Say Hello To My Little Friend

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Ladies and Gentlemen, I am delighted to introduce you to Alejandro Jorge Pedro Maria Elbúho, a humble Menorcan owl, who has wisely devoted his life to hunting adventures.  I know what you are thinking, it rhymes with hot da duck.

We met Alejandro in Menorca where we holidayed last summer.  The moment we saw him on a market stall we were immediately dazzled by his awesomeness.  The first thing was how handsome he looked, hanging from a peg and swaying in the breeze.  We were immediately struck by a wave of inspiration.  The inspiration came from ‘Up In The Air’ literally.  The hollywood film of course.  One of the subplots involves George Clooney travelling around America with a cardboard cutout of his sister and her husband, taking the honeymoon snaps they could never afford.  With that in mind we decided that for the remainder of our holiday we would take pictures of Alejandro everywhere we went.  We were quite unsure why, and most certainly concerned that we had both perhaps lost our minds.  Simply put, we had a vague idea that we would use the photos for some kind of travel blog.

After experimenting with different blogging sites we settled on a layout on posterous.  Where for sometime we quite regularly added pictures along with short explanations of Alejandro’s story in ‘Owlglish’.  We also created a Facebook group for him.  Initially we wanted to see if the power of the internet would turn Alejandro into a celebrity.  However for reasons we could never figure, it didn’t.  As our complete failure came home us, we slowly lost interest in the project and stopped updating his blog.  We simply left him hanging on the coat rack of failure, waiting for a better day.

Recently we have decided to reactivate his blog.  And to publicise him too.  As we feel he is just too damned awesome to be forgotten.  We still have a stockpile of photos from Menorca and a few other places and it seems a shame to waste them.  So Alejandro is back and as he would say ‘ready for big adventure’.

Alejandro Jorge Pedro Maria Elbúho’s travel blog on Posterous

Alejandro Jorge Pedro Maria Elbúho’s fanpage on Facebook

Le Courage Et La Baguette

True courage is easily quantifiable.  It is measurable.  It is a valuable method by which we can judge ourselves.  Recently, I discovered something about courage in the most unlikely of places…. France.

It was with great trepidation that I made my way by planes, trains and automobiles to the city of Nantes.  My head was full of confused prejudices.  It was as if I remembered that I wasn’t supposed to like France, but was unable to put my finger on exactly why.  Stereotypes aside, I had absolutely no idea what I was letting myself in for.  Nantes.  Nantes.  In my English accent it sounds like the plural for a group of nuns.  A Pride of Lions and a Nantes of Nuns.

The Elephants are rising up…

Imagine my delight when I discovered that Nantes is not actually a group of nuns, but a rather enchanting city.  Nantes boasts a magnificent gothic cathedral (from the outside at least) with a collection of gargoyles which look like photographs of my family, two rivers, an incredible mechanical elephant and a charming old town which gives Nantes a vibe which made my inner Bohemian drink absinthe with joy.  On top of that we were lucky enough to be visiting during Le Voyage a Nantes, an artistic trail featuring countless art installations which essentially give the city the equivalent of Bohemian warp speed, so much so that I am sure that I can play the accordion just because I have visited there.

Another highlight was the visit to Parc du Puy du Fou.  The park is a kind of theatrical theme park which gives children and adult children alike, the opportunity to both walk through and observe different ages.  We watched Musketeers, Knights, Vikings and Gladiators leap and dive and slice and stab with such a swashbuckling panache that my swash was well and truly buckled.  There were a few oddities, such as the fact that every child in France appeared to be there, that the actors were all miming from a recording and that the Vikings only pillaged and didn’t rape.  The highlight of the day was a simply astonishing display of over forty different species of birds of prey.

Some fit birds…

They swooped over us at such a close proximity that if I would have reached skywards I would quite probably have been able to touch them.  However I have always enjoyed having two arms, and didn’t see any reason to change that.  Parc du Puy du Fou is worth a visit for the birds alone, and that’s no disrespect to the astounding special effects and the incredible cinema-like sets.  Without a doubt Parc du Puy du Fou is truly a unique experience.

Part and parcel of travelling is always the stories you go home with.  None make me smile as much as the morning I volunteered to go the boulangerie to buy a baguette.  I entered the shop and said heartily ‘La Baguette’.  The man behind the counter merely pointed at the 6 variations standing behind him.  Panic set in as I realised that I had absolutely no idea which I should take.  Despondently I muttered the word ‘shit’.  The man then handed me a baguette.  As I walked back to the flat I was somewhat panicked as I privately feared that I had inadvertently bought a shit baguette.  Our host then explained that it was a traditional baguette which only served to confuse me further as I thought that a traditional baguette would be a fairly good one.  Regardless of what type of baguette it was I can happily inform you that it definitely wasn’t shit.

Was this the courage I mentioned?  Was it the courage to buy a baguette solo?  Not really.  The courage to stay calm when you are terrified that an eagle is going to shit on your head?  Not exactly.  It is the courage to admit that you were wrong.  After all, it must be difficult or everyone would do it.  Now where did I put my beret…..

 
 

The Water In Malta Don’t Taste Like It Ought Ta

I recently spent two weeks on holiday on the island of Malta.  I left with a tan, food poisoning and an overwhelming feeling that Malta’s uniqueness stems from experiencing it rather than its geographic location or natural beauty.

When I arrived in Malta I didn’t know what to expect.  I had absolutely no preconceptions.  I knew that it had been Britifyied, that it was in the Mediterranean and that it was small.  I was surprised to discover that Malta is the biggest island in an archipelago, the most bombed area of land during the Second World War and also the only country to ever receive a George Cross.  Quite possibly the only country in the world to receive a medal from another one.

The Maltese Islands are essentially a clump of rocks both geographically blessed and cursed.  Located in the Mediterranean Sea, they have a warm climate and beautiful blue seas.  Unfortunately their strategic location between North Africa and Europe has led to them being attacked many times through history.  On top of that the lack of natural water means that they have had to develop methods to use seawater whenever possible.

Situated around the islands you can find a number of prehistoric temples bizarrely devoted to fat women.  Historians are at a loss to explain why, which makes it infinitely more interesting.  It was while on a tour of the fore mentioned sites that I learnt that the Maltese Islands, like Britain were once connected to the mainland. In those times Malta was inhabited by elephants and hippos.  When Malta was finally cut off from the mainland these large animals were trapped.  Later remains of these animals showed that over time they had suffered from a form of island evolutionary dwarfism.  The concept being that large animals living in an area so small, over time actually begin to shrink.  This was fascinating for me.  As the concept rattled away in my brain my eyes were drawn to the souvenir shop.  The woman behind the counter was about 5 foot 4.  I resolved that I would keep my eyes open.  A few days later I realized that the people of Malta also appear to be suffering from a form of evolutionary dwarfism as the vast majority of the people we met were really rather short.

A wonderful example of the clash of British and Mediterranean culture can be found in their new bus service.  A few weeks ago a British company called Arriva bought the state owned Bus Company.  Overnight the shaky ancient buses which were as much a part of Maltese folklore as being under siege were gone.  They were swiftly replaced by modern air conditioned buses running a new schedule which fewer drivers.  The buses ran to a strict timetable which was rendered in valid by several factors.  First of all if a bus is full it doesn’t stop at a bus stop. Second a number of these buses are long bendy things.  The Maltese islands contain some of the tightest hills known to man; it was bad enough trying to get up some of them in a minibus.  And thirdly in the first weeks the new drivers didn’t know the routes.  The important and British thing was that they have a system which is vital as we all know its better to have a system which fails than no system as all.  The Mediterranean aspect was that many people would get annoyed by a once working public transport system suddenly not working and more often than not would voice their complaints.  The responses they received included shouting, swearing and in some cases violence.  It was absolute chaos albeit slightly organized chaos.

During my holiday I experience the best and worst of visiting a country which is dependent on tourism.  The worst example of the tourist trap was the Blue Lagoon. Everywhere we went we met sales reps urging us to buy tickets to visit the peaceful tranquility of the Blue Lagoon.  Eventually we relented and bought tickets for a boat trip.  When we arrived there, we were greeted by the sight of about 17 boats and 5 thousand people fighting for a place on a beach which was less than 50 square meters.  Needless to say it was near on impossible to find the peace and tranquility which everyone kept telling us about.  The best example was a random trip to a small town for a ‘Festa’.  It was a celebration of a Saint (in Malta they have about 3 months of these celebrations for different saints in different towns every weekend.) unlike anything I had ever seen before.  It was a five hour show of fireworks, music and drinking; culminating in the most impressive ground firework display I have ever seen in my life.  I felt like I had been transported to Mexico City.  The most impressive thing at all is that in two weeks on Malta I never met a single sales rep who tried to sell me tickets to a ‘Festa’.

Would I recommend visiting Malta?  Yes.  It’s not the place for a beach holiday as most of the beaches are rocky and rough.  There are a few sandy beaches to be found which are lovely.  There are a number of interesting places to visit and many things to do.  As a holiday destination it is probably the most cosmopolitan I have ever visited.  The people are welcoming, the beer is cheap, the sun is hot and the wealth of history is incredible.