Friday, July 24, 2015

La Tomatina

It's nearly August, the thermometers are almost at bursting point again here in Spain which must mean it’s almost time for the Tomatina again!!! Indeed it is – this year’s Tomatina will take place on the 26th August 2015.

What is the Tomatina? I hear you ask!

The Tomatina is without doubt the silliest event I have ever attended, by a very long way. A great way of describing this event is an epic party during which 22,000 ‘new friends’ enthusiastically share out 140,000 kg (309,000 lbs or 14 tonnes) of tomatoes in a street frenzy.

The shorter description is the world’s biggest tomato fight!

Where is the Tomatina?

The Tomatina takes place in a small picturesque inland Spanish village, set in a pretty valley, called Buñol. It is located just inland from Valencia in the North East of mainland Spain.

It can be easily reached by car, bus or train from Valencia.

How do I go to the Tomatina?

This event has recently become a victim of its own success. Up until 2014 it was a free for all – arrive and get in there and starting hurling tomatoes. But for good health and safety reasons (it’s pretty full on daft as it is!) entry is now limited to about 22,000 wrist band holders. We were there last year and you would struggle to get any more folks in safely!

Wrist bands are low cost and primarily in place to restrict numbers.

How does it work then?

On arrival you head into the centre of the village (the route!) and get yourself in position. In the run up to the start there is plenty of action with locals and neighbours unable to stop themselves from throwing water and the odd tomato ahead of the starters gun! Great fun in the build-up.

Then after the official start (at about 11:00 am which is signalled by locals climbing a greased pole and racing to be the first to get to a leg of ham - or something equally bizarre!) the lorries start to roll into town.

These are full on heavyweight big tipper trucks. They roll in through the very tight streets, stopping at regular intervals to tip off their loads – tonnes and tonnes of the red gold!

On board each of the trucks is an army of helpers (actually ‘pelters’ is a better word). These guys vigorously hand out the tomatoes as fast as they can to those below in the streets (you!). As well as the truck tipper actions which unload big style!

Down on the street you are tasked with the impossibly funny job of taking as many of these tomatoes (giving them a quick squeeze to soften the unbroken fruits is good Tomatina etiquette) and then hurling them at all participants within your reach. Lean down, pick up a hand full of Tomatoes and launch it, repeat, repeat, repeat…..

Obviously you are coming under heavy fire yourself at this time – with the accompanying ‘splat’ ‘splat’ ‘splat’ from each hit you receive becoming funnier and funnier than the last hit! It’s a frenzy. Trucks after trucks come through and more and more ‘ammo’ is supplied. Until you are literally ankle deep in a sweet red mushy river of tomato juice.

And then all too soon it is all over (about 1 hour later at mid-day). A siren sounds to single the end of the ‘fight’ (or Tomato sharing) and pretty much everyone downs weapons. It really is too epic to
describe. I ached with laughter and was out of breath due to enthusiastic sharing, and the streets were flowing with liquid tomatoes.

Its then time to relax, head into town for a drink, something to eat, a shower and change of clothes.

Practicalities and Tips

What to wear for the Tomatina

White clothes you don’t mind throwing away! It is good form to wear white, it shows the hits and adds to the fun. On completion of the event the car parks are full of piles and piles abandoned ‘pink’ dyed clothes.

Eye protection – We both took DIY goggles, although to be honest they soon fogged up but they certainly took some hits.

At the end of the ‘sharing’ you will have tomato in every crease, crevice and opening in your body. Seeds in your hair, skin and seeds in your ears, etc. Its full on.

Other practical Tomatina info

Showers – Those on planned trips (we took one of these from Buñol with Spaintastic) generally have a shower included. These are basically a hosing down – fit for purpose and to be fair they shifted most of the residue from the fight!

Lockers – again most tour operators include a locker. The queues for our lockers were huge so we headed into town where several locals were offering the same service for about €3. So we left our gear with them and it worked out well.

Camera – a waterproof camera is a must! Don’t think your smartphone in your pockets will not get wet – it will!

Should I go to the Tomatina?

Do you like fun? Then YES YES YES YES YES YES ……..

Great ways see Windsor

Windsor is a great place to visit and ever popular with the tourists, thanks in no doubt to its rich history, proximity to London and famous inhabitants. Liz, Phil and family to name just a few.

If you are only visiting for the day there is a lot of it to see in one day so a short tour is an excellent way of discovering Windsor without taking up your whole day.

We experienced two of the most popular options , the more conventional City Sightseeing open top bus tour and the more off the wall Windsor Ducks tour.

Both of these take about an hour, assuming you stay on the bus on the City Sightseeing tour.

So which was best? I guess it depends on your needs and tastes. Let me describe both and you can take your pick!

Duck Tours of Windsor

First up we did the duck tour, without explaining to our kids that it was an amphibious vehicle. On board this great vehicle you are sat at a quite a height – not far off the height of the top deck of the double decker bus!

This was a great fun tour with a humorous commentary on board from our tour guide.

It takes you around all the key parts of Windsor before heading down to a ramp into the river. Here its party piece allows it to excel, as you drive down the ramp and straight onto the River Thames.

Our daughters looked a little shocked! The second part of the tour is a gentle cruise up the Thames, giving you some great views and photo opportunities of Windsor Castle.

Traffic was light in the first part of the tour and we were ahead of schedule so our driver (or should I say Captain at this point?) headed a little further up the river which was great. Then back into town to the start point (just down the hill from the Castle on the main road). Really good fun, a true life experience and different.

City Sightseeing Tours of Windsor

The next day we took the City Sightseeing option. This tour operator is well known and does this type of tour so well in numerous locations and countries. Its tour of Windsor was up to its usual high standards.

The driver patiently waited for the changing of the guard to finish, before driving us to another photo opportunity spot to get even more changing of the guard shots, with plenty of time to finish our photos and get back on board.

The bus has a higher speed than the Duck, which allows it to fit more distance into the same amount of time, so this tour explores a little more of the region taking in Eton and its famous college.

You also have the opportunity to ‘hop off hop on’ at any of the 10 stops which allows you to make this more of a day tour should you wish.

Again this tour benefits from a fun and humorous commentary, served up via the supplied headphones. Great for non-English speakers who can tune in other languages (assuming they speak English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Polish, Russian, Japanese, Mandarin or Cantonese). But maybe lacking the interaction and spontaneity of the live commentary on board the Duck!

It’s commentary, as well as being light hearted, is educational and very informative – I learnt quite a lot of fun facts on board.

In Summary

Both great trips – the pro and cons if you cannot do both!
  • City Sightseeing – you get to see more of the area, multi lingual, hop on and off allows you to make it more of a day trip
  • Windsor Ducks – More of an experience due to the nature of the vehicle, suspect the kids will love this one more, you get to see Windsor from the Thames.
There you go take your pick!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A great weekend at the World GP Legends at Jerez

The World GP Legends event at Jerez promised fans a great line up of past world champions, a huge range of legendary racing grand prix motorcycles, great bike related entertainment, racing and the chance to get up close to your past heroes.  

Did it deliver?  Yes is the short answer.

I arrive late Friday afternoon and picked up my tickets and headed in for 15 minutes, well that was the plan.  Before getting through the gates I was like a kid at Christmas with several Yamaha RD500’s (I’m an ex RD500 owner!) and an RG250 Suzuki parked up at the gates.   Given the superb array of ex works machinery on display my planned 15 minutes turned into an hour at least!  Gazing at the Yamaha TZ500’s, Kawasaki KR500, Suzuki RG500 from several eras, Cagiva 500, etc.
And of course seeing the likes of Fast Freddie Spencer, Wayne Gardener, Graham Crosby, Christian Sarron and Phil Read further delayed me from making my way into Jerez for the evening.

My respect for Phil Read, 8 times Motorcycle Racing World Champion, ramped up another few notches seeing him here racing in full leathers on a very early (no wide powerbands in those days) Suzuki RG500 in 38C degrees of heat (and remember that’s in the shade!).  Top man.

I dragged myself away before that night’s bands came on stage and headed into Jerez to book into my hotel.  You don’t need much dragging into Jerez, it’s a superb place which I have visited on many occasions for the MotoGP, Easter Parades and it’s famous Jerez Horse Feria.    

I headed into town for refreshments – it was still in the 30’s after all and I was in sherry town.  

First port of call the Gorilla bar and then on to the Plaza Esteve, home to the famous neon lit building.  And of course while in Jerez it was time for a Fino, the very dry refreshing sherry which is served very cold - superb on a hot night!

Saturday morning and it was back up the track for qualifying and the first race.  A great deal of the pleasure in an event like this is simply wandering around the pits and looking at the superbly maintained historic bikes on show.  There were hundreds of amazing machines everywhere you turned from 50cc up to the big stuff – For example the Suzuki RG680 bikes being ridden by Stavros Parrish. Hope he’d not entered it as a 500!

The ‘legends’ were very accessible to the crowds and making a real effort to be at the front of the garages and in set areas of the pits at set times to sign autographs, pose for the inevitable selfies, etc.  All in all a good do.

Bonnie Tyler came on stage and did her warm up (not sure that’s the right phrase as it was again about 38C!). 'Holding Out for Hero' saw a bit of a crowd quickly gathering and shouting for more, prompting her classic response – “I’m on later tonight don’t get too pissed!”.

On the afternoon there was the first big race - The Race of Legends.  This was a little of a let down for me initially, and I guess I had set my expectations way way too high.  My dreamy visions of a repeat of past memories like a classic Le Mans type 500GP with riders fighting angry two strokes, elbow to elbow, Sarron sliding off into the distance, Schwantz all crossed up, etc was not quite there.  I guess ‘wrestling’ came to mind.  It was a great show, with plenty overtaking at most corners, all the right noises and smells and good for the crowd.  The race was won by Gardener, from De Radigues and Schwantz.    

For the rest of the day I did some shopping at the many great trade stands, mingled with the heroes of my past.  Reading the press over the past few years I’m not the only one who feels Marc Marquez is the only one who can be compared to Fast Freddie.  Prior to Marquez I’d never seen anyone control a bike with both wheels sliding like Freddie! 

Click this link to see over 100 photos from the World GP Legends weekend in Jerez

Then day turned to evening and I headed to the bar where I met up with two great guys from the North of Spain for a few beers.  They had driven through the night from A Coruña in Galicia on the north coast of Spain to get here for this event.  A testament to its pulling power, and more so they were having a great time.  Helped a little by the fact the event was serving their local excellent Estrella Galicia beer!

We took in the stunt show where I learned front forks and wheel appear to be old school!  Incredible talent.

Then we were joined by two new friends over from Australia for several more Estrella’s while the concert got into full swing with James Toseland doing a very enthusiastic and lengthy set.  Great music.

Again the legends were making a great effort and Wayne Gardener, Tetsuya Harada and Kevin Schwantz and others were present with the fans taking in the concert.  This is an event where it is billed that you can get up close to the riders of the past and it delivered in heaps. 

I spoke to Wayne Gardener about the racing and he was great at explaining the situation, stating the obvious which I had missed.  The riders are on irreplaceable and old machines which were designed to run for a race at a time 30 years back.  The bikes need a little more respect these days.  You also need to take into account the bikes being ridden by Phil Read, Graham Crosby and Steve Parrish are about 1976, De Radigues XR88 RG500 Suzuki is about 1998 and the Yamaha of Niggi Schmassmann was running carbon brakes.  Good points.

On came Bonnie Tyler for a great set and the evening temperatures turned a little cooler.  At the end of the evening it was a short walk to the gates where it was easy to grab a taxi into town.

Up Sunday and the weather had turned out nice again! Hot Hot Hot!  Arrived at the track to a very pleasing crowd.  The Spanish love their bike racing and it was good to see such a good turnout.

Another great day up at the circuit, with more of everything.  Two more opportunities to see the Legends out on track racing and some very spirited racing in the smaller categories. 

More opportunities to meet the World's best motorcycle racers of years gone by.

More great bikes from my past including TZ250, the tandem twin Kawasakis, an Exactweld and a Bimota. Superb to see, hear and smell!

I also took in the impressive Trials show before heading off home. 

All in all a great weekend.  Did it deliver on its promises?

Chance to see, hear and smell lots of epic past Grand Prix Racing Bikes – Yes
Chance to see, meet and get up close to your Bike Racing heroes of the past – Yes  
Chance to see the old bikes racing – Yes
Plenty of off track entertainment – Yes

Would I attend the next one – Yes!

Hopefully this is the first of many such events.  Wayne Gardener’s enthusiasm and hard work in putting this together with a good team, was clearly on show all weekend.  I was pleased to see it succeed so well.  Hopefully its success will encourage Honda to bring a few bikes along to future events.  

Any lessons learnt? - Looking at the sweat pouring from Wayne in his full racing leathers I think he learned from this event Jerez is pretty warm in June!  

I look forward to the next one!  

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