Amanda’s Birthday Lunch

Today was Amanda's birthday. I'm not going to disclose how many years she's now got on the clock, primarily because it would be rude, but also because she's always six months behind the same anniversary of my birth.

When we've been back in England, and I've enquired as to what she'd like to do for her birthday, she has almost always said 'go to the coast' and this year was no exception.

This year, however, we're a forty minute drive from the sensational Galician coastline with its secluded coves, golden untouched sands, and a whole host of brilliant little restaurants which at least equal the experience of Fish & Chips while being attacked by seagulls on Whitby Harbour.

It was warm enough, but the sunshine hadn't quite made it through the clouds for our walk on the beach, which preceded a lunch at a little bar/restaurant/hotel five minutes down the coast from the now famous As Catedras beach (due to popularity soon to be restricted to ticket only access in the summer months).

After deciding that the tide was coming, and not wishing to spend the afternoon trapped waist deep in a rocky cave,  in we retreated to La Yenka, a place we'd visited a few times and been amazed at the never ending procession of free, and top class, tapas that accompanied a coffee or a glass of coke.


The set menu was just €12.50 each for three courses, bread, coffee and a drink of your choice. It turned out to be stunning value.

My beer was big enough to last the meal, and Amanda got an empty glass and a bottle of wine from which she could take as much or little as she liked, it ended up being two glass fulls for the birthday girl.

From a choice of six starters and six mains Amanda selected Cod Potage and Lamb, and I plumped for Seafood Soup and the Dorada, a fish I've often seen on fish counters but never tried.

We were each served a tureen of our chosen starter with a ladle and a bowl and could simply eat our fill, an alien concept for a British restaurant but common practice in Galicia.


The mains were equally generous, and we both finished with  the TripAdvisor patron recommended Cheese Cake, which while plain was delicious..



We sat by the window and watched the waves roll in, and the sunshine try its best to peak out from behind the clouds, to give Amanda the dream birthday lunch, perhaps with the exception of the company!

In my defence I had enquired as to whether Enrique Iglesias would like to join us, but sadly he had a prior engagement!

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A Mountain of Eggs

Last weekend saw great excitement. least what passes for great excitement in Galicia.

On Friday we became 'piggy in the middle' between two local neighbours as they vie to get us to heed their horticultural advice. As an Englishman's home is his castle, a Galician's garden is his 'huerta'. There is a local guy with a tractor who, for a paltry €15, will drive onto your land and deep plough you and area ready for planting your potatoes and other staple Galician crops. He saves hours of digging or rotivating.

We've had a small patch turned over, roughly two hundred square metres, about ten times the size of our old garden in the UK and about twice the size of the average UK allotment. Already Amanda is getting cold feet about the work involved in keeping it weeded, watered and fertilised.


The ploughing passed without controversy, but now we have two neighbours giving us contradictory advice on what to plant, how to plant it, and when we should plant it. The only thing that they agree on is 'potatoes, but not yet'. I've a feeling that we aren't going to satisfy both parties, so now we have the tough decision of who will be the least offended by us ignoring their oracle.

On Saturday we crammed two events into one night, and spend Sunday and Monday recovering.

EggsFirst up Rosa and Neil invited us to attend the 'eggs' festival at the community centre just outside Pontenova on the Vegadeo road. I've been there before, to celebrate the humble chestnut, but this was Amanda's first time. The building is a bit of a TARDIS, small on the outside but massive inside, although not really needed on this occasion as there were only twenty or so of us.

I'm not sure why the theme was eggs but there does seem to be a lot of them about. We've currently got thirty in the fridge as people are giving them to us faster than we can eat them, and it is just rude to refuse, because you can guarantee that when we do want some, there won't be any on offer.

We didn't really know what to expect and we were happy for a simple meal of fried potatoes and vegetables, slightly more solid than 'bubble and squeak', chorizo (for the non-vegetarians) and mountains of fried eggs. The table was full of bottles of booze to which you help yourself. Hunks of cheese and knives followed the fry-up, and then some fresh fruit in a thin yoghurt. Finally, out came the chupitos, half a dozen bottles of different licors, mostly decanted into Cadhu bottles. Once again it was help-yourself, and by midnight Neil and I were both already a bit worse for wear.

The highlight of the night was to be the big music fiesta in Taramundi where the live acts were scheduled to start at 11:30. When we got there at 12:30 the disco was in full swing. The only way to access the marquee was to duck underneath the stage, the trailer section of an articulated lorry, no Health and Safety with their hazard tape and hi-viz jackets here. Between dreadful formulaic Euro-Pop tracks there was an announcement that the first live band were running 90 minutes late. I'm not sure how the first band can be 90 minutes late, especially as they are from a village no more than 5km away, I guess it is a Spanish thing.

When they eventually took to the stage it was dreadful formulaic Euro-Pop, but we, and about 2,000 others at this free festival were drinking our beer and waiting for the main act 'Paris de Noia' who are booked for every weekend for the next two years. With a forward order book they had to be pretty good.

The support act obviously liked playing to a big crowd and there was no shifting them as they banged out just over two hours of very similar sounding 'music' lapped up by the local Spanish, many of them sat around carrier bags of their own alcohol (some next to the official bars) getting slowly plastered through their own 'botellon'. Then at 3am the curtains lifted on the second stage and Paris de Noia sprung into action, initially by slaughtering The Undertones, Teenage Kicks.


They then reverted to type with track after track of dreadful formulaic, if slightly more professional, Euro-Pop. The audience, perhaps with the exception of Amanda, Neil and myself, lapped it up. Old and young, drunk and sober, Galician and Asturian, they all loved it. There was no trouble, not a policeman in sight, and just after three-thirty we'd decided that we were too cold, and old, and as every track sounded like the last, we called it a night and left the party in full swing.

It is a twenty minute drive home from Taramundi and as we got out of the car you could still just hear the music coming down the Turia valley, creeping past A Pontenova, and up towards us up the Eo valley.

Thank goodness that once in the house the double glazing kept the dreadful formulaic Euro-pop out of our ears, and so we could start to sleep off the nights excesses.

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The Safest Car In The World

Should you choose to embrace 'challenge' in your life there are many opportunities to push yourself up to, and sometimes beyond, your limits. Climbing Mount Everest, walking the length of the Amazon, swimming the English Channel, or using your nose to push a marble from Lands End to John O'Groats, are all great example of how mankind seeks to conquer adversity.

I believe that we may have found another, previously undocumented life challenge, that must rank amongst these other great feats.

I'm willing to try anything once... except Morris Dancing and watching 'Big Brother', but permanently importing a car into Spain is not something that I'd recommend, in fact I'd go as far as to actively discourage it.

After returning the big red van to the UK, it having served its' purpose admirably (excusing the blown intercooler hose), we needed a car to bring ourselves, our remaining possessions, and Bonita back to Spain. You may remember that we purchased the left hand drive Xena the Zafira with the intention of re-registering her, and keeping her for a couple of years before upgrading to a 4x4.

I'm sure that it doesn't really need to be this difficult.

We knew we'd have to use a solicitor, we knew that there would be taxes to pay (so much for free movement of people and goods within the European Union), and we knew that it would take a while. But we'd not been prepared for over two months of aggravation.

What it has meant is that we must have the safest car in the World. Xena is now the proud holder of a valid Portuguese safety certificate (obtained by the previous owner), a UK MoT until May '15 and now a Spanish ITV Test until May '16. Safe in three countries, it's a good job that it can't fail a test due to the horrendous, head-ache inducing, road noise from a couple of low-profile tyres criminally fitted to the rear axle by the previous owner.

In the first week of January, we innocently sat in front of our solicitor. After handing over all the necessary paperwork and I asked, 'how long is this likely to take?'. Our legal expert assured me that she'd done this before, and it normally takes ten days from her submitting the paperwork. I was quite impressed, but also it appears with 20:20 hindsight, quite naive.

There were several hoops to jump through. First we paid our taxes, based on one percent of some ridiculously inflated book value of Xena, then we paid an engineer to certify that the car is a standard European model, and attended a thorough ITV test which included taking umpteen measurements of the car to make sure that it matched the technical specification and hadn't grown or shrunk in the ten years since it rolled off the production line.

The ITV required two trips to Foz the location of our closest test centre (a 100km round trip up the coast), one for the test and the second a few days later to pick up the paperwork, which for some reason they cannot post. We were already racking up quite a bill.

And then we waited...and waited...and waited.

A call from the solicitor brought bad and surprising news. Apparently our application had been rejected. Not because there was a problem with the car, not because we'd not paid all our taxes, and not because of any issues with the test. The problem was that my Spanish identity number (NIE) certificate was 'too old'. The odd thing is, there is no end date on an NIE certificate, they don't expire!To move us from the impasse we had to drive to the police station in Lugo and complete

the paperwork requesting a certificate to say that I had a valid NIE certificate. Sounds ludicrous doesn't it?

The best of it is that we had to pay (7 euros) and it would take three days to process it and issue the paperwork. Three days later we drove the 100km round trip to Lugo, for the second time in a week, to collect a bill, to take to a bank, to get a receipt, to take back to the police, to collect the document. All that we had to do now was get an electronic copy to our solicitor to forward to the Director of Trafico, who would issue us the number plate the following morning.

And then we waited...and waited...and waited.

It turned out that the Director of Trafico wasn't in the mood to play ball!

Two days after we should have had the number plate we contacted the solicitor. We'd been rejected again, this time because we'd not submitted the original NIE document. We'd sent a colour copy, but they claimed they needed the original. Our solicitor had then successfully argued that this was nonsense and had resubmitted guaranteeing us that we'd get it the following working day.

We waited...and waited.

In the afternoon of the following working day we called. Rejected again. This time because the electronic application had been submitted with 'large family car' box ticked rather than 'small family car'. We had to wait another twenty-four hours before it could be resubmitted. Another day passed and we were rejected again, on another technicality, which now even the solicitor couldn't explain.

All credit to our by now embattled and embarrassed solicitor. She offered to lend us her personal car as she was concerned that we were driving without insurance (over 90 days after we left the UK), or alternatively she volunteered to pay for our car hire.

Finally, over two months after being told it would take ten days, we got our Spanish number plates and permanently exported Xena to Spain.

It had cost us; 750€ in taxes, a €200 engineers report, a 90€ ITV, 200€ in solicitors fees, a 60€ tank of diesel for two trips to Foz and two trips to Lugo, and five wasted half days on a Galician paper chase.

Insuring an imported car was simpler, and cheaper, than I'd suspected and thanks the very persistent Fernando to Linea Directa, who must have spent our premium in phone calls chasing our business and now we're now fully covered.


Now twelve hundred euros lighter in the pocket we have the new plates and most of the paperwork. Sadly the new registration contains a 'Z' making the car resemble an IRA getaway car (for those of you who know about UK car registrations), but beggars can't be choosers.

Xena is now officially a Spanish citizen, which is more than can be said for Amanda and I, but that is a story for another day. I have a feeling that both Morris dancing and 'Big Brother' may be more pleasurable than the bureaucracy involved in getting our residency papers.

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Braving the Cold for Carnaval

Stephen and Kay had taken pity on me as I was on poorly cat sitting duty, with Amanda back in the UK for her brothers wedding. They'd invited me to accompany them on a trip to Ribadeo to witness Carnaval, and as I gladly accepted the offer of company I was fearing the worst.

The last 'procession' event that we'd attended was the arrival of the Three Kings in A Pontenova in January which was somewhat of an anti-climax as a single small flat-bed van did three laps of the town at break-neck speed while the three kings held on with white knuckles, expect the blacked-up lady 'king' who held on with blacked-up knuckles.

As I accepted the invite I was expecting a couple of tractors and a donkey, and perhaps a bit of tinsel, and then we could retire to the warmth of one of Ribadeo's many cafes for a nice cup of coffee and perhaps some tapas.

It was scheduled to start at 5pm and as we arrived 'on the dot', Ribadeo was heaving. The streets were lined with people and in the distance we could see the start of the procession heading our way, led by a band of a dozen or so musicians.

The whole procession took an hour and forty minutes to pass us and must have contained the entire population of Ribadeo and their friends from neighbouring villages.

It was most impressive, gave us a chuckle (especially the straight-legged walking Lego men who looked like they'd had a 'toilet accident'), and despite the cold it did manage to register quite highly on the 'we were entertained' scale.

I liked; the Pirates (including the guy with a stepladder lifting the bunting so that the mast didn't snag), kids in picture frames illustrating all of Ribadeo's festivals, the ambulance and medics operating on a patient who was smoking a cigarette, little red riding hood and the big bad wolf, and the 'Priscilla Queen of the Desert' camp float.






As the cold started to bite we retired to the promised cafe for a warm and a coffee or three.

Shame Amanda missed it, but there's always next year.


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What goes bang in the Galician night?

It was just after midnight last Friday as the three of us settled into bed, Bonita assuming her ever-present role as a highly effective feline contraceptive, stretched between us and condemning Amanda and I each to our own peripheral eight inches of mattress. The fire was raked and safe, the lights were off, and the TV was playing the third disc of a thirty-three disc box set of 'Homicide:Life on the Streets' when we heard a dull, but distant, bang.

I went upstairs to investigate (our barn is upside down) with the full expectation that a bottle had fallen off a worktop onto the floor, concerned that we'd acquired a poltergiest, or at a stretch, that we'd been broken into. But there was nothing to discover and after a few seconds looking around I went back to the DVD and we thought nothing else of it. Nothing else until the following morning.

Wall_Collapse_2015smallAfter four days of incessant rain I'd decided to brave the drizzle and do some outdoor work, so togged up in my scruffs I headed to the big house to get some tools and prioritise the days tasks.

As I passed the entrance to the bread-oven house I was stopped in my tracks. The area that Amanda and I had painstakingly cleared was again full of rubble and clay. Seemingly the rain had collapsed a high wall, newly exposed to the elements after being stripped of thirty years of protective ivy. 'So that was the bang', I muttered to myself as the days labouring priority suddenly changed to moving a couple of tonnes of stone and cleaning a load of soggy yellow clay.

I tutted to myself, cursed under my breath, decided what I'd need from the tool store and continued towards the big house. But as I approached the front door I was greeted by the strangest of buzzing noises. I looked for wasps, birds and electrical shorts but eventually my eyes rested on the water meter which was spinning uncontrollably, almost too fast to see with the human eye. 'That's not right', I thought.

Roof_Hole_2015smallI turned off the stop tap by the meter and started the search for what must have been a collossal leak.

It turned out to be in the old milking stalls area, the part of the old house closest to the barn. And here I found a possible second reason for the previous nights big bang.

A two metre square hole had appeared in the roof and a large pile of slates and wood had descended two storeys, rupturing a water pipe on their journey, and creating a water feature where no water feature should be.

What was going to be a nice day pottering  around and preparing for the impending construction jobs had turned into a day of hard labour, of shovelling detritus, and of using tarpaulins to protect ancient beams now newly exposed to the elements.

And we're still no wiser as to which of these disturbed our Friday night DVD watching.

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