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Wednesday, 28 February 2018

401: When in Ramsey...

There has been white stuff falling from the sky. I know what it is, having lived in Moscow for 2+6 years, but around these parts it's rarer than rocking-horse s**t. I went gleefully to the loft to search for the cross-country skis that I bought in Moscow from the sports beryozka some 40 years ago. Who remembers beryozki (берёзки)? Special shops scattered around Moscow exclusively for foreigners (and their hard currency). I found the skis and poles and boots underneath a pile of other stuff - the loft is full of things we haven't seen for 25 years. But then - deep disappointment. The boots had been in the loft so long that the rubber has perished so they no longer clip into the studs on the skis. It is not possible to use those ancient skis without clipping ancient boots into them. I was so looking forward to a quick langlauf session  around my estate. Reluctantly I had to abandon the idea and settle for a walk instead.

Donated my 62nd pint of blood in Cambridge on Monday. With 8 pints circulating in the human body, I've almost rejuvenated myself 8 times.
For a video clip I've chosen, for my younger readers, Frosty the Snowman.




Thursday, 22 February 2018

400: When in Rome .. (Part II). I came, I saw, I went home again

The whole world runs on scams. In London, and Moscow, and many other cities, there is a choice of fast train or slow train to get you from the airport to the city centre. In Rome it costs 14 Euros for the Leonardo express or 8 Euros for the slower train, which also involves a change. I went into the train terminal at the airport and the man behind the counter, who probably works for the railways, immediately showed me a glossy flyer that offered airport to hotel minibus shuttle for only 15 Euros. I was tempted to say no to the scam and to buy a train ticket but that would have been cutting off the nose to spite the face. Half a dozen other people also accepted the offer and we were transported into town, at great speed, in a luxury minibus.The (fast) train would have been quicker because the minibus took everybody else to their hotel first but I did get to see some of the sights of Rome - and there are many. Having checked into the hotel I had a look on the map for the nearest sight worth seeing. Turned out to be the Trevi fountain. It was about 20-30 minute walk from the hotel and even at 7 p.m. was packed with tourists.


I grabbed some dinner on the way back to the hotel. "Happy hours" seem to be popular here where you can eat as much as you want but there's only one drink included. 10 Euros. They would have lost out on the deal if I was still a young man. In those days I earned the sobriquet 'Dustbin Des' but I tend not to eat quite as much now. Also on the way back I passed this building and I wanted to take a picture so I could make a comment about passing the red light district. Unfortunately my phone showed only orange. Use your imagination - all the windows were showing red. I'm sure there is a Reeperbahn equivalent in Rome but it wasn't on my list of places to visit.

The next day, after breakfast, I set off for the Vatican. Another country I can tick off the list. I enjoyed a wander, and a wonder, around St Peter's Square. I'm too tight to pay to go into any of the wonderful places around the square and also far too impatient to stand in queues but there are plenty of sites on the internet to allow good close-ups. Click here for a virtual guided tour of the Sistine chapel.





From the Vatican it is but a short bus ride to the Forum and the Coliseum.I forgot to mention yesterday that when I was paying the rather extortionate tourist tax, the hotel receptionist jokingly suggested they needed it because they were building a new coliseum.



 Having traipsed around Rome all day Saturday I wanted something different for Sunday so took a bus to the beautiful medieval city of Siena. Rather than inundate you with photos I thought I would just give a link to the google images page.
I flew back to Barcelona on Tuesday and had to quickly unscrew my (empty) 'Buongiorno' head and screw on my (not quite so empty) 'buenos dias' head. Why didn't we all end up speaking Esperanto. At least I didn't have to faff about exchanging Liras for Pesetas.
I will finish with a video clip of Matt Munro singing "three coins in the fountain".

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".