Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Its not all waffles and chocolates in Belgium.....



Old and New

Yeah, not sure, but everyone else was taking photos...

This is where I'm spending 11 hours six days a week!

Guess who

Friday, 6 April 2018

This wasn't really part of the plan

Got home last week and started unpacking, got a call from an old friend, just catching up. The usual stuff, then he asked "why aren't you working, you're fit enough". My honest answer was that no-one had asked me.
So now I'm sitting beside him in a site cabin, looking out across Antwerp docks at the old refinery being revamped. I've been walking around with boots and hard hat on, still wondering what I'm doing here! Still, the job's only for a few weeks, and (hopefully) will help pay for my last couple of foreign trips.
Hopefully I'll be able to explore old Antwerp this weekend, it looks quite picturesque. Oh and I've found two vegan restaurants near my cheap-and-cheerful hotel, so am eating well. The only slight disappointment was not being able to bring my old Jeep over for transport while I'm here - Antwerp has a Low Emmision zone that encompasses most of the city and the Jeep is deemed a major pollutant and not allowed in. Shame.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Alternative bike culture on the island (updated)

I've been looking at the different types of bike used here on the island. While the tourists go for the 4-wheel  off-road thingies, the locals seem split between cruisers and sports bikes - nothing different there, right? However, the cruisers are either Harley's or big Suzuki M1800's, pretty standard offerings with lashings of chrome; whereas the sports bikes mostly seem to sport madly elongated swing arms. I'd spotted a few, pretty ratty-looking things with faded paint and bald rear tyres, then the other day while downtown I heard that unmistakable noise that comes from big-bore bikes with minimal silencers. When I strolled over to look, there was a group of bikers sitting around drinking at an open-air bar, parked in front were a number of Suzuki Hayabusa's with those extended swing arms, but done really well. I have to say the guys all (apparently) had a bit of a 'fuck you' attitude to the passers by, as nicely emphasized by one guys' crash helmet graphics. I'm not sure what its all about; I did see plenty of similarly modified bikes in use so not just for show, it just seemed all wrong. Maybe its something to do with the theory of evolution, how birds on different islands develop different beaks .....?

Helmet says it all

Nicely done - although notice twin rear discs not plumbed-in

Update - today (Sunday) is Aruba flag day, a national holiday. I was minding my own business down on the beach when the sound of hundreds of bikes deafened me. I walked up to the road, and managed to snap a few more bikes. Right in front of me, two of those kooky Suzuki's pulled out of the parade, the riders obviously overheated as they parked and ran to a beach bar to get a cold beer. I approached them and politely asked why the swing arms were so extended. The answer came back 'for drifting'. Me, I'm still no wiser, but maybe one of you will know.

Friday, 9 March 2018


Ten and a half hour flight from Amsterdam, arrived in Aruba Thursday evening 2 weeks ago. The island was pretty much as I remembered it from 25 years ago when I used to visit while working in Venezuela, apart from more high-rise hotels up at the North end of the island. The capital, Oranjestad, is chocolate-box pretty with multi-coloured buildings, the beaches are still wide, white sand and the sea crystal-clear light blue. I found a nice cheap funky apartment 10 minutes walk from Eagle beach and next door to a supermarket.

Eagle beach
I spent the first few days moping around trying to stay miserable, but then I decided to snap out of it, grow up and face reality so no more moaning about health issues. I promise. Met a nice American couple at the pool, so have had someone to talk to most days. Have been eating plenty of salads and fresh fruits, with the odd restaurant meal; there's a few vegetarian cafe's around so always somewhere to eat. Been exploring the island, mostly on foot, although I did rent a Jeep for a day to venture in the national park - bit of a waste of time really as its all just desert.

Volcanic rocky beach with blow holes
That's my brain, that is.

The rest of the time I've really just been relaxing either on the beach or around the apartment pool - really boring with nothing much to report. Still, its got me away from the worst winter Britain has had for many years, so that was worth it. Hopefully something interesting will happen during the next couple of weeks!

Twisted-up tree

Natural pool in the National Park

East coast rocky and wild

Windy all year

Sunday, 18 February 2018

A busy week

Last Saturday I had to fly up to Hanover for a 6 month check-up and maintenance treatment; I suppose I could have flown directly from Malaga to Hanover, but I took the opportunity to fly via London and spent the day with my son and grandson. Then on Sunday flew to Germany, ready for Monday morning treatment. Hanover was freezing cold and snowing most of the week, the less said about that the better!

I flew back to London this Saturday and spent the afternoon with my daughter, so that's the family caught up with. By a quirk of fate, this weekend was the London Bike show at the Excel centre, but also the London Classic car show at the same venue, which was most unusual. As I had the day free I decided to hit them both, and my son decided to come up and meet me there. I got up early and drove through East London, got to the Excel before they opened so was one of the first in line when the Bike show opened at 9am. I have to admit I was a little disappointed, it wasn't half as good as the NEC show in Birmingham I went to last November.

New Z900 RS still looks nice - too pricey for me though
CCM Scrambler was lovely bit of kit, handmade but again too pricey at 10k

New twin cylinder RE, nice for under £6k new!

New V4 Ducati engine nicely made

The new Royal Enfield with the new twin-cylinder engine looked to be a good buy at just under £6k, other than that it was just the usual stuff, although the scantily-clad dolly birds were notable by their absence this year, guess that's the modern age we're living in, eh?

After I'd been there about an hour, my son turned up. He was on a bit of a tight schedule, so we decided to go straight over to the Classic car show. We were virtually the first people in the hall, as you can see we were strolling around the big empty spaces taking it all in virtually alone. That soon changed though!! There was a very eclectic collection of cars there, all of them completely out of my price range, but all were absolutely immaculate.

Plenty of empty space

Lamborghini Muira

Lovely Fiat 124 spider
 Actually there was one car that really caught my eye, this lovely little Fiat spider was immaculate, only one lady owner and 50,000 miles, spotless inside and out. I sat in it, looked at the engine, fell in love with it. The seller even pointed-out how cheap it was at £22,500. Must buy a lottery ticket!

Very nice & rare Citroen convertible

Loved the engine in this original GT40

Gull-wing doors meant this Merc wouldn't fit in the photo, but digging the matching suitcase in the back
The hall itself was absolutely packed with cars, then in the centre they had a track laid out with various classics driving up and down,most notable was ex-world champion brummie Nigel Mansell, who managed to drive his old F1 car at a fair speed down the track, do donuts at one end then back again all with a huge grin on his face! A much better experience that the bike show, especially with all the upmarket stalls selling wine & stinky cheese, none of your burgers and coke in here!

All-in-all we had an enjoyable day there, the son left around 1pm to get the train home, I hung around, got some veggie lunch then back to my little house in Essex. I'm off tomorrow morning to fly back to Malaga, but here's where I go off the rails a bit, so to speak.

I got a bit angry and upset during the week in Hanover; got some results that show that pesky cancer is making a comeback. After a couple of days soul-searching, I decided, well, actually I didn't decide much apart from wanting to forget about it all. So for some reason that I can't actually remember now in the cold light of day, I booked myself on a flight to Aruba next week. So I have to fly to Malaga Monday, collect my clothes and move out of my rented flat, then back via London to Amsterdam then on to Aruba.

To be honest, I have visited the island before; when I was working in Venezuela the company used to send us there to renew our visas, I remember it had white sand, blue sea and was hot all the time. I also have thousands of air-miles with KLM that have to be used this year or I lose them so I'm getting the flight down for free.

So I'm going to be a beach bum for a month, try to face up to my problems and figure-out what to do when I get back.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Finally made it to the top!

I've been training to do the hike up the mountain to the cross of Juanar; I've been averaging 7 kms a day up in the sierra for the last few weeks, hoping to make it up and back without knackering myself. With a cloudy day forecast I decided that last Thursday would be a good time to attempt the hike; it may not be that warm (14degC) but the sun on my back all day would make it just too hard.
I set off bright and early(ish), the first couple of miles were part of my training route so seemed quite easy. The guide book then said that the trail now "goes up fairly steeply" which seemed to be vertical!
I'd decided to stop every hour for a 10 min rest; after 3 hours fairly hard going I reached the top of the hill just below the rocky outcrop where the cross is sited.
Looking back down towards Marbella

So far I had not seen a single person or heard a sound apart from birdsong, fair to say I was in good spirits. Now as I just had to make the last ascent the sun started to break through the clouds, I have to say it all looked beautiful. I scrambled the last few hundred yards to reach the flat top of  the mountain, there was an iron cross and a small shrine to the Madonna with fantastic views 360 degrees around.
Made it!

The story goes that some fishermen were out in bad weather, fog descended so that they had no idea where they were, then magically the fog cleared high up on the mountain so they could identify the distinctive shape of 'La Concha' and so return safely to port. In gratitude, they erected a cross & shrine on the peak adjacent to 'La Concha' - Juanar. I'm not sure how the hell they managed to get it up here, I was knackered just carrying my rucksack with apples and water in it!!

Looking North

Looking East

Looking West

After a nice rest and some packed lunch I began to make my way back down. The route is circular so instead of the rocky scramble I had coming up, the descent first went down through a lovely forest full of the fragrance of pine and a nice soft carpet of pine needles, that's where I came across long lines of caterpillars marching along head to tail.

A bit further on and I looked up to see fluffy white flowers on the tops of the pine trees - never seen those before.

The trail then came out into the open and continued descending on a lovely sandy path with views all around down to the sea and Marbella in the distance. I may have been a little light-headed by this time, as I came around a corner and looked across the valley, there was a rocky outcrop that had the appearance of a Chinese warrior guarding the entrance to the mountain (WTF!) yeah I know - I even took a photo of it.

You might have to squint a bit to see the warrior.........

Just to rub in the strangeness of that thought, around the next bend I surprised a small group of 8 or 9 Spanish Ibex (no really) but by the time I got the camera out they were gone.

There they were - gone!

Lovely Spanish Ibex - library photo obviously

I finally got back down to the bottom where I'd left the car, it had taken eight hours, but that was including stops & lunch. I felt really happy, not too tired. My smartphone said I'd walked 15 kms and 1600 metres in height. Lovely day (apart from that little wobble ;)

Looking back up - proud to have made it up there!