The Linney women let loose in Seville for the weekend. We stayed in a small but cosy Air BnB near the centre. A fantastic tour with Devour Seville Tours on the Saturday gave us a brilliant immerse tour through the tastes of Seville from the excellent coffee and Beef Stew Tostadas for breakfast, Iberica Jamon, orange flavoured sweets from the nuns to deep fried Sand Shark and Manzanilla del Fina (dry sherry) and orange wine. Oh, and we dressed up in flamenco outfits too!
Eight years after spending a month there at the beginning of my year (and a bit out) I returned to Buenos Aires to find the city much as I remembered (late night dining, Dulce de leche, good ice cream, lots of walking, romantic tango, raffish architecture, bizarre modern art, corner cafes, beautiful cemeteries, crazy dog walkers) with some good bits added (cycle lanes, thriving street art, closed door restaurants, a giant metal flower).
We stayed in a comfy and spacious Air BnB in a high rise between Palermo and Recoleta which will forever be the place with the life size Storm Trooper helmet.
We pootled around Palermo, Recoleta, San Telmo, the Ecological Reserve with frequent cafe stops. I fell in love with the giant metal flower which opened and closed throughout the day and reflected the evening sunsets on our early evening jogs!
There were tango lessons and tango shows and enjoying tea whilst watching tango in the Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo. We immersed ourselves in the richness of Street Art in Buenos Aires and the amazing murals on two tours with graffitimundo.com (one of them by bike). We’re thoroughly unimpressed by such modern artistic musings as ‘Look at my Mango’ in MALBA.
We flew down to El Calafate in Patagonia for a few days for some fresh air and grand scenery. We stayed in the gorgeous Hotel Esplendor with beautiful views of the lake and town, marred only by the birds chirping loudly at dawn in a nest above our window! We spent a day visiting the Perito Moreno Glacier and ice trekking over deep blue icy ravines and drinking cheap whisky with and a second a wonderful day horse riding with cabalgatasdelglaciar.com over the most breathtaking scenery and enjoying an asado in a forest glen.
On the third day we experienced an unusual turn of weather for the time of year. A light flurry of snow in the late afternoon soon became a heavy snowfall. The last sound before drifting off to sleep was the sounds of our porters brushing settling snow from the tops of all our tents. We woke to a winter wonderland. Blue skies, bright sunshine and over four inches of crunchy virginal snow. The ponies were huddled under the trees looking decidedly unimpressed along with a heard of yaks that had wondered onto the plateau the previous evening. We ate breakfast in the open air at our campaign table surrounded by white peaks and blue skies. Although beautiful the snow meant we had to head back down the valley. This was fine until we got below the snow line and then had a three hour slip and slide through thick mud before reaching the bottom!
Bhutan. The Land of the Thunder Dragon. One of the world’s youngest democracies, a hidden kingdom nestled in the Himalayas between China, India and Nepal. A small population of people who believe in the importance of Gross National Happiness, driving economical growth but preserving their culture and ecosystems and who wear traditional dress while driving to work in their new Japanese cars. Where century-old monasteries nestle on the precipices of towering cliff faces, prayer flags flutter on the slopes above the towns, and demons and saints walk through the everyday stories of the country’s history and culture.
Our trip began with one of the most unexpectedly unsettling landings I have ever experienced in a plane. I hadn’t been aware that Paro airport in Bhutan is one of the most dangerous airports to land in the world and few pilots are qualified to make the landing. The sharp turn during the dissent whilst almost on the runway and the very sharp breaking was a bit of a shock to the system.
Our trip began in Paro, nestled into the Paro valley, populate by large traditional Bhutanese houses with painted wooden eaves, white walls and painted animals on their walls. We visited the Paro festival, an annual Buddhist celebration of music and dancers, and one extremely large scroll. The locals (and tourists) gathered in huge numbers in their finest traditional dress to watch the vibrant performances. We even got to briefly see the King, coming out of the Paro Dzong on the final day of the festival he stopped to talk to the waiting crowd and thanked us, eagerly hovering near the front, for visiting his country!
From Paro we spent a day visiting the beautifully if perilously situated Tiger’s Nest Monastery. It was a steep but scenic climb up the hillside past woods and fluttering prayer flags to reach this Buddhist sanctuary gazing out across the valley.
Our final activity in China was to take a two day hiking trip out onto the Great Wall. It’s hard to really describe the incredible feat of construction that is the Great Wall of china. We visited a rather secluded area at jinxou where the wall has not been restored so the surrounding forest is crawling over parts, erupting through the stone and crumbling sections into the countryside. The wall itself follows the highest ridge as it zigs and zags over the hill tops creating the most incredible views and routes.
Every watchtower we reached and every corner of the wall we turned seem to open up a completely new and equally stunning view of the wall. We camped overnight in the shadow of wall and the next day had the ‘adventurous’ part of the hike. Sections of the wall narrow so much you can grab both sides with your hands and so steep you struggle to get up each tall narrow step. On the other side of the wall the forest drops straight down into the valley hundreds of meters below. Parts of the wall has also almost completely crumbled away. Instead of steps a near vertical wall of uneven rock face confronts you. So we did some hair raising rock climbing, scrambling through the forest and gazing down at vertigo inducing views.
Beijing looks and feels very different to shanghai. The skit line is less dominated by huge skyscrapers, there are more traditional buildings, more traffic, and the mandarin is layered with rrr’s, almost as if the Chinese came via Cornwall. I’d picked the Emperor hotel as the Roof terrace over looked the forbidden city and up to Jingshing hill. Our room was named, as all the rooms, after a Chinese emperor. Ours Chong Zhen, the last emperor of the Ming dynasty who famously hanged himself from a tree in Jinshin park.
Our next day we walked up to the temple atop this park to look down overt the rooftops of the forbidden city, via trying on some rather fetching outfits, before spending the rest of the day walking in the footsteps of courtesans, eunuchs and emperors of five hundred years ago.
Beijing has many faces. From the beautifully tiled buildings and sculpted gardens of the forbidden city, to the traditional grey stone Hutongs creating hidden mazes and courtyards, quiet lakes, to the high rise glass towers downtown where we had amazing Peking duck at DaDong, to the red lantern lined Ghost street with steaming bowls of Mongolian hot pot. We also went out to an art district on the outskirts of the city centre called District 798 with Viv and Trevor. A huge area or former industrial buildings and factories that now house sculptures, galleries, cafes and shops.