A Travellerspoint blog

Barcelona to Valencia - Monday, 11 July 2016

Visit Peniscola, the fortified seaport, established by the Knights Templar. Guided tour of Valencia.

sunny 38 °C

Hotel - Hospes Palau De La Mar, Navarro Reverter, 14, Valencia - Room 207

Up at 6.30 am, bags packed and down for our last breakfast in Barcelona, and on the bus by 8.45 am for the drive to Valencia.

We drove through dry and barren countryside but as soon as the bus starts rocking, we all nod off. Poor Isabel - she desperately wants to tell us about our environment, but all we do is sleep.

So, we arrive at Pensicola on the coast for our lunch break. Pensicola is a municipality in the province of Castellon, Valencian Community, Spain. The town is located on the Costa del Azahar, north of the Serra d'Irta along the Mediterranean coast. It was originally established by the Knights Templar and the present castle was built between 1294 and 1307. The movie El Cid was partially filmed here. The area reminds me very much of our visits to Greek Islands, but I suppose after all, we are in the Mediterranean.

It's hot but we walked up to the top of the castle and enjoyed the lovely views out to sea. The way down is quite steep on shiny cobble stones which could become quite slippery if you weren't careful. We took Isabel's advice and had a fish lunch in a cafe at the bottom of the hill. It was very fresh, caught that morning, but we don't know what kind it was and there was no price on it, so I think we paid through the nose for it. They have no idea how good our seafood is in Australia, but this was fresh and tasty, albeit on the small side. It's hot, and we were all glad to get back on the cool bus and snooze our way to Valencia.

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Isabel has told us that while we are in Valencia, wherever we can we must have fresh orange juice. We will.

We arrived at the hotel and checked in. It is very nice and up to the "Scenic" Standard. In our room we have a bottle of dessert wine and chocolates. Mmmmmm, very nice. On our way back to the bus for a visit to The City of Arts and Sciences, I checked with Reception that the wine and chocolates were in fact, meant for us. They told me that our room was a "no show" last night, so yes, the wine and chocolates were for us, but don't tell the others, because they didn't get any. Okay - Mum's the word!

(We didn't get time to drink the wine, so I am carrying it with us until we have more time to relax and enjoy it. The next few days are going to be very busy).

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The City of Arts and Sciences is like our Questacon in Canberra - a hands on science museum where children and adults MUST touch and interact with the exhibits. Valencia didn't have much to attract tourists and it was designed by the architect Santiago Calatrava, who is very well known in this area for his eye catching, but weirdly designed buildings, which sometimes are not very practical and hard to clean and maintain. The job of cleaning the windows in the building we were in would be massive. Construction of the complex commenced in 1996 and is situated in a 2 km long area of the old Turia River bed.

There are four main buildings. L'Hemisferic is a planetarium and a huge IMAX cinema showing science and geography related documentaries.

Museo de las Ciencias Principe Felipe is a science museum containing exhibitions of the latest in high technology.

L'Oceagrafic is an underwater world where you walk through tunnels with sharks and fish swimming around you.

Palacio de las Artes consists of auditoriums for plays, opera and music.

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The exhibitions were fascinating and probably pitched more at adults than kids, in the sections we were in.

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This is a "sculpture" of DNA sitting on top of a mirror, so it gives the effect of going on for ever and ever.

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These huge buildings are rented out for all sorts of functions too.

Walking tour of Valencia. Apparently the Holy Grail has been here since the 14th century. There are a few claims all over the world that churches have the Holy Grail but it is thought that this really is the one. We couldn't go in to see it because we were in the cathedral quite late and that section that contains the Holy Grail was closed.

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Valencia used to have a river running through the centre of the city and it used to flood terribly and cause an awful lot of damage. The "powers that be" decided to dry it up and redirect it and now that area in the centre of the city is lovely parkland and areas where outdoor concerts are held in summer.

One of the recent mayors changed all the city pavements to marble. Nice to look at but terribly dangerous when they get wet.

Isabel, our guide, recommended a restuarant that boasts the most traditional Paella in town. Paella originates from Valencia, so with map in hand and several instructions on how to get there from Isabel and the hotel reception off we set. It is really hot and we had to walk across the bridge over the dried up river to find the restaurant. It wasn't obvious and after asking for directions from several people, we finally found it and ordered a seafood paella.

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It came to our table in a huge iron pan and was spread quite thinly over the bottom and the waiter explained that it was good when it caramelised on the base and he scraped it off and served it. It was very delicious. Instead of having a sangria, I had another red wine drink that the Spaniards drink in summer - red wine, lemonade and ice. Very nice and refreshing.

Into bed as we are off to Granada tomorrow. Late nights and no time for blogging!

Posted by gaddingabout 10:30 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Seville - Saturday, 16 July 2016

Visit Williams & Humbert in Jerez and sample some of the world's finest Sherries, then witness an Andalusian dancing horse performance. Horse-drawn carriage ride to our dinner of traditional tapas, while being entertained by fiery flamenco dancers.

sunny 37 °C

Hotel - Melia Colon, Sevilla, Canalejas, 1, Seville - Room 421

Went down for breakfast at 7 am, only to discover that it was 7.30 am on weekends. We took the opportunity to have a little walk around the streets surrounding the hotel. No one around and quite cool.

When we finally got into breakfast, I asked for a boiled egg and the waitress asked me "how long - 5 or 10 minutes?" I opted for five minutes as I haven't been having much luck with my boiled eggs lately. When I ask for a three minute boiled egg, the white is still runny like water, which is disgusting. Well, I waited and waited and waited and finally it came and it was as hard as a rock! So I think from now on, I'll give up on the boiled eggs and stick to fried ones. At least I can see what they look like before I get them.

Then we were on the bus for our morning trip to Jerez, pronounced Heres, to visit the celebrated bodega of Williams & Humbert, where some of the world's finest sherries are made. The bodega dates back to 1877 when an Englishman married a local girl and started producing sherry. It is now totally owned by five Spanish brothers.

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It is huge. The longest "street" in the bodega is 800 metres long. We were told all about how they make the different types of sherry, but we already knew that from our sherry tasting experience yesterday.

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We then went to an indoor arena where some dancing horses and a flamenco dancer performed for us. Very entertaining.

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Then we went into the tasting room to taste four different sherries - from the pale, dry one of yesterday to the dark syrupy sweet sherry. During the tasting, we were chatting with Robert and Pat Scanlon from Hobart and realised they are very good friends of friends of ours in Canberra. What a small world it is?

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Back on the bus for the hour's drive back to Seville. We are now watching the British Open on Spanish TV with Spanish comentary before our horse-drawn carriage ride this evening.

Tarted ourselves up and met downstairs for our horse drawn carriage ride to dinner with a flamenco show, via the magnificent Spanish Pavilion that was constructed for the Iberian American Exhibition in 1929. There are also many other outstanding buildings still standing and beautifully restored from the exhibition.

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It is really hot in the carriage, but just lovely trotting through the streets.

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Check out this magnificent horse. Isn't he/she a proud animal?

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We arrived at our dinner venue and all squashed in and I was amazed to find myself sitting right at the front of the stage. I am excited because I attend a weekly tap dancing class and the flamenco dancers' feet will be right at my eye level.

Drinks everywhere and our dinner started with tapas, followed by main and dessert. It was really nice food.

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The show started and it was great. Photography wasn't allowed and I didn't know that, so got a few shots before someone told me it was not allowed. The energy of the dancers was phenomenal and even though all the singing was in Spanish, it really didn't matter that we didn't know what was going on. The important thing was to "feel" it. I was mesmorised by the feet! I am definitely going to the Flamenco Workshop in Madrid as my Scenic Free Choice.

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The show was over by 9.00 pm and we walked back to our hotel - a couple of blocks. It is still quite hot. When our carriage took us into a park on the way to dinner and the show, the temperature was 43 degrees! That's hot.

Walking back to the hotel, I was chatting with Sandra and Alan from Brisbane. Sandra and I have a similar hair style and colour and we are both crazy photographers. But as we chatting it emerged that she worked at Government House, Brisbane in the seventies and I worked at Government House, Canberra for 21 years from 1987! Small world. We are looking forward to exchanging "vice regal" stories tomorrow!

Back in our room and Phil noticed that the cleaner had put his shoe cleaning rag in the toilet, which, if flushed, could have caused all sorts of blockages. He rang the manger to tell him and he was very grateful to know. They also took our dirty tea cups away and now we have to ring to get some more sent up. Other than that, this has been a lovely hotel to stay in. Very modern black and white decor.

Now packing, as we are leaving for Lisbon, Portugal tomorrow.

Posted by gaddingabout 13:22 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Barcelona - Sunday, 10 July 2016

Guided tour through Barcelona, including the zany architecture of Gaudi's Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell. Scenic Freechoice - . Evening meal at Can Cortada Restaurant

sunny 36 °C

Hotel - 1898 Barcelona, La Rambla, 109, Barcelona - Room 340

Set the alarm for 6 am which gave us plenty of time to get ready for breakfast at 7 am. We are having a city tour this morning. Sat next to Elaine from North Island, New Zealand at breakfast. She is travelling with her sister and brother-in-law. All the people off the French River Cruise have had or still have a racking cough and flu symptoms. I hope they don't spread it around. Of course, it went through the ship like wild fire as it probably will on the bus!

Our guided city tour started at 9 am, when we all walked from the hotel to the bus which was parked in Catalon Square. It is not permitted to stop in front of our hotel - only to drop off bags.

Our first stop was Mount Majeustic from which we had lovely views over the harbour. Being Sunday and early morning, there is hardly any traffic and not many locals around, just tourist buses. The Spanish are late risers, which would suit me down to the ground!

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Then onto Park Guell and the Monumental Zone within the park. The construction of the park began in 1900 when Barcelona's population exceeded half a million inhabitants. Eusebi Guell entrusted to Gaudi the plan to create an estate for well off families in a large property that Guell had acquired in an area known as Muntanya Pelada (bare mountain). It was in a fabulous location, overlooking the sea and the plains of Barcelona.

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Guell wanted to recreate the selective residential estates of Britain and that was why he used the British name Park Guell. The building work progressed at a good rate in the first years of the 19th century but the exclusive nature of the estate and the lack of proper transport eventually made the project unviable. Work was halted in 1914. After Guell's death, his heirs offered the property to the Barcelona City Council which decided to acquire it in 1922 and opened it as a public park in 1926.

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It is starting to become quite warm and we have done a lot of walking, which is making everyone quite tired.

Next stop was Gaudi's Sagrada Familia. Now my next statement will probably shock a lot of people but I think this is the ugliest building I have ever seen, bar none! It is awful. Just a big pile of ugly coloured cement. Makes me wonder if Gaudi was crazy or perhaps eccentric but the Spanish just love him.

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However, once inside I was pleasantly surprised. It is light and modern with extremely high ceilings.

In 1882 the foundation stone of a project conceived by Francisco de Paula del Villar, the first architect of the church was laid. Eighteen months later, Antoni Gaudi took over the works and turned the initial project around to create an innovative church which now, finally, has a completion date of 2026. People from all over the world visit this "eye sore", and by doing so and paying the entry fee, have enabled the work to keep going towards completion in 10 years time.

Everyone is hot and we have done a lot of walking, so instead of coming with me to Casa Batllo, Phil has swapped his Scenic Free Choice and is going to see the Football (Soccer) Stadium instead. I could think of nothing worse so I was "abandoned" by my husband and while he went off in the bus, I had to find my own way back to the hotel, get a spare key for our room, organise some lunch and then meet my group in the foyer for the walk to the house. And me, with ABSOLUTELY no sense of direction. After four days I still get out of the lift and always head the wrong way down the corridor!

I found my way back to the hotel and instead of fighting the summer crowds in a restaurant on the street, I decided to eat in the hotel dining room. I was the only one in there, which was pretty funny but later on another table of people arrived to break the peace and quiet. I had a very delicious salad' freshened up and met my group for the walk to Casa Batllo.

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It took us about 20 minutes of slow walking to get to the house which has fascinated me for days when we drive past. It is quite weird. But once inside, I was quite disappointed because it was totally empty.

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This evening we are having our welcome dinner at a restaurant just outside the main area of Barcelona called Can Cortada. It was in an old type building and the food kept coming and coming. There was just so much and most of the women left food on their plates because we just couldn't fit it in.

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At the end of the night, out comes the sherry in the bottle and the following photos tell the story. Suffice to say, it is an acquired art and the waiters can do it gracefully and quite well!

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Yesterday and today were the hottest days Barcelona has had this summer.

Posted by gaddingabout 07:46 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Ronda to Seville - Friday, 15 July 2016

Travel to Seville and see the Barrio de Santa Cruz and the cathedral that houses the tomb of Christopher Columbus. Scenic Freechoice - Sherry Tasting

sunny 40 °C

Hotel - Melia Colon, Sevilla, Canalejas, 1, Seville - Room 421

We woke this morning to hear the dreadful news that a terrorist in a truck had killed 84 people in Nice on Bastille Day. So sad! Let us all Live, and Let Live - please!

The hotel in Ronda is "government run" which means that some of the nice touches might be missing. Isabel wanted us on the bus by 8.45 am, ready to go and breakfast only starts at 8.00 am, so she asked if they would open a bit early for us. They relented and opened at 7.45 am and everything was there and we had enough time to have a decent breakfast and go back to our room before we boarded the bus.

The trip to Seville only took two hours but most of us fall asleep as soon the the bus moves! Our guide Guillamo was waiting for us in the square and we all hopped off the bus while Havier, our driver, took all the luggage to the hotel. We started a walking tour through the old Jewish quarter. The streets are extremely narrow and for good reason. It is so hot here that if the streets are narrow, no sun can get into them, which is a good thing. And it is VERY hot here. There is no breeze like in the other cities we have visited.

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We stopped for a 20 minute break and we had an ice cream. Then we continued on to the Alcazar of Seville, an Islamic Palace. It has a history stretching back more than a thousand years. With all these palaces, it was not the right thing to show off your wealth so they are quite plain looking on the outside, but once you get inside - just WOW! There are beautiful, with carvings, ceramic tiles, arches and columns.

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The Alcazar of Seville is a royal palace originally developed by Moorish Muslim kings. It is known as one of the most beautiful in Spain, being regarded as one of the most outstanding examples of mudejar architecture found on the Iberian Peninsula. It is the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe, and was registered in 1987 by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The Alcazar has been used recently for the filming of The Game of Thrones and Lawrence of Arabia many years before.

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The gardens are just beautiful and as with all Muslim buildings, feature water, water, water. Coming from the desert, they knew the value of water and the serenity of a beautiful, peaceful, fragrant garden. And this one is no exception. We viewed the garden from the gallery as it is just SO SO hot.

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We had lunch at the cafeteria and I had a chicken empanada and Phil had a ham and cheese roll, with two beers. I haven't drunk so much beer in my whole life, but it is a very refreshing drink in this heat.

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After lunch we were taken on a tour of Seville Cathedral. What a marvellous place! It is a Roman Catholic Cathedral, the largest Gothic and third largest church in the world, and I believe it! It is also the largest cathedral in the world as the two larger churches, Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida and St Peter's Basilica, are not the seats of bishops. As Alcazar, it was registered as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987.

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Its construction was completed in the early 16th century and is the burial site of Christopher Colombus. It began in 1402 and continued until 1506. The interior has the longest nave of any cathedral in Spain.

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This altarpiece was the lifetime work of a single craftsman, Pierre Dancart.

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The dressing room for the priests is huge and full of priceful artefacts. The wealth of the Catholic Church is awe-inspiring and obscene at the same time.

We then all walked a couple of blocks to where Havier could pick us up in the bus and drove us to the hotel. We are all hot!!!

The hotel is lovely. It has an old facade but very moden interior. This is the door to our room.

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After a couple of hours resting and cooling off, (and eating our welcome snack), we met downstairs for our Scenic Free Choice activities - a visit to a Flamenco Museum or a Sherry Wine Tasting. Eleven of us chose the sherry tasting and walked for about 20 minutes with our guide from this morning, Guillamo, to the wine tasting place.

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Inside, he explained about the process of making the different types of sherry and we tasted four - Fino (pale coloured and quite dry), Amontillado (amber coloured with a taste of hazel nuts), Oloroso (amber to mahogany and slightly sweeter than the first two) and Pedro Ximenez (a dark mahogany coloured sherry, very sweet and quite thick). We had ham, cheese and crackers to eat while we were tasting. It was very nice. Then we walked back to the hotel through the streets. So hot!! Are you getting the message. It's hot here!

We heard this afternoon that it has been snowing in Adelaide and people south of Hobart have been evacuated due to the bad conditions. And all this, while we are dying in the heat.

It's so hot here that even the clocks are melting!

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We went to dinner with Quetta and Grant and Eddie and Coral. After walking around for ages in the heat, we finally found a restaurant for dinner. Most of us had salads but Phil had a lasagna. We had a great night of beer and wine and joke telling and deep and meaningful conversations. A nice night was had by all.

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Posted by gaddingabout 14:13 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Barcelona - Saturday, 9 July 2016

The tour begins

sunny 36 °C

Hotel - 1898 Barcelona, La Rambla, 109, Barcelona - Room 340.

We both woke up at about 5.30 am and promptly went back to sleep and woke with a start at 8.30 am. Grant Fuller made contact with us on our way to breakfast. They were going out and in the brief chat we had, it turns out that he was born in Canberra and lived at Aranda, our neighbouring suburb. What a small world. About 10 years ago, they moved to a farm at Gundagai.

Phil ordered two fried eggs for breakfast and received four! Of course, if you ask for two fried eggs, they think you mean two plates as there are always two eggs on one plate! I asked for one boiled egg and received two!! We'll know better tomorrow. It is a very steep learning curve.

We checked with reception the best way to get to Tibidabo, the church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a wonderful huge church up on a hill overlooking Barcelona and we all agreed that it would be easier and cheaper for us to catch the local bus. It leaves from Catalon Square, the main square which is just around the corner from our hotel. After a few enquiries we found the bus, paid 6 Euros each and proceeded to the top of the mountain which took about 30 minutes. It's hot but there is a breeze blowing so we are okay.

This was a lovely souvenir shop on the walk to the bus.

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The pavement is a wavy pattern and creates an optical illusion when you walk on it. It feels like the pavement is moving but of course, it's not. It's very wierd.

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The Barcelona Telecommunications Tower.

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Walking from the bus to the church on top of the mountain.

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I guess they don't welcome visitors here!

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A buddleia bush on the way to the church. Despite being in the northern hemisphere, a lot of the plants are similar to what we grow in Australia.

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This place is stunning, in fact I thought we were back in Rio because it reminds me so much of Christ of the Andes. The church took 60 years to construct.

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This photo was taken by a young couple on holidays. She is South African and he is Irish and they live and work in Qatar, which is 50 degrees at the moment, so they are holidaying in Europe. They rode their bikes up the mountain! It only took one hour and they were looking forward to the ride back down! So would I!

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We took some photos of the city below and then went inside the church where a local baptism had just taken place.

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Then I spied a souvenir shop and inside found this fantastic Icon of St George and the Dragon. St George features a lot in Barcelona history. Apparently St George was the Patron Saint of the former kingdom on Aragon and of course, Katherine of Aragon married Henry VIII. St Georges Day is celebrated on the Iberian Peninsula on 23 April.

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As we had a very late breakfast today, we had a light tapis lunch and a couple of beers at Tibidabo. My last beer was beer and lemon juice. Quite different but it tasted like beer and lemon juice.

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We then wandered down to the bus stop and caught the bus back to Catalon Square feeling very pleased with ourselves as we saved quite a few euros by catching the local bus up the mountain and back again.

Cooling off and writing emails and blogs until we meet our guide and fellow travellers at 6.30 pm this evening.

We met with the group - 29 of them - all off a Scenic French River Cruise. So they all know each other and have formed friendships. The Fullers and us are the newbies, the odd ones out, but they seem a nice group so we should have no trouble "infiltrating" them.

Isabel is our guide and told us a bit about the next two weeks and then we all went for a walk to a fresh food market. The produce was fresh and lovely and the market crowded.

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We, and a few others, left the group and came back to the hotel as we had a dinner booking, on the roof terrace at 8 pm. We drank our bottle of champagne and had a lovely raviolli for dinner. It was very pleasant.

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After dinner we chatted with a few of the people on our tour - some New Zealanders, a couple from Springwood, Queensland and two couples from the Mornington Peninsular. We will get to know their names tomorrow when everyone has their name tags on.

Into bed now as we have an 8.45 am start tomorrow for a guided tour of Barcelona.

Posted by gaddingabout 13:45 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

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