Monday, 28 April 2014

Travelers’ trials and tribulations

So here we are back in the UK where today has been quite pleasant and mild and I’ve been out admiring the bluebells. 

Mind you, for a while there it was touch and go whether we would get back. OK, I exaggerate a little; it was just the Vigo to Oporto leg that was a little problematical. On Friday, we set about trying to book tickets for the bus to the airport online. There are two bus services which do that route: Autna and Alsa. It’s terribly confusing having two similarly names bus companies as one insists that you have to buy your tickets in advance and I can never remember which is which. 

 Anyway we had a look at both of them, with the idea of booking our tickets whether they demanded it or not, just to save a little time and hassle. And we found that Autna, who don’t insist on pre-booking, has different information on its on-line timetable to what is on its online booking service!!! Useful! This meant that the bus that we might have caught was not actually available. We could travel first thing in the morning or risk not getting there before the gate closed for our flight. So Alsa it had to be. Alsa let us go through the booking system and then told us there had been an error - un error en los datos???? – at the point when we wanted to print tickets. Had they actually sold us tickets? Had they charged us? The system would not let us go back in to find out. 

So off we went to the bus station to book in the old fashioned way and arrived 5 minutes too late. The ticket man was just leaving. He stopped long enough to ask what we wanted but was clearly in a hurry. He advised us to return on Saturday morning. His parting shot, “there are not many places left for Sunday”, gave us more than a moment of panic. What if we couldn't get the bus!!?? 

The booking office opens at 8.15 am, so at 8 o’ clock on Saturday morning I was at the bus stop in the rain and by 8.20 I was at the bus station. I had a brief chat with the ticket man and waited for a few minutes while he went to check all was well with bus about to leave downstairs. He checked on his computer that I had not in fact paid for my tickets already and sold me two for Sunday. Hooray! Phew, what a relief! 

I walked back in the rain and we had breakfast. 

The day improved and the sun even came out so we went for a last walk to the. Castro where a noisy children's cycling event - noisy event not just for noisy children, I hasten to add - was taking place. They were raising money to send children with physical disabilities on the Camino de Santiago on specially adapted tandems. Several examples of these were being cycled around the park. 

I politely declined the offer to try one out but bought a raffle ticket which could win me a bicycle. It would be just typical for mine to be the winning ticket because I will undoubtedly have lost it by the time it is the raffle is drawn. 

Then we had a final visit to the Nuevo Derby for a refresco and to catch up with our emails and then back home to pack. 

Our journey to the UK proved to be uneventful, simply involving a lot of hanging around in the airport at Oporto: rather a waste of a sunny day but these things cannot always be avoided. 

Oh, one final thing, going against our usual habit of waiting until the last minute to join the queue to get onto the plane, we made sure we were among the first fifty or so in the “other queue”, the one for those who have not paid an extra £10 or so for the privilege of getting onto the plane ahead of everyone else. We did this because Ryanair have changed their policy about “cabin baggage”. Only the first 90 hand-luggage-only bags are accepted into the cabin. The rest go in the hold, although you don’t have to pay the usual extortionate fee for putting luggage in the hold. Obviously they have decided to avoid the free for all, which we have witnessed many times, of people desperately trying to find a place to put their hand luggage. It certainly saved time and confusion during boarding and considerably expedited take-off! Good move, Ryanair! 

Also a good move on our part to join the boarding queue as early as we did. No hanging around waiting for luggage off the carousel for us. Oh, no. Straight off the plane, through security and out into the night to travel back to Manchester! 

Such efficiency is quite astounding!

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Things to see.

Towards the end of yesterday morning I walked into Vigo to get my hair sorted. After doing the colour, washing and rinsing and so on, they must have wanted to close early for lunch or something as they got round to drying my hair. Or maybe it's just that the place was pretty empty. Whatever the reason, I found myself with two stylists drying my hair at the same time, one each side. I felt rather like a prize poodle being prepared for a show. Maybe this is what stars feel like when they are being fussed around by stylists and make-up artists. Very odd! 

Earlier, as an essential part of the morning’s hairdressing experience, I had worked my way through a number of gossip magazines, the pink press as they call it here. There were masses of pictures of the royal couple of the moment, William and Kate. They've been showing off their offspring to the New Zealanders. Much was made of the fact that Kate wore red, as did Lady Diana when she made a similar visit with Prince Charles when William was a baby. Was it coincidence? Or is Kate truly a big Lady Di fan? 

I also read that Kate travels accompanied by a nanny, a personal secretary and a hairdresser. A hairdresser, eh? So that's how the royal (by marriage) tresses are kept looking permanently glossy and lovely. How many times have I thought how nice it might be to have my own personal hairdresser at my beck and call? I wonder if Kate takes all these people with her if she pops off to let wee George spend a weekend with his non-royal grandparents. It must be a bit of a pain really. When Kate met her prince, did she ever imagine that she would move into a world where she is followed by security men wherever she goes and has her own staff? A bit different from what she might have expected when she applied to university! 

There were also pictures of the Spanish royal heirs, leading an apparently normal life: Felipe and Letizia in a queue to buy tickets to go to the cinema. (They were going to see the latest big Spanish hit "Ocho Nombres Vascos", which I have been told is very funny.) Surely they must also be followed by security men, perhaps discreetly well hidden, but I always get the impression that the Spanish royal family move around with a lot less fuss. You even see King Juan Carlos arriving to watch football matches and so on. Maybe I just don't notice the fuss and bother aspect. I rather get the impression that there is something of a campaign to portray Felipe and Letizia as A GOOD THING. Ten years married now, out and about looking happy, Letizia getting on well with the queen, and other such things. Mind you, the Borbón family needs a bit of good press. 

Anyway, onto other things. 

Here is a photo of the roundabout down the road from our flat in Vigo. Last year it was a pile of mess in the middle of the street. Now there is this object. When he first saw it Phil decided that it is a dalek – unlikely, as I don't think Doctor Who has made it big in Galicia yet. Then the other evening he stopped and said, "But of course, it's a pawn. I can see that now." Only a chess player would see that and say that. Clearly, it's meant to be a lighthouse. It’s in the middle of a heap of rocks, for goodness sake. And it even has a light at the top that spins round slowly in the dark, telling drivers not to crash into it. 

 And here is a series of pictures of bikes in Pontevedra. They look at little like Boris's bikes, the ones you can hire to ride around London. Obviously, someone has been riding them up trees and up the wall. 

And I have grown used to seeing bikes on balconies, but it's not usual to see one stored on the balcony of the town hall. 

I presume it's some kind of art installation. I've seen cows in Manchester and Florence, elephants in Liverpool and doves in Bilbao. They were the best, the doves, as local schools had been involved in painting them to give a message of peace. 

So, bikes in Pontevedra? OK. I can accept that! 

Anyway, that’s it for Galicia for the time being. Tomorrow we’re off back to the UK for a few weeks, hoping for some sunshine when we come back here in June.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Keeping up to date with the weather and other things.

This morning it’s raining in Pontevedra. Here’s a picture from my friend Colin’s window about an hour ago. And it has got worse since. 

My young friend and ex-student who works in Santiago de Compostela at the moment must be thanking her lucky stars that her parents came over for Holy Week rather than now. Despite having been told that they could expect just about any weather but snow, they had a week of really good, even warm, weather. I went to see her on Monday by which time the sunshine had disappeared again and we were back to gloom and grey. 

One tower of the cathedral in Santiago is covered in scaffolding, with a helpful picture of the tower on the scaffolding cover, presumably just in case you forget what the tower looks like. Apparently this is needed despite there being another tower just next to it. That tower, though, seems to have a slight lean to it. The famous leaning tower of Santiago? 

 On balance I quite like the idea of covering the scaffolding with pictures of the famous monuments in the process of being restored. When we visited Milan we might have had no idea what the cathedral there looked like without said picture. And on the whole it's a good deal better than huge advertisements for expensive products, which is what they put on the outside of St Ann's church in central Manchester when work was going on there. 

Anyway, my young friend and I had a stroll around Santiago's lovely alameda as well as the old town before going off for lunch the Los Caracoles, a restaurant not far from the obradoiro. A nice menu for €10.50. And, since this was possibly the third time Sarah had been in there in the last two weeks, we got a free chupito at the end of the meal. What's more they didn't mind our sitting there over an after-lunch coffee for ages and ages putting the world to rights before they finally had to tell us they were closing and would we mind leaving. 

 Back in Vigo my reading of Proust has continued. I have made my way through the second volume, "À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs", in which Marcel tells us about his adolescent love life. Perhaps I am something of a philistine but I have to say that I am not finding Monsieur Proust the most gripping of reads. Loads of very lyrical stuff, plenty of reflecting on the beauties of the young ladies he meets, a bit of philosophising about whether or not we truly remember what someone who strikes us terribly attractive actually looks like. But for such a long book, essentially NOTHING MUCH HAPPENS. 

The collected version of Proust that I have on my Kindle includes a series of reviews by one of his contemporaries. It has been quite reassuring to have someone else say, "Proust is really quite a difficult read, first of all because of the unusual length of his works". There I was, thinking it was just me. He goes on to say, "the age of interminable novels is over. In our time of busy people, caught up in their working life and leisure pursuits, brevity is the order of the day if you want to be read". I think this is an amazingly modern comment, taking into account that it dates from 1919. You could be forgiven for thinking that it comes from 2014. Indeed I have read comments to the same effect about "The Goldfinch" by Donna tart. And no-one could say that nothing happens in that novel. 

Having said all this, Mr. Proust did win literary prizes, the Prix Goncourt in 1919. This despite his endless sentences. When his critic commented that you lose the thread of his long sentences and have to start again to sort out what he is really saying, I found myself nodding in agreement. 

This is the kind of thing you find yourself getting up to when the weather turns gloomy. 

In between reading lengthy French novels, I have also been watching Game of Thrones on DVD. It's a well produced lot of mock-medieval swashbuckling and daring-do and I am manfully (womanfully?) resisting the temptation to say at every turn, "but it doesn't happen like that in the books!!!" This is the problem with reading the book first. (Now that is another lot of lengthy books where things DO indeed happen!) However, I do not intend to go on at length about the story line. I only mention my viewing because I came across an article comparing game of Thrones characters to real-life famous people. Here's a link.  I think my favourite is Lady Brienne of Tarth, a female knight in shining armour, as Boris Johnson, Mayor of London. 

I cannot look at either of them in the same light again!

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Culture clash?

Travelling Pontevedra on the train, we had assigned seats. On the train we found two ladies in our seats. These were seats in a group of four, with a table in the middle. You know the kind of thing. They were four ladies travelling together. On the opposite side of the carriage, four gentlemen sat together, probably the husbands of the four ladies. This was confirmed when a young man got on and challenged one of the gentlemen, who was sitting in HIS seat. After some discussion, offers to swap tickets, explanation that this was more complicated as he was travelling with a friend, and then further offers to swap two tickets, the young man decided to leave it and just sat in the next available empty seat, grumblingly saying that if anyone needed his new seat he would sort it out then. Pretty much what we had decided as well. 

Watching the two groups, the older gentlemen travelling together and the younger men who wanted their assigned seats, we were struck by these examples of two aspects of Spanish culture/character. On the one hand there is the almost anarchical decision to do whatever suits you best: if you want four seats together where you and your friends can chat comfortably, and you find four seats available, then you sit there regardless of what your tickets say. On the other hand there is the desire to conform and obey the rules: if you find someone sitting in your seat you need to challenge them, even if you allow yourself to be persuaded to be courteous and give in to the older generation. 

The dichotomy - anarchist/conformist - pops up all the time. Some people dash across at pedestrian crossings whenever there is a break in the traffic, taking their life in their hands. Others wait patiently for the green man to appear, even if you can see empty road stretching in both directions as far as eye can see. Some push in at queues at every opportunity. Others tap you on the shoulder to remind you that they were there first, hoping to shame you into letting them back in to the place they abandoned to go and get the forgotten item from the other end if the supermarket. 

The four ladies mattered nineteen to the dozen throughout the journey, almost competing with each other for airtime. The gentlemen also talked their way to Pontevedra but they were quieter, more measured and restrained. This is another thing we have noticed many times before. 

 All these are things that make you love this country. 

There are other odds and ends I have noticed which make me smile wryly: 

 - Boxes of hard boiled eggs on sale in the supermarket! Clearly there is no shame in being unable to boil an egg. In fact someone who does not know how to cook is described as being unable to fry a couple of eggs: "no sabe freír un par de huevos". 

 - Jars of "patatas para tortilla", also on sale in the supermarket. Yes, you can buy jars of ready cooked potatoes for your Spanish omelette. As the label tells you, all you need to do is add eggs. Astounding! 

- The train manager walking up and down the length of the train telling us, several times over, that we will be delayed 5 minutes at Redondela because there is a stretch of single track line ahead and the signal is against us. What is the public address system on the train for? Oh, yes, to tell us where we are going, what the next station is and whether or not you can buy refreshments on the train, in Galician, then in Castellano (usually as near identical as makes no difference), and finally in English! 

- Spaniards who celebrate Saint George's Day in a bar that sells all sorts of quite obscure English beers. We went there briefly after lunch today in Pontevedra. Today of course, is Saint George's Day. Good old George is, I discovered, not just the patron saint of England but also of Catalonia and Mallorca, Moscow, the Hungarian police and the Portuguese army. There you go! 

In England some people will be driving around with the cross of Saint George flying from their car. Others will use it as an excuse to get drunk. Meanwhile in Barcelona couples apparently celebrate Saint George's Day by exchanging roses and books. 

Mind you, they will insist on calling him Sant Jordi! 

I suppose you can't have everything.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Turismo words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clearly there are always new things to learn.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

A day out in Ponters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Someone is getting safety conscious at last.

Monday, 14 April 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Getting warm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Out and about on the streets of Vigo.

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

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

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

Just another normal walk along a Spanish street. 

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Assessing things!

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, there it is. 

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

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

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

Monday, 7 April 2014

Into unknown territory!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The views out over the bay were impressive. 

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

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

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

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Not seeing things.

Rain again this morning. In fact, not so much rain as a huge great cloud that came down and settled on the city of Vigo. I took these photos at around 10.30 this morning. 

One looking left towards Vigo centre: 

The other looking right towards A Guía: 

Five minutes later that level of visibility had even further reduced. 

All day the cloud has come and gone. It’s not actually rained much since then, just been rather grey. 

On the other hand, it’s not at all cold. At 9.30 this morning the temperature gauge on the billboard down at the corner registered 15°. Maybe we’re turning tropical: rather warm and steamy. When we walked down to A Laxe shopping centre at the end of this afternoon we found that they had their heating turned up to winter levels still. We left fairly quickly and later took refuge in a cafe where everyone is excited watching football but apart from that the temperature is much more pleasant. 

Last night we decided to get ourselves a bit of culture and went to a concert at the Centro Cultural Fundación Novacaixagalicia. We heard quite a lot of Haydn, a bit of Hindemith and a rather amusing piece by Charles Ives, which the orchestra seemed to take great delight in playing. The conductor Christoph König was one of those who jumps up and down and practically dances on the podium. It’s nice to see someone really enjoying his work! All this cost us €13 apiece. I find this amazing. To listen to a similar performance in Manchester would cost us at least £30! 

The other thing that continues to surprise me is the fact that the venue has no bar. During the interval, people mill around and chat to friends. Some pop out for a drink in a nearby bar but that’s it. There’s a lovely big open area but no facilities for providing refreshments. Someone is missing an employment and moneymaking opportunity. At a similar venue in the UK you would be able to pre-order your interval drinks and in some cases have something to eat before or after the show. Another aspect of this is the fact that the lovely premises (and it is a fine building) is closed except for performances. The ticket office opens half an hour before the performance. Otherwise you have to buy tickets on line or have a season ticket. 

I compare this with the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester. The place is open all day while rehearsals take place. Or even when they don’t. People wander in and out, buying stuff in the theatre bookshop, the souvenir shop, the fancy handmade jewellery stall and so on, as well as booking tickets for performances. Friends and I often meet there for lunch, without any intention of going to the theatre. The same sort of thing goes on at the Bridgewater Hall. 

Someone should whisper in the ear of the people who run the Centro Cultural Fundación Novacaixagalicia. There are development opportunities there.

Thursday, 3 April 2014


Reading Proust, as I suppose you have to do eventually, a number of things struck me. First of all, old Marcel is even better than the Spanish at creating sentences full of minor clauses, parentheses, semi-colons and so on which go on for well over a page. Then there’s the nostalgia thing. I was listening to Bizet at the same time as reading and it got to that bit of Carmen that Esso once used for an advert (anyone who was a child in the 50s and 60s will know what I mean – “The E-e-sso sign means happy motoring....”). And suddenly there I was, thirteen years old and marching out of assembly with other green clad girls at my school while the orchestra played Carmen ... badly, it has to be said! So that was my “madeleine” moment! And then this morning, progressing into “Un Amour de Swann”, I came across the character Odette saying, “Je ne suis pas ‘fishing for compliments’”. So even Monsieur Proust was in the habit of sprinkling his French with bits of idiomatic English!

Phil and I have been indulging in our own nostalgia trip since we arrived here last week, visiting some of our favourite places in snatched moments when the rain let up. On Saturday we walked up to A Guía, the promontory at our end of Vigo with a chapel-cum-lighthouse on top. 
It’s a lovely walk and it didn’t feel too cold (we even took our jackets off at one point) but the photos came out looking very wintry

Yesterday we walked up to the other high point at the other end of town, the Castro with its fortifications. It was very pleasant in the sunshine. We particularly wanted to look at the point where there used to be an abandoned hotel/restaurant. You used to look down onto the very fragile-looking roof where some foolhardy person had painted TE QUIERO in big red letters.

Now there is just a sort of stain on the ground where the hotel was dismantled and moved to somewhere in England to be rebuilt.

We found we couldn’t leave the fortifications by what I always think of as the back door, past was probably the stables back when the place really was a fortress. The door was padlocked. A local told us it’s been locked for weeks for no reason that she has heard of. So we had to go the long way round. And even so the old pathways and steps that formerly went past the hotel were all blocked off. Signs told us that they are doing some kind of archaeological work on the site.

The Castro looks much more like a fortification from that end now that the hotel has gone.

I hope the rich man who took it away to re-open it as a restaurant in England is enjoying his bit of Galicia.

The building was not especially beautiful, in my humble opinion, but there’s no accounting for nostalgia.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014


As we left the Failde cafe last night there was a news report on the TV about two boats colliding in Vigo Bay, out near the Islas Cíes: a fishing boat from Marín and a big container transporter ship. In one way I’m not surprised. The visibility out there yesterday seemed to be dire; the great Atlantic blanket just kept coming down. And yet, I always thought that modern boats had sophisticated equipment to help prevent that sort of thing. After all if cars can have devices to stop them backing into things, surely it’s even more important for boats to be equipped with something similar. 

Today is calmer and brighter. It still rained on me first thing but it wasn’t serious rain, more a bit of dampness in the air really. And since then it’s got better. So the washing has gone out on the balcony to dry. On the subject of washing, I continue to be amazed at the way people here hang washing out of windows where it bangs against the side of the building. Surely it must come in dirtier than it went out! 

Mind you, the Galicians are a bit like the British where washing is concerned. Some nationalities regard a fine day as an opportunity to arrange excursions. We just react with an urgent need to wash everything in sight! 

Where my sister lives down in Andalucía, they hang the washing on the roof to dry, the flat roof that is. They all have a designated area and as a rule the washing is baked dry rather than blown. This probably explains her need to iron everything in order to get rid of the baked in stiffness. Me, I rarely iron. It’s one of those things I really dislike. 

 Other things? 
1. people who push in at supermarket queues. 
2. parking on the pavement, thus forcing pedestrians to walk round. 
3. people who stop to talk on the corner, where there is already a car parked, blocking everyone else’s way. 
4. cyclists on the pavement – they should be on the road, for heaven’s sake! 
5. men who spit in the street – this is something you used never to see, even though I remember buses with NO SPITTING signs long ago, but nowadays it seems to be coming back. 

And then there’s Michael Gove and his plans to solve the education problems!!! His latest is a pledge to abolish illiteracy and innumeracy in the UK. Very good and laudable, I’m sure. What does he think teacher’s do? Here’s a quote: “We want at least 85% of primary school pupils to reach a level of literacy and numeracy that means they’re on course for good GCSE grades.” Apparently in 2012 46% of pupils failed to secure a GCSE pass (that’s a fancy way to put it) in Maths and English. Almost half never studied the subjects again afterwards. Are we surprised? First of all for everyone to “secure a GCSE pass in Maths and English” it might be necessary to lower standards a little. It’s in the nature of things that some people find stuff hard. We can’t all be above average, after all! And as regards studying Maths and English post-16, I think he may find it has been thus! They have tried again and again to introduce some kind of post-16 assessment and they’ve not managed it. Until the UK has a system similar to the French/German/Spanish/Italian/probably other nationalities baccalaureate system where there are obligatory subjects such as Maths, your own language and literature, and a modern foreign language (don’t get me started on that one) it’s not going to happen. UK students choose the subjects they want to study at post-16 level. 

It’s not perfect but that’s the way it works – at the moment anyway!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

A pretty average Monday

I walked into the town centre yesterday, looking for a chemist where I could buy the Spanish equivalent of Lemsip for Phil and something for his sore throat as well. Between the cold wind in Buckinghamshire and the up and down, "now it’s raining, now it’s not" weather we’ve had since we arrived here he’s been snuffling and sneezing and taking to his bed. He blames it mainly on having forgotten his woolly hat and therefore walking around with a cold head when we were out and about with our son. So it goes. Anyway, although there are chemists closer to hand I walked into the town centre. 

In the short stretch of Calle Urzáiz that goes from Gran Vía to Calle Colón, no distance at all really, I spotted no fewer than three shops that offer to buy your gold and, presumably, any other valuables you night have that they might consider worth buying. I have no valuables worth selling and I found myself wondering once again who are these people who have gold to sell. Have they ransacked the jewellery boxes of their grandmothers and their aged maiden aunts? Are they professional or semi-professional thieves? Are they good, respectable bourgeois people down on their luck? 

One who looks like a respectable bourgeois gent down on his luck is the old chap who still seems to be camping in the doorway of a closed shop in that same stretch of Calle Urzáiz. He’s been there for over a year now. I was quite relieved to see him still there, glad the winter had not seen him off. He has quite a heap of “stuff” with him. I wonder how he drags it around with him if he needs to sally forth from his den. Maybe he never sallies forth. Or perhaps the neighbouring establishments keep an eye on it for him. One thing I am fairly sure of is that if he were camped in a shop doorway in any town centre in the UK he would have been moved on by now. 

Spain, well, Galicia anyway, is perhaps a kinder and in some ways more innocent society. I thought this on Friday evening as I walked back from the Nuevo Derby cafetería in the middle evening. Children were still playing, unaccompanied, in the dark street as I walked along Travesía de Vigo. At one point I was accosted by a little chap of about eight years old who asked me if I wanted to buy a poster from him. What was that about? Has no-one told him about “stranger danger”? This is the term used in UK schools when they warn children not to speak to strangers. Maybe it doesn’t figure highly here. 

Vigo’s main pedestrianised shopping street, Príncipe, is little changed. Shops have changed hands but mostly remain open: a good sign. I can think of a very sad posh shopping mall (a horrible term but the only one appropriate here) which is like a mini ghost town. A lonely security guard stands amidst the empty shops. A couple of cafes are still open but they won’t last long if there are no shops for people to visit. In Vigo centre there are more fancy sweet shops than I remember. Maybe that explains the increase in rounder people as well. 

The street musicians are out in force, continuing to learn their trade at the expense of the public, as are the people who try to sign you up to donate to the Cruz Roja, to Cancer Research and even to an organisation loosely connected to the Islas Cíes and conservation in general. 

Returning home, having successfully bought cold cures for Phil, and a woolly hat, I noted that our supermarket beggar has disappeared again. As she wasn’t around on Friday but popped up on Saturday, I begin to wonder if she has a job during the week.