“Affordable and easy”?

Last weekend’s New York Times had a superbly self-contradicting travel article:

Luxury Trips for Less in Spain and Portugal

Despite that headline, the whole piece was about:

how to get maximum luxury for the lowest prices on a Spain or Portugal getaway

So far, so good. And some of the “tips” are valid — or self-evident, depending on your mood. For example:

Spain and Portugal have an abundance of small, family-run luxury hotels, which are often half the price of five-star chain properties… these locally owned properties, in some respects, could be more luxe than chains because their rooms tended to be comparatively more spacious and the service more personalized. If you mention during your stay, for example, that you are interested in the local architecture, don’t be surprised to find reading material about the area’s top architectural sites waiting for you in your room.

Well, stripe me pink and call me ham!

The one that really, really got me was this:

… AND THE TRAIN IN SPAIN The country’s reliable, clean, service-oriented high-speed train system, Alta Velocidad España, is an affordable and easy way to get around. A one-way ticket from Madrid to Málaga, in southern Spain, for example, costs as little as 50 euros.

I defer to nobody in my enthusiasm for travel by rail. And were I wanting to travel from Madrid to Malaga I’d certainly be tempted to do so by AVE. I would book ahead, on-line, and reckon on rather less than €50. Then, both at Seville and Malaga, the AVE arrival is a wee bit away from the centre. Still …

Bucket listing

My interest in this page-filler was, just a few weeks since, I ticked three items off my bucket list: Granada and the Alhambra, Cordoba and the Mesquita, Seville.

The joys of low-cost air travel meant we were in-and-out through Malaga. The commuter trains through Malaga Airport station go all the way in to Malaga-Centro Alameda: €1.80 — not AVE standards, but regular and efficient.

Now we could have made that Andalucian circuit by train, especially the bit from Seville back to Malaga. In fact we found that it was quicker, and cheaper to use the ALSA coach services. On top of which there would be no changes, and more frequent — at least hourly —  departures. Not to mention that the coach stations are, in at least two of those cities, more adjacent to the tourist centres.

Time and tide waits for the retired

The other dimension here is we didn’t racket around. We took a fortnight, which allowed several days in each city. That was just as well: the Alhambra for one allows only a ration of visits each day; and to do the whole site — the Nasrid palace, the palace of Charles V (no where near as spectacular, but worth the trip) and the Generalife — is going to take a full day.

Then, in Seville, you are not going to get into much of the cathedral, or climb the Giralda, on a Sunday …

And, doing it that way, meant it allowed us to rent an apartment in each location. It also gives access to a washing machine, so less baggage.

The bottom line is: luxury shouldn’t trump convenience.

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Filed under New York Times, railways, travel

An evil soul producing holy witness…

… Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
A goodly 🍎Apple rotten at the heart.
O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!

Enough Merchanting of Venice.

That’s here, because else I’d be blaspheming. I just need to work out a bit of spleen.

For some reason my super-duper Apple wi-fi keyboard had taken to doing strange things, when paired with the CPU. And then, for no reason, it decided not to pair at all.

Fair enough. It’s given good service over at least a couple of years. And it did take some thrashing. And even the odd bit of morning caffeine.

But here’s the really, really annoying bit: that keyboard works quite happily with the ancient iPad.

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“More honey for the same expenditure of material”

That’s Pappus of Alexandria, one of the last Greek mathematicians, commenting on why the hexagons of the honey-comb are so efficient. Just one of the infinite interpretations of bees in our language, literature and general culture.

There’s a lot of bees around at the moment, and I’ve just had to respond to a question about why they are so prevalent in the context of Manchester. And Manchester is currently on all our minds, and tongues.

I first saw Manchester — oh! — over sixty years ago. I was not impressed. I instantly made the mental association with Dickens’s Coketown:

It was a town of red brick, or of brick that would have been red if the smoke and ashes had allowed it; but as matters stood, it was a town of unnatural red and black like the painted face of a savage.  It was a town of machinery and tall chimneys, out of which interminable serpents of smoke trailed themselves for ever and ever, and never got uncoiled.  It had a black canal in it, and a river that ran purple with ill-smelling dye, and vast piles of building full of windows where there was a rattling and a trembling all day long, and where the piston of the steam-engine worked monotonously up and down, like the head of an elephant in a state of melancholy madness.  It contained several large streets all very like one another, and many small streets still more like one another, inhabited by people equally like one another, who all went in and out at the same hours, with the same sound upon the same pavements, to do the same work, and to whom every day was the same as yesterday and to-morrow, and every year the counterpart of the last and the next.

In retrospect, I’d qualify that: Manchester might once have been Coketown; but its great days were already passing. To be absolutely correct (and here comes the teacher of Eng. Lit.), Dickens probably had Preston in mind, where he had visited to give a reading in early 1854 (serialisation of Hard Times began in April), just after a cotton workers’ strike.

Today, Manchester still wears the masonry of the industrial centre it had been. Now it is buffing up, the air is breathable, new buildings are in-filling and are as uniformly and crassly modern as anywhere else. It does have, to its credit, a developing and efficient mass-transport system.

One enters Alfred Waterhouse‘s vast Town Hall, and walks on bees:

That same bee turns up world-wide in the punning trade-mark for Boddington‘s beer: now a gruesome fizzy, frothy concoction brewed way-out-of-town, but once a staple for the cotton workers. Both brewery and employment long gone.

Dickens’s “black canal” has been bourgeoisified: it is now couth and well-scrubbed-up. When I’m through Manchester (and its our closest international airport of substance), I would head for The Wharf. The full address is Slate Wharf, Castefield, thus linking the industrial pedigree to a somewhat-imaginative Roman castra. The Wharf will offer as many as a dozen decent brews, not fizzy, but real ale, and several of them local. There’ll be no cotton-workers in sight: today this milieu is all professional and media types. Manchester may not make as much in the way of physical goods, but it sure knows how to make money.

So the bees buzz everywhere.

They are on the coat-of-arms of Manchester University (as right). They are featured on the crest (as left) of  HMS Manchester. The first (well, actually the second, if we include the down-market supply ship of the Napoleonic wars) of that name had a short, but spectacular — even controversial — life in the Second World War. The name was sufficiently re-habilitated to be applied to a Type-42 destroyer which did its bit in the Falklands and the Gulf.

There is another connection.

The co-operative movement started in Rochdale, just down the road from central Manchester, in 1844. The symbolism of “co-operation” meant that bees were carved on the buildings of the Co-ops. And remain a symbol to this day.

I’d reckon Pappus would approve.

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Filed under advertising., Beer, Britain, travel

Lightening a grim day

I dozed off early (Neil Gaiman can be as soporific as Mr. MacGregor’s lettuce). Only in the early hours did I hear of the Manchester horror.

So, come this morning, it was good to have some light relief:

Catty uncornered

Years ago, we were doing the chateaux of the Loire, and stopped off at La Flèche.

Just as we were moving on, a dispute broke out between two authentic French ladies of certain years. Madame A’s lap-dog had taken offence at Madame B’s cat. The cat had taken refuge in the nearby tree, and was spitting down at the dog.

The cat was not coming down. Words were being exchanged.

The aid of les pompiers was called for.

The first stalwart arrived on a bicycle, with what looked like a window-cleaner’s ladder. Too short. An appreciative audience was growing.

The next reinforcement was a small van, with a longer ladder. The boy apprentice was sent up the ladder. The cat headed higher. The quite considerable circle of on-lookers were warmed by such an act of resistance,

Finally, the full panoply of les sapeurs-pompiers de La Flèche showed up with a resplendent red carriage and extendable ladder. Cheers all round.

As the ladder was being raised, the cat came scampering down the tree, and was quickly purring in Madame B’s bosom.

Excitement over, we headed on our way.

Doggy doo-dah

Perhaps it was on that summer trip we composed the game to entertain young daughters along the kilometres of routes nationales.

The dog on a string is a frequent feature, wherever one goes.

We established that every French dog had to come in one of three types: rat, rug or demi-cheval. Because the daughters, even at that early age, were perceptive creatures, very quickly those simple definitions were not enough. Depending on size and hairiness, long disputations ensued to determine a ratty-rug from a ruggy-rat.

No: I do not claim ownership of this entertainment. We simplified it from Macbeth:

Ay, in the catalogue ye go for men;
As hounds, and greyhounds, mongrels, spaniels, curs,
Shoughs, water-rugs, and demi-wolves, are ‘clept
All by the name of dogs: the valued file
Distinguishes the swift, the slow, the subtle,
The housekeeper, the hunter, every one
According to the gift which bounteous nature
Hath in him closed.

Sheer Rattiness

When canine distinctions palled, we reverted to the on-going rat-wagon competition.

Those were the days when progress along any route nationale could regularly be impeded by being stuck for long periods behind a trundling and corrugated Citroën van. There were after all the better part of half-a-million of these.

Doubtless those which are not serving moules avec frites along the Belgian coast, or gussied up as crêperies on London’s South Bank, now serve duty as chicken hutches.

Not only were such automotive slugs obstinately slow, they had an even greater propensity to rust than any Lada or Kawasaki.

A true rat-wagon had to be not just rust-streaked (they all came that way) but pitted and — preferably — see-through.

So we designated local champions, provincial champions, and — at the end of the trip — a national champion.

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Filed under Quotations, reading, Shakespeare, travel, York

Separated at the Vicarage?

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May 19, 2017 · 9:31 am

Advice to a Pert Young Piece

She’s about to have a major encounter with the electorate.

She’s good. We and she are about to discover how good.

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Filed under films, Labour Party, London, politics

Photo-bomb

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May 8, 2017 · 6:40 pm