Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Adventures Past #4: "On the Home Straight..."

# "I may take a holiday in Spain, leave my wings behind me...
Flush my worries down the drain and fly away to somewhere new..." - Counting Crows

10 years ago I was fortunate enough to be able to take a 2-month break
from "my day job" at the time and embark on an epic trip around Europe...
My travelling companion was the person who little did I realise then
would one day become my wife,
and we were travelling with the Busabout network.
I wrote a collection of articles en route and sent them back home
to the Northern Cross newspaper via small net cafes all around Europe...
These are those scribbles from the humble pen
of a wannabe European correspondent...
(C.G.Allan, Summer 2013)

(5th of July to 12th of August 2003 – “Italy & Spain, and Home again!”)

Like something from a sci-fi novel, these Venice pods
predicted the future fashion of 'glamping' by a decade!
In Venice we stayed at a campsite -  the first of three in Italy – and were pleasantly surprised at our cabin.  It was almost like a caravan back home!  The only thing that bugged us about the camping ground was the huge mosquitoes that lurked around looking for trouble.  We quickly bought some insect repellent to ward them off...

Venice was every bit how I imagined it would be – a maze of streets which we enjoyed getting lost in and beautiful buildings lining the waterlines.  The canals didn’t smell either, which was a great surprise to me after everyone warned us they would back home!

We found St. Mark’s Square after stopping at every shop to admire the Venetian glass-work and had our lunch on some steps there.   We shared our lunch with the many pigeons there who happily sat on our arms and pecked away at  the crumbs.

We got inside St. Mark’s Basilica itself after a huge queue and being checked that we were dressed appropriately.  Waiting to get inside was worth it because the interior of St. Mark’s is amazing, with gold being the main decorating feature...


St. Mark's Square was humbling...
Ask me about my "baggy trousers" sometime!

My parents came to Italy in the ’60s and recommended Venice and St. Mark’s to us so I was particularly glad we made it here during our trip.  Pizzas and ice cream are definitely worth a trip to Italy for as well!   The gelati is amazing on hot Venetian days and the pizzas we had all over the country topped any we’ve ever had back home.

Our next stop was Rome and we got there just in time for the Pope’s weekly “Audience” on Wednesday 9th of July.  Both Alison and myself are Christians so I think it was a special memory not only for me as a Catholic, seeing the Pope talk on and off for about an hour in his weakened condition.
On a gentle stroll
down the high street of Ancient Rome...

The audience was given in a huge auditorium in Vatican City, just behind St. Peter’s Square and was filled to the brim with people from all over the world.  As various groups were announced they each got up and sang a hymn or changed.  One boys group from Mexico, often without warning, kept beginning a chant that rang around the whole auditorium – “John Paul II, we love you!”

Our whole experience of Rome was one that we’ll never forget because we saw so much in the four days we were there.  The Roman ruins on Palatine Hill and then the Roman Forum – basically the ruins of Ancient Rom’s high street - were astounding.  And the Pantheon, once a pagan temple, later turned into a Christian church, was the height of my visit, at least.
Like something from ' The Goonies',
the Cappuchin Tomb is a must-visit in Rome!

One of our more gruesome finds in Rome was that of the Capuchin monastery where bones of the past monks had been used to decorate the crypts in the form of chandeliers and furniture!  We didn’t leave Rome without seeing the Vatican Museums and the Sistene Chapel.  This was a tiring experience but well worth it, even if you just want to see the “Judgement Day” paining that adorns one whole wall in the Sistine Chapel and which you have to stare at for a long time just to realise how long it must have taken to paint.

Leaving Rome, we went through Orvieto where the Duomo church there held claim to the beginnings of  the Feast of Corpus Christi.  The heat in Italy was something we didn’t expect.  It was a close, muggy heat.  It didn’t help when we had to stand in the midday sun to queue to see the David statue for an hour or so in Florence!  Inside this gallery were also “works in progress” that Michaelangelo had done for the home of Pope Julius II, and were fascinating to see because we normally only ever see the end product of a sculptor’s work, not his “rough sketches”.
Pisa was one of the "mini" stops that
our Busabout coach made along the way!

Alison’s cousin is working in Florence over the summer and we met up with her one afternoon to take in some sights.  Hearing a familiar accent again was great and I realised I had forgotten those feelings of homesickness I had back in Paris and that we were having the trip of a lifetime!

After Italy, we were bound for Spain for three weeks and I wasn’t sure what to expect because we’d read that there was a heat wave sweeping through Europe!  Barcelona was our first stop and we had a great time visiting the dancing “Magic Fountains” at night and the Sagrada de Familia by day.  This church was designed by Gaudi and is still being built 150 years after work began.

The spires of this church look like termite hills but it’s really different from anything we had seen before.  On one side of the building were sculptures depicting the birth of Christ, while on the other was the story of his crucifixion.  I was fascinated by the sculptures on this side in particular.  We both agreed that it would be interesting to return with our grandchildren in years to come and see how the church is progressing.


Madrid was a real place of culture for us as we went to three museums in two days!  The best of these wasn’t the Prada that has world acclaim, but a little-known private art collection in the “Thyssen” gallery.  The art work progressed from the 13th to the 20th centuries and had works by every conceivable famous artist... (This experience actually inspired the writing of one of my short stories 'The Archenemy' on our return from Europe).
Classical music and pop songs
set to dancing water in Barcelona - magic!

Before we left home we both knew that we wanted to visit the Alhambra Moorish palaces, which we did when we reached Granada in southern Spain.  The architecture was so distinctive and the views so amazing that we spent an entire day wandering through the gardens and buildings there.  There was a real mix of Christian and Muslim features too, which struck me as an appropriate reminder in today’s political climate.

The heat I expected to encounter in Spain was found in Seville where the street-side temperature gauges read 52 degrees centigrade at one point!  In general, we found Spain better than Italy for coping with the heat but wandering out of our air-conditioned hotel at 11pm on our way to a flamenco show and being hit by 35-degree heat was a unique experience...  We saw Christopher Columbus’s tomb in the cathedral in Seville and also climbed the cathedral tower and heard a man chanting a continuous Muslim prayer, which will stay with me for a long time.  In our last two stops in the Iberian Peninsula – Lisbon and San Sebastian – we saw two statues of Jesus overlooking the cities, much like the one in Rio de Janeiro, but smaller.

And so it was that on Friday the 8th of August, 2003, we came back into Paris, where our long but remarkable trip had begun many weeks before.  Back then we had got the idea that if we had enough money when were returned to Paris, we would treat ourselves to a day at Euro Disney... And this we did!  It was the perfect end to a perfect trip.  Alison and myself have had some mishaps along the way and had our fair share of challenges but we’ve definitely grown closer because of the experience of our European adventure...


The final stage of our journey had been the longest,
hottest and probably most enjoyable of all -
the perfect way to end our European Adventure!

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