A Travellerspoint blog

November 2009

Look Up and Remind Yourself Where You Are

The difference between remembering that I LIVE in London and that I live IN LONDON.

sunny 11 °C

I’ve been back from Madrid for a couple weeks now, and have fallen back into the daily routine of work and home life. I was quite tired on returning from Madrid, and the scramble of catching up with what I had missed on my week away from work along with the nightly sessions organising my photos and writing up my five blog entries on my trip kept me busy.

This week has been more of the same - catching up on TV programmes missed while I was away (Flashforward and the new series of Top Gear mostly), doing planning for upcoming Christmas shin-digs and dinner parties, doing laundry, shopping for new shoes after my fall in Sintra along with the constant buzz of work. All in all, it is a lot like life.

In this daily rush of life, it is often easy to forget where I am. I don’t mean that in any sort of amnesiac sort of way. I am not walking around wondering to myself where I am, how I got here, what my name is and why I am covered in the blood of another man. (That would make a good opening for a short story or novel - anyone want to run with that?).

Rather, I mean that life gets you wrapped up so much in its minutiae that you miss the bigger picture. I get so focused on LIVING in London that I forget I am living IN LONDON.

Every once in a while though, I get pulled out of the fog of daily life to remember what I am living in another country and actually quite giddy about that. A recent event was last weekend. On my search for new shoes, I went down with my flatmate to the area around Covent Garden, where there is a number of outdoor shops all within a two block radius. The outdoor shop district, if you will. Much like the hammock district in Cypress Creek from the Simpsons.

Hank Scorpio: Uh, hi, Homer. What can I do for you?
Homer: Sir, I need to know where I can get some business hammocks.
Hank Scorpio: Hammocks? My goodness, what an idea. Why didn't I think of that? Hammocks! Homer, there's four places. There's the Hammock Hut, that's on third.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Hank Scorpio: There's Hammocks-R-Us, that's on third too. You got Put-Your-Butt-There.
Homer: Mm-Hmm.
Hank Scorpio: That's on third. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot... Matter of fact, they're all in the same complex; it's the hammock complex on third.
Homer: Oh, the hammock district!
Hank Scorpio: That's right.

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After shopping for shoes (unsuccessfully, unfortunately) and grabbing a coffee, we started the long march home. It was just after four in the afternoon, which sadly now means darkness has fallen, and we were walking up Bow Street when I looked up.

There, lit in a beautiful set of lights, was the Royal Opera House. All pretty and white and Greek revival with its columns. Just seeing it suddenly snapped me out of the detail induced fog surrounding shoe styles and threw me up to the 50,000 foot level.

“I live IN LONDON,” I suddenly thought to myself, and smiled.

I, like most of us, I think, spend a lot of time walking around absorbed in my own thoughts. Work deadlines, emails that need to be sent, tomorrow’s Outlook calendar, the shopping list and tonight’s TV schedule are most likely to be found bouncing around in there. Sometimes all it takes to break the spell is to look up and see something you weren’t expecting. Sometimes, like last Saturday, it occurs as a happenstance.

On Friday of this week, I will have been in the UK for a year and a half. 18 months abroad, and London will surpass Ottawa in the “places I have lived the longest” list - now fourth behind Burlington, Ontario, Canada; Toronto, Ontario, Canada and - strangely, perhaps - London, Ontario, Canada, where I went to university. As I approach that anniversary, I like to remind myself of that fact, and force myself to look up.

On Tuesday, after a day down at my office in Surrey, I came back on the train. We pulled into a crowded and noisy Waterloo Station, where it took a good five minutes to shuffle along with the crowd off the platform and through the ticket barriers. Work was rattling around in my head, so I decided to get outside for some fresh air and a reminder of where I am.

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I started my hour long walk home from Waterloo by crossing the Waterloo Bridge, my iPod on shuffle in my ears. About halfway across, the last song ended and the iPod choose its next record. The Theme from Dr. No, aka the James Bond Theme came on. I smiled to myself. Super spies in London, and here I was crossing the Waterloo Bridge, where one of the most James-Bond-like things to ever happen in real life took place, when in 1978, Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov was stabbed by a passerby with a poisoned umbrella while walking across Waterloo Bridge.

Just then, an Aston Martin DBS slunk by across the bridge, the car that James Bond himself drove in Casino Royale and Quatum of Solace.

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Walking across Waterloo Bridge, the Parliament buildings and the London Eye in the background, with the James Bond Theme playing in my ears and perhaps even Mr. Bond himself driving by. Yup, I’m living IN LONDON alright.

Posted by GregW 03:00 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged living_abroad migration_experiences migration_philosophy Comments (0)

How to Exchange a Canadian Driver's License for UK License

A practical guide to for those Canadians who are taking up residency in the UK on what to expect when going through the process of getting a UK license.

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If you are planning on moving to the UK from Canada for more than a year, and are planning on driving a car, then you will need to exchange your Canadian license (issued by your home province) for a UK one. I’m going through the process of accomplishing that now, and have found that information I find on the process is either confusing or incomplete. With this blog entry, I hope to detail what I have found out about the process, so others may benefit in the future.

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That being said, I am sure others can add to the information in the blog. If you have some information to provide, or a correction, please leave it in the comments. I’ll update the blog accordingly.

Where am I in the process? I now have my full UK drivers license including the ability to drive a manual. This involved exchanging my license for an automatic only license, and then taking a practical driving test on a manual car. I now have a license that allows me to drive manual transmission cars.

What Do You Mean “Canadian License?”

I know, I know... There is no such thing. Licenses in Canada are issued by the provincial transportation authority. In my case, I had an Ontario license. However, the DLVA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) in the UK views all licenses issued from the Canadian provinces the same. Therefore, when I talk in this blog about a Canadian license, I just mean a license issued by a provincial transportation authority in Canada.

Driving On Your Canadian License

So you have arrived in the UK, and still have your BC, Ontario or Quebec license in your wallet. Can you drive? How long to do you have to exchange your license?

Can I Drive A Car with a Canadian License?

Yes. You have up to one year where you can drive a car in the UK on a foreign license. The DVLA website says that “you may drive vehicles up to 3.5 tonnes and with up to eight passenger seats, for up to 12 months from the date of coming to GB,” assuming your license is valid for that period. This applies to both Canadians on working visas now resident in the UK and students studying in the UK.

I Have a Large Truck / Bus License from Canada. Can I drive a Truck or Bus?

No. The DVLA website indicates that you must pass a driving test in Great Britain to be able to drive larger vehicle. In fact, you probably need to take a regular car license driving test as well. The DVLA site says, “Driving test candidates are required to pass a motor car (category B) test first before applying for provisional entitlement for larger vehicles.”

What Happens After One Year?

You can’t drive in the UK legally anymore without getting a UK license.

If I’m Not Planning on Driving, Can I Keep My Canadian License?

For the UK’s point of view, yes. You can swap your license any time up to five (5) years after moving to the UK. You are only allowed to drive on your foreign license for the first year, but if you aren’t planning on driving, you can swap them later.

Living in London, I don’t drive much, so didn’t need my license. I was in the UK for a year and a half before I got around to making the swap, and didn’t have any trouble.

From your home provinces point of view, you’ll have to check with them. Based on this website from the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, looks like you can keep it until you need to renew it, then perhaps you are out of luck. You could do what I did when my license expired and I was in the UK. I flew home and got my photo done.

Do I Need to Make the Switch to a UK license?

Check out the DVLA’s interactive tool on if you need to swap your Canadian license for a UK one, at Can you exchange your driving licence for one issued in Great Britain (GB)?

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Making the Switch

You’ve now determined you want to swap your Canadian license for a UK one.

What Do I Do?

First, you need to get yourself an application form D1. These are available at DVLA offices (find them here) or the Post Office (find them here). If you aren’t handy to a DVLA location or Post Office, I’d ask you what you are doing living in the middle of nowhere. However, in that event, you can order the form online from the DVLA at this website.

You then need to get a passport photo done in colour. These can be done at automated photo booths or in a photography shop. The criteria for the photo can be found on the DVLA website, but any photo that meets the passport guidelines is fine.

You need to provide identification of your identity. Valid forms of ID are listed on this page at the DVLA website, but for most Canadians that means your Canadian passport.

Send the completed form D1, along with your ID, colour photo, Canadian driver’s license and a postal order or cheque for £50 (made out to “DVLA, Swansea”) to DVLA, Swansea, SA99 1BT.

What if I Don’t Want to Mail in My Forms?

NOTE - Since a switch in websites from DirectGov to GOV.UK, I can no longer find details on the Premium Checking Service. I am not aware if this service is still available, or if it has been discontinued. All information on Premium Checking Service may no longer be accurate.

I’m with you here! Given the rotating Royal Mail strikes that seem to constantly be happening, who wants to trust sending your passport via the post. I used the Premium Checking Service, details of which can be found on this ARCHIVED DVLA page.

If you are using a Canadian passport as your ID, you’ll need to go to one of the four DVLA offices that can check these documents. They are in Glasgow, Nottingham, Wimbledon and Swansea (main reception on Longview Road). Click on the name of the location for their address.

You will need to bring all the same items as listed above, save the cheque or postal order. You can pay via debit or credit card at DVLA locations. There is a small fee (£4) in addition to the license fee, for a total of £54. Small price in my mind to pay for the security of getting your passport back at the end of the encounter.

I went to the office in Wimbledon. I was prepared for a long wait at the DVLA, but actually it was quite quick. I showed up at about 8:45 AM, 15 minutes before opening. There was a queue outside the building, and I joined in about tenth place. Upon entering, though, folks taking care of vehicle licenses and folks getting driver’s licenses were sent to separate locations (drivers licenses are on the 1st floor, with vehicle licensing on the ground floor), so I ended up being fourth in queue. You take a number and wait for your number to be called.

After my number was called, a clerk checked over all my forms to ensure completeness. He then took the forms and told me to go and wait in a second room. After another ten minutes or so, a second clerk called me, verified my forms again, handed me back my passport and took my payment (via debit card).

He gave me a receipt and told me it should take three weeks to get my new UK license.

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Do I Need to Get My Photo Signed?

NOTE - Since a switch in websites from DirectGov to GOV.UK, I can no longer find details on the Premium Checking Service. I am not aware if this service is still available, or if it has been discontinued. All information on Premium Checking Service may no longer be accurate.
If you go to the premium checking service, no. The clerk who serves you will verify your identity.

If you are mailing in with your Canadian passport, then no. The DVLA site says that you only need to have your photo signed if you aren’t using the following forms of ID: an up-to-date passport, UK travel document or an EC/EEA identity card (apart from Sweden).

Will I Get My Canadian License Back?

No. The UK will send it back to the relevant authority in Canada.

What if I Need to Drive After Handing in My Canadian License?

NOTE - Since a switch in websites from DirectGov to GOV.UK, I can no longer find details on the Premium Checking Service. I am not aware if this service is still available, or if it has been discontinued. All information on Premium Checking Service may no longer be accurate.
If you get the premium checking service, the receipt that the clerk gives you can be used as proof of being allowed to drive.

If you mail in, I am not sure of the answer. Anyone know the answer?

What if I have a Provisional or Graduated License?

Some provinces now have “graduated licensing” (as an example Ontario).

Can a Canadian exchange a license with less than full driving privileges for a UK one? I don’t know the answer to this, but if you do - please share in the comments and I will update this section.

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Your New License

After you exchange it, you should receive your license in the post. Mine took a little under 3 weeks to arrive, even with Royal Mail’s usual slowness, so I was pleased.

What Does My New UK Driver’s License Allow Me to Do?

My license allows me the following classifications:

  • A - Motorcycles with a power output of up to 33 horsepower (25 kilowatts). This webpage discusses in detail what that means, and this is a list of motorcycles with less than that power.
  • B and BE - Automatic transmission cars, including cars pulling trailers. A “car” is classified as having less than 8 seats and weighing 3500 kg or less.
  • B1 - Three and four wheeled light vehicles, like quadbikes, as long as they are less than 550 kg.
  • GH - Road Rollers and Tracked Vehicles - A “road roller” is what we would call a steam roller. Tracked vehicles are vehicles with tracks instead of wheels. Before you go out and buy a Sherman tank, though, note that the tracked vehicle can’t weigh more than 3500 kg, and the steam roller must be less than 11.69 tonnes. Nor steam powered.

Did You Say Only Automatic Cars? That Doesn’t Appear on My License

Check the back. On the back you will see a codes beside the categories, probably reading “78,70CDN”

70CDN means that the license was exchanged from a Canadian license.

78 means Automatic transmissions only.

For more information on the codes, check out this page Information on driving license codes. The detail is in information pamphlet INS57P, in case the link goes dead.

The UK has Different Licenses for Automatic and Manual Cars?

Yup. Its a point of debate. Some people think that it makes sense, as it keeps drivers who can’t drive a stick from stalling in front of you at roundabouts or rolling back into you at hills. Others think it is another sign of the nanny state that the UK is becoming.

Either way, if you are exchanging a Canadian License, you are going to be able to only drive automatic transmission cars.

I Can Drive A Manual Transmission. Can’t I Just Exchange My Canadian License for a Manual License?

Nope, at least not as far as I’ve been able to determine. The DVLA says that to exchange a Canadian license for a UK Manual license, you need to “prove” that you took your test in a manual car. However, they don’t say what they would accept as proof.

I have been driving manual cars since I was 16, and back when I had my Canadian license, drove manual cars here in the UK. Once I made the switch, though, I would no longer be allowed. I tried to find some way to do a direct exchange. Nothing I read indicated anyone has ever been able to do it, especially seeing as I can drive a manual, but didn't take my license on a manual transmission car.

Those who did take their test on manual transmission cars haven't had much luck either. I have read about people trying to prove it, but none that have. Some have provided letters from the driving examiners that the car was a manual, and the DVLA has rejected that as not being sufficient enough evidence.

Basically, you should be prepared to accept the automatic license, and if you want a manual license, take the test.

To paraphrase The Beatles, “ Baby, you can drive my car, as long as it is an automatic!”

Really, There Is No Way to Get A Manual License?

Apparently some people do it, as this freedom of information act request indicates that in 2008, 7,628 automatic licenses were issues and 2,765 manual license were issued. If anyone out there who has done it can shed light on what documentation you provided, please do!

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What To Do To Get a Manual License

Okay, so you have your new license, but if you are like me, you want more. You want that manual license. Here’s how to go about doing it.

I passed my test in February of 2014. I had to take the test twice due to a fault I made in my first test.

Do I Need a Manual License?

No, as long as you are fine with not being able to drive a manual transmission car. That’s fine if you own your own automatic car. However, if you are looking to rent cars or join a car sharing scheme like Zip Car, you’ll find automatic transmission cars are hard to find and very expensive to rent. Also, if you ever want to buy a car, you’ll have a much greater selection if you can buy a manual. Automatic cars just aren’t that common around here.

Do I Need to Write the Theory Test?

No. The DVLA website itself says “If you want to upgrade within a vehicle category you won’t normally need to take a theory test. For example, if you have a full automatic car licence and you want a manual car licence you won’t have to take a theory test.” The experience of those who have taken the manual test also confirms this.

However, the people working at the DVLA offices don’t always know or understand this, and may tell you that you need to take a theory test. Once they start the process, though, they will find that they are unable to book a theory test for you, as you already have a license, and should then book your manual test.

I personally had not issues booking either my first or second driving test via the phone. In London, it was about six weeks between the day I booked and the first available test.

How Do I Book a Test?

As you don't have a theory test number, you cannot book on line. Instead, you can book by phone or post.

Do I Need To Study or Take Lessons First?

No. You can just go and take your test.

However, those I have talked to who have done this suggested taking a couple driving lessons first. There is a very low pass rate for the test (35%), and many people without the lessons failed their first test.

Taking a few lessons will help you know what to expect from the test, and provide you with some idea of the more esoteric things that could come up on the test.

I personally ended up taking 10 hours of lessons before my first test, and I consider these invaluable. Even as an experienced driver, it was great to have someone take you through what will be on the test and perform some mock tests with you. A professional driving instructor will be able to run a test exactly like an examiner would. Secondly, as I didn't have a car or anyone to go out with, it was good to practice and get used to driving in the UK - specifically dealing with rounadabouts and intersections, which aren't common in Canada.

If you have someone to practice with, you could probably do a couple hours of lessons, and then maybe one or two mock tests and not do as many hours.

What If I Want To Practice In A Manual Before My Test?

Your automatic license is similar to a UK provisional license for manuals. Therefore, you can drive a manual transmission car if you have the L Learner Plates on, and are riding with a fully licensed UK driver over the age of 21. Note that the driver needs to have a full UK license, not an international license.

What is the Test Like?

It is a full driving test. The test is not just to test your ability to drive a manual transmission. It is a full driving test, and you will have to do all the things that someone who is getting their license for the first time. Even though you have a full license for automatics already, you'll still need to prove you can drive a car.

The test is about 45 minutes long, including 10 minutes of independent drivings (where they will ask you to follow signs to a destination, or give you multiple directions to follow (e.g. turn left at the end of the road, then take the second right, then follow that road until the end, and turn right again)). You will be asked to do one manoeuvre - either a reverse around a corner, three-point-turn or parallel park; and potentially an emergency stop. Before you start away, you'll be asked to read a license plate (registration plate) from a distance to test your eyesight. You'll also be asked some questions about the car (the "show-me / tell-me") like "how do you turn on your fog lights, and when would you use them?" or "show me where the brake fluid is, and how do you check it?"

You will be marked on your actions as a minor, serious or dangerous fault. You can have less than 15 minor faults (things like checking mirrors enough or signalling a turn too late). If you have any serious or dangerous fault, you will fail.

The results will be given to you immediately after the exam ends. If you pass, you will be given a pass certificate that you can use as proof to drive a manual car. The instructor will take your license and a new license will be posted to you.

If you fail, you can continue to drive an automatic transmission car without issue, and continue to drive a manual car with L-plates and a licensed driver. You can book another test immediately, though need to have at least 10 days between your first test and your second.

See more here from the gov.uk website.

Personally, I failed my first test with one serious fault - entering a roundabout in the wrong lane (entered in the left lane when I was making a right turn). Even though I negotiated with roundabout without issue and did not impede any other cars progress, it was still a potentially dangerous situation, which is why I failed. I passed the second test with only 4 minor faults. As stated above, I felt that the driving lessons and mock tests I took with a professional instructor were very valuable in having a successful test.

Where’d This Information Come From?

The Direct.gov and DVLA websites, as well as DVLA document INF38 for the most part, plus my own experiences, and information from the internet from forums like Canuckabroad and Thorntree.

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Can I Use My Own Car for the Test?

Yes. Alejandro Erickson details the steps to do this in his blog entry. The key thing is being insured for the test. You can get provisional insurance for the test, and there are companies which provide this provisional insurance. Note that

Insurance

Getting Insurance

When you get a new license - whether the first exchanged automatic license, or passing the test for a full manual license, you are considered a new driver for insurance purposes. As one commenter says, "When you pass a test in the UK, the new license issued is only valid from the day you passed the test, so your past experience, on an automatic full UK license or from a Canadian license, vanishes."

Going Back to Canada

What If I Move Back to Canada?

Heading back to Canada for good and want to get back your license?

http://ukincanada.fco.gov.uk/en/help-for-british-nationals/living-in-canada/canada-uk-driving-licences

If you are moving to live in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, you will be able to exchange a UK licence issued by the DVLA for one issued by these Provinces. For other provinces, If you take up residence in any of these Provinces/Territories, you will be required to take a written test and a practical road test.

Any Other Questions?

Please feel free to post any other questions in the comments. I will attempt to answer them, and potentially add them to the test of the blog if they would assist others.

Update History
22 Nov 2009 - Initial Version
25 Nov 2009 - Added information on driving manual as a provisional driver with automatic license
11 Nov 2012 - Added information on insurance, booking test (clarified cannot be online), information on exchanging if you return to Canada, and note of Premium Checking Service to indicate I am not sure if the service is still available.
12 Feb 2014 - Updated with a few points on the manual test
26 Oct 2014 - Updated with points from Alejandro Erickson's experience - http://alejandroerickson.com/home/blog/blog.php?entry=22

Posted by GregW 14:33 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged tips_and_tricks migration_experiences Comments (86)

The Grand Tourer Hits Madrid

Royal palaces, epic (though recent) Cathedrals, crystal palaces not in London, (not so) cubist squares, angled buildings, NHL on the TV, a small river, where bulls come to die and lobsters come to be eaten and finally watching rugby in an Irish pub.

sunny 15 °C
View Iberia '09 on GregW's travel map.

Hopping off the train from Salamanca, the grand tour of Iberia continues (and eventually ends) in Madrid.

Madrid is the capital of Spain, and its largest city as well. In fact, Madrid is the third largest city Europe (behind London and Berlin) and fourth largest metropolitan area in Europe (behind London, Paris and Istanbul - though that’s only really half in Europe).

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Madrid is situated on the large central plain of Spain, and is situated at 667 metres above sea level (2188 ft). Not enough that I found myself puffing walking up and down stairs (as I did in Denver), but enough that I noticed that two pints was enough to give me a touch of the wobbles. I’m a cheap drunk in Madrid.

Since the middle ages, the symbol of the city has been a bear feasting on fruit from a strawberry tree, due to the prevalence of both bears and strawberry trees in the area. Other than this statue and various coats of arms, I didn’t see any bears when I was there. Perhaps they have moved out to the suburbs.

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Like Salamanca, Madrid is built around a main square (Plaza Mayor), though Madrid stretches out a lot farther from its central square than Salamanca does. Madrid is at the geographic centre of Spain, so I suppose that means that Plaza Mayor is the exact centre of the country.

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I’ve complained before about human statues, those “performers” that paint themselves grey and stand completely still, hoping that you’ll donate some money into their pot. Pointless, it’s always seemed to me. I saw a new twist on this in Madrid, with the headless statue. Basically, it is a human statue, but the person is wearing a really tall collar so you can’t see their head. Occasionally they will wave.

“Oh look, the headless person is waving! How can they wave if they have no head?”

If I was three, I would have probably been impressed. Of course, if I was three I probably wouldn’t have had any change to donate to a headless statue. I guess they are hoping for guilty parents to pay for the joy given to their children.

Spain has an interesting political history. Over the past 150 years, it went from a monarchy to a dictatorship to a republic to another dictatorship to finally a democratic constitutional monarchy. The current King of Spain is Juan Carlos I, and “officially” lives in the Royal Palace in Madrid, though it is really only used for state ceremonies. King Johnny-Charlie actually lives in a little place in the suburbs called the Palace of Zarzuela. The king is just another central city worker commuting in on the trains in the morning, I assume. Maybe he sees bears out there at his suburban palace.

Anyway, seeing as the Royal Palace wasn’t being used for any official functions at the time I was there, I was able to take a tour of the place. No photos allowed on the inside, but you can get a decent enough idea of the majesty of the place from the outside.

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Just to the south of the Royal Palace is the Cathedral de La Almudean. Construction was started on the Cathedral in 1879, but was abandoned after the Spanish Civil War. Construction was restarted in 1950, and finally completed in 1993. Cathedrals always seem to take a long time to build.

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Despite taking a long time to build, the Catholic church in Spain seems to be doing okay. As I was walking around, there was soft organ music playing throughout the church. It wasn’t from the massive organ, but rather was being pumped in out of the Bose speakers attached to columns throughout the church. Bitchin’ stereo system, Archbishop.

Not in use when I was there

Not in use when I was there

Out front they have a big statue of Pope John Paul II, who was pope when the cathedral was finished in 1993. Even in bronze, he seems more life-like than the current pope.

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After seeing the two main tourist sites, I took a wander around Madrid. Took in sites like the Plaza de Espana, Plaza de Oriente, Rose Garden, Puerta del Sol and points in between.

Yellow building in Sun

Yellow building in Sun


I shall run you through!

I shall run you through!


Ornate Window at Police Station

Ornate Window at Police Station


Riding into the sunset at Puerta del Sol

Riding into the sunset at Puerta del Sol


Ramiro the first statue in Plaza de Oriente

Ramiro the first statue in Plaza de Oriente


Smells like flowers!

Smells like flowers!


I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden!

I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden!


Cross in the light

Cross in the light


Can you hear the people sing?  Statue near Principe Rio

Can you hear the people sing? Statue near Principe Rio


Building near Banco de Espana

Building near Banco de Espana


Birds bathing at Plaza de Espana

Birds bathing at Plaza de Espana


Balconies ad infinitum

Balconies ad infinitum

After lunch, I headed over to the other side of Madrid to check out the Parque de El Retiro. Known officially was the Parque del Buen Retiro (the park of the pleasant retreat), most folks just call it El Retiro. Three-hudred-fifty acres of green space, it is known as the “lungs of Madrid.” It includes the Monument to Alfonso XII overlooking the Retiro Pond and the Crystal Palace, inspired by the place of the same name in London.

Monument to King Alfonso XII at lake in Parque de El Retiro

Monument to King Alfonso XII at lake in Parque de El Retiro


Fountain near Alcala gate in Parque de El Retiro

Fountain near Alcala gate in Parque de El Retiro


Holding the crown at fountain near lake in Parque de El Retiro

Holding the crown at fountain near lake in Parque de El Retiro


Puerta de Alcala

Puerta de Alcala


Tables at snack bar in Parque de El Retiro

Tables at snack bar in Parque de El Retiro


Alcala Gates in Parque de El Retiro

Alcala Gates in Parque de El Retiro


Pond at Crystal Palace in Parque de El Retiro

Pond at Crystal Palace in Parque de El Retiro


Crystal Palace in Parque de El Retiro interior

Crystal Palace in Parque de El Retiro interior


Crystal Palace in Parque de El Retiro in sun

Crystal Palace in Parque de El Retiro in sun


Crystal Palace in Parque de El Retiro

Crystal Palace in Parque de El Retiro


Trees turning in Parque de El Retiro

Trees turning in Parque de El Retiro

There is also a statue by sculptor Ricardo Bellver called El Angel Caído, inspired from a passage in Paradise Lost by John Milton. The sculpture represents Lucifer falling from the heavens. It is claimed this is the only known public monument to the devil, though I somehow doubt it. Anyway, my camera was momentarily possessed by a demon of ill-focus, so my picture of the fountain is mucho fuzzy.

Fountain Glorieta del Angel Ciado in Parque de El Retiro

Fountain Glorieta del Angel Ciado in Parque de El Retiro

I did at least get this in focus close up of the dragons spewing water at the fountain.

Dragon Spewing at Fountain Glorieta del Angel Ciado in Parque de El Retiro

Dragon Spewing at Fountain Glorieta del Angel Ciado in Parque de El Retiro

That was a lot of wandering, so time for a break. Cervezas, Vinos and tapas sounds good.

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Streets in the central part of Madrid have decorative signs for their street names. In addition to the street name, they have a picture depicting the name of the street.

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I was staying at the Hotel Ingles, which was described as being a faded glory by some of the reviewers on hotel review sites. It’s really not that faded, nor glorious. Especially when compared to my hotel in Buenos Aires, the Hotel Reina. It had Marble stairways, stained glass windows, 25 foot ceilings and a wrought-iron elevator cage for the glory part. For the faded part, the elevator didn’t work and smelled of electrical smoke and the carpet in the lobby was threadbare. Now that is faded glory!

Back to Madrid (which incidentally reminded me a lot of Buenos Aires - though I suppose actually it is more the other way around - Buenos Aires is Madrid-like, as Madrid was built first). The hotel Ingles dates back to the 1880s (the specific year seems to be in doubt, even in the hotel’s own information. It is either 1882 or 1886). The rooms have been updated since then, though, and are clean though small hotel rooms. They do have high ceilings and cool wooden shutters on the windows. The hotel is central located, well priced, doesn’t have bed bugs and does have hot water, so that’s all that mattered to me.

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The hotel does have CNN. I caught this little nugget on CNN - a crack down on immigration to the UK. Hopefully they let me back in the country!

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The next day I headed north, for no particular reason other than I had spent most my time in South-central Madrid the day before.

Church near Tribunal station

Church near Tribunal station


Flats and Balconies along Calle de Almagro

Flats and Balconies along Calle de Almagro


Faces on building near Banco de Espana

Faces on building near Banco de Espana


Path and Trees on Paseo de la Castellana

Path and Trees on Paseo de la Castellana


Plaza Dr. Maranon

Plaza Dr. Maranon


Pink flats and balconies

Pink flats and balconies


White building on Paseo de la Castellana

White building on Paseo de la Castellana


Traffic in Plaza de Cibeles

Traffic in Plaza de Cibeles


Red Curvy Building at Ruben Dario

Red Curvy Building at Ruben Dario

That eventually took me to Nuevos Minsterios and Plaza de Pablo Picasso. Nuevos Minsterios is a large government complex that houses the headquarters of several ministries. Just north of it is a large metro and train station topped by a mall, and just north of that the Plaza de Pablo Picasso. For a plaza named after Picasso, it is not very cubist. It is just a shady, green square surrounded by big tall office blocks.

Arches at Nuevos Minsterios

Arches at Nuevos Minsterios


Pool at Nuevos Minsterios

Pool at Nuevos Minsterios


Steps at Nuevos Minsterios

Steps at Nuevos Minsterios


Funky Sculpture in Plaza de Pablo Picasso

Funky Sculpture in Plaza de Pablo Picasso


English going cheap at Plaza de Pablo Picasso

English going cheap at Plaza de Pablo Picasso

After lunching in the area, I headed just further north to see Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, the home of Real Madrid. Real Madrid is a football team in Madrid, playing in the Spanish league, and the team which houses superstars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka. Real Madrid has also been declared the most successful club of the 20th century by FIFA, having won a record thirty-one La Liga titles, seventeen Spanish Cups, a record nine European Cups and two UEFA Cups.

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Seems a little concrete-ish from the outside. Maybe it is nicer on the inside.

Up the street from the stadium is the Plaza de Castilla. Its just a big traffic circle with a monstrous metro, train and bus station, but it has these nifty diagonal buildings.

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From there, I took the metro back down to Sol station, near my hotel. Gotta love the metro in Madrid. 13 underground lines and 3 tram lines, it is one of the longest metro systems in the world. Its growth in the last twenty years has been dubbed the “Madrid miracle” and made Madrid the envy of many transit geeks the world over. Plus, it only costs €1 to get almost anywhere on the system except the furthest outer reaches.

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That evening, after 6 meals in a row of tapas, I decided to go for a full-grown meal, and hit a Mexican restaurant near my hotel. It was nice to see that all the Mexican stereotypes that one sees in North America, and no doubt makes Mexicans cringe, are alive and well in Spain as well. Sombreros and maracas, festive lights and waiters saying “Si, Senor” like Speedy Gonzales. Despite being a Mexican restaurant, I don’t recognise any dishes on the menu. I order something with the word pollo in the name. It was okay. The Mexican beer was cold.

After dinner, I took a wander around the area near my hotel.

Palace Hotel

Palace Hotel


Traffic circle and fountain

Traffic circle and fountain


Tio Pepe Sign in Puerta del Sol

Tio Pepe Sign in Puerta del Sol


Fountain in Paseo del Prado 2

Fountain in Paseo del Prado 2


Bench and Lights in Paseo del Prado

Bench and Lights in Paseo del Prado

Wandered out, I hit a bar. I randomly choose a place near my hotel, chosen mostly for the short distance back to my hotel. Seemed a typical, small, lounge.  Lots of comfy and hip grottoes and groups of young Madrid-ites hanging out, just gearing up for a long night out.  Trance and dance music playing over the sound system.  Waitresses that were stunning.  One of them looked like former 1980s Canadian VJ Erica Ehm.

So what does this hip, lounge bar in the middle of Spain have playing on the TV?  A replay of the National Hockey League’s game from the previous night of Ottawa vs. Philadelphia.  I was, needless to say, the only person in the entire bar that was watching the hockey. I thought that perhaps I had died and gone to heaven - after all I had a teenage crush serving me and hockey on the TV. Then I got the bill for the beer. €4.50 for a half-a-pint. Nope, I’m still on earth.

I headed back to my hotel and crawled into bed. Turns out my room overlooked a street that was a big night out for a Friday evening. The party kept going and going and going. Finally, at 6 AM the noise stopped and the revellers went home.

The next day, my final day in Madrid, I decided to go and see the river. It was on the banks the Manzanares River that the city of Madrid was founded by the Moors in the seventh century, so I figured it would be an important and mighty water route through the city.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

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The river is pretty tiny, actually. On it’s banks stands Estadio Vincent Calderon, the home to Madrid’s other football team, Athletico Madrid. The banks of the river were pretty busy the day I was there due to an international football match between Argentina and Spain.

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I was hungry after my walk down to the river and it was noon, so I decided to get some lunch. It was very hard to find open food. Saturday noon in Madrid is like 8 AM Sunday in London. Only joggers, young families and old people are up. There are no stores open. I guess that makes sense as party people were up until 6 AM. Everyone is still in bed from the night before.

I was cranky without my lunch. I took out my Madrid map and studied it. I hadn’t done much research on Madrid before coming, and basically had just focused my touring on the points of interest listed on the map. On arriving and first looking at the map, I’d picked out a few places on the map that seemed to be most interesting. Of those, only one place still remained unvisited on my grand tour of Madrid.

The Plaza de Toros las Ventas, or in English, the bull ring.

For me, the concept of bull fighting and Spain are inextricably linked, and the las Ventas bull ring is could be considered the spiritual home of bull fighting. (Personally, I’d lean more towards Seville or Toledo as being the spiritual home of bull fighting, though I really know nothing about bull fighting, so I have logical reason to say that. They just “feel” more bull-fighting-ish.)

Anyway, my feet were hurting, my stomach was grumbling, and the pull of seeing the bull ring was waning as the pull of a cold beer and warm meal in central Madrid grew. I spent a minute staring at my Madrid subway map and thinking about the two different routes I could take - one to the bull ring and one to Sol station.

Finally, the grand tourer in me snapped out of his languor and stepped to the fore. “Come on, Wesson. You didn’t come all this way to just sit around, drink and relax, did you?”

At this point, the vacationer in me meekly said, “a little rest wouldn’t be a bad idea.” He got shouted down by the grant tourer, though, and off me and all my personalities went to the bull ring.

The bullring was opened in 1931 after the previous bullring proved to have too few seats. The new bullring, built in the Neo-Mudéjar architectural movement that pays homage to the Moorish history of Iberia, holds 25,000 people. In addition to bullfighting, the bullring holds concerts, tennis and when I was there, a circus. I wonder if the elephants get spooked by all the ghostly bulls wandering the pitch of the bullring?

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Not only was the grand tourer in me satisfied by seeing the bullring, but the stomach in me was satisfied as well. For outside the grounds of the bullring, Madrid was hosting the Fiesta Gastronomica del Marisco de Galicia y Artesania en Madrid. My Spanish ain’t great, but I recognised enough words to piece together “Seafood Festival.” Oh yeah. €14.00 for three lobster tails. Right on!

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Hands still covered in butter, I looked at my watch. It was still early afternoon, and my flight back to London wasn’t until nine in the evening, but even the grand tourer in me was too tired to continue. My thumb was still hurting from the spill I had taken in Sintra, I had a blister on the big toe of my right foot, my right achilles tendon felt like it was on fire and the instep on my left foot sent pulses of pain up my leg with every step. Because I had only planned a week in places I hadn’t been before, I had packed it full to the gills with activities. The only day “off” I had taken was on the Monday, and that day off included a tour of the area around Oriente station followed by a six hour train ride from Lisbon to Madrid.

The previously meek voice of the vacationer finally got his say.

“Let’s grab a beer and chill out until our flight.”

My personalities were all in agreement, so we grabbed the metro back to central Madrid where we had a few pints in an Irish pub, watching sports on the big screen, until it was time to collect our luggage and head out to the airport.

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After seven jam-packed days, I was ready to go home.

Posted by GregW 09:35 Archived in Spain Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Hola Salamanca!

Walking tour of Salamanca, Spain, UNESCO World Heritage Site... There seems to be a lot of those around.

sunny 15 °C
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After a late night arrival in Salamanca, the next day I was off to explore.

Salamanca has a very long history, and much of the old town has been well preserved. UNESCO made the old city a world heritage site in 1988. The town is probably most famous for its University which was founded in the 12th century.

I did a rough circle of the city on my one day there, hitting all the highlights on my tourist map of the city, plus whatever I saw along the way.

It was a nice day, very sunny but a touch windy.

The town is centred around Plaza Mayor (Main Square). The buildings surround the square are Baroque dating from 1729 to 1755. The plaza was designed by the architect Alberto de Churriguera and finished by Andres Garcia de Quinones.

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Off to the east of the Plaza Mayor is Santa Clara Convent. No longer a convent, the building now hosts a museum with murals and paintings from the 13th to 16th centuries.

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Streets here are narrow and short and twisty, suddenly bursting out into open squares and park spaces, like a good medieval city should be.

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Plaza de Libertad

Plaza de Libertad


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Espoz y Mina Street

Espoz y Mina Street


Looking down Calle Consuelo at the Torre de Clavero

Looking down Calle Consuelo at the Torre de Clavero

Heading north from the Plaza Mayor, I eventually reached the Plaza de San Marcos and the Iglesia de San Macros, a small, round, Romanesque church at the Zamora gate to the city.

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Next I headed down the Paseo de Carmelitas, a wide boulevard with lots of green space with walking paths, trees, fountains and sculpture.

Gateway to Hospital Santisima Trinidad

Gateway to Hospital Santisima Trinidad


Spitting Boy Fountain in Paseo de Carmelitas

Spitting Boy Fountain in Paseo de Carmelitas

I cut in about halfway down the street at Campo de San Francisco, a green space that has the Vera Cruz church, Ursulas Convent and Monastery and the Palace of Monterrey bordering it.

Palacio de Monterrey Tower

Palacio de Monterrey Tower


Monastery of the Annunciation Doorway

Monastery of the Annunciation Doorway


Iglesia Vera Cruz bell tower

Iglesia Vera Cruz bell tower


Walking to church, entrance to Iglesia Vera Cruz

Walking to church, entrance to Iglesia Vera Cruz


Cross in Campo de San Francisco

Cross in Campo de San Francisco

From there, the tourist trail took me down Compania, a street jammed back with interesting sites.

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The Romanesque San Benito church is along the Compania right before you get to the imposing Universidad Pontificia. Established in 1104. During the middle ages the Benedictines who worshiped at this church battled for control of the city government with the worshippers of Saint Tome. Saint John of Sahagun mediated between the two groups, bringing peace to the city and in turn becoming patron saint of Salamanca.

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The Pontifical University of Salamanca, or in Spanish the Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca and known as the UPSA was founded in the 13th century as part of the main Salamanca University. The Spanish government dissolved of the University of Salamanca's faculties of Theology and Canon Law in 1854, closing the university. It was reopened in the 1940s.

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Courtyard of Bibloteca Publico across from the Universidad Pontificia

Courtyard of Bibloteca Publico across from the Universidad Pontificia

After crossing the Plaza San Isidro, you enter the main campus of the University of Salamanca.

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Columns of School of Philosophy at University of Salamanca, across from the Salamanca Cathedral

Columns of School of Philosophy at University of Salamanca, across from the Salamanca Cathedral

After almost eight centuries in operation, the university of Salamanca is still going strong. In addition to a number of students from Spain, the university is a favourite of foreign students, especially those looking to study Spanish, and has over 2000 foreign students.

Being in operation in 1218 makes it around the ninth oldest university in the world, though like all these lists, there are all sorts of disputes. Firstly, while being granted a Royal Charter in 1218, there was a school at Salamanca dating back at least 100 years earlier. Plus, places like the University of Nanjing, in China were founded in 258 BCE, but only became a “university” in 1888. Some claim Salamanca is the oldest because it was the first to be granted a papal decree to be a university

Whether Salamanca is 1st, 8th, 9th, or 20th on the list of oldest continually operating universities, dating back 800 years makes it pretty old in anybody’s book, I would think.

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The Rectorado...

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Rectorado? Damn near killedorado! Hmm, that joke seems to work a lot better in English.

Sitting just a block away from the university is the twin cathedrals of Salamanca. The original cathedral was built in the 12th century, and is a Romanesque medieval cathedral. A new cathedral was built, co-joined to the older cathedral in spurts and fits from the 16th to the 18th century, picking up elements of Baroque, Renaissance classicalism and Gothic architectural along the way.

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South of the Cathedral is the Tormes river, across which an old Roman bridge dating back to the first century spans. It’s been updated along the way.

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The other side of the bridge is the south side of the river known as Arrabal. The area seemed nice, if a touch quiet (excluding the traffic streaming along the main roads). Climbing up in the park gives a nice view of the old part of Salamanca across the river.

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Iglesia de la Santisima Trinidad

Iglesia de la Santisima Trinidad


Iglesia de la Santisima Trinidad through wooden art

Iglesia de la Santisima Trinidad through wooden art


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I crossed back over the Enrique Estevan bridge, which lead up to the Church and Convent of San Estevan. The convent belongs to the Dominican Order. Reading from the information on my tourist map, is says that the convent shows “ global concept of a city of thought like Salamanca. The facade of the church of the convent is considered one of the best examples of Plateresque style. The cloustro de los Reyes or La Sala Capitular are just some of the attractive places we can admire inside.”

I love that. “some of the attractive places we can admire inside.” Can we? I looked around to see who the "we" was, but it was just me.

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Just up the street is the 15th century Torre del Clavero. The tower is all that remains of a mansion built by Francisco de Sotomayor.

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I then did a trip through the nearby Parque Huerta de los Jesuitas, which is a pleasant green space to the east of the old city. I had done a lot of walking, though, and was getting tired, so I returned to my hotel to rest up.

I had dinner at a nice little restaurant just off the Plaza Mayor. It was tapas, so I had three plates of items instead one big plate. I must admit dinner was a kind of solemn affair. I like good food, but when travelling alone I usually just grab a quick and cheap bite. Its not that I don’t want to splash out on a nice meal, its just that I feel both self-conscious and bored sitting in a restaurant by myself for an hour eating a nice meal. I wonder what other solo travellers do about meals?

After that, I looked for a place to grab a pint. Of course, I wound up in an Irish pub. Irish pubs are everywhere. I drank in an Irish pub in Ulaan Bator, Mongolia. This one was different than most Irish pubs in that it had mixed Irish pub and pirate theme. The typical Irish paraphernalia like Guiness advertisements, bookcases and stained-glass windows separating booths was joined up with cannons, guns, parrots and boxes of treasure. I am not sure why the meshed those two together.

“Arr, matey. Top o’ the morning to ya, ya scurvy-dog!”

The bar was mostly filled with locals watching a couple Spanish football league matches. I noticed that the Spanish people don’t seem to take any breaks between words. Itsoundsliketheyjustsayanentiresentenceasasinglewordwithmanysyllables. I wonder how they breathe?

I really should have gone to this place...

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Mmmm, tarta de suelo... D'oh!

The next day, I checked out and bid "¡Adios!" to Salamanca and boarded a train to Madrid. The train was interesting, a small train of just 3 coaches, the interior of the cars were were white plastic, with blue fabric seats. It reminds me of a hospital from Sci-fi movies, but moving. Perhaps its design is based on a “hospital ship” from Star Wars or Aliens?

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As the train runs from Salamanca to Madrid, both situated on the central plains of Spain, we passed an number of rocky hills covered with sparse forests. It reminded me a lot of the novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” which probably speaks well about Hemmingway’s ability to describe landscapes as the novel does take place in the hills around Madrid.

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I sat back and watched the rocky, dry scenery pass by, waiting for the next part of the trip. Despite what they might have taught you in My Fair Lady, the central plains of Spain are quite dry.

Soon the rocky hills, patches of forest and endless plains gave way to low rise buildings, highways and office parks. The exterior of all cities now, almost indistinguishable from any other city.

This specific city, though, was Madrid.

Posted by GregW 14:30 Archived in Spain Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

From Portugal to Spain - Notes from the Rails

Taking the train from Portugal to Spain, and various items along the way.

sunny 15 °C
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And that was it, after three days, my time in Portugal was over. A short trip to the country, but I'll have to come back. I never got to try the salt cod or have a glass of Port, so there is more to do in Portugal before my time on this earth is up.

I heard a lot of people speaking Portuguese during my time in Portugal. This is to be expected, of course. I don't think I've ever really heard Portuguese before. More correctly, I have probably heard people speaking Portuguese before, but it has never really registered. I've done lay-overs in Sao Paulo, where no doubt I heard numerous announcements in Portuguese, and I have friends with Portuguese background, so I may have heard it spoken by their parents and such. However, I've never really listened to it before.

What amazed me is that Portuguese sounded NOTHING like what I would have expected. Having seen it written, I expected it to sound like Spanish. It doesn't. Portuguese sounded to me liked Dutch people speaking alternating words in Russian and Spanish. Lots of harsh Russian sounds said with the slurred "sch" sound that Dutch people use, along with flowery Spanish sounding words. Very strange.

My time ended with a last glance at the International Fair grounds where Lisbon held Expo 1998. All those flags lined up along the basin, alphabetically arranged by Country.

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I was excited to get down to the Cs, where I looked up the tall flag pole dedicated to Canada.

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No flag! The only country where there wasn't a flag! I was crushed. However, the wind was very strong, and most of the flags were in tatters. I assume it wasn't an intentional slight, but rather more likely that the wind took away the Maple Leaf over the sea.

A couple workers were slowly working their way down the flags, taking down the tattered and faded flags and replacing them with new versions, so no doubt Canada's flag is flying high again. I just wonder how often they have to replace those flags, they way they whipped on those high, windy flag poles.

I left Portugal on the train, from Gare do Oriente (the Station of the West, literally). Oriente is one of the main transport hubs in Lisbon. It was designed by Santiago Calatrava for Expo '98, and sits right beside the grounds of the former world Expo. It is a very modern station, with lots of light and glass and swoopy curves inside, and an impressive glass platform roof (the term train shed seems inadequate here) like a medieval cathedral made of light.

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I had left my luggage in the lockers in the basement (floor -2 if you are looking for them) as I wondered around the grounds of the International Fair and went to see the Vasco Da Gama Tower (covered in a previous entry). Before claiming it, I popped into the toilets on the ground floor.

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Now, Oriente is a very busy commuter station. It handles 75 million passengers a year, and I was there at four in the afternoon on a weekday. Not quite rush hour yet, but still pretty busy. Therefore, I was amazed at what happened next.

I was in the toilet, standing at a urinal and doing what men do at urinals - taking care of business and staring straight ahead at the patch of wall directly in front of me. Out of my peripheral vision, though, I noticed the guy a couple urinals to my right was looking over at me. I took a quick glance over at him, and saw that he was involved in ... ummm... pleasuring himself. Right there, in the middle of a busy toilet in a busy train station in broad daylight (well, we were two stories underground - but it was broad daylight up there).

Upon me looking at him, he caught my eye and looked at me in a way to suggest that while he was having a good time, he would not be against a duet. I blushed and went back to staring at the wall ahead of me, trying to will myself to finish my biological functions as quickly as possible.

On leaving, the man was still there, still at full attention. He had now turned his attention to a man a few urinals away on his right, who was also trying his best to ignore him. As I washed my hands, the man who had been engaged in self-satisfaction zipped up and walked out of the toilet, obviously unable to attract the attention he wanted.

I finished washing and drying my hands, and I walked out of the toilet to see the self-lover standing by the door. As I exited, a commuter in a suit walked in the toilet, obviously in a hurry to quickly take a pee before grabbing his train. The stroker waited until the commuter had entered the toilet, and then followed him in.

Bold. I guess when one is dogging in a commuter train station, you might as well be bold.

The train I jumped on was the long distance train to Hendaye, known as the Sud-Express. The Sud-Express used to be a two-night sleeper train between Paris and Lisbon, but with the creation of the high-speed LGV Atlantique line, the train no longer goes direct to Paris. Instead, you get high-speed TGV to Hendaye, and then a slower train between Hendaye and Lisbon.

I wasn't going as far as Hendaye, just as far as Salamanca in Spain. It was still a 6 hour journey, though. When I got on the train, I was impressed to see that the seats were those old-fashioned six-seater compartments with a door and curtains for the windows, like in movies staring Clark Gable.

I settled in with the iPod on shuffle and started to read a book that my flat-mate had given me for my birthday - Kate Atkinson's "When Will There Be Good News?" It is a very good read. My only complaint is that books that involve train crashes with massive loss of life on page 149 should come with a warning of such, in the event that you don't want to be reading about train crashes whilest rumbling across the dark Portuguese countryside in a rickety, old train.

The train arrived in Salamanca at 2 minutes past midnight. The train station looked quite nice, but was deserted at that hour and all the shops were closed.

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From the train station, I had about a 15 minute walk to my hotel. I pulled out my printed Google map and headed along the route towards the centre of town.

One of the things I noticed when I was in Lisbon was that most of the windows have shutters on them, and this continued to be the fashion in Salamanca and later Madrid. Big, metal things that usually roll down on the outside of the window. They reminded me of the big, metal roll doors that shops often have on the front of them when they close up at night. I wasn't sure why they were there. If it was protection from burglars or rock-throwing kids, why did they even have them up on the top storeys of 15 storey apartment blocks?

In Lisbon it was just an idle curiosity. In Salamanca, walking along the deserted streets past midnight and seeing every window protected by a metal shutter and walls covered with graffiti, and you start to wonder if perhaps there is something you don't know about the neighbourhood you are walking through. Should I have body-armour or an armed escort for protection?

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Of course, it turns out to be nothing so sinister. I asked a friend who lived in Madrid, who said it was to block the sun. Most folks don't have curtains, and instead have shutters. In the hot summer, they close up the house during the day to keep the sun out, then open the shutters and windows at night to let in the cool breezes. Because I was there during chilly November, people weren't throwing open the windows at night.

I walked along the same route a few different times while in Salamanca, and even the sinister graffiti from that first night was not what it seemed. Rather than gang-tags, it was a quite well done mural of Alice in Wonderland.

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After a 15 minute walk, I arrived at my hotel, all body parts still intact. You know you are getting into late at your hotel when you walk into the lobby and they greet you by name, even though you’ve never been there before.

"Hello Mr. Wesson. Welcome to Salamanca."

Posted by GregW 12:00 Archived in Spain Tagged train_travel Comments (0)

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