Bruce Stainsby's Blog: Muttering from the mo

Málaga to Madrid, with many
diversions along the way.

November 30th, 2016

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Málaga.

The relaxing and partying part of our trip was over and it was now down to the touring.

We picked up our rented Seat Leon in Granada and headed south to the coast and Málaga and eventually Madrid.

Our first stop after leaving Granada was at Alhama de Granada. The locals were preparing for a festival and bull fight, that was to start on the weekend.

Unfortunately we were three days too early.

It would have been good to be there for the festival but not the bull fight.

Our apartment in Málaga was in the centre of town and an olive’s pip spit away from the cathedral. There was a restaurant and bar, El Jardín, just outside our entrance. It was so close to our accommodation that the apartment’s WiFi still worked while we were having an evening drink.

The temperature was ten degrees lower than Granada but the humidity was way higher.

Our host, Pepe, had suggested that we go to El Pimpi, a wine bar and restaurant. Apparently it’s an institution in Málaga and not to be missed.

It was a very well oiled tourist machine.

The service was swift, the prices reasonable and it’s vast. It also proudly boasts photos of many well known people who have visited there over the years.

Sean Connery and Tony Blair are two that I recognised, however the snaps of them were taken well before they became famous.

Looking for some exercise we had a walk along Málagueta. This is a long stretch of sandy beach, not far from the centre of Malaga, but then everything is within walking distance there.

The Picasso Museum in Málaga is housed in the elegant Palacio de Buenavista, which was another short walk from our apartment.

The irony of the Picasso Museum is that Pablo, Málaga’s favourite son, last visited the city when he was 19 years old – he lived to be 92.

The narrative of the museum is all about Picasso’s belief in what art should do.

“Art is both an offensive and defensive weapon.”

The collection spans eight decades of his work and includes ceramics, portraiture, landscaped and sculpture.

One piece that fascinated me was his 1921 ‘Mother and Child’. This was done in the monumental style of Cézanne and Renoir and seems to allude to a father figure that’s almost fused in with the mother.

He is in the shadows but his face and left arm are distinctly masculine. This painting was a celebration of Picasso’s joy and amazement at becoming a father.

Picasso’s ceramics and simple line engravings still remain my favourites.

There was huge activity in the Cathedral, which was just across the road from our room. It was festival season in Spain and Málaga Cathedral was in the midst of the Festival of the Holy Virgin Mary.

The streets were shut off to make way for the bands, community groups, police and religious icons that were paraded around the cathedral. It was constant, as they came out of one door of the church and then in another.

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Ronda and the White Villages.

We were originally going to stay in Ronda and explore the White Villages from there.

However when we went to book accommodation there was nothing available within our price range. We tried to stay at the Parador in Ronda once before but it was closed due to industrial trouble. This time the rooms available were so expensive it would have used up a weeks worth of our travel allowance.

This all turned out to be due to yet another festival.

The Festival of Pedro Romero (1754-1839) is a celebration of one of Spain’s most famous bull fighters. Pedro is said to have changed the style of fighting bulls. He fought the bulls on foot, rather than horseback and used a cape and sword.

Our next option was to stay in one of the White Villages and explore the Pueblos Blancos from there.

We chose Júzcar.

This village wasn’t white at all but Smurf Blue.

In 2011 Júzcar was selected to be the venue for the launch of Sony Pictures ‘The Smurfs 3D’. This required the village to be painted Smurf Blue.

It took three weeks, 20 painters and 9,000 litres of paint to transform this white village to a blue one.

Later that year the residents voted to keep their village blue and were rewarded in 2013 by becoming the promotional venue for ‘Smurfs 2′.

The Smurf theme runs throughout the town with statues and murals of Smurfs, Smurf gift shops and mushroom shaped information booths.

It’s unique, a bit chintzy but a lot of fun.

And a very good marketing move by the residents.

Situated in the Upper Genal Valley, Juzcar is one of seven White Villages, Paruata, Cartajima, Pujerra, Igualeja, Faraján, Alpandeire and Júzcar.

Júzcar is more a Pueblos Azul than Blanco.

The White Villages were why we were in the area but discovering a blue one was a bonus.

The White Villages were originally built by Berber farmers from North Africa. They settled in Andalusia in the 9th and 10th centuries, during the early days of Moorish rule. By the 11th century the Christian reconquest forced the farmers to move to higher ground. The Moorish tradition of enclosed narrow streets, built in inaccessible hillside locations made their villages safer from attack.

But not that safe as every one has a church, convent or monastery. These were all built over the ruins of former mosques.

Our hotel in Júzcar, was the aptly named Hotel Bandolero, was run by David and Iván. David was originally from NYC while Iván is Spanish and comes from just outside of Madrid.

It had a pleasant atmosphere and the food was excellent, not surprising considering that Iván is a London trained, Cordon Bleu chef.

Iván’s talents when beyond the culinary, as he was responsible for painting many of the Smurf murals around the town.

We extended our stay by another night to give ourselves more time exploring the surrounding villages and magnificent countryside.

On our first day we drove via Alpandeire and the Cathedral Church of St Antonio de Padua then on to Cueva de la Pileta or Cave of the Pool, in English.

Luck can sometimes be on your side.

We arrived at the caves just before 1 PM,  just in time for the tour, the last before it reopened again at 4 PM.

The guide was excellent and did the tour in both Spanish and English. We had been told this isn’t always the case.

The Pileta Caves were fist discovered in 1905 by a Spanish farmer Jośe Bullón. They were opened to the public in 1924, after a more suitable entrance was discovered by Bullón’s son. The caves contain many paintings, that were first believed to be Moorish but later found to be Neolithic.

Descendants of Jośe still operate small group tours through the cave and they are very careful to protect what they have.

No photos are allowed.

We then drove to Grazalema via Mirador de Benaoján, where we got some great views of the imposing country side.

In this part of Spain the roads have more twists and turns than a US presidential election and there are very few opportunities to stop and take in the view.

Miradors or view points are rare.

In the heart of Grazalema is a statue of two men and a bull with a rope around its neck.

This is very significant in the history of this small white village. The ‘Roped Bull from Grazalema’ is part of a Celtic tradition that goes back 2,500 years. In Grazalema the Feast of the Tied Bulls goes back even further, as it celebrates the ancient sport of hunting wild bulls with ropes.

This was the forerunner to modern day bullfighting.

The next day we headed out again, this time to the south.

Our first village was Genalguacil and like many of the White Villages it has suffered from the financial crisis that has hit these small isolated townships.

Their answer was art.

Every two years Genalguacil holds an art festival. All the work produced over the two weeks of the festival remains the property of the village, so art is everywhere.

Genalguacil has a permanent population of around 522. The festival attracts 8,000 visitors biannually. And, like us, many more come to see this living gallery at other times of the year.

Their investment in art has certainly paid off.

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Gibraltar and Tarifa.

In a bizarre turn of events, as soon as we approached Gibraltar, British weather took hold.

The rock was shrouded in a thick mist, blocking out the sunshine that we had enjoyed for the past few weeks.

How very English.

” I hurts in places where I used to play.” These words from the late, master lyricist, Leonard Cohen, were very apt, after we spent a few hours clambering over ‘The Rock’. Having recently spent a lot of time sitting in a car, getting out and exercising had its down side.

The Barbary Apes or Barbary Macaques (they are not really apes) are everywhere on the rock of Gibraltar and they are a problem.

They are the only wild monkey population on the European continent and descended from North African Macaques. They have been there longer than the British and were most likely introduced by the Moors somewhere between 711 and 1492.

The problem is that people want to feed them, despite the signs that are everywhere. The monkeys know this and can become very aggressive in their search for the food that they believe is intended for them.

I found that the condition of Gibraltar, as a tourist attraction, was very poor. The infrastructure was outdated and the paths were in need of maintenance.

St Michael’s Cave is a network of limestone caves within the rock. Due to the discovery of two Neanderthal skulls, it is believed that the caves could have first been inhabited around 40,000 BC.

With a stage and flood lights in the largest grotto, St Michael’s Cave was in total contrast to the Pileta Caves, and more a disco than a natural wonder.

What was interesting were the Great Siege Tunnels that were built by the British during the American War of Independence. It is the longest siege that has been endured by the British forces, lasting three years and seven months.

These tunnels were dug for the fourteenth and final siege of the war and are a masterpiece of manual labour.

Thirteen men, using sledgehammers and crowbars, aided by gunpowder, took five weeks to dig a tunnel that was 25 meters in length and 0.74 metres square. Subsequent tunnels were dug and the total construction, which was completed in 1783, measured 277 metres in length.

The Moorish Castle which is near the entrance to the tunnels was started around 711, there is no record of when it was completed. The castle played an important part in the Muslim invasion of the Iberian Peninsula.

Dotted around the township of Gibraltar are token telephone and letter boxes and you can even see the odd Union Jacks fluttering in the breeze.

Just a reminder that they’re British on the Rock.

Our accommodation was at the Rock Hotel which opened in 1932.

Errol Flynn, Alec Guinness, Winston Churchill and Sean Connery have stayed there.

We had a ‘dock view’, which is about all you get from the Gibraltar waterfront.

However if we leant over our balcony and looked to the left we could see North Africa.

Dinner at the Angry Fryer was a curry with rice plus a steak and kidney pie with peas and chips.

You could get any combination of the dishes on offer, all with chips. The food was the old style ‘pub grub’ and certainly not influenced by Jamie Oliver.

Mine was washed down by a pint of John Smiths. The beer was good but the wine was cask, as you would expect in an English pub.

The British theme continued.

On the way to Cádiz we detoured to Tarifa. At 36 degrees latitude it’s on the southern most tip of Spain and continental Europe.

It’s also the wind sport capital of Europe.

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Cádiz.

Driving to Cádiz the scenery and weather changed.

The winds got stronger and coming into Cádiz we experienced a fierce thunderstorm. Visibility was reduced to 30 metres and the windscreen wipers were going at top speed.

It could have had something to do with the fact that we also moved from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic.

In Tarifa we saw hundreds of kite surfers and in Cádiz the board riders were out looking to crack the big Atlantic swells.

This coastline is certainly different.

In the evening the sun came out again but the temperature was lower and there was still a strong wind.

Cádiz is the oldest continually inhabited city in Spain, going back as far as 1104 BC, and one of the oldest in Western Europe. Being a port city it played a vital role in developing trade with the Americas. Christopher Columbus sailed from Cádiz on his second and fourth voyages and it was the home port of the Spanish treasure fleet.

The Spanish Constitution, of 1812, was written in Cádiz, so there is a great deal of history in the city. The constitution, although never fully implemented, was one of the most liberal for its time. It was repealed by Ferdinand VII in 1814, reinstated again in 1820 and then rewritten by the Progressives in 1837.

There are buildings and monuments all over the city tracing the history of Cádiz.

The Roman Theatre or Theatrum Balbi was thought to have been built during the 1st century BC and is one of the largest ever built in the Roman Empire.

It was abandoned in the 4th century AD and in the 13th century a fort was built on its ruins.

It was only rediscovered in 1980 while work was being carried out on the Arab fort.

The Cádiz Cathedral, built between 1722 and 1838, is known as the ‘The Cathedral of The Americas’ As it was funded by money that came from the lucrative trade between Spain and America.

It was designed by Vicente Acero, who also built the cathedral in Granada.

Inside the cathedral there is a net beneath the ceiling. This is needed, as there is a lot of fallen masonry caught in the net, between the ceiling and the congregation or in our case the tourists below.

I think some serious money needs to be spent again on the cathedral.

We climbed Levante Tower and got a spectacular panoramic view of the city.

In the Plaza de la Catedral there was an exhibition of six of Henry Moore’s monumental sculptures. They sat beautifully against the backdrop of the baroque/neoclassical styled cathedral.

In the Museum of the Cádiz Constitution there is a 1/250 scale model of Cádiz by Alfonso Ximénez  in fine wood, Ivory and silver. Created between 1777 and 1779. It’s a wonderful insight as to how Cádiz would have looked in the 18th century, its golden age.

On our second night we found Restaurate Sopranis.

We had to wander around Cádiz, for about an hour, waiting for it to open at 9 pm.

It was worth it.

Their opening hours were traditionally Spanish but their food wasn’t. It was Andalusian with a contemporary flair, beautifully presented with delicate flavours.

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Mérida.

We decided to have our ‘Paradore experience’ in Mérida.

Paradores are divided into three different types.

Paradores Civia, are urban hotels in the heart of the city. Paradores Naturia are where you can enjoy nature or the coast and Paradore Esentia are in historic buildings.

We were staying in the latter style.

Our Paradore in Mérida was originally an 18th century convent.

Mérida is full of Roman antiquity, so much that our Parador had them as garden ornaments.

There was so much to see that we decided to stay an extra night.

Mérida is a tale of two cities as we stayed, and loved Mérida in Mexico.

Augusta Emerita, now Mérida, was founded in 25 BC by Augustus to resettle emeritus soldiers who had been discharged from the Roman army.

With theatres, amphitheatres, aqueducts, temples and arches it is certainly a very well equiped retirement village.

The Archaeological Ensemble of Mérida, is one of the largest and most extensive archaeological sites in Spain. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1993.

Mérida is sometimes known as the Spanish Rome.

After viewing the ruins you don’t go out for a spaghetti, pizza or gnocchi but rather tortilla, croquettes or jamon.

There is also the 9th century Alcazaba, or Muslim fortification, located very close to the Roman bridge or Puente Romano.

The Alcazaba has seen many battles.

Isabel Católica in 1479, Napoleon in 1811 and finally the Spanish Civil War in 1936. Preceding these, were conflicts involving the Romans, Visigoths and Arabs.

The 762 metres wide Puente Romano is the the world’s longest surviving bridge from ancient times. Just near the bridge is a statue of Romulus and Remus, a reminder of Mérida’s ancient heritage.

When we arrived Mérida was like morgue, even the fountain in the main square was having a siesta.

It was a different story in the evening.

The locals were out and they obviously knew something that we didn’t, as they all had on warmer clothes for the much cooler evenings.

I decided to buy a light weight jumper and found a Pull and Bear outlet.

For the cost of a main course, €15, I got a light weight cotton jumper.

I do like shopping in Spain.

After two full days of visiting the archeological sites of Mérida we gave ourselves a half day off.

An excursion to the Basíca de Santa Eulalia and the Circus Romano in the morning was followed by lunch at the Parador.

I had a siesta, Thea did some photo editing and then at 9pm we headed out into the town again.

It was alive – not with tourists but locals all enjoying the balmy evening air. I didn’t need the jumper I had purchased the night before.

Even at 11pm the plaza near the Parador was still crowded.

The Circo Romano is one of the features of Mérida, if only for its size. It was modelled on the Circus Maximus in Rome and could hold up to 30,000 spectators. It’s over 400 meters in length and 30 meters wide.

The construction of the circus is very symbolic, which is explained in the well organised and informative signage.

“The circus in the Roman world was a building full of symbolism.

The power of the emperor and the cosmos were one and the same, and both were represented in the elements of this building.

One could say the the circus represented a miniature universe.

The arena symbolised the Earth and its shape represented a full year, which the charioteers were to travel seven times atop their chariots.”

It continued:

“Turn your attention to the chariot gates located at the far right of the building.

Each one of them symbolises the twelve months of the year.

The chariot, pulled by horses, symbolises the sun and the charioteer represented the god Apollo.

The seven laps of each race were identified with the seven days of the week, and usually 24 races were carried out, equalling one day.

Four divisions, or teams, existed. Each one was identified by a colour.

The teams symbolised the four seasons of the year.”

Another sign read:

“Now take note of the central barrier which divides the circus arena.

The pool symbolises the ocean and the obelisk, located in the centre, represented the sun at dusk.

At the end of the central barrier, the starting point and goal were located: the ‘dawn starting point’ was where the race began and the ‘secondary goal point’ was where it ended.

Both represented the East and the West.”

It was time to leave Rome and head back to Spain.

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Trujillo, Toledo and Aranjuez.

On our way to Toledo we found a cafe right on the Plaza Major in Trujillo for lunch.

It was hard to find a free table as there were a number of large ones set.

Then a tour bus turned up and we realised why.

We left very quickly.

We wanted to visit Trujillo, as we now had a family connection. Andrea’s maternal surname is Trujillo, so it was important that we made a visit.

It is also has a many Medieval and Renaissance buildings that were either built or renovated by the conquistadors.

We arrived in Toledo late in the afternoon and after checking into our hotel we went for a stroll around the Old Town.

The Almunia de San Miguel Hotel, where we were staying, was in a narrow back street and took some finding.

I think it’s operated by just two people. The manager, who only turns up when there are guests to welcome, and the house maid who serves breakfast and cleans the rooms.

It was centrally located and in an old Moorish house with traditional furnishings.

We were offered a choice of rooms. In fact, going by the number of tables set for breakfast, I think we were the only people there.

This would have to go down as one of the weirdest places we have ever stayed at.

We didn’t see the manager again until our last morning, breakfast wasn’t available on the second day, as the house maid had to take her child to hospital. The Internet was promised but we could never log on.

The manager was very apologetic for the stuff-ups and gave us two nights for the price of one.

The next day we needed to prepare for our African trip, so went looking for a Lavanderias or Laundromat.

The house maid had no idea where there was one so we Googled a chain we had discovered in Granada.

Sure enough we found one but it was a taxi ride away.

Getting a taxi there wasn’t an issue but finding one to get back was.

You can’t seem to be able to hail a taxi off the street in Toledo.

Toledo is built high on a hill, so we resigned ourself to the walk back up that hill. Then we discovered the escalator, six levels of fast moving, leg saving luxury.

The afternoon was spent walking around city.

We spent an hour or so in the Cathedral, a magnificent structure, regarded by many as the best example of Gothic architecture in Spain. It was started in 1226 and finished during the rule of the Catholics Monarchs in 1493.

It was as much an art gallery as a church as there were examples from many artists. Goya, Titian, Rubens, Rafael and more are to be found in the Cathedral Museum.

Their pride and star attraction is The Disrobing of Christ by El Greco. Started in 1577 and completed in 1579, it now adorns the High Altar of the sacristy.

In Plaza San Justo, not far from our hotel, we came across Virtudes Café and Bar.

They had craft beer.

They had two varieties, a larger or rubia and a red beer, or roja, both in bottles and especially brewed for Virtudes.

It was great to have a change from the mass produced beers I had been drinking since leaving Barcelona.

The roja paired very well with the Manchebo cheese and Spanish olives we had for tapas.

After breakfast on our last day in Spain we decided to drive to Aranjuez, which is half way between Toledo and Madrid.

Firstly we found a good lookout, overlooking Toledo, and after getting a few snaps, from the other side of the Tagus River.

Aranjuez is the home to the Royal Summer Palaces. It has been one of the Royal Estates of the Crown of Spain since the times of Philip II in 1560.

All we really wanted was a walk so we strolled around the magnificent gardens of the palace.

Well they would have been magnificent in spring and early summer. The heat had devastated most of the flowers beds and box hedges and the the leaves on the plain trees were starting to turn.

Autumn was on its way.

Aranjuez was yet another diversion, before we headed to Madrid and our 9:40pm flight to Nairobi.

There spring had just started.

Granada, a special city for a special event.

October 13th, 2016

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The main purpose of our trip to Granada was for Hayden and Andrea’s wedding.

We had been to the city twice before in 2012 and had experienced its marvellous history in both summer and winter.

I was also in Granada way back in 1972, but that’s another story.

Our tourist adventures were very modest and mainly confined to walking trips around our hotel.

The Hotel Reina Christina is right in the heart of Old Granada so there was still plenty to see, even if it was done very casually.

While Thea was off having a manicure and pedicure with Kate; Evan, Stephanie and I spent an hour of so visiting the Granada Cathedral or the Cathedral of the Incarnation.

The construction of this cathedral was a long time in coming as it had to wait for for the acquisition of the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada from its Muslim rulers in 1492. As a result it was designed in the Spanish Renaissance style. It was started in 1518 and built on top of the city’s main mosque, a common practice when one culture replaced another.

It took 181 years for the cathedral to be completed.

As part of the admission fee you get an audio guide to help you negotiate this very large and ornate place of Cristian worship.

I wished that I’d had a dictionary of architectural and ecclesiastical terms to help me interpret the very verbose descriptions.

We did venture, one hot afternoon, to the El Albaicin area, which is on the opposite of hill to the Alhambra, near Sacromonte.

This area features narrow winding streets that reflect Granada’s Medieval Moorish past. It was made a UNESCO World heritage site in 1984.

The group staying at the hotel for the wedding started with Thea and me and grew to fourteen over a ten day period.

We soon discovered the best coffee in Granada and possibly Spain. Visits to La Finca Coffee, or Plantation, soon became a daily ritual.

There were a number of other Australians in Granada, who were also there for the wedding, and they also discovered La Finca.

Thea and I hosted a cocktail party at the Hotel Vincci Albayzin. The idea was to introduce Andrea to those overseas guest who hadn’t already met her and to also give everyone a chance to meet Andrea’s immediate family.

It was a great success, going way beyond the predicted time.

The Spanish know how to party and so do Australians.

The wedding itself was a fabulous event, set in a spectacular location, on Sacromonte, overlooking the Alhambra.

The formalities started just before sunset, so everything was bathed in a magic evening light. Apart from a professional photographer and videographer, there were more cameras snapping than a frenzied pack of paparazzi at the film festival in Cannes.

I kept my camera in its bag.

The next day was to recover, not surprising considering we had been at the wedding for over ten hours and didn’t get back to the hotel until 6.30 am.

We weren’t the last to leave.

Olives are not tapas.

On our last night in Granada we went out for a drink and then a meal. Now in Granada the tradition is that for every drink you have you get a free tapa.

This didn’t happen.

At the first bar we got a very small bowl of sweets. And because we were waiting for our chosen restaurant to open, we were compelled to visit another bar.

Here we only got olives.

Sadly the partying is over and now it’s time for the serious touring to begin.

Barcelona old and new.

September 30th, 2016

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Barcelona was the first stop in our latest adventure.

Over the next three months we will be travelling to Granada, for Hayden and Andrea’s wedding, then on to the White Villages of Andalusia, down to Gibraltar and back north to Madrid. From there we fly to Nairobi in Kenya to start a two month tour of Southern Africa.

Barcelona seems to have become our second home and we are here to relax and acclimatise ourselves to the last warm breath of the northern summer.

It’s also a great opportunity for me to get used to my new Olympus camera, without the stress of missing any vital shots in new places.

Barcelona, while very familiar to us, is also constantly changing, so there is always something new to see and do.

Much to my delight the craft brew phenomenon has come to the city. There was in fact a craft Brewhouse right next door to our Air B&B in Raval. Ølgod has 30 taps, on a long white tiled wall. Surprisingly 25 were active, pumping out a variety of local and imported brews, with many from Denmark. Which is not unusual given that it’s named after a Danish railway town.

The ones I sampled were very good.

Barcelona has traditionally been the home of the big beer brands. Local brews such as Estrella and Moritz dominate while other European brands like Amstel, Heineken and Stella Artois satisfy the tourist tastes. It was exciting to see a move towards craft beers.

Over the first couple of days we had a number of déjà vu moments visiting familiar sites. We took the RENFE up to Badalona and had tapas in one of the temporary beach restaurants or Chiringuitos.

To get our legs ‘match fit’ for touring again we walked for hours around the city. Up the Rambla, through the Gothic Quarter to El Born and back from Gracia where the annual street festival was in its final days.

Looking for a completely new experience we took a return trip on the Port Vell Aerial Tramway to Montjuïc. The funicular isn’t new as it was built in 1931 and offers spectacular views over Barceloneta Beach, Port Vell and the city. We took the tramway from the Port to Miramar, which is halfway up the hill to Montjuïc.

After our funicular ride over Port Vell we walked along Barceloneta Beach towards the casino and the giant sculptural fish by Frank Gehry.

Barcelona has always been a creative city.

From the grand, Gothic inspired, Art Nouveau architecture of Antonio Gaudy to the small businesses, creating interesting and original craftwork.

We discovered Camino, selling handmade Spanish shoes and clothing. Effecto Limón making quirky dresses and bags all built around zips. And the Barcelona Duck Shop that has hundreds of different designs of rubber bath ducks.

We bought ‘Bat Duck’ a masked avenger version for Bruno, Andrea’s nephew.

Barcelona seems to be about two hours out of kilter with my body clock, or more probably what I’m used to.

Breakfast doesn’t start until ten or eleven, while lunch is at three and dinner isn’t till nine.

In keeping with the locals we walked down to Born and had a late lunch in one of the many outdoor restaurants close to the old market.

El Born CCM is a museum, where the ruins of 1700 Barcelona have been unearthed below the market area.

I get the feeling that Spanish dining times will become the norm once we reach Granada.

Following the plan to do something different while in Barcelona we took the funicular up to Vallvidrera Superior. This is a high point in Barcelona and has some spectacular views of the city and port. Overshadowing the sleepy hillside village, on Tibadabo Hill, is the Torre de Collserola or Collserola Communications Tower. Built for the 1992 Spanish Summer Olympics it stands 288.4 meters tall. It was designed by the British architect Norman Foster.

Kate, Mark, Alex and Sarah arrived in Barcelona and we had arranged to spend a few days with them before heading to Granada.

They would follow a few days later.

Sarah and Alex had arranged for us to go on a tapas tasting trail. This started in the Barceloneta district and then proceeded to El Born. We visited a mixture of four tapas bars and restaurants, each with a distinctly different style of tapas.

The first was La Bombeta, a bar that has been credited with inventing the bombeta. A round, deep fried ball of potatoes and minced meat, served  with a garlic and hot chilli sauce.

Next bar was Jai Ca, which was predominately seafood. It was a local place and our group of tourists stood out.

Next was my favourite, Cerveceria el Vaso de oro, a gastro pub serving their own craft brews – meat was their featured food.

This quaint establishment, with its long narrow bar, was brewing its own beer well before the craft beer revolution.

Our final stop was at Tapeo AMB Daniel Rueda, a very Catalan establishment. Here we were served a variety of dishes, including Ox Tail and a Catalan variation of paella made with noodles, not rice, and squid ink.

Next stop was Granada, this is Andrea’s home town and where Hayden and Andrea will be formally married.

Well that’s a weight off my shoulders. 

August 7th, 2016

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II

I have finally taken the plunge and purchased a new camera.

Since my Sony Alpha 55 died in 2013 and I was forced to buy a new camera in Japan, I have had nothing but trouble.

Then in 2014 in China I had to buy a new Alpha 77 and another telephoto lens, after a major lens malfunction and an incompatibility issue with my Alpha 66 (the one I bought in Japan).

Another concern was that every new model in the Sony range seems to get larger and heavier.

So with two camera bodies, three lenses and the associated equipment, my camera bag was weighing almost as much as my luggage.

Definitely time for a change.

I decided to go with the Micro Four Thirds system developed by Olympus in 2008. This is a mirrorless digital camera with interchangeable lens and 16mp stills.

The Micro Four Thirds shares the same size image sensor as the Four Thirds system but because it’s mirrorless has a much smaller body size. I chose the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II, despite its ridiculously long name, as it also has a built in image stabiliser, so the lenses are also smaller and lighter.

I have now reduced my equipment to one camera body and two lenses, which weigh a fraction of what I was having to schlep round.

All I need to do now is learn how to use it.

I purchased my new camera from Michaels Camera Store in Melbourne, as they were parity with their pricing and willing to give me a generous trade-in on my old Sony equipment.

So it’s not only a weight off my shoulders, it’s also a weight off my mind and my wallet.

Know your market. 

July 23rd, 2016

Swan_Hill_RSL_duo

We have recently travelled by road to Brisbane and back.

Travelling north was via the coast and the return journey was on the inland route, passing through Goondiwindi, Lighting Ridge, Bourke and Griffith.

For many evenings meals we availed ourselves of the various clubs, especially in NSW. These are reasonably priced, centrally located and offer some surprisingly good food.

In Swan Hill, Victoria, we had a meal at the RSL, which was next door to our motel.  It was a Sunday night and the only patrons were people of our vintage and many who were a lot older.

The bar and waiting staff were at least two generations younger and this was reflected in the music that was being played.

While the older generation were enjoying their Grilled Barramundi, Reef n’ Beef and Parmi, they were subjected to a medley of Chicago House, Rap and Detroit Techno.

Fortunately most of them could block out the music by turning down the volume on their hearing aids.

Photo composition by Steve McCurry.

June 20th, 2016

I receive countless posts, comments, opinions and videos each day on Facebook, most of them I ignore.

I must admit I’m a bit tired of cute animals, babies and people telling me about things that they have done, that don’t interest me in the slightest.

When this little video popped up it was so simple and to the point that I could’t help but share it on Facebook and post it here.

It’s by Steve McCurry an American editorial photographer, best known for his 1984 National Geographic cover titled ‘Afghan Girl’.

Sharbat_Gula

The video is a simple explanation of his favourite 9 Photo composition tips. It uses some of his great shots and demonstrates graphically how they are achieved.

The Afghan girl, who was later identified to be Sharbat Gula, uses his seventh tip, Centre Dominant Eye, to great effect.

Of course if you aren’t interested in photography, it won’t interest you in the slightest.

Now I know it’s time to retire.

May 25th, 2016

AI-CD β

The world’s largest advertising agency, McCann Erickson, has just hired an artificial intelligence (AI) creative director (CD) – his name is AI-CD β.

This has got me worried.

AI-CD β is designed to work alongside the humans to develop the look and feel of the advertising. It is automated to troll through award winning commercials, that have been tagged as relevant. From that data it develops a brief, of what the commercial should look like, then humans take over and come up with a creative concept.

AI-CD β has a physical presence and is capable of writing the brief for the human creative team. As this bot was developed by McCann Ericsson in Japan, the brief is written in Japanese calligraphy.

To my mind this process is back-to-front in two ways.

Firstly, the look of the commercial should be driven by the idea, which should come first. The creative concept should contain the hook, or idea, that gets the consumer involved and then gives the commercial relevance and memorability.

Secondly, great creative thinking doesn’t come from copying another idea but from creating something that is uniquely different.

There is however another aspect to this use of an AI-CD that’s of more concern.

And that’s if this concept takes-off, and bot creatives become the norm and are successful, who will go up to the podium to collect the awards?

http://www.sbs.com.au/topics/science/future/article/2016/04/26/when-new-guys-robot

Is the truth really out there?

April 6th, 2016

X_files

Recently I watched six new episodes of the very successful science fiction TV series, ‘The X-Files’.

The original series ran from September 1993 to May 2002. Written by Chris Carter and staring David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, there were 202 episodes and two feature films. The second film was released in 2008.

It was the longest running science fiction series in US history.

I think that this latest 6 episode series is a fishing expedition by 20th Century Fox Television. Each episode was so completely different that I can’t help but feel they are all part of an elaborate market research program.

Some episodes were verging on ‘slap-stick’ while others continued with the old protagonists and conspiracy theories.

The producers even introduced Fox and Scully clones.

Its been 8 years since the last film and 14 years since since the last series, so the market’s attitudes towards the characters and plots may well have shifted.

Will there be more X-Files and what will be the theme?

The truth is probably out there, or at least buried in the market research.

All’s not well in the Spamasphere. 

March 22nd, 2016

Disaster_strikes

There has been a strategy shift in the spam I get – it’s moved from greed to fear.

I receive up to six spam emails a day, and until recently they have all played on the greed factor to try and get me to respond.

I have won competitions, had thousands of dollars put into my account and been offered amazing money-making schemes.

All I have to do to unlock this wealth is to ‘Click here’

I know that they more than likely contain malware or are using ‘phishing’ to get personal information – I have therefore never clicked on anything to find out.

They seem to get around the text-based junk mail filters by disguising the content using numerals instead of letters and inserting punctuation in the middle a word.

‘The first thing you need to do is c0llect your c0mmissi0n ch.eck of 6,492.94. Set up your details here:

This has suddenly all changed.

I am now getting, with equally annoying regularity, a different form of spam. These all relate to impending disasters that will be unleashed on the USA, changing the American way of life forever.

And I don’t think they are referring to Donald Trump.

Subjects like: ‘The Imminent Danger From Within Our Borders’ and ‘The Worst Crisis Within US History is Almost Here’ now grace my inbox.

The ‘Click here’ relates to viewing secret reports or videos that will reveal these dastardly plots.

Conspiracy is now the new reason to ‘Click here’

Also to be found at the base of these emails is another link:

‘If you want to unsubscribe from our list. Click here

By clicking to unsubscribe you are actually verifying your email address.

Of course the spam will continue – that’s unless disaster strikes first.

Don’t worry, they’re English. 

March 14th, 2016

Richmond Bridge

The Twelve Apostles

We have recently spent 2 weeks travelling around Tasmania and then along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. This was with our English friends, Pat and Graham, from Dorset.

Being a tourist in your own country is an eye opener, as you start to see you home from a different perspective.

Not as a local but as a visitor.

We met Pat and Graham in Launceston and had intended to travel west towards Strahan, via Cradle Mountain. We had never seen that side of the island and we knew that they wanted to see some of Tasmania’s wilderness areas.

This was not to be.

In the week leading up to our visit bushfires had developed right across the north and west coast areas. Spring 2015 was the driest on record and the conditions were described by farmers as the worst in 70 years.

So after a night in Launceston we headed east, away from the fires, through St Helens and down the coast to Bicheno.

It was in Bicheno that the Tasmanian drought broke.

The temperature plummeted and the rains were torrential. So much so that our apartment in ‘Bicheno By The Bay’ flooded.

Pat and Graham had come to Australia for warmer, dryer weather. After all this was the land or oranges and sunshine.

On that particular day the temperature was higher in London than on the east coast of Tasmania.

In Bicheno we were told that there was a colony of Fairy Penguins (for politically correct reasons they are now called Little Penguins) just near the hotel, so we went out in search of them. It was raining and we were out in the dark, getting wet and cold. Pat and I decided to return to the apartment but Graham was undeterred so he and Thea stayed out in the foul conditions a little longer.

The penguin sightings were few and far between.

The next day we headed further south and spent hours walking around the Freycinet Peninsula. This stunning 18km hike took us to Coles Bay and then over the peninsula to Wineglass Bay.

Despite the rain Pat and Graham always carried their bathers. This was Australia and they were determined to swim whenever there was an opportunity.

We didn’t worry, they’re English.

Port Arthur was our next destination.

I have been to Port Arthur three times and on each visit the somberness of the place is reflected by the gloominess of the weather.

This time was no different.

What was different however is the development of this historic site. This is now a truly world class tourist attraction that showcases the brutality of the convict settlement – this was slavery in the guise of a penal colony.

Hobart Town was thriving, Van Dieman’s Land needed workers and prisoners were a cheap, available labor force.

The rain alternated between drizzle and downpour but we continued on our discovery tour. Pat and Graham seemed unfazed by the rain and by the end of the day we were all soaked to the skin.

They didn’t worry, they’re English.

Hobart was next, and as our hotel was very close to Salamanca Place, visiting the Saturday market was placed on the agenda.

This is a huge market that almost takes up the entire length of Salamanca Place. It’s sells everything from local arts and crafts to plush toys like Tasmanian Tigers and Tasmanian Devils.

Surprisingly most of these were made in Tasmania and not China.

That afternoon we visited the Cascades Female Factory. Again we found the whole tourist experience professional, enlightening and very confronting.

In many cases the women were treated more harshly than the men, and again were nothing but slave labor for the fledgling settlement. And even worse, any child that was born to a convict in the Female Factory had little chance of survival, as the mortality rate was almost 100%.

If by some chance a child did survive they would have been mute, as there was a strict code of silence in the gaol – so language skills were never learnt.

The Cascades Female Factory and Port Arthur, along with nine other convict sites form the Australian Convict Sites World Heritage Property. These sites highlight the growth, through forced migration, of the Australian nation.

There was an exhibition of photography at both Port Arthur and the Cascades Female Factory by Mine Konakci, titled ‘A convict in the family?’ This was inspired by the fact that from 1787 to 1868 over 160,000 convicts were transported the colony, and many Australians have identified a convict in their family history. Mine posed the descendant with props, directly relating to the crime that had been committed.

This was a very creative way of connecting the past with the present.

Later that day we drove north east to Richmond. This is a well preserved tourist town, best known for its bridge that was completed in 1825 and is the oldest in Australia.

On our last day in Hobart we took the catamaran up the river to MONA (Museum of Old and New Art). The current exhibition was a Gilbert and George Retrospective – 97 pictures painted from 1970 to 2014. To my mind Gilbert and George are a well oiled ‘art factory’. Via a controlled form of graphic design, they use their distinctive style to make social commentary.

It’s not to everyone’s taste but you wouldn’t expect anything that David Walsh does at MONA to be main-stream.

Having had enough of art, culture and history we left Hobart and headed north to Pine Lake on the Central Plateau. This is part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. It was here that the sun finally broke through and we got to see some blue sky.

On the road to do the Liffey Falls walk we met a group of ‘Firies’(male and female firefighters) heading back from a week in the state’s north west.

It was great to chat to them and get a small insight into their battle with the Tasmanian bushfires.

That night, at our motel in Deloraine, there was another group of sixteen firefighters, this group from New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.

It was an interesting encounter for Pat and Graham, after all there aren’t that many bushfires in Dorset.

On our final day in Tasmania we drove from Deloraine to Springlawn Lagoon in the Narawntapu National Park.

Just off the track in the National Park is Bakers Beach, a long stretch of sand and surf that opens out into Bass Straight.

The beach was deserted and the water cold, but it was here that Pat and Graham finally got their only dip in Tasmanian waters.

They didn’t mind, they’re English.

We flew back to Melbourne for a week of sightseeing on home soil.

Graham discovered Sandringham Beach, which is less than 200m from our front door, and a dip before breakfast briefly became part of his daily routine.

After two days exploring Melbourne we made the trip down the Great Ocean Road to Lorne and then Port Fairy. On the way down to Lorne Pat and Graham had a swim at Urquharts Bluff. There was a surf class finishing up on the beach as we arrived. The young girls looked frozen, even though they all were well insulated with their winter wet suits or ‘Steamers’.

As Pat and Graham plunged into the surf, with nothing but their togs on, I got a strange, questioning, look from one of the instructors.

“Don’t worry”, I said, “they’re English.”

Lorne was a bit of a nostalgic journey for me, having spent two summers working there while I was at college. We had a drink in the Pacific Hotel, where I worked and breakfast at the Arab, which was the ‘cool place to be’ back in the 60s.

Graham again found the beach and while we had breakfast he went swimming.

One of the main reasons for the drive along the Great Ocean Road was to visit the Twelve Apostles.

We weren’t the only tourists with that idea.

Every vantage point was crawling with them. They came by the coach load and by private vehicles. We later discovered that the reason for the swell in numbers was Chinese New Year. The coaches were full of Chinese tourists while the private cars were local Chinese getting out of town for a couple of days.

They were all there to celebrate The Year of the Monkey.

On the way to the Twelve Apostles we passed through Separation Creek and Wye River. Evidence of the devastating Christmas Day Bushfires lay as a black carpet along the roadside.

However the rejuvenation had already started and the were patches of green sprouting from the charcoaled tree ferns.

We spent that night in Port Fairy, a delightful seaside resort town with an abundance of good pubs, restaurants and accommodation.

Taking the inland route back to Melbourne we briefly stopped off at Ballarat and gave our visitors a quick glimpse of this product of the gold rush.

Much to our visitors delight we got to see, and photograph, a couple of rather sleepy koalas. They were high up in a gum tree on the Hopkins Highway, south of Mortlake.

Once we were back in Sandringham we did the usual walk to Half Moon Bay, again Pat and Graham has a splash. While the next day we drove around the Mornington Peninsula, visiting the Merricks General store for a coffee and Arthurs Seat for a view. Then it was down to the bay and into Sorrento. There we did the ‘Millionaires Walk’ past the homes of the rich and famous.

Needless to say Pat and Graham’s togs got wet again, this time at both the front and back beaches of Sorrento.

While Pat and Graham swam at every opportunity, our bathers never got an airing – it was far too cold for us.

Don’t worry, we’re Australian.