Saturday, 28 March 2020

A life online

This leads on for my previous post about Instagram. Now, I can do only one operation per day before I am blocked for another 24 hours. I can't even join an artist who has "liked" me before getting the dreaded message about protecting the community. So today, I put up my 5 new pictures of Cadaqués and Port Lligat which I painted at the request of Josep at Ad Mundi, the gift shop in Girona Train Station. Of course, the shop is closed and I will have little opportunity to sell my cards for quite some time. And, being my first action today, the pictures have "stuck". One artist commented on my profile that the same thing happened to her when she joined and she said just to be patient. I can see that what I did was slightly different from the majority of people who join Instagram.

Well I am in no great hurry. I wanted to put some of my existing photos on Instagram, which I have now done, but my main objective was to paint with the theme of the coronavirus, so I will let the annoying algorithm at Instagram calm down a bit. It obviously thinks I am a robot of some kind. Obviously it is not a very smart algorithm because it is obvious that I am a genuine artist. But I guess they get thousands of bogus entries every day on account of it being so huge. I did write a note to them but what hope of a human actually reading it?

So where are my ideas going? As I said before, I want to paint positive images, to show the coronavirus being defeated. I have lots of ideas but one idea came to mind as I was doodling with images of weird machines producing an antidote. I have two books of pictures by two famous artists of the 20th Century, Rowland Emett and Heath Robinson. I actually joined the Rowland Emett Society in the UK a couple of years ago. I have, "The Early Morning Milk Train" by Emett and "Wonderful Contraptions and Extraordinary Inventions" by Heath Robinson, both of which I bought on Amazon. Of course, Emett went on to build many of his machines, and the trains which carried people around The Festival of Britain in 1951 were his designs.

So, one of my ideas is to paint wonderful machines to defeat the virus. But I have many other ideas. I joined Pinterst too.

My life is online now! I actaally feel calmer these days. Maybe social interaction is stressful for me, I often thought so. Staying for an extra beer at the bar, and then not sleeping well. Meeting people and talking is actually an effort for me. It is enjoyable most of the the time but it doesn't come naturally. To create words, even in my own language, requires an effort of concentration and I am sure it is not like that for everyone.


As a reminder, my account at Instagram is http://www.instagram.com/steve.meza.es
 
My online name normally is steve.meza but that was already taken on Instagram, so I added the .es!

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Attempting to join Instagram

When I got back, I decided what to do next, faced with many hours at home. I am an artist now, previously an electronics engineer - I often joke about "changing the chip in my head". I thought it would be a wonderful idea to create positive images about the coronavirus in art, about defeating it rather than being trapped by it. I did a search in Google, looking for other artists with the same ideas but to no avail. I tweaked the keywords. I came across an American, David Goodsell who is a scientist but also an artist. Here is his website. He paints wonderfully detailed pictures of viruses.

https://ccsb.scripps.edu/goodsell/

I wrote to him with my ideas about bringing together artists to create positive images about the pandemic but, so far, I haven't received a reply. But I did write that, if he thought that my ideas were a little crazy, then there was no need to reply.
I went back to Google and finally found this. Exactly what I was looking for!

https://www.politico.eu/interactive/drawing-our-new-normal/

Most of the artists are professional graphic designers, I guess that Politico looked up a database. I opened up an account in Instagram and loaded the artists as contacts. Then I hit lots of problems. It is strange, I guess my brain must be wired differently. Billions of people sign up to Instagram and also Facebook without problems but I really cannot get on well with either of them. To me, they are like bossy schoolteachers. I guess I made two mistakes. One was to log in with my computer because my screen is much larger, but Instagram is really organised around the phone (although it does allow log-in from a PC). The other mistake was to start off by uploading about 10 or 11 of my paintings in order to get started. Every time I logged in with my computer, I got the same warning email message that "..someone is logging in from Girona...". But they could see that it was the same computer each time. I created a second account to test the system. After uploading my 10 pictures, later in the day, I tried uploading a further single picture. Every time, after about 10 minutes, it was removed, either by a person or by some fiendish algorithm.

This morning, I tried again. The image stayed for about an hour, a record! So I tried to edit it by writing a commentary. This was refused, but this time I received  a message saying that my account was blocked for 24 hours to prevent damage to the users of Instagram. It was a painting of a cathedral! And then the image was taken down again.

My account is at http://www.instagram.com/steve.meza.es

I always knew that I was a little weird but not that weird. For much of my professional life, I wrote software and the part that took the most time was taking account of the the person who was using the software and the mistakes they could make. It is called "error-trapping". Making software function was relatively easy if one discounted the human element. But It appears to me that there is little or no error-trapping in the software of Instagram. If you make a mistake, your only recourse is to go to Google and do a search for, "why is Instagram deleting my posts?" because one gets dumped with no message to say what went wrong. And there are very many such links!

To me, this is lazy programming. I will wait 24 hours because my project is to paint new pictures and that will take more than 24 hours. But, really... I suppose I am on a different planet. When I wrote software, it attempted to have good manners! If the user did something wrong, it always gave them a way back. But to be really honest, sometimes it was the Reset button!


Update, 27th March. I managed to upload the image of Rainy Day in Girona after the block was lifted. I tried to add a description and was immediately blocked again for 24 hours.The question now is whether the image remains (with its original caption which is simply the title of the painting). Why are they so convinced that I am a bot? Or, more to the point, why are they being so thoroughly unpleasant?

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Trapped in Fuerteventura by the Coronavirus

I guess it is about a month ago that I came on holiday here in Fuerteventura with my friend Orlinda. She had 2 weeks holiday and was very keen on coming to the Canary Islands. I looked at flights between 11th and 21st Feburary (or 10th to 20th). Even at this time there were rumblings of problems in Europe about the coronavirus, a single case in La Gomera. I made a chart showing flights to various islands, some were cheap to go but expensive to return. In the end I decided on Fuerteventura and bought the flights - outgoing on Ryanair and returning with Vueling. I booked the whole period in Caleta Fuste because I thought it would make a good central base, I had seen the resort publicised in the RENFE rail magazine but in fact it was full of English tourists. Many of the people working in the bars were English and in fact some of them only spoke English.

I wanted to add a photo of Orlinda but I can't find a decent one from the holiday.
Here she is in the Rambla in Girona.

I booked a "casita" which is the normal type of holiday residence here, a chalet. It was excellent value for money at €40 a night, but later I found casitas even cheaper. The weather was not brilliant, especially when we went to Coralejo which is right in the north of the island. The sky was cloudy with a  brisk north wind. Worst, we argued about something or other which made for an unhappy day. Things looked up when we decided to take the bus to Morro Jable in the far south of the island. When the time came to take the bus back at 3.45pm, neither of us wanted to return to windy Caleta Fuste so I looked up hotels and found Blue Sea at €60 for the night. But we were not prepared to stay the night, nether of us had our passports and I had my NIE which doesn't include a photo, so it is not a real ID. A NIE is my certificate to show that I am resident in Spain. But this was not acceptable to the rather scholl-mistressy receptionist. So she phoned the Guarda Civil. She asked us to wait for a few moments, I though that it was in order to prepare the rooms but all of a sudden, two police arrived on motor-bikes, went up to reception and then came over to speak to us. We had a pleasant conversation, I explained how we liked Morro Jable so much and finally they relented and allowed us to check-in on the strength of my NIE. A few seconds later, a police car pulled up but I guess their colleagues explained that all had been settled.

The following night, I offered to go back to Caleta Fuste to collect our essential items, incluing our passports of course and Orlinda could stay in Morro Jable if she paid for her room. I lent her €100. I guess Blue Sea was fully booked for the second night but Orlinda was busy chatting on her phone to a pension just up the road. I took the last bus back at 3.45 and when I got back, we chatted on WhatsApp. She was on the beach and very happy. Next morning I went back at 9.15, arriving around 11. Orlinda had slept very badly but it was not a surprise, the pension was very cheap! Some of the time, Blue Sea was fully booked so we ended up in a huge luxurious hotel slightly out of the centre beyond the lighthouse. Again, it did not comprise rooms but lots of small casitas on a hill. In the evening we had supper in the restaurant which was excellent. We went to the terrace at the top of Robinson Hotel and took loads of photos. I walked into the pool because it was not lit. But it was only 10cm deep so I didn't fall in, but it was a shock all the same! (You can see a photo of that pool later in this post). We spent happy times on the beach, I discovered a section of beach which was more "free" than the main section but since most tourists were German, we often saw people nude. Orlinda didn't join me. But Caleta Fuste was strictly not nude, very English!  But here is the link to my second holiday. And the second link was that, in a way, we had discovered "Colombia" but only three hours away. Maybe I could buy a small flat here. I have left out many details of our holiday because I wanted to tell you about how the coronavirus gradually took over my second visit to Fuerteventura and how I almost ended up living in the street. I am writing this section before I actually return to the Peninsula so I will write about that when I am back home which hopefully will be tomorrow. But I am getting ahead of myself.

When we returned to Girona, Orlinda went back to work and I sent €70 to a company in Italy to place an order for paper for my greetings cards but they were slow in seeing the payment and, by the time they told me to send the shipping agent, it was too late because I had booked a flight to go back to Fuerteventura on the 7th March. So I told them to hang onto the paper until I got back. But by this time the storm was brewing, especially in Italy. In a way, I was foolish to go away but I felt safe in that the Canary Islands are part of Spain, I wasn't going abroad. But little did I know how huge the crisis would become and how that the islands of Spain were effectively cast off from the Peninsula as if they were a foreign country. As you can possibly gather, I will have a long wait for that paper and in any case, I now have little opportunity to sell my cards as the shops are now closed of course.

But I have always been a little gung-ho! I had been depressed and bored for several months. I took many weeks to complete new designs for Ad Mundi, the shop in Girona Railway Station. I thought that if I went away again, I would get more inspiration. So on Saturday 7th March I went back to Fuerteventura on a cheap one-way ticket. The photo below is in Fuerteventura Beach Club in Caleta Fuste. This was the first time I wore a dress in public, it was lots of fun. Many people think that I am gay but it is not so. There is a big difference between how one feels inside and the people one is attracted to. I love women, I guess that makes me lesbian!


I spent 2 nights in Caleta Fuste before heading for my true destination, Morro Jable. I had taken a light dress to experiment with, meaning I would try wearing it in public. I took one or two photos by the pool but gradually gained courage and started walking around in it. It gave me a great sense of freedom. Those of you who know me know that a large part inside me is female. Often I wear all-female clothes but it is not obvious because they would be trousers and a top. In the summer I can wear female sandals because they fit perfectly. Obviously I never attempt to pass myself off as a woman. That is not important.



On the second day, I took the bus to Morro Jable where I had already reserved an apartment at Blue Sea. I will call it an apartment because there is a small kitchen and a living area in addition to the bedroom. I had a wonderful few days there, I went to my favourite beach every day, I went swimming. 







I took this photo as I thought it would make an interesting painting. 

Twice in the evening I went to "Sundowner" at the roof bar of Robinson wearing a dress. It is a popular event. The first time I went, when I was with Orlinda, I only had short trousers as we were not expecting to stay the night and they insisted on long trousers which I went out and bought. But no problem if I am wearing a dress, the gate-keeper let me in without hesitation! When I went with Orlinda it was later and dark and all the people were having their supper.

I met some German tourists, Robinson was 100% German-occupied I think, and they invited me back the following night. I was a little bit cheeky because after everyone had gone down to supper, I wandered into the pool area at ground level. There was music and young girls smartly dressed offering champagne and tapas. They beckoned to me to enter but of course I was not resident in the hotel. But I like music, it was great fun, so I went in. Afterwards I wandered into the restaurant. The buffet was huge and spectacular. Hehe, I was tempted for a moment..... Noo, not really, I went back to Blue Sea for my more modest supper.






But then Pedro Sanchez made the declaration of emergency and all of that stopped. The staff in the hotel wore face-masks and, of course, we could only go out to the supermarket or pharmacy. I don't use a face-mask, I have studied in detail how they can help and in a normal environment for a person who is not infected, there is little danger. The dangers as I understand it are either droplets directly from an infected person, or from surfaces where the virus can exist for quite some time. So I became very careful about keeping my distance and regularly washing my hands if I had been touching public spaces. The normal open air does not pose a risk as I understand it. In any case, now I am at home all day and go out maybe every other day.

It was 10th March that I thought that I should book a flight home. It wasn't really about the virus, I was still quite relaxed in the knowledge that I was in Spain and all the flights appeared to be normal. I booked the regular Vueling flight on Wednesday 18th March. On 14th March the State of Emergency was declared. On the 16th, Vueling cancelled my flight on 18th. It offered me 19th, this quickly changed to 21st, then to next Wednesday. But the State of Emergency didn't prohibit flights to and from the Canary Islands. So I assumed it was for economical motives. They still continued to fly to Gran Canaria. Then I booked a flight with Ryanair for Friday 20th but on the 18th, that was cancelled. As at the time of writing, I have been unable to obtain a refund or a response from Ryanair. Vueling have given me a credit note to be used later in the year if things relax a bit. Well, it will be next winter before I can travel again, for sure. (I added this later..... from home, I just found a page on the Ryanair website where I could request a refund and it accepted both my claims and I printed out the subsequent forms.)

On the morning of Thursday 19th I woke early in a panic. I was still in Morro Jable, people were leaving the hotel in droves and they were talking about closing. All the staff were wearing face masks which made the situation even more scary. I checked out at 6am and walked to the bus stop in a raging storm. But fortunately at that point it was not raining but it was sure blowing! The bus came at 6.30, there were two other passengers. The driver was a young woman but she was driving very fast and I could feel the bus being pushed around by the wind. It was dark. I connected my seat-belt. I decided to go to the airport but obviously I had no flight. Technically this was breaking the law. But I was very fortunate to do so. It was early, around 8am and the large crowds were to come later for their return flights on package tours. I sat in the airport dejected. In total, my flights had been cancelled 6 times. One couple in the hotel in Morro Jable had taken the ferry to Gran Canaria and had booked the Vueling flight from there. I though of doing the same but much later, I heard that the  Vueling flight had been cancelled. I kept my faith with Fuerteventura. 

I was wandering around the airport aimlessly watching the huge queues building at the check-ins for flights to the UK and Germany. I looked at the departure board. The only flight showing cancelled was the daily Vueling flight. And then I passed a group of young people speaking Spanish. OK, I know this is Spain but most people travelling were Brits or Germans... a few French. No flights to the Peninsula of Spain. I joined the group because I was very conscious of being alone. They had created a WhatsApp group called "Españoles sin retorno", and were obviously in the same boat as me. 


I quickly supplied my phone number. Most had either been let down by Vueling or Ryanair (in my case, both). It is not fair that an airline can simply cancel a flight with no consideration for its clients who are on an island with no alternative way to get home. Our mantra was, We want to return home. Or maybe it is the responsibility of the government. This group was my life-saver. Some of them were sleeping in the airport but I couldn't face that, so after chatting for a while and my promising to stay in touch, I headed back to Caleta Fuste to find a roof for the night. I found a hotel in Booking.com and stayed just one night. They have a super restaurant, normally full of British tourists, so I had my supper there rather than attempt to cook in the casita. Next day I went back to the airport early because the group were being interviewed on local TV and they wanted as many people there to back up our claim. Some of them had bought a huge strip of paper and a can of spray-paint for the camera. Again, technically I was not travelling home as there was no hope of a flight and I was getting very anxious. One or two people were making their own arrangements, for example going to Gran Canaria. I found a flight with Iberia Express for the following Thursday and booked that. Iberia was the only airline allowed to fly into Fuerteventura from the Peninsula. 

I went back to Caleta Fuste again and found another hotel made up of casitas which, after much pushing, agreed to rent me a casita until Thursday. I was on the point of paying for the rental when I received a phone call from the tourist office. They had organised a charter flight for Sunday at €185, was I interested? "Of course", I replied, cursing that I had so little faith and had booked the Iberia flight on Thursday. But one has to appreciate the permanent state of anxiety I had been in for the past few days, with the real threat of having no roof over my head. I rapidly changed my booking in the casita to 2 days. The Iberia flight cost me €180 and is non-refundable but they will give me a credit note for use, up to a year in the future. I was pleasantly surprised to receive a credit note for the whole of my last period of 7 days in Blue Sea which amounted to €350 which I can spend in any of their hotels in Spain. I left  in a hurry after 3 days but the credit was for 7 days. 



So I sent an email to El Corte Inglés in Puerto del Rosario as instructed by the tourist office and in return I received a link to a payment page. A few hours later I received a  form online, a bono, as my ticket. 


This was the programme recorded by the local TV station.
The group also got exposure on national TV.

The casita was very nice but one of the hot-plates in the kitchen tripped the electrical supply so my cooking possibilities were very limited. I was hungry, so I went back to the super restaurant and asked if I could eat there despite not being resident. As it happens, I left quite a generous tip the previous night and they welcomed me the second time. They had a huge buffet counter and probably threw away a lot of it after they closed. It was €18 including unlimited beer and wine. This particular evening was a real low point because at the end  of my meal, one of the waiters introduced me to two Spanish guys and a young woman. I told them about the group and the charter flight. I suggested they joined the group. I did ask in a way whether they could join but I let them anyway. Maybe I broke the protocol of WhatsApp groups, I don't know. But he was full of false news. He said that Madrid would be completely blocked (which of course was not true). He wrote various things on the group and then, before I knew it, he had left the group. So... not a nice person. I felt bad. Then the manager of the hotel came up behind me and remonstrated with me for using his precious restaurant when I was not a resident. He said that he would be liable to a fine (as would I). I said that I had asked permission. Technically he was right of course, but I wanted some decent food. So, by now, I felt doubly bad. But as I left, the waiter who I had spoken to before waved me on with a big smile. I didn't have to pay. But I slept very badly that night, all on account of the false news from this guy and feeling rather guilty about using the restaurant.

The following day, Saturday I didn't go to the airport. I went to the bank to get some cash and visited the supermarket. I had a really nice supper with wine, it was a chilled chicken curry which I heated in the microwave oven. It was rather like a good airline meal. I went to bed really early in excitement about the next day. Was I really going home? 

I am writing this last part on the high-speed train back to Girona so everything has worked out well. I arrived at the airport at about 7.30. I rescued a damsel in distress. I helped a young Italian woman who was at risk of missing the flight. She was asking people in a panic at about 9am about the link to pay for the flight! Wow, that was a little late. The group she was talking to drifted off to check in at the other end of the airport. She went to the Information desk but they did not know about it. Somehow by magic, the page appeared on her phone. But now she wasn't sure if she had enough money in her account. "I have the cash", she said. The web-page rejected her card. So we used mine and she gave me €185 in cash. She still had a lot of difficulty checking in because it was so late and they didn't have her name but, finally she got through. In fact she was taking an onward flight to Italy, I have forgotten where. But she said the same as me, there is no more secure place in the whole of Europe than Fuerteventura. She was staying in an Airbnb residence and the proprietor suggested that she stayed longer. But in the end, she came to the same conclusion as me, that we had to get out.

The flight left about 25 minutes early. Of course, when the plane arrived in Fuerteventura - it was an Iberia Express A320 - it was empty, it had come to take us home. Obviously on the plane were many people who were not part of the group, who had seen the announcement from the tourist office. I hope I would have done the same. As you can imagine, there was a huge cheer as the aircraft started rolling down the runway and there was a count-down and cheer as we touched down in Madrid.


We were all together at the back as you can see.

I had already booked a train at 4.30 but I could see in the RENFE app that there was one at 2.30. I wasted a lot of time at the airport looking for trains when I should have gone straight for the taxi rank, although the taxi fare was €30. The flight was well under 3 hours and we had left early but I didn't really know how long it would take to get to the train station of Puerta de Atocha. Finally I took a taxi and the driver flew along the motorways at high speed, obviously there was very little traffic. I hesitated changing my ticket on my phone till I was sure we would make it, which we did with 10 minutes to spare. So, that is where I am now, somewhere between Zarragoza and Barcelona, due to arrive in Girona at 6.15.

 I added some photos at home and now it is published!

Saturday, 17 August 2019

My Brother's Keeper

"My brother's keeper" is an old saying which derives from the story of Cain and Abel in the Old Testament but I thought about it yesterday!
I was in Cadaqués taking photos for my greetings cards (I will turn them into paintings). 


I was walking along a path several metres above the sea when I came across one of many restaurants but, being British, I immediately noticed that one guy's chair was perilously close to the edge - there was no protecting wall, nothing, just a sheer drop of several metres onto rocks. I spoke to the waiter and suggested it was a little dangerous. His reply was my least favourite saying in Spanish, "Es lo que hay". I persevered and spoke to the family group. They were French and were very receptive to my faltering French, they were relaxed and happy. The man's response was similar to the waiter's which surprised me because I imagined the French as being a little more like the English. We joked about it, I attempted to say, "I guess it makes life more exciting" in response to their saying more or less the same, but I couldn't remember the word in French. They helped me out, "excitant". I left with good relations abounding but I didn't go back that way.


But I cannot help myself, this is the way I am. Most people's response would be the same as the waiter's and just walk by with a (gallic, because Cadaques was full of French visitors) shrug of the shoulders. But I think, in general, the Brits are more aware of risks, sometimes too much so. But some things I see here, especially at the railway crossing at my local station, scare me. I have given up trying to warn RENFE that to sound the train horn when it is only 50m from the crossing is somewhat too late. It should be ten times that.

My view of the human race is not to walk away but to consider that we are all connected in some way and that we should say something if we see a dangerous situation.
It is funny, because I also said something in the bus between Figueres and Cadaqués, where other people may have turned a blind-eye. There were two young girls about 24 obviously in love with each other in the seat diagonally in front of me. The aisle seat was even reclined to enable the passionate kissing. I said, "Por favor", and they stopped. The girl by the window was obviously the more passionate of the two, to put it politely. Soon they were at it again. I wasn't going to move for sure. I suggested they move to the rear seat of the bus if they wanted to do it. I said that it was "maleducado" which means "impolite", that it was OK to do it in private of course, but not in public. I said that it was the same for heterosexuals also, I wasn't commenting because they were two girls. Sorry, hehe, I don't have a photo!


Here is the great man himself! I took many photos, looking for different angles. There were lots of people in Cadaqués and at one point I was regretting coming here in August as the bus crept forwards in the traffic queue entering the town. But I'm glad I went. If the mood takes me, it would be a shame to wait. 
I had arrived by taking the regular train to Figueres and there was a 30 minute wait for the bus (in fact a little longer because its arrival was delayed by 15 minutes). The journey was rather tedious (enlivened by the two girls) because it went into Roses on its way to Cadaqués.
I felt sorry for my friends who had Thursday off because it was a holiday. It was cloudy and it rained in Girona. And here, the following day the sky was blue again as you can see.
On the return, I took a bus at 5pm directly to Girona which would have arrived at the bus station at 7pm. But, as it was approaching Hospital Trueta, I calculated that the bus leaving for Celrà at 6.40 would soon pass by in the opposite direction. So I jumped off the bus at the hospital, crossed the road, and 5 minutes later, the bus to Celrà arrived. I though that was pretty cool! If I had gone all the way to the bus station, I would have arrived back home an hour later.
Here are a few photos but I took loads more.






Thursday, 20 June 2019

Travelling to France

Sunday 26th May was a turning point for me because the build-up to the local elections had been making me feel stressed. So I decided to go away! And I always write about my travels here because so many things happen, quirky things, things that make me laugh... and cry (not literally!)
France is a one hour train journey for me and it costs me €3. Imagine the poor Brits living in the UK who have to embark on a sea voyage or a journey under the sea. Admittedly, my €3 only gets me as far as Cerbère but then an 8am train from Celrà connects to the French equivalent, the TER, which leaves Cerbère for Avignon at 9.37am with stops at Perpignan and Narbonne. I am bored with Perpignan and I wanted to escape the politics of independence for Catalonia, and Perpignan is very "catalan", with its name spelt in both languages on the station.
from El Punt Avui

This is the dream of Òmnium and Jordi Cuixart, the reunification of the old kingdom of Catalonia which includes what is now part of France, Valencia and the Balearic Islands. Make no mistake, independence for Catalonia is only the start!

So I decided to go on to Narbonne which is, I think... I hope, outside the plans of Omnium! One thing that annoys me greatly about SNCF is that now they have made the tickets for the TER, non-refundable and non-changeable. But it is their basic train service, like Regionales in Spain. It is like Ryanair, but even they allow a period of grace to change mistakes. So I have to be sure that the Spanish train is on-time before I commit myself to buying the French rail ticket. But if I leave it too late, I may not get a signal for my phone. "Well, then, buy it in Cerbère station", I hear you say. Not possible. The ticket office is closed till 9.45am and the ticket machine has been removed. On this occasion, before 26th May, I waited till I could speak to the ticket collector before buying my ticket but, this being France, he charged me the penalty fare of €12. I tried to use my phone to buy the ticket but just as I was about to enter the CVV code, the train went into a tunnel. When I tried again, the app no longer recognised the journey because it had already started. Normally the fare, with my Carte Senior is €8. So this was not too big a sacrifice.

When I arrived in Narbonne, I discovered that the track to Toulouse, where I had considered going, was closed due to works. Then I received a message from my political group that there was a meeting next day. So I caught the next train back to Spain!


Next time in France, I decided to stay in Toulouse for one night. I really want to improve my French and visiting France is one great way to do it. This time I was smarter and bought my Cerbère to Toulouse ticket in advance. It was about €19 with my Carte Senior. It is much more expensive at €50 than my Spanish rail-card (€5) but well worth the price.


I stayed in Ibis Budget near to the station but it is very-budget! There was a noise from the lift which was very annoying. I thought it was furniture being moved and only realised in the morning the true cause. Although I take the slow train going to France, when it comes to late afternoon, the choice for the return is easy. The connection at Port Bou is not very good and there is a Spanish AVE from Lyon which stops at Narbonne. But Perpignan to Girona is expensive at €33 and there is no senior discount. So to take that AVE is expensive.... but very cool! I am back in Girona just before 7pm and I can take a train or bus to Celrà at 7pm.

I just got back from my third trip to France in 3 weeks, I spent 2 nights at Ibis very-Budget in Toulouse after they replied to my complaint about the noise from the lift and offered me a discount.

This time, I had a bigger disaster with my ticket for the TER on Monday 17th. (Really! One cannot describe €19 as a disaster. Ed.) I had to wait to see if the Spanish train was on time to Cerbère before buying it (remember, I cannot buy it at the station). It was early in the morning and I was hardly awake. The previous day, I had booked the AVE for Wednesday from Perpignan to Girona in advance - it was only €22. Unfortunately, the OUI website for SNCF defaults to the day after the previous booking so when I bought my ticket for the TER (Cerbère to Toulouse), I accidentally bought it for Thursday (today, as I write this, back home). No refund, no change!! I had to write off the €19 and start again when I realised my mistake. Aha, this is a useful source of revenue for SNCF I think. French rail-travellers also must be angry with SNCF for making the rules so draconian for their basic means of rail transport.



Narbonne is very interesting historically. So I spent a lot of time browsing the streets between trains. I found a butcher and bought a tranche d'agneau, almost a complete leg of lamb and took it back on the train. I found another butcher, a halal butcher. I had to check what "halal" means. I knew that it meant that the animal is not stunned before being killed. I learnt that a prayer is said, which made me feel a little better about it. I feel slight unease about eating meat in general, especially beef but I will never go vegetarian. It is how things are. Many animals eats other animals! But obviously I am happier if I know that the animals haven't been cooped up in cages for their short lives.


Yesterday, on my way home, I bought some lamb chops and a couple of bottles of wine.

So, my final part of this post is about my most recent visit to Toulouse. Having lost €19 on my way there, I checked into the Ibis very-Budget and then took a walk around town. I have a bus and rail card from last time but one can walk to many places. On my first night, I was disturbed by neighbours arriving back in their room at 12.30am. I cursed and finally got back to sleep. The second night, I was not disturbed by neighbours but unfortunately I had left the TV remote control on the bed and as it hit the floor after sliding off the bed at 4am, I woke with a start. It took me almost an hour to get back to sleep!

I could tell you about the places I visited, the parks, the long tree-lined avenues but my motive for writing a blog is to write about the strange and quirky things that happened. So this post is all about train journeys and disturbed sleep! 

SNCF has a greater confidence in the punctuality of its trains than I do! Twice now, I have caught an earlier train from Toulouse to Narbonne in order to wait for the Spanish AVE. That leaves me with an hour in Narbonne which is no great hardship. But if I were to buy a single ticket from Toulouse to Barcelona on the SNCF website, I would be given a later train to Narbonne which arrives 5 minutes before the AVE. I thought this was rather tight but twice, I sat on Narbonne station and watched the TER arrive from Toulouse and about 100 people took the tunnel under the platform to take the AVE which arrived almost instantly! For sure it would wait, I thought. But for how long?

On my way back on Wednesday, I received my answer. The TER was 10 minutes late and the AVE was on time. And it did not wait! I watched for the TER coming down the track from Toulouse but never saw it. I am glad I was not the person to explain to the passengers that they just missed their connection. There was another AVE to Barcelona an hour later, so providing there were seats, I suppose that was offered as a substitute. And maybe there were not so many people making the connection. But, really! A connection of 5 minutes?




On 6th June, the very first day of the swimming pool in Celrà, my bike was stolen. This is my old steel-frame Peugeot bike, not my modern carbon fibre bike. But all the same! It was parked outside the pool reception, locked but not attached to anything. As I have done for the past 4 years.  I was very annoyed as you can imagine but I only use it to commute to the pool in the summer so I replaced it with a scooter - €100 from Decathlon. It is not powered, of course. But I can whizz along to the pool more rapidly than walking which would be rather boring for the whole of the summer. The Peugeot bike was worth very little, but to me it had a great sentimental value. I bought it in London very many years ago.

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

My boat is launched!

Monday 25th
My nautical life has not been very distinguished! I have owned 3 boats in total. The first two were crazy and I wrote about number 2 in my "life blog". The first.... let us draw a veil over that! It was called a Mini-sail and I used to tow it down to the south coast (the UK, that is!) and float around Poole Harbour and various estuaries. Basically, it was a glorified surf-board with a sail. On account of not having a jib, I could never get close to the wind and often ended up "in irons" with the tiller pulled up hard against my chest. As I said, let's not talk about the Mini-sail, I wanted to tell you about my latest attempt at walking and floating to Medinyà.
While the plans for my bridge are being finalised (I wish that was true, it is still a fantasy), I decided that I would cross the mighty River Ter by water, so I bought an inflatable boat from Amazon for €35 and I also bought a life-jacket because I reckoned that maybe I would be alone in the event of needing a rescue. The life-jacket was about the same price as the boat!
Yesterday, I went to church at Madremanya, tonight I have my regular meeting with the PSC, the political group which I mentioned previously. And tomorrow and Wednesday, I want to watch the Volta Catalunya which comes through Celrà on Wednesday. That left a convenient window of opportunity to try out my boat! So I packed everything onto the smaller of my two sack-trolleys and headed off to the river. 


The weather has been more like summer during the past few days and today was sunny with a clear blue sky.
When I reached the river at the end of a long drive-way (you can see it in the second of the 2 photos above), I stopped and chatted with three guys who were clearing trees which were encroaching on power cables crossing the river. The river was barely flowing at all, the scene was balmy. I had joked earlier with a friend that maybe I should have launched it with a bottle of Cava (taking care not to break the bottle!) But it was 11am so a little too early for alcohol!
Two of the men came down to the river edge and helped me launch the boat and I jumped in! It is not a very stable form of transport but as soon as I remembered that I had to face the opposite direction (!), I started to row. This was chaotic! Every missed stroke caused the boat to swivel violently in that direction, it had no momentum of its own. I nearly lost one of the oars because it was screwed in the centre and that was coming loose. Maybe that explained why sometimes the oar was not catching the water.
I made it across to the river to a convenient little beach about 50m up-stream but that was not where I wanted to be. Because I had already been in the woods on the opposite side, I knew that the ideal landing spot was directly across the river but the bank was too steep to land. From the beach, I headed up through the undergrowth but it was thick with nettles and I was wearing plastic waterproof shoes and shorts. I grabbed a large stick and set about making a path up to the top of the incline, hoping that, at the top, I would break out into the path which I knew was there. It was not to be. As soon as I reached the top, I could see a further 5m of undergrowth and, in any case, this was not something I felt that I should clear. I headed back down to my boat and paddled across the river. It was idyllic! I will go further next time, this was just a trial run.
The shame is that, on the Medinyà side, there is no access to the river, so in the longer term, maybe I can talk to the Town Hall. The obvious place to cross is by the power pylons because the undergrowth is kept clear all the time and there is easy access to the path, but the bank on the Medinyà side is too steep to land.
The last photo shows where I dream of having a bridge, I have to go out now but tomorrow, I will draw the bridge in Photoshop and also add a Spanish commentary.






Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Dangerous (Peligroso - version español abajo)


This is a pedestrian crossing by the railway station in Girona. It crosses Carretera de Barcelona which is a long, straight road with two lanes of fast traffic in each direction. It is potentially dangerous because, when the traffic is stopped in one direction, it continues to flow in the other direction (from right to left in the photo) in order to let traffic turn left. This fools some people who, seeing the traffic waiting despite the little man being red, think it is OK to cross. This is not wise. The traffic is rapid. I will come back to the crossing in a moment....

This morning I went to Decathlon which is at the far end of Carretera de Barcelona in the south of the city, together with Bauhaus and MediaMarkt. I was looking for an inflatable dinghy with which to cross the Rio Ter (where ultimately my bridge will be built.... I hope!) The current flow is very slow at the moment so it would be an easy crossing and a typical dinghy is only about 4kg in weight. I have already seen many example in Amamzon.es but I thought I would find one in Decathlon. Unfortunately all they had was an inflatable canoe, much too big and heavy for me. What I had in mind was something like a coracle!

Right next to Decathlon is a McDonald's Cafe and I had a coffee and cookie there. I read a free copy of La Vanguardia and then headed back towards the centre of Girona. I was following the buses on my phone, which shows estimated arrival times so I arrived at the bus-stop in plenty of time.

At the bus-stop was a woman with a small wheelie suitcase in a state of panic. I think she had someone else with her, I'm not sure. The other person headed up the road, apparently looking for a bus stop. The woman was Brazilian and she asked in great anxiety about the bus, was it number 2? Yes, the bus-stop said number 2. I told her it was due to arrive in 4 minutes but it soon became apparent why she was panicking. She said she had to catch a train to Sevilla at 12.55 and I could see that time would be very short. I kept on reassuring her about the bus until it finally arrived... and passed directly by on the roundabout. It did not pass the bus-stop. Shock! She headed off down Carretera de Barcelona in panic in the same direction as the bus.

At this point I saw next to the bus times in the kiosk, a small map saying that, because the road was closed (not evident from where I was), the bus-stop had been moved and it showed the modified position 200m in the direction away from the city centre. I could see that the next bus was due in about 10 minutes, so I went and found the new bus-stop. Three kilometres into the city, we met up with my friend who was running frantically to catch the bus... "my" bus. I asked the driver to wait.

I could see by now that she had no chance of catching the train. She said it was to Barcelona but I thought, to get to Sevilla, one had to go to Madrid. She was in quite a state and I could see what was coming next. As we got off at the bus-stop for the station (to the left of the photo and on the other side of the road), I tried to get close to her to restrain her but she was too quick for me. She dashed up the road, crossed one carriageway diagonally, stopped in the middle with traffic passing in both directions and ran across to the other side. I was very shocked, that was so dangerous. Better to miss a train and not lose your life. Anyway, she was already too late.

I guess it took me about 2 hours to recover. I was shaking, as if I had just had a violent argument with someone. I spilt Coke on the table while having my lunch. I would have liked something stronger to calm my nerves but I have a meeting later today. 


I just sent this painting to my friend Marta in Ukraine!


On the subject of dangerous roads, this is my quickest route by road to the other side of the River Ter. Otherwise I have to go almost into Girona at Saría de Ter. Will I be riding down there? Nooo! In one direction, much of the traffic has just come off the autoroute. There is no escape and the shadows would obscure me. I didn't even start to think about going there, don't worry!


Esto es la ruta mas corta desde Celrà y otro lado del rio. Pero mucho demasiado peligroso para ir por la bici.


I just bought a boat! €35 including oars and the pump. So I can cross the river now, before my bridge is built. Because I will be on my own, I bought a life-jacket too. It was about the same price as the boat! It is very light and small when deflated, about 4kg, so it will be very easy to transport to the river.



Ahora en español

En la foto es un paso de peatones cerca de la estación de tren de Girona. Atraviesa la Carretera de Barcelona, ​​que es una carretera larga y recta con dos carriles de tráfico rápido en cada dirección. Es potencialmente peligroso porque, cuando el tráfico se detiene en una dirección, continúa fluyendo en la otra dirección (de derecha a izquierda en la foto) para permitir que el tráfico gire a la izquierda. Esto engaña a algunas personas que, al ver el tráfico esperando a pesar de que el hombrecito es rojo, piensan que está bien cruzar. Esto no es sabio. El tráfico es rápido. Regresaré al cruce en un momento ....

Esta mañana fui a Decathlon, que está al final de la Carretera de Barcelona, ​​junto con Bauhaus y MediaMarkt. Estaba buscando un barca inflable para cruzar el río Ter (donde finalmente se construirá mi puente ... ¡Espero!) El flujo de corriente es muy lento en este momento, por lo que sería un cruce fácil y una barca típico solo se trata de 4kg de peso. Ya he visto muchos ejemplos en Amamzon.es pero pensé que vería uno en Decathlon. Desafortunadamente, todo lo que tenían era una canoa inflable, demasiado grande y pesada para mí.

Justo al lado de Decathlon hay un McDonald's Café y yo tomé un café y una galleta allí. Leí una copia gratuita de La Vanguardia y luego volví hacia el centro de Girona. Estaba siguiendo los autobuses en mi teléfono, que muestra los tiempos de llegada estimados, así que llegué a la parada del autobús con suficiente antelación.

En la parada del autobús había una mujer con una pequeña maleta con ruedas en estado de pánico. Creo que ella tenía a alguien más con ella, no estoy seguro. La otra persona se dirigió a la calle, aparentemente buscando una parada de autobús. La mujer era brasileña y preguntó con gran ansiedad sobre el autobús, ¿era el número 2? Sí, la parada de autobús dijo el número 2. Le dije que debía llegar en 4 minutos, pero pronto se hizo evidente por qué estaba entrando en pánico. Ella dijo que tenía que tomar un tren a Sevilla a las 12.55 y pude ver que el tiempo sería muy corto. Seguí tranquilizándola sobre el autobús hasta que finalmente llegó ... y pasé directamente por la rotonda. No pasó la parada del autobús. ¡Choque! Ella bajó en pánico por la Carratera de Barcelona en la misma dirección que el autobús.

En este momento, vi junto a los horarios de los autobuses en el quiosco, un pequeño mapa que decía que, debido a que la carretera estaba cerrada (
No es evidente desde donde estaba), la parada de autobús se había movido y mostraba la posición modificada a 200m del centro de la ciudad. Pude ver que el próximo autobús saldría en unos 10 minutos, así que fui y encontré la nueva parada de autobús. A tres kilómetros de la ciudad, nos encontramos con mi amigo que corría frenéticamente para tomar el autobús ... "mi" autobús. Yo pedí al conductor que esperara.

Ya podía ver que ella no tenía oportunidad de tomar el tren. Dijo que era a Barcelona, ​​pero pensé que para llegar a Sevilla había que ir a Madrid. Estaba en mal estado y pude ver lo que venía a pasar cuando ella salio del bus. Cuando nos bajamos en la parada de autobús de la estación (a la izquierda de la foto y al otro lado de la carretera), traté de acercarme a ella para detenerla, pero ella fue demasiado rápida para mí. Corrió por la carretera, cruzó una calzada en diagonal, se detuvo en el medio con el tráfico pasando en ambas direcciones y corrió hacia el otro lado. Yo estaba en choque, era muy muy peligroso. Mejor perder un tren y no perder la vida. De todos modos, ella ya era demasiado tarde por su tren.

Faltaba unas 2 horas para recuperarme. Estaba temblando, como si acabara de tener una discusión violenta con alguien. Derramé mi bebida Cola sobre la mesa mientras almorzaba. Queria cerveza para calmarme per tengo un reunion mas tarde.