England or Spain?
I was reminded of the Bard as I did a whistle stop of both Spain and England in August 2014. Should I stay in Spain or should I return to the UK? “To be or not to be?”, as it were. I have been in Spain for 14 years and this was to be only my second return to England in that period. In 2010, I cycled to all 92 football grounds for charity (www.theshirt2010.co.uk) but this was the first time I had been there since then. My journey involved 15 towns/cities in 18 days and a hectic itinerary of appointments and “coffees” with friends. I knew it was going to be tiring but I also knew it was going to be fascinating and exciting. And so it was!
I left Lanzarote early one Tuesday for the short trip to Fuerteventura with Princesa Ico. Anybody who knows me will confirm that I think the fares for this short journey are obscene. The best of the bunch is Romero at “just” 12 euros. From the ferry port of Corralejo it is a bus along the east coast to the capital and then a short local bus to the airport. All easy stuff!
The Ryanair trip to Barcelona was uneventful as was the transfer to Hostel Primavera which is located in the heart of the city and within minutes of strolling through Barcelona, I realised why I loved it. Magnificent city! PLUS! I spent the next two days with friends and colleagues and was sad to leave on the Thursday evening. OK. First minus. TOTAL chaos at ALSA’s office which I needed to get to 3 hours before my coach left ! I got there with 5 minutes to spare after a crazy taxi journey. I realised I was hugely “fortunate” as the saleslady closed the door behind me and people who arrived whilst the office was still officially “open” were unable to buy tickets! A huge, huge queue indicated that they should probably have longer opening hours! Given that 75%+ of the people in the queue did not speak Spanish, it was also obvious that it would make sense to have English-speaking staff at Sants! MINUS!
Eventually I got my one week season ticket but felt cheated out of a day as I was told that the bus I wanted to take was full (despite what I showed her on my iPad) and I had to take an earlier bus. As I left, I defied her and re-opened the door t let everybody in! I hope some more people were able to buy tickets or save their connection! Why is that RENFE and ALSA make it so difficult to buy online or even buy “in person”? Most of my thoughts on ALSA are “MINUS” and always have been BUT their weekly season ticket is good value IF you can make use of their fairly thin network. Ironic, as they are owned by National Express! See my thoughts on transport in the UK, below.
I had been looking forward to the Friday for a long time. It was to be my first meeting with Gaile from www.javeagrapevine.com who had published the first edition of www.lanzarotegrapevine.com a few days before. A true professional and a pleasure to meet her. Later in the day, we had lunch and dinner with a whole gang of friends and colleagues. Great day …… and VERY hot. The weather in Spain has to go down as a PLUS!
Spain. What’s not to love? Images courtesy of www.javeaphotos.com
Saturday meant I had to re-confirm my trip from Denia to Málaga. Why it cannot be done online defeats me so we travelled 10kms to the tourist town of Denia and arrived at about half past eleven. The ALSA office said it was open until 12 noon …. but was closed. About twenty people buzzed around looking nervous about ticketing and connections etc. Most tried to call the central booking number ….and could not get through or were disconnected. MINUS. The only thing to do was to go to the nearest “local” office in Benidorm 75 minutes away. PATHETIC, you excuse for a coach company, ALSA!
The good new was that I went on the superb new “tram” which is both inexpensive and efficient. PLUS. Reminded me that not all transport was a nightmare in Spain! My “enforced” four hours in Benidorm were pleasant enough before I sped off on the long trip to Málaga and the Costa del Sol. Sunday dawned bright and sunny and the next six days were spent in a blur of appointments at hospitals and doctors and coffees with friends and colleagues. It is always good to go “home” and I had six wonderful days in the Málaga province. Málaga City is improving by the day and I was delighted to be there the very week that the new tram system started service.
Sun, good service, good accommodation, inexpensive and excellent food. All good! PLUS after PLUS.
Saturday arrives all to quickly so it was time to leave Spain and fly back to the UK for only the second time in 15 years! Strange to think I had spent more time in USA, Thailand/Singapore/India and Cambodia than I had in the country of my birth. I was there for four months in 2010 as I cycled to the 92 football clubs and if it had not been for that insight to the New UK, I think I would have been completely confused with England. The England of 2014 is not the England of 2001. I was hugely impressed with so much this time. Relatively inexpensive transport, much better signposting and notification and a greater choice of options at Stansted were a good start to my stay. Paying as much for the Gatwick/Heathrow express as I had paid for Ryanair flights used to be a bad start to any visit to London. Now, from just 8 GBP you can be in the centre. (24/7) PLUS!
The pub culture of the UK has changed much in the past 15 years. Now every high street is full with Starbuck, Cafe Rouge and private bars. I spent much of my time in England in bars and coffee shops which could not have survived 20 years ago. More expensive than Spain? Probably but good value. PLUS! After a whirlwind 4 days in London with back to back coffees with friends and customers, I realised that I was growing very fond of the city. The transport system is growing constantly and I loved all the extra routes especially to the east of the city. I popped down to Greenwich using the DLR. So simple. So fast. PLUS
It was then off to Manchester and an inexpensive and pleasant coach trip. No wifi was a disappointment but otherwise a 10/10. Oh, Manchester! I lived there for 25 years of my adult life and I was absolutely blown away with the changes. Lust at “first” sight! Everywhere had been cleaned up, the transport system was modernised and impressive and a one day card at 6 GBP was too good value to turn down! The metro was “everywhere” and I jumped on and off it for a whole day to see parts of Manchester I had not seen for 15 years. More than that, it took me to parts of Manchester and Salford that were not even embryos in the minds of town planners and architects back in the 90s. Oh, Salford Quays! Oh, Trafford Bar! Oh, Theatre of Dreams (Manchester United’s Old Trafford). An amazing day. PLUS!
Let’s be honest. Manchester and Salford in the 70, 80s and 90s were not exactly cultural experiences. The city centre of Manchester was “tired” and there was little inward investment. Salford could, kindly, be classified as “socially challenged” and the appalling post-war architecture would be its claim to fame. Now, this Salford/Manchester conurbation is an affluent region with a positive feel to it. There was almost a buzz about the whole place AND a feeling of pride that had been missing when I left in 1996. PLUS!
Sadly, that was to be the end of my 18 day journey. An obscene o’clock flight to Lanzarote meant I left my friend’s home before 4am for the long flight “home”. “Home?” Yes, I think so, despite the best efforts of ALSA to spoil my trip, Spain IS still home. However, I had certainly seen enough of the UK to confirm to myself that I would be very happy to live back there should the need arise. Honours even(-ish!)