Alistair Johnston


Alistair Johnston

After an interlude of around 26 years it's time to drag the backpack out of the basement and see a few of the places I missed the first time around. It's time to go a wandering one more time

Africa » Morocco » Marrakech-Tensift-El Haouz » Marrakech April 17th 2018

How to describe Marrakech? It has none of the hard edginess of Egypt or East Africa. That is not to say there is no buzz, there definitely is but it is more of a soft vibrancy. The medina is still a crazy place, with its narrow winding streets full of shops and stalls selling everything imaginable. The leather work and metal work is particularly good and very prevalent. Its really easy to get lost in the medina but that is all part of the fun and if you walk long enough you eventually spot some place you recognise. The main square, Jemaa al Fna, is a sleepy place during the day but it goes crazy in the evening with dozens of food stalls, african dancers and snake charmers all selling their wares or plying their trade. ... read more

Europe » Spain » Andalusia » Granada April 14th 2018

I was informed over breakfast that today is my 28th wedding anniversary. As a wise man said "a bloke has a lot to remember, put the seat down, don't scratch in public, etc. How can he be expected to remember anniversaries as well." Anyway, today is our last day in Granada so we caught the bus into the city centre and had a look at the Corral del Carbon, the only surviving caravanserai of the 14 that once existed in Granada. After the reconquista the space was used to store coal, hence 'del Carbon'. The next stop was the Royal chapel that houses the ornate marble tombs of Isabella and Ferdinand and Juana the mad and Phillip the handsome, who wasn't. There are also an awful lot of religious paintings from the 15th and 16th centuries ... read more
royal chapel
15th century torah

Europe » Spain » Andalusia » Granada April 13th 2018

Today was a day I had been looking forward to for a long time. Today I got to see Al Hambra in all its glory. Even the weather played its part as we trudged for 30 minutes up the hill from our hotel passing a couple of caves with whitewashed entrances that were obviously inhabited. These caves, along with the ones in Sacromonte are lived in largely by gypsies and the children of wealthy northern Spaniards that run off to teach their parents a lesson. Go figure. The Al Hambra is really a fortress city built over several centuries and once home to as many as 5000 people. The Al Hambra was the last Moorish stronghold in Europe. As the Christian reconquista moved south, capturing Cordoba in 1237 and Seville in 1248, the Nazarids clung on ... read more
generalife gardens

Europe » Spain » Andalusia » Granada April 12th 2018

Got off to a slower start this morning to make up for all of the earlier ones we've had lately. Caught the bus into the city centre then did a recommended walk that takes in most of the major sites. We started at the Plaza Isabel La Catolica where Granada's two grand boulevards, the Gran Via and the Calle Reyes Catolica meet. The plaza has a large statue of Columbus unfurling a contract before Isabel prior to sailing off to discover the new world, even if he thought he'd hit India. From there we walked through the Alcaiceria, originally a Moorish silk market later closed down by Phillip II and destroyed by fire in 1850. In the late 1800's it was rebuilt as a tourist souk. Next on the list was the Plaza de Bib-Rambla, a ... read more
granada cathedral
darro river
hammam el banuelo

Europe » Spain » Andalusia » Granada April 11th 2018

Today is another of those designated travel days. Its a quick taxi ride to the train station then sitting and waiting for the board to tell us which platform our train will come in to. This is a local train with a lot of stops along the way. The train rolls through thousands of hectares of olive groves and you soon realise why Spain is one of the worlds largest olive oil producers. As I'm looking out the window we roll by a wetland area with a flock of flamingos paddling around. Who knew flamingos lived in Spain. About half way through the trip the conductor brings some small print on my ticket that I hadn't bothered to read to my attention. Apparently at Antequera St Ana we have to get off the train and catch ... read more
more olives
another fine dinner

Europe » Spain » Andalusia » Seville April 10th 2018

The train trip from Cordoba to Seville is only about an hour, passing small white villages set amongst vast orchards of Seville orange trees. The oranges are sadly too bitter to eat and are used mainly for oils and perfumes with tonnes being exported to the UK each year to be made into marmalade. Seville is another picturesque city with a massive gothic cathedral dominating the centre. The cathedral is apparently tne 3rd largest after St Peter's in Rome and St Paul's in London and is the largest gothic cathedral in the world. We struck gold this time with our hotel being a beautiful period building about 75m from the cathedral. We didn't spend time in the hotel but got out to visit the Cathedral which contains the tomb of Christopher Columbus. The climb up the ... read more
Cathedral butresses
Tomb of Christopher Columbus

Europe » Spain » Andalusia » C√≥rdoba » A Mezquita April 8th 2018

These early starts wear you down after a while. This time we're up at 6am to catch the 8.30 train to Cordoba, once the capital of Andalusia. The AVE trains are great, very similar to the TGV in France but the Spanish ones are actually running. Its almost 5 hours from Barcelona to Cordoba with numerous stops along the way. For the most part we appeared to be travelling through Olive groves for as far as the eye can see at around 300km/h. The trains are really comfortable and you can charge all your devices while you watch the world roll by. We arrived in Cordoba at 1.15pm, caught a taxi to our hotel, a little over 1km from the old city centre, dumped our bags and headed straight into town via the old roman bridge ... read more
seville oranges
romsn bridge

Europe » Spain » Catalonia » Barcelona » Barcelona April 6th 2018

Off to an early start again to once more beat the crowds to Casa Batllo one of Gaudi's most famous moderniste houses. It is a wonder that he was permitted to build such a place in the early 1900's with everything else being so stayed. I won't deliver a treatise on Gaudi and the moderniste movement, suffice it so say that the craftmanship was excellent, a lot of the features very inventive with the whole thing feeling almost like it cocoons you. After a couple of hours at Casa Batllo we ventured out to Parc Guell where Gaudi lived for a time creating an otherwordly park that he envisioned as forming part of a housing estate. The park is well worth a visit for the views over Barcelona alone. The crazy architecture lifts it to another ... read more

Europe » Spain » Catalonia » Barcelona » La Rambla April 4th 2018

After wasting the better part of a day getting out to Gatwick on tubes and trains, then sitting around in the airport for a couple of hours instead of ambling through the English, French and Spanish countryside in high speed trains, all thanks to the French rail strike, it was great to finally touch down in sunny Barcelona. We had a hotel booked in the Gracia district of Barcelona, which is less touristy and getting there was a breeze. We bought a T10 1 zona card at the automat at the airport for a fraction under 10eur and with only one change on the subway and a 5 minute walk we were at the hotel La Casa Del Sol overlooking the Placa del Sol. The hotel was great but we were only in it 5 minutes ... read more

Europe » United Kingdom » England » Buckinghamshire » Buckingham April 1st 2018

After the looong flight from NZ we were very glad to get back to terra firma. By the time I'd grabbed a sim card for the phone Ani was waiting for us in the faithful Rover and whisked us off to Kew for champagne and orange and a stunning breakfast. Feeling replete we then wandered through Kew Gardens admiring the daffodils prior to lunch at the Coach and Horses on Kew Green. Good food and jet lag finally took their toll so we retreated to our hotel room and fell into a coma for about 12 hours. The next morning, following a full English breakfast, we made our way out to Buckingham to catch up with my uncle and aunt who promptly fed us then took us on a walk through Buckingham stopping on the way ... read more

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