Caught In The Act…!

On our Andalusia trip three weeks ago, rather than snapping away at the region’s dramatic landscapes, outstanding culinary delights and splendid beaches, Maria decided to turn her camera on me instead.

I was totally oblivious to her surreptitious mission to capture my hunchback poses and contorted grimacing until it was all over.

Here is what she sent me:

Seducing a dessert

Cornering a defenceless dessert in a tapas restaurant. If only I could muster that degree of concentration while I was doing the work I’m actually paid to do …

These were taken in sunny Cádiz:

The seagull proved even trickier. My own pics didn't turn out...

The seagull played hard to get. Every time I’d lock it into focus, the blasted bird would hop an inch further away from me. I’m guessing the Medusa hair didn’t help…

Blue flowers

Flowers can’t escape. But don’t these damn things shake, rattle and roll in a stiff seaside breeze!

Cádiz cathedral

At least a cathedral can be trusted to remain steadfast.

Cadiz sea

There’s nothing like getting your lens splashed with murky salt water…


Those trees are amazing.

A pic from Algeciras beach, with Paula (Maria’s sister) and her happy, bouncy, delightful dogs:

Homing in on Gibraltar

Am too busy for jollities. I’m homing in on Gibraltar…

And here we are, on Gibraltar:

Gibraltar Harbour

Gibraltar, Lighthouse

No wonder the monkeys dashed off in a wild panic earlier on, I must have given them the same scary look…!

The last two pics originate from the little mountain top village of Castellar:

Castellar Lane

Cute village lane

Castellar, Orange tree

I do love a handsome orange tree :)

So, has anyone played candid camera on you recently? And are you still talking to them…?

Easter In Toledo: Holy Crap!

Maundy Thursday is a very special day in Toledo, I was told. It is the day when the city’s myriad of monasteries and convents, usually closed to outsiders, open their doors to the hoi polloi. Spain’s first Catholic cathedral was built in Toledo, and resting on its momentous religious significance, every conceivable Catholic order has its hive. Nevertheless, the number of devout men and women contained within their thick stone walls has been progressively shrinking, and it seems that, nowadays, almost all the nuns, monks and priests under the age of 70 emanate from Latin America, Africa or the Philippines.

But I digress…

This is my third Easter since moving to Toledo, and I’d missed “The Grand Opening” of these holy dwelling places in the two years previous. So this time round, I was determined not to let it pass me by.

Well, I needn’t have bothered.

I’d not done much research beforehand to see what it was all about. I had naively hoped that I’d be able to indulge in a bit of “snooping”. I mean, I would love to see a working convent or a monastery from the inside, even if it was just for an amble around the inside courtyards (which can be very beautiful), a sneak peek into the reading room, kitchen, dining hall, or anything actually relevant to the everyday life of the inmates.

But no. The deal was that the institutions’ churches opened, allowing you to have a quick shuffle round the pews, gaze at statues of gold-robed saints with their fingers in weird positions and pray that you’d not get trapped in there mid-mass. Unless you actually wanted to attend mass. Which I didn’t. But I did get trapped. For a whole three hours. OK, it was probably only 20 minutes…

During my detainment, I noticed something interesting. At the back of these churches, facing the altar, there’s often a separate section, partitioned off with a wooden lattice. When I turned round during the interminable sermon, I realised what these were for: they were viewing galleries for the nuns. There they stood, shoulder on shoulder in solemn silence, watching the men in their fancy dresses pull off their show in what was actually their (i.e. the convent’s) church.

We (I was accompanied by my delightful Aussie neighbours) made it to four or five venues (with stopping off for drinks in between) before we ran out of steam.

There was only one WOW!-moment for me, induced by this most spectacular ceiling:

Church Ceiling Ceiling close-up

Toledo has some very fancy doors (here’s a picture post, if you’re interested), and we passed by this one on our thirsty pilgrimage:

Toledo Door

I wasn’t so much fascinated by the door itself, butt by the … erm… assome masonry work…

Over the millennia, Toledo has amassed a stockpile of tales and legends that would fill Hogwarts library twice over. It’s not all cute and pleasant bedtime lore, as you can imagine. And if all those sieges, driving out of Jews, murdering of Moors, not to mention the Spanish Inquisition, weren’t enough, there’s a whole compendium of ghost stories. The local Tourist Office is not above promoting Toledo’s dark side. On our walk, we came across this gem of a poster:

Toledo scary poster

What are you two idiots staring at the bloody lamp for?! Chucky’s about to get you…!

I’m a bit concerned now that I might have given you nightmares… here’s some remedial petunias for you:


Happy Easter :)




Green Parrot Spotted Cavorting With White Chicken!

The Green Parrot Bar on Whitehead Street in Key West is surely one of the world’s most famous bars, probably because it was Hemingway’s favourite boozer. His house was (and still is) only a drunken stumble away on the same road.

Here are a couple of pics I took back in January:

I'm not entirely sure why the parrot was balancing a chicken on its head that day...

I’m not entirely sure why the parrot was balancing a chicken on its head that day… nor am I in the know about the snivelling prohibition.

Bar sign

Green Parrot Sign

Hemingway’s other favourite hangout was Sloppy Joe’s – also a bar, surprise, surprise! I didn’t take a photo, but I do have a pic of one of its urinals. Hemingway pinched it while the bar was moving to a different location. His reasoning was that he had surely pissed enough money into the receptacle to claim ownership.

Urinal water fountain

Sloppy Joe’s urinal, turned into a fountain by Hemingway. It still gushes away merrily on the grounds of his house, where it serves as a giant water bowl for the descendants of his beloved six-toed cats. His wife hated it…

[If you would like to see a post on those lovely furry purry creatures, click here.]

My Take On Gibraltar…

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by islands, archipelagos and peninsulas. Being born in mid-continent, a thousand miles from the sea, to parents who were disinclined to travel any farther than the nearest cigarette dispenser, lonely outcrops of lands encircled by thrashing seas seemed just as mysterious and (un)real to me as the junglescapes of the Planet of the Apes.

Strange things happen on islands that nobody can explain, while, at the same time, they explain everything. Who erected those giant stone statues on the Easter Islands? And had Darwin not stopped by the Galapagos and set his beady eyes on a bunch of finches, he’d probably never have come up with the concept of evolution.

When humans settle on islands, things become even more interesting. Their identities are rapidly re-shaped by island life. I’ve perpetually been left confounded, for example, by the firmly held belief of the British, that they are, in fact, not European.

According to Brit gospel, those Europeans inhabiting “The Continent” are a species afflicted either by a lamentable sense of humour deficiency, or by highly questionable timekeeping skills. And sometimes, both. Said Continentals, who try to compensate for their languages’ inherent lack of precision by means of florid gesticulations, have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the British island breed, whose forefathers sprouted from spores that fell from the moral backbone of the heavens onto these mist-shrouded isles.

Applying the island rationale, when you ask a Brit whether Sardinians or Majorcans weren’t European either, or whether Japanese people ought to be considered exclusively Japanese and not Asian as well, you will earn yourself but a blank stare. With a dash of benevolent contempt, if you’re lucky.

Britons are, quite simply, more unique than anyone else. Incidentally, British citizens of Indian or Chinese heritage can both be British and Asian, but those pallid specimens descended from, let’s say, Norman conquerors and Danish seafarers, may be English and British, but definitely NOT European. Such is the mind-warping power of islands.

I’ve an interminable list of insular destinations I desperately want to visit, including Tristan da Cunha, Svalbard, Kamchatka, the Maldives, the Falklands, the Faroe Islands, Christmas Island… I could go on… but seeing that most of these are way beyond my paltry travel budget, I have to take what I can when the opportunity presents itself.

So, a few weeks ago, when the Andalucía trip came about, I was delighted – delighted, I tell you! – to discover on Google Maps that Algeciras, the town where Maria and I were going to be staying, was slap bang right next to Gibraltar.

And a "rock" it is. It even has its own weather! And what weather... what more proof do you need that Gibraltar is, in fact, British!?

Taken from the car as we were crossing the border. “The Rock” even has its own weather! And just look at that grumbling cloud casting doom and gloom over British territory while the rest of Spain is bathed in resplendent sunshine… what more proof does anyone need that Gibraltar is, in fact, part of the UK!?

Gibraltar, a lump of limestone fused onto the southern tip of Spain, a mere 2.3 square miles with 30,000 people squashed onto it. Gibraltar has been under British administration since 1704, which pisses off the Spanish no end. In the last referendum, held in 2002, 98% of Gibraltarians were adamant that they wanted to remain part of the UK rather than cede to geographic realities. The diplomatic skirmishes between the two nations feature prominently in the news here in Spain, and in the UK as well, of course.

View of the town half-way up the rock on our way to visit the monkeys

View of the town half-way up the rock on our way to visit the famous resident monkeys

"May I help you...?

“May I help you…?

"Got some nuts?"

“Got some nuts?”

You can even take one home!

You can even take one home!

I never realised that Gibraltar had caves... St Michael's cave, 300m above sea level, is like a giant cathedrals inside The Rock.

I never realised that Gibraltar’s innards were, in fact, a warren of caves. There’s 150 of them, apparently. St Michael’s cave, 300m above sea level, is like Mother Nature’s giant cathedral.

I half expected the Elven King to step down from that...

I half expected the Elven King to step down from that…

Overhead shot

Overhead shot. Best not cough. Those things could pierce your head…

We passed by some change-of-the-guards malarkey. Lots of stiff marching and intelligible shouting, as usual.

Back in town, we passed by some changing-of-the-guards malarkey. Stiff marching, peering out sternly from underneath slightly-too-big hats, and lots of unintelligible shouting. British tax money well spent.

Gibraltar House

Gibraltar lighthouse. That's Africa in the background.

Gibraltar lighthouse, with the African coast in the background.

So, is Gibraltar more like the UK or more like Spain?

Predictably, it’s neither fish nor fowl. It sports, of course, plenty of “authentic” pubs on every street, with the requisite British food items on the menu, from toad-in-the hole and beef wellington to chicken tikka massala. Listening to people’s accents, there were plenty of ‘real’ Brits milling through the streets and rummaging behind shops’ counters, but there was also a weird kind of indigenous English being flung about.

There are enough British High Street shops to have made me feel, for a fleeing moment, like I was back in the UK, and I got a bit homesick. I stepped into an M&S, and I may have had a minor orgasm somewhere between the chocolate Easter eggs and the hot cross buns. I also spotted a WH Smith and several UK clothing chains, such as Monsoon. But, to my abject disappointment, there was no Boots! I even asked about it in the Tourist Information office. Shaking of heads all round. But there were, I was told, “plenty other chemists”. I’m sorry, but a British town without a Boots is just inconceivable.

I wasn’t in the least bit disappointed by our trip, and I would certainly not label Gibraltar as “fake” or “boring”. It is what it is: Its own microcosm, a confluence of several worlds and a colourful history that has given rise to a way of life that is, well, quintessentially insular.

Gibraltar glows in hazy sunset. Viewed from Algeciras beach.

Gibraltar glows in a hazy sunset. Viewed from Algeciras beach.

Beach Tower And Half Of Gibraltar

Taken a couple of weeks ago on Algeciras beach (Andalucía).

This is a place holder, you understand, as I’m still doctoring my Gibraltar post :)

You can make out part of "The Rock" on the left

You can make out part of “The Rock” on the left

And for an extra splash of colour, a shot taken from a café on Algeciras seafront.

And for an extra splash of colour, a shot taken from a café on Algeciras seafront.