Sunday, January 31, 2010

Warmer but wetter

The average temperature for  last year in Torrevieja was 23.6 degrees Celsius  which represents an increase of 1 degree since records began in 1964. The total rainfall for the year was 472 litres per square metre. The only years on record  since 1960 with higher rainfall were 1989 with 728.7 litres and 1973 with 559 litre.

The rainiest month in Torrevieja is normally October with an average of 41.8 litres. The rainiest month on record though was September 1989 when 309.7 litres of rain fell in just one night. For last year it was December that brought the greatest amount of rain with 102 litres.

The rains in September and December will have reduced the salt harvest in the lagoons. The salt company say that average production of 700,000 tons per year will not be met this last year.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Just a request

Can the person who takes their dog for a walk when they check the post boxes at the bottom of the estate please clean up the mess the dog leaves.  Not only is it unhygienic but it is most unpleasant if you don’t notice it and step into the muck as you check your own post.

Thank you.

Sparrows can be vermin

One of my neighbours has just called round on his way down to the town to buy some wire mesh. When I enquired why he needed wire mesh, he told me it was to make cages to cover his air conditioning units.

It seems that sparrows have taken to nesting on the top of the units which are conveniently placed just below the overhang on his roof. That poses two problems for him.

Firstly, he has a trail of excrement down the units and the wall but worse than that, the birds peck at the foam insulation on the feed pies to use as nesting material. He has already replaced the foam insulation once but within four months, the birds have pecked it away again.

It might be nice to have birds in the garden and they do have their uses controlling the insect population but not when they cause these sort of problems. I remember someone who had terrible issues with house martins. Lovely birds that they were, they insisted on building nests under his eaves which meant he had to climb a ladder to remove them once the chicks had gone. We too had a problem with birds at our previous house when they found their way under the roof tiles and into the roof void. You could hear then scampering about on the bedroom ceiling so they got their marching orders.

I hope the cages work for my neighbour. They won’t be the most elegant solution but then neither is cleaning muck off the walls and replacing foam insulation.

I recall that one of our ex neighbours from years back bought an airgun to get rid of the wood pigeons that were causing problems for him. However, he could only pop the birds off when no one else was around because he knew that some people would object to him killing them – rats and other vermin yes but birds no.

Why do they do it

On Wednesday Steve Jobs launched the iPad amid great hype and claimed the device would plug the gap between laptops and mobiles.

image image

At the launch Mr Jobs said the device would be used for browsing the web, sharing photos, reading eBooks and watching movies. Those who went to see the launch were apparently suitably impressed. The reactions following its release though have been, to say the least, mixed.

In my opinion, it is probably worth waiting until at least version 2 by which time Apple will iron out the flaws just as they did with the iPod. Apple will also drop the price considerably about six months after launch so early takers will pay a premium to be the first on the block with the new toy.

The main problem that people have focussed on is that the iPad is like a scaled up iPhone or iTouch and like both those devices, it lacks card slots and comes without a USB port – making it extremely difficult to transfer documents and information from an external drive on to the device.

The flash drive makes the device super slim, light and robust (there is no hard drive whirring away inside) but does severely limit its storage capacity. The basic model comes with just 16GB of storage and even the top-of-the-range model only has 64GB.

Instead of a USB port, the iPad has an iPod connector, meaning that users will have to purchase one of the many adapters on sale in order to use a non-Apple product with the iPad.

Despite being marketed as the most innovative product in the world of netbooks, users of the iPad will only be able to download apps from App Store. This means that unlike other laptops and netbooks which allow any type of external software to be downloaded, with an iPad users will only be able to get hold of software after it has been approved by Apple and added to the App store.

As a result of all these shortcomings, the iPad has become the focus of a lot of negative comments both in the press and on the Internet. For whatever reasons, people have invested a lot of time and resources into lambasting the product. The pictures above taken from the net are just some examples.

What drives people to do this? Just what do they gain by yet again knocking Apple for introducing a device that we all know will become commonplace in just a few years time. Just like we all call all vacuum cleaners Hoovers, in years to come we will all be calling touch screen tablets- iPads.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the iPad will spawn a miriad of imitators just as the iMacs, the iPods and the iPhones did. The imitators will all claim that there devices are better but in truth they won’t be because Apple just have a knack of providing the best user experience and that is what gets up all these people’s noses. Never mind what it can’t do, concentrate on what it can do and do so well.

With a new netbook and an iPod touch already, I can’t justify buying an iPad – I just wish I could!

Friday, January 29, 2010

The wind on Tuesday

We survived the strong winds that blew on Tuesday without any damage but by the sounds of it we were lucky.

image The gusts that reached 70km per hour in parts of the Costa Blanca caused chaos for many. Debris was sent flying onto roads causing minor traffic accidents and in Cartegena a driver had a lucky escape when a tree fell directly onto his car – the car of course was not so lucky.

Cartegena seems to have been one of the worst hit areas  as gusts up to 90km per hour downed two trees, both over 18 metres high in the Avenida de America. Traffic along the road was closed for most of the day as officials from Parks and Gardens removed the debris.

Later in the day the emergency services managed to secure a eucalyptus tree that was leaning on a classroom at one of the City’s infant schools. It was later cut don before it could cause any serious damage.

A sad story

In January 2009, Orihuela city council estimated that 2% of the palm trees in the city had been affected by the picudo rojo beetle. They currently believe that 9% or two thousand of the 25,000 trees in the city are now affected.

The areas which have suffered most are on the coast and the banks of the river Segura.


The beetle was first found in palms at La Manga del Mar Menor, in Murcia. From there, the plague spread north to the park at PAU 25 and towards Torrevieja where it devastated the new park de Rocío del Mar just 500 metres from the Ferris palm plantation. At the same time, the beetle spread from its breeding ground in Jacarilla along the Segura to the Puertas de Murcia, up to Orihuela and in the opposite direction to Guardamar del Segura.

Thirty percent of the palms that the Confederation finished planting along the margins of the river Segura and some of its meanders have been affected.

The good news is that the San Antón palm park, one of the most important in Europe has not been affected because the majority of the trees there are date palms.

Limited resources mean that Orihuela city council are having to concentrate their efforts on the palms at Santa Lucia and those in the Gabriel Miró public square.

image Affected palms in places like PAU 25 and the mouth of the river Nacimiento at Glea de Campoamor (in this picture) have been left for months in spite of the danger that this will allow the insects to spread further. Infected trees really need to be destroyed sooner rather than later but with so many trees affected, this is a mammoth task to undertake.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Gas supplies for more homes

Mario Flores was in Torrevieja yesterday to see the start of a new gas pipeline, one of five that are being laid in the province.

Once the work is completed there will be 160 kilometres of gas pipelines in the Valencian community supplying gas to 390,000 homes at a cost of 29 million Euros.

The first section of thirteen kilometres of the pipeline between Guardamar del Segura and Pilar de le Horadada is expected to be completed by 2011 and will supply 160,000 homes with natural gas. The cost of the is project of 6.2million Euros is being shared by the Conselleria and Gas Natural.

It is hoped that the supply of gas will promote both the use of environmentally friendly energy for heating homes and at the same time encourage further development of Orihuela, Torrevieja and Guardamar del Segura.

In my opinion, anything that reduces the pall of wood smoke that hangs over the Vega Baja for the whole of winter is a good thing. Living here during the cold months of the year is like being back in England before the laws about smokeless fuel were introduced.

Ambitious plans

A second mega golf complex has been given the green light on virgin coastline between Mazarrón and Águilas.

Murcia regional government approved the plan to build 6,000 homes, two golf courses and four hotels at El Ramonete near Puntas de Calnegre in the municipality of Lorca. Two of the hotels are due to be built on land close to the beach and another two inland.

The six-million-square-metre area is close to the Cartagena-Vera toll motorway which was opened in 2007.

The development, which is being promoted by Alicante builder Hansa Urbana, includes the protected Lomo de Bas natural area. It will be constructed on the same strip of virgin coastline as the controversial Marina de Cope resort which is set to be built near Águilas on 21 million square metres of land.

Electricity giant Iberdrola is investing 200 million Euros in this tourist and residential complex which includes five golf courses, 11,000 homes, 22,000 hotel rooms and a vast marina.

So much for protecting the coastline! I imagine the environmentalists will have a lot to say about this. As for Iberdrola, I’d rather they invested some of their money into preventing the electricity cutting out every time the weather gets bad!

A tale of two roads

Do you remember all the controversy that surrounded the plans to build two new routes; the CV-95 from Orihuela to Torrevieja and the coast and the CV-91 from Oriheula to Guardamar del Segura?

In the case of the CV-95 the issue was that it was going to split the town of San Miguel del Salinas in half. The CV-91, on the other hand was going to cut swathes through the horticultural land of the huerta and run through the small towns en route. Opposition groups were set up, protests were held and alternative routes were suggested for both roads.

Then the financial crisis hit and the companies that were to be awarded the projects no longer showed interest. In the case of the CV-95 the constructor was to receive a so called "peaje en sombra" ( a toll in the shade) which I think means they would be paid according to the number of vehicles that used the road over a period of years following its construction. Latest figures show that there are 4% fewer vehicles using the present CV-95 than before.

The time slot for these projects it be completed is fast running out. If they are not at least started soon, then they will have to go back to the drawing board and new environmental impact studies will have to be undertaken.So there is a last push to see if any progress can be made.

In the case of the CV-95 the suggestion now is that it joins up with the A-7 motorway which should make it more profitable for the constructors because they believe that more vehicles will want to use that route. In the case of the CV-91, they are considering returning to the more acceptable route that was proposed back in 2002 which followed the river.

The mayoress of Orihuela, Monica Lorente and the councillor for infrastructure, Mario Flores both agree that the new roads will improve connections between the city and the coast and say that the demand is there for these roads to be built.

However, this is akin to the so called demand for more houses and the demand for bigger and better commercial centres in the area, the longer you go on, the more these needs seem to diminish especially now that we are in a period of economic austerity. These people should visit England and see some of the overcrowded roads there, that would put the viability of their proposals into proper perspective.

I suspect the perceived need is not for the new roads to accommodate more traffic but rather faster traffic and that is a very different issue.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Just up the coast past Benidorm

image The rivers in this area have been short of water for years. However, the heavy rains this winter have changed all that. We needed water desperately but too much can sometimes be as bad as too little.

Following a day and a half of non-stop rain this is how the River Algar looked yesterday in Altea.

As you can see it is ready to burst it banks.

One of my jobs for today is to drain the excess water from my pool to prevent it from overflowing. This will be the third time I've drained water out this winter. I only recall having done this once before since we have lived here.

A world first

Microsoft has announced its intentions to build the first centre for sanitary research in the Valencian community. Yesterday, the president of the Generalitat, Francisco Camps signed an agreement in New York with the company to make this happen.

What hasn’t been announced is the location of the new centre for research and development. Microsoft favours Alicante because of its good air links, the existing sanitary companies there and the large number of retired residents. The Consell on the other hand has shown a preference for either Valencia or Castellón.

Most of the large town and cities in the province have made their bids including Elche, Torrevieja and Benidorm. However, Alicante has already offered Microsoft space in the technology park area of the city. Camps says that an announcement will be made in the next couple of weeks.

Francisco Camps is in New York selling the Valencian community to the industrialists there. He describes the community as “the front door to the south of Europe”. He says that events like the Volvo Ocean Race and the F1 circuit demonstrate how the area can attract investment. At the same time he has emphasised the impact the the new high speed rail link with Madrid will make. Camps adds that “we are good manufacturers, agriculturists, retailers and, mainly, excellent hosts”.  I think we would all agree with that. Let us hope his mission is successful.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Did I say it was going to rain?

imageThe forecasters said it would rain and by God they were right.

It had rained overnight on Sunday into yesterday morning but then stayed dry for much of the day.

When the rain came yesterday evening, it bucketed it down and has continued for most of the night.

Looking at my pool, I can see the rain has added two to three centimetres of water to the level and the pool box has about 2cms of water sitting in the bottom. The sealing job I did has obviously helped a lot there because last time it rained like this there was probably 5 to 6cms of water in the bottom.

Mind you it hasn’t stopped raining yet so there is a chance to find more water in the box by the time it stops. Tomorrow promises to be dry so that will give me a chance to try out the submersible pump I bought to clear the water out.

Our crumb of comfort is, that if we were living inland on high ground, we could now be looking out at about 10cms or more of snow and just look at the forecast for the rest of the week.


Not a route for me

Can I say at the outset, that I am not one for driving along back roads and country lanes. I prefer a road with some width and a decent surface of tarmac to some narrow track out in the country. I know there are some who like to explore little known routes just to see where they might lead. You can count me out of that group. In my cycling days I would regularly take to the minor roads of the Wirral on my bike but rarely  would I venture along them in my car.

I feel my position is vindicated when I read in the newspaper Información that, taking the back road between Guardamar del Segura and Torrevieja, is like driving in the Dakar Rally. Apart from the fact that there is no white line on the road and there are no traffic signals, the newspaper has  counted 750 holes and cracks in its 5km length. To drive along it you need to be skilled at avoiding potholes although in the case of some, they are impossible to miss.

You might say, why bother using the road at all. It is in fact a popular road especially for those who want to go to the market on Wednesday at La Mata or the very popular Sunday market at Campico de Guardamar. It is also a very popular route for cyclists who want to avoid the dangers of the N-332 and of course the farmers have to use it to get to their land.

Información says, the only good thing about the road is that it has very few accidents because it is impossible to drive fast along it. I am in no hurry to test that theory out.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Join my group

Those of you who have visited my Flickr album will have seen some of the photos I have taken here in Spain.

I thought it would be nice to share my pictures and those take by other ex-pats so I have formed a group where they can post their photographs of “Vida en España soleada”.

To join the group and post pictures you need to have an account with Flickr . A FREE  account will allow you to post 100Mb per month and display your last 200 pictures.

Once you have set up your account and uploaded your pictures, you can join my group and post them there.

PS If nobody takes up this offer, then it will just be me and my photos which would be sad to say the least!

Facing the wind


You may have gathered that I have a thing about the wind and wondered why it is such an obsession for me.

I’ve never liked strong wind. However, in previous houses, it hasn’t really been an issue but it is here.

As you can see from this photograph, taken from our rooftop solarium, we have an open aspect to the west. That is because we are more or less at the top of a hill. The aspect gives us good views over to the mountains behind Orihuela and the mountain at the foot of Callosa but it does leave us open to the wind especially when it blows from that direction.

Those houses that you can see in the centre are much more sheltered especially those two in the foreground. They can put netting up on their fences and it will stay there. On our back fence, the netting just gets pulled down every time we have strong to gale force winds. We are on the third type of fencing and none of them have survived.

The other problem we had was with the kitchen door which faces that way as well and has vents top and bottom. When the wind came from the west it used to howl through the vents making the kitchen cold. I’ve covered the vents with foam rubber which has both quietened it down a lot and stopped the cold draught coming through.

I know it is a small price to pay for the views that we have but it is a price we could well do without.

Mal tiempo

imageAfter some really quite pleasant weather, it looks like things are going downhill again for the first part of this week at least .

One hundred percent possibility of rain today means it WILL rain. Tomorrow that drops to 90% which I guess means it will rain then as well.

We will have to wait until Thursday to see the sun again.  

Sunday, January 24, 2010

We are staying put!

Surprisingly, a recent survey, carried out by a financial services company, found that 74 per cent of those living in Spain have considered moving back to the UK. The reasons seems to be the economic crisis which has meant falling property prices, the weak pound, and fears over job security which has made those living in Spain rethink the move.

Britons living in Spain have suffered financially, especially those relying on a pension from the UK, with four in five complaining that the drop in the value of the pound against the euro has left them a lot worse off (hear hear).

Badly hit also are those with holiday homes to rent in Spain. With many more properties available, the incomes from rentals have dropped and there are less people around looking to rent. People who own property abroad have seen the problem compounded by a dramatic fall in the real estate market, particularly in Spain, where prices on the Costas have dropped as much as 65 per cent in some place.

A spokesman for the financial services company that carried out the survey said, "Our research shows that British expats have had a tough time and the findings reveal that no country has escaped unharmed from the economic downturn, Brits living in Europe are feeling the effects of the weak pound as they are more likely to be reliant on income from their British property, UK pension and other regular sources of funds."

Having said all that, the percentage of people actually going back is minimal and many are looking for 2010 to be the year that things start turning round. Judging by the strong pound last week that could be sooner rather than later.

In fact many of the people visiting international property shows in the UK last year were still looking to move abroad, specifically Spain which indicates that while the downturn has made a difference, there are signs that things are beginning to happen.

Buyers have been waiting for the right moment, and are now thinking about making a move, as the thinking is that house prices are unlikely to drop any further.

Orihuela – a tourist destination

From our first visit, we fell in love with Orihuela. The old part of the city especially appealed to us and made us realise that we were in real Spain and not some clinically clean place designed to appeal to British tourists.

We loved the decay and the fact that many buildings retained original features which had been left untouched since they were first incorporated. Sure, there are parts that need restoring but at least it hasn’t all been demolished to make way for something new and brash.

The city council considers that the city has something special to offer and are promoting Orihuela as a tourist destination at FITUR in Madrid. They have even gone so far as to revise the plan for the city (the Plan General de Ordenación Urbana -PGOU) to enable it to profit further from tourism.

One of the problems that the council have recognised is that there aren’t enough hotels to accommodate visitors; the new plan will try to rectify that. The plan will also aim to protect and expand the old part of the city because that is the major attraction.

There are plenty of events in the city to attract visitors throughout the year. The parades during Semana Santa (holy week at Easter)are recognised internationally and attract a large number of visitors to the city. The celebrations of Moors and Christians and the Medieval Market also play their part in attracting people to the city.

However, Visitors don’t just visit Orihuela for the  special events.  The city has a well marked out cultural trail which takes in the important buildings and features of the city. It would take you the best part of a week just to do those buildings justice and then you can move on to the outskirts and visit the palm forest etc etc.

There are a few issues to be resolved like access into the city, hotel accommodation and of course the major problems with parking. If Orihuela can get those things right, then it will be onto a winner.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

When is a weed not a weed?

The answer, when it is as attractive as this.

This yellow flower grows everywhere, it is probably the most prolific plant in the area. I imagine it is a damn nuisance to farmers and it can take over your garden if you are not careful.

For the couple of months that it flowers though, it does bring a wonderful splash of colour to the roadside as my picture taken at San Louis yesterday.


Playing into Murcia’s hand

The opposition party in Bigastro have come out in criticism of the mayor, Raúl Valerio Medina for his handling of the economic crisis that is biting hard in the town. There are articles in both Laverdad and Información today expressing the views of the spokesperson of the party, Aurelio Murcia..

In the articles, Murcia says that it is incompatible that, whilst council workers have not been paid their full wages for December and some municipal buildings are running with generators, the town has seen fit for three people, including the ex mayor, José Joaquín Moya, to go to FITUR, the tourist fair in Madrid .

Bear in mind, the PP have persistently accused the current mayor of working in the shadow of the previous one who resigned both from office and the Socialist party when he was incarcerated following allegations of corruption and an investigation into his affairs. You can’t help but feel that, no matter how valid his reasons, by taking the previous mayor to Madrid as part of a delegation to promote the “Citta Slow” project, Medina is playing into Murcia’s hand leaving himself open to further criticism.

According to Murcia, the mayor has asked for a loan of 500,000 and a further loan of 70,000 to pay the council workers. In his opinion. the mayor should settle the debt with Iberdrola and reduce the council workforce, a policy which was expressed in the PP manifesto at the last election. Understandably, the Socialist party do not want to add more people to the already extensive list of unemployed workers in the town.

For those of us who are new to the town, the political situation in Bigastro can be likened to a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode. As far as I can see, since Medina took over from the previous mayor the tensions have worsened. The only solace is that when you reach the bottom there is only one way to go.

Worse than Amsterdam

The Costa Blanca news reports:-

The Valencian federation of municipalities and provinces has approved a new bylaw and a scale of fines governing prostitution, begging, and other anti-social activities that could be adopted by all town halls in the region.

The new bylaw is restrictive and gives local councils the right to impose fines of up to 3,000 euros for certain offences.

Town halls will be able to fine anyone buying pirated DVDs or CDs in the street 400 Euros. This is apart from the fines that the seller of such items faces if caught.

The legislation to back the new bylaw has been called Ordenanza de Protección del Espacio Público and was approved by representatives from all the towns that form the federation.

Under the new bylaw activities such as begging in the streets is expressly forbidden and allows the authorities to confiscate any money that may have been collected.

It says local police officers can first warn a beggar to stop and if he persists he can be charged with disobedience.

Begging with children will also be hit with heavy fines ranging between 1,500 and 3,000 Euros.

We could do with the same law being passed here in Alicante province.

Although I have sympathy for those who have no money, I know that some beggars actually do very well out of their activity. For me, the ones that have a child with them, especially when they stand outside a church, are the worst so I am glad they will suffer the highest fines. 

Now as for prostitutes. We all know what the young ladies on the side of the road are there for, so why do some feel the need to be so blatant about it?

In a shop, you might want to check out the goods before you buy but you don’t  necessarily have to remove the wrapper and open the box to see the contents.

At the side of the CV-95, on the way to Torrevieja there are a few young ladies that have taken to standing in their knickers and hold up stockings but because it is cold, they wear a jacket on top. One young lady yesterday had gone a stage further by taking her knickers off to display her wares for any passer by to see. In my opinion, these putas had gone from enticing to being distasteful.

I imagine it must be very embarrassing for parents with children to pass girls dressed like this and try to explain what they are about.  It is also dangerous for drivers who have to slow down to make sure they are seeing correctly!

Friday, January 22, 2010

On good authority

Chief scout John, has spoken to the people working on the construction next to the town hall and they told him that in fact what they were working on are to be showrooms for the solar energy company Eurener.

Now that makes sense because you wouldn't normally have floor to ceiling windows in a bar/cafeteria. in fact the bar will be in the other half of the building.

The lights are going out in Bigastro

Lack of money in the municipal coffers is increasingly causing problems for the town council in Bigastro.

In 2006 and 2007, during the construction boom the town’s budget was almost 8 million Euros per year. Now the working capital is just over four million.

As a result, the mayor confirms that 90 of the council workers have only been paid 60 percent of their December wages and that the Christmas bonuses have been paid to just a third of the workforce. The rest, including the councillors and civil servants will have to wait up to six months to get theirs.

It gets worse though because, as I reported before, the electricity has been cut at several municipal centres including La Paz infant school, the Sports Centre and the new location for the local police in the old José de Calasanz. buildings.

The money owed to Iberdrola is the problem; the town had a bill for 70,000 Euros for street lighting which had to be paid otherwise we would all be stumbling about in the dark. So the street lights stay on but the infant school has to rely upon a generator to stay open much to the disgust of the parents.

The mayor has tried to reason with Iberdrola but to no effect, they are adamant that the debt must be cleared before the electricity is restored to the infant school. The Mayor has also tried to move to another company, Endesa but legislation prevents the town from doing this until Iberdrola have been paid.

The mayor says that other municipalities, who have similar debts to Iberdrola, have not suffered cuts and therefore, once the town has the all clear, it will try and change its contract to Endesa.

You can understand Iberdrola's position but surely cutting electricity to an infant school is not the act of a socially responsible company they claim to be.

Once more into the breach

imageOn the face of it, that seems to be a rather innocent agenda for the next council meeting.

Once they have got through the first few items, it should be plain sailing. But then, as I have said a few times on this blog, very few council meetings in Bigastro pass by without some sort of disruption.

No doubt the members of the public who are planning to attend will be sharpening their knives ready. They’ll be brushing up on a few sharp phrases to throw in as well.

It can’t be all that pleasant for the recipients of this banter meeting after meeting. Unless they are sado-masochists, I don’t suppose they look forward to the council sessions as much as they ought to.

We shall see.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Tut tut

You were stopped by the Guardia Civil and now you have a fine to pay. It used to be a real pain in the butt.

However, from last May, the Dirección General de Tráfico (DGT)  made it possible for nationals and foreigners alike to pay fines for their driving offences via the internet by credit or debit card.It doesn’t make it any cheaper but it does make it easier.

The DGT´s website found at offers drivers the option to pay their penalties online rather than via the traditional route of visiting a Banco Santander branch, the post office (Correos) or a local Jefatura de Tráfico office where you would have to pay by cash.

Unless your driving licence has  been withdrawn for the infraction of a serious offence – a 30% discount is available if you pay the penalty within 30 days of receiving notification of the fine.
If you wish to pay your fines online, here’s how to do it:
1) Access the DGT´s website at and enter the ‘Trámites y Multas’ section located on the left hand menu.
2) Select the fourth option on the sub-menu (¿Alguna Multa?) and subsequently, “Pago de Multas”.
3) Select option A – this will allow you to pay the fine without a Digital Certificate or Electronic ID Number.
4) Now enter the following information in this exact order to receive a receipt of payment: document type, document number, first name, 1st surname, 2nd surname, record/file number and the total amount of the fine.

Those that have insurance cover with Línea Directa  have yet another option because all policy holders are able to leave the management of their fines and relevant legal matters in relation to road traffic accidents in their hands, and at no extra cost.

More about FITUR

The tourist exhibition in Madrid occupies an area of over 75,000 sq metres divided into ten halls housing exhibitors from 17 countries and regions including Uganda, Ghana and Kuwait who will all premiere at the show this year. The area occupied is 13% less than in previous years but will nevertheless provide travel company professionals and visitors with lots of valuable information including the peculiarities of the major domestic and international markets as well as offers from tourist enterprises, tour operators, airlines and car rental companies.

The show was opened on Wednesday by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain.

image At the exhibition the mayor of Orihuela, Monica Lorente, had the opportunity to greet their majesties when they visited the Orihuela stand. Ms Lorente told the royal couple that they would be very welcome to visit the city during the coming year after which she presented the king with an anthology of poems commemorating the centenary of Miguel Hernández written by Jose Luis Ferri, while Queen Sofia received a specially crafted Orihuela bracelet.

Bigastro at FITUR

FITUR is the annual tourist fair in Madrid which this year runs from the 20th to 24th January.

Attendance at the fair not only gives towns the opportunity to show what they have to offer but also enables them to establish contacts, find out about new trends and ways to develop tourism in their regions.

Attending FITUR is  just one of the global projects that the Federation of Economic Promotion of the Vega Baja is involved in. They Federation will also be represented at the fairs in Valencia (TCV), Barcelona (STIC), INTUR in Valladolid, the international fair in Berlin (ITB) and WTM in London.

Visitors to FITUR should head to Stand 5B03 in Pavillion 5 to see what Bigastro and the rest of the Vega Baja has to offer.

Of course, if you go to and take part in the draw  you could win a two night stay at the five star "La Finca Golf & Spa Resort" hotel and see the fair for yourself.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

One for the ladies

image The Association of Progressive Women of Bigastro, in collaboration with the Councillor for Woman, Mª Carmen Alonso, have organised a trip to Alicante for Monday, 25th of February.

The itinerary for the trip is as follows:

08.00 – Leave from "Puerta de Álvaro"
10.00 – visit the Territorial Delegation of the Government
12.00 – visit the Archaeological Museum MARQ
14.00 – lunch
16.00 - return to Bigastro

The price is of 5 €. Now I ask, “what better value could you have than that?”

Light the candles

The candles they sell in the shops here in Spain are not for decoration. They are an essential backup for when the power goes off which it does from time to time.

Last night was a prime example of an occasion when you needed the candles close to hand. Just as Pamela was starting to prepare our evening meal, the electricity went off. It quickly came back on a couple of times but only for a second each time and then it went dead.

The whole urbanisation was in darkness, no lights in houses, no street lights – nothing. When you looked down the road, you could see it was in darkness down to the town. Looking up, the street lights up at La Pedrera were on because they are powered by a generator. 

I presume someone reported the incident to Iberdrola who then came out to fix the fault.  They must have been quick because about an hour and a half later, the electricity came back on. There were a couple of blips after that but then it all settled down. Pam could finish cooking the meal and I could watch the rest of Top Gear.

So a tip for anyone new to the area, always keep some candles and a torch to hand because there is a very strong possibility that you are going to need them.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

£500m is a lot of money

Knowing nothing about football, I had wondered why our daughter Laura’s boyfriend was so incensed about the Glazer family who own Manchester United football club.

Having read this article in the Telegraph and a similar story in the Guardian, I understand where his and the other supporters’ hatred comes from.

The Glazer family,  can take almost £130m cash out of the club next year alone if enough lenders sign up for the bond they have launched to borrow £500m for United.

Nestling in the small print of the 322-page bond prospectus are provisions allowing the Glazers to take £70m out of the club's cash reserves, which includes the money they have received from selling players such as Cristiano Ronaldo. The document also reserves for the Glazers the legal right to pay £25m out of the club in a dividend, and half of what is termed "consolidated net income". This is effectively the club's cash profits, which based on the most recent accounts would have meant £23m being paid out last year.

The bond's terms also note that the Glazers will have the right for £6m a year to be paid to companies they own "for administration and management services", and a further £3m "in respect of services provided by directors, officers or employees" of companies the Glazers use to hold their shares in United.

That money, added to the £70m and £25m one-off payments, plus the half of United's cash profit they can take out each year (equating to £23m last year), add up to £127m next year alone.

That huge figure is in addition to the straightforward payment of interest (yield) on the £500m the club will have borrowed via the bond, which at a mooted 9%, will be £45m. That will bring the total taken out of United to service the Glazers' borrowings, which were loaded on to the club after the family bought the club in 2005, to £172m next year alone.

It has become increasingly clear since the prospectus was launched last week that its principal purpose is to allow the Glazers to take cash out of United to reduce the amounts they owe in "payments in kind" to hedge funds, which are running at a punitive £14.25% interest. Standing at £175m in the year to 30 June, 2008, the "payments" accrued £25m interest in the year to 30 June, 2009, and so stand now at over £200m. That debt is secured on the United shares the Glazer family own, and it is clear their financial priority is to use United's giant turnover and profits to pay down that debt before the interest "rolls up" dramatically.

A calculation of the total cash which the bond would entail being paid out of United in dividend payments, the yield from the bond, management fees and the possible requirement for the club to lease the Carrington training ground, is more than £500m between next year and the maturity of the bond in 2017.

If the bond issue is fully taken up by lenders, it will mean that since the Glazer family bought United in May 2005 for £810m – £540m of it borrowed from banks and hedge funds – their takeover will have already cost United £340m in cash. That comprises £220m in bank interest plus "early-repayment premiums" made when the borrowings were first refinanced in August 2006. A further £120m will have been incurred in fees paid to bankers, lawyers and other professionals – the fees for this bond issue are noted as £15m – plus £35m incurred by the club's interest rate hedging arrangements.

On top of that, the "payments" have incurred interest payable of around £124m since the Glazers first borrowed the money to buy United.

A Glazer family spokesman, who also speaks for United on financial matters, declined to comment.

Nick Towle, chair of the Manchester United Supporters' Trust, said: "It is a shocking picture. These are immense amounts of money being leaked out of United to pay banks, lawyers, the Glazers themselves and interest, to pay for a takeover none of the supporters, or the United board itself, wanted.

"United's success and profits could have been used to keep ticket prices affordable or invest in the team but instead we see this heartbreaking waste, just because one family ultimately hopes to make a profit from the club."

Salt is on its way

It might be a bit late but help is on its way to Britain and Northern Europe. Lorries are backed up onto the N332 at Torrrevieja ready to transport salt to those countries that have run out. The salt workers at Torrevieja and Santa Pola have been working round the clock to get supplies ready for you. It just needs loading onto the lorries and then it will be on its way.

By the time it arrives though everyone will have forgotten about the snow that caused such chaos over the last few weeks. Still those countries that were affected will have their salt stock replenished ready for the next lot of snow.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Fast talkers


Fast talking is a bit of an art practised by people selling goods at markets and at auctions. Americans seem to be particularly good at it and so too are the Spanish!

We often accuse the locals of speaking too quickly for us to comprehend what they say but actually in comparison with other parts of Spain, they speaks slowly in Bigastro.

Yesterday in Orihuela, on the day of San Antón, they had a competition to find out who was the fastest talking market trader.

The traders covered everything from bees honey to a machine that was described as the Mercedes of the kitchen, a gadget that extracts the juice from lemons and oranges, removes the cores from pears and apples and even makes a hollow in potatoes ready for you to add a filling. Yet another vendor was selling a pocket typewriter that turned out to be a ball point pen - that is clever, I bet he was good.

In the end there were just three finalists who then had to expound on a general topic. The winner was an ex actor who chose the poems of Miguel Hernanadez as his subject – a wise choice for Orihuela in the centenary year of the poet’s birth especially since he finished with the line “How it does not win”.

Elsewhere in Spain, people would have taken their pets to the priest for a blessing because of course San Antón is the patron saint of animals. I suppose cats and dogs are alright but then people take along all sorts of exotica. Imagine blessing someone’s pet tarantula; you’d be more likely to curse it.

Spain got sunny again

imageNow that’s more like it. As the weather throughout Europe has improved so we have returned to the kind of temperatures we’d expect in January on the Costa Blanca.

Plenty of warm sunshine in the daytime and mild temperatures at night will do a lot to ease the gas bill for this quarter.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Better than a night at the pictures

There is an interesting article in today’s newspaper, Información about the council sessions in Bigastro and the constant battle that rages between the spokesman for the opposition, Aurelio Murcia and the mayor, Raúl Valerio Medina in particular.

Apparently it is unusual to hold council sessions at night, that was a decision made by the previous mayor, José Joaquín Moya. Some would ague that it was unwise for the current mayor not to change that policy because it has left him open to a lot of abuse from the public who can find time to attend after work.

People in Bigastro go to the council sessions as they would to the cinema to be entertained and more often than not they are not disappointed. The seats that are available are quickly filled by those eager to observe and take part in the next episode of this unfolding drama.

Those that do get in are far from silent observers of the spectacle; they regularly show their approval by applauding and their disapproval by shouts and taunts to the politicians. For example they shout guapo* to Medina and sombra oronda, pelele, 'sagales' and 'chiguitos' or «eres tonto» implying that the mayor is still working in the shadows, that the mayor is a a dummy, that the councillors are little children and are stupid.

Given all this, it is not surprising that the sessions regularly end in chaos, even with people being escorted out by the police.

Of course these battles are not new; Murcia treated the previous mayor exactly the same. Indeed, the popular spokesman always been noted for his ability to deliver a hard phrase which is sharp and wounding - designed to be personal. Información puts this partly down to his love of the theatre because of course Murcia is the director of the local theatre group.

One phrase which Murcia used that the press often quotes was “Érase una vez un pueblo en el que gobernaba un pelele, una sombra y una pandilla de chiquitos” by which I think he means that the town is governed by a dummy working in the shadow of the former mayor and with a band of little people. I have to say it is hard to imagine David Cameron, leader of the opposition in the British parliament coming out with such a colourful expression.

Although Murcia did have respect for the former mayor who by all accounts was a great reader and orator, he shows little respect for the current mayor. Medina for his part, mostly avoids the taunts he gets but as they say, “mud sticks”. When things get really bad he resorts to reminding Murcia that he is the mayor and that Murcia must respect him. I remember one of the head teachers at the school where I worked saying much the same.

Of course it isn’t just the mayor that Murcia attacks, his other main target is Inmaculada Martínez, the first lieutenant to the mayor who makes comments back under her breath. Whilst the mayor can control her, he cannot control the public.

With the next elections only a year and a half away, this battle is not going to end soon. If anything, the council sessions could become even more colourful, goodness knows where that will leave us.

* I'd guess that Medina would prefer to be regarded for his statesman like qualities than his devilish good looks when he is in council meetings.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

I must register for my vote

Disaffection with mainstream parties in British politics has paved the way for the “fringe” parties to gain ground. The election of the BNP leader to parliament shows how far some voters are prepared to go. It seems to be the far right that currently offers the greatest appeal.

The UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) has been known primarily as a single-issue Eurosceptic party composed of disaffected Tories. They only spoke about what they wanted to abolish but over the next two months the party plans to publish papers on a number of policy areas such as welfare into work, transport, healthcare and tax. Its manifesto will specify policy measures, — a clarity that UKIP says other parties lack.

UKIP has said that it would increase Britain’s military budget by 40 per cent and bring back grammar schools. The party also believes that fewer school leavers should go to university, and that the less academic teenagers should be encouraged to learn a trade. It would also seek to revolutionise teacher training. Lord Pearson said that the current process was “rotten”.

IUKIP is also calling for a ban on the burka and the niqab — the Islamic cloak that covers women from head to toe and the mask that conceals most of the face — claiming they affront British values. The policy, which a number of European countries are also debating, is an attempt by UKIP to broaden its appeal and address the concerns of disaffected white working-class voters.

At the core of its appeal to many, the party talks about Britishness, about the national identity and the genuine threat that Sharia law poses. They say that alarm bells should have sounded when the Archbishop of Canterbury said that the adoption of Sharia law in the UK was unavoidable.

You will recall that two years ago Rowan Williams triggered a row over Sharia when he argued that Britain had to “face up to the fact” that some of its citizens do not relate to the British legal system and that adopting parts of Islamic law would help to maintain social cohesion.

With an election looming on the horizon, these could prove to be “interesting” times for British politics. Disaffection with both Labour and Conservative could result in a very different parliament in six months or so time.

I must fill in that form to register my postal vote.

21st century Torre

It used to be hard to find good official information about Torrevieja on the Internet but that is about to change.

Next Friday, the 22nd January, Torrevieja launches its new municipal web site at . The new portal promises to be a great improvement on the present site according to the mayor, Pedro Hernández Mateo and the councillor for New Technologies, Pedro Valero.

The councillor for New Technologies says that the site will be easier to navigate, more intuitive and will include an RSS feed to allow visitors to capture pictures and articles for use on other web sites.

All the political parties in Torrevieja will be represented on the site with photographs of each councillor along with their email address so that they can be identified and contacted. I only hope they are up to using this new technology because there is nothing worse than contacting someone only to wait for them to check their emails and take the time to reply.

Since the web site has cost Torrevieja 634.000 Euros from this year’s FEIL money, it had better be good!

Dates for the diary

IMG_0368 From Friday 5th to Sunday 7th of February Orihuela will go back in time with its famous Medieval Market.

For this year there will be 350 stalls (100 more than last year), workshops, activities for children and lots to see in the streets of the old part of the city. Most of the Moors and Christian groups will be there along with representatives from many of the other associations in the city.

The route has been extended from the church at Santiago to the school at San Domingo, in whole a total distance of over 4 kilometres which takes in five national monuments including an area especially designated to celebrate the centenary of birth of the poet Miguel Hernandez.

Amongst other spectacles there will be; a display of falconry, workshops with the birds in flight, Italian flagmen, an Arab market, dancing in the street, samples of food and drink, horse tournaments, workshops, an exhibition of arms, a sample of mediaeval life, a parade of troops, sorceresses, magicians and genies, dragons, elephants, tigers and horses.

There will probably be too much to see in one trip so it is well worth going twice.

PS Much of this would not be allowed in England where Health and Safety officials would have a field day on such a program of events. I'm surprised to find that they still allow that bloke in Chester to perform with his paraffin torches.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Why do they do it?

As it happens I am expecting a parcel from England which is now overdue. Yesterday, I got an email which purported to have come from UPS about a parcel so my first thought was that it might be relevant.

Before I could open it though, Avira had scanned it and found it contained a virus. The program therefore prevented me from opening the email by deleting it.

Today I got another email that was also supposedly from UPS. This time I could read the message which said that I had a parcel which they couldn’t deliver because the address was wrong. There was an attachment which apparently contained the relevant information. You guessed, the attached file contained a virus which Avira once more picked up and deleted for me.

The first clue should have been that neither email had an UPS logo nor came from an official UPS domain. However I missed that; without Avira, I would now have an infected computer.

Why do people do this? What do they gain from sending out infected emails? It beggars belief.

Shoddy work in Torrevieja

The mayor of Torrevieja was invited to see for himself  the poor condition of the works being carried out to pedestrianise calle Caballero de Rodas in the town centre.

Despite over 3 million euro being spent on the project the quality of work is said by some residents to be poor with many of the pavement slabs being installed which are broken prior to being laid.

Attention was drawn to the work by many of the residents who said that it had dragged on for far too long causing unnecessary disruption to themselves and to many traders.

The councillor for Infrastructure in Torrevieja, Javier Montoro, said that he would ensure that their concerns were dealt with and all broken slabs would all be replaced. He said that there was still a great deal of work to be carried out but it would be worth it in the end.

The area would be transformed. He also said that he would ensure that all works would be completed in calle Caballero de Rodas by the end of January although it would be necessary for work to continue in adjoining streets until the end of March.

Which brings me to the question, “what about calle Purisima in Bigastro?” As far as I can see, the work which began in earnest, has now come to a halt. Does anybody know why nothing seems to be happening?

In the meantime, work has begun on the corner of the main town square. We met one of our neighbours yesterday who had been told they were building a Chinese restaurant. I can only tell you that the mayor explained to chief scout John that it was in fact going to be a new bar and the other side was destined to be offices for Eurener the solar panel company.

Casting the net

Representatives from Guardamar del Segura are attending the International Tourism Trade Fair in Oslo which began on Thursday 14th and runs until Sunday 17th January.

The exhibition is considered the largest tourist event in Norway, and Guardamar has a stand which they are sharing with Alfaz del Pi.
Alongside Torrevieja, Guardamar is the town in the Vega Baja, that hosts the largest settlement of Norwegians abroad which was acknowledged last year when the town received a visit from Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg.

More than 5% of the population registered on the Guardamar padron are Scandinavian citizens of which approximately 60% are Norwegian. For several years, groups of people from this country have regularly visited the town to learn the Castilian language, so attending the tourism fair in Oslo has been warmly welcomed by tourism entrepreneurs in the town, said the City Council.

Guardamar’s attractions have only recently begun to feature in the Norwegian tourist market where it focuses on the all year round temperatures, its friendly environment, the sand dunes, beaches, gardens, hotels and restaurants.

Doh ray me far so lar tee doh……


The School of Music have organised singing classes for those who have ambitions to join a choir.

The classes will be given by Susana Vardayan on Fridays between 7 and 8p  in the Auditorium. Classes will start tonight, Friday, 15th.

You only need to turn up and speak to the teacher to join the class.

I will see you down there (that was a joke!)

A strong blow

The wind yesterday, which affected the whole of the Comunitat Valenciana, was at its worst in the Valencia province where speeds reached 120 kms per hour. It was apparently the worst storm the region has experienced in the last twenty years - since February 1989 in fact.

The main problems seem to have been with billboards collapsing, in one case at least - onto parked cars. There were also reports of the facades of buildings and cornices coming down and problems with traffic lights, lampposts and awnings.

Quite a few trees suffered including the 40 year old cypress trees by the cathedral in Valencia. There were also reports that a school had to be closed when the 15m high pine trees in the grounds were toppled by the wind.

The people who were most inundated with calls were TV aerial and satellite dishes installers. I imagine there were quite a few of those either blown down or dislodged by the wind.

The good news is that it is a lot calmer this morning.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Protecting your data

One of our neighbours took up my advice about making backups of his computer and bought himself two USB external drives at a very good price. He asked me yesterday what was the best way to use the drives to make a backup of his system.

Now I am no expert in this field but I do have a friend who knows a lot more than me so i will be asking him. In the meantime, as far as I can determine, there are several approaches that my neighbour could take.

1 A belt and braces approach by just copying the data from his computer hard drive to one of the external drives. He would have to remember to keep adding to the backup as he creates more data e.g.saves more pictures to his main drive. However, using this method will not save important system settings for example the information from his email program. It wouldn’t allow him to recover the whole system in the event of a crash.

2. With some versions of Microsoft Windows, you get a Backup and Restore Control Panel which will do the job for you. You just need to launch it and follow the instructions. You can specify what is to be saved and where it is to be saved using this technique.

3. The most efficient and effective method is to use a dedicated piece of software to do the work for you. The best of these will schedule backups for you and make sure that your backed up data is kept up to date.

The one I use is Acronis True Image Home which allows you to produce incremental backups as well as full backups. It has lots of other features as well and comes highly recommended. However, there are lots of other software packages out there which will do a credible job, it is just a case of finding the one which suits your needs and pocket best.

I hope this helps.

Six month free

Facebook, the social networking site are concerned about the safety of their subscribers and have now teamed up with McAfee to provide a free six month trial of their internet security software. They say that, following the six month trial, users will be offered a generous discount to continue with the software.

Note that this offer only applies to those of you who subscribe to Facebook. If you are one of those then click on this link to find out more.

Honest cabbies

If you left something on a train, a bus or a taxi you would probably never expect to see it again but you might be wrong.

Mohammad Asadujjaman turned down a reward after driving over 50 miles in search of Italian tourist who had left a handbag containing $21,000 in cash –and jewellery worth thousands more on the  backseat of his cab on Christmas Eve.

Felicia Lettieri's absentmindedness had briefly threatened to ruin the family's holiday because the bag, which she forgot while she and six other relatives were travelling in two taxis from midtown Manhattan to Penn station, also contained some of the group's passports.

This is not the only instance of a honest cabbie in New York.

Two years ago, the Grammy-nominated violinist Philippe Quint left his $4m Stradivarius in a New Jersey taxi after flying in to Newark airport at 3am.

Despite fearing that he would never see his 285-year-old ex-Kiesewetter violin again, Quint was eventually informed by the airport that the driver, Mohammed Khalil, had returned the precious instrument. To show his gratitude, Quint handed Khalil a $100 tip and free tickets to his next Carnegie Hall concert. He also gave a kerbside recital at the airport taxi rank to an audience of 50 cabbies.

France – a good place to live

International Living magazine's 30th annual survey of the best countries to live analysed 194 countries and based results on nine criteria including the cost of living, leisure and culture, economy, environment, freedom, health, infrastructure, safety and climate. This involved looking at everything from the average cost of a cup of coffee, to average house prices, tax and inflation rates, GDP per capita and the number of people per museum.

1. France International Living says: "Its tiresome bureaucracy and high taxes are outweighed by an unsurpassable quality of life, including the world's best healthcare."

2. Australia International Living says: "Australia's economy has managed to weather the Global Financial Crisis better than any other Western country."

3. Switzerland International Living says: "Jump on a Swiss train and you know you will arrive on time. Swallow a Swiss pill and you know it won't poison you. Likewise, you know the bank will always be discreet and the hotel room spotless. The Swiss succeeded because they made everything work."

4. Germany International Living says: "Despite the global downturn, Germans have it pretty good. Along with 30 days paid annual holiday, the average employee earns €41,509 (£37,274)."

5. New Zealand International Living says: "Taken nationally, latest figures show the average home costs $274,881 (£125,887). New Zealand doesn't have the pollution, congestion, health issues and cramped city living seen elsewhere."

6. Luxembourg International Living says: "If we judged quality of life by a nation's Michelin-starred restaurants per square mile, the winner would be the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. With per capita GDP of $88,000 (£54,000) it's among the world's richest countries."

7. United States International Living says: "It is the land of convenience. No place else on Earth is it easier to get what you want, when you want it."

8. Belgium International Living says: "Ringed with parks, Brussels is Europe's greenest capital. The municipality not only sterilizes stray cats, it appoints someone to feed them. Its main library offers storytelling in sign language for deaf children. And disadvantaged citizens can attend cultural events at hefty discounts."

9. Canada International Living says: "Canada has remained resilient through the global financial crises. The banks are considered 'more Swiss than the Swiss banks,' and property markets are 'on fire'."

10. Italy "Southern winters are short and mild, summers are scorching hot, and jugs of wine cost $6.50 (£4.00). On Sicily and in slow-paced regions like Puglia, Basilicata, and Campania, affordable homes abound. Even farmhouses with a couple of acres surface for £40,000. Many village houses cost even less."

What about Spain? Well that features in the ten worst cities for pickpockets

1. Barcelona, Spain. Las Ramblas, the wide pedestrian walkway, voted the "perfect place to get your purse poached." One reviewer compares Barcelona pick pocketing to football - a generally practised and accepted sport.

2. Rome, Italy. Watch out for thieves around the Trevi Fountain or the Pantheon, where pickpockets will nab your camera with a "quick snip of scissors" or "clever handiwork with a zipper."

3. Prague, Czech Republic. TripAdvisor focuses on Charles Bridge, which is crawling with tourists, as a particular pickpocket favourite.

4. Madrid, Spain. El Rastro flea market and the crowded Metro have pickpocket networks, while visitors should also watch out for museums, where thieves prey on distracted tourists.

5. Paris, France. Travellers should be especially cautious on the Metro system.

6. Florence, Italy. Trip Advisor says: "When admiring Michelangelo's David, or its replica in busy Piazza della Signoria, be alert that others may have their attention on your wallet."

7. Buenos Aires, Argentina. If while sightseeing you find you are suddenly covered in "bird droppings" (likely mustard) and a "friendly" local (likely a thief) happens to be standing by with napkins to help you clean up, beware.

8. Amsterdam, Netherlands. "Don't be too taken in by the canals and the friendly, laid-back atmosphere - pickpocketers have been known to take advantage," say traveller advisers.

9. Athens, Greece. Make sure you keep your bag close to your chest when visiting the Parthenon.

10. Hanoi, Vietnam. Hanoi's Old Quarter attracts thieves and TripAdvisor points out that five of Hanoi's top ten most popular attractions are busy, outdoor areas.

As part of the salt museum

Next month will see the opening of a new Natural Science Museum in Torrevieja.

Located in the the old railway station building, the museum will house the skeletons of many sea creatures which have ended up on the shores of Torrevieja over the past few years including, a Bottlenose Dolphin, a Pilot Whale and part of a shark. There will also be a unique collection of more than 800 shells collected by a couple in the Maldives and donated to the town.

Batten down the hatches

imageAgain because, according to AEMET, the wind will pick up today as it veers to the west reaching speeds of 43Kms per hour.

By tomorrow the wind will start to calm down as it changes to north west.

The good news is that there is a 0% chance of precipitation and it will be sunny and mild,

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ni fu ni fa – I like that!

As we get deeper into our understanding of the Spanish language, Pam and I are starting to pick up some of those phrases which improve your conversation.

Peter Christian’s “Streetwise Spanish” helps a lot. These are some of his latest tips to spice up our Spanish.

¿Qué opinas de la moto nueva de Adriana? - What do you think ofAdriana's new motor scooter? Es cosa de cada domingo - It's a thing of every Sunday but translates better as: A dime a dozen/Ten a penny in English.

¿Qué tal la sopa? - How's the soup? Dos tres - Two three meaning: not bad. It's alright. Nothingspecial.

¿Te gusta la música de jazz? - Do you like Jazz music? No me dice nada - It does nothing for me

¿Te gusta el rape? - Do you like monkfish? Ni fu ni fa - I can take it or leave it.

The force of nature

Anyone who lives in an area prone to tremors as we do must have felt the cold chill run down their spine when news broke of the devastation in Haiti caused by an earthquake of 7.0 magnitude.

Pictures in today’s papers show what damage can be done and the chaos that these freaks of nature cause.

Pam and I watched a programme on television the other night about the San Andreas fault which runs through California. There, people live knowing that at anytime they could experience an earthquake of the same magnitude as that which has just hit Haiti.

No matter how clever we become at observing and recording these phenomena, we seem to be incapable of predicting their timing and are mostly unprepared for their devastating effects. The forces of nature beat us every time.

Whilst we feel for the people of this impoverished Caribbean island, we are grateful that it wasn’t us.

Looking back

At the start of a new year it is not a bad thing to look back on the previous year and just see what you have accomplished and with a certain amount of pride reflect on your achievements.

image The Ayuntamiento de Bigastro has done just that and produced this excellent summary of the year in words and pictures.

Like I dare say many, I had forgotten just how much was packed into 2009 which was by any measure a difficult year for Spain, for Europe and the World.

Thank you to whoever was responsible for producing that summary for sharing it with us. It made a grey day seem a whole lot brighter.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A man with vision

If you came on an inspection trip with one of the companies that sell properties here on the Vega Baja, the chances are you will have been taken to Ciudad Quesada and wondered where the name came from.

The new township was started in 1972 when Justo Quesada Samper acquired thousands of acres of land south of Rojales. His dream was to build his own city where people could live together in harmony, prosper and enjoy life to the full and that is what he did.

Having built his city, In March 1989 Justo Quesada went on to design and build the new golf course in Rojales which originally bore the family name, Quesada Golf Club. If you visited the clubhouse during your inspection trip, you may well have seen Justo Quesada in the bar enjoying a game of dominoes with his friends. In 1994 the name of the course was changed and it became known as La Marquesa.

Justo Quesada was born in Orihuela in 1926 but his life was spent in Rojales, Elche and San Miguel de Salinas. He lived in the hamlet of La Marquesa where he met his wife Josephine Aniorte by which he had five children. All eventually became involved in the family development company.

Now at the age of 83, Justo Quesada has passed away. Complaining of feeling unwell, he was admitted to San Jaime Hospital in Torrevieja where his condition deteriorated quickly. Following emergency heart surgery, Justo Quesada never recovered.

Ciudad Quesada is a lasting memorial to this man’s vision. I don’t suppose there are many who have created such a monument to themselves.

Clever stuff

The hospital at Torrevieja is recognised as being technologically advanced which is why it received a prestigious Microsoft award last year for its innovative database system.

In October, Torrevieja hospital went one step further in its use of technologies by introducing a system of text alerts to doctors.

The problem to be addressed was how to cope with the wide fluctuations in the town’s population. At the peak of the holiday season, the number of residents can double which puts a strain on the hospitals ability to cope with emergencies.

What the hospital needed was a system that could monitor the number of emergencies and the seriousness of the patients conditions in the A&E department and then respond if the situation became critical.

The new system, dubbed Florence after a British patient, counts the number of patients seeking attention and divides this by the number of staff on call. If the result exceeds the limits whereby optimum quality of care can be guaranteed, it sends a text message to the head of the department.

The department head then must assess the situation and if he accepts help is required, the message is then sent on to volunteer staff members, who phone to confirm their availability.

This is obviously one instance where using your mobile phone for text messaging in hospital is allowed!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Words of advice

imageSiguiendo con la campaña, durante el mes de diciembre se pondrá especial atención al uso del móvil en la conducción. La Policía Local de Bigastro informará del peligro que supone utilizar los móviles, GPS, y otros elementos tecnológicos durante la conducción.
Bajo el lema, "Protege tu vida...también dentro del Casco Urbano ¡ No utilices el móvil mientras conduces !", se pretende reducir las causas de accidente al volante.

Following their December campaign, Bigastro town council are now warning us about using mobile phones, GPS sat navs and other technology items whilst driving.

Interestingly, we have been watching old episodes of Top Gear on Discovery channel. In one programme, Jeremy Clarkson said he could not understand why the government were banning the use of mobile phones in cars. As he pointed out, the law covered making and receiving calls but not sending and reading text messages.

The problem in Britain

Britain is a country used to mild weather. Anything other that that causes major problems be it an unexpected heat wave or a spell of freezing temperatures. It is a country that can only cope with average weather.

The current cold spell along with a huge dollop of snow has caused chaos for much of Britain. Councils rapidly ran out of grit and salt for the roads and blamed the Salt Union for not supplying their orders; schools closed and remained closed for much of last week. Now the Education Minister Ed Balls is panicking that lost time will effect examination results and has asked schools to re-open. It is not just schools though, businesses are counting the cost of workers not turning up and shoppers staying at home.

One thing that you knew would be inevitable in this weather crisis was panic buying. Supermarkets in parts of the country are now saying that they are low on essential supplies of bread and milk. The problem is blamed on the milk delivery lorries that have had a hard time getting to the farms to collect fresh supplies.

The first thing to run out was salt which apparently flew off the shelves as people stocked up ready to clear the pavements outside their houses. There was even a warning that supplies of gas to heat homes would be in short supply but that crisis was averted when the problems with the pipeline from Norway were resolved.

Panic buying is nothing new, I recall Pam’s grandmother stocking up with sugar sometime in the seventies. There had been a reported shortage in the shops so she laid in for a siege. Every time the old lady went out, which was most days, Violet would hunt out shops that had received supplies. She would go from Meols, where she lived, to New Brighton on the bus because she’d heard that Quick Save had stocks they were rationing to one bag per customer. Then she would go again the next day and the next just to make sure that she got her fair share. I don’t blame her, it was every man and old lady for themselves at the time.

In the end Pam’s gran had a spare wardrobe piled high with bags of sugar that then lasted her for years. Nobody in the family bought sugar for months as we tried to reduce the sugar bag mountain and save the wardrobe from collapsing.

Milk and bread are of course different to sugar but I dare say those panic buyers are clearing the shelves in supermarkets of a lot more than perishable goods. It would only take an off the cuff remark in a newspaper that breakfast cereals were in short supply for there to be a run on Corn Flakes and Weetabix – ooops I hope I haven’t started something there.

I dare say that Britain will recover once the cold snap is over and temperatures rise. By then the damage will have been done and more to the point, the lessons from the experience will not have been learnt. The next time the thermometer plunges below zero, it will be the same scenario again and so on and so on. The government will continue to say that these are exceptional circumstances that they could neither predict nor plan for; they seem to have developed a knack of getting caught with their pants down. Perhaps things will change at the next election but somehow I doubt it.

That looks better

imageThe forecast for this week shows a definite improvement over last week. It should feel a lot milder especially at night. There might be some light rain but nothing that is going to trouble us too much.

Our house has two south facing windows in the lounge and a further two which face south west and north west so we do get a lot of sunlight in to warm the place through. Once the sun goes though, it can get chilly. The central heating has struggled a couple of times over the last week to keep the house as warm as we would want it.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The cold weather continues

The snow on Friday in parts of the province gave way to gale force winds yesterday; in many places, the temperatures dropped to –4 degrees centigrade. The wind reached 100km per hour in Castalla and 86 km/h in Pinoso; in Castellfort (Castellón) temperatures dropped to –7 degrees C. Here in Bigastro, the gales of Friday continued but with clear skies and sunshine. As the day went on the wind slowly dropped with less frequent gusts.

Yesterday, the ferries between Dénia and Ibiza were cancelled, some of the roads were impassable without snow chains and the trains between Valencia and Zaragoza failed to run again.

The coastal wall at Almassora, which had collapsed on Friday due to the strong sea surge, was closed to traffic until yesterday morning and some of the houses in municipalities of La Marina Alta were flooded with sea water.

The weather forecasts show that the cold snap will continue today throughout the Alicante province with minimum temperatures of minus six in places like Ibi and A-5 in Villena. At best, temperatures will reach 9 degrees C but for most of the province 5 will be the warmest it will get. The wind will continue blowing, although with less intensity than on Saturday.

Sufficient water for 2010


When we first saw the River Segura we could hardly believe our eyes. With so little water in it, it looked to be barely more than a stream and yet it is the important source of water which irrigates the farm land of the Vega Baga.

Because of its importance, the growers keep a close watch on the amount of water that the Segura can deliver and the good news is that the dams of the river are holding 253 cubic hectometres of water, 150 more than last year. Those figures don’t  take into account the snow that is lying on the ground and the recent rains that will fill the dams even further.

According to the Hydrographical Confederation of Segura (CHS), there is sufficient water at a fair price to cover the needs for the next year.

Although the agriculturalists are to be congratulated on their careful use of water from the river, the Segura is still in a worst state than any other river in Spain.

A tempting offer?

Those who know me will understand that I am a convert to Skoda cars. When we first came to Spain I bought a Fabia much to the disgust of my daughters. It didn’t stop them getting a lift in it from the airport though nor did it stop them travelling around in it when they were here.

I traded the Fabia in for a Roomster to gain a bit more space and that is my current car. The offer the garage made on the new car was good but the the trade in price of the Fabia was a little disappointing. So, I hadn’t planned to change the car for a good few years. The distance I travel simply wouldn’t warrant it. My Roomster and I were set to grow old gracefully together.

However, last year Skoda introduced the Yeti and I was interested to see how it differed from my Roomster and more importantly would it offer me any advantages over my present car.

The Yeti looks to have the same front end as the Roomster which is borrowed from the new Fabia so I expected it to be similar in size. It turns out that the Yeti is 8cm taller thanks to its larger wheels and greater ground clearance, 11cms wider and 2cms longer. More important to me though, the wheelbase on the Yeti is almost 4cms shorter than the Roomster and without the versatile seating of my current car, the luggage capacity is restricted to its 416 litre boot.

The price on the poster might seem tempting until you realise that Skoda were offering the base model with the 1.2l petrol engine 2 years interest free on a loan of 10,000 € until the end of November last year. The roughly equivalent diesel model to my Roomster is an awful lot more expensive than that.

You can take it that I will not be visiting my local Skoda dealer any time in the near future.I might have considered the Yeti for a moment but now I have dismissed it.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Could do better

Torrevieja, the fifth largest City in the Valencian Community, lags far behind places like Benidorm in terms of hotel rooms. A new investment group is looking into the prospect of building a new four-star hotel in the city to improve matters but that will take time. In the meantime, UK Package Tour companies are going head to head with offers to attract holiday makers to the region in a bid to take advantage of on an improving market.

For the last few years Mallorca has been the number one holiday destination for UK travellers but already they are lying second to the Turkish resort of Dalaman with Florida’s Orlando and Disney World third, the Costa Blanca fourth and the Greek island of Crete fifth in terms of bookings for this year.

Turkey’s Bodrum, Ibiza and Larnaca in Cyprus are also becoming a force to be reckoned with for holiday makers as a reminder to the Costa Blanca that they need to continue to move forward and not stay static to keep the tourist Euros rolling in.

Thomas Cook recently launched a new advertising campaign predicting that Turkey, with its cheaper prices and great beaches would be the in-place to visit in 2010. They expected Mallorca, Tenerife, Egypt and Cyprus to be popular choices too.

Hot on their heals was Travel agency Going Places who launched an early-booking offer for Airtours' holidays with savings of up to £200 per booking for those booking before 4 February and Direct Holidays who have special deals on selected destinations with £100 off and child-goes-free deals for those booking before 31 January.

Co-operative Travel director of retail distribution Trevor Davis commented "As the holiday sector recovers, the battle for bookings will intensify, with companies seeking to increase their market share." They are offering an additional £50 off winter 2010-11 breaks for those that book early.

After a challenging 12-months, many agencies are looking at improving confidence in the marketplace. Meanwhile, south of Alicante we still await new hotel investment to arrive which could put Torrevieja firmly on the travel map for the package holidaymaker.

In my opinion, Torrevieja has a lot going for it. The seafront has been much improved as has the shopping area with its new pedestrianised streets. However, there are still areas that the council need to look at for example, the graffiti which makes parts of the town an eyesore and the derelict plots of land where building have been torn down not to be replaced.

Torrevieja is getting there but has still has a long way to go. It has to decide whether it wants to attract the young, families or the elderly because the type of town and the facilities that each group requires are very different. In a town of the size of Torrevieja, it would be difficult to cater for all three and keep them happy.

That wind is bitter

This winter has been the worst that Pam and I have experienced so far in Bigastro and it isn’t set to get better just yet.

Yesterday, a cold front from the north brought cold weather back to the Alicante province and with it strong winds which made it feel even colder. In six municipalities children couldn’t attend school. In places like Banyeres, Agres and Alfafara  the snow was so bad that schools had to be closed affecting 2,500 children.

The State Agency AEMET predicts that the cold wind will continue through the weekend and that temperatures in some areas will drop to –5 or –6 degrees centigrade. However, it should remain dry.

The snow has brought a few problems on the roads; the A-31 to Villena had to be closed by 7pm and the CV-811 at Castalla had to be closed at 4pm. Apparently travelling was also difficult on secondary roads around Onil, Banyeres, Bihar and Jijona. On some of the motorways, drivers were obliged to use snow chains. Reports say that trains in the province were running as normal apart from on the section between Oropesa and Torreblanca.  

In Jérica, Viver, Sacañet and Benafer, in the province of Castellón, and Alcublas, Andilla, Gátova, Marin Viejo and Olocau and part of Valencia there were electricity cuts.

The forecast is for a change in the weather by Monday when it will slowly start to improve and return to normal for this time of year.  In the meantime the Valencian Community  is on pre alert (orange level) for snow at anything from 400 metres upwards.

Yet another generator

image The council in Bigastro have had to install a generator outside the infant school La Paz because Iberdrola cut the electricity supply following non-payments of the bills.

Aurelio Murcia for the Popular Party says that the power was cut on the 28th December when the school closed for Christmas. The generator had to be installed before classes resumed on the 7th January.

As Murcia points out, this adds to the generators already installed at the Sports Centre and at camping La Pedrera and asks, where will be next? He wants to know what the council have done with the monies from the tax rises and the sale of municipal land?

Friday, January 08, 2010

Now that is cold


My daughter’s boyfriend sent me this photograph that he took of the computer on his dashboard yesterday showing an outside temperature of –15 degree centigrade at Middlewich, Cheshire.

-21.2C - the lowest temperature for 15 years - was reached at Altnaharra, in Wester Ross in the northern Scottish highlands. That was just a few degrees warmer than the -22.9C currently at the South Pole.

The recorded temperature also eclipsed the previous low for the British winter so far, the -18C experienced in Benson, Oxon, overnight on Wednesday into Thursday morning.

Such temperatures are still a little way short of the coldest British temperature on record, which was -27.5C in Altnaharra in December 1995.

The coldest spot in England overnight was Woodford, Greater Manchester, which reached -16.4C. Benson was not quite as cold, at –10C, due to cloud cover and an increasing breeze.