Santiago de Compostela-for Philistines.

Travel along Spain’s north coast and you will be guaranteed stupendous views, beautiful beaches and the sight of a great many ‘pilgrims’ trudging along the Camino de Santiago, following thousand upon thousands of sunburst signs as they make their way towards their Mecca, Santiago de Compostela.

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In true martyr-ish style, wholly in line with Catholic traditions, this Easter’s weather helps them on their way by being utterly appalling. This part of Spain is renowned for wet weather but this year’s exceeds all expectations. The entire country is deluged with torrential downpours while the UK basks in unusual warm sunshine.

Groups of walkers line our route, clad in voluminous, dripping capes that cover them and their rucksacks, giving them the appearance of soggy, deformed camels. Many have walking sticks and a fair number use Nordic walking poles. Is this a true dedication to the cause of suffering, I wonder?

The pilgrims come in all shapes, sizes, nationalities and ages; entire families with children, pairs of young girls, single people. Many meet up along the way and travel together, like the two young American girls with a short Portuguese man we met on one of our [non pilgrim] walks. Some look grimly determined, some chat as they walk, others sport beatific smiles as though already transported by their ordeal.

The nearer you get to Santiago, the more pilgrims there are, waiting at crossings, standing on corners, munching things, looking at phones.

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We’ve waited until Easter is over to visit Santiago and arrive on the Tuesday after, thinking it will be less fraught to negotiate the traffic, but we are still caught out by a parade of some kind and must effect a slow crawl through the narrow streets to find the camper-stop, which is situated up above the city-at least we can’t be flooded out. It is well organised and well used, a manned entrance cabin, tickets, a useful city map, water and emptying supplied.

Since there is no sign-from any source-that the rain is going to abate we don raincoats, grab umbrellas and run for the city centre bus, which takes us down into the heart of what is a beautiful, elegant place, wet or not.

Santiago seems designed for rain, cloistered walkways abound and there is no shortage of drains, into which rainwater gushes or tips from rooftop spouts. Crowds accumulate in the worst showers, huddling in doorways or squeezing into tiny shops selling religious icons and souvenirs.

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We are spoilt for choice for our naff shelf collection [read here].

At last we seek refuge from the showers in the cathedral museum, where I am clucked at for photographing. The art works are fascinating and also slightly bonkers, as religious art can be. The topmost floor is open to the elements with rooms off, containing cases of bejewelled, silver or gold crosses and paraphernalia in abundance-a demonstration of the wealth of the Catholic church.

Another set of rooms has wonderful, wall-sized Belgian tapestries depicting country scenes of people carousing at Inns. The detail is worth studying-drinkers at tables, dogs stealing food, babies being fed, a man peeing up against a wall-all most un-ecclesiastical.

When we tire of the relentless deluge we get the bus back to our warm and cosy van.

Next day there is a lull in the rain, long enough for servicing the van, then we’re off to brighter skies, drier roads and a quieter time-and Portugal!

It’s not so far. We stop for lunch on a small quay by the River Minho, choppy waves in the stiff breeze.

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Onwards to Vila Cha, the latter stages of the journey corrugated by cobbled roads. After a series of winding lanes we reach our chosen site, but as we approach we realise-of course! We’ve stayed here before. This is not bad news-the excellent restaurant opposite the entrance is still thriving!

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A Dog’s Breakfast of Linguistics

Driving towards the Spanish border and San Sebastian I am attempting to reclaim, renovate and restore my rusty Spanish, a language that’s languished unused for a couple of years. A few words and phrases float in- ‘Si’ ‘No’ ‘por favor’ ‘gracias’ ‘lo siento’ ‘la cuenta’ ‘cervezas’ and ‘banos’. All the essentials. Then I get to wondering what the word for breakfast is and it becomes an irritation. I can find the German word-‘fruhstuck’ but I’m frustrated by Spanish breakfast. This is absurd, mainly because we’ve no need whatsoever to be ordering breakfast in Spain.

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We locate a site with great mountain views and stretch legs by plunging down a steep, bendy road towards the sea. The weather has turned hot and muggy and by the time we’ve returned and got some chairs out the first drops of thunderous storm have arrived. Rain continues until bed time but by morning it has all cleared and it’s bright, sunny and fresh.

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A convenient bus ride takes us into San Sebastian via Monte Igelda [where our site is], stopping at the ancient funicular en route. After locating the tourist office we follow a suggested walking route around the city which takes in major plazas, the waterfront and important landmarks such as the Basilica. We stop for tapas lunch at ‘Tapas Santana’, where a sumptuous display of tapas dishes fills the counter and hordes crowd in. I look at the menu and there it is: desayuno-breakfast. Of course!

Husband waves me to the counter to order, although I’m not ready, not well enough rehearsed in my renaissance Spanish. I muddle through aided by the kindness of the waiter and we are rewarded with a delicious lunch.

We leave next day for San Juan de Gaztelugatxe and get hopelessly muddled when our new SATNAV decides the best route is along unmade mountain cart tracks, but at last we find a sensible coast road, albeit winding and tortuous. The terrain here resembles the Amalfi coast but with fewer tourists even now at Easter time. After a number of glitches, including a near-death experience on the motorway when a bendy bus decides we are a pesky nuisance and attempts to do away with us, we arrive to San Juan de G, a destination better known as a location for filming Game of Thrones than for scenic or religious significance. It is, however spectacular.

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The tiny church of San Juan, dating from AD890,  is perched upon an island rock accessed by a winding path across a stone causeway. The path down [and up!] is steep and arduous. But plenty of people of all ages, sizes and fitness are tackling the walk. Remembering the Tiger Cave Temple climb in Thailand we decide this is a doddle, which it isn’t, but we make it down and up.

It is only a stone’s throw then down to Bakio, where a perfectly nice, free, well-serviced aire awaits. Here is surfing galore so of the many vans parked up a lot are typically bohemian and strewn with the paraphernalia of the sport.

Leaving Bakio we head off towards Comillas, the steady drizzle strengthening into steady rain, which continues throughout the day and is still dropping relentlessly when we arrive to our selected site. On into the evening it rains…and rains. Next morning it is still raining. So the rain in Spain is not restricted to the plain, clearly…

Think Yourself Lucky!

It is generally agreed by those of us who live here in the UK that 2017’s summer has been, at best, disappointing. Other than one or two early heat waves, when you had to take to the shade or expire, the traditional July and August holiday’s weather has been unpredictable, heavy showers alternating with wind and cloud, occasional bright patches but never a sustained period of warm sunshine.

This has been good for some; UK tourism is booming [see last week’s post] with ancient monuments, museums, attractions and theme parks all doing well. Other customary, outdoor summer events such as festivals have fared less well, with many having been cancelled altogether.

As a teenager and a young adult I adored hot weather. There was never a hint that exposure to hot sun could be in any way detrimental to health. On a [somewhat abortive, though that is a different story told in an older post] trip with fellow students to southern Europe I equipped myself with some dubious tablets that purported to allow tanning without burning, thus imbuing me with the confidence to strip off and fry myself to a crisp. Later, with the advent of sunblock creams I became more circumspect but nevertheless continued to sunbathe in the interests of maintaining a glowing, tanned skin.

For many retirees a home in the sun is a longed for goal with the result that areas like the Spanish Med are crowded with ageing ex-pats, [many of whom were further encouraged by the ability to draw their pension and enjoy free healthcare whilst living in Europe-benefits that may not, now sustain].

Despite the few remaining climate change deniers, such as Trump, our weather patterns are altering. We bemoaning Brits may grumble about our ropey summers, but southern Europe has begun to experience heat waves with unprecedented frequency and to extremes. Will those who abandoned Great Britain for warmer climes be able to manage life in the dangerously high temperatures we have begun to see?

Myself, while I love the sunshine as much as anyone else I am no longer able to tolerate the punishing heat that I used to enjoy when young and this is a feature of older age. Extreme heat is dangerous for older people as it is for the very young. We travel widely in Europe, Husband and I-but outside of high summer, in late spring or early autumn, when the edge of heat is no longer there, nor are the crowds.

I am as guilty as anyone of moaning about the British weather, but perhaps we Brits should consider ourselves lucky that we are not yet too drought-ridden and baked to live our lives here. We are starting to see the impact of too much rain on our country’s crops and we are prey to floods but other, less lucky parts of the world are seeing far worse conditions. Perhaps a cloudy, breezy, showery summer is not so bad after all!

 

Weather or not?

                So here in the South of the UK we have been deluged by storms, wild winds and relentless rain since early December. Yet curiously, the press continues to feature the stories of fallen trees, collapsed roads and rail networks, homes without power , flooded buildings and drownings as if they were news. How many people are left who are surprised by the endless flood of stories and the deluge of videos on the subject?

                Elsewhere in the world, large tracts of land are drought and fire ridden or have been locked into a standstill by statistic-busting snowfalls and gigantic freeze-ups. Presumably their journos and pursuing a similar line of ceaseless weather reportage. Is anyone else suffering from weather news fatigue, as I am?

                Here on England’s South coast we have been battered and buffeted enough to have sprung some leaks and lost some roof tiles, a nuisance and an expense if nothing else, but of course you can only feel sympathy for those whose properties have been flooded and ruined for the second, third or even fourth time in one winter. This weather, they all agree, is unprecedented. I feel sure that the Australian home owners who have lost everything in bush fires must feel the same. Is there anyone left who is still a climate change sceptic? Whether you believe it is man-made or not, that it is happening cannot be denied.

                We in the so called democratic countries elect our ruling parties on the strength of their policies, do we not? But can there be an issue in the world that is more pressing, more urgent than climate change? I don’t think so. Yes, terrorism is a frightening prospect, economic depressions affect everyone and the world’s dwindling resources provoke anxiety-but all of these issues, I believe are connected to the increasing gap between rich and poor [yes-even terrorism] which is a direct result of climate conditions. The poorest peoples live in the places that struggle most with inhospitable weather, most in Africa. These are the places where extremist, terrorist groups are most likely to get a toehold and then a stranglehold, where a population is starved and impoverished and unable to respond or retaliate.

                And so what have the developed nations done? Have they got together to implement policies for world good? Have they agreed to share resources, work out ways to minimise damage, acknowledge that fossil fuels are not going to last forever, that sustainable energy sources are vital and that the needs of the starving, desperate peoples on the planet must be addressed by all of us? No. Some lip service has been paid. The UN has been meeting since 1992 and has still not reached any binding agreement. Have an expensive, lavishly serviced meeting of world leaders [all arriving in expensive, heavily guarded private aircraft], wring their hands a bit and go away again.

                The world’s populations will just have to shift. The peoples of the more advantaged nations will have to accommodate those whose environments have become uninhabitable. This will leave vast areas of the planet devoid of humans. What wonderful places they will be!

It’s an educational odyssey-honest!

                September. For many of us Northern Hemisphereites who are beyond the ties of dependent children or parents or day jobs this is the perfect time for slipping away to extend our summers. This year, especially, as the magic of the first warm, dry summer for seven years bursts in a wet bubble we have made our escape, along with a whole convoy of other wrinklies, besides one or two couples with pre-school children, capitalising on the cheaper prices, the quieter roads and the emptier resorts.

                Despite having undertaken a substantial amount of meandering in foreign territories for lengthy periods since I retired from the nine-to-five I still receive a barrage of remarks and expostulations regarding what I like to call ‘trips’. I describe them as trips for this very reason, since to call them ‘holidays’ would imbue them with an impression of hedonistic opulence and wanton enjoyment and this is not the idea I want to convey at all. I prefer to be conveying the appearance of undertaking some kind of research or undergoing an educational experience; activities more worthy and valuable than mere enjoyment. One of last night’s FB remarks referred to my ‘life of luxury’-and may or may not have been ‘tongue in cheek’.

                Luxury is a subjective quality. When applied to holidays-or even trips, it means different things to different people. For some, the epitome of a luxury holiday is to be pampered in an exquisite hotel offering complimentary champagne on arrival, chocolates, fruit and flowers and plump pillows. For many it is to be carted away on a floating gin palace, stuffed full of food whilst dressed in a designer outfit and disgorged at intervals for a hasty snapshot of a famous city-[as in ‘if it’s Saturday it must be Rome’]. For anyone in a demanding and stressful job, luxury can be slobbing around in bed on a Sunday morning in front of the TV with a cup of tea.

                I have friends for whom the ideal break is two weeks, twice each year in the same apartment on the Costa del Sol, lying on the same sun-beds, visiting the same bar. It is relaxing, they explain, that nothing has changed, that there is nothing to do. This is easy to understand.

                For me, the concept of luxury is also a simple matter. It is freedom. You wander where you want, for as long as you want. When you tire of somewhere or it rains you move on. If there is a lot to do, or the weather is wonderful you stay. It isn’t always simple. You have to research, you have to plan, you have to drive, shop, set up, pack up; but you are free to do exactly what you want. And that, reader, is my idea of a luxurious trip. What’s yours?

Going to the Dogs

                I don’t know what prompted us to accept our neighbours’ invitation to go to the dog track, but perhaps it was the aftermath of incarceration at Cahersiveen, where squalls had kept us banged up for an entire day and even a soaking walk to the nearest bar was scant relief. Admittedly, the proprietor of Mannix Point, award-winning site, one Mortimer Moriarti, mindful of the weather has done what he can to mitigate it for hapless tent campers. He has provided classical music ‘piped’ in the showers [!], a well equipped kitchen, washers and dryers and a comfortable sitting room with a peat log fire, squashy sofas, a piano, piles of magazines, card and board games and two, enormous, sleepy marmalade cats. Many had availed themselves of this facility, sprawling across the sofas, wet trekking boots abandoned on the wooden floor. Sadly, the site cannot win awards for weather. After a second damp and windy night we set off to see the Ring of Kerry.

                The morning was at last dry with some promise of blue sky. We followed the convoy of cars, motorhomes and coaches around the ‘Ring’, taking in Skellig Rocks, Ladies’ View and Moll’s Gap, then on to Tralee. Here in the West of Ireland tourism has drenched the countryside in a glow of affluence; the homes bearing the mark of architect’s pen, the hotels upmarket. We were persuaded to spend a second night in Tralee and take in the sights of the Dingle peninsula, allegedly more rugged and less tourist trodden. In the event, the road was just as clogged with sightseers as the Ring of Kerry, the lay-bys and viewpoints as crowded, the fellow travellers as irritating-as I’m sure we are to them. Here on Dingle we climbed to see the most westerly point of Europe, and yes, the scenery was spectacular.

                Foregoing the ‘dining package’ at the dog track we opted instead for fish and chips at Quinlan’s in the town, a happy choice,  then to the stadium, where we mingled with the hardcore regulars in the bar and attempted to make sense of the informative brochure. Groups of men clustered around the screens clutching race newspapers. I pushed what I knew of greyhound racing and its sharp practices firmly into a cupboard in my brain, having recently read a Roald Dahl story on the subject. I studied the names of the dogs, the ‘form’-all written in a mysterious code that may just as well have been the Gaelic that is widely spoken in the area as anything else. For Race 1 I selected ‘Christie’s Ashes’. I went to the desk with my 2 euros clutched in my hot hand, returning with a slip of paper. Outside the dogs were having a pre race stroll, some padding sedately, others prancing skittishly. My selected runner differed from the other five only in his wearing of a blue jacket, but had, by now become the favourite. The dogs seemed happy enough-enthusiastic, even. They were put into the starting boxes, there was a mechanical hum as the ‘hare’ started around then as it came level the dogs burst out in a tumbling blur, flashing past us and on around the track. A portly, florid gent brandished his programme and yelled encouragement, “Gaan, gaan!”

It was over in seconds. Christie’s Ashes had won. I went to the desk with my slip to claim my winnings and returned to our table flushed with success.  A whole 7 euros!

                The result of race one, however was beginners luck. I was to win nothing more-worse I was significantly lighter in the pocket by the end of the evening. This, of course is how the addicted become so in gambling. For us it was an experience and a fun evening though I doubt it will embed into my social life as a regular feature.