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Wednesday, 21 February 2018

399: When in Rome .... (part I)

I flew from Barcelona to Rome last Friday and back to Barcelona yesterday. I stayed in Hotel Turner on Via Nomentana - a five minute bus ride from the centre of the 'Eternal city'. It was OK. Once upon a time I'm sure it was very chic and elegant but I think its glory days are in the past - a bit like me really! They pretend that the revolving door doesn't work and funnel guests through a less imposing door into the reception area. My room was in an annex which was reached via 2 lifts! The first lift took me to floor 'A' and then a short walk along a corridor to the second lift which carried me up to the third floor. A bit of a shock on checking out to be presented with a bill for the city's tourist tax: 42 Euros for 4 nights. Luckily I hadn't spent quite all my money.
A couple of pictures from the hotel to try and portray some of the (former) grandeur. And then a picture of a mini which I saw in a car showroom whilst on my way to the Trevi fountain. It reminded me instantly of the 1969 film "The Italian Job" starring Michael Caine. My video clip today has to be "You're only supposed to blow the bloody doors off".  Part II (note the Latin numbers!) tomorrow if you're (un)lucky.

A fresco on the ceiling above reception

three wise cherubs? 

'A' for Annex I suppose

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

398: The trials and tribulations (of living in a foreign land)

Living in a foreign land can pose enormous challenges, not all of which are immediately apparent. As I try to get a little more comfortable in my little flat then 'tiny' problems crop up which require resolution. One of my bosses, many years ago, said that there are no problems in life, only solutions that haven't been found yet. Well, today I've been looking for four, as yet undiscovered, solutions. 1) I wanted to join the library - they have a good selection of foreign language (including English) books and until I get up to speed on learning Spanish then books in English will do very nicely. 2) Computer and internet problems - never an easy problem to resolve, even for an I.T. literate geek (retired) like me. 3) shelving & cupboards - shall I do it myself? or pay somebody who knows what they're doing?  4) Residence status - need to get it sorted before Brexit comes into play in case they decide to kick out British non-residents
Here's how the day went:
1.  The library
I went prepared, not quite fully prepared as it turned out, but well enough. I took my passport, my N.I.E (a bit like a Spanish National Insurance Number), and an electricity bill as proof of address. Then the nice librarian asked for a photograph, which took me by surprise. Thank goodness I had the foresight to suggest she photocopied the photo on my Russian visa. That was acceptable, for the nugatory cost of 10 cents. She helped me with the paperwork and, hey presto, I became the newest member of Salou's public library. Except they couldn't give me a membership card because their machine wasn't working.
2a.  Computer
I took my desktop PC in for repair a few weeks ago and for the not so nugatory charge of 72 Euros they fixed it for me. Or, as I've since discovered, partially fixed it for me. I can't open the windows store. I went back today to point this out to the man and he said it's probably because it's an unlicensed version of Windows 8.1. and there's nothing he can do about it. This is news to me. It was licensed when I bought it, of course  and I assume it was still licensed when it came out of the Polish repair shop in Warsaw. Now it's going to take time and effort to find a workaround.
2b.  The internet
The most frustrating problem of them all. I'm currently accessing the internet through a SIM card in my mobile wireless router. I thought this would save the cost of renting a landline. I pay 26 Euros for 26 GB. I've had it for a few months now and come to the conclusion that 26GB per month isn't enough. Giving English lessons over Skype soon knocks that into a cocked hat. I will have to bite the bullet and pay extra for a landline and ADSL/Fibre. I found a nice comparison site with different prices for the different providers in Spain. I would love to write and email and ask for what I want. Is there an email address for any of them? Nary a one. They all want you to phone. The last thing I want is a Spaniard talking to me over the phone - I have enough trouble understanding them face-to-face. It is really puzzling and frustrating. There are many thousands of Brits living here. Don't they want our custom? (and our money). I know that living in Spain I should speak Spanish. I'm getting there - slowly but I'm still only at a very basic level - if I want two beers I have to ask for one twice.
3 & 4.
Another time - I wouldn't want to be accused of boring anybody.
I think part of my frustration with life today is that it's been raining almost non-stop for the last 2 days. The rain in Spain falls mainly in the drain, or it would if the drains weren't bunged up with the thousands of tons of confetti thrown during the carnival two days ago. 
Two pictures today - the first shows a 'sludge gulper' which we happened across on the drive from Scotland down to England last week. Take a look at the site address on the door of the vehicle! The second shows the water running down the street - I never thought to bring wellies! N.B. Excuse the unusual angle - I am actually sober.

For a video clip I've decided to show the Goombay Dance Band (I remember them) with their 1981 hit "Rain, Rain, Rain".

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

397: Krasnodar - a quick in and out

After my few days in Istanbul I flew from there to Krasnodar in Southern Russia. Neither Turkey nor Russia concern themselves overmuch with night flights bothering the populace so my flights in and out of Russia were in the middle of the night. I sneaked up on them as it were. Except that you can't sneak up on Russia as you have to apply for a visa beforehand and give them most of your life history. So as soon as you land they know all about you........
I went to Krasnodar to visit an old friend of mine, an English guy who had been teaching English out there. He's really quite ill so I thought a morale-boosting visit from me would be appreciated. And so it turned out. 
One of the first things I wanted to do was change my left-over Turkish Lira into Roubles. I tried all over town but to no avail. The banks in Krasnodar are interested in buying and selling US Dollars or Euros. Nothing else. Not even the once noble Sterling. After I'd tried a few banks I began to lose my temper and called them a Third World country. Well, they might, or might not, be a Third World country but calling the bank staff names wasn't going to change the price of bread. I realized I had gone too far and took the rest of the day off to allow my mood-meter to swing back to its more usual happy(-ish) position. The next day was a different day entirely and I notched up a major success with the Unicredit bank. I had left a little bit of money in there when I left Moscow a few years ago. Then I lost my bank card and from that moment on I had no way of getting at my money from abroad, try as I might. So it was very nice, last Friday, to walk out of the bank with my £150. No great sum, I know, but my sense of achievement knew no bounds. The piece of paper that we filled in to get at the money was signed in several places by me, then by their 'expert', then by their 'senior expert' and then by their cashier. If you want to know about bureaucracy go visit a Russian bank. But not the one shown here. It is defunct. It is no more. The sign says "Attention:the bank doesn't work (closed)" The inference being, closed for ever. This is Russia - banks come and banks go.
Flushed with success, I made my way to the nearest cake shop (пекарня) which happened to be called, somewhat intriguingly, "Patrick and Mary". Here, as well as nice coffee and cake, there was a glass for tips which had a cardboard sign sticking out of it emblazoned with "for our smiles". Surprisingly (?), the glass was empty of coins. I put a couple of coins in out of gratitude for my irony fix. It is possible to make Russian people smile but it is not always easy to do.

I stayed in a cheap (and cheerful) guest house because I hadn't wanted to spend too much money in case my visa was refused. It was strange. There was no dining room so breakfast, such as it was, was brought to your room because there was no dining room.  All part of life's rich tapestry! Please excuse the partial thumb print on the photo!

Today's video clip has to be "back to the USSR"

Sunday, 21 January 2018

396: Do the hustle (Turkish delights). Alternative title: round the horn.

I fell for it - the oldest trick in the book. There was I, earlier this week, walking over Galata bridge in Istanbul, minding my own business, when suddenly I heard something drop to the floor. I turned to look and it was a shoe brush, which had fallen (did it fall or was it pushed?) from the shoe clean boy's kit. Being the gullible soul that I (sometimes) am, I picked it up and called to him. He thanked me profusely and then, somehow, the very next second he was halfway through cleaning my shoes! I was left with no choice but to pay him for the unasked for service. The shoes did look nice I must say, but not for long as it was a wet, dreich, kind of day with lots of puddles everywhere. 
From there I went down to the lower level of the bridge and ordered some lunch from one of the fish restaurants there. You can't visit Istanbul without eating at a fish restaurant on Galata bridge. There are probably 10-20 restaurants on the bridge and they all have hustlers outside inviting you to come inside and try their wares because theirs is the tastiest and the best value. It is the same walking around the restaurants just off Taksim Square - they all seem to have a man standing outside whose only job is to help you part with your money by eating in their august establishment. They have my every sympathy - this time of the year it is rather cold standing outside trying to drum up business, especially in the evenings - they were wrapped up to the nines. 
The map shows Istanbul with the Sea of Marmara to the South (which then leads, past Galipoli and through the Dardanelles, to the Med), the Bosphorus snaking off to the North East to the Black Sea and the Golden Horn to the North West. I took the almost obligatory boat trip on the Bosphorus. Of course, once I got back, everywhere I looked had cheaper prices than I had just paid. That's life.

Istanbul then - rip-off city. But for all its faults I like it very much. The gateway between Europe and Asia. This was my third visit and I may well go back again. 

hot chestnut sellers (the chestnuts were hot, not the sellers)

This pulley was at the top of the funicular up to Taksim

Two video clips today - how could I not? Pan's People dancing to Van McCoy doing the hustle in 1975 and 'Round the Horne' from some time in the 60s!

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

395: Late? or early?

One of the great joys of being (semi-)retired, and living on my own for most of the time, is that I can do things on a whim. Yesterday's 'whim' wasn't altogether successful when I stood waiting for a bus at two different bus stop and saw the buses go whizzing past without stopping. I was not impressed at the time but, hey, no big deal. Eventually I ended up in Tarragona and the day managed to put itself back on an even keel.
Today's 'whim' involved a short trip to Reus, a lovely old town 15 minutes away by bus. This time I was standing at the right bus stop at the right time and the right bus stopped. Marvellous! Once I got to Reus I decided to wander around some streets I hadn't visited before. I took pictures of the following unusual, for me at any rate, sights:
Evidently Santa is still doing his rounds. Unless he's very early for next year...

A shop window display. These bears were all moving

A log with clothes and a face. The basket between its legs contained small packets of food.
For a video clip I thought of Donovan's 1960's hit: "sunshine came softly through my window today" - because it did! Roll on Spring!

Saturday, 30 December 2017

394: Fetch me my crampons

This morning I decided it was time for my last walk of 2017 up to Ben Bhraggie (397 metres above sea level). It was really misty in the village of Golspie but I very soon climbed out of the mist into a bright, sunny but cold, Winter's day.
There were some lovely views because of the bright day. What looks like cloud that has fallen out of the sky is actually mist that has rolled in from the sea. It was blanketing the village but as I climbed it moved off to the North. Conditions underfoot ranged from 'normal' to muddy, to icy, to snowy.  I decided to return by the longer path round behind the monument. There was still ice in places but the path is less steep. Endomondo suggests I had completed 5.5 miles (8 km) before I returned home, tired out and more than ready for some lunch. I only fell once, when I got back to a tarmacked road and there was some sheet ice on it.  Oh, sheet, I said, as I fell. No permanent damage done.

Today's video has to be "Mull of Kintyre" with "mist rolling in from the sea"

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

393: Auld Reekie

Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland, is known by a number of nicknames and colloquial names. It is commonly known as "Auld Reekie", a name thought to originate from a distinctive mix of sewage stench and smoke/smog in the Old Town of Edinburgh.
I'm here for a couple of days to apply for a visa to allow me to visit my old friend Bob McGarry, who lives in Krasnodar in the South of Russia. I've paid an absolute arm and a leg for express processing of the visa and I will know within the next two hours whether I have been successful or not. If I am denied the visa, for any reason, then the cost of applying for the visa, the cost of the flights, and the cost of the hotel will all go down the tubes. All my fingers are crossed for a successful outcome.
In between submitting the paperwork and collecting my passport, hopefully with a visa in it, we have had quite some time to explore Edinburgh. Yesterday we 'did' Princes Street and I was able to collect my pre-ordered Turkish Lira as I plan to visit Istanbul on the way to Russia. In the evening we enjoyed some tacos and tequila in a Mexican restaurant, Diablo Loco, which we chanced upon on our way back to the guest house. The old adage that you get what you pay for became evident when I took a shower this morning in the guest house where we had decided to lay our heads for the two nights. It was one of those cubicle things and when I tried to slide the door closed it fell off! I duly reported it and, to their credit, it has been fixed. I must try and be a bit more gentle with it tomorrow. Breakfast was advertised as 0800-1000 Alisdair and I turned up for 8 o'clock and the waitress/hostess/person i/c breakfast turned up at about 8.30. By which time we had helped ourselves to cereal and toast. She very quickly prepared bacon and eggs for those fat boys amongst us.  
Today, despite the bitterly cold wind, we had a wander around Arthur's Seat. I was amazed by the number of people, walkers and runners of all ages and both sexes, who were on the hills, blowing away the cobwebs from the Christmas excesses.  (question to self: are there still only 2 sexes theses days or have a couple more crept in?).
A couple of pictures, to prove we were there. 

Waverley station, from above

Swan Lake

I'll drink anything!

STOP PRESS: Visa granted. Krasnodar here we come...