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Travels: Past, Present and Future

Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

A Very Spanish Taxi Ride

Posted by Leanne on June 29, 2010

It didn’t bode well for the journey back to the airport when the taxi started rolling away as the driver loaded our small, not very heavy bags into the boot of his car.  Should we really be getting into a taxi with a driver who didn’t know how to use his handbreak?  I thought.  But I didn’t know the Spanish for ‘I’m sorry, but your taxi looks a bit scary’ so I just said “El aeropuerto por favor” and got in.

Every time a car slowed down in front of us, perhaps  because it was trying not to crash into the car in front, or run over a pedestrian, or because it could see the traffic lights up ahead were on red so there was no point in moving towards them at top speed, he hit his horn at them.

“Do you think that Spanish taxis should just have the horn on as a default?” asked Paul once we were out of earshot and had breathed a sigh of relief that we were still alive. “Then they could just press it when they don’t want it to make a noise.”  Seemed like a perfectly reasonable suggestion to me.

Then we got on a plane and, after an hour of sitting still in uncomfortable Ryanair seats while we waited for the French to give us permission to fly over France, flew back to a land where meals aren’t all served in tiny portions, where the sun doesn’t shine quite so consistently, and where I understand more than 10% of what the people around me are saying.

Sevilla from above


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Plaza Español

Posted by Leanne on June 27, 2010

During my Spanish classes this year, I often sat next to Trevor who always had difficulty in retaining much of the vocabulary that we were learning throughout the course. There was one thing he did remember though: no matter what topic we were practising, he could always remember un bocadillo de jamón – whether it was that he wanted to order one during our café roleplay, or whether he liked them, or that he was going to eat one next weekend, or that he ate one last weekend, he’d always manage to slip it into the conversation somewhere. I thought about Trevor, and how many bocadillo de jamóns he would have eaten if he had been in Seville for the weekend as I ate mine for a late breakfast that morning.

One of the things I remember most about my last visit to Seville, was hanging out at the Plaza Español, watching the horse and carts circle around the fountain before proceeding on their merry clip-cloppity way back to the cathedral. Arriving there a second time, the first thing I noticed was that it looked a lot more building site-y than it did in my memory, since the main part of the plaza is being reconstructed at the moment.

Luckily we were still able to wander around the building surrounding the plaza, admiring the artwork built in ceramics on every wall, staircase and ceiling. It was a lot bigger than I remembered, confirming my suspicions that my brain must compress things into smaller files to save space for anything that might come later.

Plaza Español

On a Sunday afternoon in Seville most of the museums close, so it was back to the hotel for a siesta and this time, a few beers out on the patio, (to save the stress of having to remember to buy a screw top bottle of wine) before heading out into the night for a cruise along the River Guadalquivir. We hoped to learn about why there were padlocks fastened all along the Triana bridge and to pick up a few other bits of historical trivia all for the bargain price of €15.

Love Locks: a tradition whereby lovers fasten a padlock to the bridge and throw the key into the river to symbolise their love

Instead, we heard the names of several bridges read out to us in Spanish, English, French and German as we passed under them and I looked up the lock thing on the internet when I got home because the most tantalising titbits the boat commentary had to offer were things such as:

“The [very boring standard-looking] bridge ahead has been in the Guinness Book of Records.” Full stop. No additional information. As if no one had ever considered that the people on the boat might be more interested in why it might have earned its place in history…

So for 45 minutes of my time and €15, I had a breezy sunset trip up the river and learned absolutely nothing about the city I was visiting. Bargain.


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A Very Full Day

Posted by Leanne on June 26, 2010

The first task of the day was to find breakfast.

Mindful of the previous evening’s experience of wandering around for hours passing lots of different cafes and bars without being able to decide which one to go in, we headed straight inside the first one we saw and took our seat in the bustling café which appeared to be manned by just one waiter,  a fierce whirlwind of activity, crashing around at top speed, taking orders and delivering food to every table with an abrupt efficiency. To his credit, his waiting style allowed me to order in Spanish without him making any attempt to ‘help’ out by replying in English, making it my second successful entirely Spanish transaction of the weekend.

“He was quite fierce,” I commented as we left in search of tourist activity
“I liked him,” Paul replied “He seemed very… ‘Spanish’”
“I thought he looked more like Super Mario” I said
“Yeah, I suppose so – but he struck me as the kind of waiter who’d speak to you in Spanish regardless of whether you understood him or not.”

Since the cathedral wasn’t open yet, we wandered around some more cobbled streets, passing walking tours led by ladies holding flamenco fans and accompanied by men playing flamenco tunes on their guitars as the group walked from one stop to the next – ensuring that their customers got the ‘authentic’ Spanish experience.  To their credit, it made me want to join in…

It was a brief and happy interlude before entering the cathedral, the 2nd largest in the world to while away a few hours out of the intense sunlight with what seemed like every other tourist in the city. “There’s a room in Resident Evil that looks a bit like this” commented Paul as we looked inside one of the many rooms inside the enormous structure.

In one room, we listened to a tour guide point out the statue of St. Isadore of Seville – the Patron Saint of the Internet. Never let it be said that the church is behind the times…

In another room we found treasure, but it didn’t feel like much of an achievement:

If only all treasure was this easy to find

If only all treasure was this easy to find

And up in the bell tower we found sprawling views of Seville, from above.

Seville from above

Seville from the top of the Giralda Tower

After another quick tapas stop it was onto the Alcázar to wander slowly around the ornate buildings and immaculate gardens, to lie on a bench in the shade, watching the Peahen scaring the ducks,  stalking peacocks through shaded gardens and for a delicious lemonade in the cafe.

Alcázar of Seville


In true holiday tradition we went in search of a shop to sell us a screw-top  bottle of vino tinto to consume out on the patio which came with our hotel room.  And in true holiday tradition, we bought a cork sealed bottle and realised once we were far enough away from the shop to have forgotten where it was.  15 minutes later, with the help of a car key, a pair of tweezers, a pencil and a toothbrush, we were sitting outside on our private patio sipping Rioja and reading.

Flicking through the Spanish TV channels I saw a matador being knocked to the ground by a bull during the bullfighting broadcast.  I watched Julia Roberts and Richard Gere speak in strange Spanish voices in a film that was not Pretty Woman.

And then we went out to eat some more tiny meals, but not before making the journey through the zelda-esque corridors an up onto the hotel roof to check out the view – and what perfect, yet accidental timing:

Rooftop Sunset

Sunset on the roof

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Posted by Leanne on June 25, 2010

“Where are we going?” I asked that morning.
“Surpriseland” replied Paul
“Have I been there before?”
“You’ll have to wait and see.”
“Have you been there before?”
“How long does it take to get there?”
“Shall I just look it up on the airport website?”
“No – it’s a surprise.”

But once we had arrived at Liverpool airport, he had to hand me my boarding pass so that they’d let me through the security checks, and there, printed on the page, quite clearly in big letters, was the word “Seville”


Boarding pass

I don’t remember much about Seville from the last time I was there. My mind was a whirl after finding myself unexpectedly travelling solo and I was just happy to be able to find someone to talk to. At the time, I described it as being very much like my home town – York, with its cobbled streets, big cathedral, old buildings, etc, but with the addition of orange trees lining the streets and the sunshine making an appearance in October.

Following my second visit, I’m more inclined to describe it as like a level in Zelda. To find our room in the hotel, we had to go up some stairs, then choose another staircase of the many on that floor, to go back down to the same level we started at, but a different corner of the building, navigating around the twisting corridors in the hope of finding the door for which we had the key to unlock. As the porter led us to our room, via the second floor, I looked at Paul and pointed to the 102 clearly marked as our room number on the card holder I’d been presented with at the reception desk. He looked back and shrugged, but since I’d checked in using my limited Spanish, all of the staff were speaking to me in Spanish, and I didn’t want to revert to English to ask where we were going, so dutifully followed. I understood most of what they were saying, but couldn’t articulate any more than ‘si’ and ‘gracias’ in return.

Outside the hotel, the narrow meandering streets made it easy to get lost, yet also to keep stumbling across the same landmark, no matter which direction you thought you were travelling in – just like in Zelda…

Wandering the streets in search of extra hearts (err… I mean tapas) that evening, it struck me how little I actually remembered about Seville from my last visit here. I remembered Kev the Canadian, and Mia, the Swiss girl and Erin the American, but the actual place had shrunk almost to nothing in my mind – I remembered going into a traditional Spanish bar where a traditional Spanish man played traditional Spanish songs on the piano, but I had no idea where to find it. I remembered that there was a big cathedral, but was convinced that I didn’t know about the big river, which is quite hard to miss, if you’re visiting Seville. There was one moment where we walked past the hostel I stayed in the first time round, where I felt a tiny flicker of recognition, but then as fast as it emerged, it was gone again along with my bearings. Everything seemed bigger than it was in my memory – as if I’d compressed it to preserve space.


Statue on Plaza Nueva

So the first evening was spent familiarising ourselves with our surroundings, and checking out a tapas place recommended by the man on reception at the hotel. The waiter spoke to us in English, forbidding us from ordering more than 3 things at once from the menu, explaining that they served much bigger portions than other places, but conceded and let us (made us) order 4 based on the fact that our first too choices weren’t quite so filling…

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Happy Birthday to Me!

Posted by Leanne on May 25, 2010

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And Home

Posted by Leanne on September 25, 2009

It was strange to be finishing a holiday, a mere 4 days after arriving in a place –  I’ve been accustomed to mega 4 week travel extravaganzas for so long now that I’d forgotten what it was like to a) stay in England and b) have a relaxing kind of time.

With the car back in full working order, we packed up our belongings and left the hobbit hole behind with nothing more than a few words of thanks in the guestbook as evidence of our stay there.

We parked up in Bude and perused the tourist tack in the tourist shops, picking up bits of fudge and biscuits to take back to friends and colleagues up north, made a giraffe on the beach and set of for the long drive home.

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Boscastle and Crackington Haven

Posted by Leanne on September 24, 2009

I managed to sleep in to a respectable 9am this morning and, after failing to come to any kind of conclusion about what to do that day, the phone conveniently rang.

Alison from Fastlane motors at Brandis Corner told me that I’d better sit down… I owed her £304 for the repairs to the car, but the good news was that it was ready to be picked up from car-hospital. I then dialed a mobile telephone number I found attached to the Hobbit-Hole’s notice board and a woman (who had just got out of the shower) promised to be round in 10 minutes to pick us up and take us to Devon to collect the car.  It’s somehow refreshing to know that there are still some places in the world where taxi companies consist of just one person with a mobile phone and a car, and they probably only receive about 2 calls a week…

Disappointly, we didn’t have the presence of mind to take a photograph when the mechanic showed us the clutch, complete with pressure plate, broken cleanly into 3 pieces (with a few bits chipped off around the side). “Even I can tell you that that’s broken,” Paul commented.

On a whim, we drove to Boscastle and spent 15 minutes circling the only car park in the tiny harbour village for a space. “Should have just got the bus.” I grumbled. Once I was parked up in a space that wasn’t really meant to be a parking space but ‘other people were parking there, so it must be alright…’ we let ourselves out into the sunshine and climbed a cliff.

Since yesterday’s atmosperic castle experience translated directly into very wet feet, my trainers were still drying out, so I tackled the steep, slippy, uneven surfaces with entirely unsuitable shoes with great success and sat on the top of a cliff for 10 minutes reading my book while Paul took photos of whatever for an inordinately long time…

Unsuitable Shoes

Unsuitable Shoes

Today was our last full day in Cornwall – and I still had a few things to achieve whilst I was there – the first one was to be a Cornish Pasty which provided the energy to walk up another cliff in unsuitable shoes to the watchtower where I sat reading my book whilst Paul took an inordinately long time taking photos….

Then it was back down to the village for some Cornish ice-cream and away. Since we were yet to come across a beach for the giraffe of the day, we stopped in Crackington Haven for an hour so that I could achieve two more holiday tasks: go into the sea and make a giraffe.

The sea at Crackington Haven

The sea at Crackington Haven

Today’s giraffe was  made from pebbles. A small boy called Matthew brought me a few pebbles to use, but then ran away when I asked him if he wanted to help. Paul stood around watching for a bit, refusing to help, but then I think he got bored and started collecting pebbles to make a detailed eye, complete with girly eyelashes.

That done, it was back into Bude for sunset and dinner, to achieve my final goal for the week – fish and chips. I did briefly wonder why, since I instisted on consuming so much fatty and unhealthy food during the week, I had left most of it until the last day and consequently had to try it all in one day but I was on holiday so didn’t dwell on it too much.

Sunset in Bude

Sunset in Bude

With great effort, (and a trip to the pub) I managed to stay up really late (11pm).

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Posted by Leanne on September 23, 2009

Wednesday: the day they said they might get round to fixing the car, but knowing that the job would take ‘the best part of a day’, and not wanting to waste the best part of the day (whichever part that is) we walked into Bude in the descending mists in order to get the bus to Tintagel. Along the canal there was group after group of school children chasing ducks from their kayaks or canoeing along raucously, leading Paul to muse whether any of the school children actually ever did any reading, riting or ‘rithmatic in Bude, or whether they just spent their school days learning to surf and terrorising the canal wildlife from plastic boats…

Spider Web by the Canal

Spider Web by the Canal

According to the bus timetable, we needed to get a bus to Boscastle, and then another onto Tintagel. In actual fact all we needed to do was get on a bus from Bude, wait for the driver to change the bus number at Boscastle and then get driven, in the same bus to Tintagel. Easy.

As the bus which was, in my opinion far to big to negotiate the steep, winding and narrow roads along the coast, but contained just enough magic to squeeze past the thankfully sparse oncoming traffic meandered its way towards our final destination, the mist descended lower, promising to make us very damp by the end of the day.

In Tintagel, we wandered along the scenic route, over sodden grass and up steep and slippery tarmac, through an ordinary graveyard which appeared, on this day, to be extraordinarily spooky and atmospheric since it was obscured by fog.

Church in Tintagel

Church in Tintagel

Then it was  up some more hills until the ominous sight of the Tintagel Castle ruins loomed through the opaque air.

Church in Tintagel

Tintagel Castle, Cornwall

It’s always fun to wander around castle ruins, imagining what kind of people might have lived there; what they wore; what they would eat as they dined in the great hall and what jokes the court jester might have told to amuse the noblemen of the day.  Tintagel castle brings the added bonus of trying to imagine what kind of lunatic would ever decide to build a castle at the top of a cliff, and what kind of genius could actually make it happen (ignoring the fact that most of it eventually fell into the sea.)

The white mists swirling around only served to highlight the tragedy of a, once brilliant (if a little bit crazy) structure broken beyond repair and deserted by all but the seagulls, and now tourists.

Seagull on Tintagel Castle Grounds

Seagull on Tintagel Castle Grounds

At the sight of the bay below, I skipped down the precarious steps, and haphazard pebbles onto the sand and ran over to briefly explore the caves before setting about gathering seaweed for the giraffe of the day.  On completion, I ran back up to the overlooking cliff to observe my seaweed monster giraffe and take a snap or two.  “Can you tell what it is?” I asked Paul as I looked down at my creation.  Turning to my left I realised that Paul wasn’t there and a stranger answered “I’m told it’s a giraffe.”  I wondered who had told him, and if he knew it was me who had created it, but feeling a bit surprised about accidentally and enthusiastically speaking to a stranger, didn’t pursue the matter.  I walked away as he took a photo of the seaweed giraffe for his records, maybe just to humour me.

By this time my energy was ebbing, everything was wet and the cafe just below the castle started to beckon invitingly.  I had promised myself warm  jam and cream scones with a pot of tea and that is what I got:

Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea

Feeling sick, from clotted cream we climbed the hill back to the village and got on the bus back to Bude, regretabbly deciding against buying any Granny Wobbly’s Crumbly Fudge on the way to the bus stop.

In spite of the busy day I managed to stay up late tonight – 10pm!

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Coastal Walks and Wide Mouths

Posted by Leanne on September 22, 2009

When you fall asleep at 9:30pm, awaking only breifly to remove yourself from the sofa and get into bed, it’s not really surprising if you are wide awake at 6:30am the next morning.

I got up at about 7, had a shower and pottered around a bit before deciding that I needed to work up a proper appetite if I was to eat bacon, eggs, beans and toast for breakfast, so I went for a walk to explore the village. I was only a few paces away from the hobbit hole when I saw an interesting looking alleyway, so turned off down the steep dirt track, as any true explorer might do. Before long I was strolling by the canal, watching sheep graze in the nearby fields, cows paddle in the shallow water, snacking on wild blackberries and (presumably) heading towards Bude. I had read in the Hobbit Hole’s guest book that there was a non-life-threatening walk into Bude along the canal and so kept walking until I could confirm that this was it.

Sheep by Bude Canal

Sheep by Bude Canal

On the way, I passed a signpost to a cafe which immediately conjured up pictures of sitting in a seafront cafe, with a steaming pot of tea and warm scones, smothered with jam and clotted cream. I resolved to make sure I found somewhere to enjoy afternoon tea before I left Cornwall. And to have some Cornish ice-cream. And a Cornish pasty. And of course some fish and chips. Not that I was getting hungry or anything…

During the entire 2.5 mile walk into Bude I passed 4 dogwalkers – all of whom said ‘hello’ to me as they walked on by. Being out and about before breakfast, in the beautiful Cornish countryside, around friendly and welcoming people (and a dog in a pushchair) filled me with a sense of freedom and joy, especially when the sun almost came out.

It was 9am by the time I arrived back at the Hobbit Hole and got the frying pan out, realising that it was probably the first time I’ve ever walked for 5 miles before breakfast.

Hobbit Hole Entrance

Hobbit Hole Entrance

An hour later, we were back by the canal-side walking towards Bude, but since I’d already done that once today, we took a turning through some community woodland and out onto the coastal path where we sat for a moment on the clifftop’s springy matress of grass admiring the seaside view, and comparing the sound of the sea to that of a busy A-Road.

Walking on, we stopped at a sign for Widemouth Bay to take some pictures of us with wide mouths (much to the amusement of a passing walker) and again on the beach to carve a wide mouthed giraffe into the sand.

Wide Mouthed Paul

Wide Mouthed Paul

After lunch, we retraced out steps into Bude, along the blustery coastal path and witnessed a cyclist admirably zig-zagging up a grassy cliff against the wind, and then we struggled to climb that same slope on foot. We emerged onto Summerleaze Beach in Bude and made our way back to Marhamchurch along the canal, this time greeted by joggers as well as dog walkers as they passed.

Dinner at the Buller’s Arms made me grumpy, since they didn’t have any lasagne which was the only thing I wanted from the menu. I settled for a bowl of soup and made myself cheerful again with sticky toffee pudding and clotted cream before heading back to the Hobbit Hole to fall asleep on the sofa – this time at 9:45pm…

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The 4th Emergency Service

Posted by Leanne on September 21, 2009

“Good Afternoon, you’re through to the AA Emergency Helpline, how can I help you?”

“Hi,” I replied “I’m not a member, but I’ve just broken down and would like to pay a large fee to join / get rescued please.”

“Certainly … do you have a method of payment with you…?”

Actually, they started out by checking I was pulled up in a safe place, asked whether someone was in the car with me and took my telephone number in case we got cut off. Then they asked for the credit card details.

The driving had been going well. We were 4.5 hours into the journey and only 20ish miles away from Bude when we hit some hills. Some 16% gradient hills. As we attempted the climb the slope, the car started losing power. I tried to change into a lower gear but the car had other ideas. I pushed the accelerator to the floor and we slowed more. The car behind me grew larger in the rear view mirror and eventually my car died and I reached for the hazard lights.

“I think it’s broken.” I said obviously.
“Are you sure you haven’t just stalled?” asked Paul who doesn’t know anything about cars, or about driving.
“Pretty sure.” I replied.
“I started it up again, making an unpleasant grinding noise in the process and tried to no avail to get it into gear.
“Can you smell burning?” I asked.
“Can you get out and have a look?”
“I don’t know what to look for.” he protested.
I sighed heavily and got out and had a look myself. “Stupid bloody boys who know nothing about cars…you just have a look to see if anything is on fire and/or has smoke pouring out of it.” I muttered exasperatedly under my breath.

We were parked in the middle of the road on a steep hill. I worked out that it would go into gear when the engine was off so started her up in second and managed to get over the hill, onto the side of the road. Then called the AA who estimated that it would be just over an hour before any sign of rescue. There was only one thing for it…

“I spy with my little eye, something beginning with B.”
“Broken Car!”
“I smell with my little nose, something beginning with B.”
“Burning!” I reponded almost immediately
“I hear with my little ears something beginning with H”
“Hazard lights…”

Next out came Paul’s iphone and, with a little help from the internet, I diagnosed that something was wrong with the clutch (which was a pretty obvious anyway).

An RAC van drove past and I almost got a bit excited until I realised that I’d just joined the AA, so the RAC were unlikely to be the ones coming to the rescue.

The AA hero/man turned up 10 minutes after that and confirmed that the clutch was broken (and would cost about £300 to replace) and towed us to a nearby garage at Brandis Corner (which is in Devon, not Cornwall, because all of the garages in or near Bude couldn’t repair it before the weekend.)

It was about 3:30pm by the time the AA man dropped us off outside our Hobbit Hole (cottage) in Marhamchurch which is a small village, where it is safe to leave the hobbit-hole key under a stone in the front yard,  and the pub shuts between 3pm and 5pm, so there was no chance of food and no bus until 5:30pm.

We walked into Bude down steep, narrow and winding country lanes, picking at wild blackberries on the way which did nothing to help the no-lunch-hunger pangs and only fearing a tiny bit for our lives as cars came racing around the corners.

On the way to Bude

On the way to Bude

After a quick wander down to Crooklets Beach, and a quick giraffe in the sand while we waited for pubs to start serving food we found our way to the bustling Brendon Arms where joined an older Canadian couple at their table. They had been driving around country lanes in a giant car (compared to the width of the roads) which beeped every time it sensed they were too close to something – which is all the time when you’re driving down country lanes, and occasionally stopping to lean out of the window to pick some blackberries to nibble on the way. Amazingly, they’d been in the country since 2nd September and had still to experience any rain.



By the end of the meal they had offered us a lift back to Marhamchurch which we politely declined due to the fact that we needed to go to the supermarket to stock up first. Instead, I phoned a random mobile telephone number which was scribbled on a piece of paper by the man in Sainsbury’s and a man in a minibus turned up less than a minute later to take us back to the Hobbit Hole. After telling him our tale of woe, he knocked 40p off the taxi fare at the other end since he “didn’t want to add to our troubles.”

By 9:30pm I was full of food and beer and fast asleep on the sofa…

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