Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Charlotte 2015

After a long flight from Munich we arrived at Charlotte airport to be met by Manjeet to lead us to the house where he moved to recently with Almu and their two boys (and our grandkids) Manjeeto and Nico. Anil (from Berlin) will also join us for few days later this week for us to be together for the Xmas Eve and Day.
We had left Laredo at about 6am to catch the early morning Lufthansa flight from Bilbao to Munich and a short wait later the 10 hour flight to Charlotte.
                 Grafham Circle, Huntersville, NC
It was with great delight that we were greeted by the kids and Almu..we were immediately led to a calendar where the boys had been crossing off the days to our arrival. Priceless.
So far we are trying to sleep off the jet lag and begin to spend time with the kids and to explore the neighbourhood. It looks so much like their neighbourhood in Austin and the same shops in similar malls are here too..perhaps its like this everywhere in the US. And the weather it is so nice! we expected wintry but its sunny and warm during the day but cold at night.
We have already had a good look at Lake Norman and the neighbouring town of Davidson. Plus some choice restaurants.
 Waiting for our table at a restaurant
 Slave houses at a Cotton Plantation
 Plantation owner's house
 Nature Reserve
A shop in Davidson
To be continued..

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Andalucia 2015

 Marbella and the Paseo

The last time we had been in the Andalucia (in English spelled with an S) was in 2002 when we came to visit Malaga and Marbella so when Manjeet and Almu gave us as a present a card which we could use to spend 5 nights in any Parador Hotel in Spain, we could not resist the temptation to revisit. In February we tried to book the Paradores in the region in the popular holiday periods with no success, so in the end decided to book well ahead around my birthday in November and successfully managed to reserve the spectacular hotels in Ronda and Gibralfaro in Malaga. To make it a more significant period, our friends John and Loli very generously let us have their house in Marbella for a few days.

Chateau Farrell
This is where we arrived first and so began our Andalucian adventure. In a few days we spent time in many great places such as Cadiz, Marbella, Malaga and one of the most beautiful and popular ´white´ towns - Mijas. The day we decided to go to Cadiz was listed in the weather forecasts as thunderstorms and windy. They were not wrong - the most frightening of storms followed us around all day and even the drive back to Marbella was lit up with lightening and thunder virtually overhead.

Cadiz o Gades
However there were enough breaks in the rain for us to walk around everywhere and to see the more well known areas of the old part of Cadiz. These included the central shopping streets and the old mosque and theater now a cultural center (and built on a site where the construction is recorded from 2000 years or more ago), and of course the 500 years old trees which can be found on the South western side of Cadiz overlooking the Atlantic, and the famous but more recent statue of Simon Bolivar looking (with a hand pointing) in the direction of Venezuela with which (as many of you know) we share more than a little.

Puerto Banus

A day spent around Marbella and long walks on the seaside paseo followed and then we spent a few hours rediscovering Mijas up in the mountains with spectacular views. The house of our friends was a delightful place which we named ´Chateau Farrell´and the weather began to improve but the water in the pool and in the Mediterranean sea which was just a few meters down a few stairs was cold so even though we had packed our swimming gear, it was not exposed to water. The beaches in the South were nice but not as good as our own beach at home, the sand being a dirty grey colour and the beach less than clean. We also looked up Marisol´s cousin Lucia who lives in Marbella with Bruno and daughter Eva (not forgetting a very active dog called Neska).


Soon it was time to say goodbye to Marbella and we headed for the first of our Parador stays at Ronda. The drive up the mountain follows a really mind boggling (literally) road, during which I had to admit that I began to feel somewhat queasy. 

 With Liliana and Carlos
The spectacular bridge and the Parador next to it in Ronda

The Parador is built at the tip of a spectacular gorge with a monumental bridge. Needless to say the views all around are spectacular. Our friends Carlos and Liliana who recently moved to Ronda from England wined and dined us and showed us around.  If Cadiz is an old city then as Carlos disclosed that Ronda is even older.


With Amalia and JuanJo

Then we drove east to Malaga and the Gibralfaro Parador on top of a hill. Equally spectacular views in a different environment by the sea. The whole of Malaga was at our feet literally, and we could enjoy the view from our own balcony. Here too we had long time friends in JuanJo and Amalia who made a lot of time for us and showed us around Malaga.  We also got to meet their son Pedro and his family and remembered old times when as a 5 year old he was friends with our own Anil in Venezuela. Anil would call him ´Perdo´ and his dad (JuanJo )was ´Parde de Perdo´!

Anil and Pedro in Venezuela - 1985ish
Pedro 2015

The next day they took us for a day long drive through  the mountain range that heads east, and contains beautiful towns and lovely scenery. 

We ended up late in the afternoon in Frigiliana as the sun was setting. We called up our friend Pelayo on the off chance that he and his wife Brigitte were at their holiday home in this place but found that they were in Madrid. But he revealed the whereabout of their home and that it was across the road from a bar called ´La Alegria del Barrio´. We followed instructions and soon found the bar and Pelayo´s house.

With the owner of the bar Alegria del Barrio

Later we drove into Nerja, also a very pretty town, where JuanJo knew of an Indian restaurant. A long walk later four very tired and thirsty travellers shuffled into the restaurant called Haveli and ordered up some familiar (at least to me) dishes from the menu from a Bengali lady who ran the restaurant. Although the decor was not inspiring and in general Bengali cooking is not my favourite, the food that arrived at our table was fabulous, perhaps because we were starving.
The only photo from Nerja (we were getting tired!)

A short drive later we were back at the hotel and ready to pack our bags for the flight back north and home. An action packed few days, marvellous experiences and views, looking up old friends and enjoying sunny and warm climate.
I could get used to this! ;-)

Saturday, 22 August 2015

A weekend in the Picos de Europa

Occasionally friends organise a weekend away from home to explore local towns and mountains and sometimes when our schedule permits we sign up for these outings. Usually we have a lot of fun, a lot of eating and drinking and lovely places to explore. So when the suggestion came up to go and spend a weekend in a remote village at the base of a mountain known as the 'Naranjo de Bulnes' we joined the party.

One major attraction was that the village of Bulnes was inaccessible by road, and could only be reached by walking the last 5 kilometres up a steep climb that could take two hours to complete, or for the faint-hearted a tunnel had been cut to install a cablecar that zipped you up the mountain in 10 minutes.
Before the main event we stopped off in the small town of Cabrales, which is famous for its blue cheese, which is very popular in this region though I am not too fond of the rather smelly and bluish bacteria filled delicacy. We all made our way through the caves which are typically where the cheese is made and in due course arrived at the place where the Bulnes climb starts.
As we parked our cars at the starting point and made our way up the walk we were eager to find out if our information was right. When a young couple coming down the other way told us that they had taken three hours we figured that someone could be leading us astray. Marisol and I decided to skip the climb and take the cablecar, and we waved to the fast disappearing friends up the trail and made our way back.
The cablecar was fast and efficient and we were soon up the mountain and emerged into a stunning scene which only high mountains can produce. We walked into the small collection of houses not knowing even the name of the place where we were supposed to be staying, with Marisol saying that she did not think that the place was in the town itself and that it could be anywhere. Of course being up a mountain there was no phone signal on our mobiles so calling Montse who had arranged the stay was out of the question.  There were three or four bars or restaurants though many of them were shut.
The obvious thing to do was to wait for the climbers to appear but we were not sure how long they might be and a long wait might be in store. On a hunch I approached a 'mature' man sitting outside a restaurant door and asked if he would mind if I asked him a question which I was not sure how to ask. He waited for me to elaborate. I said that we had separated from our group and that we were not sure where we were staying and before I could finish formulating my question which could have been 'Do you know of any inns which may or may not be in this place?' or 'are there any rural accomodation places around here?' he said:
'Under what name is the reservation'?
Slightly taken aback I gave Montse's name and that we were 8 in the group. He thought for a second or two and smiled and came up with 'Has asertado' (You guessed right). 'It is here', he said. I could not believe it and Marisol even less - she was still sitting under a tree about 50 metres away!

We were soon in a room, backpacks off and refreshed we walked around and headed down the path which our friends would presumably come up. We timed it just right as the leading group soon came into view and we were reunited with rest of the group soon after. They had taken exactly an hour and half just as the web page stated, and not the dubious three hours by the inept couple who had taken to do the easier downhill.

There followed a period of resting drinking and eating which is normal for these trips. The infectious laugh of Kato and the raucous stories filled the night till late. We tried desperately to look for the rumoured shooting stars without success, though the sky was filled with stars but the high  mountains and the clouds gave us limited view of the heavens.

By 10 the only bar open in town (where we were) closed and the darkness was so intense that we had to retire for the night.
The next day we undertook a couple of excursions up the mountains in different directions, nothing too serious, but the views were stunning. Naturally everyone snapped everything in sight and we had a glimpse of the elusive 'Naranjo' which was hidden behind a smaller but immense mountain. Since most of the group was determined to walk back down the mountain, in part to evade the rather expensive charge on the cablecar (Marisol and I had return tickets ;-)), we made our way back around midday to be down in time for lunch.

The group decided to have lunch in Panes, a few kilometers down the road and the only major town nearby but when we arrived the town was heaving. The local festivities in Spanish towns are famous and people show up from long distances to take part and to look up friends. The festivities were in full swing, it was after 3pm and all the restaurants had 'completo' signs at the entrances.

It was time to think of a plan B for lunch when someone in the crowd called out 'Arvinder..what are you doing here?' It was one of those unexpected surprises when you least expect them. It was a photographer we had met some years ago at an art event in the neighbourhood, to which Marisol had been invited. After brief pleasantaries we asked Nel (that was his name) where we might be able to eat. He confirmed our fears that in Panes all the restaurants had been reserved well in advance, but suggested we try a small town nearby called Buelles, where Ramon ran a restaurant that might help us. I remembered this suggested place 'La Sauceda' from our event in the past and wondered if the owner would also remember me.

We drove the short distance, found the place (noting a 'completo' sign at the door) and I walked in and asked to see Ramon. Someone called him and he emerged from the recesses of the place and a smile lit his face as he greeted me as a long lost friend 'Hombre, ya has regresado'. Again a brief exchange of pleasantries and I asked him if we had any chance of being accomodated for lunch. After a brief think he said 'I am sure we can figure something out, although the cook will be mad with us'. Then he added to the group 'you all are in luck that you are with this man, because if not I would have had to disappoint you'. Everyone was even more impressed when he recalled that 'this guy can really eat a lot!'
Needless to say Ramon set us up a table for lunch and we had a most enjoyable meal.
All is well that ends well! And a thousand thanks to Ramon.

By six we had emerged from the restaurant, and drove on to the beautiful and impressively named San Vicente de la Barquera for a walkabout before returning to Laredo.