Sunday, July 31, 2011

The doors are closed for good

If you’ve never eaten at the world’s best restaurant, El Bulli, then it is too late because the doors are now closed.

You are in good company though because to get there, you had to join a list of 1,000,000 hopefuls who wanted to make a booking. Your chances were not helped by the fact that the restaurant stopped serving lunches, then cut back to 5 days a week and finally decided to close for six months a year. Even when you had secured a booking, to find the place, you had to follow a narrow winding cliff top path to a place that resembled a pizza bar.

Once there, you'd be expected to pay about 250 Euros per head to sample the menu which would consist of many different courses. Rather than a kitchen, the restaurant had a laboratory where food was deconstructed and rebuilt into capsules and foams that you spooned or atomised into your mouth. Food experts loved it and rated the experiments that Ferran Adrià conducted as world class. Some, however complained of indigestion after their meal –I expect the intense flavours were too much for their delicate stomachs.

Thousands of chefs trained in the kitchens at El Bulli with many going on to run their own acclaimed restaurants, including six of those recognised as the top ten best in the world. A lot of them were there at the end and enjoyed a 47 course meal in celebration.

There have been many who have tried to copy the dishes that Adrià and his team created with little success. And now the original has gone what are we to do? Well it is not all bad news because Adrià recently opened a tapas bar in Barcelona with his brother Albert. It features dishes you might not have thought of as tapas – possibly not even as food. The restaurant reviewers seem to like it but not surprisingly it’s fully booked!

Ah well, back to the BBQ at Casa El Willo where the only foam you will get is squirty cream.

The time for choice will be November

In his latest “state of the nation” debate, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero insisted that he would not bring the next elections, which are scheduled for next March, forward. Why would he want to do that? A few months ago the PP were leading the Socialists by 10 points in the polls. Then Sr Zapetero announced that he would not stand for Prime Minister at the next election, instead Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba  would lead the party. That move has narrowed the gap between the parties to 7 percentage points with many saying that Rubalcaba would make a better PM than PP leader Mariano Rajoy.

The signs must be good for the Socialists because on Friday, the PM announced that the the general election will be brought forward to November 20th this year.

Although we can vote in municipal elections, we are not entitled to vote in either regional or national elections. The outcome though could have a profound effect upon our lives here so we will be taking a keen interest in how the campaigns progress. Will Mariano Rajoy succeed on his third attempt to bring his party back to power or will the Socialists cling on for another term – time will tell.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Gastronomy Day

The August Fiesta is almost upon us so we need to plan for the Gastronomy Day.

Diane Clarke has agreed to coordinate our efforts again and will no doubt be getting in touch with all those people she has email addresses for. In case she hasn’t got yours, please get in touch with Diane at to let her know.

Without wishing to take away from what Diane is going to tell us, I feel certain that we will be going for the English Buffet again which basically means you can prepare or buy whatever you want as a contribution. It seemed to go down well last year, in fact I get the impression that, over the years, many of the Spaniards in the town have developed a taste for the food we prepare.

Anyway, please do get in touch with Diane and let her know that you are prepared to help.   

Friday, July 29, 2011

Be aware

Police are once again cracking down on unlicensed airport taxi drivers working out of Murcia and Alicante airports. However, this means that they will also catch out innocent people who may be just collecting relatives and friends on a regular basis.

The problem is being made worse at Murcia airport where drivers are coming back to their vehicles to find the tyres slashed. Airport users collecting visitors are advised to “remain with their vehicle” if at all possible, as the airport has been overwhelmed by complaints of tyres being vandalized on the premises.

People carriers have been the main victims of the latest phenomenon, and mainly those which have made more than one visit to the airport within a short period.

A fiesta without fireworks?

You just knew that Charo Bañuls would have to respond to the criticism made by the Socialists about inadequate police cover in Bigastro. One newspaper describes her reaction as anger.

The Lady Mayor explains that in fact the problem in providing 24 hour cover by the police dates back to the previous socialist mandate. It seems that the local officers are owed 9,000 Euros for overtime undertaken between January and May and are understandably saying that they will not do any more until they are paid. As an aside, she adds that the bill of 10,000 Euros for the inauguration of the new police headquarters has not been paid either.

It appears that it is not just the police who are owed money. the Fire Brigade Consortium are owed 80,000 Euros for extra cover at the August fiesta which, at 6,000 Euros per year, means they haven’t been paid for over 13 years. They say that, unless they are paid, they will not cover the extra services required at the fiesta for San Joaquin. That would mean that e.g. the traditional fireworks in shopping trolleys on the last day of the fiesta won’t be able to take place this year.

Incredibly, Bañuls now estimates the total debt for Bigastro to be 18 million Euros and says that the economic problems that the town faces are largely due to mismanagement by the previous socialist mayor, Raúl Valerio Medina and his predecessor, José Joaquín Moya.

Let us hope that those figures are not correct and that I have simply misread them because that would represent a debt of over 2,571 Euros per head of population. I can’t begin to imagine how you would recover that sort of money.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Germans and the French at war again

The methods of production for a lot of things that we eat don’t bear thinking about. One particular product that comes to mind is foie gras.

To create the fattened liver needed for this pâté, ducks or geese must be force-fed to bloat their livers by up to ten times their normal size – a technique known in French as gavage. French law permits this method of foie gras production as part of its "protected cultural and gastronomic heritage" but in other countries like Germany the practice is banned. That doesn’t stop the Germans from eating 170 tons of the French pâté each year though.

Now, the sensitive Germans, spurred on by animal right’s activists, have decided to ban the liver pâté from the biennial Anuga food fair in Cologne in October. This has understandably caused outrage amongst the French producers. The French agriculture minister, Bruno le Maire has got involved and has written to his German counterpart threatening to boycott the opening ceremony if the ban is not lifted.

Where do we stand on all this? Well we don’t like the French who we find unfriendly and we don’t really care that much for the Germans who we claim steal our sunbeds so we’d best stay out of this fight.

Francisco Camps- suited and now booted

335x288-images-stories-fabra-campsThe current President of the Generalitat, Francisco Camps, and the next President of the Generalitat, Alberto Fabra, yesterday held a meeting at the Palau de la Generalitat, where they discussed various issues of importance to the Community and the district of the Vega Baja.

Today, King Juan Carlos I will officially appoint the President of the Generalitat Valenciana and tomorrow there will be the act of repossession.

In February 2009, Francisco Camps was implicated in a scandal known as the Gürtel Case relating to an alleged criminal network controlled by businessman Francisco Correa(Gürtel" is the German translation for the businessman's surname, Correa/belt).

In March 2009, Camps was one of several PP figures accused by magistrate Baltasar Garzón of accepting bribes. In particular, Garzón alleged that Camps had received €12,000 towards a tailor's bill from an associate of Correa.

For the next two years Camps claimed that he paid for the clothes himself. The case against Camps was transferred to a local court in Valencia which, in August 2009, ruled that Camps had not committed a crime. In May 2010 Camps' bribery case reopened at the High Court in Madrid which ruled that there was enough evidence to bring a case against him. Camps was re-elected as President of Valencia in May 2011 even though the case threatened to undermine his political career.

On 20 July 2011, Camps resigned as Valencian premier and leader of the Valencian Partido Popular in order to avoid standing trial while in office. He has continued to maintain his innocence although he has said that he may have received presents.

Camps says he has resigned for the benefit of Mariano Rajoy, so the PP can win the General Election, but previously he had bragged about how he always had legitimacy from the ballot box. Most believe the real reason that he is going is because he finds himself unable to hold his hands up and say that he accepted some gifts from companies to which his team was handing out valuable construction and other public works tenders. His claims of innocence will be tested before a jury. Admitting guilt now would be a step too far for Francisco Camps.

The legend lives on

IMG_2037 IMG_2235
The Armengola at the Moorish parade The Armengola at the Christian parade

Moors and Christians’ is all about the re-enactment of the expulsion of the Moors from the region by the Christian armies during the re-conquest of Spain many centuries ago.

There are lots of legends that surround this piece of history, the most famous probably being that of the Armengola in Orihuela.

She was the maidservant of the Arab governor of Orihuela. He’d warned her not to be in the town on a specific night because he refused to surrender and prepared to destroy all his people before the arrival of the Christian king . Instead, she decided to save her people and opened the gates of the castle to let the Christians in. She then went to the highest turret and set an Oriol free. Flying high in the sky the bird was a clear sign to the Christians that the gates were open and they could enter the castle and reclaim it as there own.

They have even made a film about the legend which was premiered at the Teatro Circo on 14 July this year.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Death of Venice

As the construction business ground to a halt, many towns in the Vega Baja thought to turn to tourism as an alternative source of revenue. Most of the coastal towns already enjoy a healthy tourist trade as do cities like Orihuela during festivities. Other inland towns now want to try and cash in on that source of income.

Tourism can be a double edged sword though, too much is as bad as too little; take the case of Venice which is under threat.

A group called Italia Nostra - Our Italy - has been campaigning to discourage mass tourism in the city and instead target high-spending visitors arguing that the 60,000 tourist a day average is nearly double the sustainable amount. The lobby group argues that the increasing number of giant cruise ships are exacerbating problems by eroding the fragile mud banks.

Another group is campaigning against what it calls the “inexorable slide into theme park status”. Residents belonging to the network argue that the city is being drained of normal life as high rents and lack of jobs drive out residents. They are argue that grocery stores are being turned into trinket shops and historic apartment buildings converted into bed and breakfasts.

In November 2009 residents staged a mock funeral for the city to lament the fact that the population had dropped below 60,000 for the first time in centuries.

Of course, it isn’t just tourism that is destroying Venice; sea level rises and more frequent storms are expected to increase the level of the Venetian lagoon by some 20 inches by the end of the century. High tides, particularly during the winter, already flood much of the city, including St Mark’s Square, the focus for millions of tourists.

Dredging, landfill and the construction of a huge new satellite city on the Italian mainland, a few miles from Venice, are radically changing the lagoon’s ecosystem and posing enormous risks to the survival of one of the world’s most beautiful urban environments, campaigners argue.

The city’s Commission to Safeguard Venice has said that a proposed construction of a six-mile-long underwater subway linking the mainland to Venice risked becoming an “ecological disaster”.

In an attempt to save the city, Italians are building a £3 billion flood barrier, named Moses, consisting of 78 giant steel gates across the three inlets through which water from the Adriatic surges into Venice’s lagoon.The project, due to be operational in 2014, will like its namesake literally turn back the waves, regulating the flow of water from the sea. Let us hope that it works.

The shoe is now on the other foot

When the Socialists were in power, it used to the PP who would regularly denounce them in the press. Now that the PP are in power, it is the other way round.

The Socialists are complaining that the mayor of BIgastro, Rosario Bañuls  has removed the 24 hour protection that the local police used to provide. They say that there are fourteen shifts during the month that have no cover at all.

The Socialists go on to highlight the difficulty this causes by explaining that on Saturday there was a serious traffic accident in the town. At the time there was no local police cover and nobody attending the emergency number so the Guardia Civil had to be called out.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Galant in San Miguel

Alejandro Moya Hidalgo, who regularly reads my blog, sent me an email telling of a restaurant in San Miguel de Salinas.

The Galant, which he says is very popular with both Brits and Germans, serves a three course meal for 14 Euros. There is apparently  plenty of choice for starters and for main courses along with a good selection of wines. Alejandro even points me in the direction of a couple of write ups about the restaurant and invites me to try it out for myself.

Having not visited the Galant, I can’t make a personal recommendation but I am sure it is all that my friend claims it to be so I must put it on the list to try out.

Smiles all round

What a Tour de France we've had this year, plenty of action, lots of drama, heroic performances by many and a final result that nobody could say was not well deserved. The first Britain to wear the green jersey, the first Australian to wear yellow, what more could you ask?

Evans at 34 is the oldest rider to win the Tour since the war. Twice before he lost out to Contador and the Schlecks but not this time. Evans was the only one willing to work on the Col de Galibier to win back some of the time from Andy Schleck. However, the look on his face at the end of that stage surely meant that he had nothing left for the next day. Somehow though he recovered and stayed in contention. Next day on the time trail, it was clear that Evans was going to beat Andy Schleck, in fact he almost won the stage against the specialist Tony Martin. So he rode to Paris a worthy winner.

What can you say about Mark Cavendish? He has tried so hard to win that green jersey for the last three years and now he has it.

A bit more normal

image Temperatures this week will continue to be closer to normal for this time of year.

There will be quite a bit of cloud about at the beginning of the week at least but don’t be fooled, you will still catch the rays of the sun through it.
image Actually I don’t mind this type of weather because at least you can get outside jobs done without  feeling like you are taking a sauna.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


If Friday night’s parade of the Moors comparsas was a little underwhelming, then last night’s parade of the Christian groups more than made up for it. They had really gone to town to produce something spectacular. A lot of credit goes to the Caballero del Oriol who lead the parade. 

There were dancing girls with sticks, dancing girls with flaming torches, dancing girls in body paint (we missed them),  a juggler with flaming torches, horses performing, a mock battle in a castle with horses charging up the street, a belly dancer, swarthy pirates, swashbuckling buccaneers, lots of ladies (young and old) in fantastic costumes not to mention quite a few men too. The Christian Ambassador, Manuel Reig González came by on the most mazing float which had fire breathing dragons at the rear and a huge swivelling sword that held eight young ladies. 

For those of you who missed this fantastic night, you can see my photos here.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

“Ladies of Spain….

I adore you.”  Yes, I know there are beautiful women all over the world but there is something about Spanish senoritas that makes them so attractive to my camera. I think it may be the combination of olive skin, black eyes and raven hair that is so appealing.

The Moors parade last night was not as spectacular as we have seen but still there were plenty of beautiful lades to photograph and, I am told, some handsome young men too. So, it was worth all of the five Euros each that we paid for the seats.

You can see my pictures here but be warned, some of the costumes are little risqué, some are scary and one group of young ladies are wearing nothing more than tangas and sprayed on body paint!

Friday, July 22, 2011

It is still all to play for

Yesterday's stage in the Tour de France proved to be a turning point for the young Luxemburg rider Andy Schelck who confounded all of his critics by winning on the top of the Col de Galibier. On the second climb of the day Schelck left the rest of the contenders for the race and nobody seemed interested in following him. Gradually he build up an advantage of over 4 minutes and still nobody reacted. Damn it, he was even good downhill!

It was then left to the last kilometres of the race when Cadel Evans decided that he would have to chase Schleck on his own that the group tried to break down the lead. With his head down, his body rocking from side to side and turning a high gear Evans gradually whittled the lead down. Amazingly, Thomas Voeckler was able to dig deep, found the reserves to follow and almost collapsed across the line to keep the yellow jersey for yet another day –corks must have been popping all over France to see their hero succeed another day.

As it stands, Andy Schleck lies 15 seconds behind Thomas Voeckler, brother Frank is 53 seconds behind Andy with Cadel Evans tailing the older Schleck by a mere 4 seconds On paper, Cadel Evans is the better time trialler so the Schlecks really need to pull out more time today on the shorter ride over the Galibier and Alp d’Huez. if one of them is to win this race.

Only 78 riders finished within the specified time so the judges took pity on the 90 stragglers by imposing penalties rather than excluding them which means that Mark Cavendish now has only 15 points clear of his nearest rival in the green jersey points competition.

How nail biting will today and tomorrow be and how much better is the Tour this year without an obvious winner? Finally, wasn't it just great to see Eddy Merckx with his head out of the sunroof of the race director's car willing Andy Schleck on?

Good news


Those who are interested in participating in the crazy car race this year are invited to attend a meeting on Tuesday, 26th July at 9:30pm.

I hope that means there will be a coches locos race again this year because it has become a very popular event in the Fiesta calendar and provides great photo opportunities for me.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A stinging attack

Not on the mountains in the Tour de France this time but on the local beaches.

Yesterday, a bank of jellyfish along the Orihuela coast forced the Red Cross to close six of the beaches to bathers. After treating 90 bathers: 18 at Punta Prima, 15 at La Mosca, 12 at Playa Flamenca, 9 at Cala Cerrada, 24 at La Zenia and 12 at Cala Capitan in the space of 40 minutes, they decided enough was enough and raised the red flags to warn bathers not to go into the sea. None of the injuries were serious.

Today, they will inspect the beach to see if the jellyfish are still close in to the shore.

Sticking my neck out

I’m always wary about making recommendations to people because e.g. you never know whether the restaurant that you find delightful might just seem awful to someone else and the great service you received from a particular company might just have been a one off. I remember once telling a couple that they would have a superb holiday at a particular hotel in Loret de Mar. When they came back, they’d hated it; the food we had loved was just awful and the staff we found friendly they thought were too casual.

However, I have felt confident in the past to recommend to people:

  • Pepe Lorente in Bigastro for any steel or aluminium work. Rafa is very good at coming up with creative solutions to your needs.
  • CAMINOSAT for servicing and repairs to Saunier Duval boilers – this guy really does go the extra mile to be helpful (ask Ron Willsher).
  • Andy Cole for any building work – he has done lots of jobs up here at Villas Andrea - all on recommendation by word of mouth.
  • Juan Diaz near the park for hairdressing, one of the first people we got to know in Bigastro.
  • Eladia Robles Grau for nails etc. Pam not only gets a good service for her nails but a free Spanish lesson thrown in as well.
  • Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation Clinic, Bigastro for great value massage.
  • SMILE near the water park in Torrevieja for gentle dentistry.

and for eating:

  • Portico Mar near Guardamar for international cuisine at a good price.
  • El Muelle on the front at Torrevieja for first class Italian food and a sea view.
  • Patio Andaluz for decent food and good entertainment (my favourite here is fried baby quid followed by rabbit in garlic).
  • La Herradura just outside Los Montesinos for Spanish food and flamenco (however, the last person I told about this place thought the portions were small). Note that service is at its best on non flamenco nights when they serve food in the courtyard.
  • The restaurant at Rebate for its menu del dia and farm shop. The a la carte menu is not cheap though so make sure you ask for the menu del dia.

Now I feel confident to also recommend:

Rubio Movil on the road into Torrevieja from the CV95 for servicing and repairs to Audi, VW, Seat and Skoda. They not only did a perfect job repairing my Roomster but delivered it back spotless – even the tyres were painted black.

The Wok Buffet in the Consum complex on the way to Quesada. There are loads of Wok Buffets in this area to choose from and they all offer something similar for about the same price. What makes this one stand out is the fact that it is busy which means the food is hot. To me, there is nothing worse than the cold Chinese food you get in some of these places.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Where do you hide 25 million Euros?

My grandmother always used to contend that you were better keeping your money under the floorboards than in the bank. When you are involved in money laundering from drug trafficking, then I don’t suppose there are many other alternatives.

The Miamis clan who had stashed 25 million Euros under a 25cm thick concrete floor in a mansion in Madrid must have thought it was safe there. It took the police 16 hours to find it but they did in the end.

Not only that but they have arrested 20 people, 17 in Spain and 3 in Miami, thus breaking up an important criminal network. The police also seized 60 luxury cars and have taken control of 21 luxury properties in Spain and 4 in the United States.

Call me perverse but I like reading stories like that.


I watched the last part of the stage in the Tour de France yesterday not expecting to see much action from the race contenders. Shaun Kelly said that it was highly unlikely that Contador or any of the other hopefuls would try anything on the final short Category 2 climb but he was wrong. The Spaniard made three stinging attacks on the way up the climb and it was only Cadel Evans and Samuel Sánchez who were able to keep up with him. In the end, Cadel Evans took the most time from the race leader Thomas Voeckler.

Today they race from Gap to Pinerolo. With one Cat 1 climb, a couple of Cat 2 climbs, a couple of Cat 3 climbs and a downhill finish you would not expect to see a lot of action from the top riders but who knows, they may not wait until the three Hors Category climbs of Thursday or the finish on Alpe d’Huez to take their stance.

The weather could be the deciding factor, it poured down for most of yesterday’s stage and is not expected to improve until Friday. Some riders don't perform well in rain and those that do take full advantage of that.

By the way, this year will mark the 100th anniversary of the first climb of the Galibier in the race and the finish on Thursday at 2,645 metres will be the highest in the Tour’s history. Fascinating stuff eh! 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Counterfeit goods

There is a daily battle played out on the seafront at Torrevieja between the sellers of counterfeit goods and the local police. The sellers, who are mostly of African origin, watch out all the time for signs of the police. They hurriedly shut up shop and run anytime they think the police might be near. The police, for their part, organise plain clothes raids and enjoy some success in capturing both sellers and goods.

The same thing happens at Guardamar where we ate on the seafront the other week. As the evening strollers came out for a walk, the sellers began to set up their stalls laying out fake Lacoste polo shirts and fake Chanel sunglasses. Within minutes of preparing their stalls, they spotted the high visibility vests of two police officers and quickly moved away only to return five minutes later when they thought the coast was clear. The police returned again and the sellers fled: this cat and mouse tactic went on all the time we were there. There was barely a five minute slot when the sellers could have done any business.

It is easy to feel sorry for these traders after all we seem them coming over in overloaded boats brought here on the pretext that they will have good jobs and money once in Spain. They end up living in cramped conditions, working hard to support a meagre existence, ever fearful of being caught by the police. loosing their goods and being sent back to their country of origin.

However, we need to remember that they are mostly here without proper papers and are selling counterfeit goods. The police have a duty to control them and confiscate the goods whenever they can. The articles they sell are produced in sweat shops by underpaid, often under aged children, they come with no guarantee and undermine not only the sales but the reputations of the companies that produce the genuine articles.

If you had spent millions producing your latest blockbuster film on DVD, the last thing you want is someone selling it for a fraction of the price at no profit to you.

I know that it is a great temptation to buy what appear to be Gucci sunglasses at a ridiculous price but it is wrong! My daughter brought me an imitation Breitling watch back from Hong Kong, it wasn’t cheap! Within a few weeks, it stopped keeping proper time. It might look expensive on my wrist but if it doesn’t tell the time then it is pointless.

The police in Torrevieja are now handing out leaflets in Spanish and English warning people not to buy counterfeit goods. I reckon their battle to convince the buyers will be as difficult if not more difficult than the one they wage against the sellers. Whilst ever there are customers prepared to save a few Euros on a fake, there will be Africans lining up to sell them.

Which is worse?

The temperatures at the weekend were high; the young meteorologist José Pedro Gomez recorded a high of 38.4 degrees Celsius in Orihuela on Sunday but at least the air was dry. The wind has now changed as is coming from the east (the Levante) bringing cooler weather but is is also a lot more humid.

He goes on to say that there is a chance of a shower or two over next weekend but points out that the city has had 47 days consecutive with rainfall below one litre per square meter. In other words, a shower or two will not affect the drought figures for this month. His forecasts show that will continue to be the trend for this summer.

That brings me back to the question, “which is worse, hot and dry or cooler and humid?”

A load of b*******

Last Thursday in my post about the Moors and Christians in Orihuela I said, “This year the Christians will be first on Friday 23rd followed by the Moors on Saturday 24th”. When I wrote it, I knew it was wrong because they alternate each year, still that was the information on the CONVEGA site so it had to be right.

WRONG – the Moors go first on Friday and the Christians second on Saturday. I apologise for the mistake even though it wasn’t mine!

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Manxman breaks records

On Stage 14 in the high mountains of the Pyrenees, you could see the pain on Mark Cavendish’s face. He is not built for climbing, Cavendish is a sprinter with explosive speed over a short distance.

Yesterday, the stage was on level ground with the opportunity of another win for Cavendish who did not fail his HTC-Highroad team. This was his fourth stage win this year – the fourth year in succession he has done that (in total he has 19 stage wins to his credit). Not even the great Eddie Merckx could equal that feat.

As Cavendish so rightly points out, he could not do this without the help of his team mates. As he says, he rode the 200 metres at the finish and they road 190 kilometres at the front of the peloton to keep him there. Yet again it was Mark Renshaw that led him out for his final burst of speed that took him over the line.

What of the riders who have ambitions to win the race overall? They were also at the front yesterday; with blustery winds throughout the day, they could not risk loosing time to a breakaway group. That happened on the stage to Le Grand Motte in 2009 when a split in the bunch left Alberto Contador vulnerable.

And today? Well, the riders have a rest day followed by a race to the Alps on Tuesday. Friday though should be the decisive day as the riders face the Col de Galbier followed by Alpe d'Huez. If any of the contenders can build up a decent lead on Contador then, that will put him under pressure for the individual time trial the next day. On the other hand, if he can ward them off, then it will be game set and match for a fourth tour victory for him and the sixth year in succession that a Spaniard has won the French race.

Still they do it

Since Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises”, the Pamplona annual festival of San Fermin has become an international event with millions each year crowding into the town to join in with the bull run each morning.

In his later years Hemingway used to book room 217 in the Gran Hotel La Perla at the corner of the Plaza Castilla each year so that he could watch the morning runs. He never took part in the runs though, leaving that to the younger men and women who did not have the shrapnel wounds in their legs that he had.

Inevitably, runners are gored by the bulls each year and occasionally there are some who die from their wounds. As the number of people who take part in the morning runs increases, so does the risk of injury.

There have been a number of injuries this year starting on day one. An Australian man was seriously injured when a bull sliced through an artery in his leg; he is expected to survive. Apparently he had been taunting the bull by waving his arms, a reckless thing to do when faced with a huge beast armed with pointed horns.

On a different day, one man decided to run naked – not the done thing. To the delight of the crowd, a bull singled him out and tossed him into the air several times. He apparently walked away so it is not clear the extent of his injuries.

It is one thing to be a highly paid matador facing a bull in combat and something else to be a tourist with no experience chasing a bull for the thrill of it.

Cooling off period

image After a very hot weekend where temperatures rose to close on 40 degrees, this week should be a little cooler.

There could even be a spot or two of rain to cool things off as well.
image Have you noticed how the wind picks up by the afternoon? Pamela calls it the 4pm wind.

Yesterday, in one strong gust it blew two of our brollies over landing one in the pool. No real damage done but nether the less I had to put them down and you can’t stay outside in that heat without some form of shade.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A dream that could become a nightmare

Colin and Christine Weir from Largs in Scotland won £161million on the Euromillions lottery and decided to go public with their win because they feared that keeping it a secret would involve lying to their relatives.

The problem for them now is that everyone knows where they live. Already the postman has sacks of begging letters and their house is being constantly watched by curious observers. Every time they leave the house and walk down the street, they will feel the glare upon them. A trip to the local fish and chip shop for their favourite take away will be no longer possible.

In an attempt to flee all of this, the couple have escaped to Spain with their children but clearly that is just a temporary measure. Like all big winners, they have said things like, “we have no intention of moving house” but they will. However much they love their home town and the house they have, their lives will become increasingly impossible for them if they stay there.

There are going to be lots of tempting possibilities for the Weirs, with that sort of cash in the bank they could buy any property they liked but would that suit them and would they fit in? Without the acquired social graces, it will be difficult for them to just slot in with the class of people who already own that sort of money.

The Weirs will also find that they have friends that they they never knew and many of those that they did know will be wary of them. Growing up with the rich is one thing, suddenly becoming one of them is something else.

We all have aspirations but they are usually just beyond our means. We might dream of a better car or of a bigger house but not of owning a Buggati or a stately mansion. Being able to go well beyond our expectations must be very hard to handle.

Having that sort of money overnight can surely bring as many problems as solutions. Presumably the pair were happy with their lives before the big win, will they be as happy now afterwards? I really am not sure on this one, I think a more modest win would be easier to cope with. This may sound stupid but I’d rather win a few million, I could deal with that.

PS Since I don't even buy a ticket, even that is not going to happen!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A very different experience

Before you read this, can I point out that Pamela and I currently have no intentions of selling our property. We are very happy with our house, its location and the town in which we live.

However, we do know of a few of our neighbours who are selling their houses with varying degrees of success and it is interesting to contrast their experiences here in Spain with ours when we sold Pamela’s father’s house back in the UK last year.

  • In England you would normally employ just one estate agent to sell your house. Here in Spain, it seems you can market your property with several agents and in fact agents commonly sell properties on the books of other agents and then share the commission.
  • Estate agents here seem to be small local firms rather than nationwide businesses with local offices. They have fewer properties available for sale and often sell in areas outside their immediate locality.
  • The commission that estate agents in England wanted to charge for the sale of Pam’s father’s house varied from 1.5 to 1.8 per cent, here in Spain they seem to charge between 3 and 5 per cent.
  • In England a lot of stress is placed on marketing - particularly using the Internet. The agent we chose produced a full colour brochure of the house we were selling which included both photographs and detailed floor plans. This information was available both in printed form and online. Here, the information provided seems to be a lot more sketchy relying upon the floury language of the agent rather than precise details. Although you get information about the build size and plot size, these seem to be taken from the owners rather than be measured and I have yet to find a website with detailed floor plans.
  • The agent we used in England pitched the initial price high to gain interest and then reviewed it after six weeks to market at the right level. Here houses seem to be priced cheap to start with and still stick on the market for months or years.

Overall, the impression I get is that agents in England work a lot harder to sell your house, get faster results and charge less. In some cases, you could almost believe that estate agents in Spain are working for the buyer rather than the seller who is in fact the one paying them.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Taking care in the heat of summer

Health authorities are urging all residents and visitors to take extra precaution in the heat following the death of two people due to exposure to the sun in Jávea and Guardamar on Monday - and the soaring number of sunstroke cases at health centres.

The deaths come as government health chiefs renewed warnings that people should take extra precaution due to the high temperatures and exposure to sunlight.
Avoid exposure to the midday sun, drink plenty of water (even when not thirsty), use a hat and use sun cream of high protection level are the main recommendations. Drinks with high caffeine or sugar content, as well as alcohol, should be consumed only moderately or not at all. Light meals including salads, fruit, vegetables and juice are recommended.

The warning is aimed especially at high-risk groups - the elderly, children, people with chronic illnesses and outdoor workers.
The fatalities and the call for extra precaution came after weathermen forecast a hotter than normal summer across the country.

Moors and Christians

The most colourful festivals in this region are the Moors and Christians which celebrate the re-conquest of the area by the Christians from the Moors.

imageNot every town has Moors and Christian groups, for example Bigastro only has a Christian group.  However there are plenty of celebrations to be seen if you know where they are. To find out more go to the Convega site and click on the towns on the map.

Of particular interest to Pam and I are the celebrations in Orihuela. On the 17th July they will parade the Glorious Oriol around the city and then later there will be the parades of the Moors and Christian groups. This year the Christians will be first on Friday 23rd followed by the Moors on Saturday 24th. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Fiesta dates

I was asked the other day about the dates for the Bigastro fiesta in August and here they are:-


Are they mad or just too drunk to know better

The 23-year-old, named as Harvey Hoyte-Bone from Farnham in Surrey, is in intensive care with one leg fractured in several places after plummeting around 70 feet form a hotel balcony. His fall shortly before 4am on Monday, after a night out in Mallorca drinking with a friend, was broken by a sunshade on a lower balcony.

Police are investigating whether he was trying to jump between balconies at the apartment block in the popular resort of Palmanova near Magaluf when he lost his balance and fell.The craze has already seen four people admitted into hospital on the island in the past fortnight and on neighbouring Ibiza a 24-year-old holidaymaker died in what is believed to be the first "balconing" mortality of the year.

The number of balcony accidents has soared over the last two summers leading emergency services in the Balearic Islands, to issue warnings about the "balconing" craze. An estimated thirty people were admitted into hospital with serious injuries last summer after leaping from balconies often in an attempt to reach a swimming pool below, and there were at least six deaths recorded.

Hundreds of videos posted on You Tube show groups of friends filming themselves as they leap from balcony to balcony or make death defying leaps into swimming pools below.

Europe puts pressure on Spain and Italy with higher interest rates

Just over a year ago, Greece was in severe financial crisis. Then came Ireland, followed a bit later by Portugal. Throughout the first year of the single-currency crisis the rule of thumb was that only the states on the edges of Europe were in dire trouble. But over the past few days, what markets treat as the risky periphery has got a whole lot bigger.

Financiers are now treating Spain's government debt with fresh wariness, pushing up the interest rate on 10-year IOUs to over 6%. That is over double the rate at which markets are willing to loan to Germany, and implies that Spain is still being treated as a much bigger credit risk than its northern European neighbours. Even more worrying, the eurozone's third-largest economy, Italy, is also coming under increased suspicion – interest on its 10-year bonds is almost 6%. In theory, as members of the same single currency, with the same central bank setting a single benchmark interest rate, each country should be able to borrow at near enough the same rates. Instead, what's happened over the past couple of years is that markets have divided the eurozone between the wheat (Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and a few others) and the chaff – which is an ever-expanding category. Spain and Italy now risk being marked chaff, and being charged consistently punitive rates for loans from the money markets.

If that happened, the eurozone really would be under existential threat. The cash Europe would need to scrape together to lend to Spain and/or Italy would exhaust existing funds. The next few months offer plenty of opportunity to test Rome's creditworthiness: it has €335bn of loans maturing over the next year, a sum much larger than all its troubled neighbours put together, and will need to borrow hundreds of billions. And each time it goes to the market for a loan, investors around the world are likely to worry about the results.

There is little to link Italy with Spain or Greece or Portugal. Spain had a massive property bubble that brought its banks to collapse but a relatively strict fiscal regime; Greece had huge budget overdrafts that it tried to hide; and Italy has simply racked up a huge amount of debt since the second world war. The main connection is that anxious creditors now see them as risky bets; and the single biggest cause of market anxiety at the moment is the inability of the European policymaking elite to resolve the Greek crisis. Should Athens default on its loans or not – and on what terms? It has taken policymakers over a year even to agree that this is the question on which Greece's fate hinges; and there is still no sign of an answer.

Opening another can of worms

Last week the socialists in Bigastro accused the new council of discrimination whilst making back salary payments to its employees. It seems that council workers are owed wages dating back to March amounting to 344,000 Euros. According to the PP/UNPLC coalition, each worker has now been paid 1,200 Euros except for the previous mayor who is owed two months and 11 days extra salary and Inmaculada Martínez who has apparently re-joined her official position.

In response, the coalition now accuse the socialists of paying social security for a list of between 9 and 15 people who were not employed by the council in exchange for votes at the election; they say that this was standard practice during the period when José Joaquín Moya was mayor. Payment of their social security would entitle these people to unemployment benefits and a pension.

Moreover, the coalition say that three council workers had their hours extended and a further three were given permanent contracts by the former mayor, Raúl Valerio Medina during the period between the 6th and 9th of June i.e. between the elections and the formation of the new council.

In his response, the former mayor says that the extension of the workers hours was to honour an agreement made by José Joaquín Moya in 2008 when three employers had their hours cut to 70% to minimise spending on payroll. The agreement was that these hours would be increased by 10% in each subsequent year back up to 100%. Of the three who were given permanent contracts, Medina says that they worked on a more or less full time basis at the pre-school Bigastrin anyway. Medina adds that he knew nothing of the list of people who had social security payments made for them.

Coming to people’s aid


20110712_logo_caritas The Spanish charity Caritas have their local headquarters on Calle Acequia and are open Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons.
image001 As the economic crisis started to bite hard, it was Caritas that people turned to for help in the form of food parcels.

The local office in Bigastro has now received 13,000 kgs of food from the Red Cross to help needy families in the town.

To access this help, the head of the family should visit the offices of he charity during opening hours.

The charity are also  offering English courses for beginners on Saturdays from 12am to 1pm.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Draining weather

imageWhen the weather is hot and dry, it feels comfortable but when the humidity gets to 90% plus then it just feels clammy. Even the lightest task leaves you soaked in sweat.

The humidity is very high today and there is a great deal of thick cloud about, we have even had a spot or two of rain.

How the men down the road who are building a new house can work in these conditions is beyond me.

Monday, July 11, 2011

We’re having a heat wave

image According to the State Agency it is going to cool down slightly and then get hotter towards next weekend.

There will be quite a bit of cloud about which will make it feel muggy.
image According to Google though it is going to cool down  towards the weekend.

Either way it will be dry with a strong breeze to cool things down.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

And now they are gone

You wait for ages and ages for your family to arrive on holiday and then, in the blink of an eye, they have been and gone. The anticipation of what you might do, checking the weather, buying in the food you will need and preparing the house keeps you busy in the run up to a visit and then when they arrive there always seems to be too little time to accomplish what you have planned.

Having Laura, Dave and Molly here was such a pleasure. I know that parents and grandparents are bound to be biased but I can’t imagine anyone having a more delightful child than our Molly. She’s such a little character, bright as a button and with a smile that would melt anyone’s heart. It did not take her long to acclimatise to a strange environment and learn where she could go and where she could not. Molly’s favourite places were the little house we bought her and the swimming pool. The mere sight of the pool through the open back door was enough to excite her. In years to come, I reckon she will spend more time in there than in bed.

I firmly believe that children are what their parents make them. Children may be innately boisterous or calm, timid or outgoing but a lot of their behaviour is down to the way they are brought up. In this respect Dave and Laura score top marks by working together as a team to ensure that Molly is safe, secure, happy and well entertained – a real pleasure to be with.

It was a fabulous two weeks which we all thoroughly enjoyed and now the house is quiet – a bit too quiet – I might just put the Disney Channel on TV just to bring back some of those moments we enjoyed.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

La casa de Ana

Yesterday we took Molly along to the new house that our Spanish teacher and her husband have built for themselves in Molins.

The house is very different to that of of the neighbours and yet it fits in perfectly in its surroundings. It is however a bold statement which you cannot ignore.

The first thing you notice as you approach are the clean lines of the exterior finished in white with grey tile facades and touches of grey steel. As you walk up towards the ultra modern front door, you notice the planters which lead towards the rear of the property.

Once inside, you can see that Ana and Angel have taken the utmost care in choosing every detail of their house right down to the light switches.

The walls are perfectly smooth and white, the floor is ceramic but looks like wood giving a touch of warmth to the styling. Every part of the house is the epitome of style and elegance.

What strikes you most is that this is a house designed to look and feel spacious. The centre is open to the ceiling of the second floor and a huge window brings light into the whole building.

The stylish lounge area with its white sofas and red chairs is separated from the kitchen and dining areas by a three sided glass box which reaches up to the top of the house. Inside the box there are large white pebbles which Ana tells us will form the base for elegant bamboos that will reach up to the second floor. There are also two bedrooms on the ground floor, one for Ana and Angel and the other for their son who is also called Angel.

On the second floor is the office area with its elegant white desks and chairs. There are two computers, a Sony Vaio for Ana and a Mac for Angel and space for more. A further two bedrooms and of course a bathroom complete the layout of this part of the house.

In the under build, there is ample room to park three cars along with a play room complete with bar, huge TV and a games console that plays six thousand different games.

To the rear of the property is the pool with its built in jacuzzi, an area of artificial grass to play on and a covered area for outside dining etc.

The nerve centre of the house is a room which holds all the utility supplies along with the filter and pumps for the pool - it is like mission control at Huston with umpteen switches and dials to watch. Damn it, there is even a lift in the house to take you from the basement to the top floor when you have heavy goods to carry or for people of advancing years.

All in all, this is an elegant house which Ana and Angel can be justly proud off. We loved it.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

An interesting change

Just a couple of years ago, Laura and her mother would have gone shopping just for themselves. Now they hardly have time to look in the “girly” shops, instead it is the toy shops and children’s wear that catches their attention.

In the meantime, Dave and I get to stand outside in the street, often with Molly, for what seems like hours on end.

I’m really not sure that the situation for Dave and I has improved, waiting outside any kind of shop is all the same to us. We mustn't complain though because at least the carrier bags are smaller these days!

Climate change

A report from the ministry for the environment claims that rainfall in Spain could drop by 17% by the end of the century and that the effect will be most pronounced in the south. That means that rivers will be drier, reservoirs lower and water management will be a major concern for all.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Loyal guinea pigs

Normally you would not cook something you’d never tried before when guest came for dinner. However, we have known Glenys and Peter for a long time so I figured they would forgive me if I got it wrong.

Pamela does not like fish that much so we don’t get to eat it as often as we should. So first off I cooked prawns as a starter – easy one that – just put them on the barbecue for a few minutes and they are done. They are a bit messy but really worth it.

I followed the prawns with tuna steaks which had been marinated in a simple mix of lime juice , lemon juice, olive oil and pepper. The idea was to flash fry them on the cast iron griddle that I had just bought but when I saw that the tuna steaks were still raw in the middle, I chickened out and gave them a bit longer.

Having got the thumbs up for that, I went for broke with a made up dessert.

I sliced peaches in half and de-stoned them. I added a generous quantity of honey in the hollow and dusted them with cinnamon. Placinhg them on  a piece of foil on the barbecue for about ten minutes warmed them through and softened the peaches. Then I served them with a good splash of rum, fresh strawberries and squirty cream.

Not wishing to sound immodest, for a dessert that I made up on the spot, it went down very well. Actually I have to confess that I cooked peaches before but with a different twist.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

A good night’s sleep

The combination of going to bed at a sensible time and Molly not waking up until just after 7am means that we have enjoyed a good night’s sleep and how much better we feel for it.

We went out shopping yesterday to the Habeneras, then Carrefour and finally Mercadona. That was enough to tire all of us out, including Molly who walked quite a way round the shops with her reins on.

Seems like we have a busy weekend planned with friends so we need all the energy we can muster to keep us going.