- Misread your Spanish calendar (which is laid out from Monday to Sunday). See from the colour code that the second day is a dia festivo. Take it for granted that the second day is Monday (as it would be on an English calendar).
- Assume that everyone will be back at work on Tuesday. Plan accordingly how you will get your tarjeta sanitaria from the relevant local health centre now that – miracle of miracles – you have all the necessary papers.
- Make a list of the other things you need to do – bank; photocopies; shopping. Congratulate yourself on being so well organised.
- Work out how to travel the 3 miles from your urbanizacion to the designated barrio and back again with the minimum delay, now that the local authority has taken off most of the buses.
- Make yourself presentable and go to the bus stop punctually at 11.00 a.m. Think it odd that no one else is there, but when the bus arrives, board as normal and get off at the appropriate stop.
- Walk through the quiet residential barrio to find a bank. Don’t worry when you see that it’s closed – it’s probably bitten the dust because of la crisis. Get money from the machine, making sure it comes in €50 notes.
- Search through the streets for somewhere to make photocopies, noticing that not a single shop is open. Assume they must be on strike.
- Go to the supermarket – a big Mercadona. Expect a sinking feeling when you find that it’s tightly locked and shuttered.
- Walk to the health centre. Resist being too hopeful when you see a gentleman limping from an ambulance. Note that he’s going in the opposite direction, and that the doors of the health centre are firmly closed. Conclude, reluctantly, that today is also a holiday. Suppress sarcastic thoughts about mañana.
- Consider your options. As there are no taxis in this residential area, and the shops in the distant town centre will also be closed, return to the bus stop. Be prepared to see what you suspected – that there is no bus back to your urbanizacion on dias festivos for nearly three hours.
- Reject the idea of spending three hours in a cafe over a €1.50 beer which you will have to pay for with a €50 note.
- Resist the idea of having ten or twelve beers.
- Decide that the best option is to board one of the ever-active buses to the airport, getting off at the stop nearest the turning for your urbanizacion. This will mean a 1-mile walk after crossing a major road and a railway line, but be thankful that you are fit and healthy and that the sun is shining.
- Wait for ten minutes or so until the bus arrives. Establish with the driver where the nearest stop will leave you. Get out your tarjeta de autobus to pay for the fare. Try not to be sarcastic when he tells you that it is only valid when the bus goes right to your urbanizacion, not if you get off before.
- Ask to pay with a €50 note. When he refuses, resist the urge to throttle him. Get off the bus, if possible without tripping.
- Begin your 3 mile walk, together with the happy families promenading in the splendid palm park. Take the narrow pavement alongside the exceptionally busy 4-lane highway, and when the path peters out, notice that local people and fisherman cross to the rocks which run alongside the sea. Do the same, dodging the traffic.
- Climb up onto the railway line and over the single track, being thankful that a train is not coming. Proceed in the direction of home, trying not to stumble in your best shoes on the loose stones alongside the track.
- Despite your handbag and unsuitable attire, adopt the expression of a hearty seasoned walker when you encounter the local fishermen.
- After two miles of clambering on rocks, arrive hot and sweaty at the open scrubland and heave a sigh of relief that you can walk along a broad, level albeit sandy path beside the sea. Rejoice in the glorious day, along with the dozens of family trippers.
- Arrive at the urbanizacion, fight your way through the holiday crowds, and go straight to the tiny convenience store to order a pollo asado for lunch.
- Once home, check your calendar and see that – with the aid of your glasses – Tuesday is clearly colour-coded as a dia festivo. Realise that the circle around Monday indicates a link to the weekend, hence the popular term puente (bridge) for this type of extended holiday. Mentally rap your knuckles that this is a commonplace word which you have known for years, and will certainly never again forget.
- Collect your pollo asado and some beers, put your feet up in the sun, relax and enjoy. Reflect on this, the day’s second lesson.
A Walk on the Wild Side
If you think Somerset’s roads are a challenge, just wander a little off piste and try its rural footpaths. Fingerposts and waymarkers tempt you forward then leave you in the lurch. Rusting gates groan on a single hinge or are fixed with chains and a padlock. Broken stiles see-saw precariously on rotted supports, and once you’ve wobbled across them you’re just as likely to land in an abundant crop of nettles or ankle deep in mud.
Each twist in the path, though, turns a new page in a fairy tale. Ancient stone cottages tucked in the folds of the hills. Cider orchards, the trunks steeped in lush grass where the fallen apples lie until they’re vacuumed into a cart or collected in a basket by an old man with a bushy beard. Medieval barns and manor houses with integral chapels. Copses of oak and ash and chestnut, conifer forests so black and silent that the babes in the wood might still be sleeping there.
When the path leads upwards the slopes might look gentle, but don’t be deceived. On a humid summer day they sap your energy, but by the time you reach the top, the view makes it all worth while. A rolling landscape of tiny pastures pieced together with hedges and dotted with farms and villages. Hazy hills in the distance. The clouds making their way across the open sky.