Friday, 3 September 2010

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Being there

With the long summer break over it's likely that Life in Cartagena will be busier than this blog for a while.

Friday, August 27, 2010

An evening at the theatre

I always enjoyed the Stainland Players. Technically there were usually problems, missed cues, forgotten lines even the occasional falling over but any detail problems were always overcome by the sheer gusto of the performance.

Torre del Rico is significantly smaller than Stainland. I'd seen a poster for a play, Nelo Bacora, being put on there by la Asociación de Mujeres Rurales (the Rural Women's Association) at 8pm this evening so we went along.

The snap was taken at 20.11 hrs. Not quite in full swing by the promised hour. A bit warm to start yet said the MC.

When it did start I have to be honest and say that the Stainland Players would get the better of it on any sort of technical or acting criteria. There were sound problems, prop problems, line problems and a lot of laughing from the cast whilst the passing tractors perfumed the outdoor auditorium with something very rural. Plenty of heart though. Good fun, even moreso because it was short.

I can't pretend I understood more than about 25% of what was said. I missed most of the puns and lots of the detail but we understood the basic plot. The women of Torre del Rico done good. Special praise to the woman wearing the uniform in the blurry snap. Her name is Carol, I delivered a lot of furniture to her a few years ago. She's English and she delivered her lines, in Spanish, really well. The product of several sleepless nights I suspect.

On the dangers of friends

I'm not too keen on having fun, people describe me as stand offish, gruff even.  Fortunately Maggie has a nice, friendly, outgoing, character which means that we have several expat friends around Culebrón. We're due back in Cartagena next week so we've had a rush of invitations to shoehorn in before we go. In fact we haven't cooked at home for the past three days and we've had four meals out in the same period.

A set lunchtime meal with a couple of pals from the next village but eaten on the coast in Santa Pola, an Indian meal with more chums and their visiting family, a barbecue shared with about forty or fifty other people  and an invite for a meal at the house of my old employer and Maggie's Pilates teacher. We enjoyed all of them.

The problem though is that those meals have done more damage to my waistline than a whole week on the cruise ship. Never mind; we'll soon be alone and friendless and then we can get back to our reasonable portion diet and knock off a few kilos more - at least that's what Maggie says is going to happen!

Saturday, August 21, 2010


Summer in Spain is an odd time. Whole towns and cities more or less close down. Rural villages fill up as people move to their country houses often inherited from relatives, now dead, who worked the land. Even the shops and offices that stay open generally change their opening times usually doing just the morning shift rather than re-opening after the long lunch break. All to avoid the heat.

Summer lasts two months, from the first of July to the thirty first of August. The Guardia Civil, who deal with traffic, mount special campaigns because there are so many traffic movements. Madrid, for instance, more or less empties its population to the various coasts and inland resorts. Once upon a time people would take a whole month off, more or less their whole holiday entitlement, but that seems to have become a couple of weeks in summer with the rest spread around the year particularly at Easter and Christmas. Spain is in the midst of a financial crisis so not everyone can get away but even then family visits and time with friends offer some compensation.

Fiestas, the local carnivals, are in full swing. They are everywhere. For instance today we could have gone to the big wine harvest celebration in Jumilla or to the much more modest events in la Romana, Chinorlet or Paredon all of which are only a few kilometres from home. There are lots more.

Our summer has been excellent. Maggie's teacher holidays are two full months and with me not starting work till September first I've been sunning myself too.

Apart from the week and a bit on the boat and the weekend in Castilla la Mancha we've not been away from home overnight but a quick skim of the photos shows that we've spent a lot of time doing this and that and we've seen a lot of friends.

Very nice.

Monday, August 16, 2010

In a place of La Mancha, whose name I would not like to remember...

Don Quixote, el Quijote, usually billed as the greatest book ever written in Spanish, is big tourist business in Castilla la Mancha and this weekend we took a short break based in Campo de Criptana a town where there a number of old style windmills just right for tilting at.

In el Toboso, the village where el Quijote's imaginary lady Dulcinea lived we went to a small museum full of hundreds of copies of the various editions of the book, in every conceivable language, signed by the famous and infamous alike including names like Margaret Thatcher, Benito Mussolini, Nelson Mandela and Carlos Fuentes. On the museum wall a painting showed a thin bloke, lance in hand, riding a skinny horse and by his side a tubby man riding a mule. The four figures are dwarfed by a dazzling azure sky and the parched earth that stretch on and on for ever.

We've crossed through la Mancha several times on our journeys to and from Madrid or up to Albacete. That painting tallied exactly with my impression of the landscape - flat, featureless and dusty - dotted with mean villages and tedious towns. A landscape that I've read has its charms - but only after long acquaintance.

Our weekend started in Campo de Criptana with a tour of a winery, a meal and our hotel. The windmills were there looking as they should and the town gleamed in blue and white. El Toboso village was stone, sun and silence whilst the Ruidera Lakes were a hubbub of hundreds of people shattering the peace and quiet. In Alcaraz's magnificent town square we wondered where the money had come from. We climbed hills and dropped into deep valleys, we drove across kilometres of vineyards, through stands of oak and olive, we passed castles, rivers and streams - a varied and often changing landscape.

Alonso Quixano and his trusty sidekick Sancho Panza must have seen a thing or two as they rode into the heat haze all those years ago

Friday, August 13, 2010

Sixteen tons and a song

One of the chief reasons the Romans invaded Murcia near the present day Cartagena and La Unión was to sieze the silver mines. By 200AD the mines were, apparently, exhausted and fell into disuse but with the new technologies of the late 19th and early 20th Century the lead, silver zinc and iron ores became profitable once again.

Mines need miners; people willing to crawl down dark, dangerous, hot tunnels and hack away at the earth. In La Unión lots of those people came from the depressed rural south, from Andalucia. They brought their singing with them, the style we call Flamenco, and mixed it in with the local song.

They sang about their lives, particularly their lives in the mines.

When the mines closed for good the singing began to disappear so a local enthusiast decided to try to keep the music alive. The competition, el Cante de las Minas, the Song of the Mines, began back in 1961

The modern venue for the competition is one of those big old glass and steel market halls now converted into a performance space. The basic format is a competition for amateurs in three classes, one for singers, one for dancers and one for guitarists. The overall winner gets the Miner's Lamp trophy and, presumably, a crack at fame and fortune on the Flamenco circuit.

As well as the competition there are six days of Flamenco stars - we wondered about going to see Paco de Lucia but baulked at 45€ for the cheap seats. We did pay the 10€ to go to see day two of the competiton though. It was enjoyable in a sort of masochistic way. Three and a half hours of Flamenco without break. Squirming on the hard chairs, aware of aching this and itching that.

Apologies for the photos - long lens, high magnification, low light, moving targets - bad mix.

Sunday, August 08, 2010


The firm we buy our Internet services from, Movistar, is the most expensive broadband provider in the whole of the European Union.

Movistar charge over 70% more for midspeed broadband access (2mgb to 10mgb) than the average price of the other old state monopolies across the European Union. The average is 34€ and Movistar charge 58€

Even the cheapest broadband access in Spain comes out nearly 11% more expensive than the median of the other European offers. So your average European pays 29€ whilst the most savvy Spaniard pays 32€. Goodness knows how much the difference is between the best European offer and what we pay.

Spaniards get overcharged even more on the over 10mgb lines where the cheapest Spanish is 35€ against 30€ European average - over 16% difference.

Apparently one of the big variations is that most of the headline prices on the various Spanish offers do not include the line rental as part of the package.

Just in case you think we are particularly stupid in paying over the odds we don't have much of a choice. Until very recently the only operator who would provide our house with broadband was Movistar. Nobody wants to provide infrastructure to we country bumpkins.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Two fingers of red eye

My old school pal, Bob Filby, commented on the entry I did about our visit to a local bodega. His comment was that there is a much held belief in England that there is no such thing as a decent Spanish wine.

Actually it's quite difficult for us to make a direct comparison because wines from anywhere but Spain are almost totally absent from Spanish supermarket shelves. On top of that I know very little about wine but I've had a quick Google around this morning and it looks to me as though the expert opinion is that the wines from the North of Spain include plenty of varieties that can hold their head up against anything produced anywhere in the World. The wines from the centre (which includes Alicante) are much more ordinary but they are sturdy, inexpensive and intended "to swill down food." What I should have remembered and what I should have fought the Spanish corner for are the brilliant sherries and manzanillas from Jerez and Sanlucar.

Here's an offer Bob, get yourself a bottle of La Gitana manzanilla (they used to keep it in Waitrose), pop it in the fridge till it's nice and cold and if you don't think that's quality stuff then I'll buy it for you.

For lots of Spaniards though, particularly older Spaniards, wine is a staple. Old chaps in bars drink it instead of having a small beer or a coffee, families buy it in recycled five litre water containers to drink along with their evening meal. It's like bread, olive oil, garlic, onions and tomatoes - one of the standards in the larder rather than the sophisticated tipple that it is in the UK. That's why, often, when we go into a slightly trendier bar Maggie finds that she can't get the red wine she wants and has to settle instead for vodka.

Friday, August 06, 2010


We've always been big supporters of the Spanish wine industry. Maggie maybe a little more so than me. I worry more about the brandy business.

As well as swigging as much of the stuff as we can lay our hands on we've also visited a number of bodegas but we've never before tried to follow one of the wine routes.

The idea of a wine route is to use the wine "peg" to hang any number of touriist activities on. The key element is obviously the wine producers or bodegas but restaurants, bookshops, hotels,specialist bars and shops etc. can all get in on the act with a bit of thought. I've seen some imaginative links over the years - music in amongst the barrels, libraries running lecture series, cultural centres doing wine appreciation sessions etc.

Jumilla has a wine route. Pinoso has been talking about setting one up for years but so far zilch. The tourist office in Jumilla was deadly efficient and within seconds of pushing the leaflet into our hands we were booked in for a tour and tasting session at Casa de la Ermita, a brand of wine we've seen a lot of down in Cartagena. Tour of the vineyards, tour of the bodega, tasting session, shop - pretty standard I suppose but the route and spiel was clearly thought out and nicely executed.

It worked too; we spent some cash.The friendly young woman who showed us around, Micaela, says that the Casa de la Ermita brand is sold in Waitrose and M&S in the UK.

Back in Jumilla we went to one of the restaurants on the list too and they were playing their part offering wines from all the participating bodegas as well as highlighting the route in their menus.

We're thinking of doing a few more very soon!

Sunday afternoon every day?

I only cleaned this little blighter two days ago!

Monday, August 02, 2010

I should like to suggest

Have you ever followed a police patrol car on a UK motorway? They'll be driving at 68mph in a 70mph zone so you can creep past whilst still obeying the law. I have a lot of respect for patrol car drivers - in my estimation they know their stuff and they give a good example in their driving habits.

Here in Spain we have to wear seat belts - a good thing. Amazingly police officers at local and national level and the Guardia Civil (who deal specifically with traffic) must have an exemption - they go around beltless. How odd is that?

So I just emailed the Interior Minister and asked him why. I expect a reply. As Willie Whitelaw once said to me when I, amazingly, got through to him on the phone "Why do you think I have a phone on my desk?" - Señor Rubalcaba has an email address at least.

Always something new

Agost is a town just 40km from Culebrón. We've been there a couple of times but somehow we've managed to miss the thing that it's known for. It's famous for ceramics.

A pal took us to the workshop in the photo where the owner gave us a quick demonstration of his skills at the potter's wheel and a tour of the old Arab style kiln before pressing free gifts into our hands to suck us into buying something. He needn't have worried, I fancied one of the botijas, Maggie was captivated by the bowls and we bought an essential garlic storage jar too.

A botija is an earthenware jar - this one is for water. It's porous so that the heat needed to evaporate the water cools it down. You drink the water by tipping up the botija, the water spurts from the small spout so no worry about passing germs from person to person. Of course it's easy to get a mini shower at the same time.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Gathering dusk

We had to choose our fun tonight between a horse riding demonstration and the local environmental service returning animals to the wild. We chose the horses. There were flies though and apart from women in admirably tight riding breeches it all seemed a bit unwelcoming and disorganised. We moved on.

Up in the natural park on the side of Monte Coto the local environmental service was letting loose some beasts. We had a Kestrel, three Little Owls and a Northern Goshawk. The chief ranger person was pretty good and told us stuff. Did you know, for instance, that owls can't move their pupils which is why their heads are articulated as they are? I also learned that Spaniards say that people have eyes in their backs rather than the back of their heads. Being Spain everyone who wanted to stroke the owls before they were released got to and they were then let loose by children from amongst the thirty strong crowd.

There were toads too. Apparently the Common Toad can live for about 20 years, is pretty big and isn't at all common in this part of Spain partly because it is being slaughtered by a fungus that we carry on our hands. Then there were Natterjacks and finally some tiny Midwife Toads. From the man's imitation of their sound this may well be the beast that makes an electronic beeping noise that we heard whilst we were sitting on a friend's terrace last week.

Just so I can remember the Spanish names after tonight and so any Spanish readers have a chance the animals were cernicalo (kestrel), azor (goshawk), mochuelo común (little owl) , sapo común (common toad), sapo corredor (natterjack toad) and sapo partero (midwife toad.)

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Gearing up for the Fiesta and Fair

This is pure conjecture.

The 10 day long Pinoso Fiesta starts officially tomorrow. The rides and stalls are already setting up in the town. Just from a quick look this morning I'd say there are fewer stalls than last year and last year there were fewer stalls than the year before.

Spain is a rich country nowadays. The IMF may say that the economy faces some serious challenges and the word crisis is still on everyone's lips. Unemployment reached a 13 year peak yesterday with over 20% of the working population idle. Nonetheless, the last time I looked we were still the ninth biggest economy in the World. In 1965 Spain was on the UN list of "Third World" countries. Quite a change in 45 years.

When I used to do Spanish lessons with a chap who lives here in Pinoso he told me that, in 1984, there was only one tarmac road through the town - in from Monóvar and out towards Fortuna - somewhere, I heard that mains electricity didn't arrive in Pinoso till 1974. I have photos of the town in the 60s and 70s. There's a mule in the street, dirt roads, poverty.

Pinoso is still pretty isolated, still a rural farming community. Imagine the annual fair and carnival twenty or thirty years ago. Stalls selling pots and pans, knives and agricultural implements. New clothes for the kids, toys, strangers in town. The fairground rides, the opportunity to eat strange food, to let your hair down.

Nowadays if someone wants a new fridge freezer or a garlic crusher they can get it in town or jump into their motor and zip off to the Aljub or Thader or Nueva Condomina shopping centres. If they want entertainment Elche and Alicante and Murcia are all less than an hour away. Terra Mítica, the huge theme park is an easy day trip.

Maybe the knife seller from Albacete, the ham and sausage from Galicia and the dodgems just don't have the appeal for the population that they once had. Or maybe I'm a foreigner and I still don't understand how Spaniards like to party.


One of the downsides of living in the country is the flies. Sitting in the shade with a cold drink in hand the little blighters start to pester. Their tiny little feet pitter pattering across your face, in your ears, up your nostrils, drowning in your drink.

I like to think I'm pretty zen about small beasties. Spiders removed from the bath before showering, beetles scooped up from the living room and released to the wild. Yesterday though there were more flies than I could cope with. Out came the fly swat. Tens of corpses surrounding the sun lounger; higher body count than Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Friday, July 30, 2010

It ain't half hot mum

It isn't really. The highest temperature we've had here in Culebrón over the past few weeks has been 36ºC and normally daily maximums have been around 32ºC. For those dinosaurs amongst you that means our maximum has been about 97ºF and we're generally running at around 90ºF.

When we got back from holiday several of our English pals were keen to complain about the heat - suffocating, unbearable, nightmare - were common words. The complaints were nearly as loud as the moaning about the rain, icy winds and low temperatures of a few months ago. 42ºC was bandied about. At those sort of temperatures the State Meteorological Service starts issuing weather warnings along with advice about drinking plenty of water, wearing hats and buying a camel. It has been over 40ºC recently in several parts of Spain, it's been on the telly, but Alicante hasn't featured.

It's hot, no doubt about it, but it's far from unbearable. In the full sun (where the temperature zooms off the top of all the thermometers I own) the sweat will soak your clothes, dribble into your eyes and turn your hair into a dripping sponge but in the shade a heat haze just helps to increase the profits of beer and soft drink companies and it reminds me at least of one of the things I like about Spain. It's sunny. And I can't remember when it last rained.

Minimums, by the way, turn around twenty, it was 18ºC for instance last night so a perfectly pleasant temperature for sleeping.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Another little glitch

This is another in my series of moans about Spanish websites.

We booked a couple of days away with the Castilla la Mancha tourist website. I booked and paid online without any difficulty. I got a confirmation of the purchase by email. The next working day a courier turned up with the voucher and a really well presented booklet. I was well impressed; the website had worked, the organisation seemed efficient.

The package contained a voucher which can be exchanged for a series "weekend" breaks. I could either ring or send a request by email. So, for the usual reason of avoiding a phone conversation, I sent an email. The next evening I got one of those "This is an automatically generated message, delivery of your message has been delayed, you do not need to do anything, we will try to resend the messsage." I checked the email address and I even replied to the email that they had sent me as a foolproof way of getting the address right. I've just had another "undeliverable" message again on both emails.

Ah well, on the phone tomorrow then.

P.S: I did phone and they were dead efficient. They confirmed the details of our telephone conversation by email within moments, phoned through the confirmation in a couple of hours and sent the voucher for the trip at the same time by email.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Floridablanca garden in Murcia

When I did the piece on gardening in Spain a couple of days ago I had a root around on the Internet for information about Spanish gardens and gardeners. One bit of information that I turned up was that the oldest public garden in Spain is in Murcia City and as that's very close we went to have a look today.

Nowadays the garden is a traffic island so it's hardly peaceful but it was certainly shady and well used by a mixture of strollers, newspaper readers and bench sleepers. The parkie was having a fag as we passed.

Apparently the garden was designed and opened in 1786 on what had been the tree lined avenue, the Alameda del Carmen. It was designed to a Romantic style and when it was remodeled in 1848 it was given a new name in honour of one of the city's notable citizens, Jose Moñino Redondo, Count or Conde de Floridablanca.

We'd never heard of the fellow before but at our next stop, the Hydraulic Museum, his name turned up again as the promoter of the old water mill which had doubled as a flood defence system.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Not Camarón de la Isla

I have lots of Flamenco records. We've been to several Flamenco concerts. I've even read books about it. Sometimes it's a fat bloke and a guitarist, sometimes it's tight flouncy frocks or a long haired chap with high waisted black trousers. Sometimes they dance, sometimes they stay stock still, sometimes there are dozens of people on stage. I have no idea what's good, bad or indifferent though I have personal likes and dislikes. Give me another twenty years and I may work it out.

This evening we went back to el Cortijo, the Brit run bar and restaurant out at Paredon where we saw the World Cup England v USA game. Good evening I thought with a bunch of snacks and a Flamenco troupe of three female dancers and a couple of musicians for just 10€.

The music was pretty lightweight but they put on a good show; an appropriate show for a non specialist audience who would soon have tired of anything heavier.

Oh, and they had Maggie up and dancing.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Gone to ground

I may have told this story before. I used to live in Cambridgeshire where agriculture is big business. A farmer friend had a visitor from Kenya. The farm visit over it was tea and scones time. As they went into the farmhouse the visitor asked if there was a problem with the land in the garden, was it not as fertile as the general farmland? My friend puzzled, said that it was good earth. "Then why are flowers growing on it, what a waste of good land, you can't eat flowers."

I think the Kenyan may be wrong, I'm sure I've eaten flowers in salads in expensive restaurants but the general principle is right enough.

I think Spaniards may have a similar appreciation of land - it's either good for crops or it is left to its own devices. True the Arabs built some splendid and fragrant gardens when they ruled Spain but I hear that is an attempt to recreate paradise as envisaged in the Koran. Those gardens were built around shaded patios and fountains.

A Spanish friend looking around our garden was being shown our various fruit trees. She commented, approvingly, that the earth between the trees was "clean" - bare soil in other words. Kept clear of weeds to help prevent fires.

We Brits of course like our flowers. Nearly everyone around here has land and all of our British chums set about landscaping the ground - belvederes, gravel here, plants there. Without constant watering nearly everything dies unless it is native to the area so palms and olives and figs and almonds and rosemary do well but lots of things you would expect to thrive in the sun simply curl up and die or are slaughtered by the first nippy evening.

I was reminded of this when Maggie asked me to escort her to the nearest garden centre. Garden centres are a reasonably new thing in Spain and none of them resemble the UK theme park type garden centres where ice cream vans vie for the business of the hordes of people who dress up and go there for a day out. Spanish garden centres have plants, compost, maybe a few tools and garden furniture but they are pretty basic affairs.

More cold calling

Our phone doesn't ring very often. When it does I usually blaspheme. I'm that grumpy.

This morning it rang twice. Maggie took the first call but I picked up the second one. It was someone doing some cold calling. I braced myself for the coming confusion arising from my dodgy Spanish and for the thanks but no thanks conversation. This was the ex state telephone company Telefonica, recently rebranded as Movistar, calling to tell me that they would like to thank me for my loyalty by giving me a discount of 10€ per month for the next six months.

That's the sort of sales pitch I don't mind.

I took up another offer they introduced a couple of weeks ago for free calls from the landline to all mobiles at the weekend. I suspect that, after years of a near monopoly, they are now feeling the pinch of the liberalised phone market and they're fighting back

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Safe home

Maggie thinks that my idea of a holiday isn't much like a holiday. It goes something like this "Do you fancy going to suchandsuch?" So we book a hotel for suchandsuch and drive there. On day two we have no more plans. I say "thingummyjig, is only 200/300kms away do you fancy that?" We drive there and hunt around for a hotel which is usually a bit more pricy and a bit less pleasant than we hoped. We traipse the streets, we eat in a restaurant, we go in museums and churches.

I'm a bit fed up with them myself. I can't ever remember which church had the Churrigueresque door and which the Rococo. I quite fancy a bungee jumping holiday or a wine tasting one or maybe one of those themed history trails but somehow, instead, we seem to end up driving thousands of kilometres and forgetting where we've been.

Maggie wanted a cruise. Not too expensive as holidays go, your clothes stay in the wardrobe for the week, waiters serve you too much food, the bars are always open, the cities and museums and Rococo doors come to you and of course you can have a go at karaoke or bingo if you tire of the smooth sounds of the classical duo. Oh, and you're on a boat too.

We popped across to Mallorca on a local flight, got a boat called the Thomson Dream out to Italy where we did Rome, Pisa, Livorno and Santa Margherita then into France for Marseille and into Spain, well Catalunya, for Tarragona before heading back to Mallorca.

It was good enough. The people we met were pleasant though the passengers did tend to elderly and overweight (like me!) The sun shone. There were flashes of splendour and unexpected gems in amongst lots of ordinary. On the boat I realised how Eduardo the cat must feel when he's in the flat in Cartagena - plenty of space really but nowhere to go.

I won't keep rabbiting on but there are photos on the "some of my snaps" link. It's a bit like coming round for the holiday slide show but without the amusing anecdotes or sherry.

Monday, July 12, 2010

And here is the news

There is only one thing on Spanish telly and Spanish radio and in the Spanish papers today. Pictures of fans jumping in fountains in capital cities all over the World, Spanish troops dancing in Afghanistan, getting ready for the open top bus parade in Madrid.

¡¡Campeones, Campeones!! The newsreaders are beaming, the commentators have a lilt to their voices.

Here in Culebrón, like in Lake Wobegone, it has been quiet. Vicente, next door, let off a few bangers and we could hear the car horns and fireworks in Pinoso but we'd drunk just a spot too much to be able to drive in and join the celebrations.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

That'll do nicely

Spain 1 Holland 0

A sufficient sufficiency

Busy day

Back from 7 hours in the car and 615kms on a day trip up to Teruel province (see next post) we were just back in time for one of the two annual evening meals put on by our village association in Culebrón.

Maggie had been dragged off somewhere and I was alone for a couple of moments when one of the villagers waved hello to me. I said something about her having to use a mime show because my Spanish was terrible and she agreed and suggested I should be ashamed of myself for not being able to talk properly. For good measure she said that Maggie at least spoke Spanish. That made me feel really cheery.

The meal though was a hoot. As usual the long tables were under the pine trees just outside the village hall. I was sitting opposite the couple in the snap, Daniel and María Luisa. They're not a young couple but they like to dance and they like a laugh. They made the evening entertaining as did everyone within talking or listening distance actually. I had as good a time as I've ever had at one of the meals.

Some publicity

Yesterday we went to see our pal Pepa in Fuentes de Rubielos in Teruel province. It's about 300kms from home. Pepa and her friend Jaime have built a house and kitted it out as a  "casa rural" a sort of country cottage available for rent.

We went to take some snaps that she could use on the website but the place wasn't quite finished off (no curtains, appliances still in their boxes etc.) and the website doesn't seem to be up and running yet either.  Close but not quite. A bit like my photos

Nonetheless it's a lovely spot. Trees, hills -  that sort of thing - and a couple of bars in the village too. We had a snack lunch of a really tasty fruit sauce and goats cheese salad along with an enormous sandwich in the bar of the public swimming pool maybe 200 metres from the house.  So if you're looking for a few days away from it all in the country you could do much worse than consider Vientos de Gúdar in Fuentes de Rubielos.

-- advert ends--

Where to watch the football?

For the past few days football has been everywhere in Spain. The telly is full of it, the streets are full of it. Only two hours to go.

One of the local villages is having its Fiesta this weekend and they have a big screen in the village square. That seemed like the obvious spot to me but Maggie isn't keen. Maggie thought the best place would be a British bar, the place where we saw the first England game, but I'm not keen on that.

We've just had a look around town and all the bars have offers on - free popcorn, TV on the terraces etc. but there's nothing more "official" in one of the public spaces.

So it looks like we'll be watching the match from our own living room. The alcohol flow is assured, the view will be better but it may be a bit lacking in ambience.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Take It Easy With A Cadbury's Creme Caramel

Simple things do have a habit of becoming complicated.

I ordered some jeans from an online shop in Poland. Dodgy or what? But in fact the English company handled the credit card transaction without problems, the Polish firm sent the jeans, the German carriers got them to Spain but the Spanish carrier couldn't find our house. I was able to check this relatively easily on a mixture of Polish, English and Spanish websites. When I say relatively easily we're probably talking an hour from start to finish.

All I need to do is to ring the Spanish delivery firm and sort out the pickup but none of the various websites involved in the order tell me which local office is handling the delivery. I took the coward's way out of writing an email to the carriers national office with the various reference codes and the like to ask which office I should contact. That saved the difficulty of a telephone conversation. With spell and grammar checking add another 20 minutes. Then there's just the phone call and the waiting in for the delivery van.

During the process of changing the roof, the already chipped bath enamel received fresh wounds in several places. As Maggie gleefully pointed out it won't be long before a stroke or whatever has one or both of us leaning on a zimmer or riding in a chair (I think she's betting on it being me rather than her.) She thought, and I agree, that changing the bath for a walk in shower was a good idea. We've also been having some problems with the flow and temperature of the water and a couple of other minor plumbing problems so we thought a plumber could sort the lot without too much difficulty. We even talked about installing solar powered hot water but blanched at the price and complexity. Anyway the plumber said he could do most of the jobs but that we'd need a builder for some of the work.

Does 2,500€ sound expensive to you for ripping out an existing bath and replacing it with a shower? It sounds more than we have whether the price is reasonable or not. So dealing with a plumber turned into dealing with a plumber and a builder and now we're going to have to find another builder to give us another quote as well as having to put off the first builder. All simple, all everyday but as well as the usual hassle there's always the language hurdle too. Smashing

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Thanks to the Irish

Maggie thought it would be more entertaining in a Spanish bar than to sit at home and watch the football. I wasn't keen but the clincher was her offer to drive.

It was a scrappy game, none of the back and forth of Ghana and Uruguay, none of the precision of Germany whupping Argentina but in the end we put it away and one nil is as good as twenty nil in a knockout competition.

The bar was a bit subdued and there were as many expats as Spaniards but at half time a group of Northern Irish turned up and they made so much noise that the game seemed much more exciting.

Germany eh?

Let's ignore the 4.26 pints

We have a very sophisticated pool. Really it's an old irrigation tank painted white and blue. We fill it with water using a garden hose and hope that the water doesn't become too noxious with dead insects, rotting vegetation and the secretions from sweaty bodies over the summer.

Personally I'm not too keen on water: fine for car washing and making tea but every time I see people swigging the insipid stuff in the streets I'm reminded of my mother's admonitions about drinking from bottles. I even wonder about all those lorries full of all those plastic bottles travelling all that distance when the stuff comes gushing out of taps all over the place. The idea of immersing myself in it falls quite a long way behind plucking the small hairs from my ears and nostrils as a form of fun. Maggie though seems keen to be able to get cold and wet from head to foot every now and again.

We've poured 15.2m³ of water into the tank over the last couple of days or 3,343 gallons if you prefer. If we'd filled it with 15,200 litre bottles of Font Vella water bought from Corte Inglés that would have cost around 8,500€. Lucky then that we bought it from the local water supplier for 6.84€ - a substantial saving.