Friday, 22 October 2010

Worst Rental Car Ever

Authors starting grid flag wave

This post is littered with bad car turns of phrase. Please wear a seatbelt.

Quite what drove us to rent the worst rental car ever is quite a story. The actual mechanics of getting a B1B2 visa are complicated and will be explained in detail at a later date. The middle stage of this perilous journey required us to travel from Antibes, France to Florence, Italy.

France is gripped in rolling industrial strikes at the moment. The French people I have spoken to the strikes about are unreservedly apologetic about them. They are also 100% behind the need to strike and the wonderful tradition that striking in France is.

Like most liberal leaning Kiwis who do not pay tax I support the strikes as well, so long as they do not hinder my ability to get more tax free income. Therefore I was quite dismayed on Saturday when we found out there were no trains planned for Sunday.

This sparked a furious bout of retroactive contingency planning. We found out we could take three buses to Ventimiglia and then catch a ten hour train with one change to Florence. This was not particularly appetizing with 80 kilos of luggage. We decided to rent a car.
Given the tenuous state of any transport in France we decided that we would bite the bullet and do a one way rental to Italy. Europcar allow you to do this. We had not rented a car from Europcar before.

It now is blindingly apparent that a lot of the modern world had decided to do the same. This explains the simply dismal car that greeted us.

Feeling a bit flirty I had splashed out and hired a sportish small car, a Peugeots 207 would be quite a nice drive I figured.

At first glance the Peugeot Teepee is fucking ugly. It is uncomfortably tall and appears to have the aerodynamics of a block of slightly used butter.




This feeling continues as you step inside. A dysfunctional interior greets you and you start to wonder if you have had a cruel joke played on you.

An uneasy growl starts with the engine, as you drive away you find that the block of butter analogy is quiet apt. The performance is pathetic. The engine clearly belongs in a smaller vehicle. Maybe a largish diesel powered ride on lawnmower.

We drove this abomination for 5 hours. We had to stop at regular intervals to console ourselves with the incredible roadside coffee that Italy has on offer.

I began to think what is the desired purpose of this car. It has a tiny boot for its size, bad performance, a roof rack and a lot of headroom.

It came to me after a particularly strong espresso. If you had a fancy dress party you needed to go to(maybe a mad hatters party) with a group of people you did not really care for and some of your costumes were so elaborate that they would only fit on the roof rack. This car is probably for you.

Or not.

Authors Pit Stop


Europcar held onto a 1 thousand euro deposit after we had returned the teepee. This caused a minor panic session when we tried to leave Florence and get to Milano. After some questioning we found out that they can hold the deposit for up to two weeks. It pays to read the small print, even when it is in French.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Backlog

I thought it would be prudent to write about all of the writing I have yet to write.

Trans Espanic Part Tres

The final part of the self acclaimed trilogy, sees our heroes enter Vigo and the most recent meeting with El Fuerte. 

The worst rental car ever

The rolling strikes of France causing the worst rental of a car ever and the after shocks of this incredibly bad decision. 

Firenze and Milano

Some musings about the cities we have visited

B1B2 Visas for dummies 

The fool proof way to get an American B1B2 Visa, the lengths we went through and a very long rant about the lack of quality information and subsequent need for this concise guide.

We are holed up in Milano at the moment. We are going out for dinner with one of Anna’s guests from a charter she had. It probably sounds more glamorous than it will be. In saying that, it is not a bad effort for a Tuesday night.

We join our new boat tomorrow, I hope I will have a desk or at least a good amount of space by my bunk bed for my laptop. I am snowed under and it is not even snowing

Ciao!

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Impressive

Be careful of what you plan for.

With the internet shockwaves just fading after my last plan was published we had some very good news on Thursday night.
We have got our next job. There are quite a few good things about this job. Let me list them in bullet points.

  • We will be working together.
  • The Boat is made in the Netherlands. The Dutch make fantastic Trance DJ’s, orange clothing and Motor Yachts.
  • The Yacht is not for sale, a first for me.
  • We will not have a management company, everyone knows if employees are doing their jobs correctly you do not need management.
  • We have an awesome itinerary, not only will we get to the Caribbean, there are plans to discover South America and be in New York for spring.
  • By all accounts the owner likes to look after his crew, this is a good incentive to stay put. It will be nice to have some stability.
This is all really positive and we are both very excited and feel very lucky. To be honest, I have been putting on a brave face over the last couple of weeks as our futures have been a bit uncertain.

Where to from here?

Well we are driving from Antibes to Florence tomorrow. We will be applying for American Visas in the American consulate on Monday . If Uncle Sam is reading. I love your country and look forward to discovering your many wonderful inventions and sharing them with the world.

From there we will catch a train to Milano and soak up Italian minimalism. I also want some new sun glasses.

We will then fly to Barcelona and join our new home.

I am really looking forward to unpacking all of my stuff and putting down my anchors. 

In closing I was playing on my phone before and was quite stoked when I saw this map of places where I have taken photos since June.

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Not bad for a freelance writer.

Trans Espanic Part Dos

Leaving mythical Zaragoza behind we were soon on the highway heading north east towards our next stop Leon. 

My wonderment at Spain pitched up a level with the increasing profusion of wind farms. The Spanish are quite proud of their wind farms. Why else would they have so many?

The prevailing strong winds which sweep across the huge plateaus are used cleverly and in a Salvador Dali inspired moment I began to imagine we were in fact flying on a giant earthen airship.

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Wouldn’t that be cool?

There was by now increasing frequencies of vegetation and water. We were nearing Leon. In fact directly after we took the off ramp for Leon I got very excited.

We saw Cows! We had not seen any Cows since leaving New Zealand. We actually miss Cows so much we bought this little cup in Barcelona.

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It is our medicine cup. Some of my readers will grasp the hidden meaning of this. It is unfortunate that Fanta here is a yellow colour but it works just the same, with a little sorcery.

Leon was well, Leon. We were not exactly excited to be there at first and with a couple of cracker places behind us and the heavenly Vigo ahead it seemed a bit disappointing.  
  
We were hungry though and we ventured out to see what was on offer.

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The shops were deathly quiet, so were the streets away from the high street. By now I was feeling quite assured that I was the tallest man in all of Spain. This was reaffirmed by this photo opportunity.


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That is my best Filip impersonation.

As is the way with most places in Spain there was an impressive Church.

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Shortly after the Church we found where the people of Leon had been hiding. Not since the fevered dance floors of Ibiza and festivals of London had I felt so much humanity around me. People were very well dressed and celebrating some Celtic,Gypsy,Spanish holiday.

Witness the evidence.

 

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Thar be Bag Pipes!

Feeling full of culture and very hungry we  began to get a bit frustrated with the lack of anything being open. There was a huge open air food market with roasting carcasses and other sweet treats but,

No hablo Mucho Epsanol…….yet

We retreated back to our hotel to find out…..

Restaurants don’t open till 9:30pm.

I am sure much has been written about the Mediterranean way of eating late into the evening. Probably by half starved gringos like me.

We did find food in after much walking around. We did not have to resort to a Kebab. Kebab shops are open all of the time.
 
I came away from that evening thinking that Leon did not have many visitors who were not from Spain.

We were now officially special.

With full stomachs and dreams in our minds we rested. The next day we would be in Vigo. 

Thursday, 14 October 2010

A New Plan, Spell, Whatever

By now my plans, spells, whatever have legendary status in both the practical planning and arcane realms. Sometimes the sequence is wrong and the timing out of kilter. But for the most part they are stunning successes. Take for example my Spanish domination plan written back in June.

It is pretty much what happened, minus a couple of destinations and being completely backwards. I blame this on the long time spent with Swedes in Biarritz. More about Swedes later.

Conjuring up a plan for the next six months is actually overwhelming. So overwhelming that I am going to write a three headed plan which is probably going to take a couple of years to complete. Each section of this plan may spawn sub plans and subsequent rewrites.

Sword in Stone stuff

Anna and I did not marry to spend vast amounts of the year apart. If we can not work on the same boat we will take winter jobs somewhere like Palma and have a groovy apartment that I will fill up with gadgets and trinkets and then be really screwed when we need to move somewhere else.

Plan 1

Apart from the completely disappointing Notting Hill festival that I could not summon up any passion to write about we have not yet experienced anything Caribbean. I did actually write up a plan for myself including the Caribbean a long time ago. Knowing now what I know about yachts and the Caribbean this is probably a ten year plan that might not be completed in this dimension. Long time readers might remember my finding nemo plan, quite where I am going to fit in finding a fictional character in Cuba in this plan boggles my cranium.

By now you are starting to experience the huge centrifugal forces which populate my mind.

Anyway…..

We would like to do a transatlantic crossing and spend the Northern Winter in the Caribbean, tripping around and seeing things, working hard and earning good money.

Maybe some serious Apple computer shopping at the end of the season.

Plan 2

Head somewhere warmer and start working on a boat

Not really that fussed about where.

As long as we are there.

Thailand, Sri Lanka, Seychelles are all possible suitors.

Plan 3

We did plan on finishing yachting in New Zealand,

but if the option to work in the Pacific came up and we could be home for Christmas then so be it.

So yeah that is about it. I feel better for getting that off my head.



What about those Swedes?

Well we are back in Antibes at the moment looking for the perfect job. I am also doing an engine course which is awesome. I get to wear overalls and carry a tool box around, photo forthcoming.

Anyway the first person I spoke to on Monday had that hairy, ethereal quality that flagged him as being possibly Swedish.

He was. It was kind of random and kind of cool. He had got in at 3am and was kind of a bit stunned to have some chirpy Kiwi babbling him at in broken Swedish.

I noticed that this Swede has already found some female on his course to drive him home each night and not be on the bus. Go Sweden!

Other than that? I will write up the rest of Spain this weekend. I have an exam to do on Friday and should be studying for that.

Ciao!

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Trans Espanic Part Uno

Leaving the perpetually bustling Barcelona behind we were soon tuned into the very comforting and simultaneously out of place Billy Connolly barking orders on our TomTom. 

Having no preconceptions of what to expect, what followed was fascinating. El Fuerte and Google both agreed the first night  stop over was to be the unique sounding Zaragoza.

About an hour outside of Barcelona we decided to spice up our journey and try to visit a brown sign posted point of interest.

Mainland Europe has decided to sign post interesting things with the very questionable colour brown. Quite why brown was chosen is beyond me, we have missed countless things by the unflattering boringness that is the colour brown.

Billy and the TomTom freaked out for about an hour because of this unscheduled dalliance. Because of this we did not get to the point of interest. We did stop in a very small Spanish town and drank some coffee.

I took a solitary photo,

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Back on the road and with my wife safely asleep I did some clever engineering and got the TomTom back on line. I reset it.

There was a distinct lack of any vehicles on the road. This segued nicely into the changing scenery. We were entering Nevada or New Mexico or some huge desert. This was adventuring!

We actually drove across the section of the world where longitude starts counting west from east. Look at this cleverly placed arch.

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Sadly there are no other photos of this exciting time. My wife thought the scenery very boring and would not take any. I would have loved to stop the car on the Autopista(spanish word for motorway hehehe),walk off into the desert, go delirious from heat exhaustion and find a tumbleweed.

Speaking of which, the tumbleweeds in this part of the world must be tumble rockets. The huge plateau we were now on is a huge funnel for wind, more about this at a later date.

The land started to be come slightly more life sustaining as we entered our first over night stop. Small streams were spotted as was agricultural activity, we were nearing Zaragoza.

Zaragoza’s majesty almost alluded us completely due to a very devious……..

Spanish Invention time!!

The antiroundaboutasection

To be brutally honest the Spanish do not have a very good reputation for driving ability. To counter this they have amazing roads and mind boggling things like this.

Imagine a pefectly good roundabout

Imagine a normal interection

Join them together

Add a few lights and you have the….

antiroundaboutasection

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Artist who is not an artist’s impression 

Can you imagine how confusing this is the first couple of times you use one?

The round about pieces are usually obscured, you go straight through thinking you can turn off either side and then discover you are inside a a trap. You continue to the next intersection to find out it is a round about intersection. You wait for the next intersetion to do a u-turn and find out you are in a antiroundaboutasection. This can go on for months, until you run out of fuel and run off into the desert screaming.

We did find a way out and a hotel eventually. Zaragoza was an incredible place to stop a night. The city has a almost alien worldishness to it.

Enjoy some of our photos.

Keener viewers will notice these photos look better than usual. This is because my wife took them. Eating some humble pie, I regrettably inform you and myself that she is a superior photographer to I.

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There are some benefits to this new arrangement. I get to become a part of more photos.

Here I am modelling my new bag.

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And here I am riding a local horse that I was not afraid of.

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The riverside area of this city deserves special mention, lovely walks and public exercise equipment reminded us of special times in Vietnam and Asia.

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Zaragoza has a population of close to 700,000 and I am not sure where they all live. We could have lived there longer but we had a country to cross. Tune in next time for the next leg. 

Friday, 8 October 2010

España: Barcelona!

Our trip into mainland Spain officially began last Saturday. It has become blindingly apparent that a week here is going to go very quickly. But having already decided we will return to possibly habitate in some form, it is probably best we do not become too attached. Severing the umbilical cord will be hard enough when we leave Vigo.

Our parking ticket for our time in Barcelona tells me we were in Barcelona for 1 day, 13 hours and 59 minutes. It also tells me we were fleeced 68 euros for this. This is the largest amount I have ever paid for a parking ticket, it may have been cheaper to have had our rental car towed and pay for the tow truck. It certainly cost more than our hotel room for a night. However, like great Roman consuls before me I now know waging a campaign in Spain can be expensive without local knowledge.

What did we do in 1 day 13 hours and 59 minutes in Barcelona? Well, quite a lot. I will give you a run down with photographs soon. First some waxing about Barcelona, from someone who did not step a single foot inside a museum, gallery, basilica or any other mind altering land mark.

Barcelona is ripe rich and bursting with life, in parts it is over ripe. The city seems to have been germinated from a magic city bean in very fertile soil. There is decay in parts, but you come away knowing that this decay will lead to more brilliant structures sprouting or even just some nice graffiti.

If you get to walk through the many parks of Barcelona you will notice the ground is very malleable. It actually yearns to be crafted and nurtured. A metaphor for Barcelona? Mayhap.

Without further waffle, let me introduce you to our quick tour of Barcelona.

Barcelona in 1 day, 13 hours and 59 minutes.

8:37 pm

Shrug off that confused look the parking attendant gave you as you told him you would collect your car in a couple of days. You write a successful blog and have legions of rabid fans throughout the universe. Your blog will be floated in the DOW soon and will turn a profit.

8:45 pm

After dragging your whole life for 8 minutes through the streets, check into your very nice and bargain friendly hotel.

Smile with glee as you discover you have working internet in your work.

Jump for joy as you find you have a coffee machine right outside your door.

If you are anything like me you are probably in love with Barcelona and you have not even done anything.

9:17 pm

After a very quick shower and some important pressing matters on the internet, walk out onto the Rambla and soak in the very touristic atmosphere.

Enjoy the very good street performers. Grimace as you feel ashamed for ever giving money to a silver painted man in the past. These ones really know what they are doing.

Exercise self control as the friendly solo beer can salesmen try to palm off plant extracts, herbs, pharmaceuticals and every other vice known to man.

10:00 pm

Walk into one of the many Tapas restaurants and enjoy a very reasonable meal. Live dangerously, live a cliché. Eat the Paella and drink a couple of flagons of Sangria.

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Spanish invention time

I am loving the simplicity of the great Spanish inventions. This one struck me as being perfect. Notice the distance from the bar to the upper bar area. The bar lady and waiter use basic physics ingeniously to serve customers quickly and with the least effort possible.
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clue: look at the out of place pile of drinks

11:00pm

Take a leisurely stroll towards the port until the masts and smell of the sea remind you of your impending job hunt next week.

12:00am

Retire to your now quite salubrious looking hotel with the promise of a whole day exploring Barcelona to come.

7:00am

Wake to the sound of coffee machine; lovely droning machinations that rouse you gently from your slumber.

Check on your downloads that have been beavering throughout the night.

Test your Espanola on the coffee machine and drink three coffees of differing strength, FUERTE.

7:30

Shower, dress and eat a complimentary Croissant con chocolate.

8:00

Pausing only to grab a map from the hotel attendant, leap outside to explore Barcelona.
Ignore your companions at all costs. You are going to show them what you do not know about Barcelona. And then some!

8:15

Take random photos on your way towards the largest green thing on the map. It must be a park.



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9:00

By now you have drifted dangerously close to the commercial port and ferries to Ibiza. The Space closing Fiesta could be going on and you may feel its pull like a death stars tractor beam.

Thankfully rich malodorous sea smells have bought a plague of flies descending on you.

Note: There is nothing remotely aphrodisiac about a Spanish fly.

10:00

Hang on a second, maybe that huge mountain inland a bit is in fact the huge green thing beside the sea on the tourist map.

Pause a moment to curse cartographers who do not use contour lines to denote heights.

10:15

Start climbing the huge green thing to look at the Barcelona Olympic stadium and other treats.

Admire a famous naturalist who appears, and then vanishes into the bushes resplendent with tattooed pants and missing cod piece .

10:45

The walking is arduous, the scenery sublime.
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Just when you begin to loose hope you will find this scrawled on the ground.

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You are on the chosen path.

11:00 am

Stroll and relax on one of the many summits. Take in the sights of the statues.

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Feel slightly miffed as you realise you are in the grounds of a hotel.

12:00 pm

Take in the grandeur that is the Barcelona Olympic stadium.

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Start the long walk down towards the city

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The magical fountain may or may not be working.

Look at your map to find an underground station. It is time for food and a siesta!

1:00pm

Spanish invention time

Having used a few mass transit systems in a few European cities what greeted us in Barcelona was particularly neat. I am not sure if it was our particular stop, but we walked kilometres underground to get to a train. I actually began to think that maybe the Spanish underground is actually a series of tunnels with no trains and strategically placed vending machines.

We did eventually find a train, it was very fast and very clean.

You could even watch projected advertisements on the wall and listen to passable music.

Top marks.

1:30

Sit down and eat the international flavour that is subway with a difference. Drink Tequila from the bar and throw some dolleros at the conveniently adjoining casino .

2:00

Enjoy a well earned siesta. The coffee machine has been turned off by now and you can really relax.

3:00

Rise up from your siesta and begin the hunt for bicycles to rent. Bask in the frustration which are the warren like streets of Barcelona.

3:30

Find a sweet bike and start cycling the many warren like streets taking photographs.

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5:00

By now you have probably reached the 56 hectare water front complex which feels like a living theme park. Weave your way quickly through the throng of pedestrians, be sure to have photographs taken of yourself.
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7:00

You are now ravenously hungry, but you have not bought anything. Somehow end up in a recycled bag shop and buy this humdinger or equivalent.

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7:30

Eat an organic vegetable dinner from a cafe with the fantastic slogan.

Organic is Orgasmic

8:00

Return to your hotel for some much needed down time. You are going to need your best humour when you pay that parking ticket in the morning.

7:00am

Repeat yesterday morning except do not leave your hotel. You have 60 kilograms of luggage to pack.

11:45

You are now leaving Barcelona feeling quite chuffed at what you achieved.

In closing,

Barcelona was great, of course we needed more time but we just did not have it to spare. We had Vigo to visit and the white rabbit was disappearing into the horizon.

Time was the only thing that could have made things different. But in such a flavour bursting city you can walk in any direction and be entertained straight away.

It is worth noting that the shopping precinct was closed as it was a Sunday, we probably got a lot more done because of this. But the shopping from what I saw is right down my alley. If you like rich colours and re-made classics, Barcelona is the place to be.

Monday, 4 October 2010

On the brink of Legend

We spotted this scrawled on the road in Barcelona,

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Once again life imitates art.

Not familiar with El Fuerte?

Make your self in three easy steps

One

Two

Three


We had a huge day in Barcelona, so huge that it will take a couple of days to digest it all but expect something soon. We leave today for Zargossa.

It is worth noting if you drink two mojitos very quickly in Spain and then say El Fuerte the bar man will squeeze your bicep and think you are awesome.

A Trip to Bath

Keen and regular readers may be wondering what happened to Barcelona? Well there are only three real options.

A post rejuvenation Dr Who appeared outside our hotel with a mad cap plan to wash the gold dust out of a Cyberman in the famous baths of Bath. 

Jarra and Matt will be happy to know I have started watching Dr Who again   

A dearth of material has lead to me micro blogging my hygiene habits

My only Bath joke, maybe.

My sister recommended we go there and I always listen to my sister.

The answer was in fact the latter, although both of the former options could be valid in this interesting life I lead.

The journey to Bath was blog worthy. We had cleverly missed all morning commuting commotion in our time in London, but with a day before we returned to the continent we threw caution to the wind and embraced the hysteria which is London before 9am. There are a lot of people here, struggling, yearning, stampeding and queuing patiently all at once. Resolutely this reaffirmed previous mumblings “I will never reside in London and work a normal job”. 

Our train to Bath was opulent. Imagine trains with in seat entertainment. Then when your imagination fails, look at my photo.

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I watched an episode of the office. This re-established my desire to never work in an office with Ricky Gervais.

If you look very carefully outside the window you will see the weather is very dreary. We had a terrible day for visiting Bath. The weather the day before and directly after was far more bath friendly. We had shower after shower, last joke I promise.

With rain weighing heavily on our minds and heads we bought some umbrellas. Umbrella manufacture is definitely a growth industry here, they are a consumable, impulse buy and do not last.

We then spent a very pleasant few hours wandering the streets of Bath taking photos. Join me now in a photo tour of Bath.

The Raining Bath  

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Bath has over a million visitors a year, I think this is comparable with the whole of New Zealand. As such it is very well organised for tourists. Sign posts, not to be sneezed at.

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The architecture of Bath is very nice to look at. The buildings and streets have a certain charm, almost clean(stop it).    

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We found ourselves at the entrance to a huge park,

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With brightly manicured growing things.

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and trees, 

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and paths.

Outside of the park we then headed towards the famous mineral baths. I wanted a symbolic bath in a historic setting. I wanted to wash myself of the pain of the last year. I wanted to bath like a Roman. I did get my mineral bath, sadly there were no togas or slaves. They did have some nice flotation aids. I did feel invigorated after the bath.

There is a really cool out door exhibition happening in Bath at the moment. It is a collection of photos showing the beauty of Great Britain. London despite its best efforts is not Britain.

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Not the London bridge

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Not the underground

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Not the Thames

You get the idea. 

Once again the rain began to overcome our adventurous spirits it was time to go home. I did get some photos demonstrating the force with which the rain was falling.

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Bath river
 
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Brave sepia warrior with 3.99 umbrella.

Bad and good jokes aside. We had a great day in Bath. Go for a day, take some swimming togs and some soap.