Friday, 5 August 2011

Friday 5th August

Some trans-Pennine Express service to Manchester Airport

And we're off...

The day of hour holiday proper. Did all the usual housekeeping stuff, sorted out the tomatoes, hoping the weather at home is going to be wet but not too cold over the next couple of weeks (sorry friends, as much as I love you all, you won't taste half as good mushed up in a pasta sauce). Ate some lunch which is the usual consumption of anything left in the ridge which will have gone of by the time we get back and finished the packing in-between times watching Jeremy Kyle .Damn, watching this paragon of the televisual arts and the British lifestyle it engenders fair warms the cockles of your heart and makes you long to return back to the green and pleasant land we live in even before we've actually left. I need to know what the DNA test will show

Ordered a taxi who didn't know the best way to get to Dewsbury train station. The best thing though was our Asian driver had a rubber Osama bin Laden mask in the boot I noticed when I put our bags in which I thought was fantastic. Well unless he uses it in robberies and stuff, in which case I can't condone the use of such a light-hearted novelty item for such a heinous purpose. So we get to Dewsbury station and wait for our train. Why do they bother trying to sell over-priced food and drink from a trolley when you are less than an hour away from the terminal of the train? I mean, is I any wonder we have an obesity epidemic if business is trying to ram calories down your throat at every available second? Seriously the guy with the trolley hase been through 4 times and we've only been on the go for 20 minutes and he keeps issuing the ultimatum that we are going to not have a trolley service between Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Airport. That's a good 15 minutes when you can't actually buy any food. There may be a riot and a Lord of the Flies style regression to a stone-age mentality when we might be forced to eat one another. I had my excuses ready now. I'd argue I'd be really tough with all the exercise I do and I'd got salmonella and ebola which means if you don't die after eating me you'd find I taste rather gamey and it would be a waste to tuck in without a decent, heavyweight Bordeaux and oh no, there's no trolley to buy one from.

We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare and had to walk miles from the airport train terminal to T2. All the security went swimmingly, though I had to almost undress entirely to get through security. So there can be a little tip for any aspiring flashers. If you want to expose yourself in public without being arrested, insert some metal in your underwear as you go through security at an airport and not only will they not object to you getting your private parts out, they'll positively demand you to.

Once through all the bureaucratic, passporty, making-sure-you're-not-going-to-blow-the-plane-up type of stuff we were airside, the promised land. That place where you're not technically in the UK anymore, where you can buy duty free perfume for more than it costs at discount outlets on the High St, where you can get those things you forgot to buy for your trip like, errm, suitcases, and probably the only place where you will willingly drink a pint of strong lager at 5am. OK, we're there for 5pm, but it still holds true. I know I do whenever I arrive at an airport

But, horror of horrors, we find that T2 is the terminal we have travelled from on lots ofour holidays and I saw that my favourite bar at Manchester Airport, the Bar des Voyageurs is no longer there, but is no replaced by a Frankie and Benny's. This is a tragedy, o my brothers. The number of adventures on holiday we have had that involved a drink at stupid o'clock at that very bar I can count on two hands. I always saw it as a kind of tradition. When I wrote hand-written travel blogs (yes, I've been doing this crap for years, but not in the public domain) the first entry was always started at the Bar des Voyageurs, Manchester Airport Terminal 2. Anyway, I don't care we're going to eat at Frankie and Benny's anyway, so we are still starting there. Still, though, funny how you slip into the same patterns when you travel.

As it happens, there is a new bar called the Observatory which look out onto the apron of the terminal where we enjoyed a beer. Looking at the view, it strikes me that it's funny how much airports the world over look the same from this angle. The view reminds me of the view from the budget airline terminal at Kuala Lumpur Airport but with fewer palms.

Anyway, we are due to board Ryanair flight FR3187 in an hourto Madrid, scheduled to go at 18:50, but now estimated to fly at 19:30. This is an improvement. When we arrived it was going to depart an hour late. We are due to arrive about three hours later, plus an hour, so we are looking at getting to our hotel at 1sh or later once we have disembarked, cleared immigration and got into town. However, this is Spain we are talking about and a Friday night to boot so we will be able to enjoy a drink or two and some food until any time. Right now food is ordered (black pepper burger at F&B's) and I have a holiday beer to enjoy. Chin chin!

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Darkest Spain

When I was a kid Spain was, to me at least, a really exotic place. It was hot, they killed bulls for fun and you couldn't drink the tapwater. They even had an attempted military coup in 1981. I mean, that doesn't happen in a "civilised" country, does it? In fact they'd only had their civil war 45 years or so before this when we'd got our over and done with about 300 more. At this time I was pretty young and I'd been abroad once (and following that it would be another good few years before I once again set foot on foreign soil), to Tenerife of all places. That just reinforced my feeling that Spain seemed different and exotic.

Nowadays, of course it's not so exotic. Ok, it's still hot and they still kill bulls for fun, but the tapwater is potable. There are Spanish tapas restaurants all over the UK, you can buy Spanish beers like San Miguel in pubs on the High St and the supermarkets have almost entire aisles of Rioja alone. It no longer holds the cachè of some dark and exotic place. This is why, despite the fact that we're going to Madrid for the second time later this week, I've been pretty blasé about a trip to somewhere which now seems little different to taking a trip to a local city near home. And having been before I know I have no right to be blasé. The more I think about it, the more I rememeber that Spain is still a fascinating country with fantastic food, wonderful people and fantastic things to see. There are magnificent cities like Madrid, Valencia and Barçelona and a breadth of different landscapes from the arrid rugged centre to the more lush areas of the Basque country. Admittedly I'm talking of the latter terrain purely from TV programmes, sad to say (most recently thanks to Rick Stein's current programme on touring Spain), but Basque cities like Santander and Bilbao are both high up my list of destinations to visit. Still, this is the country that created the environment to give the world flamenco, Picasso and Gaudi. It's the place of El Cid, Don Quixote, Blood and Sand, and Pedro Almodavar. It's a rural land, most of the area seems to be cultivated in some way, but still there's an edge that seems closer to nature than in more northern parts of Europe. I keep mentioning the bull fighting, which the liberal in me is dead set against, but the idea of man against beast in full-blooded battle (however much the odds are stacked in favour of the hominid) is so visceral, there's the barely veiled sexual tension of the flamenco and living memories of a country at bloody conflict with itself and which, even now, is teetering on the edge of chaos with the current unemplymoent rate riding at about 21%. This is the allure of Spain, possibly the least European country of the western European countries

So, off we go on the Ryanair special to the country's capital for 10 nights, taking in Segovia and some places in between where we plan to do some walking. And this is how exotic it is, walking in the same terrain as the Iberian lynx, wild boar and Spanish ibex. OK, they aren't tigers, elephants or orang utans, nor does it sound all that interesting if I say they are wild cats, pigs and goats, but we don't have any of that in the UK (apart from the Scottish wildcat, but that's just like a big feral tabby and doesn't have the cute tufty ears of the lynx). The point is, Spain is as exciting as it gets in Europe for wildlife. Spain is even the only place in Europe with a colony of wild monkeys.Yes, Spain, it's still got it!