Doing it all by bus and train
(is there any other way?)
Passing on from Pontevedra.
– As we stood in the definitely dreary bus station at Pontevedra, we wondered just which way to go. The whole point of coming to Galicia had been to visit Santiago de Compostela for the first time – one of life’s “must do’s”, apparently. But by now we’d seen about as much of the guide books’ look-list as we needed, and we felt that somehow the focus of so many a pilgrim’s tired tootsies was likely to be even more commercial and visitee-laden than the little squares of Pontevedra. So where – where?
– Now, here’s a bus that’s apparently heading up into the hills to the East, to a place called Ponte-Caldelas : sounds good : something to do with bridges and hot springs, perhaps. Could be as lovely as Loriga (in the Sierra Nevada). The map shows it to be in surrounds alike to the attractive countryside we’d seen from the bus a day before, near to the little villages of Sacos and Cerdedo. Not even a mention in Lonely Planet – mustn’t exist! But yes, the young woman says, it is still there, and it’s lovely. Oh, are there places to stay – “si – quatro, cinco” – that’s enough for us. Pay up the few pence for a six mile ride in a good quality bus, and rush for the front seat.
– Well, wasn’t Ponte Caldelas a site to behold! No, not really. When the bus came to a halt in the main street, we gulped with dread. We’re not seeking the wondrous, but this town really is a little too “ordinary” even for us. Bland. Bald. Oh god, do we have to?
– Why hasn’t he turned the engine off? “Do you go further”, we asked – and indeed he did, for about another 10 km into the surrounding hills, to a little place that’s called “a Lama” in Galician, and Pedreira in Catalan (Spanish to us) – and in neither language could our Lonely Planet assist. But the driver said there were places to stay, so let’s go. We don’t want to stay here, and we’re not yet quite ready to go for a full retreat.
– Isn’t it just so nice when the risk pays off. As we approached the little village, it all looked just delightful. Green valley. Cows grazing the fields, and reasonably warm even this late into the year. Trees on the hills. Rushing river in the valley’s ravines. Tiddley little centro urbano, and there’s a bar sign up the road, so we’re safe from detoxification.
– As the bus drove in we’d noticed the quite large hostal on the right hand side, but Maggie just popped into the tiny town hall (bureaucracy exists also for the citizenry’s benefit on the Continent, and is generally accessible and available – it’s not as in Britain, guarded and distant, seemingly there simply for the sake of the bureaucrats) to enquire as to whether there were any others : whether we had a wide choice. Just as well! The hostal was apparently closed for the closed season – no masses of (mainly Spanish) visitors, so they’d taken themselves off to London or the like for a few weeks – bloody cheek!
– But luck was with us once more, because one of the assistants said that she was going home for lunch, and would happily take us by car to a small residential hostal a couple of km further along. Went to bar and waited. Thanks goodness that all the luggage we ever cart about is a couple of Antler “easybags”, nice canvas cases on wheels, each about the size of a medium knapsack. With more, we’d have been tired, dragging them the full 100 yards up the slope. This would probably go down as a half-hour struggle by Lonely Planet standards, so we felt we’d done well.
– Eventually got to the next little hamlet two km along the road, and found what turned out to be such a truly delightful residential that we stayed a week. Go there! Casa Florencio – it’s named after the man of the family who’d owned it many years back, when it was the local dance hall! Those were days when the hills around were full of work, and full of working, dancing people. Nowadays there are far fewer, and many of the people that you’ll see here in the summer are returnees and their families, back from the gold paved streets of the Americas, building ghastly “villas” with styles reflective of the other side of the pond – sore thumbs.
– Plenty of opportunity to walk around this neck of the woods, but the area’s much under-touristed, so the paths can be a bit overgrown, and the local maps are strictly for the goats. But do have a look at Lama and nearby Covelo (just full of granite carvings that have meaning to the locals on the gradually deteriorating houses) – and do try to travel a little bit by leg, rather than wasting your lives rushing past life in a car. The people are friendly and smiling – why just pass them all by at 45 mph? Why miss the opportunity of being shown the path to the ancient mills by the river, and afterwards being treated to coffee, liqueurs and loud laughter with the family around the table on a Sunday afternoon?
– As Alain de Botton so brilliantly points out, there’s an art to travel, and it’s really not just all about some competition to clock up as many guide-book-mentioned relics as you can in a fortnight. Do a websearch for his book, “The Art of Travel” – a really good read, and so much better than the rather trendy-trashy one-hour programme that they stuck together for television.
– Oh, so far as eating is concerned, the restaurant in Lama called “Prost” is an effort at effecting a meld of German and Spanish, and is best left to those with delapidated, rather than delicate pallates. The one that’s frequented by the locals is “O Minton” – basic and unpretentious, but all’s edible. But what about Casa Florencio – oh well. When we cottoned on to the fact that they’d provide food “de la casa” just by asking, we decided to eat there: to give it a try. What wonders! Fresh fish : fresh vegetables : eggs from their own chickens! Absolutley delicious, and 100% good value for money – as were the extremely well appointed rooms.
– There are quite a few places around to let, and we saw an especially nice three apartment old farm & barn conversion called As Penizas, near to the next village, Aquasantos. Enough space for an army, and on hire for about 2700 euros a month. We were driven their by the elderly gent who owns it, who could barely see over the dashboard – cheaper than Alton Towers, and twice as frightening! Try emailing [email protected].
– The picture is not of the place itself, as you’ll have guessed, but of one of the beautiful old corn drying barns that stands just outside, in the garden overlooking the wide valley beyond. They’re all over the place in Galicia: lots of different designs and constructions, but all basically the same shape. Everyone on the bus looked at us as if we were mad when we craned our necks and whooped with wonder and with glee at our first sight of one, a few days back. To boring old farts from England, they’re like nothing one’s ever seen before : to the Galician’s, they’re as common as dirt. Strange, isn’t it?
– Well, time to move on. Shall we go straight back down the hills into Pontevedra, and then to Portugal? Yes, let’s.