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About Me

Found 118 results

  1. Some people like surprises. And what could be a nicer surprise than finding out you've got an extra day on holiday? Alas, we didn't enjoy finding out about ours. Arriving at the airport, we knew that our flight was slightly delayed. No harm there. A little later, we noticed something of a commotion in front of our gate, three hours before the revised take-off time. We ignored it but a little later Clare overheard a man explaining to his wife, who was sitting next to Clare, that there was a problem and that the plane might not land. I made a point of going up to the gate to hear for myself. That's when we got confirmation. The plane was not only en route but was also on time ... and always had been. It had been circling above the airport looking for an opportunity to land. Madrid, in the centre of the desert that is Spain, was experiencing inclement weather. We'd already seen the downpour ourselves arriving at the airport. It happened that the weather was so bad that it wasn't possible to land a plane safely. The staff informed us that the plane had been diverted to Barcelona to refuel and that Head Office would later make a decision on whether it would come back afterwards. The best-case scenario was that it would arrive at 01:00 if it were allowed to return. This was no good to us personally, since we wouldn't be able to retrieve our car until 05:00 at the earliest, making it very unlikely that we'd be back at time for work, especially for Clare's early-morning work commitments, which required her to be suited and booted. The staff were trying their very best to be helpful, especially given that they didn't know anything beyond the information which they were passing back to us. They informed us that we would be given food vouchers for a restaurant, although they didn't know which ones at that moment. In spite of the total innocence of the staff in this matter, some passengers seemingly couldn't resist taking out their frustrations on them with infantile outbursts about wanting a flight rather than a food coupon. The news later came in that the flight wouldn't be returning soon from Barcelona. The latest update was that it would leave at 08:00, and that the airport would arrange overnight accommodation and food. At least, I thought that's what was being said; people seemingly couldn't stop grumbling such that those of us trying to get accurate information could clearly hear it, and the staff members were soon inundated by a queue of people all asking the same questions and getting the same answers. We waited until the end and then spoke to a staff member, who was taken aback at somebody being polite and even said 'Thank you for your kindness!' Things became a little unclear once we'd retraced our steps back to Terminal 4, 20+ minutes away, and, as instructed, had joined the chaotic customer services queue. Nothing was budging there for half an our until finally a woman told people that there was a bus outside to pick us up, and off we headed. Well, not quite all of us. There were people for whom Madrid was a connecting airport who were complaining that they couldn't retrieve their hold luggage. If they'd been listening up top, they'd have heard a gentleman informing everybody that hold luggage couldn't be returned so late at night because of security reasons. We waited at the bus stop without much happening. Business Class passengers were allowed to get on board the bus but for seemingly little benefit; they were sitting down in the dark with nothing happening whilst we were standing. Meanwhile, the sky was flashing, followed by extensive roaring and rumbling. I think we probably all felt better being on the ground than in the air! Eventually, a second bus pulled up and we were allowed to board, after which we were transferred to a hotel. We received coupons for the restaurant whilst we queued and then checked in. The lady doing so stated that there was no news on when the next flight would be but if it were early, then we'd all get wake-up calls. Otherwise, we could pop down casually after breakfast and check to see whether any information had been printed and posted. We could see some posters for a rescheduled flight to Berlin, so the process seemed easy enough. At this point, it was 00:30, with the restaurant closing at 01:00, so we didn't spend long in our room. Our first impressions were very good: There was plenty of food and we weren't slow in finishing it, so soon were back in the room ready to sleep. I woke up at around 6 and headed downstairs to see whether there was any news. The lady who had checked us in hadn't heard of anything. My phone had, though: Oh, crikey. That's a lot longer than we were expecting. Getting to work really wasn't going to be possible today. And there was the problem of our cats; they hadn't had fresh food since Monday morning, when their feeder had discharged the final of its four offerings. They were now going to go without for not only Monday evening but all of Tuesday too. I thought of a solution but it was too early to act upon it. Their regular catsitter, who visits daily when we're on longer breaks, has a key, and so I texted her as soon as I thought it possible to get away with it, which was 07:00 UK time. She's a star, who did an emergency visit and made sure they were well loaded for our return. The breakfast spread was a very generous one, although neither of us was particularly hungry having eaten dinner only a few hours before. The morning then became one of idleness, with us having nothing to do but wait for our bus, which was due at 12:00. I bought an obscenely overpriced book at the airport yesterday evening anf managed to resist the temptation to read it because I didn't want to have to spend another 20€. We got to the airport with no fuss but then hit a roadblock: our flight wasn't mentioned anywhere on the boards. A quick check with a staff member was fruitless, and she recommended we go to customer services. More queuing followed, accompanied by the frustration which always results when there's no movement and you can't understand how everybody being served could possibly need so much time. We finally got through and got some fairly uncomplicated instructions: retread yesterday's steps and at some point your flight will be on the board. This we did and thus it was, although rather unhelpfully it was yesterday's flight details and an indication that it was cancelled. We knew that we were entitled to a food voucher and so set off to find someone who could give us one. The answer to that request was initially no but magically turned to yes within minutes and, eventually, we were able to get the required paperwork. We headed off and ate a fairly standard meal. And now we're sitting near our gate. It's two and a half hours until our flight is due to leave. Let's hope we don't get another bonus day in Madrid.
  2. The weather forecast had warned that there could be storms today and sure enough, when we opened our curtains in Segovia this morning, things looked rather grey and damp. We got slightly wet on our walk from the hotel to the bus station, where we were due to catch a 10.15 bus to the town of Ávila. Ávila is only about 40 miles southwest of Segovia but the two towns aren't connected by rail, so when we were doing our research it seemed that to get to one from the other by train it was necessary to go via Madrid. There are only a handful of buses between the two towns, so we'd booked tickets in advance on the only bus which was leaving Segovia for Ávila this morning. We arrived at the bus station ready to fight our way onto the bus, but it actually turned out to not be a very popular route and the bus was almost empty I guess that's why they don't run very frequently! It's not a very long journey, and within an hour we were stepping off the bus in Ávila. I'd hoped that when we got to Ávila it would be fairly obvious in which direction the historic town centre was, but there turned out not be many signs so we walked in the wrong direction initially and had to resort to Google Maps to get back on track. We knew we were finally in the right place when we got our first glimpse of the town walls. Ávila is a world heritage site, because it has a complete set of medieval town walls, built between the 11th and 14th centuries. It's also home to a lot of beautiful churches, including the basilica of San Vicente. The walls looked incredible and reminded me a little bit of Carcassonne. I knew it was possible to walk around about half of the walls, but initially we struggled to find the way in. Eventually we located the tourist information office, where we picked up a map. There were also some impressive models there, both of the walls... ...and the cathedral. We realised that the walls are illuminated at night as well, which must be spectacular to see. Maybe on a future holiday we'll have to come and stay overnight in Ávila! With the help of the map, we walked alongside the walls for a while and managed to find the ticket office. It only cost €5 each to get in. The entrance to the walls was close to the cathedral and once we'd climbed up into the open we had some amazing views of it The cathedral was built partly as a fortress and its apse forms one of the turrets in the walls. Our route led away from the cathedral and we could soon see down towards the basilica. Once you were up on the walls the path was pretty flat, but every so often there were little staircases you could climb up for better views. They were usually worth the effort! We could see for a long way out over the countryside... ...and towards a rather strangely shaped church in the distance. There were other people on the walls, but it was nowhere near as busy as walking around the walls of Dubrovnik! I guess it helps that Ávila is a long way from the sea We were able to walk for about an hour before the accessible part of the walls came to an end. In the distance we could see the walls continuing around the far side of the town. If you were able to walk the entire way round I think it would be several miles! I'd expected Ávila to be quite small, but the town within the walls is actually pretty large. Eventually we'd got as far as we could go and it was time to climb down. We walked along some pretty streets in the old town... ...before coming to a square where there were several restaurants. We chose one which had a menu of the day for €14. This include a starter, main course and pudding, as well as bread and a glass of wine. I had pasta bolognese as my starter, while Tim chose a caesar salad. For the main course, Tim had croquetas caseras, which seemed to consist of melted cheese with potato, while I had fingers de pollo, which were like chicken goujons. Pudding was chocolate mousse. The consistency was a bit like Angel Delight which has been made with too much milk to set, but it actually tasted really nice It was a lovely meal and seemed like really good value for the amount of food we had! Once we'd finished eating, it was time to head in the direction of the train station to begin our journey back to Madrid. When we were booking our train back from Ávila to Madrid, we'd had a choice of two different trains. One would have got us to the airport too early - over three hours before our flight was due to depart - and the other would have got us there with just under two hours. I deliberated over the options for a while, but in the end we decided to play it safe and book the earlier train, which left Ávila at 15.47. The trains between Ávila and Madrid aren't quite as fast as the high speed trains between Madrid and Segovia, and so it was a fairly leisurely train journey. We arrived into Madrid's Príncipe Pío station around 17.30. The plan was that from here we would catch the suburban C1 train directly to Terminal 4 of the airport. This was the same train which we had caught to Madrid Chamartín on Saturday, but a slightly longer journey, because the Príncipe Pío station which the Ávila trains arrive into is situated further south in Madrid. Príncipe Pío turned out to be a rather confusing station and we walked around for a while before finding the correct platform for the suburban trains. Things were confused further by the fact that both C1 and C10 trains seemed to depart from this platform, with only C1 trains going as far as the airport, but eventually a C1 train was advertised as being the next train on the departures board. The only problem was that its destination wasn't shown as being the airport, but a station called Delicias, which was only a couple of stops along the route. We figured that maybe this was a C1 train that was terminating early for some reason, but decided to get on it anyway and change at Delicias if need be. We sat on the train and within a few minutes we had arrived at Delicias. The train did indeed terminate there and we had to get off. We progressed from being slightly confused to extremely confused when we walked along the platform and found that the entire station seemed to be out of service, with no trains running towards the airport at all. Eventually, with the help of Tim speaking to a staff member in Spanish, we managed to establish that there were repair works on the line and therefore the C1 wasn't running between this station and Chamartín. In order to get to the airport, we therefore needed to catch a bus from Delicias to Madrid's Atocha railway station, another suburban train from Atocha to Chamartín, and then rejoin the C1 from Chamartín to the airport. Wow At this point I was extremely glad that we'd decided to hedge our bets and catch the earlier train back from Ávila. It was pouring with rain in Madrid by this point, but luckily the bus stop we needed wasn't too far away from the station and we managed to get on the correct bus almost straight away. The tickets we'd bought for the C1 journey worked on the bus, which was good, but once we got to Atocha and tried to get through the gates to catch the train to Chamartín, we found that they were no longer functioning. Tim spoke to yet another staff member in Spanish, who explained that they had expired. He wasn't able to do anything about it and said that we'd need to go to an official desk. We found the desk but there was an extremely long line of people, so in the interests of actually getting to the airport we decided it would be better just to buy another ticket! €6 and two more trains later, we eventually made it to Terminal 4... only to find that once we'd checked in and gone through security, we had to catch yet another train from Terminal 4 to Terminal 4S where our (delayed!!) flight was departing from. All in the all it hasn't been the easiest journey home, but that shouldn't take away from the fact that we've had a really nice relaxing weekend in Spain and visited some beautiful places
  3. Clare

    Day 2: Segovia

    We went out for a meal in Segovia last night and by the time we were walking back to the hotel, darkness had started to fall. The aqueduct looked beautiful against the night sky. So did lots of the little squares and streets in the old town As we walked back towards the hotel, we caught a glimpse of Segovia's cathedral in the distance. The cathedral is situated in the town's main square. It looked absolutely stunning illuminated like this. Once we got back to the hotel we could see the illuminated castle from our balcony too When we woke up this morning it was another beautiful sunny day. There was even a hot air balloon floating over the town We set off to explore Segovia properly in the daylight. We soon came to the cathedral, which looked just as beautiful as it had done at night. The cathedral was built between 1525 and 1577, replacing an earlier cathedral which had been destroyed in a siege. We noticed these strange gargoyles on the side of the cathedral which seemed to be sticking their tongues out! From the cathedral we continued walking through the narrow streets of the old town. It was a lot quieter in the early morning than it had been last night! One of the things we've noticed about Segovia is that lots of the buildings have beautiful patterned facades. From a distance they look like tiles... ...but when you get up close you can see that they're some sort of plasterwork. The cathedral isn't the only impressive church in Segovia. This is the church of San Esteban, which originally dates from the 12th century. By the time we got close to the aqueduct, the streets were getting busier. The aqueduct looked beautiful in the morning sunshine. It is thought to have been constructed in the first century AD and is one of the best-preserved Roman aqueducts in the world. Amazingly, it was used to bring water to the city until the mid-nineteenth century. We walked alongside it for a while and reached a point where it turns a corner. From here, we could get a glimpse of the cathedral through its arches. Once the aqueduct turns the corner it becomes lower, running alongside houses, down the middle of a street. We continued to stroll along it for a while, enjoying the shade, before eventually turning around and walking back to the centre of town. From the square outside the aqueduct we could see up towards the old town walls. We climbed up a staircase that looked like it was going to lead to promising views. Sure enough, we could soon see out over the town and towards the countryside beyond. We were right up by the highest part of the aqueduct now... ...and had a great view over the newer part of town. At the top of the walls we walked along some really narrow streets... ...past some more beautiful patterned houses... ...and came across this enormous tower. I'm not sure what it was, but the tower was covered in patterns too This part of town was colourful, with brightly painted houses. The road we were on eventually took us back towards the cathedral and main square. From there we walked back towards our hotel, which is in this pretty building. We were heading towards the castle, the Alcázar, which is on the far side of town from the aqueduct. From a little square outside the castle, we had some great views over the countryside. In the distance we could see a church... ...and a monastery. It's free to walk into the grounds of the Alcázar. To go inside the castle itself costs €8; €5.50 for the palace and €2.50 to be able to climb the tower. Throughout its history the castle has been used as a royal palace, a prison and a military academy. We bought our tickets and went inside the palace first, saving the tower for the end. There was lots of armour on display. There were also some beautiful stained glass windows. The most impressive thing about the interior though were the ceilings. This one in the throne room was my absolute favourite... ...but this one was also pretty spectacular... ...and this room, known as the Hall of the Kings, not only had an amazing ceiling but also statues of monarchs all the way around the walls. Once we'd finished exploring inside, it was time to climb the tower. We had a slight glitch as somehow we'd managed to lose our ticket, but luckily we still had the receipt and the nice man on the gate let us through. At the ticket office there had been several signs warning that there were 152 steps to climb to get to the top of the tower. We thought that didn't sound too bad... but they were up quite a steep, winding staircase, so we were both pretty tired by the time we got to the top! The top of the tower is a big viewing platform. There was a big Spanish flag on the top, blowing in the breeze... ...and we could look out across the roof of the palace, towards the smaller turrets of the castle. The most impressive views, though, were in the other direction, towards the town. We had a fantastic view of the cathedral, which really shows how enormous it is. It was definitely worth climbing all the stairs for The afternoon sun was quite hot by this point though, so after a quick drink in the castle cafe, we decided to go back to the hotel to enjoy the air-conditioning and shade for a bit before heading out again in the evening once it was cooler. Segovia is a really beautiful place and it's been a great choice for a relaxing bank holiday trip
  4. This weekend feels like a holiday which has crept up on us, because for quite a long time we didn't think we'd be going on it. We booked (reasonably!) cheap flights to Spain for the August bank holiday back in November 2018, flying to Madrid from Heathrow. The plan was to visit Segovia, a town recommended to us by a Spanish friend last time we were in Madrid in 2017. But as we got closer to summer 2019, the news was full of threats of strikes at Heathrow and the bank holiday weekend was one of the dates which was announced for strike action. It was only in mid-August that the airport announced that the strikes for this weekend were being delayed, to give unions more time to vote on a new pay offer, and so suddenly our Segovia trip was back on the cards By our standards it wasn't too early a start this morning. Our flight was at 09.15, so we left home just after 04.30 and drove down to Heathrow. Tim had booked a slightly unusual airport parking at a golf club in the general vicinity of the airport (it was cheap!) and we arrived there to find a car park and a couple of portacabins, one of which looked like it was the reception to check in and one of which looked like it belonged to the security guards. We were slightly confused to find the reception one was locked, but we were invited to sit in the other portacabin by one of the guards, who assured us that the staff would be back soon... A staff member did indeed eventually appear and the situation became clearer when, after we'd handed over the car keys etc, he led us out of the portacabin, locked the door and proceeded to drive us to the airport in his car It seems like it's a rather low-budget operation, without even a shuttle bus, and just one staff member to do both the admin and the driving! Luckily the drive down had taken less time than I'd expected, so we still arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare. While eating breakfast in Wetherspoons, I realised that last time we'd been here we'd been about to fly to Russia! This weekend should hopefully be more relaxing The flight to Madrid took just over two hours. It was a sunny day but for a lot of the journey there were just views of the sea as we flew over the Bay of Biscay. We landed in Madrid at around 12.30 local time and we could feel a blast of heat as soon as we stepped off the plane. It was definitely warmer here than at home! We had landed in Terminal 4 which was convenient, because Terminal 4 is home to the airport's train station. For around €3 each, we were able to catch a train straight from the airport to Madrid Chamartín, one of the capital's main train stations. Madrid Chamartín was where our train to Segovia was due to leave from, but not for a couple of hours. After the experience we had when trying to get to Toledo in 2017, when we couldn't travel on the train we wanted because it was already sold out, we had booked our train tickets in advance for the 15.40 train. This gave us some time to kill in Madrid, but there doesn't seem to be a lot you can do in the area around Chamartín station. When we arrived here from Salamanca in 2014, we got so confused in the mass of roads and bridges outside the station that we eventually gave up on trying to find our apartment on foot and had to take a taxi instead! So our plan for today was to stay in the vicinity of the station and get something to eat. We ended up finding a nice cafe and had a very nutritious lunch of a pizza slice and a doughnut, accompanied by a much-needed cup of coffee Spanish stations are similar to Russian ones in that you have to pass your bags through airport-style security before you can get near a train. We were travelling on a high speed train to a station called Segovia-Guiomar, which is several kilometres outside the main town of Segovia itself. The display on the train indicated that the outside temperature was 35 degrees, but the train itself was beautifully air-conditioned and we had a pleasant journey, arriving in Segovia-Guiomar just before 16.15. A lot of the train journey had been through tunnels and as we stepped out of the station we got a glimpse of the mountains we must have travelled through. The internet had made catching a bus into the centre of Segovia sound quite confusing, but in reality it couldn't have been simpler. We walked straight out of the station and crossed the road to the bus stop, where a bus was already waiting to take us into the town. It cost about €2 each and took around 15 minutes to deposit us at the edge of the old town. This was the view we got when we stepped off the bus! One of the attractions of Segovia is that it's home to this amazing Roman aqueduct The hotel we're staying at is about 1km away from the aqueduct bus stop, so we had a short walk through the old town (which looks absolutely beautiful). The hotel room is small, but comfortable. The only thing that's a little bit odd is that the air-conditioning is controlled from reception, so you have to call them if you want it turned on or off! The real bonus is that we've got a little balcony with amazing views In one direction we can see the mountains... ...and in the other direction we can see the Alcázar of Segovia in the distance. It's been quite a long day of travelling, so we were glad to get to the hotel room for a bit of a rest before heading back out into Segovia in search of dinner
  5. Tim

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    From the album: Granada 2014 - A stroll around the cathedral

    © Tim Owen CC BA 2.0

  6. Tim

    cathedral-etc-15.jpg

    From the album: Granada 2014 - A stroll around the cathedral

    © Tim Owen CC BA 2.0

  7. Tim

    cathedral-etc-16.jpg

    From the album: Granada 2014 - A stroll around the cathedral

    © Tim Owen CC BA 2.0

  8. Tim

    cathedral-etc-18.jpg

    From the album: Granada 2014 - A stroll around the cathedral

    © Tim Owen CC BA 2.0

  9. Tim

    cathedral-etc-20.jpg

    From the album: Granada 2014 - A stroll around the cathedral

    © Tim Owen CC BA 2.0

  10. Tim

    cathedral-etc-21.jpg

    From the album: Granada 2014 - A stroll around the cathedral

    © Tim Owen CC BA 2.0

  11. Tim

    cathedral-etc-22.jpg

    From the album: Granada 2014 - A stroll around the cathedral

    © Tim Owen CC BA 2.0

  12. Tim

    cathedral-etc-24.jpg

    From the album: Granada 2014 - A stroll around the cathedral

    © Tim Owen CC BA 2.0

  13. Tim

    cathedral-etc-25.jpg

    From the album: Granada 2014 - A stroll around the cathedral

    © Tim Owen CC BA 2.0

  14. Tim

    cathedral-etc-26.jpg

    From the album: Granada 2014 - A stroll around the cathedral

    © Tim Owen CC BA 2.0

  15. Tim

    cathedral-etc-27.jpg

    From the album: Granada 2014 - A stroll around the cathedral

    © Tim Owen CC BA 2.0

  16. Tim

    cathedral-etc-28.jpg

    From the album: Granada 2014 - A stroll around the cathedral

    © Tim Owen CC BA 2.0

  17. Tim

    cathedral-etc-29.jpg

    From the album: Granada 2014 - A stroll around the cathedral

    © Tim Owen CC BA 2.0

  18. Tim

    cathedral-etc-30.jpg

    From the album: Granada 2014 - A stroll around the cathedral

    © Tim Owen CC BA 2.0

  19. Tim

    cathedral-etc-31.jpg

    From the album: Granada 2014 - A stroll around the cathedral

    © Tim Owen CC BA 2.0

  20. Tim

    cathedral-etc-32.jpg

    From the album: Granada 2014 - A stroll around the cathedral

    © Tim Owen CC BA 2.0

  21. Tim

    cathedral-etc-33.jpg

    From the album: Granada 2014 - A stroll around the cathedral

    © Tim Owen CC BA 2.0

  22. Tim

    cathedral-etc-34.jpg

    From the album: Granada 2014 - A stroll around the cathedral

    © Tim Owen CC BA 2.0

  23. Tim

    cathedral-etc-35.jpg

    From the album: Granada 2014 - A stroll around the cathedral

    © Tim Owen CC BA 2.0

  24. Tim

    cathedral-etc-37.jpg

    From the album: Granada 2014 - A stroll around the cathedral

    © Tim Owen CC BA 2.0

  25. Tim

    cathedral-etc-38.jpg

    From the album: Granada 2014 - A stroll around the cathedral

    © Tim Owen CC BA 2.0

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