Category Archives: short breaks

Barcelona bucket-list moments

We’ve been captivated by many fabulous cities around the world. We’re deeply shallow, I know. But Barcelona, you stole our hearts. And you did it so easily…

There’s a lot to love about Barcelona

The Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria,

The Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria

Yes, you’ll visit all the must-see places, be awestruck in galleries, channel your inner-chef in city marketplaces, and indulge in Barcelona’s delicious food, wine and hospitality.

But here’s something a little different you’ll kick yourself if you miss – seeing the city by sidecar, a street art tour by bike, wandering the lanes of the gothic quarter at night, and a day-trip by train to the beautiful mountain monastery of Montserrat. Let’s go!

1. Take a sidecar tour of the city

Brightside Sidecar Tour of Barcelona

Brightside Sidecar Tour of BarcelonaGet your bearings in style on this fantastic Barcelona sidecar motorcycle tour.

Sadly, I can’t do the ‘backseat driver’ thing and shout instructions from the side car, since I could easily be wiped off on the nearest lamp post!

First you’ll head up the hill of Montjuic, for great views of the city and harbour.

The day before, when we’d walked up the hill (as you do), we saw six cruise ships jostling in and out of the harbour (mon dieu!).

Then you’ll meander through the streets, along the beach and past Gaudi’s exceptionally innovative and fascinating architectural creations – from Casa Batlló, Casa Milá and the magical Park Güell, to the incredible work-in-progress, Sagrada Familia.

I can’t think of a better introduction to Barcelona, can you?

Gaudi architecture

Where did inspiration for the Star Wars stormtroopers come from? Josep Maria Subirachs’ sculptures on the Passion Facade of course (bottom left). Brilliant!

2. Jump on a bicycle for a street art and graffiti tour

Barcelona is such a busy city, it sounds like madness to jump on a bicycle and head out to the Poblenou area to see exceptional urban artworks and learn about Barcelona’s street art culture. But how could we resist…?

You don’t need to be a street art crazy like me to enjoy every moment of this tour.

Street art on shop shutters in Barcelona

Artist unknown

So why is most of the street art in the city only on the roller shutters? In 2006, some of the world’s strictest graffiti laws were imposed on street artists in Barcelona.

Some ‘legal’ canvases remained, including the shutters of privately-owned shops and ‘painting walls’ where the artists could apply to create their transient works.

But of course, street art is about breaking rules, even if it has gone mainstream, so there are always surprises…

I’d tell you more, but writing notes and taking photographs while cycling are not skills I’ve mastered. Yet. So visit Street Art BCN for all the latest news, artist interviews and more.

#streetartbarcelona

Here are some of Barcelona’s brilliant urban artworks – the smiling fish are by @elpez (other artists unknown)

#streetartbarcelona

A stunning wall by @jorge_rodriguez_gerada

3. Wander the artisan alleys of the Gothic Quarter

Streets of Barcelona's gothic quarter

Artisans in the gothic quarterIn the morning, when the street-art adorned shop shutters are closed, the old town looks sleepy (but never tired). In the evening, it comes into its full quirky glory.

It’s the perfect time to get lost in the labyrinth of narrow alleyways where artisans imagine, create and sell their sensational work.

I admit I’m not a born-again shopper, but these small spaces are full of delight and wonder. You’ll go more than once, I promise.

All that wandering works up an appetite, but you’ll find so many delicious places to eat, drink and be mellow tucked away in the laneways. Who needs sleep?

4. Take the train to Montserrat

Monserrat, Spain

Monserrat, Spain

The Monastery of Monserrat is a place you just have to visit.

Especially if you’re EB and you know there are mountains to climb.

Of course, one mountain is never enough, so once we’d had a quick snack, we had to climb the other one.

My legs felt like I’d done a thousand squats… well, stairs.

I digress. Monserrat is a place where hermit monks live out their days in prayer. Sounds like hell to me, but ‘purpose’ takes on many shapes…

Monserrat, Spain

The Black Madonna at Monserrat Monastery

Funicular at Monserrat

Today, the pilgrimage continues – but many are tourists and those coming to touch the hand of the Black Madonna. Created as a wooden sculpture, the Madonna mysteriously darkened over time.

According to Monserrat’s tourist guide, worship in the Basilica is focused around the Black Madonna.

Beyond the truly awe-inspiring Basilica is a boarding school, museum, gallery, accomodation, restaurants and more. And every day locals set up stalls along the main street to sell their delicious produce.

EB loves dragging me up mountains, but if you don’t want to leg-it to the top, a funicular goes almost to the summit for spectacular views and gentle strolls…

Monserrat 2

Along the mountain trail…

There’s so much more I’d love to tell you about Barcelona, but I’ve run out of puff. It’s a place you have to be – and immerse yourself in. Just be prepared to fall in love…


5 great things to do in Cordoba, Spain

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).

Eat…

la-furgo-1Don’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!).

2016-10-11-13-58-55

Bathe…

© Louise Creely 2016Immerse 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.

2016-10-11-17-19-46

Like Japanese Onsens, photos aren’t allowed in the bathhouse…

Play…

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…

zoo-animals

Walk…

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!

walk-the-streets

Be…

2016-10-11-18-17-17It’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.

Happy travels!


Switzerland: we are here

 

2016-09-08-15-56-09

Street view at Interlaken…

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.

Copyright: Louise Creely

Switzerland is definitely a walking culture!

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.

2016-09-08-21-53-12

2016-09-08-11-47-46

2016-09-08-11-48-14

While I’m busy taking photos, EB is powering up the slope…

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.

2016-09-08-19-21-25


Perfect pause in Hakone…

Hakone (箱根) is in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, not far from Tokyo. It’s famous for hot springs, the stunning landscape and views of Mt Fuji (when she chooses to show herself).

We’re staying in a traditional hotel with a spa, called an onsen. Onsens are a big favourite in Japan. They’re super healthy and revitalising, but negotiating the bathing etiquette and searing water temperatures can be quite daunting.

Onsen rules

washing before onsenAnd there’s the sticking point. Tattoos are associated with the underworld here in Japan, and flashing them in bathhouses is a definite no-no.

So we took our tatts back for a traditional onsen experience in the privacy of our room. And we (mostly) stuck to the rules:

  1. Leave your shoes at the door
  2. Sit on the small stool and get all in a lather, then shower off so you’re clean and fresh for the soaking
  3. Frank with towel on headForget the selfie stick – taking photos in an onsen is a faux pas (except when it’s in your room of course)
  4. When you’re bathing, pop your small towel on your head where it’s easily accessible to mop up the sweat. But NEVER dip it in the water and wring it out
  5. After your bath, take time to relax.

Wait, I’m with the Energiser Bunny (EB).

Translation: get dressed, put on your walking shoes and head off…

Can’t you just feel the serenity?

 


On the go in Tokyo

Copyright: Louise Creely 2016

From the old-fashioned manners to modern madness, from the understated to the wild and whacky, Tokyo is a pulsing city with a calm energy that will take you by surprise.

Arriving in Tokyo, we are immediately thrust out of our comfort zone. For a start, getting our bearings is almost impossible – and then there’s the language barrier.

Losing yourself in a strange city is all part of the adventure – and quite complicated in a city like this. But we soon discover the locals are always willing to show you the way – even if you don’t ask (looking confused is a dead giveaway, apparently).

Japanese people are helpful, respectful and always up for a laugh, so overcoming the language barrier wasn’t as hard as we thought either.

It just takes some ‘interpretive dance’ and Pictionary-style illustration skills (like explaining you’d like a fish fillet if possible, rather than a whole fish!). Being able to laugh at yourself is also quite useful!

Copyright: Louise Creely 2016

Copyright: Louise Creely 2016The most astonishing thing for me is how everyone negotiates the city streets with absolute calm. It’s like a school of fish out of sync, but still not banging into each other.

We’ve been walking the city streets for two days now (yes constantly, thanks EB!) and we haven’t even been lightly bumped by anyone yet.

In the wide brown land we call home, you can’t walk down a 2m-wide footpath without being shoulder-charged (and I have the path rage to prove it!).

Copyright: Louise Creely 2016

Meanwhile in Omoide Yokocho, also known as piss alley (now they tell me), the alleyways are lined with steamy eateries full of locals. We join them on stools at the bar, drawn in by the delicious sizzling aromas…

After taste-testing local favourites like yakisoba (Japanese fried noodles), raw fish and something on skewers, we pass a steak bar where all the patrons are standing at benches, wearing bibs and hoeing into succulent cuts.

What’s not to love about Tokyo?

Vending machine heavenYou can get just about anything out of a vending machine here – even beer and spirits. Back home, the whole machine would be tossed in the back of a ute and disappear in a blink.

By 8 o’clock (which feels like midnight) we’re back in our 3.5m x 1.5m room drinking a nice Bordeaux red bought from the local 7-eleven.

Those comfort zones we stay in? Definitely over-rated, I reckon.

Copyright: Louise Creely 2016

 


Historical and arty… in Sydney

Just back from weekend wanderings and writing workshop fun in Sydney. Here’s some of the historical and arty things that caught my eye around town…

Most people were checking out the posh boats at the Sydney Boat Show in Darling Harbour, but I was captivated by the ripples…

© Louise Creely. All Rights Reserved.

Definitely painting this one next!                                                             © Louise Creely

EB had me walking for hours, so finding fabulous street art like this was the perfect distraction…

IMG_1831

Taking art to the streets, in a roundabout way…

Here’s a clever way of interpreting history. It really puts you in the picture…

Copyright: Louise Creely

Nicely interpreted: Brown bear lane (then little Essex street) in 1901

We just loved all the square-cut sandstone and the gorgeous plantings at Sydney’s newest harbour foreshore park, Barangaroo Reserve.

Created on one of Sydney’s oldest industrial sites,  the area had been inaccessible to the public for more than 100 years, until it was transformed into a space for the people and opened in 2015.

Copyright: Louise Creely

The Harbour Bridge from Barangaroo

Copyright: Louise Creely

For me, it’s just a reminder that there are amazing and beautiful things all around us… if we really look.

Copyright: Louise Creely. All rights reserved.

Solid as rock…

 


Hanging out at the Farm Gate Market

Copyright: Louise Creely 2016

Criterion Street art

There’s nothing better than a lazy Sunday morning in Tasmania. And stumbling across a vibrant farmer’s market in the heart of Hobart city is, quite simply, a treat for the senses.

While I was checking out some street art, EB wandered off (as he does) and discovered the Farm Gate Market in Bathurst Street. What a find!

The markets opened five years ago with just 12 stallholders – and the simple philosophy  that ‘if you can’t eat it, drink it, grow it or meet the producer, then you wouldn’t find it at the market‘.

IMG_1524Now it’s one of the top ten Farmer’s Markets in Australia and it’s easy to see why. If you love fresh produce and delicious treats plus a little local flavour, this is the place to be.

We’ll be living in Hobart next year (if all goes to plan), so there’s no prizes for guessing where you’ll find us on a Sunday morning.

Here’s just some of the deliciousness…

Copyright: Louise Creely 2016

Magic mushrooms…

Copyright: Louise Creely 2016

Lovin’ the horse float!

 

 

Copyright: Louise Creely 2016

Bury me standing? Yes please

Copyright: Louise Creely 2016

Who knew all that about garlic?

Copyright: Louise Creely 2016

All this fabulous freshness feels like France

Copyright: Louise Creely 2016

And down the road, you’ve gotta love the winter streets of Hobart


Port Arthur then and now…

Copyright: Louise Creely

It’s been two decades since that gut-wrenching day in April 1996 when a single gunman opened fire in a small, relaxed cafe at the Port Arthur historic site in Tasmania. In those moments, he stole lives – physically and emotionally – and forever changed a nation.

Copyright: Louise Creely

The cafe site has become a peaceful place to remember the 35 souls lost and 23 injured in the massacre…

His heinous act kicked off a push for gun laws in Australia, cementing the resolve of the then-Prime Minister Mr John Howard and his government to make the change happen.

Many Australians have never lived in a time when pump action and automatic rifles were on the streets – and could be bought in a corner store with your milk and bread.

While those terrible moments will never be forgotten here, today the focus has shifted back to the convict era and the former penal colony of Port Arthur remains a fascinating tourist destination.

Copyright: Louise RalphEstablished in 1833 as a timber-getting camp, Port Arthur played a significant role in the story of European settlement in Australia.

But long before Europeans arrived, the Pydairrerme people were the traditional custodians of the land, finding food for the body and the spirit in these wild places.

Over time, their pathways became roads and endless bushland was replaced by sandstone buildings created with convict labour.

The Isles of the Dead where over 1000 military, free settlers and convicts were buried between 1833 and 1877.

The Isles of the Dead where over 1000 military people, free settlers and convicts were buried between 1833 and 1877.

While Port Arthur is renowned for breaking many men, some gained useful skills they would take beyond this place into their life as free settlers.

The penal settlement finally closed in 1877 and, while it became the township of Carnarvon for a while, by the 1920s stories of convict days were bringing in the tourists.

Eventually,  the site was renamed Port Arthur and, over the years, the once crumbling buildings have been beautifully preserved, and the stories artfully captured.

On entry to the site, you’re given a playing card and invited to find your character, then follow ‘your convict’ through the twists and turns of their story.

This cleverly designed interpretation brings their world to life…

Copyright: Louise Creely

art of stone…

It’s a fabulous trip into the past, but don’t pass by the natural wonders of this magnificent coastline. Here’s just a taste… and if you’d like to go, it’s a short road trip north-east from Hobart or jump on a Tasman Island Cruise for the perfect day trip. Bon voyage!

Copyright: Louise Creely 2016

A stunning example of tessellated pavement at Eaglehawk Neck where the rock has fractured to create a mosaic tile look

Tasmans Arch is all that's left of the roof of a large sea cave, carved out by the waves over thousands of years

Tasmans Arch is all that’s left of the roof of a large sea cave, carved out by the waves over thousands of years

 


Take an art break… at Tweed Regional Gallery

Copyright: Louise Creely

Pursuit (2004) by sculptor John Petrie at the Tweed Regional Gallery

If you’re living or staying on the coast in the NSW Northern Rivers region and you’re feeling a little ‘beached out’, it might be time to head inland to Murwillumbah for a change of scenery – and to visit a simply stunning regional art gallery.

The Lonely Planet describes the Tweed Regional Gallery & Margaret Olley Art Centre as ‘exceptional’ and ‘an architectural delight’ – and you won’t be disappointed.

While it wouldn’t be out of place in a major city, the gallery sits with elegance and attitude in the hills overlooking the Tweed River.

Copyright: Louise Creely

View from the deck…

From Wednesday to Sunday you’ll see an amazing collection of works in a variety of media, along with touring exhibitions of national significance across six exhibition spaces.

The Yellow Room - a plaque at the gallery describes how Ollie painted in different rooms of her home studio, 'following the light around the house as the sun moved across the sky'.

The Yellow Room – a plaque at the gallery describes how Ollie painted in different rooms of her home studio, ‘following the light around the house as the sun moved across the sky’.

And then there is the incredible Margaret Ollie Art Centre.

Here, the celebrated Australian painter’s home studio has been meticulously recreated from photographs taken within 10 days of her passing in 2011.

All that art can work up an appetite, but that’s covered here too.

Step into the Gallery Cafe for some delicious food and bevs, before heading off to soak up the vintage village atmosphere in the township of Murwillumbah.

It’s a perfect way to spend a lazy summer’s day. No sunscreen required.

 

 


First stop, Surry Hills

Copyright: Louise Creely

Last weekend we took a quick trip to Sydney to try out a tandem touring bike (as you do), to catch up with family and, the unplanned bit, to fall in love with Surry Hills.

Located on the city fringe, adjacent to notorious Kings Cross and right near Central Station, Surry Hills was once a bit of a slum area.

Today, it’s a melting pot of cultures, with a delicious retro, arty, entrepreneurial flavour – a happening place that has a village feel and a real sense of community.

Copyright: Louise Creely

Sunday breakfast in Surry Hills

Wander along its tree-lined streets window-shopping, then stop for a coffee (or vino) to watch the world go by.

It’s the perfect way to spend a lazy afternoon – and you’re likely to be served by switched-on wait staff, who are easy going and up for a chat.

If you’re keen to see some great parts of Sydney on foot (I’m with EB, so keen or not…) take a stroll past the Domain to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, then walk along the foreshores of Farm Cove to the Opera House, and back through the city to Surry Hills.

Of course, you can always take the civilised option and jump on a train to Circular Quay to catch a ferry around the harbour… but this 1.5 hour easy walk is worth every step.

The ‘civilised’ option comes later at one of our favourite restaurants, Longrain. It’s just down the road from our hotel and a perfectly delicious way to end a great stay in Surry Hills.

Copyright: Louise Creely

Fort Denison is a former penal colony and defensive facility

Copyright: Louise Creely

A swim with a view – a battle ship docked at the Garden Island Defense Base