Category Archives: Travel Europe

Slovenia – Sun,thunder & lightning, PB’s and Cake

Morning Swim in Lake Bled – magic

Thursday: I’ve decided to try swimming in the lake and figure that morning is the best time as after a day at the pool, the last thing I want to do is more swimming. Around ten am the water seems warmer than the reported 22 degree to start with, but gets a little colder as I swim out. One hundred meters is enough and works as a pre-warm up. The water is very clear and fish are abundant.

At the pool there’s just time to catch Neal’s 50m fly before warming up. Several of us are doing 100m freestyle and there are fifty-seven heats, but first we have to wait for the thirty-five heats of women.

Kranj Out-door pool

As much as possible the heats are run in their age-groups but I’m in a mixed group heat and get to swim in lane five near the centre of the pool. In spite of a dodgy tumble-turn, it’s a good swim and I’ve done a Long course PB of 1.22 – only one second slower that my short course PB, so what with the sunshine, it’s been a good day.

The Syncro women arrive

Ian has organised an Out to Swim dinner In Bled. It’s an opportunity for the whole team to meet up – the Syncro women have arrived and it’s great to meet some of them for the first time. Our open water swimmer, Rick Snow drops in for a beer so we are all together for a team photograph. We also have Matthew Lue’s birthday to celebrate and the restaurant improvises a cake. I decide, after much hesitation to try the famous Bled Cake. This is a custard base, with whipped cream on top.

The Out to Swim European Masters full team

There’s pastry top and bottom. It looks too sweet for me but I’m assured by locals that it’s not. What it is, is huge. It is somewhat sweet and walking home, it lies heavily on top of my mixed grill main course. Well, I’ve tried it and don’t need to do it again. Most cake-lovers, I think will enjoy this.

Lake Bled -ready for the race.

Friday: Another morning swim in this gorgeous lake. My race today is immediately after lunch. and by the time I get there, the morning session has finished and there are still two hours of lunch break. I time my warm up to end half an hour before the start of the afternoon session. I feel very sluggish this morning and the first 200m is hard work. ‘It’s often like this,’ I tell myself and sure enough in the second 200m I break through the barrier. Then it’s time to concentrate on backstroke, doing a few 50m backstroke kick to make sure my legs are straight. I follow this with backstroke HVOs, front-end to start and back-end to finish in the 50m pool. Again, I’m in lane five with only three other guys of various ages – mostly older than me.

Race officials on pontoon – waiting

Andy is here to film me and I can hear him as I prepare. It’s great to know that someone from the club is watching. The guy in lane four looks younger and faster than me, but he’s not and I win my heat with another long course PB (actually half a second faster than my Paris short course PB) and a 7th place in my age group. That means another certificate. Now is the time for lunch and I fill up on a large plate of spaghetti and treat myself to a beer, because it’s all over. Andy is racing in the last heat of the last event of the competition but while Neal and I are in the dinner tent, a huge thunderstorm breaks in the middle of the women’s 100m breaststroke. They carry on for a while, but there is lightening so proceedings stop for half an hour. Everyone crams into the dinner tent and we wait. The men’s 100m Breaststroke age group 25-29 is tense and hard fought. Andy is pleased with 5th and a PB. There were two other Brits in the 1:09 time. We’re all drained, emotionally and physically.

Rural Food tent

Back in Bled, I wander into town with a sort of plan. There’s a new Gazebo/tent showing off rural foods. Someone is doing snack sized cheese and garlic pizzas – that goes down well with a local pint. At the far end of the tent is a stage and there’s what looks like a police melodrama performed by local actors. Moving on to my planned dinner stop, one of the street food tents, I order chicken drumsticks with roast potatoes and vegetables and decide to try the local wine. It’s OK and I settle down in the semi dark to work my way through it all. The huge portion of roast potatoes defeats me and I move on to my last planned stop – a wine bar. I ask for a nice glass of red wine (un-chilled), I try it and it’s good. I put my credit card away when I find it’s only €2.30 for a large glass.  I also try a more expensive wine, which is even better and I’m surprised to find it’s a Merlot at €4. I may have that later. I don’t have time as the place is closing.

25-29-year-old men

Saturday: I need to go for my last lake swim early before checking out. After packing, I leave the hired car at the Air B&B place and walk in to look at the 3K open water swim which will start at ten am. The lake looks very organised and I can hear the commentator warming everyone up over in the out-door lido-in-the-lake. I stay and watch the first wave of 25-29-year-old men start, swim towards me then round two gigantic yellow markers before heading down to the other end of the lake. Next, it’s the young women and I make my way around to the enclosure for a closer look at the start.

30-34-year-old men prepare

By the time the 30-34 year-old men start, the first of the young men are returning. It’s won by a Russian, who when asked ‘at what stage did you know you were going to win?’ answers that he had prepared himself to win in his training, which garners a few wry smiles at his confidence.

30-34-year-old men jump in

He entered the race expecting to win. The Italian who came second and gave him a run for his money just comments that the 21 degree water was too cold for him. I’d spoken earlier to a Croatian couple who were not looking forward to the temperature – they’re used to 26 degree in the sea.

The Russian wins

Time to retire to a café in town coffee for an early lunch and to catch up on the blogging, keeping the autumnal wasps at bay and reluctantly feeding the cheeky sparrows crumbs of bread from my mozzarella and tomato with pesto. As I make my way back to collect the car, the Open Water Swimmers are still going and the officials in boats are doing a great job in aquatic traffic management – the lanes are all colour coded so not too much can go wrong.

30-34-year-old women prepare
White Garden, Bled

It’s been an amazing week in a fantastic setting. Two PBs and three certificates for being in the top eight in my age group. There’s one last encounter at the rental car return. A woman from the Black Country in my age group has come away with a load of medals. She turns out to be a great fan of the Out to Swim website and loves the coaching tips. She’s looking forward to our GLLAM meet at the Aquatic Centre (hopefully) next year and we’ll meet up at Sheffield in October.

 

Slovenia – Castles, Churches, a gorge and some swimming

St Martin
St Martin

More dreary weather – raining. At 10 am it eases off and I grab my umbrella and head for the Castle. On the way I stop to look at St Martin which nestles into the hillside underneath the castle. It’s part of the panoramic picture of Bled and up-close it’s quite ordinary.

Parish house St Martin

The Parish House next door offers coffee and accommodation, but nothing much is happening in there except souvenirs for sale. Onward, up the steep hill the clouds clearing as I climb. I emerge to a great view of the still mist- shrouded lake, but the sun is now shining through intermittent spots of rain and there’s coffee here.

bled Mist
Clearing
The surrounds
Bled Castle
Bled Castle

Like most castles, this one has been rebuilt and developed since the 10th Century. Slavs and other so-called Barbarians settled in this remote and fertile valley after the Romans. It’s fairly cut off – backing onto massive mountains to the North and West. The Museum is curious and not well curated but there is a strange exhibition of an artist who seems to be depicting Bled Cake. The work is strategically placed around the museum. There is little explanation but it seems that the area was also a centre of iron production. Gift shops are in just about every other room in the castle: the old forge, the printing press and so on. Only the chapel with its charming frescoes is till- free. The views are, however stunning. For lunch, I try out the traditional smoked sausage, once again holding back on the available Bled Cake – there’s no room after the sausage.

Bled Castle
Bled Castle
Castle Chapel
Castle Chapel

I could have spent an hour walking to the Vintgar Gorge. It’s been raining again but I need to get going and decide to drive via some of the local villages.

St Janez Zasip
St Janez

I pass through charming green farmland and arrive at Zasip where I can see a church. Once again, it’s picturesque from a distance. A very young couple walking, are more interested in playing and photographing the local cats who will no doubt appear on Facebook. What is different about St Janez is the recent flower bedecked graves which crowd around the base of the church. No leafy adjacent crematory here, that would be a waste of farm-land.

Graveyard
Vintgar Gorge
Vintgar Gorge

Rain still threatens as I approach the Vintgar Gorge. There’s a free car park and it’s only €5 entry to the 1.6Km walk-way. Apparently, the gorge was only discovered in 1891 (I’m sure the Romans found it) and was quickly developed and opened to the public. The post-rain mist rises off the warm waters. The green is delicate, reflecting moss and lichen in the water and the vegetation on the banks. The light is very different from any comparable New Zealand gorge and this one certainly stands out.

Vintgar Gorge
Vintgar Gorge
Vintgar Gorge stone pillars

The walk-way is narrow and often is nothing more than a wooden platform overhanging the often- turbulent river below.  In calmer stretchers rock towers have been built. They must get washed away regularly by rising waters but look as if they have been there for centuries. I need my umbrella at times. Even though it has stopped raining, water drips down from the cliffs above in places. There is a stream of wet dogs on leads coming the other way. At the end there is another ticket and ice-cream kiosk. The last of many foot-bridges crosses the final waterfall to the toilets, but you can’t get a view of the falls. I spot a viewing platform further downstream and push on down steps past the kiosk, follow the road across a bridge to the path leading to the viewing spot. Magic.  There’s time to review the journey on the return and see it all from a different angle.

Vintgar Gorge
Vintgar Gorge
Vintgar Gorge
Vintgar Gorge
Vintgar Gorge
Radovljica

Tuesday: I’m not sure about the timing of everything today but think I’ve got time to have a look at Radovljca, a nearby historic town on the way to Kranj. It has a main street of quite impressive, if stolid 19th Century public buildings but where to park?

Radovljica Old Town square

Eventually I find the Old Town area just up the road where there is free parking for an hour. There’s quite a cute old-town centre. Desperate for Coffee and a few calories I find a café. The cappuccino comes with a huge mountain of chilled aerosol cream and the ham and cheese toastie (the only food available) is plain.

Radovljica
Radovljica
Radovljica
Radovljica

 

I get to the pool before lunch as I know some of the team are racing before me. As I make my way to warm-up in the indoor pool Andy is heading, with a determined in-his-zone look, towards the marshalling tent for his 200 Breaststroke.

Kranj Outdoor pool

He’s the first Out to Swimmer I’ve seen here, but there’s no time to chat now. I do the first part of my warm-up (OTS standard) then head for the race pool to catch Andy’s race on my phone. There’s time for lunch (Salad) before watching the rest of the team splash and dash through the 50 freestyle. Taking coaches suggestion, I have an espresso before finishing off my warm up for

Euro Certificates 6th & 8th

the 100 Backstroke. I’m in lane zero again but manage (maybe thanks to the caffeine) three seconds faster than the June long course Nationals in Plymouth to get an eighth place. This means that I’m now eligible for two certificates. I return to the popular Pub restaurant for rump steak as I need to stock up for the two hundred Individual Medley early tomorrow.

Wednesday: I have to wait for twenty-three heats of the Women’s Individual Medley but hey, I’ve moved up to lane one, leaving the wall at last. I had some weeks off doing butterfly and breaststroke earlier in the year, so I’ve very gently been working them back in to training. It seems to have paid off and the first twenty-five metres of

Church of the Assumption

fly feels really good. It’s a matter of establishing a rhythm and keeping to it. Even though the stress builds in the second twenty-five, I manage to keep the rhythm going – something that team-mate Stephen Lue comments on. The backstroke length tends to be a bit of a recovery and preparation for Breaststroke, which I find exhausting. I make a mental note to really point my toes in the glide. By the time the freestyle comes around, usually my chance to catch up, I’m feeling really tired but am rewarded with a few milli seconds faster than Plymouth. The Team are cheering me as I stagger back to them. Nice. Neal is in the last and fastest heat – he also comes out looking whacked. It’s a tough race.

Church of the Assumption

After lunch and a good rest, It’s time for more exploring in the late afternoon. I’m looking for a boatman to row me to the Island. Further down the lake, near the island are several points where the boats launch. As I approach several seem to be pulling out but eventually I spot one about to leave with one remaining seat. Propulsion is from two oars in rowlocks either side. The boatman, with one foot forward uses his body weight to push the oars forward and twists them to return in streamlined profile. Our boatman is young slim and blond and explains that it helps to have a few extra kilos around the chest to move faster. No one is complaining, there’s a party of admiring Korean women and a tour-guide with a group from Malta. The boatman moves us around to balance the boat – a husband and wife at the front have to swap sides. All around the island there are landing stages and the boats nimbly turn around and reverse. We have around fifty minutes here, it doesn’t sound long, but in fact it’s more than enough.

Lake bled from tower
Lake bled from tower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s a charge of €6 to go up the tower and enter the church. I get some good views by putting my phone though the window grills and close to the bird netting. Inside the church there is a bell rope right in front of the alter. An illustration on the floor, forbids swinging on the rope and another one recommends three rings of the bell. The mystery of the random timings of the bell is explained. Three chaps from somewhere in Europe don’t notice the signs and have a prolonged ringing between them. This brings the ticket seller woman running in to look. There is no emergency, so she leaves. You can have an ice cream or a beer and food here, but I don’t want to queue, choosing to go upstairs and look at a curious exhibition of moulded glass figures and some flat glass rectangles.

Glass Exhibition
Glass Exhibition
Glass Exhibition
Boatman and Korean women

The figures are the most interesting, suggesting the holy family, some of them are displayed in the windows so the light can stream though them.  There’s time to walk around the island and wait for the Maltese and Koreans to return from their ice creams.  The Maltese party are dropped off at their hotel landing leaving me and the Korean women, who are avidly photographing our handsome boatman, to continue on.

Street food stall

I’ve had my eye on the food stalls one the lake walkway and later, veal shoulder with vegetables and delicious roast potatoes all washed down with a beer is perfect, even if the lighting under the dining gazebo is too dim to really see the food.

Swimming in Kranj, sight-seeing in Bled, Slovenia

European Masters Swimming Kranj Slovenia

Iconic Bled Castle & St Martin

I’m beginning to wonder how much longer I can do this independent travel thing. I’d never been to a European Masters meet and the fact that is was in Slovenia (where’s that?), a country I haven’t been to before, clinched it. You have to have entry times and the only one I couldn’t enter was the 200 Backstroke – I think they made a mistake as it was incredibly fast. I had the usual trouble finding out information, like where was the accreditation? I had no reply from my enquiry and I’m a bit past the stage of delighting in the unknown. I like to be certain of what’s

Kranj Out-door swimming pool

going to happen and when.

Booking the coach to Stanstead Airport was a bit strange. Nowadays you have to register before buying anything on-line (so they’ve got your details and can bother you later) and it can take some time to recall a long-forgotten password. In the end I get to Stratford, have my usual coffee at Pret only to find the bus stop has moved, five minutes away, due to road works. The Coach is waiting but I’ve managed to book a return fare from Stanstead, not Stratford. It doesn’t matter in the end and I’m allowed on the bus which is leaving five minutes later than I’d calculated. Just as I wonder what else might go wrong on this trip, an accident on the M11 slowed us down, but I was still on time for my flight. Phew. I can just about manage Easyjet and avoid baggage charges by packing everything, including the laptop into one carry-on bag and dashing to the gate the moment it’s called. Weather over Austria and congestion in the air delayed us an hour.

My Air B&B is underneath this home

Two things worry me now sitting in the plane, at the gate – I have to get to the Accreditation Centre to register before 18.00 to confirm my place the 800m freestyle tomorrow morning. Fortunately, I’m sitting next to other swimmers (the plane is full of swimmers and hikers) who suggest I phone them, while we are still on the ground. I somehow manage to find a phone number on my downloaded hand-book which involves getting the lap-top out of the overhead locker. Amazingly I get through, but have no idea of my registration number. In the end it’s ok and I’m able to follow up with a text to Slovenia. Stress levels reduce significantly and I breath deeply;  technology can be wonderful. It’s good to chat to the couple from Nottingham about swimming though I quickly fall asleep for most of the flight. The Airport at Ljubljana is small and two flights have just landed, so the passport control area is crowded. There’s a sign pointing left for European passports and this moves rapidly.  I reflect once again, that I’ll be in the other queue next year. Finding the car hire place is easy, there’s no queue and no extra insurance thrust at me. The shock is that there’s no 4G for my phone to hook up with google maps and take me to Kranj.

Bled Island

Fortunately, I’ve been studying maps of Slovenia and more or less have the gist of where to go. It will, I tell myself, be just like the old days when I found my way around the world without a phone. I know that Ljubljana is East and Kranj is West but all roads lead to Ljubljana so I just carry on in the opposite direction from Ljubljana until a sign to Kranj appears.  At Kranj there are suddenly signs to the Masters Games parking and all is well. I actually manage to find the Accreditation tent, next to the outdoor pool, pick up my stuff and have five minutes before 18.00 to double check that I’ve been entered in the 800m. I have. I spend some time checking out things like the marshalling tent and changing rooms before continuing on to Bled. Road signs helpfully take me there via the main motorway, but there is still no 4G for navigation. I take a wrong turning and end up in the town centre and bus stop. There’s a travel information place and it’s closed, but a hotel has a local map at reception – they always do – and a very helpful young woman points out where I should go. Bled is a small place and it’s really easy.

Lake Bled

My hosts are out walking, leaving their teenage son Greggor to check me into my cosy and well-appointed basement bedsit with en suite. Armed with instructions on where to find a supermarket for breakfast things I set off to explore. It’s getting dark, but my first impression is that the lake and surroundings are incredibly romantic – like Disneyland, only real. Bled Castle high on a rocky outcrop becomes floodlit as does St Martin’s, nestling below. At the other end of the lake is the famous island featuring the Church of the Assumption. The place seems very quiet for a Saturday night, but I find a busy pub restaurant up in the old village near the bus stop. It looks popular and does traditional Slovenian food. Three large slabs of roast pork floating in gravy with mashed potatoes seems a suitable fill-up for tomorrow’s swim. The portions are huge and with a mixed salad, I am defeated.

Grand houses around the lake have been converted to tourist accommodation

Sunday: Up before the lark, breakfasted on fruit, bread, ham and cheese, I set off for the pool. Rain threatens, it’s cold and I’ve been allocated Heat 2, side A, lane 0 in the 800m freestyle. I hate lane zero, it’s right on the edge of the pool – almost out of the race. Lost in translation, side A and side B refer to the ends of the pool and we will swim two to a lane with end B starting off ten seconds later from the other end. I’ve done a reasonable warm-up but although the promised rain hasn’t quite arrived, it’s still not warm. I pile on layers and line up in the marshalling tent where we are given different coloured swim caps. I get a yellow one (they are not compulsory, but they would like us to wear them) and Side B get white ones. It’s actually all well organised and there are large laundry baskets which take  all my bags. Organising and paying for a locker key for one race, just seems to be one hurdle too far. Even though I’m swimming up against the pool wall, the race seems OK and I attempt to implement coaches notes from the Paris Gay Games. The score board at the end has me 6th with an improbably fast time. I decide not to get excited until I see the results. It’s a long treck to the indoor pool to warm-down, it involves going right around to reception and through the changing rooms again. Time for a coffee and croissant at the small café. My Nottingham friends from the flight are there and we talk about teaching and coaching stuff. The results are live on-line (4G is working today) and I find that the time displayed on the board at the pool was actually my 700m split time, so no PB, as I suspected.

Lake Bled Waterfront

I have the rest of the day to explore so after stocking up on breakfast stuff at the supermarket, I find a posh café overlooking the lake. Their Salad Nicoise featuring fresh seared tuna, is perfect with a pint. The place quickly fills up with tour groups all booked for their mandatory portion of the famous Bled Cake. It looks hideously sweet – a custard base with a layer of whipped cream and pastry top and bottom. I shall have to work my way up to this later in the week. The Sun is out and perfect for a walk around the lake; everyone is doing it.

Bled Island and the Church of the Assumption

Tour boats rowed by fit looking men are taking tourists at quite a speed over to Bled Island where lies the Church of the Assumption, making the lake extra photogenic. At the bottom end there is a popular swimming area and every now and then a white Disney-like train pulls tourist with their phones on sticks filming the experience. For the more traditional there are pony trap rides around the lake. Two elderly ladies on one such trap, are having a great time looking at their mobile phones.  By the time I’ve finished, my legs are telling me that they’ve had enough work for the day. It’s time to lie down before finding another Slovenian-style restaurant. I can have a glass or two of wine tonight as I have the day off tomorrow.

Monday in Seville

Alcázar Palace Courtyard

Monday morning in Seville and there are a few breakfast places open for Café con Leché and Tostadas Jamon. Every eatery we’ve been to has had super friendly waiters and waitresses. We’re on our way through the narrow city streets again, looking for the Alcázar Palace. My GPS woman knows exactly where it is, but not how to get in. In the end David suggests we do that very un-male thing and ask someone. Yes we are outside the garden walls, and if we just follow the wall around we will get to it. We do that and find a medium queue. I keep our place while David looks for water and somewhere to pee.

Alcázar Palace

The Alcázar Palace, begun in 1364 is a mixture of Gothic and Mudejar. It was built on the site of a former Moorish palace and mosque and incorporates many of those features. Like most palaces, it’s been added on to and altered, but it is a beautiful and serene place. We spend time thoroughly exploring the place, doubling back to make sure we haven’t missed anything. A high walk-way gives us a fantastic view of the surrounding gardens.

 

Alcázar Palace

By the time we’ve seen everything available, it’s time for a late lunch and having identified a nearby street of restaurants yesterday, that’s where we go. Shade is essential as it’s a warm 30 degrees and in spite of asking for ‘blanco’ anchovies, none are to be had today. It’s siesta time again and I really do need to flake out, surfacing later to eat drink and hang about with David.

Alcázar Palace David by the fish pond
Alcázar Palace – raised garden walk
Alcázar Palace central garden
Alcázar Palace outer garden vista
Alcázar Palace
Alcázar Palace Glass ceiling
Alcázar Palace Garden vista
Alcázar Palace
Alcázar Palace David in the garden
Alcázar Palace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing much happens in Seville on a Monday night, so it’s back to the Mr B&B for an early-ish night. Emelio and Manuel are still up and about, so there’s time to say goodbye. They will be gone to work early in the morning and I’m to just leave the keys on the dressing table.

Calle San Vicente

Tuesday morning and I’ve got my eye on The Belle Arts Museum. It’s just down the road from my digs and I can return to collect luggage and shower before my Ryanair experience later in the day. David is up and about and says he’ll join me, so I have breakfast just around the corner from the museum.

Free entry to the museum

David arrives and also needs breakfast; he says he’ll join me. For some reason, I’ve brought my passport, perhaps in the hope that there will be a discount for being officially old. Actually, my European passport gets me into the place for free. How good is that?

Museum courtyard

I must dash around Europe madly taking advantage of this while I can. I’m just starting off when David texts me in a panic. He’s got his dates wrong and has to immediately go and catch his flight to Bilbao. Just as well he realised in time.

St Michael 1480 (Juan Hispalense) Spanish angels wear black

This building was once a monastery and has gathered together many paintings from religious institutions since 1836, when they were all shut down. Built in 1594, the building has fine ceilings and architectural features. I’m not a huge fan of ecclesiastical painting, but I am interested in how mediaeval and renaissance painters depict the biblical stories and characters according to their own cultural norms. So, for example Seville Madonnas all look Spanish with dark hair and olive skin. German painters portray the Holy Family as fair-skinned and blond. Painters had never been to the Middle-east, their sitters were local people they knew. It would just not be acceptable to portray the Holy Family as Jewish now would it?

Inmaculada – Murillo 1675
Inmaculada Schut 1680

 

 

 

 

 

Inmaculada Juan de Valder Leal 1672 Which one will become Jesus?

I’m drawn to a series of Madonnas ‘Inmaculada’. They are all surrounded by scores of cherubs, some of whom seem to looking for a way up Our Lady’s skirt – as if one of them can miraculously enter her womb and be born as the infant Jesus.

San Sebastián Luis de Vargas 1505-1567

The portrait of Saint Sebastian catches my eye. Traditionally he’s depicted as beautiful and slim, but this portrait has him with tree-trunk legs and a thick waist.

Magnificent torsos approaching hell-mouth

I’m also interested in the homoeroticism of the magnificent torsos and backs of those sinners being dragged towards hell mouth. Murillo is everywhere and paints large canvases. Individually, they don’t do much for me, but en masse in the large hall they impress. Today, his portrait of a young monk looking adoringly at the infant Jesus might raise a few eyebrows. Certainly the monk is a way to close to the child for comfort.

Great Hall
Great Hall
Murillo – centre monk adoring Christ
Cornelis de Vos A woman 1630

There are also more modern paintings. As a freebie and a place to spend a relaxing couple of hours, this is great value. David made it to Bilbao and I dozed upright in Ryanair for two and a half hours.

El Greco – the effete Jorge Manuel 1600
Velasquez 1620 don Cristóbal
Ma Esquivel 1806 – 1857 Marqués de Bejons -cute bear?
José Villegas Cordesa Ercole Monti 1894
Gustave Bacarisas Sevilla Fiesta 1915
José Garcia Ramos Malvaloca 1912

Sevilla – ancient city of Andalucia

Local church – San Vicente

I can not believe I’ve not been here before – Cordoba, Almaria, Granada, the Costas and the mountains but never Seville. I associate it with oranges – the delicious marmalade they make – so as a true practitioner of delayed gratification, I’ve saved Seville till now. When my good mate and neighbour, David, from Waiheke (NZ) suggested I join him on part of his 50th Birthday grand tour of Spain, I seized the opportunity and his dates worked perfectly.

David and Me in Seville

Sitting in soulless Stanstead airport is arduous – there are no water fountains, rubbish wifi and the recharging stations are backless benches. I’ve done little research on what to do in the city and so rely on 4G to have a look whilst I wait for my Ryanair flight which, unlike many other destinations this week, has not been cancelled. I’ve found an app called Visit a City and I can download it all to use off line. I arrive at Seville to find the fastest immigration queue ever thanks to my EU passport and the promised free mobile phone roaming in Europe turns out to be true. I’ve booked a room with Mr B&B, a gay version of Air B&B and I’ve instructions to take the bus into the city terminal and walk for ten minutes. Emelio and Manuel are a sweet young couple, quite shy but very welcoming. Emelio immediately gets out his ipad and shows me the gay area and other sights nearby.  David has been in contact via messenger and soon arrives (he’s also doing Mr B&B – a studio apartment) and we do big hugs as we’ve not seen each other since April. So it’s two gay men on the loose in Seville for a weekend and he’s already identified one of the bars where gay men tend to drink. Of course, this being Spain, it’s too early for this time on a Saturday night. We have a beer and catch up whilst checking on bars, clubs and restaurants on our phones. Most places don’t open until 8.30pm, the clubs at 10.30 and even 1.00am. We find a tapas place and have to wait for a table at 9.00 as it’s incredibly busy with staff working their socks off. We go and have a look at a few gay venues, but nothing much is happening so we return to our earlier bar for more wine. It’s busy now and there’s more to look at. I’m ready for bed by midnight. David plans to go home and nap before trying a disco at 2.00am.

Casa de Pilatos.
Casa de Pilatos. Classical influence here?

Sunday morning – not too early, but early enough to leave David to sleep, I set off for Casa de Pilatos, using GPS to guide me though the narrow lanes and alley-ways of this ancient City. The Casa is a magnificent 16th Century palatial home, considered to be the first in the Andalusian style. Built after a grand tour of Europe and the Holy Land, Middle-Eastern and Italian design fuse with breath-taking effect. The stunning central courtyard on the ground floor leads off to magnificent tiled rooms looking outwards to beautiful gardens. The Casa boasts one of the first grand staircases in Seville and I‘ve opted for a guided tour of the upper rooms which display oriental carpets and portraits by notable painters of the day. No photography is allowed upstairs.

Casa de Pilatos. tlied wall
Casa de Pilatos. Garden vista
Casa de Pilatos. Garden vista again
Casa de Pilatos. Formal white garden
Casa de Pilatos. Ground floor room
Casa de Pilatos. detail of tiles
Casa de Pilatos. Detail of tiles
Casa de Pilatos. Another garden vista
Casa de Pilatos. formal garden
Casa de Pilatos. Gold ceiling at the top of the stairs
Old Seville

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wander through the area known as Barrio de Santa Cruz – more narrow streets stumbling onto tiny plazas with cafes. I have no idea where I am, but appreciate  having my phone GPS to drive the Visit a City app. My recharging unit also comes in handy to get the phone though the day.

Old Seville
Plaza with cafe
Giralda Tower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I arrive at the Catedral de Sevilla & Giralda Tower and sit down to watch the world go by. David has surfaced and will meet me here. I note the horse and carriages lining up to take the tourists for rides. The horses actually look quite healthy and well cared for unlike in other parts of the world. There is a steady stream into the Cathedral and when David arrives we take a look.  There’s nothing much to see and the tower is not open until the next tour at 2.30, so I suggest lunch. David orders anchovies, hoping for the white ones he’s seen around. Unfortunately he doesn’t use the word ‘blanco’ when ordering.  I’m heading for Plaza de Espania but David has other plans so I carry on to find this most amazing building completed in 1929 for a World Fair Expo. The afternoon is hot and it’s time to go back to my lodging for a siesta.

Plaza de Espania
Plaza de Espania
Plaza de Espania
Spanish blokes pay to be photographed as flamenco dancers
Metropol Parasol

In the early evening I collect David from his digs and we look at the Metropol Parasol – otherwise known as the ‘Mushroom of the Incarnation’.  It’s billed as the largest wooden building in the world, but this ultra modern ‘sculptural’

Metropol Parasol view from the top

installation looks so light an airy, as if it’s made of balsa wood and could lift off at any moment. The sun is setting, so it’s a perfect time for us to look over the city at ancient monuments and the distant bridges across the river. The pictures say it all.

Metropol Parasol + David
Metropol Parasol
Metropol Parasol + lovers

We’re off in search of a recommended Paella restaurant, which takes us to a more modern and up-market part of the city. David has his GPS on this time – it guides us with an Australian accent – hilarious pronunciations of Spanish street names. Sadly the restaurant is only open for lunch until four pm so we return to our usual gay friendly square for drinks. We then strike it lucky with a place that does grilled king prawns and a whole octopus leg on a bed of fantastic mashed potato. A return to the gay bar completes our Sunday evening.

Barcelona re-visited

Art Nouveau facade
Art Nouveau facade

My memories of Barcelona in June 2005 are entirely good, an elegant city full of great architecture and art which I enjoyed with my late partner, Phillip and joined by New Zealand family.  This time it’s for the LGBT Panter Esports and I’m travelling alone to meet up with my Out to Swim team-mates.  Last time, Ryanair dropped us in some remote airport miles out of town.  They’ve moved up in the world and now deliver me to the main city airport connected to the city by a train.  You have to know about this train, because the signs to it are not obvious and there are plenty of arrows pointing to taxis and buses.  A card for 10 rides costs only €10 from a machine which takes VISA.  There’s a bit of a wait for the train but it drops me only a few blocks from the Hotel Constanza.  It’s taken most of the day to get here but I’m determined explore and reacquaint myself with this city.

Modern tower
Modern tower

This time I’ve got downloaded maps of streets and Metro on my phone so nothing much can go wrong.  Out in the street, I can almost feel the elegance and style radiating from the houses.  I find the La Rambala and walk down through the crowds noting that the sellers of caged birds have thankfully gone and there is only tourist junk and stalls selling flowers and seeds.  I don’t linger except to notice at the very bottom, that the living statues have got ever more inventive, expanding to mini-stage sets and mechanical contraptions to entertain the audience. I find my way with the help of my phone maps into a fascinating labyrinth of tiny streets and squares leading back up the hill towards the Cathedral.  Barcelona has become a party city.  There are Museums, exhibitions and galleries on just about every street. Everywhere there are festivals and each square seems to have a temporary sound stage set up with music playing.  On the sea-front a band are doing a sound check, in a small square outside a large civic looking building there is a political demonstration with red balloons and music.  At the front of the cathedral there is a mediaeval band playing haunting music. Circles of elderly people are forming from the crowd to perform a sedate and elegant dance with tiny steps.  The inside of the cathedral is worth a look, particularly for the impressively tall columns around the back of the high altar.  Between the choir and the altar is a set of huge steps descending to the crypt – something I’ve never seen before.

 

Complimentary sports bag
Complimentary sports bag

It’s time to go and register for the games. David & Martin are not arriving until later in the evening & I’ve no idea what the others in our swimming team are up to.  So when I get across town to Tarragona by Metro there’s not a soul I recognise in this brightly lit sports hall.  I collect my plastic entry card, a yellow band for free entry to the party and a rather handsome back-pack with maps, info and promotional literature.  A helpful guy shows me on the map where the dinner is to be held and I wander off to have a beer as I’m very thirsty.  After another one, several handful of salted peanuts and olives I decide that it’s time to look for a bar.  I’ve done some research and there’s a gay place which serves tapas.  After a bit of wandering around, looking at the maps on my phone and trying to get orientated after exiting the metro, I find this place, a small bar with only two customers.  It’s late by London standards, but night-life in Spain starts even later.  Undaunted I order a beer, but the choice of tapas is quiche or Spanish omelette – both look unappetising but for authenticity I go for the omelette which is of course made with potatoes.  It’s OK, and calorific but I don’t stay long, moving on to the area near my hotel for a top up of pasta from an Italian place.

La Sagrada west
La Sagrada west

Saturday is race day, but not until 3pm, so I’ve booked a ticket on-line for La Sagrada Familia – Gaudi’s great cathedral which I saw nine years ago.  Begun in 1882, Gaudi spent 40 years working on it before he died after being run over by a tram.  The last time I saw it, much of the first work was in need of cleaning and restoring and a start was being made on the nave with huge stone pillars surrounded by scaffolding.  It’s a bit of a shock coming out of the Metro to see that the nave is almost completed and the whole thing has grown taller with cranes looking down on the already tall structure.  La Sagrada occupies a small block of the city and it looks like a cuckoo fledgling bursting out of its tiny nest.  The cathedral has expanded to take up all the ground and is now pushing upwards.  The transept runs west-east and the nave north south. The tower on the west side has been cleaned, but seems somehow at odds with the newer work, some of which is concrete, awaiting stone cladding.  The south end of the nave is waiting to be finished while there is clearly a huge spire being constructed in the middle of the building.

La Sagrada Fruit
La Sagrada Fruit

I’d read about the crowds of thrusting tourists in the area and how local people are pissed off with it all.  It’s phenomenal – people everywhere and tour busses passing bye every few minutes.  The best thing to do is to retreat to the garden squares on either side and allow the trees to mask the ugliness of the crowds.  Here, only a few people have got the same idea.  A group of Australians are having their photograph taken by another tourist, local people are enjoying the shade and a drunk is thrashing around in the bushes, trying to rejoin his mates after relieving himself. He manages to regain his composure once back on the path, symbolically dusting off his shabby clothes to remove any pristine foliage, possibly clinging to him.

La Sagrada East
La Sagrada East

Working my way around to the east side (I remember, with my family, being almost the only party sitting by the pond) I find there is a queue to sit on the stone wall and be clicked.  Behind me the click of boule is more entertaining.  A tour guide passes, explaining via headphones to her flock that boule is the most common game played by old people.  They are all old and concentrating on their strategy, with studied aggression.  A tape measure is produced to decide between two balls and one last throw sends rivals flying.  I’m trying to decide if the new builders of the La Sagrada have interpreted Gaudi’s imprecise plans in keeping with the early work.  The east towers have not been cleaned and I’d forgotten the bunches of grapes and fruit nestling on top of pinnacles along the nave.  It takes a while to work out that the lower windows looking into the crypt are mediaeval in style and the whole thing gets more outrageous the higher it gets.  Moving around to the east end – some of the oldest work – now cleaned, I can see that it does work even if the height may be out of proportion to its length.  It’s time to go in and see what’s been happening in the last nine years.  Then, a New Zealander was in charge of the project.

I’m waiting for my time slot when some tourists ask the ticket checker where to buy tickets.

‘Around the other side, but they are now all sold out for today.  There are only 100 tickets available on the day.  You need to book on-line, in advance.’

Stained glass windows
Stained glass windows

As I enter, the morning sunlight light streaming through a stained glass window is blinding.  I can see that the interior is complete, all of a piece and absolutely stunning.  The pillars in the nave seen nine years ago are impossibly tall.  Tree-like they stretch to support the ceiling. Those around the ambulatory and altar are even taller; reaching up to what will carry the spire.  There are many people inside, but not too many.  Everywhere the stained glass brings in colour and the plain glass making up the entire south end shows up the colour of the stone pillars.  I sit in the ‘quiet’ seats in the nave, momentarily irritated by northern Europeans talking loudly behind me.  You can go up the towers by lift for a further fee, but these were sold out when I booked a few days ago.

Nave stained glass
Nave stained glass
Nave Ceiling
Nave Ceiling
Stone pillars
Stone pillars
Holy Water Holder
Holy Water Holder

 

It’s time for something to eat before swimming and a local ice-cream parlour seems OK, but in the end I go for a Greek salad (with spinach substituting for cucumber) and coffee.  My next stop is Diagonal where the Jardins de Salvador Espriu look interesting.  It’s a classy square with a fountain frequented by clean pigeons and a sculpture of two women rebels.  It’s peaceful and an old woman in eccentric pink attire is asleep on the stone seating clutching a red and yellow check umbrella against the sun and with her feet sheltering in a plastic shopping bag.  I sit and rest my legs, conscious that I shall have to use them soon for swimming. The swimming pool is a moderate walk from here and I arrive far too early.  The atmosphere in the pool reception is hot and humid and I manage to find a shaded park bench around the corner for a snooze.

@ Jardin de Salvador
@ Jardin de Salvador

 

 

Copenhagen the morning after

The Morning after Pride

 

Historic Christianshavn
Historic Christianshavn

It’s rained copiously overnight with thunder and lightning but Sunday dawns sort of bright with some sun.  I’ve got three things in the list today before flying out.  First up is to explore the Christianshaun area a bit more.  There’s the Danish Architecture Centre which looks interesting.

Danish Architecture Centre
Danish Architecture Centre

It’s housed in a big old warehouse and mounts temporary exhibitions.  Today there’s one which greets me with the message that the exhibition is outside – in the city.  It’s about sustainability and building for human beings and communities rather than the eye-catching design.  The main feature is a plastic model of a circular student hall of residence (the Tietgen Dormitory) photographed by a drone.  The images are printed and pasted onto the model.  Bedrooms and studies face outwards while the living areas look into the circular central space.  This apparently creates a community feeling where everyone can see (if they want to) what everyone else is doing socially.  It’s been a successful social experiment.

Waterfront with National Theatre (L) & Opera House (R)
Waterfront with National Theatre (L) & Opera House (R)

Other featured buildings in the exhibition include a bank just down from my hotel, the New Opera House and National Theatre. Upstairs is a small exhibition about Japanese architecture for family living in very small spaces.  From the outside they are unremarkable but full of invention inside.

 

I walk a few blocks, intending to look at Our Saviour’s Church, which on a Sunday is supposed to open at 10.30am. It’s the one with the brown and gold spiral steeple. There’s a service going on and the tower is closed due to bad weather.  King Christian’s church is having a christening which people are rushing to attend.  The tower is covered in scaffolding so not currently photogenic.  The Crypt however is open, displaying family memorials and wooden coffins, presumably containing bodies.

It’s raining again so I shelter under an awning by a bus stop waiting to be transported semi-dry to the Carlsburg Glyptotek, just near the Tivoli Gardens.  Copenhagen has been flooded and the bus is diverted.  Everywhere are fire-hoses pumping water into canals and harbour.  As I walk down the side of the Tivoli Gardens, clinging to my very small umbrella, there are huge queues of bedraggled tourists standing next to their tour busses.  They look very pissed off because the Tivoli Gardens are flooded.  It’s still raining and I can see a few rain-coated dads with similarly waterproofed children in the soft play areas seeming to have fun.

Kitch woman with babies in Winter Garden
Kitch woman with babies in Winter Garden

The Glyptotek looks like a much more comfortable option and I discover that it’s free on Sundays – no wonder it’s popular.  Just as I make a start of the ‘Ancient Mediterranean’ section, there’s a text from David. He’s just seen Luci onto the train to the airport, is soaking wet and wonders what I’m doing today.

‘Come to the Glyptotek, it’s just around the corner from the station,’ I reply.

Van Gough
Van Gough

Several texts later he arrives and we sit in the Winter Garden, a covered atrium in the centre of the building.  He dries out and after some lunch and coffee we investigate the collection.  There’s a modern wing – out the back – accessed by marble steps and ramps which houses a very good collection of impressionists – Manet, Monet, Van Gough,  Renoir & David.

 

Sorrow or giref a favourite subject here
Sorrow or giref a favourite subject here
God of Healing
God of healing in need of assistance

Of particular note is the Gauguin collection ranging from excellent early work to later Tahitian examples.  If you’re a fan of Degas and ballet girls, then this is a good place for you – bronzes and paintings.  There’s an accent on sculpture here and a vast collection of classical heads which have been ‘dug up’ minus their bodies and ended up here.  Some of them are missing bits, so there’s a display of spare parts used to restore statues for exhibition purposes.  We can’t see it all in our time left and now that the rain has abated we separately collect our luggage, meet back at the station to head back to London.

Marble relief
Oh my dear, what is he doing down there.
Old statues in replica temple
Old statues in replica temple

Pride in Copenhagen

Pride Bus
Pride Bus

The National Gallery of Denmark is on the menu today and one of the first things I notice; waiting at the bus-stop is that all the buses are flying the Danish flag on one side and the rainbow flag on the other.  Public buildings are also sporting the gay flag – I can’t imagine that happening in London. The imposing gallery building looking all newly scrubbed, towers over me as I alight at the stop.  It’s only just opening time so I’m one of the first.  It’s free with a small charge for the lockers.  There’s quite a good collection of French impressionists and several good Van Gough paintings.

National Gallery
National Gallery

Then there’s a section on European art and another for Danish and Nordic Art.  It takes several hours to get through all this and then I discover a whole new wing of contemporary design

Modern wing
Modern wing

out the back and connected by a glass roof.  There’s a café in the basement looking out on to a park – where I have a coffee break – and a sculpture street above to be investigated. I discover more stuff made after 1900 including Danish, French and international work where Matisse and Picasso can be found so I extend my visit.

I’ve had an email about the Gay Pride march, but the details are confusing and I’m under the impression that it all starts at the Town Hall at 1pm. There’s nothing happening here except bands doing sound checks for later and an old bearded man who has

Sculpture Street
Sculpture Street

acquired a blond wig, shouting drunkenly, ‘No music! F..k you!’ in a very loud voice.  Eventually David and Luci arrive and we suspect that the parade is going to end here.  We walk towards where we think the parade is coming and settle down for a drink and food, but realise that the march is turning off further up the road.  Downing our refreshments, we make our way back to the rear of the Town Hall Square and manage to catch the start of the Parade and the Water Polo Boys who have been marching in the rain, in their Speedos.  We resist the urge to join the march, and enjoy the pageantry which is more varied, elaborate and sophisticated that London Pride (we like a bit of vulgarity in London).  The marchers squeeze into a narrow space leading to the Square and then disperse.  We hang about with the Water Polo guys for a while before going to the Gay Street, which has been blocked off from traffic.  Beer is on sale here for 40Kr but around the corner there’s a straight place doing it for 25Kr.  So every time we need another round we go back round the corner to the cute guy with a beard.  He’s pleased to see us and sort of OK with us flirting with him.

Conchita girl
Conchita girl

Studiestraede is full of plastic gazebos, sun-umbrellas and out-door seating.  It rains intermittently so we all have umbrellas at the ready.  Each bar has its own DJ with out-door speakers blasting out disco music.  We wander up and down with our cheap beers enjoying the sights, but tend to return to The Jailhouse (from last night) where the men are sexier and the music better.  We manage to find a place to sit under a gazebo and watch a crowd of people doing the most fantastic dancing in the rain.  Some girls wearing Conchita Wurst tee shirts briefly stop to shelter from the rain. Then one of the British gay football teams joins us and I try to explain the joke about ‘Wurst Fu?r Alle’.

Conchita back
Conchita back

We try the sausages (wurst) plain and with chillies – they are delicious and somehow the afternoon stretches into the evening and I don’t have any more room for beer.  The rain becomes torrential and people take shelter or melt away into the night.  Miraculously the buses are still running.

Culture & Sport day two

Rosenborg Castle

 

Rosenborg Castle
Rosenborg Castle

Copenhagen, like Amsterdam doesn’t open early, so the café I’ve arranged to meet with David and Luci for morning coffee isn’t open.  The one over the road is only just open and when the lads do arrive it’s time to make for the Rosenborg Castle where Thibault will hopefully be waiting.  Having got my travel card and worked out how the buses run, I manage to persuade them not to walk all the way as I want to save my legs for racing later in the day.  This means that they have to buy some bus tickets from the station.  By the time we walk there, and then find a bus stop which we get off several stops too early, we’ve only cut our walking down by a half.  Thibault is waiting patiently just inside the castle gate and having studied Wikipedia for information on this 17th century royal castle, proceeds to tell us about it.  David & Luci need breakfast so we can’t pass by the café until they’ve eaten.

 

Ivory carved ship
Ivory carved ship

Begun in 1606 by King Christian IV subsequent kings lived here until 1710.  It has maintained a tradition of being a Museum, a storehouse for royal family heirlooms, treasures, crowns and thrones.  We start with the treasury in the basement.  There’s a whole room full of exquisitely carved ivory objects and just as I’m thinking about poachers, Luci articulates ‘Oh the poor elephants.’  There are also racks of Rosenborg wine which claim to be from the 1600’s.  I can’t help thinking that they’ve probably long turned to vinegar by now.

Coronation crown
Coronation crown

There is a whole room devoted to Christian IV’s riding trappings from his coronation of 1596 – Jewel encrusted saddle and bridle.  Further on there is his very elaborate coronation crown.

Crowns for absolute monarchs
Crowns for absolute monarchs

By 1671 the Danish kings had become absolute monarchs and there is the coronation crown used for 5 more kings called Christian. A queen’s crown from 1731 accompanies it.  It’s all quite relaxed – we can stop and take photos through the glass cases – and I can’t help comparing it with the British jewel house in The Tower with its moving platform and elaborate security arrangements.

Royal bling
Royal bling

Upstairs, the castle is arranged in a sort of chronological order, giving a flavour of different kings furnished with tapestries family portraits and royal possessions. One memorable room is Christian IV’s toilet now tiled with Delft.  There are, however, no bathrooms.  Right on the top is one large room which houses a narwhale – tusk throne for the king and silver throne for the queen.  They are guarded by three silver (plated) lions.

 

Inlaid table
Inlaid table

It’s now threatening to rain and we need to find food and digest it before 4pm when the swimming starts.

Originally the swimming was to take place over two days, but entries have been low and it’s all been condensed at short notice to Friday from 16.00 – 20.00hrs.  I guess there are just too many LGBT sports meets around Europe.  We are aware that we are only four in our team, enough for a relay at least, but lament the fact that not more OTSers have come.  We’re envious of the Water Polo team turn out who are all having a fun time.  Various theories are put forward for the low turnout, including the ascendancy of open water swimming (there’s the London swim this weekend in the docks – which turns out to be cancelled) but we don’t have any answers.

Having taken care of our cultural needs in the Morning, OTS team mate Thibault is in charge of getting us to the Bellahøj Svømmestadion.  This is mainly because he’s already been there to support the Water Polo teams. But first we have to eat some lunch and happen upon a market food court.  There are all sorts of healthy juice and salad bars and we buy that essential food for swimmers, bananas. There are only four of us but it takes quite some organisation to get us on the bus.  Tickets have to be got – I have a 72 hour pass which is still valid – then there’s a problem with someone’s credit card in the machine and the bank has to be called. Thibault has to go back to the food place for his umbrella and Luci has to buy a towel. Eventually, we all get on a 5A bus which takes ages to make its way to the pool.

The bus drops us right opposite the impressive looking complex and we are early, so there’s time to enter our relay team details and also get signed up for the Rainbow Relay at the end.  It’s one of those pools where you have to get naked and wash all the hairy bits before putting on trunks and getting into the water.  Fortunately, no one is supervising.  It all seems a bit random organisation-wise as it turns out that the warm up starts at three and the races at four, so we are not that early.  Heat sheets are on the walls so we all have to keep our wits about us as to the order of events and which events we’ve actually entered and where the relays are placed.  Fortunately the announcer is calling out names and lanes for each event.  I’m the first to swim with 200 Backstroke which seems to go very slowly. Luchi is not looking forward to doing 100m Fly in a 50 m pool.  He’s leading after of 50 M but five meters from the end, someone lowers a piano from the ceiling onto his back and he comes third for a gold medal.  Thibault is really giving it a go with both 50 and 100 m Fly – it looks like hard work but it pays of as he’s got silver and bronze.

There’s a problem with the 4 x 50 freestyle relay which should come before my 100m Backstroke.  I can see in the control box that the woman is still desperately entering our details into the computer.  I’m ok with that as I prefer to do the backstroke first.  We do have breaks in the programme to recover and then launch into the medley relays.  It’s my third backstroke race and I’m longing to do a bit of front crawl for a change.  However, we win a gold medal for our efforts in the 160+ age range.

During the second break there’s a syncro demonstration/lesson.  A woman gets volunteers into the pool and does a lesson to create a small routine at the end – quite impressive.

 

Out to Swim bling
Out to Swim bling

David F seems to have all his races at the end with backstroke and breaststroke back to back (he’s still in the fastest heat and wins gold for both). Luci must have clicked a wrong button on registration as he’s suddenly called for the 200m freestyle, which is definitely not his style and David’s shoulder tells him that doing fly is not advisable today.  Thibault briefly contemplates the wisdom of doing the 200 Individual Medley but realises that this is his best chance of a gold medal.  It’s such an exhausting race, so five stars to Thibault.  Finally we get to do our 4 x 50 m freestyle relay.  We are probably first in the 160+ group, but someone – who shall be nameless – starts ever so slightly early and we are disqualified.  The last race is the rainbow relay and we are all mixed up in teams of six and given different coloured caps to wear.  It’s all good fun and relaxed.  Cute guys are giving out medals with continental style kisses.  We’ve had a great time and a laugh, we just wish there were more of us. (Stockholm – who are hosting the Gay Euro Games next year – brought a team of over 20).

The down side of so few competitors is that the programme goes too fast to recover between races.  I’m the only one in my age range so am guaranteed gold medals however slowly I swim.  I do like to have someone to race with even though coach Martin Purcell keeps saying ‘It’s all about the medals’.  Our muscles are all full of lactic acid but we do have a truck load of medals just for him.

We head back to town to join the Water Polo Guys on an upstairs balcony bar. They have already eaten so we go downstairs and have the most gigantic burgers I’ve ever seen.  The Polo youngsters are off to GAY, but Luci, David and I, after much discussion and looking at my trusty map, find Studiestrade (Copenhagen’s gay street) and settle down for an evening of research and observation which is of course, thirsty work.  After a short investigation of Men’s Bar we come to rest at the Jailhouse further along the road which is packed with friendly guys.

Day One Sport & Culture in Copenhagen

Hans Christian Andersen
Hans Christian Andersen

What better excuse, if one were needed, to visit Copenhagen, than to compete in the Pan Gay Games for Out to Swim?  Several others spring to mind: I’ve never been; my great grandfather was born here, ran away to sea and ended up in New Zealand; the story of the Little Mermaid was a child-hood favourite with Danny Kaye singing ‘Wonderful Wonderful Copenhagen in the Hans Christian Andersen movie.

Old Naval Building
Old Naval Building

There are only four of us going to swim.  Me, Luci, David and Thibauld.  I’ve exchanged phone numbers with Luci and found him on Viber so we can all meet up – hopefuly.  It’s always nerve-wracking trying to work out how a city works. Getting from the airport to the centre thence to my hotel is, however, embarrassingly easy after deciding what travel card to buy and collecting free maps of the city.  I’ve spent hours memorising the city from on-line sites and so easily find the Hotel Wake-up Copenhagen only a short walk from the station. It’s cheap (for Denmark), sparse, functional Scandinavian chic and the wifi works – for free. In fact there is free wifi of sorts all over the city and you can hear young people enthusing about it as they look at their smartphones. There’s been a change in the swimming schedule.

Canal Christianshavn
Canal Christianshavn

The races set for Thursday afternoon have all been moved to Friday and a warm-up/ training session offered by way of compensation.  I’m thinking that it might be good to check out the pool – if I can work out how to get there – and support our Water Polo team.  There’s a bus at the end of the road which will take me there, but I decide to go to the Town Hall Square first where Gay Pride is all set up and I think I can register for the games.  Apparently the Prime Minister addressed the competitors last night, she’s Neil Kinnock’s daughter-in-Law.  There is no registration desk today, but Luci and David are there eating and drinking beer.  It’s hot and sunny, what reason do I have for not having a beer mid afternoon? Oh yes, we’re intending to go swimming and support the Water Polo Team.  Three beers later we’ve abandoned the idea of gong to the pool.  We vaguely talk about meeting up for dinner but viber hasn’t delivered on the communication front so anything could happen. I sleep off the beer at my hotel and catch a bus to my pre-booked evening canal cruise.

Opera House
Opera House

I’m very please with this achievement as my city map has all the bus routes marked.  The exact location of the canal cruise is guess work and I’m also very early.  There’s a floating pier decked out with rainbow flags in front of a posh restaurant and so I think this might be the place.  I re-trace my steps slightly to the previously observed Malmo Café which looks as if it might do coffee and snacks.  It’s in a basement and as the first glimpse reveals a pool table, it’s clearly not a café, but a bar, deserted but for the barman who is eating a takeaway salad in a plastic box.  This kind of tells me that there is no kitchen on site, however they do coffee. I ask if there are any snacks like crisps or nuts. No, there are not.  I drink my coffee and he eats his salad – both in silence.  I pass the time observing the huge collection of bottle-openers on the walls and hanging from the ceiling.  Then it’s time to go for the boat trip.  This time the open boat is moored and people are getting on for the second tour of the evening. We are all handed plastic rainbow flags and greeted by a blond wigged drag queen dressed in red and white stripes with basket-ball sized false boobs shoved down her jacket.  She has a megaphone which in addition to amplifying her voice, plays phrases of music and police alarms.  People arrive from nowhere and the boat fills up.  We’re off, being guided by a man with a comedy script full of gay innuendo and risqué jokes.  We cruise along past the stunning new Opera house which locals apparently call ‘The toaster’ then pass a huge concrete warehouse which we are assured was the venue for this years Eurovision.  Crossing to the other side, we see the residence of the Royals and the rear of The Little Mermaid.  Whenever we get close to the bank, our guide exhorts us to wave all the straight people.  We do, and they wave back.  Next it’s a look at the new, National Theatre that has a copper fly-tower which will eventually go green like other buildings in the city.  We detour up a canal through the Christianshavn area.  This is the only part of the City which hasn’t been burnt down (Copenhagen was raised to the ground several times) and consequently has architecture from different eras. We catch sight of Our Saviour’s church with its dark brown spiral tower. Back on the harbour we see the impressive and modern Royal Library and ancient military buildings from which cannons are still fired twice a day. Across the harbour we enter a canal which circumnavigates Castle Island.  This area has more royal palaces, the King’s brew-house and the dramatic looking Old Stock Exchange.  We wave at more straight people and they wave back.  In spite of all the campery, it’s been fun and a good way of seeing the city. I’ve had a text from the tam-mates to say they are eating with the Water Polo guys near to my Hotel.  I catch another bus and arrive at Bio Mio just as they are completing their orders.  It’s perfect timing with a fantastic dish of pork and great blond beer.  We swimmers are tacked on the end of the Water Polo Table. They’re all glad to see us – finally.  They are playing next morning and we have to swim in the afternoon, so early to bed.  Thibault says there are three cultural things we should see in this town and we arrange to meet up at the Rosenborg Castle tomorrow.