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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 lost Meerkats
29 October 2015

The lost Meerkats...

Thank you for your comments on previous posts. They are all read and we take them all into account when we are planning our future. It's good to have people reading them and offering tips. All advice etc greatly received, thanks :-) 
 
Four weeks have passed and we are still waiting the shipment of our personal items from the UK. We have been told they are on their way but have no date of arrival. It’s not earth shattering to be without our stuff but the personal items that will stop us feeling like we are on holiday are what are missing here. Our photographs, pictures, clothing and our full set of Meerkats, carefully adopted in recent years due to our need to change insurance and utility providers. When you agree to adopt a Meerkat they undertake quite perilous journey across Europe from Meerkovo. They send postcards from all over Europe and often appear to get lost on route, but always arrive. Of course those of you reading this who have adopted a meerkat themselves will know exactly what I mean. I do wonder if we would have been better arranging the shipping of our belongings via the meerkats as they seem to do a better job, and also keep you in the loop regarding the progress of their journey. Still, it’s what it is now, we can’t go back on our decision I just hope the meerkats are not too traumatised to enjoy Spain once they arrive.
 
One of the problems you have as you get older is that your body doesn’t do what your mind wants it to do, or if it does, it only does it once! Of course I’m talking about exercise. For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed running. These last five or six years however have caused me to stop due to lower back pain. It’s very frustrating as people a lot older than me are seen everywhere running without apparent problems. After stopping running I immediately put a stone in weight on, which I have never been able to shift. Of a morning here, there are a lot of runners and walkers. They run and walk along the front and along the walkway and am itching to give it one last go before I retire into aqua aerobics hell.
 
I buy new running shoes and start to run and walk. It seems to work especially aided by my music player which has the most diverse mix of popular music you can imagine. My first run along the coast of the Mediterranean is fabulous. It’s warm, sunny and incredibly relaxing aided by a shuffle mix of Jimi Hendrix, the Sex Pistols, Tavares and Stan Ridgeway, bizarrely, (one of the best songs of the 1980’s). I probably only run for less than ten minutes, probably more of a shuffle really, but I did it. I’m given an instant lift by my exertion and vow to keep up the running to the best of my ability. 

The warm climate here is conducive to exercise and I'm desperate to do more and keep it up as the years advance. I want to buy a bike but because we are on the 5th floor, the lift is tiny and we have little room to store one, we will wait until it's more appropriate. We walk all we can, the coastal route both north and south are lovely and as we live yards from the beach we don't have to go far before the feel good factor arrives. 
 
It’s been very hot and sunny since we got here but we hear that a storm is on the way. We swim daily and don’t want to miss out. We can see the clouds gathering quite quickly and decide we must get our swim in before the heavens open. As we are about to leave the apartment, the rain starts. By the time we arrive on the road outside its heavy. What do we do? We pass everyone coming out of the sea and go in ourselves. The rain is heavy and we appear to have the sea to ourselves. The only slight problem is that when we get out we encounter a bit of a flood and have to cross the road about eight inches or so of water, but we are in our sandals so it’s no problem. Sadly the main electrical storm misses us but the next day the beach looks like a bomb site. There are deep trenches all along and some of the sun beds have been washed away. Even the stands with taps in at the entrance to the beach have been washed over. It’s obviously happened before as the clean up starts straight away and within a couple of days the beach is back to normal.
 
We still don’t have Wi-Fi and we catch up daily on one of the local bars. As a side issue, we are beginning to learn a lot about which bars are more accommodating than others. We have a regular bar and we are ensured of a friendly welcome, even if full the owner tries to accommodate us. On one of the days we try a different bar, after about ten minutes we have one of the bar staff practically standing over us waiting for us to pay and leave. We don’t and are presented with our bill and asked to pay. We vow never to go in El Pescador again. Most of the other bars are friendly and we take a particular shine to Erne who must be at least 80 years old. There’s not an ounce of fat on him and we never see him smile but his drinks are cheap and he has wifi. He always seem to stare, maybe it’s our paranoia following our El Pescador experience. We also rate the bars on the amount of nuts and crisps, the amount, type and whether we even get some. Sometimes we feel put out if we don't get any. It's a nice touch, sometimes we get get olives (Sue hates olives) and once we got some sort of croquet. We shouldn't be picky though, its probably because we have to pay for them in the UK. Small things amuse…


 An example of free nuts at 'Jeremis' bar! 

The end of another week. We feel we are settling in. People recognise us now even if it is mainly bar owners, they must realise we are here for the long haul.

PS. Our shipment of personal possessions still hasn't arrived…



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'Caca de la vaca' and other things
24 October 2015

Caca De La Vaca and other things…

We are well into week two in our new life in Spain. It’s completely different than our previous lives. Having spent my first 50 years in Liverpool, then moved to leafy Appley Bridge to be with Sue we are on a steep learning curve. Our apartment is clearly a holiday apartment and it doesn’t have an awful lot of spare room for our various possessions. We have ten packages and two large suitcases on their way and nowhere to store any of them. Our landlord is very understanding and agrees to empty the drawers and cupboards in readinejss for our delivery. So the old Spanish books, ornaments and spare bedding are removed together with the excess crockery and TV set. 

We do feel a little cut off from the real world at times but it doesn’t really matter as it’s hot and sunny. We try to keep up with what’s going on locally by reading the numerous English publications on offer. 

The Post, South (free)
Costa Blanca news €2
RTN (Costa Blanca, Costa Calida)
The Courier (Free)

All of them keep you up to date with things going on as well as local news and events. The devastating news we discover in one of the papers is that we have missed ‘Caca De La Vaca’. I swear to you, if we had known about it we would have taken part. We recover our composure and decide that next year we will definitely take part. Caca de la Vaca is inspired, translated, for those who haven’t worked it out is roughly ‘The cow poo game’. A field is marked off in to square metre portions and contestants buy themselves a ticket corresponding to a one metre plot. A cow subsequently gets released onto the field, here’s where it gets clever… the cow has been fed and is due a poo! Wherever the cow dumps its poo is the winning plot and the winner wins anything from 2000 Euros upwards. Genius! If it catches on in the UK, I wonder if the BBC would take it on. I believe it will give X-Factor a run for its money, or knowing ITV like I do, they will more likely have a celebrity version – “Celebrity Caca de la Vaca, with Piers Morgan!”

A typical caca de la vaca poster

We have a bit of an issue to resolve once we recover from missing the cow poo game. Sues mobile phone contract is deemed pretty much useless here in Spain. While I have an ‘EE extra’ contract which means unlimited calls and texts to EU countries, even though my internet allowance is unusable, Sue doesn’t. Luckily for her she’s out of contract, her phone is unlocked and she is able to look for a sim only deal. Easier said than done! We try all the usual suspects such as Orange and Vodafone and end up buying a 10 Euro pay as you go from Orange. We were warned that the internet connection was slow, and it was, desperately so. They didn’t tell us that calls that went over the 10 Euro limit would be taken off when you renewed the sim. I’ve never heard of that before. Seems very strange and it’s something we have to look into further…

We haven’t got a car yet so we decide one day to walk out to Habaneras, which is the big shopping centre at Torrevieja. It takes us just over half an hour from where we are based by the coast and is actually quite decent if not as big as we thought. It has a Carrefour supermarket which sells English stuff, but to be honest we are getting used to buying local stuff now. The clothes and food are cheaper here unless you want specific English items. We walk pretty much everywhere give or take the odd bus. When we do get the bus we find its 1.35 Euros to go pretty much anywhere. Back in England it was £3.60 for the short ride into town… on an empty bus. I wonder why? 

In the short time we have been in Torrevieja, we are unsure whether we want to make our future here. Of course there’s an amazing country to explore and we are happy to do so. For now we have this town to explore. There are over 100,000 people live in Torrevieja and it’s clear that this is a holiday resort mainly for Spanish families. Of a night the front is heaving and the restaurants and bars are busy. There are lots of heladerias selling the biggest selection of ice cream I have ever seen. We go to the harbour on a Saturday night for a drink. What we can’t figure out is that the bars are a lot quieter than the main strip and we cannot understand why. I believe ‘Niki Lounge’ is quite a brand yet it’s quiet. The drinks are more expensive but that’s also the case for some of the bars along the front. It is very relaxing however and we enjoy our drinks in front of the large array of yachts. It’s not very well advertised but it’s only a five minute walk away. Things are often not as they seem. The Irish bar for example is the most Spanish bar in the town, but they do sell Bulmers. It’s the only bar where we are that has a smattering of English speaking people. There are another two Irish bars to the north towards Le Mata with English speaking staff. I’m always wary of ordering a ‘Grande cerveza’ in case I get the glass the size of a bucket but then, if I did, I would have to drink it. Life’s so hard sometimes! One of the bars, which is owned by a Norwegian has a big TV outside which shows VH1. One evening a family sat near to it and one of the children stole the remote control and put the football on. The bar staff couldn’t work it out until she saw them waving it about. 

 

Sue and her Bulmers, with lots of ice of course! 

The dangers of ordering a Grande Cerveza 

All in all, we are starting to get into a routine. We are eating on our patio each evening and eating more fresh fish and salads. Then we go and ruin it all by hitting the bars of a weekend. Our Spanish is extremely limited and our online course is inaccessible at the moment so we try and learn as we go along. Our attempts are pretty useless and it reminds me of a routine by the comedian Kevin Bridges who tried to learn Spanish. (Look it up on YouTube, live at the Apollo) It’s called “Una mesa para cuatro por favour” (A table for four please) Of course, if you are a tourist you don’t need to learn the language, but we aren’t and we do. 

Until we get our TV and internet we go out and buy some dominoes as this seems to be the local game. I haven’t played that game since I was a child. We play dominoes and cards like the locals only we do it on the patio rather than the road. We have also brought over our box set of ‘Breaking Bad’ which we are about halfway through and watch it in the evenings. 

We are also informed that our belongings are on their way. If there is any advice I can give to anyone coming to Spain and shipping belongings over, its make sure you know the terms and conditions. We are originally told to pay half up front and the other half on arrival. We are also told our items are delayed because of the ongoing problems at Calais involving migrants. To cut a long story short, our items are delayed because we didn’t pay all up front, yet despite numerous phone calls, this was not given as a reason until weeks after they were collected from the UK. We are living out of two suitcases and we treat it like a holiday because we have to and we are wearing our holiday stuff for weeks. Still, we know our belongings are on their way and we go for a drink to celebrate!



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La Cucaracha
17 October 2015

La Cucaracha 

One evening we return home and as I enter the bathroom I note, on the ceiling, the biggest cockroach I have ever seen. Is that an exaggeration? Possibly, but then every time I see a cockroach it seems a bigger one than the last. I don’t like them but needs must, and I decide to tackle it. I use a brush as it’s the only thing in the apartment big enough to put at least a few feet between us. My wife, Sue is blissfully unaware of the battle about to take place as she sits in our living room listening to some music. Brush at the ready together with my secret weapon, cockroach spray I tackle the foe. The expectation is to spray then flip it downand brush up and flush. What I have never been told however is that they can fly, or at least glide. And that’s exactly what it did, right past my face. I had two choices, stay calm or scream! I screamed! But at least I got reinforcements. Two of us are now trying to spray, trap and get rid of the enemy without crushing. After a battle of wits where the cockroach managed to escape to the living room, we finally got rid, burial at sea, as it were. The decision to keep the toilet light on all night from then on was made. Even though we managed to dispose of it we felt like we hadn’t really won! The trouble was, we felt violated and we toddled off to bed, lights on!

One thing we have not missed in our first week in Spain is the TV. We have rented a furnished apartment with the normal Spanish TV. We scan the channels for anything resembling an English language channel anyway and find three. Disney channel, an American channel that seems to show desperate housewives a lot and Discovery. In England we tended to fall into the trap of coming home from work and watching TV. Even if we don’t watch, the TV tends to be on anyway. To have a more outdoor and stress free life attracted us to Spain and we are spending a lot more of our time outside. There are only two serious concerns at this point, the first being Coronation Street - We have responsibilities, I for one have been brought up on it from a very young age and Steve McDonald has only recently got over a serious bout of depression – I don’t want to be responsible for any possible relapse. Secondly, the impending football season. Now I don’t want to fall into the trap of the English football fan abroad who spends all their time searching and watching the English Premier League. There are numerous bars around the immediate area of where we live, none of them show English football! Plenty of Spanish football, but nothing resembling the English Premier League. I try to put a positive spin on this, after all, I’m an Everton supporter and despite them being the greatest club in world football, we are not currently very well off, or good. The lack of football may actually improve my mental wellbeing! I could even support Real Madrid and live off reflected glory. I won’t let it take over my life however and a search for football should not take over from the real reason I’m in spain.

We also have no internet. This is more of an issue as we communicate a lot on Skype, Facebook and twitter, not to mention we will probably need it in our search for work. We have five sons between us and they are spread all across England so contact with them is very important to us. We are promised internet by our landlord but will have to wait 5 weeks. The block of apartments are quite old and for the whole block to get internet access requires agreement from the committee. Another apparent factor is that a lot of the internet companies are closed for the summer holidays. This means we have to go to local bars for internet access, not necessarily a bad thing but quite expensive long term. It’s always a source of amusement when you see a group of people sitting together, not talking because they are on Facebook or the internet. We now go to a local bar each day to catch up… and don’t talk to each other while we are there. At least my mobile phone plan includes unlimited EU calls even though my internet package is rendered useless in Spain. 

We find a fantastic place to swim. For those who have never been to Torrevieja, there is a lovely harbour which has a stretch of yachts and bars alongside. Further up is a stretch of water where yachts drop anchor, order food which is delivered by boat from one of the local bars. It’s also perfect for swimming. Clear, blue, calm water perfect. We spend quite a bit of time there and it never gets too busy. 

 

 

 

We get told that the weather in the UK is very poor at the moment. When usually there is at least one sustained period of maybe one or two weeks of nice weather, this year it’s just miserable, 12 or 13 degrees in July/August in some cases. OK, we are talking about the North West of England but having good weather clearly improves you mood. Our move is not just about the weather of course but the feel good factor is definitely the biggest draw here!

We end the week with the news that there will be family visiting. My dad, who is nearly 80 will be flying out with my sister. We have been told to expect a lot of family and friends visiting, especially at the beginning but having seen the price of flights this summer we weren’t sure whether that would be the case. Luckily a bargain was found and we have our first visitors soon.

 



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Settling in
08 October 2015

Well, this is it. Our first week! 

Waking up to the first day of the rest of your life doesn’t happen that often, if you know what I mean! What’s the first thing that you do? Have breakfast out? Shopping? One of the first things we realise is that, without air conditioning, we are going to be very warm in our apartment. We open a door and the shutters halfway up which brings a slight breeze. The only problem here is that it doesn’t go quiet until well after 1am as we are near to the beach and bars and people. At 3.30am the large bins get emptied, and they are 50 metres down the road from our apartment, so we hear everything. Then at about 7.30 am the day appears to start. Our realisation that people here don’t chat, they shout. Luckily we have three bedrooms to choose from so that gives us options for future nights. Either way it doesn’t really matter as we have nothing to get up for at the moment so we sleep in.

 

We decide to have breakfast out then go shopping. Following a Bocadillo in a local retaurantwe shop and I find a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc for €1.79 which despite its relative insignificance seems to justify the whole move to Spain. We also plan that our proper new life should start tomorrow and we will eat and drink out tonight. We intend to use local Spanish bars a lot so we could try and ‘integrate’ a little. The bar we ended up in was particularly Spanish and, sat in the street we order vodka.  We got a dark, sweet drink, not before the barman had nipped to the bar next door to but two cans of coke as he had none. It appears adaptability is the name of the game here, but also an attempt to please his customer.

 

One of the more ‘interesting’ aspects of our move was our need for information. With the help of the numerous Ex-pat websites and their forums, we tackle the first issue of obtainingan NIE or Numero de Identidad de Extranjero, basically a tax identification number. What we started was the internet forum based version of WWIII. Now please do not get me wrong on this, most people are genuinely helpful but we had already been bitten by a previous query to a forum, in which basically asked for practical tips on the actual move to Spain. What followed were several replies admonishing us over our lack of planning, poor knowledge of cost of flights, local area and even questioning our knowing what we actually wanted. 

 

We posed the NIE question and got loads of information. A lot of if contradicting advice but what amused us was the argument that ‘kicked off’ between forum members. As the arguments got more heated they also got more sarcastic…

“Forgive me if I know nothing but I’ve only lived in Spain 20 years”

“Well, I got mine from the Town Hall, it must have been a dream”

 

Advice ranged from the following:

Try… The town hall; the local police; Police National; Immigration.

 

We also tried the tourist information who also advised:

Municipal archive and Town planning.

 

Since moving to Spain I have found the advice given very useful particularly the replies to this ongoing blog. It took us over a week to find the right destination, most of the above closing at 1pm, we were often five minutes late. We tried all of the options given to us and after days of walking pretty much everywhere we eventually found the ‘Police National’ which was hidden away in a side street. We applied inside to a police officer who spoke very good English, I was immediately won over when he told me he preferred Everton FC over Liverpool FC. Good customer service or amazing insight? I like to think it was the latter. Six days later we have our NIE after plenty of walking.

 

We enjoy our first week in Spain and love the apparent ‘quirkiness’ of the local people which is actually normal behaviour here. Every morning a group of elderly man gather around a table in the middle of the road, leaving just enough room for cars to pass in order to play dominoes. Likewise a group of women do the same in the evening, on a zebra crossing to play cards. Wherever there is a space in the road, a group of people bring their chairs our and talk until the early hours. It all seems to be multi-generational as well. Family members of all ages sit around to eat and talk. 

 

We decide that until we find work or worthwhile activities to occupy ourselves we will take a swim in the sea each evening. What we find is that everyone else does also, especially on Friday where it really does feel like its standing room only. It is after all the start of the main summer holidays. After a few days here we decide that Torrevieja, the main bit near the sea is very Spanish – we had been previously told it was very British. This is not a bad thing but may be more difficult to find work. I’ve heard it been called the ‘costa del Yorkshire’. I’m not quite sure where that has come from. I assume there is an estate somewhere locally where everyone is from Yorkshire. There is a distinct lack of English football tops here which is refreshing but replaced by Real Madrid and Barcelona tops with the odd smattering of Atletico Madrid – I ask the question are most people on holiday here from Madrid and Barcelona? 

 

We round the week by having another night out. One of the things we are wary of is the transition from tourist to local. In the Facebook posts that follow our night out we are noted as always posting pictures with a drink in our hand but to be fair we’ve had two nights out in our first week and have posted pictures each time. We make a mental note to post pictures of museums and road signs in future. As we regularly had a weekend night out in England we will have one here and, late on, we are tempted by ‘free shots’ offered by a Prince Lookalike (The musician not royalty). As we are in our mid 50s we really should know better, but unfortunately we don’t. We think ‘what the hell!’ enter the bar and partake...

 

 

 

 

 



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Off we go!
02 October 2015

There is an old saying of which is a relatively modern proverb apparently attributed to Alan Lakein, a writer of time management books since the 1970s. "Failing to plan is planning to fail!" With that in mind, three days to go we have planned our move down to the tiniest detail. We have ten packages for collection by our courier for transportation to Spain, all collected on time. Saturday arrives and we are struggling to keep the weight of our allocated two cases each below the 23kgs allowed by Monarch Airlines. We decide to be sensible and ring up Monarch and ask them how much the excess baggage will be. £10 per kilogram is the response. Ok, a few kilograms in the grand scheme of things we decide is manageable, until we check our flight details... To cut a very long story short, we have only one case booked each! How on earth did it happen? We blame the website which states you can book cases up to 23kgs each, with a maximum of five cases. Ok, we cocked up but on clicking two cases each we had booked two totalling 23 kgs. My argument will always be that who will ever book five cases at a total of 23kgs? With the weight of the bags totalling maybe 10-15 kgs, how much weight does that leave for luggage? A very odd scenario given that other airlines offer you more than one case each! 


Our biggest concern however is how do we get our two cases over to Spain, given the excess baggage will be pushing £500. We are thankful, however that we called as if, when turning up at the airport we would have had no option other than to pay the excess or bin our belongings. I think I'm mentioning this because, despite our haste in leaving the country and our continuous mistakes, we are still making our dream happen! We arrange for our original courier to collect our remaining suitcases with only a few hours to spare.


Our leaving party negotiated, goodbye to work colleagues and family and a final drink in our local pub - Before we know it we are at Manchester airport. I have my iPod with my mix of classic rock, punk and guilty pleasures (musical ones) loaded. Sue has her books downloaded. We treat ourselves to the airport executive lounge before we jet off!

Our flight touched down 10.45pm local time. We were met at the airport by Mr party man taxi driver! He got us to Torrevieja in about 35 minutes with every speed limit broken and other drivers his mere playthings. My plan of quiet contemplation of our new life didn't even get off the ground. Our driver appeared to be the Spanish cross between Timmy Mallet and Smashy & Nicey! (Remember Harry Enfield back in the day?) very loud party music blaring away and loads of clapping by the driver. He even gave us frequent weather updates, well, he kept shouting "fifty degrees in Benidorm!" 

Many people may wonder why two people would give up secure jobs and a comfortable lifestyle to go and live in another country. I've often wondered myself. We cannot speak Spanish, we have visited mainland Spain only once before and don't have jobs to go to. We will miss many things about the UK but given we have five sons aged between 20 a 25 years old who have all left home, brother and sisters, dad. We hope they will visit and we may even see them as much as we did before. Leaving family behind is definitely the hardest thing to do


We were met at our apartment by our landlord and within half an hour we had signed rental agreements. We were informed that Spain was experiencing a heatwave and it's hottest summer in years. We decided we could very much live with that scenario and the sound of the sea nearby only added to our excitement. Before long we were sitting on our balcony in the very warm midnight air, cold drink in our hands and thinking 'this is it!', 'there's no going back now' and 'what have we done?' The easy bit done, we are looking forward to our new life in Spain! 



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