From Sea to Hilltop Palace (Malaga to Granada)


Palm Trees on the Beach – Malaga

Beach Town – no crowds in winter and no warmth either. Cold, cramped apartment a block from the sand. Stroll along the walk by the Mediterranean Sea to relax and take in some afternoon sun. One of the other reasons for visiting Malaga – a side-trip to Granada. Not that Malaga isn’t worth exploring…

On the 1 ½ hour bus ride to Granada, I sit beside my daughter in the front seat behind driver who smoothly veers the huge bus from lane to lane as I watch transfixed by his skill. The three of us (including my partner behind us) get there on time and only slightly nauseous.

Alhambra, the walled palace, sits on the hill above Granada.

We didn’t order our advance tickets online – now, it’s sold out – but entry to the complex at the Puerto de Justicia (Door of Justice) is free. Since we can’t go in to admire the interior craftmanship, we study the outside walls. A carving of a hand above the door symbolizes the five pillars of Islam while the key represents wealth.

We wander through the courtyard area and take photos of the facades – green/blue/yellow tiles, elaborate carvings – follow paths through a garden – feeling the grandness of the palace grounds. A sound of meowing gets our attention – a family of 12 cats live under the shrubs beside the cannons that aim at the spectacular view of Granada below.

Head back down the steep hill to the center of town. A poster for the Museum of the Spanish Inquisition is plastered throughout the main square. Because of the cold, we are afraid to venture down the ancient narrow streets where the sun doesn’t reach. But the museum calls to us. After a few wrong turns, we find it.

While my partner and daughter investigate the more hideous forms of torture, I walk away (repulsed), and read a display with fascinating facts. In 1526 a holy order proclaimed by Carlos V stating that infidels must be punished. All non-Christian believers were made to suffer. But the Moors (the people living in Alhambra on the hill) were only taxed (not tortured) for their crime of being Muslim. In 1529, 3 Moors were condemned to suffer for their beliefs. And finally, in 1609 the Moors were expelled (only after enough money had been collected – slightly hypocritical?) No wonder the canons face the city!

Though we didn’t see the interior beauty of Alhambra, we have a good sense of its significance and place in history.

Back down to the beach at Malaga where we eat a Breca fish barbecued in a row boat under a grass hut, while watching children glide on a pulley-swing across the backdrop of the Mediterranean Sea.

Time to cross the Strait of Gibraltar to Morocco.

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Valencia – Graffiti, Orange Trees and Churches

The four-eyed woman stares out from the wall – she is drawn or glued on walls throughout the city. Who is she? Her grey face is thoughtful yet judgmental. What does she represent? A haunting image that watches life in affluent Valencia…


Four-Eyed Lady

Cobblestoned streets wind through the old town (founded by Romans in 138 BC) while the modern section consists of wide sidewalks made of pink marble. An elegant city full of style, majestic architecture, flowers, palm trees, graffiti … and oranges.

Orange trees (Citrus Sinensis) line the streets adding a juicy, tropical mood to the city.

Up and up the stairs to our attic apartment across from the 13th century Gothic Cathedral overlooking the Plaza de la Reina. Four blue copulas fill the view. On December 24 – the bells ring as if a group of drunken angels hammer on them creating a crazy, loud cacophony that makes us cringe and laugh at the same time.

Churches, churches everywhere – thirteen to be exact – with 2 convents, 1 monastery and the (loud) bell tower.

Supposedly the authentic ‘Holy Grail’ (a cup promising eternal youth to those who drink from it) sits in one of the chapels of the Cathedral. Damn – missed it! Churches intimidate me – but if I had known eternal youth waited for me inside…


Street in Old Town

Back to our attic perch where I observe an old blind lady sitting in the walkway beside the Cathedral – shaking her tin cup and tambourine. The massive cathedral dwarfs her – she hopes for spare change from the many passersby. Does the church encourage generosity? I don’t know.

Arriving before 7am at the cold train station, we wait beside a group of excited school kids. The loudspeaker mentions Madrid but not our destination, Malaga. Hmm, something feels wrong. We discover that we are in the wrong station! We run for the shuttle, arriving at the ‘other’ station just in time.

Lovely Valencia fades into the distance on route to Malaga on the Costa del Sol.

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Barcelona – the pace, the flavour, the mindset

Another taxi driver, another opinion.

‘No, Catalonia should not go, stronger one Spain,’ says the thirty-something driver in stilted English.

I don’t know how the topic came up, but there we sat listening to a passionate plea for unity.

Politics and taxis go together like JamÓn and a Tempranillo red.

Protests, riots and battles – Barcelona sits in the region of Catalonia, which has wanted to become an independent state from Spain…


La Rambla (notice the wavy tile design)

Slightly bored with wandering aimlessly along the La Rambla promenade – doing some shopping on the way (Zara, Desigual, Mango) – when a scene out of George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia came to my mind. In May 1937, a battle for control of the telephone exchange broke out between factions of the left-leaning Republicans, here on La Rambla in front of the Hotel Continental. I try to imagine myself in the middle of gun fire…impossible since…

La Rambla is meant for strolling … whoa, the paving tiles create a wave-like optical illusion – giving a slight feeling of vertigo – I’m alert now – no, don’t look down or you’d miss the tempting churros (or xurros) and colourful candies…lick and chew on the wonderfully wide walking promenade that encourages us to move slowly – feeling as if we should wave and nod at the passersby.

What is Barcelona but Antoni Gaudi.

We have our tickets for a 9:15 am entry to the Sagrada Familia Cathedral. Met by intricate carvings on the façade, we enter the elaborate doors (nature themed). Inside, a forest of pillars surrounds us – Gaudi wanted to create a sense of nature in his cathedral. Surrounded by stained-glass windows that catch the morning light in the east (with blue and purple glass) while hues of orange and red soak up the afternoon sun.

We take the elevator up to the Nativity Tower – loaves of bread adorn one of the top spires. The cold wind blows through us as we try to absorb the beauty. When complete, he would make the highest tower reach 172 metres high. Any taller would be above the height of Montjuic (a 185 metre hill). For Gaudi believed, man should not compete with God. His tower had to be shorter.

Parc Guell high up the steep hillside – smell the lavender in bloom in December – walk through the odd cave-like tunnels (protection from the rain?) – as an escape from the city below. Pass by the rounded mosaic benches and walls that make us sway as we climb to the highest viewing point of the park.

Rounded edges equal less stress. I could live in a building like Gaudi’s Casa BatllÓ – an apartment building with wavy window shapes – organic bone-like structures hold up balconies – using shapes from nature to create unique living spaces. I can’t stop looking – wonder how much an apartment would cost? To think when Gaudi designed his buildings, he was snubbed for being different – now thousands come to see the visionary’s work.

That brings me to…

Joan MirÓ – we explore the FundaciÓ exhibiting his artworks… I stare at the blobs of primary colours – shapes outlined in black – bold energy, curving lines…

Wow – I suddenly see the connection of arcs, motion, ease, flow, colour – all the elements that shape the City. What would be a good souvenir? I think… I’ll take Barcelona’s spirit of creativity home with me.

On to Valencia…

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How to Absorb the Heavy History of London in a Weekend

Walk a lot.

Pretend to blend-in with the hustle and bustle. Keep moving.


Bustle of London

People with rolling bags buzz around darting and avoiding – exit Euston Station in one piece.

Look to the right, no left – I’m dizzy! Just get across Euston Road!

We hike south to the Thames, pass through Piccadilly Circus (breath in the activity) and look beyond the Landseer lions guarding Lord Nelson who is perched on a column in Trafalgar Square. What did Lord Nelson do? Um – look it up… died in 1805 leading the British tall-ship fleet during the victorious Battle of Trafalgar (against the French & Spanish).


Landseer Lion Watches the Victorious Lord Nelson!

In London to see the Queen, no – sorry, we’ve come to see the Warner Bros. Studios where Harry Potter was filmed (but that’s in Watford Junction – where?).

That car doesn’t have a driver! Forgot, right-side drive.

Cut through Hyde Park and stop a moment at Speakers’ Corner (a guy holds a sign: veganism is good for all – no one debates him – other men loudly discuss weighty issues)… we find ourselves in front of the gate of Buckingham Palace – the rigid guard comes out of his box, strides back and forth a couple of times – then back in the box.

Scoot into a modern electric taxi (new version of a hackney carriage) to get out of the cold and rain – ‘I’m in favour of Brexit,’ says the fifty-something driver who wants less-skilled jobs reserved for ‘native’ Londoners.

Pass a horse and carriage… what time period is it?


Horse & Carriage – is it 2018?

Looking for the Tower of London but find the Borough Market under the arched art-deco glass roof – jammed with shoppers – barely able to walk or see the mouth-watering cornucopia of goods – meats and cheeses, vegetables and baked goods– buy a raspberry muffin and peach pastry just within reach – nudge our way to the exit. Never go on a Saturday afternoon.

Should we venture into the Clink? A museum recreating the 19th century prison (on the same spot since 1144) where mostly the poor were held, tortured… off with his head!

Hop in another taxi to Euston Station – which platform?

Next stop Watford Junction. Staying in the Travelodge near the Warner Bros. Studios – the mecca for Harry Potter fans. We sit in the dark theatre, anticipating our chance to enter the imagination of J.K. Rowling – Harry, Ron & Hermoine greet us on video, the screen lifts and we enter the great dining-hall decorated for Christmas…ooohs and aaahs are uttered. Sneak a peek in the living-room at No. 4 Privet Drive – don’t forget platform 9 ¾ and Hogwarts Express.

Finally, the large-scale wooden model of Hogwarts (always thought it was a real castle) gets a ‘wow.’ The whole world of Harry Potter is hidden away in a huge studio 40 minutes north of London by train.

Back to Euston Station – walk down the curving, December decorated streets to the Tate Gallery – Tania Bruguera’s huge image of a Syrian refugee (Yousef) revealed by children running on a heat-sensitive floor.


Portrait of Yousef

See the Jenny Holzer exhibit – read the engraved walls and benches… thoughts on women and art… thinking and being…Stand in line – don’t recognize the artist but might as well see what’s playing in the theatre. Watch film and video clips referring to time (scenes with clocks, watches…). We notice the time in the clips is synchronized to real time – the movie is 24 hours long. Clever, got the idea – time to go.


Time warps when travelling – slows down at the beginning of a trip, speeds up toward the end.


Big Ben

Is that Big Ben shrouded in scaffolding? Too bad – not the iconic photo I had hoped for – but it’s still telling the time, silently.

Bloomsbury – a writer’s mecca. Search for Virginia Woolf’s House. Run up and back down the street – find a plaque for Charles Dickens house where he wrote Bleak House – wrong author. Looking for Number 52 Tavistock Place. Find the Tavistock Hotel instead and another plaque where Virginia’s house once stood.

The sun comes out and we walk along the Thames embankment, see the Eye (giant Ferris wheel), an Obelisk (a gift from the Egyptian gov’t) and sit on a bench – time to take in the serenity of the Thames.


That quenches my thirst for London.

Head to Heathrow and off to Spain.

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Three Women Authors Spark My Passion to Keep Writing

I’m lost in a sea of hopeless thoughts that have me gulping for air – melodramatic, or me just trying to get out of my stuck state/writing impasse? A bit of both.

I hear the voices of Sidonie-Garbrielle Colette and Mary Shelley in my head – why can’t I write like them? Do I need to suffer their plights of torturous relationships and formidable obstacles? Or to identify with their struggle to get recognition for their writing? Of course not. But I will imitate their passion and creativity that pushed them to write during those bleak moments.

Who are these women? I should explain. Everyone knows Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein,’ but the ‘Claudine’ series (diary of a young French girl) by Colette is less known. Two women writers who boldly made themselves heard.


On a 9 ½ hour flight from London (more about the trip in next blog), I was totally absorbed (didn’t even hear the baby cry) by two movies about the above-mentioned 19th and 20th centuries writers – Mary Shelley and Colette. Watching their romanticized lives on my small screen, I had an urge to shout to the passengers on board: you must watch these movies! I shake my head. I could see a giant gorilla smashing a building on the screen through the seat gap: the guy watching obviously didn’t need my movie advice.

Without anyone noticing, I soaked up the women’s grit, determination, perseverance – qualities I’m still aiming for.

See, here’s an example – my perseverance to write has sunk over the last month, even traveling to exotic places hasn’t excited me – the words are dull and stilted. Lately, thoughts of quitting have unsettled me. Even more unsettling: I want to make more money! More money means more hours working, which equals less time writing. Erase that thought – sounds like an excuse not to write.

I just want to call myself a writer without a catch in my throat. If I made more money at it, would that solve the problem? Probably?

I can’t talk like a writer. A shyness comes over me and my brain bullies me: if you tell them about the writing, you’ll sound arrogant or they’ll want to read it and if they read it, they might not like it … the next encounter will be awkward – no eye contact and the subject of writing will never come up again.

Back to the airport…

When exiting the plane heading to the Customs and Baggage Claim areas, my partner finds a book on the floor by the escalator – ‘Y is for Yesterday.’ He hands it to me. I had finished reading ‘W is for Wasted’ the week before and was ready to buy ‘X,’ …

Isn’t this the one you wanted to read next?

Oh, yeah it is – or no, it’s ‘X’ I want. Where did you find that? Did someone lose it?

No, I think they’re passing it on to anyone who wants to read it.

Right, OK. I do want to read it. She only has one more letter of the alphabet to go.

We continue onto the next of the never-ending escalators and the woman behind us says:

You found it. that’s good. I bought it in Edinburgh and just finished reading it.

I’ve read most of them. Did you like it?

Yes, it was a good mystery, wrapping up nicely at the end.

It didn’t sound like she had read any of the other books of the series.

But I think she died.


The author – it says she was an award-winning detective writer…

That’s not possible. I would have known.

It seems like it.

I don’t know – I’ll find out, but thanks for the book.

My mind felt tangled – she couldn’t have died without me knowing it. One of my favourite honest, funny, level-headed writers – Sue Grafton…

I walked on reading her bio, or rather, focusing on the word: ‘was’ over, and over again – I didn’t want to believe it. I had been lost in her books for twenty years – Kinsey was a character that had become a friend who I wanted to have coffee with. Sue Grafton’s style made me want to create realistic, down-to-earth characters.

She almost made it to Z…

Two in-flight movies about women authors and a book left by an escalator have made me want to get my fingers dancing on my keyboard writing creatively, cleverly and consistently… and get paid.

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Reflections on My 9th or 10th Marathon?


The sun shines on the stack of medals sitting on my filing cabinet. I add the Kelowna Marathon medal to the pile and start counting – 10. Strange, thought it was my 9th. I reached my goal without even knowing it! That’s weird. I calculate, figure and plan – how could I have not known that I was running my 10th?! I would have trained harder.

I had approached this as a ‘filler,’ a less important run. That was the mistake. I didn’t give it the respect it deserved since I had hoped #10 would be Chicago or …

My brain wasn’t fully in the run. That’s the difference between feeling eager and feeling indifferent. I had a thought of ‘giving up’ – I wasn’t going for a qualifier, so the apathy seeped into my psyche.

As I was beginning my last 10 kilometres, along the path by City Park (for the third time), I heard the announcer call the time of 3:06 – and a muffled name – it was the first woman to finish. I so envied her.

I felt hopeful – there were cheers and people holding signs and a couple of runners going at my pace. But suddenly, as if the plague had struck Kelowna, no one was around. I was alone in a deserted industrial area. Noooo! I have run alone for my training runs – I needed people around me and inspiring scenery too. Where’s the Lake?

I almost didn’t have the will to continue. And I shamefully admit that I walked twice – which I never do. A disappointing reality.

Well, I take that back. I did meet the 4:30 pace bunny.

‘Are you a solid 4:30?’ I asked the bunny.

‘No, I’m a bit faster.’

I took a breath. I wasn’t that slow after all. A hint of hope hung over me and the bunny. I stuck with him for the last 4 kilometres. Then another pacer came by and joined us. I was with a group again – it made all the difference. Once I felt the energy of runners beside me, and I knew the finish line was within reach, I became a runner again. I could see the red timer ahead, so I pushed past the 4:30 bunny, apologized and surged across the finish line, leaving the bunny in the dust!

Now that I relive the race, it wasn’t so bad. And not to make excuses, but – it was cold, the route was complicated – the fast runners kept passing by intimidatingly close AND I didn’t have a spinach salad with my chicken dinner the night before the race. So there!

Ok, enough self-pity. I still reached my goal and so, on to the next! Number 11!

Thinking back to the start line, a woman mentioned she had just completed the Berlin marathon – hmmm, sounds like a good new race destination to aim for.

Auf Wiedersehen.

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Forgetting to Run with my Brain in My Feet


Brain-Feet Connection

I thought I had said all I could about running – not quite.

My ninth marathon training session – you would think I’d be prepared. But it’s stunning how I can forget the simplest things.

You need your brain in your feet.

I mean that you need a clear vision of running a long distance in your head, so your feet can follow. My vision had blurred.

Last Sunday I thought I would barf and die after I finished a torturous 30 kilometres, which seemed endless.

I ran to get it over with.

Remember: envision the distance in three x 10 kms increments.

I forgot that. And …

A lousy training session makes for a great race. My theory: the more you suffer in training, the easier the race will be. (here’s hoping it still holds true)

But this week…

‘You’re so fast.’ One of the Three-Sunday-Guys says to me. He boosts my spirits. I am trying to go slow after running way too fast last week.

‘Which way do you go?’ asks a woman runner, who I pass twice.

‘Around Lost Lagoon and back.’

‘Oh, right. I saw you come around again and I hadn’t even finished one loop. I’ll never catch you.’

I didn’t think we were racing, but, again she thinks I’m running fast? It’s so subjective. I was deliberately going slower than last week – trying to take in the surroundings, less in a hurry to finish, but going faster?

Whoa – my perception of time and distance is skewed.

After this 22-kilometre run, I have found my pace (thanks partly to my fellow runners), and my mind is focused on the remaining 29 and 32-kilometre training runs before heading to the Kelowna Marathon.

But more importantly, I have finally connected my brain to my feet.

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