Day 4/182: Has winter gone already?

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Dear readers, it’s 3 weeks since I checked in with you so I’m due you a February catch-up and very interesting it has been. We’ve had weather, visitors, birthdays and lots more, but we’ve also been keeping an eye on what’s been happening back home just so we know what we might be coming home to in July. I watched “Question Time” last night and was shocked at how strong the sentiment is in favour of leaving the EU. I would have thought you might at least have noticed Boris Johnston has come out in favour of quitting, meaning it almost certainly isn’t a good thing to do. Ironically, I find myself on David Cameron’s side of this issue, something I never imagined being on any matter of national importance.

But enough politics! February brought an early end to winter here in Cataluña and the first week saw temperatures rise markedly towards the 20˚C level, stimulating a general discarding of jerseys and coats and the donning of shorts and tee-shirts again. Before we knew it we were back in our sandals! We spent a bit of time getting some rays together as Mary only had her 3 hours at Prysmian on Wednesday mornings to go to but little did we know how drastically that was about to change. Mary had attended an interview at a new language school called Global Connect on the fourth of the month and she came back raving about how professional and on-the-ball they appeared to be in comparison with the old one which had “let her go” in December.

Early on the seventh, we drove to the airport to pick up our friends Marc and Jud Schmitt from Colmar. Marc was the French Assistant in my Department at St. Saviour’s High School in 1981-82 and Jud (Judith Cashley) was a sixth-year pupil in the CSYS French class. They fell for each other, got married, moved to France and now have grandchildren too. We visited them in 2012 on our tour of Europe in the Magic Caravan and had a great time and Uncle Gerard and I meet up with Marc every August when they’re back in Dundee visiting Jud’s family. They had told me they were going to have 4 days in a hotel in Barcelona but I persuaded them to give Vilanova Park a try instead.

Marc, Jud and Mary at the Biker bar.

Marc, Jud and Mary at the Biker bar.

After a quick kip to make up for getting up in the middle of the night, they were ready to party so we whisked them up to the Biker Bar to let them see one of our favourite places to go. Needless to say, they had a great time checking out this quirky little café while enjoying the sunshine and the really brilliant rock music. But we were soon heading back into Vilanova as that Sunday was the famous Carnaval Comparses where the whole town has a series of massive fights during which they throw millions of sweets at each other. We arrived in the wonderful Plaça de la Vila just in time to catch the end of the adult “battle” and we even joined in a wee bit once the main barrage was over.

Sweetie fight madness!

Sweetie fight madness!

Did we find this amusing?

Did we find this amusing?

Back we came to the campsite for tea then straight out again, this time to Sitges to try and catch a bit of their “Parade of the Debauched” through the narrow streets of this famous town. Remember that Sitges is the gay capital of Europe so you can imagine what it is like. We parked a good bit out of town and walked in, slowly being swallowed up by ever-increasing numbers of revellers, each in his or her own costume and mask. Our attempt at actually seeing the parade was pretty much doomed to failure due to the thousands of people swarming the narrow vennels and side-streets but we did see some of it, albeit on tiptoe with ten ranks of spectators in front of us.

No luck here then!

No luck here then!

The following day was much more relaxed and we hardly left the campsite, allowing the girls to hit the pool in the morning while Marc and I trudged our weary way up the hill to the watchtower where we had a second breakfast with the Mediterranean Sea at our feet. I never tire of going up there in the morning as the view from the top is nothing short of unforgettable and I really need to make more trips up there as I haven’t been up nearly as often since my pal Mike went back home. On Tuesday I drove Marc and Jud down to the train station to catch the train to Barcelona. We had recommended the Sagrada Familia and the Park Guell as the two major things to visit. However our visitors were back by 5 o’clock having seen neither after a horrible attempted pickpocketing which only Marc’s quick thinking and bravery succeeded in preventing. They were both pretty shocked by the affair however and a couple of drinks with their evening meal then an early night was the best they could muster.

Jud and Leo

Jud and Leo in the Sitges shops

To alleviate the trauma of the previous day we took another trip to Sitges, this time during the day after Mary had finished work at Prysmian. We wandered the streets, fascinated by the shops and the people and I left them there to explore on their own while I took Mary back to Vilanova for a couple of hours extra lessons at her old school where her friend Marieke had come down with the ‘flu. But we all got together at the chalet for a meal and a couple of bottles of wine, producing a cracking good evening of laughter and fun.

Marc at the Watchtower

Marc at the Watchtower

On their last day in Vilanova, we headed off into town, went to see the Cow at the beach then had a “menu del dia” at one of our favourite restaurants. Although it was quite a bit colder and had even started to rain, we still had a lovely time, but before we knew it we were driving back to the airport and waving them off on an evening flight back to Basle in Switzerland which is their nearest airport to Colmar. Thanks loads, Marc & Jud, for coming to visit and I hope that incident hasn’t put you off returning to Barcelona.

As we always find ourselves equally as tired as our guests after they have left, we resolved to have a few quiet days ourselves. I spent a wee bit of time mucking around in the awning on the guitar and it was after an hour’s practise one day that I told Mary I was struggling to play the big flat-top as the steel strings were tearing my fingers to shreds and I kept playing bum notes due to lack of pressure on the frets. “Let me buy you a new guitar for your birthday” came the reply. “A proper Spanish classical one with nylon strings.” People, ‘twas an offer I simply could not refuse, hence our visit to town the day before my 63rd birthday to check out the music shops and try a few guitars. Eventually we got one I liked and I’ve hardly put it down ever since.

Eat your heart out!

Eat your heart out!

For the first time in ages I’m learning new songs, new riffs and all those little ditties that go around in my head. The first new solo was that great little instrumental called “Henry” at the beginning of “Maggie May” by Rod Stewart and the Faces. Next up will be revisiting Carole King’s classic songs from her iconic album “Tapestry” including “You got a Friend” which cousin Peter Grayson taught me to play about 45 years ago! Then I’ll go back to some of the wonderful Simon & Garfunkel songs Joe and I used to sing away back in our St. Andrews days. “I am a Rock, I am an I-I-Island.”

We celebrated my birthday at the communal meal up at the restaurant with 20 or so fellow caravanners. Mary surprised me with a cake but thankfully with only 2 and not 63 candles or we might have had to call the fire brigade. Did you know that the Firies are known as “Bombers” in Catalan: there’s a big sign at the fire station near Guillem’s house and it still catches my attention as I drive by. Turning 63 means so very little to me you know. It’s just a number as they say and I don’t look or feel anything other than the person I’ve always been. My brain is just as lively and naughty as it ever was even if I now have an excuse for a memory. As my pal Fred would say “Ask me to name the West Ham team any year of the 60s or 70s and I’ll tell you without hesitation. But ask me what I had for breakfast…..?”

Spot the mistake!

Spot the mistake!

Happy couple

Happy couple

Our dear friends Tom & Margareth are still away globetrotting around the South of Spain in their caravan, despite being 20 years older than Mary. They have taken their time and stretched out the number of days they spend in each place, ensuring they take enough rest days to avoid becoming overtired. They have visited many of the places we recommended to them including the cowboy towns around Almeria and the campsites at Marbella and Sevilla. You really do have to admire their pluck! Greeta has taken to writing a blog for her family back in Holland, which she sends to them every 2 or 3 days but she sends us a copy as well. This leads to us sitting down at the computer or iPad and struggling with a couple of hundred words of Dutch trying to work out what she is saying. It’s a bit of a challenge but we are getting better! Good luck to you, Tom and Greeta, and come back safely to Vilanova!

Tombstone!

Tombstone!

Earlier I mentioned that Mary’s work had changed. It all stems from her interview and subsequent contract with Global Connect where she has been hired as a substitute teacher in case of illness, in-service or holiday. She loves this new school and is much happier there than she was at Times school, but she didn’t really anticipate just how much work would be coming her way! For the past 10 days she has worked mornings, afternoons and evenings, sometimes until quarter to ten at night doing various classes and lessons with children and adults. She has also just been offered 2 lunchtimes a week doing an English class in a state primary school. Add this to her 3 hours on Wednesday mornings with the top brass at Prysmian and we have a very busy girl. But I have to tell you she is handling it all brilliantly, just as I knew she would, and she is even happier with her lot out here. Well done Mary. This guy is dead proud of you!

Thursday has become golf day up at el Portal del Roc, a par 3 18-hole golf course about a mile from the campsite inland up the road we walk towards the Watchtower. The teams have been established: I play with Dick who hasn’t played a lot of golf but loves to give it his best shot, while Jeremy and Fred partner each other, both reasonably sporty with decent eye-to-ball contact and on occasions the ability to produce some excellent golf. The competition is first class with Dick and I winning the first two rounds on the last hole then Fred and Jeremy skelping our arses 5&3 on week 3 before evening things up last Thursday with a narrow 2&1 victory. I had a poor first half, going out in 39 before getting my act together and coming back in 31! But the highlight by a mile was the fifth hole, a straightforward slap of 90 metres or so. Fred went off first, struck a beauty dead straight, it bounced once just on the green then rolled sweetly 10 feet right into the hole! We went bonkers! It was the first hole-in-one I’d ever seen live and was of course Fred’s first ever. It was pretty much downhill after that but nothing could take the gloss off that glorious moment. Well done, Fred!

So that’s us up to date on life out here in Spain. We miss you all greatly but have settled into a rhythm of life that suits us just fine and ticks most of the boxes we have. If the boys all moved out here with their families then life would probably be near perfect, as it would if Mary could have her Mum, sisters and brother out here too. But we know that can’t happen in the real world so we’ll take the best we can out of our situation. Scott is coming out in a fortnight to spend some time with us and we’re going to go to the Camp Nou to see Barcelona v Arsenal in the Champions League  then Gavin, Eve and Arry are due out here in Vilanova Park some time near Easter. We’re looking forward to both visits and hope to have a brilliant time with both. Scott is doing grand in his job and is a hero with his clients.

And .... left and right and ....

And …. left and right and ….

The weather was brilliant on Wednesday so we went for a long walk along the front at Cubelles and beyond. We are very lucky to have such fantastic Mediterranean coastline to explore as and when we want. There are all sorts of palm trees and exotic plants everywhere and Mary sometimes can’t resist getting up close as you can see.

Can you see me?

Can you see me?

By the way, did you know that palm trees have teeth? Check this out!

Sharp as a tack!

Sharp as a tack!

God bless you all and goodnight. I leave you with grandchildren Ben and Arry under the table playing granddad’s made-up game “Is that a bus?!”

Kids! Who'd have them?

Kids! Who’d have them?

And here’s Eve with her absolute KILLER tee-shirt!

Game of Thrones fans will get this.

Game of Thrones fans will get this.

 

 

 

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Day 4/162: Es Carnaval!

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Jeremy, Fred and Dick on the first tee

Jeremy, Fred and Dick on the first tee

On Thursday, for the second week running, Fred, Dick, Jeremy and I had a round of golf up at the 18-hole par 3 course on the way to the Watchtower. We kept the same partnerships as last week because Dick and I had won it by 1 hole only and we were all convinced that the same pairings would be the most competitive. And so it turned out! We lost two of the first four holes but squared it by winning the fifth and the sixth then Fred and Jeremy moved up a gear and won holes 7, 8 and 9 including Fred lipping the cup for a 2 on the ninth! The second half was a totally different story however as we raced away with 5 of the next 7 holes to go 2 up. We lost the seventeenth to set up a nail-biter but, while I went through the green with my tee shot and took five to get in the hole, my partner came up trumps with a half in 3 to give us another win by one hole. Roll on next week!

Burton knocks another out of bounds!

Burton knocks another out of bounds!

Handsome lad eating Granny Smith's

Handsome lad eating Granny Smith’s

Yesterday evening, we headed down into town for the Carnaval parade and festivities. For once we were quite early, having parked up on the Ronda Iberica opposite the Hospital and walked right down the Rambla Principal to the Placa de la Vila where the big stage was set up and the fans were already arriving. After a cinnamon tea in one of our favourite cafes, we climbed up the temporary terracing to grab a really good seat with a brilliant view of the square and the stage and were treated to an amazing concert by a group called “Arrivo rocks!”. They performed several well-known classics but with changed Catalan lyrics, all designed to welcome everyone to the Carnaval celebrations. We particularly enjoyed their version of “Born to be Wild” with the clarion call “Es Carnaval!”

The stage in Placa de la Vila

The stage in Placa de la Vila

After the concert, we joined the crowds spilling onto the Rambla Principal in anticipation of the arrival of the parade but had time to go into our favourite Turtle café (they have wee turtles in a grotto out the back) for a sandwich and a coffee. Soon we were back outside as the procession made its noisy way up the packed Rambla. First in line were the firework twirlers spinning wheels of crackling, sparky squibs and forcing the public to move back and seek shelter. Health and Safety? Sorry, no, this is Spain! Then came the equally dangerous “Drac” or dragon in English, breathing flames and sparks right and left, scaring the spectators into retreating once again.

Beware! Twirlers!

Beware! Twirlers!

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El Drac

El Drac

After all that came the procession of floats from various clubs and societies of the town of Vilanova, all dancing around to the pounding music coming from the vehicle at the head of each group. It made quite a spectacle I assure you and it looked like loads of fun to be involved with. Mary speculated on the way home that we should put together a float from Vilanova Park for next year and we might just fancy having a go.

Revellers

Revellers

Revellers in stripes!

Revellers in stripes!

Viking revellers?

Viking revellers?

Back at the campsite, we joined all our pals who had been at the “Fish & Chips” night in the function room and we joined in with the dancing and Karaoke which followed thanks to the organisation of Scouser Dave, our entertainments representative.
Our friends from France, Marc and Judith Schmitt, are arriving here tomorrow for a 4-night break, having persuaded them that they will have loads more fun here at Vilanova Park as opposed to a hotel in deepest Barcelona. We’ve planned a few things for them, what with it being Mardi Gras Carnaval and all that, so we should have a bundle of fun together. I’ll let you all know how it went at the end of next week.

Here’s Mary on the Rambla last night. Enjoy!

I'm loving it!

                            I’m loving it!

Day 4/159: Welcome to Vilanova Park

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Three years ago on Monday past, we arrived at Vilanova Park for the very first time. It was a deliberate move which had been planned way back in Dundee before our adventure began. The idea was to stay on the same campsite for 3 weeks to have a rest and give members of the family the opportunity to fly over to Barcelona to help me celebrate my 60th birthday. Then we would go to Australia for 3 weeks, come back to Vilanova then complete the perimeter of Spain over another month or so before heading back to Scotland with the Magic Caravan. That would be that.

“The best laid schemes o’ mice ‘n’ men gang aft agley” said the Bard in his poem to the mouse and so it was to be, but in a positive sense. The family came out, we celebrated, we did the Australian thing, we toured Spain from Barcelona down to Tarifa (even had a day in Tangiers!) then all the way up to La Coruña then along the top of Spain to Gijon (pronounced – wait for it!– “Hee-Haw!”) But instead of continuing along the top to Santander, Bilbao, France and homeward bound, we turned back South, meandered through Burgos, Logrono, Zaragoza and came all the way back to Vilanova. That’s because we’d made the decision to have another year away and Mary had taken a second year out of school.

The rest as they say is history and we’ve spent all but the past 3 summers at Vilanova Park, 50 kms south of Barcelona. We love it here as you can probably guess but you may not have much of an idea what the place actually looks like. That’s why I armed myself with Mary’s new camera yesterday and took loads of photos of all around the campsite so you will have a better, clearer picture of where we live. The weather over the past 2 days has been unbelievably good and that has helped to give an accurate idea of our environment, so let’s start up at the front gate.

You've arrived!

You’ve arrived!

The site is 2.5 kms up a hill out of town on a wee road the size of Blackness Road but with no kerbs, no pavements and very little lighting. It’s fine in the car but a tad dangerous in my opinion on your bike and definitely not recommended on foot. Right outside reception, safely off the road, there are 2 bus-stops, one for the big coach which takes you to the heart of Barcelona and back and the second for the smaller bus which comes up and down from Vilanova town every half hour. The fare is about 30 pence for an old codger like me and 60 pence for non-pensioners. A trip to Barcelona will cost you roughly a tenner return and the coach itself is the height of luxury as you can see.

The "Mon" bus for Barcelona

The “Mon” bus for Barcelona

The VNG bus to town

The VNG bus to town

Security is top-notch on our site. Not only do you have barriers for traffic which open according to registration plate recognition technology but you have patrols all through the night by guards driving quiet electric buggies like the one in the photo. Outsiders have to pay 10 Euros to come onto the Park and only get a refund if they spend more than 20 Euros in the bar/restaurant. The reception itself is an old hacienda renovated for its purpose and all the receptionists speak several languages while on duty for the very long hours they have to work.

The automatic barriers

The automatic barriers

An electric buggy

An electric buggy

I think the campsite, which is huge by the way and covers hundreds of acres, was originally a wood on a steep hill. It has been deforested, terraced and cut up into what seems like thousands of pitches, mostly for static chalets but with enough for maybe 400 caravans or motor homes. All the roads between the pitches are well tarmac-covered and there are absolutely no dust trails or pebbly tracks to walk or drive on. The streets are well-lit and decorated with various plants, especially palm trees which still have the ability to make me smile like a wee boy seeing one for the first time.

The road to the Lifestyle chalets

The road to the Lifestyle chalets

Campsites in France and Spain are noted for their beautiful swimming pools and Vilanova Park is no exception to that rule. The main pool is up near the bar and restaurant and was done up last spring to make it even more attractive. Don’t kid yourself however! The water may look amazing but it’s really, really cold and takes a bit of getting used to. I’ve developed the knack of having a slow, cold shower to generally reduce my skin temperature so that when I eventually pluck up the courage to slide in, the difference between water and skin is nothing like as shocking as it is if you just go in unprepared. Dive-bombing your way into the water, like you see on the TV, is not recommended and I would risk a heart-attack if I did that, honest! In the evenings, after the sun goes down, they turn on the illuminated water cannons at the far end of the main pool and the sight is quite wonderful. When Ally, Mum and the two teenagers were here in the autumn, we spent some time by that pool and we even had grandson Ben there when he had his day with us, but Ben was no fool and refused to go in. As always, Mum made a thoughtful choice and decided to stay dry as well but the rest of us braved hypothermia and took the water challenge.

The main outdoor pool

The main outdoor pool

The other outdoor pool is on the roof of the indoor pool and affords us spectacular views of Vilanova and the Med from its beautiful raised position halfway up the hill. There is a wee kids’ pool there as well which is useful for getting used to the water temperature before braving the pool itself but I have to say the setting around this pool is magnificent and is a genuine piece of eye candy for those lucky enough to be here. Both the outdoor swimming pools are constantly attended by lifeguards and are open between April and November.

Rooftop pool 1

Rooftop pool 1

Rooftop pool 2

Rooftop pool 2

The indoor heated pool is open of course all the year round and is the venue for the twice-weekly “Aquaerobics” classes attended by the senior citizens and others. These classes are free and I’ve given them a try a few times, most especially when the rather tidy female instructor is in charge. The ladies, who make up the vast majority of the participants, clearly prefer their orders from the young lad with the toned and tanned body, but I can’t see what they find so interesting!

Attached to the indoor pool is the fitness room with all the usual equipment for you to torture yourself with and when your agony is over you can use the sauna to soothe your aching bits, all free to use. Outside there is a fitness area where you can lie all day in the sunshine reading with short bursts of activity in the fitness room or the indoor pool. Sounds dreadful, doesn’t it!

The gym

The gym

For those of us determined to stay fit there are also two lovely tennis courts available free Monday-Friday and luckily they do not get used as much as you might think so you can usually get a game pretty much any time you want. New balls, please! I’ve had a few sets up there either against Fred my pal or one of the many family members who have come out for a break and it’s great fun as long as you don’t overdo it. The problem seems to be how to keep the sun out of your eyes when serving, a difficulty I’ve not really had to deal with back in Dundee! The surface is all-weather hard court and is excellent considering it’s just part of a campsite’s facilities.

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Anyone for tennis?

Moving down a little from the reception, you come to the hub of the Park, which is the bar and restaurant Mas Roquer. The bar is large (seats for about 60 people inside and at least that number outside – remember you’re in Spain!) and, although its prices are higher than in town, it’s still quite reasonable. A decent-sized glass of red will set you back 2 Euros while a bottle of Estrella lager will cost you slightly less. Spirits are much more like British prices but a double of the local brandy (Soberanno) is less than 2 Euros. The bar has a large TV and a drop-down giant screen so you can see all the best footie there including English Premiership and Champions’ League. It is also the venue for Bingo and “Play your cards right” on Monday evenings and live music of various sorts on Thursdays. All this extra stuff is completely free for residents and visitors.

Outside the bar

Outside the bar

The restaurant Mas Roquer is a lovely place to eat and it’s very popular with the Spanish at weekends when they come here from the city. There are 3 menus. As you would expect there is an extensive range of tapas on offer, there are single dishes like spag bol or chicken and chips and there is also a daily set menu of 3 courses for just 12 Euros. On Wednesday evenings this menu is on offer with a bottle of wine per couple, a glass of Cava on arrival and coffee to finish, all for the same 12 Euros. This evening is very popular, especially with the Brits and sometimes there can be 50+ people at table. They even throw in some music and the odd dance! This event takes place in the big function room which also houses regular weddings and First Communions and there are two or three smaller rooms as well. We used one of these for my 60th birthday dinner three years ago.

The function room

The function room

Outside there is a large social area which is very busy outwith the winter season. There is a high stage for live acts (they do the “Keep Fit” from up there too) and the kids can have a dance up until 11 p.m. It’s a beautiful sheltered spot with the main pool as a backdrop and the campsite boutique just behind. Although we don’t spend much time up there, you should see the crowds enjoying themselves in the evenings when the better weather comes round and it stays warm at night. Yes, it’s not always warm in the evenings and can be quite nippy from November to March, probably not tee-shirt and shorts if you catch my meaning, but every month has gorgeous days of sun and blue sky. And it almost never rains here! Since we arrived in September, it has rained on less than 10 occasions.

Want to be on the stage?

Want to be on the stage?

There is a really big campsite shop which opens 9-12 and 17-19 and has just about everything you could want including several British and Dutch items for those who can’t take to Spanish food. The shop bakes its own bread as well, which accounts for much of the weight I’ve put on! Again the prices are higher than in town but way cheaper than Tesco: for instance 6 eggs costs 1 Euro, a tin of Heinz baked beans 90 cents and half a kilo of beef mince about 3 Euros (£2). The beef, chicken and pork here are excellent as are the sausages, cooked ham and veal and nothing has really upset our tummies in the 3 years we’ve been here.

Ye Olde Shoppe

Ye Olde Shoppe

Below the shop is Block G which was the first place we ever had a pitch. The coincidence was that we had come to celebrate George’s 60th and they put us on G60 of all pitches. This block has room for about 80 caravans and is booked by the Caravan & Camping Club UK every year from the end of February until May. Many of our closest friends live on this block including Dick & Linda from Great Yarmouth (they printed “Wee Georgie” first time round) and Fred and Jeanette, him from London and Yorkshire and she from Yorkshire and Copenhagen! That’s quite a mix actually. These two couples have motor homes to live in and motor bikes to play on. The boys go out three or four times a week exploring the hills to the back of Vilanova along with another friend Chris and we sometimes meet up together on Sunday lunchtime at the Biker Bar.

Fred's place

Fred’s place

Well that’s your tour pretty much complete except for our own street which has pitches on one side only as it is next to the wall separating the campsite from the local wood yard. As this then allows unbroken sunshine from dawn until dusk, our street is commonly known as “Millionaires’ Row”! We’ve been on this row for two and a half years and, although some Irish git has stolen our pitch at the end of April (I forgot to book it ahead) and some Danish pastry has nabbed it in September until the end of October we’ve shelled out the necessary fees to secure F22 for the foreseeable future thereafter. At the moment Dundee Sandra lives next door to the right and Henk & Aneka from Holland to the left.

Our street

Our street

There is only one other row on F Block and that’s where our other friends all live on and off. Tom and Margareth are a couple of pitches away, Peter & Elaine are directly behind us and we’ve just had an old friend Jeremy from Leeds (and Australia!) set up next to Peter. Mae & Jon from Norway are further up near Scottish Bob and Durham Joan while Dutch friends Joke and Walter usually take the corner pitch F1. It would be fair to say that everybody knows everybody with the odd exceptions who prefer to keep themselves to themselves as they are entitled to do.

The other row

The other row

I hope you have enjoyed this tour of Vilanova Park and that future posts will be all the more vivid in your minds now that you know where we live. I leave you with me and Jeremy yesterday.

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