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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.

Baby Steps... To A New Future
29 May 2020

I ventured out two weeks ago…

So, we’re actually on our way to the ‘new normal’, whatever that may be. It’s hard, practically impossible to predict what that may be. In August 2006 whilst I was on holiday in Menorca, and just days before I was due to fly home, the decision was made to severely restrict the number of fluids on flights. The 2006 Transatlantic Aircraft Plot was an attempt by terrorists to detonate liquid explosives on flights between the UK, USA and Canada. The terror alert had been raised to ‘Critical’ and restrictions on hand luggage came in. I remember it well because we had to quickly reassess our hand luggage requirements, which were practically banned, and our hold case became our sole luggage and duty-free carrier. 

I mention this because at the time, even though the restrictions were said to be permanent many people thought that this would be a temporary measure. It became a new normal. 

Fast forward about 14 years and I wonder just how many of the measures currently in place, will actually turn out to be permanent? Maybe none but then do any of us know how this pandemic is going to play out? Some say that without a vaccine we will never go back to what we took as normal. Some say that vaccines are a sinister way of conveniently playing into rich drug company hands. Maybe the truth lies somewhere in between, who knows?

 

A cautious lifting

It’s nearly 11 weeks since the state of panic and our last visit to a bar. The now, restrictive measures have been put in place, and a cautious ‘lifting’ is currently happening. Two weeks ago, we decided to take our 8pm walk and treat ourselves halfway round by visiting a bar. Incredibly, since the lockdown started in mid-March, the weather has been very un-Spain like and, quite unbelievably it’s rained in half of the first 42 days. Our first venture out was dry but cloudy and the bar we chose had tables the stated 2 metres apart and of course all outside. While we enjoyed our drinks, the bar was visited by Police who made a note of the customers, checked inside and outside and chatted to the staff before moving on. It was clear that the lifting of restrictions would be taken just as seriously as the maintenance of restrictions. 

Although we didn’t feel uncomfortable at any time during the half-hour or so we were there, we did feel an array of emotions. There is an odd feeling of freedom when outside for the first couple of times and as we sat down, there was a sense of feeling unusual to be out in public. People walking past had an array of masks, face coverings and some with bare faces. 

A small bowl of mixed nuts gave us our first dilemma. We looked at each other. “Are they safe to eat?” Our next dilemma was the visit to the toilet. I had hoped to avoid such a visit but a much-needed pint of lager, a bladder well into its 6th decade and the half-hour walk home put paid to any bravery on my part. It’s the first time I’ve ever sung happy birthday in a public toilet, but new challenges require new actions. Clean hands and safely home, just as it got dark, we had negotiated the first step.

As we are now allowed to work, we are conscious of the safety restrictions required from us. Our masks are expensively assembled as we have yet to find the source of the cheap ones, we are told are available. Our local pharmacy charges €5.80 for a mask. Another one nearby €3.50. We are told you can pick them up for just under one euro, so it's ongoing. As for cleanliness, a fair few years ago, I was a nurse as was my mother and I have been brought up to wash my hands thoroughly, so I’ve never felt the need to use hand sanitiser. I notice it in the supermarket now and it’s expensive, but I don’t know whether that’s the normal price or a new inflated one. We have one that we carry one about for our clients use and ourselves. 

 

Washing hands...

It made me reflect on a three-month stint as an operating theatre nurse back in the ’80s, we had to wash and scrub our hands methodically up to our elbows for at least ten minutes (if my memory serves me right, it could have been longer) and that was before you were allowed anywhere near gloves. To put that into perspective, that’s 60 happy birthdays in a row. 

Call me a grumpy sod but It’s been a source of irritation for me, that up until 11 weeks ago, I would estimate that only about half of men who visit public toilets, don’t wash their hands. Maybe that’s something that will change in the future. I remember as a child when my mum was reiterating her handwash rule to me, she would tell me that when you shake hands with someone, and they’ve just been to the toilet, it’s not just their hand you are actually shaking. That message alone has stood with me for many years. Well, it would the way my mum put it!

Our concern that local bars and restaurants would suffer were reassured when one by one, they began to open. Of course, they have suffered without business for so long but in our small local square, all but one have re-opened and the one that hasn’t was only newly open two weeks before the restrictions came into place. 

 

Saturday afternoon

We went for a drink early on Friday evening locally and then on Saturday into Torrevieja for drinks and something to eat. Again, it seemed odd as eleven weeks of being confined to home took their toll. Saturday afternoon in Torrevieja was extremely quiet, with very few people about. The exercise restrictions were still in place which is probably why most of those that were outside, were sitting in one of the open bars or ice cream restaurants. It also seemed as if people weren’t sure what the rules on masks were. Older people tended to wear them constantly, whereas younger people only wore them indoors. Rumours of fines given for not wearing a mask outside were allayed as those ‘naked of the mask’ were left alone by the numerous police patrols we encountered. Although it got busier into the evening, I would estimate that only about a third were open. 

The beaches were empty and news that they will be opened in June for phase 2 is to be welcomed. We are told that, as well as the expected distancing rules, there is to be no peeing in the sea! The Guardia Civil will have their work cut out enforcing that and I feel and suspect that some of them may be thinking it wasn’t quite what they signed up for when they joined. Maybe there will be a use for the dye that was used in swimming pools in the ’70s that showed up during a sneaky wee. Maybe with technology, its been developed to show blue dye for a boy, red dye for a girl and purple dye for those who prefer not to say.

 

                                     

 

The difference between Spain and the UK is stark from over here. Media pictures of crowded streets, beaches and parks in the UK compare with the empty beaches, parks, and sparsely populated streets in Torrevieja. I hate the strict lockdown rules, but I’m also reassured by knowing exactly what I should and shouldn’t be doing. Massive fines and arrests tend to focus the mind as well. There are many who will be reading this from the UK and unless you are here, I don’t think you can possibly imagine how restrictive the strictest lockdown in Europe actually is. More importantly, how supportive people have been about those restrictions.

Over the two evenings, one of the things that struck me was the variation in interpretation of the new rules between the various establishments. The only consistency between them is the gap between tables of about two metres. One bar had handwash at the entrance and was heavily policed by the owner, forcing you to rub hands both in and out, yet there was no sanitiser in the actual toilets. Others just have strategic handwash and signs dotted about and one made me wear a mask to go to the toilet, even though I was on my own. All the tables are scrubbed after each use and masks by staff tend to be worn unless they want to smoke or chat with friends, which then reduces the mask to something akin to a neck warmer.

We had a meal out and the owner gave every customer a glass of cava to finish their meal, I assume as a thank you for custom. Prices have increased in one of the bars we have been to and one bar that gave tapas with every drink doesn’t anymore. 

 

Into Phase 2

With the weather in the foreseeable future back to its hot and sunny norm, the baby steps back to normal at least have the weather onside. It will be one of the big advantages that Spain has over the UK when the bars and restaurants open again there. Our part of Alicante has been held back from entering phase 2 of the lift of restrictions so that the north of the region can catch up. We will enter phase 2 on Monday 1st June all going well. Our business is slow, but we are hopeful that it will pick up with everyone else. The news that tourism will be encouraged from July 1st is being cautiously welcomed. 

 

It made me think

Just one observation before I wrap up. I saw a Facebook post that announced the daily death toll from the virus had dropped below 100 deaths for yet another day. My first thought was “oh great” before I quickly chastised myself. Along with others, I had fallen into the trap of celebrating death and forgetting, albeit briefly, that 83 families that day have lost loved ones to the virus (we are now in the '30s). Reading the replies to the post, I wasn’t the only one. 

Our local general hospital has had no admissions for Covid-19 in over three weeks I read today. Baby steps to a new future and hopefully we will soon be looking back on this period and how we not only survived but made us stronger. 

Stay safe everyone!



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The Battle of Torrevieja
07 May 2020

As the time comes to start to reduce the restrictions we are all currently experiencing I feel better as the sun begins to shine and the days and nights become much warmer. As it stands, we are allowed out up to 10 am in the morning and between 8 PM and 11 pm in the evening for a short period of exercise. A plan to lift restrictions is underway and like you all, I hope that it all works and the future is bright. 

It's time to reflect and I've been looking back at the time we arrived in Spain nearly five years ago. I enjoy poetry, both reading and writing and have written about a (previously mentioned) confrontation we had after a night out on returning to our apartment a couple of months after moving here. Keep smiling everyone, I hope you enjoy...

 

The battle of Torrevieja

 

It was me or the beast!

It was a late July evening, And it was very very hot

I’d not long moved to Spain, And was enjoying it a lot, 

We’d been out for the night, And ready for our bed

But what turned up at home, Filled me full of dread,

 

Settled in the bathroom, As if I wasn’t there

Was a dirty great cockroach, Aggressively standing there,

Now I’m a man of steel, and very rarely spooked

But the sight of that beast in front of me, Almost made me poop,

 

(But it was in the bloody bathroom…)

 

It slowly crawled right up the wall, Near the showerhead

I decided there and then, And declared war! prior to bed,

Inexperienced as I was at this, My weapons were then drawn

This would be a battle, Which could go on till dawn,

I raised my arms and pointed, I looked him in the eye

It’s you or me you bastard, Be prepared to die!

 

Then it swooped upon me, Came at me full steam

Like it was leading 933 squadron, And looking rather mean, 

I didn’t know they flew, No one told me that

As it squared up in front of me, In my habitat,

I yelled my war cry, to frighten him off (fingers crossed in hope…)

My wife swears to this day it was a scream

OK, maybe it was a little high pitched,

And she’s being decidedly mean,

 

I took the fight to the enemy, One of us had to die

Determined to be victorious, I was in full war cry!

The tension was unbearable, You could cut it with a blade

Like Jack the giant slayer, This foe must be slain,

 

I’m fighting for my peace of mind, Fighting for my life

Fighting for our freedom, Both mine and my wife’s,

He attacked but I survived, Was this just the first wave?

Now above other times in my life, I needed to be brave,

 

And then…  there was quiet!

 

SHHHHHHHH….

 

As I crawled through the hallway, You could hear a pin drop

All I could think of was, Who would come on top?

Suddenly I heard scuttling, What should I do?

Then I saw my foe, As big as a size 9 shoe,

 

As it climbed again, I was primed and ready

Lives depended on my bravery, My hands though, were far from steady,

I reached for my weapon, A large calibre 750 millilitres ‘Zum’

Leroy Merlin’s finest…

I would not, dare not, for the sake of my family… run!

 

I gripped my weapon tightly, Given its size, I felt its strength

Capable of taking out the whole building, I was waiting for my foe at arm's length,

My enemy was big and bold And looked me in the eye

In my mind I was preparing, And ready to say goodbye!

 

He continued to rise above me, I aimed right at its head

The standard practice I believe, When you want something dead,

I pointed and… BANG! I sprayed…, And then it turned and swooped again

Then rapidly, it ran away too fast for me, As I fired again… in vain,

 

And boy, it ran…

(It made me think though)

 

Then a thought came to mind, If he disappears from sight

I’ll be awake and concerned, All bloody night!

Then it turned and lunged again, I drew and again and fired, 

My Zum on automatic, Dirty Harry inspired,

 

My adversary toppled onto its back, The most dramatic of displays

I rejoiced and made preparations, For him to end his days,

Then I went to scoop him up, To put an end to the fight

Then the bloody critter, Ran off into the night

 

How that bastard must have run, Because 15 minutes later

I found him again upon his back, A fallen gladiator,

 

I stood down all my army, After a vicious hard-fought war

And made a victory salute, As I ushered him to the door,

He had what many crave, After a long and vicious campaign

Resting there in peace, Unable to go again,

I said some words of condolence, Then, counted up to three

Then I dropped him down the toilet, For burial at sea.

 



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Week 4 – The lockdown continues. The ramblings of a man filling the extra time he would normally spend outside.
08 April 2020

The ramblings of a man filling the extra time he would normally spend going outside...

 

It’s 6 am and I’ve been awake for about an hour. I can’t ever claim ever to have been a good sleeper because I worry too much. I think it was passed down from my mum as she too was a worrier. We are well into our fourth week of restrictions, popularly known as ‘lockdown’ and the early morning bouts of insomnia are getting regular. 

The one thing being stuck in your home does, is give you time to think. The only problem is that I do nearly all of it in bed. One morning I woke up and realised I wasn’t worried about anything, so I worried about that. We all have things to worry about during this period in our lives and not just about ourselves. I find it strange that relatively unimportant things take on a bigger part in our lives when the mind takes a rest. 

I remember back in the 1980s a chap called Max Headroom had a show on TV. He represented the future – a fictional artificial character who spoke via a TV screen in between showing music videos. Who would have thought that in 2020, due to COVID-19 restrictions, that heads on screens would rapidly make a comeback as guests in TV studios? Yet this is rapidly becoming the norm during this strange time. 

Was TV really this bad before the lockdown? Do people actually watch Tipping Point with its ridiculously easy questions and arcade coin pusher? Or Judge Rinder with its steady stream of amateur ‘actors’ masquerading as contestants?  BBC1 seems to be a non-stop coronavirus channel, repeating the same messages over and over again together with Q & A programmes mainly fielding questions from people who want to bypass the current restrictions. Other such as ‘This Morning’ are encouraging people to mail-order their clothes, games and anything else to satisfy their need to shop, without a hint of thought for those working in the warehouses and involved in the delivery of such items. The rest is a mix of ‘best of’ and Dr Sarah Jarvis, who seems to have found a way to get into numerous TV studios without breaking restrictions and poor Joe Wicks and Jamie Oliver who are stuck at home with a video camera pointing at them. 

How strange that having had pretty bad weather for most of the first 3 weeks of the restrictions, the last few days of nice weather has been welcomed, despite not being able to go out and enjoy it. 

When I can’t sleep, I wonder about more obvious things such as how businesses will cope and whether my favourite bars and restaurants will ever open again. As my last job before retiring to Spain included managing protection for the victims of domestic violence my mind also wanders to how such vulnerable people manage.

People who are vulnerable in normal times are extra vulnerable at the moment. I am also aware that there are differing opinions on certain people and their vulnerability. I wonder about the ‘roundabout girls’, the people who beg at supermarkets and various other places as well as the flower sellers and others who live completely different lives to mine. I remember taking my reverse advent calendar box of essentials to the homeless charity ‘Reach out, Torrevieja’ on Christmas Eve and the reminder that despite what we think about some people, there are many worse off.

In my mind’s eye, I also take myself on a walk along the beachfront in Torrevieja and wonder, when all this has blown over, will anyone be able to purchase ‘cheap as chips’ a pair of Nike trainers or Calvin Klein underpants at such a convenient and reasonable price in the future. 

When I do eventually go back to sleep, I wake later than I normally would and therefore end up going to bed later. That means the TV is usually on and I get to sample the delights of a dating show where the contestants are all naked. I get angry because, having sat through the first half where a woman picks a man, it’s then a man picking a man. “Where are the bloody women?” I yell, as my wife sniggers away in the corner.

My one visit per week to the supermarket was today. The free newspapers have disappeared from outside and it’s the quietest it’s been since I moved here 4 years ago. Last week, in the absence of a mask, I took a neck warmer/snood to cover my mouth, mainly because most people have mouth coverings when out shopping. You don’t want to feel left out, after all. The pharmacy is around the corner but hasn’t had any for sale. It’s not a requirement but you feel you should at least make an effort however pathetic my effort seems to be. 

I fail to take into account that it’s about 20 degrees and given I originally bought the snood in the first place was to keep me warm, it reduces me to an overheated sweaty mess – after 5 minutes. Despite recent practice, I am still unable to open the plastic vegetable bags with the mandatory plastic gloves on. Being the person I am, I won’t give up and keep trying anyway. 

The rest of the shop is uneventful but notable due to the items missing last week are now available, apart from long-grain rice. Risotto it will have to be then. What am I saying? ‘Notable?’ Is this what life has come to when the presence of Heinz beans, Sauvignon blanc, tea bags and Crunchies in the supermarket is notable?

Essential items a month ago have been replaced by the new ‘first world’ essentials. Batteries, printer ink, swimming pool accessories. None of which are available in our local supermarket. I’m being very careful with glasses in case of breakages lead to a family shortage. Due to my exercise regime, on one day last week, two pairs of underpants developed holes in them. I’m quite a modern man but darning isn’t a skill I ever acquired. 

“I’m not darning bloody underpants” exclaimed my wife. 

“But there may be a shortage” I replied 

“there’s only so often you can turn the rest of them inside out” I continued.

There’s more than one way to ‘skin a cat’ I decide and the constant placing of the underpants within her reach eventually works, together with making her realise that what she is doing is recycling and saving the planet. Crisis averted. 

The rest of the week is taken up with playing my guitar and watching more TV and films. I catch the latest ‘sensation’ which is ‘Tiger King’. Which is described by Sophie Gilbert, The Atlantic.com as:

A seven-part documentary series about a gay, polygamous zoo owner in Oklahoma who breeds tigers, commissions and stars in his own country music videos, presides over what he describes as “my little cult” of drifters and much younger men and ran for governor of Oklahoma in 2018 on a libertarian platform. 

Joe Exotic is the man in question, and I find it all morally suspect and in parts quite disturbing. With a liberal smattering of guns and bravado, he typifies the modern craving for media attention and although I’m a little shocked at the content, I’m not surprised, which in itself I find a little sad. 

As we look forward, I grasp any positivity that I can in these troubling times… 

*I have regained two pairs of underpants in the name of recycling, that I had previously written off; 

*I never thought that when I knocked on someone’s front door and ran away as a kid, the skill would be so useful at my current age;

*My Spanish is improving;

*My wife has taken up painting by numbers;

* Previously under-valued people are now valued like never before.

Keep safe everyone!



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Lockdown, day 7
22 March 2020

Day 7 in the Corona Virus house... it’s Friday and one week after all bars and restaurants were ordered to close and 5th day of total lockdown. My sometimes light hearted reflections on a short trip to the supermarket.

I went to the supermarket for the 2nd time this week. We only get what we need as per guidelines and hope that this will keep the shelves stacked. The counter balance to this is that if I only went shopping once I would be out less but for twice as long. I can only carry so much. I volunteer, mainly just to get out of the house. I remember a few years ago, ID cards being suggested for the UK and feel somehow fully legitimate because I had my bag for life clearly on show as Guardia Civil drive past. 

On entering, I quickly noticed that virtually everyone now wears a mask and feel a slight discomfort, almost naked minus my mask as I don my gloves ready to search for a suitable cucumber to place into my basket. I feel self conscious as I struggle to open a plastic bag in order to place said cucumber so I take a glove off and feel guilty for doing so. Then I have to process the price sticker which decided to attach itself like a limpet to the plastic glove I have only just returned to my hand. They never taught me this at school! The strife was relieved when the cucumber was safely inserted into it's location. And relax... 

The supermarket is well stocked but I notice that certain shelves are empty. Baked beans, Heinz soups, corned beef, weetabix... Toilet paper is very low and I got the last pack of teabags but there’s plenty of bread and milk. We have half a bag of teabags at home already and I feel slight guilt when I take the pack, which lasts a millisecond when I remember the videos of shopping trolleys over full to the brim and beyond with toilet paper - my wife has a pretty full on tea habit you see. Hot drinks are advised and she hates coffee, green tea, red bush and any of the other variations available. Hot chocolate would be gratefully accepted but not being able to go out for walks, that ‘second on the lips’ would likely spend its lifetime on our hips, as the saying goes. 

it's all very quiet and relatively normal apart from the occasional customer who avoids me when we are looking to pass in the aisle, must be the absense of the mask, or is it something more sinister? I feel a little paranoid and remember a phrase I was told from an old workmate who wasn’t known for his positivity; “Just because you are paranoid, doesn’t mean someone isn’t out to get you”.

I pack the essentials; wine, beer as we are planning a house crawl tonight, probably starting in our regular haunt, the living room and maybe ending up somewhere good and not the bathroom, which often signals the end of a rough night. It’s not the lockdown at this moment that’s causing an issue, it’s the lack of things to look forward to. The meal out, the nice walk, the trip, but the most important thing in life is your health as without that you have nothing. 

I go to pay and unload my goods onto the conveyor belt. They've put plastic screens up between us and the staff and I feel like I'm visiting someone in prison. Maybe I am, maybe we all are 🤔. I am aware that people have made a living writing books and making films about situations such as this and now I’m playing the real part in it. 

Suddenly, when I begin to contemplate the fresh air, I suddenly feel a sneeze coming on. Of all the things that could possibly go wrong with my short trip, this is something I hadn't planned for. At times like this, the worst thoughts fly through your head. Have they a panic button? Alarm, akin to an air raid siren? Will Guardia Civil be at the end of a panic button? Will my wife get her tea bags? I contort my face and breathe heavily. I quickly use my most effective ’smash glass in an emergency’ tactic, sorry, my 2nd most effective (feigning death didn't seem appropriate in the circumstances). I summoned my deepest self-hypnosis and sent my sneeze across the supermarket and out of the door. As I arrived back in the room, sneeze vanquished, a queue had formed of masked people all standing two metres apart, indicated by the lines, strategically placed at the check out for anyone not sure how to measure such distances. I did the British thing, apologised, muttered ’Tarjeta’, punched in my numbers and exited. As I did so, the bloke across the road sneezed and I smiled to myself and wondered... 

On my way back I reflect. I note the empty roads, bars, restaurants and wondered if any of them would open again😞 

In a short moment of light relief I ponder the fact that for as long as I remember, people have used a strategic cough to hide a fart, nowadays they are farting to hide a cough. 

Back home I sat down and relaxed. Shopping over for this week and await news, any news that's in any way positive. I have my health for now, I'm on lockdown with the person I would most choose in the world to be on lockdown with and I vow to speak to my sons and loved ones soon. I reflect and think it could be worse as my wife walks into the living room and announces its the longest she's ever gone without make up 😮and relax...



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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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