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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

Saturday, July 8, 2017

385: The magic talking fish

Two people very close to me have asked for another blog, so here goes.
Salou port
sorry about the focus - I wanted to emphasize the mountains in the background as well as the hotels at the water's edge.
I arrived in Salou, my new 'base of operations' just over a week ago. The journey here, from Warsaw, was not without incident. We touched down in Barcelona's Terminal 1 about 30 minutes late. Not a problem. No time at all to clear the airport as both Poland and Spain are in the Schengen agreement . I took the free bus shuttle to Terminal 2 and walked along the aerial walkway to the train station. Unfortunately, the little window, where they usually sell train tickets, had the blinds down. I think they were having what I will call a maƱana break. That's a shame, I thought to myself, as there is a train waiting to leave. I approached a ticket machine with some trepidation. There was an option to get instructions in English, which I pounced on with relish. What there wasn't was a destination called Salou. I think the machine was just for destinations local to Barcelona. I bought a ticket to Barcelona Sants and turned to watch the train pulling out of the station. 30 minutes to wait for the next one. Never mind, time for una cerveza while I waited. As I was boarding the train I noticed that the little window had its blinds up and was again open for business.
Unfortunately again, when I got Barcelona Sants there were approximately 3 minutes to change to the Salou train and I had no ticket. Of course, by the time I bought the ticket that train too had left. Only 90 minutes to wait for the next one. Hey ho.
By the time I got to my little flat in Salou I was more than ready for an early night. 
Since then I've been soaking up the sun most days. My kit arrived from Warsaw at midnight on Monday evening. Yes, midnight. Most of it is unpacked now and has been chucked haphazardly into any old drawer or cupboard for later sorting out. The 17 boxes of various sizes, 2 holdalls and 1 sun lounger all arrived safely. A bargain at 1,000 Euros. Have a look at the Dutch auction on if you ever want to have stuff moved across Europe.
On Tuesday I ordered a unit from Carrefour online to hold the PC and printer. None of your Amazon next day delivery option here. It was shown as 3-5 working days and the tracking status still shows "order being processed". I do hope they can finally get a wiggle on as I'm flying back to UK on Thursday.   
The weather changed today and we've had rain and some thunder. Apparently the rest of Spain, where the rain falls mainly on the plain, has already had it for the last day or so. Here in Salou I have been enduring 30 degrees most days. 

I'm reading an interesting book by Bill Browder, who was the driving force behind Hermitage Capital Management. It is called Red Notice (How I became Putin's No. 1 enemy). He has lots of stories and anecdotes and I was particularly amused by the Russian proverb about a Magic Fish. "One day a poor villager happens upon a magic talking fish that is ready to grant him a single wish. Overjoyed, the villager weighs his options - maybe a castle, or a thousand bars of gold..... As the villager is about to make his decision, the fish interrupts him to say there is one important caveat: whatever the villager gets, his neighbour will receive two of the same. Without skipping a beat the villager says 'in that case, please poke one of my eyes out'."   

Saturday, June 3, 2017

384: Bring on the McDonalds!

I'm in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. My last chance to explore this particular part of North East Europe before my move to Spain at the end of the month. I can say that I have at least tried the local food. Yesterday evening I found myself in a "cafe" two minutes away from my hotel (Vilnius City Hotel). The menu was only in Lithuanian and I had not a word of that particular language to my name (I have since discovered that if you make a sound as if you're sneezing, "achoo", then that means thank you).  So, back to the old tried and tested method of closing the eyes and jabbing a finger somewhere on the menu. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I ended up with a Lithuanian staple called cepelinai but it wasn't for me I'm afraid. Back to the hotel and to bed with a beer. You can't go wrong with a beer. Unless you have too many and then, of course, there is the potential to go very wrong.
Luckily, this morning, during my walkabout, I found a McDonalds. Right in front of the station. Haven't ventured inside yet but I feel more comfortable now I know it is there as a standby. :)

A few selected pics from my perambulations this morning. Some I've captioned and some not. Off to Kaunas tomorrow - probably, before flying back to Warsaw on Monday.

This so reminds me of Odessa with the locals laying out their wares for private sale.
A very ornate covered market. I though it was the train station when I saw it first.


Graffiti? or street art? It certainly gets the message across.

Lots of old wooden houses around - at least in this one there is a large choice of TV channels to watch.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

383: Oh this year I'm off to sunny Spain.....

I've done it! I've bought a tiny apartment (a bijou pied-a-terre to use most of my Franglais in one go) in Salou on the Costa Dourada and at the end of June I will move my teaching base from Poland to Spain. Bring on the sunshine.
This blog will take a slightly different format from my usual 'travelogue' style and instead I will give the reader an insight into the kind of things you might like to consider if you ever decide to buy a property abroad - and one or two things that tripped me up.

Once I had decided I wanted to move to Spain I had to decide where. In theory the further South one goes the warmer the climate. Around Malaga and Alicante would have been ideal if I was simply seeking the sun. But actually I wanted to keep the same working regime as I have at the moment (i.e. 3 weeks 'abroad' and 1 week in UK). Looked at from that point of view then somewhere 'near' Barcelona would be better. I started looking at properties on the internet that were on the Costa Brava (North of Barcelona) or Costa Dourada (South of Barcelona). Once I found what I hoped were reputable estate agents (realtors to my American friends) I signed on and sat back to wait for details of a plethora of available properties to come winging their way into my in box.  

It wasn't a plethora because there wasn't that much available in my price range but there were a few that I thought I might like and I decided to visit and inspect them. Then I made my first mistake. I decided to visit Spain on 5th January because it was Epiphany in Poland and there would therefore be no lessons to miss. Stupid boy - it was Epiphany in Spain too so the estate agents were closed. In fact it turns out that in the winter most of them are closed on Saturdays as well. At least I got a look at the local geography but I had to arrange another visit to view any properties. 

I went back a few weeks later and had a look at a couple of properties that looked interesting. I whittled down the list to just one, in Cambrils, and made a tentative offer. It wasn't ideal, and didn't even have a balcony. At this point fate intervened and nothing happened for several weeks. I decided to start looking again and found the palace I am now the owner of. Do please notice that the first 'a' in palace has been crossed out.

Before moving in I had to get a NIE number and open a Spanish bank account. Without either of these things it is impossible to buy property in Spain. The first proved easier than I had thought and the second much more difficult. I downloaded an application form for an NIE and presented it, and several other documents, to the Spanish Consulate in London. I had fully expected the trip to be in vain and to be told that I needed all sorts of other documents but no, they accepted what I had taken along, with only minor modifications, and a few weeks later my NIE appeared in my email in box. The bank account was a different story. When I opened a bank account in Poland a couple of years ago I simply showed them my passport and hey presto, here is your account number and debit card Sir. In Spain, rather different. I needed to prove not only who I was but how much my pension was and where I had got the money I was hoping to plough into this property in Salou. It's all done now and internet banking is fine but it was a bit of a naus jumping through all the hoops to prove I wasn't laundering money.

I've rambled for long enough. There can be a Part II but it will only appear on request.

hang on a minute...
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