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Showing posts from April, 2009

Working girls

A few years ago, long before we lived here, Maggie and I were driving through Andalucia desperately searching for a roadside hotel. It was growing dark. We'd driven hundreds of kilometres. We were getting desperate. Then we saw a bright neon sign that read "Club - Hotel". We'd often been surprised at the location of the Clubs in Spain, we presumed they were discos kept, thoughtfully, well out of the town centres so as not to bother the non clubbers. This hotel was one of those, miles from anywhere.
I went to see if they had any rooms and I was struck by the number of young women who were sitting outside the club door, I was equally struck by the shortness of their skirts. When a young woman wearing bright red hot pants and a red curly wig took me by the hand the penny dropped. I fled.
A while ago we were driving home from some do in Elche. It was a cool evening and as we drove up the dark lane, the one that connects the avenue by the train station to the northern ring …

What I learned about Porto or Oporto if you're Spanish

There isn't a legal, on street, parking place left in Porto and it is cheaper to bed down a person for the night than it is a car
Portuguese cities have cobbled streets in the old centres (suspected after a visit to Guarda, confirmed here)
There are lots and lots of abandoned and crumbling buildings in the heart of the city and lots of people appear to live in run down properties
Graffiti is a national pastime
On the road out to the beach there are lots of dead big houses with security cameras
Young British men out on a Stag do behave badly. As two young Brits fought each other a passing Spanish couple mumbled "¡Que bestia!" I suspect you don't need the translation. We didn't see any French or Germans or Portuguese or Spaniards drunk and brawling in the streets
The river, the Duero in Spain or Douro here, is splendid, it has big waves and the pleasure boats are dead picturesque. It's the same river that we sailed on near Ciudad Rodrigo and it was smashing there too…

A mug of tea and a Horlicks please

It's a while since we've seen a proper Ocean. The Med's very nice, blue and stuff, but it doesn't really smell right and, most of the time, it only has piddly little waves. Today we had a bit of a drive over to Portugal and we stopped off at the nearest seaside town to Ciudad Rodrigo, like Hunstanton was when we were in Huntingdon. The town is called Vagueira and it seemed to have of lots of open, sandy, spaces, forlorn looking wooden huts and lots and lots of cafés. It had been quite sunny as we drove the breadth of Portugal but, as we approached the sea, the sky started to cloud over and it started to spit. It really was Hunstanton except there was no Horlicks to be had.

The Border

The first time we popped over the border to Portugal from Ciudad Rodrigo there were no controls but there were still the old checkpoint booths. They've been gone for quite a while. Today I took a snap to prove it.


Normally my students of English are schoolchildren or professional people. Today I started a conversation class with a Naval Lieutenant and he told me that, as part of his training, he sailed all around South and North America in this sailing ship. Pretty eh? His regular ride nowadays doesn't have quite the same "yo ho ho" to it!

Best Restaurant List

This was quite a big thing in the news today. Not much to do with Ciudad Rodrigo really but interesting in a country famed for the plainess of its cooking. And the French? Mind you in the long list of 100 it's 10 for the UK, 9 for the French and just 6 for the Spanish.
1 El Bulli, Spain 2 The Fat Duck, UK 3 Noma, Denmark 4 Mugaritz, Spain 5 El Celler de Can Roca, Spain 6 Per Se, USA 7 Bras, France 8 Arzak, Spain 9 Pierre Gagnaire, France 10 Alinea, USA

Welcoming back the prostitutes

Shocking I know but today we celebrated the return of the prostitutes to the city of Salamanca. A tradition that seems to have spread to our own little town - we did it by going down to the river and having a picnic the main element of which was a local pie stuffed full of bits of pig. Actually we ate our hornazo in the kitchen but we were by the River Águeda in spirit and we did go to stare at the picnicers a little later in the afternoon to show solidarity.
Apparently, back in the 16th Century Philip II (the one who got his beard singed by Drake) decreed that the prostitutes from the town brothel in Salamanca should be shifted across the river Tormes for the whole of Lent to ensure that the menfolk remained chaste. The women were put under the care of a priest, un Padre, who became known as Padre Putas (Father Whores) - it's quite amusing in Spanish but it loses something in the translation I feel. The women were allowed back into the city on the second Monday after Easter Sunday…

Spanish names

Spaniards have two surnames - the first surname comes from the father and the second surname is the first surname of the mother. So if Juan Martínez Escudero and Marta Villanueva Cortés have a child then she or he will be called Something Martínez Villanueva. On a day to day basis the first surname is the one used - the double barrelled version is used for Sunday best.
Now there are lots of variations on this basic theme. For instance it is possible to reverse the order of the surnames - in the above case to give Something Villanueva Martínez. Or it is possible to carry forward a compound surname - Something Martínez-Escudero Villanueva. There are many more possibilities.
At times this causes Maggie and me some difficulties. Lots of times telephone sales people want to talk to Señor John (from Christopher John Thompson) and it can be quite difficult using a Spanish Internet site as many of them ask for your first and second surname and absolutely refuse to let you leave the spaces blank…

Forgetting myself

I got the car serviced today. I went to the BMW dealer up in Salamanca. There was a little board in the service reception area, like the ones they have in hotels and conference centres, that had my name on it to welcome me to my 10am appointment. I suppose it's the little touches like that which make 3.7 litres of oil worth 115€.
Anyway I'd taken the camera. Who knows, car for service, maybe something for the blog? There wasn't, well there is now because this is it, but let's forget that for a moment. I thought as I strolled around the industrial area waiting for the car to be ready how it looked just like the industrial estates in the UK. Must be the same all over Europe I thought.
Over the Easter break we bumped into a Briton who was doing some work for our friends John and Claire. Somewhere in the converstion this chap said that he went to the UK very infrequently nowadays as he found he had very little in common with people living there. I supposed that he meant that…

Daylight robbery

I asked my new bank to set up standing orders or direct debits to pay the various council taxes, rubbish collection fees and water rates for Culebrón. It didn't work of course and the money was taken out of the old bank account. The charges were scandalous.
The metered water rates for six months were 23.30€ The rubbish collection for the whole year was 36.10€
And my road tax licence on the Mini went out too - a shocking 39.19€
Odd actually, mentioning the car, it has just completed 20,000kms and needs a service. So I rang the local dealer (local in this case is 93kms away) to book the car in. The mania for identification in Spain reared its head - "What's the chassis number, the VIN, the registration, your Identification Number and your full address?" "I'll have to ring you back, I wasn't expecting the Spanish Inquisition." And ring back I did. But the workshop was engaged. The dealer said they would ring back in a few moments but I've typed the who…

Lunch hour

Over on Life in Culebrón I mentioned about our aerial fitter having to go off for lunch.
I keep hearing that Spanish people now eat sandwiches at their desk and that those who manage to get away from their workplace grab half an hour just like we Brits. Nonetheless, my experience is that the World stops in Spain at The Hour of Eating - la hora de comer - an hour that lasts two to three hours. Shops close, the streets, roads and beaches empty, bars and restaurants fill. 
We were on the road today at 2pm, the time it all happens, but we didn't pull over till around 2.30. By the time we got there the car park, bar and restaurant of the service station were full of people eating. The smart ones had picnics and families gathered in the car park to chomp through their rolls wrapped in silver foil. Some people chose to eat close to other travellers whilst others spread themselves in secluded corners of the huge car park. People without pack-ups, like us, paid 4.40€ for a tortilla roll.

In Alicante

It being Easter and all Maggie and I have travelled over to Alicante to have a look at the house in Culebrón and to say hello to some old chums. We will be without Internet for a few days but if I do get near a computer then entries will be on Life in Culebron.

What I learned about León, Astorga and Toro

This weekend we went to León, another in the series "Provincial Capitals in Castilla y León."
 The city is one of the marker points on the east/west portion of the pilgrim's route from France to Santiago de Compostela - the Camino de Santiago. We thought, as we were on the Camino, we may as well pop in to Astorga which is the northermost point of the route up from the south, the one kept open by the Knights Templar all those years ago. On the way home we stopped off at Toro so Maggie could sample the local wine. It was, according to a leaflet from the tourist office, the first Spanish wine to go to the New World as Columbus packed a few crates of the stuff onboard the Santa Maria (or maybe la Niña or la Pinta.)
So what did we find out?
Well, at least one hotel in León, that is otherwise extremely nice, has cornered the market in uncomfortable mattresses. That every bar in León gives hefty portions of some form of snack with each and every drink - the downside is that drinks…

KKK time

It's a poor snap but you can tell it's Easter again. The Klan are back on the streets or actually the Cofradía Jesús Nazareno to celebrate la procesión de la Dolorosa.

Homologised, homologated?

Things in Spain, jobs of every sort, tend to take a little longer than you expect. Queues are a bit disorderly and tend to be slow moving. It's not always true of course and we have been surprised, from time to time, by short and simple procedures but, in general, slow, ponderous, beraucratic and excessive would be appropriate adjectives.

Anyway Maggie is employed by the Regional Government to work in a State School. Unfortunately, because she has lowly English qualifications she is employed on a lower grade than befits her experience and education.

The system here is that in order to be a Funcionario, that's what people are called who work in Government type jobs, you have to pass a competitive exam called Oposiciones. Once you've passed the exams and found a post you're set for life - guaranteed employment, good pensions, short working days etc. But the fact is that to get anywhere in Spain, jobwise, qualifications are a must. For quite ordinary and even for  menial jo…