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Time to move to Spain

Medically retired at short notice our plans to move to Spain are brought forward by a few years. With little time to spare, this is our story.

The winter is nearly over
16 February 2017

The winter is nearly over.

It seems churlish to be sat writing about the downside of living in a country where I've been extremely happy to live in for over 18 months but, like living anywhere or doing most things, there are often downsides. I prefer to call them ‘allowable faults’ as the benefits of being happy far outweigh the negatives. I write this as much for anyone who is considering coming out here to live in the future. We often don’t realise how fortunate we are sometimes, to be living in the age we are. This blog is a personal opinion that made me remember my childhood of poor heating, damp walls, outdoor toilet, tin bath and ice on the windows of our inner city house. I live in my mid 50’s in a world where I am able to use a different toilet every time I need to go, swim if i’m too warm, enjoy a meal with a glass of wine outside (not to mention Barbecues) as often as I wish or hit the beach most days of the year! However…

 

This is our second winter in Spain. Last winter we were pleasantly surprised at how warm and sunny it all was. OK, when we planned living here the informed information estimated 320 days of sunshine every year but as a pessimistic soul I really didn't believe there would be 320 days of sunshine? As it happens I didn't count them but if I had I'm sure it would have been around that figure. Locals we spoke to assured us that it was the best winter they could remember and various news reports suggested it had been the best winter weather wise for a long time. 

 

Of course those who live here in Spain know already that because of the long hot summers, much of the older housing is often ill prepared for less favourable aspects of the winter. Our apartment last winter had no heating and during the colder spells in which the nightly temperature dipped into single figures and it occasionally rained meant that some mould appeared inside of the outside walls (if you know what I mean). So long as you keep on top of it however it is easily managed, a minor inconvenience. 

 

As the weather cooled towards the end of last November we approached the winter in our new villa. We had the small heater we had bought last year but the wood burner in our living room was how we would combat anything the Spanish winter would throw at us. 

 

As a child in Liverpool in the 1960s into the very early 1970s I remember our coal fired heating which my parents would light with relative ease and with expert skill, keep ablaze the whole day long. My mum even had the knack of being able to go out for hours on end and return to a still lit fire, I don't know how she did it A wood burner therefore would be a doddle compared, surely? I won’t go into all the details but various combinations of firelighters, paper, damp wood, large wood, ventilation meant periods of trial and error before we got a consistent blaze.

 

Wood burner tackled, our next issue was insulation or lack of it. I’m not sure how old our villa is but it’s been built to keep cool in the hot climate, not to keep heat in during the winter. Our single glazed wooden windows just couldn’t hack the cold temperature, letting in tiny draughts. That together with the stone floors and walls do not make for cozy. 

 

When the sun is out its still warm. We spent much of Christmas Day on the beach at La Zenia in temperatures of around 20 degrees and possibly more. When you get home the house is very cool, well actually no, it’s cold. The real problem came with the storms that came with a vengeance one week before Christmas. Three days of constant heavy rain together with a continuous thunderstorm both day and night started as intriguing but became quite concerning as it went on. 

 

We are halfway up a hill so the river that flowed outside did not affect us unless we went out shopping. It tended to keep most people inside as the bars and restaurants were very quiet. The water in our pool, which is quite a decent size began to get perilously near to the top. There was a foot of water around the rear of the house akin to a moat and after two days the windows began to let in rain which trickled down the inside wall. Mould also followed on the inside white stone walls and you could say winter had arrived. News came in that some areas of Spain had succumbed to quite major floods, especially Los Alcazares where five people died in flood related incidents. It put our situation in perspective as after three days the bad weather subsided and things for us at least, returned to normal.

 

Mouldy walls can be cleaned and many stores locally began to run out of anti mould paint. In mid January we had quite a snowfall which, according to many sources was the first snow in up to 50 years. Even though we've been here for 18 months, it did seem strange having snow here, surreal in fact. It was followed by another three day storm. Our moat returned and our pool was topped up again. At the risk of completely shattering any credibility I ever had… did I mention we also have a water bottle each? 

 

It’s nearing March now and it appears the bad weather has gone, at least for now. The days are generally warm, if a little windy at times, our mould hasn't returned since it was painted and Mr & Mrs hot water bottle have been consigned to storage. The reality is that if we wanted a more modern villa our rent would increase significantly. The 9 months of pretty much unbroken fine weather means the ‘allowable faults’ can be tackled somewhat in advance so we can prepare for next winter and I imagine that in a few weeks the cold, damp and snow will be all but forgotten and we will return outside as per our new life.



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Christmas and new year celebrations in Torrevieja
11 January 2017

Our first Christmas and new year in Torrevieja. We actually went back to the UK last year where it rained heavily all but one day. This year we decided to stay here as this is our home after all. For the more traditional christmas activities including the nativity scene, big heads and carol services see my blog for December 2015. This year we have my dad staying with us for both Christmas and new year and my son and his friend for Christmas. For those of you who have spent this time of year in Spain you may have spent time on the beach on christmas day or done other things. This is our story...

We were hopeful that the weather would hold for Christmas as one week earlier we had been subject to quite severe storms over about three days. It resulted in floods throughout the region. A thunderstorm continued almost constantly for the three days and often appeared to make the house shake. Despite our Villa being victim to some very minor flooding and water leakage we counted our blessings as some parts of Murcia were victim to very severe flooding which resulted in the death of five people.

Last year, because we went back to the UK our christmas presents were all ordered online and sent to the UK. This year was different and had to be bought locally apart from the odd mail order item. We also had to make sure that any visitors presents had to be small enough to fit into hand luggage.  

The fine weather returned and cloudless skies promised a fine Christmas. Our plan was to visit La Zenia beach on Christmas Day with a picnic. We would then return home for a traditional Turkey dinner. I think i’ve mentioned it before but its often a good idea to research before you plan to do something you haven’t done before. OK it wasn’t a disaster but word of our night out in Torrevieja on Christmas Eve didn’t get out, or at least very far. It was dead! In my younger years, Christmas Eve would mean going out on the tiles for what was usually a great night out. Children grown up and I could do it again. Sadly that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore, even in my home town, Liverpool. A few years ago my eldest son came to visit and went out on Christmas Eve before returning around midnight as everything was ‘dead’. Most places in Torrevieja closed before 11pm and we found ourselves in Monroes Rock bar which was the only place that had any life in it. We found out later, from locals that most people would be out on christmas night where entertainment would be provided in many places.

Christmas day we headed for the beach like everyone else it seems. It was heaving and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. We managed to get a parking space quite easily but there was very little space in the surrounding roads. Most people were dressed for July with the addition of a Santa hat, unfortunately some wore speedos with a Santa hat only! (One of those sights you wish you could unsee). Tables, chairs and barbecues filled the beach and some hardy (I would call it stupid) souls were swimming in the sea. One toilet each for male and female were provided but the queues were very long. Sue decided she would paddle as did the lads. There was a band playing and we drank cava before returning home for our Christmas dinner.

Mid afternoon, Christmas Day, La Zenia beach.

 

We had a few options for New years eve but we had to take into account dad who is a sprightly 81 but often can’t do the all nighters. We didn’t want to chance going into town given our experience on Christmas Eve we weren’t even sure anywhere would be open and if they were, would we be able to get a taxi home? We settled on our local bars which are only a five minute walk away.

There are, at my last count, twelve bars/restaurants in our local centre. Plenty for us to be going on with. El Balcon was where we started and after one drink we took a route round the perimeter of the centre in order to decide where to spend the bulk of our night. that’s where we struck a problem. One by one as we passed were… closed. The last bar we tried was the Irish bar which would surely be open… it was! But there was no one in it. Ive never known an Irish bar empty at 9pm on new years eve and doubt I ever will do again.  May I add here that i’ve never been one for big new years eve celebrations, in fact you can count the decent ones i’ve had on the fingers of one hand. But this was our first Spanish new year and Sue has had a much better experience of new year than I have over the years so we had to at least try. There was no way were we staying in an empty bar so we went back to where we started.

At least the El Balcon was full, there was a karaoke which, even if not to your taste at least meant for a lively atmosphere. This is a traditional Spanish bar but there were many other nationalities present. The bar caters a lot for the local community including quiz nights, darts and language classes so it was no surprise it was popular. They had advertised a new years eve meal which is why we decided to go elsewhere as we weren’t eating out. It’s a family run bar and everyone was very busy serving. The usual protocol of being served at your table was abandoned for the night for traditional service at the bar which wasn’t a problem. We also managed to get ourselves a table which I didn’t think we would when we returned. About 15 minutes to midnight the staff came round with party bags with hats and streamers etc together with small bowls of grapes for each person. For those who don’t know, one grape is taken with each stroke of midnight. The chimes were broadcast on the TV and the grapes were eaten… Have you ever tried to eat 12 grapes in 12 seconds? It took maybe three before I started laughing but it wasn’t going to beat me. Within 12 seconds I had 12 grapes in my mouth, result! Then followed a firework display on the bars terrace when everyone went outside to watch.

The party carried on another hour when the bar owner put the TV back on so that the British people in the bar could enjoy the British new year. It was a nice touch although not really necessary. I resisted the temptation to sing karaoke, my usual songs being ‘I fought the law’ and ‘cigarettes and alcohol’, the patrons appear to have had a lucky escape. The whole night was set in a friendly party atmosphere and even though we didn’t spend the night quite how we planned it we thoroughly enjoyed it. We lasted another hour or so before we set off home.

I don’t know how christmas and new year compares with other parts of Spain and I imagine ours was pretty low key compared with some. In the lead up to christmas and new year, including new years eve, we encountered no increased prices or admission fees which often happens in the UK. We still had the three kings visiting on 5th January when Spanish children receive their christmas presents to look forward to which meant our decorations, usually taken down after new year were kept up until 6th January. All in all our christmas was different than usual and outside at least, significantly warmer.

To everyone who reads this post,

Feliz Ano Neuvo!



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Learning spanish
24 November 2016

One of the most important things on our "to do list" when we first came to live in Spain was to learn Spanish. We had heard many stories of thousands of British people living in Spain and making no attempt whatsoever to speak the local language. 

It was a conversation I struck up with an English man in a bar about six months ago that struck me. We had a conversation over a football match during which he told me there was  not need whatsoever to speak Spanish whilst in Spain, "because everyone speaks English". I know that this is not true, however I also know that you can get away with it should you wish to. I would like to add at this point that he also said, without a hint of irony that he came to live in Spain because there were "too many immigrants" and "nobody speaks English anymore in Britain". 

I am well aware that there are also many thousands of British people learning and speaking Spanish over here. In the relatively short time I've been here I would strongly argue that you cannot possibly appreciate living in Spain unless you at least try to speak the language. Of course there are also thousands of British people living in Spain who also speak Spanish and it was their example we wished to follow. 

This is my personal experience of trying to get to grips with a new language. I've never studied a language before so I'm entering pretty much uncharted territory for me. I am aware that the more you put in, the more you get out and that my way is perhaps not the best way of tackling Spanish, however it's my experience and it's shared as much to show people what not to do as much as what to do. 

Before we came here we downloaded a course and every evening we sat for half an hour to learn. On our planning visit before we came for real, we tried some of our new phrases in restaurants and bars and felt quite good about ourselves. Our plan was whenever we could, we would use Spanish even if the people we spoke to spoke English. So far so good! 

We carried on the course after our arrival here and added to 'Duolingo' app to our studies. These however were evidently not enough. We became very frustrated and seemed to be treading water. Our motivation dropped and before long our studies had all but stopped.  For those who have not tried Duolingo. It's a very basic language package that tests you on very basic language skills. Phrases, food & drink, animals, household items etc. 

We looked locally for a Spanish teacher in order to take regular lessons. The choice seemed to vary between one to one tuition to intense courses, neither of which suited us (or were prohibitively expensive) Eventually we replied to an advert from a Spanish man named Gabriel. He would teach both of us together and also incorporate another woman who also wanted to learn. It was an odd set up, as we were asked to attend the lessons in the apartment of one of his tenants. This was apparently the other person who wanted to learn Spanish. We met Gabriel who was a lovely elderly gentleman with a fetching trilby hat, who showed us into the apartment where we shared a table and read what appeared to be a Spanish comic for an hour. He would teach us words, really valuable ones like farmyard animals then go off at a tangent in Spanish, of which we couldn't understand a word. When we got one wrong, he would shout really loud and correct us equally loudly. Sue and I would exchange glances, revealing facial expressions varying between shock and trying not to laugh. We left the apartment vowing to give the lessons a chance before we judged them. 

Week two, and we got no answer at the apartment until Gabriel arrived. This time the apartment was empty but after rifling through a bunch of keys for ten minutes, he eventually found a key that fitted. We entered the apartment and got to work. The same type of lesson ensued and at the end, we paid him and attempted to leave... unfortunately, the key into the apartment was not the key to get us out of the apartment (I'm not quite sure how that worked, but that's what happened). Not to worry, Gabriel had the tenants number but unfortunately there was no answer. The tenant was a chef and the worst case scenario was that he would not be back until his restaurant closed (what time do Indian restaurants close?) As it was 9pm it was looking like we would have a long wait. As luck would have it, they arrived shortly afterwards and panic was over. We decided that these lessons dit not suit us and would look for an alternative teacher. 

I was in the local Dialprix and got speaking to the butcher who had come to Spain from London many years ago. We got chatting over our mutual love of football and the conversation turned to living in Spain. He spoke fluent Spanish and knew a teacher I could use. He passed on my phone number and a few days later, Kate phoned me and I commenced the lessons the following week. We follow a tried and trusted course and I attend one hours lesson per week. I know that is not enough so the plan is to study and use the language every day. That is harder than it may seem. Unless you have Spanish friends or have no other choice than to speak Spanish then most people fall into speaking English as soon as they detect your accent. There are many English people in the urbanisation we live on although it is still a minority but deferring to English happens a lot. It's therefore up to us to instigate our own rules. We try to speak Spanish wherever we can, and once you tell people you are trying to learn they seem genuinely pleased and try and help all they can. I try to start conversations with people who are serving me depending on the size of the queue. Last week I ordered my Christmas turkey and it was a struggle, however, typically an English speaking member of staff came over to help me when she saw my struggle. The local bar owner has told me on finding out I was learning, that he will no longer speak to me in any English. None of his staff speak English anyway so it's a good excuse for me to go to his bar. I supplement my study by using YouTube and I still use Duolingo as they now have what they call 'bots' who are cartoon characters of people who will have a conversation with you. I also watch some TV programmes and short films and have flash cards. I find that if I don't use words I lose them quite quickly and have to re learn them. 

It's when you need to contact the electric or water supplies, apply to go on the padron, try and access health care or anything official that you really need to speak Spanish. Again, there are ways to get by but I don't think that's integrating as I think I should be. It's easier to learn if you place yourself in a position where you have no choice but to learn. It's the hardest thing I've ever had to learn and it's very slow going at the moment, I long to understand and have conversations with non English speaking people so I am carrying on. There will be no giving up, but I believe it's worth it. 



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La Tomatina 2016
09 September 2016

La Tomatina 2016 

When it's your wedding anniversary I think most people would like to do something special. Maybe romantic, thoughtful and memorable, where you can look into each others eyes and... Throw tomatoes at each other? 

The last Wednesday in August in the town of Bunol the worlds greatest food fight has taken place. For 71 years, people have gathered to throw tomatoes at each other in the Main Street in the town centre. This year was no different except that my wife (and I... really!) decided we would spend our wedding anniversary there. It's something we have seen on YouTube before we even came to live in Spain and it was on our bucket list of things to do when we came here. 

We decided to book one of the packages available in order to leave nothing to chance. After a few searches on the internet we came across PP Travel, who would provide hotel accommodation B&B for two nights in Valencia, tickets for a pre Tomatina party, travel and entry to the event itself and an after party. All we needed to do was get ourselves to Valencia and back. 

It's the first time we have used the train service in Spain. I'm not a regular train user and heard a lot about how the train service in the UK, usually negative and I do know it's expensive. Having said that our train fare from Orihuela to Valencia was a lot cheaper than the one from Gatwick airport to London Euston. It's also one of the few train journeys I've had where all the paying customers had seats. What a novelty! If I must be critical, the journey was fractionally short of three hours. I had wondered why before we travelled and found that the trains spent a lot of time in stations and seemed to take the 'scenic route' to its destination. I do know however there are quicker trains on different routes. 

We stayed in a hotel about three kilometres from the main railway station (taxi fare just short of 8 euros) and only a short walk from the well known City of arts and sciences.

We booked in to our hotel and were handed our La Tomatina tickets, which were in the form of a wristband together with our La Tomatina T-Shirts. We Were also given a wristband which would gain us entry to the pre event party. The pre party was held at the L'Umbracle nightclub from 8.30 pm. The club itself was pretty impressive. Open air but laid out almost like a massive garden with large plants dotted about the many sofas, essential for the older clubber! Quite an impressive light show came into its own as it went dark. The club quickly filled up and it became quite evident that we would be in the older age bracket of the event. A few drinks later we decided we'd had enough. I'm convinced Sue would have stayed all night if she could however sensible me thought we should really get to bed at a reasonable hour given we would be boarding the coach at 6.45 the following morning, so we left just before midnight with hundreds still partying. I remember a saying from a few years ago something along the lines of "It now takes me all night to do what I used to do all night". Actually, it now only takes a few hours and then I become all sensible. I go to bed convinced the party revellers will regret their excesses the following morning. 

Breakfast is 6-6.45am. It's clear that people have taken their instructions seriously and worn old clothes with the intention of throwing them away post event. Don't expect to return in anything you've worn at the event. We are told to bring a full set of spare clothes to leave on the coach for when we return and have 20 euros each in a plastic bag hidden in our shoes. The journey is about 45 minutes to Bunol and we are there at 7.35am. It's a 25 minute walk downhill into the town itself and I do wonder at the time how we are going to keep entertained until the 11am start. 

Our walk into town reminds me a little of some events I've been to in the UK such as  England one day cricket matches or the day we spent at Heaton Park, Manchester on the return of The Stone Roses. In other words the streets are full of sellers, food outlets and portable bars. The difference being of course, the time of day and it was so much warmer here. You can actually buy most things you need when you arrive but without the advantage of leaving anything spare on your coach and many already are enjoying a pint or two. 

I would estimate that about 75% of those attending are under 30 however it's reassuring to see people from all age ranges and many nationalities. We hear Australian, USA, European and Far East accents as well as many from the UK who have attended this Spanish event. One of the traditions of this event is a greasy pole which has a large Ham lodged at the top, free to anyone who can reach it. Nobody in 10 years has managed to do this and it soon becomes obvious why. The grease is a very thick lardy type slop which is smeared the full length of the pole by a man. A crowd gathers to see what it is and the man acknowledges this by throwing slop into the crowd. It's 8.30 am and locals are starting to gather on the roofs of their homes looking down on the quickly gathering crowd. They assist the atmosphere by throwing water down off their roofs and the crowd cheer. Then a child about ten years old arrives with a hosepipe and sprays the people below, they cheer again. We find that if you stand next to the building, which has been covered in plastic protective sheeting, you escape the worst of the wet. 

Then one by one, people attempt to climb up the greasy pole - It's hilarious. Groups of 4,5 and 6 all try by climbing on top of each other and eventually sliding to the floor. The first female to try gets a big cheer. She climbs on top of the bodies below, someone shouts something and she pulls the top of her bikini down, just for a second to loud cheers. Minutes later a Chinese guy climbs to the top of the bodies and the crowd chant "Jackie Chan, Jackie Chan, Jackie Chan!" He waves just prior to sliding to the floor. 

Behind us, seeing our safe haven from water and grease a number of locals come out with buckets of water and thrown them into the crowd. It's only 9.30 and we are soaked. We decide to go and get a drink which means walking through the locals armed with buckets of water. Sue makes the mistake of trying to run through them which of course means she is targeted. I walk slowly through and miss the worst of it. 

We have to leave the ticketed area to access the portaloos and caterers, which we do and at about 10.15 decide to make our way back to the main area for the festival. If I have one complaint, it's that from 7.30 until the scheduled start at 11am is a long time to wait with not a lot going on. 8.30 or 9am would be better but then you can come by train if you wish as the station is in the town and trains run from Valencia for the cost of about 8 euros. 

At 10.40 a siren sounds and a large Lorry carrying people and tomatoes makes its way slowly though the jostling crowd. The people start hurling the tomatoes at the people and the people throw them back but also at each other and the fun starts. For the best part of an hour a mixture of tomatoes and more tomatoes are thrown across the narrow street. Occasionally the natives on the roof add to the mayhem by throwing buckets of water and pointing their hose pieces at us. I begin to realise why so many people have goggles on. I have a baseball cap with a large rim to protect me from the worst of the onslaught, like an air raid shelter however it doesn't protect from a direct hit. Direct hits are many but the brim does actually do a decent job. 

Lorry by Lorry they arrive, up to a sixth and each one makes the road more ragu like. The throwing is interspersed by chants and songs, most of which are incomprehensible but 'seven nation army' seems to be prominent.  Despite our lack of sleep hours the night before we last the whole hour and it goes very quickly. I occasionally look around and laugh to myself. It's like being back at school? Or maybe echoes of the bucket of water song from Tiswas is more appropriate I think as I take a hit. Each hit from a bucket of water results in more cheers as they have done all day. I spend a lot of the time laughing however, at the ridiculousness of a 54 year old throwing tomatoes at anyone who gets in his way, for an hour, and enjoying it. 

We escape down a side street and begin to look for one of the locals primed with hosepipes ready to hose us down. We find one and he sprays us but doesn't really do much as a small queue is forming and he seems to want to give everyone a little spray. We decide to look for the river we were told was the better option. We haven't a clue where it is and could be walking in completely the opposite direction for all, we know. We have about two hours before the coach is due to take us back so feel we have plenty of time to get lost. As I've seen many 'lost in the wilderness' type films over the years I have the brilliant idea of going downhill as there's bound to be a river somewhere downwards, isn't there? Amazingly we find the river and there's already many taking advantage of the flowing water. Some are standing under taps but we find a small waterfall about a foot high to stand next to and spend the next ten minutes removing our now pink clothes and removing the chopped tomatoes from our clothes and bodies. 

As we walk back to the centre of town there are thousands walking around covered in tomatoes and just happy to be there. Most of the places to eat and drink are shops and mobile but eventually we find a proper bar to sit outside and dry off. A beer and a Bacardi later we are ready to return to the coach. The after parties have started and people are dancing in what appears to be a main square. Many people seem to quite like the tomato look as many haven't bothered with the hosepipes. There are pink clothes filling the bins as we walk up the hill to the coach park and many clothes are abandoned in the roadside. 

Back at the coach we change our complete set of clothes and only then are we allowed back onto the coach. As the coach pulls away we see many people have decided to make a day of it and are happily enjoying a drink. Some of our coach party haven't quite removed all the tomatoes from their hair and many are obviously very tired given the early start following last nights late party. Within minutes, most people are asleep. 

What a fantastic day we have had. I would thoroughly recommend La Tomatina to anyone fit and able to do it. It's an early start but that won't bother some people, it's very wet but great fun, 22,000 people can't be wrong. We are back at our hotel by 2.45 pm and following a quick shower where bits of tomato drop from places we didn't realise existed, have the rest of the day to enjoy Valencia. 



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Moving House
03 June 2016

Moving House

 

Its been nearly three months since I last contributed a piece for this blog. its been very hectic, but theres absolutely been no excuse for not having half an hour spare to write. We haven't gone back to the UK to live, we haven't given up on our Spanish dream, we are very much still here. 

 

That said, we have been occupying our time with looking for and moving in to a new house. While we are not ones to make a knee jerk change of plan over anything, and I'm certainly one for procrastinating when it comes to decision making, we had a change of heart over our plans. The trigger for this change of heart came from some of the replies to one of my previous articles, dated 5th February. We rented our house in the UK out short term in order to see if we wanted to live in Spain after all. the family who rented our house said they would like to buy in January. They wouldn't or couldn't buy and left shortly after making that decision. We had put the house on the market and had some viewings, none of which were positive. The reason for the negative viewings will become evident further on in this article. Maybe we were naive or just stupid but we requested accompanied viewings and to be arranged at the convenience of the tenants and thats where the ‘fun’ begins. More of that later…

 

The big decision of course was where would we move to live? We had the apartment until 31st May but most available properties were only available for the summer season on a short term let basis. For those who don't know, you can ask the same price for a week in the summer as you can for a month outside that period. The longer term property rentals we were told were only available at the time (February/March) and were being let as soon as they were on the market. In fact many estate agents had waiting lists. We could either take a chance and wait until May and risk being left either homeless or paying a high rent for the summer or find one asap which would mean paying rent on two properties. 

 

It quickly became apparent when we first came to Torrevieja that the vast majority of houses and villas were away from the coast. Looking into this further I discover that Spain has one of the highest percentages in Europe of residents who live in apartments. We loved being 50 metres from the beach but to get a villa near the beach would have cost a fortune and although we didn't completely rule it out, didn't want another apartment. There followed a series of viewings of properties further away from the coast. Outside space being the number one priority for us, sadly, most were either too far away from civilisation for us or with little outside space. Then out of the blue came the villa we are now living in. Although reluctant to view, as it was right at the top of our price range, Sue immediately said “we’re having it”. I did my usual “we can’t afford it” routine but Sue had made ‘our’ minds up for us. A large swimming pool, lots of outside space and plenty of room for the family, especially dad, were the biggest factors. That afternoon we signed away our next 11 months.  

 

We flew back to the UK in March, which was pre planned. I had become a Grandad to Oscar earlier in the month and the plan was to see him for the first time. Just prior to our return following a lot of research we took the house off the market and planned to rent to tenants. The estate agent called us to say the house was (to put it mildly) unfit for viewing. I wont go into too much detail on this other than to say it was a surprise to us both and we had a lot of work ahead of us at no little cost. Five days were spent getting the house back to reasonable condition and what was once a furnished house, quickly became unfurnished. 

 

Theres very little we miss about the UK, family of course but we also took advantage while we were over there to go and see both Frankie Boyle and Dynamo. We love a good comedy show and were fairly regular visitors to he Comedy Store in Manchester as well as Hot Water comedy club in Liverpool. We divided our time between our house near Wigan, my sister in Preston (Where we found you cant get takeaway fish and chips on a Sunday evening in the town centre, much to our disappointment) and Manchester (Dynamo) before we returned to Spain.

 

Returning to Torrevieja in the early hours of 5th April and moving house the same morning was not one of our better plans but we wanted it all done and out of the way. It actually turned out to be fairly straightforward, all things considered. We had Sues son Reece to help us and the pleasure I felt when I got all the numerous boxes, cases and my bike down the 5 flights of stairs for the last time that morning was immense. Sue went ahead to meet our internet service provider while Reece and I did the heavy work. We had hired a ‘man with a van’ for 70 Euros who arrived a little earlier than planned but we were pretty much ready for him anyway. As a consequence of what had happened to our house in England we were transporting much more from the UK than we had originally planned like furniture and fitness equipment but these were not due for a week or so. 

 

We only moved about 5 kilometres away from our old apartment and its quite near to and overlooking Laguna Salada de Torrevieja. Theres a lovely view from our balcony and a whole new set of bars and restaurants to discover. The beach is about 3 kilometres away but with the pool maybe we will not miss it as much as we thought. 

 

Moving to a new house and settling in always takes time and we soon discovered teething troubles. The swimming pool leaked for a start. After some negotiation, the owner got builders in to repair, which took best part of a week and now we have a swimming pool which we honestly haven't much of a clue how to look after. Thankfully the internet is there for advice on the delicate balancing act that are chemicals. Our internet package is not as good as the one we had previously and more expensive to boot. Its gone off for days at a time, sometimes it can be fixed remotely but if it can’t, there appears to be no hurry for technicians to come out to deal with it. As our TV service relies on the internet, its inconvenient to say the least. Happily most things can be fixed without too much trouble.

 

Two months in, we are very happy here. Its a nice urbanisation, near but not too near to the main roads in and out of the area, nice bars and restaurants and plenty of scope for cycling. We still go back into town for a night out once or twice a month and do miss being so near to the sea, who wouldn’t be? I would have liked market nearby, preferably walking distance. The one we left behind in town sold about 90% clothes and junk and we only went once to twice. We have also started and finished Spanish lessons, participated in local karaoke and visited Benidorm for the first and second time, both of which were ‘interesting’. These will be covered in detail in my next blog. 

 

Thanks for reading!



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What a difference a month makes!
09 March 2016

What a difference a month makes

These are very uncertain times for a lot of people who either live in Spain or are planning to live out here. I’m referring of course to the EU referendum in June. Where do I stand? it seems a no brainer really that we vote to stay within the EU. It will have a direct effect on our travel, our status and the Euro but apart from them, I don't know much further. I am not an expert on all things European Union but I believe, perhaps naively that we are better together than apart. I’m reliably informed it will affect jobs for British people and I've yet to hear any argument that would suggest we are better pulling out. Therefore we stay! We have registered to vote and urge others to do also. 

 

In my last blog, I expressed my concern about selling up in the UK and buying in Spain. I would like to thank everyone who posted a reply with advice. We have made a decision over our future. Partly driven by the uncertainty over the EU vote and partly due to circumstances. Our house was up for sale for a month with very little interest culminating in a couple of viewings, both negative. With a mortgage to pay and rent to pay in Spain, coupled with the fact our current rental agreement is up shortly, we have decided to re rent our UK home and rent a little longer in Spain. 

 

How difficult is it to rent a house on the Costa Blanca? Our previous attempt at finding somewhere to live out here was last June. We found it difficult then because we were approaching the summer season. So of course, February will be a lot easier? Not quite! The rentals out here are generally for 11 months because of the law that allows the rent to be fixed for a five year period if a tenant signs for a year. (A rough description of a law that is no doubt quite complicated). In our search we found that many if not most properties only rent for short periods so that the summer is kept free. We have also encountered some oddities. None more so than the property where the advert stated you can rent for 11 months but had to leave August free each year. So where do you live in August?  Its easier to find property the further from the coast you go, unsurprisingly, and properties for rental are snapped up very quickly indeed. That leaves the dilemma of how late do we leave it before we accept? We still have three months to go on our current agreement and if we leave early we pay rent on two properties, if we leave it late, we may not find anywhere suitable given summer will be upon us. A kind of ‘deal or no deal’ situation. The upshot of this dilemma is that we have gone for the first option and we are now paying rent on two properties. We are therefore so glad we had a little cash to fall back on when we came out here. For anyone coming out here to live I would always recommend coming with rent money in advance, just in case. So this time next month we will be living in a Villa on an urbanisation away from the coast (although not too far). 

 

The TV programme about Brits in the sun, based in Benidorm has now finished its run. We are still to visit Benidorm but intend to do so at some stage. We found it very entertaining and have a few, tongue in cheek observations of our own as follows...

 

  1. Most Brits appear to live in Caravans. 
  2. The 'must have' accessory appears to be a mobility scooter
  3. People get a lot of their possessions from bins, either in or next to them
  4. There are a lot of drag artists/acts in Benidorm
  5. Its bloody hard work to make a living in Benidorm
  6. Everyone seems to know each other and raise a lot of money for charity
  7. The local language is English
  8. The local food is the good old ‘Sunday roast’
  9. If in doubt about what to do, buy a pub.
  10. Everything is cheap, and everyone is always saying so.

 

Of course its only a TV programme and it did only focus on a small cross section of the community but the same message did seem to come out every week. It would be interesting to hear what those who took part in the programme thought of its final edit. What it wasn't is typical of the Spain that we have encountered since we arrived. Everyone on the programme seemed to work very hard to make it work for them. Common themes were how cheap you could get a bottle of wine and a full English breakfast for. Compared with Torrevieja, where we are, they are so different. Torrevieja is very Spanish (given we read somewhere it was very British before we arrived). As you go away from the coast you get more non Spanish. It suits us and we prefer the Spanish feel rather than a British feel, and why we came here in the first place. 

 

I’ve returned to the joy of cycling in recent weeks with the purchase of a new bike. Its very interesting to note the differences between cycling in Spain v the UK. Actually there are more similarities as far as I'm concerned. Before I start I will point out that even though I've cycled a lot over most of my life, I've never ever taken it fully seriously. You’ll never see me in full lycra kit although I do have the padded shorts, a must, as is the cycle helmet these days!

 

Unfortunately most of the problems exist with car drivers in Spain that exist in England. Where i’m living the roads are much quieter that the city of Liverpool where I've lived most of my life. I do seem to get more room here and I see a lot of cyclists about but its hard to say whether I get more room because the roads are quieter or whether its the oher road users.It does appear to be a universal trait however of cars wanting to turn right in front of you or pulling out from junctions in front of cyclists. Negotiating your way out of Torrevieja is made difficult because of the one way system which sends you all over the place, together with the zebra crossings which are every few yards until you leave town. Because the cars are parked right up to the edge of the crossings, its hard to see pedestrians and most people don't wait for you to stop, instead appearing to jump out on you. I make a point at stopping at every red light as I'm aware of the reputation some cyclists have in this respect, it often means you spend more time static at crossings and lights as you make your way out of town. That of course applies to cars as well. There seems to be more cycle paths here than in England although they do seem to attract pedestrians for some reason. The main difference of course is the weather, its much more comfortable cycling with the sun on your back rather than sleet and snow. 

 

Im gradually increasing in confidence with my cycling although virtually every route out of town takes in the N332 which is pretty intimidating. Its often a one lane carriageway which leaves little room for a bicycle, and the two lane version means an increase in speed. Are there any other cyclists on this forum who have advice regarding negotiating such roads? At some stage, in order to get anywhere, I'm going to have to negotiate these roads.

 

Car driving has also thrown up some issues. When we arrived it amused us that most parked cars had bumps and scratches. Most people we speak to tell us this is normal and a daily hazard. Locally in Torrevieja I've already spoken about the one way system but it has come in to its own in the last two weeks with the roadworks taking place. Not just one or two roads, but about 10 roads. Its been like Hampton Court maze trying to get around town especially on market day. Id also like to make a point about roundabouts. Again, someone with more knowledge than me may be able to give an answer as I've looked online without success. Are there any rules in negotiating a roundabout? Or is it tourists and visitors who seem to negotiate them as if they've never seen one before. Let me explain… You approach a roundabout to turn left, which means 3/4 of the roundabout. Why do drivers enter in the right hand lane and go all around the outside? They also use the left lane, which makes it ‘interesting’ when exiting. We've seen many a near miss on roundabouts and it seems that there are no rules in negotiating them. This is not the odd occurrence exaggerated for impact, it happens every time we drive. Does this explain the aforementioned bumps and scratches? I would point out also that where we are, vehicles are parked in the road and not half on the pavement like in the UK and cars seem to have a switch that enables the driver to turn off fog lights when its not foggy, something I feel UK cars should have.

 

So the days are getting longer, the weather warmer and we’re moving house. We have family visiting in April and May, and I’m about to become a Grandad for the first time. whats not to like?



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Is the Spanish dream over?
05 February 2016

Is the Spanish dream over?

 

“Hey now hey now/ Don't dream it’s over” 

Crowded House (1986)

Im not sure about the rest of the lyrics, but these two lines from one of the great pop songs of the 1980s seems to sum up our last two weeks. 

 

Its mid January and we’re looking forward to the next episode of our Spanish dream. The weather is mixed but mainly sunny, culminating in a week of warm weather at the end of January / start of February. The front line of Torrevieja is still busy with the bars and restaurants bustling, especially during the weekends. Last weekend, with the weather in the early 20s there was hardly a spare seat along the front. The local press is reporting the warmest December, and now January in years. What could possibly go wrong?

 

When we planned our move out here, our aim was to rent a property whilst our own home in England was rented out. After six months we would look at selling our home. Our tenants told us that they would be very interested in buying our house so long as they liked it there. Their rent would pay our rent and contribute towards our living expenses. A phone call in mid January was fairly positive as our tenants loved the house and wanted to stay. Unfortunately our joy was short lived and they were unable to buy. We have two options open to us at this point. Keep on renting or put the house up for sale wth the obvious danger of our tenants moving out before we sold. This is what we did and our tenants have now found somewhere else to live. This was always going to happen whenever we put the house up for sale be it now or in a few years time. 

 

Since we arrived last summer, the exchange rate for the Euro has gone from 1.40€ down to 1.26€. We are also reliably informed that house prices on the Costa Blanca increased by about 5% last year following 7 years of reducing. this meant we had to sell sooner rather than later given the possible increased price in the future. So we have lost a main source of income and wonder if we will be able to afford to keep on two properties at the same time if our own house does not sell. The thought of going back to England is unthinkable for both of us as we love the lifestyle here. We may have to return until the house is sold, or think of other ways of supplementing our income. Jobs are hard to come by here, especially if you do not speak Spanish. There is work, most of it is not very well paid. 

 

We of course have our insurance policy. When we first came out here we made sure we had a years rent to cover us in case of emergencies. This would also cover the mortgage on our own property, should problems occur. We have my small pension to live on but we are now dipping into our savings. Interestingly, we have been watching ‘Bargain loving Brits in the sun’ the TV series on Channel 5 based in Benidorm. based on what I've seen, Torrievieja is as far away from Benidorm's lifestyle as its possible to get. However, many of the people shown have decided to go and live in Benidorm with hardly a Euro to their name. Thats either a very brave or very stupid thing to do depending on your outlook. I would never criticise anyone for just coming out here without a back up but its not us. Benidorm has a much larger population of British people and British businesses based there so there will be more opportunity for work for non Spanish speaking people. This is not the case in Torrevieja where the English speaking businesses are few and far between. I would like add however that I'm very impressed with the ingenuity and hard work that most of those on the ‘Bargain Brits’ programme display. Coming over with nothing means hard work and mainly in the hot sun. 

 

One example of how difficult it can be not being able to speak Spanish is the ‘Irish bar’. Coming from Liverpool where there is a very strong Irish connection and there is no shortage of Irish bars. What we have found in Torrevieja since we arrived is that there are no English bars here. Im sure someone will probably prove me wrong but based on our knowledge of the town near the coast where we live, we have only found one near to the harbour. That one is closed and up for sale. It happens to be owned by a well known English actor, so not even his name was enough to keep it open. 

 

We know of at least five Irish bars in the local area. I saw a satirical post recently on social media that an Irish bar had been found on the moon. This may be far fetched but I expect you don't have to go far to find one in Spain. The problem with trying to find work in an Irish bar here is that three of them are Spanish speaking Irish bars. They appear to be Irish in style and the drinks they sell but all the staff are Spanish speaking. Obviously the bottom line is that you need to be able to speak Spanish to work there. I would always suggest it’s respectful to speak the local language whether you need it or not. It certainly seems to irk English people if people who come to England don't speak English. Some people have commented on the afore mentioned ‘Bargain loving Brits in the sun’ that you don't need to speak Spanish because everyone speaks English. Our Spanish is limited and locals are accommodating to a certain degree but as soon as we try and speak Spanish, they recognise our language and speak back in English. Only today, we've bought yet another language course in the hope we can get there but we are finding it difficult, however we are not giving up. 

My new bike on the road to La Mata

Just prior to the bad news about our house, I was debating about what to do about my fitness levels. The summer months meant we swam pretty much every day but nothing has replaced the gym I attended before i came out to Spain. I eventually decided to buy myself a new bike. Theres no shortage of bicycle shops in our local area and we visited them all at least once. I eventually decided on a mountain style hybrid bike. My experience of local roads both here and in England are that they aren't in the best of repair. Bike lanes I've found often are the worst part of the road. I lost count of the times I punctured with my road bike so i’ve gone with something that is a bit more substantial, especially in the wheel department. My first problem though was when I returned home with the bike. It doesn't fit in the lift! I was convinced it would, it’s a lift that holds at least 4 people! But not a bike! And I live on the 5th floor! At this point I will apologise for appearing to shout as i type my words. Would I still buy the bike if I knew then what I know now? Yes i would. To put a positive spin on it all, It’s quite an intensive workout getting the bike up the stairs at the end of a ride. So there’s nothing to dislike, is there? 

 



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A visit to the doctors
14 January 2016

Feliz ano Nuevo! 

Thank you to all who comment to my blogs. In response to the last one, we have found filmon but on our system it buffers like mad and occasionally refuses. We tried the laptop method which works really well but have to use the laptops quite a lot so is limited. We have settled well here but there's a big year ahead for us. 

We settle quickly back into life here in Spain. The weather is a pleasant 18 - 20 most days with cool evenings. We are told by a local that this is good for the time of the year and that Spain will soon have its winter, if not January then certainly February.  This is disappointing but given we spent long rainy days and nights in England over recent weeks we put the whole thing in perspective. 

The big celebration for Christmas here is the three kings which in on the evening of 5th January. We miss the celebrations although we can hear music and noise in the distance. It's a public  holiday on the 6th and all shops are closed, only bars open. Interesting to note that yet again there was no panic buying in the days up to the holiday with supermarkets no busier than normal.

One of the concerns for us when we first came out here was if either of us became ill. Sue has had an ear infection for a few weeks now. We have visited the medical centre twice but the problem continues. On our first visit we attend what seems to be a medical centre. The language difference means we walk to the reception not knowing what the procedure is, but then it can't be that difficult can it? It turns out there is a queue which, when you look around, people aren't queueing. They sit and stand around, occasionally moving so that others can move up. We position ourselves behind someone who looks like they are in a queue. Luckily we are right and are soon at the counter again where we are told that we are in the wrong place. We need (what turns out to be) a larger clinic come hospital similar I suppose to what we would consider a 'drop in centre' in the UK. 

It's not too far away, and further ten minute walk on the way out of town. This time we are very aware of potential hidden queues, but all we see are people sitting in seats in what appears to be a waiting room. The desk is empty and no one around appears to be a receptionist. Luckily we are directed towards another room where we see a proper queue this time and three receptionists. We wait our turn and on speaking to a receptionist we find that there is one receptionist who speaks English, and it's not this one. Back to the queue and we are shortly seen to. NIE numbers and passports are essential when attending anything official, this is no different. We also bring E111 but are also aware that this card may have a short shelf life due to our current status. Sue is issued with a SIP card which appears to entitle her to medical treatment for the next two months and we are ushered back to the large waiting room where we sit and wait for our name to be called. 
Waiting for your name to be called could rightly be considered straightforward, however, it's not. The first name gets called out and we realise that we may not actually recognise our name when it comes up. The video screen does not appear to be working so we hope our name sounds fairly familiar when it's called out.  Names are called, people respond, sometimes, and we wonder if it was our name called. After about 45 minutes a name is called out and we think the same one is called out again so we go and look... We eventually find an open door and sure enough, it's our doctor. 

I've mentioned before that the main part of Torrevieja is very Spanish and the signs on the wall of the medical centre request non Spanish speaking patients should bring an interpreter. The doctor speaks very little English, probably enough to get by, usually. We get by on 80% sign language, 10% words and 10% luck. The doctor looks in Sues ear before skilfully flicking the earpiece 10 feet across the room into the waiting bin. I'm very impressed as she doesn't even look first and want to applaud but decide better of it. We end up with a prescription for antibiotics and ibuprofen and we leave, having been at the centre less than an hour. Result! 

Our next surprise is the cost of prescriptions. Less than 4 euros for two items. We almost felt like running out of the pharmacy in case the pharmacist realised their mistake. Unfortunately the antibiotics only had a limited effect and we had to return the following week. A lot more straightforward this time as Sue already had her sip card and we soon saw the same doctor who again skilfully flicked the earpiece across the room into the bin without looking. Another prescription for stronger tablets and again less than 4 euros for two items at the pharmacy. 

What happens when you have been to the medical centre twice, had two weeks of antibiotics but no change in your condition? The doctor said that if symptoms persist, Sue should go to hospital. We toyed with that prospect and there are two hospitals within a short drive of where we live in Torrevieja. We decide instead to get a second opinion for the main reason that it would be ideal to get a consultation in English. We could actually be seen by a non English speaking doctor again and be no better off. We find an English speaking doctor near to Carrefour and after a short wait Sue is seen. A short while later and following an anti inflammatory injection, she exits the surgery with a prescription for ear drops and a diagnosis. The cost of this private consultation is 50 euros. It's important to note at this point that the doctor did not accept the sip card for treatment as he was private. There was no discussion about cost until the charge at the end of the consultation. I would suggest finding that out at the start of the consultation and make sure you have the money with you. Within 24 hours symptoms have significantly reduced, two days later Sues ear is as normal. I'm not sure if it's correct to say that language was the reason for this. Sue was able to explain everything clearly to someone who understood. This may have happened in the hospital but maybe not. It shows that even if you surround yourself with English speaking people all the time (and we are not) the value of speaking the local language in circumstances like these cannot be underestimated! 

Just one point. Following the excesses of Christmas I returned to Spain with a little extra baggage. I had to give up my gym in England and can't find one suitable here. If anyone knows Torrevieja and can guide me in the direction of a decent gym I would be most grateful! 

 



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December
23 December 2015

December

This is my last blog of the year, and what a year! December last year I wasn't well, I wasn't sure of what the future held and we were awaiting Christmas in a village in Lancashire, complete with cold weather and the pub on Christmas Day. This year we enter December in the sunshine and it's a whole lot different. 

Torrevieja has many festivals and December is no different. The main one at this time of the year is 'Torrevieja Fiesta Inmaculada Concepcion' which took place between Friday 20th November and Tuesday 8th December. It honours Torreviejas patron saint la Inmaculada involving a series of events including parades, running of inflatable bulls, concerts, a paella competition and fireworks!

We returned from our short break to the UK with the festivities already underway but we were home in time to see the Sunday afternoon children's parade along the main road. Because we weren't aware of when and where a lot of the events were taking place, we often stumbled across them. The 1st Parade of the Giants and Big Heads was one such event. Because we are near the town centre we can hear a lot of the events taking place so we go outside and have a look. There were nine parades of the Giants and big heads, one of which surrounded us while we were enjoying a nice beach front drink one evening. The big heads were a group of people dancing and wearing... Big heads. The Giants, maybe 20 feet tall, would walk then run with people running after them. 

Giants and big heads

There were also free concerts & inflatable Bull running, tapas tasting & fashion parades and one Sunday afternoon a Paella Competition at the fair ground behind the day and night market. We weren't quite sure what was going on at the time as it just looked like one big party. Families and friends had gathered in small pens and were cooking paella and eating and drinking. There were lots of dancing and singing with rock bands playing and was all great fun. The whole thing culminated in a full day of events on 8th December and a massive firework display in the evening. 

Paella competition with areas cordoned off for participants

The following week saw an English carol service arranged in the church square which again proved very popular. Our local knowledge led us to a nice bar where we experienced it all in comfort. The bar appeared to be a drop off place for husbands while the wives went across the road to enjoy the service first hand. In general terms, Christmas as a whole is more religiously observed here than the UK, meaning it's less commercial, the decorations under stated and events revolve around the church. There was not a pop star from the Spanish version of X-factor (as far as I know) hired to switch on the Christmas lights. 

 

Church square

For years now we've watched 'a place in the sun' on TV and wondered whether we would actually make the plunge and move abroad. Sue will say it's more about when rather than if we moved. One of the things we had to decide was what type of lifestyle we wanted. Obviously Spain is associated with a more laid back approach to life and the benefits of the climate go without saying.    But the dilemma to go inland where you get more for your money or by the coast? quiet rural or a  busy town? Are other considerations. The one thing we both agreed on was that we needed to be where there was a bit of life hence we chose Torrevieja to start our journey. Some people have warned us about some holiday towns that are busy in the summer but become dead in the winter. That is not the case here. We are pleasantly surprised by how busy it still is. Many of the restaurants have closed, the fairground is a quarter of its capacity but it's still busy especially of a weekend. The festival I described above attracted many visitors and makes for a great atmosphere, and no matter how busy it gets, there's always a table available in one of the many restaurants that are still open.

I've previously mentioned our purchase of Internet TV and that our hands were tied as we have only rented our apartment. Unfortunately, despite the decent internet connection, the service is quite poor. The more reliable channels take an age to connect due to buffering and the channels with less buffering are u reliable and freeze regularly. Needless to say our viewing habits have changed considerably. It's noticed more in the winter as we stay in more in the evenings due to the obviously cooler weather. Still, when we make our move to a more permanent home, we will be able to purchase a better service. 

December in general is still warm during the day, often topping 20 degrees. The sun disappears around 6pm but cools between about 4-5 pm or so. People still sunbathe and even go swimming in the sea. The restaurants and bars all have outside areas which are under See through covers, some with heating for the cool evenings so you can still eat 'al fresco'. On the last Friday before Christmas we celebrated 'mad Friday' by going out in our Santa hats. People shouted hola to us as they passed and it certainly appeared that not only where we the only ones out in Santa hats, but were also the only ones doing mad Friday! In one bar we went in, one of the waiters went inside and came out with a Santa hat on. Within ten minutes, all the staff were wearing them. I'd hate to think we have started a mad Friday over here! We also read about panic Saturday in the UK where everyone goes out panic buying and the shops are chaotic. Strangely, there was no sign of it here. Our supermarket shop on 22nd December saw the supermarket... No busier than normal! I'm thinking that Spanish people maybe realise that as the shops are only closed on Christmas Day, there's no need to stock up as if there's a three month strike approaching. Indeed on panic Friday I had to wait all of 20 seconds before we I was served in a bar!

Impromptu mad Friday selfie with bar Staff! 

There are street decorations, people do decorate their houses but not so that that old guy on the moon can see them! There was a Black Friday but that was limited to a few signs in shop windows advertising discounts and the shops were no busier than on any other Friday. 

    

Christmas lights in Torrevieja. Notice the outdoor bars and restaurants are still open.

So we come to the end of another year. When we arrived in Spain in July it was certainly a lot warmer but then again I think we've only had two or three cloudy days in December so far, and two of them cleared up in the afternoon. We like the laid back way of life, friendliness and climate. We are frustrated at our struggle to pick up the language as online courses and books only take you so far. We enjoy our visits from people back in the UK and look forward to more in 2016. We embrace the differences that we find here and look to enjoy more of them next year. All in all we've had a good year and would like to wish everyone reading this a Merry Christmas and a happy new year! 



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Four months in...
15 December 2015

Four months in...

We've now been in Spain over four months. It's gone really quickly and we feel we are settling in quite well. We feel we really need to learn the language as our attempts using self teach books and Internet packages aren't working. There are several things that we have noticed and have opinions on here and I sometimes take a step back, mentally just to take in the changes to our lifestyle that have happened over the last four months or so. When I'm commenting or describing something here I'm not criticising it, just noting the changes. Some of the things I mention will sound silly or a bit obvious, such as the first time we go for a swim in the sea and it's cool. When it happened It was so unexpected as the days leading up to it and those after were all hot and sunny and the sea has never been anything but warm. It was early September which made us more surprised. Luckily and obviously the sea got warmer again and stayed warm until well into October.

We now have Internet and as we want British tv we check out the local English press for adverts. We are restricted by the fact we are only renting at the moment so can't have a massive dish. Internet tv seems to be the answer so we order a package. We are promised hundreds of channels and we get them, unfortunately their success is heavily reliant on the connection and live streams. This is very unpredictable and is very frustrating when the picture freezes, which is regular on some channels. I've given up on many a football match halfway through and with the lack of UK based pubs in the main part of Torrevieja English football is rarely shown. I've realised just how much I relied on recording one programme while watching another. We use the +1 channels a lot now but we aren't as reliant on tv as we were in the uk as we take advantage of the beautiful weather over here and spend more time outdoors even if it's just a walk.

One thing that has surprised me over here is the abundance of 'Chino' shops. Variations include 'Chino bazaar' and 'Hong Kong' shops. Massive stores selling pretty much anything you could ever need and open long hours, staffed by Chinese people. Amongst other things we have bought a patio table, batteries, bins, slippers, a football, extension leads, hairdryer, duvet covers, paella pan, Halloween make up and as Christmas approaches, our decorations. Some people have warned us off them expressing a concern that some of the electrical items may not be much good. We only buy what we can afford to lose really as you do with the likes of B&M and Poundstretcher back in the U.K. They are not necessarily cheaper than other shops either so beware, but they have often become our 'one stop shop' for bits and pieces we run out of or need at short notice on a regular basis. 

Two events quite close together show the stark difference between Spain and the U.K. Halloween and bonfire/Guy Fawkes night are barely a week apart yet couldn't be more different. Obviously November 5th is  a British celebration therefore we don't have to endure a week of fireworks and explosions the week before or after. I've never been a fan of fireworks anyway. The thought of arming people with explosives to do with pretty much what they wish, I've always found a bit strange. So November 5th passes without even a 'pop' and I don't miss it at all.

Halloween is a different kettle of fish altogether. Sue attempts to dress and make up as per Halloween tradition, however the make up she bought from the Chino shop is, frankly, rubbish. She settles for spiders web stockings and we venture out. There are numerous people, mainly young, who are dressed up for the occasion. 


Our first bar has an adapted skeleton toilet door sign with new signs especially for the occasion (see below) it looks bizarre. They serve their drinks with smoke pouring from the top in true Halloween style.

Male and female toilets adapted for Halloween. Can you guess which is which?

    

We enjoy our drinks, Halloween style! 

We get a free t shirt from Drakkars, a Scandinavian bar that has made the effort of  hanging one skeleton near the entrance and that's it! That's unusual however as even the more traditional bars have made an effort. Virtually every young person has dressed up which makes the evening. Something I find here is that both adults and children, young people and older, either mixed age groups or of their own age group, all are out enjoying the evening in their own way. 
In one of the more traditional Spanish bars with the tables and chairs outside, we order drinks. While we are there we experience one of the arranged activities in the town that night. There are a group of 'zombies' whose mission it is to capture people and turn them into zombies who then assist in capturing more people to turn into zombies. It goes on into the night and apparently there's a prize for those who avoid capture all night. Suddenly we hear a noise and We see dozens of young people all dressed up Halloween style trying to escape 'zombies' running past us. We witness this at various stages of the night. We even avoid trick or treat as we are in an apartment, in common with most people in our immediate vicinity.

    

Watch out watch out there's a zombie about! 

We end up in Monroes Rock bar which is OTT Halloween. There are hidden envelopes containing vouchers for free drinks dotted about which Sue looks for and finds quite a few of them. We get free drinks, give a few away and head home. 

Getting to know the clientele in Munroes! 

The weather stays warm well into October and early November and I have a visit from one of my sons and share some bonding time. I continue my running, slowly but surely, but fall to a calf injury which has occurred three times while I've been here. I'm advised calf strengthening exercises which seem to work, but then I succumb again. I'm 53 and haven't run properly for about six or seven years due to a back problem but my back gives me no trouble here, certainly not at the speed and distance I go, but it's my calf instead. If you have ever been a runner you will know the frustration injury can bring, but I'm not even exerting myself yet! 

Towards the end of November we head back to England for the first time. We have three family occasions to attend both in London and Liverpool. Of course I'm going to state the obvious about the weather being freezing. We arrive following a period of mild weather but it's turned cold. First impressions are that the Christmas feeling back in England is massive compared with Torrevieja. The sheer commercialisation hits us harder than it has in the past. Every shop is filled with decorations as opposed to the occasional one in Spain. Liverpool city centre for example if full of shoppers early on a Monday morning with over a month to go before the big day. It's a nice change for us and we meet up with family which is the only thing I really miss. I see all three of my sons, Sue will see hers next time we are back. We celebrate dads 80th birthday while we are there then bring him back to Spain with us. A 60th birthday party in London for Sues sister and my son, Matts graduation in Liverpool cathedral make it a busy week. It's flies by and we are soon home to the sunshine, relaxed atmosphere and non commercialisation of Christmas. 



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