Sunday 15 September 2013


Paris to Spain-Morocco-Portugal
July-September 2013
According to Google Maps, the overall point-to-point distance I covered in my eight-week trip from Paris to Spain, Morocco and Portugal is 5 175 kilometres.

All of that was by train except Algeciras-Tarifa (by bus), Tarifa-Tangier-Tarifa (by boat) and Tarifa-Cadiz (by bus).

That's as the crow flies, so the actual distance covered must be considerably more.

No wonder I'm exhausted!

Monday 9 September 2013

In Barcelona, 1 = 3 (or 2, depending)

The last leg of my trip is to Barcelona for three days, whence to Paris by TGV.

The instructions for finding my hostal – which is not a hostel, but a small hotel occupying one or two floors in a larger building – gave the address and said "first floor".  Good news, as I have two suitcases.

The first problem was that there is no sign on the street to show the name of the establishment.  A helpful person leaving the building confirmed I was in the right place.  Next I hauled my two cases up the stairs to the first floor, dripping sweat all the way.  Except the first floor up is called entresol not "first floor".  So I huffed and puffed up to the next level, which is called principal.  The next one up – that's street level plus three – is the primera planta or "first floor".

Of course, this is not consistent; the next place I went to had no principal, so the first floor was only on the second floor, not the third floor.  Are you following?

Monday 2 September 2013

"White elephant"

It seems some of my readers who are not native English speakers are not familiar with the expression I used in the post about the Cidade da Cultura in Santiago de Compostela.

A "white elephant" is a prestigious, but unsuccessful, building project whose cost – of construction and maintenance – is out of proportion to its usefulness and which ends up being a burden on public finances.

What colour are the elephants in Spain?


And there's a huge one just outside Santiago de Compostela: the Cidade da Cultura, city of culture.

I had noticed this strange construction on my way from the train station to my hotel when I arrived in Santiago. It's hard to miss it as it is on top of a hill, visible for quite a distance around.

Cidade da Cultura,
Santiago de Compostela
The cidade is a complex of buildings dedicated to culture: a museum, an exhibition centre, a library and archive, and a centre for "cultural innovation". And it's not specifically Galician art or culture; the exhibition I saw was about the peoples of the Orinoco.

Four other people saw it with me. That's how many other visitors I counted during the two hours I was there.  Four.  Cuatro.  Quatre.  Vier.  Ceathrar...

The staff must be bored out of their minds!  (I wondered why the receptionist accompanied me to the door of the toilets rather than just pointing the way.)

And what do the locals think of all this?  In the absence of contact with taxi drivers, I turned  to the next best source of local knowledge, a barman.  And boy, did I find one with strong opinions on the subject! "Demolish it!"  But what about the money already spent on construction?  "That’s already wasted! My taxes are now paying to maintain a useless, empty shell!"

And he has a point.  So why is it such a flop?  No one knows about it; and it's difficult to get to if you don't have a car. 

There is a public bus that goes there, Line 9 if you're interested.  The information at the bus stop says it runs every 60 minutes on average, but doesn't tell you when the next one is due.  So you don't know if you’re going to be waiting a minute or an hour!  I waited 15 minutes, then started to walk, constantly looking behind just in case.  I ended up walking the whole way, about 40 minutes.  And it's not a pleasant walk as you have to go through suburban residential/industrial areas and cross several busy roads.

So how could they make it a success?  I have a couple of modest suggestions:
  • give out tons of freebies – everyone arriving by train or bus should get one, every hotel, restaurant and bar should give them out;
  • provide a free shuttle from the town every 15 minutes.
It is a beautiful place and it would be a terrible shame to abandon it