Sunday, 30 September 2012

A Short, But Excellent, Vacation

Reminder - you can click on the photos for a larger view

The vacation began with an early start, as the flight was at 08:55 from Bournemouth airport, a good 45 minutes away from home. Ryanair is most certainly not an upmarket airline, but nevertheless it is quite satisfactory for a couple of hours to get a person from A to B. B in this case being Gerona, Spain. From there, a shortish bus ride saw us in B for Barcelona which was trying hard to do impressions of a very humid place. Low, grey clouds (highly reminiscent of Old Blighty), but with about 95% humidity and 27C makes for a distinctly uncomfortable time. However, a walk from the hotel to Placa de Colom, where on top of the "Colom" can be found this gentleman.
Christopher Columbus points the way
Although he never sailed to new lands from this port to "discover" the land named after Amerigo Vespucci, he has an enormous column and statue at the bottom of one of the city's most popular tourist  spots, Las Ramblas. The column is always surrounded by many tourists who take a break from their hectic schedules on the handily placed steps.

Port Vell marina
A forest of masts greets the visitor to the harbour area. This is just a small part of the marina's vessels, so I guess there are a good few millions of Euros worth bobbing about. Some of them are simply stunning and would not disgrace an oligarch's collection. Although the really big ones were off in a separate area, not wanting to mingle with this bunch of hoi polloi!

Sagrada Familia is a famous cathedral begun in 1882 and soon taken over by Antoni Gaudi until his death in 1926. It is as yet incomplete and it is expected to only be completed at some time in the first third of this century. It is totally privately financed and donations and tourist admission fees are what allow the building to continue. And what an awesome building it is! Simply stunning, amazing, really worth a visit if a person is in the vacinity of Barcelona. 

Gaudi was especially influenced by natural forms hence his organic shapes and ideas. Above is a typical scene of any tourist or visitor to the Basilica. Heads tilted back, awed by what is to be seen. There are stunning stained glass windows, rippling spiral staircases, columns that are like trees, with branches splitting off from the trunk high above.

These columns, in the shape of trees, form a forest reaching to 45m above. The vastness is awe inspiring. Not only are the columns so tall, but each is a different colour to the pair behind and in front of it, giving the added illusion of looking down a very long avenue.

The stained glass windows which haven't been finished look amazing! This was high up at the back on the side of the nave, so understandably not a high priority. 

Looking down the nave to the altar. The effect of the light shining into the cupola has been designed so it looks like the light shining down from on high.

Another great window. The colours simulate the forest/garden scene that inspired it, with the leaves above, the flowers below and the sun shining through from the side.

The roof of the nave, with the top portion of the columns branching out.

The "trees" with the "branches" and the "leaves" are easy to see here.

Gaudi was a stickler for making models. This is a 10% scale model of a section through the nave.

The magnificent doors are depicted with sacred names as well as, I think, people connected with the Basilica project.  We could easily have spent a day, or two, at the cathedral. We had discovered that the Natural History museum, which is scattered about Barcelona in a few different locations. A fairly new site is the Musee Bleu.

Visiting the Blue Museum, I found this piece of sandstone that looked like a painting to me.

A street musician in Barcelona, I have no idea what the instrument is, but it was delightful. Of course I bought the CD - sucker! But it is lovely background music.....

There were all sorts of things on offer in all the various shops. This made me wonder what the target audience was.....

The following day we went to the Ceramics Museum, where we saw ceramics from many eras, but these from the 17th century caught my eye!

This guy doing a "jobbie" is supposed to be a Catalan symbol of good luck. I just wonder what possibly could have caused this to become a good luck sign!

And this???!!!??? Anyone care to suggest what might be going on here?

This is something a lot closer to the modern day. They are not displayed tilted like this, that was just me being artistic with my camera. An interesting thing to do with empty wine bottles.

Of course, the woodcarvings fascinated me (what are they doing in a ceramics museum?) and this one was particularly well done.

One of the attractions for my dear wife is a knitting shop ("All you knit is love") and here she is, as close to paradise as you can get on earth!

Just off Las Ramblas is a large market - La Boqueria, which has the most amazing array of merchandise available - fish, mushrooms, veggies, curries, peppers, meat (along with photography strictly prohibited signs!), olives, nuts, peppers, rabbits, and, oh, peppers. Enjoy the sights!

That was Spain done, the following day we collected our hire car and drove out of Barcelona, not a simple task, I might add, as our SatNav kept wanting to turn me onto a parallel road, but one that was only oncoming traffic!

Ceret, in France, was as welcoming as ever. Chez Gumby was as delightful as we remembered it and we had a wonderful time, but when haven't we ? I have always wanted to go and see La Cascade and this trip I made it there. Not a difficult walk at all and the view was definitely worthwhile.

A couple was enjoying the cool air on this hot day, but I have skilfully left them out...

This is the old convent, now converted into a series of residences. On this day, the clouds were really low and they hide the mountain behind.

No trip to Ceret is complete without me attending a match! "Our" boys are in white and had to fight hard but eventually came through in the end,

including this push-over try. As you can see, there's a friendly Spar wherever you are!

Our trusty steed on a mountain road to nowhere, with the second highest mountain in the area behind it. At this point we must have been about 4000 feet up. I just LOVE driving these country roads in France! Narrow, windy things with serious drop-offs, few overtaking possibilities. Gives some people the heebie-jeebies, but makes me a very happy boy!

At Collioure the sea was the bluest I have seen for a long time, as can be seen above with this plea for assistance to the sailors of the area.

Now these guys needed all the help they could get! Having done a few hours rowing in a surf lifesaving boat, I can attest to just how much teamwork is required to get it all together so everyone is in synch. Neither of these teams seemed to have an idea! Time is of the essence however, as they were practising for a dragon-boat race (of sorts, I guess, those are NOT dragon-boats) and they were woeful to say the best.

The streets of the town are picturesque and this was a study in blue - gate, letterbox, bike and plumbago.

Some of the small gardens spilt over into the streets giving us the odd spot of beauty.

And the residents were very friendly, although a little aloof at times.

Terracotta walls and blue doors are not an uncommon sight and are rather attractive.

The tower seen through one of the alleyways

And finally, yours truly in an entirely relaxed manner. This is, of course, the whole purpose of a good vacation and, as such, it was an unmitigated success.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

A step in the right direction

Saturday 21st July dawned cool and if not bright, at least not dull and grey. Promising, I thought to myself, having already decided that I was going to walk from Winchester to Eastleigh along the Itchen Way which follows the Itchen river, a route used since days of yore by all those trading, travelling or trekking from the shores of where Southampton now stands. One of the early kings of Wessex, Alfred, or as he called himself, King of the Anglo-Saxons, stands guard over Winchester High Street.

A short way into the walk is where a pair of swans is raising their brood, all six of them. No longer little balls of fluff, they are beginning to fledge and have vestigial feathers showing. I wonder if they cause as much grumpiness as teething does for us humans?

George and I discussed the wisdom of starting the walk with a climb up St Catherine's hill, a short but rather steep climb up to a mizmaze (what is a mizmaze?) From here the view back to Winchester shows the cathedral standing proud above the trees.

A little further to the west is hospital and church of St Cross which was established around 1130. In front of it is an area called the water meadows. Water meadows, for those who dont know, are ares of river valleys that were deliberately flooded, allowing nutrients to be deposited and in late winter the water would protect the grass from frosts, allowing them to grow earlier than in other places. This in turn allowed flocks to be grazed earlier in the spring and allowing more animals to survive the winter. This became an established part of the farming cycle for many river valleys. In some parts the drains and ditched dug to control the flooding are still easily visible.

At the back of the hill is an easy way down - plenty of steps. Thank goodness for them because it is rather steep and with all the rain we have had in the UK the ground was a little slippery.

From St Catherine's Hill we could see the modern M3 motorway, the main conduit between the South and London, alongside the old viaduct which crosses the Itchen valley. Those with a keen eye will no doubt notice that the three lanes of the M3 south are chock-a-block with vehicles streaming down to the coast, as the sun was shining for the first time on a Saturday for many months.

Along the way were many beautiful flowers, most of which were of this species (I cannot tell you what it is other than to say it is a prickly, spiky thing), which attracted many of the hoverflies to it's bountiful nectar.

The rain has caused the paths to become narrow and overgrown. This shows George in the bright sunshine pushing his way through head-high stinging nettles and St Anne's Lace. 

The river had a myriad of these beautiful damsel flies all along it's length.  The flitter along madly, then suddenly halt and fold their wings back.

At one point we came across a mobile hindrance. There were in fact three of them, which caused us to stop and consider our options. Whilst we were doing so, a sprite of a girl came from the other direction and swiftly moved them out of our way for us!  

It is mostly a tranquil walk, all the way accompanied by the Itchen river which runs along, filled with fish. Not too sure what fish they are, apart from the world famous chalk stream trout, but there are just so many fry that they were almost being squeezed out of the water!  

Many of the birds are LBJ's, but not so this youngish moorhen which was quite happy for us to capture it on camera and wasn't at all concerned with our presence.

While most of the walk is through the countryside, towards the end we started to see a few "back gardens" and some were rather pretty, like this one.

And then, there were also a few sights of the stranger kind....

As ever, where there is clean water accessible to people, kids will set up a swing to allow them to enjoy hours of fun! 

Another variety of a thistlely looking flower. Don't ask. I cannot tell you what it is...

And then, just when I was beginning to think that surely the end must be coming soon, this appeared in a very welcome fashion.

Thoroughly enjoyed the day - must be repeated and often. It was a most pleasant ten mile walk. Not really one to be done in or just after really wet weather, but just a day or two after the rains, there wasn't much mud at all.