Barcelona

The people of Barcelona are in turmoil in more ways than one.  Leaving aside the independence issue which remains unresolved, the permanent residents of the city have had enough of the huge numbers of visitors. The city is awash with foreign workers and tourists. You can’t blame people for wanting to experience this unique city – wacky buildings, art galleries, nightlife – it even boasts a beach, although there are much better ones along the Costa Brava – a stone’s throw away by train. But there is a limit.

June, July and August are murder! You can hardly walk along the pavements, there are that many people. Best to leave it till earlier or later in the year when the temperature is kinder and the bars and shops are not brimming to capacity.

A lot of people think Barcelona is quite a dangerous city – muggings and attacks are common, although you have to question the common sense of some tourists! Bars, clubs, restaurants and taxi drivers have no qualms about over charging you but  I suspect this is true of any large city anywhere in the world.  We tourists are like lambs to the slaughter!

All that said, I go there a lot and have never had a problem. I also go to other parts of Spain, but no other Spanish city has its architecture, and atmosphere  – it’s a real culture vulture’s paradise.  Also, its balmy sub tropical climate means it never gets really cold, unlike the Pyrenees or Madrid, and when you want some ‘me time’  there are parks like  Montjuic, beaches close by and some lovely gardens – we visited the Marimurtra Jardín Botánico in Blanes last Spring – probably a tad early in the season, but still worth the trip and just a short train ride along the coast.

 

Of course, the city’s architecture draws many people to Barcelona – along almost every street you will see beautiful balconies and façades or wobbly reflections of the buildings opposite.  You can see why artists (and there are hordes of street artists along Las Ramblas, vying for your custom)  find inspiration here – the light is magical.

Music is also an important part of the experience: – there is the incredible Modernist concert venue – el Palau de la Música – the building itself is a work of art and whatever time of day you go past there are people photographing it, but inside is where the real magic happens! There are street musicians plying their trade in lots of the squares around town, even classical musicians and opera singers.  The Opera House just off the main Rambla is also worth a visit for the building alone; Spaniards are known for their tardiness but the opera is one thing that starts on time!! Also on the main Rambla is the famous Boquería food market.

Visit one of myriad art galleries, celebrating the works of well known artists such as Picasso, Joan Miró and the wackiest catalán of them all, Salvador Dalí, although a better place to see his work is in the town of his birth, Figueres – just up the coast.

There are many temporary exhibitions to enjoy too.

    

I’ll leave you with a picture of the interior of a recently refurbished restaurant – guess what their speciality is!

Maybe Freddy Mercury said it best. In this duet he is performing with fabulous world renowned soprano, Montserrat Caballé, who was born in Barcelona and died only recently, on October 6, 2018,  at the age of 85.

 

Remembrance Sunday 2018

Remembrance Sunday 2018 – the centenary of Armistice Day – the end of the First World War, and for some of us a day to remember for different reasons. I had always wanted to learn the skill of bell ringing, so with that aim in mind, in May of this year I made my way to Hereford Cathedral where local bell ringers had set up a mini – ring to demonstrate what actually happens when you pull on that rope and the bell, which is usually hidden in a chamber above your head, turns through 360 + degrees and chimes out.  I was invited by the tower captain, Karen Powell,  of St. Bartholomew’s, Holmer,  to start my apprenticeship under the watchful eye of her husband, Dave,  whose career in bell ringing spans some 30 + years. I practised every Tuesday, from June to October, and eventually joined the regular ringers for their practice on a Thursday evening. I learned to ring handstroke and backstroke unaided and was just getting the hang of learning to ring rounds with the others when disaster struck – I was forced to take a break due to a car accident.

The regular ringers continued with their preparations. Experienced ringer, Hayley Clarke, had been given the task of ensuring that all the local churches which had ringable bells also had a full complement of ringers on Remembrance Sunday – no mean feat as it turned out ! But she succeeded and on Sunday November 11th church bells across the county rang out from 12.30  onwards.

Before this the team had already rung the bells muffled for the service at Holmer, before ringing open at 12.30. Then, after a photo call, 

we three apprentices,  Jayne Morgan, Laura Simpson, and myself joined the regular Holmer bellringers on a ride round the lanes of Herefordshire to call in on four other churches. starting at  Vowchurch, in the west of the county, which has a ring of 3 bells.

Next stop was just down the road at Peterchurch. First impressions? it was so warm and cosy ! With the aid of Heritage funding, the church has become an important social space for local residents,  with a café, comfy sofas to sit on, a library cum bell tower on the first floor,  as well as some lovely traditional stained glass windows.

      

We then visited Tyberton, a small village about 3 miles west of Madley. Tyberton has an unusual red brick built church with plain windows. See if you can spot the other unusual feature in the next few photos!

Yes, that’s him – the dummy vicar who resides in the bell tower! Anyway, here we are, apprentices and old hands alike, marking the day. After Tyberton we called at Holme Lacy, a beautiful, but sadly, redundant church. When you decide to learn to ring church bells one thing you realise is that there are ladders or spiral staircases to be negotiated to get up to the ringing chambers in some churches – in Holmer we are spoilt because it is a ground tower – and I am told Herefordshire has a disproportionate number of ground towers, but eventually you face a scary ladder. Luckily, Holme Lacy’s looked scary -but wasn’t !

Holme Lacy, a beautiful church, set in the lovely Herefordshire countryside near the River Wye,  boasts some unusual stained glass windows.

 

Our last stop was Wellington, a village, just north of Hereford, off the A49. This time it did mean wending our way up a stone spiral staircase but quite an amenable one.

This day was special –  It was special to be part of it and special when you realise that this anniversary will never be  repeated -the Centenary of the end of a war which happened at the beginning of the last century. My grandfather would remember it as he was one of those boy soldiers who ran away to fight, to serve his country.  But with each passing generation it becomes harder to recall the sacrifice and suffering that those men endured to guarantee peace for ensuing generations. But remember we must! 

It was special for me too because I am starting to achieve something I had wanted to do – to acquire a skill and help maintain a tradition which is so quintessentially English – when you hear bells ring out on a Sunday morning you think of everything that is good about England.

And …………. bell ringing is fun! Try it!

CLICK HERE TO SEE A VIDEO of The Holmer Band at Tyberton

Bristol Balloon Fiesta 2018

Our second attempt at the Bristol Balloon Fiesta! This year we decided to camp overnight – well, I say camp,  but it was a lot more civilized than that – we spent two nights in this splendid vehicle

whilst all around us there were brave souls in tents  – not my idea of fun.  The campsite was actually Cotham rugby pitch, which meant there was a clubhouse, showers, toilets,  an outside tap for water and a bar to get beer and hot food all close by!

The Fiesta is run over 4 days and IF the weather had been more benign those four days would have been packed with exciting arena activities like wing walkers and  parabatix,  but as we all know, in the UK that is a big ‘IF‘.

This year’s programme included 6 mass launches – one at 6 am and one at 6 pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday – I’m not sure but  I think I may have witnessed the only one that happened  – the Saturday dawn launch. The organizers were at the mercy of the rain and wind for most of the weekend – a real shame.

This is what greeted me as I headed down the hill towards the main arena

 

I was not alone! It was like an army on the march

The first balloon we saw was this owl

 

although I don’t think he actually left the ground.

There were around 40 ‘Special Shapes’ balloons – I spotted 9 – this motorbike, the dog, Bertie Bassett, a fire extinguisher, a lion from Longleat, Paddy Power’s green Y fronts, a Minion, a Panasonic battery, a fish and even a Scottish piper!

From Friday to Sunday there were two mass launches planned each day of over 100 balloons – one at 6 am and one at 6 pm. There were all manner of food and drink stalls, bars, trade stands, a fun fair, huge inflatable slides all around the huge arena – lots to keep people happy – but 12 hours is a long time between launches even for your stalwart Fiesta fan – so my advice is to pace yourself! Or just plan to see one. Of course, this sort of thing is completely weather dependent and the weather wasn’t cooperating!

I watched the mayhem in the main arena – dozens of balloons jostling for space, inflating in a matter of minutes and taking to the clear blue skies over Bristol, watched by masses of spectators, cooking burgers and bacon on portable barbies! I wouldn’t trust myself to make a coffee at that time in the morning let alone be in charge of a barbecue.

I headed back up the hill in the general direction of our campsite but I noticed that in an area over to the right some of the balloons were landing – another photo opp.

By three o’clock the rain had set in so there was little activity in the main arena – we should have been watching the likes of Lee McCrory perform his aerial antics, but things were turning decidedly damp so we headed back up the hill (again! certainly got some exercise on Saturday!) and bide our time in the comfort of our mobile home. But nocturnal activities were also a washout, the Night Glow, where they tether the balloons and illuminate them, was cancelled. The firework display did go ahead, which went some way to ameliorating my brother’s disappointment at the Gin stall being closed!!

There was no improvement in the weather by Sunday and an air of despondency and resignation descended on the campsite as people decided to pack up and go home early.

 

I really felt for everyone concerned in the organisation of such a huge event as well as all the spectators who didn’t see a single balloon lift off, especially as we have had weeks of wall to wall sunshine!!

I didn’t feel for some of the food and drink stalls which were happy to charge outrageous prices (for sometimes almost inedible food – you know who you are!) My best buy was a disposable rain poncho from the Hospice stand – £1 – a bargain!

So ……….. here’s to next year. The Balloon Fiesta is a great spectacle – and no one can do anything about the weather…………

so let’s hope for sunshine.