Extremadura road trip: Garganta de los Infiernos & Plasencia

Our first outdoor activity of the holiday took us to Garganta de los Infiernos (‘throats of hell’). On the maps it’s not far away from the bungalows in hervas. In reality, they are located in the next valley, the jerte valley, and require a good hour worth of driving over the hills on narrow serpentine roads. There is a visitor center where you can leave the car and pick a route to your liking.

We arrived around midday and had packed lunch and plenty of water with us. Alex seemingly felt strong when he picked the 16km circular route. He changed his mind quickly though and we ended up hiking to a place called los pilones – a bunch of natural pools formed as the river carved its way through the stone. Beautiful to see and plenty of animals and plants to discuss given there were frequent info boards. Instead of 16km it turned out to be just under 6km. Still a great achievement for my little hiker given 27degress and pure sunshine all the way.

Alex usually doesn’t cope too well with windy roads and already on the way in we had to stop as he felt a little uncomfortable. Hence I picked our return route around the hills and through Plasencia, one of the larger cities in Extremadura. Yet again we were blown away by the beautiful old town (a result of the city’s position along the historic silver route or ruta de la plata). Pictures speak for themselves. We had a little walk around, rested over a tasty ice cream and went shopping before we headed home. No problems sleeping that night ;o)

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Extremadura road trip: Banos de Montemayor & Hervas

On Sunday morning we finally made it to Extremadura. Blazing sunshine and beautiful landscapes welcomed us. The motorways are all new and a pleasure to drive on (would i have put that comment if i hadn’t been in russia all summer?). Alex was keen on the swim i had promised him and so we headed for one of the roman thermal bath on our way.

Banos de Montemayor: hard to miss thue roman bath as the only real attraction in this 700 people village. the name itself gives it away already i guess. There seems to be a new and older facility either side of the main road. We went for what i presume is the older, historical one. About eur10 each for 90min swim in the two pools – swim cap and towel included. We were amongst the youngest guests (alex for sure), as many older folks engaged in underwater physio. Felt really good after the swim and even better after a bite nearby.

Hervas: we stayed in a bungalow camp near hervas that night (and the next) and went for a little shopping tour. It was sunday … so no success. We got what we needed though at the camping shop. Still, we both loved the stroll through hervas. It just seems that every single village or city in this region is beautiful …

With plenty of wine and snacks at home, i finally got started catching up on the final season of game of thrones – exciting!!!

Extremadura road trip: Salamanca

After two weeks together in London, it was finally half-term holiday for Alex. I decided it’s best to travel and picked a region in Spain (Extremadura) that had been highly recommended to me by Spaniards during friends’ wedding party in June this year. The region was described to me as poor, but beautiful. History has left many marks – be it the Spaniards, Roman’s or Arab’s in their days that remain all visible in buildings, traditions and language (some 10% of Spanish originates from Arabic). The region also sports 20+ degress & loads of sun on average in October, which made my decision easy in the end.

How to get there? We just took a flight into Madrid and a rental car (you could also fly into Porto or Seville and do the same). There are local airports, but no point really given it’s only a two hour or so drive from Madrid and you’ll need a rental car anyway to get around.

Salamanca: A must see!

Arguably the city is not really located in Extremadura, but Castile and Leon (which I remember fondly from my time on the Camino de Santiago in 2015). Anyway, don’t miss this place! It’s Spain’s oldest university city and already from far away the imposing cathedral welcomes you. We didn’t see much of the new town with our hotel (hotel emperatritz) located right in the heart of the distinctive old town. Everything in walking distance from there.

First up – food! We picked out on of the many cafe’s / bars to give us our first indulgence of Spanish food. Alex was right away busy with an oversized chocolate shake, but liked all menu items we ordered from jamon Serrano to crocketas and pan con tomate. Churro’s had to be the desert of course! I realised right here that there was not much left of the rudimentary spanish I tried to acquire pre-Nepal. Alex had no such concerns ;o)

Then we headed out to take in some of the scenery of this world heritage site. Apart from the library, we didn’t see much of the buildings inside. I guess comes down to my preference and Alex attention span. Highlights you can find here, just so much there is loads of pretty convents/cathedrals, squares and other official buildings that beautifully blend together.

Nightlife was also busy, it was Saturday after all though we constrained us (not that it would be a big issue in Spain for 7-8y kids to stay out late). Best place was a small wine-bar next door from the hotel (Doctrinos Casa de Vinos). Alex even ordered himself a jamon with bread all by himself.

After a movie night home and some early sleep, we didn’t have much trouble to rise next morning. We filled our stomachs with chocolate croissants and headed for our next destination further south. On the way out from Salamanca you get a great panorama of the old town.

Two weeks with Alex, friends and some memories

My two weeks in London went by incredibly quickly mainly due to the time I spent with Alex (who I take care of full time when I am here). School runs, after school clubs, birthday parties, homework, Saturday school and Sunday’s at church were my new routine. When Alex was in school, i had a busy time doing admin stuff, seeing the dentist seemingly a hundred times (finally I got rid of my braces) and paperwork.

I also tried to be extra efficient catching up with friends. This often proves more difficult than it seems. They are stuck in their work schedule while it’s the opposite for me when I am looking after Alex. Still I saw loads of them and chatted away about Russia, their past weeks & months and what lies ahead. Seems there is never enough time to talk though! Also got to see loads of Nepal friends at rory’s child rescue nepal gig and a live taste of my latest musical investment (The Young Frankenstein) with Elizabeth. Ok musical, great evening (I cant recommend enough a visit to Mr Fogg’s tavern for whoever comes to London …).

One fine london morning I also managed to visit a place that I love and hadn’t seen in a while – the Tate modern. When I first came to london in 2002, my first apartment was just on the opposite river bank. Many weekends I would wander over millennium bridge to see some modern art be it alone or with one of the many friends who came to visit. A rather memorable one was of my good student friends Katrin & Ronny and fellow Commerz-banker Andre. I still own the Joseph Beust book they gave me at the end of a wonderful few days with the following inscription:

“Jeder Mensch ist ein Künstler” (Everyone is an artist)

How true in a way though I guess I am more an artist of life than any tangible artwork. On the other hand, even Beust himself considered his pedagogical side his greatest art achievement … to an extent at least I have done some of that too.

It’s always interesting to think back to those moments (or others) in my early days in London more than 15y ago. How much I loved the atmosphere then, how proud was I to show my city to friends & family and how little did i know of the great times that lied ahead of me. Unforgotten and unfortunately hard to get back. Many times I wished to feel again like on that sunny Sunday on 30 June 2002 when I first arrived.

While Germany lost 2:0 to Brazil in the World Cup final, I arrived on crutches & had to hobble to London Bridge to locate a working pub (the inner city is dead weekends) … it felt so cool to be there. I remember well when I called mum to tell her just that (and I don’t often call). It remains a cool place, but also lost quite a bit of touch, something several of my friends share.

Well, enough dwelled in memory for now. Next week is half-term in Alex school and we are on a road trip in the Extremadura region of Spain. Basically picking up on a recommendation I received during a wedding I attended in June near Girona … let’s see! Hasta Luego!

A few days in Kiev …

Its been a while since I last visited Kiev. Of course a city with many memories for me. Be it my time here with Yulia and her friends, my first business trip in 2008 after which i called for the coming economic crash or the 2012 boys trip to the European football championships where my friends Sean, Guelane and Hubert managed to destroy Arndt on the first night out (contrary to his reputation at the time). Its always been a welcoming city and this time was no different …

I arrived via Minsk on Monday and enjoyed an evening of catching up with Yulia and Inna. The last time we hung out together goes back a some way to NYE 2015 in Lviv – some great memories which we fondly discussed. There was also a new guest in the house – a young actress that doesn’t seem to digest samogon (local moonshine) too well as we saw on tuesday night when she arrived home on all fours after her premiere. Man was she drunk ;o)

Yanukovich residence: Tuesday the weather was on our side and we three made our way to a village 40mins by car north of Kiev (location). Idea was to visit the former residence of pre-Maidan revolution president Yanukovich. The estate is located right on the shore of the Dniepr river and its enormous! Electric vehicles for tourists and bike rentals at the entrance just prove the point. It boasts endless parks, main & guest residences, a zoo, a port, a collection of mainly soviet vintage cars, tennis, golf and football facilities and a lot more. We wandered around for 4 hours or so and even saw deers coming our way out of one of the many forests and no overly shy of people. Definitely worth a visit! Thanks ladies.

Swan lake (no 3 this year): I didn’t plan on seeing swan lake when i came here, but as fate had it was the only show on in the time i had. And i did want to see kiev’s beautiful opera house. So Tchaikovsky once more please (love it). Great evening!

St Sophia cathedral: On Wednesday weather didn’t treat us as well calling for some indoor activties. We decided to head to the center and visit the St Sophia cathedral. Quite impressive although i am not so keen on churches as much anymore after my pilgrimages in Spain & Italy and a visit to Jerusalem in 2015/16. Alongside old mosaics and frescos, some Ukrainian artist also created a portrait made of 1000’s of hand made Easter eggs – fascinating. Inna joined us again, as her interview scheduled for today had been moved. After the museum & church tour we headed for my favourite pub in Kiev – the metropole. Its a belgian styled pub and, naturally, serves belgian beer including leffe & chimay. Mmmhh … The evening we made a spanish one. No shortage of options in the local supermarket (different to russia due to sanctions). Jamon, manchego & rioja – ole! Не плоха!

Thursday was Chernobyl day. See Chernobyl: Trip back to 1986. Once back in town i headed for the supermarket where i met yulia in a pure coincidence. We figured to make this dinner italian themed – and I was to cook. It proved to be a nice atmosphere in the kitchen (e.g. alone) with some italian youtube classics running in the background while i got busy. Tasty!

My last day in Kiev started slow and quiet. Yulia was again flying somewhere around with Ukraine Airways. Inna made breakfast and eventually we headed for Arsenalno station with some spectacular gardens and panoramic views over the city in walking distance. We talked in russian throughout. It felt actually good and certainly wouldn’t have been possible last time we met. We rewarded our walking effort with a nice meal at a very traditional (be it touristic) Ukrainian restaurant nearby. Вкусна!

And then it was already time to go. I briefly saw yulia at the airport – she arrived, i left … ‘Thanks for flying with UIA‘ she said with a smile. Time to say goodbye and to get back to London after three month. Thanks Kiev!