Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Ways to Go

Sunday's 'Taste of Spain' Festival, seems to me an argument against leaving London at all - an early example of the city's Summer treats. Still, a touch of Lanzarote can liven up those Winter months and it's wise to think ahead

Siting the event in London's classiest shopping street targets Britain's monied classes to come to lesser-known regions of Spain; shops like Aquascutum and Jaeger were in cahoots, offering 20% discounts. In my experience posh Brits favour France and Italy, and there was no sign that the audience was the one intended, being mainly bemused foreign tourists or down-at-heel free-loaders like myself. There's something too robust and earthy about Spanish culture to appeal to a snobbish elite - it's probably why so many working class Brits made their homes there.

Why anybody would want to go to Spain when they can go to Regent Street beats me. Well, that's not quite true, but Spain's major attraction was overshadowed, so to speak, on Sunday. How pleasant to be in a Regent Street rendered not only traffic-free for the event, but basking in sunlight.

It strikes me as odd, too, after what British tourism has done to the Costas, that they'd want to invite English people to the other parts being promoted - Valencia, Calabria, the Basque country and Asturias,which all had their separate tents with produce stalls and information leaflets. True, the Canary Island were in evidence.
Still, who am I to wonder? I was there with R to nip into Grant & Culters, the language shop in Great Marlborough Street, to buy him an Italian Beginners course. Far too late to join the queues for free paella in any case. All the sombreros had been given out.

Various factors, mainly the combining of different-level classes at the Mary Ward Centre have sent me back to Italian studies for a while. The recently release of the film 'Genova' prompted me to book a flight there for September.

I like Spain, but there are better ways to visit than package holidays. A good way to get to know how 'ordinary' Spaniards live- as distinct from waiters and tour-guides - is the home-swap route, through one of the companies that promote them. London's popularity and the high price of hotels means you don't have to make the first approach to potential exchangers. Other exchangers want to experience the countryside and lesser-known towns. Offers come from places you might not have thought of visiting. In Spain, R's favourite was Poble Nou, a district in Barcelona full of disused car factories and colourful graffitti - mine was Salamanca, a city that seemed to be built entirely of convents.
For home-swaps you need to speak the language, to some extent, so you can locate the concierge on arrival and the video rental shop for those evenings when the tapas crawls start to pall. However, as with all European countries, English is widely spoken.
One of the best times I had in Spain, though, was undoubtedly with the VaughanTown scheme, where you don't have to speak Spanish at all. You just go to some relatively unknown area, stay in a four star hotel, and spend a week speaking one-to-one with Spanish business people.

I might stand a better chance of tasting the wares, though, at the Borough Market events planned for today and tomorrow.

Exchange Holidays by Intervac: http://www.intervac.com/

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