A Travellerspoint blog

Rioja

Wine, food and scenery

all seasons in one day 21 °C

17 May. Drove from Salamanca to Logrono (capital of the Rioja Wine Region).

Had arranged to meet Ana at 5pm at flat so we had a bit of time to kill. We arrived at Logrono had a quick coffee and then met with Ana. She showed us our apartment, three good sized bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, very nice and quite a good size kitchen. The only thing that was missing was wi-fi. Ana said she had decided to do away with it as it was expensive, but she failed to tell Air BNB this so it was still included on the details.

This is becoming a pain in the arse. We chose this apartment based on the amenities available - the main one being Wifi. It's impossible to do anything about this when you arrive on a Sunday evening having booked your accommodation ahead. AirBnB rules mean that if I cancel at this point then I incur a penalty.

I am rapidly reaching a conclusion about AirBnB which I will be sharing with them in response to their latest "tell us what you think of us (smiley bloody faces) ? message. Well since they really want to know then I will give it them with both barrels - I have held back so far assuming things would get better but I think it's time to share my thoughts.

18 May. Healthy walk down into centre of Logrono (about 20 minutes) to get our bearings and visit the tourist info office. We are really keen to get on some wine tours and hopefully a tasting course. I did a tasting course with my mate Richard a few years ago and it was time well invested so Mo is keen to do the same.

Wine tasting course only run on a saturday - we are in the area Monday to Friday!

However we manage to book ourselves on a full day tour with tastings with a company called Riojatrek for Wednesday which looks to have everything else we want to do though I did wonder if the "trek" bit meant that we would be doing it on the back of some flea- bitten donkey.

Old town in Logrono looks very attractive. We found Tapas alley (Calle Laurel) and sampled some great dishes. Logrona is as famous as San Sebastián for tapas but there is a real difference. San Sebastián pinctxos are very often mini haute cuisine whereas the Logrono ones are more simple preparations - but no less delicious. Each bar has its own speciality eg mushrooms or cheese or rabbit - there is often a picture of the main ingredient on the door (bambi and thumper pictures a little distasteful in Mos opinion) - and they all do them very well. They also serve a very acceptable glass of Rioja cranza - no need to buy a bottle and it's not just any old pi*s.

Decided to take the car out and explore the local area. First stop Laguardia, a lovely hillside town about 15 mins away which is high enough up to get a good overall view of the region. Scenery is different again (and no less picturesque) - large expanse of very green valleys with vines as far as the eye can see, dotted with small villages but the whole thing set in a backdrop of the Cantabrian mountains and the main river (Ebro) which cuts through the whole region. We were also a little surprised ( me delighted, Mo aghast) at the temperature on this particular day - it reached 29 degrees. So while I relished walking around in the sun, Mo donned her Burkha and dashed between shadows shouting "Allah hu Akbar" which resulted in the locals dashing for cover as they thought ISIS had arrived in their peaceful little community. I can see that Burkha being heavily used in the weeks to come as it gets gradually hotter.

We then did a sort of whistle stop tour of a number of the main villages just to check it all out - they are scattered but it's only about 20 minutes between each. We knew we would be visiting some of these places properly on our wine tour later in the week so no need to dwell too long in each for now.

Spent the next day lazily roaming around Logrono. Great old town with lots of narrow streets and lovely squares and also the Banks of the Ebro. Also went to the covered market to buy some fresh ingredients to cook back at the apartment. Unfortunately Mo has developed a nasty cough and cold so she wasn't up to much. I blame the wet weather in Galicia and I'm sure that Burkha can't be healthy.

Also discovered that that little ar*shole Pedro in Porto had posted a negative comment about us on the AirBnB site so spent some time exchanging pleasantries with the little sh*te. The review system works as follows:

The guest reviews the apartment and the host reviews the guests.
You don't see the others review until both parties have completed and posted their reviews

Pedro clearly decided (without knowing what I had written) to get his revenge in first so once I posted my comments (which were factually correct about the apartment, location and him being a complete dickhead), I saw his review which said that we had left the apartment dirty and he strongly recommends that other hosts do not take us as guests.

Some of you know Mo and there is no way she would allow us to leave anywhere without ensuring that the place was not only cleaner than when we arrived but in fact major open heart surgery could be performed in the toilet without fear of infection.

Mo advised me to stop the exchange of emails with Pedro before it got out of hand - it may already have.

Anyway all other reviews of us as guests have been 100% positive so his stands out like a sore thumb. Would love to come across him again though just to shake him by the throat.

20/5/15. Our wine tour day.

Marina (who Set up the company 7 years ago) picked us up in a minibus (no donkeys) and we were delighted to discover that there were just us two. She takes a maximin of eight but we struck lucky. Wednesday is the English speaking tour day and her English was perfect and we had her all to ourselves.

She lives in the area with her husband and she comes from a family of winemakers going back 5 generations. It turned out that her knowledge of the area and the wine was impeccable

We visited a number of wine villages (Haro, Briones, Laguardia, Labastida) and she showed us around each whilst provided great local knowledge. She stopped the minibus at one point in the middle of nowhere and we walked over a couple of hills to a necropolis from the Middle Ages - body shapes of adults and children hewn out of solid rock - I'm pretty sure we wouldn't have had this special attention to detail on a more commercial tour.

There was a great mural in Haro which depicts the difference between overindulging in wine and in beer. Mos comment to Marina that I have plenty of experience of both was a little harsh!

Marina explained about the climate, the soil, history of wine in the Rioja region and each time we stopped at a village or town she took us to specific points of interest but also provided the local history associated with each - she was fantastic.

We visited two wineries - tour and tasting - Bodegas Bilbainas in Haro and Valdelana in Elciego. At the first tasting (for which we were joined by 6 other people on a different tour) they were very proud of their labels. We had one glass of a Crianza and then the bottle was passed around apparently for us to admire the label. I just thought it was an invitation to have more wine so filled my glass again (followed by a sharp nudge in the ribs from Mo).

At the second they did provide a bit of a lesson in how to taste wine so I thought Mo would appreciate that. However, her cold meant that when asked if she could taste red fruits in one of the wines she said all she could taste was Menthol from her throat sweets. Not sure the guide understood.

In between tours Marina took us for lunch. The restaurant (Hector Oribe in the tiny wine village of Paganos) was excellent. A three course lunch of local food accompanied by a very tasty bottle of Rioja Crianza.

I was also pleased that Marina had earmarked a visit to the hotel Marques de Riscal in Elciego. I was already aware that Frank Gehry (designer of the Guggenheim in Bilbao which I had already visited on a previous trip to Spain) had designed this hotel for the Riscal wine company and was looking forward to seeing it. In fact Marina had arranged for us to have coffee in this very exclusive establishment which was a bonus but it is the outside which grabs the attention.

Some of the wineries in the Rioja region have made a point of bringing in cutting edge architects to design their premises ( another notable one is Bodega Ysios which we also stopped to look at) and though there could be a risk associated with this, I didn't find it incongruous.

All in all this was a fantastic day out. I would strongly recommend Riojatrek and Marina.

21/5 - last full day in Rioja. Took it easy. We have a very early start the next day as it is a minimum of 6 hours drive to our next stop in Cadaques

We decided we could easily spend a couple of weeks touring this region. There are so many wineries, beautiful villages and great restaurants and the scenery is very special. Earmarked for a future holiday.

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Posted by aireland 13:22 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Salamanca

sunny 25 °C
View Midlife gap part 1 on aireland's travel map.

15/5/15 Left Porto to make our way over to the Rioja region is Spain (there appears to be a theme here - Ed!) via Salamanca.

The great thing about the journey is that much of it follows the Douro so we were fortunate to see this beautiful valley from yet another perspective.

Journey took about 4 hours with stops. The sun shone the whole way and the scenery was spectacular. We stopped for a coffee at a pretty little village in the Douro valley - Amarante - just to get a final glimpse of our favourite area (so far)

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We approached the meeting with the owner of our next AirBnB apartment with some trepidation given our experiences so far. Well, she was on time which was a good start but then she started to explain about me putting the car in an underground garage. My first thought was "oh f*ck here we go again. Better get the miners helmet out and prepare myself for another claustrophobic experience in a car lift"

As it turned out this was a straightforward drive down into a reasonably wide parking space so I avoided adding the to the scratches and dents on the sides of the car.

There is a marked difference between the extremely anal North European view of the slightest ding on a car (I make no apology for being part of this group) and the very lassez-faire attitude of our South European cousins who clearly collect on their cars all manner of dents and scratches (and chunks of pedestrians who get in the way by daring to cross the road at a pedestrian a crossing). I have spent numerous enjoyable moments sitting in a cafe in France, Spain, Italy watching their approach to parking. They would clearly see the recent innovation of parking sensors as an unnecessary intrusion. They know when they have no more room at front or back because they hear the sound of metal on metal/concrete/wood/flesh and bone.

Anyway back to Salamanca. The apartment actually matches the description provided on AirBnB - I know cos I spent some time checking against the list of facilities/amenities (possibly a little too much) and I failed to find a fault.

Our host Maria was friendly and helpful. She provided information about the appliances in the apartment and about the city itself - perfect. Why can't they all be like this?

We had a couple of hours before crashing out so wandered around a bit of the old city. It is without doubt a very beautiful, graceful city. All of the buildings - old and new - are built using the local sandstone and with the sun shining on this, it makes for a pleasing sight.

Explored the city in more detail the next day. Highlights include a very attractive main square (Plaza Major); two Cathedrals, one Gothic and the other Romanesque, and the beautiful surviving university buildings (some from the 13th century.

Restaurants and small shops ring the arcades of the Plaza Major and some pensiones and hotels occupy parts of the upper storeys, but signs, advertising, lights and other modern clutter are not allowed to intrude upon the harmonious facades. Right around the arcades, facing out into the square, are medallion portraits of Spain’s nobility and royalty through the ages, including the current king and queen and, a more surprising survivor, that of “Franco, Caudillo de España”.

It's quite unusual to have two cathedrals in one city let alone two that are actually physically connected. The Romanesque one is the more attractive in my opinion - Gothic is too tall and a bit daunting (reaching up to heaven and all that malarkey).

Our visit to the cathedral included (if one chose to) being part of a wedding. Surprisingly, tourists are allowed to continue walking around and sit and watch the wedding if they so wish. I chose not to as it involved a jock marrying a Spaniard and the blokes were all in kilts - I beat a hasty retreat before some sadist started playing the sodding bagpipes. I think I caught a glimpse of the grooms mother wondering what the hell a coach load of Chinese wearing face masks and snapping photos at an alarming rate were doing at her darling sons wedding.

For another perspective of this lovely city we walked across the 1st Century Puente Romano (just along from our apartment) which spans the Rio Tormes. It provides a terrific city view up to the walls and spires of Salamanca.

Strongly recommend a couple of days here if you get the chance

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Bye for now

Posted by aireland 06:41 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Porto

the magnificence Douro

sunny 24 °C
View Midlife gap part 1 on aireland's travel map.

8-15 May

8 May. Left Santiago towards Portugal early to see if distance would get us out of the rain. Alas for most of the journey it wouldn't go away. However once we were about 50 miles from Porto the sun emerged and the temperature went up. This is more like it.

Scenery through northern Portugal was pleasant if unspectacular - rolling hills, very green (always a bit of a worry cos green equals rain)

Chris (Yeti) was reasonably quiet on the journey - occasional throat clearing but nothing shocking. That is until we got near the centre of Porto about 5 miles from our target apartment. Unfortunately a road that he wanted to take us down was closed and he refused to offer an alternative so every time I tried to use my own initiative he shouted and growled at me and sent me back to the roadworks. This went on for 30 minutes and I despaired of us ever getting to the apartment.

Then realised that I was allowing this bloody Yeti to control my every movement so took the bold step of ignoring him and finding my own way - it worked though some of the very narrow streets were a bit of a worry. Mo warned that this could have consequences for the future as the Yeti will probably want revenge.

Arrived at our latest AirBnB place early so we parked and walked into the centre of Porto to grab some lunch. Found a lovely place with a terrace on the river front and ordered food and a bottle of wine and waited
And waited
And waited
And asked where the food was, was told it wouldn't be long and waited
Eventually told that there was a problem in the kitchen
We left, very hungry but with a free bottle of wine inside us (note to give the place a hammering on Tripadvisor - for those interested its called Farol da Boa Nova which translates as the Lighthouse of Good News - somehow doesn't seem an appropriate name).

Walked back to meet with Pedro our host.

We arrived on time and waited outside the door to the apartment block. 20 minutes later I called him and he said he had been waiting for my call. This was despite our previous agreement to meet him at the apartment. He said he would be there in 10 minutes, he arrived 25 minutes later.

Whilst waiting I noticed a printed letter on the door of the entrance which I thought said something about the indoor swimming pool being out of order due to repairs. This had been posted a week earlier. I assumed I had the translation wrong as of course if any of the amenities we had expected and based our booking on we're not to be available then Pedro would have let me know so that I could make an informed decision as to whether or not I wanted to take up the booking.

Pedro arrived - no apologies about the mix up wrt arrival and meeting - and showed us to the apartment. I asked about the pool and he explained that it was out of order but would be available by the following Wednesday (5 days into our 7 night stay!). My patience started to go (as everyone knows I am a placid person in the face of ineptitude)

Eventually got 100 euros out of the little bastard with the promise that it would all be fixed by Wednesday. My confidence that this would come true was zero and I was proved right.

The view from the apartment was great (over the river) if you ignored the petrol station and car wash immediately in front of us ( must have been built between the advert being placed on AirBnB and our arrival as it was absent from the multitude of photos we had seen.)

This was our second poor experience of AirBnB so we are having our doubts about future bookings with this organisation.

Anyway, we are determined not to let these niggles get in the way of exploring and hopefully enjoying a city which I have wanted to visit for some years now.

Did some shopping, ate in and researched the city a bit and made plans for next days

9 May sunny warm day - finally. Got our bearings and headed for the main tourist office where a very helpful young lady explained the city's transport system and ticketing to us and also found and booked a trip for us on the Douro (something we were very keen to do after Rough Guide and friends recommendation).

Started to explore the city on foot - it's hilly but walkable. Lots of grand old buildings and a very laid back feeling as we wandered around - the sort of place where chilling out seems the norm.

Found the market - lost of fresh sardines which we bought to cook back at the apartment (note to Patrick, after you left we couldn't move for fresh sardines)

10 May. Made use of our Andante (Porto Transport network) tickets and decided to go over to Vilanova de Gaia, the other half of Porto, where all of the famous Port Wine lodges are, just across the Douro.

Walked back across to Porto over the lower level of Maria Pia bridge (built by Gustave Eiffel) then took funicular upto the cathedral. This provides a fantastic viewpoint across Porto and Gaia.

Then went back over Gustave's bridge on the top level (pedestrians and metro vying for space up there but everyone very relaxed about it). The top level is 60m above the Douro so given my fear of heights there was a certain amount of sphinctral twitching especially as we then took a cable car down into Gaia.

Having feet back on terra firma in Gaia, we decided to visit Taylor's Port Lodge for a "tour and tasting, in English every 30 minutes" - website claim.

This much anticipated visit involved crampons to scale a mini Everest, loss of lung and sweating like a pig (me, I hasten to add). Arrived to be told that the next tour would be in 3 hours. Marched out of the place muttering something which probably shouldn't be repeated.

Went out later to look for somewhere for dinner and discovered to my delight that the Portuguese restaurants are open when you are hungry - they need to share this with their Spanish cousins. We found a wonderful restaurant (Jimao Tapas e Vinhos). The restaurant is owned and run by a Spanish "grand dame" who provides great food, good advice "4 or 5 Tapas dishes between 2 people is ample" and excellent service. The waiter recommended a great bottle of Alvarinho. The whole thing costs pennies and was pure pleasure.

Needed an earlier night as we have an early start the next day - our Douro trip.

11th May. We had to get up very early to get over to Gaia to get on our boat by 07:45. Buses on strike so we started to walk and evtually managed to get a taxi over to Gaia with time to spare.

As we left Gaia for our 9 hour boat trip, the river and city were covered in mist but the forecast was good and indeed it quickly turned into the best weather so far (on this trip). The trip started with a sit down breakfast - very good - and then it was a matter of sitting on the deck and admiring the scenery until lunch (with wine)and doing the same again after lunch.

Difficult to put into words how wonderful the Douro valley scenery is (pictures don't really capture it all either). Every turn in the river provided a different perspective of the endless terraces covered in the famous vines and scattered with Wineries. The boat meanders at the right pace and it is impossible not to completely relax and enjoy it all. The nine hours just drifted slowly by - I would do this trip again and again and recommend it strongly to anyone visiting Porto

We arrived in Pinhao (end point) and were able to wander around until the train arrived for our return journey to Porto. This 2 1/2 hour journey provided a different view of the valley (equally as impressive) as it traces the river all the way back to Porto

All in all a fantastic day which we both thoroughly enjoyed (it was also our wedding anniversary)

12 May. Lazy day as we were both knackered from previous long day. Went to the market and had a great lunch in "locals" cafe in the middle of the market - more fresh sardines (delicious). Caught up on emails and future bookings/travel arrangements.

13 May. Decided to forgive the Port Wine organisation for the suffering they had put me through with the failed trip to Taylor's wine lodge and inspired by the Douro trip, we went over the Gaia and scaled Anapurna (no lungs remaining now) to get to Graham's Port Lodge for tour and tasting. This time it all went to plan. The tour was really interesting - we were told about the process of making port and also the differences between, ruby, tawny, Colheitas, white and rose port (didn't realise how much I didn't know). Of particular interest to me was Vintage Port which we had chosen to taste (you have to pay but oh boy was it worth it) after the tour.

I have gone through various Port phases over the years. This started with an ill-fated trip to Paris with my mate Patrick to see France v England in the 80's which consisted of "learning" how to get to a coma by pouring port and brandies down my throat. I then (in the early 90s) converted Barclays Rugby team to this form of masochism during a tour to Holland and Belgium (most of the team had to be stretchered off the ferry on arrival in Ostend).

Since then I have dabbled but never really enjoyed it. That is until I discovered vintage port - I am completely converted to this as a wine which incidentally has to be drunk in at most two days once opened (not left in the cupboard and taken out once a year to have with a mince pie at Christmas - you can do that with the non-vintage p*ss but I won't touch that any more)

At the end we sat out on a beautiful terrace looking out over Gaia and Porto. What a fantastic place this is. The almost random collection of coloured buildings of different types and heights in Porto contrast with the very organised and plus Port Wine lodges in Gaia - it's a very attractive vista.

Went for 2nd meal at Jaimao, the lovely tapas restaurant we went to the other night - just as good as the first time.

14th May last full day in Porto. wandered a bit revisiting some of the lovely streets and squares. had an early dinner at a little local restaurant near the apartment and packed ready for next phase of journey the next day (back into Spain)

Will definitely return to Porto
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Posted by aireland 07:15 Archived in Portugal Comments (1)

Santiago and Galicia

It's just like Wales really

rain
View Midlife gap part 1 on aireland's travel map.

30/4/15 - 8/5/15 Santiago de Compostela

Finally catering for ourselves so we started with a healthy brekkie and then ventured out into the Welsh (sorry Galician - I will no doubt continue to confuse the two and they are all Celts and it p*sses down constantly in both places) weather

Lady in tourist office very helpful (always our first port of call in new place). She marked on the map all the places of interest and then showed us a route that we could walk that would take about 2 hours.

The old town of the city is far removed from the hustle and bustle of the modern part and we are only a five minute walk from it. It's the perfect place to wander around - lots of old cobbled streets and alleys and churches and old University buildings. The only downside (apart from the rain) is some Celt strangling a cat outside the cathedral (playing bagpipes).

Before doing our tour, we went around the indoor market (Mercado do Abastos) to find something for dinner. The fresh fish was a feast for my eyes - it's no good the Brits complaining about all of our fish being exported to Spain when the majority of our population will only eat deep fried cod or haddock. The Spanish will eat it all so we should be happy to sell it to them. Here was everything you could imagine. What a fantastic array of fish and seafood.

There was also every bit of every animal for sale, cheeses, wine, veg - I would say the market is second only to la Boqueria in Barcelona (the market against which all others have to be measured).

Bought some fresh (and very cheap) hake for dinner later.

Visited the Cathedral on the next day (1 May) as I need to have reasonable breaks between the attack on the senses which these venerable establishments throw at me.

This particular cathedral is of course famous for being the end point of the Camino de Santiago so there is a constant (not overstating this) stream of penguins ( sorry pilgrims) arriving in the city to pick up their certificates for completing the walk and get their blisters cured with holy water.

I read that the certificates come in three types: the "best" is the one where you tell them that you have done the walk for wholly religious reasons; "second best" is if you tell them it was only partly religious (hedging your bets); last place is what I will call the Ramblers Society Badge ie atheist hikers. Of course I suspect most people regardless of which category they really fit will go for gold on the basis that they have nothing to lose. Someone called me a cynic the other day - how very dare they!

Inside the cathedral has to be the gaudiest altar I have ever seen - huge golden cherubs, in fact gold leaf everywhere - not in anyway attractive. Saw a queue for something round the back of the Altar. Then saw the sign "Hug St James" or "embrace the apostle" - can't remember which it was. Mo joined the queue and I went outside to hug a Marlboro Light.

Also found the other flip flop in a cellar under the Altar (St James relics in a cardboard box)

On a coffee stop we got chatting to an old guy (started by Mo striking his dog). His story was fascinating.

His parents fled Poland during WW2 and were housed in a Polish refugee camp in Wales. He was born there shortly after they arrived and they then moved to Whitchurch in Shropshire. A year later the whole family boarded a ship to Argentina where they lived for several years before moving to New York. When he was 18 his mother told him to go to Santiago de Compostela to study medicine and to return to the U.S. to make a good living as a doctor. Oh and she warned him to stay away from the women.

He studied and became a Physician but also fell in love with a Señorita, had two daughters, now has a granddaughter and has been here for 46 years.

His dad was one of the architects for the Twin Towers (he hastened to add that he was responsible for the underground car parks which were the only parts not destroyed on 11 September).

He was such a sweet man - a rewarding hour listening to his tale

2nd May friends Patrick and Marian arrived to stay with us for a few days. It was still pouring with rain. Showed them the old town. Cooked some dinner at the flat, had a few bottles of wine and then went out for a quick drink !

Any of you who know Patrick and Marian will understand that this was no quick drink and we finished the night completely off our t*ts. Hangovers all round the next morning.

3rd May pouring with rain. Patrick and Marian did their own tour of the old town while Mo and I nursed painful headaches for the rest of the day

4th May we all decided to try to escape the rain so we took the train to Vigo

it took just under the hour to get there. Great train service. By the time we got there at 2.30pm we found the port, had a coffee and then tried to get a boat to see some of the islands. Unfortunately we just missed the 3.30 boat and the next one was at 5.30. We decided to get some lunch. Found restaurants that were recommended and "Oyster Street". The restaurant we chose had run out of Sardines and paella though Patrick and I had a load of oysters as a sort of pre-starter (excellent) We walked further down this street of fish restaurants and it seemed that the restaurants had had a run on sardines as there weren't any. (Note the main reason for Patrick visiting us was to sample famous Galician seafood - mainly sardines).

We eventually sat down and ate the scraps leftover from the day before and were a little disappointed that we were in the home of seafood - Galicia, and the cupboard was almost bare. After, we went to port front and had coffee and cake. We got the 8.30 train back which got us back to Santiago at just after 10pm. No more booze that night.

Note - nothing of interest In Vigo - wouldn't bother again.

5th may decided to take the car out and do a tour of the Galician coast (car moved from underground hellhole a couple of days beforehand and now in normal (bloody expensive) car park.

I had meticulously planned a route which was to take in most places of note. Unfortunately Patrick had a bad stomach (must have been something he ate, nothing to do with booze!) and was to spend the day in and out of toilets.

Undaunted, we went ahead (including Patrick). It was not to be the best of tours. Began at Pontevedre where we couldn't find the old town. Went on to La Toja (la todger according to Mo) which the Rough Guide described as majestic - it was a Sh*thole. Rain arrived in stair rods.

We stopped in Cambados for some lunch at about 1 pm but of course nowhere was serving lunch cos its Spain and they eat lunch in the middle of the night.

Word of warning - when you find only one restaurant open when the rest are closed, be very suspicious.

Sat down in a restaurant by the seafront. The waiter opened the door of a very large fridge right next to where we were sitting and before he could utter the words "fresh fish today" the smell of what was clearly fish from about 2 weeks ago hit us. Marian and I had a steak, Mo had cheese.

Unfortunately as more people arrived in this restaurant (it was uncanny how many of them spoke with English/American/Aussie accents) he repeated his introduction to "fresh fish". By the time we left we were all retching. Patrick (due to worsening condition) had stayed in the car - Mo, Marian and I wished we had done the same.

Patrick needed his bed and the proximity of a bathroom as his arse now resembled the Japanese flag so we cut the tour short and headed back to Santiago.

There was nothing of note about the Galician countryside, coast or towns - feels like an area that we won't return to.

6th May - Patrick and Marian fly back to the UK. It was great spending time with them. They will return to see us in Portugal in September - should be sufficient time to allow our livers to recover.

Spend rest of day chilling out, cooking another dinner "at home" and taking our usual evening stroll around the streets of the old town with obligatory stop for a coffee at gay cafe (waiter is Gok Wans double according to Mo and it is a little reminiscent of the Blue Oyster Bar in Police Academy)

7th May
Mo and I decide to give Galicia another chance. We drive to A Coruna and then onto Finisterre.

The sun is shining for once so things are immediately better. A Coruna is a pleasant town with some interesting sites - old city walls and some very old churches. We went into one - the 12th Century Ingrexa de Santiago (St James certainly got about a bit) and this bloke was just turning all the lights out. He spoke no English and we spoke less Spanish but he put the lights back on and took us on an impromptu guided tour of the church. God knows how I managed to understand what he was telling us about particular statues and windows (Latin O level maybe) but I got most of it and the history was very interesting - before being the current church it had been a Roman baths and a Cemetary.

The slightly disconcerting element was the two or three references he made to particular statues and figures of Mary breastfeeding Jesus. His way of explaining this was to act this out by pursing his lips, making a sucking noise and pretending to hold a breast. The final time he did this he added the somewhat disturbing fact that he had fed on his mothers milk until he was 4 years old (together with the actions). It reminded me of the slightly uncomfortable sketch in Little Britain (bitty, bitty).

We thanked him and quickly made for the exit before his act became more graphic.

Drove about 90 minutes from A Coruna to Finisterre. It's the most westerly point of continental Europe and lies on the Costa del Morte (coast of death) - its reputation matches the name.

By the time we arrive it's only drizzling and though the clouds are descending over the cliffs quite quickly, we manage to get some decent views. The number of small memorials, flowers and other markings commemorating people lost at sea here was quite sobering. It couldn't be described in any way as beautiful but it was at the very least memorable and a reminder of the power of nature.

Reflections.

Santiago de Compostela is worth a visit. Wandering the old streets is very enjoyable, coffee under one of the many old stone arches and the frequency with which one discovers a surprise (deserted) little Plaza or alleyway is a delight. The market alone is worth a detour from anywhere nearby.

Galicia is wet and not particularly attractive. It certainly does not match Asturias in any way

Next stop Portugal

Posted by aireland 08:10 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

Santiago de Compostela

St James would have gone elsewhere if he had to park in this city

rain
View Midlife gap part 1 on aireland's travel map.

29 April

Drove from Oviedo to Santiago de Compostela. 3 hour drive plus a stop in a place called Betanzos for a lunch. This being Spain and us stopping at 1 pm for lunch of course meant that lunch was not being served in any of the hundreds of restaurants in what seemed to be quite an attractive town.

So we had a coffee (waiter took pity on us and brought us a free nibble) and drove on.

Arrival at the apartment in Santiago was not without incident. The apartment was not ready. Lydia (the owner) was not there as promised but her mother and sister were there but still up to their necks in mops, j-cloths and bin liners. They didn't speak a word of English so in my very poor Spanish I asked if Lydia was about. They said she was at work (courtesy of Google translate) but that she does not speak any English either.

Let me explain that I am not a typical British traveller who expects everyone to be fluent in my language and I will always try my best to speak the language of the country I am in. However, I had been conversing with said Lydia for a couple of weeks now via SMS and it had all been in English so I had made the assumption (clearly 100% wrong) that she speaks perfect English. I would go so far as to say that based on her SMS messages her English was better than mine (perhaps this should have raised some suspicion)! So I arrived expecting not to have to search my memory (Spanish lessons 20 years ago) and my pocket dictionary for simple Spanish phrases such as "where do I park the car", "how does the washing machine work" and "where can I buy toilet rolls".

I then spent 45 minutes typing and reading google translate messages with Lydia's sister, her mum and eventually Lydia herself (who seemed to be working in England though God knows how she was getting on using google translate over there). It was hard work and frankly quite funny at times but we muddled through.

Then came the next, unforgettable challenge of moving the car from outside (parked on a busy road, probably now bearing no resemblance to the vehicle I originally picked up as there appeared to be a mad bastard operating a wrecking ball on the adjacent building site) to the laughingly named "onsite free parking facility".

Lydia's mum came with us to the car (still thankfully in one piece) she got in and motioned me to drive around the corner and cross the pavement (pedestrians scattered) while she franticly pressed what was probably some sort of remote control button but appeared to be a special prayer and just before we totalled the poor Fiat 500 larde-arse, a door did start to open. I drove down a mine shaft and once the coal dust had cleared I saw some parking spaces - what relief, finally we could unload the car and have a well deserved alcoholic drink.

"Oh no you don't" whispered the entity that represents the American/Australian/Spanish Catholic midget who has clearly decided some revenge is required as a result of my earlier blogs.

Via google translate, some broken Spanish and lots of hand gestures, Lydia's mum explained that we have to park on a lower level. Ok I thought and waited for her to point to the ramp to take me down there. No ramp.

She directed me to do a 47 point turn to reverse into what appeared to me to be a space large enough for a Vespa. Just before the walls closed in on both sides she jumped out, ran around the back and pressed a button on the wall to call the lift! You couldn't make this stuff up - a lift for a car!

The lift was barely wide or long enough for the car - both wing mirrors had to be folded in so I was reversing based on sheer guess work and Mo at the front of the car screaming when the gap got down to a couple of millimetres on either side.

Lydia's mum stayed in the car as she had to instruct (in Spanish) on the next bit of the challenge which involved finding the right one of 5 keys, inserting this into one of two locks (trial and error) and then pressing the correct button to take us down to the parking level we needed to be on. Mo managed to squeeze in the lift and recover from the mild carbon monoxide poisoning and the lift doors closed - right into both sides of the car. FFS!!!!

Managed to reverse a little further, close the lift doors through the correct combination of keys, buttons and incantations and then down we went. On arrival, I then had to manoeuvre out of the lift avoiding all sorts of obstacles which they had inherited from Indiana Jones movies and reverse into the "onsite free parking facility". I vowed the car would stay there all week but I knew we wanted to travel out of Santiago to various places so I would have to revisit this nightmare again.

Finally took possession of the flat did some shopping in local supermarket (Mo insisted we needed toilet rolls and bought enough to cater for an army with dysentery) and sat down to dinner at a normal time. Collapsed in a heap and slept soundly though I do recall a recurring dream involving lift doors, keys and buttons.

Bye for now

Posted by aireland 10:57 Archived in Spain Tagged santiago Comments (0)

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