Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Segovia Again

Segovia was the first place we visited outside Madrid after we arrived three years ago. We had a pretty crummy time, as described here.  I'd always wanted to go back, and when the offspring arrived a few weeks ago, it seemed like the perfect time to do it. I decided to splash out a bit and book tickets on the AVE (Spain's high-speed train).

In case anyone's interested, it took 27 minutes from Madrid Chamartín, reached a top speed of 247kph and cost €10 outbound and €8 for the return trip. For some bizarre reason, the AVE uses a brand-new station in a field about a thousand kilometres outside Segovia - it took the driver of the overcrowded bus  15 minutes before he decided he couldn't squeeze any more passengers in, and the trip into the town centre took 20 minutes.

Nothing much changes in Segovia: it still has its mind-boggling Roman aqueduct,

its gorgeous Cathedral,

and the amazing Alcazar, which we did a tour of.

After the Alcazar tour, we headed off in search of lunch. It's compulsory to have cochinillo (suckling pig) when in Segovia. I had declared that we would not be eating in the pretty Plaza Mayor, on the basis that restaurants in Plaza Mayores all over Spain exist only to steal money off tourists with overpriced, badly-cooked food. But actually, that's where we ended up, and it was pretty good.

A nice day out, methinks.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Down To The River

Unlike all other European capitals, Madrid does not sit astride a big river. It does, however, sit beside a little one, the much ignored Río Manzanares. The lack of flowing water was always a downside to Madrid for us, so I was interested to hear the plan by Alberto Ruíz Gallardón, Mayor of Madrid, to bury about 6 kilometres of the M-30 motorway, which had previously formed a fairly impenetrable barrier between the city and the river (you've got to admire 70s and 80s Town Planning, for its sheer stupidity, if nothing else). With the motorway out of the picture, the plan then was to create a linear park along both banks, a beach, a rowing area and some cafés. Existing bridges would be refurbished, one or two of them closed to traffic, and about nine new footbridges would be built.

Recently we heard that much of the park is now open, so we went to have a peep. I have to say the bit we saw (between Principe Pio and Estadio Vicente Calderón) is very impressive. The hard landscaping uses rough-hewn slabs of granite for walls, smooth granite for footpath edges, and something like rough slate setts for the paths themselves. Metal details like fences and lighting are done in stainless steel. These materials will look good for a very long time, and the stone will actually improve with age, unlike the rain-stained concrete that would have inevitably have been used if this project were done in, say, Sheffield. Plants and trees, obviously, need a couple of years to mature, but I'm looking forward to seeing how it develops.

I'm wondering what they can do get more water into the river - it only seems to be about a foot deep at the moment, although staining on the old embankment walls show it can be a couple of metres deep. We saw two pairs of sluice gates - I guess they could use these to trap more water in the central section.

Anyway, a marvellous project, and I'm sure the EU thinks it was money well spent!

Thursday, 5 August 2010


Having been married for almost 25 years (yes, really!), most of our kitchen stuff is about that old. The pans, well, Prestige said they'd last a lifetime, and even though they never specified whose lifetime (the pan's, or the owner's), their little copper bottoms and stainless steel sides are still in fine fettle. The same cannot be said for my chef's knives: dull, dull, dull, and almost impossible to get an edge on. I only realised just how crappy they'd become when I did some cooking at a friend's place a few months ago and used a proper sharp knife. Since then I've been looking around and researching decent knives, and stumbled upon a most remarkable thing: ceramic knives.

Whoa! We are talking insanely sharp, here. The manufacturers say the only thing sharper is diamond, and the edge lasts 10 times longer than steel. Now that we're into August, most of Madrid's population has vamossed, and the shops that remain open are in desperation sale mode. So this evening I went to El Corte Inglés and got me two half-price ceramic knives. Watch this:

I did make the idiotic mistake of testing the big knife in the shop by stroking the blade with a finger. Got a great cut, bludd everywhere, and had to beg a plaster from MamaDuck's place of work when I went to meet her. I'm looking forward to doing some serious cutting with these babies!


I'm not an economist, politician, or banker. If I was, I would probably be infinitely richer by now. But it intrigues me when politicians whitter on about deficits and so on. The numbers seem to be huge (because, well, they are). But we never get to see them in context. So I did a little Googling, and found this page. It tells us the UK's current deficit is £159.2 BILLION! That's an incomprehensible number; if I was Bill Bryson, I'd illustrate that by saying if you had that amount of money in one-pound coins and stacked them up, it would reach from the Earth to Alpha Centauri. But I'm not, and it probably wouldn't.

Anyway, the point of this post is that  the UK is currently carrying an astounding amount of debt, as a result of the moronic bailing out of the ungrateful coños who run British banks. And the ConDemn coalition are hell-bent on using this to cut every kind of public service they can think of - health, education, public transport, social housing etc.

What you probably don't know is that this deficit represents only 11.4% of GDP. That doesn't seem life-threatening to me. EU rules would like it to be about 3%, but fuck, we're all fucked, aren't we? I don't see the urgency to get this down at the expense of everything that makes a country civilized. Cameroon and co would have us living in caves.

My 2 centimos. Now I have to go out and buy the world's sharpest knife (not a threat or anything: sale at El Corte Inglés).

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

New Post, New Phone

Yes, yes, I know I haven't posted for a coupla weeks. But I been busy, see. Gotta monster web-design project onna pretty tight schedule. Anyway, here's the new post. Which follows on from an earlier one.

Phones powered by Google Android have been crashing out of the skies in a rain-like manner. So a couple of weeks ago, I'd seen the one I wanted on the Interwebz. It's the HTC Desire (stock photo - sorry, can't be bothered to take my own pic):

It was, of course, a bit of an adventure to get one. My local Orange shop had never heard of it. The next one down the road (Calle Bravo Murillo has phone shops every 500 metres), had it on display, but when I asked for it the guy brought out an HTC Hero and said it was more-or-less the same. Hmm. The next phone shop I came to was Vodafone, and they had the Desire. I went in and asked about it, but they said it was only for self-employed people and small businesses - I qualify for that, but didn't have the required documentation on me. She couldn't explain to me why I couldn't have it as a particular (an individual), so I gave her a verbal slap and went on my way. Finally, I came to an Orange shop that not only had it in stock, but also let me have it! It cost me €78 plus 1100 Orange points, and I had to sign up for an 18-month data plan on top of the unfathomable call/SMS plan I already have.

But it's a damn fine phone. As a phone, I've had no problems with it - you can grip it any way you like, and it still works (despite what Steve Jobs would have you believe). It doesn't look great, but neither is it uglee. The rubberised plastic back and sides are pleasant to hold, it has a solid feel to it. It connects to everything (FaceBook, Twitter, GMail, Google Maps, Flickr) and has toys to let you play with those things.

My only criticisms are:

1) The battery life isn't great. This isn't a huge prob for me, 'cos I'm in the office most of the time. But it does need a charge every single day. Having said that, the charger is USB, so you can plug it into a laptop to suck some juice if you really need to.

2) It takes a long time (2-3 seconds) to switch the screen orientation when you turn the phone sideways. In fact this option is turned off by default, so I suspect somebody (Google? HTC? Both?) knows about it.

And that's it. An amazing phone. And I have to give credit to HTC - they've obviously bought lots of Apple products, and learned how to package a product. And I love their tagline: 'Quietly Brilliant'. Yepp, they are.