Country Mouse Visits The City

After eight years of living in a tiny hamlet where the silence is broken only by the gentle jangling of cow bells and the sartorial code simply dictates clogs over slippers and never being seen in public without a large stick in your hand, it seems I have reverted to full country bumpkin mode. Any veneer of sophistication gained through years of living in and visiting some of the world’s biggest cities effectively stripped away. As my old Dad always used to say, ‘You can take the girl out of the bog but you can’t take the bog out of the girl.’

My neighbour dragging half a tree behind her, head shrouded in her natty knitted shawl, clogs out of shot. Notting Hill it ain't

My neighbour dragging half a tree behind her, head shrouded in her natty knitted shawl, clogs out of shot. Notting Hill it ain’t

So last week when I headed into Gijón on business I approached it with a mix of excitement and trepidation, as any certified country mouse would. Gijón is a lovely, coastal city and is actually pretty compact. Compact size notwithstanding it is remarkably easy to get lost in its cunningly curving central streets. On my 40th birthday some of my closest girlfriends and I spent a night there. We nominated Denise as navigator for the evening. She had all the right credentials: she spends weeks at a time hiking alone in the high Pyrenees, relying on her map, compass and innate sense of direction for survival. Since my 40th I now make her check in with me regularly from those hikes.

The consensus as we started out for the evening was ‘let’s eat somewhere very typically Spanish and authentic.’ An hour and a half of increasingly dispirited wandering in circles later and we still hadn’t reached the casco viejo (the gorgeous and vibrant old centre of the city), less than a kilometre from our hotel.  ‘What about this pizzeria? That looks fine,’ went up the shrill cry. But we persisted (aided by the dogged determination of the clever one who’d had a tactical ‘pincho de tortilla‘ before leaving the hotel).  And eventually we triumphed.

Faces of relief. Menus in hand, table and seats acquired in buzzing sidrería in Gijón's casco viejo. The time: 11pm.

Faces of relief. Table secured in authentic sidrería, menus in hand. The time: 11pm. Photo courtesy of Helloitsgemma.com (the clever one)

 

So I am wary of the city. My visits limited to a strict rotation of beach, fab playpark and market; my parking always in the same spot, my walking routes well-trodden and seared into my brain. But then work requires a visit to a new destination. I carefully Google the address and plan my route. But I am diverted off course by the wretched one-way system. Plan abandoned, I am free styling. Oh no.

But, aha! I spy Bank Inter. Within 50 metres I have found an on-road parking space (no mean feat, I can tell you). I pay for an hour and congratulate myself on my city skillz. It takes just a few moments of confused and embarrassing back and forth at the bank counter to establish the fact that I am in the wrong branch of Bank Inter. The man I need to see works elsewhere. Note to country mouse: cities do tend to have more than one branch of a bank.

Coveted car parking space acquired and paid for I am loathe to abandon it. I will walk. With less than an hour now on the parking ticket and knowing the propensity of Spanish bank staff to require much hoop jumping on the part of their customers, I’d better be quick. The walk can double as a ‘high intensity workout’.

I can’t afford any wandering in circles. Luckily I have a smart phone, and a Google Maps app on it. (I know. You’re wondering, ‘why didn’t she use that before?’ I have no sensible answer for you.) I input the address and set it to walking mode. ETA: 15 minutes. Hmm. Cutting it tight. 15 minutes each way, plus hoop jumping, could easily top an hour. I’m in a race against GoogleMaps.

I speed walk through the city guided by a mechanical American voice. The appalling pronunciation of the Spanish street names brings a smile to my face: it *almost* makes my anglicized strangulation of Spanish vowels sound good by comparison. (Take your triumphs where you can, I say!) But I shouldn’t be so ungrateful. The disembodied voice gets me to my destination flawlessly (if a little sweatily).

The administrative acrobatics are mercifully minimal. My thick file of supporting documents (copies of passports, tax numbers, house deeds, power of attorney – all to simply pay a banker’s draft into a client’s account) does the trick. Within minutes I am back on the street and racing back to ‘Kai-eh Es-cor-de-Ahhhh’. I arrive at the car with 4 minutes left on the ticket and literally two steps ahead of the traffic warden.

Country Mouse is feeling pretty pleased with herself as she rejoins the morning rush hour traffic. Henceforth international cities shall hold no fear. I can go anywhere with my new American friend.

The seafront at Gijón with the casco viejo shining in the distance.

The seafront at Gijón, with the casco viejo shining in the distance.

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Eeek! You big, brave mouse! Cities (now) scare the bejeezus out of me – well done on (a) not getting lost & (b) getting a parking space :-)

    • Thanks Sue. I was particularly pleased about finding a parking space – they’re rare as hen’s teeth! Course then it becomes a double-edged sword as once you have one you never want to leave it again!

  2. Love the casco viejo but the new part drives me beresk with frustration. Good on you for finding city parking ( and brave) we always take the train from Infiesto and make a day of it.

    • Thanks Lily! I usually park by El Molinon – easy to get to, lots of free parking and a pleasant walk to the front. Once I have to deviate from there though and venture into the winding city centre streets it all gets a bit tricky.

  3. Yeah! I wanted to cheer when you got back in time.
    I’m very like you. Having been brought up in Newcastle and lived in London for three years, I’ve been a country bumpkin for over 20 years now and find it all a bit stressful when I have to go to the big city! I also think you can lose your nerve a bit when you get older!
    I didn’t know you were old friends with Gemma!? X

    • ‘Tis true Trish. Visiting London on my own for BritMums last year felt like a very big adventure indeed for my middle-aged self. And yes, Gemma is an old friend of mine. When I tentatively (and secretively) dipped my toe in the blogging world I stumbled across her (also secretive) blogging alter-ego pretty early on. It was quite a surprise for both of us! And so nice to have a ready-made friend from the real world in the offline world. BritMums was also great for creating a few more of those x

  4. That is a huge achievement. I confess I have yet to drive in the centre of Munich for similar fears, preferring to park and get the u-bahn instead! Congrats! And now you have conquered it, there will be stopping you. You could drive to Munich! :D We have some big hills for climbing enthusiasts too! Love the sound of your 40th, immediately recognised Gemma! :) xx

    • Ooh, road trip to Munich – now there’s a thought!! We have been toying with the idea of a holiday in the Frankenjura, so you never know….
      My 40th was great, even the getting lost was fun (although mainly in retrospect ;-) ) x

  5. never go on a walk without a snack before hand or in your pocket. Obviously, I have loads of other useful guides to life. just ask.
    you are never the country mouse and congrats for beating the traffic warden.

  6. Really enjoyed reading this…. at least you made it in the end, you are a much braver woman than I. Traveling around an unfamiliar city by car can be pretty daunting. I lived in London for over a decade and not once did I drive into the centre – too scary and too many bad tempered drivers. X

  7. It sounds like you can be proud of yourself. I think that Gemma had the right advice. Snacks and water! Don’t leave home without them.

    I am the same when I go into Granada. I park in the same car park, which is a 15 minute walk from the centre, and never venture deeper in my car. The one-way system is a monster.

    I do know what you mean about being a country mouse. Last time I was back in London for a friend’s 40th I was like a kitten in the headlights as we walked through late-night Hackney.

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