Sunday, 14 November 2010

Travel broadens the mind

I have neglected my bookshop blog! My excuse is simple: I have been travelling. It’s supposed to broaden the mind you know, and I was ready for a broadening. This time we travelled to Spain the easy way, or so I thought. We travelled in our small motor caravan to Bognor Regis for a breezy night in the car park of a seafront pub. Why Bognor Regis? Why indeed. It is not a mind-broadening place especially in winter. Deserted for the most part and possessing very few buildings of stature or beauty and very few pubs with decent beer, it was not a destination of choice.
But coincidences do happen. A few years ago we were teaching English for a few months in Yan’an, a city of much greater fame than Bognor – at least in China itself. Whilst there we had a minder: our foreign affairs director, Mark. He became a good friend and we owe much of our detailed knowledge of that vast country to him. A few months ago he emailed to say that the local government of Yan’an had provided a grant for him and other English teachers to attend a course in England, at the University of Chichester, based at Bognor. Our ferry to Spain went from Portsmouth which is very near Bognor so, naturally, we went to visit Mark.
He was impressed by England: the way everything works, the cleanliness, the buildings, the prices. We were impressed by the changes in China: Mark now owns a car, has a new flat which is outside of the school grounds and the school has expanded dramatically. Meanwhile there are too many people in China with degrees so getting a job as a teacher now requires a ‘surcharge’.
I introduced Mark and his colleague to real ale and we left them tottering into the distance to get the bus back to their ‘host family’. Mark’s  colleague was awed by the number of single parent families in the country, awed that so many of them were female led, and amazed that most of the host families were from this category.
We sailed for Spain the next day and for the first time ever we took the expensive ferry all the way to Santander. It is a beautiful port: the very best ferry port I have ever entered and, to complete the experience, a three-masted sailing boat followed us into the bay.
 Our first view of the north-western coast of Spain was very positive, then we dipped down to Olvideo and encountered a frenetic featureless city in which we were swiftly lost. We stopped outside a large hotel to consult the map: where else could we go at seven o’clock at night? In the event nowhere. When I turned the ignition key the engine did not turn. We spent the next few hours finding a mechanic then jump-starting the van so that we could sleep in the football stadium car park nearby. We had a good evening though. The potato plus menu in a restaurant called Papakins was great, as was the wine consumed from a pint glass!
Next morning the mechanic came to jump-start us again. We drove to his garage where he replaced the battery and its cables for a mere 200 Euros! We reached our goal, a village called Ordes roughly halfway between Santiago and A Corunya at about seven in the evening, exactly the same time that my friend and Spanish conversationist arrived there – another coincidence.
Jacobo and Patricia showed us the cities of A Corunya and Santiago and took us to a typical lunch at Jacobo’s parent’s huerto (vegetable garden). We had a great time and will treasure memories of Galicia despite the rain and the Pope’s visit.
It’s a long way from Galicia to our own place in Aragon. We passed through Castilla y Leon, Rioja, and Navarra to get there. We took overnight stays in two Spanish villages along the way (one called Carrion!) and visited the cathedral of Leon which must have some of the best stained glass in the world and the cathedral of Burgos which happens to be my favourite in the world: lightness, whiteness, highness – you name it.
On the road from Zaragoza to our Spanish home I experienced the first blow-out of my life. Blam went the nearside rear tyre in a deafening explosion followed by an inexplicable clanking and shattering vibration. I pulled into the side of a very fast road having no idea what had happened. One glance at the gaping, wire-shrouded hole in my rear tyre convinced me that I had to put on our dubious spare wheel. Still, we were lucky: it could have been a front tyre; I could have been surrounded by traffic.
We finally reached our village of La Fresneda at about five o’clock, seven days after leaving Stow on the Wold. Here we were greeted by friendly locals in the bar and friendly waiters in the local restaurant. It’s nice to be home. Travel does broaden the mind – but it also lightens the purse.


  1. I'd love to visit China someday. Lots of interesting people on my course (I'm an Ox student and native) come from there, and what little I know of its culture fascinates me.

  2. Or in this particular case you could also say that travelling is mind blowing. And you were surly reminded of that your home is your castle. Or as an Englishman famously said:Travel in peril and repent at leisure. I wish a great fiesta!


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