Published: March 1st 2012March 1st 2012
The first time I went to Sheffield, I remember thinking that the city was built on some kind of giant see-saw because it felt like everywhere we walked, we were going uphill. In my first few days here, I had the same feeling. There is no such thing as a flat, level street in Vigo, everything seems to resemble either a mountain that you need a Sherpa and boots to try and get up, or a slide where you have to really try to stop yourself from gathering momentum so you don’t run into the road at the bottom.
Actually, this set up is a surprisingly good thing for anyone like me with no sense of direction at all. All you have to know is that downhill takes you to the sea, and once you know that, navigating your way around becomes manageable, even for someone who can become disorientated at a roundabout.
This, in a sense is one of the great things about living in a place near the sea, aside from the way that the air feels which really is just different from inland cities, it is just so much easier to work out where you are because unlike those pesky inland rivers which move and wind around places, the sea is a constant reference point. This is what I blame my ability to get lost in San Jose, Xiangfan and Leeds on, the fact that I still manage to get lost in Liverpool is neither here nor there and if you give me enough time, I’ll be able to come up with a justification for that too.
Aside from the geography of the place, one thing that took me by surprise when I arrived was the siestas. Obviously, I knew they existed and everything but I didn’t realise they still went on in the winter or that they were such a big deal. Almost everything in town closes between about 2pm and half 4, everyday. The only exceptions seem to be cafes, restaurants and maybe hospitals (I say maybe, because I don’t know, but you’d like to think they’d have enough about them to keep going for a couple of hours through the afternoon).
I’d always thought the siesta was due to the heat in the afternoon being so bad that it meant people were physically incapable of work, but now, living here, I’m starting to think it’s more about the Spaniards liking a massive lunch and needing a three hour break to eat and give their bodies a chance to get over it.
This massive lunch break is supplemented with bars and cafes giving you free food when you go in. In some places, all you have to do is order a drink and you get anything from a bowl of crisps or olives upto a few plates of cooked tapas. I have no idea if it’s a Galicia thing, or if it happens throughout Spain, but I do know that whenever I go back to England, I’m probably going to be pretty annoyed to be paying 2 quid for a coke and not even getting a smile with it.
In the first bar I went to here, on my second day in the city, I got a free bowl of crisps. I was still pretty jet-lagged and truth be told would’ve had trouble finding my arse with both hands, but when the lady came over with my drink and the surprise crisps, you have never seen anyone more grateful in your life! I was thanking her in any language I could think of, making little fake satisfied ‘that’s tasty’ type noises while rubbing my stomach and then waving and giving her the thumbs up when she went back to the bar. As ever though, after a while you become jaded to things that were once ace treats and so now if I go somewhere and all I receive are free crisps, I’ve always got half a mind to throw them on the floor and demand to know if they think they’ll get anywhere in this game when they treat their customers with such contempt. Of course I don’t, I tend to just sit there quietly, eating and smiling politely.
I have discovered though that in the better cafes and bars (by better I don’t necessarily mean more expensive by the way) the amount you get given is crazy. In one particular place, just walking in the door gets you a bowl of crisps, a bowl of nuts, a bowl of olives, a few slices of cheese and meat on three or four slices of French bread and sometimes a small tapas dish, meaning that if you order food from the menu as well, you basically get two main courses, which of course, is exactly what I do.
It is this stuff which makes the feeling that you’re being insulted when you only get nuts or a biscuit, even greater. On some days, in some places, the temptation to storm out in a huff is almost unbearable, although thanks to the steepness of the streets which result in the slowest, most undignified, least dramatic walk-outs of all time, as you slowly struggle past the window, out of breath, most people just stick with the crisps.