Thursday, June 26, 2008

It is reknowned as being a very British thing to talk about the weather all the time, but this year the habit has really taken off in Catalunya. Over the last two months, we were subjected to daily press updates on the state of the reservoirs in the main river systems that supply Barcelona with its water. Conversations would inevitably mention how *good* the weather was, feverishly recounting the latest levels (67.2% and rising - up from 22%). By the second month, however, the smiles had become a little bit fixed: "Yes, all the rain is very good, but surely we can start the summer now?"

Fortunately, normal service has been resumed, and summer has hit with a bang. High pressure, sunshine, and temperatures in the low 30s across the whole Iberian peninsula have caused the beaches to become as overflowing as the reservoirs. To escape the heat and crowds, Djanira and I travelled up to the Pyrannees for a weekend in the hills.

Catalunya is looking absolutely spectacular at the moment, the excess of water means that everything is green and the rivers and lakes are overflowing. Above and below are pictures of the Estany ("lake") Sant Maurici, and the two peaks in the background below are called Els Encantats. The lake and peaks are two of the most famous sights in the Pyrannees. DJ and I took a leisurely stroll around the lake on the first day; the combination of hot weather, crystal clear water and lack of people motivated me to strip of for a quick skinny-dip (very quick, the water at 1700m was freezing!); fortunately for everybody, Djanira wasn't quick enough with the camera!

The second day we went for a 20km walk with a whole 1000m of ascent/descent. It was hard work but we were rewarded but more spectacular views - and a cold beer at the campsite bar at the end of the day! We didn't manage to bag any peaks, content as we were just to hike around the valleys. Next time though we'll see if we can bag a summit or two!

The weekend was rounded off by an extra couple of days off (for me, poor DJ had to work). Tuesday was a bank holiday so I, along with most of Spain, took Monday off too. We headed up the coast to a small town called Sant Pol de Mar, where the water is fantastically clear, you can go snorkelling around some handy rocky reefs, and there is a fantastic paella restaurant right on the clean, sandy beach. It's good that summer has arrived at last!
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Thursday, June 19, 2008

European travels

So I'm back in Barcelona after a week and a half on the road; Frankfurt, London, Swansea, Luxembourg, Brussels, 2500 miles of travelling and five different beds. I'll be honest, I don't really like flying around so much and I'm looking forward to the AVE connection up to the French TGV rail lines, which will make European travel a lot more pleasant. It will be a while yet though, so I'm not holding my breath.

Anyway, despite all the work I had time for a bit of fun. My work mate Marco and I were in Germany on the evening of their first Euro 2008 game, which they won. It's always fun to be in the same country as a winning team in any sport, and Marco really got into the spirit!

Then we were in London where after a different sort of work meeting (different in that it was held in a pub in Soho - that's what I'm talking about!) I played the 'London Guide' to Marco and Sònia, showing them round the main sights.

Then I managed to get up to Gower to see the 'rents, and get some climbing done with Lau. Here I am in the beautiful Gower countryside after a great day's climbing. I look miserable in the pic but I'm smiling, honest!

And then at the start of this week I headed to Luxembourg to present a European research grant proposal. Cross fingers we'll get it. Afterwards there were no flights available out of Luxembourg so we had to catch a train to Brussels, stay a night, then fly out from there. I had never been to Brussels before so was glad for the time to wander around a little bit. It's actually a very nice city. In Britain I think most people think of Brussels as an 'institution' (that represents the EU and all it stands for) rather than a city. This is shame, because whether you are an Europhile or not, Brussels is actually a very pleasant city to wander around; lots of old buildings and history, and plenty going on. My rubbish camera-phone and even rubbisher photography can't do it justice, of course, but there was a very nice sunset view over the Grand Place a couple of evenings ago:

So, anyway. Now I'm back in Barcelona and I'm very happy to say that the summer has finally arrived. With a big high-pressure settled over the Iberian peninsula, temperatures in the high 20s and clear blue skies are predicted for the next week and indeed for the reasonably forecastable future. What with all the recent rain the Catalun countryside is looking absolutely stunning. This weekend Djanira has a weekend off (whoo-hoo!) and so we are headed off up to Pyrannees, to the Parc nacional Aiguestortes i Estany Sant Maurici. Its supposed to be one of the most beautiful areas of the Pyrannees, and only a 3-4 hour drive from Barcelona, so we're looking forward to checking it out, and maybe get a little suntan while we're there!

PS Firefox 3 is out. Go get it.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Dave and Laura visit

And so the rain continues in Catalunya. 6 weeks ago, we'd barely had a drop of rain for several months, the water reserves were down to 20% capacity, and Barcelona was importing drinking water in by boat from France. Now, however, the reservoirs are riding high at over 60% capacity and we're all beginning to get a little bit tired of the rain. Our friends Dave and Laura visited us this weekend, and a sunny afternoon down the beach rapidly became a hunt for shelter as a thunderstorm blew in and the heavens opened. The only place we could find to provide shelter was a table-tennis table, which just about kept us out of the worst of it!

Dave and Laura have been in Catalunya for a fortnight, walking and climbing. They had originally planned to hang around the pyrannees, but the sight of classic rock climbs still in full winter condition (in June!) sent them scurrying southwards to the gorges around Vilanova de Meia. There they found good weather and several good days climbing, but also found evidence of the abundance of water, the picture below is of the overflow chute of one of the reservoirs!

Anyway they finished off their trip with a weekend here in Barcelona, which was great. Yesterday the sun was out and so off they went in one of Djanira's GoCars. I took a little video of them at the start of their tour:

Anyway now they're off back to Blighty and so will I be shortly: I am going to Germany for a work meeting, and then to London for another. And then I am going to Luxembourg the week after. International man of mystery and all that, but I'm not sure all this flying is good for green credentials. Good job I ride my bike to work!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Alun's timeline

And so the Web 2.0 juggernaught roles ever onwards. The latest thing that I discovered that made me think (in a Yank accent) "that's pretty neat" are Timelines. They are basically webpages that contain zoomable and movable graphical interfaces that represent a timeline. As the owner of the timeline you can add and remove boxes and pictures at any point along the line. offer a free service where you can create your own, and look at ones that other people have created. I registered to see what all the fuss was about, and in about 5 seconds I had created my own timeline using the RSS feed from my blog. What was even cooler was that I could then add the blog feeds from my mate Richie Astbury and my cousin Mei. So at a quick glance now you can see exactly what three of the most important and talented men in the world have been up over the last year - a pretty special opportunity, I'm sure you'll agree, and one to put at the top of the bookmarks list ;) As you zoom in an out it expands/contracts the prominence of the posts, and links directly to the photos and text in each post. Check it out.

edit: it would seem the popularity of my new timeline has caused to crash! So the link above doesn't show anything at the moment, it doesn't remember my login and the registration process has broken. Let's wait to see if it comes back up...

edit2: it appears to be working again now