Tuesday, 30 June 2009

That's it

Done. Finished. I'm just about to disconnect the computer and that will be it. We managed to get everything in the cars, tomorrow morning we'll dope up Edu and then all we have to do is to drive across Spain. The Culebrón link below will be in use for the next few weeks before we move on to Cartagena in September. Click on the links below.

So this blog is dead. Ciudad Rodrigo is history. Culebrón for the summer and then Cartagena.

Monday, 29 June 2009

In Limbo

The Catholics may have done away with Limbo but it's definitely here in our house. There are boxes and bags in every room ready to load up into the cars for the epic journey back to Alicante but we've reached the point where to remove anything else would be counterproductive. I just wander from room to room thinking "No, I can't pack that yet."

It would be better if we could load stuff to the cars but to leave things in them longer than we need to would be asking for trouble. Breaking into motors is a national sport in Spain and it would be a stupid risk even in a town as crime free as Ciudad Rodrigo.

There's also a nagging doubt as to whether it will all fit. With careful packing even the smallest of cars has quite a lot carrying space but there does seem to be an awful lot of stuff.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

One last time

In Alicante we have Moros y Cristianos. In Salamanca it's Encierros a Caballo and on this, the last weekend in Salamanca, I thought I'd go and have a look at a village I don't remember having been to before (though that doesn't mean I haven't been there!) and watch what must be one of the most typical fiesta events in these here parts. The encierro where men with lances guide cattle into a ring.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Phone company

The one time state, now private, telephone company here in Spain is called Telefonica. Its reputation is not good. People complain that the service is expensive and poor.

Generally our dealings with Telefonica have been fine though we had a lot of problems when we asked for the line in Culebrón to be temporarily suspended. Finally we had it disconnected.

Anyway, we need a phone and, living in the countryside in Culebrón, our only options are Telefonica or something that involves rebroadcast signals via little antenas. We plumped for Telefonica. I went in the shop here in Ciudad Rodrigo on Wednesday to order the line and broadband. The engineer from Pinoso rang me about five minutes ago, on Friday morning, to ask if he could call by at around five this afternoon to reconnect the phone. I had to put him off till we get back.

Missed something else

This morning, as I cleaned my teeth, I heard hooves in the street. I didn't bother to rush out. I took my time, I put on my boots and strolled out to buy fags and a paper. There were signs of horses or mules or donkeys having passed down the street. When I came out of the fag shop I noticed a fair sized crowd by the Fat Tree but the fun was over, the crowd was drifting away and I didn't have my camera anyway.

I've just checked the town web site and it says that The Brotherhood of Our Lady of the Peña de Francia, having been blessed by a local chaplain, set out on a Romeria (a sort of pilgrimage) from the town today heading for one of the highest peaks in the area - the Peña de Francia. They won't get there till Sunday as it's some 50km from here.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Horns and sirens a go go

We were quite sure there was something serious going on. It had to be very emergency vehicle in Ciudad Rodrigo. The horns and sirens pierced the Sunday morning calm.

But really it was just St. John the Baptist.

In Alicante they light bonfires in the street and have rock bands and exploding fireworks playing the same tune. In Ciudad Rodrigo there's an open day at the Fire Station - slide down the pole, turn on the naah naahs.

San Juan is a big festival on the 24 June. It's when Spaniards celebrate the longest day/shortest night thing. Triumph of light over darkness. Pagan symbolism.

But here, today, the symbolism was provided by Pegaso and Renault, Opel and Mercedes.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Time to stand and stare

Life in Ciudad Rodrigo is full of incident.

Back in October I mentioned that two trains a day pass through town. One from Lisbon heading for Hendaya on the French border and another going the other way.

We walked down to see the French bound train this evening. There were people at the station. We thought they were travellers but not a bit of it. Just like us they were there to see the event.

Friday, 19 June 2009

La izada del pino por los quintos.

The raising of the pine by those coming of age. Well more or less. Raising the pine certainly. Quintos were originally the group of young men who had reached the age when they would be conscripted into the army so I suppose it has that idea of a group of classmates, of those leaving school or something similar nowadays.

I'd seen the poster advertising the event as part of the fiesta in Peñaparda so I asked a Spanish pal what it meant. She described young men attempting to climb a greasy pole to retrieve a "Kewpie Doll."

What actually happened was that when we got there a long, trimmed pine tree was lying in the middle of the village street. All 433 inhabitants seemed to be there to watch. A young woman gave us a bottle of beer. Then a telescopic handler bumped the tree around till the base was close to a deep hole that they had dug in the street. With a lot of tugging and cursing the tree was manoeuvered into the hole and raised by a mixture of the handler and people pulling on ropes. The tree was wedged into place and then a bunch of people shinned up it.

It must have been backbreaking work before chainsaws and telescopic handlers.

We noticed that lots of young women were wearing their Quintos (modernised as Kintos) T-shirts but it was only the lads and one grey haired bloke who climbed the tree.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold

The days of this blog are numbered. At the end of the month we are back to Culebrón for the summer and just today the British Council have confirmed that Maggie will definitely be transferring to the José María de Lapuerta school in Cartagena, Murcia

I'd already set up Life in Cartagena, just in case.

The photo is one of the few that I have of Cartagena. So far as I can tell the last time we were there was in September 2006.

Thoughts turning to home

With just a couple of weeks left here before we head back to Culebrón we've suddenly begun to realise all the things we still have to do - the restaurants we haven't been in, the local food we haven't eaten, the bars we haven't drunk in, the photos we don't have, the nearby villages still to visit and lots more.

One of the things that makes Ciudad Rodrigo Ciudad Rodrigo is its walls. They completely encircle the town. We walked them with our houseguests last weekend as part of our regular visitor itinerary. It was the first time we'd ever counted the gates.

The six gates are Puerta de la Colada, Puerta del Conde, Puerta del Sol, Puerta de Santiago, Puerta de Amayuelas and Puerta de Santa Cruz

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

On sounds

When Spanish people are trying to learn English they have enormous difficulty with some sounds. For instance, the S at the beginning of a word is always ESS and the Y becomes a J sound something like the J in Jaw. Words that sound quite different to English speakers like "peach" and "pitch" or "cup" and "cap" sound exactly the same to most Spaniards.

On the coach to Santiago I tried to use the phrase "Like sheep to the slaughter" in Spanish. The Spanish word for sheep is "oveja" but the Spanish person I was speaking to heard "abeja" which means bee so she told me the equivalent in Spanish was "like bees to honey!" - it was an odd exchange. Or yesterday I used the word taco (used to mean a swearword) but the person I was speaking to heard "Tajo" and thought I was talking about the Spanish river.

Maggie was out for a retirement do meal yesterday. She was made welcome, as always, but slowly but surely the conversation got away from her as the background noise increased, as people relaxed into conversations that required prior cultural kowledge etc.

I don't consider my life to be at all stressful at the moment but our pal Sagrario who we use as an intercambio (half an hour of English, half an hour of Spanish over a couple of coffees) said I should relax more, that the language thing was stressing me out and she's right. As I watch the news I have no problem understanding the main point but lots of the detail escapes me. Even some of the adverts pass me by and it is unfuriating when the simplest phrase, something that I've used successfully hundreds of times, suddenly fails because I mispronounce something. It sounds OK to me but it confuses my audience. And I know the feeling. Someone once asked me where the ornirons were and it took me a long time to work out that she was after onions.

I feel quite at home in Spain, it's where I live but the language seems to be an unbeatable problem that makes every conversation a potential disaster, every phone call a trial and every little job so much more difficult.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Probably the largest collection in the World

There are lots and lots of museums with a theme. In Ciudad Rodrigo we have a chamber pot museum. Commodes, chamber pots and bed pans. Talk about taking the piss!

Neighbours in town

Our neighbours, Gerry and Gail, from Culebrón in Alicante drove across Spain yesterday to come and visit us.

All we've done so far is been into town and had a couple of beers. As we strolled around they were obviously impressed with the place.

It's easy to forget as we pop out to get some photocopying done, buy a packet of aspirin or get a beer just how pretty and how close knit this little town is. Lots and lots of the buildings are impressive - a palace on every second corner, the streets are little adventures - narrow cañons of granite or sandstone and, of course, we have the walls, the cathedral and the castle and the river.

It doesn't really take visitors to remind us what a lovely spot we happened to end up in but it's always nice when someone new to the place shows proper appreciation.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Form and function

We stopped in at Candelario today. It's an impressive looking place lined with "Mediaeval" style houses. Because the village attracts a lot of tourists there are notices dotted here and there to explain key buildings and features.

Maggie had noticed some "half doors" in front of the main doors of several of the houses. We thought they may be to stop flood water but the notices explained that they were to allow the main door of each house to be left open to allow a breeze into the house whilst keeping animals from straying inside. They also acted as crushes to constrain pigs at slaughter time - pop one between the main door and this half door and it was easy enough to drive a dagger into the pig's head.

The next notice explained that the houses were typically built on three levels and without chimmneys. The pigs lived on the ground floor, the family on the first floor and the upper floor was used to hang the sausages and hams to cure - the smoke from the house fires vented through this attic to help cure the meat.

Notice three explained that the running water that rushes and gurgles in channels through nearly all the streets was used to wash away the blood and to clean the skins of the thousands of pigs that were slaughtered each year between November and February. From June till Autumn the water was used to irrigate the fields.

So, basically, this village was built around the needs of pig slaughtering - the style of the houses, the entrances and even the running water in the streets. There were plenty of ham and sausage shops too.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

The nearest bar

We were in the Gredos. It's a hilly bit. Everyone in Rohan trousers and bandanas. We'd just driven up a perfectly reasonable, but very minor, road for 14kms to a place signposted Plataforma de Gredos. I don't think we saw another car - maybe one - all the way. The scenery looked like the Scottish Highlands (well my version of them) down to lots of bright yellow bushes, a lot like gorse, but actually a type of broom. The granite was green with lichen. The air tasted clean. The brae burbled.

Suddenly there were lots of white lines on the road and a car park full of motors and even a coach. People were sitting in the open hatchbacks of their cars putting on boots and essential pieces of survival gear.

We strolled around. Surprise, surprise, 5,720ft above sea level at the end of this little road there was a bar. Well we are in Spain. Wherever there are more than 5 people there is a good chance of a bar.

I've believed there is always a bar, at the end of the road in Spain, for a long time. Goodness knows how long ago, when I was still slim and my bones didn't ache all the time, I was on holiday in Spain by myself. I'd been wandering around doing nothing in particular when I remembered that some friends, who had hired a villa near Mojacar in Almeria, had said that if I were close I should pop in. I was in Madrid, a mere 600kms away - close enough. So I got a train to Almeria and a bus to Mojacar except that I mistakenly got off at Mojacar Playa and had to walk the 5kms to the village proper. It was August so 5kms felt like quite a long way with my bag and the Spanish sun. If my bones were better then my Spanish was worse but I asked, in Mojacar village, how to get to the address I had for my friends. The policeman laughed and said I should get a bus. "Ah, there's a bus?" "Yes, every Thursday". It was Tuesday. "Are there taxis?" "Yes, we have two in the village - but Paco's on holiday and Juan's gone to Malaga." I set out to walk. I walked a long way. When I first told the story it was 20kms, when I told it recently it was 30kms. Anyway, after hours of slogging away in the hot sun I finally saw a group of houses in the distance. I rejoiced, where there are people there's a bar.

I stumbled into the bar; "Quiero una cerveza, por favor, una cerveza muy, muy grande, y muy fría," The woman behind the bar said "¿Qué? I tried again. The woman looked blank. "This is no time for f******* problems with my Spanish," I almost shouted. "There's no need to get rude!" said the woman behind the bar. She understood my order for a large cold beer perfectly in English and, as she explained, she'd only been in Spain for 22 years so she hadn't managed to pick up the lingo. But it was proof positive of the theory.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Two coaches:102 Spaniards and 2 Brits

We got a leaflet through the door. For 49.90€ we could get a coach to Galicia, stay overnight in a hotel - full board, visit the Island of Toxa, go on a boat trip on the Ría out of O Grové and get a guided tour of Santiago de Compostela. The pick up point was about 100 metres from our door. 

The catch? There was a presentation of the company's products. We expected them to be selling holidays but, instead, it was wildly overpriced cooker rings, irons, ironing boards, mattresses and vibrating exercise machines. We resisted.

It was excellent. I reckon we did about 1,100kms, the sun shone, the food was fine, the hotel was good, the company was lively, the trips included extras like food and drink and on the two 52 seater coaches just two places were taken by foreigners - us