2. Aug, 2015

Should Ducks be Allowed to Swim in Swimming Pools?

I love water, being near it, on it, in it, drinking it, I love water. I have been swimming at my nearest pool for the past 25 years or so, roughly at the same time of day and swim for about the same distance and there have been many likeminded people who I have met. I know most of their names, but the ones I don't I give them a nickname. There is the whistler, because she whistles when she swims, there is  the dolphin because when she turns she rises like a dolphin coming out of the water and then there is the duck. If you swim regularly you may understand better what I am about to say.  Now stay with me, I know you are thinking what has this to do with our journey west. Well when swimming, the duck (so named because she swims in circles), really disorientates me and puts me off my stride. Because when swimming lengths, like many others, I normally swim to the rhythm and pace of the other swimmers in my chosen lane (you can't overtake in the narrow lanes). I find it easier to count the number of lengths I have completed and it is also pool etiquette to keep up with the pace of that particular lane. So because the duck swims in circles I find myself waiting for her or coming off rhythm and thus being dissatisfied with my swim etc. the list is endless! Anyway each morning whilst in Nerja we have endeavoured to swim in the strangely shaped pool before the other bikini clad punters dare to venture out. Swift shower and we are off - up and down in the watery stuff - is this normal? I thought so and then on Wednesday from the corner of my goggles  I saw another person who too was willing to be 'virtuous' before breakfast - dipping their toes in the water they shivered. Clambering down the ladder I assume they would join me in swimming up and down in the watery stuff, but oh no, they swam around and around - 'Duck II' I think to myself briefly as they become a constant and potential obstacle in the pool. What amused me was this didn't bother me, yes I had to constantly change my pathway, but it didn't bother me. Was it because I was on holiday and was not constrained by time, was it because there were no lanes only imaginary ones?- or was it because my mindset had changed? Isn't it our mindset that always has to change in order for us to accept things we cannot control?Maybe ducks should be allowed in swimming pools! 

Should Ducks be Allowed to Swim in Swimming Pools?

A visit to Nerja is not complete without a visit to the Balcon De Europa. By day with no shade in sight during the summer months means it is a hostile room where only the brave are welcome, but by night it transforms into the most inviting and vibrant courtyard with pop up bands and caricature talents for sale. A wonderful ambience is created every night by the eclectic mix of talents and those wishing to be entertained.

Smoking habits in Britain have changed radically and I dare say  that it is not just down to the banning of smoking in most public places and a different mindset from many including young girls, but a whole host of government and health official public campaigns and other things. Therefore my tolerance levels towards smoking has changed with the times. I see and smell less smoking and therefore as a non smoker I rarely have to tolerate it. I have had to raise the tolerance level in Spain. There remain many, many smokers, not just Spanish but the Brits seem to be smoking more here too. It is a popular pastime here on the beach, in the bars, before breakfast, in the street, you name a place and you will probably see or smell smoking! Just for the record I don't like it. 

Our last day on the beach we attempt, pathetically, to sell our beach stuff so that we arrive 10 kilos lighter and stress free in Mexico. We failed, our Spanish, our pitch and plan failed. Nevertheless despite the mist resisting to leave for an hour or so we thoroughly enjoyed our normal ho hum day! Shower, swim, breakfast, lay around for a few hours, beach, sea, Magnum, water, back up the aptly named 'cardiac hill' by Trip Advisor reviewers, dinner and topped off with a stroll into the town before bed to rest so we can do the whole thing again the next day. Life's a beach in Nerja.

Nerja brings with it the most exquisite smells, food, sea, sun cream, aftershave and the one I know would remind my whole family of Nerja is the jasmine. The sweetest, most generous smell God gave to this Earth. Oh the jasmine just makes you feel glad to be alive. You can't capture it in a bottle, you have to go to Nerja. I urge you to go if only just once! Adios amigo, see you soon with my lilo and sun cream poised! 

Onwards to Madrid, the capital of Espana. The flight on the mosquito was interesting and not one that I would want to repeat. I felt every bump, every twist and everything I had eaten and drank. A punishing, relentless and unforgiving roller coaster ride but there was no thrill.  Kanye West and stories of Greek Gods kept me company as well as the boisterous kicks from the kids behind. We survived to find Madrid - White and sparkling ripe to indulge in. 

It didn't disappoint. An easy city full of surprises. We opted for the tour bus which would help us swiftly orientate this foreign land. Our hotel was a mere 20 minutes from the city, but most importantly just 3 minutes from the airport. An encounter with everything Madrid had to offer was a delight and helped us to consider again what we feel is important when choosing a city break. Still to date my favourite city is Philadelphia. 

As yet to be competent, but getting better all the time, Spanish speakers, we are challenged by the fact that we have been thrust into a world of illiteracy. We have to amuse ourselves and use a variety of communication tools to understand the world we are now in. We imagine what people are saying, and at times feel inadequate, but mostly get on really well. It helps speaking English, a language of the world and certainly one widely used at all airports! Gestures and enough phrases and knowledge of verbs and nouns help us to navigate and get the most out of the travelling. It is the nuances I miss and one of the reasons why I love to travel in Canada and the USA - you can really get under the skin of a place when you play with the nuances. 

Choosing a city top 5:

1. Safe and accessible

2. Affordable in terms of money and time

3. People and their take on equality

4. Ease of access to places including airports

5. Interesting and exciting things to do and eat.

We visited the Prado and ironically the previous night I had watched a film starring Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruze where he had made poignant references about a trip to the Prado and how he could educate her about Goya and other artists. I was educated about Goya and others artists but there was no Ben, just an audio guide. Undoubtedly my favourites were Durer, a 16th century artist and mathematician who was one of the first German to perfect the Renaissance style painting and has the most distinct signature to date. Both his self portrait and paintings of Adam and Eve were favoured by me. Another favourite was Titian's (4mx3m) paintings side by side of Venus, Cupid and an organist and then a wife (clearly the fallen version of Venus) the organist and no Cupid. Hilarious composition. Prado deserves a triple thumbs up, so much easier to navigate these rooms compared to the Louvre, similar ease of access to the Musee D'Orsay or the British National Gallery.

Late afternoon on the second day a well deserved break from the sightseeing was in order and a meeting with some serious cafe culture in the San Miguel Market. A wonderful market - full of appetisers and tinto or Blanco de Verano, the best you will find anywhere in Spain - we need one of these markets in Britain, if only in London. The closest Britain has to this is Greenwich Market, but it is not a shared space; vendors compete in a capitalists space - every man for himself. San Miguel Market epitomises Spain's welcoming glow. A space which is shared by the sellers with the expectation that everyone can taste a little bit of everything and every vendor can get a little bit of money. Portions of cheese, caviar, sausage,  jamon, fish and breads are served small so that you can sample the wares of many; a little like the food festivals we have in the UK. The waiters whizz around the market and collect the wine glasses and plates/cutlery that you can drop off at any stalls, an honest, savoured and shared space with a welcoming glow. 

As we leave I overheard an American say, those sights and smells wanted to make me puke. I am so glad to get out of there - I was so glad to get in there and reluctant to leave, even more so after a Verano de tinto and some mouldy cheese. Many Brits are used to strong smells and flavours, we really do embrace them in the main. America and strong flavours and 'smelly' food are a rarity - I am not suggesting for a second that our American cousins all feel the need to puke on the presentation of a blue cheese or a grilled pulpo, I am just saying that strong smells and Europeans delicacies are rare in the USA. 

With that said a visit to a familiar face was on the menu in the form of The Hard Rock Cafe, Madrid. Cocktail and a portion of hot wings as well as be dazzled and dozzled by the cocktail making skills of the waiter. Banter was aplenty - an interest shown in my locks and our travel plans were also part of the discussions at the bar. I shared with one guy the way to do and maintain locks - so many times I hear the reason why locking up hair has not become a reality is because of finding a hairdresser. I agree - it is hard to find a good one. But recently I was forced to learn to maintain my locks owing to an incompatible timetable with my hairdresser of 15 years and a risk of my roots matting! YouTube and Amazon saved the day and saved me thousands of future pounds and for over a year now I have successfully maintained my own locks. 

The streets and the desire to experience the best of Madrid had literally killed my feet, boy did they ache! After 11 hours they were ready to walk away and find someone who cared more. So in order to be kind to them I had to go home, more importantly I had to get a seat on the metro; the platform was crammed. I turned to John whilst on the platform and said, just to let you know I am going to get a seat, do not fear John Arthur, I will be on the train, do not ask anyone where I am, do not look for me, but just be assured I will be there and I will meet you at our stop. Looking a little forlorn, his eyes and shoulders dropped. I did not look back and left the bereft hubby and as the train approached and I started to walk away. I am unforgiving when I am tired - ask anyone in my family! As was the toddler who was persistently kicking his mum. Like him she refuses to negotiate. That is me, I refuse to negotiate on winding down. When I am awake and there is a job to do I will do it, but when I have had enough I have had enough. I am like a wind up toy, I literally stop. It is interesting to see because not many people see me stop.  

The platform is packed with people equally eager to get home. The train slows down and I quicken my pace to end up adjacent to the doors as the train stops, much to the amazement of my rivals on the platform. As a regular train passenger I have become adept at getting a seat, a trick I have shown John several times. Has he learned this trick or did someone generously give them their prize in return for the 'honour' of helping an elderly gentleman? Little do they know that he is a ninja - adept and fearless, well oiled and well travelled and more than capable of getting his own seat or indeed standing. 

As I look down the carriageway I am comforted by the fact that he has a seat and I am intrigued to know how it got it. He cannot see me but I can see him! I am the godfather not the godmother of train seats, so be aware of this if you see me on a crowded platform. 

Adios Madrid - We loved the ambience, the pace and the people. The trip was made more bearable owing to the bountiful cumulus clouds.