Rich Szlosek: Where sun still sets on a bit of the English empire

Last modified: Friday, August 01, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — I come from a family that never traveled anywhere. My parents seemed unaware of the concept of a vacation and so, not surprisingly, until I met my wife I had no idea I would enjoy trips to other locales. Even though I am basically still a stay-at-home guy, two or three times a year we pull out the suitcases and journey somewhere.

Recently our time share program offered special inducements to visit either the lakes section of England or the Costa del Sol in Spain for a total of 10 days. It proved to be a difficult choice but neither of us had been to Spain and so we opted for the more exotic Mediterranean destination.

The travel plans that were made for us took us from Hartford to Toronto to Zurich to Malaga, Spain, which was going to mean 20 hours of traveling. Our plane in Hartford looked like a Piper Cub on steroids. It was propeller-driven and had room for only one person on each side of the aisle and no more than 20 passengers all together. The pilot himself gave the safety instructions and said, “If you need anything, just come up and tap me or the co-pilot on the shoulder.”

In sharp contrast, the plane we boarded in Toronto was a brand new 787 Boeing “Dreamliner” which could have physically housed 20 of the prop planes. The airline was handing out celebratory cards stating we were among the first passengers to fly on this jetliner.

One of my concerns about the trip was that neither my wife nor I knew any Spanish. After “hola,” I tended to get lost in the language. As our taxi drove us from the airport in Malaga to our resort in an area called Benalmádena, I noticed many signs for Irish pubs and eating establishments that featured English-type meals.

Here we were on the Spanish coast and seeing names like “Scruffy Murphy’s,” “The Last Resort” and “Shakespeare’s.” I had been fearful we would be the only American speakers in restaurants we would visit and it developed I was mostly correct. The difference was that instead of Spanish, the staffs and patrons tended to have British accents or Irish brogues.

By chance, we were going to spend the next week in an area replete with thousands of British and Irish ex-pats. It was as if we were combining our Spanish vacation with the English journey we had decided to forego.

The resort where we were staying was spacious and had a friendly, accommodating staff. There was an in-house restaurant that featured live entertainment a few times a week and I was expecting to get a glimpse of Spanish culture. Sure enough, a group of flamenco dancers were featured the first evening we were there. A female singer was scheduled for the next evening and I thought we would hear some Spanish airs.

Naïve me was totally unaware that Diana Ross, Petula Clark or ABBA had any Spanish roots, but that is the type of music she sang in her performance. I should have known what to expect because, earlier in the day when I was walking through the lobby, Simon and Garfunkle were being piped into the area.

Let me mention a few things that struck me as humorous. When we were checking in, the young lady behind the desk said, “Is your name Polish? See my name is Polish, too”. She pointed to her I.D. badge, which had a lengthy last name on it. It turned out that, like me, she could understand Polish but not speak it. So there we were in the middle of a Spanish resort trying to say a few sentences in Polish and who could have predicted that?

A few days later my wife wanted to send a post card to her sister and needed a stamp. She asked the desk clerk if she could purchase one. “No,” he said. “You have to go down the street to the tobacco store to buy one.” He wasn’t kidding and that’s what we did. To me it gave a whole new meaning to the campaign to stamp our second-hand smoke. I never thought to ask if the post office sold cigars.

One of the British restaurants we ate at had a dessert special called “spotted dick pudding.” It was some concoction with raisins in it. No one wanted to believe me when I said the pudding’s name came from the old Dick and Jane first-grade readers. Do you remember this passage? “See Dick hide. Hide Dick hide! See Jane look for Dick. Look, Jane look! See Jane say, I spotted Dick!” Well I’m pretty sure I’m right about that — but maybe not.

Spain was great. We visited Granada, Cordoba, Seville, Gibraltar and Malaga, which are all large tourist areas. But the guides were excellent, the cities clean, the people friendly and the climate warm. We made the right choice in going there but, as always, it sure was good to get back home. Adios.

Rich Szlosek is a retired attorney and lifelong Northampton resident. His column will appear on the first Friday of the month.