Category Archives: Grand Canyon

It’s Nice to Feel Useful (12)

One of the things that I like to do is to take a look at the search questions that seem to bring web-surfers by the site and take a look at some of the more bizarre and unusual.

Before Google got nervous about web search findings and tightened up on sharing search results this was a lot more fun and there were a lot more to choose from, now they are few and far between but just this week I  spotted one that amused me…

“What does a postcard of the Grand Canyon look like”

I am certain that I have put some dumb questions into Google myself but surely none as daft as this!

Anyway, I visited the Grand Canyon in 1995 and as always I am keen to help so here we go…

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

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Travels in Spain – Andalucía, The Flamenco and the Bull Fight

Raging Bull

“Nothing expresses the masculine quality of this country better than the bull-fight, that lurid and often tawdry gladiatorial ritual, which generally repels the northerner in the theory, but often makes his blood race in the act.”  – Jan Morris. ‘Spain’

In Andalucía  there is no Don Quixote of Castilla-La Mancha or El Cid of Castilla y Leon because this is the land of red blood passion, of Don Juan and Carmen, of gypsies and duels, tapas and sherry but above all else Andalucía is famous for flamenco and bull-fighters!

By late morning the weather had improved but it still looked dangerously unpredictable so we thought we might find something to do under cover. The choice was Bullring museum or bar?

We chose the bar!

Flamenco Red Chairs

But not just any bar, we selected ‘El Quinque’ because it had a two o’clock show of Spanish guitar and Flamenco dancing.  We took our seats and ordered some tapas  and eventually the lights dimmed and the show began.  First some exceptional guitar playing and then a lot of hand clapping and traditional singing and then eventually the dancing.

Spain Flamenco

To the lyrical sound of Spanish guitar, clacking castanets, the rhythmic stamping of Cuban heels and clicking stiletto rather like the sound of an approaching steam train, the dance show began and we enjoyed an hour of genuine Spanish music played by an assembly of musicians and a young woman dancing the flamenco; stamping, posturing and pouting in a rapid, aggressive, staccato style – wonderful vivacious movement, flicking to the left and sweeping to the right, stamping down the centre  and  accompanied all the time by the sound of chattering music like a machine gun firing into an empty sky.

El Quinque Flamenco Show

We enjoyed the show and were even happier when we emerged from the gloom of the bar into bright sunlight outside.  This was a good time to visit the bullring and the museum.

The Plaza de Toros in Ronda is one of the oldest operational bullrings in Spain.    It is only used once a year now for fighting but is important as a Matador training school because Ronda is well-known as the spiritual home of the modern corrida or bullfight.

The founder of this style was Francisco Romero, the patriarch of the famous Romero family of Ronda.  Before Francisco, bullfighting was an activity normally fought from the back of a horse in what was known as the ‘Jerez style’ but Romero introduced the style that we are most familiar with today when the brave Matador stands and fights on foot.

Bullfight Poster Spain

We visited the museum and took a backstage tour and then wandered around the arena itself and as we imagined ourselves to be famous heroic bullfighters the sun began to leak through the clouds and everywhere was magically transformed.

In a bullfight six bulls are killed in an event and this involves three matadors with their band of attendants, the picador horsemen who lance the bulls and the banderillos who stab them with barbed spikes.  If the spectators approve of the matador’s performance they wave white handkerchiefs to signal to the president of the fight that he should reward him with a trophy, one or both of the bull’s ears and/or its tail.  Personally I would rather have a cup or a medal or even better – a cheque!

It is called a fight but it is far from fair and for example the statistics show that in two hundred and fifty years only three matadors have died at the Seville bullring but they have dispatched almost two hundred and fifty bulls a year, so I can’t imagine that a lot of money changes hands betting on the outcome of the competition.

After the bullring tour we took the steps down from the old town along a path which led to the base of the Puerto Nuevo which gave a different perspective to the bridge and some more photo opportunities.  The climb back was arduous so once back at the top we stopped at a bar and ordered a beer which came promptly accompanied with an inevitable dish of olives.

Ronda The Bridge

There is always a complimentary dish of olives in the south of Spain because the country is the world’s leading producer and is by a long way the country with the highest number of olive trees and with more than three hundred million, is nowadays the world’s leading olive and olive oil producer and exporter, which explains why cafés and bars are always so generous with a plate of olives to accompany every drink.  They can afford to be!

We liked this bar/restaurant in a good position at the top of the canyon and made the decision that we would return later for evening meal.

Seville Flamenco

While Kim rested I went to the local shop for some wine and whilst there I asked about the cheese on display.  Just enquired.  I had a mind to take some home at the end of the week.  Unfortunately, due to language difficulties the shop owner interpreted my tentative interest as a firm order and to accompany the wine I ended up with a slab of cheese as big as a house brick.  I really must get back to Spanish lessons!

The weather continued to be moody and unreliable and when we walked out later the grey clouds were crawling like a contagion over the surrounding mountain tops as white dainty lace bonnets were replaced with grey skull caps and we dodged the showers until the sky broke in two, the black clouds disappeared and left behind a glorious sunset.

The day ended in spectacular fashion!

Ronda Spain Sunset

Weekly Photo Challenge: (Golden) Circle

Iceland Sunrise

Golden Circle – Iceland

Iceland LandscapeIceland Car Hire Volcano Damage InsuranceGeyser Iceland

On the subject of Iceland and Circles, a few days ago I posted a circle challenge:

The answer was the interior clock faces at the top of the tower of the Hallgrímskirkja Cathedral in Reykjavik, Iceland.

They are more impressive from the inside than from the outside…

Lief Ericson Reyjkavik Iceland

Car Hire Misadventures – Grand Canyon, 1996

Before I moved to Lincolnshire I used to work for a French waste (mis)management company called Onyx UK that had an optimistic business plan to take over refuse collection services in the UK and I worked at a depot in Maidenhead in Berkshire and managed the Windsor contract.

The company was always trying to cut costs and one day in February 1996 the Managing Director, a man called Percy Powell, telephoned me to tell me that he had heard of a new type of refuse collection vehicle with impressive labour saving innovations that offered potentially huge operational efficiencies and that he was interested in finding out more.  He asked me if I would be prepared to visit the factory where they were manufactured and give him my opinion.

To be honest I had very little interest in bincarts or how they are made but fortunately, before I could prematurely decline, he quickly happened to mention that the factory was in Phoenix, Arizona in the United States of America and almost instantaneously my lack of interest transformed lack a volcanic eruption, like an accident in a firework factory, like a nuclear explosion experiment, into complete and total enthusiasm.

Did I want to visit Phoenix to see some dustcarts?  You bet I did!

Read the full story…

Northern Ireland, The Antrim Coast

Northern Ireland Blue Flag

Because it is a long journey, our driver on the Political Tour, Lawrence, had suggested that we should go straight to Larne before starting the Antrim Coast road drive.  We took his advice even though this meant missing out Carrickfergus and the castle and the harbour where William of Orange landed in 1690 before going on to victory at the Battle of the Boyne, the location of the last witchcraft trial in Ireland in 1711,  and where the RMS Titanic anchored up for the last time before setting off on its fateful journey in 1912.

So we drove directly to Larne and then rather rudely used the by-pass and circumnavigated the town without stopping but this didn’t trouble us because we were heading for the coast.  Along this stretch of north east Ireland runs the A2 road which is said to be the longest stretch of principal highway in the UK which clings so closely to the sea and indeed to create this road the hills were blown up and demolished to provide the foundations.

Ireland A2 Road Trip

The road here clings like Velcro to the base of the cliffs and swings around the headlands and bays in extravagant sweeps and roller-coaster twists and turns.  To our left were the glens of County Antrim decorated with dainty wild flowers and rolling gently down to the coastline and to our right was the Irish Sea and just twenty miles or so away the coast of nearby Scotland.

Along the route the road is flanked by gnarled hawthorn trees standing stoically alone by the roadside, it is, I later learn, because the locals are reluctant to cut them down for fear of disturbing the little people!

The going was slow because we stopped several times to admire the beaches and the uninterrupted views and by mid morning we had only covered a few miles north when we stopped for coffee at the walled garden of Glenarm.  It was a charming place but there was no time to stop longer than a cappucchino and soon we were back on the road.

County Antrim is one of the staunchest Protestant and Loyalist parts of Northern Ireland and we were left in no doubt about that as we drove through villages where the kerb stones and the lampposts were painted red, white and blue and a Union flag flew above the front door of almost every house.  Until that is we came to Cushendun, a harbour village abandoned by the A2 road and which is a catholic enclave emblazoned with green, white and orange.

We were in the far north east now and these stretches of the road regularly appear in top ten lists of drives in the UK.  It only ever really makes it to number two in a list of coastal drives in Ireland however, coming in behind the Dingle peninsular and having driven that only last year I have to say that I am inclined to agree with that judgement.  In my opinion It is better than the Ring of Kerry by some considerable way.   It isn’t exactly the Amalfi drive, nothing can hope to compare with the Amalfi drive but it is well worth making the effort to get behind the wheel of a car and experience this wonderful part of the British Isles.

Can anyone suggest a UK top ten drive?

Three quarters of the four hundred miles of Northern Ireland coast are protected areas and as we made the next section of the journey to Ballycastle it was easy to understand why.  The sun was shining today but it was still quite cool and I suppose that the unpredictable climate is a bonus here because if Northern Ireland had the climate of the Spanish Costas then it wouldn’t be long before they were covered in sun loungers and the shoreline would be overrun with pedalos and water sports.

By mid afternoon we reached the seaside town of Ballycastle and as the parking was free we pulled in and went to explore the beach and the harbour.  The seashore stretched some considerable way and we took a stroll along the dunes and back at the car we transferred some grains of sand from our shoes to the car floor and although we didn’t know it now this was likely to become a problem later…

Resisting the temptation of a pub stop and a Guinness we carried on now to our next destination, the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge.

Carrick a Rede Rope Bridge Northern Ireland

The travel guides make this sound like a death defying challenge to cross a swaying rope bridge with only irregular wooden steps and rotting rope handles to separate you from certain death on the jagged rocks below followed by a swirling watery grave as the unpredictable currents carry your shattered and broken body out into the sea.

The truth is that this is not nearly so exciting as is made out and there is no Indiana Jones sort of danger whatsoever and visitors cross over the twenty metre bridge as though on a pedestrian crossing on any town centre High Street and make their way to the rather disappointing final destination on the walk.  It is as safe as being on a cycle path in the Netherlands, as safe as a bubble-wrapped Amazon parcel delivery!

Samuel Johnson is reported to have said the the Giant’s Causeway was worth seeing but not worth going to see and whilst I would take issue with him over that I think his assessment could easily be applied to Carrick-a-Rede!

If the bridge is a disappointment (especially having paid £6 each for the privilege) the coastal walks are not and the thirty minute walk there and back from the inevitable National Trust centre and souvenir shop provided splendid views along the rocky coast in both directions and today with the sun shining we could almost make out people waving to us from Scotland.

This part of the coastal drive was almost over now so back at the car we drove the final few miles towards the Giant’s Causeway and our hotel for the night, The Smuggler’s Inn.

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

 

It’s Nice To Feel Useful (7)

  

It’s nice to feel useful (7) …

Every now and again I like to look back over my posts to review what has been going on.  One of the things that I like to do is to take a look at the search questions that seem to bring web-surfers by the site and take a look at some of the more bizarre and unusual.

Last year my favourite was is “Why did Shakespeare bring starlings to Australia?”  and I was obliged to point out here that William Shakespeare died in 1616 and Australia wasn’t settled by Europeans for another couple of hundred years or so after that and although there is much literary speculation concerning possible visits by the Bard to Italy I think it is safe to say that he never went as far as Australia!

Vesuvius the crater

Being a student of geography I am going to begin with a couple of wildly inaccurate searches:  Firstly “Vesuvius Turkey”  and secondly “Wales Cantabria”.  When I was a boy I had a book called “The Boys’ Book of Heroes” which had a chapter about great explorers and I am fairly certain that if they republish it that these two enquirers are really most unlikely to get a mention.

Sex always rears its ugly head so let’s deal with that one straight away.  Someone asked about “Getting laid in Germany” and believe me if I had the answer to that one then I would keep it to myself.

I like this one even better – “Medieval brothels images” and I am completely unable to help with that one because most of the illuminated manuscripts in my collection have images of Jesus and the Saints and as Monks didn’t have digital cameras they probably didn’t have a great deal of spare time to draw pictures of brothels.  Perhaps the enquirers were thinking about the red light district in Amsterdam or perhaps they found their way to my post on the Grand Tour of Europe?

The best that I can do is show this picture of a ‘walk this way‘ brothel sign in the ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey …

Ephesus Brothel Sign

There are always some bizarre questions about low cost airline Ryanair and this year these are my favourites: firstly “Can I take tea bags on a Ryanair flight?” and as far as I am aware tea has not been declared an illegal substance so I am certain that the answer is yes but I don’t think you will be allowed to take a kettle and brew up!  Next – “Is agarbatti allowed in flights?”  and I have to say that with Ryanair being a no smoking airline probably not and lighting up an incense stick is likely to lead to Argy Bargy.   I did provide some advice for flying with Ryanair in a post called Travel Tips When Flying Budget Airlines.

Ryanair Fez Airport

Some of the daftest search enquiries seem to crop up every year but here are some new ones from the last twelve months:

“What were gunfighters actually called” and my answer to that one is that although some of them had real names of course like Jesse James, Billy The Kid, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid  I think mostly they were just called gunfighters!

The meanest gunfighter in the West however was…

Next up – “Which state are Johnny Cash and June Carter talking about when they say we been talking about Jackson ever since the fire went out?- I am of course tempted to say just try Jackson USA and you will get the answer – it is that simple!

We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout,
We’ve been talkin’ ’bout Jackson, ever since the fire went out.
I’m goin’ to Jackson, I’m gonna mess around,
Yeah, I’m goin’ to Jackson,
Look out Jackson town.

To finish two more searches that caught my attention this year – “Jesus give thanks to feed four thousand men” and I can only assume that in an era of cutbacks and austerity that  this enquirer works for the Government because the size of the crowd has been reduced by 20%.  I wrote about the feeding of the five thousand quite recently.

And finally for this time – “is there a weight limit for the Cresta Run” but I am afraid that I cannot help with that one at all.

What is the strangest search engine enquiry that has brought someone to one of your blog posts?  (This is not a quiz!)

A look back at previous silly search questions:

It’s Nice to feel Useful (1)

It’s Nice to feel Useful (2)

It’s Nice to feel Useful (3)

It’s Nice to feel Useful (4)

It’s Nice to feel Useful (5)

It’s Nice to feel Useful (6)

Weekly Photo Challenge: Depth – Postcards From Grand Canyon

We stared down one and a half kilometres to the bottom of the gorge, a hole so deep that can take two days to reach on foot by the official trails.  And it wasn’t so peaceful this morning either as there was a continuous buzz of helicopter activity taking trips out over the canyon.  The helicopters used to drop into the canyon for a closer look but after a number of accidents caused by rising thermal currents this have now been stopped.

From the viewing platform we were looking over the fabulously named Granite Gorge and along Bright Angel Creek which led directly to the North Rim Visitor Centre on the other side which although only fourteen kilometres to the north needs a journey of over three hundred kilometres to get there.  The view just went endlessly on and on and was so infinitely panoramic that it was almost impossible to fully comprehend the scale of the barren wilderness stretching out before us.

To get a sense of perspective it is worth remembering that you could fit Dartmoor National Park in Devon into the Grand Canyon National Park five times and still have a bit of spare left over.  When it was time to go the coach took us out along a road that followed the line of the canyon with further viewing opportunities and then we parted company as our route took us first east and then north across the Painted Dessert passing Marble Canyon, which is the beginning of the Grand Canyon, and towards our next destination, Lake Powell.

Grand Canyon USA