Our final day of skiing today and waking up is a struggle after a late night. Physically I’m feeling okay but my brother says his muscles are hurting. I thought he might say he can’t do today but fair play he actually gets ready for another hard day of skiing ahead. I’m actually feeling more energetic today.
We try to wake up around 7.30am so we can get to the ski lifts as they open at 8.30am. At least we won’t have to waste time at the hire shop like yesterday. My brother is complaining of aching legs. He normally sits at a desk all day and is not used to the physical day we had yesterday. I feel fine but I’ll be amazed if he can manage 3 full consecutive days because it’s hard work even for someone as fit as I am.
One final job remains to do before bed and that is to watch myself on Austrian TV! I couldn’t believe the first time I ever visit Austria and I’m on TV here on ORF 2. They followed us at work recently with artist Alison Jackson in London. I don’t get to bed until 1am. I’m going to struggle to wake up early in the morning I think!
After breakfast we walk down the hill and immediately arrive at the Intersport ski hire shop. It’s Saturday morning so it’s particularly busy here plus my brother has decided to buy a pair of skis rather than hire. It’s the end of the season so they have some good discounts. We’re here longer than we thought and don’t buy our ski passes until around 9.30 am. For a 3 day pass it costs €158 each.
When I first won the EasyJet Best Harry and Meghan lookalikes competition, the first destination on my wishlist was a skiing holiday! I have been skiing for just the last 10 years and absolutely love it. To be amongst the pretty snow covered mountain nature and traveling at quite some speed at times is an absolute thrill. I had 2 skiing lessons and that was it. I’m very athletic and sporty plus have great balance so I picked it up straight away.
I have done my skiing always in France and Switzerland but always wanted to head to Austria next. I was looking to go somewhere in Austria that we didn’t have to travel hours by a ski transfer coach from the airport. I wanted somewhere easy and practical to get to from the airport. After some research, I discovered Saint Anton am Arlberg. Not only is this Austria’s largest ski resort but the town has its own train station.
I asked EasyJet to make the next booking to Innsbruck. The approach to the airport is spectacular. Innsbruck is surrounded by the snow covered mountains and it is a very memorable place to land. Get bus route F from the airport to city centre. The bus terminates at the train station. Here you need to buy a ticket to Saint Anton am Arlberg, costing around 16 euros one way. It’s a direct train and it goes all the way to Zürich.
Our train was very busy but it was Friday afternoon, so we had to stand for most of the way. It’s a beautiful journey, incredible scenery. It takes about 1 hour 10 minutes to get to Saint Anton am Arlberg. We get a taxi outside the station. Our hotel is very close by to the station but it’s quite hilly. We are staying at Pension Susanne. The breakfast seating area has great panoramic views. I can highly recommend staying here, the hosts are very friendly and welcoming.
The walk to the town centre is easy enough as it’s all down hill and is less than 10 minutes. We get some food at a Mexican restaurant Bobo’s Bar in the main street. Not so easy to find as its downstairs but the bar is packed with skiers and snowboarders. The food portions are huge! Not just here but everywhere is the same.
Tomorrow we’re looking forward to a full day of skiing ahead of us. The weather should be perfect for skiing the whole time we’re here. We can’t wait!!
It’s our final full day in Madeira and there is so much yet to do. First we take a look at the city’s indoor markets. Avoid the Mercado dos Lavradores. We were really shocked to see these stall holders scamming tourists. A very pushy sale woman insisted we taste the many varieties of passion fruit. If you google this market you’ll find other people giving exactly the same opinions. Apparently, according to other reviews, these passion fruit samples have had sugar added to make them taste extra sweet. We laughed when she wanted 30 euros for 2 fruits! You have been warned!
Next to do is to take the cable car up to the Botanic Garden. An impressive engineering feat and spectacular views again. There is a cafe next to the gardens and here you can get your fix of pastel de nata 🙂 The gardens are very beautifully maintained with lots of exotic specimens and are definitely worth a visit.
No trip to Madeira can be complete without taking a toboggan ride down the hills. Quite a big logistics operation to load the wicker toboggans onto a van at the bottom and drive them all back up to Monte. These rides have been in use since the 1850s and are very popular with tourists.
I have seen these on TV travel shows before but never heard anyone mention the smell of smoldering wood as the wooden runners slide on the tarmac at speed. Two men wearing traditional white clothing including a straw hat guide the toboggans down hill and around bends. They sometimes push off with their feet from buildings if they get too close to colliding.
It is 2km long and a man actually stops traffic at a crossroads to safely continue. Even though it is February it is still around 26 degrees here and it’s clearly hard work for the men in this heat. The ride is a thrill and unforgettable so be sure not to miss out on this experience!
Taking off the next morning to return home was an experience. The plane taxied right to the very edge of the runway as you can see in the photo below! The pilot made use of every metre of the runway for take-off, that’s for sure!
Sunday morning in Funchal and it’s going to be another hot day. After breakfast we catch a local bus into the centre. Funchal and Madeira are so hilly that walking anywhere isn’t much fun. This is not a place to visit if you find it difficult to walk stairs!
We want to get the cable car up the mountain to visit the Botanic Gardens and the famous toboggan ride. The queue is so unbelievably long and it’s so hot we decide to do something else today.
Two cruise ships are in port today. I am hearing British, German, Dutch, French and American accents in Funchal. As it’s Sunday, a lot of attractions are closed unfortunately. We grab some lunch on a rooftop restaurant with nice views of the cable cars coming and going.
We pay for a bus tour up to the sea cliffs of Cabo Girão. The views on this bus tour are spectacular. You get to see the island’s banana plantations that produce the famous Madeira bananas. These are quite a lot smaller than your average supermarket banana but sweeter. They can no longer sell their bananas into the EU because of their size!
The buses in Madeira are all Volvo built that look extremely strong and heavy. They certainly need good engines to be able to climb these mountainous roads. The bus ride itself is an experience as the driver negotiates the windy, steep roads!
The bus stops at the top of Cabo Girão. It is noticeably cooler up here now compared to being in Funchal. The sea cliffs here are some of the largest in the world – standing at 580 metres above sea level. Here you can visit the highest skywalk in Europe – not suitable for vertigo sufferers.
There is no entrance fee and you can walk over the glass panels with a huge drop beneath you. A couple of the glass panels have some cracks in even just to make everyone a little more nervous. Truly spectacular views – not to be missed under any circumstances!!!
We get the next bus back to the centre and go back to the hotel to eat dinner there. Tomorrow is going to be a little hectic if we can manage to see everything we want to.
Trip number 9 in February is to the Portuguese island of Madeira with my brother. By coincidence, Harry and Meghan are flying out of London today and heading to a similar part of the world, Morocco. Madeira is situated about 500 miles off the Moroccan coast. Leaving London Gatwick on this beautiful February day and hoping the weather will be just as good when we land in the capital of Madeira, Funchal.
The flying time to Madeira from London is about 3 hours 45 minutes. One of the longer flights I have taken with EasyJet, as I try to fly to the furthest reaches of Europe. Madeira airport is named after the island’s most famous native – Portuguese footballer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo – The Cristiano Ronaldo International Airport.
I had been forewarned by friends that landing and taking off at Madeira Airport would be an experience. ‘They switch off the engines to land!’, I was warned. I researched a little more while waiting in j. All pilots require specialist training before being allowed to land at Madeira Airport because it has a very short runway. A plane overran the runway in 1977 killing 131 people on board.
Flights at Gatwick this morning have been delayed due to fog. When we eventually board our flight the Captain tells us that had our flight departed on time we would have had to divert to Lisbon because of high winds in Madeira, making it impossible to land. Instead, we should now be able to land as planned because the winds were forecast to die down by the time we would land. Strong cross winds at Madeira Airport can frequently cause flights to be diverted to Lisbon or even Tenerife.
The landing was uneventful and we got a taxi to our hotel in Funchal, Hotel Panoramico. The taxi cost around 40 euros. Our taxi driver was busy giving us advice of what to see and do for our visit. There are many impressive bridges and tunnels on our journey of this mountainous island. We got a taxi into the town to get some dinner. We are able to eat outside without any additional heating. The night time temperature here is much more mild than last month in Spain. I sampled a local dish of beef in Madeira wine sauce – very nice! The island has its own brewery Coral and they make a very nice beer. We are treated to a performance by a school music group singing traditional Portuguese songs.
Everywhere is serving the traditional a lcoholic drink, Poncha. Made using a distilled alcohol from sugar cane. Honey, sugar and orange/lemon juice are added along with whichever fruit juice you decide. A strong drink, not my thing. We ended the night at the Casino de Madeira which also has a night club and rooftop bar with great views of the nearby cruise ships in the harbour.
Saturday is another beautiful sunny, warm day in Seville. It’s very easy to find real freshly made churrros for breakfast in Seville rather than the factory-made ones commonly found elsewhere in Spain. A good place for your ‘chocolate con churros’ fix is a cafe right by the La Setas de Sevilla (Metropol Parasol). Don’t forget to order your fresh orange juice as well, especially in winter for the vitamin C boost.
Today I am going to go skating again alongside the Guadalquivir River. It’s perfect here for skating. The surface is perfect for skating for 2.5km. There is a small stretch of cobbled pathway next to the Torre del Oro but they have constructed a smooth tarmac path for cyclists (and skaters!).
There are not a huge number of cyclists or skaters today but lots of people are sitting on the grass bank enjoying 22 degrees and strong sunshine drinking their local beer, CruzCampo. I skate as far as the Alamillo Bridge, a rather striking cantilever bridge built in 1992.
After my skating I get a drink at a nice beach-style bar on the riverside in the centre of town. As my Airbnb is just a 10 minute walk from here I can drop my skates back to free my hands. The place I absolutely want to see again on such a sunny day is the Plaza de España and Parque de Maria Louisa. At the Plaza de España you can even watch some Flamenco.
In the evening I meet up with Ana who I met yesterday. She is with her sister and friends at El Parque de los Principes ( Park of the Princes). Although the days are warm here, evenings and mornings are chilly. I am still in my shorts and T-shirt from skating and we are sat outside but luckily the cafe has electric heating seen just about everywhere in the city here now.
Ana tells me to take a river cruise tomorrow and says I must get to the Real Alcazar no later than 9am to avoid the huge daily queues for entry. I get up earlier on the Sunday and get some breakfast before joining the queue just after 9am. There are only maybe 20 people in front of me. The attraction opens at 9.30am. Free to local residents but to everyone else entry is 11€. If you can’t get here for 9am then you really need to book your tickets online to skip the queue. The queue is made slower by having to go through airport style security.
The Real Alcazar of Seville is a Royal palace and one of the official residences of the Spanish royal family. Game of Thrones viewers may recognize some parts of the palace as the series filmed many times in these grounds. If you look at google maps you’ll see just how large these grounds are – the gardens occupy around 60,000m2!
As with the rest of Seville, the architecture of the buildings and gardens has a strong Arabic influence. You should allow at least 3 hours to see everything here. I was amazed how long it took to see everything but you can’t underestimate the scale of this palace. Luckily, it’s perfect weather again today and I make the most of it grabbing as many photos as I can in the beautiful gardens for my social media accounts. I buy some more decorative Seville-style glazed tiles for my commemorative artwork in the future.
The boat cruise was good fun and I went to a tapas bar to get some food. I got 3 dishes – a tortilla, battered cod and croquettes. Gelato for desert and another walk around the Parque de Maria Louisa.
It’s Monday and I get the train back to Malaga in the afternoon around 1pm. We have to get off the train again to do a repeat coach journey. Apparently, heavy rain has damaged a section of the track and this is the reason for the change. I am at a different Airbnb tonight. Much smaller than the last one in Malaga but I’m only here for one night so it’ll be fine.
The weather forecast for London is for snow tonight! Things couldn’t be more contrasting her at Malaga Airport! South-west Spain is extremely popular with British and other Northern Europeans during the winter. It’s a great place to escape the long winter. I seem to have had great luck with the weather with the timing of my visit. The previous week was not so good and next week won’t be as good either. I definitely have enjoyed my stay here and next month’s EasyJet trip will be somewhere even more exotic!
Its Friday morning and I’m leaving my Airbnb in Malaga with my luggage to spend a long weekend in Seville. I need to head to Malaga-Maria Zambrano train station again for my train. I just missed the high speed train so I have to take a regular train. This journey takes less than 2 hours by the high speed AVANT train but an extra hour roughly by regular RENFE train. The ticket cost of the regular train for a single journey is 25€.
The landscape on this journey is very beautiful rolling countryside with seemingly endless commercial olive tree plantations and a pretty colour of earth. The view is very rural and a typically Spanish look. A memorable sight is when the train goes through some tunnels and there is an amazing view in some kind of canyon with a fast flowing river. Here there are some cliff bridges with people walking on them.
An announcement is made on the train in Spanish only. From what I could understand it seems the train will stop at the next station and we all have to make a change to continue our journey. Sure enough, as we reach Osuna station, the whole train begins to empty. We have to all get onto a coach. I thought we would continue the rest of the journey entirely by coach but we drove around 45 minutes to another station further down the line and got on another train.
Amazingly, our train arrived at Seville’s Santa Justa train station just 5 minutes later than scheduled around 1pm. The weather again today is brilliant – a fantastic blue sky and very mild. Definitely need sunglasses today! My Airbnb for the weekend is in the Triana district. I walk from the station all the way there, about 25 minutes. It’s very easy for me to find and just a 2 minute walk from Seville’s Guadalquivir River.
After checking into my room I want to get some lunch straight away, I’m so hungry! I haven’t eaten anything since breakfast and it’s now about 2pm. I send a message to my friend Inma to say I have arrived in Seville and let me know what time she can see me later. She replies back to come and see her now. She is with friends in the Feria district. I don’t know this area well from last time but luckily she sends me her location in WhatsApp that I can navigate easily on my phone with GPS.
A couple of her friends present will marry next Saturday. Everyone is meeting to celebrate their upcoming wedding. The groom-to-be explains to me he is wearing a traditional hat that signifies to everyone he is getting married next week. We get some more drinks and tapas at a second bar around the corner. The food is always good in Seville, wherever you eat. I taste a nice meat tapas dish which is served in between a flat round bread – it’s very good.
We move a little further to another bar. In Seville, everybody drinks outside the bars in the street. The bars themselves are very small and can only accommodate a small number of people. The climate here means everyone wants to be outside anyway. Inma introduces me to some more friends who are here now. They are French students from Avignon studying in Seville for a number of months. When I tell them I can speak French, the conversation moves completely to French for the next hour or so. One topic of conversation they keen to talk about was Brexit. It was a slightly strange experience to be discussing Brexit, in French, in Spain!!