Monthly Archives: September 2014

Churos, Fresh orange juice and a coffee for Breakfast

Jerez is a very strong Catholic religious town. Lucky for us we also experienced a religious parade where I think the whole town was on the streets – all dressed up – from the elderly to families with young children. – it was like going back in time seeing little boys in rompers and girls in tiny dresses with matching shoes and socks. Everyone was on show waiting for the huge Madonna that was being carried by young men on their shoulders – they were huddled underneath a platform shuffling under the heavy weight. A band, an orchestra plus hundreds of people representing each church paraded before the clergy and finally the Madonna . They would have walked the streets for over 5 hours -before returning the Madonna back home to the cathedral.


Of course local life doesn’t exist without a local market and once again I was wowed – the seafood was incredible – dozens of stalls selling the freshest fish from Tuna, sea bass and lots of squid to prawns , clams and so much a had never seen before.
The fruit stalls were decorated with bunches of carrots, radishes and hanging onions which looked so beautiful amongst the neat piles of vegetables and fruit.
Outside old ladies were selling the produce from their gardens – chopping green leaves into bags, piles of garlic and fresh olives for preserving .


Churos are traditional here – Hannah, Georgia and I stood in awe watching the dough being skirted into hot oil and fried in big circles. When it was golden and crisp it was removed with two long prongs and cut into pieces with some scissors and wrapped in paper. You bought it by weight – our 250 grams cost 2 euros .
Freshly squeezed orange juice and hot coffee were perfect accompaniments to our delicious breakfast.


Jerez and Flaminco

Traveling by high speed train we whizzed across Spain passing vast plains of olives, citrus plantations and cotton – I had never seen cotton growing before – and huge areas looked like balls of snow. It was a smaller plant than I imagined and I think it’s very prickly. In some areas machines were harvesting and transferring the fibre into huge trailers ready for processing. Skirting Madrid our train stopped in Seville where we changed trains onto Jerez – home of my friend and photographer for my books – Bill Nichol and Jennifer.
How exciting it was to see familiar faces on the platform – and they loved our accents…
So, we transformed ourselves into another world – in a city twice the size of Dunedin but with a small central heart. It felt odd – the streets were deserted – we had arrived during the siesta . Hannah and Georgia could walk easily with their big packs on their backs to our accommodation 5 minutes away.
Bills friend Pepe, introduced us to our apartment accommodation on the ground floor of his traditional Spanish house set around an internal courtyard.
The family lived upstairs and our eyes were popping at our space, with kitchen a bedroom each !!!! outside dining room and an upstairs roof top complete with deck chairs.

Jerez is a hub for Flamenco. I thought it was Spanish dancing!!! but I soon found out its also about the music – guitar, palm clapping ….. and singing.
By the time we went to bed we had enjoyed an amazing Tapas meal with the most divine octopus, pigs cheaks and apple, chorizo and tortilla before experiencing our first flamenco performance in a local bar.
It was jam packed., It doesn’t cost anything and while we sipped on our fino sherry we were mesmerized by the guitar player, singer and everyone clapping with the rhythm.
This was to be the first of 3 performances Bill and Jen arranged for us. Their love of flamenco music was infectious and to see the culture here in Jerez based around such a strong tradition was amazing . The tapas on thick greaseproof paper, the sherry in tumblers, the friends and families all in support clapping and sometimes dancing with intense fervor is a memory I will have forever and it brings home the
appreciation and enjoyment of experiencing real local life with real people, doing what they do everyday.



Fireworks and Music

The festival in Barcelona continues night after night – we joined the thousands of people lining the beach to watch the evening fireworks display at 10 pm . Prior to walking the packed streets we enjoyed eating snails, fried chorizo and octopus at a traditional basque restaurant. We had Gemma and her a mum tonight (for once Georgia wasn’t the shortest..)
The sound of neighbourhood drumming bands went on well past midnight and we could hear the bang of crackers from the crazy fire throwers. It feels weird to be going to bed by 12. 30 and yet the streets are still full of people.

Walking the long la Rambla the following morning was quiet and today for the first time is was raining lightly but still very warm. Our breakfast date was the market. Julie Le Clerc had told me how good this was and weren’t disappointed.
Starting with fresh orange juice – it was hard to choose which one – there was such a huge selection. Pottle’s of fresh fruit lined another stall and the piles of fresh figs and peaches were stacked with leaves between – they looked so pretty.
From Spanish Tortilla , empanadas and skewers of jambon – we tried them all.
The stalls sold everything from crystallized fruit, dried fruit and nuts to tripe, offal, seafood and chickens.
I love markets and while sitting having a coffee we watched the locals buy.. it is always fascinating to see them interact with the stall holders and many were sitting around bars having their breakfast.





It’s our last day in Barcelona – after our visit to Sagrada Familia we did a spot of retail therapy and bought a gift for Gemma – she was so fabulous. We have walked and walked – visited historical sites, eaten tapas, paella and jambon and enjoyed serval jugs of sangria. We loved her and wouldn’t have had this lifetime memorable few days in what has become a favourite city if it wasn’t for her.



Barcelona and Gaudi

Spain has the legacy of the most intriguing architectural buildings I have ever seen. Designed by the famous Antoni Gaudi he spent his lifetime of 73 years creating extraordinary commissions for wealthy families.
In the middle of Barcelona you pass two apartments in the main shopping area. It’s possible to visit if you want to join the rather long queue to get in.
We had tickets to Park Guell -situated on a hill behind the central city. We walked through the neighbourhood where Gemma was raised as a child and even past her old school- (no green grass here)
We met the Crombie family and Tim Hunt to walk through the bizarre curved shapes covered in colourful mosaics, the colonnade with a mosaic domes a ceiling,ending up at the famous courtyard , used for open air concerts -surrounded by curved seats, again they covered in colourful mosaics. The view over looking the city is the perfect spot for lots of photos.


Gaudi’s engineering skills and his un bounding creativity must have been amazing for this man to design the huge Sagradi familia – the famous church still uncompleted 88 years after his death .
Like giant trees of a forest complete with branches the pillars soar off above you. Colourful stain glass on the side walls and ceiling create light throughout the day.
The inside is eye popping and now finished but the outside must be an architectural nightmare- Gaudi died with only one facade completed- the goal is to have the two uncompleted facades finished by 2026 for the hundredth anniversary of Gaudi’s death. I wish them well.. Its a fabulous visit and well worth taking a guide.


WalKing Barcelona

Arriving in the early afternoon by train then stupidly getting the tube to our apartment was not ideal with luggage – the price of a taxi has to be worth it.
But, I am with these students now – Hannah, Georgia and Grace . Our room is all white, cool and airy with a view over a park and very close to the beach.

I arranged to meet my son Matthews flat mate Gemma from his Edinburgh days – She is local and was bought up in the city- and how lucky are we .
Gemma walked us into the city – showing us the highlights and passing two Gaudi buildings on the way.
We stopped at a bar selling only Jambon-they had a selection of shoulders and legs from various regions Spain. With a glass of Cava (bubbly wine) we enjoyed a sampling plate .

The streets are crowded with people filling the hundreds of bars and restaurants lining the pavements or in the middle of the road .
Yes ….even the waiters have to cross the road.
The city is preparing for a festival celebrating Barcelona – by now it’s 10 pm – fire workers are going off – music seems to be coming from everywhere and a band passes down the street – moving aside when vehicles come..
It’s time now for us to have Tapas and a jug of Sangria.
Small plates of little squid, croquettes with ham, fresh tomato and olive oil crostini, fried potato cubes with spicy tomato sauce and prawn skewers.
Lucky to have Gemma – she knew about putting your name down -our table was ready while many others waited in the streets patiently with a glass of wine in their hands.

Gemma had the weekend planned out.She walked us from our hotel to our closest district of Born, through parks full of children’s activities, and even a master class in hip hop dance was going on. In and out of a myriad of narrow streets in the Gothic quarter. Stopping for a coffee and and empanadas before arriving at the beach lined with bodies sunbathing.


We were early for lunch at 2 pm – !!!!
Sitting over looking the marina on an outside deck we had the BEST Paella lunch – starting with tapas and a couple of jugs of Sangria we enjoyed a fabulous long lunch. Once again the incredible Gemma came up trumps and booking at Barceloneta was excellent.

A walking tour we were on and walking we did – by waiting some time in queue for the a cable car to Montjuic park we could take in the fabulous vista before walking ………. to view the huge architectural building of the Museum of National Art – with the Montjuic fountain in front – although today it’s obscured by the massive stage ready for the festival tonight.
Behind us was an old bull ring – recently turned into a shopping mall. No bull fights in Barcelona any more !!!
It’s 7 pm – the tube made quick work of our return to the hotel – my age was showing up as I chose to spend a quiet night in with my feet up – but Barcelona does not sleep and it’s music and partying is legendary. The girls went off to meet New Zealand friends and enjoy the city…..




Two Silvers in World Surf Life Saving IRBs for St Clair

Two days on the beach in howling wind, rain and a little sunshine were not the perfect hot sunny calm conditions we expected .
The St Clair team performed extremely well and made five finals – including a team event which was a first for the girls – a quick lesson on crewing for Hannah, some slick pickups plus great driving from Steph and Carla ensured the girls came in 4 th and just narrowly missed out on bronze.
The Australians pipped our girls for Gold and they came away with two silvers for mass and tube . Carla and Steph Laughton deserve these so much and Hannah is more than happy to have hers for patienting.

We leave la Grande Motte as the Junior NZ team has just started and already have a haul of Golds and Silvers – thanks to our St Clair clubby Andrew Trembath.
For the next 7 days the beach will be busy with world teams and club competitions.
We are off for a new adventure – Spain here we come – Barcelona and Jerez .. So looking forward to this with my 3 young travelers.




How’ s that … Hotel St Clair .. La Grande Motte….

From the beautiful villages in Central France to the Coast and a weird place called La Grande Motte where the French come to enjoy the fabulous sandy beaches.
It was built in the 60’s. Predominantly hotels and apartments they all look like ships!!! This is seriously ugly.
Our group of 20 St Clairites have hired bikes and it’s definitely the way to get around – I just love the basket on the front and we look like locals with our baguette , cheese and bottle of wine. ( although probably all way too young- even me )
I’m rooming with Hannah, Georgia and Grace. A bit tight but all good fun.

Our first day of competition at the IRB arena was very successful and our two teams made semi’s and finals in their events .
We all thought it would be gorgeous weather with sunbathing time and a swimming in the Mediterranean. Sadly, we had huge winds with sand blowing everywhere. No one could shelter and it was very uncomfortable .
We have had thunder and lightening all night – (my gosh Europe does this well ) and today it’s raining !!


Still it’s early in the morning and we are ready to go… Hopefully medals by the end of the day

Day 18 / Last Day – I love the Beaune Market

How many market photos have I taken and do I need to take any more ?..
We have especially made sure the itinerary worked in with the Beaune market – and it’s incredible. You can buy anything from a bed !!! , hand made knives and colourful baskets to all the delicious French food you can imagine. It was elbow to elbow with locals buying from the fabulous selection of cheeses, meats, fruits and vegetables . Most seem to have a dog on a leash – (oh my goodness we are intolerant in Dunedin )


It’s one of those days when you desperately want to buy, especially from the lovely family selling truffles.
Today we travelled South directly through the vineyards to my favourite restaurant L’Escale set beside the canal . Sitting outside with the courtyard to ourselves we enjoyed a traditional 3 course French lunch with an unexpected tuna and salmon starter ..

Our trip back to Beaune stopped at the very large Chateau Meursault . Our excellent guide Laurant he helped us journey through the art collection to the huge cellars with over 800 huge oak barrels of aging wine and extensive racks of bottled wine. It was a nice visit and reinforced the wine culture of Burgundy that we have gone to appreciate over the past 3 days.
We did have time for some serious shopping before our last night dinner at the hotel.
I have just travelled with a gorgeous group of fabulous women and two men – Ed and Graham. They accepted Hannah into the fold and she now has many more grandmothers and Grandfathers. She loved them all and gave back as much nonsense as they gave her. They even started to look out for cats for her ..

It is always sad saying goodbye- Graham made the best speech and had everyone summed up to a tee.
I can’t do these tours without expert guides and Charles is the best – he is warm and friendly with the most incredible knowledge. He and Lissa show empathy and kindness to my tour groups and I think we make a great team.

Beaune has cast it’s spell on my group again. Its a perfect place to end a
wonderful tour. Wine and food from Burgundy – enhanced by Richards knowledge of the region and with the company of fabulous New Zealanders …..
Look out 2015 ……..

Do your remember the movie ‘ Chocolat’

Today we travel north of Beaune to the area known as the Cote de Nuits and a visit to Clos de Vougeot. Established by the Cistercian Monks in the 1100’s.
They developed the science of viticulture and recognized how different parcels of land produced different wines.
The massive wooden wine presses and barrels displayed here were impressive. A nice visit.

We have lunch date at a village close to Flavigny sur Ozerain – famous for the filming of the movie ‘ Chocolat’
Passing Vosne Romanee- home of the most expensive wine in the wolrd- we moved into green pastures with lots of the famous white Charlolais
Cattle – so gorgeous – white on green and forests everywhere which I am sure must be full of fungi and truffles.
We arrived in this tiny village to a restaurant that was all set up for us and in no no time was full of diners -obviously the best place to be!!!
Lunch did not disappoint – gorgeous seafood salad, bresse chicken, fungi and potatoes topped off with a huge creme brûlée – we didn’t have any room for the biggest cheese trolley I have ever seen.

Flavigny sur Ozerain was gorgeous – lovely lovely narrow streets with untouched houses decorated with colourful flower boxes.
We found the movie’ chocolat ‘ shop- now looking empty and old – although a perfect spot for photos.
The village is also renowned for aniseed Lollies and we all stocked up on little decorative tins to take home for presents .



Day 1 in Beaune

Famous for an extraordinary Hospice called Hotel Dieu -we had another excellent guide called Annie. She made the story and history of this incredible hospital come alive – walking us through the old wards lined with beds covered in red blankets it was humbling to hear about the Nuns that worked tirelessly to improve the health of the poor and the wealthy alike – developing pharmaceuticals and new medical techniques and feeding everyone from a state of the art kitchen. More amazingly it only closed in the 1970’s – it was a wonderful visit and from the beautiful tiles on the roof, the lovely stone courtyard and facade to the immaculate wards everyone thoroughly enjoyed their introduction to Beaune.

A good coffee break – all together outside amongst the locals – I can see my group is going to have no trouble having a good time here and their continual chatter and laughter shows they are relaxed already.
All of Beaune and in fact all the villages of this region are honey combed with underground cellars . Full of millions barrels and bottles of wine. The aging process takes place in these wonderful spaces in stable temperatures.
All the grapes are Chardonnay and Pinot Noir . Here, it’s all about reading the label and choosing a vineyard ..
Simply the wines are classified into :
Village wines – made from a particular village 36 % of the wine produced.
Premier Cru- 10 % of the wine.
Grand Cru- 2% of the wine and very expensive
We need to understand the characteristics of the wine produced in each village, their reputation and a lot of knowledge.
Now you know why Richard is so important !!! He is a star and an expert.
A little quiet lunch and a couple of local classics – snails and Foie Gras…

It was an afternoon off to explore and for some shopping time.
Lynley and Richard had a couple of extra places and invited Hannah and I to join a Truffle Cooking class.
We learnt about the varieties of truffles, how to clean, store and prepare these very very expensive little beasts that look like a lump of dirt but smell amazing.

It was a lot of fun . Claire and Laurent come for the Montpellier region and manage a forest with natural occurring truffles and an area planted with three oak species. Using a specially trained dog to smell out these little gems – they are enthusiastic about teaching people the intricacies of truffles.We were her first pupils, she had a lovely well set up table – perfect for 6 , great notes and a charming personality.
To complete our lovely day everyone came out looking stunning to enjoy dinner at the Michelin one restaurant De Levernois.
Top surroundings with beautiful table settings set the scene for a very special meal accompanied with wines chosen by Richard.
A different experience and definitely one to remember. I was also lucky to invite my old flat mate Rhonda and her husband John for dinner who by chance were all in Beaune at the same time.. – amazing -she lives in Melbourne and we don’t see each other very often.