We’ve just returned from a frolic around Malta, Sicily and Rome, catching up with some dear friends, learning more about the amazing history of the Mediterranean, and eating our body weight in pizza/pasta/chocolate-filled croissants.
There were so many things to do and see and smell, but one particular feature kept catching my eye…
The wattles! You can blame my botanist father if you like, but I couldn’t help but notice acacias—and eucalypts—everywhere we went. They are in Tortosa too and I’ve been aware of them since we arrived. Lazily I just assumed that their presence meant another Australian had lived here at some stage.
No more. Once that I learnt that these trees grow wild across at least three countries in southern Europe, my interest was officially piqued!
But what a depressing interest-quenching mission it has turned out to be. A quick something-search has led me to discover that several wattle and gum tree varieties are considered environmental pests across much of Europe and Africa.
The plants were brought over from Australia in the late 1700s because they were exotic, pretty and interesting. But now our floral emblems have invaded roadsides, coastal bushland and nature reserves across Spain, Portugal, Italy and France, crowding out native species and destroying local biodiversity.
Not everyone is against the naturalised Aussies. Much like Grafton in New South Wales celebrates the jacaranda, that great purple South African migrant, the French southern Riveria honours the wattle (or mimosa) bloom every year with a week-long festival.
I HAD been enjoying the little green and gold slices of home whenever I saw them. In fact I have some wattle blossoms in a bottle on the dining table right now. But it turns out they are the European equivalent of rabbits in Australia: slowly and surely wrecking up the place. I no longer want a Spanish home among the gum trees.
OK so we only got back to Tortosa last night, but on Sunday (technically still within last week) we returned to Spain after two weeks travelling in Germany and France.
As an Australian, I have this romantic notion that once you are in Europe, it’s a breeze to get to any other European country. The whole continent takes up about as much space as our one country, so surely travelling from one European nation to the other is a simple hop, step and jump. Right?
Obviously this turns out not to be the case, particularly if you are trying to avoid a) flying too much to watch your carbon footprint and b) paying too much to watch your budget…footprint. Travelling at Christmas time and organising the adventure three weeks in advance only makes things tougher. This great website tells you how to travel across Europe by train cheaply, but most of his itineraries require more forethought than we have yet.
Our trip from Tortosa to Hamburg, Paris and then back again ended up taking two flights, four trains and around 385 euros each. The train journeys were largely lovely, the plane trips generally cramped with lots of waiting. But we had a great time and have returned back to Tortosa with a renewed appreciation for the affordability of Spanish living and the balmy 12ºC days here, compared to the 0ºC days in Paris.
I don’t know about you but at the end of a holiday my diary always fills up with lists. Lofty ideas for things to do and holiday inspiration to follow up when I get home. Usually my lists are hilariously and embarrassingly similar: do more yoga, hike more often and make my own muesli. Seriously, I write it every time.
So it’s weird now, coming back to Spain to start the New Year and for the first time I don’t have a list. Maybe it’s because it’s not home yet, and there are still so many things to do. Maybe it’s because it still feels like we are on an adventure. Or maybe it’s because I’ve finally realised that it’s cheaper just to buy the expensive muesli rather than make it all from scratch. Time will tell.
Not only did WE arrive in Spain this week, but the wise men arrived too! All over the country the three wise men (or Reyes Magos) sailed from the east to collect letters written by children and deliver presents on the morning of the 6th of January, the day of Epiphany.
On Monday night we were lucky enough to catch the Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos in Barcelona, and it was amazing! A stain glassed peacock, giant puppet monkey, and a rollicking pirate ship that seemed to be manned by Melbourne’s own Twin Beasts accompanied the magi, and at the end, a crazy downpour of confetti and lollies. You can see much better photos here. Not quite muesli, but delicious none the less!