Sunday, 31 October 2010

Into Portugal.

Yesterday we woke to a familiar sound: Galician rain beating against the window. However, despite the forecast that it would continue all day, by the time we set off for the bus station to begin our journey to Portugal the rain had stopped and the sky had started to clear. And there we were, off on our travels again.

We discovered a good thing about the Alsa bus service to Portugal: if you are over 60 you get a discount on your ticket to Oporto. So we paid 9 Euros instead of 12. That’s practically 2 cups of coffee! They won’t make up the cost of motorway tolls that way. Otherwise the Alsa service was much the same as ever. A bus arrived in the designated bus bay at the designated time with a label that said “Coruña – Portugal”. People put luggage in the hold and showed their tickets to the driver who growled, “Só Fátima e Lisboa”. Not going to Oporto at all then. That’s fine but there’s no need to be grumpy about it and maybe the sign needs to be more specific. He did calm down and reassured us that the bus to Oporto would be along shortly. Some 15 minutes later, in other words fifteen minutes behind schedule, it arrived with an equally grumpy driver and we were on our way.

We had originally thought we might catch a train at 1.45 from Oporto to Figueira da Foz but it quickly became clear that we were not going to make it, despite the driver catching up on some of his lost time en route. So we wandered into the city centre – trying out my Portuguese to ask directions, only to be answered in American English - and had a fairly rapid but very good value lunch at a place called Restaurante Marinheiro, not far from Avenida dos Aliados: €13.20 for olives, fanecas fritas (some kind of fish) served with huge quantities of rice, wine, water and coffee, ordered mostly in Portuguese with a bit of Spanish thrown in. Not bad at all!

Then we negotiated the Oporto metro system – probably very simple if you use it every day – to get to the Campanhá railway station where my Portuguese was marginally more successful for buying tickets to Figueira. The helpful lady in the ticket office did have very good English, however, which was useful when I completely forgot the meaning of “trocar” as she explained that we needed to change trains at Coimbra.

We then experienced two extremes of train travel. From Oporto to Coimbra we travelled in a modern, high speed train. I wanted to take photos of storks’ nests on top of electricity pylons but by the time I had got my camera out we were way past the objective of my picture. At one point we clocked up 220 kilometres an hour. Clean, comfortable and fast: most impressive! And then we switched to a
“comboio urbano”, the local train service from Coimbra to Figueira da Foz, stopping at every possible place along the way and probably not getting above 25 kilometres an hour. Still, we got lots of Portuguese pronunciation examples as the public address system announced the “proxima estação” just before each new stopping place.

And finally we were there and it was a fine but windy early evening. So we walked – rather further than we expected – to our hotel, asking a policeman for directions along the way. He was a little surprise that we were on foot but was very helpful and then, just after we had checked in, turned up at the hotel to make sure we had arrived safely. Now, that is what I call community policing!!

Some time later, showered, smartened up and generally rested, we emerged to go to the opening ceremony of the chess congress which is the main reason for our being here. This involved a glass of port for everyone and an address by the organiser, thanking the local council and various sponsors for their support and naming almost everyone who represented a country other than Portugal. Then followed a concert of fado music and singing by a group of gentlemen from Coimbra. From what I was able to make out they are very proud of THEIR music, far superior, it would seem, to the kind of fado they do in Lisbon!! Don’t you just love these folksie rivalries??

Friday, 29 October 2010

It’s good to be back, even if it is raining nicely this morning.

Yesterday we got up at the crack of dawn. OK, about six o’ clock, which IS the crack of dawn for us. By not long after seven we were on the road to Liverpool’s John Lennon airport, stressing a little about the heavy traffic already at that time of day. I was reminded of how grateful I am not to be doing a motorway run every morning at about that time as I used to.

Still, it was a nice morning, planes were making noughts and crosses grids in the sky and we watched the sun start to come up. Because we had had a slower journey to the airport than planned we had less time to wait in the airport itself and, despite a slight delay in departing – sitting on a lane for twenty minutes while they wait for permission to take off is NOT fun – by midday we were in Porto where the sun was shining and we hopped on a bus to Vigo.

I handed the driver a 20 euro note for our fare to Vigo only to discover that the fare has gone up from 10 Euros to 12 Euros. When did this happen? The last time we did that run in mid August it still cost 10 Euros. In the summer was the answer provided. Hmm, I wonder if the bus companies are recouping motorway charges from their passengers!!

And so we walked up from Vigo bus station in the sunshine, pulling our wheelie suit cases along the annoyingly noisy pavement. The place appears mostly unchanged, as you might expect since we’ve only been away for a couple of months or so. Up at the top of Travesía de Vigo they have finished some of the repaving and along Travesía itself the urban renewal is clearly in the process of setting up smart
new benches. (There still is money available for some things then! Crisis? What crisis?) Some of them still had the cardboard wrapping on, others had been unwrapped but still had traces of wrapping at the base of the legs (maybe the residents had got fed up of waiting and had unwrapped them themselves) and one had already been tagged. Those graffiti artists work fast, you know.

We are staying with a friend in the block where we used to rent a flat. Here the obras continue slowly. Our friend has a report from the last meeting of the comunidad which reports that “las obras van con retraso”. Well, that much is obvious. I’m glad I’m not a flat owner trying to rent out my flat. The place really is a mess with scaffolding and builders’ rubble all over the place. The meeting also reported on the state of the heating pipes which apparently are “todo podrido”. How does a building only about 5 to 10 years old have such a bad state of repair? Poor work by the people who installed the system it would seem. I imagine the presidente de la comunidad getting estimates for the work and having a series of workmen shake their heads and say what bad work had been done by the previous lot. Plumbers and builders seem to be the same the world over.

In the short time we are here we are trying to see as many people and places as possible. Last night we popped down to La Porchaba for a glass or two of wine and some tapas. This excellent bar is as busy as ever, so much so that they managed to mix our bill up and try to charge us for chipirones we thought about having but never actually ordered. I look forward to visiting it some time in the New Year when the new no-smoking regulations come into force. That will be a pleasant new experience.

This morning I woke up to the familiar sound of Galician rain beating down but still donned my raincoat and went down the hill to say hello to my regular panadera. It was like meeting an old friend. She is still as talkative as ever and got very excited to see me and pressed a bag full of fresh magdalenas – no charge! She went on to tell me about a “Belgian” lady who had recently, sadly left Vigo, mostly because she wasn’t happy with her children’s schooling here. Hmm, that sounds like a familiar story, I thought. The panadera then showed me some picture drawn for her by the “Belgian” children – she has a collection of pictures children give her stuck on the wall of the shop. Yes, just as I thought, the children were Ione and Scott, not Belgian at all but Irish-Scottish, the children of the friend we are staying with. Small world!

And now, we are off to meet some old friends at another favourite haunt of ours, El Puerto restaurant. Nice fishes for lunch I think!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Sunshine here and there.

We had a week of sunshine at Colonia de Sant Pere and considered ourselves very fortunate, finishing off the week with a stomp up a mountain to see a hermitage and some rather fine views over the bay of Alcudia into the bargain.

The path took us up and up by twists and turns, scrambling over rocky places that would probably have required a handrail and a warning notice in the UK. Consequently we
were not a little surprised to meet some (fool)hardy folk attempting the descent by bicycle. Now I know they call them mountain bikes or in Spanish todo terreno but, homestly, there is a limit!

Still, who am I to tell others what to do? I
suspect that they had ridden up the mountain from Arta on a good, properly surfaced road and decided to explore the other side. They really should have taken a look at a map to get an idea of the terrain they were covering.

And so Saturday came along and we said goodb
ye to Colonia Sant Pere, until the next time, whenever that turns out to be. The dial-a-bus system worked perfectly once again. I really am most impressed with this service.

The taxi driver was commenting on the weather and how fortunate they are in the island of Mallorca and particul
arly in their little corner which will be very quiet from now until next spring. She felt that children growing up in a place like Colonia de Sant Pare had a real advantage over city children, having the freedom to wander, to get close to nature and to be independent.

Telling us about the winter they lived through this year though, with snow on Mallorca for the first time in about 50 years, she did, however, express a certain regret, a sort of nostalgia for what she never or rarely has, weather cold enough to merit muffling yourself up in scarves and woolly hats and gloves!

Because of the timing of our various buses and our flight from Palma to Manchester, we didn’t really have time for a proper sit-down lunch and so we bought take away sandwiches and a drink from the bus/train/metro station café in Palma. I would highly recommend this to buying food and drink at the airport, We paid 5.80€ for two sandwiches and a soft drink, compared with 6.70€ for 2 soft drinks in the airport and then 1.60€ for a small bottle of water to take on the plane with us. Another example of the daylight robbery that goes on in airports with their captive clientele!

And finally we zoomed down into Manchester where the evening temperature was 7°. Just a little shock to the system. It was even worse this morning, though, waking up to frost on the shed roof! Still, the sun has shone nicely, one of those excellent autumn days, crisp and bright. Mustn’t grumble!!

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Back where the IDEA began.

Having spent few days now reacquainting ourselves with Colonia de Sant Pere, we have not yet been able to work out how the place remains so relatively unchanged. We’ve walked along the coastal path in both directions, discovering that in the even smaller settlement of Betlem there is nowhere to get any kind of refreshment at lunchtime (probably quite appropriately so since in the original Bethlehem there was notoriously no room at the inn) and in the other direction that quite a number of people still enjoy nudist bathing even in October and that you can eat well if not extremely cheaply in a small place called Son Serra.

Having said
that, looking at the bill from the Restaurante Lago, our lunch would have been considerably cheaper had Phil not opted for chipirones and then dorada, two fairly expensive items. The food was very good, however, and the portions quite huge. We could probably have managed with just one ensalada especial between the two of us for a starter and skipped the chipirones. They did cheat a little though, putting bread and olives on the table before the food arrived and then charging for them. That sounds rather like Portuguese practices to me.

Still, it’s all part of the adventure and, as I said, it’s rather nice to see that the whole of this little coastal strip is largely unchanged. Not a building above three stories and not a tattoo parlour or a karaoke bar in sight. I wonder how they have managed to preserve it so unspoilt.

La Colonia de Sant Pere has been in existence since 1880, founded by the Homar brothers from a place a little inland by the name of La Devesa. They were taking advantage of the Ley de colonias agrícolas y poblaciones rurales which gave financial incentives to people prepared to go and cultivate new bits of the island. Others followed suit and came to join them so that by the end of the 19th century it had 53 houses and 66 officially registered families, of whom 41 lived here permanently.

The po
pulation went up and down for the next 60 years or so until the tourist boom started and wealthy folk began park their boats in the marina. La Colonia still remained small but by the year 2000 it had around 500 houses (including bars, shops, etc) and a fixed population of 250, increasing considerably at weekends and in the summertime.

So, it’s still not what you
would call huge. The streets are set out in a nicely geometrical grid. There’s a largish square in front of the picturesque church and you can take a walk along a paseo marítimo (passeig maritim) lined with tamarind trees. It’s a very peaceful place, ideal for relaxing and “chilling” but not a place to come to if you seek a lively nightlife.

In fact, today we had some difficulty finding ourselves somewhere to have a late lunch. We had walked up to a local point of interest, an old hermitage halfway up the mountain, and had got back later than planned. Just about everywhere had stopped serving lunch and we ended up at a café on the seafront with baguettes de jamón de york y queso and a plate of chips washed down with a couple of cañas. But we are not complaining. No indeed. We are enjoying the peace and quiet.

We’ve also been looking in the estate agents’ windows. Kühn and Partner (the very name reflects the fairly large German presence here) advertise wonderful houses and villas with beautiful swimming pools at exciting prices like 1 780 000 euros, 2 350 000 euros, a snip at 850 000 euros or, if you feel adventurous, a plot of land with planning permission for a mere 89 000 euros.

Doing this and laughing at the outrageous sums of money being asked for dwellings here, I remembered that we did the same the last time we were here, around eight years ago. It was after that visit that we took ourselves off to language schools in Italy with the idea of maybe going to live there for a while. And then we had a series of holidays in Galicia and eventually THE IDEA came into being. And so finally we went to spend a year, which became two, in Vigo, an idea that may very well be repeated.

But, in actual fact, the germ of THE IDEA was started here in Colonia de Sant Pere.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Bright and breezy, with Orange

Here we are on a sunny Wednesday morning. Cold and snow are forecast for parts of the UK, I understand, so we are very glad to be getting some October sunshine in Mallorca. Yesterday was also bright and sunny so after we had had our boiled eggs for breakfast (this is a German run hotel, after all) in the small and airy dining room here, looking out on prickly pears and the local church we set off exploring.

We went for a jog that turned into a stroll along the coast, admiring the scenery and watching the waves rushing in.

We were disappointed in our quest to find a café open for refreshments along the way. I am sure hat when we were here a few years ago there was one open but maybe they have decided it’s not worth the effort at this time of year.. We did persuade one place where a girl was cleaning and polishing to sell us a bottle of water and then we went on our way.

It’s mostly wild and unspoilt around here with occasional very sumptuous villas and fincas and then the odd surprise when you come across an urbanización which is closed closed off from public eye as if they expect an attack from marauding hoards.

Lunch was a rather pedestrian potato salad followed by hake with yet more potatoes and some green salad. If this is cuina mallorquina it has little to recommend it so far: well presented but rather bland and nothing special. Mind you we only paid 7€ each so we can’t really complain. We will try somewhere else today.

I did try out the swimming pool (I do have a reputation for liking swimming pools) but the water was rather cold and the pool not big enough to give you a good long swim to make up for it. Neither was it really hot enough out of the water to warm you up again. Still, I did try it.

Into the evening I was just getting into composing a nice little blog post when my Spanish phone rang. An officious lady asked to speak to my husband. When I asked who was calling all she would tell me was that she was from an asesoria in Madrid and repeated that she wanted to speak to Philip Adams. Oops, I thought, has the taxman caught up with him? How do they have my phone number?

But no, it was Orange, claiming that we needed to pay them for August and September for the mobile internet connection we had in Vigo and which we cancelled when we set off back for the UK. When I reported on my last phone argument with them on the day we left Vigo, my friend Colin said we had probably not heard the last of them. He was right. Anyway after they had spoken to my husband and he had handed them to me because my Spanish is better, I had another phone argument with them, explained the situation and appeared to be getting nowhere. In the middle of her insistence that we needed to pay 31.65€, an amount completely different from the standing order we used to pay, the line went dead and that was the end of it. Maybe her working hours had finished and she gave up. Maybe her phone stopped working. I checked my bank online and now have chapter and verse of all the payments we made to them just in case she calls again though.

I have been in touch with friends who have been pursued by Orange for sums of money, usually much greater than 31.65€, so I wait to see whether the officious lady contacts me again. In the meantime, I can always turn off my Spanish phone and ignore her and get on with enjoying the beautiful day.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Language matters.

Today we left the tourist paradise of Magaluf and caught a bus to Palma de Mallorca, then a bus to a place by the name of Arta and finally, by prior arrangement, a taxi from Arta to Colonia Sant Pere on Alcudia bay. The last stage of the journey was, I felt, a wonderful bit of public transport. It cost us 2€ per person for a trip that had we done it in greater Manchester would undoubtedly have gone into double figures. When we investigated travel to this rather out of the way place we discovered that there was a “bus”, the number 481, which went from Arta to Colonia Sant Pere. The catch was that you had to phone up in advance to book it, giving them your name and passport number. Goodness knows what they would do if you failed to turn up.

What we had not expected though was that a taxi would be waiting for us as we got off the bus i
n Arta but that is what the “bus” was. It turns out that the taxi firm has a contract with the bus company who feel that it is not worth their while running an actual bus as so few people actual travel the route on a regular basis. Wonderful!!

On the way
I collected a couple of linguistic odds and ends. First of all, in a newspaper in the bus station in Palma I came across a strange new word: oenegé. And then I realised that this is a word made from the Spanish names of the letters of the acronym ONG (o – ene –ge) for Organización no-gubernamental – NGO in English. In English we tend to make the acronyms themselves in words if at all possible – e.g. QUANGO – but the Spanish seem to go the other way. In similar fashion I have come across the word deúvede for DVD (de – uve – de). I suppose I should not be surprised; this is after all the language which made the diminutive for José into Pepe because the biblical Joseph was the father of the good shepherd, el Padre del Pastor, PP. I shall now be on the lookout for further examples.

My other discov
ery is that bus drivers on this delightful island have to be multilingual. The bus stopped to pick up passengers in a place called Sant Llorenç and a whole host of people prepared to board. One after another they named a destination they wanted to reach, only to have the driver tell them that this bus was going to Arta and Cala Rajada. Then some passengers actually got on and proved to me that it is not just the British who assume everyone understands their language.

First there was the French couple who asked for “Deux, pour Cala Rajada”. The driver confirmed that they wanted “dos” and so the lady answered, “oui” and on receiving her ticked said, “Merci”. A German lady got on next and asked for “Vier, Cala Rajada” but sh
e did helpfully hold up four fingers. The next group to get on were also German. Their spokesperson simply said, “Cala Rajada, dreimal, bitte”. The driver just handed over the tickets and took the money without batting an eyelid. He was not even fazed when an Englishman with a broad accent asked him, “When will t’bus for Cala Bona get ‘ere?” he just replied, “Cinco minutos” and held up his hand to show five.

A lit
tle further down the road our driver even helped out some Engish tourists waiting for a bus in the opposite direction. Leaning out of the window he told them, “Bus gone, need estación de trenes, walking 400 metros” in a wonderful mixture of English and Spanish. I was most impressed.

And so, finally we got here to find the place really little changed from the last t
ime we came about eight years ago. There has been clearly been some renovation. The rather wild garden at the back of our hotel has turned into a smart, if rather small, swimming pool complete with sun-loungers and a paved terraza.

The rather scruffy workers’ c
afeteria where used to get a very good value lunch has metamorphosed into a pizzeria, rather like the banks that become trendy wine bars. But otherwise the place is much the same as it ever was.

Even the Aquarium restaur
ant across the road from our hotel is still there.

The sea, however, was really showing off for us. There has been a yellow alert for winds and high seas in
this part of Mallorca and we had rolling waves to prove it. Now to see what the rest of the week brings for us and whether the lady who runs the Aquarium remembers us.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Do you spik Inglis?

Sometimes it seems that just about everybody does. Speak English, that is. There must be far more people from non-English speaking countries who can at least get by in English than there are Anglophones who can manage a bit of some foreign tongue. Here at the chess congress it is certainly the common language. Scandinavians speak to Germans, Finns speak to Spaniards, and even Englishmen speak to Scotsmen and all in English.

However, when you get round to written English it’s a different matter. Here in Magaluf you can eat an English “breakfas” and some time later have “lam chops” or “spare ribbs” for lunch and finish off with a “roastbeaf” dinner. Then you can wash it all down with an international “bieer” or even “two bottle of Bud”. One place lets you know that you can “have a table reserve for you” and on its paper placemats wishes you a “good appetit”. Our hotel has a series of notices, mostly in good English, for its English “gests” and just down the road you can buy some “comfty shoes”. I must get some of those. Then, of course, there are the apostrophes. Willie’s Bar doesn’t actually have an apostrophe; I leave it to you to work out what it looks like. And then there is a bar where “hen’s and stag’s go wild”. But then, I could come up with innumerable examples of missing or inappropriate apostrophes on any high street in the UK so I shouldn’t criticise the Spaniards. It is fun though!

On the subject of language, it appears that Vigo’s own Alberto Nuñez Feijoo has been giving advice to the PP in the Islas Baleares about bilingualism in schools and even multilingualism. Clearly it has all worked so well in Galicia that other regions can follow the model which I seem to remember was based on the Welsh system. Multiculturalism rules OK!

I mentioned a “personality” by the name of Belén Estebán just recently. Well, now I have discovered that down in Cáceres, in the South of Spain, they are getting ready to welcome Ms Estebán for the opening of the Festival Cáceres Pop Art on November 11th. This might be some compensation for having failed in their attempt to become Capital Europea de la Cultura 2016. Ms Esteban is the inspiration for the works produced by artists for this year’s festival. Here are a few examples.

There are reports that the agents of this “personality” asked for 12 000€ for her to appear at the opening ceremony but now apparently they are working on getting expenses.

In other years people such as Fidel Castro or King Juan Carlos have been the muse or victim (depending on your point of view) of the festival.

Next Friday sees the presentation of the Premio Principe de Asturias de los Deportes to La Roja for their great footballing success. Unfortunately la selección española can’t be there in its entirety. Anyone who plays for Real Madrid or Barça can’t attend because spoilsports Jose Mourinho and Josep Guardiola won’t let them. They have games the following day so permission has been denied. There were comments in the article I read about the amount of money spent on private jets and how they could easily have flown them back to their respective teams in time for the games. So much for teamwork!

Friday, 15 October 2010

Teething problems.

It’s strange how you have the same kind of conversation with dentists as you do with hairdressers. You know the kind of thing: where you go on your holidays, what you plan to do later in the day and so on. Maybe it’s because both recognise that visiting them can be quite traumatic and so they want to set you at your ease. I mention this because this afternoon I had an emergency visit to the dentist here in Magaluf.

At breakfast time I bit into a crusty piece of bread a
nd managed to dislodge a crown. Fortunately I didn’t swallow it or try to chew it up but I did end up with a rather gap-toothed smile. So, slipping the offending item into a tissue packet for safekeeping, I went along to reception and asked for directions to the nearest emergency dentist. And off I went at the earliest opportunity, 3.30 this afternoon. That scuppered our plan to walk to the other end of Palma Nova and try out a restaurant that had been recommended. So we went once again to the Italian restaurant Pizza Venezia and tried yet another of their very acceptable pasta dishes.

My dentist was very chatty. We had a strange conversation where I spoke to him in Spanish and he responded in English most of the time. I imagine he gets so used to addressing many of his patients n English that it becomes second nature. It was only after the treatment was finished that he continued in Spanish and then I discovered he was, in fact, French. International dentistry!

During o
ur chat about this and that he told me he could never live in Galicia – too rainy (after some of the trombas we have had this week!) – but then I could never live here in Magaluf with its oh so elegant buildings!!!

My dentist did admit that the food is better in Galicia. In fact he was extremely scathing not just about Magaluf restaurants but about Mallorca in gen
eral, the main problem being, in his opinion, that they serve awful food but think it is great because they don’t know any better. “¡¡¡¡Nunca salen de la isla!!!! he told me.

His receptionist then went on to charge me 105 euros.
Just for sticking a crown back on? Maybe that explains why the Englishman who struck up conversation in Pizza Venezia at lunchtime had such bad teeth; in seven or eight years’ residence here he has obviously refused to pay for dental treatment!!

Onto other things. Here is a cartoon I found in yesterday’s paper in the midst of all the general rejoicing about getting all the Chilean m
iners out safely.

Over the last year a television “personality” by the name of Belén Estebán has been in and out of the gossip news for marital problems, plastic surgery and almost anything else you could think of. Inevitably she has appeared in numerous reality TV shows. I suppose that in some ways the rescue of the miners turned into the ultimate reality show, but this time genuine reality watched by viewers all over the world, so it was to be expected that someone might ask the question posed in the cartoon: "But where is Belén Estebán? She’s not come out.”

Thursday, 14 October 2010

What I have learnt in the news!

The Balearics have been on orange alert for rain and wind and storms. It’s certainly been coming down hard and wet here. How to convert roads into rivers? Just add water! Mind you, one of my former students is complaining about rain in Morocco so it would seem that wetness is the general rule at the moment.

It has become our habit to head for the White Horse pub – a Mallorquín/Scottish establishment just across the road from our hotel – in the late morning for a decent cup of coffee, that served with breakfast at the hotel being quite execrable. In th
e White Horse we can spend the same as we would pay for 15 minutes internet on the hotel computer, have unlimited wifi access for however long we want and, as I said, have a decent cup of coffee as well.

Reading the papers in the pub the other day I learnt that my hero Alberto Contador is so downhearted as a result of accusations of drug taking that he is considering giving up cycling as a career, even if the latest investigation exonerates him(which I understand from today’s reading is the case). And this despite protestations from fellow cyclist Cippolini that our Alberto is one of the greatest proponents of el ciclismo limpio. Personally I have great admiration of these cyclists powering their way up huge mountains and then descending at speed which alone are enough to blow your mind without recourse to illicit substances!!

Other items in the news:-

• One of the investigators into the toxic spillage in Hungary is reported in Spanish papers to be a certain Pia Lindstrom who is or was in charge of the environmental section of the company Boliden whose toxic spillage very nearly caused immense damage to the preservation area El Coto Doñana in the south of Spain back in 1998. Sounds like good joined up thinking!

• Praise here in the Balearics for the Germans. Lots of them have been coming here and they have helped maintain hotel occupation at around 80% in September and October this year, an improvement on last year. And there I was thinking our hotel was just full of Scots, aging Britons and, at the moment, chess players of a whole range of nationalities.

• The Spanish royal family and the politicians have been out in force because Tuesday was El Día de la Hispanidad, known in some parts of South America as El Día de la Resistencia Indígena. There were big, rather military, parades through Madrid with flags from many Spanish speaking countries but with the notable absence apparently of Venezuela. Mr Chávez decided at the last minute not to participate. Apparently there also calls form some quarters in Spain to desligar (more or less disconnect) the celebration from the armed forces.

• Because of that fiesta on Tuesday there was the inevitable puente, taking Monday off as well to extend the weekend. Consequently in today’s news there have been lots of macabre reports of road traffic accidents. Nothing changes.

• And of course on Wednesday almost all the news, especially on TV was about the rescue of the Chilean miners which is of course tremendous. The last news I saw last night had 21 out of the 33 back to the surface. It is of course a fantastic achievement involving international cooperation; even NASA was in on the act. But really it is one that should not have been necessary. One of the rescued miners was reported to have known that the mine was unsafe but took casual work there because he desperately needed a job and on day one found himself trapped. I find it hard to accept that in the 21st century people are still having to accept such conditions of work. At university, longer ago than I care to admit to but back in the 20th century, I read Zola’s description of such things (and a mine cave-in) in his novel Germinal and found it quite horrifying. But he was describing the 19th century and we are now in 2010. The technology exists to get them out. It surely should have prevented them being trapped to begin with.

With that, I shall finish and see if I can manage to find a moment at the White Horse to post this.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Going to Palma

Today we caught a bus and went to Palma de Mallorca. Time to leave the seaside resort of Magaluf for a few hours and visit the metropolis such as it is. So we set off in the sunshine and arrived eventually at the bus station in Palma, part of a quite impressive multi-transport centre: trains, buses and metro, all shiny and modern.

We walked our way down to the old town near the p
ort and took a look at the cathedral but didn’t get inside because, as the sun was shining so nicely when we set off, I had neglected to pack anything to cover my strappy top and bare arms and shoulders are not allowed in the cathedral. Bother these dress codes.

Still we saw some rather fine doorways and fortifications and I discovered that Galicia is not the
only place to make us of galerías as insulation to keep flats warm in winter and cool in summer. Many of the building in old Palma had them too and some looked as though they were not a recent addition.

As lunchtime approached so did the clouds and eventua
lly the rain (another reason to regret not having taken another layer of clothing with me) so we started to look for somewhere to eat.

Now, I have gone on a little recently about the lack of good places to eat in Magaluf. I take it back. Sorry Magaluf, you are clearly better than we thought. Unless we somehow managed to bypass all possible restaurants in Palma there is a definite shortage, not say a dearth. There were cafes and cake shops galore, fast food outlets and snack bars in plenty. Macdonalds, KFC and Subway were all available but could we find any places where people sat civilised at tables and ate proper food? No we could not. They must exist. People must eat out in Palma but WHERE?

Eventually we stopped someone and asked for a recommendation. He send us round the next corner to Digui which he assured us was a very nice tapas place. Well, yes and …. no. It called itself a taller de tapas, a tapas workshop. It had a small range of very elegant, very nicely presented, prizewinning tapas. It wasn’t very pricey but it was rather pretentious and left us feeling that we might like something a little more substantial, please.

However, the nice waitress did help us locate the place on the map, which was useful as we were a bit lost after our wanderings in search of the perfect eaterie. And so, elegantly fed and helpfully directed, we found our way back to the bus station and returned to Magaluf.

Now, this is clearly a day for revising opinions about the place and retracting recent rants. I have rambled on, here and on Facebook, about generously proportioned tourists. It may be that I have been unfair. Some of them could be local people. In yesterday’s paper there was an article informing us that “entre 20 000 y 30 000 personas de Baleares son obesos mórbidos”. Obesity is evidently an international problem.

While we were in Palma we popped into the tourist information office to check up on our travel for next week when we move on to Colonia Sant Pere or Colonia de San Pedro to give it its Castellano name. At first the young man thought we might be confused and really wanted to go to Colonia Sant Jordi which is near here. We put him wise, helped him find Colonia Sant Pere on the map, near (but not too near) to Alcudia. In the event he couldn’t actually tell us any more than we had already discovered on the internet but at least he now knows where it is.

We discovered Colonia Sant Pere some years ago, almost by accident, having hired a car to escape from Palma only to discover that Alcudia was also a bit too loud and kiss-me-quick for our liking. So we went exploring a little further and found a small place with its own small harbour and quite a nice paseo marítimo. So when the chess tournament is over we are going back to see if it has changed.

Quite coincidentally I also read an article about Colonia Sant Pere in yesterday’s paper. The article was really about one of those corruption cases that pops up from time to time but also featured Colonia, complete with photos of what it looked like half a century ago. The story told of a certain María Antonia Munar, former president of the Parlamento Balear, whose secretary has a brother whose bank balance recently increased by around three and half million euros. That’s quite a lot of money, I am sure you will agree.

Now, María Antonia Munar is in some kind of relationship with a jefe fiscal, Bartomeu Barceló and the money is believed to have come from that source … possibly. Although María Antonia Munar is accused of dodgy dealings of her own by all accounts. Mr Barceló claims to have no idea who the secretary’s brother is but according to the journalist it would seem that everyone in Colonia Sant Pere, where Mr Barceló has a boat as well as family connections, knows that the two gentlemen are well acquainted. That’s interesting!!!

The journalist took a trip to Colonia Sant Pere to investigate and was rather surprised to find that the little place where he spent some of his holidays in the 1960s, when it had around 40 to 50 houses, had grown somewhat.

I hope we are not in for any nasty surprises!

Sunday, 10 October 2010

We seem to have got off lightly!

As we waited in Manchester airport on Thursday afternoon for our plane to Mallorca we noticed that there were an amazing number of people wearing kilts. As they mostly had Scottish accents we decided they were probably entitled to wear them. It was quite interesting to note that the female of the species tended to wear a much shorter kilt than the males. There was, however, no indication of why there were so many of them around.

On Friday I discovered what had been going on. They were all football fans on their way to Prague to watch their team play. I found this out because there was a news report about Easyjet having refused to allow a group of Scotland fans to get on a plane from Amsterdam to Prague and sending them back to the UK. Apparently they had imbibed too much alcohol and were deemed too drunk and rowdy to fly with Easyjet. One group of disappointed fans. The drinkers on our plane fortunately did not get particularly rowdy. Their language deteriorated as their alcohol intake increased but they responded pleasantly enough to requests to sssssshhhhhhhh!

I was informed by my daughter that we were lucky to be flying to Mallorca rather than Menorca. Apparently a plane leaving at the same time as ours for that smaller island had to offload its passengers and delay its departure because some wag had filled a sick bag and labelled it “BOMB”. Just in case this happened to be true all the passengers had to disembark while the dubious bag was checked. Such are the trials and tribulations of today’s travellers.

As we flew into Palma airport we could see at least three huge cruise liners docked in Palma harbour. It was quite like being back in Vigo. I wondered which of those boats I had actually seen in Galicia. By the time we had landed, trekked about a million miles across Palma airport to the exit and caught the bus into Palma centre it was already going dark. So when we saw the cruise liners again from the bus to Magaluf we could see that they were decked out with fairy lights, all bright and sparkling against the night sky. Now that was something that we never saw when the boats were in Vigo harbour. But then Palma and the whole strip of places out to Palma Nova, Magaluf and beyond are in general much more twinkly than Vigo which still has the business of being a working industrial port to deal with.

Today we have continued to explore this part of the island of Mallorca, having certain items we needed to buy, including mosquito repellent as the warm weather here seems to have brought the little beasties out. For the first time in a long time I have had my ankles chewed. I am not impressed! Neither, I must say, am I impressed with the shops around here. There are loads of places which laughingly call themselves supermarkets but in fact are just more places to buy sunhats, beach mats, cheap towels, babies’ dummies with the infants’ names on, t-shirts for bigger people with THEIR names on, any number of mugs, plaited braids, brooches and bangles with people’s names on. (And they NEVER have my name!!!) Very few, however, seem to stock normal supermarket items. It must be assumed that all those who have holiday flats will eat out all the time. And anyone who lives here permanently must have to go further afield to a proper supermarket.

Most surprising though has been the difficulty in getting hold of fresh fruit. Having grown accustomed to places in almost every part of Spain where small fruit and vegetable shops – old fashioned greengrocers, in fact – are all over the place, indeed on every second corner, it is strange not to find a single one here. Of course, this IS essentially a holiday resort not a place where people really live. I shall take trip back into Palma itself one day soon and report on the situation there, almost certainly more normal.

Meanwhile, the sun has been shining on us. I have once again played dormouse (as in Alice in Wonderland) swimming round and round in circles in the hotel pool and will make that a daily occupation. There’s not really a lot to complain about.

Friday, 8 October 2010

It’s Spain, folks, but not as we know it.

So, here I am back in Spain, well Mallorca, more precisely Magaluf. We arrived late yesterday evening after a day of mixed frustration and successfully organised travel.

First frustration: the bus we had planned to catch at 11.24 from the corner of our street didn’t arrive un
til around 11.40. This is a common feature of buses in our area but not one you should rely on. The day that you think it doesn’t matter too much if you arrive at the bus stop late is the day that the bus leaves early. The drivers work to their own idiosyncratic timetable, influenced by road works (naturally and acceptably enough) and traffic but also by the mood of the individual driver.

The next stage
of our journey went well enough: bus from Oldham to Manchester. We were MOST impressed by the train service from Manchester Piccadilly to Manchester airport: frequent, fast and free in our case – over 60s’ bus passes work on local trains as well as buses. (Please Mr Conservative Cameron, don’t remove them as part of your austerity measures!)

The airport wait was much as usual but as we travelled with Monarch this time we had allocated seats, which was a pleasant change. No nasty race for the best seats. The plane, however,
was rather more full of bling and boozy chaps than we have been used to on our travels to northwest Spain. Some people spend a phenomenal amount of money on in-flight alcohol!!

And finally we landed at Palma de Mallorca into the bochorno: 27° and sticky with it. The young lady in the tourist office at the airport was most helpful and gave us details for the bus into Palma and which bus to get from the bus station to go on to Magaluf. What she failed to tell us was that the bus station in Palma is hidden behind the Plaza de España and down a whole series of escalators, fine when you kno
w where it is but hopeless to a newcomer. Second frustration of the day.

A bus arrived promptly and on we got, asking the bus driver where we needed to get off, was there only one stop in Magaluf and so on. Well, he was a grumpy soul: no, can’t help you. It soon transpired that we were on a bus full of people who had no idea where they were going, just that they were on the right bus. Fortunately there were enough helpful people among the passengers. Everyone helped each other out and in a variety of languages. Third frustration of the day but one which turned into a communication opportunity.

At around 9.30 we found our hotel, showered and ventured out for something to eat. Pizza Venezia: olives, a couple of beers and a pizza each for about
25. Not quite what we expect from España but the pizzas were good and the service was friendly and this is Magaluf, after all.

This is a strange sort of limbo of a place. A mixture of tourist heaven and hell. I
t clearly has been a very pretty place but, like many holiday resorts on the coasts has been “developed” and not necessarily for the best.

Our hotel is a large modern complex without WIFI – fourth frustration – presumably a ploy to get you to pay €2 for 15 minutes internet time. There is a veritable breakfast factory on the ground floor with seating for hundreds of people by the look of it. And then there are the tourists themselves. It’s a while since I have seen such a collection of large people.

Now that is fine and I don’t want to be sizist but I don’t see why so many of the male of the species have to parade round the streets showing a large expanse of overhanging belly. Why does the male on holiday, at any rate the British and German variety, feel he has the right to display his naked chest to everyone? It really isn’t always a pretty sight. I can quite appreciate why the ayuntamiento de Barcelona has banned naked torsos and swimwear on the streets.

Why am I here in that case? You may well ask such a question. Well, my chess player is taking part in a tournament and I have come along for the tourism, the swimming, the walks on the beach and so on. Once the tournament is over we intend to explore other bits of the island that we have not seen for a while.

Not all is bad in Magaluf, however. The sun continues to shine today and at lunchtime, having looked at a range of fish and chip shops, steak houses and such, we headed for the tourist office and asked for help in finding something a little more authentically Spanish, if not actually Mallorquín. And so we ended up at Mesón El Chovaleño, a place sporting Estrella de Galicia sunshades. We felt quite at home and even drank wine out of glasses which sported the Jacobeo 2010 logo. For under €20 we enjoyed a sopa mallorquina and some very nice fish, washed down with a vino blanco de la casa, which turned out to be a most acceptable white Rioja. All’s well that ends well after all.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Raindrops keep falling on ….

For the last week we have been planning to mow the lawn (if you can really call what we have in our back garden a lawn: more a patch of rough grass with a fair amount of moss to give it colour), to give it one last trim before autumn slides inexorably into winter. Every time we think there has been a long enough dry(ish) period so that the grass is actually fit to mow, lo and behold, it rains some more. I think we are fighting a losing battle. Maybe we should, as someone in the family suggested, get a goat or rent the garden out to a local farmer to put a few of his sheep in.

taking that weather pattern into account, it was very pleasant to wake up this morning and see blue sky and sunshine. It was exactly right for going off for a long walk through the back lanes, away from the traffic, admiring the autumn colours that are finally appearing in the trees. I think it’s just been too wet for the leaves to dry out and fade into reds and browns.

I like to check the
weather forecasts for other places as well as here, places where I have been or where friends of mine live. It was with a certain element of schadenfreude that I discovered that Vigo has been having some rather nasty weather. I read reports in the Galician newspapers online about really bad storms over the weekend. It rather sounds as though the weather is following a similar pattern to last year when I remember getting soaked just walking down to the bus stop. Trees have been blown down and many of those convenient underground garages have been flooded. This evening I read that much of Galicia will be back in alerta naranja for bad rainstorms tomorrow.

I wouldn’t
really wish that kind of misfortune on anyone but it really was quite gratifying to see table turned for once and the sun shining on Saddleworth, which can look very good when the sun shines, while the rain falls elsewhere. Maybe we’re finally having an Indian summer.

It’s a very odd thing. For years and years I can remember going back to work after the summer break, enrolling students onto AS and A Level courses on quite baking hot days and then teaching the first few weeks of term in sweltering classrooms, sometimes invaded by wasps which made students, male as well as female, squeal and scream. Since I retired from teaching there has been a complete change and September has been reliably soggy in the Manchester area. So it goes.

Someone who appears to have problems raining down on him at the moment is my yo
ung Spanish cycling hero, Alberto Contador. Three times winner of the Tour de France, he also won the 2008 Giro d’Italia and the 2008 Vuelta de España making him the 5th cycle racer in history and the first Spaniard ever to win all three BIG cycling road races. However he has been in the news because they say they have found traces of the drug clenbuterol in one of the samples he gave during the Tour de France this year. He could lose his title from the 2010 Tour, not to mention messing up future contracts. He would be a bit stupid to risk his rather successful career for some short term success. He is understandably a bit upset and swears he is innocent, claiming that the drug must have come from some dodgy meat he ate. Hmmmm!

It never rains but it pours!