And it did last, even although the Mayan Calendar had us guessing. For myself and therefore Budget Travel Talk, this year was a year of surprises. SURPRISED BY SPAIN We ended up in Spain, not because of a long held desire to do so, but because of a house-sit, and not just any old house-sit, but our very first. Pre and Post House-sit we travelled through Spain. The surprise lay in how much we adored it. You know how sometimes you arrive at your dream destination and it is … Meh? Well we arrived with the “We will just have a little look around while we are here” attitude – and were totally blown away. Like We Must Be Dreaming this is so good.
Barcelona was such a relaxed fun loving city; we walked to Barri Gotic from our AIRBNB apartment, and to the top of Montjuic, the hill that drops vertically from a fortress to the harbour beneath; took a bike tour with Buddha from Fat Tire Bicycle Tours that culminated in shared Sangria Jugs at Barcoloneta; had a romp in Gaudi’s Parc Guell and got hooked on Spanish Coffee.
Madrid was all moody and magnificent; huge plazas; amazing street performers; the magical Crystal Palace in Retiro Park; Empanadas and beer and a city that offered a great staging point for our trips to Segovia and Toledo.
I confess to having a holiday romance. Granada swept me off my feet and they might still be dangling slightly off ground. But I don’t feel guilty. Who would not be seduced by La Alhambra‘s Moorish architecture; the ancient Islamic Baths beside the Darro; the Sunshine and Cool Breezes that swept down from the snow capped Sierra Nevadas; the miniature Flower Filled Plazas; the Grand Views from the Albaicin, and people watching/tapas sessions?
Granada was actually a double whammy because our house-sit was located an hour away in the cosy mountain village of Moclin. Ensconced amongst Spanish Speaking locals we fell in love (again) with our house-sitting companion dog Lulu, (who understood English in case you’re wondering). We were only there for 2.5 weeks but we experienced real village life, overlooking a patchwork of olive groves as far as the eye could see.
Cordoba was done in a day – not our usual style I admit – but it had to be, and this was one city that made a quick visit enjoyable. (I have said that about Milan, Italy as well but that is another story). The historical area was compact and we chose our Airbnb unit right in the middle of all the action. We easily accommodated the Mezquita by day and by night, and squeezed in the Alcazar and Patios somewhere in the middle. The coolness of the Sierra Nevadas had disappeared – it was hot.
Sevilla was sizzling – 42 degrees at 7.30 p.m. in fact – and I have the photo to prove it. During the day we sought out breezes by the river, and later my newly purchased souvenir fan worked overtime cooling down the late flamenco nights. How that dancer survived I do not know.
SURPRISED THAT MOROCCO LIVED UP TO EXPECTATIONS While I had zero expectations of Spain, I had long cherished dreams of Morocco. A $40, budget saving, Ryan Air Flight from Sevilla to Marrakech delivered us pronto into the arms of the Red City. On the way to our Riad in the Medina, we half ran to keep close to the barrow man and our luggage, as he trotted through a maze of dirty lanes, ever decreasing in size. In retrospect some rose coloured glasses would not have gone astray just then, but after the shock of our new surroundings wore off, we bobbed to the surface, shook ourselves off and jumped right back in again. The snake charmers and excitement of Jemaa El Fna square, the beating heart of Marrakech; the silent Sahara night broken only by the beating of Berber drums; the relaxed pace and beauty of the fishing port of Essaouria – Morocco proved one thing to me – that dreams do come true.
SURPRISED BY LISBON’S HEART When planning the trip around our Spanish house-sit, I coerced and manipulated our schedule to squeeze in five days for Lisbon, and I did not regret it. Lisbon was living with rolling airport strikes and our TAP flight from Marrakech was delayed five hours, deferring our arrival till 3 a.m. No sooner had we landed than we were whisked through landing formalities as if by way of apology, arriving at our Gracia unit within half an hour of landing – surely a record. Our AIRBNB host, a kind young woman who had to front up for work the next day, waited at the unit for us to arrive! Simply put, Lisbon is beautiful, and that beauty is not skin deep. Every person we met from our 3 a.m. taxi driver to the helpful locals on public transport were generous of spirit. Lisbon and Lisbonites can ask me for a reference any day.
SURPRISED BY WINNING Inspired by winning an Urban Adventures Facebook Competition for two day tours, which we used in Marrakech (thanks Urban Adventures), I entered and won a 50 word or less Travel.com and Go Do Competition (saying how I would spend the $500 worth of Go Do Vouchers if won). The prize included return flights for two Brisbane-Melbourne and three nights accommodation in a luxurious apartment at The Grand Mercure Flinders Lane.
Turns out I am a very lucky person! I would like to thank Travel.com (and Lauren) who organized the whole trip for us. Everything (including transfers) went off without a hitch. I would also thank Go Do who were very professional and whose Coffee and Laneways tour opened our eyes to the Hidden Secrets of Melbourne. Our friend Jake accompanied us on the tour and we still have $200 worth of vouchers to spend – I feel a Great Barrier Reef Snorkeling Trip out of Port Douglas coming on.
I could not have asked for or planned a better year and I thank all of the people who have read and commented on posts and LIKED THE BTT FACEBOOK PAGE and shared on @BudgetTrvlTalk. I raise my glass to you 2012 – You were a surprising year. If you have done a similar end of year post I would love you to leave a link to it in the comments. Cheers.