Barcelona 2017 – Day Four – Where is Espanyol?

It is always difficult to fill the time before a flight but we were determined not to waste the time that we did have, especially hearing that it was raining in the UK and the sun was out in Barcelona. The hotel where we were staying was very well located close to the Gothic Quarter so we headed out that way through the back streets as Alex wanted to try and buy a football shirt.

Like most big cities Barcelona boasts more than one football team: FC Barcelona and Espanyol but you wouldn’t know that from the variety of shirts on offer. It would have been easier to find a Real Madrid shirt than one for Espanyol but Alex had his eyes on the latter so an extensive search was required to secure. In the end one was found, and I literally mean one as that was all the shop seemed to have, for the very reasonable price of €30 in Las Ramblas.

Las Ramblas runs from the Placa de Catalunya down to the sea front and has a bit of a reputation as the place where you are most likely to lose your wallet to pick pockets. However, it is an attractive street being very wide with a tree lined pedestrian bit in the middle filled with street traders. About half way up, off to one side, is a market packed with both traders and tourists. This is a fascinating place as you can buy produce such as fish, meats and vegetables as well as stopping for a tapas snack. It very much reminds me of the covered market in Oxford.

Finally with gifts secured for all those that required them we headed back to the hotel to check out and make the trip back to the airport and home. There was a final reminder of the main event at the airport too – a Williams FW40 – going about as fast as it did on track!

Barcelona 2017 – Day Three – Grand Prix

The whole point of this weekend away was so that we could go to the Spanish Grand Prix, everything else was really built around that. The circuit is only half an hour out of the city and so is an ideal venue to visit, although it can be a fairly pedestrian race but live sport always tops what you see on TV.

In order to get to the circuit we had pre-booked a bus which would take us directly from the city to the track. There were, however, a number of unknowns in all of that: how early would we need to be at the bus station to secure a place? How long would the coach take? How close to the circuit would it drop us? Our answer in times of transport uncertainty such as this is to leave plenty of contingency, much to the dismay of the boys. So it was that we arrived at the bus station at just before 10 and we certainly weren’t the only ones there. Fortunately it was all well organised and we were onto a bus within ten minutes and at the circuit a further 30 minutes later.

I was convinced that we had booked a covered grandstand and so when we reached the corner with our stand it came as a bit of a shock that it was in full sun and 25 degrees. By the end of the day the the boys and myself all had red knees despite slathering on the sun tan cream several times during the day. Rather than sit there and fry we went off to take a look at what was on offer around the circuit. It was interesting to see the size of the concessions selling team merchandise were proportional to the teams popularity (I assume). McLaren seemed to have been afforded a stall the same size as those of Mercedes and Ferrari which initially I couldn’t make any sense of until I remembered Fernando Alonso. The Williams concession was half the size of the big boys and minnows (in terms of merchandise sales) Force India and Haas had to share a stand half the size again. Although I was already kitted out in my Williams hat and top I was in the market for a tee shirt at least. However, the prices were eye watering, particularly when you consider that Williams are currently offering 40% off on their website so I passed.

We were back in our seats in plenty of time for the start and had a really good view of the last few corners before the start/finish straight and the pit lane entrance. There was also a big screen in the distance so we could follow what was going on in the parts of the track that we couldn’t see. For me, as a Williams supporter, my race was over before the end of the first lap when Felipe Massa came past with a puncture and sparks flying from the bottom of the car. The race looked as if it was going to be pretty dull until there was a virtual safety car (brought on by Massa) which allowed Hamilton to make a late stop and close the gap to Vettel. Track-side I’m still not sure quite how he managed to cut the deficit so I’ll probably watch the race re-run to find out exactly what happened. This did, however, make for an exciting last laps as Hamilton closed in on the Ferrari and took the lead to take the win.

Grand Prix racing isn’t as tribal as football and so it was not unusual to see someone wearing, say, a McLaren hat with a Williams tee shirt, which really messed with my head as, to my mind, McLaren are the arch enemies of the boys from Grove. Similarly while the fans in the stands did give a big cheer for local drivers Alonso and Sainz they also cheered, well, pretty much any action so when Vettel took the lead from Bottas and when Hamilton passed Vettel.

Once the race was over everyone was up and out of their seats to make a swift exit. We retraced our steps to the bus stop where there was a looooong line of people waiting to board the buses back to the city. I steeled myself for a long wait but Sagales, the bus company with whom we had booked, were incredibly efficient and with so many buses available we were on one and away within 15 minutes. I cannot praise Sagales highly enough for the service there and back – it was tremendous.

Back in Barcelona we went out for a tapas meal and then found a local bar where Mat got through what was two very large glasses of sangria. It was a great end to a fun day.

Barcelona 2017 – Day Two – Going Topless 

We are a family of different sleeping patterns and so today to accommodate that we had a more leisurely start to the day. While one of the boys caught up on his beauty sleep Helen and I found a local coffee shop to have some breakfast consisting of a chocolate croissant and foul tasting cup of tea. To be fair the tea wasn’t the issue, it was the hot, UHT milk served with it.  We then regrouped ready to catch a hop-on, hop-off bus to take us to the sights.

Barcelona is an interesting place but the real interest lies in the architecture left behind by Gaudi and not just the famous, unfinished, church. We a number of examples of his work on the journey and made our first actual stopping point to be the Gueli Park which has a monuments section featuring Gaudi’s work. Unfortunately the first tickets available for this weren’t available for entry until 6pm. Instead we walked round the free bits of the park which are interesting in a dull sort of way. All the architecture in this part seem to have been constructed before Gaudi discovered colour.

From here it was back to the bus and onward to the next stop, which turned out to be lunch. I make no excuses for this but lunch turned out to be a KFC, something that we’d normally only do in our hour of need but it was convenient, cheap-ish and filling.

After lunch we took the bus to the palace. We should have been able to walk from the grand square at the bottom right up to the entrance but there was a motor show taking up the walkway so we had to arrive via the backstreets which wasn’t quite the grand entrance we’d hoped for. It was an impressive place nevertheless. The final stint on the bus took us down to the seafront from where we walked back to the hotel.

In the evening we went out to see the Sagrada Familia (that unfinished church) at night. Only the front was lit and it didn’t look that impressive as it had during the day which was disappointing. What wasn’t disappointing was the meal – it was great to find a traditional pizzeria in the middle of Barcelona 😉

Tomorrow the unknown that is the Spanish Grand Prix.

Barcelona 2017 – Day One – Nou Camp

Since the boys left home a couple of years ago our holidays have been strictly child free (not that they are children now of course). Today, however, we set off for a weekend away with all four of us in attendance for the first time in a while. Destination Barcelona. This meant a 5am start to catch the early plane from Heathrow. On arrival at Barcelona we dumped our bags and headed for the obligatory tapas lunch. No matter how hard we try we always seem to order too much and it’s impossible to stem the flow of plates arriving at the table Fortunately having the boys with us helps with this issue as they suck up everything in sight.

This weekend has a very sporty feel to it with the main event (for me at least) being the Grand Prix on Sunday. However, Alex may feel differently as he likes some game called “football” so this afternoon we we to Nou Camp, the home of FC Barcelona. I have to be honest and say that it wasn’t really something that I was greatly looking forward to, not being a football fan but I actually thoroughly enjoyed it. I wasn’t all that interested in the museum at the beginning, although the number of trophies was initially impressive until I noticed that they had sneaked in those from their winning roller hockey team too!

Once released from the museum you were allowed to go through the stadium itself. It wasn’t quite a free for all but I was impressed with both the areas you were allowed to go to and the fact that you weren’t unduly supervised or herded. So we were able to go out into the stands and see the impressive stadium. As with most modern stadiums the view for most seats seemed pretty good although given how high up some seats are you might need oxygen. Next it was down to the touch line and the technical area where Alex had great fun recreating yet another Man U loss!

We were then able to go to the press room and the “pens” where manager and players are interviewed post match and up to the view from the media area.

Finally, like all good tours, it was exit via the gift shop where we all managed to avoid picking up a Messi shirt. My money is staying firmly in my pocket until I get to the circuit on Sunday and pick up a pair of these…

The Hypocrite – the Play that Went Wrong

A few years ago, when he was only famous for Gavin and Stacey, James Corden stared in a play by Richard Bean called “One Man, Two Govners” and we were lucky to be able to see it and him during its London run. It was tremendous fun and so when we saw that Bean had written another play we quickly booked up to see it.

The Hypocrite is set in Hull of all places during the lead up to the civil war during the reign of Charles I and has a stellar cast including Mark Addy, Caroline Quentin and Lloydy from Preston Front. 

The play retains all the elements that made One Man so good – the side achingly funny one liners, the riotous behaviour, the slapstick and the old and decrepit butler. If you have seen One Man you’ll be pleased that someone falls or is pushed down a hole not once but three times in The Hypocrite!

There was an added element in The Hypocrite in that it also had music in the form of, I guess, strolling minstrels who played between each section of the play. They also came into their own last night as they were called upon to improvise and fill in when there was an issue on stage…

There is a running gag through the play about a bed designed by Indigo Jones. Turns out that the last scene includes this very bed which is wheeled onto the stage. The problem last night was that the bed was too high to fit under the top of the stage. At first I thought that this might be part of the play, a bit like when Corden’s character interacts with the audience over his lunch. I still wasn’t certain that it wasn’t a part of the play when the stage manager came on to tell us that they were having problems and there would be a short delay. Turns out it was about a five minute delay during which the musicians, who were excellent, did an impromptu turn involving the audience. When the curtain came back up the bed was manhandled into place by numerous stage hands and things got going again. Somehow this added rather than detracted from the whole thing. 

Turns out that we were at The Hypocrite for the very last night of its run in Stratford having also done a run in Hull prior to that. I’m not sure what the plans for it next are but I’m not sure how well it would transfer to the West End due to it being a bit parochial (if you’re from Hull and know the area some of the jokes are just for you). I hope that it gets a longer run somewhere as it is quite brilliant and I would love to go see it again.

Record Store Day/Are You Listening? Festival 2017

In what is now rapidly becoming a tradition I was up at 05:45 and in the centre of Reading by 06:15 to join the back of the queue for Record Store Day 2017.

When the list was first published earlier this year I looked down it and found that little on it moved me. I did wonder whether to skip it completely this year but in the end it’s actually a fun thing to do – stand out in the cold for two and a half hours fretting that the one thing you really want on your list will have already gone!

What I really wanted this year was the new release by The The, limited to only 2000 copies UK-wide I did wonder whether by the time I reached the head of the queue it would be gone. That presented no problems as it turned out and I even managed to snap up the shops only copy of The Buggles “Video killed the radio star” a 12″ picture disc.

This is the 10th year of Record Store Day and when it was first started it was to help local, independent record stores. With the resurgence of vinyl one wonders if that is still necessary and whether the record companies see this as an opportunity to make a quick buck.

The prices for these releases can be eye watering. The The The single is an excellent but one sided 7″ coming in at £10. While the 12″ double Marillion album on gold coloured vinyl was better value at just over double that. My total spend this year was £63 but the guy in front of me spent £380…

This year Record Store Day coincided with the Are you listening? music festival held in town. By the time this started I was beginning to run out of steam (I’m not as young as I once was) and so I didn’t do as much as I did last year.

I saw Big Zero once again and I really like their quirky ways but being on at 2pm was way too early for their kind of music. I also enjoyed the Amazons in conversation with some Radio 1 DJ (Unless it is Tony Blackburn I have no idea on modern R1 DJs) so much so that I have had their “Black Magic” on repeat almost since then.

Looking at the dates for next years festival and record store day it is unlikely that I will be able to attend either as that is when we’ll likely be on holiday which is a great shame as both are great fun.

Yorkshire by Plane

Last weekend, for the first time, we made the trip to my in-laws in Yorkshire by plane. Normally we would make the 200 mile journey either by road or rail. We prefer to let the train take the strain if we can as we prefer to let someone else drive and we can avoid the inevitable queues on the M1. For some reason this time I checked the prices of flights from Heathrow to Leeds/Bradford and was surprised that the cost was very similar to the train prices. By catching an early flight we could be in Yorkshire for breakfast – something that wouldn’t have been possible with the train.

So early Friday morning (it was the Easter weekend) we made our way to Heathrow. Of course the headline price didn’t include parking at the airport which bumps up the price but if we’d wanted to we could have taken the bus which would have helped.

What you don’t get on the train are the security checks required of modern plane travel and it was with dismay that I saw our only bag selected for additional screening. This was not good news as the queue was long but when we did get to the front the reason was explained to us – the scan looked as if we had put liquid in our case. We hadn’t but we had to empty the contents to prove it. This wasn’t as easy as it sounds as we had packed a number of presents for people which were wrapped. We had visions of being asked to unwrap them all to prove that they weren’t liquids. Fortunately the security officer was able to identify the offending item which we told him was a set of wooden flowers. Once they had been rescanned and swabbed we were good to go without further delay.

British Airways, in its drive to go downmarket and compete with the likes of EasyJet and Ryanair, no longer provides anything in the way of food and drink for short haul flights so we breakfasted in the airport before flying. While I understand that BA wishes to be seen to be competitive on price taking away the last differentiator doesn’t seem to be to be the best way to do that. Of course the low cost carriers don’t fly from Heathrow… yet.

The train journey to Yorkshire takes over four hours and involves a change of trains at York. The plane is direct and takes only 45 minutes – not long enough to comfortably complete an episode of Blakes 7 as I discovered! That meant that flying we were out of the airport and on our way by 9am. On the train by 9am we wouldn’t be much further than Oxford.

There is, however, one similarity between all modes of transport – when you reach your destination the weather will be exactly the same and in our case grey and drizzily.

#KeepTheSecrets

About 18 months ago tickets for the Harry Potter plays went on sale and I found myself in an online queue waiting patiently to get to the front. When I did I managed to secure tickets for March 2017. That seemed like such a ridiculously long time away and, it was, but eventually it did come round and we finally went last weekend.

The reason that this post is called #KeepTheSecrets is that is what you are asked to do when seeing the play so I will try and not give any spoilers in this post but if you are at all concerned look away now, as they say.

I’d wondered how well the Harry Potter universe, which covers such a geographically spread and diverse set of locations, would translate to the stage. I was even more curious when I saw what was, to all intents and purposes, an empty stage. The designers has decided that there was no way that they were going to recreate the scenes such as Hogwarts or Diagon Alley and so went for a minimalist look that worked incredibly well. There were a number of stage tricks that were used to perform some of the better known tricks that appear in both the books and film – travelling by floo being simple but incredibly effective. Movable staircases and trunks are made good use of to cover all sorts of situations.

The story itself takes place 20 years after the last book and centres around the friendship of the sons of Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy – Albus and Scorpius respectively. Neither seem to live up to the expectations of their fathers and Harry in particular just seems to spend all his time with Albus shouting at him.

Again without giving too much away I was pretty disappointed with the story which I thought was pretty weak and just an excuse to go over lots of old ground, sort of like a greatest hits of the books/films. Of course die hard Harry Potter fans will welcome this but to me it seemed a wasted opportunity.

Oh and I really don’t think that it needs to be spread over two parts – unless you are the promotor of course…

So an enjoyable experience yes and incredibly well staged but let down by a weak story that didn’t do the books justice.

York, England, 2017

We have a busy year of travelling planned for 2017 which started with a trip to York last weekend to meet some friends. As usual we got the train up from Reading arriving late Friday afternoon to a decidedly chilly platform. As it turned out that was to be the high point as far as the weather was concerned and affected our decisions on where we went.

Saturday morning we met up with our friends and decided that given the cold, wet conditions we needed to start with something indoors and so we made our way to the York Museum. Actually I think that’s a bit of a misnomer as the museum is less about York and much more to do with social history of the UK. There are some interesting exhibits but the real attraction is the recreation of a Victorian street. Turns out that the shop fronts here are all originals taken from streets from across the UK – no doubt now replaced by big glass fronted windows. The street goes on for a surprising distance and includes quite a variety of shops.

Exiting the museum the rain was just as hard as when we went in. Hoping that it might ease off over lunch proved not to be the case and so another dry option was sought. First choice was to visit the minster but the £10 per person price tag was off putting and so finally I got to go round the cathedral like building that houses the railway museum!

Now I’m no train spotter but there are some beautiful machines housed in the enormous museum buildings. They have managed to collect together a vast range of machines spanning both ages and continents. However, I really only have eyes for the marvels that are the steam trains, such magnificent pieces of engineering, some of which have wheels taller than me.

Unlike the minster entry to the Railway Museum is free but I’d have happily paid to go round and so made a donation instead.

Sunday was spent plodding round the wet streets of the Shambles, a narrow set of quaint streets around the minster. No doubt in days gone by they would have been selling snacks and souvenirs to tourists visiting the minster. Not much has changed as there between the Fat Faces and the White Stuffs are shops selling bags of fudge and tacky fridge magnets.

York is a lovely place which much to do and see but try and go when it isn’t wet and cold.