The reason that we chose to take our holiday in Spain this year was because the guitar orchestra our younger son plays in was touring there and this was to be our last opportunity to see him play with them.
Mat has been learning to play the guitar with Berkshire Maestros for ten years now and has been with the Berkshire Youth Guitar Orchestra (BYGO) for probably about five years. During that time he, amongst other things, has toured Italy and Spain and played at a garden party for the queen. So it has been a fantastic experience for him.
Our final outing to see him was in the classy seaside resort of Lloret De Mar. While the town was nothing special the venue was – an ornate church which looked fantastic when lit up as you can see from the pictures below.
BYGO played probably the longest set that we have ever seen them play and we have been to a few. They included the excellent Final Calling, which is written by a former BYGO member, and a cover of Santana’s Smooth. The latter is played by the full orchestra on classical guitars and Mat as the sole electric guitar. If you have a listen to the track embedded below you will hear his solo towards the end (along with assorted coughing and shuffling!).
Both Helen and I are incredible proud of him and what he has achieved with BYGO and listening to the track below really makes me swell with pride.
All of this will be of deep embarrassment to Mat as he likes to slip under the radar a bit but as I have already said it is a a great achievement that we are all proud of – well done Mat!
When we were out last night having dinner out in a square in Girona we noticed that the tables were covered in a fine layer of ash and when we got up this morning I noticed that the balcony on our hotel room was similarly dusted. Checking the BBC news it quickly became clear. There had been a massive forest fire covering some 32,000 acres just north of where we were. Slightly more worryingly was the news that the fire had come within only 10k of Figures where our son was staying. A mid-morning text was reassuring but he and the rest of BYGO had had to spend last night sleeping on the coach as the the road back to Figures had been closed due to the fire when they returned back from last nights concert. Sometimes it’s best to only discover these things after the event!
Anyone that knows us will be aware that Helen and I like to build in plenty of contingency into our travel plans much to the annoyance of our sons when they get dumped at some rendezvous before the allotted time. Today was one time when we were mighty glad that we did. We left the hotel in Girona at midday for a 16:30 flight from Barcelona, a journey that should have taken no more than an hour and a half. All was going swimmingly until we reached the toll booths on the AP7 when everything ground to a halt. It transpired that only a single lane seemed to be working and half a dozen lanes of frustrated traffic was trying to squeeze down into a single lane. To my mind the sensible thing to do would have been to simply open the barriers and let cars through without paying. That clearly wasn’t going to be an option for the cash strapped Spanish toll operators who resolutely watch the queue grow longer and longer and temperatures rise. When things did get sorted over an hour later and we reached the front of the queue an unapologetic worker helped relieve me of €6.50 despite my suggesting that they had a cheek taking anything. Anyway we were on our way.
So thanks to the toll problems we now had much less contingency left than we had envisioned and the leisurely late lunch we had planned was looking less likely. On reaching the exit off the motorway for the airport we realised that we didn’t actually know what terminal we were leaving from. Under normal circumstances this wouldn’t have been a problem but since Saturday afternoon we hadn’t had any 2G or 3G coverage (thanks Three!) so I couldn’t check. Anyway there were only two terminals so I had a 50:50 chance of getting it right. Wrong! We now had to make a mad dash from one terminal to the other which, of course, was right the other side of the airport.
All the hanging around at the toll booth and extra trip between terminals had used more fuel than I had anticipated and meant that the gauge was no longer showing full so on dumping the car before dashing to the check-in desk we were politely informed that we would be stung with a punitive charge for returning the tank not full. Still we had made it to the right terminal and had time to spare… Just!
So we went to the desk to drop off our bags and the guy behind the desk said to us “are you on the 4 or 5 o’clock flight?!” There goes another half an hour and that was the last of our contingency swallowed up. However, at least we HAD some contingency. A number of our friends and probably both our boys would have been completely screwed.
As I type this somewhere over Nantes I am left wondering what today has in store for us. Wait, what’s this in the complementary paper? Border staff going on strike!
Postscript. When describing the above to our elder son he pointed out that to most people arriving in time to have a meal (if you can call a Big Mac a meal) would mean that we made it in plenty of time. He may have a point but we won’t be changing our approach!
While Peratallada and Pals may sound like some cheesy folk band they are in fact a couple of medieval villages to the north of Girona. Peratallada is completely encircled with its original wall and inside is a maze of winding cobbled streets and tourists. Pals is arguably the more attractive of the two but has been expanded over time with the obligatory industrial zones on the outskirts.
To complete our tour of places beginning with the letter P we visited Palafrugell which turned out to be a huge mistake as a) it was very unattractive and b) was shut. It is easy to forget what towns were like before the introduction of Sunday opening hours but Palafrugell was a prime example as it was like a ghost town. At least it was easy to park!
All this week I have been carrying with me the cold I had brought with me from the UK. While this was certainly not life threatening the blocked ears made it difficult for me to hear and I am concerned about what the cabin pressure on the flight back will do to them. Therefore I decided to try and get some decongestant at the local chemist. This meant miming “I have blocked ears due to catarrh” to the pharmacist which was a challenge that would have stretched even Lionel Blair! I have come away with a massive bottle of disgusting tasting liquid but being unable to read the label it could be for almost anything!
Having done the major tourist attractions over the last few days we decided to head off the beaten track today. Initially we set the satnav for Besalú, a pretty medieval town, where we could walk the cobbled streets and admire the walls. But this was in the guide book and not the real spain that we wanted to see. Also I had a hankering to go off into the hills so we thew caution to the wind a picked a place off the regular tourist trail and set the satnav for it.
We should have taken the warning that the satnav threw up a little more seriously but the message was a little ambiguous and the scenery was great. When I said “off the beaten track” I hadn’t meant literally but this is what we got. You know that sinking feeling that you get when the satnav says “turn sharp right in 500 yards” and you go “she can’t mean down here surely? Bloody hell she does!”. Well it was one of those moments when the tarmac ran out and a narrow, unmade, dusty trail took its place. Being the pioneers that we are we pressed on regardless desperately hoping that we wouldn’t meet a milk lorry or even a stray goat coming the other way!
Eventually we rejoined civilisation but we decided at that point that we had had enough excitement for one day and made our way back to the safety of our hotel in Girona.
After a busy day yesterday we had a slow start to today with a wander around Girona before heading off to the coast for the concert that Mat was taking part in. The guitar group that Mat is in, Berkshire Youth Guitar Orchestra (BYGO), consists of about 30 young guitarists playing a selection of mainly classical pieces. Therefore it was a surprise that the concert was being held in Lloret de Mar which, as we drove through it, resembled a scene from the Inbeteweeners movie. The streets were lined with the sort of establishments that you would find at a typical British seaside resort and on the beach were many Europeans being baked to a crisp.
If the above didn’t give you a picture of Lloret de Mar then the following should. Lloret de Mar is on the Costa Brava and on the coastal road into the town at set intervals were young women dressed in very little, leaving nothing to the imagination. I would say that these were women of the night but given that this was late afternoon I am not sure that epithet applies. How I am sure that they were prostitutes? I’m not. It’s not as if I pulled up next to one and got Helen to wind down the window to ask. I suppose that they could all have been waiting for the bus into town and if so then that’s one bus route I wouldn’t have minded driving but, no, I am pretty certain. I drove past with a mixture of open mouthed fascination and sadness that it was going on in such a brazen fashion. In all there must have been about a dozen on the stretch that we drove along (quickly, not curb crawling) so there is clearly a market.
With this as a backdrop it was quite a surprise to find such a beautiful church (see below) in amongst all this but there it was the venue for tonights concert.
The concert itself consisted of three groups from a local guitar school followed by BYGO who played the most pieces I think that I have ever heard them play. I have some recording of the concert which I will upload once I get back home but suffice to say we were very proud of Mat when he got up to play his guitar solo during BYGO’s rendition of Santana’s Smooth. There was also a touch of sadness for us as this is the last time that we will get to see Mat play as he leaves the group in the summer.
After the concert Mat went off with the rest of the group and we won’t see him again until he returns to the UK next week. We, meanwhile, have our own packed itinerary which continues tomorrow.
For logistical reasons we decided to go to Barcelona today rather than wait for the weekend rush. So we went off to the train station in search of, well , a train. Arriving at the first counter I explained to the woman behind the glass in my best English that I wish to purchase to return tickets to Barcelona. She looked at me and waved to her right. So we moved along to the next window to our left and repeated my request where we were met by a similar response. Being nothing is not creatures of habit we joined the final queue to the left and took stock of our position. It then became clear that we were actually in the bus station rather than the train station and the hand gesticulations had actually been to tell us that we needed the BUILDING to the left and not the next counter as we had assumed. Doh! So ticket purchased we got the very sleek and comfortable next train bound for Barcelona.
On arrival we wandered and did some of the things that tourists are expected to do ending up on La Rambla where we knew that there was a covered market that did great tapa, amongst other things. We found a slot at a very busy booth and set about ordering a number of tapas items followed by a couple of main dishes. As soon as the tapas arrived it became clear that the main dishes wouldn’t be required and it took some doing to eat enough of all we had ordered to not embarrass ourselves! The food was great, however.
We finished off the day with an obligatory trip to the Sagrada Familia where progress is as slow as ever. We have been once before (actually twice in Helen’s case) and have vowed not to come back until it is complete – that might mean not coming back again!
The train back was a bit of a shocker compared with the luxury of the mornings offering. This train was the slow train to Girona, stopping everywhere and was packed. Fortunately we were able to get a seat although there are beds in Siberian prisons that are softer! It was good to get off and stretch.
We went off on our summer holidays today as groupies for BYGO with whom our son plays. Actually it’s not as bad as it sounds as we are staying in a different town and will only see him once, briefly, for a concert on Friday night, which will be the last ever opportunity we get to see him play with BYGO.
Today though was all about getting there and having to endure some of the worst cabin pressure I’ve had for a very long time. The last twenty minutes coming in to land were pretty painful and I was glad to step off the plane even if my ears are now screwed up as a consequence.
It is a source of constant fascination to me that we always seem to have booked for the only car rental operator to have a queue waiting to be serviced. Hire car operatives are similar to flight check-in desks in that they always seem to have to re-type the whole agreement into their computer in triplicate. Then and only once that is done can the hard sell begin as they try to get you to upgrade first your car and then your insurance. Finally with all that done we were on our way.
This is one area where technology has made such a positive difference to driving abroad. We got into the car, I plugged in my iPhone, started up coPilot GPS app and punched in the address of the hotel. Within an hour and a half we were there with no fuss or stress of trying to find the right roads with a paper map.
Another positive of modern life is car air conditioning. I can remember long, hot, journeys with my parents years ago with the windows wound right down as you uncomfortably tried to remove yourself from the vinyl seats. No longer as you travel in chilly comfort. However, the downside to this is that when you throw open the door at your journeys end and discover that it is 37 degrees outside it comes as a real shock to the system – particularly haven flown in from the UK where the temperature has been down at 17.
We were relieved to discover that Google Street View was very out of date and that our hotel was complete and not like that shown below. Check out the hotel before flying came as a bit of a shock!
And so into Girona which turned out to be a pretty little town with lovely Medieval winding streets. But the best attraction has to be the painted houses and flats overlooking the river as shown in the picture above.