Wednesday 26 December 2018

Ukraine Part 2

I hope you are keeping up with this! At 8am on Wednesday 19th December, I arrived back  at Kyiv Airport after a 6 hour flight from Dubai desperate for a bed. Ligena Hotel to the rescue! I had booked a room during the day because I had decided to visit Marina in Kharkiv, then return to see Marta before returning to Spain. The hotel shuttle soon arrived and after breakfast I crashed into bed and slept about 2 hours, but very deeply. So, by the time I was ready to catch my flight to Kharkiv at 3pm, I felt fine. 
The actual flight time is about 40 minutes, Marina was working so I took an airport taxi to Hotel19 which is where I always stay when in Kharkiv. Marina came to see me later and we had a meal in the restaurant. Although part of the same organisation, the restaurant operates separately. Unfortunately, Marina left a plastic bag with her school books in the restaurant (she also teaches English) and we had a very difficult time getting it back. Next morning Marina asked if they had found it. Reply: no. On the morning of my departure next day, having checked with a taxi driver that she didn't leave it in his car, she asked again whether they had found her bag. The answer again was no. She left her phone number in case they found it. In the taxi going back to the airport, she received a phone call. Someone had taken it up to the hotel reception, not telling anyone. Obviously they realised whose bag it was because I was resident in the hotel. I never though to ask reception in the hotel as they are quite separate. To add insult to injury, two chocolate bars which were in the bag were missing. Marina gave them a hard time, I think. She takes these insults personally, as would I. Their security guy thought, "Hey, what good fortune, a reward for picking up the bag". I think I will not be staying at Hotel19 again.

Marina at Karavan Shopping Mall

I got ahead of myself because I spent the whole of Thursday in Kharkiv. We visited Karavan shopping mall (haha, yet another shopping mall), had some food and Marina headed off to give a private lesson. We met up again in the evening for a really nice meal here. There was a singer on the stage with a delicate voice, at first I thought it was Karaoke.

Next morning, Friday, at 11.30, I headed back to Kyiv. Marina stayed with me at the airport until I had to go through to check-in. At 1pm, I was back in Kyiv and this time, I took the train to the city centre. I had a light meal in the Ibis but did not check in, I was heading back to Nizhyn at 5pm. 
Marta met me at the station with Toli and we went back to the apartment via a supermarket where I paid for food and drink. Marta proudly showed me her new sofa-bed. So, no sleeping on the floor this time.
There is not much to tell you about my second weekend in Nizhyn, Marta offered an excursion back to Chernohiv but I was happy doing nothing, we cleaned the windows, just ordinary weekend jobs. Before I left, we fitted a large wall clock, where the numerals are fixed separately to the wall. On Saturday night, Marta and I went to a really nice restaurant about 10 minutes walk from her apartment. We got a little bit drunk on a bottle of wine and she instigated a snowball fight on the way back. I laughed so much that it hurt. What is more, I was so much in stitches that she clearly won the fight, I was unable to return her fire.

"I won!"
(Maybe you have guessed.... these photos were taken after the real event. I would not have risked my phone!)

On Sunday, we went for a light meal in another restaurant and I took this photo which I really like, partly due to the colours. 

So, I have almost come to the end of my Ukraine and Dubai story. I took the train back to Kyiv but I have already written about my journey back to Spain in my post, "A new Adventure".

Dubai again... but this time via Kyiv!

I have been to Dubai very many times in connection with my work in the UK. I had a client there, a large shopping mall with apartments above. That ended in 2000 when they rennovated the place and added a large extension. My 20 year old system was replaced too, it served them well. And at about that time, I retired anyway so I was not sad.
But this time, faced with a long cold December in Kyiv, I decided to go back yet another time. It was not expensive and the flight was 6 hours.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I arrived back from Nizhyn on Sunday evening and my flight to Dubai was at 7pm on Tuesday so I spent 2 pleasant nights in the Ibis Hotel by the railway station and, after a paid-for late checkout, took the Skybus to the airport. I arrived in Dubai at around 2.30am local time, took a taxi to the Ibis at World Trade Centre and crashed out. When I was installing my building management system in the shopping mall around 1980, we all stayed in "digs" very close to the World Trade Centre which is a white tower out towards Jebel Ali. Now it is dwarfed by all the new buildings along the (6 carriageway) road to Dubai Marina and onward to Abu Dhabi. One of the two Metro lines also follows the same route. And I chose World Trade Centre because it is mid-way between Deira which is where I stayed previously and the new shopping malls along the highway. I spent a lot of time travelling on the Metro, it was perfect.

He estado en Dubai muchas veces en relación con mi trabajo en el Reino Unido. Tenía un cliente allí, un gran centro comercial con apartamentos arriba. Eso terminó en el 2000 cuando renovaron el lugar y agregaron una gran extensión. Mi sistema de 20 años también fue reemplazado, les sirvió bien. Y en ese momento, me retiré de todos modos, así que no estaba triste.
Pero esta vez, ante un largo y frío mes de diciembre en Kiev, decidí volver otra vez. No fue caro y el vuelo fue de 6 horas.
Como mencioné en mi publicación anterior, regresé de Nizhyn el domingo por la noche y mi vuelo a Dubai fue a las 7 pm del martes, así que pasé 2 noches agradables en el Hotel Ibis junto a la estación de trenes y, después de un pago para salir tarde, Tomé el Skybus al aeropuerto. Llegué a Dubai a las 2.30 am hora local, tomé un taxi hasta el Ibis en el World Trade Center y fui directamente a cama! Cuando instalé mi sistema de administración de edificios en el centro comercial alrededor de 1980, todos los ingenieros quedamos en cuartos muy cerca del World Trade Center, que es una torre blanca hacia Jebel Ali. Ahora está empequeñecido por todos los edificios nuevos a lo largo de la carretera (6 de la calzada) a Dubai Marina y luego a Abu Dhabi. Una de las dos líneas de Metro también sigue la misma ruta. Y elegí el World Trade Center porque está a medio camino entre Deira, que es donde me alojé anteriormente y los nuevos centros comerciales a lo largo de la carretera. Pasé mucho tiempo viajando en el metro, estaba perfecto!

World Trade Centre district
I woke at 9am, had some breakfast and headed out to explore. I took the Metro to Deira and bought a SIM for my phone. I visited a shopping mall, bought some food for the fridge in Carrefour (very big in Dubai!) I can't remember what I did for the rest of the day but it was great to be back in my old haunts. Deira hasn't changed very much, all the big changes are along the highway and Metro line.
I discovered the hotel pool which was actually shared with the Novotel just down the road. I often took a walk down there. On one occasion, there were three girls speaking either Russian or Ukrainian but one was wearing a tanga which even made me blush. Effectively nothing at the rear, maybe there was a kind of string but I couldn't see it. I looked very hard (actually this is a joke, I found it ugly and decided to move). Maybe someone should have pointed out that Dubai etiquette extends to hotel pools also. I was embarrassed on account of the location, at the free beach where I go during the summer, she would have been overdressed and I would have had no problem with it!
The hotel bar had a Cuban theme and the three girls working there were Cuban so I could chat with them in Spanish. The price for a large beer during happy hour was about €5 but was double that after 8pm. There were dance classes which I loved, particularly Salsa on my last night (in fact I went directly to the airport afterwards). This video is of the teacher dancing Kizomba with a friend of his, she was a singer. Kizomba originates in Angola but is popular in Latin America.

Me desperté a las 9 am, desayuné y salí para explorar. Tomé el metro hasta Deira y compré una tarjeta SIM para mi teléfono. Visité un centro comercial, compré algo de comida para la nevera en Carrefour (¡muy grande en Dubai!) No puedo recordar lo que hice durante el resto del día, pero fue genial volver a mis viejos lugares. Deira no ha cambiado mucho, todos los grandes cambios se producen a lo largo de la carretera y la línea de metro.

Descubrí la piscina del hotel, que en realidad fue compartida con el Novotel justo al final de la calle. A menudo salía a caminar por allí. En una ocasión, tres chicas hablaban ruso o ucraniano, pero una llevaba un tanga que incluso me hizo sonrojar. Efectivamente nada en la parte trasera, tal vez había una especie de cuerda pero no podía verla. Miré muy duro (en realidad esto es una broma, lo encontré feo y decidí moverme). Tal vez alguien debería haber señalado que la etiqueta de Dubai también se extiende a las piscinas de los hoteles. Me sentí avergonzada por la ubicación, en la playa "libre" a la que voy durante el verano, ella habría llevado puesto demasiado (inglés: over-dressed) y yo no habría tenido ningún problema con eso!

El bar del hotel tenía una temática cubana y las tres chicas que trabajaban allí eran cubanas, por lo que pude conversar con ellas en español. El precio de una cerveza grande durante la hora feliz fue de aproximadamente 5 €, pero fue el doble después de las 8 pm. Hubo clases de baile que me encantaron, especialmente Salsa en mi última noche (de hecho, fui directamente al aeropuerto después). Este video es de la maestra bailando Kizomba con un amigo suyo, ella era una cantante. Kizomba se origina en Angola, pero es popular en América Latina.

Generally Dubai is very expensive if one wants to maintain the alcohol habit because that means eating and drinking in the hotels, but go dry and it is not expensive. There are lots of cheap places to eat in Deira.

En general, Dubai es muy costoso si uno quiere mantener el hábito del alcohol porque eso significa comer y beber en los hoteles, pero secarse (no tomar alcohol!) y Dubai no es caro. Hay muchos lugares baratos para comer en Deira.

Kite Beach.
If you look closely, right in the centre is the gleaming spire of Burj Khalifa

my last night in Dubai

I visited Jumeira Beach near Dubai Marina and on my last day, took the hotel shuttle to Kite Beach. I spent lots of time in shopping malls so I didn't return with a sun tan. In any case, although the temperature was around 28c, the sun is not very strong at this time of year.

Visité la playa de Jumeira cerca del puerto deportivo de Dubai y, en mi último día, tomé el servicio de traslado del hotel a Kite Beach. Pasé mucho tiempo en centros comerciales, así que no regresé con un bronceado. En cualquier caso, aunque la temperatura era de alrededor de 28 ° C, el sol no es muy fuerte en esta época del año.
Jumeira Beach
 I went up Burj Khalifa!

Some people were putting their phones up against the open slot which you can see in the photo to get a clear picture. I asked one of the attendants if anyone had ever dropped their phone through the slot. It is a very long way down, death for the phone and also for anyone under it! I definitely do not have a head for heights, I was glad to get down. The glass is very thick but it does nothing to prevent that very odd feeling of wanting to jump out into space!

Algunas personas colocaron sus teléfonos en la ranura abierta que se puede ver en la foto para obtener una imagen clara. Le pregunté a uno de los asistentes si alguien había dejado caer su teléfono a través de la ranura. Es un largo camino hacia abajo, ¡la muerte para el teléfono y también para cualquier persona debajo de él! Definitivamente no tengo cabeza para las alturas, me alegré de bajar. El vidrio es muy grueso, pero no hace nada para evitar esa extraña sensación de querer saltar al espacio!

I visited the Gold Souk and bought presents for my friends. Most of the gold there is 18ct and I made a note of the price and weight of the pendants I bought. In Ukraine, only 14ct is sold as far as I could see, and it was more expensive per gram than 18ct in Dubai! 

Visité el Gold Souk y compré regalos para mis amigos. La mayor parte del oro allí es 18ct y tomé nota del precio y el peso de los colgantes que compré. En Ucrania, solo se vende 14ct por lo que pude ver, ¡y era más caro por gramo que 18ct en Dubai!

The Dubai Gold Souk

Starbucks? Nooo!

My final night in Dubai was Tuesday 18th with a Salsa class in the bar. I then went to the airport by Metro at about 10.30pm and used my Privilege card to check into the executive lounge. I had some food and wine and waited for my flight back to Kyiv at 3am. I felt very tired of course but after one day back in Ukraine, I was fine. I will tell you about Ukraine Part 2 in my next post!

Mi última noche en Dubai fue el martes 18 con una clase de salsa en el bar. Luego fui al aeropuerto en Metro alrededor de las 10.30 pm y usé mi tarjeta Privilege para ingresar al salón ejecutivo. Tomé algo de comida y vino y esperé mi vuelo de regreso a Kiev a las 3 am. Por supuesto, me sentí muy cansado, pero después de un día en Ucrania, estaba bien. ¡Te contaré sobre Ucrania Parte 2 en mi próximo post!

Ukraine Part 1

I wrote in my previous post about arriving back in Barcelona after about 3 weeks away. I left home on 7th December and arrived back on Christmas Eve but I felt as though I had been away for longer.
My journey to Kyiv on the 7th was uneventful and I have made the same journey many times! I catch a bus at 8.15am from my village and travel by high-speed train from Girona to Barcelona, then I take the airport train. The flight to Kyiv is at 1.30pm.
On arrival at Kyiv Boryspil Airport, I took the Sky Bus to the central station and checked into the Ibis hotel next to the station. I hope you are not getting bored!

 Escribí en mi publicación anterior sobre el regreso a Barcelona después de unas 3 semanas. Salí de casa el 7 de diciembre y regresé la Nochebuena, pero sentí como si hubiera estado lejos por más tiempo.

Mi viaje a Kiev el día 7 transcurrió sin incidentes y he hecho el mismo viaje muchas veces! Tomo un autobús a las 8.15am de mi pueblo y viajo en tren de alta velocidad de Girona a Barcelona, luego tomo el tren del aeropuerto. El vuelo a Kiev es a las 13:30 h.

Al llegar al aeropuerto de Kyiv Boryspil, tomé el Sky Bus hasta la estación central y me registré en el hotel Ibis al lado de la estación. Espero que no te aburras!

I had breakfast at Puzata Xata which is a chain of cafeterias in Ukraine. The breakfast was something in the order of €3. The confectionery shop, Roshen had a seasonal window display. Roshen which has a chain of shops is the company of Petro Poroshenko, the President of Ukraine.

Desayuné en Puzata Xata, que es una cadena de cafeterías en Ucrania. El desayuno era algo del orden de 3 €. La tienda de confitería, Roshen tenía un escaparate de temporada. Roshen, que tiene una cadena de tiendas, es la compañía de Petro Poroshenko, el presidente de Ucrania.

Next morning, I took a train at 10am to Nizhyn where my friend Marta lives. She has a new apartment and parts of it were still being finished (you can see that in the photo below!) She picked me up at the station with her friend Toli (Anotoli) in his car and we all went back to her apartment.

Por la mañana siguiente, tomé un tren a las 10 am a Nizhyn, donde vive mi amiga Marta. Ella tiene un apartamento nuevo y partes de él aún estaban siendo terminadas (puedes verlo en la foto de abajo). Me recogió en la estación con su amiga Toli (Anotoli) en su auto y todos regresamos a su apartamento.

Their plan was to go to Chernihiv (Чернігів) to choose a table for the kitchen but they had very little success, I was happy because I found a perfect warm jacket to replace the one I brought with me. When later I wrote to Marina to say where we had been, I got the name of the city wrong and she wrote back, "Chernobil??" It is not far away because the "Cher--" part is the name is the region.
The journey was about 100km which took us quite a long time by road so we arrived back early evening and Toli left us to go to work (he drives trucks, often during the night). Marta wanted to put me up in her apartment but she was still waiting delivery of a sofa-bed so we went to what to me seems to be the only hotel in town (I stayed there before). Unfortunately she had overlooked to book a room and they were full. As we walked out dejected, a large group of children arrived!
I had a look in and found a hotel 20km out of town. "I will take a taxi, stay the night and come come next morning," I offered. This was not acceptable for Marta, she felt responsible for me and I was touched, of course. She phoned Toli who came back with his car and we drove around town looking without success for somewhere where I could stay. By now it was about 8pm and I didn't know where I would be spending the night. Marta and Toli chatted between themselves in Ukrainian (naturally) and she said something about sleeping on the floor. 
The next part was really strange. We drove up to steel doors and a guy opened them for Toli. We drove slowly past huge trucks in the gloom and I guessed this was his base. For a moment, I felt outside my comfort zone but it passed rapidly. We parked the car and Marta and Toli got out and left me there. After a few minutes, the rear door opened. I expected to hear, "Welcome Mr Bond, we have been expecting you." But instead, they threw in a load of bedding. Now I understood. This was for Marta who was to sleep on the floor, I was to have the luxury of her bed.
Our next stop was a supermarket where they left me in the car. They returned with fish and beer and wine. The evening was looking up! We had a super evening in the apartment with supper and then Toli left us to go back to work, I guess. Toli doesn't speak English but with Marta as interpreter and much sign-language and the inevitable.. "Mesi... Barça.. Tottenham.. " we had lots of fun.
So, that is how it ended up. Marta on the floor with bedding which we had desperately tried to dry out because it was rather damp, and me in her huge bed. She has underfloor heating so she said that she was very comfortable but I didn't believe her. 
On Sunday we went looking for tables in Nizhyn. We went to one store which was very dreary and one table they showed us was really wobbly. The sales guy tried to reassure us by leaning forward on his arms on the table to stabilise it. Then we went to another small shop without success until I discovered a room which they had never seen on previous visits. We found the perfect table and chairs, so I was the hero of the hour. Toli called up one of his friends (White van man, we say in English) and we were soon installing the table and chairs in the kitchen. And immediately we put them to use with some lunch!

A la mañana siguiente, tomé un tren a las 10 am a Nizhyn, donde vive mi amiga Marta. Ella tiene un apartamento nuevo y partes de él aún estaban siendo terminadas (puedes verlo en la foto de abajo). Me recogió en la estación con su amiga Toli (Anotoli) en su auto y todos regresamos a su apartamento.

Su plan era ir a Chernihiv (ернігів) para elegir una mesa para la cocina pero tuvieron muy poco éxito, me sentí feliz porque encontré una chaqueta cálida perfecta para reemplazar la que traje conmigo. Cuando más tarde le escribí a Marina para decirle dónde habíamos estado, entendí mal el nombre de la ciudad y ella me contestó: "¿Chernobil?" No está lejos porque la parte "Cher--" es el nombre es la región.

El viaje fue de aproximadamente 100 km, lo que nos llevó bastante tiempo por carretera, así que llegamos temprano por la noche y Toli nos dejó para ir a trabajar (conduce camiones, a menudo durante la noche). Marta quería alojarme en su apartamento, pero seguía esperando la entrega de un sofá cama, así que fuimos a lo que, para mí, parece ser el único hotel de la ciudad (me alojé allí antes). Desafortunadamente ella había pasado por alto para reservar una habitación y estaban llenos. Cuando salimos abatidos, ¡llegó un gran grupo de niños!

Eché un vistazo en y encontré un hotel a 20 km de la ciudad. "Tomaré un taxi, pasaré la noche y vendré a la mañana siguiente", le ofrecí. Esto no era aceptable para Marta, ella se sentía responsable de mí y me conmovió, por supuesto. Telefoneó a Toli, quien regresó con su auto, y manejamos por la ciudad en busca de un lugar donde pudiera quedarme. Ya eran las 8 de la tarde y no sabía dónde pasaría la noche. Marta y Toli conversaron entre ellas en ucraniano (naturalmente) y ella dijo algo sobre dormir en el suelo.

La siguiente parte fue realmente extraña. Condujimos hasta las puertas de acero y un chico las abrió para Toli. Pasamos lentamente por enormes camiones en la penumbra y supuse que esta era su base. Por un momento, me sentí fuera de mi zona de confort, pero pasó rápidamente. Aparcamos el coche y Marta y Toli salieron y me dejaron allí. Después de unos minutos, la puerta trasera se abrió. Esperaba escuchar: "Bienvenido, señor Bond, lo hemos estado esperando". Pero en cambio, tiraron en una carga de ropa de cama. Ahora entiendo. Esto era para Marta que iba a dormir en el piso, yo debía tener el lujo de su cama.

Nuestra siguiente parada fue en un supermercado donde me dejaron en el coche. Volvieron con pescado y cerveza y vino. La tarde estaba mirando hacia arriba! Tuvimos una noche estupenda en el apartamento con la cena y luego Toli nos dejó para volver al trabajo, supongo. Toli no habla inglés, pero con Marta como intérprete y mucho lenguaje de señas y lo inevitable ... "Mesi ... Barça ... Tottenham ..." nos divertimos mucho.

Entonces, así es como terminó. Marta en el suelo con la ropa de cama que habíamos intentado secar desesperadamente porque estaba bastante húmeda, y yo en su enorme cama. Ella tiene calefacción por suelo radiante, así que dijo que estaba muy cómoda, pero no le creí.

El domingo fuimos a buscar mesas en Nizhyn. Fuimos a una tienda que era muy triste y una mesa que nos mostraron era muy inestable. El vendedor trató de tranquilizarnos inclinándose sobre sus brazos sobre la mesa para estabilizarlo. Luego fuimos a otra pequeña tienda sin éxito hasta que descubrí una habitación que nunca habían visto en visitas anteriores. Encontramos la mesa y las sillas perfectas, así que fui el héroe de la hora. Toli llamó a uno de sus amigos (White van man, decimos en inglés) y pronto instalamos la mesa y las sillas en la cocina. ¡Y enseguida los ponemos en uso con algún almuerzo!

Marta likes black!

In the afternoon I went with Marta to get photocopies for her English class the next day. She teaches English in State and private schools. And then at 7pm I took the train back to Kyiv. I left my suitcase with her because my plan was to go to Dubai with cabin baggage only and come back again to see her a second time. This time, hopefully with a sofa-bed for me.

Por la tarde fui con Marta para obtener fotocopias para su clase de inglés al día siguiente. Ella enseña inglés en escuelas estatales y privadas. Y luego, a las 7 de la tarde, tomé el tren de regreso a Kiev. Dejé mi maleta con ella porque mi plan era ir solo a Dubai con el equipaje de la cabina y volver para verla por segunda vez. Esta vez, ojalá con un sofá cama para mí!

My next post is about Dubai!

A new adventure!

It is now a distant memory, when my friend from Ukraine, Marta came here in July and she may come back next year. For sure, the door is always open. So I thought that I would like to see her and Marina some time before next summer and rather impetuously, about a couple of months ago I booked flights for a whole month in Kyiv from 7th December when we have what is called "un puente" (two holidays combined into one / a bridge) until just after Orthodox Christmas in Ukraine on 7th January. My plan was to rent an apartment, go to one or two Meetup groups and visit Marta and Marina when they were free. Marta lives not far from Kyiv and Marina lives in Kharkiv which is one hour by air. But it was quite a long time to be away and I rather forgot what cold feels like. 

A few weeks ago, I received an offer from Ukraine International Airways (UIA) for an upgrade to business class on my outward journey for €80. But previously I had paid extra for seat selection and a meal on my regular ticket and these were included in business class. So effectively I got an upgrade for about €60. That was a very good deal!
But that didn't solve my preoccupation about my time in Kyiv during December - Marta would be working. Solution, go to Dubai! Where it is warm enough to go swimming.
So that is what I decided to do. Dubai is 6 hours from Kyiv by UIA and the airfare was really cheap, I paid in UK Pounds and it was about £200 return including seat selection and a meal outbound. Ah, I remember now, I paid £50 of that with my Panorama Club air miles but that is still very cheap.

Usually I write my blog as I go along but I was always to busy enjoying myself to sit down at a computer and so I am writing this back home on Boxing Day as it is called in the UK, or St Stephen's Day in Spain. I decided to come back earlier than I had planned but in fact, I simply booked a return flight with the option to change it if I wanted to. Sure, I had to pay €100 fee to change it, plus the fare difference but it still worked out cheaper than if I had bought a fully flexible fare in the first place.

I will start with my arrival back in Spain on Monday (24th) because it is still fresh in my mind and it was quite eventful. I had spent the weekend with Marta in her new apartment in Nizhyn which is about 1h30 from Kyiv by train. I took the express train at 6pm and Marta waved me off at the platform. I shared my compartment with a Ukrainian guy who gave lessons in Ukrainian to a pupil in Spain on Skype, so we had an interesting conversation and in no time at all we were in Kyiv. There is a cool little train (photo) to the airport now but in fact I took the regular Sky Bus to the airport because the timing was better and it drops its passengers off at Departures on the top floor which is where the shuttle bus from Ligena Hotel picks up its passengers.

I've written about Ligena Hotel before. I always stay there before taking the 9.50am flight to Barcelona as it is so much more convenient than travelling from the centre of Kyiv in the morning rush hour. It is in the town of Boryspil and the transfer takes only 15 minutes, so in no time at all, I was in the restaurant with a large glass of beer. I texted Marta on Skype to say that I had arrived safely and ordered a meal.

I got up next morning at 6am (5am in Spain), had breakfast and took the shuttle bus back to the airport. UIA has a neat self-service check-in which explains why they insist on a printed boarding pass (or loaded on a phone). There are a number of terminals with a screen and the usual weighing platform. I put my suitcase on the machine... 20kg ... and it scanned my boarding pass (I still prefer paper to using a phone, it is simply more convenient and hotels are always happy to provide the service). The machine issued the bag tag which I attached, then I took my bag to the bag drop, which scanned the tag with "BCN" and off it went! The bag drop issued a receipt. So in fact, there was no need to present my passport, that happened at Security.

Kyiv Boryspil Airport (KBP) Security is excellent (as is Barcelona) with a large area for preparing the trays, taking off belt, watch, boots, etc. Then it is normal to take computers out of the bag, of course. I remember once travelling out of Bristol Airport and the Duty Free area was so large that it had stolen space from Security so preparing the trays for the scanners was a nightmare, in a very cramped space and a feeling of pressure as the security person issued instructions! But then Security doesn't earn money!

I was a little annoyed with the UIA website because, when choosing a seat and logged in as a Panorama Club member, I could see that 6F, for example, was free. But when I clicked on it, the website accepted it and then a second later showed an error. If I logged out, it showed it as occupied! So I chose 10A. Never choose 10A on a 737-800, there is no window, just beige plastic! I reported the bug in the website, it is very new so these things happen!

The flight was 3h30 with a pause for 25 minutes before takeoff to de-ice the wings. I would guess the temperature was hovering around zero with flurries of snow.

When I arrived in Barcelona Airport, I was able to use the Passport Control for EU citizens but after March 30th, I will no longer be an EU citizen so I guess I will have to join the long queue for "All others". That is a little humiliating, coming back to my adopted country. I will try it anyway to see what happens. My passport has European Union printed on the cover and that won't change for 10 years. But my status certainly will change regardless of whether the UK leaves the EU with a deal or no deal. So there will be no preferential treatment for me after March unless I get myself a Spanish passport which is something I am considering. But, in theory, I cannot have dual citizenship.

My main preoccupation is over my free health care because that will only continue if there is a deal. But my doctor is so nice, she would probably see me "on the quiet" anyway and I wouldn't want the health service to spend vast sums of money extending my life by a year of two anyway in the event of something serious coming along.

After Passport Control, I picked up my suitcase from the Carousel and walked out to the shuttle bus which runs between T1 and T2 where I catch the train to Barcelona Sants. I had already booked a seat on the AVE to Girona at 3.40pm so I had plenty of time. But I reckoned I could just catch the next train, so I walked briskly across the bridge to the station. There were many people attempting to understand the ticket machines on account of there being a long queue at the ticket office. The first one I tried, the touch screen didn't work. I tried another, it didn't seem much better. Then two women next to me asked for advice. I said, "Go to Barcelona Sants, then you can take the Metro, do what you like". She said, "But we are here for 3 days". I gave up, went back to my ticket machine, inserted what I thought was my Spanish debit card, but in fact it was my Barclays debit card, both are now the same shade of blue. I entered the wrong PIN twice before realising my mistake by which time the train was departing. So I had to wait 30 minutes for the next train. 

It was only yesterday, Christmas morning that I received an unexpected present. On inserting my Barclays debit card into the little card-reader that the bank provides, I saw on the display, "PIN Blocked". I could not log in to my account.

I rang one or two numbers and finally got through to a very nice Indian girl in India with a huge delay on the sound. She took me through simple checks such as mother's maiden name, date of birth. Then she asked me a question about my account, "What direct debit payments did I make?" (or maybe she said "regular payments" as well). I answered, "None". I make a regular card payment to The Times, but I was thinking in terms of direct debit agreements with the actual account. The result alarmed me. The girl said that I had failed the validity check and one more failure would result in some kind of dramatic measure such as blocking the account altogether. I can't remember exactly what she said but obviously by now I was under suspicion. She said she was using some international standard of verification which sounded very impressive and a little scary.

I said, "Well, just send me a replacement card to my home address" (this card is useless now and can only be revived with a visit to a UK branch of Barclays). She replied that I needed to pass the verification process for her to do that. I got anxious and said that I would write to Barclays. No way was I going to risk a test failure because I had no idea what the consequences would be.

I raised the point that I only entered the wrong PIN twice and cards are blocked after 3 failed attempts. She said that maybe previously I entered the wrong PIN. So... what is the period during which the failures are added up? She couldn't tell me. A normal reset to zero would occur when the correct PIN was entered. This is like collecting points on a driving licence.

So, now I am writing to Barclays in the UK, requesting a replacement card but I am worried that my failed test will count against me. I suspect that they have all kinds of draconian safeguards in place and that I may have to visit a UK branch.

"Happy Christmas, Steve, from Barclays Bank where you have been a customer for 50 years". And will this relationship be even worse when the UK is no longer a member of the EU?

By contrast, I can send a personal email to Jordi my bank manager here, any time I like. But I have no personal contact at Barclays despite having a reasonable large sum deposited there; money stranded in UKL hoping for a better exchange rate but in fear of a drop in the value of Sterling in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Now, I am going to write about my trip to Ukraine and Dubai where I went up Burj Khalifa.. a very tall building indeed!

Sunday 23 September 2018

Where are our memories stored?

On spirituality, I want to write about where I have arrived in my beliefs! For many years I accepted (or maybe not) conventional Christian teaching. But little by little, I can see that the secular world can provide many of the answers that I seek. Healing is something that I have attempted to do during many years after first meeting Matthew Manning. And it exists in the secular world as well as in the religious context.

But then my thoughts have moved on further. I see the house-martins swooping and gliding around their nests here during the summer and I think to myself, "These are just atoms?" because everything is ultimately made up of atoms. There has to more to it than that. And then another puzzle that I have had in my head for many years. Memory. Is that all retained inside the skull rather like a large computer store? Even taking into account the billions of neurones in the brain, I still can't see how memories together with their associated feelings are simply cells switching on and off. So I have come to the conclusion that the more that we discover in physics, the less we understand. For some reason I used to enjoy taking TV sets apart when I was young as if to discover the magic of how they worked. And of course, there was no more point in doing that than taking a house-martin apart! And the sound and pictures came from somewhere else. I see the brain as a kind of communicating device using that analogy of a TV.

I tend to believe that memories are physically accessed somewhere outside the head. Maybe not all memories. Of course I don't know. But there has to be some kind of communication going on that we don't yet know about. I just cannot see how I can re-experience an event in the past from the state of neurones in my head. It is too pat. Attempts to locate where memories are stored in the brain end up in frustration. The pianist John Lill used to describe how he felt that Beethoven was sitting on the piano stool next to him. Maybe he was. I am currently reading Science Set Free by Rupert Sheldrake who discusses these ideas, he uses the term, "morphic resonance". There is so much that we don't know. Each generation says things like, "Flying machines are impossible," and yet we look back with a wry smile. Maybe in 20 or 30 years, we will look back and say, "...and we imagined that memory was all inside the head".

There is a great deal of evidence to support these theories and in any case, are we really saying that we know everything now about physics?  Or that the theory of everything is just round the corner? Turn the corner and there is another corner!

I believe there is an existence beyond this physical life but I have not come to that conclusion through religious faith; my logic tells me so, from my own experience and from what I read from well validated sources. For that reason I have no difficulty in believing in the Resurrection and Jesus returning to visit his disciples on the Road to Emmaus. I believe in miracles except that I don't like the word because it implies something special, sufficient for one to be canonised in the Roman Catholic Church. Miracles happen every day. We all have the ability to heal to a greater or lesser extent but with the power of God which I imagine as all around us. Jesus taught his disciples to heal, and that includes us too! I believe that Jesus taught that we are all divine, God in Us. He was sent from God but not in a literal sense, I believe he was human, but of course an exceptional human.

For many years science and religion have seemed totally imcompatible, opposites, as if science with its incremental knowledge is somehow chipping away at religious belief. But this has not happened. For each step in knowledge in physics both very big and very small, it only seems to demonstrate (to me at least) that there is something totally beyond our ability to understand or even describe. Call it God if you like. My path is as a Christian but there are many religions all on basically the same track, each with its own term for God. I will end.... I feel, God all around, not "up there", in some kind of human form. Now that I do find difficult to believe!
I wrote more about this in my blog, "Stories from my Life".....

Saturday 22 September 2018

People-watching (updated 4th October with photos.)

During the past two days, I have been enjoying the late summer sun in Llançà which is a 50 minute train journey from here towards the French border. It costs me €6 return.

The temperature has been close to 30c the past few days but I think next week it will get a little cooler. I am writing this on a Saturday morning and it is very warm outside. The sea was a wonderful temperature, not really cold at all. I love the thick syrupy feeling of the sea in these small bays, maybe the salt concentration is higher than in open stretches of the sea. The bay is partially enclosed, on one side by the marina, so swimming is very safe and the water was like a mill pond.
Long shadows at 5pm. But look at the colour of the sky!
I added this on Sunday 23rd. I hope it makes you smile!

On the way back from Llançà today, the carriage was almost empty so I sat back and relaxed, kicked off my shoes and put my feet on either side of the seat in front of me and listened to Vivaldi on my Fiio music player. A middle-aged Spanish guy across the other side of the carriage wagged his finger at me and reprimanded me for putting my feet on the seat, which I thought was quite ridiculous, like I was a teenager. I waved my bare foot at him and said (this was all in Spanish), "no shoes". He said that it was still not allowed. At which point I told him I was going back to my music and I put my headphones back on. For the rest of the journey and when I got off, I totally avoided any eye-contact. In English, I would have said, "Get a life."

He was with, I guess, was his wife and a small dog which sat on a third seat on a rug. I thought maybe to ask him if his dog had a ticket! In these situations it is best just not to get involved in an argument. Maybe he thought I was a tourist and therefore second-class, because I had a large back-pack with me (I had my watercolour paints with me). So I hope when I got off at Celrà he may have realised that I was a local, not to be treated like some scruffy kid. I wasn't really annoyed because it was so funny. At 75 years of age, to be told to take my feet off a seat in a train!
I have to confess that actually it did upset me.... afterwards. But I am still glad that I didn't get involved. He assessed me, not for what I did but for who he thought I was. He saw my back-pack, my girly shoes, my long hair. Maybe he should be more concerned about the kids who paint the sides of these new carriages with graffiti during the night, shooting out security cameras to avoid being caught.
Today, Sunday, the train left Llançà at 4.30pm but during the week I usually catch a train back at 5.40pm which gets me to Celrà in perfect time for a beer on the terrace of my local bar. And it is from there that I observe life going by. We have a mixture of nationalities, thee are quite a few Romanians and Moroccans in addition to the Spanish both from here (Catalan) and from other parts of Spain. There is one French girl, my friend Christèle but I am the only English guy in the village. There is an English woman married to a Catalan but she lives up at the other end of the village so I rarely see her.

Many children, some of them little more than toddlers, live on the opposite side of the road to the bar and I am terrified at the way they run across the road without looking. Most of the cars are slowing down towards a junction but some are not so slow. I remonstrated with a couple of guys who let their little boy run free. I would guess he was maybe 4 years old. It was all very friendly but I got the impression that they didn't worry too much. Maybe there was another boy as a back-up. At one point a baby was about to toddle across the road because the young girl who had been put in charge of her by the mother was distracted.

I spoke to the local council about it but there was a shrug of the shoulders and the response was that it is up to the parents. I didn't reply that many parents seem to have no sense at all. I thought stopping through-traffic might help as there are alternative routes out to the main road.

Some of the kids are really noisy. And adults! There is one woman, about 50 I guess, who actively incites her two grand-children, "Attaboy... yeah.. yeah...," she screams waving her arms and slapping them against her thighs. They respond by running up and down the path screaming in delight.

A couple of days ago, a young girl, I guess about 10, called out to her father who was about 8 or 10m away. "Papa!" He didn't respond but I'm sure he heard. "PAPA!" This time, he responded. I can tell you how I would have responded!

I feel sorry for the people who live directly over the bar, which is by far the most popular (and hence, busy) in Celrà. If it is rented then they must have known what to expect but if the flat was purchased, then they would not have known what was going to be below them. A commercial unit for sure but a bar?

Some parents lavish expensive gifts on their children. Recently I have seen two little boys, no more than 3 years old driving electric toy cars accompanied by their fathers. One even had music blaring out, lights flashing. The motors on these things make a loud grinding noise, I suppose it is the gears, I don't know. But one little boy in a toy Range-Rover decided to change direction. He did an immaculate 3-point turn! It was so very funny. Some adults can't do that too well and here was a boy only having learnt to walk recently doing it. I thought it was funny that the car had a reverse gear. Oh and by the way, little girls invariably have pink bicycles! So much for removing gender stereotyping! It doesn't happen here!

It is a fact, noise can annoy but for a while one doesn't notice it. Yesterday in Llançà I was on the terrace of a bar overlooking the sea and a woman behind me was chatting in Spanish to a friend on another table. The distance between their tables was greater than the distance she was behind me. I couldn't understand why I wasn't feeling more relaxed. Then I knew why. The woman behind me had quite a penetrating voice but for a while I tolerated it. And then suddenly it penetrated my consciousness and I quickly moved away. I guess I could have invited sarcastically the other woman to come and join her friend. Don't worry, I didn't seriously consider it.

On the subject of noise, I just attempted to watch La La Land on Netflix. I hate most movies because generally they are not exactly subtle, in sound, with rapid shock cuts in picture. Anything to keep the audience occupied. The sound guys seem to design the sound for an audience in a cinema. In other words, very loud. If I try to set the volume so that I can hear the dialogue, the effects and music are shockingly loud. I guess that is the intention. And in many cases, the actors mutter their words anyway so I need subtitles. This is English! My mother tongue. It is just crazy. As many of my friends know, I was trained as a sound engineer by the BBC. Here, I feel as though I have landed on another planet.

In Catalunya we are in protest season. The national day, the Diada, on 11st Spetember; the futile* declaration of independence on 1st October last year... oh there are one or two more. At least Quim Torra who is the current president seems to accept that an independent Catalunya would be outside the EU because he talks about the Canadian deal and he talks about Brexit. He really wants to go down that path?? I have just been reading about Teresa May's humiliation in Salzburg on Thursday. She was roundly mocked by The Times, especially a ridiculous chain around her neck. 

*I hope I don't annoy my independista friends by calling 1st October, "futile" but my feeling is if you are going to declare independence, then do it. That is the whole point. If you are not free to do it then it is not independence. They required the cooperation of Madrid in order to carry it out and that would never have been forthcoming. So it was like living a dream, the pictures on TV3 in the Parliament, lots of clapping, back-slapping. Now they are in jail, not that I am totally happy about that either. I remember many years ago Rhodesia declaring UDI (unilateral declaration of independence). They just did it and said to Great Britain more or less, "What are you going to do about it?" But Catalunya is not in a position to do that with Madrid. Imagine it! So a declaration of independence would only be achieved with the agreement of Madrid. Carles Puigdemont was pragmatic about that and talked about independence in 10 or 20 years. But the CUP wants it now, come hell or high water.

I have been reading two books on how to write a novel and I am greatly dispirited. One talks in terms of 3 years work with many rejections by editors. One is particularly off-putting. But I guess as authors they don't want too much competition! I am only joking! I am sure it is naïve to imagine that there is a short-cut to fame and fortune as a writer. Sure, I can write a novel but there is no point unless I actually sell it! A couple of days ago, I started again. 

Ralph was born in a lift and one supposes it was for that reason he was obsessed by lifts all his life. And they were the death of him too....

I think I will not read any more of these books with their rules and formats. I will just write a story and publish it on my website. I have written about 12k words so far. Maybe, because it will be online, I can offer links or alternative endings. I am aware of the saying, "You have to know the rules in order to break them." So I am  breaking the rules without knowing them, I am breaking the rule about rules. One book talks about the need for a classification for the book so that the bookshop knows where to put it on the shelves. Mine will be black-humour-fantasy. Err, now where to put that??

In Spain, basketball is very popular as it is in many parts of the world. So it is sacrilegious to say this. But I find it slightly ridiculous when as is very common, the score after an hour is something like, 102-105. I know it is very exciting to see these fit young guys tearing up to one end of the court to score a basket and then the other team does the same at the other end. And the crowd goes wild, the PA announcer shouts the score, there is music. But it all seems pointless to me when either team could have won. A lottery. And the team that won goes crazy and the losing team is dejected. But in my view, it is a tie. They should both be declared winners. Or better still, toss a coin and save all the trouble. But I am a terrible spoil-sport, it is very exciting to watch. And sometimes there is actually a significant gap between the scores. But those results where the difference is simply one basket keep on coming. Another few seconds and the losing team would have raced up to the other end, and the result would have changed. Only this morning on the news, a women's game in Girona ended 62-63. The winning team was euphoric and the losing team, really sad. "Hey, don't worry," I would have said, "They are no better than you. Another 20 seconds and you would have won. Just think about the entertainment you have given". 

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a picnic in Tordera which is an annual event organised by John and Eleanor who are friends at the local Anglican Church. I don't go to the services now but I still have friends there and they were kind enough to invite me!
Here is a link.

photos: The Anglican Church in the Costa Brava

The girl I was talking to was Mexican. Another friend was talking to her in Spanish when I arrived so I continued in Spanish when he left. I hope I didn't insult her because I would guess her English was fine. Haha, I never found out!  

To Ukraine.... again!
I just booked an air ticket to Ukraine for one month from December 7th to include both "my" Christmas and Orthodox Christmas on 7th January. And of course, the New Year. I am renting a flat in Kyiv and my friends can come and see me or I can visit them. Ukraine International Airways has a new website but I didn't realise how new it was till I tried to log into my air miles account (to ensure that it gets credited with air miles for this journey). It rejected my club number. "User not found," it reported. So I wrote an email to the airline saying that I thought there was an error on their website. And there followed a number of futile emails where they patiently told me how to log in.  I sent screen-shots to no avail.

Finally... today I received a response apologising for the errors in the website, they are working on it. Now, I can accept that software isn't always 100% correct first time around but what made me stressed was their smokescreen for over 24 hours. It would have been so simple for all of us if they had said.... "we are having problem with the website, please book normally and we will credit your air miles." Or even to put it on the website.

I did consider going with Ryanair because in October they start to fly between Barcelona and Kyiv but their departure during the week is at 7.30am which is too early for me (UIA from Barcelona is at 13.30). Anyway I feel a kind of loyalty to UIA, they are always very responsive by email, and there is not much difference in the prices for the month I am away. They both use the same plane (737-800) on that route, it is possible the legroom is less in Ryanair but I am too lazy to check it out! The UIA planes are always very comfortable.

And, a bonus! The next day by chance I received an offer by email for an upgrade to business class for flights up to 9th December, $99. But I was spending €22 on seat selection and a meal which of course are included in business class. UIA kindly refunded it (maybe they were more generous on account of the website problems). So my upgrade cost me effectively €60. Business class is great, just 3 rows with 2 seats either side! I have never travelled to Kyiv in business class but of course I have walked through the cabin.

People sometimes use the phrase, "I always turn left" (when entering the plane), meaning of course, first class. With a 737, you will be flying the plane! I have often travelled business class, not only when I was on business in the UK but also in my life in Spain. I have no one else to spend the money on, so I indulge myself with a bed in Emirates or Avianca.