Wednesday, 29 August 2012

See you soon!

It’s good bye to Galicia for a while.  Tomorrow we fly back to the UK.

Yesterday evening we took the train to Pontevedra for a last meal out with our friend Colin, his daughter and the daughter’s friend at the amazing Pitillo restaurant. Sitting outside, drinking Galician white wine and eating excellent seafood. What could be better? 

Five of us ate and drank heartily for just over 50€. Including a tip, that was about 11€ per person. As we made our way homewards – on the last train back from Ponters, the train that we very nearly missed – we commented to each other that we hoped no-one ever told the owners of the Pitillo how unbelievably reasonable, not say low, their prices are. It was a totally selfish reflection but also totally understandable, I feel! 

So that was the last trip to Ponters for this visit. I’ve also done my last visit to the library, posting my books through the letterbox designed precisely for that purchase. When the library is closed, you can still return books. A perfectly good arrangement for an establishment that has restricted opening in summer. 

I’ve done my penultimate run round the back streets behind Calle Aragón. All being well, I’ll run it for the last time tomorrow morning. I’ve also paid my penultimate visit to the bread shop. We will miss that good fresh bread! 

I've spotted my last bit of odd English: an "outlet"  near our flat advertises itslef as an "oule". The Ts have disappeared!!!

And now I’ve made my last walk up to the chess club to use their wifi as our mobile internet dongle ran out for the last time this morning and it’s not worth recharging it just for today and tomorrow. 

On my way here, I took my last photo of interesting bits of Vigo for a while.

And so it’s goodbye to Galicia but of course, it’s not “adiós”, just “hasta la vista” as we plan to back in late October. And the chess club has already registered Phil to play for their team in the next season. So we’ll have to be here quite a lot. 

 In the meantime, we have Sicily to look forward to in a couple of weeks’ time. The intrepid explorers go on and on.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Tourism, weather and pavement etiquette!!

Despite there having been flights all summer from Heathrow to Vigo’s Peinador airport, they are losing flights in general and there are far fewer direct flights from foreign airports, according to the news reports. Maybe things will improve in the future, because even though the airports of Galicia might not be able to get their act together, someone has been getting on with some advertising. In London, posters have gone up in bus shelters pointing out that Vigo is not just the name of a London street but a place in Galicia, accompanied by a photo of the lovely Islas Cíes. And then, looking at the newspapers online I noticed that Sunday’s Observer had a feature on La Coruña. 

They need to point out that although the locals don’t think much of the summer we have had this year, in fact the sun probably shines enough to keep most Britons happy. We had lunch last Thursday with a young (English) friend of mine who currently lives in Madrid and had come north for a long weekend. After the broiling heat of Madrid, he was quite ecstatic about the cool breeze and declared himself very happy with this kind of summer. I’m not sure how he felt on Friday when the rain clouds moved in and it was so dark by nine in the evening that cars had their lights on. On Saturday it improved, however, and by Sunday I was back in the pool. 

 On Sunday evening we did one of our favourite walks, up to A Guía, where the church at the top serves as a lighthouse. A number of people were just sitting on benches enjoying the evening sunshine but I noticed a number who had come prepared with their books to read outside. I’ve seen this up at the Castro Park as well: a good way for city flat-dwellers to enjoy the open air. 

As we walked down from A Guía, I spotted this quite impressive bit of protest-graffiti. If you follow the coastal path round A Guía you go past a small but quite rapidly-developing marina. We’ve often commented on the amount of money that is moored there. Some people apparently don’t like it and want to keep the beaches of A Guía, small and unspoilt up to now, as places for local people, instead of turning them into pleasure boat parks. It’s a difficult one: preserve things as they are or bring some revenue into the area? 

We have quite often discussed pavement etiquette here in Spain. Our friend Colin will no doubt echo our longstanding complaints. Here we go. There is little awareness of other people on the pavement. Few Spaniards notice someone in their path until they almost bump into them. If you step back at a narrow crossing place, it is unusual to receive thanks. It’s even worse if they are using their mobile phone; other pavement users become invisible. And then there’s the stopping to talk in the middle of the pavement, blocking everyone’s way. We saw a young woman have to push her baby-buggy into the road to get past a group of talkers the other day. 

Well, all is not lost. Awareness seems to be growing and steps may be about to be taken. In Vilagarcía de Arousa the local council is going to debate next week a modification to the “Ordenanza de Circulación y Seguridad Viaria”, the law governing movement and road safety. They want it to include “la prohibición a los peatones de detenerse en grupos en las aceras cuando este obligue a otros usuarios a circular por la calzada”, forbidding pedestrians to stop in groups on the pavements if this makes other people have to walk in the road!! 

Progress ... of sorts!! At least they are thinking about it in one place not far from here.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Views of Vigo.

 When we left Vigo two years ago, the place where this photo was taken was a rather messy building site which prevented easy access from the end of Avenida García Barbón on to Rosalía de Castro. 

Now it’s all been nicely done up and has just been “adopted” by the local council, which becomes responsible for the upkeep of flowerbeds and so on. However, I have read that many of the thousands of new dwellings provided by these blocks of flats don’t have parking spaces. Parking is at a premium in this city and usually when they build new flats they make an underground car park. So you buy or rent a flat and a parking space as a rule. (We plan to sublet our parking space, as we have no car here and many families need more than one space.) So what happened here? 

Well, apparently they found some Roman remains and, consequently, have been unable to provide as many parking spaces as expected. This sort of thing happens all the time in many parts of Spain, and Italy for that matter. History lies just below your feet. Now, it seems that some archaeologist believes that the bones of King Richard III of England are buried beneath a car park in Leicester. I wonder if they’ll dig up the car park and investigate. 

 Still in historical mode, I read an article the other day about the trams of Vigo. Journalist Santiago Vilas informed us that “el tranvía de Vigo fue el tercer más emblemático del mundo”. In his opinion and according to the research he has done, Vigo's trams were only beaten in importance by those of New Orleans and San Francisco, both of which still run. The Vigo trams ran from the 2nd of June 1914 to the 31st of December 1968. Lines of trams made their last journey into the tram sheds at the end of Avenida de Florida on New Year’s Eve 1968, never to come out again. Drivers wept. 

The bus company Vitrasa had been running alongside the trams for around six months before the final retirement of the trams. And it’s still running buses now. It seems odd to think of trams running down the centre of the now pedestrianised shopping street Príncipe but they had rather grainy photos to prove it. On the whole I suspect Príncipe is better without the trams but maybe they could have kept one line open in the city and made a feature of it, as they do in La Coruña. 

Today, as the sun has returned after a very grey and damp day yesterday, we set out to explore further up San Xoan do Monte, the area behind our block of flats. I jog through some of the lower streets every morning but we headed further up steep and winding, fairly narrow roads away from the hurly burly of Calle Aragón. There are some very nice houses up there although it’s not totally picturesque. (There is a “depuradora” – waste water treatment plant – up there somewhere which we may have seen but hurried past.) The views over Vigo as you gain height are quite spectacular, especially on a fine, sunny day.

You can walk up Rua do Lavadeiro, Laundry Street, with an old public clothes wash-place at the bottom. Or there is Rua da Pouleira; I’ve no idea what a “Pouleira” is but it/she has a spring with her name on the street. And these little springs are all over the place. 

 Eventually we found ourselves walking among trees. It looked as though someone was having a campaign against the ubiquitous eucalyptus trees. Some had clearly been cut down and replaced by young trees of a more Galician nature. I quite like the eucalyptus myself but then I am not a Galician and don’t get het up about it. 

 The road down the hill gave us some excellent views of A Guía from an angle that was new to us. All in all, it was a good late afternoon’s exploring. We’ve quite likely seen more of the area than many other residents of our flats.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Out and about, finding things out.

We’ve settled ourselves nicely into our new residence. The pool is fine; I know because I’ve tested it. We still have not located a wifi cafe closer than 10 minutes walk away. Yesterday morning I popped into one just down the road and asked if they have wifi. A blank look was the response. So I tried again, “wifi, internet?” Another blank look and then, “Ni sé lo que es.” In other words, “I don’t even know what it is.” I guess we’ll just keep getting exercise on the way to check our email. 

 And suddenly we find ourselves with just a week left before we fly back to England. No doubt this week will rush past. Time has a curious way of accelerating as you come to the end of a holiday. We have various things we still want to do and people we still want to see before we head back to the UK. 

 One of the things we have achieved this week is a visit to the Islas Cíes. The islands out in the Atlantic are always magical but when we set off on Monday it was in thick mist, practically fog, making it seem even more mysterious. You could see very little of the estuary as we sailed out. But after lunch it had almost all cleared and we made it up to the lighthouse and back. 

There were a few more signs in English. And we discovered some interesting rock formations.

The journey home in the early evening was in bright sunshine. By the time we return to Vigo the islands will be closed to visitors once more. 

 Meanwhile I have been continuing to read interesting bits and pieces. In one newspaper I have discovered that the interestingly named “musealisation” of the Roman and pre-Roman settlement up at the Castro has had a fall in visitor numbers, especially over the summer months. The article put this down to “la reducción de horarios”. Well, if you reduce the hours that a place is open, you might expect the numbers of visitors to fall! It seems like logic to me. However, the library follows the same illogic. In the summer, when people might have more leisure to go and choose books, the library is only open in the mornings. That’s joined-up thinking for you. 

In one of my recent (morning) visits to the library I picked up at random a book by Antonio Muñoz Molina, in which he has collected together articles he has written about the craft of writing. I had never read anything by this writer but the book looked interesting as I skimmed it in the library and it proved indeed to be so. One of his pieces was his acceptance speech on becoming a member of the Real Academia, a very august literary and cultural association. All acceptance speeches are bound and published. 

Muñoz Molina’s speech dealt largely with another writer, Max Aub, who was never invited to join the Real Academia, because he fled Spain at the end of the Civil War, on one of the last boats carrying refugees from Barcelona as that city fell to Franco’s forces in 1939. In 1956 Max Aub published what might have been his acceptance speech in an alternative reality, one in which he would have continued as a theatre director and become a big wheel in Spanish theatre. 

His speech to what Muñoz Molina refers to as the “Irreal Academia” was bound and published just like all the other speeches except that the coat of arms on the front cover was not exactly that of the Real Academia. Instead of having the Spanish royal crown it had the crown of the Second Republic, a small difference that not many people might notice. 

And Max Aub’s unreal acceptance speech addresses figures who might also have been Real Academicians, had the Civil War never happened. In his audience were the poets García Lorca, NOT executed and buried somewhere outside Granada in the early days of the conflict, Miguel Hernández, who did NOT die in one of Franco’s prisons a couple of year’s after the Civil War ended, and Rafael Alberti, who did NOT go and live in exile until after Franco’s death. 

 Muñoz Molina commented that he felt that his own literary and cultural education was limited because of the absence of certain figures whose works were simply not taught, nor even mentioned, in schools. In his teens, when he discovered the poetry of García Lorca he had to ask for it specifically in the local library, where it was kept in a special section and, although he does not say so, it is quite likely that his name was added to a list of those who asked for that subversive verse. But that may not have worried him too much. 

He already had anti-establishment leanings, being aware that his parents, children during the Civil War, had had their education, provided free by the Second Republic, cut short when Franco came into power. The children of Republicans did not need much education! They were not destined to get the best jobs anyway! 

Apparently Max Aub’s books tended to mix fact and fiction, using real events as a basis for a novel. One of these is based on some hairdressers who formed themselves into a battalion in order to take part in the defence of the Casa del Campo during the siege of Madrid. They called themselves “Los Fígaros”. 

 I may not have time to seek out books by Max Aub and Muñoz Molina before I go back to England but I will have them on my list for my first visit to the library when we next visit Vigo.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Things to see.

This morning I looked out from the balcony of the new Vigo residence and saw one of the huge cruise ships arriving. Coming into the ría, it looked vaguely unreal, rather as though someone had photo-shopped a massive ship onto a picture of the water. 

I always knew these boats were huge but seeing them from the height of Calle Aragón, where our new flat is located, I was astounded at its size, relative to the buildings in the port area. The monstrously ugly hotel down near A Laxe shopping centre is at least 10 storeys high and it is just dwarfed by this floating community. 

Looking out from the balcony, you can also see the great pit where the old train station used to be and where the AVE, super-fast train, will eventually have its own station at some time in the next few years, funds permitting. No-one seems to know exactly when that will be but lots of people spend time leaning on the fence watching the lorries and construction vehicles trundle to and fro and the pile-drivers driving piles; at least, I assume that’s what pile-drivers do. 

We have barely stopped to look as we have gone past the building site as we have been too busy rushing around collecting items from the old bijou residence and buying things that we need for the new place. One of the things we acquired was a small electric kettle from the nearby Carrefour in their “básico” range. When we got it home and opened it we were a little puzzled. There was the kettle but no base with cable and plug to make it work. Was this why it was so cheap? Bargain-price kettle, but then you have to go and pay an extortionate amount for the essential parts to make it work? So back we went to Carrefour. It’s a good job it’s just a short walk down the road. 

At the “atención al cliente” desk we explained the problem to the charming young lady assistant. She examined the kettle, showed it to her colleague and had a little discussion about what was missing, suggesting that maybe she had never actually seen such a kettle before. Eventually she phoned for someone from the electrical goods department to come and have a look. The kettle expert arrived, took one look at it, opened up the lid and showed us the missing bit, tucked away inside. How foolish we felt! It never even occurred to us that the base and cable could FIT in the space. How we all laughed! All in all, a good bonding exercise with the customer service desk employees. 

Our next venture was a bit of flat-pack furniture building. On opening the package we discovered a set of instructions inside. I repeat, INSIDE. The first instruction said, “Before opening, make sure the package is horizontal.” A bit late for that instruction, I thought! Fortunately we had put the package flat on the floor so we had no untoward consequences. 

Another quest has been to find a WIFI cafe within short walking distance of the flat. None of the cafes and bars at this end of Calle Aragón seem to have heard of the advantages of having WIFI to attract customers. Maybe everyone here has their own internet connection. So we have had to walk down to Travesía de Vigo, the almost parallel street down the hill from here, still only about 10 minutes walk away. 

The first we tried was the Alepo, where the beer was not very good and the tapas rather rudimentary. The atmosphere and decor were also a little old fashioned. Then the barman/owner told us, quite proudly it seemed to me, that he has an ancient clientele. The old gentleman who had just left, helped along by someone who might have been his granddaughter, or possibly his great granddaughter, was 92. And that other gentleman, who had a special chair provided for him, a rather more supportive one with arm-rests, was 86. Maybe all these aged customers are all internet users, Spanish silver-surfers! Mind you the internet connection was quite slow, perhaps suited to the age of the ancient users!

 Our second port of call, the Failde, had better beer and better tapas, as well as a faster connection (although it did slow down when a second computer-user started up) but had a covered smoking area just outside the entrance. This made it hard to get away from the annoying drift of tobacco smoke into the interior. Our third try was El Cairo; here everything was fine, apart from the very noisy card school going on in one corner. So, no perfect place so far. We are missing the Cuchufleta, round the corner from the bijou residence, and the Nuevo Derby on Calle Urzáiz, where the staff had come to know us and we had cheerful chats about all kinds of world affairs, but it’s rather a long trek from here to either of those places. 

 On our travels, we have been through bits of Vigo we have not seen before. It’s been interesting. In between the two major streets Travesía de Vigo and Calle Aragón, two broad, busy streets lined with blocks of flats and loads of shops and cafes, there is quite a deep valley. Down in the valley is a reminder of what the area must have been like before the building development started and presumably before the two major thoroughfares went through the place. It’s an area of small, mostly two-storey houses, usually with gardens and often with allotments where people obviously still grow vegetables. Narrow alleyways connect one part to another and steep roads lead to even steeper sets of steps taking you up to Calle Aragón. 

Then there is a similar area behind Calle Aragón. This is San Xoan, built around the Monte de San Xoan, an area I’ve been exploring to try to find a route for my morning run. (Once again, it’s rather a long way from here to my previous perfect venue, the Castro Park.) San Xoan is another collection of small houses with gardens and vegetable plots. 

According to the map there is a network of little roads and alleys which interconnect. In practice, you go down one of these little alleyways and discover that it’s blocked off by a gate at the end; maybe only local people are allowed through. 

This is the semi-rural edge of Vigo and it’s rather like taking a step back in time to a quieter age, before motorways and huge cruise ships existed.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Moving on.

On Tuesday morning the lady in the bread shop was already wishing her customers a good weekend; “another long one this time,” she added. Well, of course, Wednesday was Asunción and today, Thursday, is San Roque, two religious feast days, and on Friday just about everyone will be making a “bridge”. If you get a día festivo - feast day – on a Thursday, you take Friday off and have a long weekend. Or, in the same way, if Tuesday is a día festivo, you take Monday off and have a long weekend. No wonder they have to have meetings to decide which saints have their days celebrated in any particular area of Spain. 

Anyway, this week, instead of TGIF, Thank God it’s Friday, they had TGIT, Thank God (and San Roque, whoever he is) it’s Tuesday. Tuesday, and the weekend starts here!!! 
Tuesday for us was moving day, out of the bijou residence and into a place with a view all along the estuary, out to the Rande Bridge and beyond in one direction and as far as the Islas Cíes in the other. 

Naturally, as we packed our stuff up it started to rain, in that special Galician way, where it comes down in bucket loads. So we had to put everything in a taxi and off we went. 

Originally we had planned to move on Wednesday but our landlady was having some problems with the people who help take care of her aged mother (probably because of the días festivos and the help having days off) and so we moved a day earlier. It was just as well, because we needed to pick up various items from the “bazar chino” before settling in and managed to do so on Tuesday evening. Had it been Wednesday we would have found everything closed. Serendipity strikes again. 

However, serendipity was not working totally. We have a number of keys on our new key ring for which we have yet to find a use. We were hoping they might give us access to a place to hang the washing to dry. No such luck. We still have to discover if there even is such a place, or if we need to get a collapsible “tendedero” and dry everything on the balcony. 

And then there was the small matter of the swimming pool and garden. Looking out of our window we can see the grass but it’s rather along way down from the seventh floor. Walking up one of the side roads you can see the pool, but it would be rather undignified to have to scramble over the fence. The young lady who showed us around had some difficulty finding it when we visited the first time and we seemed to go up and down so many floors that we were totally confused. Her mother, who owns the flat, confessed to having no idea. Apparently she just owns it but has never lived here. We had the impression that you get to it via one of the in-between floors – there are three “entresuelos” – but none of them led us to the outside, but enclosed, world of the garden and pool area. At the end of Wednesday it remained a mystery. 

Today, however, we accosted a neighbour in the lift and found out that you need to go from the first floor up some steps or from the second floor down some steps and there it was. Easy peasy. It was probably the going up and down steps that confused us. 

Last night we were treated to an amazing fireworks display, probably from the San Roque district of Vigo, judging by the direction. It really was very impressive. Crisis!! What crisis? If London can put on some good fireworks for the end of the Olympics, the barrio de San Roque can surely do almost as well for its saint 

Today the shops remain closed, of course, because of good old San Roque, even though the streets have been full of people and stalls have popped up on street corners, selling candles and fancy bread. 

No chance to buy household equipment, though. But having no sweeping brush is a good excuse not to sweep. 

I’ll think about it tomorrow. After all, as Scarlett O’Hara would say, tomorrow is another day.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Spanish boots of Spanish leather – or what’s in a name?

Fashion is a funny thing. In the last couple of years I’ve watched styles I used to wear years ago come back into vogue. If I’d kept my student wardrobe I could be making a bomb now selling my old clothes as vintage. Who would have thought that they would come round again like that? 

Among this year’s returnees are desert boots. I remember a time when the well- dressed student had to have a pair of Levi’s – washed to the point where they were nicely faded but not going into holes – and a pair of desert boots on your feet. The former cost an arm and a leg but the latter were quite cheap. 

Nowadays, of course, you buy your Levi’s, still rather pricey, ready faded – stonewashed – and sometimes jeans, maybe not Levi’s but certainly other brands, come ready worn out with holes all over the place. And we won’t go into the trend among young men to wear their jeans hanging at half mast so that they look as if they would fall over if they started to run. If I get started on that I will find myself one day telling some young person to pull his trousers up and then I’ll look like an interfering old granny. 

But getting back to the desert boots, once the cheap footwear of students, we saw them in English shops earlier this year on sale for £70 or £80: a ridiculous price for shoes that you can’t really wear in the rain. In the sale in the Clark’s shoe shop in the A Laxe shopping centre here they are going for €69, another ridiculous price, but then, everything in that shoe shop is expensive here even when reduced. 

 And then we started spotting shops that were selling them for around €25 to €30 and we began to get interested. As the sales have progressed, we have seen prices tumbling further to €19.90 and even €15. And so we set off on a hunt for a pair for Phil, just for Phil in the first instance. 

Now, he’s always something of a problem child when it comes to buying shoes. His feet are just too big! English shoe shops cope reasonably well with size 10½ to 11 but even then it can be hard. Here in Spain, even though the population has grown taller on average in the last couple of generations, a continental size 46 is not often in demand. Consequently we have been round a number of shops, finding size 45 just a little too small but size 46 only available in red, bright green, grey or even purple. What respectable man tall enough to wear size 46 shoes is really going to want PURPLE shoes? 

On top of that Phil was being fussy. He wanted traditional style desert boots: i.e. sand or beige in colour, preferably the latter. 

Anyway, this morning we found a shop that had beige in a 45 and green in a 46. However, the helpful shop assistant promised to get us a beige pair in a 46 for this afternoon if we cared to go back. And, lo and behold, that is just what we did. A pair of beige desert boots for Phil and a pair of blue ones for me, because I am a much easier size to cater for and, besides, I quite liked the blue ones. Price €17.90 per pair. Not at all bad. 

In one of the shops we visited we asked what they call desert boots here. I was fully expecting something like “los desert”. Trainers become “los tenis” and basketball boots “los basket”, so it wasn’t too illogical an idea. The salesman in that particular shop said they are called “los kung-fu” because in the old kung-fu films the fighters used to carry them strung over their shoulders. Maybe so. I never watched kung-fu films so I really couldn’t say. I’m not convinced though. 

He then went on to tell us, in confidential tones, that the young people call them “los pisamierda” or “pisacaca”. That's more like it. This is a splendid example of what they call a portmanteau word, made up a verb and a noun together. A corkscrew is a “sacacorchas” – sacar = to pull out, corchas = corks. A tin-opener is an “abrelatas” – abrir = to open, latas = tins. My favourite is a “limpiaparabrisas” – limpiar = to clean, parabrisas = windscreen – and so we have a windscreen-wiper. 

This new one for my collection works in just the same way; pisar = to tread on, most people already know what mierda is and caca is just babytalk for the same thing. 

On the box, our pooh-stompers are called “Safari” but that’s just their posh name; I know what they are really called.

Sunday, 12 August 2012


Yesterday we missed a motorcycle race on Calle Venezuela. We had seen notices about it and when we left the bijou residence mid-afternoon we noticed that barriers were up preventing access. We, however, were off to meet a friend who was taking us to his new home in Tomiño, down near the Portuguese border. 

Two politely excited small boys entertained us during the journey, pointing out landmarks such as their favourite supermarkets and a wrecked car propped up on bricks. They also informed us that you can see Portugal from their house. All of this was done in English. Back home, they switched to Spanish. Bilingualism seems to be working in that family: impressive! 

 The occasion was the older son’s sixth birthday party, really an excuse to have a barbecue and get a bunch of friends and relations together to drink beer and eat tortilla and empanada in the garden. Most of the Gallego side of the family had been roped in to make copious amounts of food: also impressive! 

I can highly recommend having sixth birthday parties on sunny afternoons in a garden with a pool, even a fairly small inflatable pool. Small boys and girls bouncing about in the water have fun without needing too much organisation by the adults, who can then concentrate on relaxing. Only those adults who feel like having water-fights need to join in. I’m all for it. 
By the time we got back to Vigo, the motorcycle race was all over, bar the people returning home still waving those inflatable plastic things you bang together to encourage the racers. And so we climbed over the remaining barriers, crossed the empty street and headed for home. 

When my alarm rang this morning I heard an unfamiliar sound: rain pattering in the patio. It’s been a good few weeks since I woke up to that. So I re-set the alarm and went back to sleep for half an hour. By the time I awoke again, the rain had stopped and the sun was on its way out. Now, that is what I call an efficient weather system. The sprinklers were still at work up in the Castro but then I suspect they would have been working even if the rain had continued. 

Later on, we set out to walk the coastal path around A Guía peninsular, making our way through Teis, past the huge cranes that look like strange metal monsters from a science fiction story and onto the coastal path by the lower level. This took us past a rather scruffy beach close to the various boat-building sheds and involved a certain amount of daring-adventurer action in order to get onto the coastal path proper.  

It’s a very well made coastal path, built with money from the EU, mostly from northern countries of the EU, if I remember correctly. How kind of the Scandinavian countries to provide such an excellent facility here in Galicia. It was, however, very empty. I think we saw only a couple of groups of walkers on the path. Maybe it was just the wrong time of day but it did seem to be another example of an under-used amenity. This is rather a shame as the views over the bay are worth seeing. But perhaps everyone was waiting until the evening to go out for their paseo. Only mad English people walk for pleasure at other times of the day. 

On our way home we stopped for a refreshing “clara” in a cafe on García Barbón. Ordering our “claras", we were asked “¿con gaseosa o limón?” I have not quite worked out what the difference is in the two kinds of shandy. They don’t always ask. So this time we asked for “gaseosa". Next time the question comes up we’ll ask for “limón” and see if we notice a major difference.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Buzzing around.

Well, things were fairly buzzing in town today. As I walked down towards the library this morning I was treated to the unusual sight of young men trying to push bikes and pull suitcases simultaneously. Quite a difficult task but, on closer inspection, I realised that these were stunt bikes and so the young men concerned are probably used to doing strange things. So I went a little further down towards the port to see what was happening and there it was, just near the A Laxe shopping centre, close to the stature of the swimmer who appears to have nose-dived into the pavement: a stunt bike arena complete with ramps of various heights and degrees of steepness. 
There were already crowds of spectators but all that was going on this morning seemed to be either practice or just plain showing off. A large number of stunt cyclists were going up and down ramps, leaping into the air, doing twists and turns and generally taking their lives into their hands. However, unlike the last time I saw this in exactly the same place and approximately the same time of year three summers ago, it looked as though ALL the cyclists were wearing helmets. What’s more, there was an ambulance parked close by, just in case. Has Health and Safety arrived in Spain at last? 
By late afternoon it had developed into a full-blown competition/championship. The public address system was proclaiming the merits, and the nicknames, of competitors from Barcelona, Cáceres and numerous other places in Spain. 

Back to this morning though, there was a bit of a demonstration going on outside one of the banks on Urzaiz. Various new bits of legislation that have been introduced as a result of banks merging and because of austerity measures the country has been forced to take have left people feeling hard done by. They have lost money and are shouting about it. How much good it will do them remains to be seen. 

Leaving the protestors behind, I turned back to head for home and saw an old familiar figure in his knees outside a shop on Urzaiz. It was a once-regular beggar, known to us as “Nadie Da”. During the two years we lived in Vigo we must have seen this young man almost every day on his knees asking for money just by the exit from the underground car park. As Christmas approached, his requests for charity turned into a kind of litany: “Ya es Navidad, Tengo hambre y nadie da.” In English this would be, “It’s already Christmas. I’m hungry and nobody gives anything.” And we did give him the occasional coin but after that he was known to us forever as “Nadie Da”, said with a pronounced whine. 
We had commented on his absence, although we did think we saw him one day walking down Príncipe talking on his mobile phone. Now, can real beggars afford mobile phones? Or is it an essential bit of equipment for a professional beggar? Anyway, he seems to be back on the streets of Vigo, still on his knees. Maybe he’s been on his holidays. Maybe he has been doing the rounds of the various fiestas, trying his luck in other parts of Galicia. 

He seemed very wrapped up for what has turned out to be a rather fine and hot day. But then, he was begging in the shade and maybe like so many Galicians I speak to, he doesn’t think that what we have is a proper summer. 

Proper summer or not, I see signs of it coming to an end. The shops are announcing the “Último remate” or Final reductions in their sales goods. And alongside that they are already displaying what they call, in English of course, the “New Collection. Fall/Winter” – OK, American English. And then, just last night I saw this poster for the department store El Corte Inglés, reminding everyone that it will soon be time to go back to school. 

  “La vuelta al cole” approaches. But it’s only the 10th of August, for goodness sake!

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Flats, trees, statues, food.

Well, in our flat-hunting we did finally find the one that said, “THIS IS IT!!!” A seventh floor flat with a superb view over the bay at a price that suits us. So now we have changed our routine pastime from looking at flats on the internet to getting money out of cash machines so that we can get enough together for the deposit on the flat. This is all because we closed our Spanish bank account last year as bank charges were slowly eating away at the money in the account: €15 per year just to manage a debit card that we were hardly using seemed excessive, especially as that was multiplied by two as we had a debit card each. Of course, as a result of that it is difficult for us to obtain an “aval”, a bank guarantee for the flat we now want to rent. And so we have agreed to pay a larger deposit, which brings us back to getting money out of cash machines. Such are the trials of retirees!! 

However, we are on our way to being the tenants of a very nice flat, so all is well. The young lady who showed us the flat on behalf of her mother is a fairly typical product of this region. Venezuelan by birth (and accent) but Galician by family heritage, she has qualifications in architecture but has been unemployed for the past year. Overqualified for jobs in shops, bars and restaurants, which she doesn’t want anyway, she is seriously considering emigrating but recognises that she needs to be able to speak English well if that is going to be a serious option. It’s the story of so many young people here. In the meantime she is turning her artistic abilities into making ladies’ hats and favours but she would really like to break into the British market because such fancy headgear is more commonly worn at weddings in the UK than in Spain. And then there’s even Ascot! So here is a link to her webpage.

On our way back from one of our visits to said flat we noticed that trees had been cut down in one of the streets we were walking through. We expressed our sorrow at this but thought no more of it until last night when I read an account in one of the Galicia newspapers about other places where trees are being cut down. Friends of the Earth and other ecological organisations are protesting about the “arboricidio” which is going on in Calle Enrique Lorenzo here in Vigo. Pedestrianisation here is known as “humanización” and in the process of the “humanización of that street trees have been cut down. The protests have arisen because these were healthy trees and, according to the ecology people, they were NOT causing problems with drains or other “canales de agua”. 

One of the delights of this city is the number of trees which still stand at intervals along many of the streets. It would be a great pity to lose them. 

Ecological organisations have been protesting in other areas as well. The organisation Verdegaia maintains that the Islas Atlánticas, in other words the Islas Cíes, the Isla de Ons and a couple of other islands, are not being properly looked after. They claim that tourism has become more important than protecting the natural heritage. And now, apparently, when you arrive at the Islas Cíes one of the first things you see on stepping onto the quayside are a couple of “ecology police” whose job is to check up that everyone knows how to behave on the island: no litter-dropping, no collecting shells or wild flowers and so on. Others walk the various routes around the island checking that all is well. Last weekend, according to one report I read, an unofficial, illegal, unlicensed disco was closed down in the cafe just by the landing stage. Big brother is watching the island and making sure that peace and quiet is maintained. I just hope they are doing it tactfully. Maybe it’s time for a trip to the islands to see how things are getting along: any excuse to visit that beautiful place. 

Not all is doom and gloom however. Two beaches in nearby Baiona have received praise recently. As well as being awarded Blue Flags for being good, clean beaches they got special praise for taking the initiative to become among the first tobacco-free beaches in the area. No smoking on the sand there! 

 Meanwhile, in the centre of Vigo I have discovered another place with an odd English name. This is a frozen yoghurt vendor called “Be Happy”. Is this a way of making people feel better about eating ice cream? If you eat frozen yoghurt you can claim it’s really good for you. 

Everywhere you see signs that this is summer as well; each district seems to have a stage erected for some local festivity and children’s puppet shows appear to be de rigueur. This is what you can do when you have the climate! 

We don’t mention the Olympics much. Spain doesn’t seem to be doing terribly well while the UK has been doing better than it has for a hundred years. So here’s a little comment on one of the sillier events, synchronised swimming. This cartoon is labelled “synchronised sinking”. I love it. 

Yesterday we did a fairly traditional tour of Vigo with our friend Colin and a house guest of his. Starting down by the A Laxe shopping centre, we made our way up to Puerta del Sol and along to the bottom of Gran Vía where we admired the fishermen pulling on their fishing nets. 

Then we plodded up Gran Vía to Plaza de America to see the crazy horses. Having admired a bit of Vigo statuary we moved on to the Castro to look at the view, discuss a bit of Vigo history and marvel at the rate at which sea mist was moving into the bay. 

After that we felt the need for a very cold beer to refresh us before going back down the hill to have some lunch eventually at El Puerto, one of our favourite eateries. The food was well up to standard but we felt just a little that they had taken advantage of us, serving slightly larger portions than we had really asked for and charging us accordingly. Or course we ate all that they put in front of us – who wouldn’t, when the food is so good? – but all the same it was not quite what we had ordered. 
Forewarned is fore-armed and we shall be more careful next time. 

But we had a good time, discussed just about everything under the sun – and there was plenty of sun – and put the world to rights between us. 

This morning the sea mist was still with us in a big way. The monstrous town hall building was invisible from the Castro which just shows that every cloud has a silver lining.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Odd facts.

 Yesterday it rained. 

I believe that there was an element of Sod’s Law, aka Murphy’s Law, in this change in the weather. It wasn’t raining when I went out for a run first thing, although it was a little cloudy. On my way home I noticed that one of the shops near my regular panadería was setting up a stall outside on the pavement but I didn’t really put two and two together until later when it had rained and then cleared up enough for me to go down to the supermarket without needing to put on my waterproof. 

It was then that I saw the stalls all over Calle Progreso and all along my route. Of course, it was the first Saturday in the month and once again the street had been closed to traffic, and the local shopkeepers had all extended onto the pavement in an attempt to boost sales. And once again, as seems to have happened each time I have seen this, the rain came down. To some extent it adds to the atmosphere of community spirit as they all help each other put up makeshift plastic awnings to protect their wares. I just hope they get enough sales to make it all worth while. The rain was intermittent throughout the day and we didn’t venture much further than the cash machine at the top of Colón. 

Before the rain came I had a strange conversation up at the Castro as I returned from my run. Two youngish men, both South American looking, were busy examining something on the ground. One of them was breaking up leaves from the privet hedge and scattering them around. So, because I am an extremely nosy person, I asked them what they were looking at. Ants!! They were quite fascinated by the ants, which were carrying bits of stuff, including privet leaves back to a hole at the bottom of the wall. This, I was informed, was the ants’ nest. According to my informants ants only go out at night and were on their way back. I have no idea how true this is but my new friends and I had a little joke about the ants going out on the town at night, de juerga, and in true Spanish style only just going home in the early(ish) hours of Sunday morning. 

This was just another example of the odd facts and bits of information I seem to have been collecting recently. Just the other day I read that it is not against the law to appear naked in the street unless there are minors present. So before you go taking your clothes of on the streets of Spain, check for children. This news was in a report of a woman who had been arrested, not for taking off her clothes but for hitting a policeman. She had had a go at undressing on the street and then got in a taxi, but decided the price of €3 was too much and showed the driver her chest in lieu of payment, before running off. In a bar she continued stripping until a policeman arrived and picked up her clothes in an attempt to persuade her to get dressed. This was when she hit him. So she was carted off to the police station and charged, not with public indecency but with aggression towards a police officer. 

Amazing stuff!!

Thursday, 2 August 2012

The astounding lack of interconnectedness of things.

I have just been to the bus station in Vigo to make some enquiries. We are thinking of visiting Cambados, not far from here, where Phil is almost certainly going to play chess. We’ve been there before but it was a few years ago and I wanted to check up on transport possibilities. So I went along and asked at the information desk about buses to Cambados. The answer: there aren’t any. Just that. No follow-up remarks such as that you need to go to Pontevedra and catch a bus from there. So that was my next question. Answer: yes, there are buses from Pontevedra. Next question: could they possibly give me an idea of times from Pontevedra. The answer: NO. Again, just that. Not even a friendly apology for not having the information. 

I compare that with the service at the small railway station nearest to our home in England, a VERY small railway station. The clerk in the booking office has won awards for helpfulness. You tell her where you want to go and she tells you all the possibilities. When she realises you have a Greater Manchester bus pass she works out how far you can travel for free on your pass and then sells you a ticket from that station to your destination. If there happens to be just one train that will bring you back to her station without you having to change, she tells you about that and checks if you might want to travel on it. Now that is what I call service. I know who gets my vote for the Blue Peter Badge for customer service. 

It may be that it’s the difference between train and bus services or maybe it’s just that I got a really grumpy chap at the bus station here. Whatever the reason, I was seriously not impressed. 

The lack of joined-up thinking is cropping up in other areas of my life as well. We have been flat-hunting, with a view to finding ourselves somewhere to rent long term and thus be able to come and go, spend some time here and some time in England and generally be flexible as to where we are. We are, it has to be admitted, just a little picky. We want it to be a place where we will feel comfortable. Modern and nicely furnished would also be good. Ideally we would like a nice view over the ría as well but you can’t have everything. 

Anyway, we found a place advertised, not far from where we lived a couple of years ago. Not quite the place with the pool and gardens but almost certainly with a good view. So I phoned the owner, a certain Roberto. “Well”, said he, “the problem is I’m a bit busy at the moment and I can’t actually show you the place until the 15th of the month.” Now, that’s really useful. Today is the 2nd! So I tried another one. This flat-owner, Vicente, was in Madrid and, of course, that made it difficult for him to show us the place!!! However, he did put us in touch with an estate agent’s office so that we could organise a visit. Having said that, I need to point out that we tried to visit Vicente’s flat in April when we first came prospecting for accommodation for the summer and he was just as elusive then. He finally replied to the messages I was leaving for him on the day we were leaving Vigo. No wonder the flat has not been let in the months since then. I have a revolutionary suggestion for Roberto and Vicente: if you want tenants, make it possible for people to visit your flats. 

In fairness, we have found most of the people we have dealt with to be most helpful. The various estate agents are working their socks off negotiating with proprietors to get them to bring prices down and offer excellent deals. 

We have seen a range of property, both good and bad: modern flats which, even though small, manage to give an impression of space; hot and stuffy attics; light and airy attic flats with air conditioning; older places that smell as though they have been closed up for ages and ages; equally old places that are beautifully maintained. One of the strangest was a sort of “entresuelo”, literally between the “bajo” and the first floor. Most of it was nicely converted from what had been some sort of office space but there was a great empty area where the ceiling was too low to make a proper room. Very strange!! Certainly not for us!! 

We are still waiting for one to jump out at us and make us say, “This IS the PLACE. We MUST live HERE.” 

Meanwhile, our search has taken us through bits of Vigo we have not visited before, which is always interesting. One of our forays took us past this strange building in the midst umpteen blocks of flats. One of the roads nearby was called Rua dos Pazos, Stately Homes Road, so maybe this was one of the original stately homes. It is now used as some kind of youth centre. How nice that such a building is being out to good use. 

The same cannot be said of the old abandoned hotel/restaurant up at the Castro. It’s a great pity that no-one can find a use for such a lace in such a prime site. At the moment it just appears to attract the graffiti artists, whose tenacity, and climbing powers, must be admired.