Tuesday/Wednesday 21 & 22 June 2016
With the unusual feeling that I had managed to everything done we were again off to the airport, this time with Sylvia’s son Nathaniel who happened to be departing around the same time for the US to further his PhD studies at UCLA.
We are on the Emirates Boeing 777 200 seventeen hour flight to Dubai. These guys do it bloody well. Somehow when I get on an Air NZ flight they go on about the awards they have won. Their crew generally try hard but the rest of their outfit do everything they can to piss people off. The Emirates crew are gushing smiles and enthusiasm. The new release movies are actually new. The food is great and the service excellent. Four hours sleep and five movies later (the best being Whisky Foxtrot Tango and 13 Hours). We landed in Dubai for the 45 minute taxi to the gate. I felt a bit cheated as the comfortable flight had been under 17 hours.
We cruised into the lounge to find they still have a smoking area, not a little glass room like you see in most airports but part of the lounge. A couple of hours later and we were on the A380 to Barcelona.
As we taxied out to take off I looked out the window to see another A380 taxiing alongside us. Apart from being pressurised at 6000ft the best feature about this plane is it has a bar at the back of business class. The last time I stood at a bar on an aeroplane was on a Continental DC10 in the eighties on a flight from LA to Houston. I enjoyed a few drinks with Kelly the attendant who skillfully ensured no one went thirsty. She informed us she is off to climb Kilimanjaro later this year. A few drinks at the bar and a couple of movies and the seven hour flight was over.
We are staying in an area called Fira about ten kilometres from the city centre. We checked in to the rather different Renaissance Hotel. With its outside painted with plants, white sterile room and fern shaped windows it was a little unusual.
Sylvia had to go to a dinner meeting at a hotel down the road. I took a cab with her and strolled back. I decided to take a quick look in the Ikea store across the road from our hotel. It was far from a quick look, the store is huge and set up so you have to walk the whole thing to get out.
A visit to the roof top bar of the hotel revealed a swimming pool and great views over the city.
Thursday 23 June 2016
Sylvia headed off for a day of to a day of meetings. I strolled through a few streets and up towards Montjuic. This area houses the stadiums built for the 1992 Olympics. All seem to be still in pristine condition. The park also contains a large monument overlooking the city.
I had looked on Google and seen what appeared from the air to be lots of small apartments symmetrically laid out. It turned out to be a cemetery, similar to those I had seen in Peru three years ago. Thousands of people are interred here. Each block is six graves high with glass fronts and mobile ladders around to enable people to climb up and place flowers for their loved ones.
A stroll up onto the ridge revealed stunning views over the port and out to the Mediterranean. Lots of large ships waited at sea to enter the port.
At the top of the ridge is Montjuic Castle. Situated on a cliff several hundred meters above the sea it has commanding views up and down the coast and over the docks and city centre. Back as far as 1000AD a lighthouse stood on this feature. The first fort was built in the mid 1600s. Modified at the end of that century it became a castle. In the mid 1700s it was demolished and a new flasher castle built, which is what we see today.
Pre the days of missiles or heavy artillery it would have been very hard to defeat. In the mid 1800s it shelled the city to quash an uprising by the peasants. Old and new guns still dominate the cliff top.
In the castle part there is a museum walking one through the history of the fort.
On the lawn of the well kept moat archers practiced with there bows on this stunning blue skied Mediterranean day.
Down the hill a little as the Port Vell Aerial Tramway. Opened in 1931 this has one car each cable. Leaving the cliff it takes you out across the port. The views are fantastic. Gaudi’s Cathedral and the Bullet are prominent as they protrude above the surrounding buildings.
A lift ride to the ground and I was at the beach. I found a beach bar with shade – it’s 36º and the beach is packed. There are chairs and umbrellas for rent on the white sand with the clear blue sea in the background. People lie back and relax in the reclining beach chairs. Many of the woman lie topless or play games on the sand.
The heavily tattooed Italian barmaid tells me how she works here in the summer and travels in the winter to South America. She would love to travel to NZ but its just too expensive and far away.
I take the cable car back up the hill and stroll back around the side, dropping into the intensive housing area. Six-storey apartments line the beautiful streets lined with trees with many little town squares. Shops and banks line the streets.
Further up the road there is a large stadium and more stunning buildings. I wonder why we can’t achieve this in the new housing areas we are developing in Auckland. Surely our politicians must travel and see such places.
Arriving back at our hotel Sylvia and I sit at the rooftop bar taking in the beauty of the city and discussing her busy day.
Friday 24 June
I took the metro into the city for a visit to the Maritime Museum. This is a ship yard dating back to the back to the 1700s. It has miniature ship displays. The main exhibit housed in this grand structure is a replica of the Royal Galley of St John of Austria, built to celebrate the fourth centenary of the battle of Lequnato. The original vessel was built in the dockyards in 1571. It would take the whole NZ Rowing team plus some to propel it.
There is also a replica of the submarine Leciteno originally built in 1859.
A short stroll back to the subway and with a little difficulty i managed to get the right train back to Fira. The subways here are super clean and efficient.
Being a holiday there were no taxis available so we caught the underground train to the airport. With no doors between the carriages one could see the train bend around corners.
Arriving in Prague we jumped the fastest taxi we had ever travelled in. Seat reclined so he could just reach the steering wheel we headed down the motorway at 160kph. Pulling into the street of the Alchymist Hotel we were stopped by police. The driver reluctantly got out to open the bonnet and boot as a guy scanned the underside of the car with a mirror. The hotel turned out to be next to the US embassy.