Archive for April, 2012

Nemesis, by Jo Nesbo

Saturday, April 14th, 2012

I thought I might have written about the first Jo Nesbo book I read, but it appears I haven’t. I don’t know much about Jo Nesbo, other than the fact he pronounces his name “Yo”, rather than “Joe”, being Norwegian, which I think is a cool name. This is the second book in his series about detective Harry Hole who works in the Oslo police investigating murders. Well, according to something I read, these are actually the 3rd and 4th books, but the first two weren’t translated into English.

The covers of most of his books have a sticker saying “The next Stieg Larsson”, which probably helps his sales figures a lot, being able to cash in on the success of “The girl with the dragon tattoo” et al. They do have a bit in common, in terms of being translated Norwegian books about investigators who are misfits. But other than that, they differ quite a bit.

Harry is a mostly former alcoholic, a detective who does things his own way and doesn’t really get on with most of the police force (now that I write that, it doesn’t sound very original, but it does work, honest). In this second book, he is brought in by the robberies unit because a bank robbery included the murder of a cashier, and an ex-girlfriend commits suicide hours after he is the last one to see her alive. The book entwines the 2 investigations as he pursues the truth through a complex and tortuous path.

I really liked this book, as I liked the first one (Redbreast). Nesbo’s characters are nearly all misfits in some way, from the police to the suspects. There’s not a lot of happiness in his world. But the books are real page-turners, and I sat up fairly late a few nights this week wanting to get to the end.

I’m not a major reader of crime fiction, but I like this. Recommended!

Barcelona Day 4

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

For my last full day in Barcelona, I decided that I had done enough walking, and went on a bus tour instead. Had pasta for late breakfast at the station, then over the road to the bus stop for the tour buses. The system is quite good – they have 3 different routes, and you can not only hop on and off to change buses, but can also change routes to go and do a different tour.

So off I headed on the red route. The rain wasn’t heavy, so I sat upstairs in the open air, on the basis that sitting in the drizzle was still better than walking in it. The red route took me round many of the places I had already walked, but it was nice to get the commentary and find out a little more about them. Though the bus had fundamental problems when the rain got heavier and I had to go downstairs – the windows were covered in adverts for the bus, and you couldn’t actually see the sights through them! When we got to the big square in the middle of the city, I shifted onto the blue route, which took me up towards Tibidabo. This is the hill I could see in the distance from my hotel room, with the huge telecoms mast and cathedral (there’s a picture back here).

Once I got there, there was a tram, and then a funicular railway to get to the top, but that involved a lot of tiresome waiting, and the rain had stopped, so I set off walking instead. That started off well, but I ended up climbing up a mountain bike trail rather than a walking path. But nonethess, I got to the top eventually, after a climb of 3.5 miles (according to my fathful GPS tracking phone).

The cathedral at the top doesn’t get a lot of respect because of Gaudi’s masterpiece down in the city, but I still thought it was rather splendid.

At this point, you are quite high up, and there’s a great view of the city. But there is a lift to take you you to the roof of the cathedral, and then some more stairs that take you to here.

As you can imagine from here, at Jesus feet, you’re a long way up! Unfortunately, it was a bit hazy up there (probably inside a cloud), so the pictures of the city aren’t really clear enough to show much, but it was a magnificent view, and it’s worth a visit.

I got the funicular back down the hill and got back on a tour bus for the rest of my jaunt round the city, then closed off my evening with dinner in a nice restaurant near La Rambla (though ending with a disappointing creme brulee, so I had to go and get an ice cream to have a satisfactory ending to my day).

Barcelona Day 3

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

Wednesday was an even wetter day than Tuesday had been, and the waterproof trousers didn’t do quite so well. My legs were also pretty tired from two days of walking before I even started out from the hotel, which didn’t help either. Nor did the extremely loud thunderstorm that woke me during the night – it really was very loud, and a part of me kept wondering if it was louder because I was so high up. I’ll admit that I can’t think of any reason why this makes sense, so I guess the storm was just nearby. Or perhaps the noise was being reflected by lots of nearby buildings. In any case, it was very loud and I was wakened a couple of times by the racket.

Anyway, I got all dressed up for the rain and headed off.  Again, I had got up late, so I was keeping my eye out for places to eat brunch. Ended up having paella just across the road from my main destination for the day – La Sagrada Familia, otherwise known as Gaudi’s Cathedral. As I had expected, the location made the food was a bit more expensive, but it was dry and that was the main thing.

And then over the road to admire Gaudi’s masterpiece. And you know what, it really did impress me. The concept behind it impresses me, of a building so ornate and massive that it takes generations to complete – there’s a visionary quality to just embarking on a project on those terms. To start on something, knowing that you will never complete it, but depending on later generations to continue your plan is the kind of long-term planning that is basically extinct these days. Apart maybe from some mortgages…

Anyway, I approached it from this side, the eastern facade, which shows the story of the nativity.

On a picture this size, you just have no chance of seeing the detail. But it is a great piece of sculture, on a huge scale. My favourite part is the slightly incongruous tree up at the top between the towers with birds nesting in it, which represents the church. It brings a touch of humour, or humanity or something to a huge stone building.

This side was where I started queuing, and then ended up at the west side, which represents the crucifixion, in a completely different style of art.

Again, you can’t see the detail, but it is very impressive in reality. However, this picture misses out my favourite part – in the second picture you can see the spires, and up near the top, behind some green netting of some sort, you can just about make out the statue representing Jesus’ ascension shows him sitting on a crossbeam like a builder taking a break. Again, it’s suspiciously like humour!

And no, there is no way of getting a picture of the building without cranes in it. And it’ll be that way for years!

But they have finished the inside, and it is a beautiful place. This is the inside of one of those facades.

And this is the view towards the front of the building from the back.

I especially like the way that the columns branch out to support the various levels of roof. On a horrible wet day, it was a lovely place. It occurs to me that it could only be a religious building – no-one is ever going to put so much effort into making a conference centre, or a city hall, or an airport so beautiful. The pictures don’t do it justice at all, so if you’re ever in Barcelona, just go an see it. You’ll not regret it (despite the fairly steep entry price). And for the record, the towers were closed, so I couldn’t go up and enjoy the view from the top.

The rain did ease off a bit as the afternoon continued, so I did some more wandering around until I couldn’t walk any more, then got the metro back to my hotel, and had dinner just round the corner. Some rather messy but very nice seafood in the Eden restaurant.

Barcelona Day 2

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

After all the walking on my first day on holiday, I was a bit tired, so I had a bit of a lie in to prepare for another day of walking about.

As predicted by the weather forecasters, it was raining when I got up. The good news is that I was expecting it, so I put on my new waterproof walking trousers, my waterproof coat, my big thick socks and my waterproof walking boots, and off I went, as waterproof as I could be.

However, I have to admit that I was a really bad tourist. The plan was to head for La Rambla, and have breakfast/lunch there. I fancied nice local tapas, but the rain got so hard that I ended up taking shelter in a sandwich shop until it eased a bit. And the highlight of the menu was the “British bacon” sandwich. With chips. Very authentically Spanish 🙁 Oh well. By the time I came out again, it was a bit drier, so it was worth it.

Off to one side of La Rambla (the most famous street in Spain apparently), I found Barcelona Cathedral. The actual Barcelona Cathedral – possibly not tjhe one you’re thinking of.

I love visting cathedrals – I think they are brilliant places. I love the space, the peace, the architecture, the craftsmanship – all the things that makes cathedrals and temples kind of unique. And yet cathedrals are odd places. Yes, it is a Christian place of worship, but it is so different to my own experience of what a church is that I find them hard to relate to. I suspect that the only golden objects in my church are the jewellery of the members! My church is also only 39 years old. Take it from me, it’s not much like Barcelona Cathedral! In contrast to that, I also visited the Estrella del Mar church later in the day. It’s much less ornate, with a lot less gold and furniture. But it turns out that’s because it was all destroyed as punishment by the victors when Barcelona was on the losing side in a battle. But ironically, I thought it gave it a really nice spacious feel that it probably wouldn’t have if it had all of those original fixtures and fittings!

I also visited the beach, where they have free WiFi! Imagine! Free WiFi at the beach! This must be the 21st century after all!

And then pasta for tea, in a very nice fresh pasta restaurant near La Rambla, and ice cream from an ice cream shop there too. Got the metro back to the hotel, with tired legs. A wet, but very enjoyable day.

Okay, now that I have gone back to add the pictures, I have to add what was the photographic highlight of the day. Very cute!

Barcelona Day 1

Saturday, April 7th, 2012

The first major surprise of my trip day was on the plane – I bought something to eat on an Easyjet flight, and found it to be both enjoyable and good value! What happened there! Am I in some kind of weird alternate universe? Anyway, I can definitely recommend the “Feel Good scrumptious and yummy box”, which for 4 quid kept me going for a few hours, and was even pretty healthy!

Once again I was reminded just how good The Walking Dead is, my own personal in-flight movie on my android tablet. Yes, it is gory and unpleasant in places, but it’s great TV.

Arrived to find the Barcelona weather much better than expected, which was a nice surprise. So jumper off and short-sleeved shirt on. A straightforward and cheap (3.60€) journey on the train took me to Sants station, and if I had taken the right exit, the hotel would have been right in front of me. Of course I used the wrong exit, but the hotel was still very easy to get to. My room is on the 15th floor, and has a splendid view over the city.

But it was only when I left the hotel when I realised how good it is – just a short walk and I was at some splendid buildings, towers and fountains which turned out to be the Montjuic area of the city. Really beautiful architecture, much of which dates to 1929 and a grand exhibition (I will resist slagging comparisons with the millennium dome, as I am secretly quite fond of it).

Behind that, the Olympic Park, from 1992. Behind that, the cemetery, which I thought might be a castle. It wasn’t, but it was still very interesting – cemeteries are multi-story here, and consist of stretches of wall with a niche per person, above 5 stories high. Which is why I thought they were castle walls. Then to the actual castle, where it started to get a bit cooler, and I started to worry about rain. But was quite pleased to find that I could see my hotel from there, as it
is a 23 story tower with a neon sign on the top!

Then a dander back towards the hotel, with a few stops to select a restaurant for dinner. And it was really excellent! I ate in the Filigrana restaurant, where they kindly gave me the lunchtime set menu, even though it was nearly 9:00, as I hadn’t realised it was a lunch menu. Yes, what originally attracted me was the delightfully poor translation of the “candied bacon with outbreaks of spring”, but it really was a lovely meal – 3 1/2 courses and sparkling water with very attentive service (in perfect English) for €30 including tip. A great spot that deserves to be busier. And accompanied by a fresh new book on my kindle.

A great start to my trip!


Saturday, April 7th, 2012

I’m just back from a few days in Barcelona.

I made the mistake of writing up blog posts offline, and then expected to just paste them up, but I discovered I can’t do that on my tablet, for reasons that are clearly tedious.

So rather than paste up all 5 at once, and blow the minds of readers who are only used to a blog post every few months, I’ll space them out over the next few days.

But just so you know, I am already home!