22nd December 2010
Day 71 - Gandia to Benidorm 81km

The days cycling was hard but ok. I am feeling so much better here in Spain, as the wind is warm and I am feeling optimistic about the next few hundred kilometres to Murcia (holiday time is coming, and what better place to spend a Christmas and new years eve than in the party country of Europe)

After clearing the coast the National road wound up into the hills, through rock-quarry territory. It seemed a little cooler than the previous days, but I guess that is to be expected, as I keep forgetting it is actually December! I often wonder what it s like for my friends who bravely choose to brave the cold winter of Munich and tread the city centre in hope that the few tourists appreciate the effort it takes to go out and entertain (or is is infotain?) (or is it Chris Taine?!) whilst the temperature is below zero and the Edelstoff even colder (ooh, no, that bits actually good)

Now... Benidorm...

I am - lets not beat about the burning bush here - a committed atheist, lets say, and so the idea of Heaven is something fairly spurious for me, quite pointless actually, however... I am pleased to announce I have discovered Hell! I honestly had no idea it actually existed! Apparently Hell is on the Costa Blanca and it is full of English middle age couples shopping in over-priced perfume shops, drinking in mock-Irish pubs, and all in the middle of winter.

It is like the British Empire lost India, lost Hong Kong, lost various different random places all over the world, paid no compensation to the millions of lives it destroyed and countries it plundered for the good of royalty and country, and then got (belatedly) lucky with the Spanish Armada... In this city (wikipedia has reliably informed me) are the most skyscrapers per capita anywhere in the world. It is nuts!!! My hotel is one of the embarrassingly short ones (I am on the 10th floor) where as most go above 20 stories, and some go up and above 50! We are talking Manhattan style hi-risers, all confined into a tiny area with a beach or two.

I must admit that I am writing this whilst sat in one of those mock-Irish wooden panelled, Heineken emblazoned, walkers and monster-munch wielding pubs right on the beach, but I was quite happily being the only one in here for about an hour, until an English couple (whom I can only describe as cringingly cheesey) walked in, and the husband ordered in what can only be described as an incredibly patronising way "alright love, can i 'ave a pint a' Guinness, and  somefing for me wife, who is round 'ere somewhere?" with zero effort to even think of asking the lady behind the bar if she speaks English - she was actually fairly capable in quite a few different European languages from what I could make out. I am certainly not the most language-savvi Englishman on the planet (!), but the least I can do whilst in Spain is to learn a few basic phrases... Por favor, gracias, hablas inglés? and a few other useful things such as crees en el amor a primera vista o me tengo que acercar otra vez?

There are now a couple of couple's here in the bar, and they all look thoroughly miserable. What is the point of going on holiday to sunny Spain if you are only going to sit in a bar, not say a word to each other and (by the look of things) wish you were back in Blighty...

I really feel like going up to some of them and telling them about my ideas about the British lack of vergangenheitsbewältigung and see if that at least provokes a response. Anyway, I am hoping tomorrow will be a little more relaxed. It is only about 40km to Alicante, so I will spend the morning taking some photos of this monstrosity of the British Imperialism and then make a gentle gander down the coast.

23rd December 2010
Day 72 - Benidorm to Alicante 44km

As todays trip was much shorter than usual I decided to relax a little in the morning, and took breakfast in the hotel. As my hotel is full of British people the hotel was serving a full English breakfast buffet! Baked beans and everything! (well, if you cant beat them, join them! my excuse anyway ;-) I tucked into some great food and noticed the guy from the bar last night was sitting a few metres away from me. He seemed to recognise me, but I refrained from conversation...

The cycling however was not as enjoyable as the breakfast. On google maps it looked fairly ok, but on the road it was something very different. Steep short hills for most of the journey reduced my speed enormously. I thought it would have taken me just over 2 hours to make the journey but took about 3 and a half hours. It was pretty hard going but I finally got into Alicante and found my hotel. I took a little walk around the city centre (which is dominated by a castle sat on top of an enormous rock) but spent the evening relaxing in the hotel room.

24th December 2010
Day 73 - Alicante to Murcia 82km

I left the hotel a little late, and later wished I hadn't. Although the skies were fairly clear and the sun was shining a strong wind was blowing against me for half of the journey. I hadn't had a really windy day for a while, and had forgotten how it can destroy your morale, especially at the start of a day. The first 40km were just a constant battle, and I was averaging just 10km per hour. There were many slow rolling hills to climb, most probably no more than 10 metres, but with the wind against me they just added to the misery!

The National road I was cycling on passed through a few larger towns which at least helped shield the wind a little, and I lost both hats at one point (I wear a baseball cap to shade my eyes from the sun - I am always going south! - and a woollen hat over the top to keep warm) when a really strong gust knocked me off the bike and my hats rolled off down the street...

Finally the road took a 45 degree turn (to my benefit with the wind) and passed over some smaller mountains. The final 40km were still against the wind, but on completely flat ground. The highlight was definitely the two very angry dogs that chased me about half a kilometre down the road. I used up my last remaining energy desperately pedaling as fast as I could to avoid the Alsatian's teeth. I have had this scenario a few times since Valencia, as the farmers use dogs to guard their orange groves, but unfortunately for me they don't keep them on a leash.

As I approached the outskirts of Murcia I knew I was in a fairly religious town. An enormous rock appeared with an imposing statue of Jesus on the top. It must be strange for the people in the surrounding area, constantly being spied on by a 10 metre high, stone fictional figure. Apparently Catholicism is on the downhill here in Spain, and the church rapidly losing its influence. Reminds me of that quote - I believe it was Benjamin Franklin that said "Lighthouses are more useful than Churches."

Well, roll on Christmas day! Tomorrow I will be picked up by my great friend and fellow tour guide Cristina and taken a bit further inland to the town of Caravaca de la Cruz, to spend a week or so having a holiday. I hope to ask some of her friends about their education on Franco. I am reading the book I bought in Barcelona about the Spanish Civil War and Franco's subsequent dictatorship. From what I can gather (not just from the book but from my own observations) Spain is very different from Germany, in the aspect of vergangenheitsbewältigung, its ability to deal with its past. In my opinion Germany leads the way in coming to terms with its past, using good, open education to discuss and debate the darker parts of its recent history. Spain, however, seems to have built up the concept of "lets just pretend it all didn't happen" and brushes its history under the carpet. Mass graves are still being discovered all over the country, its inhabitants victims from both sides of the conflict which would eventually see Franco's forces - with their Catholic inspired ideologies - sweep across Spain.

I feel the need to find out more...

25th December 2010
Day 74 - Murcia to Caravaca De La Cruz (70km by car)

Cristina picked up me, the bike and all the bags up in her parents van and we raced through the rocky landscape further up into the hills, to the town of Caravaca de la Cruz. Caravaca, the fifth holy city of Catholic Christianity sits 800 metres above sea level and along with the other four cities (Rome, Jerusalem, Santiago de Compostela and Camaleño) is a Pilgrimage destination for many Catholics.

Christmas day dinner was at a great restaurant about 50km from Caravaca, with a big meal with many of Cristina's family. The wine was excellent, food amazing and I had a really good day. It was especially nice not to be on the bike

26th December 2010
Day 75 - Caravaca

The morning was spent savouring the amazing smells coming from the kitchen as Cristina's mother prepared another big family feast. I lost count of how much food I ate... Giant beef steaks, an amazing vegetable lasagna with ham (it is Spain!), some little meat balls in a kind of soup, and a lot of wine, beer and dark rum.

When I finally thought I could not possible consume any more food, it was time to go out to take a few beers and eat Tapas! All was well until I had a phone call from il mio grande amico in Bologna. Maurizio has been in an accident in is in hospital with a shattered leg. I am going to visit him as soon as possible after I am back in Munich. GET WELL MAURIIIIIIIIIIII!!!!!!!!!

27th December 2010
Day 76 - Caravaca

A day of relaxation in front of the computer. I am trying to get up to date with the website. My blogs need uploading and photo's edited and added to them; the front page always needs the km counter updated; the photo gallery page has been nonexistent since Berlin, and I am nearly ready to start adding all the new galleries in a newly designed page that will make it a lot easier to upload to; and answering emails, text messages etc...

Lunch was Christmas left-overs, and was tasty as hell. In the evening we went out to get our tickets for a monster New Years Eve Party (or New York's Eve as Cristina calls it ;-) here in Caravaca. Apparently the 31st will be a family dinner until 1:30am, then the night club until at least 8am, and then going to eat Churros dipped in chocolate before finally heading to bed - at 9 or 10 in the morning... Sounds like a party!!!

28th December 2010
Day 77 - Caravaca

The morning was spent editing photos (as per normal - I have about 3000 to sort through) and drinking tea (you can't knock a cup of tea!)

After lunch, me, Cristina, her brother and many cousins (she has a lot of cousins!!! and they all seem to live in the same town?!) queued up in a long line with many other families to get into the town hall. The reason - Spain are the Campeones del Mundo! It turns out that the winning team in the world cup gets a gold plated replica to keep, and therefore gets to parade it around the country, a sort of "trophy on tour". I waited my turn and Cristina's brother took this photo of me!

Then it was time for a quick cup of tea in a really nice hidden coffee shop/bar, before heading off to the "Party Museum" as Cristina calls it - a museum dedicated to the enormous festival that takes place in Caravaca every May for 5 days.

During the Fiestas de la Santísima Vera Cruz, thousands of people parade through the town wearing incredibly detailed costumes depicted the times of both the  Christian invasions and the Moors. Cristina is part of one of the many teams that take part in several competitions involving horses. The people spend a whole year embroidering incredibly elaborate costumes for the horses to wear, with a prize for the best one. The museum had some of the previous winners horse costumes on display, and the detail is mind boggling!

There is also a competition for the most attractive/best looking horse without its clothes on (I really can't explain that in any other way) but the one that seems to be most popular is the horse race. Each horse races over a short distance along the streets of the city (lasting only just under 10 seconds) with four runners accompanying it.

Cristina is one of the few people that gets the honour of dressing the horse from her group on the morning of the fiesta. Her team is called Aspirante, and has about 300 members.

She told me that it might be possible to meet some of the other people involved, to meet the runners from her team and to see the embroidered cloth as it is being made. It is a really nice insight into what Spanish culture is about now, as I have been reading solely about its darker past.

29th December 2010
Day 78 - Caravaca

This morning we made the long drive back to Murcia, so Cristina could do a little Christmas shopping - in Spain they celebrate and give presents on the 6th of January, and not the 25th of December. We also went out to the Decathlon store, a massive super cheap warehouse shop for sports stuff. I used to shop at the one in Bologna a lot when I lived there, but sadly there isn't one in Munich. I picked up a new pair of tracksuit trousers to cycle in and a new gel cover for the bike seat. After over 3000km across Europe and last years 6 days Alpine crossing there wasn't much left of the old one.

After returning to Caravaca, and eating some awesome lunch cooked by Cristina's master chef mother we went round to see some friends of Cristina's for a very special visit.

Although yesterday I got to see last years winning horse costume in the Museum, today I had a unique look at some of the people currently making the costume for next May's festivities - made by Cristina's team.

In a little backstreet, literally under the castle, two young guys in tracksuits were busy embroidering on the tiny gold embellishments for one of the cloths. These two lads are normally the guys who actually do the running with the horse for team Aspirante, but during the year they also take part in the other aspects of preparation

The drawings are initially put onto paper, and the resulting patterns hand embroidered onto the cloth, which is wrapped up on 2 tubes. The final touches (they tiny gold ornaments and sparkly sequins are added at the end. It is hard to describe exactly the detail in these pictures, but you will just have to believe me when I say it takes a LOT of patience and time!

I then went to see Cristina ride at a local riding school where she has been going for about 10 years. As she has been there for so long the owners put her in charge of testing out the new horses, and this evening she got to ride a beautiful (but young and extremely energetic) horse.

Now, I will be honest, horses generally scare the hell out of me (big things that do what they want to do when they want to do it) so when she asked me if I wanted a go I initially made every excuse possible. At the end of the evening though, she mentioned that maybe we could come back in the morning and I could ride the easiest horse they have there, and old grey speckled one. So... I guess we shall see then! I have never ridden a horse before, and up till now had never intended to...

Dinner was at a tapas bar in the middle of a little town far outside of Caravaca, and I was reliably told it was a proper "local Spanish bar." The food was great, the beer flowing and the conversation in Spanish (I didn't do much talking) and was followed by hot chocolate and Pampero Anniversario Rum back at a bar in Caravaca.



30th December 2010
Day 79 - Caravaca

Well, what can I say. This morning I braved my long time fear of horses and got on one.  And then rode it around in circles for about half an hour! Cristina took me back to the riding school she works at and after she had "warmed" the horse up a bit (apparently that's what you have to do) I climbed/clambered/threw myself onto the back of this enormous dalmatian coloured thing (apparently it wasn't a big one, but seemed like that to me) and managed to get it moving, turning, starting, stopping, and even into a jog for a few seconds before my nerves would kick in!

It was an amazing experience that I cannot believe I have never tried before. I do however have the funny feeling the horse was just doing what it has always done and I had no control whatsoever, but the illusion was there that I was somehow guiding it around the place. I really want to try that again someday. Maybe a www.marcinonahorse.com is not out of the question?

31st December 2010
Day 80 - Caravaca

New Years Eve!!! The last day of the decade. Today was spent reading about Franco and the effect he had on the growth of Benidorm (really) editing photo's as per the usual, and thinking about the last 10 years.

After lunch we drove out to a really interesting museum that sadly photography was not permitted inside. It was a museum of ethnic musical instruments from all across the world, and they even had a few things that Deri hasn't got yet (and I hadn't played yet!) (just give it time ;-)

From a Gamelan Orchestra in the middle, to pipes, percussion, wind, water and heat operated instruments (think candles, the heat rises, turns windmill blades, playing notes...) and everything from the Sudan to Chile, from Scotland (bagpipes not billy connolly singing and playing a banjo) to Asia and beyond. A really interesting place, literally in the middle of nowhere! Well, a small village about 15-20km outside Caravaca and high up in the hills. All the instruments were donated by one man, Carlos Blanco Fadol, who seems to be an expert on everything in there. See http://www.museomusicaetnica.com for more details...

This trip has helped me realise that contrary to what I have sometimes thought, I seem to have accomplished quite a lot in the last decade; on this day in the year 1999 I was living in Cardiff; I was in the middle of a 5 year relationship (with all its ups and downs, but definitely helped shape me as a person in a very positive way); was busy teaching, composing, producing and playing music with a whole plethora of wonderful people, and was only 3 years out of university.

Since then I have travelled all over the place as a musician - from all across Europe to South America; recorded numerous albums and played with so many wonderful friends/musicians  - from Gareth Roberts/Jones' and O'Connors to the eloquent bastard and top shelf hero Frederick Snow, from Phantom Beats, Mr Wilson, Dave Stapleton, Martin Carr, Li Harding, all the awesome musicians of the Welsh Jazz Composers Orchestra and so many more... ; made the biggest decision of my life giving up teaching and moving to Italy for two years just to play music with 3 extraordinary people - Tolga, Jowan and Pablo Millas - and where I have made some amazing friends (mauriiiiii!!! daniela, orfeo, maddi, esther, pollo & the minor swingers and many more!); made the second biggest decision of my life by moving to Munich and deciding to give up music for a few years, in a fairly successful attempt to discover other things in life; spent two years working as a tour guide specialising in the history from 1914 to 1945; getting the unique opportunity to show and discuss on a daily basis - and with people from all over the world, and from all walks of life - some of the darkest (and in some cases brightest) aspects of human behaviour and history at the Dachau Gedenkstätte; been through and out of a fairly turbulent but definitely interesting 2 year relationship; have cycled over the alps on a mountain bike alone from Germany to Italy; have made some equally extraordinary friends in Munich and all the fun, warm, entertaining and sometimes rather wonderfully complicated tour guides that are so much more than friends or workmates; and I'm now in the midst of this epic voyage of discovery on a bike.

It has made me wonder what the next year, or even the next decade will bring? I really cannot avoid music much longer. It is something that I now feel the need to move back into a little. However, I have no wish to ever make the music world my full time job again. The fine balance between doing something you love because you love it, and doing something you love doing because the rent needs to be paid is a hard one to make. I want to continue with the tour guiding - and of course finding other experiences and jobs in life - but to have the time and space to write and play music (and only the music that I want and enjoy to play - the life of a professional musician is often absolutely nothing like most people imagine) and enjoy what life brings along the way...

Roll on 2011. Roll on the last 800km to Morocco. Roll on finishing this enormous project (this is only the start! I have a documentary to write and edit when I get back, and quite fancy a trip to Auschwitz and Bosnia to add to the chaos) and roll on whatever will come my way.