Seville

Seville is a beautiful city. It took us 3.5 hours to drive there from Monachil and we had to leave early in the morning as daylight is fleeting here in Europe.

We arrived and the first thing we thought was how spacious the main streets were. Our agenda for the day was to visit the Cathedral and the Alcazar before enjoying some tapas and then driving home. It sounds almost not worth it considering how long we had to drive to get there but it definitely was.

We found an underground car park close to the Cathedral thanks to my sister Meg’s boyfriend Matt who had brought his TomTom which has proved to be invaluable whilst trying to navigate the streets of Spain. And we walked up towards the Cathedral which was very hard to miss. The architects of this amazing building said in 1402, ‘we are going to construct a church so large, future generations will think we were mad.’ And they weren’t exaggerating. The cathedral, which took a century to finish, reminded me of those sand castles you would build at the beach dripping wet sand to form steeples. When you entered the main part of the church, the sheer height of the ceiling and the size of the pillars quite literally take your breath away. We climbed up to the highest bell tower which resulted in most of us breaking a sweat and looked out over the city of Seville. It was quite hard to imagine what it would have looked like 500 years ago before the cathedral was built.

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Next we visited Seville’s Alcazar which was built in the early 1300’s. We spent a couple of hours exploring the beautifully decorated rooms and gardens and Adam got lost at one point which was hilarious. It was similar to Alhambra in it’s design and Islamic influence but unique in its own way as well.

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At this stage our stomachs were rumbling and we made our way through the narrow streets into central Seville to find a restaurant famous for its tapas.

And we weren’t disappointed. The place we decided on was called Vineira San Telmo and it was amazing. It invented the rascocielo, which is a tower of roasted tomatoes, eggplant, goats cheese and smoked salmon which was a highlight and came out in very generous portions. We decided to order two tapa each and some of us shared whilst some of us didn’t. Some of the selections included foie gras with caramelised peanuts, squid ink pasta with scallops, slow cooked duck breast, seared Japanese-style tuna and the list goes on. We walked out very full and extremely satisfied. Price-wise it wasn’t the cheapest we’d experienced in Spain but at 15 Euro each (including drinks) we couldn’t complain.

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Granada

What an introduction to Spain!!! My father picked us up late at night from Granada bus station and we drove up into the town of Monachil which rests in a valley in the mountains behind Granada. Our little hire car wound through the narrow streets until we arrived at our villa, Cortijo La Mata. At night we could barely make out the rows of identical white brick houses built into the sides of the dry, arid hills and rocky outcrops. In the morning we ventured out into the freezing cold air and we could see the unique landscape stretching out below us.

The villa, where do I start? Imagine a rustic white-washed Spanish villa built into the side of a rocky outcrop on a small mountain hill with olive groves and grape vines lining the narrow road that leads up to it. The courtyard out the front of the villa is paved with terracotta tiles, and is covered with dried leaves left over from Autumn. There is a pool that looks like it would be an amazing comfort in summer but only gives you the shivers at this time of the year. The villa has 10 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, 2 lounge rooms and 2 kitchens. So it accommodates the 8 of us easily. The central heating comes on for 5 hours twice a day and allows us to walk around the villa in clothes suitable for an Australian winter which is laughable in the face of the weather here at the moment.

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The little town Monachil is full of character. I swear our first few visits to the local grocer weren’t well received as we are a clumsy group of loud Australians. But eventually the owner warmed to us and now she gives us regalos with each purchase such as blocks of chocolate or an extra bread stick. When we feel like venturing outside the haven that our villa is, we head down to our little local where we sit and drink beers, red wine and (if it is really cold) ‘fire water’ which is Monachil’s winter liquor made from wild plums that are about the size of cherries. It is a deliciously warming drink that tastes of cherry and liquorice. Granada is the only province in Spain to serve free tapas with drink purchases. Slices of fresh baguette with pate, prosciutto and other delicacies would be placed in front of you while you sip your beverage. We could be sitting there for hours and not even realise as we have full bellies and are feeling nicely tipsy.

The Sierra Nevada mountains behind Granada have some pretty impressive ski slopes and amazing views. We made two day trips up into the mountains and had fun tobogganing, playing in the snow and drinking mulled wine in the little ski town overlooking the mountain. It was the first time my youngest sister Tessa had ever seen snow so it was very exciting for her. Driving on snow covered roads proved to be quite stressful and it was amazing to see how the snow ploughs would come through and clear the road in a matter of seconds.

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One thing we made sure to do whilst in the area was to visit Alhambra – a Moorish fortress that is famous for its Islamic architecture and art. Apparently 6000 people visit per day in summer so we felt grateful to have time to walk through at a leisurely pace. It really was breathtaking and unlike any temple or palace I have visited before. Islamic art and decor is geometric and simple with no depictions of animals or people, but the attention to detail and the beauty in that kind of simplicity blew our minds. One thing I am loving about Spain is that you can stop anywhere for a red wine or a beer and a bocadillo (sandwich) filled with cured meat and sharp cheese. So that’s exactly what we did in one of the courtyards in Alhambra.

Spanish people are fascinating. I feel like they have the work-life balance right. Everyone wakes up late, eats their main meals together and have siestas in the afternoon. They party on into the night and aren’t afraid of speaking their minds. Our Christmas Eve was a highlight. We made our way into Monachil from our villa to celebrate Christmas Eve with a few afternoon drinks. We didn’t realise that the whole town would be doing the same. We found another little ‘pub’ that had tables and chairs up on the roof with fires in kerosene tins that we could sit around. It was perfect as we had a view of the streets in the main part of town. The festive spirit was certainly in the air with children (and grown men)letting off fireworks, people standing around smoking, drinking and dancing. There was a man with an accordion who was just walking around playing it. People coming up to the little verandah bar we were perched on had tambourines and were sitting in groups singing and dancing flamenco style. It was a wonderful night and set a very festive tone for the rest of our Christmas.

Seven Kilos

Seven and a half kilos is what the scales told me when I last weighed my backpack. Adam looked at me incredulously and most people I have told have done the same.

How can you go away for 2 years with only seven kilos?

The thing is, it is quite easy when you decide to only take the bare minimum.

We arrive in Europe in the middle of winter and will be in Europe for spring, summer and most of autumn. We are travelling through as many countries as we can, through various types of terrain and all sorts of weather. So we had to make sure that we took all of that into consideration when we were looking at what to take.

When we chose our bags, Adam and I had very different ideas about what would be the perfect bag to take over. The only thing we agreed on was how big we wanted them: 40 +10 Litres. Because we are planning on doing a few walks over there, we needed to make sure we didn’t have too much weight to carry.

In the end I settled on the Dueter Aircontact which I chose for its access panel in addition to being a top loader. Its actually hard to find smaller back packs that have a side access panel.

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After we had our bags sorted, we had to start thinking seriously about what we were going to put in them.

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SO what made the list?

– gortex hybrid shoes
– gortex jacket
– merino wool thermals
– underwear
– zip off hiking pants
– merino wool hiking shoes
– 2 pairs of jeans
– two long sleeve shirts
– 2 gym singlets
– swimmers
– two ‘going out tops’
– 1 skirt
– 2 party dresses
– toiletries
– foldable ballet flats
– small towel
– head torch
– journal
– Kathmandu pathfinder sleeping bag
– silk liner
– dry bags
– thongs

My day bag is pretty awesome. It folds down to the size of a small wallet for when I don’t need it and holds 5L for when I do – plus it’s pink!!!

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Electronic equipment-wise I decided to buy an iPad mini with a logitech keyboard. I am also taking my iPhone as a back up device. Adam is taking a MacBook Air, a go-pro, an iphone and all of the necessary plugs, chargers etc. He also bought a waterproof, shock proof hard drive to back up all of our photos etc. Speaking of photos, our new camera is amazing. We opted for the Sony RX100 and are really happy with its picture quality.

So that’s it. We’re all set and we are boarding in a few hours. We arrive in Madrid on Wednesday the 18th. But our travel time doesn’t end there. From Madrid we catch a bus to Granada where my parents will pick us up in the hire car and take us to the villa.

Words can’t express how excited we are. Let’s hope we’ve packed everything that we need.