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!

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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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Day 4/151: Rabbie, Tam ‘n’ a Moose.

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We’ve had quite a weekend, readers. Way back before the Christmas holidays we had promised our friends that we would arrange a celebration of Robert Burns round about 25 January to let them experience something akin to what it’s like at a Burns’ Supper. To that end we had come back to Vilanova with 6 McSweegan’s haggises (or is that haggi or even Latin third declension hagges?) and three sachets of Tesco’s finest whisky sauce. With only two other Scots in attendance, haggis and Burns’ poetry would be a first for most of the guests.

Unfortunately, our good friends Tom and Margareth from the Netherlands left the day before (Friday) for a 2-month adventure in Andalusia with their caravan. Their Dutch courage is quite commendable and, after several days of cleaning and storing non-essentials in their kitchen tent which we had transferred to our pitch for safekeeping, off they drove on Friday morning heading for Valencia and beyond, hoping to see Almeria, Malaga, Granada, Sevilla, Ronda and Cordoba plus all the other spots in between!

Mary and I spent a good deal of time shopping Thursday and Friday. The sticking point was the neeps! Turnips over here (nabos) are shaped like parsnips and are white so bang goes the orange colour you need for the traditional haggis, neeps and tatties. In the end we went for a substitute, butternut squash (calabassa) which when whole is shaped like a bottle and the devil to skin. Luckily, down at the market, we chanced on some ready-skinned and diced, taking all the labour out of the preparation. That did us grand! Tatties are just tatties even here in deepest Catalunya so no problem there. Mary upped the ante by deciding to make a trifle for dessert, necessitating several laps of “Simply” supermarket before leaving with Magdalena cakes, two flavours of gelatine, a tin of mixed fruit, something we hoped would be very like custard called “natillas” (it was!), squirty cream and a wee jar of Hundreds and Thousands.

Our good friend Jeanette heard of our plight at not being able to find any Walker’s Shortbread and agreed to make us some of her own recipe. What a good thing that turned out to be! Her shortie was delicious, crumbly yet moist, and far superior to the Walker’s variety. A hasty visit to the English shop in Sitges on Friday brought us not what we were looking for but half-a-dozen tins of Irn-Bru as a special treat and a chance stop-off at Carrefour supermarket near Cubelles proved fortunate when I discovered they stocked tins of corned beef. That meant we were going to have proper stovies after all.

Neither of us slept all that well on Friday night, probably in anticipation of our event, so we were a bit bleary-eyed when we roused at the back of nine and had to kick into action right away. We concentrated on the physical stuff to start with like setting up tables and chairs outside and fitting table-covers. Mary then got on with the job of finishing the trifle she had left to set in the fridge overnight and putting together the Scottish music we had (which was unashamedly White Heather Club type songs and tunes). We reminisced over “Donald whaur’s yer troosers?” by Andy Stewart and the late great Jimmy Shand’s “Bluebell Polka” while Kenneth McKellar’s “My Luv is like a red, red rose” nearly brought a tear to the eye.

The first guests arrived bang on time at 2 p.m. just as I was finishing a huge pan of stovies and was about to put the haggis in the oven. 20 minutes later we had 2 Scots, 5 English, 2 Danes, 2 Dutch and 2 Norwegians on our pitch sitting in the gorgeous warm sunshine enjoying a drink. The tables were lain with all sorts of nibbles and cheeses, there was beer and wine galore and Lyn brought a couple of bottles of Gluhwein which I was sent to warm up on the hob inside. I added a half bottle of red and a sliced orange to the Gluhwein and heated it up nicely before Mary served it in steaming mugs. Yummy!

Fred, Peter, Elaine, Jane & Colin

Fred, Peter, Elaine, Jane & Colin

The first act was my pal Fred, London born (West Ham supporter) but long since an honorary Yorkshireman due to having worked there most of his life. I had asked him on Friday to read “A Man’s a Man for a’ that” but he had returned within minutes to say it was total gibberish and could he have something in English please! I had then explained what the poem was about, helped him with a couple of words and sent him away to practice. Well he must have, because Fred did a fantastic job and delighted us with Burns’ egalitarian masterpiece. The applause was indeed generous.

Fred concentrating

Fred concentrating

Next, in the absence of the anticipated Scottish Annie, I sang “My luv is like a red, red rose” with the guests joining in where they could and then it was time for me to address the haggis which brought further applause (unlike my singing!). The faces on those who had never seen the haggis being sliced open with a big knife were a wonder to behold and I felt we were really beginning to make an impression. Mary and I then whisked out 15 portions of haggis, tatties and butternut squash in whisky sauce and to our delight watched every mouthful disappear down their throats, while some even asked for seconds. Jon from Norway is a vegetarian so having a couple of veggie haggis proved a master stroke.

Note the t-shirt

Note the t-shirt

To allow the first hot food to digest, I called upon Dick from Great Yarmouth, a classic Norfolk lad, to regale us with “To a Mouse”. As always, Dick had a surprise for us, disappearing into the kitchen tent with the words “Tonight Matthew I’m going to be ….. Rabbie Burns!” and reappearing in a See-You-Jimmy hat and ginger hair! This brought the house down. But Dick also then did a seriously good rendering of the Mouse poem and the guests were well impressed with his diction (Dick shone), applauding vigorously. By this point Mary had reheated the stovies and that’s what was served up next. We were very happy when the stovies suffered the same fate as the haggis had.

Dick as Rabbie!

Dick as Rabbie!

After that, it was the turn of our neighbour Elaine from Birmingham way to charm us with “To a mountain daisy” which she read beautifully and with feeling, drawing further enthusiastic applause from the audience. Once the two trifles had been served up, and with the warm sun holding its own in the cloudless sky above Vilanova, I explained to our guests the story of “Tam o’Shanter” before launching into my own humble version of Burns’ epic poem about the dangers of over-indulgence. I’d like to think I did the poem justice and there were congratulatory handshakes all round when I’d finished. Maybe that was more out of relief than pleasure!

Elaine in action

Elaine in action

Our event finished in style when we all joined in the full version of “Auld Lang Syne” which I’d printed out beforehand. The guests then trickled away, we’d like to think happily and maybe a bit more knowledgeable about the great Scots Bard. That left us a few hours to tidy up and we took our time doing so, reflecting on what had just happened, but we were safely tucked up in bed well before midnight.

Thankfully Ramon had texted me to put off picking us up at reception from 11 until half past twelve so, early on Sunday afternoon, we were actually polished up and ready when he arrived with Beti and Guillem. He drove us to Barcelona where we parked up and had a drink in the fantastic Moritz brewery (now there’s a place worth a visit!) before strolling through the streets of the Catalonian capital to Mark and Rosa’s flat, near their restaurant in the Barrio Gotica district. Ramon and Rosa, Guillem’s grandparents were there as well and we had a lovely afternoon catching up in any one of three or four languages while enjoying an excellent variety of tapas-type dishes from the chef. The sea bass with langoustines was a particular success accompanied by fideua marinera which is tiny pasta in sea-food sauce.

Here’s a photo of downstairs at the Moritz brewery. The toilets are down here!

Image result for moritz brewery

By the time we got back to Vilanova Park and down to the caravan, we were both extremely tired and had to have a nap before bedtime! But we agreed it had been a brilliant weekend all round and one we would be happy to repeat next year if we’re still here. Today has of course been down-beat in comparison, just as it needed to be, and other than a wee jaunt out in the Audi to a nearby village called California – yes, California – we have stayed at home. I didn’t have a lesson tonight with Guillem as it was a school holiday and the locals were having yet another fiesta, this time for Sant Pau.

Right. I hope you have enjoyed my description of our weekend. Let me know if it’s the kind of thing you want to read about and I’ll send you material more frequently as our adventures continue.

I leave you with one of the campsite cats, cleverer than all of us!

Purrfect!

Purrfect!

 

Day 4/15: Tibidabo surprise!

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So we’ve finally found a moment to catch our breaths. Today we actually did things we would normally do on a bright, warm Saturday in September like tidy up in the caravan, under the bed, in the awning, under the gazebo etc. That’s because Greg and Karen have gone home. We drove them to Barcelona Estacion del Norte on Thursday at 16.30 and off they went on the Megabus of all things! Such a pity that that particular bus broke down 3 times en route to Paris, meaning that the poor souls only reached home this afternoon, but Greg told me they’ll almost certainly get the full fare back so that makes up for the nightmare a little.

We have had a brilliant time with number 3 son and fiancée here at Vilanova Park campsite over the past 9 days and we’ve all four genuinely enjoyed their stay. They were in a Lifestyle chalet again, not five minutes from our pitch and we spent equal amounts of time in our caravan and in their chalet, although I cooked the last 4 meals at theirs just because there was more room.

One of the things I got them to help me with was putting up our Gazebo which we’ve had for 2 years but never used. Disassembled and with no instructions, it turned into a Krypton factor type puzzle but we followed a certain kind of logic and eventually worked out which poles went where. Mary was absolutely delighted with it when she got back from town and I’m sure we will spend many a happy hour beneath its not insubstantial shade.

On Sunday we’d promised to pick Scottish Annie up from the same bus station in Barcelona which meant we had to miss out on taking the kids back to the Biker Bar but we made it up to them by driving down to Roc de Gaieta, one of the most beautiful villages in Catalunya. Greg and I even managed a wee swim off the beach while the girls looked on admiringly!

Wet ones!

Wet ones!

Tuesday was an absolutely stonking day. After breakfast of bacon and eggs we prepared a picnic, jumped in the Audi and sped off to Tibidabo, the high hill to the North-West of Barcelona. The weather was again really good to us although there were some clouds to be seen and the sky wasn’t for once clear and blue. However, once we were up there (at the second attempt, thanks to Victoria not being able to find a signal) we were treated to a fantastic view of the Catalan capital and the Mediterranean beyond. They say that on a good day you can actually see Majorca from there.

Duck!

Duck!

This time though, you have to remember we were with 2 youngsters and, as Tibidabo is famous for the funfair it has perched on its uppermost slopes, there was always the chance that this visit would be different from our previous ones. And so it turned out! Once we had taken in the view and gobbled up our picnic underneath the funfair’s aeroplane, we bought some tickets and went for it despite butterflies all round. Well, that was great fun and we really enjoyed (is that the right word, Karen?) being swung out over the steep slopes of Tibidabo in a mock-up of the first ever plane to fly from Madrid to Barcelona. It felt like being in an Indiana Jones movie.

They're fine, honest!

They’re fine, honest!

Once back on terra firma we decided to stroll down to the north end of the plateau top, a maze of paths joined by children’s chutes. As I stood at the bottom of one I’d just slid down, waiting to capture a photo of Greg as he emerged from the silver tube, I noticed Karen wide-eyed and telling me “it’s behind you”. Suspecting another annoying wasp, I spun round with hand raised, only to find myself face-to-face with a wild boar! No kidding, there it was about 5 metres away and heading straight for me. Have you any idea how quickly you can get up a flight of stairs when motivated?

Bacon, anyone?

Bacon, anyone?

With the 4 of us up above the path on a wee wooden bridge we watched the creature wander about below us then suddenly jump up to a level opposite us before thankfully wandering off down a path. Suspecting it was a young boar (no tusks you see!) Greg and I tracked it away down through the bushes before the four of us moved on towards the car park and some more great views. But on our way back to the funfair we were attracted to an East-European group of young folk who were standing close to the animal taking photos. Emboldened, we joined in and got some really good shots before the interesting boar (is that a contradiction?) slunk off into the bushes.

We spent a bit more time looking at the churches on the hill before deciding it was time to drive back to Vilanova where I had a nap while the others did various things they needed to do. Mary prepared her lessons for the next day and Greg and Karen went for a swim at the pool. That evening I prepared a cheeky wee sausage casserole for us all and the evening finished with a classic game of “Newmarket”.

On the Wednesday, despite the soaring temperatures and while Mary was at work, Greg and I finally had that game of tennis we’d been trying to have since he arrived. Although he claimed he’d overdone his warm-up against Karen, my 6-4 6-4 triumph against him was as sweet as ever and cheered me up no end. Nice to know you’ve still got something worth cheering about! Our final evening was by request Dad’s Spaghetti Tuna in Martini sauce which proved as tasty as it always does and then a final few hands of cards together before we had to say “Last Jack in the Box” and go to bed.

As you would expect, Greg and Karen were rather subdued on Thursday morning in anticipation of the end of their holiday, but Mary and I jollied them along as best we could until it was time to take to the road again and brave the streets of Barcelona. We got them there ok and after a tight set of hugs we left them to finish their own adventure while we made our way back to Vilanova and a wee rest.

Yesterday I finally got to work on putting the photos into my new book and I’ve made reasonable progress today as well. Sitting here in the awning just after midnight, we’ve been treated to one of those classic continental thunderstorms we get every so often and it provides us with quite a show. This morning I managed to book our flights home to celebrate Mary’s birthday (I won’t say which one but she’s 49 at the moment!) and we’ll be flying to Edinburgh via Brussels for a change just to save a few bob. We’ve managed to arrange to be back for 5 days from the 29 October and we hope to see as many of you as possible in the Invergowrie Inn on Hallowe’en for her party.

Midnight flashes

Midnight flashes

Dundee Sandra’s friend Amanda and her Dad have come back for a week’s holiday and she’s been complaining that I don’t post on my blog often enough. Does she have any idea what it’s been like these past few months? How I ever found time to do a full-time job I really don’t know! Now where have I heard that before? Bye for now!

Got this photo from my cousin down South.

Wee Georgie plus girls from Yorkshire

Wee Georgie plus girls from Yorkshire

Day 4/1: St. Christopher or not!

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I don’t really know who looks after us on these journeys but I can tell you that we have once again reached Vilanova I la Geltru completely unscathed despite 1500 miles of road through Scotland, England, France and Spain. The weather was good, the roads were good, the Audi was good and my driving was not bad either. So, having avoided the completely random incidents that sometimes befall travellers, here we are back in Spain, sound in mind (at least I am. I’ve never been sure about Mary) and body (at least she is!) There are a million things that can go wrong when you embark on adventures like we do, so maybe it’s the positive “nothing’s going to happen” thinking that does the trick, but here we are in Vilanova for our third year over winter and our fourth visit in total.

As reported by my pal Mike, the caravan was waiting for us on our pitch so the first job was to get the motor mover to turn the thing round and wiggle the caravan into position. But was my wee car battery up to the task? The Burgermeister Walter said “no chance”, most of the others expected the worst, but George’s gamble paid off and, once I’d reconnected the terminals, the battery gave the motor mover all the power it needed to move our big caravan into the exact spot we wanted. Read it and weep, oh ye of little faith.

Soon after, Het came by and told us husband Mike was over at Chris’ chalet, so that’s where we headed for a couple of beers and a catch-up. By the time we returned to our pitch, we’d been invited to Mike and Het’s for tea and had met our old Dutch friends Walter and Joke. Tea was a full English from Mike and was delicious but by 10.30 the eyelids were closing and we had to respectfully retire to our bed. We both slept like logs (or kings as they say over here). With 4 windows open and no sheets or covers over us we managed to cope with what was a very warm night and we suspect there’ll be a few more of them to come.

The caravan this morning

The caravan this morning

Breakfast was outside as usual then we started to put up the awning which we did with the help of a new neighbour Charles, all the way from St. Andrews! We quickly found out we had mutual friends and we exchanged notes on life over the past 10 years. When Mike popped round on his bike and saw the awning going up, he suggested we finish the job we started last year, reinforcing the caravan floor from underneath. So that accounted for the next 3 hours, squirming around underneath the caravan with our heads in the chuckies, with no room to turn or indeed breathe and no end of foreign spiders running all over us. But we did it, and the caravan floor is as good as new.

A blind man tried to put up the awning!

A blind man tried to put up the awning!

Greg called to let us know that he and Karen had just left Dundee on the bus to London from where they travel to Paris tomorrow and then down here to be with us on Tuesday. We have 2 other friends who travel from here to Scotland by bus regularly so it’s not as unusual as it sounds. Hope you both have a comfortable journey, kids.

Munroamers 2015: Five go wild in the country!

Munroamers 2015: Five go wild in the country!

Mary and I then spent some time on the awning again before shower and tea beckoned. Refreshed, we wandered up to the top pool bar where we were treated to our favourite band from around here playing traditional Spanish music (all pasa doble and so on) in a totally idyllic situation, warm and not a breath of wind. We’ve just come back because it’s past bedtime and the Sandman is knocking on our windows. We better let him in.

I'm not missing my grandchildren of course!

I’m not missing my grandchildren of course!

 

Day 3/224: Valencia

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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!

Day 3/185: Busy

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All was going really well with looking after grandson Ben in Dundee until a fortnight into our month-long stint when George announced that the wee man had caught Chicken Pox! To be fair it didn’t upset Ben very much but it meant we couldn’t take him to the playgroups and swimming in the mornings and worst of all had to keep him away from his nursery in the afternoons. This change in fortunes caused us to have to rethink our weekly schedule to ensure that not only was Ben comfortable and happy but also that there was enough to keep him occupied and busy.

Ben at the observatory

Ben at the observatory

Thank God for Pingu! Without that loveable little penguin and his family on catch-up TV, the mornings might have been a bit of a challenge, but Ben was delighted to spend the first half-hour of the day in our flat watching a whole series of Pingu cartoons, giving us time to waken up and get the rest of the day organized. As long as we kept him away from other children, all was well, but every time we took him to the park he naturally gravitated towards the other children and I had to keep warning various parents that he was still contagious. To keep him humoured, I taught Ben a pastiche of a song from “Joseph” which went “Benjamin, you spotty boy, you have got the chicken pox!” We both loved spontaneously bursting into song with this rather silly ditty and it kept a grin on his face and mine.
By the end of the month we were tired but happy. We had been to Camperdown zoo again, visited various acquaintances and even watched the eclipse together using Grandad’s patent cardboard box with hole in it. Mary for her part now knew 3 series of Pingu off by heart! Gavin brought over Artemis ,our granddaughter, two days before we flew back here and we had a grand time with her. With all four boys so busy getting on with their lives, it is a godsend to have the grandchildren to bond with and they both appear to have many adventures ahead of them. Speaking of the four boys, here’s a quick update on each of them in order of entry into the world.
The eldest, George, was dealt a blow when his job disappeared all of a sudden. Fortunately he seems to have survived the cull and should still be employed by a sister organization. Scary though! Gavin is approaching the end of his 4-year Law degree whilst still working full-time at the High Court in Edinburgh and trying to find time to be Dad to Artemis. It is a juggling act which has stretched him to the full and we just hope that it will all be worth it in the end. Fingers crossed! Greg is cool and working full-time constructing polytunnels. But the good news is that his partner Karen now has a job pulling pints in a hotel in Montrose where they live. Ker-ching!
Scott gets a paragraph to himself as he has had a difficult time of late trying to cope with the 1-year Primary Teacher Diploma which is mega-intense. Eventually he decided that this type of claustrophobic teaching was not for him and he, sensibly we think, resigned from the course. He was instantaneously much, much happier with his lot and quickly returned to being the obnoxious, over-fussy little bugger we love so much. He will shortly return to his old job working at Dundee University in the pool and gym, with a view to gaining further qualifications in the area of Sport and Medicine, the subject of his degree.
On Palm Sunday after mass, Mary’s mum gave us a lunch and a chance to spend some time with Bruce my brother-in-law. He’s a good lad is Bruce but, like our 4 sons, seems to be eternally put-upon by the demands of work, wife and children. I suppose they will all survive just like we did when every minute seemed to be filled with appeasing someone else’s desires. At 40 I was running a Department in a secondary school, keeping a home and 3 boys under 13 years of age and had neither wife nor parents to help, but I managed somehow and even came through it with my sanity intact (well, I admit some would disagree with that!). I put it down to playing football every Saturday, the perfect escape from real life. Gavin, are you reading this?
That Sunday evening , Mary, Scott and I had the pleasure of hearing Alex Salmond talk about his recently-published book at Dundee University. It was an interesting couple of hours topped by him signing the copy we bought and then accepting a copy of “Wee Georgie” in return. A bit of a “coup” that was! The book’s sales continue unabated by the way and I am close to selling out the 500 I originally had printed. Then it will be decision time again: how many will I have printed second time around? Waterstones seem to think it will continue to sell for a long time to come and were a bit panicked when I gave them a batch of 30 just before we left and told them that would be the last for the foreseeable.

Big day for Alex meeting the Burtons!

Big day for Alex meeting the Burtons!

On April Fool’s Day we left Dundee through a scattering of snow, drove to Edinburgh airport, said our goodbyes to Scott and left him to drive back home while we made the hop from Edinburgh to Barcelona, emerging into brilliant sunshine and 20 degrees of heat. Coincidently, Dundee Sandra’s pal Amanda was on the same flight as us and we gave her a lift to the campsite when Fred came to pick us up in the Audi. We slept the afternoon away and our friends Ernest and Jennifer cooked us tea as they had promised a month or so earlier. On Good Friday we did Stations of the Cross in a wee church at 10 in the morning outdoors then on Easter Sunday we attended mass in the modern church little Guillem goes to. We surprised him soon after by turning up at his door just as the family were leaving for their own Easter celebrations and he was delighted with the Easter Egg we had brought him all the way from Dundee!
That very evening, Mary’s sister Claire, her husband Scott and the 2 boys, Andrew and Sam, arrived here to spend 5 days with us. We had a brilliant time with them, showing off Vilanova, letting them have a day away in Barcelona, plus swimming and playing tennis and table-tennis on the campsite. Highlights included a trip for all the guys to the Camp Nou where we watched Barça beat Almeria 4-0, and a visit to Montserrat for the girls and Sam where I did the driving as usual. I think they left on Friday with some regret and a good impression of life here at Vilanova Park.

The Cross Sam and I walked to.

The Cross Sam and I walked to.

Claire and Sam at Montserrat

Claire and Sam at Montserrat

In front of the funicular.

In front of the funicular.

We’ve spent the weekend resting now and catching up with our own stuff. I’ve had some problems with the charger and battery in the caravan but they appear to be resolved for the moment. Mary and I are determined to do Aquagym 3 times a week at 10 in the morning to help us get fit and we will continue to walk as much as we can. Maybe I’ll persuade her to come and have breakfast with me at the watchtower on Tuesday mornings? Was that a flying pig that just went by?

The ex-First Minister with Wee Georgie!

The ex-First Minister with Wee Georgie!

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