Thursday, 31 May 2012

Good morning, Vigo.

Running around the Castro this morning early (I am not the only mad person who does this; there are quite few early runners), I noticed that the Independence of the Seas has arrived here again. That boat must know its way in by now and probably comes on automatic pilot. I must say that the cruise-boat tourists have had a lovely week to visit this fair city. Blue sky and sunshine! According to a friend of ours it has been laid on especially for us; apparently there has been a good deal of rain since we last were here a month ago. 
We’ve been checking up on a variety of things. Yes, our library cards are still valid and yes the library needs our new address. And my old friend Silvia still goes to book clubs at the library: we ran into her outside the library. Yes, we can still recharge our “tarjetas verdes” to get cheap travel on the bus. Now we just need to find a machine in the bank that will take cash as there’s no point in paying a charge for using our bank cards in Spanish machines!!! 
The “casco viejo”, the old part of town does not seem to have changed a good deal. It was due for some restoration so the crisis must have affected development work there. We did find some interesting graffiti in the old quarter though. Artistic talent is alive and well and lives in Vigo.
Life in the bijou residence continues to be fun. At one point yesterday, right in the middle of cooking lunch, the electricity decided to cut out completely and we had to hunt for the fuse box and reset things. Once everything was put back in place it all worked fine so we are now crossing our fingers that it was just a one-off occurrence. Then this morning the shower didn’t like the water pressure going through the pipe and went horizontal on me, water flying over my head and causing a minor flood in the bathroom. It’s fun mopping the floor wrapped in a towel. I have yet to discover how the washing machine works. I have hunted for a manual; there is one for a non-existent toaster but nothing for the washer. This is all part of the adventure! 

Meanwhile we are trying to find a solution the internet-at-home problem. Wifi cafes are all very well but Phil is getting a little frustrated. It’s only when you are deprived of it that you realise how dependent you can become on technology. The Vodafone shop may have the answer. 

I’m getting a definite feeling of déjà vu, however, as I walk into shops and explain what we want and why ADSL via a landline is not the answer for us at the moment. I did all that about four years ago. Can it really be that long? 

 One thing that has changed in those four years is that I have been able to walk into a supermarket and buy a basil plant to put on my kitchen window ledge. The first time I tried that I was told that you couldn’t grow basil in Galicia. Some things do improve then.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Living la vida loca.

 Life in our new bijou residence – one bedroom, one bathroom, living/dining room, kitchen with MINIMUM cat-swinging room – is interesting to say the least. Even to make breakfast we had to buy a coffee maker and a small pan. If I am to cook lunch I need to buy more pans, more dishes. Even to serve a salad I need to buy a salad bowl. These are the matters of great importance which occupy my time at present. 

More dramatically we almost locked ourselves out. Well, not quite. Phil went out to check something to do with the post box and couldn’t get back in; his key would not turn in the lock. Fortunately I was still inside so I opened the door and we swapped places. My key wouldn’t do it either. After about 15 to 30 minutes of messing about I had a vague memory of Blanca from the estate agent’s having some difficulty and pulling the door towards her from outside before the key would turn. Magic! However, each time we leave now it is with some trepidation. Will we get back in? Do we need to take enough money with us to pay for a hotel room, just in case? 

I went out early yesterday morning and discovered that the same bad violinist was “playing” on Príncipe, his appearance enhanced by the addition of a Leonard Cohen style trilby. His music was not enhanced at all, despite all the practice he gets. Down by the port in the strange concrete monstrosity that has no recognisable purpose that I know of, down and outs were sleeping in late. I am quite surprised that their makeshift shelters are allowed to remain there, so close to where the cruise liners come in. What the German tourists I saw there yesterday made of them I hesitate to think. 

Maybe they were too busy taking photos of themselves posting letters to notice. Yes, that’s right: taking photos of themselves posting letters. I know Spanish post boxes are a nice bright yellow but really!!! A photo next to the swimmer sculpture is understandable, but surely not next to a post box. 

Spontaneous stopping continues in interesting ways here. The latest example I saw was two obviously old friends in the middle of a pedestrian crossing. They managed to restrain the greater part of the hugging and kissing until they got closer to the pavement but they did stop first right in the middle of the road to exclaim and express their delight. They have clearly not read the reports of the numbers of people killed or injured in Galicia on pedestrian crossings. (Those statistics could, of course, be reduced by the fairly simple measure of not putting parking places right next to the crossings, but that would be too logical. After all, people have such difficulty parking!!!) 

Later in the day I too came across an old friend and had to stop, exclaim, express delight and hug and kiss but not, I hasten to say, in a dangerous place. It was Maribel from the French “Club de lecture” at the library. So now I am booked to go and visit the group next Monday and almost certainly to go on the group outing somewhere interesting to speak French all day and eat nice food. 

What else should you do when you come to Spain?

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

This Blogger is back in Spain

 On Sunday we left behind the little lambs in the fields of Delph (the Saddleworth village where we live) and the preparations for the upcoming Whit Friday celebrations. The latter include the setting up of the “Delph Donkey Trail” where local shopkeepers and pub landlords put strange model donkeys in their shop windows or car parks and people go round ticking them off on a list. I suppose it’s a kind of trendy modern version of the I-Spy books of my childhood. 

Anyway we set off, having a lift to Liverpool airport with our daughter who very nearly got us lost by going on autopilot and following her normal route to university. This is what happens when you get into indignant conversation about stuff while driving. En route we passed a splendid example of English (il)literacy advertising a strange food called “homeade soup”. Lemonade is made from lemons so maybe this soup is made from homes. 

Eventually we made it to Liverpool and only set off half an hour late as a result of a baggage handling fiasco. Just as we were about to take off they discovered we had an extra bag in the hold and we had to go back and get sorted out. So Ryanair were deprived of the chance to trumpet another flight arriving on time at Oporto. 

Apart from that our flight was uneventful, despite the permanently whingeing child sitting behind us. Mind you, having heard the mother screeching in Portuguese about problems with her seat and her hand luggage I’m not surprised that the child was bad-tempered. 

We knew that we would arrive in Oporto too late to travel on to Vigo at once so we had tried unsuccessfully to book into our usual Oporto hotel, the Residencial Vera Cruz. They had passed us on to one of their “sister hotels”, the Pão de Azucar, just round the corner. When we got there, however, they denied all knowledge of this and discovered that in fact we were booked into yet another “sister”, the Hotel Aliados, just round another corner. Such fun! 

 In the middle of all this my Phil thought he was in danger of losing the money belt he had fastened round his middle. He had loosened it during the flight and realised as we tried to book into the Pão de Azucar that it was sliding down the inside of his trouser leg. By the time we reached the Hotel Aliados, it was reaching his knee. I don’t think there was any real danger of his losing our Euros but he was a little concerned, not to say embarrassed. A lesson in being more careful with your money was learnt I think. 

 Finally we were booked in, installed and ready to play hunt the late-evening beer. After our last experience of late-Sunday-evening opening (or lack of the same) in Oporto, we checked with the receptionist in the hotel before venturing forth. Luckily the hotel had some kind of deal with the Guarany, a cafe-restaurant on the corner, and we successfully acquired a nice cold beer and a “tosta”, a sort of ham and cheese toastie for Phil. 8 euros worth of refreshments: not bad at all. 

Monday morning dawned fine and sunny but surprisingly far less hot than Manchester has been for the last week. I looked out of the window to see this fine example of the splendours of the tops of buildings. And so we breakfasted and rushed off to catch the bus to Vigo, arriving just too late to catch the estate agents’ office open. But were we downhearted? Not one bit for across the way was the Casa Puentes where we had a good basic menu del día for €7.90 each. 

Not only that but it also has wifi so we have chosen it as our wifi cafe for the time being. It almost made up for having spend the rest of the afternoon buying stuff from the local Chinese bazaar, stuff like pots and pans that our so-called furnished and equipped flat did not have. 

Still, all part of life’s rich pattern. With luck the sun will keep shining on us.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Crazy country, crazy world!

Forget about the queen’s Jubilee celebrations and the fast approaching Olympic Games, what the country has been going mad for this week is sunshine. As we finalise our preparations to escape to Spain for the summer, the skies over Manchester turn blue and the temperatures soar.

As a result everywhere I’ve gone this week I have been treated to the delights of the male of the British species showing off his upper torso to the world, regardless of whether said upper torso is toned or flabby, regardless of whether anyone really wants to see it. Sitting outside pubs, and not just country pubs but also central Manchester pubs, walking down the street, standing chatting on the corner, men have got their tops off and it’s not always a pretty sight.

Shorts and t-shirts, vest tops, short sleeved shirts, I’m all in favour of those in the sunshine but why does the British male think he has to bare his chest to the world just because there is a bit of sunshine. Sunbathing should be confined to the beach or the garden. I’ll even stretch a point and say, OK, in the park as well if they’re stretched out on the grass. But, please, not on the street. Even though strappy tops may abound, I’ve yet to see the women deciding to parade around in their bikini tops on the high street.

I may, of course, be mistaken but I don’t remember seeing this kind of male striptease as a normal way of dressing on the terrazas of Spanish bars and cafés. At a beach bar maybe but not in the town centre. When I arrive in Spain, I shall check up on the situation.

The Jubilee and the Olympic games are making their presence felt here in the general madness. You can’t move around here for red, white and blue stuff. Every shop is decorated with flags and pictures of royal personages. They are all stuffed to the very top with books, mugs, notebooks, pens, t-shirts, dresses and other items of clothing, all decorated with the union jack and pictures of Her Majesty. And then we almost had an international scandal when Queen Sofía of Spain withdrew her acceptance of the invitation to Queen Elizabeth of the UK’s Jubilee dinner. This was apparently sour grapes over Gibraltar. One of the princes had been sent to Gib to help them celebrate the Jubilee and someone said that under the circumstances Sofía really shouldn’t go to England. Very silly, if you ask me.

And then there are those games. Policemen on duty at the events have been instructed to show the “happy face of policing”. I wonder if someone is going to play “The Laughing Policeman” on a repeating loop to make sure they smile. An old lady in Norfolk has been told she mustn’t sell at her church fare a doll for which she has knitted an outfit featuring “GB 2012” and the Olympic ring logo. She might be breaching copyright!! Now I know that the world has gone crazy.

 If I needed further proof, I only need to look towards Cannes where various film stars such as Mr Brad Pitt are charging for interviews at the film festival. For 20 minutes of good old Brad’s time journalists must pay £2000. James Gandolfini and Nicole Kidman are marginally cheaper at £1200 for 20 minutes. Do these people and their film companies not earn enough money? Don’t they appreciate the publicity they get when an interview is featured in a newspaper or magazine?

It’s definitely time I got away from it all.

If anyone else fancies escaping a friend of mine has a two-bedroom flat to let close to the sea in Baiona, not far from Vigo. If you are interested, let me know.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

A penny for them.

 So various countries of Europe are still staggering through the continuing financial crisis and we are no nearer to knowing what the final outcome will be. We reap a sort of benefit as we get more Euros for our pounds but it leaves a bad taste in the mouth to be gaining from others’ misfortunes. 

In today’s news I heard that the UK’s unemployment figures are down. Why is this? More people are taking part-time jobs as these are in many cases the only ones available. And so the unemployment statistics are artificially changed once again. Pretty soon we’ll be like other countries of Europe that I know of where people have several part time jobs but little or no security of employment. 

I also came across a curious tale of someone getting his own back on his accountant. The man in question must not have been happy to have to pay his accountant £804 pounds and went along to the bank to get the money in 1p and 2 p coins. He then sent this along in five crates to pay his bill. Unfortunately for him this is against the law. It transpires that these coins are only legal tender if you are paying for something costing 20p or less. You can spend up to £5 in 5p or 10p coins and up to £10 in 50p or 20p coins. There is no limit to how much you can pay in pound coins, however. 

So this chap could have paid the lot in £1 coins and I’m pretty sure that would have been annoying enough for his accountant to deal with. Or he could have refined it a little and paid with 774 £1 coins, 20 50p coins, 50 20p coins, 50 10p coins and 100 5p coins. I’m sure he could have been satisfied with that. 

As it was he broke the law and ended up paying a fine of £1118.62. I bet he’s even more annoyed now. 

I’m rather glad I don’t have that kind of problem to deal with but only fallen trees in my path. As the alternately soggy and then windy weather around here seems to be loosening the roots of a number of oldish trees around here I come across them and generally have to duck under them as I run, jog and walk around the area. Here’s the latest one on a bridle path not far from our house. 

Getting back to money matters, I read a report today about how much money British household waste by throwing food away: £270 per year per household according to a recent survey. That’s more than £20 a month. Vegetables and bread are the things most frequently thrown out. 

One of the factors is supermarkets pushing two-for-one offers, leading people to buy more beans, broccoli or blackberries than they really want or need. 

Another thing is people not planning their week’s meals properly and just going to the supermarket and buying “stuff” with the idea that they can make some kind of meals out of it. It’s hard work being organised! 

Personally I suspect that sell-by and use-by dates have something to do with it as well. There’s really no need to throw potatoes or other vegetables away because the use-by date has gone by. Surely a reasonably intelligent person can tell when a potato is past it! 

One thing that struck me was the strategies that the article said people used to reduce their spending on food. 47% of families surveyed are eating out less often and 24% have changed what they eat at mealtimes, for example by buying cheaper food. Most striking for me though was the 26% who now try to “all eat the same food at mealtimes to keep the costs down”. 

Now there’s a revolutionary idea: instead of cooking four or five individual and different dishes, often more expensive “ready meals”, have all the family sit down together to eat the same stuff. Save on cooking pots, energy used and everything. 

And then, you never know, they might get used to the idea of talking to each other over the evening meal as well!!