Lockdown Armchair Travel – Spain – Granada, 2017

Time for another Lockdown Armchair Travel memory, and we’re still on the letter S. And S is, of course, for Spain, a country I’ve visited so many times during my life, from the Costas to the cities to the islands, and I always love it. I hummed and hahhed a lot deciding where in Spain I should pick for this travel memory and decided on the beautiful Andalucian city of Granada, which we visited for a long weekend in June and July 2017. So, what do you think of, when you think of Granada (apart from the Manchester ITV station and TV rental sets of course!) Probably here:

The Alhambra! And where better to start our roaming around the city. I was lucky enough to go there when I was twelve, on holiday with my mum, and it’s a place that’s full of history, and beauty and memories.

Doors and alleyways lead you into room after room of Moorish moreishness!

Arabesque archways and Islamic calligraphy abound

And you just get lost in the beauty of it all

The Courtyard of the Lions is probably the most famous part

With those lions everywhere

In the Alhambra, there are no trials and tribulations, only tiles and tessellations!

The Courtyard of the Palace of Carlos V is used for concerts

And the views from the top are stunning!

And the Generalife gardens are the perfect place to relax after a couple of hours’ intense sightseeing

I have an old guidebook from my 1973 visit that quotes a rather over-the-top and dramatic poem: “Give him alms! There is no greater tribulation in life than being blind in Granada”. Those were different times.

Hard to believe, but there’s more to Granada than just the Alhambra. The cathedral is magnificent.

It’s one of those cathedrals that lends itself to exciting angles and moody corners

Not to mention the ridiculous wealth of the gold inside, of course

Elsewhere, the city has traditional Andalucian architecture

The city also looks beautiful at night

It’s a terrific place and you come home with great memories of charm and grandeur

Not to mention lions!

Eurovision 2015 – The Grand Final

Into the final furlong now with seven more songs that by virtue of their parentage or previous success have made it direct to the Saturday night spot without having to appeal to the midweek crowd as well. As the performance order is not yet decided I’m going to take them in alphabetical order. (I know, I’m so conventional.) Again each preview will have its own star rating and its bookmaker odds courtesy of oddschecker.com, as at 13th May. You know you want to.

Australia – Guy Sebastian – Tonight Again

Guy SebastianDo you need me to explain why Australia is in the contest this year? Course you don’t, so let’s move on. The first time I heard this – in fact by the time I’d got to the first chorus – I said, that’s it, game over, Australia has won. Then after a few hearings, little parts of it started to annoy me; specifically the “do whatchya whatchya whatchya want” sequence, which is just some meaningless verbal equivalent to a huge clearing of the throat before the chorus starts; and – no surprise – that final “again”, which has fourteen syllables. I know. I counted them. However, everything else about it is chock full of contemporary fabulousness, and I really do think this has a strong chance of taking the grand prix to Adelaide. (OK, Germany then, because it has been decreed that they won’t host the show next year down under if they win). For all those countries who put their timid little inexperienced people in front of the massive Eurovision audience and then wonder why they crack on the night, take note. Guy Sebastian is the new Dima Bilan; he is a massive star and (according to Wikipedia so it must be right) has 51 platinum and six gold certifications, with combined album and single sales of over 3.7 million in Australia. You always knew those competitive Aussies would take it seriously. He gave a fantastic performance at the London Eurovision Party. I said hello to him in a corridor. He said hi back. Friend to the famous. 7/2 – 5/1. *****

Austria – The Makemakes – I Am Yours

The MakemakesTricky one this. The host nation goes to the opposite extreme from the campness of Conchita Wurst and ends up with a soft-rock threesome who look and sound as gloomy as hell. The song trudges along without ever lifting its head above the parapet. If you think you like the tune, it’s because you’ve more or less heard it several times before over the decades performed by others. “Let it Be” written by a less talented hand; Coldplay with a cob on. I think they’ll give a good performance because they looked and sounded professional at the London party; but I can’t see this doing anything. This isn’t what people watch Eurovision for. 80/1 – 125/1. **

France – Lisa Angell – N’oubliez Pas

Lisa AngellHurrah for another experienced singer giving us a moving song with dignified lyrics about the effects of war and invasion, and inspired by the centenary of the First World War. Sadly I think it’s let down by a not particularly interesting tune, but I reckon Lisa will give it all she’s got. It’s written by the same nom-de-plume as Natasha St-Pier’s Je n’ai que mon âme, so that’s a pretty good pedigree. 80/1 – 200/1. ***

Germany – Ann Sophie – Black Smoke

Ann SophieRichmond-upon-Thames’ very own Ann Sophie sings this year’s song for Germany, Black Smoke, co-written by Ella Eyre who features on Rudimental’s 2014 BRIT award winning single Waiting All Night (I’m so trendy, me.) This is most definitely a grower, it didn’t impact me much on the first couple of hearings, but Ms Sophie’s performance at the London Party was a bit of a knock-out, and now I rather like it. It’s a song about love gone wrong, with more than its fair share of fire, flame, burning and smoke analogies. They missed a trick by not mentioning ashes. Spiky and quirky. 66/1 – 150/1. ***

Italy – Il Volo – Grande Amore

Il VoloWinners of this year’s San Remo festival, this operatic boy band have been together for five years now, and have enjoyed no mean success with their three studio and two live albums, the first of which charted in several countries around Europe (and indeed in Australia) so plenty of the televoters will already know these guys. Their EP version of Grande Amore has gone double platinum in Italy too. For the first time ever, I finally like a Eurovision popera song. Normally it’s a genre that gives me a pain in the aria, but this one is a little gem. Actually the full San Remo version at nearly four minutes is a big gem, and it has suffered a little by undergoing the necessary pruning to get it into the permitted time. The song was originally written in 2003 with the hope of going to San Remo but it was shelved as the writers thought it was simply too old-fashioned. Times change. Certainly Italy’s best entry since their recent return. 3/1 – 11/4 (second favourite). *****

Spain – Edurne – Amanecer

EdurneAnother stunning lady with another stunningly dramatic song. Amanacer means daybreak, but apparently it’s a song about heartbreak – I wish they’d make their mind up. Edurne is a product of the Operacion Triumfo stable, has had a few hit albums and a couple of notable singles, and is also a TV actress and presenter. When she’s not singing and acting, she’s Manchester United goalie David de Gea’s WAG. The song didn’t do much for me at first, but it’s yet another grower. Great for annoying the neighbours when singing in the shower. No tigers were harmed during the making of the video; the bloke, I’m not so sure about. 28/1 – 66/1. ****

United Kingdom – Electro Velvet – Still in Love with You

Electro VelvetAnd finally we come to the UK entry. Ever since its first appearance, subtly introduced to the world by the magic of the Freeview red button, it’s been a matter of some controversy. Certainly if you were hoping for the UK to come up with a contemporary song that can hold its head up in Europe this is Not It. However, in a year where there are a number of similar sounding entries, this is the only one with a novelty sound, which I think can only help it. Many of my francophone friends rate this very highly, and having seen them sing it live twice now I can definitely confirm that they have excellent voices and give confident, fun performances. It does stick in your head, although maybe not for always the right reasons. I have a fiver bet with a friend that it will finish lower down the table than Australia. What can I say, the friend really likes this song. Alex and Bianca are a lovely friendly couple and I wish them loads of luck in Vienna. I really hated it when I first heard it – but now I like it quite a lot. Despite those terrible trite lyrics. And the be-bap-be-bap-be-bap-a-doo nonsense. 33/1 – 50/1. ****

As ever, I do a little counting up of the number of hits each song has received on the Eurovision.tv youtube channel, not that it means anything at all on previous experience.
10th – Belarus (954692)
9th – Israel (988442)
8th – Italy (1058514)
7th – Belgium (1180352)
6th – Spain (1119215)
5th – Australia (1262238)
4th – Armenia (1480922)
3rd – United Kingdom (1819826)
2nd – Azerbaijan (3499640)
1st – Russia (4108146)

Last year Conchita’s song came 2nd in this table, second and third placed Netherlands and Sweden were not in the top ten and Armenia’s fourth placed Aram MP3 came top of this table. Azerbaijan, Italy, Spain and the UK were also in the top ten of youtube views, just as they are this year. The big difference this year is the massive number of views for Polina Gagarina. Do those Russians know something we don’t?

Have a great time watching the show on May 23rd, wherever you are – at home with some crisps, at a party, or in Vienna. No doubt we’ll have some kind of post-mortem at the end of May. May the best song win!

Spain – Barcelona

Sagrada FamiliaI can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been to Barcelona. It all started when I was eleven. My dad had died a few months earlier so Mum decided a Spring holiday to the Costa Dorada would be a boost for both of us. We stayed at the cheap and cheerful Hotel Internacional in Calella de la Costa; went up the Costa Brava coast to Pineda (where I loved the trampolines on the beach), Blanes (fish market), Tossa (rocky coves), Lloret, and as far as San Feliu de Guixols; another day we went to Montserrat (still haven’t been back and I really want to); another day to Gerona (I felt so cosmopolitan); and yet another to Barcelona, where in a whirlwind tour that seemed to last all day and all night we saw the Ramblas, the Sagrada Familia, did a harbour tour on a little boat, saw the Spanish Village, and ended up watching a horse show at Montjuic which culminated with the stunning magic fountain display. I slept all the way home but I don’t think I had ever had such an exciting day.

Custom HouseSince then Mrs Chrisparkle and I have been back to Calella, and had a couple of days in Barcelona; we’ve stopped off there on a number of cruises, and we did once have a long weekend there too. So we really feel an affinity for the city; and whenever we go there on a cruise, we basically have the same routine – a very leisurely walk up the Ramblas; get lunch at El Corte Ingles food hall; and either visit the Sagrada Familia or the Seu Cathedral en route back.

Christopher ColumbusIf you get the “disorganised” tour from the ship – basically a transfer in and out of town – you’re disgorged at the bottom of the Ramblas, near the splendidly marine monument to Christopher Columbus. The old Customs House greets you in its stately glory too. Near here, you can go out into the tourist trap haven that houses the Maremagnum shopping complex. On a sunny day, it looks very enticing. However, I can only recommend a quick wander around and then back into town. Do not, as we did some years ago, have lunch at one of the restaurants. The food was run of the mill, and the service slow, brutish and off-hand. It was one of those rare occasions when I deliberately didn’t leave a tip as we had been treated so poorly. The waiter looked disappointedly at the cash we had left and remonstrated on our way out with the words, “but service isn’t included” to which I replied, “you’re telling me!” Never again.

DragonA gentle stroll in the winter sunshine up the Ramblas is the perfect relaxation exercise. Quieter than usual – it was rather early on a Monday morning – nevertheless the cafes, market stalls, and living statues all have that welcoming feeling, and it’s also a perfect opportunity for people-watching. I always love to catch sight of the stylised dragon emerging from the corner of the old umbrella shop at Plaça de la Boqueria. As we were there on 17th December,Santa Claus Santa Claus also had a big presence in the Ramblas, and was seen clambering in and out of many a balcony and window. Further up the Ramblas and we took a diversion into the food market of Sant Josep, always a colourful and assault of the senses – and mostly it smells ok too. Back on the Ramblas, past the stalls selling guinea pigs, bunny rabbits and fishy-wishies (sorry I couldn’t help myself) which looks anomalous today to a Brit abroad, and upward to the Plaça de Catalunya at the top end.

Sant JosepThis is normally a very welcoming sight, but it had been largely boarded over for some exhibition or other. Still it makes a useful place for a rest, and to devour the lunch titbits that we had bought at El Corte Ingles, which has a pretty substantial separate gluten-free area in the foodhall. Suitably nourished, we decided to go to the Sagrada Familia, but we wanted to go by metro. Plaça de Catalunya has one of the largest and most useful metro stations, so we headed into the bowels of the earth to try to work out how to buy tickets. There were seven of us, and there had been a bit of a kerfuffle at one stage as one of us got lost and another tripped over, so we must have looked like the tourist family from hell. Our defensive guard was down as we were dusting each other off and counting how many children were left and thus we forgot about being aware of our environment. fishy-wishiesEnter a gentleman wearing a uniform who was very helpful to guide us through the intricacies of the metro system. Mrs C and I are always worried about this – as we remember the “helpful gentleman” in Paris back in 1985 who guided us through the ticket buying process and we ended up with an invalid ticket for which we had to pay him top price, and all the ticket inspectors at Charles de Gaulle airport were just waiting to fleece every tourist as they knew we’d all been caught out. Not a very pleasant experience. However, this Barcelona guy seemed genuine. Or at least until after we’d done the deal when he then asked for some money for his help. That was when I realised the uniform was make-believe. Sigh, caught again, I thought. Nevertheless, his advice was good, and he didn’t rip us off, and when we showed our tickets to the ticket inspectors, they were obviously valid. Phew!

Sagrada Familia window effectWhen you finally find your way in to the Sagrada Familia, and your heart has survived the double-take at the entrance prices, it’s just magnificent. We’ve been inside before but I can’t remember it looking so beautiful. The reflected light through the windows throws up a myriad of colours against the plain background of the walls and it really is breathtaking. It stuns you into silence. The place just has a feeling of overwhelming majesty. Sagrada Familia looking upThe last time we took the lift up one of the towers, the weird Gaudi shapes and angles unsettled my stomach and made me feel quite nauseous! Not so this time. It’s very exciting being up at the top, and even though it got a bit confusing as to which way you could walk around – and the space is very limited too – it was a complete thrill.View from the top If there’s a queue to go up, it’s definitely worth the wait. Outside the church there’s a lot of scaffolding and some plucky guys were swaying in the breeze all strapped up doing their work. That sure takes some guts.

And that was basically it.Scaffolders Afterwards we just got the metro back to Catalunya and retraced our steps towards the port. We did go slightly off route to see the Christmas displays outside the Palau de la Generalitat, which were highly original and reminded me of nativity scenes on space-age TV sets. They were, of course, giant Christmas tree baubles, how stupid of me. We didn’t take the opportunityPalau de la Generalitat to eat out this time, or spend large numbers of euros on copious quantities of cava sangria on the pavement. If you haven’t done that before, I can recommend it as good fun! But we thought we’d set a good example to the nieces, and we returned to the ship as sober as the day we were born.