Tuesday, 18 October 2016

London, a year later -

This post is in English. Si solo quieren ver algunas fotos de nuestro viaje a Londres Click aqui.

We awoke to a sunny morning after a late night arrival at the home of our dear friends J and L in St. John’s Wood.
The flight from Santander had taken two hours but then we were confronted by a queue for Passport control, which stretched something like a mile snaking and zigzagging inside the arrivals hall at Stansted Airport. No wonder a majority of Brits want out from EU! A dash to the National Express A6 bus stop meant we were able to catch an earlier bus, which nevertheless arrived at our destination around 1am. There was still a fifteen-minute walk on the deserted Finchley Road before we could get home. Fortunately we already had keys (dont ask why, its a long story) to the elegant house where we were staying, and meant that we did not need to wake our hosts. After a minor panic when one of the keys appeared not to work, we silently got in and made our way to our beds in the house.
Later that day we had complimentary tickets to the Other Art fair where E, one of our Spanish artist friends who lives and works in London, was showing her work. So after catching up with J and L at breakfast we set out to reset our memories of London. Almost immediately we ran across the Zebra crossing made famous by the cover of the Beatles’ Abbey Road album, which attracts hundreds of visitors, keen to take similar pictures, run the risk of being run over everyday. Bemused motorists patiently waited to let happy and enthusiastic people walk across the hallowed crossing while friends took photos, but more often than not there was road rage.
A bit further we crossed the Finchley Road and walked into St John’s Wood underground (metro) station to refill our Oyster cards and dive into the bowels of London Transport. The Jubilee line took us to Waterloo Station where we could catch the RV1 bus to the Tate’s famous Modern art gallery housed in an old power station. Bad idea (of the bus)..because we had not thought about the new projects around London which may be causing congestion on the streets. Just around the Blackfriars Bridge there was a new hotel under construction with huge traffic jams.  After what seemed an age we finally alighted and walked around to get our first glimpse of the Tate’s new extension, a ten storey building.
 The Tate Modern extension

Claustrophobic is the word. The new building nestles among already congested office and apartment buildings, which got there just a few years before. Multimillion-pound apartment owners are justifiably angry about the intruder where the gallery visitors can look straight into their living rooms, nice as they are!  Imagine you are quaffing 100-pound champagne and looking at your bank details (or heaven forbid more sinister activity) and a hundred people are looking over your shoulder. Also there was only about a fifth of the building dedicated to art, the rest being wasted on vast spaces for useless activity, such as looking into people’s homes and some amazingly peculiar lifts (elevators) which made up their own minds about when to stop, or not, at any floor.
Louise Bourgeous Room
The art exhibitions were mixed, some great such as the Georgia O’Keefe and the room full of Louise Bourgeois works, and some not my cup of tea such as the one by the Indian artist Bhupen Khakhar appropriately titled ‘You Cant Please All’, and they were expensive (entry tickets) like everything else in London. However we were in possession of Member’s Passes (again don’t ask!), which gave us free entry to everything.
Later (much later) we made our way avoiding transport, walking across Blackfriars Bridge and catching the District and Circle (maybe just the District as the Circle was switched off) to Charing Cross. Here we were within walking distance to Piccadilly Circus and then a short walk to my favourite Indian restaurant in Marshall Street for some well-earned grub. The waitress knew us, even if she was of East European origin and one of the worried set of people (including me) in the post-Brexit atmosphere. To be fair there was no evidence of the foreigner phobia that has been much in the news lately, but then London is very cosmopolitan and perhaps there are more foreigners than locals to be seen in the streets.
Afterwards with the tummy glowing from the food, we made our way to Oxford Circus, just around the corner and caught the Central to Liverpool Street station.
Outside the station we ran into Tracy Emin, who looked worried (she did not recognise us) and seemed to be waiting for someone. We knew she was going to be selling and signing prints at the fair we were going to. A short walk brought us to Brick Lane where the street signs are in Bengali! We were a few minutes early so we hung out in the area where the waiters are out to attract people to their ‘award winning’ eateries. We had already eaten and it was early for dinner.
Later we walked into the ‘Other’ art fair, so called because the main event in London this week was the Frieze, and looked for the stand of our friend E and walked past Mr Serota soon to be ex-chief of Tate, but he did not recognise us either. I was about to tell him about his lifts but he had other things on his mind..perhaps looking for another job! Again the fair was mixed and the prices high.   We did not buy anything including the terrible stuff at the Emin stand.
Taking a photo of someone taking a photo of someone etc.
at the Other 
I thought to myself that I had to revise the prices of my own works! They are a giveaway compared to these.
A couple of hours later it was time to withdraw gracefully and retrace our steps to Bond Street on the Central line and catch the northbound Jubilee and home. But not before we had bought a couple of bottles of red wine to celebrate with our friends at their home, which was temporarily ours as well.
On the agenda still loomed the Saatchi, Damien Hurst, RA, National and the National Portrait Galleries, The Frieze fair and hundreds of smaller galleries, the Turner prize exhibits at Tate Britain, a visit to Epsom, meals with a few sets of friends, some shopping and the obligatory catchup with the Indian food. 
The good news was that we still had a few more days in London!

If you really must see some more pics from our London outing then click here
Si realmente quieren ver algunas de nuestras fotos de Londres click aqui 

Thursday, 15 September 2016

St Thomas 100 Anniversary

About a year ago the current headmaster of St Thomas High School, located at Dehradun in Northern India, which I attended fifty years ago, sent me a message saying that the school was going to celebrate its 100 anniversary in 2016 and would I contribute a short piece recounting my memories for the book they were planning to publish for the occasion. 'Gladly', I responded and within a few days sent off some text and some pictures and without any further response forgot about the whole affair.
Imagine my surprise then when suddenly the doorbell rings and its the postwoman, with a registered package, a heavy object with a lot of stamps (864 Rupees) and all kind of postal gobbledygook all over it.

It turned out to be the book of the 100 anniversary from my school, and there it was on page 81..my photo and the text that I had contributed. The book contained an impressive collection of tributes from important people like Sonia Gandhi and other political heavyweights and folks in important positions, including one from the Prime Minister's secretary! Then there were sections devoted to teachers and past notables who were heads of institutions etc, however I was in a section of other past students listed in order of their attendance, who had taken the trouble to contribute some memories. So there I was at 1965 with this text:

Arvinder Bawa
St Thomas’ High School 1962 to 1965

I arrived at St Thomas’ in 1962 to continue my High School education while my parents built a life for themselves in Ghana, West Africa. It was already July and the principal Mrs Alexander took a risk in allowing me to start in the middle of the academic year. Arrangements were made for me to join several other boys whose families also lived in Africa, mainly Uganda, at the Nabha House based boarding school run by Ivan Mann.
My father left me in the care of an elderly uncle who lived in Dehradun, who I could turn to in emergencies. I had a monthly fund of fifteen rupees, a bycycle and a suitcase full of clothes. I would return to Delhi and Ghana during holidays when clothes would be renewed and progress reviewed.
At school I remember several other teachers whose names have faded but Mrs Mann and Mr Joseph (PE) come to mind. I remember also many of my classmates with whom I lost touch entirely and none of whom could be found in the Internet or social networks. Recently I found Ian Howard on Facebook through his nephew, who was also a student at the school in recent times. There were Samarendra Deva, Laxmidas Thakrar and of course they are all listed on a letter from the school informing me of my High School results.
In particular I have very fond memories of our Maths teacher Mr Khanna(?), who kindled a keen interest which resulted in my abilities with computer programming and mathematical simulations. Our Health Science teacher was also excellent and we had great results because of his efforts. One Physics teacher will always remain in my memory for a couple of remarks that he made which we found amusing. He once said to some of us ‘Come with me both of you three’ which raised a few eyebrows. At another occasion when marking my homework, which was often presented on makeshift pads and paper, he wrote on my work ‘This what type of exercise book is?’ We laughed then, but later I realised that this was a word by word translation from what one would say in Hindi!
There was also a teacher, or perhaps he was a friend of some of our teachers, who had an impressive collection of records, particularly records which were not available in India at the time such as the Elvis albums on RCA, and which we used to love listening to. The gang of Nabha House residents with African connections, we used to have a lot of fun since our parents were not on our backs, getting around the area on our bikes, with outings to nearby places such as Mussourie. We were also members of many of the sports teams which took us to many of the schools in the area to play matches.
In my last year at school I was elected a prefect and head of one of the houses (I think it may have been called Fraser) which gave me a certain standing at school and I do remember being given a lot of support by teachers and students alike.
After leaving St Thomas’ with an excellent GCE under my belt I returned to Ghana and continued my studies. Later I went to London (Imperial College) for a postgraduate degree in Engineering mostly related to mathematical modelling on computers. One day outside the college on Exhibition Road I was approached by another Indian student and we started talking and it turned out that he too had been at St Thomas’ two or three years my junior. After a few minutes he said ‘ I think I remember you. You used play football and once I think I saw you score an own goal!’ We fell about in fits of laughter but I do not remember having ever scored an own goal. But then that would be something I would want to forget.
Some years ago I returned to Dehradun and came by the School, but being a weekend there was no one about, however the main door was open and we went into the entrance hall and I was amazed to see my name on the honours board.

In my working life I mostly worked on mathematical simulations and Computer Aided Design (CAD) for Computer services and later the oil Industry, finishing in the Industrial Gases sector. Some of the companies I have worked at are Atkins(UK), Maraven(Venezuela), Shell(UK), Air Products(USA, UK & China). I took early retirement in 2010 and I now live with my wife in Spain.
I still write computer programs, mainly to generate digital images from mathematical equations. I have also written a book which has been published via amazon.com and still love to travel and to be out and about. I can also be found on some social networks and I write a blog to keep in touch with many friends and family all over the world.
I would like to send many congratulations to St Thomas’ College on reaching the centenary milestone and may it continue to provide an excellent education base for future students. It goes without saying that it would give me a great pleasure to get news of and from folks who knew me at the school which has been the source of great experiences.
All best wishes.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Camino de Santiago 2016

For those who just want to see the photos click here
Para los que solo quieren ver unas fotos click aqui

Once again we, a group of nine Camino enthusiasts take to the Camino de Santiago to do 5 Camino stages which go from Estella to Torres del Rio, Logroño, Najera, Santo Domingo de la Calzada, and finally Belorado.

We had decided to cut short our first stage by walking 9 kilometres to Villamayor de Monjardin on the first day, so that the next day we would only have to walk about 20 Kms to Torres del Rio.

The day before the start
Tomorrow .. rucksack packed .. another 120 Kms of the Camino de Santiago. Estella to Belorado on the old medieval Camino de Santiago. Tomorrow morning a 2 hour bus ride takes us to Logroño at the heart of the Rioja. Lunch and a short bus ride to our starting point Estella. Then a two hour walk to our first resting point, the grandly named hamlet of Villarmayor de Monjardin.
Today was a beautiful day and for the second day in a row I dived into the sea. Still a bit cold but us pilgrims need to toughen up! 

Below is a compilation of my daily posts to Facebook during the walk

Camino de Santiago Day 1 of 6

I am now in my bunkbed in an 'albergue' in our first stop. There are 12 beds of which 9 are in our party..of the other three we have no idea. They were asleep when we got back from dinner.

There is not a bed to be had in this place..just as well we had reservations.

Earlier everything went to plan. Except that we had to rush through lunch..by the time we found a place to eat in Logroño we had half an hour to devour a 3 course menu. I was still munching my profiteroles as we ran out of the restaurant and headed for the bus station to catch our bus to the start of our pilgrimage. 
Once we started our walk in Estella we began to settle down to our rhythm of walking. It was only a short 9kms which we did in a couple of hours. Just as well as it was all uphill or so it seemed to my 67 years old legs!
This is Navarra countryside and it is absolutely beautiful. There was the small detail of a drizzle which meant waterproof capes but we were in high spirits..perhaps because we had had a few glasses of Rioja already!
It was tough climbing steep uphill slopes and I was glad when we arrived at our first night's shelter at Villamayor de Monjardin.
There was a long spell of freshening up and the gang made for the only bar in town for a few drinks and a hard earned meal!
Now we are safely tucked in our bunks and enjoying the glow of a few wines, orujo and gin tonics.

Camino day 2 of 6..
First night in a strange bed is always difficult, specially if there are 11 other occupants and a church ringing a bell every hour. It was a very comfortable place with all mod cons, even washing machines and dryers.
Breakfast was pretty basic but enough. Within an hour of starting our 20km for today to Torres del Rio, we had reached a wonderful bar on the camino in such fantastic surroundings that we had to stop and have real coffee and tortilla.
This section of the camino has been maintained in very good condition and the surroundings are lush green sometimes resembling a golf course. The fields were full of vines, olive trees and wheat however the towns we passed through such as Sansol, were like ghost towns with no visible inhabitants but impeccably maintained, the economy dependent on pilgrim traffic.
On the way we met a Dutch man who works at Erricsson and was taking 8 weeks off to do the whole camino.
He joined us for lunch and even stayed at the same Alberge run by a Bolivian woman called Lily. Everyone was amused by an 80+ years old woman who seemed to be trying to seduce the Dutchman.
After freshening up we hit the town and tried out the various bars and restaurants.
Lily and her bar restaurant San Andres treated us like royalty, and would be highly recommended by me!
On the other hand I would give very low points to the competitor Restaurant La Pata de Oca, where we were given bad wine at an exorbitant price.
And so we get to the end of our 2nd day, less tired and looking forward to more 😊

Camino day 3 of 6 .. 
from Torres del Rio to Logroño .. 
About 20 kms
No churches last night so slept a lot better..after breakfast our group took to the road. We found that a very old church in town which had been closed yesterday, was open as we passed by. Its claim to fame was that it dates from around 1100 and that the statue of Christ wears an actual crown, which is apparently very rare.
It was another lovely day with no rain but significant ups and downs to test any pilgrim, and many are senior citizens. I started my music system but I must say that sounds of birds have accompanied us delightfully from the start. The Byrds playing Turn, Turn, Turn.
Once again beautiful countryside all around and well maintained path and soon we found ourselves in the lovely town of Viana. Majestic cathedral and beautiful buildings everywhere made to impress the pilgrims as they made their way slowly west through medieval times till now. Keith Jarrett playing piano in the Bregenz Concert.
Thought of all my friends and loved ones everywhere, and sent them cosmic energy for their well being.
After a few more kilometres of walking we finally arrived in Logroño to find our accommodation for the evening. Beatles playing Get Back..go back to where you once belonged.. tears ..will soon reunite with Marisol then looking forward to indeed getting home..
where ever that is....

Camino day 4 of 6
From Logroño to Najera
About 30 kms
Logroño was a strange experience. This is the capital of the Rioja wine region and yet my first glass of crianza at the Faro bar across the road from our apartment turned out to be so bad that I had to ask for a bit of lemonade to make it drinkable! Sacrilege.
Also we were in an area where several bars and restaurants seemed to have shut down .. perhaps because of a large population of muslims.
To make matters worse the water heater failed and we waited all afternoon for it to be fixed. Nevertheless there is no way to suppress the high spirits of 8 Spaniards and me so we had a merry evening and got up early for a 7am start for the long leg of our walk.
Today everything was at its limit. Our stamina, the state of our feet and muscles were all at maximum strain. The slightest pain in any part of the body a cause of concern. 
We have prepared well with anti blister creams and sun creams and a myriad of other applications, however we could not avoid a few problems. But nothing serious, a blister or two, feet problems mostly.
Now, group chemistry is so important, and there is safety in numbers and a great support system when in need. The camino can be a very lonely place. If you are an extrovert it is easy to make friends, otherwise left in your thoughts for hours day after day could drive you mad.
So the seven hours we spent on the camino today were much less by the goodwill of friends and the company they provided whenever you caught up with them.
Midway through a fairly easy but long beautiful sunny day we passed through the lovely town of Navarete, with its enormous church whose entrance reminded us of Petra. And lurking inside a tableau covered with enough gold to keep the Spanish economy afloat for a very long time! 

Peruvian mineral? I ask..Spanish are pretty sensitive about this.. If it was not them then the English might well have stolen it instead!
The countryside is still breathtaking but today large chunks were alongside roads, so I used my music system controlled by a Pebble watch.
In the end we arrived an hour ahead of schedule perhaps because the distance was 26 instead of 30kms, well in time to tuck into a hearty lunch and more excellent Rioja.
Now the hard work is done. The last two days should be a lot easier!

Camino de Santiago .. Day 5 of 6
From Najera to Santo Doming de la Calzada
About 20 kms
Najera was curiously interesting. Big gypsy population, a small medieval part, some buried kings and a huge red mountain vertical face as a backdrop.
We tried to get close to the rock face but the entire town had built a barrier to bar all access. The wall has been built virtually to the rock. 
Two gypsy boys about 10 or twelve were lounging in a back street. Smoke was curling from the hand of the younger from something he was hiding. I asked about the rock, and the older boy explained that some years ago the access points had been closed because of suicides!
The younger boy offered to open the door to one of the rather dilapidated houses if we gave him a Euro. I was about to produce the coin when my companion pulled me away with a look which said lets get out of here. It was a dangerous situation and we left quickly.
Wined and dined as usual after the long trek and got up at a more civilised hour to start our fifth day which promised to be more comfortable.
It was a sparkling sunny and hot day and the walk started in an easy and fairly nice countryside. About 5 or 6 kilometres later we started a gentle climb which went on forever.
By the time we got to Azofra, about 10 kms, we were exhausted. The younger men pressed on, but some of us stopped for refreshments.
An Australian lady with a sore ankle was slowly making her way. Kalee, pronounced Kaylee, was from Brisbane and was doing a 30 day complete walk, but her ankle had gone and she hoped to be able take a bus to skip a few stages and catch up lost time.
More climb followed and it was not until we were virtually at our destination that we finally got to the top of the ridge..where spectacular views awaited.
After that it was an easy few kms into Santo Domingo.
And so, suddenly we find ourselves near the end. Tomorrow another 20 km stage will see us at the end of our chosen stages and then a bus ride to Burgos.

Camino de Santiago..day 6 of 6
Santo Domingo to Belorado
21 kms
Santo Domingo is a lovely place..it has a beautiful cathedral whose claim to fame is the presence of a live hen and cockerel in a showcase. It goes with a curious tale which can be looked up on the Internet.
Attached to the cathedral there is also a tower which has a staircase which ends in a gallery with spectacular views. I was the only one to do this from our group after the walk of the morning.
It also has two fine Parador hotels but our accommodation was more simple. Across the road we were recommended a restaurant where we spent our lunch and dinner time.
La Strada produced excellent food at reasonable prices plus very friendly service. They also produced a bottle of champaign so that we could toast a happy birthday for my father who completed 92 years in far away India.
This morning once again we took off from SD de la C at 8am. Thunderstorms were forecast and for the first few kms we could see ominous clouds, but thankfully they dispersed and we soon emerged into bright sunshine.
The scenery was as nice as previous days but today was a day of lost in translation.
First there was Valery the Russian who was resting on a bed of wheat plants, who was doing his 4th camino and seemed to speak several languages. Then there was Alberto from the Canary Island of Gran Canaria who had learnt some Hindi and tried to impress me with this. Among others there was the Italian youth Paolo from Rome who was nursing a sore thigh muscle.
On the path I was also entertained by a couple of butterflies dancing, some toads or frogs who tried to tell me something loudly. Birds also have been in constant chirping all along the Camino. I tried hard to see if I could gather some mysterious messages from all these. But mostly they were lost in translation.
We tried to enjoy the walk and the company as much as possible as we were approaching the end of our planned walk. There was also the gathering of as many stamps in our Camino passport, normally given at all churches and bars. This was a requirement in medieval times as now, to show that you had followed the path and not appeared in Santiago to get the completion certificate.
The last few kms seemed endless, but after what seemed an age our objective Belorado came into view and we could get our rucksacks off our backs and start our journey homewards. Drinks and a well deserved lunch awaited.

And a final group photograph..

Buen Camino

P.S. Here is a full set of photos from the Camino walk

Monday, 18 April 2016

A Family Reunion

More pictures click here - Mas fotos aqui

Once again a reunion of my parents with all their children and spouses in Gurgaon, near Delhi. Although the main objective of this reunion was administrative, we still had to get around and do things. This included looking up some family members notably Surinder Uncle and his family who once again live fairly nearby in Gurgaon and of course no visit would be complete without a few get togethers with MamaJi, that central figure in our family who has singlehandedly made us laugh and kept us entertained for as long as I can remember.
With Birinder and MamaJi
There was also the shopping aspect of the visit as some things can only be bought in India to take advantage of the pricing in relation to Europe. Top among these were turbans, of which I needed a few to replenish the ones that have suffered and have found their way into a bag of scraps which we use for the odd car wash or other such mundane tasks which require cleaning. Also on our list were teas, clothes and gifts which are popular with our friends back at home. And I wanted to see if I could improve upon the quotes for making of new specs in Europe.
Now Delhi is full of markets and Gurgaon is home to at least 10 big malls (some that would be the envy of US malls) and some of these malls have the same or higher prices than in US and Europe, but there is nothing anywhere to match the Lajpat Nagar market, where we found virtually everything we needed in one three hour visit, in 40 degrees heat. We have known this market since I first came to Delhi as a 7 or 8 year old and I think it has got better over the years. When many of our friends came over from Europe in 2008 for my 60th, it was here that they all found their presents and they could not believe the prices, which were much better than the usual shops because this market is off the tourist map.
Shop assistant Lajpat Nagar Market (Note microphone to get shoe sizes from interior)

And one can never forget the thrill of going into a Haldiram, Kwality or Punjabi restaurarants and pig out on the mouthwatering dishes..not normally available where we live, except when Marisol decides to treat us to one of her specialties learnt over the years. I also do a mean 'chole' or chickpea curry which involves mixing one or two ingredients and microwave for three minutes! However nothing in comparison to what is to be found in India, where even the breakfast at our humble hotel was a treat (spice and chillies included).
The weather in a word was HOT. The first few days saw us melting in 40+ (Centigrade) heat and desperately trying to stay out of the sun. Later things calmed down a bit (35 to 38) but nevertheless it was fun to spend three weeks in March/April in shorts, half sleeves and sandals. Mosquitoes were a problem but Marisol had brought sprays to dissuade them from biting our delicious legs!
One of the great treats in India is the possibility of having a car with driver at your disposal at a very reasonable cost, and our man in Delhi (P) made sure that we were well looked after in this aspect. Over the days three or four different drivers looked after us day and night and made it easy for us to get around for our frequent outings to sightseeing, shopping and hospitals and clinics for a series of checks and follows ups to recent interventions. 
Bangla Sahib Gurdwara in Delhi
Some of the drivers were a bit rusty on their knowledge of getting around Delhi, although I must admit finding addresses in Delhi can be difficult at the best of times when many of the streets, specially in residential areas, have no names. One street near where we stayed was called merely 'the 30 Meters Wide Road'. But there were one or two drivers who knew most of the big places in Delhi and one in particular, Deepak was all knowledgable about the local news, politics and curious about everything. We had many enjoyable conversations with this man over the long drives while getting around. His usual 'koi dikkat nahin' to say in hindi something like 'no problem' was new to me and in return I taught him the English version and also the Aussie version (No worries) for when he had to transport folks from down under.
Marisol & Subodh Gupta's tree made from steel pots and pans

The obligatory visit to the Delhi Art Museum also had to be done, and our driver that day knew where India Gate was but not anything about nearby Jaipur House where the museum is located. When we finally made it, for once the entry ticket person accepted our PIOs andOCIs and let us pay the Indians entrance charge of 25 Rupees. Guess how much the international visitors have to pay - 500 Rupees! Thats what we had to pay on our last visit.
Meanwhile parents looked frail but hanging in there. Lets hope they remain stable and we wish them the very best. Finally many thanks to P & C who wined and dined us and generally helped us with everything.

More pictures click here - Mas fotos aqui

Friday, 19 February 2016

Rubbing shoulders with the oldies!

To see a complete set of photos click here..pincha aqui para ver todas las fotos

It is hard to believe but Spain has had and continues to have, even in the current climate of crisis and austerity, a fantastic holiday program for senior citizens which allows any resident over the age of 65 (and I am one of these I am afraid) to take themselves and their spouse to a bunch of holiday resorts for what seems like a heavily subsidised holiday (I mean really cheap) with everything included, and I mean everything..transfers, transport, hotels, meals and in some cases even all the excursions!
When I reached the 65 milestone I was sold the idea of signing up to this program with the possibility of trying out a package even if it meant going along with a bunch of old folks (I suppose like myself) and helping out with zimmer frames and crutches.

In keeping with our usual strategy of avoiding the cold/wet months of Laredo we decided to go this February for a trip to the mediterranean resort of Benidorm, which we have avoided in the past like the plague because of its reputation of being a favourite with the hooligan sets from some northern European countries which I wont name. Our idea was that we would rent a car and do our own thing.
Our fellow holidaymakers!
It turned out to be very interesting, both from a social and a cultural viewpoint. We were a bit apprehensive at the start, specially seeing the fellow tourists on our flight to Alicante, but we soon began to feel good, with the great organisation, great hotel, good food and the nice weather!
We used our rental car to the max with trips to nearby towns and to large cities like Valencia and Alicante, with a few walks through Benidorm and its very nice beaches. It was warm and dry while it rained and snowed in the rest of Spain which made us feel that we had picked the right time to escape.
On one of these walks on the beachside paseos there was a shower and to let it pass we sat down on a bench under cover.

OK..so we are sitting on this bench with this marvellous view..next to a local man. We start talking about the weather, the place..and while singing praise about the climate of this part of the world..he says 'well  you know, this is like the waiting room..for death'! Its true - that the average age around Benidorm was probably around 60.
So he says 'all you need is a good bank account and you move here and enjoy life' (while you presumably wait your turn)!  Wise words indeed

The waiting room
One of the most beautiful local towns was Guadalesc which is atop a steep hill and you have to go through a handcarved door in a rock to get to its medieval center. Who would have thought of putting the town in such a place! Perhaps it was to protect themselves in the uncertain times, but definitely made it a good place to visit. It also had a fantastic museum of microscopic art that had been created by a local artist.

The other nearby town that we liked a lot was Altea. If Guadalesc was on top of a hill then Altea was all the way up along the face of a hill with town's church at the top of the hill. The houses and most places in the old town could only be reached by walking up steep lanes and stairs. While this was good for the health of the tourists it also made for a very picturesque and nice environment with no noise and a medieval look.

In between we visited the main cities of Valencia and Alicante. Valencia is now famous for its new cultural buildings designed by the architect Calatrava, but its old heritage is equally stunning. The palace of the Marquis of Dosaguas has to be seen as it is absolutely unbelievable.

Alicante too has its own charm and a fort built atop a hill right in the centre of the city.

And in-between all this sightseeing we did walk around the more interesting parts of Benidorm and the occasional contact with the notorious parts. The two beaches in Benidorm have impressive skylines and there is a rock in the centre which is the center of the city and has some old features. One of them is a street which has been given a quite dubious name, (Calle de Coño) which comes from a typical expression of surprise in Spanish, because most of the inhabitants end up here one way or the other and its always full of people.

As one can imagine all this activity involved a large amount of walking. By the end of the week I posted the following on Facebook:
Having kept a running total of steps walked (according to my Pebble), I can reveal that Marisol and I have each walked 100000 (yes thats 100k) steps since we started our current outing 6 days ago! That at about 60cms per step is about 60Kms (37.5 miles). Knackered! Happy St. Valentine Day.
It was time to retrace our steps and get back home..
and begin packing for the next trip!
In Spain they say the life of a tourist is very hard. 
You can say that again.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Festivities, Savannah and Charleston

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Xmas and New Year festivities were upon us and we eagerly awaited for Anil to join us. As expected Father Christmas came by and brought a lot of presents for everyone. The standout present for me was the Amazon Echo and as Manjeet and Almu also got one we got to experiment with it straight away. Voice activate Alexa answers your every question, plays music from internet and radio stations galore. It was an instant success. 
Alexa, play Rudolph the red nose reindeer! Jito and Nico singing and dancing!
One Echo was tucked away in my suitcase to be opened when we were back in Spain!

After Anil headed back to Germany we took off for a few days to see the cities of Savannah and Charleston. Gone with the Wind, dancing in the Thirties and all that was in the back of our minds. In one day we drove from North Carolina, through South Carolina and arrived in Savannah, Georgia. Its not the first time that I have been in three states in one day (having done NY, NewJersey and Pennsylvania when I worked up north) but it was still quite an event. And we were not disappointed when we arrived.

Savannah is like the leafy streets of London and the design probably comes from the British influence in its creation. However the best thing about Savannah were not the beautiful mansions (which do have a dark side to them), but the huge industry around the ghosts which supposedly inhabit this city. We duly signed up for a walking ghost tour, though the most remarkable tours were where they drive you around in a hearse!

The lady that was our guide was enough to give us goosebumps, theatrical, dressed for the part and it was pitch dark. 'take lots of photos..you never know what you might capture!' The history of the city is gruesome. Ethnic population eliminated..lots of soldiers got killed...wars of independence..looks like the whole city is full of bodies buried underneath.

Next on to Charleston..another beautiful place with equally beautiful mansions.
This time the aircraft carrier and submarine parked across the river were attractions.
No sign of any bars with dances from the past!
Then it was time to return to Charlotte and last minute shopping, more fun with Jito and Nico and all too soon it was time to get back home.
We should do this more often!

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