Monday, September 20, 2010

thinking, planning, doing


thinking .....   planning



doing more

My task was discussed over breakfast, to transform a patch of gravel outside the back door into a more useful outdoor dining area, some paving and a low wall to hold back the grass, I listened and then asked loads of questions, just as I would have done with a garden design client.  How was it going to fit into the plan for the rest of the garden?  What else was wanted in this area?  Had any consideration been given to shielding the huge barn next door from view? Ideas bounced back and forth and after a while I got the gist of what was required and took myself off with a pad and pencil.

Things happened fast, my idea was embraced even though it was a much larger project than the original suggestion, it encompassed the whole of the side of the house, raised planting borders, a more level lawn for easy mowing and the screening of the barns, although this was to be left for a future project.  The removal of an unsightly tree and temporary wooden planter. By mid morning a mini digger had been hired and by early afternoon Ben was busy clearing the ground and digging foundations.  The few plants there were lifted and potted temporarily as the ground was cleared in preparation for some fairly major earthworks.  I knew the theory of what needed doing from garden design, but had never had the opportunity to attempt most of them in practice.  It was going to be a steep and very interesting learning curve.

My rough sketches were modified and amended to incorporate more thoughts and ideas as the digger rolled and the white chalk lines became foundation trenches.

Calculations for volumes of foundations, lengths of walls, blockwork and mortaring were done and the corresponding materials ordered.

Three days into the project, the first cement was mixed in the brand new mixer and poured, as foundations, into part of the 41 metres of trenching that had been prepared.

Ten days later and the walls are all but built and experiments are taking place for the finish of the terrace area.  It is a new process for me, meter square areas of concrete are going to be laid in a form with a divided top, each section can then be finished with a different style, giving the appearance of a paved area without having to lay numerous stones. There are pros and cons as with any method and it is fun experimenting with the different options.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

boulogne sur gesse

I had postponed my visit to a helpX host to stay on in Spain, with the promise that I would continue onwards to them after my extended stay.  Unfortunately things didn’t quite work out that way and the day before I left Sitges I still had no where to go on to.    I checked out a couple of places on the coast further north but they were both unable to take me at such short notice and also wrote to another couple that had contacted me not that long ago in france.  Fortunately I had declined politely and found myself heading back in their direction following several emails and telephone conversations in the last few hours of my holiday.  Nothing like leaving it to the last minute, and it didn’t phase me at all.  A couple of years ago I would have been going out of my mind with worry at such last minute preparations, my anxiety is now definitely firmly back in its place and very manageable.

Cherry and Chris’ place is not far from the pottery that I visited with Vanessa and Lisa about 6 weeks ago, it’s just across the fields in fact.  Cherry had seen my blog post through helpX and invited me to help with a project that they had in mind.  At the time my plans were very different but I am so glad that my journey has brought me here as they are wonderful people and their house is in a truly superb rural location.

I got here by train, leaving the hotel in Sitges before sunrise and traveling through Barcelona at rush hour.  Crossing town on the metro then finding my departing station almost before I had time to be properly awake.  The journey was smooth and uneventful and the european train system impressively punctual.  Both my connections were tight but I managed them without a hitch, climbing onto the bus for the final leg of my journey moments before it departed.  I had glimpses of the spanish coastline up to the border, a slight delay as the train was checked by police at the border and the wheels were realigned to fit the the french track width, it all happens automatically now and the trains only slow to 15kmph, (I had to google to see how it was done when I arrived), then up along the coast of France through salt flats and marshes as far as Narbonne before turning inland and heading once again to Toulouse.  I recognised some of the landscape from the car journey down and as familiar towns passed by recalled more of the journey and my long lesson in french some two weeks before.  The final leg of my journey took over two hours and yet cost only 3 euros, it followed an ancient route out of Toulouse towards the mountains, through quaint villages and fertile land peppered with farmhouses, terminating at my destination, Boulogne sur Gesse.  

I was met by Chris and Ben, Cherry’s son and we were soon at the house.  Met Cherry, and Abi was also there, staying as I was, but through a different website, the atmosphere was right, I immediately felt like part of the family.  We chatted, dined, watched english TV for a while and almost too soon, the day was over.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

a holiday

A short train ride and I left the bustle of the city behind and found myself yet again in a new town without a real clue of where I was heading.  All I knew was the address of a villa where my friends were staying and that the cab ride would cost no more than 6 euros, twice as much as my train journey from Barcelona to Sitges. It’s all part of the journey and no longer phases me in the slightest,  I imagined doing the same in Japan or Russia where even the writing is different and decided that would be more of a challenge.

The cab driver got lost and tried to tell me to walk up a rough track to find the address.  I declined so he took me to the door and tried to charge me extra for the detour.  Facial expressions and sign language got the message across and I gave over the 6 euros that I had been expected to pay and went to find my friends.

As imagined, the villa was superb, wonderful views over the countryside with the sea in the distance, a large open plan living area, terraces, a pool and plenty of space for ten or more.  I had a twin room on the second floor with its own bathroom, a far cry from the building site I had been staying on the week before.

It was like being back in London,  Jac, Tania and Alix were there, along with Alan and John who had popped out for a few days, all good friends whom I have known for years, already installed and in holiday mode.  We relaxed, drank wine, nibbled on crisps and cured sausage and caught up on what had been going on.  The girls had been in Spain for two weeks already with Jacs family, sightseeing in Barcelona and then relaxing at the villa, they had returned to Wales the day before.  

We ate well, drank well and enjoyed doing very little.  Baby Alix kept us amused demonstrating how well she could walk, pointed to her nose, eyes, ears and chin, busied herself with dominoes and plastic bottles and assorted toys for hours, was read the same book countless times always wanting more and was a joy to be with.  Two cabs were needed to get anywhere so much of the time was spent lounging around on the terrace and floating about in the pool.  It was so so nice to be on holiday, in good company and not needing to do anything at all.  I counted back to see when I had last done nothing so convincingly and decided that it was nearly two years ago in Hawaii when I stayed in a hostel by Waikiki Beach, no wonder it was so good.

magic fountain

I had seen it earlier in the week during the day and Donna had enthused as to its wonder,     we had walked passed it and looked down on it from in front of the museum at the top of  the main avenue through the old world Trade Exhibition site, it was a big circular pond with numerous tubes protruding from the water and I knew that it was the magic fountain but I was woefully unprepared for its spectacle.  

Every week during the summer from Thursday through to Sunday night it is set in motion from just after sunset until eleven thirty or so.  Music plays and the huge fountain comes to life, synchronising its jets and illuminations to the sound and tempo of the tunes.  It performs an astounding array of tricks with its numerous jets, reaching high into the sky and spilling out into the catchment ponds around, the colours change and merge as the water arcs and sprays in an everchanging display.

We arrived from below, following the grand avenue from Playa d’Espagne with its hideous monstrosity of a statue, if you can call it that, at the centre, towards the museum on the hill.  Past the Venician towers and two striking rows of fountains, leading the eye towards the summit.  These fountains played to about ten feet, illuminated white and giving the impression of two rows of conifers covered in snow.  On their own and in a more intimate setting they would have created quite a stir, but here, due to the grandness of the setting they appeared rather small.

In the distance a big jelly mould affair was partially blocking the view of the museum.  It writhed and wriggled within its invisible constraints and changed in colour like one of those modern mood lights.  It was too far away to look like a fountain and the sound from the white trees drowned out the music that it was accompanying.  It just looked a bit strange.

Closer up, and with recollections from the day before I began to realise the enormity of it all.  What had initially appeared to be mouldings around the base of the fountain were in fact humans, their heads and shoulders silhouetted against the water, indistinguishable in the darkness from the structure itself.  I remembered the fountain structure rising by several layers but the sheer volumes of water in motion hid all of that from view, it appeared to be much larger under the cover of darkness.  As we climbed the stairs through the throngs of sightseers the whole spectacle started to come together.  As the music played the fountain performed its dance.

I stand and watch for a while, captivated by its immensity and beauty, indifferent to the people around me and the fact that I am there with Donna. After a while she speaks and the spell is broken.  She loves the fountain and often passes by on her way to or from town to enjoy the atmosphere for a while.  We move on, passing through the crowds and find an outside table at one of the tiny bars hidden amongst the trees.  The vision of the fountain fills our view, we order a couple of beers and sit and soak in the atmosphere. It is mesmerising and almost as spectacular as a firework display.  After a while the music fades, as does the water, the twenty minute performance is over and a calm descends on the square. We chat about our action packed day and wonder about the workings of the fountain for a while.  

Before we know it, the music begins again and the water springs to life.  Higher and brighter and so very different to the last performance, the music this time is a jazzy number and the magic fountain knows exactly what to do.  We order more beers and watch, captivated once again, enjoying the warm evening air and the beauty of the moment, I love the Magic Fountain and I love Barcelona.  

Friday, September 10, 2010

gaudy gaudi

La Sagridia Familia, check out the detail

La Pedrera, with seaweed detail balconies

La Casa Batlló

Thursday, September 09, 2010

street art - gracia

Fiesta de Gracia, sixteen streets decorated with recycled materials, bands playing every evening 
and a complete party atmosphere.  Ingenious and great fun.

guel park

five photographs cannot start to depict the park in its entirety, but a good taster none the less.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

beyond Barcelona

Life appears to be moving a lot faster than my blog at the moment, there are so many things that I have done, and stories to recount that I sit here wondering where to start.

The rugby weekend?  That was great fun but has been and gone.  I will save the details for  the book. (no, nothing that exciting, unfortunately!)

Dramas with the crane? again back in the past

trip to Andorra? and scary drive home

A follow up to ‘Sex in the Garden’ that so many people enquire about.

No, I have gotten you as far as Barcelona, so I shall continue from there for the moment, the gaps can be filled in later should I have the time and inclination.

The city came as a big shock after two months of staying in remote locations during a cool and changeable summer in France.  It was busy, busy, busy, with people and cars and noise everywhere, the noise itself was different as I suddenly had not a clue as to what anyone was saying, asking directions was a huge challenge, luckily I had a map of the city and and the location of a hostel marked on it, Oh, and the weather, I was sweating buckets by the time I had walked to the first road junction and got my bearings.  Fifteen minutes later I reached the hostel only to discover that my bed had been given to someone else as it was nearly 9pm and I had not paid a deposit.  The receptionist made a couple of phone calls and reserved the last bed in another hostel across town and I headed off again.  Purchased Metro tickets from a machine, all in Spanish, and got to The Mambo tango Hostel just before ten.  Elsewhere in the world cities would be winding down, but not here in Spain, restaurants were just starting to get busy and everyone was out and about, enjoying the relative cool of the evening.

A great find, if not of my own making, the hostel was smart and clean and prided itself in giving good service and maintaining a quiet environment for its guests to relax and sleep.  Its location was also ideal for access to most of the city.  A few blocks up from the harbour and the famous Las Ramblas, a pedestrianised street packed with designer shops, street artists and the most fascinating architecture of all shapes and sizes.  I booked in for two nights, found a great little restaurant for dinner and then hit the sack, tired after a day on the road and in preparation for the sight seeing ahead.

Prior to my visit, I had contacted Donna, a friend and fellow traveller whom I had met last year whilst staying at Nicholas.  She had been working at Agnes’ just down the road and we maintained contact through Facebook.  I knew that she had been in Barcelona and had asked for pointers as to where to visit and what to see.  It transpired that she was still in the city and after a day on my own we met up for lunch, afterwards we explored the 1992 Olympic site which also incorporated buildings from the 1929 World Fair, sharing stories and catching up with events of the last year.  It transpired that she had headed off to explore more of Spain and had returned to settle in her favourite city for a while, earn some money teaching english and have a bit of time not on the road.  I ended up staying at her apartment for the next two nights, sleeping on an airbed on the terrace which was wonderful in the warm night air and exploring the city together.

Donnas interest and fascination on the city made her the most excellent tour guide, we crammed each day with excursions to most of the famous of landmarks, visited her favourite restaurants for delicious and leisurely lunchtime meals, took siestas on park benches in the shade whilst listening to bands playing in the distance, enjoyed the sunsets and early evening activities around the city before returning to the apartment for a light evening meal and to drink wine, listen to music and lightly put the world to rights.

We visited Guel Park with all its amazing Gaudi architecture, rambling paths and panoramic views of the Barcelona, The Magic Fountain that performed a spectacle to music every half hour throughout the evening, the decorated streets for the Fiesta of Gracia where the local inhabitants decorate their streets with recycled materials, to a theme, eat as a community every day for a week, play music and dance into the night and generally enjoy themselves immensely, everyone is welcome, watched a local troupe create human towers in a square outside the town hall, five or six people high, with tiny youngsters scrambling up the outside to reach the top, stopped for beers (Clara, a beer lemonade shandy was the most thirst quenching, and my barcelona favourite) and coffees and watched the world go by.  We caught metros and walked through the narrow streets of the old town to find churches and cathedrals, saw most of the top Gaudi buildings, La Pedera with its underwater theme, the iron work balcony railings formed like seaweed,  Casa Batllo, impressive by night and a true wonder by day, the construction so detailed that I could have stood there for days finding new things to marvel at, bones and sharks jaws, multicolour windows and tilework, all curved lines and interest, beautifully illustrated shop shutters, indoor markets packed with stalls, shoppers and tourists, circumnavigated the largest attraction, la Sagridia Familia, in the bright sunshine, spotting intricate architectural details and wishing that there was a pair of binoculars to hand to see more, strolled through Parc Cuitadella with more architectural gems, vestiges of the 1888 Universal Fair, avenues of clipped trees and manicured lawns.  

Thinking back I am amazed that I had time to stop, let alone sleep, with the number of things that we managed to do in such a short time.  I shall have to return to see more, I made a conscious decision not to go into museums or any of the buildings that were open to the public for fear of mental overload, it was enough to take in all the sights as it was and Barcelona isn’t that far away with the lovely Ryanair!!

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

barcelona images

park guel, Donna (on the right), la Sagrada Familia, the magic fountain (not working) another Gaudi creation at night

to barcelona

Budget travel involved searching Covoiturage, a french car sharing website for someone who was traveling to Spain after discovering that the journey train was rather expensive and I knew that a two weeks in cities were going to hit the wallet hard. It is a great site that links drivers to would be passengers so that they can share transport and the cost of travel.

It put me in contact with Gael and we arranged to meet in Toulouse. It was his first Covoiturage experience, as it was mine and the whole journey was a complete success. He had already driven from the west coast of France and was heading all the way to Barcelona. Nicholas dropped me at the station in Rodez and I caught a train to Toulouse for our rendez vous. A white volvo was parked on the street just across from the station, the registration plate matched my notes and there was my lift. We shook hands, I threw my bag in the back and we headed off.

We started our discussions in french which was great and even though he was a bit of a language whizz, suggested that we continue that way, and if, after three attempts, I still didn’t get it, he would translate into english. The whole journey turned into a massive lesson. We exchanged brief life stories, discussed the changing scenery, travel adventures, all sorts. I sat there on several occasions listening to our conversation and wondering how I was managing, a realisation that my french has improved dramatically yet still has a long way to go. Occasional translational help and friendly corrections encouraged me to continue. We talked for most of the journey, although, after a few missed and wrong turns, decided it best to concentrate on the route whilst navigating through towns. We visited one roundabout on the outskirts of somewhere five times before eventually finding the correct route.

Avoiding expensive toll roads in france is a much more serene way to travel, the old ‘route nationals’ take you through towns and villages at a sedate pace, allowing you to see life and watch the countryside changing through the different regions. Speed is sacrificed and the journey to the Spanish border took about three hours longer than had been suggested by Covoiturage, it was worth it for what we saw. The queue through the low mountain range , the end of the Pyrenees, to the frontier slowed us by nearly an hour itself, up a narrow gorge over a small tumbling river with the huge viaducts of the Autoroute leaping from rock face to rock face above us, speeding its users to their destinations. They missed the queue, the fascinating roadside shops of fruit and refreshments, budget designer clothing and tacky tourist souveneirs. The signs to avoid overheating vehicles and the amazingly crowded little border town. They just got there a little quicker.

Toll roads in Spain are cheaper and the slowness of travel had surprised us both. So Gael joined the faster roads and we were in Barcelona in double quick time, his appointment time was looming, so, without a word of Spanish in my possession, we said our good byes, I paid my 30 euros for the journey and headed off into a new city to find somewhere to sleep for the night.