Ready, set, DISASTER.


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Europe » Spain » Catalonia » Barcelona
September 18th 2019
Published: September 18th 2019
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Been walking.

Been driving.

Now it’s training time. And that’s not training but TRAINing.

Big day tomorrow as we choof chuff from the grand and grandiose St Pancras Station. I shouldn’t use choof chuff as no longer are those adjectives or onomatopoeiadic sounds associated with trains like the Eurostar. Despite the fact that St Pancras does have a platform 9 and 3/4 I do t expect any steam powered locomotives to depart from any platform. The station is a magnificent mix of old and new. It performs well as a major international departure and arrival terminal and blends the functionality expected of modern terminals with the ornate and intricate architecture of an era well gone. Despite the fact we are boarding in England and alighting in France passengers are encouraged to arrive 30 minutes prior to departure. We have done the trip before and the skyline of London is very quickly left behind, the blandness of the Chunnel only a fleeting moment and the arrival in Paris a pleasant surprise. Then it’s 2 stops on the metro (the only metro I know with pneumatic tyres!) from the Gare du Nord to the Gare de Lyon and we are whisked off to Barcelona. Poor France. We spend little time there and even less money! Even our metro tickets are included in the rail package I arranged. The TGV then travels at speeds above 300 km/hr and sees us in Barcelona early evening. As I said big day but a lot of it is sitting on the train watching things whizz by. Strangely though they don’t whizz by, I think we sort of compensate by looking further into the distance so the speeds as easier to deal with. I do recall though how the countryside is dominated by the demands of the TGV rail lines. Even the smallest crossings are engineered to go under (usually) or over the tracks so that nothing impedes the journey. I wonder about the impact on local communities and whether they have literally been divided by the line or do they use the engineered crossings and pretend the thing is not really there.

Went out for pizza here in London tonight but was slightly aghast at the prizes. Sure it was a chain sort of place but they were asking £15 for an individual pizza that looked OK but was nothing special. We sat, saw the menu, found out that gluten free pizza did not come in a large size hence necessitating 2 pizzas and then left. Surprise, surprise ended up in a delightful little pub (The Skinner’s Arms) spent less on food and more on drinks (a compromise we are happy to make) and had a tasty steak and ale pie and a sirloin steak. That’s 2 of us not me and me. That’s no reflection on Sandy and Francis with whom we have been staying but vegetarian and top of the food chain are uneasy bed fellows!

Managed a little walk on the 2 Moors Way when Lee and I stayed with Sandy and Francis. Terrific little section of about 17 km with quite a variation in landscapes and conditions. Much of it is along the Barle River which is a pristine stream/river that babbles along through the green hills of the Exmoor National Park. As the river is the dominant feature navigation is pretty straight forward and the ascent/descent is no impediment to a brisk walk. There is some moor walking which suits me, a lot of forest walking and a lot of along side the river. The walk also goes past the door of the Withypool Tea rooms which means a bowl of soup is almost compulsory .

We love our time with Sandy and Francis. We feel very comfortable in their house and the are always welcoming and super hospitable. Sandy has 3 horses which seems to take up about 20 hours a day so she buzzes here and there being forever busy while Lee and I sit round and debate who’s making the next cup of tea or getting the next round of drinks. I usually (and did this time) do some chain sawing, log splitting and some strimming (whipper snippering in Australian) and so further enhance the bronzed Aussie macho image but really we have a cruisey time.

Today was from Sandy and Francis’s place on Exmoor, at a little hamlet called Simonsbath across the Salisbury Plain and into Heathrow Airport to return the car, on the Tube into Kings Cross, around the corner to The George and get ready for tomorrow. Being so close to the British Library and the British Museum means I expect to bump into Tony Woollcombe around each corner even though I know he’s in Melbourne at the present. Yes the neighbourhood may have changed but there’s still plenty of atmosphere left and the big institutions here mean it will continue for a while to come.



DISASTER

Missed by just 1day. And that’s a day late not a day early! So after some colour had returned to my face and the panic had subsided (partially) we managed to get tickets on today’s train but an hour later which means we only had 12 minutes to take the metro 2 stops and then purchase tickets to Barcelona. Too tight so now we are flying. Consequently it’s train, metro and plane to Barcelona and hopefully we are only a day late booking in so our 3 nights becomes 2 and... we managed to contact the hotel so they now expect us today and we’ll take things from there. Ever heard of Veuling Airlines? We are meant to be flying with them to Barcelona. I’ll let you know if there’s such a thing. Still a couple of post panic points to catch up on so I’ll leave this until a little later.

It’s a little later but the internet is patchy here so things are dropping in and out. Managed to secure 2 flight tickets so it will be interesting to see what the allowed luggage limit is. The website mentions 23 kg which will be fine but the small print is pretty small and there’s heaps of it. It would have been more efficient just to have flown from London but it’s not the train’s fault that I missed a day somehow. Anyway no good wondering about what if’s and maybes.

Currently in the Chunnel so there’s a fairly good excuse for poor reception. The train is absolutely full and in each carriage there are 98 seats and there must be at least 12 carriages. As well this is the 3rd train to Paris since 9:30! Obviously heaps of tourists but lots on business as well. Passport control, baggage checks and all that accompanies that procedure is smooth at St Pancras and really the station has enhanced its reputation with me. It is efficient and functional and yet the building is from the outside a relic from a bygone era. Inside some features remain and these blend really well with the refurbishment the station underwent.

Our disaster will impact on our time in Barcelona. No longer will we have 2 full days and a bit to look around, that effectively having been cut in half, so the Hop on hop off bus may become our new best friend for a long day tomorrow. Each time we’ve been to Barcelona I’ve stuffed something up so I may take the hint in the future (or just be more careful).

Just touched the 300 km/hr mark as a glanced at the monitor here. It’s positioned behind me so we may have been travelling at that speed for a while but it’s always impressive to see it in writing. We won’t be happy until we are in our hotel in Barcelona tonight as emergency bookings made at the station and over the net with airlines I’ve not heard of are fraught with possibilities that I dare not contemplate. Communication is via email as Lee’s phone has little or no credit remaining and who knows if UK SIM cards operate in continental Europe and if they require country codes or if... ah more possibilities I dare not contemplate.

The countryside here is flat and farmed with the occasional small village marked by some spiritual spire reaching skyward. The dominant landmarks are now big wind turbines and lots of them. They dot the horizon as far as I can see and look quite majestic. Turbines like them have proliferated and even in the UK wind generated electricity and solar farms are all over the place.



If you want to know anything about the Paris metro DON’T ASK US. Despite getting 3 good sets of directions and 2 terrible ones we did manage to navigate through the system with our 2 large unfriendly suitcases. Up stairs, down lifts, up steps and down escalators but eventually to Orly Airport. To be at least a little understanding I think some of the misdirection was because all people heard was airport and they sent us to Charles de Gaulle (spelling?) although the biggest of the misdirects came from an American (who’s English was good enough to not make that error).

Vueling is apparently a Spanish airline. Our original flight was postponed for 6 hours getting us to Barcelona just prior to midnight but we were mysteriously plucked from the end of the queue along with 8 or 9 others and put on an earlier flight. We are not yet on it, so like us, simply keep your fingers crossed. All going well, and how’s our record so far today, we should be in Barcelona between 8 and 9 this evening. Just in time for tapas! Anyway the airport is just like airports everywhere, it’s anonymous, it’s big, it’s bustling and we can only understand half the announcements and I’m talking about those in English! Mobile phones are absolutely ubiquitous, they are everywhere. The guy behind us in the queue knew the flight had been delayed before I received an email saying the same thing and many have e-tickets on their phones so most walk around eyes glued to their phones. It amazes me there are not more bumps and crashes although I think people are developing a sort of sixth sense in order to simultaneously work on phones and walk around. Of those that we asked about getting to the airport the common response was to pull out their phone and google away. Helped some, didn’t help others.

Hopefully you’ll be able to uncross your fingers in about half an hour as it should be boarding time. Boarding for several other flights has been quite chaotic with long snaking lines of eager passengers shuffling through the terminal. The notion of boarding in stages based on seat numbers has not caught on here at all. I’m guessing that disembarking will be just as much a scramble but that’s a game we don’t usually play being content to arrive, amble, stand back and collect our bags and go all in good time. Sorry it has caught on here but it seems to make no difference.



We are in the air. Two hundred and thirty-four of my best friends are in front of me and 5 to my left or right. We are the last row and obviously only just made it but in an hour and a half we should be in Barcelona. Turbulence over the Pyrenees is expected but we’ll be happy to put up with that. The plane is as full as a catholic state school and the staff were all called in as it appears to be a non scheduled flight that’s an attempt to clear backlogs and delayed flights. But it is in the air and heading in the right direction. Taking off gave us a great view, although temporary, of the Eiffel Tower so that’s the small bonus included in today’s travels and trials. Can’t see much more at the moment and don’t really expect much later but again we’re heading in the right direction. Vueling is a no frills airline and charged for our luggage to come with us so I’m not contemplating much in the way of in flight service. The duration of our flight means that’s not a big deal and in fact there’s really only an hour to go. The weather in Barcelona is very good, according to the captain, so we should be comfortable there over the next few days. Let’s hope so.

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