Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Endings, and beginnings


OK, so it's the last day of my holiday. I've spent it doing pretty much what I did yesterday, only more so. And what's that, you ask? Nothing, nada, zip. Other than wandering round, stopping in the occasional cafe or bar and taking photos that is.

I posted about my reflections on the holiday yesterday so I won't do that again. Suffice to say, I've had a great time and I would definitely come back to Spain. Next time I think I'll try somewhere out of the cities, maybe base myself in one or two places and do a bit more chilling and a bit less sightseeing.

But it's been really good fun. I've survived my first solo adventure and, as I said yesterday, I'm feeling mighty pleased with myself. Now just the journey home to go - oh, and another evening in Granada. Although I think it will be a genuinely early night for me this evening - I need to get back in the swing of getting up early, starting tomorrow to catch the 9 am bus from Granada to Malaga.

And I know I did reflections yesterday, but I couldn't resist this picture for today's post - what do you think? Should I rush back and buy one for work??

Monday, 30 August 2010

Reflections

I know I've already posted for today, but when I went out this evening I found a magical little tea-shop (teteria) in the old town of Granada and sitting there as the daylight faded got me to thinking about my holiday and all the things I've experienced. So, apologies in advance, this is going to be a long post - but here are my reflections on adventures in Spain.


The Travel - on the whole, the travel has been relatively easy - the sleepless Sleepers notwithstanding that is! The trains have been very straightforward and largely a painless way to travel, although the bizarre airconditioning on the train from Seville to Granada that made the carriages warmer than the toilets was a bit puzzling. And after 3 hours, very uncomfortable.

My final bits of travel will be by bus and plane. Not having checked my intinerary before booking it all, I am left in Granada without a workable train connection to Malaga airport. But apparently the buses are good here, so bus it is. And then another new experience, EasyJet home to Scotland. I'm intrigued to see just how 'easy' it actually is!

The Food - Travelling on my own and, to be honest, still not entirely comfortable eating on my own in the evenings, the food hasn't been that gastronomically spectacular this trip. That said, it has been good with only a couple of duff choices in there. And the Spanish style of eating a main meal in the middle of the day and lighter tapas in the evening has suited me well.

Highlights? Well those would be
  • churros this morning at Cafe Futbol here in Granada.
  • berenjenas con meil in a bar in the Juderia in Cordoba. A heavenly way to eat aubergines. Their olives were pretty good too!
  • the gazpacho has been universally good and incredibly refreshing (and no, I didn't once ask them to heat it up)
  • tortilla and arroz con leche at the Bar Santos, also in Cordoba. A simple meal in a simple place, all eaten standing up, but so good that I had it 2 days running. Highly recommended.
  • the whole Mercado de San Miguel experience in Madrid. Browsing the stalls for snack-ettes and then plonking down at a high bar to eat them. Great fun. People watching thrown in for free
  • the sopa de ajo in the vegetarian restaurant in Madrid, although my other choice of Huevos Revueltas was one of the duffers
  • and finally tonight, the homemade limonade con hierbabuena y yoghurt at my teashop in Albaicin.
The vino tinto has been good too, particularly when it comes chilled, and the cafe con leche, nothing like the over milky cafe lattes I've been drinking up to now, and frequently served here Turkish style in a straight glass. I think I may be a convert!

The Language - I've definitely had fun trying out my Spanish and getting a real kick out of being understood - even if it is at the second time of saying. To be fair, I've not done much more than order food or buy stuff, but the camera charger adventure and all the train ticket buying have been real accomplishments in my book.

I'm much better at reading Spanish now too and managed to get round a whole exhibition on Piracy in the Carribean reading only the Spanish boards and understood it (I checked my translation against the English versions that were available too!) Incidentally, it was really interesting seeing history from 'the other side'. Much of the exhibition was about the Armada and the Spanish/English wars. Needless to say England was the aggressor and Spain was just acting in self defence. Very convincing it was too. It really does depend how you look at something as to what you end up seeing. Strangely enough, there was no mention that the lands that Spain was defending were ones they had first invaded and conquered. History is written mainly by the victors, it's true.

Whilst my food ordering and exhibition reading skills may be passable, my conversational Spanish most definitely isn't. I still struggle to understand what's said to me and as a result I haven't felt confident enough to strike up any conversations. I'm not great at that kind of thing at the best of times, but when it's in a language I don't really know...

The Weather - I admit it has been much hotter than I thought it would be, but not unmanageable. Everyone said, when I told them I was going to Spain in August, it will be hot. And all I thought was, that's exactly what I want. But not 40+ degree heat. It's a long time since I've been this hot and while I know all the right things to do to survive, it's still hard work. I'd forgotten how tiring the heat can be. Or how much I swell up in the heat! The feeling of sweat trickling down your legs is not a pleasant one, and nor is walking outside and being hit (almost literally) by a wall of heat. I'm so pleased that all the hotels have had airconditioning, otherwise I'd have got no sleep this holiday.

I am pleased to report, that despite the scorching temperatures, I have managed to avoid getting sunburn. I suspect that's as much to do with having to stay in the shade most of the time as it is to do with my suncream applying abilities. Hopefully I will have picked up a bit of healthy colour, however, and may return home having changed from Rich tea to Digestive biscuit colour?

The Places - each of the places I've visited has had its own character and I don't know why that surprises me so much. Madrid was the only I placed I actually liked at first sight. For a capital city it was much less frenetic than I expected, although that could be to do with the infamous August effect, when all sensible people leave the city to escape the heat. Maybe because it's a bigger city and therefore there's more space for the rougher areas to be more distant, but I got much less of the feel of 'raw' life in Madrid than in either of Seville or Granada. And that's even with having found the Red Light district which, to be fair, isn't that hard to find in Madrid since it's pretty much in the middle of the main shopping area.

Cordoba was a whole different place and very olde worlde. I didn't actually venture outside the old city precinct so that might be why, but I really liked what I saw there. To begin with I thought it was way too touristy and a bit tacky, but it didn't take long to get away from the tat and enjoy the relative peace of the place. Just a few streets was often all it took to escape the madd(en)ing crowd. And looking back on my 'Food' reflections above, the eating was probably best in Cordoba. The hotel is right up there too, both location and character.

Seville, on the other hand, was quite a shock to the system and first impressions weren't good. It probably didn't help that I arrived at siesta time and while there were lots of tourists around, the place had a 'closed' feeling. It was also at the start of my visit to Seville that I got fleeced by the gypsies. They earned their 2 Euros they got from me, but not the paper money they were demanding for the fairly dodgy and completely unsolicited fortune telling they did. But once I got used to Seville, I really grew to like the place. I felt entirely safe there, even in the evenings. And it was where I saw my amazing flamenco after all!

Granada, like Seville, didn't make a good first impression. The guidebooks are right, it's a bit edgier than both Seville and Madrid, but it's also more blatantly a tourist town. I guess that's what happens when you have the Alhambra as your main attraction. I suspect there wouldn't be much to Granada either without tourism, so maybe it's just the price you pay. And the Alhambra is truly stunning. It's also very busy and almost spoiled by it. I'm really glad I was there at the end of the day and was able to have the occasional bit of it almost to myself. It must have been a wonderful place to live. The Albaicin, on the hillside opposite, has changed my impression of Granada. Those white washed mazes are the real heart of the city and a place you can lose yourself, both literally and figuratively.

Overall - it's been an amazing and wonderful adventure. Probably the most interpid I've ever been. Any other solo holiday I've taken has either been with a group (and so not really solo), as part of a package (and so not really an adventure) or in the UK (and so not really intrepid). This has been none of those things - I've come here entirely on my own, to a country where English isn't the first language and I've arranged everything myself. I've got myself safely from A to B (and C and D, and hopefully E too on Wednesday!) all on my own and using mostly public transport - the occasional taxi thrown in. I am very proud of myself!

Busy doing nothing


So busy, in fact, that I had to come back to the hotel for a siesta to recover!

Granada is a strange city - everything is very close together and it seems to try to hide all its important buildings. There's nowhere really in the city itself that you can get a feeling of what there is here. Perhaps I've just become too used to the wide open streets of Madrid and Seville, but in Granada you struggle to be a snap happy tourist (apart from the Alhambra of course, which anyone looking through my Flickr page will know I didn't hold myself back at photograph-wise!). Or at least a snap-happy tourist with photos that someone else might conceivably want to look at.

Apart from Albaicin that is - the higgledy piggledy old town of Granada. Clinging to the hillside opposite the Alhambra, the Albaicin is a maze of whitewashed houses thrown together as if they'd been dropped from a great height and wherever they fell was where they were left. The streets really are a maze. My Lonely Planet guidebook very sensibly says, the best route to take through the Albaicin is whichever one you take. As I tried to explain to an American family today - but I don't think they were convinced, at least Mom wasn't. Dad strode off reassured that his own personal brand of built in satellite navigation would work wonders - and promptly lead them off the wrong way. I would have stopped them, but I knew that following their noses would give them some wonderful discoveries, even if it wasn't actually what they'd been looking for.

You'd think, being opposite the mighty Alhambra, the area would be dominated by it. And while there are some fantastic glimpses you catch between buildings (and of course the spectacular vista from the St Nicholas mirador), for most of the time the buildings are too close together and you're too distracted by the alleyways and houses to even notice. It certainly holds its own and is a fantastic place to wander round - although very hot - and blinding because of the whitewash, even with sunglasses on.

So now, siesta over, I'm off out to try one of Granada's other specialities - the tea room. Not as in crisp white tableclothes, scones and butter - no these are Turkish tearooms, or teterias.

It's all in the name of the accurate travelogue you understand, I don't enjoy these treats, trials!

PS If you want to read a fabulous story based in Granada, try Victoria Hislop's The Return. It's one of the things that prompted me to book this holiday!

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Tales from the Alhambra

And a prize to the first person to spot the literary allusion! (The prize, of course, being the continued joy of reading Crafty Manoeuvres and that warm fuzzy feeling of success)


And as for the Alhambra, all I can say is Wow, I mean, wow! What an amazing place. Sadly most of the world seems to know that so it is incredibly busy, but I must admit Lonely Planet came up trumps with the recommendation of booking either the earliest or the latest tour of the day for a quieter visit. Since I was travelling on the train this morning (of which more later), it was the last slot of the day I went for and I wasn't disappointed. By dawdling, I actually managed to get some photographs without people in them, and I certainly go to enjoy the Palace in something coming close to tranquility. If you're lucky enough to visit any time, I really would recommend booking ahead and following LP's advice of first or last slot of the day.

The downside of an afternoon ticket was that I was wandering round the gardens for a couple of hours in the scorching sun, but it was still worth it for the beauty of the Palacios Nazaries without too many other people.

And in any case, it's much cooler here in Granada than in Seville - a chilly 37 degrees! All I can say is, it's a good job I've been here long enough to start acclimatising for today's ordeal.

To be honest, otherwise I'm not really sure about Granada - it's possibly the most touristy place so far. And with Cordoba in the mix, that's saying something. It could be that all I've seen are the tourist traps so far - let's see what tomorrow brings. Put it this way, you certainly know you're on the right route for the Alhambra from the quality (not!) of the shops en route.

My other tip for anyone visiting is - don't be proud, take the bus up to the Alhambra - particularly if you're here in the summer. It's quite a trek in the heat!!

So other than Alhambra and checking into my hotel - very central and on what looks like one of the main Paseos for the locals, Ice cream central! - the rest of my day was spent travelling. 3 hours from Seville on a Media Distance train, with only limited airconditioning. Not a pleasant experience! And as for the countryside, it was pretty much dry dusty olive groves the whole way until we got close to Granada, and then the Sierra Nevada hove into view and it was all worth it.

Now, if I can just work out how to get to Malaga airport on Wednesday...

Contradictions


I'm heading off to Granada this morning for the last leg of my holiday. The train isn't until lunchtime so I had enough time this morning to head out for breakfast before leaving for the station (which I'll be doing in about half an hour).

It was beautifully cool (well, by Seville standards at any rate) at 9 am this morning and I sat for a hour on the terrace outside my breakfast spot with my cafe con leche and read my book. On my way back I was struck by one of the contradictions of Spain. It is a deeply religious country, with many many churches, religious imagery everywhere yet at the same time it loves to party. As anyone who has been to Spain will know, the evening only really gets going around 10 pm - and that's during the week. At the weekend it can be midnight or 1am before things start getting really lively. I can't say that I've participated in the late night revellery, but I have benefited from it by being able to walk back to my hotel at 11 pm and feel perfectly safe because of the numbers of people on the street. Clearly here having fun and being religious are not mutually exclusive, unlike Calvinist Scotland!

I was tickled, however, this morning on my way back to the hotel by the revenge that the Church gets on the late night revellers. It was 10 am and all of a sudden all the church bells starting ringing, calling the faithful to Mass presumably. Now that's one way to remind you of the sins of the flesh - or more acurately, the alcoholic liquids. I wouldn't like to have a hangover on a Sunday in Seville!

It was particularly intense where I was as I happened to be walking past a convent at the time. I looked up and there were the bells tolling away big-style. I was reminded, completely unfairly I hasten to add, of the film Black Narcissus, and its mad bell tolling nun. If you haven't seen it, rent it this week - Deborah Kerr at her best!

And now, off to the station for me and a 3 hour slow train to Granada. At last a chance to see the countryside and not just a blur from the AVE/Avant high speed trains.

Speak to you later xx

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Man is born free


but everywhere he is in chains, as the great philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau once opined.

Or as I like to think of it (and to paraphrase another great philospher) we enter the world alone and we leave it alone, but in between time it's seems to be one mad dash to be with someone else. Everywhere you look the world seems to be in couples. Everything seems to be made for them - from single supplements on holidays to phrase books that give you useful phrases for 'We enjoyed the meal' to tasting menus for a minimum of two people to luxury seats for two at the cinema.

Am I bitter? No, I'm just a bit down this evening about being away on holiday in a beautiful city and having no-one to share it with. Everywhere I look are loved up couples enjoying romantic meals and here's me, back at my hotel room not feeling like subjecting myself to another evening of 'Look who's got no friends' at some bar or other.

I'm sorry, readers. I try to be upbeat most of the time, and I am genuinely enjoying this holiday. But there are times when it would be nice to have someone to share it with. Someone to point out a funny/striking/beautiful/ hideous sight to, someone to laugh with, to ooh and aah with. It would be really nice to have someone to share a romantic moment with too but just any old companion would do me right now.

People watching is great fun. But the most fun is being able to point it out to someone else. And strangers, for some reason, seem to think you're either cruel or mad if you do it to them!

If life gives you oranges...


...you'd better just make marmalade!

I've been wandering round Seville for two and a half days now and seeing orange trees everywhere, sadly too late for the orange blossom, which must be amazing. But it's only today that I put two and two together - oranges, Seville oranges, marmalade - doh! I guess there wasn't really anything else they could do with them all was there? Apart from make wine, that is! Many of the bars here advertise that they sell Vino de Naranja (oranges) but when I asked about it the waiter (he of the chatting up on Thursday lunchtime!) pulled a face and said, Too sweet. So I've not tried it. I get the feeling it's a tourist thing.

When I was thinking about what to write today, I also thought about the other meaning of that epithet (the oranges/lemons one, not the sweet wine - keep up!). It's certainly incredibly hot here in Seville (have I mentioned the heat once or twice yet?) and to be honest almost too hot to do anything really. Much as I love shopping, and there is plenty of it here, I've been finding it too hot to be interested (gasp, shock horrot!). But today as I was wandering about with nothing much to do, I discovered that the shops have air-conditioning and while I might not feel like buying anything, window shopping has the whole added pleasure of vicarious air-con coolness. Bliss! (Do you like the entirely gratuitous photo of shoes, by the way?)

As for the rest of today, I headed across the Guadalquiver to Triana, the barrio of Seville's gitano community. I'm not sure if it still is but this is traditionally where the Roma lived in Seville - presumably close enough to come and work in the factories (like Carmen) but not so close that the Sevillanos would have to live cheek by jowl with them. These days it is undergoing gentrification but some of the traditional ceramic workshops are still in evidence, selling their beautiful glazed tiles and pots.

I also wandered round the local market - not as busy on a weekend as it is during the week I suspect judging by the number of closed stalls, but very impressive they were. All with glazed tile signs announcing who had which stall. A far cry from many of the somewhat tatty UK markets!

And finally, something you didn't expect...


because, of course, no-one expects the Spanish Inquisition!

Friday, 27 August 2010

Duende

I am in love with a flamenco guitarist!


To be fair, I'm also in love with several flamenco dancers too. But I draw the line at the singers - what is it about girth and singing voices? Then again, maybe if I just close my eyes I could be in love with them too!

As you'll probably guess, I'm just back from my flamenco show. Wow, it was amazing - probably incredibly touristy but I'm sold on it. I wish I could dance like that. We had the works, flirtatious, soulful, dramatic, fiery, athletic - but all passionate, every single note and step. I was exhausted just watching.

And it wasn't only the dancers either - the singers and the guitarists were amazing too. Particularly the soulful one with long dark hair and sparkling eyes!! The way he made a guitar sing was truly beautiful.

While I was in Cordoba I happened across a Flamenco exhibition, so I knew a little bit about its traditions - its roots (and continuing culture) as a gypsy art form, and I also knew that it was very passionate, but nothing prepared me for what I saw (and felt). For most of the performance I was hypnotised by the rhythm, movement and sound - the way the dancers and the singers could turn their bodies and voices into musical instruments was amazing. The fire of the dancers was awe inspiring. The women danced as if there was no-one else in the room and with complete pride in the way their bodies moved. And the male dancer - well now I know where the Spanish snake hips you see on some men here come from!

I was also taken with the connections with Middle Eastern music and dance - from the sounds of the voice to the hand movements. All very reminiscent of other cultures, but in an art form that is quintessentially European to us now.

As I said, I am in love!

Best bar nun


Well, it was a day for nuns today. You know what it's like, never one for ages and then you see 5 in a row! I kid you not, in the space of about 2 hours I saw 5 different nuns. It just goes to remind you what a religious country Spain is. I'm a bit worried they might have been reading my blog from yesterday - you should have seen the disapproving looks they gave me. Or alternatively it could just have been my strappy top!

And as the picture above shows, I had great need of light clothes today. The temperature actually hit 42 degrees at the next display but I didn't feel like stopping to take another photo. This was hot enough for me. Admittedly it was in the full sun, but it was at least 37 degrees in the shade. So I tried to make it a less energetic day than yesterday, and so far it seems to have worked - my ankles are only slightly puffy and the heat rash seems to be staying away. It could be something to do with spending the morning on an air conditioned bus, lunchtime in the shade at a bar and the afternoon back at the hotel for a rest.

The bus tour was amusing - Seville doesn't really lend itself to bus tours since the sights are all either in a pedestrianised zone or in streets too narrow for buses of the double decker (or any for that matter!) variety. So I spent an hour or so listening to some interesting snippets about Seville whilst watching the traffic jam that seems to be the normal state of play for the centre of the city.

Actually I think it's probably worse at the moment since La Vuelta, Spain's version of the Tour de France, hits town tomorrow night and large parts of the road network are already being closed off in preparation. La Vuelta, what a fabulous name, much better than the old UK version, the Milk Race - hmm, inspirational eh?!

My other highlight of the day was a visit to Plaza de Espana, possibly one of the most vulgar places outside Las Vegas. Apparently it was used as for a scene in one of the Star Wars films. Words fail me, so you'll just have to look at my pics instead. As you can see, I managed a full tour of Spain without leaving Seville - and all in the midday sun!

After a lovely, if hot, lunch I headed back to the hotel for a pre-flamenco, post-tapas siesta and now I'm about to head back out again for my cultural experience tonight. Hope it's good. Watch out for a review on tomorrow's blog post.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Why does the devil have all the best music?


Or so they say! I'm not sure that he does (Gregorian chant, Hallelujah Chorus, Verdi's Requiem anyone?) but even if he does, I would have to say that after today's offering, I think God wins hands down in the art and buildings stakes! (This one is by my new favourite artist, Goya, by the way)

Today I arrived in Seville after another very successful Spanish train journey from Cordoba. If Cordoba was hot (29 degrees at 9.30 am), then Seville is officially scorchio - and I have the puffy ankles and heat rash to prove it. Not to mention the slightly green tinge to my skin caused by the dye from my cheap Rastro dress mixing with sweat and staining my back!


But, oh was it worth it. Even though I only got here at lunchtime I managed to pack in a trip to Seville's Cathedral and Giralda as well as the Alcazar. Two completely awesome places to visit right next door to each other. The Cathedral was built deliberately to show off (what lunatics can do in praise of God apparently), while the Alcazar was pretty much the same but in a secular vein. Both were largely Christian endeavours but drawing heavily on Seville's Islamic history, and in the case of the Cathedral encasing the minaret from the previous Mosque inside the Giralda bell tower. Just like Cordoba - spot a trend here!

Another interesting fact about the Giralda? It doesn't have steps up to the top inside but has a ramp instead. This was so the guy going up to call the prayers (the Muezzin) could ride up on a horse rather than walk. All I can say is, poor horse!! But the views from the top were lovely.


The Alcazar was sumptious. There is no other word for it. Both the building and the gardens. Unfortunately, although the gardens look cool and lush, they were anything but. Sitting in them was like sitting inside a hairdryer - expect not as cramped as I expect a hairdryer is.

I continued practising my Spanish all day - and continued not being able to understand what was being said to me other than the simplest phrases. Leading to much hilarity in the bar I stopped in for mid afternoon tapas. I'm still not sure if they were laughing at me or the young waiter's attempts to chat me up. I think it was actually the latter - poor soul!

And then back to the hotel, via the former Royal Tobacco Factory (now the University) of Carmen fame. Also via the Seville tram system - a transport network so pointless, it makes Edinburgh's one look like a paragon of sense!

The other breaking news is that I broke my not going out in the evening duck tonight. It was enforced since the hotel wasn't serving food and had no bottles of water for sale (other than the pointlessly minute ones in the mini bar). So it was back out again to discover that completely by chance I've managed to book myself a hotel in the hip and happening part of Seville with plenty of tapas bars to choose from.

This trend is forecast to continue tomorrow too as I've taken the plunge and booked a ticket for an early evening Flamenco show - early being 8pm and finishing at 10 pm. A veritable matinee by Spanish standards!
Exciting though!

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Make do and mend


Apologies, it's going to be a relatively short post today (stop cheering, dear reader!). The heat here in Cordoba has to be felt to be believed and the terrace I'm sitting on has no air conditioning, so even though it's open to the sky and in the shade, the chimney effect of the buildings surrounding it means that every so often I get a down draft of hot (not warm, but hot!) air.

Getting up early today was a real bonus. Not only did it mean I got in free to the Mezquita Cathedral, it also meant that at least some of my wanderings were in the heat (as opposed to the searing heat). By 11 am it was already 35 degrees, and it's been getting steadily hotter ever since. I can actually feel myself shrivelling up as I'm walking around even though I'm walking in the shade. The visit to the Alcazar gardens was an adventure in slow sprinting (I defy anyone to move quickly in this heat) from one piece of shade to the next. Entry to the Alcazar was free too, but cunningly they stop anyone staying too long by closing the toilets - very crafty.

So, the title for this post I hear you ask (above the snoring of my more regular readers that is)? Well, the Mezquita was a 14th Century mosque, the most beautiful in the whole Islamic world at the time beating even Damascus hands down apparently. And it was built on top of the previous Christian church. How's that for domination? Not to be outdone, the Christian Kings (Los Reyes Cristianos of Alcazar fame presumably) when it was there turn, ripped the centre out of the Mosque and built their own cathedral instead. So now you have a strange mixture of styles that all, unbelievably, meld into one stunning building - as you can see from the number of pictures I took. There were more, these are only the ones I thought I'd put on Flickr.

Other than the Alcazar, the rest of the day was spent seeking shade and dipping back to the hotel for a blast of air conditioning every now and again. I even managed to get some crochet done before my hands stuck to the crochet hook.

Seville tomorrow - where apparently it's just as hot, if not hotter (?!). It's also where I'm hoping to see some Flamenco if I can get the nerve up for a sortie out after dark. I happened across a Flamenco exhibition today - inside the most beautifully air conditioned building - come to think of it, I don't know why I didn't just stay there for the rest of the day!!


and for those who like to know these things, this is my current blogging spot

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Gastronomie Espanol


I arrived in Cordoba at lunchtime today, and was immediately hit by a wall of heat. The girl sitting next to me on the train informed me that I'd probably chosen the two hottest places in Spain to visit in Seville and Cordoba. But not to worry, it was much hotter a couple of weeks back - then it was still over 40 degrees at 1am. Oh boy!

So, I've not actually done much today. I've wandered around Cordoba, along the beautiful little windy streets that remind me of York but with sunshine and heat, lots of heat. I've taken lots of photographs (as ever).

And I've eaten. Well, it seemed rude not to. Cordoba, apparently, has a very good reputation for food so I thought I'd better test it out. I'm not sure that I've found it yet, but I've had fun trying. Although in this heat, my appetite is a bit muted.

For this blog post, thought, I thought I'd share with you some of the things I've been eating so far this holiday. I feel it's my duty to experience Spain as fully as possible, and so I've suffered to bring you the following list of culinary delights:

  • Tortilla, including a fabulous plateful from the bar next to the hotel this lunchtime
  • morcilla 
  • chorizo
  • patatas bravas
  • pimientos con atun
  • jamon de la bodega
  • jamon con brevas
  • some kind of meatball in tomato sauce (tasted nice!)
  • gazpacho, with and without jamon
  • sopa do ajo
  • lots of vino tinto
  • heuvos revuelta (and they were sadly)
  • arroz con leche
  • cafe con leche y solo y cortado
  • quesa de cabra
and tonight *drum roll* Flan!! oh boy, was it good!

I've avoided callos so far - and will continue to do so, I refuse to suffer that much. Also cochido (too hot) and paella (just not fancied it). Rabo de torre seems popular here. Apparently it's bull's tail (oxtail?) but to begin with I thought it was bull's something else until I remembered that was cojones!

There are plenty days left and I'll continue to suffer for the culinary arts. It's a hard life, but someone has to do it!

(Early morning visit to the Mezquita called for tomorrow. Hopefully I'll manage to avoid taking any more photographs of the minaret/bell tower but I can't promise it. Sorry!)

On the move


A quick blog post while I'm on the move from Madrid to Cordoba. I got on the high speed train in Madrid about half an hour ago and in just over an hour I'll arrive (with any luck!) in Cordoba. And meantime, I've got my crochet.

The onward journey from Cordoba to Seville later in the week looks equally straightforward, but Seville looks a bit less convenient. No AVE for that route and not great departures means it looks like a fair chunk of the day travelling. Oh well, it's all part of the adventure!

Monday, 23 August 2010

Discoveries


Here in Madrid, there's a Park given over to celebrating Christopher Columbus' discoveries of the New World. My discoveries this holiday have been nowhere near that momentous, at least not globally so, but they have been interesting - well, interesting to me at least. If you're still awake by the end of this post, they might just have been mildly interesting to you too!

I have discovered that (in no particular order of importance):

- I like Goya. Actually, I love Goya. I haven't been so captivated by an artist since I first saw the Degas bronzes in the Musee D'Orsay in Paris. Sometimes grotesque, his works are gritty and real. No glorification of war for Goya, instead the reality of death, dying and loss.

- Madrid is a very cool city, although clearly not the weather, it's scorching hot! It has a real vibe about it but isn't too busy (although that could, of course, just be the August effect)

- Madrillenos like to dig their city up - witness all the road works everywhere

- my Spanish is both better and worse than I thought it was. I find that I can actually make myself understood, however I haven't yet really understood anyone who has tried to talk to me, unless of course they use one word sentences!

- knowing more than one foreign language isn't always a help. My brain does understand that I'm trying to speak a foreign language but sadly at times of stress (like trying to work out how to say something unplanned) dives for any language rather than the one I'm trying to speak. Sentences comprising Spanish, English, German, French and Italian are not unheard of (but are of course completely incomprehensible!)

- the red light district in Madrid is surprisingly central!

- the section on Making Friends in the Berlitz phrase book is still good for a laugh and is written, I'm sure, by swingers (Hello, how are you? Are you on your own? My wife and I would like you to join us for a drink tonight. We're staying at X hotel!) The chat up (and brush off) lines are equally amusing (Would you like a cigarette? are you waiting for someone, do you mind if I sit here? would you like to go for a drive? No thanks I'm busy washing my hair tonight)

- the Spanish don't like talking about the Civil War, perhaps not a surprise really

- Madrid is a fantastic city (did I say that already?)

- travelling solo has its ups and downs, but so far the balance is definitely positive

And for those of you how tuned in to find out what I did today - I spent the morning at the Reina Sofia art gallery (Picasso's Guernica- above- being the star attraction) after having a hip and trendy cup of cafe con leche at the bar of a nearby famed cafe. After that I headed across to Madrid's achingly hip and cool Malasana and Chueca district and discovered the trendy shops and bars. Another hit for the guide book for lunch too!

As ever, photos to be found on Flickr

By then it was 4.30 pm and time to meander back to the hotel to cool off, catch up on my virtual world and decide how to spend my last evening in Madrid. Tomorrow I head off from Atocha railway station for the next leg of my adventure in Cordoba. I'll be sorry to leave Madrid but I'm excited about what's next.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Madrid - a hair raising experience!

 
Ok, for today's post, we'll be starting at the end of the day and working back and then forward again (just so I don't confuse you, dear reader!)

It's been another glorious day in Madrid - almost (but not quite) too ho. A strange thing for a girl from Scotland starved of summer warmth and sunshine to say perhaps, but true all the same. The photograph above was taken towards the end of my day as I revelled in the glories - and the breeze - to be found at the top of the Circulo de Bellas Artes. From the 7th floor of this wonderful Art Deco building, not only do you get amazing views of Madrid's roofline, you also get a photography exhibition and a stunning deco statue of Minerva to wonder at as well. Well worth the 2 Euros for the lift up!

The earlier (and later now that I think about it!) part of the day was spent pondering the variety of shopping to be found in Madrid. As keen followers of Craft Maneoeuvres will know, yesterday found your brave correspondent with a low camera battery and no charger. So the first port of call this morning was to a camera shop just slightly out of town. And it was a successful trip, no less miraculous since it involved me navigating both streets and the Metro (which I now think I've got the hang of, and actually isn't that difficult) but also undertaking the whole transaction entirely in Spanish - and what's more, coming away with the right thing (that I've since confirmed does actually work!).

After that it was off to (allegedly) Europe's largest flea market, El Rastro. I must admit, interesting though it was I did kind of think that it wasn't that big - York Market is probably about the same size. And alarmingly selling much the same produce - well, maybe not quite, but a fair amount of same old, same old disappointingly. Perhaps it's bigger outwith August (see posts passim).

(Jumping about a bit) Later in the day I surveyed another form of Madrilleno shopping - the High Street, courtesy of Gran Via, possibly one of the most stunning high streets I've seen. It reminded me that it's always good to look up in cities anyway, but Madrid is the place to really prove the rule - as you'll see from today's Flickr crop! To round off the shopping experience, yesterday I bussed through the exclusive bit of Madrid's shopping zones - Salamanca, a place with more designers, stick thin women and haughty expressions than you can shake a stick at. No doubt there are more of them outwith August too!!

The other delight of today was unexpected meetings. At El Rastro, I sat watching the world go by on a wall only to find myself next to a couple who'd not only previously lived in Stirling but had also lived in the next town to where I grew up. And then we were joined by the couple I met on the train from Paris to Madrid (who I bumped into yesterday in El Retiro - as you do). But to cap it all, I bumped into them again - the train couple (Jane and Mark as I can now call them!) - outside the Circulo de Bellas Artes and we stopped for some refreshments. They do say it's a small world but I've been amazed at the chance meetings. (Although to be fair we both have the same guide book so that might account for some of it!)

And finally, before I finish for the night, some musings on solo travelling. Everyone keeps telling me how brave I am to travel on my own. To begin with I dismissed the comments, but I now realise that I am both brave and intrepid. I know this because at times it's a bit scary and quite often I wish I had someone else with me to share the experience. But I don't and so I have to get on with it myself - and I've found that it's really good fun! So I shall carry on being brave and intrepid, and now I'll also allow myself to feel just a bit proud of my successes too!

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Mad dogs...


 ...and in this case Scottish women, go out in the midday sun it would appear!

Actually, I tried very hard to avoid it today in Madrid - very hot and sticky here, particulary for a Scots lassie used to the dreich summers we've had of late. So hot and sticky in fact that I woke up in the middle of the night, having turned the air conditioning off to be good, with a very soggy bed and promptly turned it back on again. My green credentials only go so far I'm afraid.

Other than the brief sweat induced crisis, I had a good night's sleep last night and consequently woke up this morning raring to go and fit for a day sightseeing. An open top bus tour was called for. Always a good way to get your bearings in a new city. (Not to be confused with getting your barings - that's a whole different story and can often land you in the arms of the law if you're not careful. Not that I'm speaking from personal experience I hasten to add!)

Before bus however, breakfast was required. It turns out that the sign to Breakfast room in my hotel, whilst looking promising, is in fact a lie. Either it's still to be finished or has been and gone. It could, of course, be part of the experience that is Madrid in August - many things either shut or being dug up. The city resembles one big roadworks - not sure if this is an Edinburgh-like attempt to scare off the tourists in revenge for not getting the 2012 Olympics, or what happens every summer when the sensible city residents head off to avoid the heat. Breakfast was instead in a traditional taberna just round the corner and consisted of a cafe con leche, er that's it! Followed by a bottle of orange juice from the shop round the corner.

And then it was all aboard the open top bus for a couple of tours round historic and modern Madrid. I always think those kind of narrated bus tours are very informative - and quite often unintentionally so. Today's was no disappointment. A few gems - from the bizarrely unidiomatic commentary read by a clearly native English speaker but with no attempt to correct the idiom mismatch! - I learned today were that the Paseo del Prado has the greatest concentration of art in the world, Madrid is almost exactly at the centre of the Iberian peninsula (640m above sea level no less!) and the mountains to the North are responsible for significant climate change - and here was me thinking it was greenhouse gases. Doh! Oh, and I also saw the Bernbeu stadium, the Prado (again), the Royal Palace and the super trendy, ultra cool shopping district of Salamanca (and yes, I did stay on the bus and resist the lure!)

In case you're wondering, I did find time for a few other things today - not least of which was getting into the Madrillenos eating and drinking vibe - after breakfast at my taberna (at the bar of course), I had a very touristy coca cola at the Retiro, followed by an equally touristy (but very tasty) Magnum Gold, mmm! I was going to try the little restaurant opposite my hotel for a typically Spanish and more substantial lunch than I'd normally have but the heat had robbed me of my appetite so I headed off to the Mercado de San Miguel instead and browsed the food stalls for a lunch tapas style. Probably touristy but at least it was (almost) local delicacies - gazpacho (which I didn't ask to be heated up), jamon y brevas, croquette de bocalao y croquette de queso azul. All eaten standing up - much more authentic!

I also learned that squid ink has the same effect as beetroot - least said about that the better!

My day out ended with un copa de vino tinto followed swiftly by a cafe solo to wake me back up again for the walk home, sitting in a terrace cafe overlooking the Jardin de Vistallas - the first bit that the guide book has got wrong so far. Disappointing, but a welcome chance to stop and stare for a while nonetheless.

And then it was a wander back to the hotel to recover and decide if I feel up to a meal out - this time I think I will try the restaurant across the road. Makes for a very short stumble home after dinner that way! So, in summary, another good day - lots to see and do, plenty of chances to practise my Spanish with no amusing or embarrassing incidents (that I know of at least!) yet and more confirmation that this holidaying alone thing ain't too bad!

and if you want to see more of Madrid, have a look at the rest of my photos as I post them to Flickr (assuming I can buy a charger for my camera tomorrow since the one I brought with me, with its special interchangeable adapter, doesn't interchange - grr!)

Friday, 20 August 2010

Magnificent Madrid

 
And finally I'm here. After what felt like forever travelling, I finally arrived in Madrid this morning - feeling more jetlagged than if I'd flown transatlantic - but having emitted much less carbon.

For those who don't know, I've taken a carbon challenge this holiday and have got here without flying. It involved only 3 trains - well, 5 if you include the 2 underground journeys - but unfortunately 2 of them were overnight. Never the best of sleepers at the best of time, I discovered that neither of them lived up to their name. Not much sleeping was done on either, although to be fair that was definitely down to me on the Paris-Madrid journey since it was actually pretty comfortable.

Anyway, I arrived here at 9.15 am, successfully navigated the Metro and found my way without too much confusion to my fabulous hotel not far from the centre of Madrid.  And it was all the more fabulous since even though it was only 10 am, my room was ready and I was able to crash out for a couple of much needed hours.

So after my siesta and a shower, I was ready to hit Madrid. However, it was me that was hit as soon as I stepped outside the hotel. Don't worry not by anything more damaging than the heat - unbelievable, at least for a Scottish girl after the summer we've had. Hot or what! But undeterred I headed off towards Plaza Mayor to find the tourist information, first stop on any holiday. After that, it was a wander about until I realised I was heading in the direction of the Prado and I reckoned since I was there, I might as well head in.

What a delight - the art was fantastic but I must admit, the air conditioning was equally welcome!

But before I sound like too much of a philistine, let me just say that the art was staggering. Velazquez, Goya, Rubens, Bosch, el Greco, Durer - stunning! And somewhat scary too - particularly Goya's Las Pinturas Negras and Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights. Look closely at the latter and see if you can find the innovative flower vase!

After the Prado, it was a wander back through the streets of Centro and Sol, past my hotel to catch the evening sunlight at the Royal Palace and then back 'home' for supper and bed. All in all, a good day - despite my jetlagged feeling - and even getting by with my school girl Spanish. Train ticket to Cordoba for next week bought from an assistant who didn't speak English - at least I think it's to Cordoba, but who knows?!

Watch this blog for more news on the great solo Spanish adventure. Day 1 and still going strong.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

On the move

No photo today, folks. Just a very quick post from St Pancras International as I wait for my Eurostar to Paris on leg 2 of my great summer holiday adventure.

Last night was leg 1 on the Caledonian Sleeper from Stirling to London. To be honest, I'm not quite sure why they call it the Sleeper, there wasn't much sleeping getting done for me. And not for any exciting reasons either - just the slightly sick making motion of the train, the grinding of the wheels on the tracks and the really quite unnerving banging, jolting and clattering as they joined a few trains together at Carstairs Junction.

But it wasn't too bad. I arrived safe and sound this morning, fell out of the train (walked about 6 miles along the platform to the exit - how many coaches???) and stumbled across Euston Road to Friends House for a lovely breakfast of coffee, fruit salad and gluten free carrot cake. Mmm!

And then it was here to St Pancras to drop my bag in left luggage and back along the road to the British Library. 2 hours of entertainment - who would ever have thought a library could be so engaging!

and now I'm sitting waiting for my train to be called and within the hour I'll be leaving the UK and heading for the continent. Adventures here I come (just not too many of them please!)
 

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Packed



And packed!

I've now got myself packed for my holidays AND got my big sister's birthday present finished and parceled up to send across. Phew!

Now only one more day at work to get through.

Speak to you all from Spain!

Sunday, 15 August 2010

You say tomato...


I say tomato. But whichever way round it is I have finally had to resign myself to the fact that my carefully nurtured crop of cherry tomatoes are going to ripen when I'm away on holiday. Darn!

So as well as finalising my travel arrangements, worrying about whether the BAA strike will leave me stranded at the end of my holiday (oh, please!) and trying to get organised enough to pack, I now also need to work out who to leave my tomato plant with.

I'm also battling to finish my big sister's birthday present before I go so I can post it off in the hope that it hits the right month if not the right day. With Royal Mail and Canada Post on my side, I'm not confident tho! Sorry big sis.

Nothing for it but to make another cup of coffee, sit in the sun and write a list. That will help!

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Dreaming of ravelry ...



Well perhaps not quite, but I did pop up to Stirling University campus this afternoon to have a wander round Knit Camp market place and drool over yarn.

And I was by no means the only one either. I hadn't quite appreciated how big a deal Knit Camp was. I was surrounded by hundreds of dedicated (and sometimes frankly scary) knitters, all intent on finding the perfect yarn bargain. And, I'm pleased but nevertheless suprised to say, they weren't all women either.

Perverse as ever I went to Knit camp and came away with crochet patterns. I didn't buy any yarn either! In my wisdom I chose patterns calling for cotton, and there was a definite wool bias in the market place. Apart from the possum fur fibre that is. Hmm.

So for me, it was back on the bus and a stop off at Macaree's on the way home.

And now I have a project for my holiday - and a really bad case of startitis! Watch this space for progress.

The photo? Oh, it's of a world record attempt being undertaken - sheep to sweater in some ridiculously short space of time. Boy, did those fleeces smell!!

And the post title? Anyone recognise it?

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

On falling down



The bookmark pictured here is by the very talented Gorjuss! I bought it last year when I was supposed to be birthday or Christmas shopping (I forget which!)

Anyway, the writing on the bookmark says 'I haven't fallen down in a while' and for quite some time I'd been congratulating myself that it was true. Until last weekend that is, and then it all went a bit Pete Tong as they say!

I found myself incredibly sad, and for no reason I could work out. There was nothing particularly different. There'd been no disasters. Nobody had been cruel or thoughtless to me. But still I found myself crying my eyes out and as low as I'd been in a long time.

As you've probably gathered, I'm feeling much better now. Again, nothing has got significantly better, in fact I'm probably dealing with tougher stuff this week than last. My hormones aren't significantly better either. So what's made the difference?

To be honest, I don't know. I do know, however, that I have fantastic friends. And when I do fall down, as we all do from time to time, they're always there ready to pick me up again and make me feel good about myself.

I am truly blessed x

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Ok, I know I'm childish ...



But I pass this tree every day on my way to and from work. And it just makes me giggle.

 Anyone else see what I see?

Monday, 9 August 2010

Perks of the job


Just occasionally I get to do something really cool through work. And today was one of those days!

Tomorrow the Scottish Cabinet is meeting in Stirling as one of their summer 'out and about' meetings. Tonight in preparation for tomorrow they hosted a reception in the Great Hall at Stirling Castle to celebrate Scotland's Year of Food and Drink. In return for listening to politicians speak (sorry guys!), we invited guests got to sample some of the best local offerings from Stirling and beyond whilst marvelling at the fantastic venue that is Stirling's Great Hall.

I personally particularly enjoyed Scotbeef's mini beef wellingtons (minus the vol-au-vent for me obviously), Macrae's smoked salmon, Graham's organic ice cream and (my absolute favourite of the evening) CookRoom's yummy gluten free chocolate muffins! I also noticed that the fabulous Mhor Bread was there, but for obvious reasons I didn't try them out - not with it being a school night and me being in polite company!

All in all, a good evening. It's tough work sometimes, but I want you to know I take on these challenges selflessly! (Heh, heh!)

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Childhood revisited


Yesterday I did something a bit different. Or more accurately something I haven't done for quite some time - I went to visit an archaeological excavation. One of the local primary schools is due to be extended and as it's already known to be built on a Roman fort, any further work at the school requires an archaeological assessment to be done first. So I thought I would go up and have a look, not having anything better to do with my day.

It was pretty interesting, although Time Team it wasn't! But perhaps you're wondering what that has to do with the title of the post. Well, here it is. My dad was an archaeologist (no wonder my spelling is generally pretty good, imagine having to spell that from an early age!) and quite often we would join him at some excavation or other. Since he was a specialist in Roman archaeology in Scotland, and in particular in determining the extent of Roman penetration into northern Scotland, much of what we saw or were present at the excavations of were temporary marching camps. In other words, a field with a ditch round it - and if you were lucky you might find a gateway! Fascinating as these are to archaeologists and historians in tracing the Roman occupation and penetration of northern Britain, to a small child they can be deeply boring. I suspect the most fun and excitement my sister and I had was falling into the trenchs!

But yesterday's excavation was fascinating - not just for the finds, but to be told that actually it was my Dad that discovered it in the first place and undertook the first exploratory trenches. The person I spoke to even told me that the woman living in the house next to the school has photographs of Dad digging there way back when!

The team working there just now seemed genuinely excited to be talking to 'Gordon Maxwell's daughter' - and I was ever so proud of him! So my next task now, is to get him to visit before they finish the excavations!

And by the way, he's also been on Time Team! But no, I haven't met Tony Robinson.
 

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Me, myself and I


Pondering the view
Originally uploaded by bexybeads
There are many many wonderful things about living on your own. Some of my particular favourites are - not having to accommodate anyone else's tastes, not being woken up at an unearthly hour by little people, being able to choose what I do and when I do it without reference to others - including hoovering at 2 in the morning if the mood takes me, not that it does very often, at 2 am or at any time if I'm honest!

I also enjoy being able to cook whatever I like for my dinner and not worry about whether it's going to be ok for others too. Or even not cook at all and just snack and graze my evening away. It's good fun being able to come home and decide for myself whether to put the TV on, listen to music, play on the computer or just sit and knit without having any of that moderated by AN Other.

But at the same time, it can be really lonely. I find Friday nights are the hardest. When everyone else is looking forward to the end of the week and a break from work, I'm quite often wondering what on earth I'm going to do to fill my time on my own. It's not every weekend and I don't really know what the trigger is, but there are Friday evenings when it all just feels too much.

Last night was one. I came home from work after a long, busy and quite hard week and instead of feeling relieved, I just felt incredibly sad. I don't think it was helped by being one of the last people to leave the office either. Walking out on my own with no-one to say cheerio to just reinforced the Billy-No-Mates feeling I suspect. I wandered into town intent on cheering myself up with a takeaway from the new Indian restaurant that's recently opened near me but when I got there, I couldn't quite bring myself to go in and order food. The effort was just too much. Pathetic, I know, but when I get my 'Friday feeling' even things like that are too much.

So instead I headed home, feeling sorry for myself and sat in the flat by myself. I could (and probably should) have called a friend but I didn't. I didn't want to inflict myself on anyone in that mood, and anyway - I reasoned - they'll all be out doing things and it will only make me feel worse to find out they're all too busy to see me. What I did instead was dig something out of the freezer to eat - which by happy coincidence turned out to be a vegetable curry I'd made a previous weekend, and not the aubergine bake I thought I was defrosting, poured myself a large glass of wine and settled down to watch some mindless TV and try to finish my sister's birthday present.

It worked a bit but what worked more was taking the plunge and posting on Facebook that I was feeling a bit down, and then seeing all the lovely, funny, sarcastic, thoughtful comments and messagescome back from friends. Reading other people's posts was also a good tonic - friends who invariably see the world in the best possible light, who generally have quirky, funny things to say, or who just deal with so much more difficult things than me in an awesome and inspiring way.

I'd love to say that I'm feeling fully recovered today and that everything is just lovely. I'm not, but it is better. And I'll get up shortly and get on with my weekend. I know that doing things will make me feel better than sitting around feeling sorry for myself. I know that while I'm sad just now, I will be happy another day and that both emotions are important and natural and inevitable. And if they're not, then life would be really really dull.

In an attempt to cheer me up, a friend texted me to remember that Life is Pain, referencing someone I'd never heard of. So in this internet age, I went ahead and googled it. I'm not sure if this is the intended reference but it made me laugh. Thanks x

I've since discovered that the reference was to a film quote instead - much more benign than the one I found! Which made me laugh even more!!

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

T'internet

 
These days when I go online I generally have a fairly set routine. I log in, check my email, check my Facebook page, read the blogs I subscribe to, check my own blog for comments, skip by my Flickr page to see who's looking at what photos and then drop into BBC News Online to catch up on the headlines. These days I also generally check out the local preperty website to see what's for sale and I might want to go see. And that's pretty much it. I don't do much Stumbling through websites anymore - to be honest, Facebook takes up most of my surfing time one way or another.

But the other day when I was putting together my Lammas Day post for this blog and I was searching for a photograph of llamas to illustrate it with, I ended up visiting YouTube. Do you know what? I'd forgotten how much fun it was!

Not only did I find Secret Bob and his Llamas with Hats (nope, I don't know why either!) but I was also reminded of the happy discoveries of the Lego Star Wars epics, recut movie trailers, and perhaps more sedate montages. It can also be educational, enlightening, or just plain entertaining. And some are scary!

So it just goes to prove a couple of things. Every once in a while it's good to stop and smell the flowers - or stumble around the internet for a bit. And a break from routine can really be good for you!

Want to share your favourite YouTubes find?

And while I'm at it, a few other of my favourite T'internet thoughts.

My 7 year old nephew (who has only just referring to it as to the tontooter) for his birthday asked if he could get an email address and a blog. I kid you not!

A friend at work told me that her little boy asked her what the inside of a clock looked like and when she asked him how he thought they might find out, he just said, Look it up on the 'puter Mummy!

How times have changed!

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Running to stand still



Which is quite often how I feel about work and life in general but isn't actually the point of this post.

No, this blog post is to celebrate that tonight I ran 5.5 miles in 57 minutes. Not only does that put me well on track for being able to complete the Stirling 10k in September, it's also the furtherest I've ever run.

Yay, me! I'm so proud of myself. And also somewhat knackered if I'm honest!

Off to sign up now for the race so I can't change my mind.


(And in case you're wondering, the photo is of the old municipal baths in Stirling and their amazing modernist frieze - a kind of cross between Soviet art and the League of Health and Beauty!)

Monday, 2 August 2010

Musical Mystery Tour


As some of my friends from Facebook will know, over the last couple of months I've been undertaking a small iPod challenge. I was finding that random/shuffle on my iPod just wasn't random enough and I was worried there were tracks I was never hearing. So, as a solution, I decided to listen to my entire iPod alphabetically by song title. Doing it by artist would have been a bit dull, but by song title gave a whole new meaning to the word 'random'. Where else could you listen to U2 and Thievery Corporation side by side? The only time I can remember having a run of songs by the same artist was courtesy of The Hoosiers of all people, although I do remember a bit of a Madonna segment, and perhaps an REM one.

Now don't panic, I only actually had 1444 songs on my iPod when I started this challenge (and I've only got 1473 now!!) so it wasn't too much of a mammoth undertaking. But it was incredible fun - and it did remind me of stuff I'd put on there and hardly listened to yet. In the space of the last 6 weeks I've been all the way from A-Punk from Vampire Weekend (of Oxford Comma fame!) to Zephyrus by Bloc Party and finished up this weekend with a handful of numerically inspired tracks.

As well as finding a way to make sure I'd listened to all of the tracks on my iPod, this little adventure did have a few other by-products.

For example, I've listened more carefully to the lyrics of quite a few of the tracks (most of the listening was through headphones, although some of it was through my ever surprising bargain £5 speakers - yay, PoundStretchers!). Discoveries from this were:

- Guillemots with Blue would still be Blue, a lyrically perfect song about living life

- Death Cab for Cutie with I will Possess your Heart, a truly beautiful love song (or one about a stalker if you read some of the comments!)

- Postal Service, We Will Become Silloheuttes, the jauntiest pop song about nuclear holocaust I've heard in a long while!

...to name but a few.

I also got a whole heap of new music suggestions courtesy of the Facebook 'guess the first track for each letter of the alphabet' game I played with my more long suffering friends. Quite often it lead me to want to rush off and buy the track. Occasionally it made me want to hit people over the head for thinking I would listen to such rubbish!

In my more boring moments, I even played musical mathematics - for example, did you know that the first 3 letters of the alphabet are statistically over-represented in my current collection? And by the time I'd got half way through the alphabet I was already 60% of my way through the music.

All in all, it was a great experiment that I'd recommend to anyone. But there's only one problem. Now that I've finished what do I listen to next? Luckily one of my fellow bloggers has already answered that one for me - buy a heap more music and start all over again. I've already started in fact, with purchases from the Coral, Teenage Fanclub (apparently also known as The Fannies, and that's only really funny to people in - or from, or who lived in - the UK!) and I am Kloot (although I don't actually remember buying that one!!). I also have a number of other great suggestions to rush off and try - top of the list is Pomplamousse who appeal to my (at times) quirky musical taste! And even as we speak Arcade Fire is down loading from the iTunes store.

So more adventures to come. If I promise not to inflict it on you all, can I start at A again sometime soon?

and for those who are interested, these are the first songs for each letter on my iPod at the time of the great A-Z challenge

A-Punk, Vampire Weekend
Baba, Alannis Morissette
C'est La Vie, Shania Twain
D is for Dangerous, Arctic Monkeys
The Earth Gave Me You, The Delays
Fake Tales of San Francisco, Arctic Monkeys (again)
Generator, Foofighters
Halloween, Kirsty MacColl
I'll Take the Rain, REM
James Bond, Scouting for Girls
Ka-Ching, good old Shania again
La Femme Parallel, Thievery Corporation
MIA, once again the mighty Foofighters
Nah!, Shania - what is it with you and having to be first?
O Green World, Gorillaz
The Panic, Dykeenies
Queen's Tattoos, Aztec Camera
Rabbit Heart, Florence and the Machine
SOCA, Asian Dub Foundation
Tahiti, Bat for Lashes
U Can't Touch This, MC Hammer (cringe!)
Vampires, Thievery Corporation (again)
Waiter, Bring Me Water, Shania (what again?)
X-Ray, The Macabees
YahWeh, U2
Zephyrus, Bloc Party
10:15 Saturday Night, The Cure

all finishing up with 9/15ths, Biffy Clyro

PS Sorry for the pic, big sis. Couldn't resist it when I found it on my phone!!

Sunday, 1 August 2010

The past is a different country...



Today is 1st August, also known as Lammas Day but I confess that until yesterday I didn't know what that actually meant. I could vaguely remember that there's a Lammas Fair in St Andrews in August but I strongly suspected that it was named after the day and not the other way round!

But yesterday I found out via an article in the Herald newspaper. And no, it's got nothing to do with llamas!!


Lammas Day is one of the traditional days associated with our agrarian past, in the days before we became an industrial - or as we are now, post industrial - society. Like Whitsun, Candlemas, Quarter Days and Harvest Festivals, Lammas has its roots (oh, pardon the pun!) in the agricultural traditions our ancestors used to follow when we were more closely tied to the earth and the seasons than we now are. (And no, I couldn't have told you when Whitsun was either before I looked at Wikipedia but I did know, courtesy of Philip Larkin, that it was some time in the summer.)

Get on with it, I hear you shout! Ok, Lammas Day is a day of celebration for bread, wheat and all things bakery. It was traditionally the first day of the wheat harvest - at least in the northern hemisphere - and the day, presumably, when we could start stocking up again on that oh-so important staple - flour. It's no accident that the best known prayer of the Christian faith includes an entreaty for daily bread, and the term 'breaking bread' has come to be understood as a ritual of sharing and trust.

Where would we be in our modern hectic full speed lives without the ubiquitous sandwich, pizza, breakfast slice of toast, biscuits, pies, muffins, cupcakes, pasta and noodles. Even our traditional Christmas dinner requires bread sauce and stuffing to be complete! Life on the go would be much less manageable, and convenience foods would be far less, well, convenient. And our coffee/tea breaks would be that bit less naughty.

Spare a thought then for the coeliacs and wheat intolerant amongst you. That's what life is like for those of us who can't tolerate the staff of life. When you stop and think about it (as indeed I now do on an almost daily basis) it's amazing just how many things have wheat in them and are therefore out of bounds. Some are obvious (sandwiches, rolls and wraps of all descriptions; anything with pastry; almost all cakes; most things in batter) while others are less so (soy sauce; semolina; anything with white sauce; most gravies; mustard powder; even some ice creams - no, I don't know either!). It can make life a bit complicated at times.

Nowadays there are many replacements and alternatives - corn, rice or potato flour; rice or millet pasta; quinoa instead of cous cous to name but a few. There are also some amazing brands and ranges, even in the most everyday supermarket, that make life that little bit less dull. Special mention to Tesco and Sainsbury for their gluten free ranges, and newcomer Marks & Spencer (although here's a hint, guys. If you have a 'free from' range - stock it in one place and don't mix it up with wheaty goodies, otherwise it defeats the purpose of having a range - ie you still have to read the ingredients list just to be sure!). Even some coffee shop chains are getting in on the act. My other recent discovery (and great joy) is a gluten free bread that actually tastes like 'real' bread - take a bow, Genius loaves!

So after all that, you can imagine I'm fairly non-plussed about the whole point of today!!


In case you were wondering - the rest of the quote in the title is "they do things differently there". Prize - ok just some kudos - if you know where it comes from.

In case you were wondering 2 - extreme bloating and fairly violent gas is the consequence of indulging in wheaty substances for me. Not, as I told my impressionable young nephew, turning green and growing horns!! 


By the way, this has nothing whatsoever to do with Lammas, wheat, bread, coeliac disease or anything sensible. I just found it while I was looking for a picture of llamas. Enjoy!