Spain, the last two weeks
Galicia: The Celtic province
David arrived on the first and somehow he and Peg did not see each
other at the airport. Eventually we got connected.
This morning, delightful Emilia takes us to the bus for Galicia,
leaving from near Plaza de España. The bus ride lasts from 10:45 a.m.
till 8 p.m. Fortunately the bus is not full so we are comfortable.
Along the way, the vegetation is changing, becoming much more lush as
we approach the rainy northwest portion of the country. We have
dinner at the hotel at 9 p.m. Dinner is your choice of exactly what
they serve you, but it is good. The balcony of our room provides a
beautiful overlook of the Ria (estuary), whose coast lies just 50
yards below us.
The hotel is called Hotel Covelmar, which is in Covelo Poio just
outside Pontevedra, Spain. We are near the Atlantic coast, south of
Santiago de Compostela. Vigo is close by. The phone number here is
986-74-1000 or 74-1098.
We have made friends with some people on the bus. The talk is about
food and wine. They tried to teach us to play cards. I don’t have
the vocabulary to play cards in Spanish! That they offered to include
us is another example of the warmth of the Spanish people.
The food in the hotel is served home-style. Each group of four (3 in
our case) gets a platter. Sunday it was pork loin, last night it was
cod, tonight it was a thick slab of pork tenderloin with gravy and
peas and soup. Largely every meal has been very good. Nothing fancy,
just good. It is amazing given the price: $140 per person,
transportation to and from Madrid, local excursions (admissions extra
but not much), hotel for a week, and all meals.
The town of O Grove
We took an excursion to little town of O Grove. Yes, that’s O Grove,
no comma. I am not sure what the ‘O’ stands for yet, but since we are
in the Celtic province of Galicia I wonder if there is any relation
with the “O” of names like O’Reily. I have seen the ‘O’ in several
names of towns here.
In O Grove we took a short boat ride to see farms of oysters (ostras),
mussels (mejillón) and scallops (venera, or maybe veira). The
farms are concrete floats, from which ropes reach well into the water.
Mollusks are attached to the ropes. Each bivalve filters a liter of
water a day. The Captain gave explanations on the loudspeaker.
They served freshly cooked mussels on board, with white wine of the
region (Rebiera), good, simple, clean tasting white wine that is also
served at the hotel. All this cost $10 per person.
Scallop shells are used to symbolize pilgrimages to Santiago de
Compostela; in pre-Christian they symbolized the womb.
Joe is clerk at the front desk. He has a computer at home, and speaks
some English. This has been the only job he has been able to land so
far, despite his English skills and his college degree. He is about
27 years old.
The hotel is on the Ruta de Viña, wine route. There are small grape
holdings everywhere we go. The grapes grow on arbors about 4′ off the
ground. The arbor posts are made of stone.
Women rake seaweeds along the coast when the tide is out. They wear
long, black skirts, and grey or black blouses and sweaters.
Everywhere there are strange little huts, once used to store grain.
Legally they cannot be being moved out of Galicia. The granaries are
about 4 feet off the ground. Supporting columns are made of stone, as
is the frame of the granary. Their sides are wooden or stone slats,
allowing for the passage of air. On top of the columns there is a
round stone, larger in circumference than the column. We are told
that these serve to keep rats and other varmint out of the granaries.
Our guide tells us that removing one of these granaries from Galicia
subjects one to a fine of about $20,000. You can move them about
Galicia at will, however, and they can be bought and sold.
We go to the little walled Portuguese town of Valenca. Some
restaurants allow you to sit at their tables to eat the provided
lunches if you buy drinks. A young man selling candy asked for our
bocadillos: chorizo and another sliced meat on bread, two pieces of
good baguette. We gave one to him. We ordered wine and salad, both
tasty and very inexpensive.
Later we went to Bayona, and walked around the fort, which is now a
Parador (a five star hotel in a historical monument). In the harbor
there is a reproduction of the Pinta. The original returned here in
1493 after Columbus’ from first trip to the New World. The coastal
views are magnificent. A man plays the bagpipe, one of about a half
dozen we hear while here. There is a Roman bridge on the way out of
town. The middle portion is modern, but the ends are original and
still in use.
Today’s excursion, an extra one for which we paid 3000 pts. each
($20), took us to Coruña. This is a town of about 250,000 with an
important seaport. There are lots of fishing vessels and large
container/transport ships. The old town is built on a peninsula.
When Philip married Mary (Bloody Mary) of England, he embarked from
here, as did the Invincible Armada. The fort is from 14th century.
The exhibits in the archaeological museum, housed in the fort, are
labeled in Galician. In one I read that Caesar was here on the way to
or from England, in 60 A.D. Having just read his book on the conquest
of Gaul, I imagined Roman ships entering and leaving the harbor, one
of them bearing Caesar.
I climbed the light tower, the Tower of Hercules (250 ptas). It is
242 steps up and dates from Roman times. Archaeologists were working
on the foundation diggings when I entered the tower. You have to
stoop to get to the passage way leading to the tower. From the top I
could see a fair amount of the city, its two big beaches off to one
side. I could not see the port but it is but a few blocks away on the
other side of the peninsula.
We had lunch on Marina Avenida, sharing tortilla de esparragos (an
asparagus omelet), empanada with a clam like mollusk (name was not in
my dictionary), seafood croquettes, fish soup and a salad. We asked
for a bottle of regional red wine. The waiter brought out the house,
a Ribiera. He said the white Ribieras are better than the reds. He
also offered us another local red. We agreed with him that it was
better than the Ribiera red; we got it (1000 ptas). A very good
lunch for about 1800 ptas each ($11) including wine. Professional
services and pleasant atmosphere. Better than the lunch the hotel
packed: chorizo, sardines, bread, fruit and water, which is the same
as every other day.
The beautiful weather continues.
Vigo is an important port, which we could see from the vantage of the
old fort that overlooks the city. There are significant mollusk farms
nearby. We ate some oysters on the half shell. They were fresh but
tasted a bit too like salt water for my taste. Peg had some very
fresh mussels. We ate these in an area called “El Mercado de las
Ostras,” the Oyster Market. The Oyster Market now is just a short
street in a pedestrian zone where there are only trinket shops and
seafood bars like the one we visited. The oysters are served on
platters by older women working for themselves. You then sit at a
nearby table, which is catered by the restaurant you happen to sit in
front of. They serve drinks and other things to eat. The restaurant
served the mussels Peg ate. However, you pay the restaurant and the
woman who served the oysters separately.
We returned to the hotel for lunch. Last night’s meal was a bit
disappointing. Our first course was a very good seafood empanada but
it was served without any accompaniment; the second course was fish
and it was served with just a few peas and potatoes. It was a meal
with nary a vegetable. As if to make up for it, lunch today was a
marvelous green bean dish flavored with a powerful yet sweet paprika.
The second plate was thinly sliced (which is the most common way that
pork is sold) breaded pork filet.
At four we toured nearby Pontevedra. It has a beautiful church from
the late 11th century called the Santa Maria Mayor or Vicente. Its
main facade is beautifully carved in a style similar to that found at
Santiago de Compostela, called Platteresque. There are lots of
statues carved in stone. These statues are intricately detailed. Many
faces have a certain look that I must describe as goofy: bug-eyed,
often grinning, round-faced. I would not be surprised if someone
knowledgeable would laugh at my description. At any rate, I enjoyed
looking at the figures and marveled at the tremendous effort involved.
The old part of the town is called El Casco Antiguo, the Old Helmet.
It has many narrow, stone streets surrounded by stone houses. These
are beautifully and skillfully constructed. Many of them are about
500 years old. There is a stone arcade through which pilgrims to
Santiago passed coming from the southwestern area of Spain or nearby
After about an hour wandering about, we went to another nearby town,
this one much smaller. Combaro is a fishing village and is right on
the Ria de Pontevedra. Just a few feet above the water are bars,
restaurants and a bodega. In the bodega only wine is served. It is
poured into bowls from great barrels. We snacked on mussels served in
scallop shells. We drank a white wine, an Albariño, a local wine that
tastes much like a white from the Mosel valley.
In an open area sat a wooden cart with wooden wheels. The cart is
used for hauling wood. It is still in use, not placed there for the
The streets and pathways of the little village are carved from the
stone of the hillside. Often the steps are roughly cut, sometimes not
even cut at all. You are just walking on the rocks that have been
there for millions of years. Many walkways barely allow two people to
pass. Some paths lead to dead ends that are not marked as such. This
village is in pre tourist state: very little is done with the tourist
Santiago de Compostela
“Santiago” means Saint (Sant) James (Iago).
Along the way the bus briefly followed a woman hauling weeds in a
wooden cart drawn by an ox. There are many people hoeing the fields.
We are inland, driving through rolling hills. As we approach the
town, we see the towers of the Cathedral from the highway.
A short walk from where we were let out we see the magnificent main
portal of the Cathedral. Inside is the fabulous interior portal. Here
millions of pilgrims have put their five fingers on a spot that now
has five deep indentations. Then they leaned over to touch their
foreheads to that of the man who sculpted this portal. According to
Fodors, it is the sculpture on the FRONT of the column that is
traditionally so treated. Yet here there was a long line of people
going to the REAR side to kiss a statute. Well, it makes no sense to
put your fingers on the front just for the sake of doing so, not to
help you lean over, so I think that Fodors is right. In either case,
it is rare and odd to so venerate a sculptor.
The main altar is beautifully gold-leafed. Statues are carved to make
it appear that they hold up the roof over the altar.
Behind the altar is an image of Saint James, whom I think was cousin
to Jesus. For centuries pilgrims have walked in the passage behind
St. James, giving him a hug and a kiss. They are still doing it. One
woman even came back, explaining she forgot to give him a kiss. Both
at the front inner portal and here there are lots of prayers spoken
and signs of the cross made.
For lunch David and I ordered one scallop (1000 ptas. each). They
were served on the shell with a very tasty sauce. The scallop tasted
like every other scallop I had ever eaten. At 1000 ptas, it was over
Being on the bus
Our bus guide is sweet but her routines are getting on my nerves.
Every time we get on the bus she says, “¿Qué tal estamos? Bien?” How
are we doing? Good? Then she follows with did you have a good lunch,
did you like the shopping, or whatever we had just done.
The music she plays is too loud and often stupid. The temperature is
seldom comfortable although there is heat and air conditioning. The
bus leaves around 10:00 a.m., too late in the day. Sometimes we go to
places we do not care about. I have never been on a tour before and
though it was a good value, I would not eagerly do it again.
Houses in the region are solid stone and usually very pretty. There
are good views of the estuary from most houses.
Back to Andalusia
These days took us to Andalusia again, for David had never been there
and I was eager for another look at the Mezquita (mosque) in Granada.
This time I most strongly noticed the effect of age on the building. I
could see the struggles the workers had in removing and replacing
wooden ceilings, and in keeping the masonry of the arches in good
Some exhibits are very badly labeled.
In Seville, we stayed in the old town in a 140 year old building.
Built as a hotel, it is now a protected building and cannot even be
repaired without official approval. The doors are wooded and rounded
at the top. The bathroom is a riot. You sit on the toilet with your
knees touching the opposite wall, with one foot in the shower.
Otherwise, we are comfortable.
As we drive thorough olive fields, the aroma of the olives is powerful
and wonderful. On the way back to Madrid and before Granada, we ate
in a truck stop that seldom saw tourists. The owner wrote the menu
out on the way to our table. It was home cooking, that’s for sure:
soups and stews and salads, that’s all.
Fun with Telefonica
On April 28th or so I called Telefonica, until recently a state-run
monopoly. I wanted to shut the phone off (dar la baja) Sunday, May 3
so we could use it until then. Would that give them time to compute
the final bill and return the deposit? Oh, yes, they said. I
explained that I would be leaving the country on May 15 and they would
never be able to call or write to me as I would be traveling.
Today I called and they said that they had no record of the request to
shut off the phone. Shame on me. I knew it would be too much for
them to be able to do this. All the Spanish people remark on the
inefficiency of Telefonica. The woman said that it would be shut off
tomorrow. She said that she had noted the circumstances of our
impending departure and someone would call back.
“When will they call?”
“Not today, I am sure.”
“I have made a note that all this has to be done by close of business
tomorrow,” she answered curtly.
“When tomorrow? I have other chores to do.”
“I have no way of knowing.”
Help on hand
One shoe repair place said that the material in my shoes required the
use of a special, slow-drying glue and the repair would take a day and
1/2. Forget that. I found a Mister Minute (almost everywhere in
Europe) at an El Campo. Off I went, going three stops on the metro. I
stopped to look at the map for the best way to get from the metro to
El Campo. I saw a security guard just then and asked him. He said I
should have gone out the other exit, especially since it was now
raining heavily. He said to get to it I would have to reenter the
metro but he got permission from the ticket seller to accompany me.
This way I would not have to pay again.
A train entered the station and he said that the best thing would be
to go back one stop as the one I chose was not the best. He was right
as when I exited from the next station, I had to walk only a few
meters to Al Campo. Another extraordinary effort by a Spaniard.
I was waiting for Telefonica all morning long. I called again and
basically got nowhere but did confirm that the shut-off order had been
noted. Finally, around 1:30 someone called.
“You need to call 004. Tell them you want to talk to ‘cobros’.”
That’s the department that deals with final bill; I think one
department calculates the bill and another subtracts the deposit from
the bill and figures out who owes what to whom. Why can’t just one
person do this?
The way I wrote this conversation makes it sound simple but the whole
conversation threw me for a loop. Why would the telephone company call
to tell me to call the telephone company? Once I figured out that one
department is completely separate from another, the conversation made
So I called and after again being on hold for 15 minutes or so,
someone came on line. They had to hear me tell the story, for the 5th
or 6th time. Then she said that the cobros department would call me
back as everyone was busy now
At about 2:30 I got a call. A person who could knowledgeably deal
with me was at last on the line. He said I owed about 29000 ptas.
Since my deposit was 32400, they owed me about 3000 ptas. A colleague
had told him that our bank account was closed. He said that they had
sent a charge to our account the other day as a normal procedure and
it had not been rejected yet. I was glad that I closed the account
for otherwise I would have paid 25000 and they would owe me not just a
few thousand, but over 30,000 ptas. (about $200).
He said that he could not easily make a direct deposit to a US
account, nor easily mail a check to the U.S. I volunteered Emilia’s
address. I was giving him her name and he said that the envelope had
to be addressed to me. He said he was not sure if that would work in
an apartment building. I held for several minutes more and he said he
thinks that it will be delivered. He gave me his name and phone
number and said to call if there were any problems. I should get the
check within 30 days (and probably sooner).
Our plan of many months has been to see the old communist block
countries, starting with Bulgaria and working our way east. Peg’s
mother Betty had sent us the Berkeley guide to aid in our planning.
We looked at several campers and we could get a good used one for
about $6,000. Fuel for a car would also cost $200 just to get to
Sofia. The plane and train fare to Sofia were about the same, $200.
Trains and buses are very cheap within Central (Eastern) Europe. So
cars and campers are not economical given 1) the cost of fuel 2) the
risk and other costs of owning a car, and 3) the low price of travel
by train in Central Europe and 4) the low cost of airfare. You do
have more freedom and a camper would be a great way to see the
countryside. The train was not a good option, taking several days.
If you got a sleeper car, the train would cost more than the plane.
The costs mounted if you had to buy meals on the train.
We checked airfare at many travel agencies. The best deal we found to
Sofia, Bulgaria, was about $350. We found an offer to Istanbul for
about $300 that included four nights lodging. We decided to go to
Istanbul and then take the train to the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria.
Then we would make our way through Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, the
Czech Republic and Poland.
We have been staying with Emilia, who had an offer weeks ago to go to
Valencia for this San Isidrio weekend. She leaves around 8 a.m.
after profuse apologies for not taking us to the airport. Peg and I
have the morning to ourselves in Emilia’s piso. We take time to
relax, pack our bags and eat lunch. At 1 p.m. we get on bus 144, get
off at the metro and take it to near the airport. We put our one
large, wheeled bag, one small bag and my backpack on the city bus that
goes to the airport. We arrive at 2:30. By car or cab, the trip
would take about 15 minutes. But we use up our metro ticket and save
2000 ptas. in cab fare.
As we fly over Spain, we see little of the Spain we have grown to
love. Clouds hide its landscape from us. I will miss Spain for its
friendly people, reasonable prices, generally good services and food.
I will miss Emilia’s sister Nina, their friends, and the mountainous,
boulder-strewn retreat near Pedriza. Most of all, I will miss
Emilia, her coffee-laden personality, her joy in going places, her
warmth, and her eagerness to learn and to teach.
We land in Istanbul at 12:45 a.m. The tour guide meets us as
promised. Their bus takes us to various glittering hotels around
Istanbul, dropping off other passengers. Finally we ride through a
dumpy, crumbling neighborhood. Uh oh! This was the route to our
hotel! The travel agent warned us about 2nd class hotels and now I
beginning to see why.
Inside the hotel we go. Oops, we did make it too cheap this time!
Very dirty carpets, though otherwise clean enough. Low water
pressure. Lousy locks on the doors. Too late to do anything but
collapse into the hard but comfortable bed. It is 1:00 in the