Letter from the EU No 2

Dear Friends.

I thought it was time for a catch up.  We have been travelling for nearly 3 weeks now in Eric our lovely motorhome.  Eric has looked after us well though we got into a bit of a scrape in a Lidl when we caught the roof with the roof of a parking place.  No harm done just a little embarrassment.  We have travelled down through France into the North of Spain and then down through Portugal.

Having entered Spain from France with not much of a fanfare, we had set our route on non-toll roads and we had a couple of lovely days in San Sebastian also known as Donostia in Basque. We wild camped in Leon for a night and decided to press on to Santiago de Compostela which was an important stop in Galicia for me.  We had booked 3 days in a campsite in the city.

Santiago de Compostela is the city of my birth.  I have few memories of that place, given I was an infant when my family left, but I do have some pictures in my head from visits there and I cling to them.  Our memories are part of what makes us who we are.  They keep our feet on the ground and our memories of love comfort our hearts and give strength to us in times of our greatest need.

camino

As we got closer to the city, we could see from the motorhome more and more pilgrims walking along El Camino, the walk of Saint James.  They strode along the paths mostly alone, easily recognisable in the big waterproof hooded capes over their bodies and rucksacks and carrying the sticks. Some had the traditional tall stick to help them along the way, whilst some used the more up to date Nordic walking sticks.  I wondered with each pilgrim what their story was.  Why were they alone on a track on a rainy day in November?  What were they looking for?   There were so many more walkers than I expected to see.  I imagined a multitude of personal lives, all strangers but united by their common physical goal but with different spiritual agendas.  Were these people on their lone walk driven by grief or love?  A businessman escaping the rat-race.  A woman looking to lay down the burden of a painful divorce.  A priest drained by the lives of pain of his flock seeking a reaffirmation of his faith, a spiritual rebirth to excite and restore his weary jaded bones so he had something left to share out. A vane politician, a puffed-up peacock in all the gear, doing something interesting he could write about in his memoirs to make him look good.  A woman determined to challenge herself physically as she never had before. A young man of the Instagram Generation taking photos and selfies at each marker which displays the shell, the symbol that the pilgrims follow.

The city sprawled ahead of us and we found our way to the campsite and without further ado walked to the old town and the Cathedral.  As soon as saw the stone arches and cobbled streets of the old town, it all felt hugely familiar. I was delighted to recognise one of the roads and a café in front of the Alameda (park) which I think was there when my grandmother was alive.  We ate mussels and drank wine there as the barmen chattered to each other animatedly moaning about their families.

The following day, we set off to look for the street where I was born.  As we walked down a road, I glanced around and knew I had been there before. It was the market and being a Saturday morning we went to have a look.  The market thronged with colourful loud chattering Gallegos.  It is made up of corridors with stalls on each side.  Each corridor was devoted to a theme.  Fish, Meat, Vegetables.  Women barked out questions to the fishmongers and men stood in the middle chattering to each other about football.  Our mouths watered as we strolled through the crowds and smelled the freshness of all the produce.  The octopus red and plump, the fish shining and bright eyed, the cheeses creamy and delicious, the bread and cake stall surrounded by excited children waiting to choose a bun.

market

 

Part of my DNA belongs in this market.  My Grandmother, my Abuela, brought up my mother and aunt alone and made her living by trading in Padron Peppers, buying them from the farmers coming in from the country and doing deals with the stall holders.   Not so much city trader but definitely trading in a city.  It helped her pay the bills and put food on the table at a time when being a woman alone was not easy.

We were delighted, on turning the corner to find an entire hallway with bars and kitchens, and signs inviting people to buy their produce from the market, and have it cooked by these fine chefs.  There were many people taking up the offer, big family groups and groups of twenty somethings crowded around the tables eating clams and drinking wine and beer.

I felt slightly sad that for various reasons we had grown so separate from this city, from this region having moved to the UK.  I guess there was no internet and no Facebook, no cheap flights, so families that migrated were less able to keep their links intact as the older generations died.  I vowed that I would spend some time tracking down family members and arrange a longer trip to visit them.

The market and the memories I had tapped into were almost more exciting than finding the house of my birth which, with a little whatsapping with my brother, I finally found.  I was slightly disappointed to realise the front façade had been changed, as, in my imagination I could still see my Grandmothers front balcony stuffed full of colourful flowers in pots.

We topped off the day with a visit to the inside of the cathedral. Now, I will just have to come back because there is a massive renovation going on so much of the inside is covered in scaffold though you can still visit the apostle’s crypt.  The pilgrims were numerous here as traditionally they end their walk embracing the reputed remains of Saint James of the city title.

st james

The other great tradition was the Botafumeiro which is basically a giant incense burner which priests swing over the heads of the congregation on the end of a rope.  I saw it as a child and stood looking at the altar and closed my eyes so I could conjure up the smell and the sounds in my mind.  The Botafumeiro cannot operate whilst the renovation is going on, so a revisit is on the cards in the next couple of years.

The most interesting aspect of the city is the sounds.  Gallegos talk loudly, laugh together loudly.  When I was growing up in the UK, my friends used to ask me what I was arguing with my mother about in Spanish.  I didn’t know what they were talking about.  We weren’t arguing we were just talking. This entire city was filled with people just talking.

cathedral

I felt the history of my Abuela in this place of my birth as we strolled through the Alameda and admired the benches and fountains which I recognised from my childhood.  I am a child of Europe, it lives in me and is an important part of what made me.   This makes me happy.

@redalphababe

Letter from the EU No 1

Dear Friends,

This is our 7th day since we set off from Chester for some new experiences around the EU27 whilst we have the flexibility and chance to do so. Other Half (from hereon in known as OH) bought a motorhome and persuaded me to go out of my comfort zone and set off travelling in a very cramped space for a while. We must work on the move, but we can still do this for now. As you know I have been campaigning for a Peoples Vote and to remain in the EU and was reluctant to commit to this, but I am running out of energy and thought some inspiring distractions might be just the thing to revive my strength. OH insisted I name the motorhome, I think he thought, like a cute dog or pig or something, I would be more attached to it if it had a name, so I christened our 15-year-old Rapido motorhome Eric. We lived on a smallholding for twenty years and had various forays with livestock and anything we named always became a pet and lived until their old age in total splendour under our care.

We wanted to leave the UK before the 31st October just in case there were issues if Boris Johnson had got his way either with or without a deal so on Thursday 24th off we went. I think I need to confess to you my foolishness the day before our planned leaving date which nearly derailed the whole thing. I have been trying to learn how to ride a bike. Yes, I know. For reasons which I won’t go into here, I just never got a bike when I was a kid. I have managed my whole life without feeling I missed out but OH encouraged me to give it a go as it would make things easier if we could cycle from campsites to points of interest etc.

Anyway, on the eve of our departure I was trying to cycle to the motorhome and somehow despite going incredibly slowly I braked too hard and managed to fall like a ridiculous sack of potatoes over and to the side head-first.  I still don’t know how I did it, but I looked like an idiot.  As I fell down, I banged my head, broke my new glasses which promptly put a massive gash on my head.  4 hours later I came out of A& E with several stitches above my eye. Favourite Son who is currently away travelling himself, said “Mum, you will do anything to get out of going in a caravan”. OH growled “It’s not a caravan, it’s a luxury Motorhome”.  Do you think motorhomes are a bit metropolitan elite?  The favoured practice of using other facilities wherever you can instead of the toilet in the vehicle reminds me of when I was a little child and lived in a house with an outside toilet.

Somehow, (unlike Boris Johnson as it turns out) we still managed to leave as planned the following morning for Folkestone then the channel tunnel for France albeit with my old glasses perched on my nose.  I had a conversation with a local musician passing by who stopped to admire Eric and immediately gave me lots of useful advice having used many motorhomes when touring.  I think there is a community out there.  The rule of the road seems to be to wave to other motorhomers.  I have never had so many waves since the days when I drove around in an ancient Alfa Romeo Spider, an instant head turner.

I have to say, although it’s only been a week, on the whole living in a small space has been much easier to deal with than I expected.  It’s just like being in a very small hotel room.  We have managed not to completely fall out or trip over each other and there has been only a little tiny bit of hissing and snapping from me.  We realised quickly organisation is everything and I am so bad at the tidiness thing, but you really do have to put things away immediately.  On the nights we are in campsites with facilities we have made use of the washing and power facilities and planned for the nights of wild camping by making sure our devices are charged on route.  If you are ever doing this, a couple of apps are useful, Park4Night where people post good places to stop with reviews and comments and the ACSI app which also gives you discounts in the off season at their campsites if you join.  How did people do this before internet existed?  It almost feels like cheating to be looking every night to find a spot to camp at the following night. 

We had a little mishap with a kerb when leaving the petrol station at one point and poor old Eric has a little scratch at the bottom ofthe door.  If bad news comes in threes, only one more mishap to go, or perhaps I can count the announcement of a general election as number three.

Anyway, here we are on night 7. We have got as far as a beautiful spot called L’Aiguillon-sur-Mer as a stopover on the way to Bordeaux.  The beaches are beautiful here.  My impressions of France so far have been to wonder with awe at the amount of space here. Wide roads and huge fields. We have gone through flat country all the way so far.  We were in a public park with a stunning quadrant of silver birches in rows, which reminded me of my row of silver birches in our old garden we made in Mid Wales now hopefully as tall and strong and being enjoyed by the current owners. 

We have seen quite a lot of wildlife, in particular some stunning birds, a couple of which I have managed to photograph today so I can identify them.  Also, I have been amazed at how much industry there is.  Factories and manufacturing plants, engineering firms and machinery plants galore in virtually every town we go past. We have stayed away from motorways where we can so we can get a true flavour of the landscape and I have been impressed.  The other observation from the towns and cities we have stopped in has been the great care shown for the look of things.  Even supermarkets are carefully designed and arranged with little design touches in the lighting etc.  The public spaces in Nantes where immaculately presented.  I am looking forward to a few days around Bordeaux to explore the area a little as I expect more of the same and hopefully, we can take in some art (and wine) too.

I guess I can’t end this letter without broaching the question of politics back home.  I am still doing my twitter accounts though this first week away, I hope you can forgive me, but I have taken a little step back as a mini holiday.  I was shocked and disappointed that Labour decidedto go for a general election after members of the shadow cabinet stood on thatstage on Saturday 19th October in London and, as my friend described it, kissed our arses.  They promised they would support a referendum, that we inspired them to fight, but here we are instead, worrying about a general election.  I guess that was taken out of our hands and it’s hard not to be angry. 

But as always, we must face things as they are.  There is only one question for me which is important when deciding on tactical voting, well two really.  What is the candidate’s personal pledge on Brexit and how do we keep the pro Brexiters out of the seat?  That’s the most important thing, get the Remain Candidate in, keep the Brexit-at-all-Costs candidate out regardless of party politics.  Some of us may have to hold our noses and set aside our anger and irritation with politicians who promised us support but let us down at the 11th hour.  

At the end of the day we were hampered by 19 labour MPs and umpteen daft Tory MPs absolutely determined to ignore the Remain movement and actual facts.  Well I have news for them, there was a million of us on the streets of London on the 19th of October.  We did that.  We organised that.  We have a nationwide network of seasoned and now very experienced activists, passionate about our cause.  We have been up against it from the start but let’s see what we can achieve with a massive effort to get our vote out, get the young vote registered and out and get Remain or Pro Peoples Vote MPs into the house of commons speaking for the growing remain majority in the UK.  Remember, like my silly bicycle tumble at the start of this trip, when we started this #Remain journey together, we were laughed at.  Nobody is laughing at us now as on this Halloween we celebrate our THIRD Not-Leaving-the-EU Day within the last 12 months.  Happy Not Leaving the EU day everybody. 

Yours

@redalphababe