Andalusia, Spain

Whilst in southern Spain, we took a little road trip from Seville to explore the landscapes, from the dry hinterland to the breezy Mediterranean coast, and of course the famous white hilltop towns of Andalusia. Our route took us firstly to Vejer de la Frontera, where we explored its quaint narrow streets and marvelled at the beautiful whitewashed houses, whilst enjoying an ice-cream with the locals in the heat of the clear summer’s day. Next we headed to Zahara de los Atunes, hoping to soak in some sun and cool off in the clear Mediterranean (we were unfortunately a bit disappointed, as the strong southern African winds made sunbaking rather unpleasant). Next stop was the historic seaside town of Cadiz. Being more sheltered from the winds, we enjoyed a tasty lunch by the beach, and spent the remainder of the afternoon lazing in the sun and bathing in the enticingly cool sea. We head back to Seville at dusk, making a quick stop at Arcos de la Frontera for an afternoon snack before watching the sun set over the freeway.

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Essentials:

Getting there:
We hired a car from the Europcar office at Seville train station. With a GPS is quite easy to find your way around Andalusia. Going south from Seville, take the E-5/AP-4 freeway and this connects you to minor roads throughout Andalusia. There are so many hilltop and seaside towns to visit in this area, each being unique and all of which have their own beauty. Do a bit of research on where you want to go and what you want to see, as there are so many places it is difficult to choose. If these is something interesting on the side of the road, stop and take some photos too! I wish we had a few more days exploring the rural and coastal areas, and the little towns of Andalusia, as it was so interesting and beautiful.

Eat:Andalusia has some amazing food. In small towns, try to discover where the locals eat. These will probably be the best places, as they will hopefully be using local and fresh produce. On the coast, always try the seafood. Remember, it can get extremely hot in Andalusia during the summer months, so keep hydrated with lots of water and I always tuck into a few ice-creams too! Track down some local gelatarias.

 

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Jervis Bay, Australia

Last weekend my boyfriend and I did a quick road trip to Jervis Bay, on the southern coast of NSW, Australia. We were fortunate enough to have fantastic weather, which was perhaps the last of the warm days before autumn and winter set in. Having never been to Jervis Bay, I wasn’t too sure what to expect. Although I had heard marvelous reports about the place, I was pleasantly surprise to be awe-struck by the natural beauty of the area. The literally crystal clear ocean, which was a beautiful aqua colour as it glistened in the sun; the sandy white beaches, one of which, Hyams Beach, is recorded in the Guiness World Record Book as having the whitest sand in the world; and all the flora and fauna – aside from lush forests, we saw wallabies, kangaroos, dolphins and various sea birds in their natural habitats.

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Here are a few things which are a must do in Jervis Bay:

Visit Booderee National Park: Located at the southern end of the bay, no visit to Jervis Bay is complete without visiting the beaches and walking tracks of this national park. Make sure you pay the $11 entry fee upon entering, to avoid paying a fine, but this is a small price to pay to experience such exquisite natural beauty. The day we visited, a strong southerly wind was blowing, so we kept to the sheltered beached on the bay side of the park. I highly recommend Green Patch and Murray’s Beach as ideal swimming spots. Particularly Murray’s Beach, which is much smaller and I consider to be more beautiful. There are also some spectacular ocean beaches, such as Caves Beach, which we unfortunately didn’t have the chance to experience properly, due to the gale force winds. There are also plenty of bushwalking tracks through the park. Perhaps more enticing in the winter months, when the lure of the beach isn’t so gravitating. For those who like a bit of history, a visit to the ruins of Cape St. George Lighthouse may be on order. One of the earliest lighthouses on the NSW coast, it was built in 1860 on the wrong side of the bay, and was actually a navigational hazard and had to be demolished.

Dolphin & Whale Watching Cruises: One thing that brings many people to Jervis Bay, aside from its beaches and parkland, is dolphin watching in summer and whale watching in the winter months. There are a number of companies, located in Huskisson, the largest town in the bay, which offer cruises around the bay and just outside of the heads, in the hope of seeing dolphins or whales. The chance of seeing dolphins in the bay is relatively high, since there is a population of about 80 dolphins which call Jervis Bay home. During the migratory period of the whales, between May and November, whales can be seen outside of the heads, and during October it is common for whales to bring their calves into the bay itself.

Shopping & Eating: Jervis Bay has a variety of great restaurants and quaint boutique stores. Spend some time sampling the cuisine and doing a bit of window shopping.
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Essentials:

Getting there:
From Sydney, you have two main options for getting to Jervis Bay – the quick option or the scenic one. The quick option is to take the Princes Highway/Motorway, which takes approximately 2.5-3 hours from Sydney CBD. The other option is to take The Grand Pacific Drive, turning off the highway in Surtherland, going through the Royal National Park, along the coast through Wollongong, Port Kembla, Kiama, etc. The scenery on this route is breathtaking, but it adds a good hour or so to the drive. We took a little longer as we stopped to visit Nan Tien Buddhist Temple and the Kiama Blowhole.

Stay:
There is a plethora of accommodation options in Jervis Bay – from camping to five star holiday apartments. I would have like to have stayed at Paperbark Camp, but being a bit budget conscious, we stayed at a small motel in Huskisson. It was close to the beach, close to shops and restaurants, had clean rooms, and all we needed was a place to sleep as we were out and about all day long.

Eat:
We had an amazing meal at The Waterhouse. The food was fresh, creative and beautifully presented. And the atmosphere, decor and table service were second to none. Although a little pricey if you’re on a budget, main meals were around the $30 mark, I wouldn’t hesitate to spend that money on such an exquisite meal.
For breakfast options, don’t go past the Huskisson Bakery & Cafe. They have a vast array of breads, pastries, pies, sandwiches, cakes, yogurts, etc. Perfect for a quick breakfast or a satisfying snack before heading to the beach for the day.

Cordoba, Spain

In the very heart of Andalusia is the quaint little town of Cordoba. The town has been given a prominent position on the tourist map of Spain thanks to its Mezquita (I’m sure you’ve all seen those red and white striped arches in any Spanish travel brochure). But there is much more to Cordoba – it is a town rich in culture, history, architecture, cuisine and home of the best hospitality that we had during our travels around the European continent.

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I can’t begin this post without a little bit of information about the Mezquita (it is, I guess, the main reason why anyone visits Cordoba during their travels through southern Spain). The Mezquita was built in 786, during the Muslim rule of Andalusia, as a Islamic mosque. The origins of the mosque can be seen by the red and white stripped arches that dominate the interior of the building. After the Reconquista, work immediately went underway to convert the mosque into a Christian cathedral. What is interesting is that they kept islamic elements of the building and create a cathedral with Christian designs and motifs in the centre. I found this juxtaposition rather interesting, seeing the way in which the Christians re-asserted their power in Andalusia, by taking over Islamic buildings, as if they were directly mocking the previous ‘owners’. Wikitravel eloquently expresses that,

At the center of the building, the Cathedral towers over the rest of the building, and the transition from the impressive-but-intimate mosque structure to the overwhelming awe of the cathedral is abrupt and rather jarring, but don’t let that stop you from taking in the beauty of the cathedral, with its rich decoration and well-illuminated interior, standing to suggest triumph over the Muslims who previously used this building. The presence of the cathedral also offers the unique opportunity to so easily compare the differences between Muslim and Christian architecture.

This is exactly the impression I felt during my experience in the interior space of the Mezquita. I recommend you visit the Mezquita early in the day in order to experience its magnificence before the hoards of tourists arrive. Apparently, entry is free before 10am on Sundays, but I tried to take advantage of this, but unfortunately I had to pay. I’m not sure where this ‘rumour’ generated.

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Another building of great importance in Cordoba is the Alcazar de los Reyes Christianos. It was originally the home of the Islamic rulers in Cordoba, which like the Mezquita, was taken over by the Christian monarchs Ferdinand and Islabella. Much of the interiors are now bare, but the Alcazar has some impressive gardens and from the watch tower, you have a beautiful view over the old town of Cordoba.

Although I wasn’t in Cordoba in May, I have been told that the best time to visit the city is during the Festival de Patios. During two weeks in May, many of the residents of Cordoba open their houses for people to visit their beautiful courtyards. Many buildings in the old town are constructed around courtyards, many of which are meticulously looked after and decorated. Make sure you book accommodation well in advance though, as rooms get booked out extremely quickly.

One must do activity whilst touring Andalusia is visiting one of the many Hammams (Islamic baths). During the height of summer, it gets a little too hot to meander around cities and do all your sight-seeing activities. This is best left to early in the morning, or late in the afternoon. Midday is the time for a siesta, or spending a few hours relaxing and re-energising in the Hammam. We decided to splurge and spent a few hours at the beautiful Hammam Banos Arabes. The idea is to rotate between the three baths, the cold one at 18 degrees, the warm one at 36 degrees and the hot one at 40 degrees. It is thought to improve circulation and be beneficial for general well-being. In the Hammam, you can also enjoy the sauna and sip all the mint tea you want. We left the Hammam feeling revitalised and ready for more late nights and action-packed days of travelling.

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By far the best part of our stay, and worth a mention, was our accommodation and the hospitality we received at Cordoba Bed and Be. This was by far the best hostel we stayed in during our travels. It was AMAZING! Not only was the interior decor beautiful, the 1933 apartment building was amazingly restored (the hostel is located on 3 levels of the building), the hostel was centrally located only a few hundred metre from the old town, the extra little details, such as a couple of carnations on our freshly laundered towels made us feel at home, and the hospitality was incomparable with anywhere else we stayed. Jose, the young owner of the hostel, made us feel more than welcome, and almost part of his family. During our two night stay, we met his mother, father and hung out with his friends on the rooftop playing drinking games until 3am. On our second evening, Jose organised a bicycle/tapas tour of the town, with a few of the hostel guests which was fanstastic. He was such an amazing host, being so full of information, so happy to help and he went out of his way to make sure our stay in Cordoba was perfect. This hostel comes highly recommended. I’d even visit Cordoba just to experience Cordoba Bed and Be.
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If you’re a bit of a party animal, I recommend a visit to Sojo Riberia, located by the river, on the edge if the old town. This funky and beautifully designed nightclub seems like the place to be seen. We enjoyed great cocktails, with a beautiful view over the river from the balcony. Not the best if you’re after a quiet drink, but if you want to get up and dance, meet new people and have an amazing view, it’s worth checking out.
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Essentials:

Getting there:
There are regular buses and trains from Cordoba to other cities in Andalusia, such as Granada and Serville. It’s about a one and a half hour train trip, or a two and a half hour bus trip for about 10 or 15 euros. The high-speed train takes 20 minutes and cost 20 euros if you’re in a rush, but remember you’re in Andalusia and no one here is in a rush. The bus and train stations are located in the new part of town, but just ask for a map at the information office, or ask from direction to the ‘centro historico’ and you’ll easily find your way.

Stay:
Cordoba Bed and Be. Possibly the best hostel in Europe. Immaculately clean rooms, beautifully decorated interior, comfortable beds, air-conditioning, simple breakfast, well located, an amazing host, simple little extra details such as flowers on the freshly laundered towels, just staying there makes you feel at home. Perhaps it is not the best place to stay if you’re after a party hostel, but that is the only negative drawcard. Definitely a hostel which you must experience. And 40 euros for a private, double room – you can’t do much better than that.

Eat:
Spanish Omelette at Bar Santos, Magistral Gonzalez Frances, 3. Get a piece to take away and eat it on the steps of the Mezquita. It was the best Spanish Omelette I tried in Spain. And don’t forget to ask for the homemade tomato sauce. It’s the icing on the cake.

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