Articles tagged with "spain"

Observatorio del Teide

Observatorio del Teide

After the meeting, the IAC had organised a trip to the Observatorio del Teide. We headed up there in a little minibus and it was a lot like the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos on La Palma in that the driver drove too fast on the winding road and I got to the top feeling like I was going to die of carsickness.

It was a calm and warm day. 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

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 saw 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 do secede from Spain it will be nice to have a new country to visit.


A Coruña

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, and seemed much less touristy. One very cool thing about it 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.

I walked on to the main square, but I’d spent too long on the beach and I didn’t have time to make use of the cafes here. 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

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, from where trips down the Río Ulla start.

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 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 flat as we were all too destroyed to stay out beyond 2am.


Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela

I have had many good times in Santiago de Compostela. This time I was going with a group of friends to celebrate an imminent wedding. We spent three days there, making good use of all the tiny bars in the historic city centre in the nights, and the cafes in the Praza da Quintana in the following mornings.


Tarragona

Tarragona

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. 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 perfect post-paper recovery trip for me, and it was a shame the day had to end when I had to leave for the airport.


Font Màgica

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 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

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. 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 crossed France during the night. 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

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. Then we made an early start on a Sunday to see what was going on at El Rastro market. 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 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

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 involved a few more coffee breaks. Afternoons were a bit trickier, with large 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.


Plaza de España

Plaza de España

After two days of workshop there was an early finish, and I was back in Madrid by 4.30pm. I’d last been here almost eight years ago, staying here accidentally on the way to La Palma. I had only had time for a quick wander around the city centre before heading out to the Canary Islands. I’d been to the Plaza de España, and I went back there now with a copy of El País. In the years between my two visits to Madrid I’d spent four months in South America, made four more visits to the Canary Islands, and five to the mainland. My Spanish was definitely better than it had been the first time around. I practised by reading the paper.


Madrid

Madrid

I arrived back at Heathrow from the US at 9am, looping around London and flying over Wembley, UCL, the Thames Barrier, a block of flats in Rotherhithe that I used to live in, the Wheel and Parliament. I hung around at Terminal 3 for a couple of hours and then it was time to head off again, this time to Madrid.

During my three days on the other side of the Atlantic, I’d been waking up at 3 or 4 am, and definitely hadn’t got over the jetlag. Coming back so soon, I thought perhaps it would all cancel out and I’d feel fine. But I think actually it just doubled everything, and I had no time to recover. I was here to learn how to process data from the Herschel satellite, and the workshop started at 9am the day after I arrived. Not only that but it was 30 miles outside Madrid, and the bus left at 8am. Not only that but I was staying about 20 minutes walk from where the bus went. So at 7.15am I headed out into a sunny morning to find my way. I crossed the Gran Vía and headed north, stopping at a cafe for a few strong coffees on the way.


Roques de García

Roques de García

I reached the Roques de García in the middle of the afternoon. A small church amongst the yellow sands made it look like the set of a Western. The walk across had been quite quiet, but here there were busloads of tourists. I wandered around the huge rocks trying to avoid the crowds.

Eventually it was time for the bus back down to the south of the island. I headed down and flew home. Just a few hours after standing on top of a giant volcano off the coast of Africa, I was back in London, getting a night bus home.


Across the caldera

Across the caldera

I headed back down. I had some time before the bus down was coming, so I decided to walk from the cable car station to the Roques de Garcia, a lava formation a couple of miles away. It was January, I was a couple of thousand metres above sea level, but still it was hot walking weather in the midday sun. The walk wasn’t too exciting but the views back up to the peak of the volcano were impressive. The cone had an obvious bulge on one side, and I could see why geologists think it might collapse next time there’s an eruption here.


Teide

Teide

But the next day, the storm had passed, and the day dawned clear and fresh. My target was Teide: the highest point in the Atlantic, a mountain I’d flown over a few times, and many times seen from the top of La Palma 90 miles away. It’s claimed that it’s one of the most visited national parks in the world, but I found that hard to believe as I got on the one bus a day that goes over the island to the mountain.

In the warm January sunshine we chugged up the road to high altitude, and across a desert-like plain to get to the cable car station. I wanted to go to the top of the mountain; at 3,718m above sea level it was higher than anywhere I’d been since coming down from El Misti three years earlier. But I wasn’t planning to climb it. Time was limited so I took the easy route, getting the phenomenally expensive cable car to the summit area. I would have liked to go to the very top, but the bureaucracy involved in getting the necessary permit defeated me, and it turned out in any case that the trails were all closed due to ice.

So I was limited to the upper cable car station only. I breathed the cool thin air, and looked out over the caldera. Far below, a convoy of Hell’s Angels was going along the road.


Puerto de la Cruz

Puerto de la Cruz

By coincidence, a friend of mine was on holiday nearby, and we met up in Puerto de la Cruz, on the coast below La Orotava. Puerto de la Cruz was much more touristy than La Laguna or La Orotava had been. The weather was nicer, too, at first, and we got a meal on the main square. Here I had troubles, as I often do in Spain, as a result of being a vegetarian. As we looked at the menu, the waiter began to recommend dishes, all meaty. Wondering if they had anything good without flesh in it, I said “Soy vegetariano”. “Ah, Italiano!”, said the waiter, and brought me an Italian language menu.

As we ate, clouds were coming in. We walked down to the sea, watching legions of large dark crabs scuttling across the rocks on the foreshore. The waves rolled in off the Atlantic, and there was a mood of foreboding over Puerto de la Cruz. My friend had to drive back to the south coast of the island, so I said goodbye to her and caught a bus back to La Orotava. In the evening, rain battered down, the gutters filled with rushing streams, and the streets of La Orotava were empty.


La Orotava

La Orotava

On another grey misty morning in La Laguna, I walked to the bus station to go to warmer parts. I headed for La Orotava, on the west side of the island. The bus didn’t take long, and as we headed down the motorway the weather got a bit better. La Orotava is a hilly town, and the place I was staying was at the top of a very steep road. Once I’d recovered, I headed back down to have a look around. The views over the town to the sea were nicer than the views of La Laguna in the drizzle had been.


La Laguna

La Laguna

I’d passed through Tenerife a couple of times on my way to and from La Palma, and I’d seen the peak of Teide from 90 miles away at the Roque. I finally got to stay on the island when there was a scientific meeting there that I needed to attend. I made my way to La Laguna, in the north of the island, and spent three days there. Most of the time it was misty and cold. It had been 23°C in the south but La Laguna was uphill and inland.


Moon river

Moon river

We went to Calle Betis on Sunday to see what was going on there. Not much, was the answer. Most bars were closed, and the only one we found that was open was extremely quiet. We decided to call it a night at about 1am. Outside, the clouds had cleared, and the moon was shining.


Guadalquivir

Guadalquivir

After a big Saturday night out, we were tired on Sunday. It rained for a lot of the day. It got a little bit sunny, briefly, and we ended up sitting by the river enjoying the nice weather while it lasted. Soon, though, the palm trees were swaying in the wind, the skies were darkening and spots of rain started falling. It was time to head for bars again.