Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age


Never Take Where You Live For Granted

I learned some things on Sunday, and one of them was that I didn’t know Tenerife as well as I thought I did.  It is clearly over 18 years since I visited Punta Hidalgo, and I am still trying to come to terms with that realization!  Acknowledging the rapid passing of time, however, is better than the alternative – which would be that the last time I was there I had failed to notice this beautiful building – which is the lighthouse which guards that rocky bit of coast.

I find, however, that it was constructed in 1992, phew, so my powers of observation weren’t as bad as all that.  I did have a couple or more very adventurous young guys in tow at that time (my two boys plus a couple of of their friends), so I might just have been excused, but no, it was before 1992.

Looking at the pictures, isn’t this quite breathtaking?  I had a “thing” about lighthouses for a while.  It happened after a visit to the Outer Banks, a region famous for its lighthouses, and where there are so many legends surrounding them, and the sinking or the washing up on the shores of boats, from pirate ships to the battle ships of WW2, that I became totally infatuated.  Shortly after that Austin bought me a book of photos by Philip Plisson, for my money the best photographer of all things maritime, and my passion was confirmed, but it waned – as so many do!  Maria and I talked about touring the Canary Islands, just to photograph the lighthouses.  So – if you read this, Maria – I’ve made a start!

Never  have I seen one quite like this before, and  a quick glance at Google hasn’t come up with any architectural information, but I will continue to delve.  It’s elegant and almost ethereal, and I thought the light would be far too lousy for a decent photo, and yet, it seems to be that’s just the qualities the photos show, despite the excessive light.

Lesson learned two, is that places are constantly growing and changing.  I talk about “knowing” Cologne in Germany, for instance,  which I did at one time, but, let me see that’s something like 40 years ago… how much that city must have changed!  I really shouldn’t claim to “know” Cologne.  I “knew” it back then.  So never take for granted that we know, well, anywhere.  On a scale of things Tenerife is a blip in the ocean, but even here I constantly find new delights and ideas.  The trouble with the 9 to 5 is that it leaves you with little enthusiasm for moving around on the weekend, that is once the shopping, banking, car cleaning and house cleaning is done, and sometimes we might know our favorite vacation destinations better than we know places just up the road!


A Tourist’s Eye View of “My” Island

This week has been a quite uneventful one really, but, before I forget, here are the photos from last Sunday’s stroll around San Cristóbal de La Laguna, usually known, simply, as La Laguna.

Since first coming to live in the Canary Islands 23 years ago, I’ve always been given to understand that the original capital of the island, following the Spanish conquest, was Garachico in the true north, but these days I so often hear that La Laguna was the original capital I begin to doubt my original information – but then there is more misinformation about this tiny island than you could believe, and tonight I am enjoying a glass or two of excellent Malvasia, so I will leave the scholarly stuff for next time.  Whatever the truth might be,  La Laguna was the capital of the island for a time, and now it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Last Sunday, we hadn’t intended to visit the city, so this was much more a Sunday stroll than an inquisitive visit  –  but that is something which is most certainly on the cards for the near future.   We parked (Sunday parking is easy peasy, unlike during the week, when the Tranvia is a much better option), close to these beautiful, old buildings.  We assumed, judging from their state of disrepair, that they are on the edge of the Heritage Site, although they have clearly been colorfully decorated at one time.  Some of them looked beyond repair, which is a shame.  Modern buildings here are nicely and thoughtfully presented, but just don’t have the character, so let’s hope there is some money in some kitty, somewhere to restore these!

We turned out to be quite close to the Iglesia de la Concepción, whose local fame is second only to the cathedral a little further along.

Bad timing – they were just closing for lunch, but informed us that we would be able to ascend the bell tower at 3 o’clock.  Now, since seeing a friend’s photos of the view from up there, that’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a while, so there was nothing for it but to stroll some more until it was opening time.

One of the things which strikes you about the historical part of La Laguna is color.  The old buildings have been restored and exude a homely kind of beauty which I usually associate with the Caribbean, or Africa.  It’s odd, in a way, because gorgeous though it is, it doesn’t somehow, fit with the impression I have of this island.  Really, I will investigate, but I have the feeling this owes more to modern fashions than to genuine restoration.  I have, I hasten to add, ABSOLUTELY, no basis for saying that whatsoever, it’s a purely personal hunch, and a hunch, at that……I might be way off mark.

Whatever, it’s very pretty, and a very pleasant place to be.  I never fail to feel outstandingly good when I am in La Laguna.  We did call by the Tourist Information office on our meanderings, and this is the most gorgeous building, and is obviously lovingly restored:

We now know how to get more information – watch this space, coming soon – but overall there was a disappointing lack of orientation/propaganda for such a prestigious place.  When I called into my local Tourist Information Office in El Médano recently I was just overwhelmed with all the information there, not only about the local area, but about the island, and that was even before I spoke with the lady who runs it, who is a living, breathing ad for her community and island, really, someone should give her a job in the Cabildo!  She is charming, happy and helpful.

It might be because I didn’t know where to go (but, then, a tourist would know even less) that there didn’t seem to be a huge variety, or even much variety, of eateries to choose from on that main “drag” in the tourist office/cathedral/church triangle?  I would love for someone local to put me right there?  We ended up having a very nice sandwich in Oh La La, a local chain which really caters more for the working, lunchtime crowd than for tourists.  No problems with food or service, they were good – because I live here.  Had I been a tourist/traveller I think I would have been disappointed that I wasn’t eating something “Canarian”.  That said, we came across the most WONDERFUL ice cream place, where we positively inhaled passion fruit ice cream, which seemed to be the most perfectly apt thing to put down your throat on a hot day.  I lose words here.  It was sublime!  Yesterday,  a friend told me that I should have gone to a certain bakery in that area, and I have a feeling it might have been the same place…..yes, yes – I am slapping my own wrists for not getting the name – don’t worry – it was that good a return visit will not be so long away!

All stickied up from the ice cream we arrived back at the bell tower for our ascent, which proved to be physically way less than expected, and visually more rewarding -

AND – yes we WERE up there when the bells stuck – happily for us it was on the quarter-hour!

It was a most pleasant way to while away a Sunday afternoon, it filled the “whatever it is it was supposed to fill” , and left us with questions which, as we live here, we will be able to answer in the near future.

Now, as Shakespeare said, here’s the rub – suppose we didn’t live here, suppose we’d been tourists with a few hours to spend on the island from our cruise boat?  But suppose that if we had been tempted enough, we would come back and explore the island more? Spend more tourist dollars?

One of the things I enjoy most in life is trying to put myself in someone else’s shoes ….. so, here I am, that tourist…..well, to be honest, I figure I’ve been there, done that, there is no incentive to return.  It was nice and pretty, and I have a very nice impression of Tenerife,  but exactly why would I want to come back and spend a week or two or even a month here?  Hey – Mr. Melchior – I know the answer to that question …….. DO YOU??

So, what was last week like, apart from finally taking myself to the doctor’s to try to sort out the stiff neck that is? Errrrr…… was kind of ordinary……for here.

With my dear friend, Maggie, staying up the coast with my goddaughter, her beau and her daughter, actually, seeing the amazing Palacio de Isora hotel, was, perhaps not so ordinary. Living here, you don’t really give much thought to hotels if you aren’t in the business, but I must say that it was exceptionally beautiful, the food though was good, but not to rave about, at least the meal I had there.  So, here is a completely different view of tourism.  whilst my much prefered journey would take me on a exploration of anywhere I was, I can quite understand the need for a worn-out, Western worker, with sufficient disposable income, to just chill and be calmed, to have the need to work out all those kinks life in the cubicle implants.  Strange as it may seem for someone of my mindset, I can understand the need to chill and forget the outside world……..and having observed the hotel from a certain distance ….well – it wouldn’t do that for me, pretty though it is.

The rest of the time with  my friends/family was barbecuing, a wee time on the beach (i.e.not enough on account of my neck!), and the compulsory stuffing o ourselves at Otelo in Adeje……one day, I will go there, (with ordinary people, not gluttons) and actually finish the pile of chicken they bring!!! This time we left one. One, I ask you, one piece of chicken.  Wouldn’t you have thought someone could have eaten it????? As we left the huge, silver moon rose on queue over the ragged peaks which shelter Barranco del Infierno………..of course it did – it was …… I didn’t have my camera!!

So, the week has been a mixture of sloth and pain.  I now, officially, award full marks to the medical center in El Médano.  I have to admit I’ve been procrastinating (well, that’s a game with me, anyway) about changing over from the Los Cristianos center.  That’s because I felt virtually invisible the last time I was registered there – which is, actually, probably a step up from the way I felt as a patient in Los Cristianos (stupid foreigner I suppose would cover the attitude – I except one, particular nurse from that remark, I doubt she’ll ever read this, but if you do, my friend, you will know who you are – and you are a blessing to mankind).   Anyhoo, procrastination being my demeanour of choice it was a no brainer.  Last week I had to, though, and wow but it went well – lovely receptionist lady and very efficient, appointment within 24 hours and a doctor I could feel confident about (is bonding too strong a word??)  OK I know I was a spoiled brat with private insurance for a long time, and all of this is only what people normally have to put up with.  Still, my experiences with the broken wrist last year were worthy of stories from Third World countries.  I think I didn’t comment on them at the time——very frustrating to type with one hand.

So – the week still has one more day to offer.  What will it be like?  I am smirking, but it might be the Malvasia …. wait and see!

Author’s Note:  this post was written whilst slightly inebriated, but the author has few doubts that she will stand by the contents on the morrow, even though they may be politically incorrect. She also reaffirms her right to consider these ramblings as personal opinions, and has no affiliation to anyone/thing other than her own conscience.


10 Things To Do In Tenerife Which Don’t Cost a Fortune – No. 1

I was chatting to Guy on the phone a couple of nights ago, and we were both bemoaning that lack of funds cramps social life.  There is no spare cash around at the moment for restaurant meals, movies, theater, concerts etc, in other words the sort of stuff you do with pals as a part of a normal UK social life.  Guy doesn’t drink, so going to the pub is kind of boring for him, and anyway, not, necessarily that cheap.  The rain was beating on his window as we spoke, so even going for a run with a friend was out of the question just then.  If he’d been here he could have gone surfing, running, cycling, swimming, snorkeling, or just crashed on the sand to watch the parade of bikini-clad girls stroll by.

It made me realize how lucky I am to live here, where it is still possible to meet up with friends and do things together which don’t send your bank account spiraling into red, and I began to make a mental list, and then thought maybe it’s worth sharing.  According to my research we have 300 days of sunshine per year, but my own common sense tells me it’s more than that.  It’s a rare day on the South Coast of the island when there isn’t sunshine for at least a part of the day, and temperatures are such that you can go to the beach year round, though it might be cooler in the North in the Winter months.  So you can ring a pal tonight and make plans for tomorrow without much fear of  “weather not permitting.”

The one thing which possibly all these activities will require is transport, though, but not necessarily much for some of them, and if there is a group of friends, then that can be minimized of course.

No 1 – GO TO THE BEACH (Let’s get the obvious out of the way first!)

Living here, as opposed to coming on vacation, you may see things somewhat differently.  Tenerife has a huge variety of beaches, so surely there must be something for everyone!  There are the well-maintained, some of them European Blue Flag, tourist beaches.  High season they may well not be everyone’s cup of tea, they certainly aren’t mine, but low season, like now, they are fine.  There are no school-age kids screaming and throwing sand around, and especially on weekdays it can be just as relaxing as driving out to a more remote beach.  You can hire a sunbed or not to keep down the cost of the day.  Usually there are showers, bars nearby and life guards on duty.

On the opposite extreme you only need to drive for fifteen minutes or so if you live near the coast (and probably about 30 if you live well inland) and you can find a rocky beach which, on a low season weekday, you can have to yourselves.  Apart from being prettier and more private there are less rules and regulations, which means that you can light up the barbie, leave your wine and beers in a rock pool to keep cool, and even play your music loud I suppose – if you must, and there really is no-one to disturb….or you can just enjoy the peace and silence!  You might have to leave the car at the top and walk down, but it will be worth it, and you can pretend you’re on a desert island.  Just make sure you have plenty of water and suncream, because you won’t want to leave to go in search of either, and take a first-aid kit, because the Red Cross won’t be there.

In between you have dozens and dozens of beaches which haven’t been tarted up to tourist standards, but are more accessible, and have been made user-friendly and safer.    These are the ones used by local people at the weekends and on holidays, but to be honest even the small, rocky ones will be busy on an August holiday date.  Almost every small, coast village has one, and on a Sunday it seems as if the entire village is camped out there, but, again, weekdays they can be much more appealing.

Speaking of camping out, there is a tradition amongst some families here of camping out at the beach once the Summer heat makes sleeping indoors difficult.  Temperatures drop as the light fades, and even in Summer it can be chilly outside, but walls retain the day’s heat, and sleep can be elusive.   It’s mainly the youngsters who do it.  They take a tent down to  a quiet beach and set up shop until the heat subsides in early Fall, returning home daily to shower or collect whatever they need.  It’s kind of cheating camping, but sounds like fun, sitting around the fire until you really want to sleep, chewing the fat, enjoying the local wine, fishing for your supper and cooking it over the fire.    What marvellous memories for your old age!

But you don’t have to stay overnight, just get a group together and go!  If restaurant meals are a bit too steep right now, you take your own.  If there are fishermen amongst your friends you might even be lucky enough to enjoy the freshest fish you’ve ever had – straight from rod to pan!  Would you get anything that good in a restaurant??  Even if preparing a feast seems like too much trouble, don’t even sandwiches and fruit taste better eaten outdoors?  A lovely memory I have from years ago was barbequing next to a local family on a quiet beach one weekend.  Their menfolk had been snorkeling and had come back with spikey sea urchins, and they were cracking them open to cream out the roe inside, and shared with us.  I doubt I’ll be doing that myself any time soon – I don’t think I could ever get the knack of opening them without doing myself some harm, but they were delicious, and it was an marvellous way of getting to know people and learn about a local delicacy that you don’t see on the menus of the local tapas bars!

This sharing is typical of life here.  You hardly ever cook outdoors in a public place without someone offering you a taste of whatever they have cooking away.  We learned to take some traditional English stuff with us too, so that we could exchange cultures a bit.

If you take a picnic then the only cost to a day in the sunshine is the cost of getting there, and for many of us, this doesn’t even include that, as we simply slip on our sandals and walk there.  And now, if you don’t live here, and are thinking of coming you’re thinking “Why hasn’t she listed these beaches?”, aren’t you?  Well, it occured to me that I might make it a project for this Summer to try as many as I can find and get to comfortably.  I think I will exclude weekends, when it’s busy, but I am thinking of adding a new tab to the blog  just for this…..or maybe I just need an excuse to get away from the computer and get down to the beach! So watch out for islandmomma’s beach guide, and more almost-free things to do in Tenerife!

Update: Links to subsequent posts on this theme:
Take a drive through the Teide National Park

Barbeque in the “Great Outdoors”

Mooch the Markets

Party like a local!

Follow local sports

Free Summer concerts

Try Shanks’s Pony!

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The Diversity that is Santa Cruz de Tenerife

Returning home when I’ve enjoyed a different location, even if it was only a short stay, unsettles me.  In England I miss the sunshine of Tenerife; when I’m here, I miss the all the yummy choices I can find in English supermarkets; in West New York I missed the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Europe; in cities I miss the peace of the countryside, and in the countryside I miss the buzz of cities.  I suppose the only answer is to keep travelling……if only it was feasible!

Returning last week wasn’t nearly so bad as usual though, because the following day I shot straight up to Santa Cruz to meet some friends who had a brief stopover on their cruise.  The pleasure of meeting up and spending time with friends apart, it  refreshed my fondness for this delightful, little city, as I whizzed them around a small part of it, and so made me appreciate where I am.

Let me give you a virtual version of the whirlwind tour, which I hoped showed off the variety of the capital of the Province of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, as well as the island:

If you land in Santa Cruz on a cruise, or if you drive up from the South your first stop will almost certainly be La Plaza de España.  It is, for many people, the heart of the city, although, not, I think if you live there.  It is framed on one side by the sea and the docks for the “nice” boats (the cruise ships, yachts, sometimes tall ships and the ferries), on another by the island government offices and the Post Office, and on the other two by cafés and pleasant, tree-lined avenues, at the moment with jacarand in glorious bloom, and beyond those the spectacular Anaga Mountains.  We walked up from the security post, which was a near to my friends’ ship as I was allowed, and emerged onto the Promenade just opposite the Plaza.

Almost two years ago a complete remodelling of the square was completed.  The central roundabout, on which stood the War Memorial, had become a complete traffic snarl-up, and the noise and fumes definitely detracted from the pleasure of sipping an expresso in one of the bars or cafés thereabouts…..remember this is a year-round good climate, and coffee sipping is almost always conducted outdoors.

Me a couple of days after the opening of the remodelling.

The area is now dominated by a shallow, modern, ornamental pool (I can’t bring myself to use the word “lake”), from which spurts every now and then (cannot fathom the times out) a huge water spout.  It looks quite effective, as you can see in the few photos I have ever managed to get of it functioning, but it has caused consternation amongst local cab drivers, whose cars get sprayed every time it is in action – given that there is almost always a constant breeze from the ocean!  Other than that, it has been controversial in general.  Being a modern design, does it compliment, detract or enhance the existing architecture?   Personally, I like it, and think it will improve with time.  On its “banks” are three very low-rise buildings, which resemble caves (this I presume to be intentional, since ancient cultures here were cave dwellers, so I assume it is a nod in the direction of history, as there are other aspects of the design which are similar acknowledgements of the island’s past).  They are covered by local plants, so that from some angles they don’t even look like buildings, and given time the plants will grow and spread, and look, generally, much nicer than they do right now.

It was interesting to note, though, that it was the pool rather than the 1930s Memorial to the Fallen which grabbed my friends’ attention.  The typical-of-its-era Art Deco-ish tower rises high above the Plaza, and dominates the Square.

Most tourists from Plaza de España will head straight up the adjoining Plaza de la Candelaria and to the pedestrianized walkway, where they will find plenty of bars and shops directed purely at them.  Many of the façades have been renovated in recent years, or are being renovated at the moment.  It’s pleasant, the shops reflect current fashions or offer the so-called duty free goods for which the Canaries are famous in Europe, but it isn’t really representative of Tenerife, unless as a symbol of the tourism on which we so much depend.

But my task was to show my friends glimpses of the city they probably wouldn’t otherwise have seen, so our little tour instead diverted to take a look at Teatro Guimerá  and the impressive sculpture which sits outside.  The theater opened in 1851, and inside is all red velvet and gold, as you would expect, reminiscent of theaters seen in old Western movies.  It is, in fact, the oldest theater in the islands, and to sit in the gods there is a seriously scary experience!  Outside, is, for my money, so representative of the blend of old and modern in this city,  this stunning sculpture by Igor Mitoraj.  Mitoraj’s work can also be found in Canary Wharf and in Yorkshire Sculpture Park by the way.  This one is entitled Per Adriane, and, no, I hadn’t a clue who he was until I looked him up!

In the photo course I am doing at the moment we just touched on HDR, and I can’t wait to go back and make an attempt at a better photo, but this will have to do for now!  See how the sky fades to white – but I’ve seen that on professional photos of this same scene, so maybe not so bad as I think!

From the theater we crossed the Serrador Bridge over to the Mercardo de Nuestra Señora de Africa.  I never cease to take pleasure in this market which showcases fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers and meats in the good, old-fashioned way.  A central courtyard provides a place to sit for a while if your  packages get too heavy…….note: the coffee is good, and the service top-class friendly with a grin, and there is a shady, little childrens’ playground too, which my friends’ little girl loved.   The present building dates back to 1943, when the city outgrew the old market, and a bigger one had to be built.  It has an interesting story of reinventing itself over the years.  Perhaps another time?

From the market we ambled back towards and under the Serrador Bridge to stroll down the delightful Calle Noria.  The first time I came across this street, by accident, some years back, it was in the final stages of restoration, and reminded me of pictures I’d seen of the colourful streets of old Habana.  Since then the restored premises have been taken by restaurants and bars, and a vibrant nightlife centers around the street.  It even has its own Facebook page, listing coming events!/calledelanoria?ref=ts   I think I’ve eaten in all of the restaurants over the past few years, and they were all, without exception, absolutely first class, but if I had to chose one it would be “Bulan”.  If you get chance to eat there, do go inside too, to look at how the old interior has been decorated to make it an original venue with lots of ambience.  To get a good look, you need to go during the day, when it’s quieter, at night it fills up with trendy, young city folk.

At the end of the street sits la Iglesia de la Concepción, the city church of Santa Cruz.  It is sometimes referred to as a cathedral, but it isn’t, the island’s cathedral is in La Laguna. The church is now a little worse-for-wear after storms in February, when many archives, stored in the basement, which flooded, were lost.  At the moment the entrance is still blocked by sandbags, but local tv reports that many, willing volunteers are helping to restore and repair this building, which dates back to 1500, when construction began to replace the small chapel first built where the area fell to the Spanish Conquistadors.

For our next stop we needed to go by car, and in contrast to what I think of as the Spanish-colonial style architecture of the church and the old buildings we seen, there rose in front of us next, as we headed for the car park, the magnificent Auditorio de Tenerife.  The building seems to curve, like a huge wave from ocean to earth, and is a the purest white, sparkling in sunlight by day or dramatic lighting by night from the thousands of pieces of purest white mosaic which adorn it…..imagine Gaudi, but stunning, stunning white.

My snap does this magnificent structure no favors at all.  I snapped it quickly from the roof of the bus station a while back,  and one day I must get some decent photos.

Designed by world-renown architect Santiago Calatrava, it was inaugurated in 2003.  I know very, very little about architecture, but have come to now often recognize the flowing lines typical of this brilliant architect/designer, one of whose current projects is the new transportation hub in the new World Trade Center complex.  Do check out his website, which is awesome .

This Opera House is well used, and truly is a community center for the island, if not the province.  As well as operas I’ve attended symphony concerts, jazz and blues concerts, and world music events, and friends have been to ballet, dance and musicals staged there.  It has also hosted some major conferences.  In addition to the acoustically perfect main auditorium, there is a small, intimate venue and a huge outdoor space, where you are cooled by the sea breeze on hot Summer nights, and feel as if you are a part of the performance you are watching.

This day there was no time to visit, only to admire from afar, cruise schedules being what they are, and given the need to at least dip a toe in the warmer shores of the North Atlantic, so we headed for the local beach at Las Teresitas, about ten or fifteen minutes drive towards the mountains.

This beach, amazingly, is not much frequented by foreign tourists. It is easily the prettiest beach in Tenerife, nestling under a stunning mountain backdrop, and boasting a glittery yellow/white sand which was imported from the Sarhara Desert in 1973,  before exporting sand from there was no longer feasible because it ceased to become a Spanish colony (oh, that’s a long, long story too).  It often features on postcards, but its surroundings are virtually undeveloped.  Rarely does a day pass without some local newspaper or other carrying a story about the scandal and corruption surrounding the proposed upgrade and improvement.

I always kind of bemoan the advancing tide of tourist-aimed “improvements”, but my brief visit on this day decided for me that this is a case where it’s needed.  The beach itself is delightful, one of the few on this breezy island where palms sway, and the only one with sand of this color to give it that tropical feel.  Amenities, however, are few and dingy.  I hadn’t been for a while, and imagined it had changed for the better, as beaches in the South have, but when we entered a dirty hut, which served as a bar, in search of ice cream our request was  answered by scruffy man in dirty clothes, who seemed a bit threatening,  with a brief “no”.  It took me right back to the “old days”…… obviously he had never heard of the “Tenerife Amable” (Friendly Tenerife) campaign which the government was promoting a couple of years back…….more thoughts on that another time.

Ice creamless, then, we headed back to the harbor and the floating mini-city of luxury, where, I realized ruefully, my friends would be able to get all the ice cream they desired, and served with a smile.

Santa Cruz is a beautiful, vibrant city of contrasts – contrasts of architecture, of peoples, and sadly, contrasts of attitude.  This was just a short tour.  I’ll take you on another some day if you like.

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Home Thoughts From Abroad

Somehow, a detailed description of a week in England just wouldn’t come, so here are some random thoughts.

Overall, once the airport idiots were history, people seemed much friendlier than I remember. OK Tube etiquette dictates no eye contact, but how can you resist commenting to the owner of a super-cute French bulldog about how much you like it? Response? Friendly-  probably relieved I wasn’t moaning about having a dog on the Tube? I come from the North of England, where, tradition has it, folk are warmer, but not my experience on this trip.

Surprised how little coverage the General Election is getting. Weird, in fact. OK, yes, it was on the news, but very few posters in windows, billboards, discussion unless you mentioned it first. Is this because people are apathetic or sophisticated? The few posters in windows I saw …. 100%  Lib-Dem. Should be interesting!

Spring is most definately sprung – obviously I lived in a seasonal desert in the North West, because I always thought Spring much overated, but in London and surrounds I could see it was luxuriant, vibrant and very pretty.

The London Marathon ROCKS!!! From the Expo to the (divine) Richard Branson news conference to the day itself it was an exhilarating, eye-opening, inspriring and awesome event…..and I was only a (partisan) spectator!

It is, according to Virgin, the biggest charity-venue-generating event in the world. Now, with that many people with good in their hearts how could it be bad? I didn’t realize until much, much later that I had lost my voice in cheering on the ones who looked on their last legs, the wheelchair participants, the ones who were joking and winding up the crowd. Guy’s presence was a matter of minutes for me, so it was the general atmosphere which had gotten me going!

And, afterwards, struggling down the Tube, waiting for a taxi, everyone seemed to be carrying the red bags which marked them as runners. OK – please don’t be cynical – yes, it’s great publicity for Virgin, and they freely admit it. So if they do well they will be able to sponser next year, if they don’t turn a profit ? What? Warm fuzzies knowing my son was greeted by strangers on the street with a thumbs up, asking his time, saying “Well done”. Marvellous feeling of community!

Food? Less expensive than expected.  Likewise hotels and hostels with the exception of the NH Harrington Hall, which bumped up its price from the advertised 97 pounds a night to 150 pounds per night for the experience of resting my head on one of their pillows overnight (no time for breakfast!) , because it was Marathon weekend.  Part of me thinks “They are trying to survive a crisis”, but the other part of me? Simply couldn’t really afford it.  I know it’s central London, but it really wasn’t anything special.  No way would I recommend it.  I would recommend the good, old YMCA in Guildford, and also Ibis Hotels from whom I got good deals in both London and York (cheaper than the B & Bs I looked at – whilst B & Bs (especially somewhere like York) have a lot of charm, there is also a lot to be said for the convenience of low-cost hotels.

Trains?  Great!  Scored good deals on London to York and York to Manchester Airport.  Clean.  Pleasant and helpful staff.  Sorry can’t remember which company ran each line.  I understand that if you book last minute it is expensive, but you qualify for advance booking only two days before the date of travel.  York to Manchester Airport was less than half of what I used to pay.

Manchester Airport?  Hate the changes.  This is my “home” airport,  the one from which I have flown most often, so I kind of liked it the way it was – thanks Osama, I put the changes down to you, with the exception of the dive through duty free one has to make to get a cup of coffee, but that, I suppose, is the times.

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Of Volcanoes, Ex-pats and Other Such Stuff

I can live with uncertainty. Either I was built that way, or my life has made me that way. But an Icelandic volcano almost blew my cool!

Delays like the one in Dublin a year ago make me mad. I still firmly believe that there was no technical problem with the plane I should have taken, but I couldn’t prove it, or I didn’t have the resources to do so, so I had to let it go.

Of course, it wasn’t the actual, potential travel disruption so much as the fact that I wouldn’t get to see Guy run his first Marathon (and such a prestigious one at that!). Much as I would have liked to be in two places at the same time, I knew that Austin had more support here for his ultra trail run than Guy had there, having lived in England only since January. I have a fatalist attitude to things I can’t change, though, and volcanoes are one of those things, so alternative plans were hopping around my brain for days.

Eventually, the volcano relented, or the powers-that-be decided it was safe, and English airports reopened on the very day I was supposed to fly.

There was unpleasantness at the airport of course. I have no idea how it went later in the night, but at the time I was there it was coming mainly from the toffee-nosed, ex-pat or second-home-owning types who think that they are important and merit special treatment.

I can classify three types of tourist here Type A as mentioned above. Type B is the disco/beer-swilling/sunburned/fish-and-chip-or-whatever-the-national-dish-is-eating/here-to-have-a-good-time-and-might-as-well-be-in-a-simulation type (by no means restricted only to Brits, but they do form a majority). Type C (sorry to lump you all together, folks) come to explore the beauty and diversity of the island/hike/swim/dive/climb/snap/fly/learn-about-its-history/etc.

Type B are generally the most troublesome. Perhaps the beer money had run out with the delay, which made them more docile, but my observation was that on that, particular Wednesday Type A was by far worst behaved. Those who had suffered delays in the preceding week, and were looking for flights, crowded around the check-in desk, preventing ticket-holders from checking in, so that the queue took three times as long as normal (two hours for me) to do their business. Of course, had they stood back, as any intelligent person would have, they could have let us through, and ascertained much earlier whether or not they could get on the flight. Afterall, it was low season and the flight was far from fully-booked.

There were some extremely competent and charismatic people in the queue who attempted to explain to these ***holes, but bent as the ***holes were on their personal agendas and sense of self-importance they were having none of it.

Personally, I am not good in these situations. I am not easily riled by delays and such, but the stupidity and arrogance of the general public will do it every time, so when I a guy asked me if I would ever fly ******* Airlines again I lost it. Happily I lost it to sarcasm and not to anger, and retorted that I didn’t actually think that they were responsible for the eruption of a volcano x thousand of miles away. When he responded that they should be better organized I pointed out that nothing like this had ever happened in the history of aviation before, so how could they know how to respond. Clearly the staff were doing their best. My heart went out to them. Anyone who has ever worked in client relations/customer service will know where I’m coming from!

The flight was delayed two hours (by those ***holes? I will never know!) but fine, and given the circumstances a minor miracle. Free food, just like the old days! The crew I have to compliment on their unfailing cheerfulness and good manners, which must have been difficult in the circumstances.

The only criticism I have of the episode is the delay in luggage arrival at London/Gatwick. OK. My perception was that it was quiet, given the gradual return to normal of flying in Europe, and maybe there were problems I didn’t understand, so no formal complaints.

I was in bed at 3 instead of 1, as planned, but, then, the best laid plans of mice and men!

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The Armas ferry leaving at sunset tonight, taken from our little front balcony.  I have watched these boats coming and going so often over the last, eight months, if not into the sunset, then into the fresh, steely, early morning, or ploughing through the white caps of a churning sea.  I never, ever watch without a tugging at my heart to be on one of them.  Maybe a journey to another island is not so far, or maybe it could be the first of a thousand steps of a new journey in life.

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Winter’s here

Winter arrived today, such as it is here on the South of the island.  We have been teased a little in recent weeks by days of low cloud, but the promise of rain never materialized, although the North was hit by a bad storm some weeks back. Even now the sun finds chinks to peek through.

When rain comes to the South it comes in heavy, sharp waves, hardly ever as a gentle mist, and when it comes after a long, dry stretch, which is what happens at some stage most winters, it washes away months and months of accumulated dust and muck.  Roads and walkways become rivers for a time, and much of that muck is deposited wherever a temporary watercourse ends, on roads, and beaches and sidewalks.  It’s a while now since we had rain that heavy for long enough to have that effect, whether climate change is the cause I don’t know, but although we’ve had heavy rain, like the hail storm last Xmas Eve, it hasn’t lasted very long.  Even in times when it has been that bad, within days the sun has been drying everything out within days, which is maybe why our memories of floods and ensuing problems are so short here.

Sitting at the window I can see a pigeon perched on top of a cactus, preening itself in the weak sunshine.  Meanwhile, the palm trees and yuccas, which dominate the rest of the communal garden, toss in a stiff breeze.  The last, hard shower was about a half hour ago, and already the pathways are dry.

I composed that sentence in my head, and then I thought how exotic it might sound to someone shivering in a colder climate, with the long winter still ahead.  Yet thoughts of snow or the vibrant, Autumn trees of the English Lake District or the delights of cities like Madrid or New York seem just as exotic to me.

We can become just as jaded with life anywhere in the world.  For those who love to travel time to move on creeps up, or hits like a tornado out of the blue eventually, no matter what the delights of where you happen to be.  It hits no less that you are lolling on a Pacific beach than if you are toiling away a Northern twilight in an overheated office.  The thing that matters is the change, that stimulation of mind and body which places and customs and people less familiar bring.

Storm clouds gathering over the harbor mouth in Los Cristianos.

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Of Cancelled Flights, Ruined Hairdos and Uncomfortable Airports

Beggars can’t be choosers, right? Right! Maybe it was foolish to think I could spend an eleven hour stopover, which spanned the wee small hours, studying to try to finish the paper I should have handed in the previous Tuesday. The four hour flight from Tenerife lulled me into thinking everything was possible. I studied. I stayed awake. I arrived in Dublin on time. So far, so good.

I wandered around Dublin airport at 2 am looking for a place to park myself and study some more. Now, I hope none of my Irish friends will take this personally, but Dublin airport is NOT designed for comfort. It is, apparently, designed for DIScomfort. Unless I missed some comfy corner somewhere, and apart from the couches in Starbucks, which were already strewn with bodies, there was nowhere, save hard or metallic chairs to park my, by then, weary bones. I toyed with a Starbucks and a scone. I fell asleep over my books, despite the lack of comfort, and after wandering around some more, decided to try the departure lounge. “You’re very early, aren’t you” said the checker as I presented my passport. I explained my hopes of finding somewhere to rest and he laughed…….my heart hit my toes. He was right.

It was around 4am. I gave up on the studies, and tried to read. I drank more coffee, I bought sandwiches which I didn’t eat. The sun rose. I bought chocolate, which I did eat. People drifted down to the gate. I stretched my legs, and returned to find no seating left, so I sprawled on the tiled floor, which turned out to be slightly warmer than the metal seats, more comfortable too, come to that.

11.30 arrived, surely they would be calling us to the gate very soon for the 12.30 take off, but, no, only an annoucement about a delay, and more news at 1.30. I walked some more. Bought another sandwich, which I did eat. Vainly tried to make out the rolling, Irish hills, of which I had heard so much amongst the heavy clouds, about which I heard just as much. Returned to the gate at 1.30.

A heavily accented announcement told us the flight was cancelled owing to a technical fault. No-one had understood much more than that, so we queued to get information from the staff. My fellow passengers being either American or Irish the queuing was good-natured, and the staff were charming. We should claim our luggage and proceed to a hotel which Aer Lingus had booked. We trekked across the airport, no more guidance, we asked each other if we were going in the right direction, we followed other people who looked as if they knew where they were going. At the luggage claim a nice man indicated vaguely that we should go upstairs to the check in area. The charming staff explained that we would be bussed to a nearby hotel, and take the same flight the next day.

This was where the niggles began to set in. They already KNEW that they could accommodate today’s passengers on tomorrow’s flight? It occured to me that the technical fault might be non-existent and that they had simply decided to cancel the flight for economic reasons. Maybe someone here who knows more about airlines than I do could confirm or deny that possibility for me?

We trekked again. In the pouring rain we followed a nice, young man, whose back displayed the words “Carlton Hotel Flight Delay Team” across several roads to the waiting bus. Drenched we handed over our baggage and climbed aboard to shiver whilst the rest of the passengers arrived. We arrived at the Carlton. We stood around in the pouring rain whilst our bags were unloaded (could the driver not have suggested that the people who arrived last got off first to collect their bags, so we didn’t have to crowd the narrow pavement, getting soaked as we waited for our first-loaded bags?) We checked in. The dour staff handed out keys and information about meals. All I could think about was a hot bath and sleep, but the information about tomorrow’s departure would not be available until after dinner.

Hot bath taken, and the idea of food not appealing, I popped down to check on departure. The dour staff informed me a bus would be there at 9am, so I ran back up and tucked myself in for the night at 9.30 pm. I slept the good sleep, woke in time, took a deep breath and did the best I could with my appearance. I had hoped to arrive in DC looking just the tiniest bit glam after an expensive session at the hairdressers, but the rain had put paid to that, so I went for the “pulled through a hedge backwards” look.

A couple of courtesy buses were waiting outside the hotel when I got downstairs. With no-one to confirm which one we were supposed to take, we made a best guess and heaved our bags into the hold. Waiting for the bus to set off I heard tales about the awful food, and thanked god I’d opted for rest over sustenance. I shivered in the early morning cold and drizzle. I hadn’t figured on a prolonged stay in colder climes, and stupidly I didn’t have warm enough clothing!

Eventually we arrive at the airport. Check in is smooth enough, but no apology nor compensation is offered. The delicious 18 Euro sandwich and smoothie I have for breakfast bucks me up. Satisfyingly, a lady approaches me who is doing market research for the airport, so I can vent my feelings about its awfulness. I check in with the world via Facebook, and, after another half hour camped out on the airport floor we are boarding. Being in the first economy class seats I glimpse the more-or-less empty first class and fantasize about being upgraded to make up for the inconvenience, but it ain’t happening.

Take off time arrives. Ding, Dong. “This is your Captain speaking…..we have a computer problem…..excuse the delay……Ding, Dong…..”the computer is still playing up, we have to reboot, this will entail you sitting for 20 minutes without air con. We do apologize, but without this computer we are going no-where”………thank the gods for a pleasant travelling companion. We chat. We bite nails and we wait. Ding, Dong. “The computer has successfully rebooted we will shortly be on our way.”………and at last we are. We hold our breath as the plane climbs through the clouds, but as it levels out we relax, the waiting around is all behind us.

The flight is fine. I have a nice and interesting fellow traveller, and a good book. The time passes well, and eventually we can spot the Washington Monument as we cruise into Dulles. The only problem now is that half the world appears to be arriving at the same time, but after sitting still for seven hours, standing around for another hour doesn’t seem quite so bad.

Still, I am here, and off to my first baseball game!


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