Beautiful bus

Traffic in the London rush hour inevitably leads to occasions when two (or even three) buses all turn up at more or less the same time. What happens afterwards is a predictable series of overtaking manouvres: the first bus stops to pick you up; the second bus overtakes and stops to pick up the people waiting at the next stop down the route; and what was the first bus overtakes that to pick up people waiting at the stop one further down the route from where the second bus stopped. The net effect of when this graceful form of bus “dancing” happens is that it occurs very confidently all the way down to the termination point of the route – getting the people on those buses to their destinations twice as fast as is normal when only one bus comes along. But only so long as nobody wants to get off the bus at a potential “overtake” stop – which is when the rhythm stutters slightly – or else when the traffic upsets the flow. Which does happen quite often of course.

This is a cameraphone picture I took of a Route 79 bus taken on a beautiful Spring morning last week from the back of the upper deck of another 79 bus which was in front at the time:

What a beautiful bus. On such a beautiful day.
(Route 79 Southbound on Honeypot Lane in Kingsbury, London NW9)

Cash machine Hog

You hogged the cash machine for a full 5 minutes. I was getting soaked in the rain. I only wanted 20 pounds but you were obviously passionate about learning everything there is to possibly know about yours. Like how many more sports-trousers or trainers like the ones you’re wearing could you buy with the money that the machine is telling you that you have?

Cash machine hogger: please hurry up.
(HSBC bank ATM on Kingsbury Road, London NW9)

I hate cash. It’s an annoying and highly inconvenient concept. Especially given that it’s about trading bits and bytes for bits of paper. But especially when it’s raining and the High Street parking warden is on duty.

Barcelona revisted

A few weeks ago I promised myself I would go back to explore Barcelona properly. Well, I did just that – hauling the Route79 clan over there for a few days – last Sunday through to Wednesday (3 and a half days). Like many, we’re not the sort of family who likes to go sit in the sun and read a book on holiday, so we set ourselves some objectives for this short break, and I am pleased to say that we accomplished all of them.

The grafitti in Barcelona’s Cuitat Vella (old city) is artistic.
(Taken in a dodgy street called Carrer de Valldonzella – looking for our cheap lunch venue.)

First and foremost we decided not to pack a reasonable quality camera; electing instead to use the camera in our mobile phones. The results of that mission can be viewed here. The camera is sub-1megapixel (i.e. a bit crap) so the images aren’t great, but they were “blogged” pretty much live, so that kind of justifies the lack of quality. In fact, I think given the context, the fuzziness sort of adds credence to it, but that’s a discussion for another day …

The second objective was to see as much work by famous local artist Antoni Gaudi as we possibly could, so that by the time we came home we’d be sick of it.

And last but not least, we wanted to make sure we sampled some real good, especially Catalan, and Spanish, food, all in that order of priority. So, we went out of our way to research places to have lunch and dinner, and booked everything by telephone in advance of our trip.

Oh and I forgot to say, all of this had to be done for a budget of less than £1200 for a family of four (two adults and two children) – all in – including flights, long-term parking, insurance, accommodation, food and pocket money. Anyone who’s researched flights from Heathrow to the major cities in Spain will know that BA and Iberia have got it all pretty much sown up and we would have busted the budget on the flight alone. The alternative was to go Easyjet from Luton, say, but I found what appeared to be an interesting deal for around £800 from a couple of months ago – it was a combined flight and hotel deal that had quite some elements of choice in it; for example I managed to configure the package so that we flew from LHR (Iberia codeshare with BA) and the hotel we stayed at was actually an “Apartment Hotel” slap bang in the centre of town, right on Las Ramblas, which is the centre of all the action there. Apartment Hotels usually offer larger, family friendly, suites and a lot more by the way of privacy. We positively detest the idea of paying a premium for being fussed over and room service and all that, so that helped keep it within budget. I also found a relatively cheap valet parking service operating out of Heathrow, they took our car away at the terminal and brought it back on our arrival. Luxury eh? For a price not a great deal more that advanced booking at Pink Elephant for the duration. The rest of the budget was used on other expenses whilst there, specifically travel (Metro T10 prepaid “carnet” tickets – don’t buy any other travelcards as these are superb and all encompassing), food and other items like entrance fees to museums or attractions etc. Details of the “bill of materials” at the end of this posting if you are interested.

Anwyay – apart from Gaudi architecture and the really great food, the things about Barcelona that left me with lasting impressions:

1. I have never seen so much graffiti in my entire life! But unlike much of what you see in London, BCN graf really is art. Practically every metal shutter of every shop and restaurant on the narrow lanes of the old city around Las Ramblas is covered in very carefully sprayed graf, usually extremely colourful and often intricate. And care is taken not to spray or cover the stonework of the aincient facades – sticking to the metal shutter only. Of course, there is lots of more unsightly graf too, but it ‘s mostly out of town and in the usual places. There just seems to be a lot more “respect” for the important buildings.

2. I don’t know wether this is a Spanish trend, or strictly a Bareclonian one, but quite a high proportion of younger women (as in between teenage and middle-age) have a metal stud in their lip. It can’t just be me, because the other 79ers noticed this as well.

3. The pavements in Barcelona – even the out of town ones are not made using paving slabs of the size that you normally experience say in London. They are much smaller tiles – about the size of teacup footprint, and hexagonal. This makes me think of the amount of time it must take to lay these things. And on some streets (e.g. the prestigious Passeig de Gracia) the design on these Hexagonal paving tiles are quite intricate and kind of arranged so that the patterns connect over adjacent tiles.

Here’s how we spent our money if you’re interested: Continue reading “Barcelona revisted”

Less water, bigger pipes

Random update: When I think of April I think of tax and rain. It’s the end of the tax year and the start of a new one. And it usually rains a lot. But here in London we’re not getting enough of the latter. Or rather, we’ve not had enough of the latter for the last 18 months or so. Which means that the local water companies are banning us from using hosepipes. Which doesn’t really bother me, because I don’t use them anyway. But my next-door neighbour has an obsession with washing his car with a hosepipe every week; rain or shine. What should I do if I catch him using it during the hosepipe ban?

I have to say though that the weather is definitely picking up, and London is a fantastic place to be when it’s hot and sunny. Looking forward to the summer!

London is a great place to be in the summer.
(Taken in Trafalgar Square on an oppressively hot day last summer.)

Yesterday I discovered that my Internet Service Provider is now doing an 8Mbps DSL service for about 10 pounds per month cheaper than my current 2Mps service. Upgrading was therefore a no-brainer, and it only took 24 hours. Now I am on 8Mbps down and 400Kbps up for £19 per month. Don’t you just love it when you get something better for less?