Saturday, September 23, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 23.9.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain
  • Cataluña: What can one say? Has a government ever dealt with a major challenge so ineptly, despite having all the time in the world to get it right? And now - oh so predictably - Madrid has ramped up its 'repressive' measures, which are having the totally predictable and counterproductive result of converting non-secessionists into rebels. 
  • But . . . Things can only now get worse. Though no one knows exactly how. Meanwhile . . . read Barcelona-based Don Quijones' views here and here. And here's The Guardian with its overview.
  • Very, very bleatedly, the Spanish Finance Minister is saying things like: Once independence plans are dropped, we can talk about a new arrangement. Too bloody late, mate. This should have been said years ago. Or, at the very least, months ago.
  • Interestingly  . . . The Venice Commission – a panel of experts who advise the Council of Europeon constitutional law – has told the Catalan president that the referendum would have to be carried out “in agreement with the Spanish authorities … and in full compliance with the constitution and the applicable legislation”. Not much chance of this right now.
  • It wouldn't be a show without Punch and the Scottish First Minister - Mrs Sturgeon - has opined that: It is of course entirely legitimate for Spain to oppose independence for Catalonia, but what I think is of concern anywhere is for a state to seek to deny the right of a people to democratically express their will. The right of self-determination is an important international principle, and I hope very much that it will be respected in Catalonia and everywhere else. So . . .  As Cataluña is not (yet) a 'state', how far 'down' does this principle apply, Mrs S? Can Cornwall vote to leave England? Can Edinburgh vote to leave Scotland? Do tell us what the principles are. Meanwhile, the good lady has at least called for dialogue. Also very belatedly.
  • I'm reminded of the film Passport to Pimlico, one of the great Ealing comedies of the 1940s. This centres on a London barrio declaring itself independent of wartime UK. Not terribly amusing to today's sophisticated audiences but certainly funnier than the Catalan imbroglio.
  • I'm also reminded of what's said to be a long-standing view of this country - viz. that In Spain, everything is politicised.
  • And also that it's very difficult to achieve agreement with nationalists, who are always obsessively mono-minded and almost impossible to compromise with. But this is no excuse for the ineptitude of Madrid, given that there was at least the Basque model to discuss.
  • To change the subject . . . Here's news of a Madrid plan which really does seem sensible and forward-looking. My daughter, at least, is delighted with it.
  • It's reported that my favourite supermarket - Valencia born Mercadona - now has 24% of the market and is visited by 70% of Spanish households on a monthly basis. As this is the only supermarket here which has displayed much by way of customer orientation, I regard this as a well deserved success. 
  • Finally on Spain . . . A day or so after I accuse Spanish supermarkets of being slow to innovate, comes this this news of an initiative on the part of Eroski.
Has anyone else received an email from a Madrid restaurant called El Tenedor, a place I've never been to or even heard of? But I see it was recently bought by Tripadvisor and so draw the obvious conclusion. I've been spammed.

If you've taken my advice and read Richard North on Brexit, you won't be surprised to know that he is thoroughly unimpressed with Mrs May's performance in Florence yesterday. Click here if you want details. As he says: In short, all the issues that were left unresolved prior to Mrs May's speech, causing the impasse, are still unresolved. Mrs May seems to think that wafting into Florence and speaking in lofty terms about a "New Economic Partnership" is somehow a magic wand that can unlock the talks. She is going to be mightily disappointed. 

Here's the reason why Northern Brits find it so much easier to fit with Spanish culture than their uptight, anal Southern counterparts.  . . 

Finally . . .  I've always thought it utterly daft to buy botled water. Here's proof of my contention. C'mon, people. Wise up! And stop paying through the nose for Starbucks 'coffee' as well!

Fianlly, finally . . . Here's me as a camino pilgrim on a bridge somewhere north of Madrid. Between Colmenar Viejo and Manzanares. It's only the start of our walk so I am not yet contemplating throwing myself into the river . . . :-


Friday, September 22, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 22.9.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Well, I am back from my latest camino and the good news is that there's no letter from the Hacienda (Tax Office) in my mail box. Better still, there's a note from Correos (the Post Office) saying they have in their “deposit box for 'lost' items” some documents of mine. These were in my wallet pick-pocketed in the tourist trap of El Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid almost 2 weeks ago. But there's no mention of the wallet itself. Nor the €300 in it!

So, back to normal.

But, first, come Toledo Travel Tips:-
  • Although prices in in this magnificent city are not noticeably higher than elsewhere – indeed, I got a cup of coffee in Café Wamba(sic) for less than in Pontevedra – they're sky high in the main square – Plaza de Zocodover. Or they are in one bar, at least. McDonalds and BurgerKing have adjacent premises there and might well operate national prices.
  • Get your train ticket well in advance of your departure. Especially if you're going on Thursday-Sunday. The trains fill up quickly.
  • Be aware that room prices rise in at least some places for Thursday, Friday and Saturday – rather confirming the modern Spanish saying that the weekend begins on Thursday.
  • Take note that it's still hot during the day in late September.
  • Make sure you get a decent map of the old quarter streets, otherwise you'll walk twice as far as you need to.
  • Also take note that Toledo establishments don't operate traditional Spanish hours. Virtually everything you might want to see shuts at 6 and won't let you in after 5.30. The Information offices also close at 6.
Life in Spain
  • It's said that, once one party to a discussion/disagreement accuses the other of acting like a Nazi, there's little hope of final agreement. So what chance in Cataluña, where Barcelona and Madrid have each accused the other of this? Additionally, of course, Barcelona has the added 'advantage' of being able to accuse Madrid of acting like Franco. One wonders if the Catalan nationalists have any idea how stupid this line seems to the rest of us. Or whether the Spanish government, in its turn, realises how ludicrous it is for a party mired in corruption to arrest Catalan politicians for this so late in this saga - much though this was to be expected. Political immaturity all round, is the best one can say about this mess.
  • I've seen so many magnificent cathedrals in Spain, it's hard to say which one is the most spectacular. But Toledo's has to be a prime candidate. It's truly stunning. That said, I experienced my usual mixture of admiration and disgust in it at the money spent by an establishment for which it's blessed to be poor. I couldn't help wondering whether Jesus would have approved of it. And, as ever, I also wondered where all the money had come from. Not from God, that's for sure. Unless you believe everything comes from that source – even the pennies of the impoverished.
Finally . . . Just one foto, albeit not a good one. Of the stunning train station in Toledo:-


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 21.9.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain
  • Interested in buying an entire village here in Spain? Click on this:
  • Set against the slow pace of innovation in Spain, it's realy quite remarkable how early British supermarkets - and I guess, their US counterparts - are in introducing new products and methods of payment. The latest is identification via your fingerprint.
  • Somethingthat doesn't happen every day, even in Spain.
  • The Spanish language: Here's The Local's view of the 11 most annoying false friends for English speakers.
  • Cataluña: Here's (unsurprisng) news from The Local (in English) and here's the perspective of Matthew Bennet on the latest developments there, in Spanish. Boy are things warming up. Not just a mere war of words, as betweeen Trump and the fat guy with the strange haircut. It's a good job Barcelona doesn't have much by way of military hardware.

Do you like to use cash sometimes? Well, you might not be able to do so for much longer. Click here to see why I say this.

The EU: As I regularly say, Richard North is a long-time opponent of British involvement in this and is, of course, a Brexiteer. But one with a difference; he has long had a flexible plan (Flexit) for a gradual withdrawal. He is still pulling his hair out at the stupidity of both the British media and the British political class. Click here to find out why. BTW . . . Those Remainers who moan about 'lies' used during the referendum campaign would do well to read North's fascinating book on how Brits were conned into going into the EU in the first place. The Great Deception, it's called. You can guess why.


CAMINO NEWS

None. It ended yesterday with sightseeing in lovely Toledo and we all depart for home today. I might just come back to it tomorrow.

Meanwhile . . .  Here's a (poor) foto of the stunning railway station in Toledo, which I've just returned from, with tickets for tonight:-


And here, finally, is a foto of my refined procedure for charging my laptop. For the technically minded, the pins are now kept in by a strip of elastoplast, replacing an elastic  band. And there is a sachet of sugar under the top of the spout, to attain the correct height for the charger . . . . 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 20.9.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

I did finally write a short blog late last night. Scroll down for this . . .

A CAMINO SPECIAL

I'm now in Toledo, for a day's sightseeing before returning to Madrid tomorrow morning and then to Pontevedra on the train (I hope) tomorrow night. Reader Q-10 has requested a map of how I got here, so here it is:-


This doesn't show our actual walking route, as this was on camino tracks, not the roads shown by 
Google Maps.

Why this odd trajectory on 2 caminos - the Camino de Madrid going north and the Camino de Levante going south? Well, it's because our long-established practice is to combine 5 or 6 days walking with 2-3 days sighseeing in Spain's major cities. This time round it was a ratio of 6:3.  Madrid wasn't actually included and we set off, as shown, from Colmenar de Viejo, having taken the cercanias train to that starting point. And we didn't walk from Segovia to Ávila but, rather, went by taxi, along with our luggage. Not our original plan but an enterprising taxi driver en route to the bus station convinced us it would be worth the premium. Which wasn't exactly a tough challenge given that we could divide the price by 6.

Neither of these caminos is well walked. In 3 days on the Camino de Madrid, we saw only 5 other people, 3 of these in the same place and the other 2 in our hotels in Colmenar and Cercedilla. In 3 days on the Camino de Levante, we saw absolutely no one. As someone has written - in a classic bit of understatement - This camino is seriously solitary. 

An additional problem is that - as is surely clear - heading south to Toledo and not north from there is walking the Camino de Levante in the wrong direction.

But the biggest problem is that there's very little practical information available for either camino, especially the Levante. And reading about the stages in Spanish and trying to 'work backwards' from the text can lead to errors.

So it was that, yesterday, we mistakenly thought we had to pass thought Cadalso de los Vidrios en route to Almorox, where we planned to get a 15.30 bus to Toledo. 

But this wasn't our biggest problem. At some stage in the last few years the route north from Almorox to Sanmartín de Valdegleisias has been changed. Unwittingly, we followed the old route until the yellow camino signs suddenly stopped when the track hit the N-403, leaving us in total confusion. In error, we made our way alongside this busy N road northwards and then took the M-507 west to Cadalos de Vidrios, 7km off the camino. What we should have done is walk southwards alongside the N-403 directly to Almorox. In our defence, I cite this paragraph from a relevant forum:- Beware between Almorox and Sanmartín de V. My guide book advises that, after crossing the N403, about 6k after Almorox, the path goes into woods and turns north and continues straight to M507, about 1-2k later. What they don't mention is that there is a cross-roads where [like us] I could find absolutely no signs. So I continued straight and, like an idiot, I kept going and in the end I finished back on the N403 2 hours later. I would add that a site - Gronze - which offers good information on the Madrid camino gives nothing on this stage, saying simply that they are updating their understanding. They're very probably pretty confused as well.

Anyway, we lost so much time that our chances of getting the 15.30 bus into Almorox went up in smoke. Worse, when we arrived at Cadalos de Vidrios, it was to find - as in every one of our stopovers except Segovia - that a fiesta that day or the day before or even the previous week meant that most of the bars and restaurants were closed. Clearly, late September is not a good time to be doing the 2 caminos from this point of view. Though it is as regards the weather.

But we struck lucky in Cadalos. An old lady took us in hand and finally found us a bar that was open. As it belonged to her son, we wondered why she hadn't taken us straight to it. We checked on bus times from Almorox and found there was no bus after the 15.30 one we'd already missed. So, we had no option but to go to Toledo by taxi. But there was no taxi company in Cadalos and a phone call to the only one in Almorox established it would cost us €150 to get to Toledo in 2 taxis, there being too many of us for just one. So, I asked the barman if he had 2 friends who had a car and would take us to Toldedo for €50 each. He said not. So I then asked if there was anyone with a 7-seater car. The only guy in the place volunteered he had a 9-seater and accepted my offer of €80 to take us to our hotel in Toledo.

So, here we are - ensconced in a very pleasant Hotel Medina, very close to the centre of the city. More about that tomorrow.

To end on 2 positive notes:-
  • Our hotel in Sanmartín de V - Casa de Labranza - was a truly delightful place, with a very pleasant owner. And:-
  • There was ony one restaurant open in the town and this was only a few metres away from the hotel - Cafe Teatro. We entered this unpretentious place with misgivings but the food was great and the service even better. We went to bed very happy. But, then, we had no idea of the calvario which awaited us the next day . . .
By the way, as for every place I've ever stayed in, the reviews for Casa Labranza range from Excellent to Terrible. We certainly come down at the positive extreme, finding the enchantment of the place more than enough to compensate for its deficiencies.

I'm aware that the above will bore many readers to death. So, here's a foto of my latest success in getting my Mac charger to work:-


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 19.9.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain
CAMINO NEWS

This was a day when a lot went wrong and then a lot went right. Essentially because information on this camino is sparse. Accurate information is even more sparse.

Suffice for now to show you this foto of a school in Madrid, supplied my my friend, the lovely Lucy:-























Actually, it's near my daughter's flat in Madrid, she tells me. Must look out for it. Unless it's really a brothel . . . .

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