Articles tagged with "spain"

Tajinastes

Tajinastes

Montaña del Fuego

Montaña del Fuego

Ruta de los Volcanes

Ruta de los Volcanes

Cloudfall

Cloudfall

El Pilar

El Pilar

Torre Tavira

Torre Tavira

Cádiz

Cádiz

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.


Sevilla

Sevilla

I went to Sevilla for a stag weekend. Most of the details will remain known only to those who were there, but when we were not getting up to the required stag do shenanigans, we did some sensible things.

We went to see Sevilla play Almeria in La Liga. We’d got seats in the very front row of the stadium. When we arrived, it was a warm-ish evening, and as the teams warmed up, we thought we’d done pretty well. But then it started to rain, and it quickly turned into a monumental downpour. We soon abandoned our front row spots and headed for the covered part of the stands at the back. We ended up staying there for the whole match.

I don’t know a huge amount about Spanish football but I was under the impression that Sevilla were a better side than Almeria. It was no surprise, then, that Sevilla dominated the first twenty minutes. It was a surprise when they scored an own goal at that point, and totally fell to pieces. Almeria went on to rip them apart, winning 4-1 in the end. Sevilla crowned their defeat by getting a man sent off.


Girona

Girona

We went to a club at Tibidabo in the evening, and stayed there until it started to get light. We watched the sun rise from the roof of Sam’s apartment block, then set off in search of the classic Spanish way to end a great night out – churros con chocolate. But maybe it’s just not a Catalan thing, because we couldn’t find any. Disappointed, I went back to my hostel and slept. I got brutally awoken after a couple of hours, having already missed the checkout time.

We went to the beach in the afternoon. Having already had one attempted pickpocketing, and knowing the reputation of the beaches, I stayed paranoid and alert despite my tiredness. We managed to catch the sun for a few hours and not lose any of our possessions.

In the evening I headed for home. I got the bus to Girona, arriving there just as the sun was setting. I could barely walk by now, I was so tired. Barcelona had been a fun trip.


Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia

We walked to the Sagrada Familia. Cranes and spires look like they’ve always been attached to each other and always will be. Work began in 1882, and is expected to carry on for decades yet. The church is already spectacular, and as long as it doesn’t collapse before it’s finished it will surely be one of the world’s most impressive structures.


Parc Güell

Parc Güell

I went to Barcelona to visit my friend Sam who was working there. I got into the city late on a Friday night, and Sam and a bunch of other friends were at a bar in town. As I walked onto the platform of a metro station, someone tried to pickpocket me, and the Catalan capital was living up to its reputation. Luckily the would-be thief decided not to steal my printed-out boarding pass, which was all there was in the pocket he chose. I found my friends and went out for drinks until 3am.

The next day we all met up late in the morning, and headed for Parc Güell. It was a long steep walk to get there, and I wasn’t yet accustomed to the savage heat. There was a shop on the way doing a roaring trade in bottles of water just slightly colder than the ambient temperature, and I gave him some business.


Boat back to Tenerife

Boat back to Tenerife

Fearsomely early the next morning we headed to the port of Santa Cruz to get a boat back to Los Cristianos. Sunbeams lit the town as we approached.

At the airport we found that Thomas Cook could also be added to the Canary Islands transport blacklist, as they were running an extortionate excess luggage scam. Somehow their scales suggested that we’d acquired more than ten kilos of luggage since we had left London, and we had to pay some ridiculous fee. Next time I come to La Palma I’m getting the boat from Cádiz.


Los Tilos

Los Tilos

As we ate lunch in San Andrés, the sun came out, and the clouds quickly disappeared to leave behind a blazing hot day. We headed on to Los Tilos, which is claimed to be a rainforest. I don’t think it is, really, but it was still pretty otherworldly, and very different from the rest of the island. We hiked up a trail to Los Brecitos, and in the heat of the afternoon it was a pretty tough hike.


San Andrés

San Andrés

We kicked off the second day of our island tour with a drive up the east coast to San Andrés. Heavy skies threatened, but it stayed dry. San Andrés has a lot of colonial architecture, and is also amazingly full of lizards. They were everywhere, and whenever I stopped to look around I could see ten or fifteen of them.


La Cumbrecita

La Cumbrecita

From Tazacorte we headed inland, planning just to head back to Santa Cruz. But we passed a sign to ‘La Cumbrecita’ and thought we’d investigate. The road led us through the forests in the centre of the island, and eventually became a single-track dirt road. We were not sure if we would be coming to anything worth seeing, but La Cumbrecita turned out to be pretty awesome. When we reached a small car park at the end of the road, we found ourselves on the south side of the caldera, with a view across to the northern side. Mist was pooling in the caldera, and clouds were flowing over its walls, evaporating as they tumbled down.


West coast

West coast

We drove up the west coast of the island. It feels pretty remote out that way. We stopped for a fantastic coffee in an empty bar in the desolate hamlet of San Nicolás, then drove on to Tazacorte. The island is dominated by the vast Caldera de Taburiente, a giant crater whose walls rise two kilometres above its centre, and Tazacorte is perfectly situated for amazing views into the crater.

Tazacorte’s main claim to fame is that it was the last port of call for some of the conquistadores who were on their way to colonise Latin America. Today it betrays no hint that it would ever be worthwhile for any ship to call in. While observing on the mountain top on previous trips I’d seen the lights of Tazacorte shining far below, but from here I couldn’t spot the telescopes on the crater rim.


The volcanoes

The volcanoes

A week of conference passed largely uneventfully, except that I was ambushed by an astronomer who didn’t like the results I’d presented in my talk. We had a chat in which he outlined his objections, which I mostly disagreed with, but which was nevertheless useful, because it meant that when I wrote the paper I could make sure we covered the points he raised, and avoid a referee asking the same things.

Along with Nick, another UCL astronomer, I was staying on the island for the weekend after the conference. We hired a car early on the Saturday morning and headed south, with the plan of driving around the whole island over the two days. Our first stop was the volcanoes at the southern end of the island. On my last visit to the island eight months previously I’d driven from Santa Cruz to the volcanic end in thick mist and heavy rain. This time, the weather was much better. So much so, in fact, that I got horribly sunburnt within about twenty minutes of arriving at Volcán San Antonio.


Boat to La Palma

Boat to La Palma

Astronomers often need to go to La Palma, because it’s the nearest world class observatory to the UK. This was my fourth trip, but for once it was not to use the telescope. There was a conference being held and I was going to give a talk.

I’m finding it increasingly difficult to get to La Palma. I now boycott Iberia, who provide the most convenient flights but who charge for food and drinks and apparently find it difficult to imagine that there’d be more than one vegetarian on board. For this trip I decided to fly to Tenerife with someone called Globespan Airlines, and get a boat from there to La Palma. My flight was delayed six hours and now Globespan Airlines are also on the list of airlines I’ll never fly with if I can possibly help it, but the boat was a fantastic journey. The sun was setting as we left the port of Los Cristianos in southern Tenerife. We watched the sun set and the moon rise, with Tenerife receding behind us, La Palma approaching, and the smaller islands of La Gomera and El Hierro to the left. I stood on deck listening to Hand Across the Ocean by the Mission and it was a great soundtrack.


Alhambra

Alhambra

I went to have a look at the Alhambra, but I didn’t go in. I’d left it a bit late in the day, and anyway I am not particularly fussed about the insides of historic buildings. So I checked out the massive building from the parklands surrounding it, and then headed back down into town. I went back up to the mirador de San Nicolás at sunset. I didn’t have long before my flight home, but I did have long enough to see the Alhambra lit up at dusk.


Mirador de San Nicolás

Mirador de San Nicolás

On top of the hill opposite the Alhambra was the mirador de San Nicolás. It was full of crusties, juggling, selling handicraft, smoking and chilling. I went up there one evening to take photos of the city at night, and while I was there, two policemen appeared and started to walk slowly across the square.

Instantly the atmosphere turned incredibly hostile. All the crusties started jeering and whistling at the policemen. They didn’t seem to mind too much, and carried on strolling past. Shouts and boos carried on until they got to the other side.

The square had been packed with tourists as well as crusties, but after the police had left, the tourists quickly dispersed.


Granada

Granada

Before Christmas I’d gone to the Arctic Circle for a weekend. I’d had a great time, but after only three days, the lack of daylight got to me and I felt that I would slip into a morbid depression if I didn’t see the sun soon. I rebalanced myself by heading south after Christmas, to Granada.

The air was cool and fresh when I arrived. It may have been winter but it was warm enough to sit outside, and so I explored the cafes of the Albaycín, and found views over the city. I found my way to Plaza San Miguel Bajo. From here I could see most of the city, and the blue haze that was hanging over it.


Down south

Down south

I had a weekend to spare after my observing run, and I had thought I might drive around the island. But I hadn’t got to Santa Cruz until late on the Saturday afternoon, so that just left Sunday. I set off south and thought I would see how far I got.

It was sunny when I left Santa Cruz, and for the first twenty minutes the drive was great. But then suddenly I was in thick cloud and more or less zero visibility. I had to drive at about 15 miles an hour for a lot of the way to Fuencaliente at the south end of the island.

I parked up near Volcán San Antonio, one of the two recently active volcanoes at this end of the island. For half an hour I could do nothing but sit in the car as the rain lashed down. It stopped, eventually, and I rushed out to do a quick walk around the crater. Then I drove on to the other volcano, Teneguía, and climbed over scenery that emerged from the ground in 1971. Through brief breaks in the cloud, I looked up the west coast of La Palma.


Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz

Driving down the mountain was much less fun than driving up it had been. There was thick cloud most of the way down, and when I got to Santa Cruz it was raining. It kept on raining for the whole of the evening, and I decided that La Palma in October was not as nice as La Palma in August had been.


Seeing stars

Seeing stars

During the fourth night, all was going smoothly. The air was dry, the skies were clear, and I was running as quickly through my observing programme as I could. Suddenly, after a couple of hours, the telescope control system started beeping – the humidity was higher than the telescope could take and I had to close everything down quickly. A few minutes later it had dropped right back down. I opened up again and carried on.

It did this a couple more times during the night. At 5.45am I closed up and I couldn’t open again. By dawn, the mountain was in thick cloud. The visibility was about ten metres, and the NOT quickly disappeared from sight as I drove back to the Residencia.


Boredom

Boredom

The next night was also lost. I spent a miserable twelve hours in the telescope control room, thinking how ridiculous it was that I’d travelled two thousand miles just to sit in a small room on top of a mountain in thick cloud and do nothing. But on the third night, as I drove up to the telescope, the cloud level was dropping and there was an incredible sunset. As I got to the lip of the caldera, I could see towns lighting up far below. It was wildly windy and the car was rocking but before long it was calm enough to open the dome, and I started actually observing.


Wet nights

Wet nights

The next day when I rolled up the shutters in my room, I was a bit shocked to see that the perfect conditions had gone, and rain was whipping past my window. Conditions stayed appalling throughout the day. At 4pm I was supposed to meet my support astronomer at the Nordic Optical Telescope, so I could learn how to use it. I set off, but the rain was utterly torrential, and after a few minutes of driving at walking pace and not being able to see beyond the end of the bonnet, I turned back.

The first night looked like being completely lost, but I decided to stay up until dawn anyway. A few people on other telescopes also optimistically stayed up; most went to bed. I kept an eye on the weather station data from within the comfort of the Residencia.

At 5am there was drama. Conditions were suddenly dramatically improving, and observers were hurrying to their cars to get to the telescope. I stayed where I was: the NOT is the highest telescope on the island, and its weather sensors were still telling me it was too humid and too windy to open the dome. About twenty minutes later everyone who had rushed out was forlornly heading back anyway. It had just been a very temporary reprieve, and the monsoon was back.


La Palma

La Palma

After two and a half years out of astronomy, I returned to the field in September 2006. Shortly after that, I got an opportunity to go observing again, and my third trip to La Palma was fantastic. When I left astronomy, I didn’t know whether I would ever try to get back into it, and I thought that in all likelihood my two trips to La Palma would be my lot.

On both of those two trips, the taxi to the mountain top had been a nightmare. This time, I was observing at a telescope which didn’t have cars on the mountain top for the observer’s use, so I needed to drive myself up. This was massively more fun than getting the taxi, and I was laughing like a fool as I swept around the hairpins. If I’d had a passenger, they would have been chundering within seconds.

At the top, conditions were perfect. The humidity was so low that I got violent electric shocks off everything I touched, the skies were deep blue, and the stars shone brightly. Unfortunately I was not observing until the next night. I watched the sun set over a sea of clouds, then stayed up until the small hours preparing my observations and getting into the night routine.


Up a hill

Up a hill

We had a fairly huge Saturday night out. Spanish nightlife is all about late, and Santiago’s is later than anywhere else I’ve been. It’s still the only city in which I’ve been outside a club at five in the morning, with people saying it was still a bit early to be going in. They were right as well, it was really quiet. But by six it was heaving. We left at 8am, had a breakfast of churros con chocolate, then crashed for a few hours.

We didn’t waste the whole of the next day though. We decided to go up a hill near town and then walk back down. Forest fires had torn across much of Galicia during the summer, and from on the hill we could see the scorched swathes across the green hills. Dave said the scene had been apocalyptic, as fires burned on the hillside and thick smoke drifted through the streets. It was hard to believe anything could burn here, with the amount of rain we’d seen. Today it was dry, though, and we walked back into town.


Museo do Pobo Galego

Museo do Pobo Galego

Until Dave moved to Galicia, I can’t honestly say that I knew that the region had its own language. Even though Franco was from here, he still rescinded the region’s autonomy and discouraged use of the language. We went to the Museo de Pobo Galego and learned more about these things. The museum building used to be a nunnery, and the nun’s dormitories were reached via triple spiral staircases, allegedly to confuse rogue Galicians trying to visit the nuns during the night.


Santiago

Santiago

I’d left Sweden in July with barely enough money for a bus fare into town. After that I’d got a horrific temp job which at least got the cash flow going again, before with amazing luck and fantastic timing, I got a job back in astronomy. I could afford to travel again, and with John and Dan I headed to Santiago de Compostela to visit Dave, who I hadn’t seen since we were in Ecuador eight months previously.

The first time I’d been to Santiago, it was stunningly hot. This time it was emphatically not. Rain lashed down for most of the time we were there. We spent a lot of time in bars.