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Posts Tagged ‘Spain’

When we first bought our small apartment in Spain, it followed a fair bit of research (mostly by Sharon) and we even tripped over to Manchester to visit a Holiday Roadshow put on by one of the various T.V. shows.  All sorts of help and advice was available and from here we made what we thought was the good decision to use English lawyers, based in Spain. With our (then) complete lack of Spanish and uncertainty of the rules, we used a company that has their Costa Del Sol branch in Marbella.

banco-santanderWe asked those lawyers to set up a bank account for us in Spain, something that the roadshow representative said was part of the package, but which they, when it came to it, had a reluctance to do. Suffice to say, they made something of a minimal effort to help us with that task and we ended up with a Banco Santander account, at an office on the Puerto Banus side of Marbella – roughly 40-50 minutes’ drive from our apartment.

The manager was ok, he spoke good English and he did what he could to help us get up and running.  However, no matter how many times we tried or what he told us could happen; getting our account transferred to our more local Los Boliches branch was impossible.  We had to trail to the far side of Marbella for all sorts of reasons, including a new debit card for Sharon which could not be posted to our apartment – (“we can only post these to your home address but cannot post them outside the country and your home address is in England”!!).

We also found the local branch in Los Boliches so unhelpful at all stages that we decided to change banks. That isn’t easy over here, there’s no real help from the banks themselves, but we were lucky enough to have Banco Sabadell recommended by the local lawyers we are gradually transferring our business to.  The manager we dealt with helped us with everything he could – which did not include closing our Santander account.  Following yet another unsuccessful visit to the Los Boliches branch (along with a Spanish speaker) we had to go to the Marbella branch (again!).

indexWe phoned first and were assured that we could (only) close the account at the branch that held the account. So off we went.

Only to be told, after they had cut up our bank cards, that they COULD NOT CLOSE the account because there was a c.€55 charge due on 8th January (to cover charges for period ending 31st December). Why couldn’t they take cash for that?  “es impossible!”. Our Spanish speaker was as perplexed as we were but, in the end, we had to leave €100 in the account to pay whatever the exact charge would be on the 8th January.

We are assured that we can then close the account at the Los Boliches branch.

Assured!

We’ll see.

Photo Credits:

https://www.bitterwallet.com/complaints/complaint-about-santander-youre-not-the-only-one-36262

https://www.trustpilot.com/review/www.santander.co.uk

 

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Tomato_jeWhenever I am in Spain, I always take advantage of the local produce.  There’s no point going there and stewing cabbage or boiling turnips (not that you see much of those on the Costa del Sol), when the soft Mediterranean, often very local, (fruit) vegetables are in great abundance.

The aubergines, courgettes, peppers and tomatoes all have a fabulous depth of flavour – even the knobbly, small cucumbers actually have taste, unlike the long, smooth, hot-house grown phalluses available here. Therefore, invariably, the first dish made is ratatouille.

s-l640One problem with my ratatouille in Spain is that I have less access to chopped tinned tomatoes or passata. Over there they have more tomato frito, which, although a similar consistency to passata, is quite sweet and can overpower the finished flavour.

I decided therefore, to make my own tomato sauce and to use that for all of the dishes that require such a thing.

28492528636_d730e0ea97_zThe Spanish grow some fabulously tasty tomatoes. 

Even when served under-ripe, with a little salt, oil, parsley and crushed garlic, they make a meal; accompanied by some local ‘Spanish’ bread.

For the tomato sauce, I simply chopped up a kilo of tomatoes and brought them to the boil along with a small, chopped onion, 4 peeled cloves garlic and about a tablespoon each of olive oil and tomato puree. Then, I let that lot simmer for a couple of hours, topping up with tiny bits of water now and again. I then seasoned it, blitzed it all with a hand blender and used as required (sauce for pasta, added flavour for paella, to loosen up ratatouille, slackened off as soup etc.).

I sometimes add (fresh) basil or oregano towards the end of cooking, for added flavour.

I made the same last week, with Aldi tomatoes and had to add a jar of Lloyd Grossman sauce to give it any flavour at all.

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I recently spent an exciting, adventurous and exhilarating day, canyoning with Ultimate Rock Adventures.

James, the proprietor, has been a friend for many years and this is his second year of business.  The activities and services he offers are steadily gaining the kudos they deserve and despite my fears (e.g. I’ve never abseiled before – but I trusted James implicitly), I secured this opportunity to join a group going down the river one Saturday in June.12D6108E-4ECC-4700-BE55-CBDC3B7E1589

Based in Gibraltar, the adventure activities can take place pretty much anywhere, but mainly in Spain. The group I joined, completed the beginner’s route at Rio Guadalmina, close to Benahavis.

We met at the Gibraltar-Spain border and set off towards Benahavis at 08:00am. We stopped for breakfast on the way and began to mingle.  The group consisted of Keith and Lorraine, with their two children, aged nine and twelve; James’ nephew Daniel with his friend Denzil, myself and James. So, three generations really, with myself as abuelo. Lol.

We parked close to what would be the end of our journey downriver, on a site that holds the Sunday Market there (no parking on Sundays!).  Here, we were kitted out and given our first instructions.  We were provided with complete wet-suits, harness’ and helmets. We were shown how to attach the carabiner required for abseiling and what the emergency procedures were, should there be an accident.

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We began then by walking up the road a short way and crossing the river via a wooden footbridge.  This took us across country for a short way, before we clambered up and into an ancient aqueduct. This would now lead us directly to the start of our canyoning experience.

James chooses to use this particular route because it is shaded and the water is particularly cooling – which is of great benefit when kitted out in full wet-suits and helmet, in the blazing summer sun of southern Spain.  Along the way he told us something of the history of the aqueduct (now used mainly for watering the golf courses down closer to Marbella) and about some of the flora we were encountering. [Link to video]

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We eventually came to a fairly tall rock on our left and climbed out of the aqueduct and up on to the rock.  This is where it got really scary for me.  By the time I had got to the top, James was already over the top of it, fastening safety ropes etc. to the rock itself.  

This would be our first abseil.  Seeing him there, on a slight ledge just over the pointed top of the rock and looking over the precipitous drop into the river (the drop was much, much deeper than the height we’d climbed from the aqueduct) made me feel ill.  I was terrified.  There really was no way I would be able to accomplish this!

However, I didn’t fancy trying to climb back down to the aqueduct and didn’t want to wimp out at this first obstacle. Only Daniel had done anything like this before, so he went first to demonstrate what James was telling us.  He made it look so easy!  Therefore, I let nearly everyone else go before me, so that I could watch their various techniques and listen to James more closely (and repeatedly).  I came to realise that the tools being used, as well as the science behind them (levers, pulleys etc.) were to be trusted and that my only real fear was climbing up and then slightly down, to where James waited with the safety ropes and equipment. Link to video

I’d already enough spent time looking down and thinking ‘oh heck’ (or words to that effect), so I didn’t do that, I simply lowered myself to the (tiny!) platform of rock and looked inland as James fastened me up and gave me my instructions.  I’d seen that an angle of around 45o would be the correct stance and then James told confirmed that by saying:

– “it’s pretty much the same angle you would be in if sat on a public toilet, where there wasn’t a lock on the door…” –

So, I was ‘off’ with a laugh and felt really quite confident now.  Feeding the rope from one hand to another seemed to come naturally, as the rope took all of my weight and the way it had been fastened by James allowed it to become a brake too.

With a few small mis-steps and splash at the end I was down! Link to video (same as the one above)

If they read this, I must thank everyone in the team again, for the confidence they gave me by being so brave themselves. Thank you all.

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We then did a variety of jumps, high and low, as we meandered down the river.  Even the high jumps did not look bad from water level, but sometimes, once you were up on the ledge, they looked enormous.  I only wimped out on one, mainly because the way up looked difficult (via a pull rope) but also because everyone looked terrified when they got up onto the ledge.

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We had one final abseil close to the end, much smaller than the previous and, again after Daniel, I was first to go.  Abseiling? Sorted!

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I think that it has been a good job that I’ve been able to top up my fitness by completing a number of walks [see other blog] and scoots over the two weeks prior to the canyoning, because I was completely drained that night and I ached all over the day after.  I developed cramp in the hamstrings of both legs towards then end of our trip and overnight they made me wince. However, I wouldn’t have missed the day for anything.

Thank you everyone for your help.

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Picture Credit

Aqueduct: By Tanja Freibott [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

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Sadly, I forgot to take photographs of all the ‘free’ food we were presented with in Spain this year.  Furthermore, I only remembered to photograph some of the food we ‘paid’ for.

However, all of the food was delicious.

picture of tuna steak - a la plancha

Sharon’s tuna steak

Whilst holidaying on the Costa Tropical, in the Granada region of Andalucía, we encountered much in the way of free food; we’d buy a drink … and we’d get a free tapa! This doesn’t happen everywhere in Spain, but where it does happen, you feel welcomed and that your custom is valued.

We’ve had such tapas before further inland, and there the price of drinks compares well (often cheaper) with those prices charged on the big ‘no-tapas’ Costas.  In Salobreña and thereabouts, the prices for beer and wine were ever so slightly dearer (perhaps €1.70 – €2.00 each as opposed to €1.40 – €1.70), but every drink came with food.

Your first drink would come along and be accompanied by a particular tapa, e.g. Spanish cheese and olives. Then the subsequent order(s) would each be accompanied by different tapa, e.g. Croquetta with salad leaves or a small plate of jamón.  Even when we went somewhere for a meal, some small thing would be presented to us with our first drink.

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There are a couple of places too in Los Boliches (near Fuengirola), where such treats can be had – the difference here being that the drink doesn’t always come with a tapa. But, there are deals to be had.  A caña (small beer 15cl, 20cl, 25cl) can be had without food, but you can also order a tapa (of your own choice, not just presented to you) to accompany the drink for a combined price of (e.g.) €1.40 or €1.60. 

Often, this will be for the smaller beer, but not always.

Other cafes locally (Los Boliches) sell tapa separately for anything from €2.00 (these are usually slightly larger portions and – for me – often big enough to be called lunch) and in the main they are home-cooked and delicious. So far, our favourite is Bar Pepe in the Plaza Carmen.

We’re learning to avoid the places where cheap frozen ‘stuff’ is served.

I guess that all of this illustrates some of the differences between the Spanish and UK drinking cultures. In Spain, food and drink are inextricably bound together, whereas we see them as two different entities. In Spain, a workman will finish his day (or begin his midday break) with a beer and a tapa, whereas here in the UK I see all the local bars full of workmen finishing their day by quaffing pints and eating nothing more than a packet of crisps.

picture of tomatoes cut and placed on a plate

A simple ‘starter’ of tomato, oil and garlic.

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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

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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.

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It’s now early February and I’m nearing the end of my sixty fifth birthday celebrations. After the UK celebrations, I decided I would spend two months in Spain. That time is almost up.

It’s been a fabulous stay, with friends popping in from time to time and a break (a big break) from the UK winter weather.

Following the celebrations at home, we set off on 12th December to stay in the Premier Inn at Heald Green, close to Manchester Airport. We arrived here in Torreblanca on the 13th https://dsugdenholidays.wordpress.com/2016/12/21/winter-201617/ and spent the Christmas and New Year period on our own, mainly just Sharon and me. Early on, she took me for a great day out in Malaga, on a food tour https://saturdaywalks.wordpress.com/2016/12/24/malaga-food-tour/ . See also: http://devourmalagafoodtours.com/

We also went for lots of walks. For example: up and down the hill lots of times; to and from Fuengirola, Los Boliches or Torreblanca (quite often!). We also caught the train to Torremolinos and walked back to Benalmadena a couple of times.

I’ve written elsewhere about our walks up and around the hills behind the apartment for exploration. See:

fullsizerender-3Michelle came up from Gibraltar one day before Christmas and we took her up to Mijas before deciding it was too cold up there and coming back down to Los Boliches and eating in Mason Salvador. She came up to see us again early in the New Year and we took her for a day out in Malaga. As in all the subsequent visits (with JT, DT and Tony, as well as with Martin and Lin), we visited the marina, the castle (Castillo de Gibralfaro) and the city itself, sampling some of the places Sharon and I had enjoyed on the food tour.

Sharon had to return to the UK for a couple of weeks on 12th January and while she was away, friends came over and stayed with me.

3-amigosJohn (JT) came out to visit first and we went more or less straight down to Gibraltar to see Michelle (his daughter) and we spent the day there with friends and shopping. Michelle cooked a delightful Pork Fillet Wellington for dinner – splendid.  John’s brother David (DT) came out on the Sunday to stay in 916 and Tony (TT) flew in on the Tuesday; so, there was quite a crossover of friends whilst Sharon was back in the UK. We ‘did’ Malaga again and walked up to Mijas (twice, once with JT and Dt and again then, with TT – we also walked back – which nearly broke me J )

Most evenings we ate out, but one rainy evening, the weather was so bad that we decided to come straight back and ‘eat in’. This was probably the best meal of their stay; we had all sorts of food, DT cooked steak, I cooked Tortilla and we emptied our fridges of other cold foods and salads (and beer).

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Sharon arrived back the same day that Lin and Martin arrived to stay with us for a week. During that week, we had trips to Mijas, to Malaga and to Gibraltar where Michelle, again did us proud. She drove us onto The Rock and gave us a magnificent tour, showing us viewing points and time to see the marching re-enactment of the ceremony of the keys. http://www.visitgibraltar.gi/event/re-enactment-association-saturday-march/187. We had a late lunch in La Linea before setting off back before it was too dark.

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So that’s it. All visitors arrived home safely and we depart on Sunday.  Back again soon.

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