This week in bigger pixs

  Monday 17th March 2014 week 143 Spain.

    Norfolk

    We left Caceres under a blue sky and drove north into the the Sierra Gredos Mountains. At its height, the snow capped Pico Almanzor mountain, just one of the many, reaches 2580 meters. Thankfully the highest we had to climb was half that, but still almost a mile. This may not not sound very impressive but remember, I come from a part of the UK which is renowned for its flatness. I live on the edge of the fens. An area of the Uk once covered by the sea. For a time I lived in a tiny village called Peakirk which, even though its sixty miles inland, was once an island. So as you might imagine, back then, I was envious of people who owned ladders or lived on the first floor,, they had the kinda views I lusted after. If you look at any paintings of the Fens you'll note the land occupies just the bottom inch of the painting the rest of the canvas is devoted to the sky. The sky is nine tenths of any view across the 'Fens' landscape. You'll now appreciate why I have this fascination with mountains.

The views, breathtaking.

    The drive up was on toll free roads as it had been since leaving Conil, 445 miles earlier. This is in stark contrast to later this week when I will be on French roads, where, as a rule of thumb, I'll pay twenty pounds for every one hundred miles covered. For a truck driver to make a delivery from say, Canns to Paris, and return, would cost him a staggering 492 Euros in tolls alone. It can be serious money.

    I wouldn't object to paying more in Spain as the roads are impressive. You're either crossing deep gorges across mighty viaducts, traversing wide open plains or driving up, down, around or through mountains. That kinda road building doesn’t come cheap. So on the few occasion I've had to pay a toll in Spain I've done it with a happy heart and a smile on my face as opposed to a scowl and a grimace which is all the French get outta me.

The roads, empty and spectacular.

    We arrived at camping Kawan Village on the edge of Tordesillas without incident. Its called a village because...........well I've not the faintest idea. It a small camp-site by the river and it certainly lacked a village atmosphere, there was only one other camper pitched up, so by turning up we had doubled the village population.

    In reception, while the young lady completed the paperwork, I glanced at the camp-site rules. Typically, they never show these to an English proof reader before going to print. Rule one starts.............

    1, Respect! all camp-site rules. Clearly they intend taking a no noncence approach.

    2, Do not allow your pet to cause any trouble.  Some dogs, I assume, can be trouble makers. Barking at 3 in the morning just for a laugh.

    3, Avoid games and noises in the toilet. I'm afraid the latter is often not always possible, does rather depend on what the restaurant served the night before.

    4, Do not let your noise to be heard outside your pitch. This really is asking a bit much of the Spanish. Its simply not possible for a family of say, a dozen Spanish to do anything quietly. It's not in their nature.

    5, Call reception if anything seems to be wrong. This sounded more of an invitation than a rule and I was tempted to ring them and mention a few of life’s injustices but I doubt that’s quite what they had in mind. However the bests rule, and the most intriguing, is the one in the toilets which simply states, and I quote: Just throw the toilet paper, please.

    'll let you ponder that one.

 

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 Tuesday 18th March 2014 week 143 Spain.

    Tordesillas

    Oh dear! Tordesillas. (Its a town. Ed). (Just. author.) What can I say? I mean to keep you interested all the way till the end of today’s entry. Well first, let me tell you about life in the village. Its quiet. Bloody quiet. Some French turned up last night and left early this morning, perhaps they'd been here before. Don't get me wrong the site's fine, well as good as any empty, off season, camp site gets. The showers are magnificent, equal to the best we've enjoyed so far. It's, well, Tordesillas. But more of that in a moment.

Quite posh and we had it to ourselves.

    Not since November have I had to pay for a WiFi connection, its been free. I popped into the 'village' reception which, by the way, looks like any other reception that doesn't have the word 'village' in front of it and asked about WiFi prices. The young lady handed me a detailed price list. There were a number of options, about ten to be precise. After some deliberation, weighing up all the pros and cons of the various options, I plumped for option number four, a two day WiFi pass at six Euros. She the told me all she had was option two, a one day pass for four Euros. I wanted to exclaim 'what was the ruddy point of showing me the price list if all you had was option two!!'. But I remembered, I'm not in the UK, you just can't launch yourself into a Victor Meldrew rant, they wouldn't get it.

    Okay  now Tordesillas. I'm going to struggle here but stay with me. We walked off, crossed the town bridge and into town. Unfortunately it struck me almost immediately as a tad depressing. I couldn't help but notice the number of empty shops, the number of businesses which seemed ghostly quiet even for that time of the day, nor that many buildings could have done with a lick of paint. It was all a bit drab. The tourist information office was closed. I wondered how many tourists visited the town - lost most of them I expect - to warrant a tourist information office? Besides, what can they tell a tourist about Tordesillas? The few Spanish I saw looked a little glum.

 Tordesillas

    It had an old church, but then so does every other town,and frankly I'm maxed out on churches. There was no real architecture worthy of note, nothing I'd want to sit and sketch..... not that I can. The only noteworthy building was a new bullring. Now I'm going to show my ignorance here. (Go for it, wouldn't be the first time. Ed). I thought bull fighting was, well, a thing of the past. I mean, I know it's still practised but not followed with such obvious enthusiasm that would warrant building a new modern bullring, but then, I don't really know what I'm talking about.. (Again, wouldn't be the first time. Ed)

    Now on principal, being that I think it wrong to cause stress and pain to animals and then call it entertainment, I doubt I'd be in favour of bull fighting. However, having said that, I've never seen one so I'm reluctant to take a strong position for, or against. I think, all too often, people condemn things they know precious little about. However, having said that, I do know I wouldn’t rush to watch a public execution, I don't have to witness one to know that. But I'm a welcomed guest in someone else’s country and therefore it would be disrespectful and rude of me to start criticising their traditions.

    Just the odd town perhaps.

    We'll be leaving tomorrow.

    Oh yes, yesterday. The loo notice. It had me foxed for a while. I think it should have read just pull the toilet paper, please. Referring to the toilet paper dispenser. It all gets a little lost in translation.

 

 

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 Wednesday 19th March 2014 week 143 Spain (Almost)

    Kinky sex

    Before I forget. Something I need to clear up from last Friday. I forget sometimes that my diary has global appeal and therefore some of my readers have no idea what I mean when I say things like: 'I don't get one or more of my five a day' There’s a danger they’ll run off with the idea I'm referring to some kind of deviant sexual fetish. I wish it was, but no, its far less intriguing. It refers to fruit and vegetables. Experts say you should eat at least five portions of them a day. There's simply no way to make that interesting, but I tried, right?

    OK, onwards and upwards. We drove to Burgos our last Spanish city before France. This part of Spain is not the most attractive. Its given over, in the most part, to industrialised farming which is neither picturesque nor romantic. After the Sierra Gredos Mountains it was all pretty flat and a tad featureless, although worth pointing out this whole area is part of the Iberian plateau which is 600 metres above sea level. I was informed by my co pilot, as we drove along, they grow cereal crops and sugar beet here. I've given up asking her how the devil she knows such stuff I just accept that she does.

The cathedral.... in case you wasn't sure.

    We pulled off the motorway to get fuel. Unlike the UK, gas stations are not always on motorways, many are in small villages and towns adjacent to the motorway. I pulled onto a forecourt, filled up and went to pay. Inside I was asked if I was English. I said I was. The lady gave me a broad smile and announced proudly that; “I speak a little bit of English”. I really wish at times like this I could reward these charming people with something, perhaps a pennant or a union jack on a stick as a way for saying thank you for A, taking the trouble to learn my language and B, reminding me what a lazy ass I am for not learning theirs.

    We pushed on.

    If you ask me, not that any one has, Burgos is a must see Spanish city, another UNESCO world heritage site and easy to see why. It has a population of just 180 thousand, for a city that’s small. But this does mean that within a day you can walk or cycle to all the sites with ease. It has a cathedral which puts others into shame. The kind of building that once seen, is used to measure the splendour of others. It's quite spectacular. The river runs through its heart and on either side are wide tree lined boulevards, Its neat, tidy and devoid of litter. There are a number of arty fountains and some splendid buildings, in-short, it looked a jolly nice place to live.

No its not a road side cafe its a bus stop. Shows what you can do if you put your mind to it.

    Now I've made this point before but that the Spaniards outlive us Brits. They have a longer life expectancy that us. Not by much, but the closer you get to the end, the more you'll appreciate anything extra. There’s a variety of possible reasons for this but one was evident riding along in the sunshine yesterday. The river side walk was full of people out exercising, walking dogs, Lycra cover cyclists, skateboarders, old folk power walking, joggers and people of all ages on roller blades, which, I have to tell you, I want to have a go at, it looks so much fun.

    This is is an attractive city with some excellent cycle routes but alas not a particularly nice camp-site. I doubt we will stay more than a couple of days. Long enough however to stock up on plonk. Lidl are running a special offer. Six bottles of Don Simon's very palatable, some might say slightly presumptuous, Vino Tinto for £4.16. That's for all six..... yeah! All six bottles, its bloody bonkers right? 69p a bottle.

 

 

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  Thursday 20th March 2014 week 143 Spain.

    Hasta la vista baby!

    Ola!. Well that’s it. That’s Spain done, again. One country I will never tire of returning to and trying to write about. Fascinating country, fascinating history and fascinating people.

    I've said this before, if you come here to spend your two week vacation on the Costa del whatever you'll not see the real Spain What you'll get will be a tourist version and that’s a pity as the country is extremely diverse.

    This diversity comes about through, in the main, its climate and geography. The north and south, are as different as the East and West. The east is home to the package holiday industry, which is still flourishing. The west coast is far smaller but more authentic and traditionally Spanish. The north, or what I've seen of it, is more modern, industrialised and more European. Drive through towns like Andoain and Lasarte in the Basque Country and it will out you in mind of the Swiss Alps. Meanwhile, seven hundred miles south in Andelucia white washed Moorish towns sit high on hills.

Friends.

    There is something else which makes Spain special, and its subtle. Spain is more than twice the size of the UK and has fifteen million people less. This means they've all got a damn sight more room, certainly than us. No one is hemmed in and that’s important. Its been proven that the more people you squeeze into a space, the more aggressive, anxious and protective they get of it. In the UK an English home is his castle and that can stretch as far as his garden fence. He also covets the eight foot of car parking space outside his front door and watch out! if you encroach on it. Some fellow Brit let the air out of my tyres once because I had the temerity to park outside his front door. I did think of filling his door lock with super glue but I couldn't lower myself to his level.

    For me the Spanish are amongst the friendliest in Europe. I've lost count of the number of times they have apologised to me for not speaking my language, it fair makes me want to give them a big ole hug.

    Spain has traditionally been a refuge for ageing Europeans. Us Brits were attracted by the lower cost of living, early weakness of the Euro and taxation. 1.3 Million British now live here, the majority elderly. And that’s a good because at least they're not clogging up post offices back home collecting their pensions, nor are they forming queues at Lidl. The Spanish welcomed them, after all, they weren’t taking jobs, just bringing in money. Even though the exchange rate has shrunk, its still cheaper living here. In the south, its possible, to rent a a house with a pool for £300 per month. In the UK you’ll get a room with a leak for that.

    And finally...........

    Over a quarter of all Spanish politicians are women. Perhaps this is why they spend just 14 Billion per year on arms. This, in stark contrast to ours, who pours in around £62 billion of tax payers money into arms all to protect a small country less than half the size of Spain, personally..... I think the Spanish have more to protect.

    (Ouch!. Ed)

    The French tomorrow. Are they ready for me?

 

 

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  Friday 21st March 2014 week 143 Spain

    What's on my mind?

    The Labour Government in 1948 changed the face of Britain. It took the country in a new direction by implementing the recommendations of the Beveridge Report. Amongst other social benefits the report advocated the creation of a comprehensive health and rehabilitation service for the prevention and cure of disease. The NHS was born. It was the flag ship of social reformat the time. A sign that Britain was moving forward, progressing. The National Health Service set out to improve the health of the Nation. It was to be funded through taxation and National Insurance contributions as part of the introduction of a wider Welfare State. The Tories opposed it, well they would wouldn't they. Some fifty years later, the then Tory leader came out and said, reassuringly: “The National Health Service is safe in our hands”. What’s interesting is not that she said it, but she needed to say it in the first place.

Hazels been struck with Teddymania. If you fancy owning one, £20 inc P&P. I'd appreciate it as I'm running out of places to sit.

    Recently in an attempt to save money, money which some say was needed to help offset the reductions in top rate tax for high earners, thousands of hard working, loyal, and caring health care workers have lost their jobs.

    Since this Government came to power, 26,000 health workers have lost their jobs. This including 5200 nurses and 4100 healthcare assistants. A further 44,000 posts are earmarked to go before April 2015. That's 71,000 trained professionals out looking for work. ( Figures from The Royal College of Nursing.)

    In what some might call a pathetic defence the government say this huge reduction in staffing levels is needed to make the NHS more efficient, cut red tape, waste and duplication, the NHS was to be streamlined. (The ratio of nurse to patient, needs to go up not down! Its the only way to improve heath care in hospitals Ed.) The savings, the government argued, can then be targeted on front line services.

    So help me! I'll shoot the next politician that uses that bloody phrase!!

    Has any of it worked? Has it fuck!.

    The service is no better, most would say worse. Moral is at its lowest ebb. Hazel worked as a Nurse for many years and she saw this at first hand. Its one of the reasons she retired early. The NHS, as a flag ship of reform of bettering all our lives, has become a political football, along with education and welfare, simply because of the idealogical differences between the two parties that have run Britain for 80 years.

    Interesting to note that for each pound of national health contributions spent in the NHS the government spends 45p on defence. Defence against who exactly?. No-ones quite sure, the worlds moved on. A sceptic might ask how is it we can afford to arm ourselves for Armageddon, which in all probability will never come, but yet we can't afford a decent 21st century NHS.

    And finally. Talking of people Id like to shoot........

    The chairman of the Tory party tweeted yesterday, after the tax on Bingo and beer were reduced, "Budget cuts on bingo and beer! This is surely helping hard-working people of the Uk do more of the things they enjoy doing.”

 

    Honestly, words fail me........(Not often he says that. Ed)

    You have a good weekend.

 

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