At the end of April, I decided to spring a surprise on Mary by whisking her off somewhere for our anniversary (17th would you believe!). Some of our friends had recently been down to Valencia for a couple of days and had brought back good reports so, as it was far enough away to call it a trip, but not so far as to require whole days of travelling, I plumped for that. Valencia is Spain’s third city so I reckoned we’d find plenty to keep us amused over the two days we’d be there.

I had the internet to thank again for making it possible for me to find appropriate trains and a reasonably-priced hotel that wouldn’t break the bank. I managed to find a ten o’clock fast train to Valencia, a modern hotel just a couple of miles from the old town and a slower train back at five o’clock on the Sunday. The whole thing came to less than £120 so I reckoned we were getting value for money as well. The internet also provided me with all the information I would need to ensure we packed in as much as we could into the 28 hours we’d be there. Mary of course remained clueless about my intentions.

The day before, I had a quiet word with Tom, our Dutch friend, and asked him to drive us to the train station for the 10 o’clock train the following day which was actually a Saturday and also our wedding day, the 2nd May. Tom as usual agreed without a thought and so the whole plot was ready to be hatched. We then decided to call all the pals over on Friday evening to celebrate our anniversary but I was careful to take it easy on the wine, knowing it would be a fairly early start the next day. I hoped Mary would do likewise and not let her hair down! As usual we had a brilliant night and the guitar even came out for a while, attracting a group of young Spanish kids who danced on the road as I played!

It got slightly awkward when the new Dutch lady just behind us came over and asked if we could repeat the dose, guitar and all, the next evening when she intended to have a party to celebrate her birthday. I was forced to accept her invitation in front of everyone and promise to play the guitar for her just so Mary wouldn’t get a sniff of what I was planning. I knew that when we got back I was going to have to apologize for not turning up!

At 8.30 on Saturday morning, I got up, made a cup of tea, woke Mary up, wished her “Happy Anniversary” and told her she had about 40 minutes to get ready for a night away from the caravan. The panic was a wonder to behold! Clothes and girly stuff was crammed into a wee case along with hair-dryer and straighteners and, give her her due, she was ready just as Tom drew up outside. On the way to the station in Tom’s car, I told her where we were going and she was absolutely delighted. The tickets I’d printed two days before worked a treat and we took the 10.01 express to Valencia!

It took just under 3 hours to get there and we quickly worked out how to get to the hotel using the Metro which was impressively clean, unsmelly and simple to negotiate. When we found the hotel, just off a magnificent roundabout and thoroughfare, it was way better than I had expected, modern, quite plush with really comfortable spacious bedrooms. After a bite to eat at the Burger King nearby, we were back into the Metro and a short ride down to the old town. We spent the whole afternoon and early evening there, wandering around the narrow streets, visiting the wonderful cathedral (we even saw what was claimed to be the Holy Grail there!) and just sitting at a café in one of the many squares watching the world go by. I’m glad to report that Mary loved it!

Our last visit was to a famous church, Santa Maria de la Pilar, which we eventually found despite its almost invisible entrance, and when we went in, Mass had just started so we settled down and gave our feet a break while we tried to follow the Spanish. We got back to the hotel about eight at which point we opened a bottle of “Tres Erres” wine which I’d hidden in my bag and raised a glass to ourselves. By half past ten we were both sound asleep!

Great place to have Sunday lunch!

Great place to have Sunday lunch!

Incredibly, Sunday was even better because we visited the renowned Cite de las Ciencias and the other ultra-modern buildings which stand down in the river bed. It would appear that many years ago Valencia was victim to a devastating flood which destroyed a good deal of the city and cost millions. Pragmatic to a fault, the city fathers decided that would never happen again and drew up plans to divert the river around the city! What a brilliant solution! They did exactly that but then, flushed with success, set about creating special things in the now dry and fertile river bed. Where we were visiting was just one example of their clear thinking on town planning. Dundee, I hope you’ve been listening because you definitely weren’t in the 60s!

Aquarium and Botanic gardens

Aquarium and Botanic gardens

Our Sunday in Valencia was fantastic, except that the temperature surprisingly rose to 25⁰ as expected but then just kept rising. By one o’clock it was 34⁰ and as we made our way back to the station, one of those green cross signs outside a chemist showed it was now 41⁰! Phhewww! Scorchio! We decided to go and hide in a café to await the 5 o’clock train home. I knew this train was going to be an hour and a half slower getting to Vilanova but I did not realise just what a trial that would be, especially as the heat began to bring on one of Mary’s migraines. This train was crammed, stopped everywhere, at one point went BACK 20 kilometres and didn’t get us to home until about ten at night by which time we were both very tired. Having some of the Tarragona Young Mental Fleet for company on the train didn’t make the journey any easier!

Anyway it did little to spoil our enjoyment of a great weekend in Valencia and it goes without saying that we thoroughly recommend a visit there at the earliest opportunity. It was fresh, clean, well-presented, lovely weather verging on too hot, friendly, easy to get around and there were no rip-offs at least in the places we visited. Mary’s final assessment upon reflection was that it was probably even better than Barcelona, if only because there were fewer people in the streets. The cathedral was not to be missed although the Sagrada Familia remains our favourite by quite a long way.

Since our treat we’ve settled down to a very quiet existence, punctuated by the odd trip out, usually with Tom and Greeta. We’ve had 2 trips into the hills around the Garraf Nature Park between Vilanova and Barcelona, a couple of great lunches, and coffee at a very expensive restaurant on the seafront in the village of Garraf, one frequented by the Barcelona football team, Messi and all! The rest of the time has been spent soaking up the brilliant weather we get in May, going for a swim in the sea and enjoying afternoon siestas.

We had another Sunday lunchtime up at the Biker Bar with Tom and Greeta, but this time the two male old farts gave in to temptation and bought themselves a genuine “La Cantera” t-shirt which they immediately donned to allow the standard naff photos to be taken. Here’s front AND back!

two fierce bikers1

Two fierce bikers!

That's not so scary1

That’s not so scary!

I have been in a particularly fertile period of writing lately and suddenly, after a fortnight of intense concentration, I find myself closing in on the last couple of chapters of the follow-up to “Wee Georgie”. I have enlisted the help of some former classmates to jog my memory of S1 and S2 at Lawside Academy, as well as contributions from brother Joe and Uncle Gerard. The first book is still selling at Waterstones but the big news is that I have uploaded it to Amazon both as a paperback and as an e-book for Kindle. It is already selling in USA and Australia so fingers crossed that the word gets out in these parts of the world. On the back of the success of “Wee Georgie”, Waterstones have already promised to take the next book and I’ve asked them to sell both the volumes of “Socrates” as well.

Last Sunday we were invited down to Ramon & Beti’s to have lunch with their family again and finalise the arrangements for the two kids, Guillem and Gao, coming back to Dundee in July like they did last year. As always it was a splendid time and I even managed a quick swim in the swimming pool which is for their block of flats. Sorry no picture! Gao’s Mum Rosa is going to fly with the kids to Edinburgh, have the day there after I pick them up then fly back alone in the evening. Guillem’s Dad Ramon will do something similar on the day I take them back to Edinburgh for the flight home. The kids are booked in full-time at Dundee University’s Sports Camp just down the road from us so we won’t be as inconvenienced as you might think.

The kids and us

The kids and us

The Sola family

The Sola family

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, we’ve booked our ferry from Cherbourg for the 18 June so will be leaving Vilanova about three days prior to that. We’ll be asking Kate and Dave in Bath and Mike and Het in Kendal to put us up for a night on our way back through the UK, so with a bit of luck we should be back in Dundee in time for Mary’s Mum’s birthday on 21 June. You never know, we might even stick to our plan!

Happily, Mary’s sister Dorothy, her husband David and the two kids Beth and Zack arrived yesterday to spend a week at Vilanova Park and I’m pleased to report that the weather is excellent, so I hope they have a great time. I brought Guillem to play with them last night and they had a ball! I am writing this outside in the sunshine while they’re all down at the Vilanova beach and seeing the Cow statue! Yes, it’s a cow not a bull.

Beth, Zack & Guillem

Beth, Zack & Guillem

I hope you’re all doing well and enjoying yourselves as best you can, but do remember to take a break now and again and let your batteries recharge. By the way, watch out for June’s special travel edition of The People’s Friend. I’ve an article in it about Barcelona’s unfinished Gaudi-designed cathedral, the Sagrada Familia. I even got paid for writing it! Woo-Hoo!

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