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Villa in Salobreña

Sharon and I are fairly well travelled and over the years we’ve stayed in a wide variety of apartments, Gites, B & Bs, private homes and hotels in Europe, Australia and the U.S.A.  In Spain, we’ve usually stayed in hotels, but for our recent holiday with friends, we stayed in a 6-7 berth villa near Salobreña on the Costa Tropical, east of Malaga.

Sadly, on balance, I cannot say that the accommodation was one of the best I’ve ever stayed in. I decided not to put this review on Trip Advisor as it really is NOT very good. However, if anyone searches for Villa Meave, Salobreña – they may find this report and make up their own minds.

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First of all, some good bits; Villa Meave has fabulous, commanding views down along the Costa Tropical on the southern coast, east of Malaga.  The view takes in Salobreña, with its white painted houses and hill top castle, as well as the coastline down beyond Motril.  From some points of the terrace, we could even see the snow-capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada.

We had arranged for the pool to be heated, so that we could swim when we got here, but soon noted that the cost for that was going to be prohibitive¹. So, we had the pool-heating turned off fairly early. That’s a lesson learned for using pools out of season.

The WiFi was good, efficient and reliable, and there was U.K. T.V., but we didn’t turn that on, so cannot comment².

The wood fire in the living room was a life-saver.  It burned fuel efficiently and kept us warm on an evening.

The house is heated by solid wall heaters or warm air machines, but as the lounge/living area is an open space with single-glazed windows and an outside door that is draughty and which has no curtain – we chose to burn wood rather than electricity.  Each bag cost between €4.45 and €4.95 and we burned oak, pine and olive wood.  The olive burned best I think, but without the means of chopping the logs smaller, we got very little chance of using only olive.  We had to use pine to get a blaze going before adding the huge olive logs and then we had to turn the olive constantly to get it to burn through.

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In spring and summer, this could be a fabulous place to stay, but now, in a wintery January, it’s just quite chilly up on the hillside. Also, because of the time of year all of the eateries we’d planned to use were closed, which meant we had to eat-in most of the time. Which meant we HAD to use the house.

The house itself was a huge disappointment. We wouldn’t normally bother about the odd cracked tile, faulty light bulb or missing door knob but this place needs a good bit of TLC.  Doors and windows rattled and didn’t close efficiently; and, along with tired, worn and dusty wall hangings and decorations, gave the place a ‘used’ feel.  The floors and surfaces were clean, probably part of a pre-guest-arrival routine, but the pictures and ornaments (statuary) were very dirty/dusty.

The electric points were many, but many didn’t work.  I suspect that the circuitry is original and that it has not has not been updated – ever.  My EU/Spanish extension cable (brought to use for charging phones etc.) did not fit in any of the sockets as the pins were too fat.  The water boiler wasn’t wired directly into anything; it was plugged into an extension cable. The ceiling lights were all very dull and we had to keep moving the upright standard lamps for better lighting.

All very slapdash.

The cooker-timer could not be turned off, so there was a constant tick, tick, tick from the kitchen. The lights in every room were hit and miss – some worked and some didn’t.

On the plus side, the twin and double beds were comfortable and warm enough, even though the rooms were cold and some of the bedding was worn.  The master room had another double bed that couldn’t be used because there was no quilt for it.  We were told that this bed is never made up with a quilt!

Yet, I would defy anyone to sleep in this house, in January, without a quilt.  As I said above, January in this area is fairly chilly.

Notes:

1 – We hadn’t known about extra electricity charges until a deposit had been taken and then didn’t know about the pool being ‘un’ heated, and having to ‘heat’ it until a week or so before our visit.
2 – They also had a German T.V. receiver – which we also didn’t use.

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Language learning

They say that if you keep your brain active and alert, it will slow down or prevent the onset of dementia.  

As a retiree, I find the eventual possibility and onset of dementia worrying.  I therefore keep as active as I can, I read copiously, I undertake puzzles and games on my iPad and I complete jig-saw puzzles.

All of this (hopefully) helps to prevent my memory from deteriorating too quickly.

It is also suggested that learning a new language can help to slow down the process of age related memory loss – or brain ageing.

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Well, bully for me – because I am desperately trying to learn Spanish.

However, I’ve never been good with language classes.

At secondary school, French was a subject only accessible to the top class (class ‘A’).  It took me a few years to reach that level and once I started to move up through ‘B’ and finally to the ‘A’ class, it was not accessible to me because I’d missed those early years. Later, at catering college, French Language was offered on Friday afternoons but it was not interesting and made no sense to my sixteen-year-old self.  Yet, the ‘kitchen’ French I learned in normal catering classes WAS interesting and I devoured that. I have always been able to decipher menus during the (roughly) thirty consecutive years I have visited France.

As a young adult, I attended evening classes, to learn German. I enjoyed those as they were aimed at grown-ups and Jill, the teacher, was fabulous.  I passed my Institute of Linguists ‘preliminary’ exam – no worries. The second year didn’t take off however and my interest lapsed.

I picked up French again when I began teaching, but by now it just seemed very hard and my progress was very slow.  I tried lunchtime courses, evening courses and – just a few years ago I attended an inclusive course in Sancerre.  I can get by in French. I can get by in German. But I cannot converse in either language.  Anything other than travel requisites (food, drink, fuel, rooms, tables, directions) and I begin to flounder.

I do not want that to happen with my Spanish. 

se habla español

I want to communicate socially and conversationally. 

To be fair, I am probably already at the stage it took me thirty years to reach in French, but it seems to be SO DIFFICULT.

And yet, I’m still avoiding formal classes.

Formal classes haven’t worked for me so far, so I’m undertaking some self-directed learning for now.  I’m using Duolingo as my base and have just recently completed ninety consecutive days of learning.  Each ‘day’ has a minimum of 10 minutes – I set that up at the beginning. I often do far more than that, but on busy days the minimum is 10 minutes.  I’ve found that online learning works ok for me, but that it does still lead to some confusion.  I therefore back up my learning on other sites and dictionaries. Google Translate is a Godsend.

750px-Flag_map_of_Spain.svgBecause Duolingo is available on the computer, as well as on my iPhone and iPad, it is constantly available.  If I stop for a coffee, instead of simply reading Facebook posts, I can complete a five-minute lesson on Duolingo, or its sister App Tinycards.  As time passes I find myself going over lessons more and more because the new words are taking much longer for me to process.

And that’s the thing:  How much more vocabulary do I need (do we need, as Sharon is also trying to learn Spanish) before I start to think in Spanish?  Some words and phrases come immediately to mind, without thinking what I need to say and, to be more fluent/competent, this needs to happen more often.

I have recently been given some children’s crime/adventure books, in Spanish, which I am beginning to wade through just now.  I know about 20% of the words on the page and understand about 40% of what is going on – but I have to stop and translate whole sentences to get the full gist.  I’m enjoying doing that – so perhaps all is not as bad as I think.

After all I studied for and achieved a Masters Degree – how hard can this be?

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Movember

For a few years now, I have had an inclination to grow a Movember moustache but could never quite be bothered.

This year however, that changed and on October 31st, I set out to grow a grand moustache on behalf this worthwhile charity.

But I’ve shaved it off now.  It’s all gone. I have a clean top lip and it’s only 13th November.

IMG_9248Why have I done that?

Well, despite all the hype, Facebook posts and the convenience of a Just Giving page, I have only managed to drum up my own starting contribution.  What’s more, I am told (by people I regard as friends – and family) that it (the moustache) makes me look:

  • ‘old’ (well, I am getting on that way), or …
  • ‘angry’ (I’m not!) or …
  • ‘a twat’ (a matter of opinion?), and …
  • I was offered money to shave it off.

I took the money and feel clean again.

Caminito del Rey

Last week Sharon and I followed in the footsteps of Spain’s King Alfonso XIII.

The king (el Rey) perambulated the 5k long walkway/boardwalk, which hangs on the sides of a river gorge, in 1921, quite a while after it had first been constructed to allow access to hydroelectric power plants situated along the way. Although the construction was completed by 1905, the king:

“…crossed the walkway in 1921 for the inauguration of the dam Conde del Guadalhorce, (which is at the north end of the walkway) and it became known by its present name (The King’s Little Pathway)” (1)

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We’d heard of it before, but never really took any notice until last year, when my brothers and their wives accompanied Sharon and I to Ronda, by train (2). It looked remarkable, so Sharon and I set about trying to fix a date to complete the walk ourselves. We’d looked at doing it last January – but were too late to get ourselves a booking and at Easter, we were just too busy – until again we were too late.

IMG_0558The walk costs around €10 each and YOU HAVE TO BOOK a starting slot.  Timetables are available on the website (3). These are currently being updated, but I believe they were in half hour slots from 10:00am. We’re told that you can just turn up at the kiosk, but for all sorts of reasons, I wouldn’t risk it.

The pathway is one-way, going north to south and parking can be found at both ends – although beware, there’s not a lot of parking.  At the north end, there is a small group of lakes – the Guadalhorce-Guadalteba Reservoirs, around which cafes, hotels and other recreational activities have been established. This is where you begin your walk.

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“The actual entrance to Caminito del Rey is either 1 mile or 1¾ mile from the road, depending on which route you take.  There is a car park of sorts but it does not have the capacity that this attraction requires.  Cars are abandoned all the way down the road leading to the lakes.  There is a walkway that heads out towards the Caminito ‘entrance’, which starts around the side of El Kiosko restaurant/bar, under a short tunnel (with cars parked along it) and then through the woods and along a winding forest track that covers some stunning views. Another entrance begins closer to the main car park – via a pedestrian tunnel.” (4)

There is a bus service that shuttles walkers to and from either end of the walkway. For example: If you arrive by train at El Chorro railway station, close to the southern entrance, you can catch the bus right outside the platform. 15-20 minutes later it drops you outside El Kiosko (northern entrance), so you can begin your walk back to the station. However, do beware – there are not many trains per day. (5)

The bus also stops at the entrance to the small car park by the Mirador Restaurant.  So, if you’ve parked at the north and walked all the way to the south entrance – the bus will bring you back to your car. The bus cost us €1.55 each.

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The walkway itself is probably less than 5k in length but overall, expect to walk 8-9k, with the extra walks to and from each entrance.

None of it is strenuous, other than you needing a head for heights.

Unlike days gone by, when unfortunate people died whilst attempting the route as it began to decay, the walkway is perfectly safe and staff patrol it all the time in case of incident. Half way along, there is a fairly lengthy stretch of normal walking – so it’s not all hanging boardwalks and scary stuff. This area would be a good place to stop and maybe have a small snack. Our photographs don’t really do it justice at all. The colours are more magnificent (and we went on a day that was overcast), the views are much ‘closer’, much higher and much deeper. It really was worth the hour or so drive to get there from Fuengirola and the parking problems (actually, we did ok for parking because we arrived about 09:45am in plenty of time for our 10:30am booking).

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They don’t allow umbrellas and a guide seemed to be asking someone why he’d brought sticks (I don’t think they are allowed either – they’re certainly not needed).  Everyone is issued with a hardhat and sanitary head cover.  You need good strong footwear, some water (the amount depends on the weather I suppose) and possibly a fleece or lightweight rain coat if walking late/early in the year.

There are toilets at the IMG_0560northern entrance, so if the coffee you had at El Kioski has worked its way through by the time you reach the entrance barrier, don’t worry. If you see groups of people milling about – ignore them: look for an official, get your ticket scanned and follow instructions. What we didn’t know was that the people milling about were parts of organised groups waiting for their time slot – get past them, they are like cats being herded.

It’s not a long walk, you don’t need lots of food or drink. Judge your water needs on the weather and take a small snack (we took a couple of tiny pastries each) to keep you going.

We were advised not to bother with photographs and to soak it all up as we walked instead – and to be honest, I wish I’d heeded that advice. When I go again, I will not take my camera – I will feel the moment.

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caminito_del_Rey

2 https://dsugdenholidays.wordpress.com/2016/07/14/hermanos-y-cunadas/

3 http://www.caminitodelrey.info/en/

4 https://dsugdenholidays.wordpress.com/2017/09/16/a-day-out-ardales/

5 https://www.rome2rio.com/s/M%C3%A1laga/El-Chorro-Andalusia-Spain

Car buying

Well, yesterday saw the completion of our car buying journey in Spain. It’s not been difficult, but it has been long-winded and tiring.

We started looking around about this time last year, as we’d got fed up with the tricks that car hire companies were up to with their insurance costs. Over the years it has become more and more stressful to hire a car in Spain as any little scratch ‘could’ lead to you losing your deposit – one time we had to leave €1300! Our research had told us that second hand cars in Spain were not cheap and so we did some cursory looking around and came away to consider finances.

IMG_8967Sharon rooted around the internet and came up with a number of sites to visit when we got here and we checked out some of the main dealer showrooms. We kept coming back to MalagaCar.com (car sales) as all the write-ups were good and the prices comparatively reasonable. We’d met Miguel when we visited last year and he remembered us as we talked with him this time. What I liked about MalagaCar.com was that there was no pressure, none.

No pressure to buy, no pressure to look at this/or that and only answers given, to question asked. The cars and the service sold itself.

Our price-restricted choice came down to a Corsa or a Punto. Our research didn’t look good for the Punto and neither did our test drive. So that left us with a 2014 Corsa or a 2013 Corsa (@ €1,000 less). We test drove both and opted for the older version purely on price. Here, at MalagaCar.com the price includes registering the car with authorities, 2 years ITV (MOT), 1 year guarantee, VAT, and a free 12-month service. It had its ITV yesterday.

It’s been tiring because we’ve had to visit the showroom quite a few times for this and that (probably because our hire car had to be back on a particular day – so they couldn’t keep the car until fully ready). I went back yesterday for it to go for the ITV, but suspect that this would normally be done before collection.

We bought fully comprehensive insurance with Liberty Seguros yesterday. The company have an office in Los Boliches and we had it recommended to us, as the service was good and English was spoken. Sammy explained everything to us in detail and we ended up buying fully comprehensive cover, with €150 excess – with breakdown cover included.

Sorted.

Shameful cold calling

Yesterday, I visited mum and dad to be with them when the Locala lady, Yasmin, came to assess their bathroom needs.  She, Yasmin was lovely and very helpful.Cold-call-flickr:markhillary:964441032-2

While they were all talking in the bathroom, I took a call on my parent’s landline.  It started with “hello, Mr Sugden??” [a short breath], “is that Mr. Sugden??” I said that it was (well it was! – not the one she wanted but …) and she started again “hello Mr Sugden, please don’t worry, this is not a nuisance call but we’re an energy saving company, working in the area and can save you £400 per year”.  Well, much of that is paraphrased, but it WAS an unsolicited call aimed at tricking old folks out of their money.  The manner in which the words were addressed at me was soothing, confident and understanding and in no way the sort of sales call that I might get on my own landline.  She went on to say “I just have a few questions to ask you – none of them personal so …” – I interrupted at this point to ask where she got ‘my’ details from; she said “I have them here, on my list”. I asked her to remove ‘my’ details from her list and never to ring this number again.

I didn’t get her company name. My parents are listed on the national TPS

“elderly people receiving an average of 39 nuisance calls a month – 50% more than the general population” – (https://www.theguardian.com/money/2016/aug/06/phone-service-protect-elderly-fraudsters-nuisance-calls )

All of that would have been ok but later, when my parents and Yasmin were talking in the kitchen, I answered a knock on the door.  A guy, probably in his late fifties, looked visible shocked to see me answer it [I don’t think that I look like Mr. Gullible – yet] and asked “Mrs? sorry Mr Sugden??” I said yes, I’m one of them!  At which point I guess he knew the game was up.  He told me he’s come about the mattress they had discussed with my mother on the phone the previous day.  I told him that my mother has Alzheimer’s disease and that he/they shouldn’t be cold calling old folks like that.

I only managed to get the name on his van – Mobility Care – and the telephone code 0115 so that could be http://www.mobilitycareproducts.co.uk/ in Derbyshire.  If I’m wrong, I apologise unreservedly – but if Mobility Care is the company who are cold calling old folks – then shame on you.

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Photo Credit
Mark Hillary: https://www.flickr.com/photos/markhillary/964441032 – with thanks for using Creative Commons

Gin and Tapas

Gin and Tapas

Earlier this summer I decided that we should hold a ‘Gin’ party.  We had so many bottles of gin (mainly Gordons Export 47.5% stuff), that we thought we’d better share some out amongst friends.

Invites were sent and accepted, and last night the party was duly held.4 gins

Not sure how the bash would go, I simply thought that we could sample, then drink, a variety of tipples (we had four different gins available) with a variety of mixers (guests were asked to bring along a selection of ‘interesting’ mixers – I would supply bog-standard-Schweppes) and intersperse those with a selection of tapas.

Which is what we did.  We also played a few table games which were hilarious, especially as we became more and more gin-soaked.

The food unfolded as the night went on: Tuna Empanadillas and Albondigas were the hot offerings, but we started with cold tapas on the table.  It has just been Lidl’s Spanish week – so we had Manchego cheese, Boquerónes, and Jamón seranno as well as my own Feta salad (with minted cucumber, cherry tomatoes and bacon pieces).

I’d also cooked a Tortilla, but we were too full to need it.  We never made it as far as the Gordon’s gin either.

Jamón Seranno

Lidl’s ‘Spanish Meat Platter’ looked a bit overpriced at £1.99 for what it was so I thought that I would risk the full leg (@£27.95)!!, despite my previous attempt (65th birthday) being a bit of a dog’s dinner. I ‘know’ the layout of bones in a pork leg but last December’s attempt at slicing the ham was an uninformed disaster. I managed to feed everyone, but it wasn’t pretty.

So, during our last few visits to Spain, I’d observed the way various cortadores sliced their meats, so I was a little bit more prepared to attack another full leg. Just to be sure, I watched a few YouTube videos and as a result, made a successful start to the cutting. When, I say ‘start’ I mean that I cut enough for the eight of us last night, and there is at least another twenty to thirty portions still there to be cut.

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The ham is really tasty, not as tasty as the Iberico ham you can buy in Spain, but still more fuller flavoured than the Italian jobs found in supermarkets.

The gins

Rambla 41     https://www.nakedwines.com/products/rambla-41-gin.htm

Brecon Gin     http://penderyn.wales/brecon-gin/

Sheriton Strawberry Gin     http://palaunougintonicbar.com/?p=2095

Jinzu     http://www.ginfoundry.com/gin/jinzu-gin/