2012-01 – Malmo and Copenhagen

Posted by jswt | Posted in Denmark - Copenhagen, Sweden - Malmo | Posted on 29-01-2012


Hopped back over the ocean and flew into Copenhagen, where I met up with a couple good friends from the UK who were popping out to join us for a few days… We grabbed the 20 minute train to Malmo, Sweden and set into catching up.

Met up with Chris at the hotel, freshened up, and went out to grab a bite and a few beers while the four of us caught up on 1.5 year’s worth of stories, and missed gossip – hadn’t hung out with them since Field Day in London a couple years back… C&J had been together for quite some time, and I’ve known J since we were wee lads and he came to Canada on an exchange trip (“I’m in Regina. Please tell me there’s more to Canada than this?”).

Malmo was cute, clean and full of gorgeous people, but overly polite, expensive, and uptight in proper Swedish form, so the next morning we woke up slowly and just after noon caught the train back over to Copenhagen for some more interesting wandering in one of my favorite cities.

It’d been almost 3 years since I’d been in Copenhagen last (spent 2 weeks there), and I wondered if my rose-colored memories would be changed with a lot more euro-tripping under my belt, but I was happy to find that it still resonated in my heart and made me feel well at home almost immediately. I’ve always described Copenhagen as feeling like Vancouver in 300 years – when Vancouver stops being uptight and trying to force itself to be something, and just relaxes into itself, gets comfortable in it’s strengths, and realizes that it’s all good just as it is… Unbelievably hot people on bikes filled the “second sidewalk” bike lanes, and scurried about on their way to fill their heads with knowledge, have beers with friends, or design fantastic home accessories that are both functional and cozy… Seriously – the danes have a word, “hygge’ (pronounced hewge) that loosely translated can be considered “coziness” and includes the presence of and pleasure from comforting, gentle, and soothing things. Hygge is described as a deep sense of place & well-being; a feeling of friendship, warmth, contentment and peace with your immediate surroundings. I dig large on a culture based around being cozy.

We had a good day wandering the city, with some time spent in the Danish Design Museum and the archeological museums (that had fascinating egyptian and roman collections), strolling along the canals at sunset, wandering shops, and having a great dinner at a little cafe (where we got the last non-reserved table for the evening).

After dinner, we ended up doing some sleazy bar hopping, and had a blast doing shit-pop kareoke to backstreet boys in a jail cell in some weird fetish club, making friends with random danes and their girlfriends, impromptu navel lint competitions, and being generally much too silly while having an exceptionally fun time. Greasy kebabs on the way to the train, and it was back to Malmo for some sleep in Sweden.

The next day, Chris was off but we let C&J have the day to wander while we lazed about and took it easy while Chris shook off work and I worked through jetlag. We met up with the guys later that afternoon, went for some tapas at a great spanish place, and then took them to their very first hockey game where they were confused at “rugby on skates”, but got quite into it.

Chris worked the next day, so I wandered some shops with the guys and had some lunch before they had to catch their train, before which some sad farewells were hugged out and plans to meet up again somewhere along the road were laid.

Back to the hotel, and I finished up the week in my standard work/gym/sleep routine while doing my best to avoid overpriced swedish food ($40 for a ramen and 4 pieces of sushi! seriously!), and saving my energies for more exciting places along the way.

Malmo would have been a pretty boring place, but thankfully the proximity to Copenhagen and the company of good friends made it a more than tolerable week…

Home is where your cat is.

Posted by jswt | Posted in Canada - Vancouer | Posted on 20-01-2012


So once again it was time to pop into Vancouver and spend some quality time at home: see family, hang out with friends, catch up on all the in-person things we have to do in a blitzkreig compression, and try to rest a little in between all of that (never successful).

Highlights of being home were a few decent days snowboarding up on Cypress, getting to hang out with our friends C&S on the day that C became an offical honest to goodness Canadian (Congrats, mate!), double late Christmas dinners at both sets of parents, a hockey game (thanks M&D!), and a fantastic dinner with M&A where we could finally repay them for their hospitality in Adelaide.

Chris flew out, and I stayed home an extra week for a big night out with the boys, some extra snowboarding, paperwork and accounting catchup, and going with C&F to J’s album release party (!!!METAL!!!). Some quality time on the couch with my cat, a cup of tea and a blanket while watching waves of snowstorms roll over the city was the icing on the cake.

As always, the time was short, and it was hard to see everyone and do everything we wanted, but soon enough it was time to go once more and I was catching a flight back to Europe for another leg o’ wandering…

New Years in Estonia

Posted by jswt | Posted in Estonia - Tallinn, General | Posted on 03-01-2012


With Lithuania and Latvia behind us, it was off to our final Baltic stop and we rolled into Tallinn, Estonia late on Christmas day. This was by far the nicest of the three Baltic cities we’d visited, and their old city centre was one of the nicest we’ve ever visited; it was a vacation spot for Hitler, so it didn’t get bombed out during the war and still has the city walls and old-y world charm completely intact.

The city was pretty quiet in the lull between xmas and NYE, so there was a little exploring and eating out, but again, it was a bit of lockdown making use of the fantastically reliable internet to finish up a project before…

Just after midnight on December 31st, my good friend S showed up at the airport in Tallinn! She’d been at a nerd conference in Berlin for a few days, and had decided that rather than flying all the way back to Vancouver for a jetlaggy NYE there, she’d just hop over to Estonia for a wee rockout with us instead! After having extended invites to people to come visit for the better part of 3 years, she was the first N.American friend to come visit us on the road, and we were super excited to see her, not just because she was a familiar face, but because she’s super fantastic, likeminded and ultrafun (womp womp). This was her first time outside of North America, and she’d kept a weird sleep schedule from the conference that fit well with my hacking-till-6-or-7-am pattern, so when Chris went to bed around 3am, we decided to pop out for a wander into the old town which was hopping. We found a nice little 1000+ year old lounge, and settled in for some beers, snacks and killer campy tunes provided by DJ DrunkBrit. A wander back to the hotel as a light snow fell, sent us off nicely to sleep to gear up for New Year’s Eve…

Back in November, I’d been hunting around for something to do in Tallinn for NYE, and had laughed my ass off when I realized that the Vengaboys (with such mid-90s classic cheesy pop anthems as Boom Boom Boom Boom and We Like To Party) were playing a NYE set in town. Funny enough, it was S who’d laughed the hardest at this, as we’re both known for getting obnoxiously drunk while DJing and working that rubbish into our sets. Through some connection of dots, we ended up with 4 VIP passes for the club, and after a disconap and some lobby eats, we rolled out to the club around 11:30. Of course, we were thinking about it thru N.American filters, and when we got to the club there was no one there, and the bouncer who was setting up the ropes looked at us like we were insane – “Vengaboys. 3am”, he said in a thick accent. This worked out well, as we walked the short bit back to the hotel, grabbed some bottles from the room, and settled in with a bunch of friends and their hookah, and popped a few bottles of champagne amongst familiar faces to ring in the New Year. (Note: Estonians like their fireworks. From the stroke of midnight, and for at least half an hour, the city exploded into a display of light and ka-booms and sounded like a warzone, except with more cheering and less dying.)

Around 2:30, we rolled back to the club, and were happy to discover that the VIP area served free vodka (I will give credit to the Russians for this positive influence!). At 3am, the Vengaboys took to the stage, and it was absolutely, exactly what we expected – a tongue-in-cheek camped up rockout of glitter and sequined outfits that haven’t been quite fit into for at least 5 years. There was no room for seriousness or attitude on the dancefloor, and we tore into it with a vengence.

After their “rousing” 30 minute set (during which they ran out of repitoire, so they played their opening number again as their encore), we had a couple more drinks and then Chris had to head back to the hotel as he worked the next morning. S and I were nowhere near done, so we headed off to another club where we were guestlisted, and power-euro-tranced around that dancefloor while S toyed with the sharks. Around 6 we headed out, had some greasy food, ended up with fireworks, made sure a girl passed out in the snow was ok, got hugged and danced with strangers, and admired greatly an entire city was *shitfaced* at 7am, but smiling, singing and being merry — stark contrast to granville street at 2am. As S yelled out: “You’re doing it wrong! You should be fighting and puking! Learn from Canada!”… Arm in arm stumble back to the hotel where we fell asleep for the first dreams of 2012.

The next day was lunch and a sauna before we started packing and prepping for our flight home the next day. S was very helpful as we finished the partial bottles of vodka we didn’t want to take home with us (russian pepper vodka – gadzooks!!), and busting into impromptu happy hardcore dance parties. Our flight left the next morning at an ungodly hour, so we hugged S and said our farewells and thanked her for coming and making NYE memorable, and for being a fantastic familiar face to have around…

I would go back to Tallinn again, especially since you can take a ferry from there to St. Petersburg, Russia where they’ll waive the visa requirement for 72 hour visits. It’s got a great old town, more strip clubs and brothels than you would ever expect, and the nightlife is small-towny, but really good fun.

So that was the end of our month in the Baltics — Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn…. Added onto months through Russia and the Ukraine (with a week in Spain to keep us from going insane) we were really really excited to be going home to Vancouver for a couple weeks to see family, friends, and our homebase.

And to not drink vodka for a while.

Relaxing in Riga

Posted by jswt | Posted in General, Latvia - Riga | Posted on 25-12-2011


So after a week in Lithuania, it was on to Riga, Lativa – we were progressing positively through the Baltics and it was getting better as we rolled along. Riga was a very, very cute little city with a gorgeous old town. It was still a little post-communist, Latvia having only declared it’s independence in 1991, but it’s 2 million inhabitants seem to be developing a healthy identity.

Riga is happy to let you know that they’re the home of the very first Christmas tree, so we made the most of the city by taking a Christmas bus/walking tour of the city:

What they don’t mention so much is that it came out of the “House of Blackheads” – a giant home in the central square that was home to ‘a number of unmarried merchant men’ back in the 1500s. These ‘unmarried gentlemen’ really enjoyed the company of black men, and had imported a number of them, and were legendary for the parties they would throw where people could come, be merry, and ‘sample’ the black men. One year, the ‘unmarried merchant men’ decided they needed a little more colour in the place, so they decorated a tree outside their place, and *bam* – the first Christmas tree was born. So next time you put up your Christmas tree, try to think of Jesus, and not the haven of homos in Latvia, who would throw orgies and pimp out black dudes who started the whole thing, ok? 😛

We had one afternoon of chilly wandering, where we found a wonderful second hand bookstore that served tea while you read, and did a little shopping. We’d agreed that our Spanish trip was our Christmas present to each other, so aside from a couple pops out for Christmas shopping, and to hit one of the (many) Christmas markets around town, I was mostly a homebody. We were staying in a great hotel with a really good internet connection, and since I knew I’d be limited for time the following week I bunkered down a bit and rocked the tail end of a project I’d been working on all leg and wanted to hit a milestone before the new year (nailed it!). Chris had to work Christmas day, and I had a mid-day flight to Tallinn, Estonia, so we had a little morning festivus before heading off on our separate Christmas paths…

The city was beautiful, the people were friendly, and Christmas in the town that was the home of the Christmas tree seems like a suitably festive way to have celebrated this year. 🙂

Vegging in Vilnius

Posted by jswt | Posted in Lithuania - Vilnius | Posted on 18-12-2011


Honestly, I don’t have too much to say about Vilnius, Lithuania.

After our Spanish road trip, it was time for me to bunker down a bit and rock some work. Luckily, to keep me from getting distracted, our hotel was a golf resort 26km outside of the city that was otherwise closed for the winter. We were the only guests, and it was unnerving to go into a dark wing of the hotel, and have all the lights flick on in sequence down the hallway… Think Shining crossed with the Bates motel. The one day I went into town to grab some groceries I got hugely swindled by a dodgy russian cab driver for the trip home, which was off putting.

We spent one afternoon wandering around the old town, which was more than enough time to see the whole city. It’s cute, but there’s not much there. It felt kinda russia-like again, in that people didn’t really smile. Only thing really of note was the higher than normal prevalence of pot smoke around the city… We were taken for a great dinner at a little french restaurant, and then back to the Bates motel where I just plugged back into my regular routine (sleep, work, gym, repeat).

This was the first of our three Baltic countries/cities, and looking back I’d really suggest skipping this for any of the others…

Spanish Road Trip – Day 6-8: Barcelona

Posted by jswt | Posted in 2011 - Spanish Road Trip, General, Spain - Barcelona | Posted on 10-12-2011


On day 6 of our Spanish road trip, we woke up slowly and made the most of the breakfast that was included at our hotel room before loading ourselves back in the car and starting off on the 4h drive to Barcelona.

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My good friend K, who’s my favorite designer and all round cool cat, had moved from Vancouver to Barcelona back in September, and we’d arranged to spend a couple nights at his place. Little did we know that he’d found himself an apartment is the most absolutely kickass location in BCN – right at the foot of Las Ramblas by the harbor! We got landed in his place and caught up before all settling down for a well received afternoon siesta. Once woken and freshened around 9 it was time to roll out, and K took us barhopping through some of his local haunts. It was an endless flow of mohitos and random tapas from here and there and sometime after midnight we all stumbled back to K’s place for a bit of a nod off. About 1:30, Chris and I got up and were ready to head out, but it seemed that K hadn’t developed quite the tolerance levels or pacing skills required for the evening, and no matter how much we tried, he wasn’t getting out of bed. So, down a man, Chris and I wandered out around 2 and ended up at a decent club but the crowd was thin. Around 4 it’d picked up a bit, but we decided to look for something more age appropriate, so we went to another club (which was *packed*) and rocked out there till about 6am. We decided to walk all the way down La Ramblas (which is a bit of a dodgy trip at that hour – it’s the first time I’ve ever had a prostitute just grab my crotch as she walked by) and back to K’s place, where he wasn’t as excited as we were to see him when we jumped up and down on his bed 😛

[Note – Chris is usually prone to hitting his wall earlier than I am, and I’ve never, ever seen him:

a) bounce back from early evening drinking
b) agree to go out again at 2am
c) agree to go to another club at 4am

As he said tho – “It’s a night out in Barcelona! Lets go!”… respekt!]

Sunday morning we had a nice sleep in and K grabbed some pastries and coffee from a nearby cafe so we could chill and have a lazy late breakfast. Chris was feeling like chilling, so he stayed in to hang out with some movies, and K and I went out and had a wonderful touristy wander around BCN. Back for a late afternoon siesta, then out for a slow saunter to what ended up being a kickass random restaurant selection (even though it violated our “no comic sans” rule) with red velvet lounge beds, some good food and wine, and a great chill scene. As we were wiped from the week, and the late night before, we had a relatively early night.

Monday morning we got up, grabbed breakfast from downstairs and Chris and I wandered off to attend to some tasks (mailing postcards, printing boarding passes, etc) which ended up taking a lot less time than expected (15 minutes. done.). With time to spare, we wandered around BCN, did a little shopping, then found a nice spot to drink in the local sights and meet some locals.

We stopped for a quick bite as we walked back to Ks, and as we sat on the patio watching the sun set over the Christopher Columbus monument at the base of Las Ramblas, I was unexpectedly overcome by emotion: as I reflected upon what’d been an absolutely fantastic week, a wave of elation crashed up against a wave of sadness that it was drawing to a close and almost time to leave, and I couldn’t hold back the tears.

Back to K’s place for some farewells (and promises to visit again asap), returned the car at the airport and ate some regrettable burgers at the airport (chris got violently ill from these the next day – bleh).

We’d scored a flight on WizzAir for $30 each direct from BCN to Vilnius, Lithuania so at 22:30 our roadtrip came to an end as we headed back to the cold tundra of the “ias” (Lithuania/Latvia/Estonia) to wind down our 2011.

8 days.
More than 2600km driven.
Perfect travel partner.
Good friends.
Amazing food and wine the entire way.
Fantastic places to stay.

Easily, the best road trip ever…
(so far!)

Spanish Road Trip – Day 5: Gijon to Logrono

Posted by jswt | Posted in 2011 - Spanish Road Trip, Spain - Bilbao, Spain - Gijon, Spain - Logrono | Posted on 09-12-2011


On day 5 of our Spanish road trip, we knew we had a long travel day ahead of us so we had a little breakfast in Gijon before hitting the road early.

We stuck to the northern coastline for most of the day drinking in the view of the ocean and the rugged terrain. For lunch we stopped in a little seaside Basque town, where we headed straight into the old town and bounced from bar to bar eating the pintxos which just got better the further along we went. A bite of desert and a coffee at the harbour were in order before climbing back into the car.

Cruising down the highway, we saw a turnoff to Bilbao and I made the executive decision that we couldn’t go this close to Bilbao without at least seeing the infamous Guggenheim Museum there (designed by the same architect who did the EMP in Seattle). T’was but a quick stop for some architecture appreciation, and the obligatory self-portrait and we were off again towards our destination for the evening.

We’d heard about Logrono from D, who is a serious foodie on Chris’ tour and always has his finger on the pulse of a city (and the couchsurfers in that city). We’d been talking to him about the memorable pintxos culture in San Sebastian, and he spoke highly of the variation that’s evolved in Logrono. Standard pintxos are when you go into a bar, order a drink and then take a piece or two of the finger food that’s laid out all over the bar, and each bar serves a variety of dishes. In Logrono, they’ve tweaked it a bit where there’s many bars concentrated in one area, but each serves only their specialty – they might serve only one thing, but you can be damned sure they make it really, really, really well. When we found out Logrono was in the heart of La Rioja (desert wine country towards the central/north or spain that produces some of our favorite wines), we knew we had to head there.

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We veered off the coastline and started heading south, and just short of sunset we were rolling through a mountain pass with a solid wall of clouds at one end when suddenly we pushed through the clouds and the desert of La Rioja spread out in front of us. Looking back at the mountains, there were rivers of clouds flowing over the green hills like waterfalls, down to where they met the orange sand which stretched out infinately to where it met the pink and purple sky of sunset. There was a faint mist laying over the land through which ancient villages built around castles on hilltops peeked out. The moon rose up over the desert giving the mist a silver shimmer that dissolved into darkness as the waning sunlight slid away into the sky that went forever deeper through purples and blues to twilight.

It was a moment where everything just seemed right.

Pulling into Logrono shortly after dark, we were questioning our decision slightly – after seeing all these beautiful ancient towns across the desert, Logrono’s outskirts seemed like a bit of an industrial town, but once we hit the city’s centre we had no regrets. The hotel we’d booked (Marques de Vallejo) was absolutely amazing – a little boutique hotel right dead in the middle of the old town, where the cobblestone streets were so small we had to walk our luggage in because we couldn’t get our car down there. The hotel was right on the corner of the main pedestrian/bar hopping street, so we took a quick siesta until about 9pm when the bars started to open, then jumped straight out into the Friday night fray.

The street was absolutely alive with blocks and blocks of bars each offering up their own pintxos specialty: the mushroom place, the pineapple and meat on a stick place, the patatas bravas shack! Each one you’d go in, and for a euro or two you’d have a glass of wine and a fantastic bite to eat, and then move onto the next place. We were there in offseason, so I’m not sure what it’s like in the rest of the year, but as a winter sport it was what the locals would do – there were families out drinking wine and eating tapas with their kids on their shoulders, friends talking and laughing everywhere, music playing live all over the streets! It was a glorious night of popping in somewhere for a drink + a bite and then moving onto the next place for another drink + a bite, and continuing to do this until the bars started to sell out of their evening’s treats and the roads quieted down shortly after midnight.

We continued to bar hop around the city a little longer, which led to us discovering “the best patatas bravas ever” and some silly smiling in a city square, before making our way back to our hotel and curling up for the night.

Suggested reading: This blog post at thehobbyists.ca does Logrono some justice…

Spanish Road Trip – Day 4: Santiago, Ourense and Gijon

Posted by jswt | Posted in 2011 - Spanish Road Trip, Spain - Gijon, Spain - Ourense, Spain - Santiago de Compostela | Posted on 08-12-2011


On day 4 of our Spanish road trip, we woke up late in Santiago de Compostela, Spain and met up with C for a pre-work wander and some brunch.  We wandered back into the old town, and found a great little restaurant hidden in an alleyway where we had some surprisingly good tapas and unsurprisingly good conversation.

Back to the hotel for hugs and farewells, and we were back on the road again…

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I’d read about a town reasonably nearby called Ourense that had some natural hot springs, and since I’m a bit of a nut for hotsprings, we doubled back a little to find the town.  It’s a small town that has a lot of hotsprings along the river, and had a lot of commerical spa development, but recently built walking paths up and down the river from the down, and had developed a number of public hot springs along the paths.  On a cold afternoon such as this, the entire city seemed to be out walking with their families, and stopping for a soak in the hot springs where they’d catch up with their friends and neighbors.  It was a great display of  public works development that fostered community and encouraged an active population (even in the cold of winter).  We spent a couple hours soaking in the various hot springs, listening to the vibrant spanish conversations around us, enjoying the view of the river, and generally letting go of any remaining stresses.

Tip: From the highway, go into town and take the bridge over the river. Turn right, and keep going up until you come to the white pedestrian bridge. Park and walk across it and you’ll find the biggest public hot springs.  Read the rules when you get there so you don’t get barked at in Spanish. You are not permitted to take photos in the hot springs, which the attendants rigorously enforce for the privacy of the bathers, which is why I’m not posting any photos.

Thouroughly relaxed, we got back in the car and headed north towards the coast along an incredibly treacherous, windy road which relaxed into highway once we hit the coast and pointed eastward.  We decided that we’d drive until about 10pm, which the GPS indicated would have us near the city of Gijon.  Chris pulled out his iPhone, did some research and booked us into the last room at what ended up being a fantastic, cheap, gorgeous old hotel right in the centre of town (Hernan Cortes Hotel in Gijon). It was just after 10, so we went out to find some dinner, and using our handy-dandy, mental how to pick a restaurant when travelling checklist, skipped over the tourist traps and ended up eating in a brilliant basque pub; they’d just keep refilling your cider and there were no english menus so we just pointed to the guys beside us and mimed lobsters, and ended up having a seemingly endless seafood feast for an incredibly reasonable price. Huge win!

After dinner (and many bottles of cider), we made our way back to the hotel, strolling along the beach, stopping into bars along the way (including one gay bar that had questionable artistic direction), and had a bit of trouble reading the map to find our way back to the hotel 😛

After a blissful day of friends, hot spring chilling, and good dinners filling happy bellies, sweet dreams came quickly…

Spanish Road Trip – Day 3: Porto and Santiago

Posted by jswt | Posted in Portugal - Porto, Spain - Santiago de Compostela | Posted on 07-12-2011


On the third day of our road trip, we woke up in Porto, Portugal being made breakfast in the fabulous home of our friends M&M. We caffeinated our day, freshened up and then went out and wandered around getting a fantastic locals tour from M (he grew up in Porto and knew a lot about it).

We’d spent 2 weeks in Lisbon a couple years back, and we couldn’t help noticing that Porto doesn’t have the same sense of desperation and disrepair, but learned that’s a recent development. Porto has a lot of intense rent controls, and there’s a lot of old city apartments that are still being rented for 30 euros a month and the landlords aren’t making enough to pay to maintain the building, so the city was falling apart and as many are UNESCO heritage buildings, they were important to preserve. Rather than having all the buildings crumble, the city passed a law that requires the building to be maintained to a certain standard, or else it would be bought by the city, redeveloped and renovated, and then rented back out (at normal costs). This has caused a *huge* boom in construction in the city, and gives the sense that if they keep going in that direction, Porto is going to be a seriously hot place in about 5 years.

We bounced around the city, saw some amazing old architecture (including the nicest McDonalds in the world), tromped around pedestrian streets, did a little shopping, and stopped at an amazing old cafe for Francesinhas – essentially they’re a Portugese specialty sandwich that’s french toast filled with massive amounts of meat, smothered in melted cheese, and soaked in booze infused gravy! Not the healthiest thing ever invented, but insanely delicious and filling.

Some after lunch snacks and patio coffees left us with the sense that we needed to get moving, so we said fond farewells to M&M (who were *amazing* hosts) and loaded back in the car, cranked up the happy hardcore on the stereo, hit the highway and zipped along at 200kmh northward towards Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

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We arrived in Santiago late afternoon, checked into our hotel, freshened up and went off to meet our friend C who was in town with the show she manages. Chris and her have been great friends for ages, I adore her sassyfunk, and we hadn’t seen her in ages so it was fantastic to see her again. We had dinner with her in the backstage catering and saw some other familiar faces, and then went out to catch the show (which was stunning! Fire spinners, hell yeah!). Afterwards, we had a backstage tour, C finished up her work, and then we bounced back to the hotel and popped a couple bottles of champagne to wash down a surprise birthday cake. Many giggles later, we realized it’s spain and that going out for more drinks at 2am was the obvious next step in the evening, so we wandered into the old town, drank red wine, met the town drunk, and rubbed shoulders with locals drinking in the street out front of the bars. Late night stumblings back to the hotel, and more drinks in C’s room, but I was falling asleep so I went back to the room to let C and Chris catch up while I fell asleep in an instant.

A note of reflection: We’d been through Santiago de Compostela back in 2010 (see post here), and I realized that with all the forward momentum, this was the first city that I’ve returned to in our travels. It was interesting coming back to a place with a couple years of euro-travelling under my belt, and integrating the initial novelty of the place with a more diverse view of cultures. Also interesting to be standing back somewhere you’ve stood once before and putting the time in perspective: what’s changed, personal growth, experiences, parties, losses, and all the evolutions in constant flux. It’s cool that our minds can time travel.

Spanish Road Trip – Day 2: Rock of Gibraltar and a long ass drive

Posted by jswt | Posted in 2011 - Spanish Road Trip, Portugal - Porto, UK - Gibraltar | Posted on 06-12-2011


On the second day of our Spanish road trip, we woke up in La Linea de la Conception. We pleasantly kicked off our day looking out across the ocean at Africa in the distance, and being pretty much being smacked in the face with the Rock of Gibraltar right in front of us. (As mentioned in last post – spend the extra 5 euros for the view room!). After some breakfast and overdue showers we rolled out for the brief hop from La Linea de la Conception to Gibraltar:

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Gibraltar is on the southern tip of Spain, right at the entrance to the Mediteranean sea, and is actually a British territory (similar to how the US has Point Roberts outside of Vancouver). This means you have to cross a border from Spain into the UK, so we queued up in line and waited about 20 minutes or so to pull up to the customs check. We’re driving up, and both have our Canadian passports out, and the British customs agent looks in the car, sees us holding our passports and says simply “Helloooo Canada! One and two, and on your way!” and waved us in. Simplest customs check ever — thank you Commonwealth!

The city of Gibraltar is so small, that when you cross the border into Gibraltar you drive across the airport runway on your way into the city. When planes are landing, they simply drop gates down and close the road off like at a train crossing. It’s one of the only active runways in the world that you can drive on, and as plane nerds, it was a bit of a trip to see!

Once into the city, we aimed for the main tourist draw in town: The Rock of Gibraltar – a giant rock formation that’s been a key strategic fortress for thousands of years. There’s a cable car that goes up the side of the rock, but when the parking lot was full we mistakenly turned the wrong way, and started climbing the rock which ended up playing much to our advantage. Instead of trying to go back, we saw a sign for the Jew’s Gate and figured we needed to aim for that – ends up, it’s a backdoor entrance to the park at the top where you take the cable car up to, but you can take your car in and drive around on top to see all the sights (something we could never have done if we’d tried to walk around from the cablecar stop!).

TIP: If you have a car, don’t take the cablecar up the Rock of Gibraltar. Drive up to the Jew’s Gate and take your car into the park so you can see way more stuff!

Another crazy thing about the park at the top is that it’s completely full of MONKEYS! The guys at the gate warned us about them, and how they’ll bite you and steal your stuff, but we kind of laughed that off until we were just inside the park and they climbed right up onto the car and tried to fish through the sunroof and open windows! Cheeky monkeys!

We drove around the park a bit and found an old fortification where we had a tight turnaround so we took the opportunity to climb up over the edge and enjoy the view of Africa in the distance, and the tip of the rock just up above us.

Next we rolled on and thought we’d check out a dot on the map called St. Michael’s Cave, and ended up being so glad we did. It’s an insanely beautiful cavern at the top of the rock, and when we wandered in there were beautiful green, red and blue lights shimmering up the ancient and ornate rock formations, and there was haunting opera music being played from hidden speakers than echoed and reverberated around the whole cave. We somehow managed to arrive between tour busses and had 20 minutes or so to explore the caves all alone with no one else there, which was truly magical. We heard voices a little later, and came upon a hidden treasure: a concert venue amphitheatre *inside the cave*. Chris was immediately wonderstruck at this find, and visions of artists bookings and theatre management danced across his eyes as he drank in the surprise find.

We climbed back up into the light, and drove around the park a little further, and stopped a little ways up at a cave entrance that was a military museum. Seems the entire rock is bored out with tunnels that throughout history have been filled with entire armies in wartime. The tour wasn’t included in our entrance ticket, but the attendants let us look around and wander into the tunnels a bit on our own. Instead of overstaying our welcome, we wandered down a little further to the Moorish Castle that was built in 711 AD and is still standing today (albeit with more bulletholes and cannon blast wounds than at first). We had the entire castle to ourselves and wandered through dungeons, across rooftops, through ancient royal baths and up forgotten stairwells before returning to our car and leaving the park…

Honestly, we’d originally come to Gibraltar to see the runway (yes, we’re plane nerds) but the Rock of Gibraltar turned out to be a really cool and unexpected treat that I’d encourage anyone in the area to take some time to explore.

We got back on the road just before noon, and started what we’d known would be a huge ass drive from Gibraltar to Porto, Portugal:

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Luckily, we were well prepared with a ton of fresh music, ample road trip snacks, and a seriously comfy luxury car that didn’t even feel like it was moving as we cruise-controlled along at 190kmh westward across the entire southern coast of Spain, and then up north into Portual.

Around 11 we rolled into Porto to see our friends M&M who’d moved to Portugal from Seattle a couple years back. They’ve got an amazing pimp pad right on the river in an old renovated port distillery, and M actually grew up in Porto so he took us out for the local’s tour and we ended up at a great little restaurant, tucked away in an alley that was once the moat of a fortress, where we at the best octopus we’ve ever had. With bellies full of goodness, and many hundreds of kilometres under our belt for the day, we retreated to “the comfiest pull out bed ever” and fell quickly into deep sleep where monkeys played mischievously in our dreams.