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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.

December
23 December 2015

December

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

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

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

Giants and big heads

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

Paella competition with areas cordoned off for participants

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

 

Church square

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

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

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

Impromptu mad Friday selfie with bar Staff! 

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

    

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

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



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Four months in...
15 December 2015

Four months in...

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

    

We enjoy our drinks, Halloween style! 

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

    

Watch out watch out there's a zombie about! 

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

Getting to know the clientele in Munroes! 

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

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



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Our first visitors
04 December 2015

Thank you to all who posted a comment following my last blog. We read them all and are taking your advice on board. 

After a period of settling in we have our first visitors. We both miss our families in particular and we await any visits with excitement. My sister and dad are on their way. We also have five sons between us, all in their 20s and hope to see them soon also.

The journey between Alicante airport is about an hour by public transport and our visitors take advantage of the bus which costs only 6.92 euros - a bargain. We don't have a car yet so we cannot collect them. It's reassuring to know that this two hourly bus service is available. It's a mixed first few days for them. In our limited time we show them around as best we can and are pleased that they seem to like it here. The first big shock is when dad, who is nearly 80, goes to the local Friday market and has his wallet taken. The market in Torrevieja is big and very busy. None of us realise he has taken a lot of his money with him, luckily his cards and passport etc are safe. Sue and I are really vigilant regarding crime prevention and I know there are plenty of posts on this website about the issue of crime. It's a sharp lesson for us and another of the concerning features of the ageing process and that criminals prey on the most vulnerable. The victim here would not have had that happen to him twenty years ago! The trouble with dad is that he still thinks he's twenty something. He dives into the sea with gusto but on a blustery day the waves knock him over. We keep a close eye on him at all times but on one occasion he was helped onto his feet by locals after the surf knocked him over! He had to take out quite a hefty travel insurance to stay with us but it's worth every penny as he loves it here as much as we do. 

One 'highlight' is a trip on the amazing tourist train! It runs through Torrevieja and up the coast to the north. One member of Sues family labelled the train as 'the wally trolley' (thanks Andy!) and that seems to have stuck with us. So Wally's we are, travelling up the coast, waving to people on the beach! Children wave back, and some adults too. Sue loses her hat in the breeze (oh how we laughed!) and we return in my one piece. Wally trolley accomplished without a safety net. 

Dad and Nicola on the 'Wally Trolley'

One of our more important jobs is showing our visitors the local bars and restaurants. We quickly establish our favourites. Niki lounge with its pool and loungers is an early favourite but dad particularly enjoys Anita's lounge which plays live easy listening music in the style of the old crooners, occasionally diverting to 'hotel California' before drifting back to Patsy Cline et al. A bonus at Anita's are the generous nuts and crisps with your drinks and the fabulous cocktails. What is there not to like? On one occasion we get home after,our visit and sing the neighbours up in the early hours. We learn shhhhh in Spanish, or words to that effect. 

Dad, Nicola and myself at a local restaurant

Living so near to the coast has its advantages here, we are 50 metres from the beach and entertainment. The views are fabulous and we are minutes away from anything really, however a downside is that during the summer months it is very noisy. If you want an early night you are in trouble as it doesn't really go quiet until around 1-2 am. The bins are outside and get emptied at 4am every morning and people start to go outside again when it's light. Occasionally you get rowdy groups of people shouting and singing but interestingly, nothing sinister. It's very hot overnight, and as I have previously mentioned, we have no air conditioning. This means that if we wish to open our doors and windows it's noisy, and allows the mosquitos in. Shutting them makes the apartment unbearable. 

We are starting to find out way around more and more. We take buses to local towns and resorts, partly out of interest but also to see if there is anywhere we would like to live in the future. We have visited la Torreta (there's three of them cleverly called 1, 2 and 3) and it explains a little of where some of the British ex-pats are. Punta Prima is further down the coast and typical of many of the urbanisations of Spain. A main shopping centre surrounded by properties. As you get near to the coast we have found lots of high rise apartments which seems to dominate the coastline. Los balconies is an inland urbanisation from and quite large with a small centre containing shops and bars. La Zenia is further south and much larger with a large shopping centre, plenty of bars and restaurants and some nice beaches and a fair few urbanisations. They all have their plus points but we are drawn to the coast or at least near to the coast. We also like it a bit lively so despite my comments about Torrevieja being noisy in the summer, we wouldn't want to lose it all. 

Two big milestones for us that will make our lives a little easier. We are told by our landlord that due to the politics of the community charge, Internet will not be provided which means that we have to organise it independently. This is done and we now have Internet access at just over 20 euros a month. It's actually a decent connection given all we have heard about Spanish Internet. I was informed that from the Costa blanca down the east coast there is a notoriously poor internet service. We have no complaint so far and hope it long continues. 

We also buy a car! There are times since we have been in Spain that if we heeded the warnings given over pretty much everything, we actually wouldn't do anything out of fear! We would rather be safe than sorry so we do go with a lot of the advice given and avoid the smaller Spanish car sales. This is in an attempt to avoid the 'routine' mileage tampering that apparently exists as well as other dishonest dealings that go on. In fact everything I have tried to avoid while living in England! We find a car sales with British owners in La Zenia and are happy with our purchase, particularly the years insurance which comes with European breakdown cover. We upgrade to fully comprehensive with the cost to us being less than £20 per month following a rough conversion. Hopefully we won't need it but the value may be evident when we claim. I'm assuming we will be fine and like a lot of things in Spain, we are actually getting better value for money than we would in the UK. 

The difference getting our own car does for our lives doesn't need me to tell you. Freedom! Our first job is to take our visitors back to Alicante airport after their two weeks with us, it will be very quiet without them. The centre of Torrevieja is mainly a system of one way roads and if your journey takes you across town you are hampered by zebra crossings every twenty metres or so on the smaller roads. These crossings are mainly observed by drivers who generally allow you to cross bit with crossroads every few yards it can be difficult to tell who should give way. The first more notable driving issue we encounter are the roundabouts. It's very common to turn left taking the third exit, completely in the outside lane which can cause chaos when someone is trying to take the exit before from the inside lane of the crossing. We quickly learn two things. Firstly assume every car, regardless of lane is likely to leave the roundabout at the next exit. Secondly, it's probably the reason every other car is covered in bumps and scratches. We live and learn and begin to enjoy the Costa blanca slightly further afield than we have so far. 



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