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Puntos de vista - a personal Spain blog

Musings about Spain and Spanish life by Paul Whitelock, hispanophile of 40 years and now resident of Ronda in Andalucía .

Journey to the hard extreme – Extremadura – Part 2
16 October 2021

Pablo de Ronda has visited Extremadura twice – once about 20 years ago and again recently. In Part 1 he described his first visit in 2002. In Part 2 he covers the 5-day visit he and his wife Rita have just completed.

19 years since my last visit it was time for me to revisit Extremadura. This time I wanted to check out all seven of the paradores located in the region.

And I wanted to show my wife Rita this beautiful part of Spain, which is located slightly off the beaten track.

Once again, I bought a Five-Night Card, for just 600€. That works out at 120€ per night, breakfast included, and 20% discount on all food purchased in the parador.

I am also an Amigo de Paradores which means there are certain perks like discounted parking, a welcome drink on arrival, and occasional special offers such as tours or other activities.

In addition, for every 3 euros spent you get a point. And what do points mean? Prizes!

Well in the case of this loyalty scheme, you can exchange points for accommodation or meals. In the old days I had many a free night’s accommodation for my accumulated Amigo points.

 

Sunday 3 October 2021

On this trip we stayed in different paradores than my previous trip, except for Zafra, the most southerly one, which is just three hours from Ronda. So, we spent the first night there.

The parador is in a 15th century castle-palace built on the remains of an Arab fortress. Rita loved it.

We paid a small supplement to get upgraded to a larger room.

After a stroll through the old part and a light lunch in the Plaza Chica, just off the Plaza Mayor, we took a siesta before dressing up for dinner. We ate well in the parador restaurant, Rita “maining” on lomo de ternera and me on a leg of baby goat. Mmmm!

 

Monday 4 October 2021

The following morning, after a hearty breakfast, we had a look around Zafra before heading north.

We called in to look at the parador in Plasencia – a 15th century former monastery. Beautiful. It was very busy so we didn’t stay long.

A further hour’s drive brought us to our parador for the night, in Jarandilla de la Vera. Well, we thought Zafra and Plasencia were both excellent, but Jarandilla was simply stunning. A 15th century castle-cum-palace, it seemed perfect in every way.

After a very late lunch (ca. 5.00 pm) we took some photos and wandered around the sleepy town. Then after a short siesta, it was time to eat again!

The parador restaurant was packed! Once again our dinner was excellent.

We try to focus on local dishes, so we shared a partridge salad before we both had poached salmon with a dressing of crema de espinacas on a bed of boulanger potatoes. Washed down with a bottle of locally-produced Sauvignon BlancMuy rico.

 

Tuesday 5 October 2021

Day 3 began again with a huge breakfast, before we headed off to Guadalupe to check out the parador there. I had been before, 19 years ago, but for Rita it was new.

Such a pretty parador, a former hospital (15th century), with a gorgeous patio full of lemon trees.

We went to see the Black Virgin in the basilica before returning to the parador for lunch in the aforementioned patio.

We shared two dishes:  an ensalada de naranjas and vieiras gratinadas (coquilles St Jacques). Just right .

Then it was on to Trujillo, our resting place for the next two nights.

The parador here, a former castle, stands at the top of the town. It is just a few minutes’ walk to the impressive Plaza Mayor, which boasts an imposing statue of Francisco Pizarra, born here and the conqueror of Peru.

The first night we dined in the parador restaurant. The food was unremarkable, so much so that I can’t even remember what we had.

 

Wednesday 6 October 2021

We drove to Cáceres to check out the parador and the city. The zona monumental, where the parador is located, was a delight. Lots of old buildings and narrow cobbled streets largely free of traffic.

The Cáceres parador was old on the outside and modern inside. Not our favourite, but clearly popular with others, as to stay there with the Five-Night Card you have to pay a supplement of 60€!

We had lunch at a restaurant in the Plaza Mayor. I had a menu of the day and Rita chose carrilleras (carrilladas or pork cheeks to us!)

We drove on ordinary roads back to the parador in Trujillo and had a rest before ambling down to the square for a light dinner in the Plaza Mayor there. Just to make a change from the somewhat samey parador offer.

 

Thursday 7 October 2021

After breakfast in Trujillo we drove to Mérida, parked at the parador, checked in and went for a nice relaxed lunch in the patio. The parador here was an 18th century convent and very spacious.

After a siesta we went for a stroll and took some nice photos of the Alcazaba (9th century Arab fortress) and the Roman bridge.

The menu at the parador offered some things we’d not previously had, so we dined in. What a good decision. We shared a starter, beef croquetas , then Rita had atún con algas (seaweed) and I chose filete de dorada (gilt head bream). A couple of glasses of a local white and we were well set for a good night’s sleep!

 

Friday 8 October 2021

As is my wont, I went in search of an early morning coffee.

Finding a café open early when away from home is easier said than done, however. In a couple of places on this tour of Extremadura it has entailed walking or driving around darkened streets until I spotted shadowy figures huddled together or a dimly lit bar.

Here in Mérida it was easy; I just headed for the Plaza de España, 5 minutes’ walk from the parador, and the Bar Arcada was waiting for me with open arms.

Full of regulars and early work starters, as are all early bars, it's great fun to listen in and sometimes to join in. Trouble is, once they find out I'm British, they only want to talk about - you guessed it - BREXIT! No Spaniard understands why we would want to leave the EU. Them and me both!

After our final hearty breakfast for a while we packed, paid the bill and loaded the car.

Then it was off to do a bit of Roman culture. We headed for the theatre and the amphitheatre where we got to use our Tarjeta sesentycinco for the first time to get a 50% discount on the price of admission.

The restoration of these two Roman monuments has been tastefully done and the results are really stunning. We passed a good hour there and took some great photos.

After a bit of window shopping on the way back to the car, we said our farewells to Mérida before setting off back to Andalucía and Ronda.

*

It probably sounds like we had a hedonistic week, over-indulging on delicious food. Well, we did, but surprisingly I hadn’t put on a single gram in weight!

 

Postscript:

We had a great week, well deserved after a tough year dealing with Covid-19 and its after effects.

We visited all seven paradores in Extremadura and stayed in four.

 

We rank the paradores themselves as follows:

  • Jarandilla de la Vera
  • Guadalupe
  • Zafra
  • Trujillo
  • Mérida
  • Cáceres
  • Plasencia

 

As regards the towns where the paradores are located, our rank order is:

  • Guadalupe
  • Mérida
  • Trujillo
  • Cáceres
  • Zafra
  • Plasencia
  • Jarandilla

 

Plasencia is low on both lists, which is somewhat unfair, in that we spent so little time there. It is in fact a very beautiful parador housed in a former convent built in the 15th Century. The town is also bustling and full of life.

 



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Journey to the hard extreme – Extremadura – Part 1
14 October 2021

Pablo de Ronda has visited Extremadura twice – once about 20 years ago and last week. In Part 1 he describes his first visit in 2002.

I went on a parador tour to Extremadura in 2002 with my first wife Jeryl and my son Tom. We had a Five-Night card which gave us five nights’ accommodation at a discounted rate. I can’t remember how much we paid back then - could have been 400€ - but it seemed like a bargain at the time. Especially as we stayed in some fantastic places.

We flew to Madrid, picked up a really dodgy hire car and headed west. First stop was Plasencia. The parador there is in the former convent of Santo Domingo dating from the 15th century. What a stunning place.

The day got even better when I discovered that my favourite Spanish group, Radio Tarifa, was due to play in the square that night. What an amazing coincidence!

This multi-national music ensemble, combined FlamencoArab-Andalusian music, Arabic musicMoorish music and other musical influences of the Mediterranean, the Middle Ages and the Caribbean. The name Radio Tarifa  comes from an imaginary radio station in Tarifa, a small town in the Spanish province of CádizAndalusia, the closest part of Spain to Morocco.

And what a great concert it was! In the interval I approached the bass player, who I knew was English, and had a great chat. David Purdye, a Geordie, had joined the band as a temporary replacement. Despite having no Spanish, he was still with the band several years later ….. and loving it.

I was to see the group perform live twice more, later that year in the huge capacity Bridgewater Hall in Manchester and a year later in a sports hall in Warrington, with a capacity of about 20. Down on their luck, or what? Radio Tarifa split up in 2006, their lead singer and driving force died in 2012 and that was effectively that for this unique band. They left a great legacy though! I listen to them often.

After two nights in Plasencia we headed into the hills to Guadalupe.

The parador here also dates from the 15th century, but this time it was a former hospital, St John the Baptist. Simple, but delightful, with extensive gardens. The basilica here is home to the black virgin of Guadalupe.

Our final stop was Zafra, where the parador is in an old castle, also dating from the 15th century. The internal patio, used as the restaurant, was a charming place to sit and eat the delicious local food.

Two nights there and it was off back to Madrid to catch our flight home to Manchester.

What a great week! A truly Magical History Tour.



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Cheque (sic) your Spanish bank account
02 October 2021

Banks are lobbing charges on current accounts without warning customers. Some customers now pay 240 euros a year just to have an account. Pablo de Ronda investigates.

The biggest high-street names in Spain have tightened their special conditions for clients who want free banking.

Some banks are charging their customers up to 240 euros a year - in other words 20 euros a month - just for having an account with them. The commissions for the most basic financial services keep going up and the conditions demanded by some banks to exempt their clients from these charges are increasingly severe.

This is the way the banking sector has decided to increase its own income in a scenario of negative interest rates.

In the first six months of this year all the big banks increased their earnings from commissions, as they themselves reveal in their results. The five biggest banks in the country alone earned more than 10 billion euros just through charges and commissions.

In the case of Málaga-based Unicaja Banco (which is the fifth biggest in the country after its merger with Liberbank), between January and June this year it earned 10.6 per cent more from commissions than in the same period last year.

This increased income from commissions is not coincidental, but the result of an active policy of charging more and imposing conditions which are difficult to meet.

There is a double objective to this policy: they want to encourage more of their most loyal customers to contract financial products such as insurance, pension plans and investment funds, and they want to earn more from customers who merely have an account with them.

Numerous complaints

This strategy of increasing commissions and making it harder for clients to be exempt from them has resulted in increased conflict between the banks and consumers.

According to Banco de Espana, the number of complaints from customers about current accounts rose last year by nearly 50 per cent to 4,153. Most of the complaints were about the higher charges, where the number almost doubled, to 2,134. Complaints about bank commissions now account for ten per cent of the total.

Let’s look at some examples of what banks are now charging:

 

Santander

At the end of last year the leading Spanish bank, Santander, began to charge 240 euros a year instead of 144 (in other words, 66.7 per cent more), just for maintaining its One account. That charge applies to clients who do not fulfil the requirements for exemption: having a salary or pension of at least 600 euros a month paid into their account, three direct debits every three months and paying with a card six times in three months. If a client does not fulfil any of those three requirements, they will pay 240 euros a year. If they only fulfil the first one, they will pay 120 euros and if they fulfil the first one and one of the others they won't pay any account maintenance charges at all.

 

CaixaBank

CaixaBank is the other bank at the top of the list of maintenance charges for account holders. Since October 2020 it has been charging 240 euros a year. If customers don't want to pay charges, they have to fulfil several requirements: pay a salary of at least 600 euros a month or a pension of 300 euros directly into their account, or have more than 20,000 euros in investment funds, savings or pension plans, as well as paying three bills through the account or making three purchases with their card every quarter. If they only have their salary or pension paid in the bank charges 60 euros a year.

 

BBVA

In June2021 BBVA also tightened its conditions for those who want to avoid maintenance charges. The group announced that it would be charging 160 euros a year for clients who did not meet its conditions, justifying the decision by blaming "the economic situation following the health crisis, and the evolution of the financial markets".

To avoid paying commissions customers have to fulfil three criteria: income paid in (salary of more than 800 euros, pension or benefit of more than 300 euros, or periodic credits of more than 800 euros a month); payments through the account (five bills in four months or seven credit card purchases in four months) and products (loan, mortgage, insurance, investment funds, savings plans or insured incomes, or three payments of 200 euros by card in four months).

 

BancSabadell

BancSabadell, and its subsidiary Solbank, in the meantime, increased its commissions for account maintenance twice last year, the first to 60 euros a year and the second to 120.

To avoid having to pay these, clients have to take out some type of insurance or loan or have at least 10,000 euros in investment funds with the bank, as well as having income of at least 700 euros a month paid directly into their account.

 

Unicaja Banco

In March, Unicaja Banco told its customers that charges were going up for those who did not fulfil the requirements of its Zero Commission Plan: a salary, pension or unemployment payment of 600 euros or more paid directly into the account, or regular credits of at least 7,200 euros a year; pay at least 1,200 euros a year by credit card or a minimum of two operations a month; and have an insurance policy through the bank, or have a minimum balance of 6,000 euros in the account or in other products (investment funds, pension plans or savings).

Only those who fulfil all these requirements will be exempt from commissions. Those who only fulfil some of them will pay 60 euros a year and those who don't fulfil any of them will have to pay 120 euros.

 

Credit and Debit Cards

In addition to the cost involved in having a simple bank account there is commission for other basic services such as a debit card. Most banks have stopped offering these free of charge, unless the client fulfils the conditions listed above.

***

On a personal level I have accounts at two banks. My main account is at BancSabadell, where I fulfill their requirements and have free banking, including my credit and debit cards.

I have also had an account with Unicaja for over 20 years. They have just started to charge me 60 euros a year, despite always having had free banking up to now.

I don’t fulfill one of their requirements and they are not prepared to be flexible and make an exception, so I am going to close the account and switch to CaixaBank, whose requirements are less strict than the other big banks.

I would have thought that Unicaja would have appreciated my loyalty for over two decades, and accommodated me, but no, so “¡ADIÓS Unicaja!”.

 

With acknowledgements to SUR in English, Málaga 



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My Eco-house in the Serranía de Ronda – Phase 1
27 September 2021

When Pablo de Ronda bought the old house in Montejaque (Málaga) belonging to the Real family, he already had an idea of what he wanted to create; namely a traditional house with modern themes. He also wanted it to be an eco-house.

When I viewed the ‘Real’ house for the first time. I could see past the old-fashionedness of the layout and the décor.

After I’d bought the house I decided to retain as many original features as possible, eg traditional sevillanas (wall tiles) and the original floor tiles. We planned to expose and stain/paint some of the wooden beams.

However, in contrast to that we opened up three separate rooms to create an L-shaped lounge, dining room and kitchen. We also installed two new, modern bathrooms and modernised the kitchen.

As for the eco angle, I have bought second-hand furniture and fittings (so, recycling); I have also been given a lot of things, including internal doors and windows, items of furniture, etc. A surprising number of items have been acquired from the dump and up-cycled. Well if Sarah Moore can do it on the BBC, so can I!

Retrieved items include a kitchen cupboard, a couple of rugs, several pictures in nice frames, lamps, a beaded curtain, a child’s cot in new condition and material which could be cut to size to make shelves.

Other items were bought new to ensure eco-friendliness – electrodomésticos, for example. Those included a new oven and hob, new washing machine, new kettle and new iron.

For hygiene reasons all beds have new mattresses and new bedding and the towels are all new, too.

The next eco-steps are to install double glazed windows and solar panels. But that work will have to wait until my savings account is in the black again!

In the meantime, our first guests, old friends Hovis, Jacqui and Richard, moved in two Sundays ago and will be trialling the house until the end of September. They will be giving us positive and negative feedback and, we hope, a “thumbs up”!



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Early Morning Coffee
11 September 2021

Spanish workers, the unemployed and senior citizens love to go for a coffee (and a chupito) first thing in the morning. Whether it’s to watch the TV News, to catch up on the local gossip or to have an early breakfast, there’s something for everyone.

Pablo de Ronda, who is a regular participant in this ritual, casts an eye over this very Spanish custom.

I first started going for an early morning coffee when I adopted Berti, sadly no longer with us, and used to take him for his first walk of the day, ending up at the Hotel Don Benito in Fuente de la Higuera, Ronda. A cup of Campanini always hit the right spot. And meeting and chatting with the other early risers was fun too.

Then, when I moved to nearby Montejaque to work on my house, Casa Real, I got into the habit of going for one at Bar Perujo, the only place open at 7.00 am.

Andrés, also now deceased (from Covid-19), served a delicious coffee, also Campanini, with grace and gentility. His son, also called Andrés, sometimes did the honours and equally well. This was the time for finding out what was going on in the village.

When Andrés died, the bar closed, never to re-open. It is now an apartment. Sadly.

At this point, Álvaro, of the Hotel Palacete de Mañara, took on the role of early morning coffee provider. The same people came, the same drinks were consumed and the same kind of gossip passed from one to another.

Then, in August, Álvaro stopped opening at 7.00 am because his hotel guests were complaining about the noise from below their rooms so early in the morning.

Disaster for us caffeine addicts! What to do?

Well, jump in the car and nip down to Benaoján, the next village.

Here there is a choice of two excellent early morning bars, El Encuentro and La Palma. La Palma, with barman Fran, opens at 7.00 am but El Encuentro opens its doors even earlier – at 6.00 am. Inma is in charge here. Ideal for insomniacs like me.

Both bars offer delicious coffee (Campanini again!) at 1€, chupitos at 1€, TV News and plenty of bonhomie.

¡Viva el café madrugador!



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Sunday Lunch
07 September 2021

Pablo de Ronda and his wife Rita have revived the tradition of Sunday lunch in the last few weeks. What a great way to relax on a Sunday afternoon.

 

Sunday, 1 August 2021

Two weeks ago we went to Écija (Sevilla), halfway between the Andalucían capital and Córdoba. Known as la sartén de España, the frying pan of Spain, Écija was certainly on the warm side.

Anyway, after a brief explore of the town centre, come 2-ish we were hungry, so I looked on Google and found the Trip Advisor list of the 10 best restaurants. Number 1 was Restaurante Las Ninfas. Without much hope I rang to see whether they had a table for two. Amazingly they did, so off we went to a most charming restaurant in the Museum building.

The menu was a bit different to what we’re used to down in Málaga province, which was exciting.

For example I chose mazamorra, a kind of salmorejo made without tomatoes, followed by a bull’s tail risotto, both of which were delicious.

Rita opted for carrilladas cut into strips served with tacos, followed by pulpo a la gallega.

In between those courses we shared an elver (baby eels) salad . Mmmm!

All washed down with some speciality beers. Altogether we spent 50€. Outstanding VFM.

 

Sunday, 8 August 2021

Last Sunday we went to a restaurant we hadn’t been to in years, Restaurante Audalázar in Atajate (Málaga).

We sat outside on the covered terrace and enjoyed a delightful couple of hours eating the most tasty and well-presented food you could imagine.

We shared a delicious house salad to start and then Rita went for one of the specials, filete de buey, ox fillet steak. She ordered it al punto and that’s what she got. She loved it.

I opted for another special, lomo con salsa de higo, and I was not disappointed. A couple of glasses of Ribera del Duero followed by coffee and we were replete. Quite expensive, but worth every penique.

 

Sunday, 15 August 2021

This Sunday, we booked for old favourite, El Muelle de Arriate, commonly known as Frank’s. This restaurant is housed in an old railway shed in Arriate (Málaga). Because of the extreme heat we switched our booking from lunchtime to the evening.

That turned out to be a smart decision. We arrived at 9.00 pm and sat on the terrace by the railway line in relative comfort. We couldn‘t get the QR scanner to work to look at the menu, so Frank, as is his wont, recited the starters menu to us.

They all sounded good, but we decided to share two; first a wrap filled with avocado, strips of lettuce and other wonderful things. This was followed by a tasty salad which contained vieiras (coquilles Saint Jacques) and prawns. Accompanied by a bottle of house verdejo. Mmmm!

Our preferred main course, a stuffed calamar, a whole squid, had sold out, which was somewhat annoying, but our substitute choice was a knockout: Tataki de ternera con patatas y ajo frito, beef tatyaki with potatoes, fried garlic, salad and vegetables al diente. Washed down with a glass of Ribera del Duero.

That was it. It was gone 11.00 pm – time to go home.

 

Saturday  21 August 2021

No Sunday lunch this weekend; we had Saturday lunch instead at Restaurante La Cascada at Hotel Molino del Puente in Fuente de la Higuera, near Ronda. We sat on the shaded terrace by the River Guadalcobacín and relaxed over a light lunch.

Rita had a Singapore salad followed by chicken liver paté served with fruits of the forest sauce. Mmm “Lecker!”

I started with a delicious refreshing gazpacho containing diced water melon and finished with a fresh warm goat’s cheese salad served with fresh figs and a balsamic dressing. Fa – bu – lous!

What a lovely couple of hours. Our bill, with drinks and tip, came to 46€ but it was worth it!

***

Four great “Sunday lunches” in four weeks. Where shall we go next weekend?



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A building project nears completion - Casa Real, Montejaque (Málaga)
06 September 2021

 

Casa Real, Montejaque (Málaga)

Pablo de Ronda came across the house that was to become Casa Real quite by chance one Sunday afternoon after visiting the house next door.

As I emerged from No. 2, I noticed a private “se vende” sign attached to the rejas of the house next door.

 “Oh, it’s for sale!” I pronounced somewhat unnecessarily.

“Yes, it’s Armando’s house”, said my companion. Armando just happens to be my favourite bar owner in the village. It was still opening time, so off I went straight to his bar to ask whether I could view the property.

“Of course. I shall be closing shortly, so we can go then”.

Armando informed me that the house had been his family home. His parents had long since passed away, so the house belonged to him and his three siblings, the heirs.

I looked at the house and was smitten. I could see its potential straightaway and decided I wanted it. After the easing of the first Covid-19 lockdown, I needed something to do, a project, so I bought it.

The process seemed to take ages, partly because the house had no papers and it was summer and one of the notaries shut for two weeks for holidays. It wasn’t until the end of August that we were able to seal the deal at the notary.

And so to work. The house needed a re-wire and new plumbing, so San Jorge got to work cutting out the channels in the walls for the tubing and electric cables and José Antonio “El Suave” started replacing the old lead piping with copper.

The next job was to remove two tabiques, partition walls, between the lounge and what had been Armando’s mum’s bedroom, and said bedroom and the kitchen, in order to create an open plan, L-shaped lounge, dining room and kitchen.

Then disaster struck …..

***

Everything was going fine until we discovered that the kitchen ceiling, also the floor of the room on the first floor that was to become the second bathroom, was unsafe. On investigation we discovered that the wooden beams had rotted.

Andy, a structural engineer friend, who lives in the village, advised that we would probably have to demolish that part of the house and rebuild it – not cheap!

Jorge and José, however, reckoned they could avoid that by replacing the wooden vigas one by one with reinforced steel concrete beams. This is what they did painstakingly, but with great success.

That crisis over we spent the next several months gradually renovating the house. The two Js did the masonry and plastering and heavy lifting, while I converted the existing bathroom into a modern and stylish wetroom. I had a bit of help from José with the plumbing , but I did all the tiling myself. A very relaxing and satisfying enterprise – it easily beats inspecting schools, my last job before I retired.

Despite two further Covid-19 lockdowns, which cost us four months when we couldn’t work, a year after we started, Casa Real is nearing completion.

I decided to call the house Casa Real in honour of Armando and his family and forebear who had owned and occupied the house for three generations, its entire life in fact. Why Real? That means royal or real, doesn’t it? Well, it’s also their family surname.

There were tears in the eyes of at least one sibling when they found out. They were dead chuffed!

***

Although I was fully involved with the work from start to finish, I had help, of course.

With me from the start back in August 2020 until May 2021 was “San Jorge”, an albañil born in the same town as General Franco, El Ferrol in Galicia.

Jorge first turned up to dig a ditch at our house in Ronda. But this rather shy and private man soon revealed other talents, including bricklaying, plastering, painting, carpentry, electrics and tree felling.

When I asked him to help me out with Casa Real he threw himself enthusiastically into the project.

José Antonio “El Suave”, locally born and a trained albañil, began to do the odd day before soon becoming full time.

José is a brilliant plumber, bricklayer, plasterer, carpenter, tiler. He can turn his hand to anything. He is still with me and has taken ownership of the job. He’s the foreman and I’m his peón.

Stewart “El Alto”, a former neighbour, has done the odd day and did a lot of the “heavy lifting”. Well, he’s younger than the rest of us.

Recently we have been joined by Miriam, “La Constructora”, José’s daughter. She came initially to do a bit of cleaning, but quickly demonstrated other skills, such as grouting, plastering, mixing mortar and much more. She is now virtually full time and keeps José and me on our toes!

Now that we’re reaching completion, my wife Rita, the “Meter Maid”, has come on board advising on décor and sewing curtains. She is our fiercest critic, which is a good thing.

I am extremely grateful to all five of my collaborators, who have become good friends.

***

I can’t wait to “move in”. I’ve already stayed there several nights, mind. Why not? I have electricity, hot and cold running water, a fridge, a TV and a very comfortable bed. Me staying overnight meant that I was on hand for a bit of nocturnal tiling or painting when I couldn’t sleep!

My first guests move in for 11 days at the end of September. They are old friends, having stayed in Casa Rita, our other rental property, 12 times in the last six years!

Let’s hope they give Casa Real the thumbs up!

 

Articles on a similar theme in Eye on Spain include:

The Houses That Jack Built

The Building History of a 71-year-old DIY Fan



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The Building History of a 71-year-old DIY Fan
29 August 2021

A 71 –year-old British man has just completed the total reforma of a village house in the tiny pueblo blanco of Montejaque (Málaga).

Pablo de Ronda, a former languages teacher, school inspector and translator, has been a resident of Montejaque and Ronda since 2008.

But his relationship with the northern part of the Serranía de Ronda began eight years earlier, in 2000, when the Devonian visited Ronda for the first time with his then wife, Jeryl.

We came to Andalucía to celebrate our silver wedding  anniversary. We did a circular tour which incorporated Ronda, Arcos de la Frontera, Jerez, Cádiz, Sevilla, Granada, Córdoba, Antequera and Málaga.

All beautiful places in their different ways, but the place we liked the most was Ronda, and, after viewing umpteen properties over the following 18 months, we bought an apartment in the town in December 2001. We called it Piso Blanco, because it was (ie white) and reflected a part of our surname.

In 2003 we bought an abandoned house just 50 metres from Piso Blanco.

I had learned many DIY skills from my dad, and I had already carried out some major work on our house near Warrington (eg re-wiring, creating an en-suite bathroom, converting a garage into a music room/2nd lounge and even building a tree house for my two children).

With great enthusiasm I took on the task of converting this run-down house in Ronda into something liveable.

Over the course of two years, with the help of my family and friends Alan and Johnny, we created Casa Blanca in the Barrio San Francisco.

A period of turbulence in my life – redundancy, nervous breakdown and divorce all in the same year, 2005, coincided with me renovating a second house in Ronda which belonged to my girlfriend of the time, Maude.

The house was located in the Las Peñas district near the town centre and was named El Rincón, because it was tucked into a corner.

When my relationship with Maude ended, I returned to the UK and went to live with my mum in Thelwall near Warrington.

Out of the blue an old friend from university contacted me to ask for help over the summer of 2008. How could I refuse?

Jac, a Welsh lady, had studied the same languages at university as I had, namely Spanish and German, and we were in every class/lecture together. I had fancied her back then, but my pal Dan was quicker off the mark and indeed the couple married while we were all still undergraduates.

After graduation Jac and Dan moved to Luxembourg to work for the European Commission as translators. They soon had two children and their lives seemed settled. However, Dan was experiencing mental health problems, went off the rails, started taking hard drugs and had several affairs. Sadly, he ended up taking his own life.

Jac decided to stay on in Luxembourg, despite being a young widow with two small children. She left the Commission and developed a new career as a piano teacher.

Fast forward to 2008. Jac had just bought an old house for her daughter Miriam and husband and needed my help to get it into shape.

The deal was that Jac would pay for my flight and give me board and lodging in exchange for my labour. Sounded good to me!

With my mum’s blessing off I flew to Luxembourg for the summer. The renovation project was fun and I was surprised at how much I was able to contribute at the ripe old age of 58!

It turned out to be a great summer. Jac and I even had a short romance, but there was to be no future in it, sadly from my point of view, as 40 years on from our student days I still fancied Jac.

Disappointed, I did not go back to the UK with my tail between my legs. Instead I flew to Spain to spend a long weekend in Ronda.

Little did I know that I was destined to meet the lovely Rita …..

In the meantime, retired and single, I had decided it was time to stop living with my mum and should buy myself somewhere to live in the UK.

I sold Casa Blanca in Ronda and bought Tunstall Villa, a run-down Victorian villa in Latchford, Warrington. This “reform” was to be my project for the next couple of years. Three years later I sold it to buy a home for me and Rita in the Ronda area. We had married the year before, in 2010.

Back to the present, married to Rita for 10 years and a Spanish resident for 12, and after a significant gap in terms of DIY, I sold Piso Blanco and used some of the proceeds to buy an old house in Montejaque. I needed another building project.

From August 2020 until August 2021, with four months working time lost to Covid-19 lockdowns, I worked with friends Jorge, José, Stewart and Miriam on renovating the house which is now an exciting mix of traditional and modern.

I have named the house Casa Real, in honour of the family that owned the house for three generations. Their surname is Real.

Note: Casa Real is now available to rent as a vivienda rural. The first guests arrive on 19 September and are staying until the end of the month. Thereafter, Casa Real is available from 1 October. You can contact Pablo via the Comments section of Eye on Spain.



Like 0        Published at 06:37   Comments (0)


A load of Osborne Bull
17 August 2021

If you have been coming to Spain for many years you may well have asked yourself at some point: “Whatever happened to the Osborne bull?”

El Toro de Osborne, the image of a black fighting bull that used to dominate the skyline all over Spain since the 50s, seemed to disappear, only to make a comeback in recent years. Pablo de Ronda traces the history of the emblematic publicity hoarding which was such a comforting feature of the Spanish horizon.

The Osborne bull, el Toro de Osborne, is a 14-metre (46 ft) high black silhouetted image of a bull in semi-profile. Nowadays there are just 92 of them located outdoors all over Spain.

Only two signs remain in Spain with the word "Osborne" still written on them. One is at Jerez de la Frontera airport in the province of Cádiz, and the other is in the nearby town of El Puerto de Santa María, where the Osborne headquarters are based.

The Osborne bull is the silhouette of a fighting bull, approximately fourteen metres high, originally conceived as a large roadside billboard to promote the Osborne Group's Veterano brandy.

History

More than 60 years ago, Osborne commissioned the Azor agency to design a billboard to advertise its Veterano brandy on the roads. In 1956 the designer Manolo Prieto created the design of a bull that would be easily integrated into the landscape.

The billboards were distributed throughout Spain, generally next to roads and on hills in order to attract attention. Although the initial purpose was advertising, with the passage of time the Osborne bull has become a cultural symbol of Spain.

In November 1958, the first boards, made of wood, began to be installed, but since adverse weather conditions damaged the wooden hoardings, they switched to building them out of metal.

30 years later, in 1988, the General Highway Law required the removal of advertising from any visible place from any main road. So, the name Veterano was removed and the hoardings remained.

In September 1994 the General Highway Regulations were published ordering the removal of all Osborne bulls. Several autonomous communities, numerous municipalities, cultural associations, artists, politicians and journalists spoke up for keeping them. The Junta de Andalucía, for example, requested that the bulls be classified as "cultural assets". In the same year the bulls were declared by the Congress of Deputies as part of the "cultural and artistic heritage of the peoples of Spain."

In 1997 the Supreme Court issued a ruling in favour of the maintenance of the Osborne bulls due to the "aesthetic or cultural interest" attributed to them.

Distribution

Currently there are 92 Osborne bulls distributed irregularly throughout Spain. There is a concentration around Jerez de la Frontera and in the provinces of Cádiz and Sevilla. The rest are dispersed throughout the country in a haphazard way, while some autonomous communities have none (Cantabria, Catalonia, Ceuta and Murcia) or have just one (Balearic Islands, Melilla, Navarra and the Basque Country), there are other small concentrations around Asturias, Zaragoza and Alicante. The image of the Osborne Bull also crops up in many other areas of daily life apart from advertising: it is frequently seen on car bumper stickers, on travel souvenirs (T-shirts, caps, key rings, ashtrays , postcards, tiles, coasters, etc.), even overprinted on the Spanish flag as a shield, often appearing between the stands at sporting events and in international missions of Spanish soldiers.

The Osborne bull in the rest of the world

In Spain, the image of El Toro de Osborne is widely known, but what many people do not know is that it is also well-known internationally. In Japan recently a billboard of El Toro de Osborne was installed, and others also adorn the landscapes of countries such as Denmark and Mexico.

With acknowledgements to Wikipedia.



Like 2        Published at 04:46   Comments (1)


Beggar Off!
12 August 2021

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began last year, there has been a noted increase in the amount of begging going on around Ronda (Málaga) and , most likely, all over Spain. Do you understand that people down on their luck need to resort to this undignified practice or are you bothered by it? Pablo de Ronda has had it “hasta las narices”. He’s sick to death of the whole thing.  He explains why.

Up to the age of 20 I had never seen a live beggar. Born and raised in a small North Devon town, there just weren’t any. When I moved up north to Salford to go to university, there was the odd busker in nearby Manchester, but at least they were doing something to “earn” their donations.

It wasn’t until I went to Spain in 1970 for my year abroad (as part of my languages degree) that I came across my first “genuine” beggars. Barcelona was “teeming” with them, some of them legless (No, not drunk, literally “legless” – Civil War-wounded, I later found out).

In San Sebastián (Donostia), where we studied for three months, we had to cross the bridge over the river twice a day to go to and from the university and there was always a huddle of gypsy women and their children begging for alms. One evening I saw a large, top-of-the-range Mercedes-Benz pull up and the beggars all piled in with their grubby offspring and their “ill-gotten” gains. Well, I never! Quick way to a million? Why didn’t I think of that?

Move forward 50-odd years to 2021 to Ronda, where I have lived for more than a decade. There was always the odd beggar accosting people on Calle La Bola, but since the pandemic began, the numbers have rocketed. There are several on the above-named street alone, each with their own pitch. At ALDI and Supersol they appear to work a shift system and the large lady outside Mercadona seems to be ever-present. Perhaps she lives there and sleeps in the doorway at night.

It may sound mean, but I am sick of it. Some of them intimidate you by thrusting their paper cup at you and asking you directly for money or by fake-sobbing. I used to always give because I felt a bit guilty that I was fortunate enough not to need to beg, but now I rarely give anything. The polite man outside ALDI gets something normally, as he at least collects your trolley from your car when you’ve finished unloading your shopping, but the ladies who just sit their sniffling get short shrift, I’m afraid.

As Carmen, one of the checkout girls in ALDI wryly remarked to me recently, the beggars earn more per hour than she does!

I notice too that most of the beggars wear better trainers than me. They wear Nikes or Adidas, while I have to make do with LIDL’s best. Some of them sport designer-wear by top brands like North Face or Tommy Hilfiger. Mine are all marcas blancas, like ALDI’s SU or LIDL’s Livergy.

When I asked in ALDI why they didn’t do anything about the begging problem, they said they’d contacted the police who’d responded that their hands were tied, as it’s private land. That has to be nonsense, surely? If LIDL can stop it, so can the other supermarkets. I shall be interested to see what happens when Supersol converts to Carrefour later this year.

It’s become so unpleasant lately that I find myself shopping more and more at LIDL where there is no gauntlet to run.

Well, I’ve said my piece. Sorry if I’ve offended anyone’s charitable or Christian instincts, but that’s the way I feel. At least the beggars in the London Underground and the Paris Metro or on the tube trains sing, dance or play an instrument, so that the punter is getting something for his/her money. I find that much more acceptable.

Update: I wrote this piece on the morning of Saturday 17 April but didn’t submit it for publication straightaway. Eight hours later, on the same day, I had to nip to ALDI. The sniffly woman with the sad eyes (I’m convinced she trained at RADA or somewhere similar) was by the entrance.

I could start to feel my blood boil. As I entered the store she greeted me with “Hola, niño!” I’m 71 for God’s sake! To be courteous I muttered a greeting in return and did my shop.

As I left she started grizzling, could I give her something. I said, “No , not today, sorry”. She got up, lurched towards me in what felt like an aggressive manner, and thrust her plastic cup in my face!

I got in my car, wound the window down and said that I was sick of the intimidation from her and her “colleagues”. “¿Por qué no buscas un trabajo o aprendes tocar un instrument para entretenarnos?” ( Why don’t you find a job or learn to play an instrument so that you can entertain us?)

She seemed quite taken aback by the thought of working for a living and as for playing an instrument …. Well!

Her reply? “¡Ojalá!” (If only!)

I drove off, still fuming.

 



Like 1        Published at 04:40   Comments (0)


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