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  • Writer's picturesi newell

Edges of Europe...

Updated: Dec 26, 2019

Two contrasting long weekends in November in very different parts of our diverse and extraordinary continent...


Day One - November 8th

We touched down at Gran Canaria Airport at lunchtime after an early start from Gatwick. After a bus ride to Maspalomas followed by a quick lunch and check in to the hotel (a cosy bungalow in Parque Crstobal close to the centre of the resort), we went straight out to the Tea Dance pool party, enjoying the sun and a few drinks. Dinner and Winter Pride evening entertainment continued with the usual diverse and entertaining acts on the main stage.

Day Two - November 9th

After a good night sleep making up for the long first day, we headed for the beach after breakfast and a quick sketch by the pool. Not so much a beach but a mini desert, taking around 30 minutes to cross to the eventual sea!

I’d noticed that there was a distinct breeze this year and this made relaxing by the sea difficult so we did not stay long, deciding to walk along into Maspalomas instead for lunch and a much needed coffee.

The Winter Pride parade was due to start soon so we rushed back by bus to Playa del Ingles in time to see the flamboyant sights and sounds as they got ready to take over the resort.

We returned to the Yumbo Centre (a truly awful structure that somehow in a bizarre way works!) for drinks and a quick sketch as we watched the sun set, planning how we were going to spend the next day.

Day Three - November 10th

The plan was to go along the coast to Puerto Rico and beautiful Puerto de Mogan - but how? Bus? Boat? Or maybe at last hiring some scooters that we had talked about using along the Amalfi Coast a few months before?

Well it had to be the latter so off to a hire shop and off we go. Despite the fact I ride a motorbike, I found adjusting to the scooter to be surprisingly difficult!

Anyway we survived and got to Puerto de Mogan after a short stop at Puerto Rico. Although my second trip, I was still very taken by the cuteness of this small resort. We had lunch by the marina and I sat in the sun sketching some boats and cafes around this very attractive waterside setting.

Then we took the long mountain route back to Maspalomas - a journey at one stage I almost regretted as the hairpin bends got tighter and the hillside roads got steeper!

Great views at the top though as the sun was starting to go down but also acting as a warning not to leave it too late getting back home for dinner and the finale of the Winter Pride evening shows.

Day Four - November 11th

Our flight was in the late afternoon, so time for some relaxing around the pool and a sketch, followed by some lunch and another sketch - this time of the weirdly grotesque Yumbo Centre as all signs of Winter Pride were being dismantled.

Time for home and the cold weather!


Day One - November 22nd

Another November Friday at Gatwick, another Easyjet flight, this time destination Sofia in Bulgaria.

A few members of the London sketch group had arranged to meet Joss, a Spanish artist who had been a major part of the Urban Sketchers Southampton group, as he completed an amazing few months helping teach art to children in a refugee camp in northern Greece.

I arrived in Sofia as I had expected to go to a meeting in London on Tuesday before the others planned to return - I actually found out that it was cancelled the day before departure but it was too late to reorganise by then!

A great underground service took me from the airport to the centre of the city on arrival and after being tempted by street food pancakes, I walked to the hotel and had an early night in anticipation of a new city (and country) to explore the next day!

Day Two - November 23rd

Up to a very grey morning and a good time to look around some of the communist style buildings that form part of the fabric of Sofia. The short walk from the station last night demonstrated the wide variety of styles that make up the city.

The austere park around the National Palace of Culture has fascinating sculptures and fountains set with Bulgaria Square - I felt very much like I was in eastern Europe here!

I set down in the square and sketched the imposing building (surprisingly not as old as I had thought, it was in fact opened in 1981).

I then wandered around the centre of the city pausing at the Largo - an imposing ensemble of three neo-classical buildings - one of which had been the headquarters of the communist party - attractive in a somewhat austere way.

On the way back to the hotel, I stopped off at the City Garden, Sophia’s oldest central public garden and enjoyed a couple of glasses of Gluhwein at the type of Christmas market that seems to exist everywhere in Europe these days.

Then time to meet up with the other sketchers that had arrived in the early evening, for a delicious dinner in one of the many cute local restaurants - so nice to not have so many chains that dominate our own restaurant scene.

Day Three - November 24th

The next day we took advantage of of free tour with Sophia Tours which gave us a great overview of the history of the city.

This ended up at one of the most recognisable symbols of Sophia, Saint Alexander Nevsky Cathedral where we sketched for the next half hour or so.

After lunch in a ornate cafe, we then caught up finally with Joss who had just arrived from Greece.

Sophia isn’t by the sea or by a river but is surrounded by mountains. As the light was fading we made the group decision to madly try to view the city from the major mountain range - unfortunately it was too late to get anywhere near the peak, but we found that we could get to a bus stop part way up with potential views. The locals thought we were pretty mad as we got off at a dark bus stop before a hilltop village! We did eventually make it back down to city for dinner - the views earlier had been somewhat unspectacular but our trip had been a real experience!

Finally a few drinks to celebrate Nuno's birthday to end another great day.

Day Four - November 25th

We decided to travel to Plovdiv - Bulgaria’s second city and currently City of Culture 2019 together with Matera in Italy.

The bus proved the quickest way to get there at around 2 hours although the weather was deteriorating as we traveled eastwards. Plenty of time for a bus travel sketch though!

When we finally arrived, we walked to the city centre passing buildings representing the diverse layers of the district’s history.

After a coffee to warm up, we split up for an hour to sketch the city centre. I walked up to the spectacular roman amphitheatre overlooking Plovdiv. The view from the top was stunning but it was difficult to draw in the wet conditions. I tried various pens but had to resort to pencil with watercolour added under a nearby canopy! I was however entertained by the many cats that were sheltering under the same canopy.

We met back up at a cafe in the old town where I got the chance to complete one final quick sketch before returning back to Sofia and another delicious and cheap dinner in a recommended restaurant bar (Sputnik Cocktail Bar). I then left the others and got a taxi to an airport hotel as I had a 6am flight back to London - with a 2 hour time difference, tomorrow was going to be a very long day!

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