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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...

Sunday, 3 December 2017

392: Montblanc

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

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

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

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

Monday, 6 November 2017

391: From Z to A

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

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


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

 Andorra in the rain

Andorra in the dry

Wednesday, 27 September 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, 11 September 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%.