Wednesday, 27 February 2013


On Sunday we took a taxi up to Vigo airport for the first leg of our journey home. The last time I did that journey by taxi it cost me under 5€. This time it cost me just under 12€. I know a few years have gone by but not enough to account for such inflation. Maybe the rise in price is meant to reflect the increase in size of the airport. The last time I saw it they had just begun the expansion of the carparking space and one or two other improvements. Now it’s all bright and spacious – well relatively. It’s a pity air traffic through Vigo hasn’t increased to match the growth of the airport. It’s not the busiest place in the world and once you’ve gone through security there’s precious little by way of facilities. Still room for improvement, Vigo! 

We flew with Vueling, which seems to be the budget wing of Iberia since our flight had two numbers, one for each company. I didn’t manage to work out if you got different and possibly better service if you booked with Iberia. Who knows? For once we had to go and check in at an airport desk, something we have almost forgotten how to do since we usually do on-line check-in and breeze into the airport at the last minute. But last week we tried for well over an hour to print boarding cards, all to no avail. When we mentioned this to the girl on the check-in desk, she was unable to understand it. Maybe it’s a glitch with Vigo’s airport. 

Anyway, we set off for Barcelona, the plane doing just about the shortest run ever up the runway before taking to the skies. The plane was roomy and comfortable although all the printed notices were in some language neither Phil nor I recognised. So much for it being a Spanish airline! 

By contrast with our short take-off, when we arrived at Barcelona (after flying over snow covered hills and mountains) we seemed to taxi forever before reaching the terminal proper. Barcelona’s El Prat (good name!) airport is HUUUGE! I swear there are cities in Spain smaller that that airport. And I don’t include all the runways. Just the terminal buildings go on and on and on. 

Our flight information for our onward journey (that’s airline jargon for you) did not tell us which terminal we were flying from. The information boards in the terminal we had arrived at did not go as far ahead as our flight, which did not leave for hours and hours. After wandering around for a while we eventually found an information desk where a friendly and helpful young man informed us that Monarch flights usually left from the other terminal. He even went so far as to tell us exactly where to catch the free transfer bus and made sure we knew to catch the green bus. Full marks for customer service at the El Prat information desk! 

So off we went on a looong bus ride to El Prat Terminal 2 and discovered which bit of the terminal our plane would fly from ... when the time came round at last. We walked what seemed like miles and miles. So, Barcelona El Prat has two HUUUGE terminals!! This second one though seemed a little shabbier. There were shop areas with their shutters down, looking very closed. Maybe even airport have Bajos Vacíos (empty ground floor shops) just like all the tall apartment blocks and office buildings. 

By now it was lunchtime and we decided to select a suitable eatery. There was a posh nosh place with the cheapest courses priced at around 12€. As the courses didn’t appear to be anything extra special we put that at the bottom of our list and moved on. Finally we selected the Caffé di Fiore where we had a slab of pizza and a mixed tuna with drinks for rather less than the cost of two main courses at the posh nosh place. 

The food was fine. The drinks were fine. The service was fine. The downside was the cutlery. All they gave us were plastic forks, albeit nicely wrapped in cellophane packaging. However we wanted to share the pizza slab so I went back and asked for a knife. After some umming and aahing, the young man behind the counter found me a knife... a proper knife ... made of metal!! On the first go of cutting up the pizza, one of the plastic forks snapped. We went and got another. That also snapped but not as badly. Even so, it was frustrating. 

Maybe we should have gone to posh nosh just for the privilege of having proper cutlery. I thought it might be for ease of clearing up as there was one of those bins, the same as you see in fast food outlets, where you are supposed to get rid of the rubbish off your tray after eating. However, if you had real pot plates and not just plastic containers – it all depended on what you had eaten – you had to separate them out for disposal at the end. No wonder some people just left the tray on the table where they had been eating. Or is that just Spanish refusal to accept the do-it-yourself element of fast food consumption. 

The irony of it was that when we had coffee after our meal, that came in proper cups with proper coffee spoons. Mind you, most of the list of available coffees was just like Caffé Nero or Délice de France or any of the other coffee outlets in the UK: caffé latte, vanilla latte, caramel latte and so on. I just asked for “dos cafés con leche, pequeños” and got just what we wanted, which is something I’ve never yet managed to do in a UK coffee shop without having to have a long discussion –aka argument – with the staff about what size I want. The thing is that the Spanish understand coffee. Mind you they don’t understand tea so I suppose it’s a case of swings and roundabouts. 

Finally, after many more hours of alternately sitting in and wandering around the airport, we flew back to Manchester, where another airport delight awaited us. Our daughter was picking us up from the airport. As we arrived before she did we set about finding the pick-up point. Difficult! There was a large sign leading us, or rather, misleading us, to “Meet and Greet Car Park”. Now that seemed a logical place to head for. But no, it turned out to be a private car park. It just happened to be called “Meet and Greet”. 

So back we went to the short stay car park, trying to find the entrance so that perhaps we could see our daughter’s car before she came through the gate and had to pay. Another seemingly impossible task. When we managed to find an official who knew what was what – yet another hard thing to locate – he told us that what we should have done was go from arrivals to departures and from there progress to the departures drop-off area. Cars can stop there briefly without having to get a ticket for the car park. Logical, yes, but surely someone should make that clear within the terminal itself. Why is that drop-off area not also a pick-up area? And why are there no signs directing airport users to it? 

Of course, all of that was no use to us at that moment as we had received a text message saying that our daughter was now in the car park itself. And indeed, there she was and we were soon speeding our way homewards along the motorway. 

Very cold it was too!! And still is!! Double thick quilts on the beds at night!! 

But at least today is bright and crisp and sunny as well, a perfect day for strolling along bridle paths and canal towpaths. 

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Cultural exchanges

When we started to learn Italian we went to a language school in Sicily. We opted to stay with a family instead of having a room in a hotel. That way we got to speak more Italian. And so we found ourselves in the home of Donna Antonina, who must have been well into her seventies but who liked having students to stay as it gave her some company. It was fine; she was a chatterbox. Maybe she spoke a little too much about going to church and her veneration of Padre Pio. Maybe she fed us far too much pasta. But it was great and we learned a lot. 

 Sharing our accommodation was a Japanese gentleman, an Italian teacher in Japan spending about six months in Sicily to improve his command of the language. I mention this gentleman because I have been reading about another Japanese gentleman, Toru Sonuda. This one has just been awarded the Medalla de Oro de la Real Banda de Gaitas. Not only does this gentleman want to learn the language of the country but he has learnt to play the Galician bagpipes. And he has done it so well they’ve given him a gold medal. That is real cultural immersion. 

All of this came about because of Xosé Lois Foxo who founded a bagpipe school in Ourense 27 years ago: A Escola Provincial de Gaitas de Ourense. Not only that but he also wrote the Gaita players’ bible, a book called “Os Segretos de la Gaita”. Some 7000 people have learnt to play the gaita following his method. Impressive! Mr Sonuda met Mr Foxo in the Czech Republic and arranged to have his book translated from English to Japanese so that he could improve his gaita playing and also his gaita construction. It seems he has a gaita factory in Japan. Who’d have thought it? I knew the Japanese were fans of flamenco but this is the first I’ve heard of the Galician connection. I wonder if they learn traditional Galician fold dances as well. 

Another international exchange is the continuing story of the “desconecting” adverts. It turns out to be for a milk producing company: Larsa. The latest of their adverts I’ve seen features a photo of a bench on a hillside overlooking the sea. The slogan says “Este é o mellor banco do mundo”. It’s supposed to be waiting for us in some out of the way “desconectado” spot. On the back of the bench is written in English, “The best bank of the world”. When did we start calling benches banks? And when did we make comparisons that way? “The best bank of the world” smacks of bad translation to me. 

Why don’t they ask a proper English speaker to vet these things before they put them out there in the public eye?

Friday, 22 February 2013

Travel problems.

We fly home on Sunday. Friends on Facebook are posting complaints about more snow. I’ve just Googled the weather in our home area and it looks like temperatures of -1°. How nice! 

Meanwhile here in Spain there are yellow alerts for storms on coasts all over the place. I found a picture of what they call a “megayacht” which has taken refuge in La Coruña, not wanting to face the bad weather out at sea. Has no-one told them abut the huge waves that can assault La Coruña when the weather really gets going? The yacht can be hired for a mere one million dollars – that’s for a week. As it can sleep 12 passengers, that should divide up nicely for an economical holiday, don’t you think? 

 In Athens they have been having floods. As if the poor Greeks didn’t have enough to cope with in this time of crisis. 

 I’ve also seen pictures of a rather frozen Venice. 

The weather alerts here include snow for Barcelona this weekend. Now, we are flying Vigo to Barcelona and then Barcelona to Manchester. Maybe we won’t get home to those -1° temperatures after all. We had better make sure the kindles are fully charged in case we have a long wait in Barcelona airport. 

Mind you, I could have been stuck in a lift. The other day, returning from buying bread, I got in the lift and pressed the button for the seventh floor. On floor 4, the lift stopped and the light display indicating the floor turned into a straight line. The doors failed to open. Just as I was beginning to wonder about pressing the panic button, it started to move again, downwards. Down, all the way to floor -2, the lowest level of garages. The doors still remained closed but the lift started to rise. On the fourth floor it stopped again, the doors opened and I got out. The lift stayed there so I got back in, somewhat hesitantly, and once more pressed button 7. Up it went, no problem, and I got home safely to tell my tale. 

The thing is that I recently read a book called “The Fear Index” in which a computer programmed to become an independent thinker (mostly so it can make millions for its programmer and his associates on the stock exchange) becomes a little too independent. The computer controls everything in the office block, including the lift. When one character becomes too vociferously critical of the system and fails to look before stepping through the open lift doors, he plummets 10 floors to his death. Coincidence or computer revenge? You can’t be too careful with artificial intelligence. 

I’ll let you all know if I get home safely.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

It’s all in the way you say it!

How fickle is the media? Just recently they were full of how wonderful it was that a woman writer had managed to win the Booker Prize, not just once but twice. What a wonderful triumph for womankind! Feminists everywhere should rejoice! 

Now that same writer, Hilary Mantel, has been found out making a speech about royalty and its image in the media in which she apparently made some passing comments about the Duchess of Cambridge. She didn’t actually attack our Kate but the way she is presented in the media and the fact that what she wears and how she looks may appear more important than the person herself who is reduced to a stereotype of the beautiful princess. 

It seems that Hilary Mantel was rather funny, comparing the royal family to pandas at one point: "Our current royal family doesn't have the difficulties in breeding that pandas do, but pandas and royal persons alike are expensive to conserve and ill-adapted to any modern environment. But aren't they interesting? Aren't they nice to look at?" 

However, some elements of the press didn’t find it funny and, disregarding the fact that any remarks about the fair Kate were only a very minor part of what she had to say, interpreted the whole thing as an attack, indeed a venomous attack on the duchess. Even the Prime Minister put in his two penn’orth, also seemingly without having actually read the whole text of the speech. Cameron said of Mantel: "I think she writes great books, but I think what she's said about Kate Middleton is completely misguided and completely wrong.” 

 Oh dear, how hard it is to be a woman in the modern day and age. 

And when you come to think about it, all famous females have to put up with criticism about how they look. When I went to the hairdressers the other day I was given one of those look-at-all-the-famous-people magazines to look at while the colour they put on my hair settled in properly. I only ever read these (if you can call it reading) at the hairdressers and each time I vow that next time I’ll take my kindle with me instead. This particular one had a feature called something like “Don’t they have a mirror at home” and was just a collection photos of famous women looking fat and frumpy. It makes you glad not to be rich and famous. 

The difference of course is that not all the rich and famous have been taken into the nation’s heart the way the poor offended duchess has. I just hope she has the intelligence to read the whole of Ms Mantels’ speech and take it the right way. 

As for this neither rich nor famous blogger I’ve been out and about again today having lunch with yet another friend. It begins to seem that that is all I do but it’s not at all a bad way to spend your time. After lunch we went to collect her car from the car park. She had some trouble making the machine where you pay for your parking accept her ticket and we had to go and seek help. We sorted it out eventually. In the process I noticed a little linguistic oddity. For a long time the Spanish have been using the English work “ticket” in that context. It must have been properly processed to become part of the official Spanish language as it is now spelt “tiqué”. 

It didn’t stop my friend from pronouncing it with a “t” on the end of the word though.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Out and about.

There I was, just quietly getting on with reading some books and doing the odd Sudoku puzzle when my life became very busy. 

After my trip to Santiago de Compostela on Wednesday, the following day I made my way to Alcabre, just before Samil, to visit a French friend of mine. I arrived to find her busily scanning a book onto the computer for me so that I could take it away and read it before Monday. We had a small argument about whether my memory stick, a very tiny thing, could possible hold all the book. I won. My friend was amazed at how much memory so small a gadget could hold. Gone are the days when computers filled a whole room. If it had been photocopied I would have had a bag full of paper. As it was I had a little bit of plastic full of computer magic. 
 So I spent part of the weekend reading French. Not all of it however, for Phil and I had a walk up to the Castro on Friday as it was such an excellent day. Blue sky and sunshine. So warm we had to take our jackets off. The Castro is one of our favourite parks around here but the rain and wind appears to have brought at least one tree down. 

Then on Saturday my young friend Sarah came from Santiago and we had a good walk around Vigo, showing her all the landmarks. She stopped to examine they eyes of Jules Verne (also known as Julio Verne or Xulio Verne depending on which language you choose to speak) sitting atop his octopus, a strange four-legged octopus, down by the harbour. The Galicians are fond of Mr Verne as the Nautilus sailed around here in “Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea”. If you go to the aquarium in La Coruña you can even sit in a reconstruction of the control room of the Nautilus. 

As Saturday evening wore on Sarah and I realised that she was about to miss her train. The last train from Vigo to Santiago on Saturday leaves ridiculously early, just before nine o’clock. So we abandoned it and went and ate chipirones and sip glasses of wine at La Porchaba instead and then Sarah slept in our spare room. 

I finished the French book on Sunday and then spent Monday having lunch with another friend, braving the hairdressers to get rid of the roots which were showing once again and finally going off to the Alliance Française to spend the evening discussing life in Afghanistan. Clearly there is no rest for the wicked. 

Continuing with my busy, busy life, today we set off to walk up A Guía, another of our favourite parks. We explored a new way down, coming across another fallen tree on our way. I seem fated to come across fallen trees at the moment. 

On our way home I noticed a poster, advertising some natural product. I have no idea what it is but its slogan is “As cosas boas sempre estarán ahí” – “The good things will always be here”. The poster had just been renewed – I saw them doing it yesterday morning – and now has a mobile phone in the middle of the image, stating “O mundo necesita desconecting”, presumably meaning “the world needs disconnecting” perhaps so that we can appreciate the good things that will always be here. I was interested by this Spanglish word “desconecting”, a word that really has no meaning whatsoever although someone in an advertising agency must have thought it up. Strange! 

In other places around the city I am seeing posters or odds and ends on TV about “Gran Hermano 14”. This is the 14th edition of Big Brother in Spain. Now, I remember going to visit my sister in the south of Spain 14 years ago when everyone was talking about a TV series, a newly termed “reality show”, that had just come to an end: the very first Gran Hermano. My then small Spanish nephew was pestering for a Gran Hermano hat as worn by the winner of the show. I commented to my daughter that such rubbish would never be seen on TV in the UK. She smiled pityingly at me and said, “Mum, it’s just started!” And so it had!

 Now, that it something that really needs “desconecting”, in my opinion at least.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

A Santiago voy ...

Wednesday: to Santiago de Compostela to see a former student who is spending a year teaching English in a small place just to the north of the city where I suspect she is learning more gallego than castellano. 

On the train I was amused by the conversation going on behind me between a grandmother and a small child. It went along the following lines: 

Child: “I can see some other railway lines next to our train.” 
Grandma: “Oh, yes.” 
Child: “Why are there some other railway lines?” 
Grandma: “So other trains can go past us.” 
Child: “Why do they need to go past us?” 
Grandma: “Because we can’t all go on the same line or we would have a crash.” 
(A train rushes past in the other direction.) 
Grandma: “Did you see that train? 
Child: “No.” 
Grandma: You were too busy talking.” 
Child: “Where was it going?” 
Grandma: “Ermmm, probably Vigo. 
Child: “I can see some other railway lines. Why are there some other railway lines?” Grandma: “I already told you; so other trains can go past us.” 
Child: “Why do they need to go past us?” 
Grandma: “Because we can’t all go on the same line or we would have a crash.” 
Child: “I can see some other railway lines. 
Grandma: “Oh, look at the rain on your window. 
(Sings)    A Santiago voy, 
                y con my paragüitas 
                por si la lluvia 
                está mojando. 
 And so on repetitively until we arrived at Santiago. 

The grandmother was a paragon of patience, only muttering once or twice that she was not bringing him on the train again for a long time. The song she sang was one I had learnt at school in my Spanish lessons. So my Spanish teacher Miss Brown didn’t make it all up about Santiago being the rain capital of Spain! 

When we arrived at Santiago it WAS a bit damp but not actually raining so I didn’t need my paragüitas after all. But it’s always as well to have your little umbrella in your bag when you go there. 
I’ve not been to Santiago for a few years. Not much has changed as far as I can see. The cathedral is still imposingly impressive.

There is a brand spanking new library just outside the casco viejo, all glass and steel and very modern but as it’s outside the main picturesque old town it doesn’t clash the way modern architecture often does in cities in the UK. Most old towns around here are compact enough to retain their ancient character while the modern city just develops around them: on the whole quite a good arrangement. 

My young friend and I had a good wander around, didn’t find the restaurant I remembered from an earlier visit but did manage to find a reasonably priced menú del día in the old town. It wasn’t quite the bargain that I saw in a Vigo establishment the other day: plato del día, bebida, pan y cafe - €3.99 but was probably much better quality. I shudder to think what the dish of the day can consist of it they can offer that AND a drink AND a coffee for such a low price. It smacks of desperation to attract customers if you ask me. 

Maybe it was the cooler weather that made the streets of Santiago fairly empty but we didn’t see as many beggars as I’ve grown used to seeing in Vigo although the buskers were out and about playing their wailing gaitas. And we were invited to buy lotería tickets at least three times by the same seller. He probably didn’t realise we were the same people as before since the lottery ticket sellers are all blind or partially sighted. 

On the subject of beggars and the like, it is a regular occurrence here that if someone is smoking outside a cafe or lighting up on the street, someone else will approach and cadge a cigarette. Now, the other day in Pontevedra I noticed a lady wrapped in her fur coat sitting on a terraza smoking. A fag-cadger approached her, she looked at him in disgust and said, “¿Otro?” In English, “Another one?” My friend Colin noticed too and said that he had seen this chap go up to her at least twice before in the time she had been sitting there. If you’re begging or busking or selling lottery tickets, you need to be careful not to hit on the same person too often! 

In the early evening yesterday I headed back to Vigo on the train. I noticed grandmother and grandson getting on the train but they didn’t sit near me so I never found out if his curiosity continued on the return journey. 

My young friend and I are now consulting weather forecasts as she would like to visit Vigo before I return to the UK. She has only seen the most unprepossessing parts of this fair city and has asked me to show her some more picturesque bits. So we are hoping for a fine day at the weekend so I can take her walkabout and prove that Vigo is worth visiting.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Down came the rain.

On Sunday I woke up to rain. Well, of course we know it rains in Galicia. We’ve lived here after all. And everyone’s been telling us how much rain there has been over the last few months. But since we arrived on Wednesday we’d not seen any. Thursday, Friday and Saturday were bright and sunny. It’s amazing how quickly you get used to sunshine, even rather watery winter sunshine. Since Sunday, however, there has been rain and that low cloud that gives the impression that someone has stolen the city, with the occasional rainbow thrown in for good measure. 

We met friends on Friday for lunch at El Puerto, just about our favourite restaurant here in Vigo. The fish was as fresh and tasty as ever. When we went to book a table and found we could do so with ease we were a little concerned that they might be suffering from the recession but in the end we decided that it was just that we were booking for an early lunch as one of our party had to go back to work. By the time we were half way through our meal the place was packed to the gills, quite appropriate for a fish restaurant! 

On our way to the restaurant we were approached by a smartly dressed gentleman: nicely tailored overcoat, woollen scarf, leather gloves. We assumed he was asking for a light for a cigarette or wanting directions to someplace. But no, he was asking for money so that he could pay his rent and buy food. Is this the new phenomenon: the middleclass beggar?

 Galicia is trying to address its youth unemployment – 45% last year and not looking any better this year so far – by re-introducing apprenticeships for unemployed under-30s with few qualifications. Firms taking them on will get various benefits. Let’s hope it does some good. It won’t, of course, be much use to the young people leaving university and finding that their qualifications are little use to them. There are times when I’m glad not to be a young person. 

In another part of Spain, according to an odd little story I read, a British woman is celebrating her birthday and funeral at the same time. 80 year old Eileen Bush, resident in Cómpeta, Alemería, for the last 10 years, has decided that she wants to know what people will say about her when she’s gone so she is combining birthday party with funeral baked meats. I’ve been to Cómpeta. It’s a small place where 25% of the population at British ex-pats. By all accounts they spend a lot of time having cocktail parties and so on. Maybe it was at one of these that the idea came up. 

The horsemeat scandal continues in the UK and beyond. Aldi is reportedly furious to find that some of their beefburgers contain 100% horse. Meanwhile Findus has withdrawn a number of its readymeals in France because of the horsemeat. That’s odd; I was always given to understand that the French ate horsemeat! 

Here in Vigo I keep running into small people in fancy dress. This is, of course, because it’s been carnaval, or “entroido” as the Galicians insist on calling it. When we went to Pontevedra on Monday all the decorations were up there as well. Our friend Colin told us about revellers who were still in fancy dress (and probably still rather drunk) at midday on Sunday, still not having been home from Saturday night’s fun and games. Today they will have been burying the sardine in Vigo and I’m afraid they’ve had a rather soggy sardine to bury this year, unlike the first time I saw it in sunshine.  

Finally a linguistic note. The Spanish word “actualmente” does not mean “actually” but “at present”. There is a related verb: “actualizar” = to bring up to date. When we went to the Vodafone shop to “actualizar” our dongle so that we can access internet, I noticed an advert for smart phones. This told you that you, “APPtualízate”, in other words, get the latest APPs for your phone. Isn’t language wonderful?

Friday, 8 February 2013

On the road again.

We escaped from the frozen north eventually, for a while anyway. 

On Monday morning, as usual, I got up at the crack of dawn to drive to our daughter’s house and take the small people to school. Having done that I returned home, collected husband and suitcases and set off almost immediately – just time for a coffee really – to drop husband and suitcases at the local railway station, drive down and park the car outside our daughter’s house, leave the keys for her and race to the station in time to catch a train to Manchester. That was the hard bit of Monday out of the way. After that it was a relatively simple matter to locate the train the London from Manchester, booked in advance for a ridiculous price of around £8.00 each. Crazy!! 

 Somehow you expect that because London is further south it will be warmer but we got there to find it was bitterly cold with an icy wind to reinforce the chill. Our son tried to persuade us that this is natural because the Northwest of England has its own microclimate. According to him it is warmer there because of the Gulf Stream which warms up the sea. I always thought that this affected the whole of the British Isles and prevented us from regularly having winters similar to those in Canada. Alternatively I thought that Greater Manchester, and particularly Saddleworth, just had a special rainy microclimate: a place where being damp but not actually raining is a bonus. 

Whatever the truth of the matter, on Tuesday morning all my Northwest of England friends were Facebook posting about snow while London had some sunshine, although still extremely. Cold weather notwithstanding, we set off from Buckinghamshire, where the boy now lives at the furthest point on the Metropolitan Line, to head back to the city where we admired the city skyline and then visited the Courtauld Gallery. What a lovely collection of pictures Mr Courtauld put together! And the staircase alone makes the building worth visiting! I haven’t even mentioned the ceilings which are magnificent and which I somehow managed not to photograph. 

On Wednesday morning we set off for Gatwick airport, a fairly smooth process, despite the delay caused by an unbelievably slow ticket queue at London Bridge Station. We were travelling from Gatwick because Ryanair had so inconveniently cancelled flights from Liverpool to Oporto. And so we found ourselves travelling with TAP a Portuguese airline. This had been a source of trouble from the word go. In the first place, when we tried to book tickets our bank decided that there must be a case of fraud going on and stopped our online payment as we had never purchased tickets from this company before. By the time we got that sorted the prices had gone up by £15, which did not please us. Then, after congratulating ourselves on keeping our luggage down to around 9 kilos each, we discovered that their allowance for hand luggage is 8 kilos. This led to a frantic rethink and repack. It’s a good job we already have clothes in Vigo; 8 kilos is not much at all. 

However, we forgave them all of this when we got to the departure gate and found that no-one was weighing anything, unlike Ryanair and Easijet. Good grief, we could have packed the kitchen sink! And then there were assigned seats; no mad scramble for the best places in the plane. Finally they came round and gave us a sandwich and a drink: completely free!! We had turned down this offer of food at first; we don’t buy food and drinks on budget fights. No doubt the cabin staff thought they had a pair of weird skinflints on board when we had to be persuaded to accept free food! 

 On arrival at Oporto there was no bus to Vigo for almost two hours, giving us plenty of time to explore the airport facilities, much reduced in the arrival area compared with what is available beyond the security gates, as in airports everywhere I believe. One of the Portuguese cafes in the airport has been replaced by Costa Coffee, apparently transferred direct from the UK with the same range of cinnamon lattes, caramel lattes and vanilla lattes. There was even flapjack on sale. I wonder what the Portuguese make of flapjack. When I tried out my best Portuguese to order “duas meias de leite”, I was told, “Temos flat white”. It’s come to a pretty pass when you can’t even order a Portuguese white coffee but have to go for that strange beast, the Flat White. Just as all high streets in England have become identical, with the same range of identical shops with their identical window displays, so airports will soon be identical in their catering arrangements the world over. 

Eventually we made it to Vigo, just in time to scuttle into the Mercadona supermarket next to our block of flats for essential supplies of milk, bread, margarine and so on. In the supermarket a pleasant surprise awaited me: Mercadona now sells proper milk: ordinary pasteurised instead of the sterilized variety. As it’s clearly a new venture for them the cartons are all clearly labelled, “Mantener en frío”, just in case anyone thought you didn’t need to put it in the fridge. 

 The regulation supermarket beggar was on duty in the doorway but with a slight difference. On my way in I was harangued by a very energetic young male beggar, asking me to buy some food for him, preferably meat. I find it rather disturbing that in the second decade of the 21st century our society is reduced to this. There must be some other, better way of organising things to help the homeless and jobless. 

But as we’ve walked around we’ve noticed even more shops closed and boarded up. The places that buy gold are here in force, just as in UK high streets. And when we went out for a quick beer last night, planning to check our email using the wifi at our nearest and favourite local venue, we found it closed. The light of day this morning revealed signs on the window saying that the place was up for rent. Another victim of the ongoing crisis, no doubt!