Tubes, trains and sweet chariots

So just one day after a bit of a trek in one European capital, I’m doing it all over again, this time in the UK.

At 5.45 this morning I was woken by Michael Hutchence’ dulcet tones of All Around. I can’t remember the last time I was so deeply asleep when my alarm went off – I must’ve been fast asleep as I woke quite abruptly, rather than the usual groan, snooze, dose routine… Nothing quite beats a night in your own bed when you’ve been away, right?

So I’m up, showered, packed and off by 6:22 and England’s roads are empty – 2hrs 29mins later I pull up in North London! Bruno must’ve been on autopilot coming down the M1 into Finchley, there’s even a space waiting for him at his ‘other’ home 🙂

Sssshhhhh…

Knowing my best mate was out checking the consistency of cocktails in Bank last night, I creep in as quietly as possible, carefully position a bunch of April showers in the kitchen, and on my way out I manage to knock the key pot off the side… If that hadn’t woken her my subsequent language (as colourful as her flowers) must’ve done! I pause for a sec, no sound, clearly a good night last night as there’s apparently no waking her! Cool. Right, tube…

Where’s Bond?

Having watched Skyfall on the plane to/from Barcelona, I now find myself in a number of places where the film was set… Luckily this excludes Scotland (not a place I’m keen on) but as I head down the escalator on the underground, I find myself turning round just to check that Danuel Craig isn’t flying down the metalwork on his backside, in hot pursuit of Mr Silva… Nope, this morning the only thing doing this manoeuvre is a copy if the Metro. Ah well, maybe he’s on the tube…

Heading for Waterloo, I board the tube and as I look down the carriage I see Daniel is not actually staring back at me from behind the connecting door of the next carriage. Bugger.

At Waterloo, I grab a quick Costa and hop onto an overground train. I haven’t been on a local train in this country for ages – this could be a novelty! The South West train route follows the south bank, past MI6… now Daniel’s got to be here somewhere…? No joy. Ah well bugger that. I’ll just stay on the train and see where it takes me… Next stop: Twickenham? Ah ok then!

Swing low xx

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Please look after this bear, thank you

Mmmm is it Friday already? I woke up this morning feeling a little fuzzy, probably something to do with the 5 glasses of cava I managed to polish off yesterday, before the litre bottle we popped last night… but they do say that a good wine gives no headache the following day, and I’d agree with that. The rest of my body, however, feels otherwise, and I’m not as excited about my forthcoming journey as I usually am. That said, I’m relieved I planned said journey yesterday, otherwise I could easily be found on a station somewhere, looking as lost as Paddington Bear, just short of a marmalade sandwich. 

Planes, trains and almost a trip to Dublin

Staying out close to the circuit has its benefits, but getting from there to the airport then requires some planning.  The one fixed time is my boarding time – 10:50 (yes I checked my boarding card this time!) so I work back from there.  I can get a train to the airport from Barcelona Sants in the city. And I can get a train to Sants from Santa Rosa. With transfer time in between and the somewhat unpredictable reliability of the Spanish trains, I need to allow enough leeway. So I leave the hotel at 7:45am, wander down to Santa Rosa and experience the joy that is the Spanish commute – a chap in a suit, 2 girls wearing trackies and an OAP with a shopping trolley.

AN: why does everyone over here wander round with either a dog or a shopping trolley? I don’t mean a Tesco style trolley, but one like my Nanny used to have, an upright rectangular bag on wheels, with enough room to fit me inside. And it’s not just the women, the guys have them too – one delightful looking chap yesterday was wandering through Mollet wearing baggy pants, trainers, a string vest, flat cap and wheeling a trolley (without a bag on it) – he was about 70-odd. *Bemused*

Anyway, the commuter traffic got no busier, even in Barca itself; we pull into Sants around 8:50am but there’s little sign of anyone other than tourists. I know the economy is in turmoil and unemployment is high over here, but is this it? Or do they start work earlier than this? *Stumped*

I head up the escalator into the main concourse and over to the ticket desks to purchase the next leg of my journey – the Aeroport train. Of the 20 or so tickets kiosks available, numbers 17 and 18 are open – I say open; they’re staffed by Pedro and Manuel, neither of whom look especially awake, but both of whom have lovely long queues of customers just waiting to annoy them by asking for tickets. So I queue up; after about 10 minutes I reach the counter, ask for a single to the airport, and Manuel behind the counter shakes his head and points to the right – so I must buy my ticket from his friend next door? Why? Whatever. I join the queue for Pedro’s kiosk.

You guessed it – when I reach the front of the queue, Pedro also shakes his head (I’m sure they were laughing at this point) and he also points to his right… about 10 metres further down the hall is another row of ticket kiosks, identical in appearance to those of Pedro and Manuel, with just the one kiosk open, staffed by an older, but immaculate looking lady. I count to five, in my head, in Spanish, and keep my cool, then wander down to see Maria, in the desperate hope that she will sell me a ticket to the Aeroport. By this point, my leeway is about used up and I have three minutes before the 9:09 train I’d planned to catch was due to leave. Maria sells me a ticket, simples. “Via si us plau Senora?” She points and says “Platform 9 Miss” in perfect English. At this point, I’m past caring about trying to speak the local lingo; I just thank her and pelt it down to the platform, just as the train pulls in. Spot on.

Next challenge is the airport – there are two terminals (termini?) and they’re miles apart. There is a shuttle bus connecting them, but this time luck is on my side – the train drops us at T2, I wander straight through security, without even setting the beeper off, and I’m airside. Sweet. 

By ‘eck you smell gorgeous love

I’m female, which means I’m genetically unable to walk through duty free without at least smelling one perfume, right? I remember mum asking me to get her some scent or other, that she can’t get in the UK. Right, I know she’ll ask me when I get home, and as she’s giving me a lift back from the airport, I can hardly turn up empty handed, can I? But what was it she was after? Oh Lordy, I’ve no idea! Something musky? But there’s loads of musky ones… This is going to be fun. So I follow logic and look for all the perfumes I know she likes, and manage to find one with a ‘musk’ edition. But hang on, if this isn’t the right one, I’m going to be stuck with it. What does it smell like? I’m already clad in my usual Coco Mademoiselle, so can’t spoil my Chanel. So I wait for a poor unsuspecting chap to walk past and I spray a little onto his jacket – ha ha! Know I shouldn’t but it made no difference, his jacket still smelt of leather.  I’m none the wiser, so I call mum. No answer. I leave voicemail. She calls me back, whispering… “I’m in the toilets at Sainsbury’s!”  Too much information, so I try to keep it short…  Is it the right one? Yes, how much is it? It’s €77. How much is that? It’s €77! No, in real money? That is real money! In Sterling! About £66 I think? OK, I’ll have it please! Done. Purchase made, now down to the gate.

Which flight are we queuing for? Dublin. Ah.

Unfortunately, by this point, with just 10 minutes left before boarding, the information boards are still showing my flight as boarding from area M5, but gate number tbc. So I wander down to M5, where there are 10 gates numbered 50-59. All but one are in darkness, with a queue of Brits standing at gate 52. Without any signs showing flight numbers, I’m assuming this will be my flight then? So I join the queue, conscious that, at some point, I’ll need to check. After a couple of minutes, at the time our flight is meant to be boarding, gate 54 starts showing any signs of life. I ask the couple in front which flight this queue is for, they respond Dublin but I’m preoccupied with realising it’s the musky-smelling chap from Duty Free, who’s now being interrogated by his wife about why his jacket smells of perfume.  #Awkward.  Ladies and Gentleman, Jet2 flight 232 to Leeds Bradford is now boarding from gate 54… I’m outta here!

ttfn xx

Why am I heeeeeeeeeeooooow!

Now I’ve been to a circuit when there isn’t a race on, does that make me hardcore? Looking around me at Circuit de Catalunya yesterday, I think maybe it does – either that or I should buy a motorbike and go to a Van Halen concert (then not wear the T-shirt for at least 10 years, so it looks old school).

What did surprise me yesterday, was the number of couples there. Some fell into the category above, but others were about my age (or maybe younger – I’m being optimistic here). On race days you see plenty of couples – she’s bought him an F1 ticket as a gift (many guys’ dream pressy I guess?) or he’s bought ‘them’ a pressy (clearly she was hoping for LeBoutins and is there out of duress) or, like me, one or both just love the atmosphere of a live event. But on test days, when the majority of the day is spent waiting for the odd car to buzz past, without any expectation of overtaking, pit stop strategies, merchandise paraphernalia or EJ in one of ‘those’ shirts… you have to wonder what makes them come?

Hang on, what’s made me come to see this? To be honest, I not really sure! It’s a long way to come for a day of sitting in the freezing (yes it’s flipping cold!) grandstand or wandering around the track, without the usual entertainment I love of people watching. But then Pastor Maldonado flies past in the shiny new FW35 with that familiar roar of a V8 and my question is answered, as a smile appears across my face and I hear myself going ‘neeeeoww’ under my breath (and anyone who claims they stopped doing this as a child is blatantly lying).

A couple of moments later, Jenson nips past too – I catch a photo of him in the silver McLaren and email it to Donna back in the office, knowing she’ll be snowed under with print quotes, watching a countdown timer on her desktop, telling her how many hours until the first race in Melbourne, and the number of weeks until she’s here in Catalunya to experience her first ever pitwalk… Her reply is almost immediate; “Aaaaah so excited!”

Adrian Sutil comes round turn 7, as his back end steps out a little, and he’s followed by Nico Rosberg (Lewis isn’t driving today – he’s apparently busy in his new motorhome cooking me dinner…)

I wander down to the start/finish straight to get a beer, and suddenly there’s noise up the grandstand, the doors in a certain red garage are coming back, and there he is – the small crowd of faithfuls cheer, as Fernando Alonso appears in the F138 and sprints off up the pitlane!

Season starts next month folks – lights out in Albert Park in 3weeks 2days…!

xx

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Olympic disappointment and bubbles in a basement

The sun is out, there’s not a cloud in the sky, I’m in Barcelona, and I’m flipping freezing! Its apparently 16 degrees which, if I was in the UK would feel positively tropical, I’m sure. Yet here, I’m wearing a tshirt, cardi, scarf and a blazer, with skinny jeans and high boots, and I’m chilly billy! I blame the drafty bus that brought us up the mountain. So once at the top, it’d be rude not to take refreshment at Miramar, right? Just to sit in the sun out of the breeze and thaw out.

It’s actually 2pm, so I shouldn’t be surprised to see people enjoying a cerveza or vino tinto. But I’m not quite there yet, so I’m helping my thawing efforts by having a Te con leche instead.

Now it feels like I’ve only been up about an hour, but I’m clearly acclimatised to the local way of life. The restauranteurs we passed on route were putting out the chairs & tables, rolling out the token wine keg to sit outside their door, and straightening their menu stands, just that extra inch, as they do, because it makes all the difference, even though the breeze will blow it over in a second… Yep there it goes… Olé!

One scoop or two?

Meanwhile, a group of Brits have just arrived at the bar… They’ve got to be British; who else would show up wrapped in ski jackets, hats, gloves and scarves, contemplating ice cream?! Ah well, they’re in Spain so it’s summer, right? But when Ringo asks (in his most Spanish sounding Scouse accent) for “two 99s por flavour love… *shouts back wife* …Oi Debs, what’s 99 in Spanish?” I choke on my Te con leche and quietly erupt into giggles. Luckily, my strategic chair adjustment makes enough noise on the wooden floor, to cover up any obvious amusement, leaving Ringo & Debs to select their flavours from the rainbow of options… This should be fun…

What’s an Olympic park like 21years after the rings have gone?

Eerie. I was expecting to be blown away by this. Having seen the extent to which the Olympic additions have had a lasting effect on Barceloneta, the harbour and Port Olympic, I thought there’d be more going on up here… Clearly not. It feels like something out of Terminator but on a sunny day. Lots of concrete, an eerie silence, and nowhere near as huge as I thought it’d be.

So after a mere 15 minutes, I’m back on the bus down into town. Disappointed, but in a sad way, hoping that London’s Olympic park won’t feel like this in 20 years’ time.

Cava @ Tapaç24

Every time I go away, I get a Rough Guide – they’re generally good and I like them as a reminder of places I’ve been. I bought one when I came to Barca last year, but then spent most of my time at Circuit de Catalunya, so hardly used it. This time, I’m trying to see more of the city and just having one day at the track (tomorrow).

So, like the city, my guide is split into 17 sections/districts. Each section provides an overview and list of good shops, cafes, bars/restaurants and clubs. And I’m trying to tick off something in each district I visit. Yesterday I did a few but in section 10 (Dreta de l’Eixample or right hand side) there was one I missed. So I hopped off the fun bus a stop early today and have come to find it.

Tapaç24 is a basement tapas bar, run by Carles Abellan, owner of the designer restaurant Comerç24… Ok I’m a rubbish food writer, so I’ll dispense with the cutlery. I’m just glad I came back to find this place. The menu is simple but the food’s so tasty. And I’ve never had a glass of bubbles with a toastie before, but it works really well, as does a hot fresh scotch egg with a meatball instead of egg inside, and a drop of aioli on top – amazing. If anyone reading this comes to Barca, around lunchtime (or any time to be fair), you have to try this place – no frills but clean, lively and simple tapas to die for. http://www.carlesabellan.com/tapac24/

At this point, I’ve eaten enough but have ordered another cava – enjoying the atmosphere too much to leave just yet; if I’m not found by this time tomorrow, first check Lewis Hamilton’s motorhome (a girl can dream?) then try here…

Brindis xx

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Barca – east side (geographically speaking, don’t worry, I’m not trying be ‘street’)

I’d planned this week as far as: a) having a day at testing and b) having a couple of days in Barcelona. And I’d planned today as far as getting myself into the city. I’m now on the train but have no kind of itinerary once I get there. So I’m thinking Open Top Bus Tour – it’ll give me some bearings as to what’s where and I can then explore more of the areas I like tomorrow.

There are two tour bus routes – the green goes round the east of the city and the orange does the west. That’s one today and one tomorrow then. So I buy a two-day ticket and head east.

Gaudi’s answer to Letchworth?

Despite the somewhat dubious ‘English’ scripting on the bus guide’s audio, I tolerate it as far as Parc Güell, but at this point I have to alight. My degree Dissertation was based on the sustainability of Garden Cities, so the concept of an unfinished Gaudi variation on a hilltop overlooking Barcelona, is something I want to see.

So I nip into a little shop for a tuna & olive flatbread a bottle of aguia, and I’m off up the steps to Parc Güell.

Not what I expected! It reminds me more of Portmerion than Port Sunlight! Lots of steps, landscaped borders, and stunning hilltop cottages; Bournville isnt a chocolate button on this place! The views are stunning and, if it wasn’t for the shoals of tourists (most of whom seem to be French) it’s be a peaceful, tranquil spot.

Wired for sound

Anyway. I hop back on the fun bus, this time surrounded by a group of excitable Americans, who decide that, because they’re separated by the aisle of the bus, it’s necessary to recite the audio commentary across to each other. In true British fashion, I keep quiet and pretend I haven’t noticed, quietly chuckling at the older couple I’m front who are becoming increasingly annoyed at the Kentucky Posse. But after a couple of minutes I clock one the the American girls looking at my headphones, and I can’t let them suffer any longer (the girls, not the old couple in front) and I show the Americans where to get their headphones, how to plug in and find their language, and Bob’s your Aunty’s live-in lover – the Americans are suddenly silenced by education.

Gothic district

Before the fun bus returns to where I found it, I decide to hop off again (narrowly missing the grand opening of a new Prada store… They’re recruiting apparently… ?Could tell them I’ve just resigned…? Perhaps not.) Desperate to avoid La Ramblas, I go exploring through the narrow (but very tall and dark) streets to the east. Luckily the sun’s not yet over the yardarm, otherwise I’d be sitting in of many amazing little bars by now – they’re all about 6 feet wide, 30 feet deep, and have wine selections bigger than La Sagrada Famìlia. Focus Rebecca. If you hit the tinto now, you’ll never find L’estacion let alone the hotel So instead, I seek Te.

Caelum

This is apparently Latin for Heaven and it’s one of the most peculiar yet pretty places that I’ve ever enjoyed an Earl Grey. Hidden away in the narrow streets, this little cafe seats about 20 around 7 little square white tables, and has a decidedly French feel to it. The plethora of cakes, sweets and other beautifully-wrapped delicacies are apparently prepared in convents across Spain. There are cistercian cookies, benedictine preserves and chocolate covered figs soaked in Conyac. The walls are bare brick, giving it a chilly feel, but the candles on the tables and dark wooden floors somehow take the edge off and it feels very cosy. I really want to buy a cake but the impressive display says ‘non self service’ so I’m assuming I have to ask – there’s no menu so does one just attract Señora’s attention and point? Ah hang on, an elderly French couple have wondered up and Señora is explaining what’s what… I earwig… I’m suddenly starving… What is it with this place and cakes?! I’m all over this!

I’ve gone for Pumpkin; I expected it to have the consistency of banoffee but it’s much softer and even the coconut on top works deliciously – I now see why they call this place Heaven!

My plan at this point was to find a nice little cafe *tick*, where I could comfortable watch the world go by *tick*, hadn’t considered pumpkin cake but *tick* that one too, and I’d think about everything I need to plan/do over the next three months #fail… I’m too busy people watching, and the thought of anything remotely sensible / life-changing right now is just far too much effort! Later. For now I’m going to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy my Te e Pastìs

Boxy xx

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Note to self: synchronise watches

This morning, here I am in my complacent little bubble – I know where L’estacion Nord is… I have photos on my my phone of the timetables, yes both directions… I’ve even completed User Acceptance Testing on a patisserie en route, so breakfast is planned. I’ve checked my Rough Guide and practiced how to ask for a ticket (of the return variety) to Barcelona Catalunya. I think I’m so good, right?

So I rock up at Mollet Santa Rosa, wander up to the ticket counter, and in my most convincing Catalan accent, I ask for my ticket – just as my train pulls OUT of the station. Excellent. It’s only at this point, I check my watch (for the third time since leaving the hotel) to realise that it’s four minutes behind the clock on the wall in the station. Ah. So maybe synchronising watches on last night’s recce could’ve been a good idea?

At this point, Alonso behind the counter (I choose this name due to my friendly ticket seller having just the one eyebrow) starts speaking to me in English – damn, is it that obvious? Or was my Catalan accent less convincing than I’d hoped? Either way I’m actually quite relieved – I haven’t looked up how to ask what time the next train is, and even if I had, I’d have no idea what he was saying in his response, and there’s no way I’m getting my phrase book out in public! So he simply says ‘next train? 12 and 8 minutes’ and I buy my ticket. In English. Language fail, day one. Poor Rebecca, poor from you. Right, my next communication must be in Catalan – redemption required!

The circus comes to town

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Last year, wearing this would’ve been criminal; now Lewis is there, it’s necessary!

OK so I am in Barcelona, kind of. Nearly. Well actually, I’m in between the city and a lovely little town around 10kn north called Montmelo; home to Circuit de Catalunya and venue for the second winter testing session of the 2013 Formula One Grand Prix. Coincidence?…

By the time I arrived earlier, it was a bit late to get the train down into the city, so I decided to stay local and do a recce to locate the station (so I know where I’m going tomorrow). Why are there so many patisseries in Montmelo? Seriously won’t need any dinner this evening then…

So with a route plan for the morning, iPhone photos of the train timetables on the wall, and a sense of de ja vous (convinced I walked round the same block at least twice?) I’m now back at the hotel enjoying a quiet drink at the hotel bar. Well I was, until a bunch of rowdy Red Bulls arrived! It would appear that RBR are also staying here and, in the space of a few minutes, the place is transformed from a quiet hotel where I feel guilty speaking in Spanish, let along English… (the language here is Catalan, which is like a mixture of French and Spanish, for example, ‘please’ is ‘si us plau’ as opposed to ‘por favore’) …now suddenly I’m surrounded by people of all nationalities all speaking English (and unfortunately expecting the poor hotel staff to do the same). I’m sure the staff don’t mind this, but it’s a pet hate of mine!

English – the world’s favourite language / our most lazy option

In my humble opinion, if we’re in their country, we should be speaking (or at least trying to speak) their language. My European colleagues at work often tell me they actually like speaking English as it helps them practice. But it makes me feel ignorant or lazy, so I always at least try to have a go. Needless to say this generally attracts a giggle of the ‘Allo ‘Allo variety, (I’ve regularly been heard mixing Spanish and Italian with amusing results) but hey I like to entertain, even if not intentionally! And I don’t care what my European colleagues say; whilst they may indeed be practicing their English, they also react very positively and supportively when I make the effort to reciprocate.

Right, having said I needed no dinner this evening, I’ve now polished off the entire dish of pistachios which the cheeky Spanish barman casually presented in front of me, and my glass is almost empty… San Miguel? Don’t mind if I do!

Brindis! xx