Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Day Nine: Argentina – Cordoba, A bustling second city

 It was restored but unfortunately while the restoration provided a glimpse of history much of the truth seemed missing. The central palace too had undergone major modern refurbishment hinting at a contradiction in terms of maintaining architectural heritage….

Arriving at a bustling bus terminal correctly indicates this as the second largest city, Cordoba. The university town near the middle of Argentina close to the entrance of the wine country is built across flat fields of an agricultural economy. Stepping first onto the main street circling the city the yellow taxis mark an emblem for Cordoba. An army of these yellow vehicles line every street and prepare for onslaught at each junction.
On initial inspection among semi-rise new builds and spontaneous coffee bars are grandiose buildings marking Argentine heritage – a mix of historic cultures paraded around the main square – Plaza San Martin. By 9am the day’s heat is evidently creeping towards the 30’s as locals reach for the shade cigarette in hand on the way to work.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Day Eight: Argentina – A journey from Resistencia, the buses

Having stupidly chosen a window seat and my partner sound asleep to my right I evaluated my route to the toilet in the underside cabin. It seemed simple, just climb over him into the aisle. However remembering the width of the seats this would require me to perform the near splits while leaping from my side to the target zone…

The bus system in Argentina is extraordinary. A network of buses meander across the entire country taking travellers to their intended destination using the long straight highways connecting the towns and cities. Many companies operate routes day and night, giving you the advantage of saving on a hotel and sleeping on their bed-like seats called – semi-cases. The second trip we took, Resistencia – Cordoba was a 12-hour drive that we intended to do by night. http://www.omnilineas.com/

On leaving Resistencia it wasn’t long before we were served our first meal. An entrée in the form of a thick Argentine style ham sandwich (no crust of course) followed by a plate of dried biscuits, plus a hot dish consisting of potato puree (mashed potato) and garlic chicken (a huge breast) accompanied by red wine.

We polished off the meal rather quickly in earnest to delve into a deep sleep.

Stretched out across their semi-camas these seats are the desired form for a 12-hour flight. The ability to be stretched back 120 degrees with raised leg rests and enough width that will make a lard-arse American happy, complimented by a pillow and blanket it didn’t take long before a sweet sleep set-in.

The bus continued on its night-drive through the great plains of Argentina passing the odd truck like lonely wanderers adamant not to lose a single second. It’s air conditioning kept the interior a mild temperature protecting us from the 25 degree + outside in the dead of night! However it also meant an incredibly dry mouth – fortunately thoughtful planning and resourcefulness we had packed a large bottle of water – gulping this throughout the night for rehydration. But the result of a lot of water intake is of course a full bladder.

Having stupidly chosen a window seat and my partner sound asleep to my right I evaluated my route to the toilet in the underside cabin. It seemed simple, just climb over him into the aisle. However remembering the width of the seats this would require me to perform the near splits while leaping from my side to the target zone. Another hurdle, the person in front of him was lying at full tilt, if that went hazardously wrong and I lost my balance falling one way or another no doubt would have caused them a rude awakening and a 6’1” man landing on their lap. My plan therefore would be to spring from one foot over balancing myself by thrusting my head forward to ensure the correct direction of travel. While feeling confident with this new approach the bus jaunted a couple of times on rough road. To which I could see myself falling head first into the aisle and knocking myself - out only to wet myself in the process.

-       Therefore, I decided I had to hold it in until morning!

Bus to Cordoba: AR$285 http://www.omnilineas.com/

Day Seven: Argentina – Resistencia the heat trap

We chose a dilapidating hostel – Bariloche – another mistake; we should have taken the slightly more expensive but breakfast inclusive 3 star hotel….

Contemplating our next leg was a bit difficult; to Posadas or Resistencia? Reflecting on the journey we realised that perhaps we did the trip backwards – it would have been better doing everything back to front as we had planned; just to avoid stopping in Posadas or Resistencia.

It was true, there was nothing in either of the cities but we had to make the choice and Resistencia it was. Arriving late on the Sunday – greeted by huge frogs and bare streets. We chose a dilapidating hostel – Bariloche – another mistake; we should have taken the slightly more expensive but breakfast inclusive 3 star hotel.

Next day we left with bags on our backs to navigate the city – actually town – no lets just call it a large village with one central square/plaza and nothing but TWO museums. Actually one you couldn’t really call a museum – a place of cultural interest, a memory of Resistencia after the war; a home to local artists – a commemoration of its rich owner. The second museum was more a representation of the guilt of its repressive actions the Argentines had on the indigenous people.

By 2pm – that was it. The town was shut to all. Bars, restaurants, museums (yes the two), were all closed as locals fled from the dead heat of the bare sky as the sun forced its heat into every crack beneath its glare. The siesta ended our relationship with Resistencia – but being way too early to catch our coach we found a hotel with a pool; paid a fee for the room and sunk into the cooler waters to wait for the hours to go by.

Resistencia – quite a heat trap!

Breakfast for two: AR$44
Museum: AR$5
Hotel with Pool (half day) AR$110
Bus to bus terminal: AR$2

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

England - Dorset: A real English cheese festival

Dorset has a lot going for it; a stunning Jurassic coastline, historical monuments and medieval ruins, golden beaches, quaint traditional cottages and summer's packed full of events as Brits and Europeans seek a quiet break. This idyllic landscape setting is like reading Beatrix Potter - the familiar villages have grasped it's unique cultural heritage and repackaged it as events with rabbits perched on their hind legs peering in wishing to be part of the action!

Check the event calendar of the Daily Echo of Bournemouth and you'll find The Real Ale and Cider Festival, The Dorset Steamfair, Bournefree and The Dorset Cheese Festival, to name just a few. My Facebook status proved that even locals can be amazed at the different events in Dorset.

I booked the date with my parents and godson and drove down to Sturminster Newton first thing - left London at 8am, stopping at Stonehenge for a photo on the way, and we were there by 10.30am. While British weather cannot be guaranteed I've learnt in recent years that September is humid, moist, blustery with frequent outbreaks of intense sunshine - call it four seasons in one day!

Friday, 9 September 2011

Day Six: Argentina – or Not? Mission!!!

The table was draped in cloth that had seen better days – and cutlery that had had more mouths wrapped around them than a rent boys appendage…

Jesuit Missionary Ruins were next. Hopped on a coach – 5 hours – dropped at the side of a bare motorway. Where were we? The bus station seemed abandoned except for a few Argentine ladies babysitting traveller’s bags who were visiting the Missionary Ruins. http://www.welcomeargentina.com/posadas/san-ignacio-ruins.html

On walking the red dirt track to the village under unforgiving sunshine baring an unbelievable heat we sought refuge at the first restaurant (also to restore our stomachs). The empty 1970s restaurant was painted pink and the fridge in the corner running from a generator flickered on and off. A 60-something year old man enthusiastically greeted us. [We choose a table near the entrance for a swift exit should someone appear with a bloodstained apron and meat clever.] The table was draped in cloth that had seen better days – and cutlery that had had more mouths wrapped around them than a rent boys appendage.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

France - a week to learn French, Video

I knew my summer holiday was going to be different the moment I made the decision not to follow my partner for a 10 day jungle break in Venezuela but to spend a week with friends in the South of France. It was time to learn french, delve into the language, culture and people - exploring the country in another language.

I headed to Draigignon, flying London City Airport - Toulons - friends picked me up for the one-hour journey to the 1,000 year old historic town in the countryside just in from the coast of Frejus and Saint Rapheal. Arriving on the Sunday afternoon we headed for a beach picnic with several other accomplishes.

The sun set; the sea a warm 26 degrees and the sand still emitting the heat of the day's 37 degree sun rays. Volley ball, swimming with beer, salad and cheese was like being in paradise.

The Monday was the start of my french. My teacher Anne persuaded me to start early, 9am and I had to be ready and raring to go. It was time to put 18 months of basic learning to the test and take this ability one step further - question and sentence forming. Throwing in various verb conjugations, vocabulary caused peculiar sounds to come from my lips creating a somewhat furrowed brow on Anne's fore-head.

I was speaking Franglais! The 90-minute lesson vanished and I was soon back at the flat bashing new words around my head. My hosts, two wonderful ladies, took me shopping and to the beach - it was time to tune into the sound of french. We basked in the sun before heading home for a workout (where I nearly killed them) followed by dinner.

Tuesday - I was more determined. Learning another language is hard especially when being me - I love to talk and discuss. It was the day to start digesting vocabulary and using sentence formations; new challenges of past and future started fooling my brain.

10.30am - and I headed to catch the bus to Frejus to bask in the sun again. I ordered a salad, asked for change and listened to my Learn French by podcast - words were starting to emerge from the noises and I was actually beginning to 'get' what they were saying.

That evening was pizza and french film night. So we indulged in light-comedy washing it down with some local wine.

Wednesday's class was pretty similar to the day before, yet that evening I was taken to some friends for a BBQ, there I was at a dinner table with 12 non-English speaking french. All fine, I can do this! Suddenly words were sprawling from my mouth, maybe slow and considered and well slightly off-key but a new confidence welled inside me.

Thursday I left the class grasping sheets and sheets of new vocabulary. It was as though my personal trainer was trying to beat that extra scoop of ice cream from my body - giving those brain cells a bit more muscle. That day I spent in town and decided to do some shopping; I bought some vegetables from the market, chatted to the manager of the shoe shop and negotiated a deal with the man in the sunglasses shop. That evening, we took Anne for dinner in the Port of Frejus before calling the extensive day's learning to an end.

I was learning a lot about life in a town in the warmth of the South french countryside. This was not London and certainly not England. Friday I challenged myself to ask for a haircut, and 15 minutes later I was left with the barnet of my choice! (Though it could have gone horribly wrong).

Saturday I headed to Paris to meet Francois and head to Evron in the West of France. Deep in the countryside this little farming town is a place I have visited three other times. Introduced to 40th birthday celebrations with 150 french all in exuberent moods - well I struggled, further the accent is somewhat different...hmmmm - challenge number 2!

We danced til daylight before collapsing back at the farm in a deep sleep.

France - yet to return!