31 October 2013

Battle of the Atom in landscape

If you read the same comic for fifty years or so then you expect some ups and downs. These ups can become iconic and I am proud to say that I was there for Frank Miller's run on Daredevil (started in 1979)and Walter Simonson's on Thor (1983), amongst many others.

Following teams and characters is harder now as all of the major players featured in several comics at the same time so it is no longer possible to say that, for example, the X-Men, are on a good run without specifying which of their title/s you are talking about.

Anyway, the X-Men are on a good run at the moment in the titles that I am reading which are Uncanny X-Men and X-Men. I was also reading Astonishing X-Men and X-Factor but both of those (good) titles have recently finished.

The current story line, Battle of the Atom, includes some issues of All-New X-Men and Wolverine and the X-Men so I have got those too.

Battle of the Atom is proving to be a good story though it is several years too early to say whether it is a classic.

It's another complicated time paradox story, as was the recent Age of Ultron in the Avengers, with the X-Men of the past (they have been in the present for a while in All-New X-Men) threatening the timeline and the X-Men from the/a future coming to stop them. Cue lots of time hopping and lots of claims as to what the real threat is.

Sometimes with cross-over stories like this some of the fringe issues let the side down with weaker script and/or, more commonly, weaker art. This is certainly not the case here and the whole saga has been a good ride so far.

It's a 10 chapter story, I've read the first 5 and have another 3 waiting for me on my iPad. The final parts are issued this week.

The other comment that I want to make, and which the sample pages above demonstrate, is the increasing use of landscape as the page format. These pages come from Uncanny X-Men #12 (by Bendis and Bachalo) and All-New X-Men #17 (by Bendis and Immonen).

This is not the natural format for reading comics on an iPad which in portrait mode is pretty much the same size as a standard Marvel/DC comic so in landscape mode the text and art is reduced in size. This still works, especially on the retina screen, and I suspect that the pages are designed for the iPad and then scaled up for the print version.

It has been said before by several people who know about these things that landscape is the natural shape of comics and I agree.

30 October 2013

DC Comics Digital Sneak Peeks: 30 October 2013

A very easy choice this week.

The Sandman Overture was one of the most anticipated comics in recent years. It is almost twenty years since Neil Gaiman finished the original Sandman saga which ran through 75 issues from 1989 to 1986, since when he has made something of a name for himself.

But this is a post about the artwork so I'll leave saying more about the Sandman until I have read a few issues.

The artwork was another cause for the anticipation.

Like a lot of people I suspect, I discovered J H Williams III when he drew Alan Moore's Promethea (1999 to 2005).

Promethea was a mythical story and the art work matched the magic and grandeur of the words. Sandman Overture, from what I have seen of it so far, has much the same feel to it and that is a good thing. Moore guided Gaiman on writing comics and the similarity in their styles means that they suit similar artists.

This interior page is typical of the comic and shows why I am looking forward to reading it so much. The bad news is that DC are milking it a little and the six issues are coming out bimonthly so I've got ten months to wait for the complete story. I'm sure that it will be worth it.

28 October 2013

"Written in the Stars" with Prof Jim Al-Khalili

This was another those confluences of good things in one place which meant that I had to be there.

I think that Jim Al-Khalili is the best science broadcaster currently (TV and radio) because of the amount of hard science that he includes. He gave this talk in his role as President of the British Humanist Association, which I belong to. And the talk mixed very hard science with a touch of philosophy.

The question Jim tried to answer was that of free will and he addressed it from a scientific angle, i.e. if the future predetermined and predictable then we have no free will whatever philosophers may think.

He started with four hypotheses drawn from a simple 2x2 matrix, which is exactly how you should approach problems like this.

One on axis there were the choice of the universe is predetermined or random and on the other that we have free will or we do not.

Newton thought that the future was predictable in a mechanical sort of way and Einstein said it was already there, i.e. other times exist in the same way that other places do.

The scientific consensus seemed to be that the universe was both deterministic and predictable, then Quantum Mechanics came along and through some crazy random stuff in to the mix.

Jim spent most of his time showing us just how weird QM is, which was understandable given that is what he does. He talked us through the slit experiment that shows particles behaving as waves except when we watch them. I had seen this done many times before but this was the clearest explanation of the lot.

As a mathematician (well, I do have a degree in mathematics even if it is rather old now) I love the fact that mathematics explains QM perfectly (e.g. the probability model for where a particle is) but physicians do not know what is actually happening in the real world, e.g. what the particle is doing to behave like a wave.

Having spent a long time taking us through QM weirdness, Jim then said that this weirdness disappears as we scale up and disappeared well before we get to human scale and so can be discounted from the deterministic argument, e.g. it does not matter how an individual electron behaves at a point in time as it has now discernible effect even at the molecular level.

So the universe could be deterministic (i.e. it has to behave the way that it does) but that is not the same as saying that it is predictable (i.e. we can tell what it is going to do).

The main argument here came from an extrapolation of Poincare's three bodies proof which showed that even very small differences in the starting conditions can lead to very different outcomes. This has been popularised as the Butterfly Effect. The point of this is that we can never know enough about the starting conditions to predict how things are going to behave.

The summary of all this is that Jim claimed that the world is deterministic but we can never know enough to predict it, so it is undetermined to us and, for all practicable purpose, we have free will.

The QandA session that followed showed how little most people know about QM and a lot of time was spent revisiting some of the arguments.

It struck me then that we, the human race, have a cognitive issue here (Martin Rees has said much the same) in that our thinking is conditioned by and limited by our brains which have evolved to solve one set of problems. That is why we cannot comprehend the scale of the universe or the behaviour of very small things. For example, in our human-scale world we are used to an object being in one place at two times but we cannot make sense of an object being in one time at two places.

There is also the very real possibility that our brains are incapable of understanding everything about the way that the universe works, much as a dog is incapable of learning French. That we may never know how QM works is a sobering thought.

During the QandA Jim opened a potential gap in his argument from his current work in the new field of Quantum Biology where a quantum change in a single molecule of DNA could lead to a significant change to the observable world.

I think there is a more obvious flaw. It is easy to devise a mechanism that scales the random quantum world up to the observable world and thus stops it from being deterministic - and you only have to devise the mechanism to make the world non deterministic, you do not actually have to build it. One such a machine would be to select a single Uranium atom and take one significant action if it decays in less than the half-life and another if it does not.

Sadly we ran out of time for me to put this him but I was able to grab a very quick word with Jim on his way out. Obviously that quick word was about Leeds United, the team we both support.

I might dispute his conclusion but Jim is a good presenter and he put the question and some of the implications very well, and dealt with the questions likewise, which made it a stimulating and though-provoking evening.

27 October 2013

Kew Gardens Autumn colours and pumpkins (October 2013)

A bright sunny morning was all the encouragement that I needed to pay another visit to Kew Gardens. The other reason for going was that a major storm was predicted for the next day and I wanted to see the gardens before the possibility of serious damage.

The main lure this time was the autumnal colours so I went in at the Lion Gate (south-east corner) because there are lots of trees there. The trees did not really do as they were told and many were either still stubbornly green or had capitulated and given all their leaves up already.

There were a few of the hoped for reds and yellows and I walked from one to the other as I vaguely headed towards the lake.

I crossed the Pagoda Vista on the way. There are several such vistas in Kew Gardens and I like to cross them rather than use them. The best bits of Kew are the quieter bits and that means keeping off the main paths when I can.

On the right is the Temperate House which is now closed for several years for refurbishment. It is missed.

The lake was in fine form making the most of the clear Autumn sunshine. I walked across the top of it (i.e. the end by the river) as I usually do as I prefer the planting at that end and it also gives me views like this back down the lake.

Next I crossed Syon Vista, this is the longest vista in the gardens, running from the Palm House to the river. Viewing the picture at 100% zoom reveals the Palm House in the little gap between the trees. It also shows the group of geese on the right feasting on the grass. They are always there.

The Waterlily House was the big surprise.

The waterlilies had gone to be replaced by  pumpkins. Lots of pumpkins. Lots of different kinds of pumpkins. Kinds of pumpkins that I did not know existed.

Kew Gardens is always good at showing the variety that exists in the plant world, that is one of the many things that I like about it, and it was a delight to see so many different pumpkins.

Kew Gardens also teaches and there were explanations of where each type is found and of the characteristics that defined the species.

Kew Gardens also caters for children and with pumpkins that means carving. My favourite was this one with one pumpkin eating another.

I made one final detour before leaving through the Elizabeth Gate and that was to the Joseph Banks Building and the lake that it sits on. These are somewhat hidden from the main path by trees and bushes so they are easily missed. Which is a shame because it is a nice spot.

I have been to Kew Gardens many times and it still manages to delight and surprise  on every visit. That's why I am a member.

26 October 2013

Toxica at the Fox and Duck

Toxica are a rock covers band that mixes the classics, Led Zep etc., with some more recent stuff, such as Metallica. That's all that I knew about them and that was enough to get me in to the Fox and Duck on a Saturday night.

They had a fairly standard line up of lead, bass, vocal and drums. The lack of keyboards or a third guitar limited their repertoire and sound a little but they played well within that and kept to songs that they could do justice too.

I found there playing to be competent and while that might sound like faint praise that is not meant to be the case. There is nothing wrong with competent and flamboyance is not always attractive or necessary.

Obviously I did not recognise all of the songs that they played, I'd not tell a Green Day song from anything else produced in the last twenty years, but I did recognise things like Paranoid, Whole Lotta Love, and All Right Now.

I also recognised Zombie which was their penultimate song. That was the one that pushed me over the edge and got me singing and dancing to some extent, though nothing like as vigorously as the enthusiastic regulars near to me.

Toxica were very well received and deservedly so. They had an intelligent and stimulating set and they played all of the songs well. The singing, dancing and cheering were testament to that.

I'll make a point of seeing Toxica again when they next make it to the Fox and Duck.

Sex Cells at the Riverside

The blurb for Sex Cells ended with, "A must-see for all mothers, want-to-be mothers and anyone who's ever had a mother.", which is a pretty fair description of what the play is about and why you should see it.

The blub also says that it was set in the call centre of a business selling sex toys and that was unusual enough to pique my interest. Besides, I like going to the Riverside.

There was nothing else on that day so I got there in good time to have something to eat and drink first.

That also gave me time to look at the current exhibition in the bar area (it was of posters for surf films) and to look at the plans they have for expanding the studios in to the empty block by the river, creating a new riverside walkway in the process. I hope that it happens.

The reception area had a cake sale related to the play but I had eaten so was able to resist temptation. Until the interval.

Sex Cells was in Studio 3, that's the small one to the right of the entrance which is where I usually find myself as that is where the more fringey of the fringe plays get put on.

I was a little disappointed in the size of the audience but that was because I was quick off the mark to secure my usual seat (second row, next to the aisle on the right) and the steady trickle of people following me in filled the studios to a very healthy extent. Indeed, it was quite possible the largest audience that I had ever seen in there.

The call centre was in the centre of the stage, four desks with phones and catalogues, with the manager's office off to the right and a storage room to the left.

The four main characters, all women, sit at the desks taking calls and chatting to each other in the gaps between them. Their ineffectual boss sits in the office.

The women all have different issues relating to femininity and motherhood.

Tiffany is young and is enjoying life. She gets plenty of sex. Sylvie is approaching forty, is desperate for a baby and has been trying IVF. Janice has young children and they dominate her life with the demands of schools and piano lessons. Lilly is older than the rest, is in a lifeless marriage and has no contact with her son.

In the course of the evening we learn more about their hopes and fears and all of their lives change a little. A course of IVF fails, a man dies, a child gets in to a good school, a relationship ends and the manager continually misunderstands the conversation he joins.

Their lives waxed and waned over the course of a few months (the passage of time was subtly indicated by the addition of stars to the employee of the month chart on the wall behind them) and these broad changes were punctuated with sparks of humour helped by the place they worked.

The changing lives of these four women gave us many insights to what motherhood is from the desperate need to be a mother to the fear that children grow up to be unpleasant people, with lots of other emotions between these.

The play ended on an almost happy note though it is not major and it is not permanent, it was just that the various stories reached a slight upswing at the same time. And that was a convenient place to end a story that had kept me enthralled and engaged for the evening.

I liked Sex Cells a lot, probably because I had a mother.

25 October 2013

Stackridge at The Borderline (October 2013)

From a casually aware name in the 70's Stackridge have become one of the few bands that I see regularly, though having been unable to see them at the Boom Boom Club earlier in the year this was my first chance since December 2012.

After last year's disaster with the travel I set off in good time and was there around 8pm, not long after the support act started. The place was still filling up and I was easily able to get a place right at the front next to the stage.

I quite liked the support's first two numbers but they were far too folky for my taste.

Stackridge came on stage around 8:30 and were immediately comfortable with each other and with us. The current line-up of five had been in place a little while now and that shows.

The Borderline stage is a reasonable size, I've seen Space Ritual squeeze a dozen people on to it, so each member had plenty of space to play with. Their line-up of choice was James Warren, Clare Lindley and Andy Cresswell-Davis across the front, and Glenn Tommey and Eddie John at the back.

I deliberately omitted the instruments from the line-up as Stackridge is something of a multi-instrumental team with even the drummer joining in on the ukulele for one song - Clare and Andy played theirs several times. And it was good to see Glenn come out from behind his keyboards to play the trombone.

A lot of the songs had been in place for some time too, even the so-called new ones, and that made for a familiar and comfortable evening, which is exactly what everybody wanted.

That's not to say that Stackridge were lazy or just going through the motions, far from it. It felt like wearing a best suit which always fits and always looks good.

Their sound was still pleasingly folk-prog, helped significantly by Clare's violin, and that is what I had gone to hear. I am not that familiar with their repertoire as I only hear it once or twice a year, so it is the general sound and feel that I appreciate, and I appreciated it that night a lot.

I was especially pleased to see God Speed the Plough included though.

Stackridge played for all but two hours (the Borderline's 10:30pm curfew was a significant constraint) and managed to make the most of that by spending as little time as possible off stage before coming back on twice more for the encores that we demanded. They played three extra songs not shown on the set list; Fundamentally Yours and Boots 'N' Shoes for the first encore before returning again to end the show with the crowd pleaser Dora, The Female Explorer.

With concerts like this it is easy to see why Stackridge have such a loyal following, despite the many changes over the many years, and why I seem to be becoming one of them.

23 October 2013

DC Comics Digital Sneak Peeks: 23 October 2013

I've always had a soft spot for Jonah Hex. It is a fringe comic, that is it does not have superheroes in it, and that means that the writing and drawing can be less mainstream and, therefore, more interesting. It used to be a weird western comic but it is a little different now that Jonah is in the present age.

I picked the cover not for the story inside but for the its tense composition and the grainy feel to the artwork.

This cover was an easy choice. Again the composition is the main point with the combatants falling quickly from a great height. Talon's tattered cape is the best clue to this.

Two more things make the picture stand out. The yellow artificial light from the office gives great contrast to the figures and the bat signal in the background adds another point of interest.

21 October 2013

Ham Amenities Group AGM 2013

Ham Amenities Group (HAG) is one of the local community groups that I belong to. My main contribution is paying my annual membership fee but I do also go to their AGM when I can. This was their 34th.

Ham Fair had been a great success helped by the good weather. This is HAG's main activity and provides most of the money that it donates to local charities. £4,600 had been paid out last year to around 20 charities.

The Chair said that several things were changing and that would meaning more work for HAG. In anticipation of this subscriptions will have to go up next year to pay for the additional materials etc. They were only £3 (I paid £10) so a raise was unlikely to put anybody off from joining.

One of the changes coming was the establishment of the Neighbourhood Forum. The Chair will represent HAG on the Forum.

HAG planed to use the new community room at Ham Library for events, but not just yet.

A Grand Raffle was planned for next Summer Party, and we were encouraged to start saving things for it now!

There was a need to boost membership and a flyer being produced. I made a note to get an electronic copy so that I could promote it on this blog and elsewhere.

The Membership Secretary planned to stand down after this meeting when the members present would be paying their subscriptions for the following year.

Lady Annabel Goldsmith had agreed to be the HAG Patron.

There were 10 trees coming to Ham Street, will include a Ham apple tree, to be paid for by Waitrose.

HAG was looking to expand the range of socials, i.e. do more than coffee mornings.

After the (not very) formal part of the meeting we had an interesting talk from Paul Jacobs on the Street Pastors in Kingston.

It was a long and interesting talk and these are the main points that I noted; he said a lot more than this.

Street Pastors had been in UK for ten years, started in Hackney with 15 people, in Kingston 7 years.

The idea was copied from Kingston, Jamaica.

They had to agree protocols with the Police re dealing with illegal items, eg. drugs or weapons. The Street Pastors have to comply with the law but it is better if they take drugs off somebody and pass them to the Police than leave them with the user.

Street Pastors require 54 hours of training over 5 months. They now have 11,000 trained staff, 64 in Kingston. They have spent 17,000 people hours on the streets so far, Their average age is 60. They are all Christians.

Pastors/Angels do reduce crime. The Police can escalate some situations that the neutral Pastors can dissipate. Kingston has a safe reputation, which helps bring more people in.

Nightclubs are ok, the problem is alcohol. The Kings Tun holds 1,000 people and the night clubs hold more than this. Kingston draws people from a long way, even Wales, c5,000 on a weekend night.

The food shops are open until 3:30am then the three 24h shops get very busy.

They clear up a lot of bottles, these are potential weapons. They give out lots of information re buses etc. They are well stocked with emergency repair kits like plasters, water, bus map, flip-flops and gel, etc. Flip-flops are useful (bare feet and broken glass) and can change the conversation too, as do lollipops.

They work in 3 x 2 hour shifts from 10pm. They are always a team of 4 including a first aider. It's very loud, which makes communication difficult.

They do emergency praying, eg. to ask for an ambulance when none are free.

My view of Street Pastors is that they do a good job and they do make a difference but this is because of their early intervention and neutral attitude and not because of anything spiritual.

19 October 2013

Changing trains in Paris on the way from Madrid to London

I went to sleep somewhere in Spain and woke up around 7am in France.

I went to the buffet car soon after only to find that my group, always early starters, were there in force and all the tables were taken. That meant waiting about quarter of an hour for somebody to finish. The continental breakfast was worth it though and it set me up nicely for a day of travel.

The route into Paris was not especially pretty and the train windows were not good for photography; this picture proves both points.

We arrived at Gare d`Austerlitz around 9am. It was not the prettiest of stations though the roof did its best to brighten things up.

The coach got us to Gare du Nord in good time for the 11am train. Sadly the blight of the heavy contingency kicked-in and we had been booked on one over two hours later.

We were so early that we were not allowed to check in for an hour and had to amuse ourselves for that time while also keeping a close eye on all our bags.

It was not that long after breakfast but I went to a cafe across the road for a coffee anyway. There I had a bit of luck in that not only was the cafe very nice but they had wi-fi so I could catch up on the news etc.

I also had a little walk around and took a few photographs of the station. The glass and metal of the canopy was, as always, my favourite part. The frontage was not bad either, despite having the name of the station engraved on it more often than seemed necessary.

After killing time in the local cafes, we regrouped and were eventually allowed to check-in and to more through to the departure lounge. Being the first in meant that we could bag the most comfortable seats which was useful as were were going to be there for a little while and the lounge got packed in that time.

Finally we were allowed on to our train and to begin the final leg of our journey the tenth taken by train that holiday.

We had also taken seventeen coach journeys and while some of these were to/from stations and hotels I think there were more than necessary. When I travel across Europe I do it all by public transport and do not even use taxis very often.

Everything from Paris was simple and familiar. I still hate the long walk at St Pancras from the international station to the underground but, that apart, it was an easy journey and I was back home by late afternoon.

It had been a great holiday and there were some solid highlights at each place we stopped. It was just a shame that some of the scheduling and planning meant that we did not spend as much time sightseeing or on trains as we could have done.

18 October 2013

Making the most of Madrid

Granada was the last proper stopover on our Great Rail Journeys' Marrakech Express and our way home started with an early train to Madrid.

As with most of the trip, a ridiculous amount of time was allowed for contingency, even though we could probably have walked to the station, and we arrived there about an hour before the train left and that meant a lot of standing around in a featureless waiting room. I could have got myself a coffee to help pass the time but I had only just finished breakfast in the hotel so there was no point.

We got to Madrid at lunchtime and were taken straight for lunch. Various questions from the group made our guide confess that we would be taken straight from the restaurant to the next station so that the lunch would be the only time that we would get in Madrid. The timetable had suggested that we might get a few hours to actually see something of the city but that was not in the plan apparently.

The vegetarian option for lunch was largely absent and rather than wait for something special to be prepared I bailed out to grab a quick view of Madrid.

Just a couple of steps away from our restaurant I discovered Plaza Mayor.

It is quite a large square, Wikipedia tells me it is 94m by 129m, and there is nothing the centre, apart from one small statue and lots of tourists.

The most colourful building was the Casa de la PanaderĂ­a. This was a municipal building housing, amongst other things, a Tourist Information office where I was able to get a map.

The paintings on the front of the building were fairly new, they were only twenty years old,  and the depicted scenes from Madrid's history and from mythology. It looked like an excuse to paint lots of pictures of naked women to me. Whatever the reason, the paintings had the required impact on the square which, this apart, lacked distinctive features.

I only had quarter of an hour or so before I had to rejoin the rest of the group so I did not linger in the square for very long. There were several ways in and out so I headed diagonally across the centre of the square and out the other side.

There I discovered more old and picturesque buildings and a lovely little covered market. There was not much clue inside as to its original purpose which had been swept aside to provide lunches for the local office workers. I suspect that the new use gave the building much the same lively buzz as its previous one.

I wandered around the streets a little but the time constraints (and a slight fear of getting lost) stopped me from straying too far from the restaurant and I found myself back in the square.

Taking another exit took me to some grander buildings, a church and some statues; all the things that I expect to find in a old town. The more that I saw the more that I regretted that I had so little time to see more.

The scant consolation was that on my previous trip to Madrid, when working for IBM, I saw even less as the late working meant that I was confined to the IBM office, my hotel and taxis between the two.

I rejoined my group who were gathered outside waiting for the coach to pick them up. I did my good deed for the day and told them about the square and they all went to take a very quick look while our guide tried to keep up all together.

It was a reasonable trek across Madrid between the two stations but the traffic was not unreasonable and we needed none of the contingency that had been allowed for this leg of the journey. So we arrived at the station a good two hours before our train was due to depart.

I though that was very bad planning. If I had not gone off on my explore we would have spent the middle of the day in Madrid and only seen the restaurant and the stations.

We did have access to a lounge at the station where we had free drinks but I would much rather have been out walking the streets. The lounge had no wi-fi so I had to go and stand in the main concourse where I managed to find some and could update my podcasts and do some essential tweeting.

We left Madrid on a sleeper train to Paris.

I had gone for a medium level room as that level of privacy and comfort had been sufficient on previous journeys. There was an upgrade available but I was not desperate to have a shower in the morning.

I sat and read comics on my iPad for a while before going to the bar for a quiet drink. That was not that quiet as some other people from the group were there and I got involved in a few conversations.

When I got back to the compartment the chairs had gone and the beds had appeared. I took the hint and climbed up to the upper bunk where I eased myself to sleep with some podcasts.

As a day of travel we achieved what we had to achieve, we had left Granada and were on the train to Paris, but the overall impression was of missed opportunities to see something of Madrid. I am grateful that I at least managed to see something, even if it was little more than just one square. Perhaps Madrid will be third time lucky for me.

17 October 2013

Gorgeous Granada

La Alhambra filled my morning with Moorish delights leaving just the afternoon and early evening to find out what the rest of Granada had to offer.

My explorations usually start with asking for a city map from the hotel and the one of Granada was a good one as it highlighted the main sights and also suggested some routes to follow. I was in no position to object so I picked a route that covered the old part of town.

I started with a light lunch in a very pretty square, and one I would return to later for my supper. Next to that was the first major building, the cathedral sitting in its own little square but the sun was kinder to it when I came back later so I've chosen a picture from then and that appears below.

There were a few pretty small squares, old buildings and statues to brighten my step before heading up to the older part of the town.

The first part of the walk took me along a river that did little to fill the gorge it had created in better days.

The main road just about took traffic and I was rather surprised when a bus went past. The smaller roads leading up the hill on the left were best left to pedestrians.

I took one of the paths suggested and fought my way up the hill. It was a warm afternoon and that exertion suggested a beer (and cake) so I rested in the first cafe that I found. This had the extra advantage of views across the valley to La Alhambra.

The map showed me the route to take but only told part of the story. There was no suggestion of the gradients and these proved to be quite steep at times. The map also suggested that all the roads were equal when most could not accommodate any sort of vehicles and in the extreme cases they were steep steps.

Having climbed all the way to the top there was no option than to climb down again and, avoiding the way that I came, I headed further west and further from the hotel.

I may just have got lost in the maze of roads that aren't really roads but I'll claim that I was only using the map as a guide and I took the routes that looked the more interesting.

I did manage to get to the old city walls. This was a surprisingly grubby part of the city, very unlike the other side of the hill, and it almost felt abandoned. There were few other people and most of those were fellow tourists looking at maps puzzlingly.

One of the treats of climbing around the old town was coming across views on the newer city below. That also saved me a bit of walking as I could see one of the old arches to the town hiding among the similarly coloured roof tops.

The walls were worth finding.

Descending back to the centre of the city was a descent back into the sunlight. That lifted the mood and the buildings, while still old, became warmer and more welcoming.

The descent inevitably took me back to the cathedral and this time the low sun was full on the prettiest side of it and this time it was worth photographing.

The square next to the cathedral was a good place to stop and make the most of the last of the sun. The square was pretty enough and was buzzing, in a nice way, with tourists.

There were steps along one side of the square and these made good seats to watch the little flamenco display aimed to tease money from tourists. It worked. I stayed there a fair while to watch the two dancers, guitarist and singer go through several of their pieces. I happily paid my dues at the end but my attempts to congratulate one of the dancers fell flat at the language barrier. I thought that everybody in Europe spoke English!

And that was about it for the day.

I went back to Plaza Bib-Rambla to eat, an idea that most of Granada seemed to have.

The square was full of restaurants so it was easy to find a different one from where I had lunch but not so easy to find one that had half-decent options for vegetarians and a free table.

Other people on our tour had the same problem and we ended up with the four vegetarians in the group sharing a table. Having spent most of the holiday (understandably) trying to avoid some of the other people it was good to spend the final evening with some like-minded people. Apart from the one young woman there with her mother, this other couple were the next youngest after us. And they were retired.

We were only in Granada for a day and I was amazed by how much I had seen in that time and how pretty it all was. On most occasions seeing La Alhambra would have been enough to make a successful day and this day also had me clambering over the city's other hill.

It's the one place that I went to on the tour that I am seriously thinking of going back to.

La Alhambra was every bit as good as I expected

The reason that we stopped in Granada on our way back home from Morocco was to visit La Alhambra, and that proved to be a good plan.

The weather was kind but the traffic less so as we took the coach on the short ride up to the top of the hill. There we were split into two groups each with our own guide; apparently La Alhambra limits the size of groups and ours at 37 was too large.

La Alhambra was both a palace and a fortress so it commands an imposing site above the city and within the sturdy walls there are some very beautiful buildings. It is those beautiful buildings that I have concentrated on in selecting photographs for this post but that is not to deny the imposing grandeur of the defencive buildings.

My other excuse for concentrating on the palatial buildings is that in the three hours that we spent there we did not have time to visit the main parts of the fortress. There may well be treasures there that I would have included had I seen them.

Like many palaces, La Alhambra had been added to many times since building started in the 11th century (that's a thousand years ago!) through to the last main updates in the 16th century, by which time Spain was a Christian country.

The overall effect is something like Las Vegas with its collection of diverse and extravagant hotels except that here the individual buildings are more modest in scale and more interesting in execution.

The tour took us from one amazing building to another and each was a surprise, especially as they were usually fairly simple on the outside and it was only once I got inside that I could see how fantastic they were.

I like surprises.

A lot of the pictures that I have chosen feature courtyards with water and that is because I love courtyards and water as much as the Moors did.

The rooms off the courtyards were suitably palatial and decorative. The style throughout was Moorish and so very much the same as that we had seen across Morocco. I have shared lots of photographs of walls, doors, ceilings and arches from there so rather than show similar pictures from La Alhambra I have concentrated on the fantastic buildings that make La Alhambra different.

I have included one picture of the decorations just to prove that there are some. Actually there are lots and it is a beautiful place as well as a grand one.

I did not go to La Alhambra for the views but it is on a hill (remember, it was a fort) so its overlooks Granada and as I like looking down on buildings I have included one of the several pictures that I took from the fortress walls.

The map in the top picture gives an idea of the layout of La Alhambra and the two points that I want to make are that the buildings are spread throughout a large site and there is a lot of greenery.

There was a reasonable amount of walking involved as we moved from one grand building to the next and we often had to queue a little while to enter them. La Alhambra manages the flow of people within the site, not just in to it, and we had to show our entrance tickets several times as we moved around. The simple objective was to stop any of the buildings from becoming overcrowded and it worked.

La Alhambra is Spain's most popular tourist attraction and tickets were sold out on the day that we went but, despite operating at capacity, it was still comfortable to get around and we were able to see everything clearly.

More importantly, none of these pictures is polluted by people, with the possible exception of The Court of the Lions (the one with all the columns) where there were always people in the centre of the courtyard admiring the lions.

At least this was Spain in October so people were sensibly dressed; what really annoys me is the people who go to places like Kew Gardens wearing bright red or yellow kagools!

In concentrating on the buildings I have underplayed both the decoration and the gardens. There are some hints to what the gardens looked like from the greenery around some of the water features but the sole purpose of the plants in the gardens was not to decorate buildings, they were also allowed to flourish in their own rights. I have lots of photos of pretty flower gardens but I left them out partially because of space restrictions and partially because they are not unique to La Alhambra.

This is just a summary of my highlights of La Alhambra selected from the 80 photos I posted on Facebook which, in turn, is just a selection of the 200 or so that I took in the three hours that I spent there. And I did not cover all of the site in that time and covered some of it faster than I would have liked.

I hope that I have done enough to show why La Alhambra is so popular and so talked about. It really is very special.

I could have stayed on at La Alhambra after our tour had finished, there was still enough time left on my ticket to go to the fortress, and that was tempting. More tempting though was the thought of exploring Granada so that is what I did.