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Sunday, December 3, 2017

392: Montblanc

Yesterday I went to Mont Blanc. Not THE Mont Blanc in the Alps but Montblanc, Tarragona, 30 minutes from Reus by train, Reus being 20 minutes from Salou by bus. It is a medieval walled town. I only had a couple of hours there between trains but that was enough to get an impression of the place and some nice, warming, soup in a local hostelry "Quatre Taules" or, translated from the Catalan to English, "Four tables". The day was cold and windy and I hadn't really dressed well enough - serves me right!

A few political observations on the way back to the station: Power to the People and Free the Political Prisoners (probably incarcerated on sedition charges after the recent Unilateral Declaration of Independence ).

 A few days earlier I had spent some time in Reus.It's a lovely town. I passed the church named after John the Baptist. I first read it as Joan (of Arc) but then looked more closely at the depiction. Then a wander around the market where somebody has been busy arranging various scenes at one of the unused stalls.

To finish, since it is December, and I need to start getting into the Christmas mood, here is the one-hit wonder from Jona Lewie. I never start thinking about Christmas until I've heard this.

Monday, November 6, 2017

391: From Z to A

I've spent much of my life doing things differently from other people.My latest jaunt was no exception. Instead of A to Z, I decided on Z to A. Last Thursday I travelled to Zaragoza, in the Aragon region of Spain, and on Saturday I went from there to Andorra, the tiny principality in the Pyrenees between France and Spain. Don't ask me to decide which I liked best - I liked them both, for different reasons. The journey from Barcelona to Zaragoza passed without incident, whizzing through the Spanish countryside at 300 kph on one of their AVE high-speed trains. A different, more undulating, landscape than on my usual Barcelona to Salou run alongside the Mediterranean. 

A very nice hotel in Zaragoza. It was called hotel Goya and indeed there are references everywhere in the city to the famous artist. Franciso Goya (1746-1828)
In the evening what better to do than enjoy some tapas sitting outside in the Plaza d'Espana. It was my first (and probably my last) time of eating fried green peppers and I found it to be a bit like Russian roulette. You either got a hot and spicy one to make the taste buds tingle or a non-fiery version that simply made you wonder what you were eating.
On Friday morning I enjoyed a wander around the Goya museum. I finally found a benefit of being of such mature years - old buggers like me are allowed in free. The lady in charge of issuing tickets asked to see my passport but when I said it was in the hotel room she asked for the year of my birth. Thankfully I can still remember such trivia. Anyway, the museum was interesting and it included an audio-visual presentation which I found so interesting I watched it run through twice. In the afternoon I bought a couple of tram tickets and watched the city unfolding through the window of the tram. On Friday evening I couldn't make up my mind where to eat. By the time I finally found somewhere I was ready for a G&T. It was, however, a surprise to get it in a bath-sized glass. Needless to say I managed OK.
The  very next day I travelled from Zaragoza to Andorra. This time not without incident. I left Zaragoza on the 7.42 express to Lleida, missing the hotel breakfast in the process (in Spain, almost without exception, hotel breakfasts start at 8.00 on the weekend. For a lark like me that's almost lunchtime).  Arriving at Lleida I started asking people where I could catch the bus to Andorra. It seemed that the more people I asked the more answers I got. I was dashing hither and thither as according to Google maps, there were only a few minutes until the bus was due to depart. Finally I found somebody who knew the correct answer and he pointed out a tiny label stuck on a bus stop almost right next to the station. The label said the bus left at 10.15 but didn't say which days of the week. Would it run on a Saturday or not. Time then to go back to the station buffet, to relax, and to get outside a bacon butty. Shortly before the appointed hour a mercedes van appeared and whisked us off to Andorra. There was a Spanish woman sitting behind me and she chatted with the driver almost non-stop. My somewhat limited experience of Spanish people is that they can certainly talk. 
In Andorra, on Saturday afternoon and evening, it was tipping it down with rain. Hardly surprising since it is hemmed in by mountains. Sunday was much nicer and the sun was shining. They did say they were expecting snow on Sunday evening but by then I was on the way home. Andorra reminded me of Ambleside in the Lake District. Surrounded by beautiful scenery but thousands of tourists milling about from shop to shop. 
I've waffled enough. Let some pictures do the talking.


It doesn't look so big in the photo but I thought he was going to pour the whole bottle of gin in!

 Andorra in the rain

Andorra in the dry

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

390: The Lairig Ghru

Normally I write a blog then copy it to Facebook. This time, for a change, I'm doing it the other way around. I have a couple of entries on FB concerning Sunday's crossing of the Lairig Ghru but FB entries are so transient and difficult to find later. I hope one day to export and publish my blog to show my experiences over the past few years that I have been writing. A potted history of the latter years of my life. (I hope there are still many years left, but who knows!)
Here then is an extract from my FB posts:
"It's over. 12.5 hours in the mountains, the first hour of which stayed dry and the last hour was done in darkness. The real killer was scrabbling over the boulders in the middle third of the walk: they were slippery and wobbly and some had quite sharp points. No fun at all. With the almost non-stop rain the path, such as it was, had filled up with puddles. In the beginning we tried to walk around the puddles but by the end we were just sloshing through them. Today, every muscle in my body is stiff and tired. Very many thanks to those of my FB friends who sponsored us. If you had been waiting until we finished the walk then now would be a good time, the site is still open for donations. " (until 24 Oct 17)
We collected over £1,500 for our two nominated charities - Cancer Research UK and Combat Stress.
The walk was quite an achievement, especially for us at our age (it was Alisdair's 70th birthday and I am 67). We started the day with a Big Boy's Breakfast in the Moorfield House hotel in Braemar and drove from there to the Linn of Dee where we started our little walk at 08.40. Between then and 21.10, when we finished it, all we had to eat and drink was ½ a banana each and ½ a cup of tea each. The main reason for this was the rain. I was wearing my backpack under my waterproof raincoat and it never seemed the right time to stop in the rain and take it off. There was no shelter on the route, apart from a bothy which was situated less than halfway in and at that point we were keen to keep going. We came very close to deciding to spend the night on the mountain as we had bivvy bags and survival blankets etc but finishing the walk was the preferred option and that's what we did.  

What else could I finish with but "the hills are alive" 

Monday, September 11, 2017

389: the red wine is helping...

I'm drinking copious (well, not really) amounts of red wine to lubricate the tired muscles after this morning's 15km 'hike' from Salou to Tarragona. It wasn't too bad. 2.5 hours 'on the legs' as my old running club boss used to say (and probably still does). Now I just have to treble the time, for 'the big one' in a little under 2 weeks time.
Here are a few photos I took, en route this morning. The last one in particular transporting me back to the watch towers on the Inner German border in the 70s and 80s. The roads were fairly quiet as it was (yet another) local holiday. Today it is Catalyuna day or La Diada

Port Aventura theme park. Not my cup of tea.

I don't know what this once was but not much left of the poor thing now

bougainvillea on the roadside? I'm probably wrong - as usual!

the foothills in the background. perhaps one day..
industry on the way in to Tarragona.

It just seemed so out of place in the middle of an industrial estate

Tomorrow I'm going to try to get to Tarragona again, this time by bus from almost outside the front door. I have an idea in the back of my mind to take a face-on picture of this aqueduct and put circular portraits of my teaching colleagues in each of the gaps and use it on my website.

See, no begging for sponsorship this time. Many thanks to those who have donated already but I feel it's a bit like flogging a dead horse now. Unless you know otherwise.... 

To finish, the Hebrew Slaves chorus from Verdi's Nabucco - just because I like it.....Everybody is giving 100%. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

388: four countries in four days

A bit excessive, even for me, intrepid traveller that I am, but on Friday last week I was in England (and Germany and Holland), on Saturday in Holland, on Sunday in Holland (and Germany) and on Monday in Germany and Spain
Last Friday I flew for £10, courtesy of Ryanair, from Stansted to Weeze airport (formerly RAF Laarbruch) which is almost on the border between Germany and Holland. My penchant for honesty cost me dear as when the young lady at the car hire desk asked if I was going into another country I told her I was and she promptly added another 44 euros to the bill! Wiping out any saving I had made on Ryanair.
The point of all the moving around was to take part in the annual march (read walk or ramble) around Osterbeek, near Arnhem in Holland. It's called the airborne march and it is to remember or honour the British paras who took part in the battle of Arnhem in September 1944. Another great military disaster celebrated - a bit like Dunkirk really. There are thousands and thousands of people, civilian and military, individuals and groups,who take part in this walk, which is held over various distances ranging from 10km to 40km. I decided to do the 15 km. 

I have a couple of Des Buckley namesakes on Face Book and when I noticed that one of them had taken part in the walk last year, together with his wife Hilda, I thought it would be interesting if we walked it together. And so it transpired. It made the walk go much faster talking about the many things we had in common - almost as if we had been leading parallel lives. We shared a beer or two at the end. If anybody ever tells you that that Des Buckley drinks too much then let me tell you it is not me, it is the other one. I suspect, of course, that he will tell the same story!
If you time the return to Osterbeek correctly then you can turn your finishing stagger into a swagger as you get to march in behind a band and the music motivates you with a fresh lease of life. There are many bands taking part and this was the one I linked up with on Saturday.

I spent Sunday night in Dusseldorf, exploring the old town, before flying back to Spain yesterday. I think that those nice security screening people were on strike as there was only a small number of lanes open. The queues to enter security wound around the inside of the terminal and it took well over half an hour to be processed. Thank goodness I was flying within the Schengen zone, and thus no passport control, or there wouldn't have been time for the pre-flight calming G&T.
Perhaps one more long walk before "the big one" through the Cairngorms in just under 3 weeks time. There is still time to donate if you want to.......
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Friday, August 18, 2017

387: In the wrong place at the wrong time - almost!

Yesterday I came the closest I've ever been to being directly involved in a terrorist attack. I had arranged to spend some time at a 'gin and music' evening - well, who wouldn't - hosted by InterNations, a worldwide ex-pat group. It was scheduled to take place from 8-10 p.m. at the Petit Palace Boqueria garden hotel. It is located just off Las Ramblas, the most famous thoroughfare in Barcelona. Just before 5  p.m. the terrorists struck by swerving a van left and right into pedestrians walking along Las Ramblas. They killed 13 people and injured about 100 others. 3 hours later I would have been there. It could have been me. A sobering thought. There but for the grace of God....

In passing I wondered if this church was offering sanctuary:
My accommodation for the night was in the university halls of residence off avenue Diagonal, a long way from the incident, so instead of supping G&T I found a nearby Burger King and had to put up with a burger and a beer. I coped. Admirably.
The secondary reason for the visit was to visit/recce some (language) book shops for when I become inundated with Spanish students who want to brush up their English. This morning though, in the light of events, I decided not to bother but to go almost straight home. Not far from the Barcelona Sants railway station is a big square called Espanya and there can be found an old arena, it presumably once hosted bull fights, which is now given over to shops, a multi-screen cinema and 4 underground levels of car parking. I had a quick wander.

Turns out there was a second terrorist attack yesterday, this time in Cambrils - 5 miles from where I live in Salou. Police shot dead 5 terrorists. 
Spain, of course, is reeling, and they have announced 3 days of mourning. Those attacked in Las Ramblas came from 34 different countries. I have had "update my what to do when I'm dead letter" hovering near the bottom of the to-do list. This is a letter I prepared some years ago telling my executors which mattresses my pennies were hidden in. It is time to move it to the top of the to-do list. One never knows when there will be a bullet with one's name on it. Sorry to be maudlin.
One question, which is puzzling me, for the more sophisticated amongst you. I was puzzled by seeing several Nespresso shops. They all seemed to be almost empty. What is the point of them? Is this indicative of a new fad about to sweep the world, courtesy of George Clooney? This old dinosaur simply puts instant coffee into a cup and pours hot water onto it, topping it up with some milk.
The video, to finish, is a bit "rude". It features the "F word" in many of it's incarnations. If you don't like that kind of thing, and I generally don't, then please don't watch it. I am including it because there is a message to the terrorists right at the end. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

386: Dizzy Dezzy

I've hardly stopped since I got back from Spain on 13th July. I'm almost dizzy from all the travelling. I gave blood on 14th at the Cambridge Blood Transfusion Centre at Addenbrookes hospital. The interesting thing about giving blood these days is that some time after your donation you get an SMS to say which hospital it has gone to. I wonder if they'll ever tell us which person it has gone to. Would I want to know? Perhaps not. But we're all flesh and blood and all equal in the eyes of the Lord. 
The following day Olga and Alya arrived to spend the night chez nous. Olga is one of my Skype students from Russia and was in London with her daughter for some intensive English tuition. They spent a few hours exploring the delights of Cambridge and I picked them up from there to transport them to the rural idyll that is Ramsey. They seemed to enjoy their time with us and on Sunday went back to the bright lights of London.   
On 21st we headed off to Lancaster for an overnight stay before the 3½ hour ferry journey to the Isle of Man. I had carelessly bought train tickets from Lancaster to Heysham for Sunday 23rd rather than Saturday 22nd but some grovelling at the ticket office elicited the correct tickets at no extra charge. 
A very nice, relaxing week in the Isle of Man before heading back to Lancaster for another overnight stay before trogging North to Scotland for the duty visit to Mother-in-Law. 
A few walks hither and thither to start rehearsals for my two upcoming long walks: 15 km around Osterbeek (near Arnhem) in early September and 30 km across the Scottish Cairngorms on 24th September. If you're reading this and haven't yet succumbed to the urge to sponsor me on the long walk then please feel free to donate.
And finally, before I go back to Spain tomorrow, there was a 15 minute helicopter ride over Cambridge earlier today given to me as a present from No 1 daughter. Thank you Mo, it was great.
A small selection of photos taken during the month and a short video of the Nigg ferry 'docking'. What fun that was driving on and off.

lovely view of King's College from 2,200 feet.

The Isle of Man

The Nigg Ferry