Helen Findlay

My adventures in Middle Europe and The Colonies. This blog contains my own views and opinions and does not represent those of my employers, or any other organisation with which I am involved. Remember, just because it isn't Singletrackworld, doesn't mean it isn't shite !

Monday, November 27, 2006

Toledo and the Museo del Prado

Uneventful drive up to Toledo (didn’t even have to cross-dress to get permission*) some might even say boring. Found the campsite fairly easy using a tactic of driving around the outskirts of the city until I encountered some helpful signs. I have to say though, its no fun trying to navigate with nobody to take it out on if you make a wrong turn.

Headed out on the road bike for a couple of hours to get the lay of the land. Flat, with a vicious and freezing wind. Took me 90 minutes to get to Pueblos de Montalban and about 30 minutes to get back. Don’t imagine it would be much fun being a roadie around here.

Next task - getting the tent up. But first a small cycling tour of the Ferreterias of Toledo, as I had managed not to pack the ten-pegs. Oh how I laughed. Oh how the woman in the campsite shop laughed, then helpfully wrote down the right words for me and marked some shops on the map. I got 4 pegs each in 3 different shops, there seems to be some kind of conspiracy to keep stock levels low. Was good move anyway, campsites in Spain are stony and hard, the pegs I had were a bit insubstantial for the job. The over-engineered steel things I have now would keep the Space Shuttle pegged down.

Toledo is a well cool place, like way medieval. A bit like Venice in the layout, lots of small confusing streets, with a Moorish influence to a lot of the architecture and design. Not as touristy as Venice thankfully, and well populated with people who actually live there. Spent a day walking around, and walked home along the circular route on the other side of the gorge/river, to get the classic Toledo view as featured in the works of El Greco.

Also like Venice, a lot of Toledo was closed for winter, but got to see the El Grecos as they had moved the highlights to another museum during repairs to the building. Quick buzz around the Sephardic museum then across town again for the Alcazar, which I think means Castle. This was also closed for repairs which I was disappointed about as it was occupied by the Nationalists or the Republicans or the Fascists (how many sides were there in the Spanish Civil War ?) in 1936, in a siege that lasted for two months and to quote the Rough Guide “ they barricaded themselves in with a large group that included 600 women and children and up to 100 left-wing hostages. The latter were never seen again” in other words they ate them. I wanted to see the museum set up by Franco (Fascist ruler of Spain until the mid 1970s) with all the propaganda as it sounded dead interesting but was closed for winter boohoo.

Thursday was a quick trip to Madrid and back. Only took 30 minutes on the fast train, very fast indeed. Good solid 6 hours in the Museo Del Prado checking out (in no particular order - OK that’s a lie in a sequence dictated by the guide book, I mean in no order of preference) the Fra Angelico, Van Eycks, Van Dycks, Boshes, Brughels, Durers, Titians, Rembrandts, Rubens, Cranachs, El Grecos, Velazquez, a couple of Botticellis, even a Gainsborough and of course the endless Goyas. Good old Philip II, his occupation of the best bits of Europe during the Renaissance, and his good taste in art. And the fact that Spain hasn’t been invaded and looted since the 11th century and didn’t have a Protestant Reformation (the Inquisition quite sensibly burned people and not paintings). Fantastic museum, love it, although if I was being critical I would say that there are far too many Goyas, every time the man sneezed it was stuck in a frame and hung up, and they could make more of the Tintorettos which they don’t seem to rate, but these are minor quibbles.

Not quite sure why I like religious art so much, was raised an Atheist by my dad (a Protestant Atheist I realised when I moved to Scotland) will have a think about that one.

Did a bit of shopping then, need some new trainers for running, but could only find the kind of shops that sell sports gear to people that don’t actually do any sport, ever. Got pretty close in a massive department store, they had some Salomons with pictures of people running off-road on the tags but not my size. Only thing for it then was to retire to a bar and drink some wine, in the style of the Madrilenos.

Next day got up at the first crack of 10am (its tiring walking about art galleries all day) went for a run on the walking path alongside the river Tajo, then headed for home.

I have a question that I have been pondering. People often approach me, and not just in Camposol, and start speaking English before I have said a word. This happened in the queue at the Prado, Spanish guy started chatting to me in English straight away. I asked him how he knew and he laughed, then got held up at the x-ray machine and bag search so I never got an answer. I have decided it must be a process of elimination. I have blue eyes and am not dark enough to be Spanish or stylish enough to be Italian. My clothes don’t reek of the 80s so I’m clearly not German, and my attitude isn’t pah ! enough to be French. I’m 5 nothing tall so you can rule out Holland or any of the Skando countries. In terms of people that come to Spain in large numbers that only leaves the Belgians. And as every Belgian I have ever met speaks English I think that must be what it is, they think I am Belgian, which makes English a good bet. Its obvious really….

That’s enough from me, this is getting too long as usual. Have decided I will come back to the UK on the Santander-Plymouth ferry on the first sailing in spring 12th March. If I book now it isn’t that expensive, and will end up cheaper than the cost of diesel, hotels/camping and road tolls to get across France, and takes 24 hours many of which I can spend sleeping. Having driven all the way once with company I don’t fancy doing it alone, and its an excuse to head up to the Basque country for a few days. Sounds like a good plan to me. Maybe I’ll try and talk Martyn Salt into putting on the first NPS race in Plymouth in 2007, save me a trip later in the year. (As if.)

Hasta luego !

(* you will only get that reference if you watched MASH, an American comedy from the 70s and 80s. It isn’t very funny but I felt obliged to work it in somewhere.)

Monday, November 20, 2006

I´m on the road again...

Decided to take a wee side trip up to Madrid and Toledo for the next few days. 4 reasons for this:

1. Might be starting work in the mailsort at the start of December.

2. Petra arrives on 10th December so want to get it done before then.

3. Weather looks OK for camping this week.

4. Had a fall-out with James yesterday, and he left on his bike in a huff early this morning and wouldn´t speak to me. On the plus side I guess it is one way of avoiding dealing with emotional goodbyes, but it still hurt.

I’m quite upset by all this, the kind of upset usually only fixable with 2 bottles of red wine, 20 malboro lights and a French rugby team. Sadly these items are no longer available to me, so a day in the Prado, easily the best art gallery in western Europe, should do the trick !

Good ride today, did some road climbs in the Espuna. A combination of being really pissed off and having a local roadie guy trying to chase me up the climb (ha - he won’t try that again) led to me putting over 4 minutes into my previous best time for the climb, 17.5 k of ascent up to 1300 metres or so.

Will sort some stuff out monday, including hopefully a Spanish mobile phone, and leave dead early on Tuesday for Camping El Greco in Toledo . With a name like that its clearly not to be passed by on this mission. Back Friday as I have an arrangement to meet the local guys up at El Berro on Saturday for some offroading. Had to avoid El Berro today, there are 6 stray kittens living in a dumpster in the car-park at the campsite. Have been told that as soon as the man who deals with such things get back from his holiday he will drown them. So want to give them some food, but that would just be delaying the inevitable. Can’t come back from Spain with 6 more cats !!

The house on the end of my street was broken into on sunday, which is a bit of a worry as the neighbours across from me and next door are heading away for a few days and we are all going at the same time so thats the whole street empty. So I guess both bikes and the laptop will be getting a trip to Madrid.

Cheerier blog next time (gentle readers) I promise….

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Sierra Espuna and my villa

Can’t believe its just over three weeks since my last entry, time passes quickly over here !

Went out with Helen and Ellen and Betty to a Halloween dance on the 30th, was a good laugh. There was a comedian, a girl band and an Abba tribute band. We were sitting right at the front, and I was the youngest person there, so came in for some stick from the comedian but it was all good humoured.

Found James at the airport OK the next day, took him out for an easy spin up over the hills to the guns at Puerta Mazarron on the Wednesday. Lucky that we went out, as it then rained for about a week. Well, not all week but it felt like it. I think that was the years rain all at once, all the ramblas were full and towns were flooded, a rare event around here.

Have been along to the mailsort and collection to get some training, sounds like I will have as much work as I can manage over Christmas, which goes until 3 Kings’ Day on 6th January in Spain. Petra comes over on the 10th December (yippee !) and is staying at Helen’s right through until after New Year.

Rain stopped on Sunday and we met up with Mark from Downhillracer the guys from Glasgow who film the downhill races in the UK. Did a route known as the 1000 bends up the way (it took a while) and “Salvaje” down the way, which means either “savage” or “wild” we aren’t quite sure but it was a long hard technical route. I only crashed once which was getting off pretty lightly really. Or getting off pretty heavily if you want t look at it that way.

Mark gave us a copy of their latest DVD which is awesome (stoked) and the book that goes with it, so that was a few evenings entertainment. I’m in it actually, there is an interview with Ruriadh Cunningham at the NPS race at Inners and you can see me and Paul walking by in the background. It covers the Scottish SDA races, some British NPS races and of course the World Cup up at Fort Bill. Superb DVD, good mix of riding and

Not much happening the rest of the week, but had brilliant weekend mountain biking in the Sierra Espuna. Finally managed to meet up with Mark, Stevie and Daniel on the Saturday. Friday was a bit of a failed attempt stymied by a car rally of all things. Anyways we started on Saturday with 8 riders, 3 as above, me, James, a guy called Steve who owns Orange bikes and lives out here with his family, and Andreas and Simon two Spanish guys who run the campsite at El Berro. James was the first to drop out as he had a cold so was just coming up to say hello anyways. I was nearly next, went over the bars on a chute that was pretty steep, tried to bail and made an arse of it. But it was OK as I landed mostly on my face, bit of a gash on my chin and my helmet has a big crack in it so I was pretty lucky really. Nobody will believe me when I say this (I can hear you scoffing already Paul) but I only bailed because Simon in front of me was going so slowly I was worried about running into him, nearly did a bit earlier in the run on a technical bit, and rode the whole section fine earlier in the year on hire bikes. Need to get back there soon and do it properly !!

Anways stuck a plaster on my face and we made it almost to the bottom of the hill. At this point both Stevie and Daniel managed to lose rear mechs, Stevie’s rear drop-out completely smashed. Steve and Mark went to collect a car to get those two back up, and I continued on with Andreas and Simon. Got to the bottom of the hill at the canal, and Andreas had to go back for his rucksack. He appeared back 15 minutes later with the rear mech hanging off his bike !! Oh how we laughed…..

So then we were 2. Simon has some English so we managed to communicate a bit, stopped every so often for photos and landmarks, Aguilas (Eagles) etc. Ran into an English guy called Mick who we met last time we were out here, he was on a guiding run with a couple of Welsh girls. Rode with them for a bit, then came across a BBQ put on by a local mountain bike club. The Espuna is a National Park, and there are loads of BBQ sites set up in the park, but only for use in winter as the fire risk is too high in the summer. It also seems to be a Spanish custom to always share food, as they invited us to join them and we came away stuffed with sausages, ham, drink etc. Of course one local humorist pointed out that if I had drunk a beer before I started I might not have a plaster on my face. Ha ha ha but he did have a point.

Go back to café at the campsite in El Berro tired but had a great day. Met up again with the same crew on the Sunday. Steve’s wife Judith came down to say hello and among other things told me that they go out from the campsite every Saturday 10am and all are welcome, so I will be along quite regularly I think. Great to meet some locals and some Spanish people to ride with. Simon was saying (I think) that the local road club meets on Sundays in Alhama so will give that a shot too once my Spanish gets a bit better. Another brilliant run on the Sunday, but a bit less eventful. We got an uplift to the top from Jose-Maria (the husband of Simon’s wife’s mother’s cousin, or something) and his trailer. Even James came up in the uplift, something I never thought I would live to see but I have the photos to prove it. The trails here are fantastic, seems to be plenty here with good variety, although you really have to learn to love hills.

So to all those who are thinking of coming out to visit BRING MOUNTAIN BIKES. Preferably ones that can pedal up hills, not sure how often Jose-Maria will be available.

The boys are away back to Glasgow now, after one last day filming in the Espuna. James went along but I sat that one out was well knackered. Came down with a cold yesterday so next few days doing chores and catching up with emails methinks. If the picture-bot thing works today there should be a photo at the front of this entry of my wee villa, with my houseboy doing his chores.

Until the next thrilling instalment…..