December 2006 Archives

Pictures from our week in Gran Canaria are at my flickr account

Well it took a long time but I had my first day at work today. It seems like an age since I finished work in Sydney, in reality it's only been 6 months.

The first day was relatively uneventful, although I did spend some time wandering around the industrial business park trying to find my new workplace.

Being that strangely special short week sandwiched between holidays, it was very quiet - not that many people around. I tried to get straight to work. Was slowed down by the typical first day problems, their HR system hadn't processed me yet, so I had no Company ID, nor computer accounts.

Was expecting to be thrown a stack of documentation and to spend the whole first week reading. In reality the stack came out mid-afternoon, but it was familiar material, with the differences being really company specific, hopefully this will be a great job. Can't set my expectations too high yet though.

12:00AM Astrid went to sleep, 12:50AM I finished packing and went to sleep, 3:05 AM awake, 3:35 on bus that seemed to travel all over the island before finally depositing us at the airport.

5:30ish at airport, checkin computers problematic, so we kept on having to move counters, the line became a mass of disorganised and confused passengers. Check-in eventually, head through security where they tell us we must bin all our alcohol - as it can only be bought inside the airport now. Supposedly for security reasons, I pointed out ours all were sealed, plus they had a second paper seal on top.

We were offered only a choice of throwing it all away. I pointed out that some, like the limoncello we had bout at the lovely cafe in Arguinnegan could not be bought in the airport duty free stores. Thankfully an English traveller who spoke fluent Spanish and lived in Gran Canaria negotiated a better solution, that I would go back to check-in and try and wrap well, then check in the alcohol. That was accepted - so I returned to check-in and had a pretty rude reaction from the tour operators we booked through. I was hoping the might be able to negotiate me quickly bypass the line and check in this bag. No such luck. So i sat patiently waiting in line again, with Astrid stuck on the safe side of security. Again the computers had problems and the counter moved, but this time opportunistic Norwegians taking a later flight elsewhere in Norway caused confusion by creating a parallel line. This forced the check in lady to ask every passenger where they were going, as by now she had to prioritise Stavanger passengers cause their check-in should probably have already closed. Eventually I got my hastily packed bag of grog checked in with a fragile sticker that usually means - throw me around - to the baggage handling staff. We can only hope some of it survives the flight. Will find out soon, as I'm writing this on the plane.

Amazingly the baggage handler god smiled on us today, and not a thing was broken. We pushed the alcohol limit to the max (we were 50 mls over on the spirits and 100mls under on the wine), taking careful note that most liqueurs fell into the "wine" bracket, leaving us a whole litre of hard spirits allowance to spend as well.

[Rant #1]
Also, this whole new regulations on liquids is just the aviation authorities dangling a carrot at the duty free airport shops. There is no real way to detect if these liquids are dangerous, at least nothing that is deployed at any airport yet. The money, effort and hassle would be better spent improving training and screening processes for passengers rather than making everyone be treated like a potential terrorist over something they can't even detect.

Overly conservative Christians take note, this is what the absence of affordable alcohol and a lack of solid upbringing in responsible drinking creates - effectively a binge drinking culture, where people go on holidays and simply don't know how to control their alcohol then get made to feel like drug smugglers on the return home as they try and sneak more than they should past customs.

Our car based adventures had come to a close, it was time to return the very nice and easy to drive vehicle. Only one dilemma remained, how to find the petrol station.

I wandered downstairs to ask the guy at reception, as we also needed to find out the details of our very early departure the next morning. He was helpful and in the end gave accurate description, but was just a bit too vague on the distances involved.

So we ended up driving around Puerto Rico for 20 minutes trying to find the one and only petrol station. That was supposedly just behind (on top)? of the shopping centre. Problem is, there were two shopping centres in town. We tried one, couldn't find anything and decided to try the one on top of the hill, which also presented no petrol station. I asked at the pharmacy and found we were on the right track before, but we had given up too early. Turns out the town continued further into the valley than we thought and we had given up maybe 500 metres from the petrol station.

Car fed, we dropped it off, and had a very ordinary coffee before heading for the beach.

I swam, and then popped off to get my hair cut, whilst Astrid stayed relaxing on the beach. When I got back, the sun had come out and there were people everywhere not a lot of space left around.

Astrid also had a hair appointment a bit later in the day, so we eventually packed up and Astrid headed to the hairdresser while I sat at a nearby pub and had a quiet beer, enjoying what was probably the sunniest afternoon of the entire week.

Eventually Astrid was done, we had some sangria and enjoyed the rest of the sun. Once the sun had set, I showed Astrid how to use her new iPod and then decided to have one last swim, this time in the holiday resort's pool. With no sun, the temperature drops quickly, and it wasn't so warm in the pool

Drying off, Astrid and I set about frantically packing - eventually it was just me still packing, Astrid had gone to bed exhausted. I finally lay down for about an hour and a half's rest - before it was time to get up again.

With a final full day's access to the car, we intended to do some serious driving and see a lot of the small Island, I was keen to go inland and checkout the mountains. Astrid was the driver though and I had to go with her decision, which was to stay on easier driving roads.

We decided to start our day again in the same cafe as the previous day in Arguineguin. This was lovely, and we had a recommendation to check out Meloneres, a beach near Maspalomas. Finding the beach was not so easy, but we found it eventually, essentially a cleaner, nicer version of Maspalomas, complete with a newly built shopping complex. Astrid had what she described as the best food she'd had in quite a long time, in the form of a local fish - Sama. Plus we both got to try a local speciality - Canarian Potatoes finally.

We also found the first honest electronics dealer in the whole Island. Where I helped Astrid bought herself new iPod. This came after having other places pass off Chinese fake iPods as real, or last years model for this years price. In one particular place, I asked the guy standing outside for the shop's iPod prices - the response was very good, below cost price. So I asked to see the items in question, and was offered fakes - with all sincerity about them being real. By this point after having had this tried on me a few times I decided to prove a point, and said loudly, that's a fake, I asked for prices on genuine iPods, can I see a real iPod? Suddenly the guy was flustered and scrabbled around before producing a real one. But the price had suddenly doubled. Astrid and I told them off and stormed out of the shop.

Another dodgey deal, we were told about but did not see - really was a dodgey deal on top of a dodgey deal. This involved not only passing off chinese iPod clones as real, but aslo changing the stickers on the boxes to indicate the capacity was significantly higher than it really was. You can't easily do this with a real iPod as the capacity is engraved on the back.

This all took it's time - and our plans for driving further east to Las Palmas that day were quashed.

Instead we decided to drive up along a valley into the hinterland behind Playa de Ingles, this was beautiful - and we got to see some scenic views outside the town of Fataga before the sun set.

Astrid was keen to check out a restaurant in Arguineguin which was written up in a brochure we picked up from the tour operator - called Los Canarios, we had a lot of trouble finding it, as we soon discovered the town was a lot bigger than we expected. Due to my mis-interpretation of the crappy map we had, we ended up in weird looking area with newly constructed houses and not much in the way of greenery. Astrid was very hungry, so I approached a local mother taking her toddler for a walk and asked for help, she didn't speak much English, but told me to wait while she got someone else to help me, a while later a younger woman came out and tried to explain, but still the language was a barrier, suddenly she said, let me come with you I'll show you the way. So we had a backseat navigator to point us to the right place. Didn't take us long to get there, and I was about to offer the lovely lady some money to say thanks for the help. But she just walked off in the direction we came, with a cheery goodbye.

Getting to the restaurant, not surprisingly we discovered it full of Norwegians, despite the attempts I'd made to get us there, Astrid had a change of heart and didn't want to stay. I had noticed another separate restaurant downstairs, with an Italian name - I suggested we check that out and Astrid concurred, admittedly it wasn't authentic Canarian food like upstairs, but the prices were much more reasonable and the quality was fantastic, light well balanced and above all exceptionally fresh. Very satisfied, we headed home, our only lament that we didn't get any swimming in our jam packed day.

After heading west the previous day, we headed east to check out a cafe that served Illy coffe in Arguinnegan, a nearby coastal town that managed to strike a better balance between fishing village and tourist resort than Puerto Rico. This is in part due to the beach in town being downright average. So the development is instead along the coast from Arguinnegan towards Puerto Rico.

The cafe was a bit tricky to find, but well worth it, best coffee I've had since leaving Sydney and more of a haunt for locals, despite it's beautiful open modern decor. The place was run by a gorgeous young couple who had a toddler who was at that age where he seemed to be in five places at once and always with an expensive fragile item in hand about to drop, break or damage.

After this, we had a short drive to the outskirts of the big tourist town on the south coast, Playa de Ingles/Maspalomas, this hybrid town has two personalities - the young and party all night - Playa de Ingles, with it's hedonistic nightlife attracting a high proportion of gays as well as younger straight types looking for a constant party atmosphere.

Maspalomas by contrast is quiet and family orientated.

Both share a common tourism fuelled urban sprawl with streets named after tour companies (yes really) huge ugly resort complexes and bigger shopping centres, filled with the same junk, rip-offs as the smaller ones in Puerto Rico.

However the real beauty that started this ugly tourism fuelled monstrosity is the beach, or more accurately the sand dunes, with sand blown from the Sahara, it was an amazing feeling walking into the large natural reserve that is the dunes. If you found the right spot, you could almost believe you were in a desert. However the illusion is destroyed when you round a dune and find a lobster red nudist frying their skin some more. There were supposed to be expensive but worth it camel rides - but try as we did, they were nowhere to be found.

With regards to the shopping centres, we spent most of an afternoon wandering around Yumbo, supposedly the largest in the town, with 4 or 6 floors depending on which guidebook you read. We found a half decent electronics shop where I bought myself a new phone, last years model at a reasonably price. to replace my still functional but nearly dead current mobile. Astrid also bought a new pair of sports shoes.

After the shopping, we drove back to Puerto Rico, where I made a lovely salad and we sat outside drinking wine and relaxing the evening away.

Today we picked up our hire car and went for a short drive west, trying to head away from the over the top tourism of Puerto Rico where we are staying.

We drove past Playa de Amadores, which we had explored on foot yesterday and continued driving, enjoying the scenery of the coastal road. After a short drive we came to Playa de Morgán and I suggested we stop and check it out. Described in the guide book as the Venice of the Canary Islands, I could see where they get the comparison from but it was really nothing like it at all.

Like most of the coastal towns in the southern tourist strip, Playa de Morgán was originally a small fishing village, however unlike all the other towns, the development has been less horrific.

The very safe and tamed beach is straddled by a smart and pleasant boulevard lined with restaurants topped by modest apartments. Aside from this, the town still retains a lot of it's older existing charm and narrow twisty streets. The rest of the development is further back from the beach and town area, accessed via a wide paved avenue that leads past some existing resort style accommodation to a half built shopping complex to the left and to the right the beginnings of the 4-5 storey wreck-the-cliff-face style developments that in other areas located in significantly more destructive beach-side environs.

I'd hope that this kind of over development wouldn't happen at all, but at least here it seems like they have compromised to err a bit more on the environmental side. However the impact will be gauged once this megaplex is full of crazy northern Europeans in a year or two when the construction is finished.

We found the shopping, food and general feel of the place much more agreeable than that of Puerto Rico. Had the best coffee I've had in months (Illy) and bought a cheap pair of sunglasses, new pair of shoes and a belt. Astrid looked at many bags, but only bought one, a miracle!

After this we drove inland to Morgán, past a series of small farming villages that grew tropical fruits like Avocado and Mango. In Morgán we found even more Eucalypts and it felt like a cross between Spain and inland Queensland. It was very picturesque but there wasn't really that much to do there, so we soaked in the atmosphere and started our return drive.

Once back, we popped open a $3 bottle of bubbly which was half decent, had a glass or two then went out for Indian food at the same place we had tried on the first day here. All in all a lovely day.

Getting out and about reasonably early, we found the weather not so sunny, but headed for the beach anyway. Spent quite a while sitting on the beach relaxing, reading the paper, writing postcards and enjoying the warm weather.

We swam as well, both of us swimming out to the bouys which marked the edge of the beach and the beginning of the boat harbour.

I got a text message from one of Astrid's co-workers (who we had run into whilst waiting for our bags at the airport), she had taken a "mystery hotel" and ended up staying in a nearby town (Arguinnegan) and had taken the bus to Puerto Rico for the day, so she was trying to catch up with us. It turned out she was about 150 metres away on the beach! These Norwegians were everywhere!

After the beach, we went for a lovely walk along the coastline westwards, to the next beach, Playa de Amadores, an even safer, very fake looking beach with a much more modern promenade. It was depressing to see such a pretty valley in the process of being despoiled by 5 storey monstrosities which were only at the beginning stages of construction, one will hope they will look a bit more integrated when they are fully built. However the architectural mess we saw represented in a cliffside hotel towering above us on our coastline walk didn't indicate a lot of hope for these new developments.

Astrid was keen to check out another shopping centre which was located on the crest of the hill between Amadores and Puerto Rico, I was also interested, but knew it was a steep walk on foot. In the end it didn't take too long, but we were pretty worn out when we got there. What we found was a nearly empty shopping centre (maybe due to Siesta) smaller, but with better quality than the one we'd looked at the previous day. We did a bit of shopping (mostly of the food kind), had a drink at an Irish themed pub and then caught a very cheap taxi back (as we were too tired to walk anymore).

I made a ripper salad, and we drank a cheap rosé wine, had a nice quiet night in, relaxing on the balcony.

Day 1 - Puerto Rico

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Astrid was still tired from the plane journey and the crazy bus drive from the previous night, so she slept in, I decided to go for a walk - get some fresh air and orientate myself. Found the beach and proceeded to take pictures of crabs and the general vista. Then I wandered a bit more ignoring all the hawkers selling overpriced boat trips and fake brand electronics.

Noticed many of the signs for restaurants were in Scandic (often Norwegian), we later discovered this was a good indicator to stay away from the restaurant!

Found a supermarket chain that is common in Norway and was not surprised to find almost as many Norsk products as there were local/Spanish. But the veges were good so I brought some, then wandered back to the holiday unit where Astrid had finally surfaced. Made a nice, simple salad and then we wandered out again to swim and enjoy the now quite warm day.

After swimming, we decided to take the risk on a beachside place with norsk menus, bad bad mistake. The Norwegians are happy to eat warmed up wet cardboard if there is a bottle of ketchup on the table to drown it with. The food was cheap, flavourless and plain. I bet you would hear other Norwegians talking about how they ate on the beach for next to nothing.

Full, but definitely not satisfied, we wandered to the town's biggest shopping centre, which also reminded me of Turkey, very open, with a mixture of knockoff/fake electronics & fashion as well as many restaurants, the odd supermarket and lots of theme bars, pubs and nightclubs.

Astrid perused many bags, shoes and other fashions, whilst I tried to find something in the electronic shops that was either not fake, or if legit, was actually a current model. We were constantly harassed with queries from eager salesmen asking where we were from, Astrid toyed with pretending to be British, Aussie or even French, but the salesmen were not convinced, in fact many correctly guessed she was Norsk, I guess from the way she looked (and maybe dressed) as well as that being the easy guess considering the proportion of Scandic tourists at this time of year.

We spotted a "Stavanger Shop" and had a good laugh, probably should even have taken a photo, it should be funny, but considering that we spotted an Oslo shop elsewhere a few days later, it's actually kind of sad.

Astrid bought a a handbag and purse, whilst I picked up some hopefully not god-awful absinthe. The shopping bug sated for the day we headed home to change, before heading back out on the quest for a decent meal.

We'd seen an Indian restaurant not far from where we were staying and had decided to check this out. As a vego, it's been my experience that Indian offers the most reliable quality when travelling in a foreign country. I'm keen to savour the local dishes, as long as they are clearly lacking in meatines, which unfortunately in Spain is often a problem, as pig seems to be considered not real meat in their cooking. Plus egg comes on things you ask for as vego, I was even offered tuna when I said I didn't want egg on the salad. They just can't contemplate a vegan meal.

The Indian food was great, not as good as the best Indian I have had in Sydney, but quality British style Indian fare. We had a very pregnant cat for company during the meal, later the waiters told us the cat was a regular! On the way back, we toyed with idea of joining some drunk Scandinavians at a karaoke bar, but ended up having a lovely quiet drink at a nearby British sports bar and watching the Norwegians do quite badly at the strange sport that is Ski Shooting on the bar's TV.

Well it didn't start out so well, we had had tried to be organised, Astrid and I had our bags mostly packed the evening before. In the morning we fussed around making last minute changes to the packing and I spent a lot of time on the net, as dad had a bit of a computer emergency (Murphy's luck, the worst possible time for me, really, oh well!)

Astrid had arranged for her parents to pick us up and drive us to the airport, however we read the wrong time on the itinerary and it was only once we were in the car and on our way to the airport that we realised our mistake, we had about 10 minutes to spare before check-in closed for our flight, rather than the leisurely hour and a bit we had originally planned for. Luckily it was a quiet time at Sola airport and we were prepared, the check in took one or two minutes, no lines or anything. The lining up all happened at the security section where Norway has just recently caught onto the ridiculous liquids in hand luggage rules that the rest of Europe instigated a few months back. It really wasn't too bad though.

Eventually we were on the plane, and sitting across from a somewhat well known local blues singer Reidar Larsen who was heading south with his extended family to spend Christmas in the Canaries.

To while away the 5.5 hours, I watched some episodes of a new British drama that my friend Timm had recommended I check out - Life on Mars, it was great - and I think I need to show it to Dad at some point.

Charter flights are always a bit odd, and very stingy - you had to pay for your drinks/alcohol - plus they had an announcement at the beginning saying that you couldn't consume alcohol you had brought yourself, talk about maintaining a monopoly! Maybe it's just to prevent the Norwegians from over indulging, as they are want to do - due to their ridiculously restrictive access to alcohol in Norway.

At least they got my vegetarian meal right, but it was salty yet plain and all the portions were small. By the time we got off the plane we were both starving!

Once we got our luggage, I started to realise the scale of this package holiday industry, it reminded me of Turkey or Bangkok really, with locals and tour operators vying for the attention of masses of disorientated recent arrivals.

There was a literally a herd of buses, 15 or so parked adjacent to each "number" - we had been told to head for number "2", so we then had the challenge of finding which bus at this number was actually ours. It was a relief when the same tour operator who had pointed us towards 2 hopped on our bus and started talking in Swedish tinged Norwegian.

Forty minutes later, and probably three times as many tight turns and bends, we finally arrived at our accommodation, the last stop for the bus. Astrid doesn't cope well with being a passenger on anything but the straightest road, so she was looking pretty queasy from the journey.

By the time we had checked in at the holiday unit, I'd started to get some inkling of the Scandic influence in the tourism of this area, we had seen references to Scandic bars and a Norwegian Seaman's Church on our bus trip. At checkin, the guy was surprised to discover I was Australian, I soon realised this was because I was the only non-norwegian in the entire complex!

We were both starving as well, so we stumbled to the local shopping area and sat down to a pretty average meal, with some lovely sangria. Saw plenty of concessions to the Scandic tourists, like menus in Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Finnish as well as the standard Spanish, German and English.

Sated, we wandered back up the hill and into bed.

Whilst everyone is rushing around getting Christmas presents, often I am thinking about the best music of the year, what I've anticipated, stuff that came as a surprise and what ends up with the highest play count.

This year however, I'm a bit worried. For many years I have watched others settle into a musical groove and stay nestled comfortably in it. For many this happens not long after the teen years become a rapidly fading memory. People get nostalgic for what they loved as a teen, this is increasingly targeted as a market by the record companies who have been reducing the trend, lull, nostalgia cycle to take advantage of the cashed up twenty somethings who can be relied on to re-buy content repeatedly at marked up prices.

Until now, that hasn't been me, I've prided myself on continually expanding my musical tastes across a variety of genres and styles whilst keeping at a core the teen love of metal (but not particularly a nostalgic love for the metal I liked as a teen) by delving deeper and deeper into the darkest corners of metal.

This year however I've noticed my absorption of metal related content is way down on average. This has happened before, in the late 90s I branched from atmospheric metal to trip hop and wandered down that relatively dead end path for a while, finding a few gems - but not staying long enough to be completely seduced into crossing over to the vapid jazz/electronic/easy listening mishmash that this genre became.

However, this year, I took a deep u turn and explored a lot of 60' and 70s Reggae/Ska/Roots - which is worlds apart from metal. It's not like I suddenly discovered Jah, I've been listening to Reggae for years, but this year found the opportunity (via the Stavanger library) to really give the genre a much deeper dig.

This doesn't worry me too much, I like to explore and extend my musical tastes. In addition to the Reggae, I've been exploring the Norwegian fusion point of jazz and improvised/electronic music. Mostly this has centered around the RUne Grammafone label.

What worries me is that for my best of list, I can really only honestly select from about 3 or so metal albums that I've thoroughly enjoyed and that all of them are bands I already am a big fan of.

I've not discovered much that's outstanding and new (or new to me) in metal this year. Yes there's been lots of new bands - but I've just not found the energy to really give them a solid listen.

This is where I wonder if I need a shake up to try and keep myself from falling into a rut (at least metal wise)

So enough ranting, the question is will I publish a list, if it's going to consist solely of a handful of predictable titles/artists?

Is it really that much of a problem that my tastes have uncovered a now stable selection of artists who are still consistently putting out challenging, excellent albums that demand a lot of time and attention to fully enjoy and appreciate?

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