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About the Author
Peter McNeil works for himself in Australia where he is a programmer. Peter has cobbled together a few web sites in his time such as:
act.greens.org.au
cjugaustralia.org
karunyachildrendshome.org
You can find Peter's resume here. (you'll need a PDF reader like Acrobat Reader to read it)

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2004-09-04 13:20:00-04

Here we are in Lisbon (Portugal). We travelled by train to Seville, then extremely cramped bus to Faro in south Portugal where we stayed over night. Faro is described as a transport hub, a place to get to the Algarve beaches, not a destination in itself. So our spending one night there was plenty, but I quite liked the place. It's laid back, but has nice little restaurants and a fair bit of character. It kind of reminds me of batemans bay a bit.

Lisbon is a big city. It sits on the Rio Tejo which is very big, looks as big, or bigger than Sydney Harbour and has a very impressive Golden Gate style suspension bridge over it. Lisbon has everything that comes with a big city unfortunately. We've never been offered drugs so many times just walking down the street! There are lots of beggars and homeless here, many disabled too, you'd think a country that used to rule the waves with Briton and Spain would be able to provide better social services.

Last night we went looking for somewhere to eat. So we walked up to a place near our hotel and found a small place that smelled good. They packed people in, so we were sitting with a Belgium Mother and Daughter who we managed to have a good conversation with about pets travelling and Belgium beer. Today we went up to the castle on the hill, Castelo S. Jorge, a typical fortress style castle with walls. There's not much detail left, just walls and towers. There are restaurants and shops built into it, as well as a multimedia museum which we didn't go into.

OK now I'm really feeling quite homesick, we were told yesterday morning that our house had been broken into for the second time in eight years. Because the dead locks and window bolts did work they smashed the sliding glass door with a spade. They also scared Lucy off by breaking the gate, poor Lucy. Gemma ran away and we haven't heard yet if she has turned up. Three weeks to go and I'm seriously considering cutting the trip short... and I'm sick of cigarette smoke

Man, it's all rather depressing, Russian children with parents held hostage and hundreds killed, a mega Hurrican heading toward Florida and 2.5 million people evacuated I wonder if my Aunty Rey has been evacuated... Yeesh! I want my comfy bed! I want my moochy cats! I want George Bush and John Howard to loose their elections! Well OK I always want those things it's just heightened right now

It's raining, so we're going to organise the next three weeks and get our act together wich will involve a couple of hour in an internet "cafe" place. I saw a story on the birthday of Internet Cafes last night, and how they weren't that popular in the UK, hmm could it be something to do with them costing 6 pounds an hour, while the library has free access? I'm going to start a chain of Cafe con Internet, comfortable cafes with internet access not a heap of crap computers in a dingey, smokey room with a coke machine if you're lucky.

OK that's enough whinging for one day, my back hurts.

ciao

P.S. Just heard Gemma is safe and well.

2004-08-29 11:16:00-04

Granada is hot and dry, but it's kinda growing on us. It's just a big country town on the edge of semi arid desert, and apart from the major tourist attraction, the Alhambra, there is only a small old town area to look at. Seville seems much bigger, and on the day we went, much hotter. The signs on the Farmacias and road advertising signs variously reckoned it was 38 to 44 degrees, it felt hotter.

We discovered the other day that there is a fast train to Seville from Madrid that takes only two hours, compared to the six hours from Madrid to Granada. Now considering it's 400km as the crow flies from Madrid to Granada or Seville, and Granada to Seville is 200km, you'll realise that the train tracks that service Granada are crap. It took us three hours to get from Granada to Seville. Interestingly, and one shouldn't dwell on these things, you could take the fast train to Seville and the train from Seville to Granada (200km extra) with one hour less traveling time. Looking at the track on the way to Seville it was as wonky, cracked and crumbling as an Australian train track. Australia needs good trains.

Whilst I'm prattling on about transport, we decided taking a six hour trip back to Madrid then an overnight train to Lisbon (Portugal) that we'd try something different. We're taking the three hour train back to Seville and then a bus to Faro (in Portugal) staying the night there, then catching something like four different trains to Lisbon, it's quicker! Factoring the accommodation in Faro means it'll probably cost more, but we also get to see somewhere else.

So like we said we went to Seville, and it was hot. We were only there for about six hours due to the long train trip there and back so we decided to try the "Hop on Rip off" bus as Tracey calls it. It is quite expensive, but if you don't have too much time it gets you around everything so you can decide what to look at. Needless to say Seville has a crazy cathedral, which was shut, but the Moorish decoration and design on the outside was cool. One of the things about their design was that although it seems to have symmetry everything is different. For example you'll have four towers on the outside of a square section but they're all completely different in design.

A highlight of the architecture in Spain and especially Seville is the ceramics. Tiles and glazed decorations on everything. Gaudi used it to great effect on the towers of the Segrada Famila in Barcelona. In Seville there are wonderful tiles with Moorish and Islamic patterns everywhere. Unfortunately without taking close up shots, they don't come out well in the picture at the lower resolutions I'm using for the web, but I've put some examples up anyway including a four story building end on, that has a different design on each floor.

Ceramics go crazy at the Plaza de Espana. This place is absolutely impressive, even in the being restored state it is in now. Due to be completed this year, we doubt they'll make it. When we were there it was like 50 degrees, standing next to the fountain in the middle was blissfully cool. Normally there is a semi moat full of water in the plaza, but it was dry while they restore under the bridges. That would just make this place. The glazed ceramic hand rails and balustrades on the bridges, ceramic paintings, wood carved and inlaid ceilings on the balcony, are all really impressive. Add to all that the scale for grandure towers on either end with glossy ceramic tiled roofs and wow.

So this potential major tourist attraction is just a government office. largely unloved and not well looked after. Obviously someone thought they should restore it as they are, but to have the ministry for the environment inside, what a waste. Actually, the whole of Seville is a wasteland of Expos passed. The Plaza de Espana is from an Expo like thing 200 odd years ago.

They held the world Expo in Seville, and the bus tour gave you the impression that that sort of thing has been their main claim to fame, apart from being a trading hub to the Americas which was something to do with a young Christopher Columbus being from around there. The shame of it all is that there are hundreds of impressivish looking Expo buildings that are really in need of looking after. They have started putting businesses in them, but they probably don't have enough of those with money for maintenance. It all looks neglected, rusted and overgrown, but the tourist buses still troll through saying this was the impressive Blah Blah pavilion of the 1982 world Expo, what a waste.

Yesterday we got up early to pick up our reserved tickets to visit the Alhambra. The Alhambra is a Fortress city and Palaces that date from before the 9th century and was built upon through the Christian take over in the 14th century. It's all rather confusing really. Europe has a long history where a good spots to live and defend yourself are built upon and re-built upon. The Alhambra, which apparently means "the red", which no body really knows why it is called that, was a fortified stronghold of the Moors, the last remaining Muslim spot in Europe. The Nasrid Royalty, the Muslim emir/sultan duds (Yusuf I and his son Muhammad V), agreed to be friends with the Christian king dude, which let them be until the Catholics got tetchy and eventually took over.

However it all came to be , it is pretty cool. There are no paintings of people, no "Madonna con Bambinos", because the Muslim idea of not personifying what is god or attributing these thing to people. They instead use intricate patterns based in mathematical forms and calligraphic writings to decorate and espouse the beauty of "it all". The effect is stunning, and it would have been more so if the original colours were still there. They use plaster work for what look like walls writhing with patterns, ah just look at the pictures... Another difference with western/Christian stuff is that they use a lot more still water for reflective purposes, water doesn't make noise.

The Alhambra was built on by both Muslim and Christian, so you can see the differences in culture and design side by side, especially in the gardens. For example the use of water as a reflective element in the Moorish bits and the big splashy water jets in the Christian bits. Anyway the Alhambra is definitely worth a look if anyone is coming over this way in the future.

There should be lots of photos up by the way, and for those that understand, there is now a special 23 project underway, see the 23 category in pictures. ciao

2004-08-27 07:16:00-04

Madrid and Barcelona are big cities, much like Sydeny and Melbourne. Mardrid is a city of governement a bit like Canberra in its centre. You don't get to see the burbs travelling around, you get to see the tourist bits, the bits that are different or that peoples like you to see. Travelling by train, as we're doing now while I write this you get to see a little more, though they have been showing a movie on the TV's in this nice first class carrage. Coming into and out of Madrid you see quite a lot of factories and it has a real industrial feel to it.

The scenery on the way down to Granada as I look out the window is rural semi arid landscape. You don't seem much of what you visuallize as Spanish country, not really desert, though they are irrigating a lot around here and the display at the front of the cabin says it's 40 degrees out there. Billions of olive trees, it makes the olive groves in Itally and elsewhere look piffling. The ground is dry, currently chalky looking. We just passed a massive pumping house for irrigation from what looked like a smallish river.

We've run out of electric power for the train, so they changed us over to a diesel engine for the first time in Europe. Wind power is a big thing here in Europe, and there are escarpments here with dozens of large wind turbines everywhere, no boubt pushed ahead by good govenrment policy in countries where coal and oil need to be imported. Thankfully Chernoble has made it politically impossible to use nuclear power here.

It's funny how some things play out... Sunday we tried to go to an art gallery called Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (Queen Sofias art) which the Lonely Planet told us was open from 2.30pm to 7pm on Saturday and Sunday. We got there 2.30pm sharp on Sunday, and it was closed. It was open 10am to 2.30pm, oh well . On Monday we were going to Toledo (you know, "Holy Toledo") to see the holy stuff and Don Quixoti stuff. We got to the station in plenty of time, but the RENFE has a special way of selling tickets to places like Toledo, very slowly. There was no way we'd make the 10.30 train and there wasn't another till 3pm and it takes one and a half hours to get there, and the last train leaves at 6.45pm so there was no point... damn. The Arte Reina Sofia was near by, but we thought it was closed Mondays. We decided to check anywa and, lowe and behold, it was open, so we got to see Picasso's Guernica and a lot of other cool stuff. This was the day after "the Scream" by Edvard Munch was stoled, so security was edgy and there were three guards around Guernica, spooky.

Ooow, we just passed some train carrages at, I think it was Toreda, that looked like something had exploded in them. This town is a bit of a train graveyard, I was wondering why we were going so slowly.

Well we're here at Granada. Our hotel that we chose because it has wireless internet, dosen't actually have wireless internet connection, hmm. Granada is hot, dusty, smokey and windy, lovely really. We went for our customary orientation walk, all the way up to the Alahmbra, a walled religious forty thing. Then we went looking for a supermarket. The people here must just smoke, and eat shoes. There are about 700 shoe shops to every supermarket. If Madrid has the most pubs/bars per square metre then Granada has the most shoe shops.

We had a look at the Cathedral here in Granada today. It has one of the coolest looking completely overdone organ we've seen so far (see photo). I'd love to here them play that thing. There is an interesting 3D mural thing sort of more than a relief scuplure of the king on a horse that is treading on what must be a Muslim bloke with a shield. The Muslims were here before the Christians and are responsile for the Morish architecture around the place. The king is surrounded by two Catholic arch bishops and looked down apon by the mother Mary who, one presumes, is giving her blessing.

We're taking a day trip to Seville tomorow, which looks like a longish day, got to catch a train at 8.21 in the morning, better get some shut-eye.

ciao

2004-08-22 08:19:00-04

Ah the Spanish, what are they like then? I'm not really sure. The ones we've met are really very nice, but then again they're generally expecting us to pay for something. Then again the service in Italy wasn't always freindly. The Spanish are less expressive than the Italians and more laid back. So far we've just been to big cities, Barcelona and Madrid. In cities the people are much the same, the things that differentiate people from different countries are a couple of cutural icons, like bull fighting and Tapas. The Mediterainian summer time means that a lot of things happen at night, late at night. Early morning and siesta periods are very quiet, even in the city.

The spanish language, though similar in many ways to Italian and French, something to do with being invaded/part of them for long periods, is much softer than Italian. It doesn't sound like the Spanish are having arguments all the time. They also accent differnt sylibles, the Italians always accent the second, in Spanish it seems to change depending on the word, like English. The Spanish don't beep their horns as much as the Italians (or asians in general) either. They are very very quick to beep at you once the light has turned green, but otherwise they're relatively patient.

You catch attidudinal differnces occasisonally, but I think to really pick these things up you need to speak the language reasonably well, or have someone who speaks your language well to have a decent conversation with. Last night we went to a sherry bar, where we sampled the Oloroso that goes into your typical Scotch via the cask that is exported after serving it's time as a sherry cask. I must say I never new there could be a good sherry, amazing. The bar called "the Venencia" is really cool, they serve the sherry out of the cask via a reused bottle that gets put into ice water to cool it down. They write the tab on the bar in chalk while you're enjoying the atmosphere.

Talking about atmosphere, here in Spain it mainly consists of smoke. Everyone smokes, a lot. The place is covered in cigarete butts and packets etc. The city is pretty clean as a whole, which is probably due to the street cleaner machines than to anyone using one of the thousands of bins around here.

The art galleries around here are rather large, after spending all afternoon in the Prado the other day we spent five hours in the Thyssen gallery today. It's a reall achievement to see everything in these places, though you do get rather ruthless, passing by things that don't catch your eye. To think that on the Internet today there is a generation of new art, that doesn't need to manually travel the globe to get renown. The thousands of artists that are out there, and available, is going to make the whole process mind boggling in the future. As it was after todays effort my brain made a dull farting noise at me as we walked back to the hotel, mimicing the sound my feet try to make at me.

I discovered today that you shouldn't eat a large chunk of raw onion having only had a mouthfull of beer since the coissant you had for breakfast (which was like 11:30 am), you tend to throw up immediately, which I did. After that I tried eating some bread then potato thingies then salad then some onion, much better.

ciao

2004-08-20 08:17:00-04

The problem with going to museums like the Picasso Museum, apart from the queues, is that they are so represive. No water, no photos, no farting, no apreciation, don't sit, stand, lean.... OK so the "no farting" is a good rule. Picasso lived in Barcelona as well as France (somewhere, I forget) during various wars, including a few Spanish revolutions, and was basically socialist due to the facists and dictators he had to endure. His work can be quite disturbing, especially the stuff he did as anti-war/peace statements. However the work I like the most involves his pet owl. This was an owl he had that was injured and lived with him while he was alone in France (I think). There are photos of Picasso and his Owl, it's so cute, and the owl turns up again and again in his work.

The museum is good as it takes you from his youth as a budding artist, influenced by his father who was also an artist. Picasso remarked that his father taught him how to draw a dove, you know the peace dove. Picassos peace dove is notably used by Green Peace including the rainbow in the background (am I the only one who didn't know this?).

We went to the beach today (15th August) in Barcelona. The beach, down near Barceloneta, has been reclaimed from industial area and has obviously had river sand imported to make a rather dusty beach. The beach is quite good, no real waves of course and packed with people cooking themselves, lots of women topless just to make sure they're well done and there aren't any raw bits. The water was rather worrying, lots of "stuff" floating in it which didn't engender any confidence in us, so we didn't swim for long.

We got an email update from our freind Jo who is with the Australian Womens Soccer team at the Olympics. You may remember when we were in Athens saying we didn't think the Greeks would make it to the Olympics. Well they seem to have pulled it off, however Jo mentioned they were still covering pipes and putting down turf where they were. Aparently the security is pretty amazing too.

A little later ...

Well I started this blog and then didn't finish it, or put it up, now we're in Madrid!! We decided to take an over night trip to try and make the most of our days and to save a little money in accomodation especially since we've already paid for the Eurail Passes. Not such a great idea we've now decided, we were in a rather uncomfortable cabin, the ones where there are six people, three facing three. The chairs didn't recline properly, and there was a smoking cabin next to ours. As a result we didn't get much (any) sleep. Luckily we could check into our hotel at 9 AM and we promptly had a shower and went to bed till after lunch.

Some of you who are looking at the "Where are we" page will be thinking, "oi they're suposed to be in Granada", well we couldn't get a train ticket, the trains were all booked out, and we'd have to go via Madrid, so we decided to swap it around and stay in Madrid first.

To backtrack a bit, before coming to Madrid we did a day trip to Sitges, south of Barcelona, which is basically a holiday town with beaches. The beaches there are much nicer than Barcelona and the water is much cleaner. These beaches are covered in people, and cigarette butts, the people here see real sand and assume it's an ash tray. Well actually they think everything is an ash tray.

Our hotel here in Madrid is in the Centro area of town, perfectly positioned for just about everything here including the main food, bar, cafe and club area. We got it through ratestogo.com which has been very good. The rates we've got are really good, this three star hotel was 49 euros per night. It doesn't have air-conditioning, which amazingly hasn't been a problem so far. Apparently it's been stinking hot here, like 43 dgrees, but for the last two days it's been quite nice and coolish (about 28 degrees). We have fan in the room so if it warms up we hope that helps.

Last night (18th) we went out and saw some Jazz at Cafe Populart which doesn't have a cover charge, but charges 5 euro for a small beer . Today we went and booked train tickets for Granada (see we do learn) and then spent the rest of the day in the Museo Nacional Del Prado. This is a huge Museum/Gallery, there is too much to see for your brain, eyes and feet to do it in a day really. The highlight for us is the paintings by Bosch, who was doing weird stuff Dali would be proud of 500 years before him. There is a damn lot of classical stuff in there, and it wears you down a bit. Of course Reubins is always good to see, but even he did far too much religious art in my view.

We've been watching the Olympics from the Spanish point of view, which means we barely see Australians compete.The coverage here (even of the spanish competitors) is pretty bad, they don't put scores up or names of the athletes, and they break for 15 minute ad breaks at a crucial part of the game, it's so frustrating. It's enough to make us go out and do something!

ciao

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    2009-06-20 03:32:00-04

    Well I've been looking after the kids for three weeks now... and survived! Many thanks go to Mum for helping out looking after them on Wednesdays :-)

    Ray and Betty have dropped in on their way home from up North where they stayed with Nicki. Going out for Chinese, so better dash.


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