Observatorio del Teide

Oct 27, 2010 in Tenerife 2010

Observatorio del Teide

After the meeting, the IAC had organised a trip to the Observatorio del Teide. Observatories are always great places, isolated and remote, and normally high on a mountain so you get awesome views. I’d been to the Canaries’ other main observatory on La Palma several times but I’d never been here before.

It was a calm and warm day. A few clouds interrupted the blue skies but it looked like they’d probably have no trouble observing that night. One of the observatory technicians was looking at the Sun through one of the telescopes so we had a look too, and saw a group of sunspots. The sun had been unusually inactive for quite a while so we were quite lucky not to see just a blank surface.

Looking around I could see a couple of other islands across the sea in the hazy distance. Apparently, ancient island legends tell of a mysterious eighth island which can sometimes be seen across the waters but never reached. I could only see real islands today.

Back in La Laguna I thought I had an easy and relaxing journey home. But an hour and a half before my flight, I realised it was going not from nearby Tenerife North airport, but Tenerife South, 50 miles away at the other end of the island. I leapt into a taxi and sped off. I picked a good driver, we made excellent time and in the end I easily made the flight. Next time I’m here, though, I’ll check my bookings a bit more carefully.

La Laguna

Oct 27, 2010 in Tenerife 2010

La Laguna

I spent a few days in La Laguna. Last time I’d been here it had been cold, wet and misty, but this time it was sunny and quite warm. I stayed in the centre of town and walked each day down to the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, where the meeting was being held. I liked the town and thought I’d probably quite like to live here one day.

I was interested to see a sign one morning advertising a demonstration for independence for the Canary Islands. I was disappointed to find I’d missed it by a few days – I’d have loved to see what the independence movement was like. If they ever secede from Spain it will be nice to have a new country to visit.

A Coruña

Sep 13, 2010 in Santiago de Compostela 2010

A Coruña

Everyone except me was flying back home from Santiago’s airport. I am prepared to go to great lengths to avoid flying with Ryanair, and so I’d booked a slightly more expensive flight from A Coruña. It at least gave me a chance to see another place, so I headed out after I’d said goodbye to everyone.

A Coruña is much bigger than Santiago. It felt far less touristy and far more like a big city. I walked through the hot streets from the station into the city centre. One very cool thing about the city is that it’s surrounded by the sea and has beaches right in the city centre. I went and sat one one for a while, making the most of the September sunshine.

I walked on to the main square, which was grand and impressive. But I’d spent too long on the beach and I didn’t have time to make use of one of the cafes here. I thought I should probably come back some time. I got the bus to the airport, and even though my flight was then delayed by several hours, I did not regret continuing my Ryanair boycott.

Río Ulla

Sep 11, 2010 in Santiago de Compostela 2010

Río Ulla

We went white-water rafting while we were in Galicia. I’d never done it before so I was really looking forward to it. We got a train to Padrón, a quiet dusty town near Santiago, from where companies run rafting trips down the Río Ulla.

The seven of us took a boat and a guide, and headed downstream. Four other boats were on the river, and pretty much the first thing all the guides did was to try and get us to fall out. I was very reluctant, but I guess it’s better to fall out first in the calm water before the inevitable spills in the rapids. So we all got soaking wet in the chilly waters, and then went paddling downstream for some rapid action.

The Ulla is not such a wild river, but the scenery was awesome and we had great fun. After the first couple of rapids, our guide got us to try them out with variations like going backwards, standing up, trying to paddle up one we’d just come down, and things like that. At the final rapids, he said “You don’t really need the boat for this one. Just jump out and swim.” I thought he was joking but he really meant it, so we all jumped out and swam over the rapids. Then we swam downstream all the way to the pick-up point. I’d never swum down a river before and I thought it was awesome.

We all agreed that the Ulla had, on the whole, been a little bit tame and it would be nice to try something a bit wilder. But none the less, we were all shattered, and our plans for a big night out clubbing fell a bit flat as we were all too destroyed to stay out beyond 4am.

Santiago de Compostela

Sep 10, 2010 in Santiago de Compostela 2010

Santiago de Compostela

I have had many good times in Santiago de Compostela, so it was good to be going back again. This time I was going with a group of friends to celebrate an imminent wedding. We spent three days there, making full use of Santiago’s myriad tiny bars in the historic city centre, and spent a lot of time in cafes in the beautiful Praza da Quintana recovering from our various exertions.

Tarragona

Apr 03, 2010 in Barcelona 2010

Tarragona

After a couple of days of living well in Barcelona, eating good food and drinking lots of coffee, we took a trip out to Tarragona. It was a warm spring day and a nice journey down the coast of Catalunya.

The old town reminded me a little bit of Mdina in Malta. Narrow streets wound between brown stone buildings and every corner led to an interesting view. Newer parts of town were quite different. I liked the Rambla Nova, particularly when I found a food stand selling churros filled with dulce de leche – a neat combination of two of my favourite food items.

We spent the day in Tarragona much as we had spent the days in Barcelona, relaxing and enjoying good food and drink. It was a shame the day had to end but I had a flight to catch. We got a train back to Barcelona, and I headed home. It had been a great few days of post-Herschel relaxation.

Font Màgica

Apr 02, 2010 in Barcelona 2010

Font Màgica

I’d heard about the Font Màgica last time I was here. It sounded a bit cheesy and I wasn’t too keen on visiting, but on the other hand it was up on Montjuïc and I thought there might be some good views over the city. So we all went up there, arriving just as the show started.

To my surprise I was quite impressed. The timing was good, with the sun having set and the sky darkening as the water shone in rainbows of colour. The number of people there made it difficult to see the show that well, but it was much better than I’d expected. And after it was over we walked up to the front of the Palau Nacional and looked out over the city as the crowds dispersed.

Parc de la Ciutadella

Apr 01, 2010 in Barcelona 2010

Parc de la Ciutadella

A week and a half after I got back from Belgrade, I was on the road again. My paper on Herschel results was submitted, my long month of hell was over, and I walked along to St. Pancras to get a train to Barcelona. I was going there with some friends to celebrate a 30th birthday, and it turned out to be cheaper to travel overland. So I got the Eurostar to Paris, pausing briefly at Gare du Nord as it was the first time I’d been there for eight years. Last time, I was on my way back from Beijing, and after thousands of miles of travel across Asia with no problem, disaster had struck just 200 miles from home in a farce of missed trains and lost tickets. I held tightly on to my Barcelona ticket, crossed town to Gare d’Austerlitz and got a train to Portbou.

We rumbled across France during the night. When I woke in the morning we were in the far south, and I saw a full moon setting over the Pyrenees at Perpignan. Not long after that the train arrived at Portbou, where I had about 20 seconds to find the Barcelona train, otherwise I’d have to wait for two hours for the next one. I made it, jumping on board just before the doors closed. Then I slept all the way to Barcelona Sants.

I met up with my friends and went exploring. In my tired post-night train state this involved a lot of stopping and relaxing in cafes. We ended up in the Jardines de la Ciudadela, and relaxed by the lakes and fountains there for a while.

Rastro

Mar 29, 2009 in Madrid 2009

Rastro

After four days at ESAC, I spent the weekend in the centre, staying with a friend who had just started a post-doc here. Normally one of the things I like doing best in Spain is going to clubs and coming out after the sun has risen, but I was still recovering from my double jetlag and went for some quieter pursuits. We went to the Reina Sofia and saw Guernica, handily avoiding a heavy downpour. And we went to a cinema, where we discovered that in Spain they skip the trailers and start the films when they say they are going to start. Then we made an early start on a Sunday to see what was going on at El Rastro, the famous flea market.

We spent a while wandering through the busy streets. There were a lot of stands of DVDs and CDs of dubious provenance, and also some more unusual things like furniture and antique stands. It was sunny but a chilly wind was blowing, so after we’d bought a few things we took refuge in a cafe for some churros con chocolate.

I almost got caught out by the hour changing. It’s happened to me before: coming back from La Palma in October 2006 I had no idea the hour was going back, and I unwittingly arrived at La Palma’s airport at 6am, to find it still locked. In March, the situation is much more dangerous, but luckily I realised early enough to avoid any mad dashes to the airport. Two trips back to back had been tiring enough without that. I headed home.

ESAC

Mar 26, 2009 in Madrid 2009

ESAC

ESAC was a good place to work. It was way out in the countryside, peaceful and sunny, and they supplied enough coffee to keep me happy. I got into a nice routine of walking from where I was staying on Santo Domingo up via San Bernardo and a few cafes to the bus stop on Alberto Aguilera. Mornings were healthily punctuated by coffee breaks. Afternoons were a bit trickier, with large and very cheap lunches being followed by a long session of hard core data reduction. By the end of the day I was normally flagging severely, falling unconscious on the bus back to Madrid and having to revive myself with more strong coffees on the way back down to Santo Domingo.