 – 1867).
Before this heavily-policed road opened up the route between Tokyo and Kyoto, travel was extremely dangerous and roads like this were only used by samurai and bandits.
Today we’re alone on the road, until we reach one of Japan’s four great gates (torii) that marks the entrance to the Shinto Hakone Shrine.
There are three main religions in Japan – Shinto (神道), Buddhism and Christianity.
Most Japanese follow both Shinto and Buddhism traditions – getting married and consecrating their children in the Shinto way but holding traditional Buddhist funerals.
With Shinto gods protecting them during their life, and the path of enlightenment leading them into the next one, I think they’ve got a pretty workable approach to religion…
Enough about religion. One of the things we love most about Japan is the food. They do it so well, with such ceremony, it makes eating an experience in itself.
Add a sensational view and there’s that religious moment again…