Saturday, 19 April 2014

Turismo words

I was thinking about the word "cicloturismo", clearly meaning doing touristy stuff on your bike. Then there is also "agriturismo", doing touristy stuff out in the countryside and usually staying in some country dwelling, what the French would call a "gîte". (On French gravestones they used to write, and probably still do for all I know, "ci git ..." - "here lies ...." - so a "gîte" is a place to lie down. Odd bits of information") 

Do they also talk about "literaturismo"? Or "culturismo"? We did a bit if that I suppose, following the Montalbano trail in Sicily. I'm not sure that going to the places where they filmed an Italian TV detective series really counts as culture, but we did visit a lot of Baroque churches as well. And people go off to Bronte country. Going to Hardy's Wessex, can you find the place where poor Gabriel Oats lost all his sheep over the edge of a cliff? I wonder. Here in Vigo you could visit the places mentioned by Domingo Villar in his Vigo-based detective stories. 

Yesterday there was really no chance to do any kind of turismo as the bay and the city were covered in fog which didn't really clear all dY. It's a good job we hadn't got ourselves tickets to go out on a boat to the Islas Cíes, which we could have done as they do special Holy Week sailings. It would have been a waste of time. 

All this arose because I came across the word "bicigrinos" in a newspaper article. It is a kind of hybrid word formed from "bicicleta" and "peregrinos" - pilgrims. Pilgrims on bicycles! I'm sure they already exist but apparently a German company, Expobike, is looking into cornering the market, at least organising pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela from Germany on bicycles. The Germans are big cyclists, or so I am told. Helmut Weingarten tried out the stretch from Ponferrada to Santiago recently but found a problem on arriving at Santiago. The main road in on the pilgrim route is Rua de San Pedro but this is closed to cyclists. He's going to need to find a way round that little problem if he's going to make a go of this "bicigrinos" business. 

We've not seen any of the Holy Week processions this year although we may have heard one early on Thursday evening. But here's a picture of a procession in Pontevedra that I pinched off a friend's Facebook page. 

 We spent Easter one year in a place called Cómpeta in Almería where there was a procession every day even though the town boasted no more than about 4000 inhabitants, a large proportion of them British. The oddest photo of Holy Week stuff I've seen was in Thursday's Guardian. It showed soldiers from a barracks in Malaga apparently goose-stepping as they carried a statue of Jesus Christ on their shoulders. A quite surreal image.

 Jueves Santos, Holy Thursday, is called Maundy Thursday in England -why Maundy? The queen was in Blackburn giving out Maundy money. Not washing the feet of the pensioners then? The newspaper said she was at Blackburn cathedral. Who knew Blackburn had a cathedral? 

Clearly there are always new things to learn.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

A day out in Ponters.

We took a trip to Pontevedra today, Wednesday, to meet up with the junior chess organiser with whom we are organising a kind of chess exchange. 

Last year Phil played in the August Pontevedra chess tournament and we got to know Daniel at that point. He organises chess training camps where young chess players sleep in dormitories on the site of the tournament and after a week's preparation, take part. After that his youngsters usually then go off and do a similar thing in Extremadura. Amazing! 

So we discussed the idea of some of Phil's young chess players coming along and taking part, with the idea that later a group of young Spaniards will go back to England on a return visit. We already have a small group with flights booked, looking forward to poolside post match analysis. 

The date of the return visit is a bit problematical, however. Spanish schools do not like their pupils to go off on visits, even educational visits, in term time. 

 Immediately after the English trip to Galicia is no good as the Spaniards go off to play chess in Extremadura. Early September would suit them as Spanish school does not start until mid-September but, of course, most UK schools start up at the beginning of the month. It's that long summer holiday as opposed to the UK's six weeks. I've had this  problem in the past organising college exchanges.

The October half term doesn't work as the Spanish don't have such a thing. Possibly All Saints' Day, 1st November, might be extended to make a long weekend but this year it's a Saturday, so it won't even be a bank holiday. And so our discussion went round in circles but no doubt we'll work something out. 

And so we left things in the air for the time being and Phil and I went off a found a menu del día lunch in the centre of Pontevedra: €9.50 each. Not bad. And they had a wifi connection as well. Excellent. 

After lunch we explored a new short cut back to the station. This turned out to be a long cut, causing us to miss the earlier train and leading us to spend some time inspecting the "improvements" to the railway station. There's nothing quite like waiting for a train in the middle of a building site. It's to be hoped that the AVE fast train service makes it all worth while when or of it eventually gets organised. There's that building site in Pontevedra station and another one at the former site of the station in Vigo. Both of them seem to involve an awful lot of earth shifting but look far from completion. 

 On our way down to the station in Ponters we went past this shop. I wonder why they have a double T in Kensington. Is this supposed to be trendy? Is there some problem with copyright if they spell it with only one T? Or is it just plain ignorance? 

While we waited for the train in Punters station we found that the wifi connection in the station buffet is less than useless. It pretends you are connected and goes so slowly that you fall asleep waiting to read your email. Consequently, I was reduced to reading paper newspapers. 

There I found this bit of campaigning for better driving. This one is reminding drivers to use their indicators. What a novel idea! I am always moaning about drivers who swing round corners without letting you know they plan to do so. 

This is the second of these campaign posters I've come across. The other one was all about "el síndrome del carríl izquierdo" - left lane syndrome. Just as drivers on motorways in the UK have a tendency to move out into the right hand lane, or the middle lane of three, on the motorway and just sit there, forgetting to return to the inside lane, the same thing happens in reverse in Spain. 

Someone is getting safety conscious at last.

Monday, 14 April 2014


Tidying up this and that I came across a newspaper from the end of March. We must have picked it up on the day we arrived I think. It was open at a page where there was headline about child poverty. 

AGE, an association of some kind that I have not yet identified, had made the regional government aware of a report by the charity organisation Cáritas that said the 20% of children in Galicia are living below the poverty line. One of the politicians involved in the debate referred also to a pediatricians’' report that problems of child health and malnutrition had gone up 54%. 

Mr. Nuñez Feijoo, president of Galicia, apparently thanked the organisation for bringing them these reports but said he preferred to use information from the Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas. Their figures put Galician poverty at 18%, below the national average of 21%. He went on the say that anything else was "apocalyptic description" and compared the presenters to the "Santa Inquisición". 

Hmm!! Is there really much difference between 18%, 20% and 21%? It still means that around one in five children are not getting enough to eat. If the average for the country is really 21%, then some places must be much higher. And this is in the 21st century in a country that is a member of the European Union. 

The same newspaper article told me that since 2012 the numbers of people using the Vigo Food Bank have gone up by 20,000 and now stand at 145.000. Similar increases are reported from La Coruña and Ferrol. There is clearly something wrong. 

And so I feel guilty about turning away the young man who knocked on our door the other day to tell us about an organisation called "Contra el Hambre". Oh, I know I couldn't have done anything, not having a bank account here and so on but even so. 

And I feel mean when I complain about the supermarket beggar who was telling me about it being her son's fifth birthday on Saturday when she harassed me outside Mercadona. At least, I think that's what she was on about. Her speech is heavily accented, possibly Andalusian, possible gypsy, possibly both, and it's often hard to tell what she is saying. She would certainly find it hard to get a job. 

And I know you can't give to all of them, but whenever I see a young girl begging on the street I find myself thinking that if that were my teenager I would hope that someone would help her. And that's that! 

(Post script: walking down into town yesterday evening, I was greeted by a young woman who introduced me to her son whose birthday had been the day before: our supermarket beggar! So presumably she lives somewhere across the road from us. Much more coherent when not speaking in her special begging whine. She scrubs up quite nicely. Somehow I feel slightly less mean about moaning about her now.)

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Getting warm.

18 degrees was the temperature according to the billboard down the road at 9.30 this morning. The sunshine has shown more clearly than ever the rain splodges on the windows, the result of the winter Galicia has been through. So I have been cleaning windows: one way to warm yourself up. Now they are not perfect - I don't think I could make my living as a window cleaner - but at least we can see the bay without having to look through a mottled pattern of dirty rain stains. 

And the bay is worth looking at. The water is a beautiful blue - cue for Phil to say, "Ultramarine, that's what my paintbox called it!" Works like a charm every time he sees the water on a sunny day. But it is a beautiful blue and the sailing school is out; all the tiny sailboats moving in time, following the larger lead sailboat, rather like ducklings following mummy duck! 

We've been taking advantage of the sunshine to get out and about, following the advice of my weather witch - "¡Hay que aprovechar!" So on Friday after lunch we caught a bus up to Plaza de América, where the temperature gauges showed an astounding 33 degrees, and walked along to Castrelos Park to have a look round and inspect the gardens. 

I expected the park to be full of bluebells as it was at this time last year but maybe it's still a little early for that. Instead, there were banks of yellow flowers, like elongated bells. No idea what they are. 

The Pazo de Quiñones de Leon was covered in fresh ivy. The very first time we saw it, in the autumn of 2008, the ivy had turned a deep red and somehow it always surprises me when I see green ivy there. 

The wisteria was in full bloom, climbing over gateways and filling the air with an almost overwhelming perfume. 

It's a bit early for the roses to be at their best but they are beginning to come out. 

And the formal gardens (el jardín inglés) looked as though they had been specially trimmed for our visit. 

We took a look at what I have been told are the oldest eucalyptus trees in Vigo. I don't know about their age but they certainly should win prizes for girth. Immense! 

We walked back along the Lagares riverside path, nicely shady for the most part. The river still seems to be showing the effects of all the rain Galicia has had in recent months: in spate, I think is the expression. 

It was still warm despite the shade and I was surprised at the number of runners there were about. I suppose if you work all day, then early evening is perhaps the only time you get to run but I don't think it's necessarily a good idea in temperatures of 25+ degrees. There was even one running in a waterproof cagoule; maybe he subscribed to the theory that the more you sweat, the better it is. Daft, I call it. 

It probably took us about one and a half hours to walk home. Some people might consider this a form of madness but if so, it's mostly harmless. We usually get to see parts of cities that other folk never come across. On this occasion, taking a new route down to Calle Aragón, we came across one of those old washing places, a sort of huge trough with sloping sides, full of water and roofed over. Before everyone had running water at home and washing machines, that was where the women used to gather to get the washing done. 

This was not more than five minutes from our flat, a reminder of the community that was here before developers built masses of blocks of flats. In between the tower blocks you see little collections of houses, all with their gardens and often a patch of land where they grow vegetables. I often wonder how the residents of these small estates feel about having their place surrounded by high rise developments as the city of Vigo swallowed them up. 

Yesterday we walked down to the Carrefour shopping centre to see if they have any DVDs worth purchasing. We are about to finish the series we have been watching and are on the lookout for something else. For all that it is a huge supermarket where you can buy all kinds of electrical good and items of clothing, their DVD and CD collection is pitiful. Back to Mediamarkt, I think, to see if the Germans can do better than the French! 

We didn't just visit the shopping centre, however. Our ultimate aim was the coastal path that goes around A Guía. So, not up to the top of the promontory this time, but round the bottom of it. Some good views of the Rande Bridge and yachts out on the bay. 


And then back to the flat from where we are now beginning to get some halfway decent sunsets.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Out and about on the streets of Vigo.

A school bus disgorges its teenage cargo onto the street. Not a single one of them looks to see if there is anyone on the pavement before hopping off and walking away. We are almost mowed down in the process. 

Two elderly ladies, deep in animated conversation as they walk down the street, suddenly stop to go into some important point in more depth. Coming up behind them I am almost disemboweled by the pointed umbrella one of them carries. 

Man with a mission charges off a crossing and continues on his way, almost knocking me off my feet as he hurtles along. 

Just another normal walk along a Spanish street. 

I walked into the town centre to go to the library this morning, not that I'm really short of stuff to read but just to see what they had to offer and whether anything had changed. That was a bit of a waste of time; the library is closed until next Monday for renovation and, I'm pretty sure it said this, air conditioning! It certainly needs that, so maybe I am mistaken. 

The rather smelly passageway through from Puerta del Sol to the library was having work done on it last time we were here. That has now been completed and it all looks very good, apart from the fact that it's already been decorated with graffiti. The shop to the right stands empty and the reconstructed building above, now nicely refitted with what look like hardwood window frames is up for sale or rent. It's rather a shame as the area now looks a lot smarter. There are still a lot of dodgy looking people hanging around the square though, which may explain the empty premises. 

My library visit may have been unsuccessful but I did manage to call in the Novacaixagalicia bank and put some money on our Vitrasa green cards. These get us cheaper travel on the bus, and more efficient entry to the bus as you just need to click your card in the card reader. Last time I tried to recharge these it was only possible to do it using a bank card. There was little point in that as the bank would have charged us for using our English debit card, thus removing any benefit from our having the travel card at all. Today I found one that took cash. A small success! 

On the way back I called in at the supermarket. At the checkout, the rather bored looking young man asked me, ¿Quiere bolsa? I replied that no, I didn't need a bag. He continued, "¿Coche en el parking?" No, I didn't need to validate a parking ticket. And finally, with a fairly straight face, "¿Cola cao?" No I didn't want a chocolate drink, either. We both grinned. 

 I suppose if you work on a till you must do something to relieve the

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Assessing things!

Sunshine today. So the weather witch, the lady in the bread shop who predicted good weather for today (and the day after and the day after that), was right. 14 degrees at 9.30 this morning on the billboard at the end of the road. 25 on Calle Florida at 12.45 - with a name like that you would expect nothing less. 19.5 at the bottom of Gran Vía at 3.30. This is more like it. Let's hope it continues for a while. 

We were on Calle Florida because we went out to Lunch with our friend Brendan today. One of the things we talked about in our catching up was the progress his sons have been making at school. He told us about his eldest son, Rafa, coming out of school with "bad news" (the child's words). He had been given1/10 for "conocimiento". 

The Spanish assessment system gives children a mark out of 10 for each subject, grading them "sobresaliente", excellent, "bien", good, "suficiente"' acceptable, "insuficiente", unacceptable, and "deficiente", poor. 1/10 is definitely "deficiente". How does a child who is bright and lively and achieves well all round suddenly become "deficiente"? Well, it turns out that most of the class were, if not actually "deficiente" in "conocimiento", were certainly not much more than "suficiente". So what was going on? 

"Conocimiento" basically means knowledge but as a school subject apparently covers ability to express himself and also assesses his use of Galego, the regional language. Minor mistakes in his Galego take marks away. The child's father was understandably more than a little annoyed. Things like using the Castellano "y" for "and" instead of the Galego "e" took away all the marks for an otherwise correctly composed sentence. Now, this is a child who switches from Spanish to English at the drop of a hat! Not a stupid child by any means! Also, he is only seven years old! 

Regardless of the language problem, more disturbing is the fact that at seven years old he was aware that a 1/10 was bad news for Daddy. A seven year old should not even be aware of being assessed and tested, in my opinion anyway. This is a debate that has taken place regarding SATs, Standard Assessment Tests in the UK. There have been calls for more formal testing for primary age children. Surely the teacher of a class of small children should be able to assess the children's progress informally without putting pressure on! 

Anyway, there it is. 

Looking at newspapers online yesterday I came across items about another, even smaller, child: the little Prince George, who is accompanying his parents, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, on a visit to New Zealand. There was much comment about Kate's outfits, as you might expect, some of it quite negative and all of it rather unnecessary. Sartorially, my only concern was why a little chap who isn't walking under his steam - he was only born last July, after all - was pictured wearing shoes!!! This is one of my personal bugbears. Babies don't need shoes until they learn to walk. It can actually delay learning to walk.

I noted, in passing as it were, that they are also accompanied by the little fellow's nanny: María Teresa Turrión Borrallo. Yes, I checked; she is Spanish. However, it's OK. She's not just a Spanish au-pair. She was trained at Norland College, the posh place for proper nanny training, where they teach them to push proper baby carriages. 

I just wonder if she speaks to her small charge in Spanish; this would be a perfect opportunity to bring up the third in line for the British throne properly bilingual!

Monday, 7 April 2014

Into unknown territory!

Last year we bought a street map of Greater Vigo. It’s an excellent map except for one thing: the area just behind our block of flats, San Xoan do Monte, is covered by the key that tells you what all the various symbols on the map mean. Clearly, whoever put the map together decided that no-one could possibly want to go up there or if they live there they don’t need a map. 

So that is precisely the area we went exploring on Sunday afternoon. We’ve been up there a few times before. You can’t really get lost. You just know you have to go back downhill towards the sea. So no problem. Unless, of course, the fog comes down! However, Sunday afternoon, although cloudy, didn’t seem about to lose us in the fog. In fact it was positively warm – there’s that tropical weather again! We had gone out with just-in-case umbrellas, in view of the clouds, but really should have taken water bottles. 

Off we went, up Rua de San Xoan do Monte, past the point where I turn off to the left on my morning run, round to the right beyond the funny little roadside shrine that looks as though it’s been there since the Middle Ages and past the Bouza Brey School. At this point we often turn left, which brings us out eventually somewhere near the Carrefour shopping centre. This time we tried a new route to the right and found ourselves going up and up and up, with no turning off for some time. Eventually we seemed to reach the top of the “monte” where there were some fine views. 

We went past a huge “depósito de auga”, some kind of water treatment plant. Oddly, there was a small rowing boat outside the building. I wonder why. Did they expect floods at the top of the hill? Or do they occasionally have to row about to inspect the depósito”? 

There was also quite a substantial forest, almost all eucalyptus trees unfortunately but I suppose you can’t have everything. 

Right at the very top, one of the fine houses was called “La Cumbre” – the summit – which seemed appropriate. 

After taking a look at the view from the other side of San Xoan do Monte, we tried to find a way down that would not involve retracing our steps, something we really prefer not to do. This proved quite difficult and did at one point involve us turning back from a dead end. 

By now we were looking down on the promontory of A Guía: pretty high up! 

The views out over the bay were impressive. 

Looking “inland”, we could have been out in open country, not on the edge of a large city. There were horses tethered on open land. Almost all the grand houses were equipped with large, loud dogs that kicked up a song and dance as we went past. 

Eventually, following the earlier mentioned principal of heading down towards the water, we found our way back onto familiar territory, along Rua da Fonte das Mozas (Maidens’ Fountain Street – how picturesque) and onto Camiño da Pouleira (Henkeeper’s Road), where there was a drinking fountain – much appreciated. By then we could see out twin blocks of flats sticking up. It’s always reassuring to see where you are aiming for. 

Back home to wash our hot feet and have a cup of tea. Enough exploring for one day!