“En La Casa de Perros”

After the departure of our guests we spent the following few days doing very little, we sat and enjoyed the sunshine on the balcony, did a bit of shopping and had a couple of walks along the Promenade into Sabanillas and Estepona, but nothing overly strenuous. On the Monday evening, whilst sat out on the balcony watching the sunset, I suggested to my beloved that we return to Mijas Pueblo on the Wednesday so that I could purchase my incense burner and perhaps have a spot of lunch whilst there, we would not have to stay very long seeing as we had visited there just a week ago. She did not speak at first but just gave me ‘the look‘, the look that spoke volumes, the look that said, “I really do not want to go back there again so soon” or perhaps it was the look that was saying, “Damn  it !! I was hoping you may have forgotten about buying that piece of Tourist Tat !!“, whatever it was saying it didn’t really matter for I just knew that ‘Look‘ !! After a few moments of thought, she spoke, “Let’s go and get your incense burner but come back down to Fuengirola and have lunch there“. It was a good compromise, we both liked Fuengirola, I would get my piece of ‘Tourist Tat’ and we would have lunch out, a win, win situation all round I thought to myself, but tried not to look too smug about it, I was however still a little apprehensive, like Theresa May and Brexit, I do not usually get to win negotiations this easily, at least not without their being some sort of personal consequence.

The following morning, on our balcony, enjoying the sunshine, drinking our coffee and catching up on World events on my iPad, she asked “Do you need to go to Mijas this week or could you leave it and go at some other time ?“. I knew I should have got her to sign our deal in blood, but no, I had allowed her a whole night to think about an escape plan. “Why ?” was my short response, “Well, before the weather changes, how about I take you on a real Shazza adventure ?” she responded, that conniving glint in her eyes as she spoke. “What do you mean a real adventure ?” I asked, with an apprehensive tone in my voice. She smiled, “Just a mystery trip, one where you really don’t have a clue about where we are going” she said. “The weather isn’t forecast to change in the coming week” I said inquisitively, “But it could change in the place that I am thinking of taking you to” she replied.

Further backwards and forwards conversation ensued between us, but to cut a long story short, knowing that in the end she would get her own way, I conceded, a Shazza ‘mystery’ adventure it was going to be.

However, that afternoon on our daily walk she asked, “Do you want to know where I am planning on taking you ?“, I knew already that it would not have remained a mystery for very long, we generally take the Sat Nav and plot the route when we get in the car, so I would have been able to have seen where we were headed, unless she made me do the trip blindfold !! Anyway, I played along, “No, not really, I am looking forward to a proper Shazza mystery adventure“. I could tell that she was actually quite keen to tell me just by the frown on her face when I declined, “But what if you don’t like it when we get there ?” she said, I could sense the frustration in her tone, “Well that is what mystery trips are all about aren’t they ?” I responded. Now it isn’t as if I am a cynical sort of person (well maybe just on the odd occasion ?), but I was beginning to think that perhaps Shazza had been having second thoughts about the location of this ‘Mystery Trip’ and, rather than her being seen to change her mind, it would be a more face-saving outcome, for her, if it was me who took the decision not to go, I may of course have been totally wrong but I decided to test the water anyway. “So go on, tell me more about this mystery trip then” I said, “Well” she started, “I thought we could drive to ‘San Roque’, park the car and catch the train up into the mountains to a little town called ‘Benadalid‘” she explained, now normally she would have done some research on places before we go and visit and so would have had an idea of what their was to both see and do, a Church, Monastery, Castle, Ancient Ruins, Market, all that sort of stuff, but nothing was forthcoming from her, which again was most unusual. “So, what is in this town for us to do ?” which I thought was quite a logical sort of question, but to my complete surprise her response was short, “Not a lot” she said. Now my unusually cynical nature was screaming at me, confirming what I thought that I already knew, Shazza did not really want to go to this place up in the mountains, but surely, this cunning diversion of hers could not be solely to prevent me from going back to Mijas to purchase my small piece of ‘Tourist Tat‘, could it ?

She needed a ‘get out’ and I knew that I could provide it, “So, this train, how long would we have to wait before we could get another to get back ?” I asked, “Four hours” she replied. The conclusion of this dialogue was rapidly approaching and even though I knew it would not end well, for me that is, I was willing to put her out of her misery because ‘that is what Love is’. “So” I said, “We travel up on a train into the mountains to this small town, where there is not a lot to do, and then we may have to twiddle our thumbs for a few hours before we can leave, that doesn’t sound a lot of fun really”. It was exactly the response that she knew that I would make, you see we know each other so well, “Well, if you don’t want to go” she said, in a fake disappointed tone. Then, just to reinforce her disappointment, I then had to go through the Symbolic female silent treatment, yes, I was in the ‘dog house’ or, as the Spanish would say, ‘En La Casa de Perros‘. It would have been simpler if she had just told me that she thought the incense burner was ‘junk’ and that she didn’t want to waste time and money buying it. Yes, I may have sulked for a little while, like a child whose mother has told him that he cannot have the chocolate bar whilst going around the supermarket, but generally she would just ignore me when I do that or more likely she would have just told me, in a stern voice, to “Get over myself“. But perhaps, on this occasion, it was that she felt guilty about her own recent purchases, I refer of course to her growing personal collection of different flavoured ‘Gins’, which of course I made no adverse comments about ? One thing is for certain, we will never discover the truth so if nothing else, we still do end up with a ‘Shazza Mystery’

The sunshine and warm temperatures continued, we knew from our previous annual Winter trips that there would be a break in the weather at some point, we just didn’t know when, the ‘Works of Fiction’ were all forecasting much of the same, day time temperatures between 19-22 degrees(c) and plenty of sunshine, so it was always good to make the most of it when it was here. We decided that we would drive to the large ‘free’ car park on the sea front at ‘San Pedro’, we had been here on a couple of previous occasions and walked along the promenades to ‘Puerta Banus’, quite a reasonable distance in its own right. However we had never ventured much further, but, if you felt so inclined to do so, you could follow this Coastal Route to Marbella and even beyond that. We had no intention of walking all the way to Marbella and elected to just saunter until we got tired, remembering of course that we would also have to walk all the way back again !! We had not prepared a picnic lunch so I already knew that it would be a case of stopping somewhere en route and buying lunch, money that could have been utilised on purchasing my small piece of ‘Tourist Tat’ I thought to myself, but thought better of actually vocalising this opinion to my beloved !!

There was quite a thick sea mist when we departed the apartment, the mountain tops were quite clear and we could see the sunshine on even the highest peaks, but we couldn’t make out the shoreline or the horizon on the seaward side, but the ‘Works of Fiction’ had all been singing the same tune and forecast a sunny and warm day and so we proceeded with our planned walk for the day. It was a twenty-mile drive to San Pedro, we were dressed, as is usual, in tee-shirts, shorts and flip-flops but had brought our ‘hoodies’ just in case. However, when we arrived at our walk starting point, although the mist was still on the sea, it was burning off and it was not chilly or damp so we left our ‘hoodies’ in the car as we didn’t want to have to carry them.

The very wide and well maintained paved promenade at San Pedro, the starting point for this walk. You can see the mist still clinging to the sea but it was lifting.

The blue sky was breaking through and the mist had lifted and the sea began to sparkle in the sunshine. The walking route path changed from paved tiles to wooden Boardwalk to…………

Compacted sand, but all were very well maintained 👍

These walks of ours were not just about the actual physical walk, we enjoyed the exercise, especially with views like these, but we also enjoyed the ‘people watching’ opportunities along the way.

The ‘Bird Man’ feeding his pigeons whilst Shazza (in the background) was contemplating whether the kerb was too steep to descend in her flip-flops !!

Local Fisherman setting his net in the murky mist, which was still stubbornly refusing to dissipate in places

Pulling the small fishing boats out of the sea and up on to the beach is still done by hand

Lovely tranquil secluded beaches lined the route of our walk and look, no more mist !!

The sea was almost a flat calm and the huge expanse of emptiness was quiet eerie at times

Whether it was because we had done so much chatting along our first part of the walk, oh yes, I should just mention that I was eventually let out of the ‘Casa de Perros’, but we arrived at Puerta Banus much quicker than we thought that we would. We have been here on several previous occasions just to look at what ‘Mega Yachts’ had been moored up and to see if there were any celebrities in residence that we may have recognised, but alas, whilst their multi-million vessels were here, the owners were never visible, if they were here at all that is, and this visit was no different. I had told Shazza that it was a waste of time wearing  our diamond studded shorts and ruby encrusted flip-flops but would she listen !! But our disappointment of not being invited on-board for a morning coffee was short-lived as there was something different in town to attract our attention, the Christmas Market’

There was something not quite right about this festive scene, perhaps it was the total lack of people, the Marina frontage with all its glitzy (interpret that as expensive) shops, bars and restaurants were empty, I do not mean only a handful of people, I really mean ‘Empty’, it really was like a ghost town. However, it was daylight and very sunny, but even so, festively decorated wooden huts are just not the same without the colourful lights twinkling in the darkness, there was no Christmas music to remind us that ‘Santa Claus was indeed coming to town‘, no aroma of mulled wine, no crackling of hot embers whilst  ‘Chesnuts roasted on an open fire‘, their were no sweet smells of candy floss, brandy snaps or caramel toffee so I took some token photographs as we wandered past and then we got back to our walk, but now we were in new territory, we had never walked beyond this point before

A few Christmas Market Stalls at the Puerta Banus Marina

Times must be hard and diversification called for, didn’t they used to publish books ?

When we saw this name on an Estate Agents Window we didn’t even bother looking in the window at the properties for sale !!

I tried to fight the urge to take another photo of boats in a Marina, obviously my camera won the tussle !!

“Stranger On The Shore”

The Promenade from Puerta Banus towards Marbella, our walk continued !!

More Sand Art but this one had a nice festive theme

Shazza hurry up !! That bloody seagull is heading in my direction and it has a certain look in its eyes and I didn’t bring my hat or any tissue ?

I think the heat of the sun was getting to me, these looked like a row of pirouetteing Emu’s ??

Now how the hell did she drag that all the way from the kitchen sink !!

Perhaps all is forgiven 😄

Can’t be bad having a stretch of Sandy beach and a part of the Mediterranean Sea all to yourself !!

The only thing preventing this from being a Villa on the beach is the promenade separating it, nice, very nice !!

How could you ever get bored with walks with these kind of views ?

Sometimes, posing for a photograph is just an excuse to take a break from walking !!

A nice stop for a cooling refreshment but Shazza made me change cones for the picture, cannot think why ? 🤔

The reflections on the water were unusual ?

We could see Marbella, it looked within walking distance and probably would have been if the walk had been in a straight line. However, looking ahead we could see the winding coastal path and estimated that, at our pace, it would have taken at least another hour of walking, if not more, which would not have been too bad but once there you could not leave without having a saunter around the Marina and then go up into the ‘Old Town’, a lot more walking !! We could have saved our legs a bit of a walk back by catching the catamaran ferry service from Marbella to Puerta Banus, but we would still have had to walk from there back to San Pedro, our discussion on the subject was very brief and we were unanimous in our decision, we turned around and headed back trying not to look too often at Puerta Banus in the distance.

When we got back to Puerta Banus it was well past the ‘British Lunchtime’ but just into the ‘Spanish’ equivalent, at around half past two, perfect timing !! We had no preference as to what we wanted to eat other than this would be our ‘main meal’ of the day, neither of us would have had the energy, let alone the motivation, to want to cook a meal back at the apartment that evening. There were plenty of establishments advertising ‘Menu del Dia’, three courses and a drink for around €20 each, more expensive than in Estepona or Sabinillas, but we were after all in a high-end ‘glitzy’ environment, so even at these prices it wasn’t bad value. The problem was, not only did we not know what type of food we wanted, Spanish, English, Indian, Chinese, Italian, Moroccan etc. etc. etc. but there was just so much choice. We did not want to sit inside out of the sunshine, we did not want to be the only one’s sat eating at the restaurant and there was a lot of empty establishments !! We had virtually run out of choices as we got ever closer to the end of the Marina and back to the promenade in the direction of San Pedro, but then, just as we thought it was looking like we would have to settle for Burger ‘n’ Chips, we came across a ‘Lebanese’ restaurant, which, although not packed out with customers, had sufficient to prevent it from being an isolated experience. The outside seating area provided shade but it had wonderful views over the sea and the boating entrance to the Marina moorings. Although this establishment was not offering the ‘Menu del Dia’, the prices were very reasonable and the menu choices got our gastric juices flowing, we had three courses and a drink and the final bill worked out just €10 more than it would if we had gone down the ‘Menu del Dia’ route.

Lovely view from our dining table

A bit of hot stuff !!

If you keep your eyes open you can sometimes spot celebrities near Marbella. We were fortunate enough to spot these two……………….
George ‘Seagull’ and Walter ‘Pidgeon’ enjoying lunch together on the beach !!

We eventually made it back to the car, it was late afternoon but the sun was still shining, our calf muscles were informing us that this had been more than just a stroll !! The bottom of my heels were red from being constantly flipped and flopped by rubber, next time I will wear my trainers !! We both enjoyed the chance to sit down in the comfort of the car seats, it was only a short drive back to our ‘bolt hole’, but sufficient time for my legs to try to resist the effort of getting out of the car and walking across the car park. We spent the rest of the evening just sat in our comfy chairs looking out upon our sea views and watching the sun set. It did not take long to recover from our full day of walking and we both reflected on what a good day it had been but agreed that the following day would be a rest day, other than the minimal effort it would take to pour a cooling glass or three of falling over juice, or perhaps two, it would after all be rude not to ?

Watching the Sunset from our balcony. Have I ever mentioned that we can see Africa from our balcony ?

Although we still have a couple of weeks before the festive periods begin, and our next visitors arrive, we have no pre-determined plans on taking any more trips, although I cannot with any amount of certainty say that Shazza will not decide on any further ‘Adventures’ in that time, so as this may be my last ‘ramblings’ for 2018, I would like to take this opportunity of thanking you all for taking the time to read, and provide comments, on my blog posts and to wish you all, wherever you may be in the world, a safe and Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year.

 

🎅🏼 Feliz Navidad Y Feliz Ano Nuevo 🤶🏻 

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Posted in Winter 2015/16 | 8 Comments

Transported Back Home In The Doctor Who Tardis ?

I am beginning to believe that there just may be something to this ‘Silent Prayer’ malarkey after having a little success with them recently, the primary focus being on the DIY stuff, but my last one also came to fruition big time !! You may recall that I had prayed that it would stop raining, well, the following morning, the day that Shazza’s Aunty Linda and Uncle Joe were arriving, we awoke to blue sky, sunshine and a much higher rise in the day temperature, it was an ‘Hallelujah’ moment, which of course, like my prayers, was said silently.

Linda and Joe had not visited us before, although they were not new to Spain, but they had not travelled this far South so the region was going to be a bit of a voyage of discovery for them. Although this would only be a relatively brief visit to us on this occasion, and with their late afternoon arrival time and their departure on the Friday, they would really only have three full days with us. Fortunately, all of the ‘Works of Fiction’ we consulted on a regular daily basis were forecasting an excellent week of warm temperatures and nice sunshine, so we had no excuses for not providing our guests with some good sightseeing opportunities.

Their visit certainly commenced on the right note, although their ‘Jet 2’ flight from East Midlands Airport had departed five minutes later than scheduled, it actually arrived in Malaga twenty minutes early, well I suppose it is downhill on their outward leg of the journey ? As usual, when collecting any of our guests from the Airport, we arrived in good time, we parked the car in the multi-storey car park right opposite the Malaga terminal and were ready to greet them as they walked into the arrivals area. We are always very aware that whilst we were able to have a nice lay in bed on the morning of our guests arrival, as most arrive on a mid-afternoon flight, they would have been up at ‘stupid O’clock’ that morning to drive to the Airport, having to be there two hours before the flight departure and then they would have had the two and a half hour flight, sometimes longer, then the one hour car journey back to our apartment. So generally, instead of taking the more scenic route back to our apartment, through potentially busier traffic along the coast road, we tend to take the much more direct route, on the virtually traffic free toll motorway, although this still provided fantastic mountain and sea views.

Much needed refreshments after a long journey, Iced water and lemon (with a big splash of Gin) it would have been rude not to !!

After an evening recuperating and discussing what they wanted to do during their visit, or if their was any place in particular they wanted to go, which there wasn’t, the choice was left completely in our hands. We agreed on a visit to Estepona, the mountain town of Mijas and a trip to Gibraltar, although our guests were not particularly bothered about the ‘Duty Free’ purchases, they had never been to Gibraltar. Being just a thirty-minute drive away, and being a priority visit for most of our other guests, for the ‘Duty Free’ purchases, Shazza and I had visited ‘The Rock’ on numerous occasions and it no longer held any attraction for us, however, for those who have never been there, Gibraltar, in addition to the lure of ‘tax free goods’, has some lovely sightseeing opportunities, so we put Gibraltar firmly on the visit itinerary. Joe is one of my many loyal blog followers so he had seen the many photographs of our local area and often read about our frequent forays to the Marina, obviously as part of our strict exercise regime and to look at the numerous boats on the moorings, the visits to the numerous bars whilst we were there was purely to ensure that we did not let our bodies become too dehydrated during our strenuous exercise sessions ? So joe was keen to get to view the Marina for himself, ‘In the flesh’ so to speak.

Day 1 – Estepona 

The first morning, just like every morning for myself and Shazza, started with a coffee on the balcony. Shazza and our guests would then enjoy a leisurely breakfast, I rarely eat breakfast until I have been awake for at least a couple of hours so whilst they partook of theirs I used the opportunity to get showered and dressed. Once the morning rituals were complete and we were all dressed, in of course the now mandatory dress code, tee-shirts, shorts and flip-flops, we gathered the essentials for the day, wallet, sunglasses and cameras and drove the short distance (11 Km) to the Estepona Marina. From there we walked through the Marina, which is slightly bigger than our own at Duquesa, but not as pretty, then down along the long promenade. After a brief coffee stop, we crossed the road and explored the town. Although this was nothing new for us, we regularly visit Estepona as a change from doing our own promenade and town walk, it is a much larger town than Sabinillas and has many more shops, restaurants, bar/cafes and lovely plazas and it is a great place for visitors as it is very much still a traditional Spanish style town, albeit quite modern, and it gave Linda an opportunity to do what women like to do, wander in and out of the shops, and why not ? It is always nice to be able to make comparisons against the UK, products and prices.

‘Caught in the act’ !! A guilty look on a face if ever I saw one !! Yes Linda we know, you are only looking ?

We knew, through conversation, that Joe and Linda both liked Spanish Tapas, so we had planned to take them for lunch to a lovely enclosed plaza that we knew that was served by several restaurants and bars, one of which we had frequented ourselves on a couple of occasions, so we knew that it served a good selection of Tapas. Unfortunately when we arrived in the sun drenched square that particular establishment had a note on the door stating ‘Closed For Vacations’ !! For goodness sake, did they not know who we are ? That we had heaped praise on them and that we would be bringing our visitors for lunch and specially just to them ? There was nothing we could do, we knew that there would be other establishments in the town that served Tapas, we are in Spain after all, but none that we had frequented or could personally provide a good recommendation. However, the Plaza was beautiful, the sun was shining and we were all hungry, one of us hadn’t eaten breakfast ? A joint decision was made, we would stay in the Plaza and eat at one of the establishments that was not ‘Closed for Vacations’

Enjoying a pre-lunch aperitif

We had enjoyed a leisurely walk from the Marina along the promenade, we had looked around the town, its pretty narrow streets, had wandered in and out of a variety of shops and had a very enjoyable lunch. It was mid-afternoon, the sun was still shining and so there was only one thing left to do, walk back along the promenade to the car, drive to our much more picturesque marina and enjoy a drink, or perhaps two, at a bar whilst enjoying the last of the early evening sunshine, look at the boats bobbing about on their moorings and do a spot of people watching, as you do, well it would certainly have been rude not to !!

On the way back from Estepona we made a brief stop so that Shazza could pick up some fresh Sea Bass for that evenings dinner before continuing to our Marina. Our favourite watering hole, was pretty busy, well it was ‘Happy Hour’ after all, but we still managed to find a table outside in the sunshine. I can never understand why they advertise ‘Happy Hour‘ on a board which states that it lasts from 1600-2000hrs, this is four hours ? Not that I am complaining you understand, it is just one of those things that amuses me, I suppose ‘Happy Four Hours’ just doesn’t have the same ring to it. I certainly was not going to raise the question with the proprietor as I had a pretty good idea of what the response would be….. something akin to, “Well F**K off somewhere else and pay full price if you dont like it” or words to that effect !!

Day 2 – Mijas Pueblo

We followed our usual morning routine, coffee on the balcony, leisurely breakfast etc. but with just a little bit more urgency than normal as we wanted to depart a little earlier so as to get to our destination with plenty of sightseeing time. We were heading up to the beautiful mountain town of Mijas. The sky was blue and virtually cloudless, the sun was once again shining and even located seven miles up from the Coast it was forecast to be between 20-22 degrees(c) so the views would be fantastic. Shazza had also remembered that every Wednesday, in Mijas, they put on a free Flamenco show. Now once again, Shazza and I had already visited Mijas and seen the Flamenco show, but to be perfectly honesty this is one of those places that we could never get tired of visiting. Yes it has everything that I would normally dislike, it is without any doubt very Touristy, there are lots and lots and lots of ‘Tourist Tat’ shops, Donkey Taxi’s and Horse and Carriage rides around the towns narrow but picturesque streets and swarms of Restaurants and bar/Cafes all at ‘Tourist Prices’ of course. But Mijas Pueblo just has a magical ambience about it, the row on row of whitewashed buildings hanging onto the side of the mountain, the maze of pretty narrow streets, the pristine paved garden walk around the southern edge of the town, the mountain views that took your eyes all the way down to the miles and miles of Coastal views, this really is a photographers paradise, in the right weather conditions that is.

It was a god day to be up in the pretty mountain town of Mijas with the near cloudless blue sky and a temperature of 20-22 degrees(c), once again a very big thank you to whoever, or whatever, it was that had answered my recent silent prayer

High above the town, amongst the trees and rocks, stood an isolated church. Not sure that I would want to walk to this every Sunday though ?

As well as looking forward to letting Joe and Linda see the Flamenco, we were also rewarded with a lovely little ‘bric-a-brac’ market that was set up in the main Plaza right next to where the Flamenco dancing would take place. Now, as you probably already know by now, I do not usually tend to bother wasting too much time looking on these market stalls filled with ‘Tourist Tat’, they are great for the tourists who probably gush over the ‘Tat’ and make purchases that, once they get back home after their holiday, wonder why on earth they bought such stuff so give it away pretending that it was a thoughtful gift purchased for one of their neighbours for taking care of the house, or their pets, whilst they were away or perhaps giving it to one of their relatives, “I saw this and just knew that it was the sort of thing you would like“…….. or perhaps I am just being too cynical, again !!

However, and I blame it on a case of sunstroke, but I actually found myself spending time looking at some of the rather nice items of ‘Tourist Tat’ on display, one item in particular took my eye, it was quite unique, well to me as I had seen anything else like it before. It was a variety of ‘incense’ burners, okay so they are nothing new, but these were like miniature metal log burning stoves and the one that caught my eye had smoke coming out of the chimney. It was shaped like a normal log burner would be, with a glazed door to the front and a short stocky chimney. The front door opened and inside was a small ‘conical’ shaped lump of incense smoking away, I liked it, this would be nice sat atop one of the glass-topped tables on our balcony I thought to myself. I made the decision to purchase it but Shazza suggested that instead of having to carry it around with us all day, that I should wait and purchase it just before we left, the market was only a short distance away from the car park, it made sense so I informed the stall holder that I would buy one on my way out.

Lovely little market in the main Plaza

After strolling around the market we had time for a coffee before the Flamenco show commenced. We started to see the crowds beginning to gather around the bandstand in the square so knew that we had better take up our positions if we wanted a good vantage point.

Time for a coffee before the Flamenco commenced. You can just make out Shazza to the right of the lamppost and Linda (Sunglasses on)

The tourists started to gather for the free Flamenco show

Joe and I each had our cameras at the ready and soon our camera shutters were clicking away, almost as fast as the dancers shoe heels on the wooden floor. It is nice to watch, it is something very typically Spanish. It led me to wonder if the foreign tourists ever came across to the Northern Towns of the UK and enjoyed sitting and listening to our Brass Bands playing their instruments on a bandstand, in a park, usually on a rainy Sunday afternoon, or the Morris Dancing, or kids dancing around a Maypole, or Scottish men in kilts dancing around swords on the ground, or playing the bagpipes, or throwing telegraph poles up in the air, just as much as we enjoyed this ? I am sure they would.

Then it was time to burn some more Flip-Flop rubber and walk around the beautifully maintained gardens and paths that encircle the towns Southern periphery, everywhere along the route had magnificent views. More by luck than judgement we came across a terrace, full of restaurants serving different cuisine but one that specialised in ‘Tapas’, fantastic !! We got to have that Spanish lunch after all.

Fantastic views of the surrounding mountains and down to the Coast

Drinks whilst waiting to be served with a variety of tasty Tapas lunch

Looking back to the Terrace full of restaurants where we had enjoyed our lunch

The winding road that we came up to get to Mijas Pueblo

Villas that came with a Lottery price tag !!

I have wanted a couple of these highly decorative pots for our balcony walls since we saw them four years ago, alas, once again, there was too much choice and we just could not make up our minds so didn’t purchase anything on this visit. Another time perhaps ?

After the walk around the gardens we headed back into the town and just meandered along the maze of narrow streets until we all agreed that we had had enough. Now it was time to head back to purchase my incense burner and then get in the car and head back down the mountain towards home. I was horrified, the market stalls had all packed up and gone !! Never have I ever been so disappointed at not being able to purchase a piece of ‘Tourist Tat’. Shazza’s fits of laughter at my misfortune spoke volumes about how she felt about the bit of ‘Tourist Tat’ that I had intended purchasing, through fits of giggles she said, “I know what will cheer you up” she said, still sulking I said “What“, she was still laughing, tears running down her cheeks “As a way of consolation we will we stop at our Marina and have a drink” she said. I knew already that stopping at the Marina had already been discussed and agreed, she wasn’t offering me any sort of consolation, but once again it got everyone’s vote.

It had been a long day, but a very enjoyable one and after enjoying another evening meal, prepared by my beloved, we just sat in the comfort of the apartment, enjoyed a few post dinner drinks, where I introduced Joe to my ‘Special’ Jack Daniels with Honey and Ice Cream concoction, which he gave his approval to, and watched a Christmas Movie on ‘Netflix’.

Day 3 – Gibraltar

There was no rush to get out so our morning coffee and breakfast was conducted at a leisurely pace. Parking on Gibraltar is always a bit of a nightmare, too many vehicles and not enough spaces, it was all about timing and a good deal of luck so the plan was, head to Morrisons car park, we didn’t need anything from the store but it provided up to two hours of free parking and it was only a ten-minute walk away from the main shopping area. We would do the town first then back to the car and do a bit of a tour, stopping at Europa Point, the most Southerly tip of ‘The Rock’.

We were once again blessed with another glorious day, we reflected on how different Joe and Linda’s visit would have been if they had come out the week before, as they had originally intended, when we had experienced a week of cold daytime temperatures and wet and cloudy weather, ‘Sometimes Things Happen For A Reason ?

It was mid-morning by the time we arrived at the frontier, there was a queue of traffic, nothing to do with hold ups by the border checks but due to the arrival of two flights in quick succession. To get onto Gibraltar, after passing through the border passport checks, you have to cross the airport runway and they close the gates across the runway to let the aircraft land, for quite obvious reasons !! This was nothing new to us but it added a little bit of novelty value for Joe and Linda who had never experienced it before, unfortunately we were too far back in the queue of traffic to get a good view of the aircraft as they came in to land, we just managed to get a glimpse of the ‘Easy Jet’ white and orange tail fin. The number of vehicles on the roads in Gibraltar make them crowded at the best of times, but now, after being queued up, it was horrendous, cars, buses, lorries and the swarms of scooters that weave in and out of all the other vehicles, all wanting to get where they are going as quickly as they can, but it is the dangerous manoeuvres of these scooter drivers that make driving on Gibraltar quite stressful, if you stop at roundabouts, traffic lights, pedestrian crossings or just in the queue of other traffic, you are immediately surrounded by at least five or six scooters, in front of the car and on both sides and they have no intention of giving way to you. Shazza was pleased when we finally pulled into the Morrisons car park, now it was time to hunt for a space, sometimes it can be quite easy and on other days not so, fortunately, on this occasion, although the car park was quite full, with four sets of eyes scanning in all directions, we managed to find ourselves a vacant bay.

As always, the ‘Main Street’, with its vast array of shops on either side, almost every other one selling duty-free spirits and tobacco, was very busy. For visitors from the UK who are on holiday in Spain, this must feel a bit like being ‘Transported Back Home In The Doctor Who Tardis’, with some of the familiar names of the shops, Debenhams, Marks & Spencer, New Look etc. Sights of the British Policeman patrolling the streets (albeit that may not be so common a sight in UK these days). There is a lot more to do if you can arrive much earlier and find a space in one of the few alternative car parks, although you would have to pay you have the advantage of spending a lot more leisurely time. Other than the ‘Main Street’ there are lots of other side streets to be explored, time for a leisurely lunch in one of the numerous pubs, Cafe’s or restaurants before visiting the older parts of the town or its gardens. You could take a mini-bus tour to see the famous apes (or just take the cable car if it is just the apes you want to see), visit the fantastic St Michael’s cave and then on to the siege tunnels.

Joe and Linda were not particularly bothered about doing the grand tour on this occasion, we could save that for a future visit, so after the spot of retail therapy we decided to drive to Europa Point, the most Southerly tip of ‘The Rock’, but not before acquiring a few ‘Christmas stocking filler gifts’ for their family back at home, and of course the opportunity to purchase a couple of bottles of ‘duty free’ spirits, well we were here so why not take the opportunity whilst you can ? Shazza, not one to miss out on adding different flavoured ‘Gins’ to her growing private collection, grabbed a couple of bottles as well, when in Rome as they say !!

Europa Point provides lots of ‘free parking’ and wonderful views of the ‘Straits of Gibraltar’, the relatively narrow stretch of busy sea channel that gives access for the huge container ships, and other leisure vessels, passing through from the Atlantic Ocean into the Mediterranean Sea (and Vice Versa of course) and more recently, the large number of refugees making the very dangerous crossings from the Northern Coast of Africa to Europe in nothing more than inflatable dinghies !! Although you can see the African Coastline from Gibraltar (we can even see it from our apartment balcony, which I may have mentioned just once or twice in my previous ramblings ?) it is still a sixty-minute crossing to ‘Ceuta’ or ninety-minutes to ‘Tangier’, but that is on very much larger and faster ferries, I certainly wouldn’t want to risk it in a small inflatable piece of plastic, the risk of being mowed down by any one of the gigantic ships, let alone the notoriously rough sea conditions as two major bodies of water meet, but I guess that just shows how desperate some of these people are.

Other than the views, at Europa Point there is the ‘Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosque‘, inaugurated in 1997, it is the most Southerly located Mosque in Continental Europe, but by far, the biggest tourist attraction at Europa Point is the ‘Trinity Lighthouse’, inaugurated very much earlier, in 1841, its beam of light, guiding ships through this congested stretch of water, can be seen up to eighteen miles away. It was fully automated in 1994 so no longer any need for it to have resident lighthouse keepers, however, the lighthouse cottages are still inhabited. Unfortunately, they are now building a new UEFA multi-function stadium at Europa Point, we witnessed the building work in progress and to be honest, personally, I think it will be a blight on the landscape. They are intending to build a new lighthouse on top of the stadium building, the current lighthouse will become defunct but will remain in place purely for its historical interest.

Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosque

Trinity Lighthouse at Europa Point and the Cottages

Enjoying the views

We enjoyed spending time at Europa Point, it was very warm and sunny, but unfortunately the haze on the horizon prevented us from having a clear view of the African Coastline. Linda did alert us to having seen a seal just below where she and Shazza were standing, it was offshore but not far away from the rocks, Joe and I rushed across, our cameras at the ready, fingers on the shutter buttons to try to steal a shot when it popped its head back above the surface. The sun glistening off the surface of the sea was not helping but when the black head surfaced, Joe was the first to zoom in on his camera lens and made the discovery that our seal was in fact not a seal, it was the head of a diver snorkelling amongst the rocks, an easy mistake to make Linda, no need to be embarrassed, we were laughing with you, not at you, honest !! Although it was a bit disappointing that we saw no seals, or pod of dolphins, which are often sighted here, I was more than happy because there were enough boats to watch to keep me entertained.

Enough shopping and sightseeing for one day, we headed back into Spain and made the short thirty-minute journey back to our Marina, it was that time of the day again and we needed to re-hydrate !! As it was Joe and Linda’s last evening with us we all agreed to return to the apartment, freshen up, then head into Estepona and enjoy a last meal in a restaurant and view the Christmas lights. We had hoped to have been able to have taken them to Malaga, they were due to turn on their Christmas lights and it is quite a spectacular event, the lights flashing in unison to the sound of ‘Rock Music’, we went to see it a couple of years ago, combined of course with a full day of sightseeing first, unfortunately the first turning on of the Christmas lights was on Friday, the day Joe and Linda returned to the UK, never mind, I am sure there will be other opportunities.

Although the days had been very warm, the evening temperatures, once the sun had set at around 6:15pm, dropped significantly by at least 10 degrees(c) and much warmer clothing was required, it was not unpleasant though and the majority of pavement bars and restaurants had warming gas burners to keep us warm, in addition to the copious amounts of internal liquid anti-freeze being consumed !! As Shazza does the majority of driving I decided that I would be the ‘Duty Driver’ on this particular evening, that way she could relax and enjoy sampling as many different flavoured Gins as she wanted, especially as Joe and Linda were lovers of that particular tipple as well, and they did !! The bars were busy and it was nice to be out and about in it, there was a nice holiday buzz about it, albeit that, other than our own, the conversations of the masses around us were Spanish. This was not the British expat enclave of the Marina, or one of the numerous british holiday resorts on the ‘Costas’, this was just the local Spanish out in their town enjoying social life on a Thursday night, the large screen TV’s were showing Spanish League football, although not many customers appeared to be taking very much notice of it. All in all it was a very nice ambience, no karaoke, no lager louts, no fighting, just mixed conversations and laughter, for me, the only ‘alcohol free’ customer, the people watching experience was brilliant, especially whilst watching three particular individuals in very close proximity to myself becoming happier and happier by the glassful !!

I think it would be safe to say that Joe and Linda had enjoyed their brief stay with us, or perhaps their happy demeanour was due to the consumption of a little too much ‘Liquid Anti-Freeze’ !!

After enjoying a rather overly large meal, accompanied by a few more glasses of liquid anti-freeze (Mine was still Coca Cola minus the Jack Daniels), we were ready to head back to the car, we had decided to drive back home via the main street so that we could look at the Christmas Lights that stretched from one end of the town to the other. We could have got back to the car quickly but it appeared that the rest of my crew preferred to do a bit of after drink dancing, you know the one, that universal after drinking dance, one step forward, then a stagger to the right, a stagger to the left, one foot forward, then a stagger to the right……… I am sure you get the picture ? The Christmas lights were nice and colourful, just a pity that none of my passengers were awake to enjoy them with me !!

Friday morning arrived and we adopted our usual routine, there was no rush as Joe and Linda’s outbound flight was not scheduled to depart until 15:45, they still had to report two hours before that but even with the one hour drive, plus time for parking, we would not have to leave the apartment until around 12:30pm so it was a real leisurely morning just enjoying the sunshine flooding onto the balcony.

All of the ‘Works of Fiction’ were unanimously agreed, the following week would be much the same as this week had been, one rebel breaking ranks to forecast a high of 25 degrees(c) midweek, it was not that important, anything above 20 degrees was just fine with us, the best bit of the forecast was the night temperatures which had been down recently to around 9 degrees(c), chilly for this part of Spain even at this time of year, but they showed that this would rise to 14-15 degrees(c), now that was more like it, back to some sort of normality, it has been a funny sort of year, weather wise that is, all over Europe. We were certainly not envious of Joe and Linda returning to the cold UK temperatures, day and night, but after all, that is one of the main reasons for purchasing our ‘Bolt Hole’ here, the warm Spanish Winter’s. They had enjoyed their first Winter visit with us and had enjoyed the places we had taken them to, we too had enjoyed their company, but it would be the end of March before we would see them both again.

Posted in Winter 2015/16 | 4 Comments

I Wish That It Would Stop Raining !!

In previous years we have always left the UK when the daytime temperatures have dropped into single figures and we get to Spain when the temperatures are between 18-22 degrees(c), that is the right way to acclimatize, in my opinion. So whilst there was a distinct advantage of arriving much earlier this year, we are now having to face up to the wrong side of acclimatization !! We always expect a couple of days of rain and cooler temperatures whilst we are over here, well it is Winter after all, but this year we have experienced far more of the wet stuff than ever before and we have only been here for six weeks !! We have had temperatures as high as 28 degrees(c) in that time, but the last week has been wet, dull and just a tad chilly with temperatures during the day down to a meagre 15 degrees(c), I know that, compared to the current weather in the UK, that this does not sound too bad, but we are now having to re-acclimatise in the wrong direction. According to the ‘Works of Fiction’, which is never any guarantee, this rather cool snap is coming to an end within a day or two and normal service to the Spanish Winter temperatures will be resumed and we should be back to blue, near cloudless sky and daytime temperatures of 20-22 degrees(c), we are certainly hoping that, for once, they get their forecasting accurate, as Shazza’s Aunty Linda and Uncle Joe arrive in a couple of days, leaving behind Yorkshire temperatures of 7 degrees(c), and we have told them to arrive wearing shorts, tee-shirts and flip-flops !!

If there is a ‘positive’ side to the rather unusual inclement weather it is that it provides opportunities to conduct a bit of DIY in the apartment. We had been experiencing, how can I put this ? A rather unpleasant aroma from one of our bathrooms, the en-suite rather than the guest bathroom, it wasn’t unbearable but it needed sorting. The problem with Spanish plumbing, especially in apartment blocks, is that it is not anything like English plumbing, in that, water outlet pipes do not have accessable ‘U’ bends. Our first suspicion was that it may have been a blockage in a water drainage pipe, but was it from the WC, Foot Wash (Bidet), Hand Basin or the Bath/Shower ? There was no back filling or gurgling noise that would usually indicate a blockage but even so we did the obvious and put purpose bought solution down all the relevant water drainage pipes, the sort of acid based stuff that eats through ‘gunk’ that creates blockages, left for the appropriate amount of time, as specified in the instructions, and flushed through with warm water. However, this did not work and the undesirable aroma remained. In conversation with one of our neighbours they mentioned that they had experienced this previously and discovered that it was the seal on one of the ground drainage vents in the bathroom. In both of our tiled bathroom floors there is silver circular covers that are screwed down, I had seen them, but didn’t actually know what they were for and had wrongly assumed that they were drainage points in case the bathroom floor flooded, in fact that was the ‘Grey’ drainage for the bathroom outlets, the Bidet, Hand Basin and Bath/Shower. Armed with this new knowledge I went and removed the cover and had a look, the seal around the plastic cover looked in good order, not hard or cracked, I could see another smaller plastic pipe at a good arms length down. With Shazza’s help we turned on the taps and watched as it drained into the floor cavity then up and over into the smaller plastic pipe, everything seemed to drain away without any problem and there was no evidence of the offending odour. We decided to replace the floor covers anyway, they come as a complete unit so not a case of just replacing a rubber seal, fortunately they were readily available, and inexpensive, from one of the stores in our local town, we decided to replace both, the one in our bathroom and the one in the guest bathroom, even though there was no undesirable odour from that location. After fitting, just a couple of minutes job to fit both, we left it for twenty-four hours but alas this did not resolve the problem and it was looking like we would have now have to call in a plumber, as we did not have the means to get down and beyond the drainage point in the floor, this could end up being expensive we thought to ourselves. You know how sometimes things just sort of happen ? Well Shazza, who is like a dog with a bone at times, was irritated at not being able to establish where this odour was emanating from and she was still not convinced that it was not coming from the ground drainage cover, even though we had fitted new tight sealed units. She was on the floor trying to ‘sniff out’ the source when she observed that around the base of the WC, there were some holes where old sealant had perished. When I had put together my tool box when we first moved into the apartment, all of my main tools and DIY sealants, lubricants etc. were in the Motorhome and I did not intend hauling them to and fro every time, so I purchased a small number of essentials to keep in the apartment, fortunately, this included a new tube of waterproof sealant. Instead of just re-filling the areas that had perished I just resealed around the whole of the WC and since then, no unpleasant odour, result !! At least we know that in addition to resolving the cause of the problem we have now also cleaned all the water drain pipes and flushed them through and fitted two new floor seal units and in the process have learnt how our drainage system works.

Now we were in that DIY frame of mind wemeaning Shazza, decided that wemeaning me, should tackle another couple of jobs. In our first year we needed to replace a water diverter valve in the bathroom, it is the device in the water tap that when you lift a plunger it diverts the water from the bath tap to the shower head. Although the one in our en-suite bathroom was still working, it was old and the plunger was not working as efficiently as it could, Shazza had mentioned it on more than one occasion over the past four years but I was reluctant and worked on the principle of ‘If it isn’t broken then don’t try to fix it‘ !!

In the end and ‘flushed’ with my recent DIY success I gave in, well let me say that I viewed it as the easier option, replace it or having to keep listening to her daily complaints every time she came out from taking a shower, women just know the ploys of how to get what they want, eventually. Now this should have been a much more straightforward task than it was four years ago, if you read my blog from that time you would understand why, but this time it should have been a five-minute job now that I knew how to remove the old part. Finding the new part was not as straightforward as it should have been, it would have been, if the store where I obtained the first one still existed, and if the part I needed wasn’t over fifteen years old !! In that time things change, not always for the better as I soon discovered, now it appeared that not only would I need a new type of diverter valve but they came, readily installed, as part of a whole new tap unit, which, apart from being a lot more expensive option also meant that the style of chrome tap fitting was totally different to the rest of the chrome tap fittings that we already had fitted in our bathrooms, I knew very well what that would mean, I could hear her now, “It looks odd, it just does not look right, we need to change all of the old chrome fittings in the bathroom to the new one’s“, Oh yes, her, as yet unspoken words, would be ringing in my ears on a daily basis every time she used the bathroom. No, I was not going down that route, well at least not until I had exhausted all possibilities of finding someone who stocked my ‘old’ style diverter valve whilst ignoring her quips of “Perhaps it isn’t plumbers stores we should be looking at but Antique shops !!

It may have cost me more in time and shoe leather than I would really have wanted, but persistence, and praying for a miracle under my breath every time I entered a plumbing type store, paid off, yes I had found somewhere that had exactly what I was looking for, the original brand of diverter valve. The elderly shop owner must have wondered why I was so happy, I could have hugged and kissed him, but I thought better of it. Once back at home, and in a very happy and positive frame of mind, there was no time to waste,  just a five-minute job, take out the old one and insert the new one. Did I mention that the ‘old’ part was at least fifteen years old and that it was plastic ? Did you know that Plastic tends to go very brittle with age and if you apply too much pressure when trying to unscrew it, it can, sometimes, break. Yes you have guessed it, this was one of those times, bugger, bugger and double bugger !! Now I was left with a plastic threaded part inside of a chrome tap that I could not get at, more words of an unsavoury nature ensued, many more in fact, now it was looking like it would have to be a completely new tap, or should I say taps, but worse than that, the shower in our en-suite was no longer usable until I could get to the shop, purchase a complete new tap unit and fix it and that was not going to happen until the following day. Of course we had a second bathroom, the guest bathroom, it was only next to our own en-suite, how inconvenient would that be for just one day ? What was that bloody principle again…………………????

I decided to take another leaf out of the plumbing contractor’s manual, it read, “When on site at a customer’s premises and you are confronted with a problem that initially you cannot resolve, do not declare this to the customer or display any ‘negative’ body language or facial expression. In such circumstances turn this to your financial advantage. Ensure the customer is present, stand back from the difficult situation, shake your head, take a sharp intake of breath whilst sucking your teeth and scratching your head. This will provide you with a little more time to think whilst not displaying any signs of incompetency on your behalf. When you find a solution, which may entail the need to purchase new items that you may have damaged or broken, which will undoubtedly increase any costs to the customer, you will then be able to resolve the issue to the customer’s satisfaction and relief and you will come out looking like a hero“.

The ‘customer’ in this particular scenario was Shazza, although she would have been more than happy with being provided with a whole new set of ‘chrome wear’, it was not the matter of the cost that was on my mind, more the bit about ‘not displaying any signs of incompetency‘.

I could hear her footsteps long before her head appeared around the bathroom door, “Are you not finished yet ?” she asked, followed by, “It is taking you longer than I thought” she said, one eyebrow raised in an inquisitive sort of way, the way that women do. Quite a brave thing to do when you have a frustrated man with a heavy adjustable wrench and a sharp screwdriver in his hand !! I stood up from my kneeling position in the bath, took a sharp intake of breath, sucked my teeth and scratched my head. I explained the problem to her, she gave that smile, you know the kind I am talking about, the one that says in her mind that she is about to get a whole new set of bathroom ‘chrome wear’ just as she had wanted !! “Would you like a cup of tea” she asked, in a victorious tone, “That would be nice” I responded through gritted teeth.

I was not going to be beaten, there is always more than one way to skin a cat, I thought to myself, not that I have ever skinned a cat you understand. If I cannot get to the broken piece of plastic through the tap water outlet end then surely there must be a way of dismantling the tap from the top plunger. What did I have to lose, I again thought to myself, if I break the damn thing completely then she will not care, she already thinks that she is getting new taps anyway. To my relief the plunger unscrewed quite easily and hey presto, the old diverter mechanism dropped out of the tap, then, with a small flathead screwdriver and hammer I was able to chip away at the brittle piece of remaining plastic inside the tap. I hoped that I had not damaged any of the threads inside the tap which would prevent me from fitting the new diverter valve, I hadn’t, and it fitted snugly. After re-assembling the plunger unit, the moment of truth came just as Shazza brought me my mug of tea. “What was all that banging” she asked, with a big victorious grin on my face I declared, “I have fixed it“. “Does it work ?” She asked, the victorious tone no longer present, “I was just about to test it” I responded, I held my breath, said a silent prayer and then lifted the lever on the tap, water gushed out, then the moment of truth, I lifted the plunger and water stopped coming out of the tap into the bath and ‘diverted’ up the chrome hose to the shower head and sprayed out of the top, a small adjustment to tighten the fittings to stop a minor drip and that was it, success, in more ways than one. I was feeling very happy with myself and it was not just because I had saved myself a lot of unnecessary expenditure, I am the first to admit that I am not the most competent DIY person, but the experiences that I have gained, since working as a Warden on campsites, has provided me with much more confidence in, not only doing minor repairs and maintenance tasks on the various sites we have worked on, but also finding alternative solutions if things do not work out as initially planned and sometimes you need just a little bit of luck to be on your side !!

Now all that was left to do was to replace a small halogen inset lightbulb in the ceiling above the bath, a simple task, I like simple tasks. However, now it was time for me to say another silent prayer, one where ‘I Wish That It Would Stop Raining“, that really was quite enough DIY in the apartment for this particular Winter Break !!

Posted in Winter 2015/16 | 4 Comments

Maniana, Maniana, As They Say…………… ?

Each annual visit out here, as well as re-visiting some of our favourite local places, we generally like to do day trips to places that are new to us, sometimes we just look at the map and decide where to go, but occasionally, when we are back in the UK, watching the overseas property programme, ‘A Place In The Sun‘, we see our area of Spain (Andalucia) and they show brief glimpses of villages or towns in the area around where a particular property they are viewing is located. On one such programme they were close to the mountain town of ‘Alhaurin el Grande‘, it was not far from the large mountain town of ‘Coin‘ (pronounced ‘Coen’) that we had visited previously and which we had been quite impressed with, so over our morning coffee we decided that our first real ‘Shazza Adventure’ of this year would be to ‘Alhaurin el Grande’, about a one hour drive from the apartment.

Although down here on the Coast it was going to be another warm day, blue sky and an anticipated temperature of 21 degrees(c), we knew that that would not be the case up in the mountains, so shorts, tee-shirts and flip-flops would not be the most practical attire, instead it would be jeans, tee-shirt, warm hoodie and trainers. None of the three ‘Works of Fiction’ that we consulted that morning had forecast rain, not that that was any guarantee that there would not be any of course, but we decided to risk not taking rainproof jackets !!

Having now spent our last four years of Winter breaks living out here in this particular area, we have become pretty familiar with certain roads and routes, primarily the AP7 (Toll Motorway) or the A7 (Non-Toll Road). We do both the A7 routes on a regular basis as far as Malaga Airport or down to Gibraltar, so some of the views that had previously provided the ‘Wow’ factor had now just become routine vistas, they were still very nice but for us now, well they were just the normal views we had become accustomed to. However, although we had travelled on most of the local routes up and down the mountains in our area on a number of occasions, such trips were not as frequent so, for me at least, they still provided that ‘Wow’ factor, as for Louis Hamilton (Alias Shazza), well she was too busy taking the hairpin bends at 300mph to notice the spectacular scenery flashing past her eyes !! At least, as the passenger, I had time to see some of the views, in between the flashes of my life passing through my mind that is !!

The clouds were hanging low over the mountain peaks

The large patches of blue sky kept us hopeful that once at our destination the weather would stay kind for us, there was a definite lack of traffic on these mountain roads !!

Although this particular mountain route was not new to us, I am always overwhelmed by the spectacular scenery

Just when you begin to feel that you are in the wilderness a village or town comes into view on a nearby hilltop !!

As we climbed higher up the well surfaced and wide mountain road the one thing that was on its way down, as we had anticipated, was the temperature, the car gauge had shown 18 degrees at sea level but now, just thirty-minutes into our journey, it had dropped by four degrees and we could feel the difference.

The one thing that you can guarantee when you arrive in many of these mountain towns is that the majority of the roads get much narrower, Alhaurin el Grande was no exception, I was certainly glad that we had come in the car as, even with the ‘Little Fokkers’ more slimline dimensions, I think there would have been several brown trouser moments trying to weave our way through the streets trying to find a suitable parking location. Of course, once you are familiar with a place you either find a better alternative route in or, with a motorhome, you check out the locations of any suitable ‘Aires’, or waste ground on the outskirts, where you can park up and then walk into the town or village. ‘Wuxly’ was only a small car so Shazza had no problems driving through the narrow streets, although we both had to watch for pedestrians that would just step out in front of us, cars and vans just suddenly stopped and the occupants, driver and passengers, would get out and go into a shop leaving their vehicle ‘abandoned’, two wheels on the narrow pavement, causing any pedestrians to step out into the road to go around them but in front of us, and the remainder of the their vehicle blocking what was left of the narrow road !! We were no longer horrified by such behaviours, for the most part, this is normal behaviour here so you just have to either edge your way past the abandoned vehicle, two of your wheels up on the adjacent narrow pavement, if such a thing exists, then pull in your wing mirrors, breathe in, close your eyes and edge forward praying that you do not hear the sound of metal scraping metal !! Alternatively, you can turn your engine off, get out the newspaper to read, pour yourself a coffee from the flask you may have remembered to bring with you in anticipation of such delays and then wait until they reappear from the shop, get into their vehicle and drive off, no words spoken, no eye contact, so very un-Italian or even French, where, by now, horns would be honking, impatient people would be screaming, arms would be flaying in all directions, but not here in the mountains of Spain where the inhabitants are much more relaxed about this kind of stuff, it took us a little while to get used to it but now………. ‘Maniana, Maniana’ as they say, keeps the blood pressure down and heart attacks at bay !!

On our way in, as well as looking for somewhere to park, we kept our eyes open for the ‘Tourist Information’ signs, although there was not much in our advance research of this town that indicated that it had much of interest to the mass tourist market !! But perhaps there was, for as well as finding a very welcome blue sign displaying the ‘P’ for parking, we also saw the familiar yellow signs pointing in the direction of the tourist office. We walked up the narrow streets following the tourist information signs, until we stopped seeing them and saw no evidence of any building, or place, displaying the large ‘i’ sign. We decided to just keep walking, in what we guessed, was the general direction of the heart of the town. Before getting there we saw a couple of nice looking, typically Spanish, pavement Cafes, we both needed a coffee as we had not prepared a flask of our own, and I think Shazza also needed to change her ‘Brown trousers’ after the drive in !!

Our first stop for a coffee before our explorations of the town commenced !! But it was not the Spanish experience we had anticipated !!

I ordered ‘Dos Cafe con Leche’s‘ (Two coffee’s with milk) and the woman behind the counter, in perfect English, asked if we wanted sugar. Now whether it was my excellent former investigative police experience or not, but I immediately suspected that this lady was not a native of these particular shores, after further interrogation conversation my suspicion was confirmed and it transpired that she was in fact a native of………. Harrogate, Yorkshire, England !! She told us that she had lived here for the past fifteen years and loved it and had no desire to return to the UK. In our failure to discover the location of the tourist information we utilised our hosts obvious local knowledge of what there was to see and do, well it would have been rude not to really wouldn’t it ? She basically pointed us in one direction to the ‘old town’ and the opposite direction to the more modern ‘commercial’ part of town. We thanked her, paid for our coffee’s and headed first towards the older part of town.

Even up in this mountain town where there were many steep narrow pavements and alleys, they catered for wheelchair users, on the left are the usual flight of steps, on the right a ramp

The Spanish always have lovely ornate churches

We wandered through the alleys and streets, there were just row on row of residential buildings, town houses, apartments, council offices for education and social security matters (we interpreted the signage on the outside of the buildings), the odd artisan shop or small business type offices but that was it, nothing of a historical theme, mind you, from the condition of the buildings it certainly had the look of an ‘old’ and poorly maintained part of town. The only good thing about it was that as we re-traced our steps back we eventually came across the Tourist Office, it was not in an obvious location so it was more by luck that we literally stumbled across it. Nevertheless, the solitary middle-aged woman behind the counter wore a smile when she greeted us as we entered and, although she was most definitely a native of this country, and even though Shazza had spoken to her in Spanish, she had obviously, in an earlier career, been a police investigator herself as she immediately deduced that we were English and spoke to us in our mother tongue, don’t you just hate that when it happens ? Anyway, she was very pleasant and helpful, not only did she provide us with a town street plan but then spent the next fifteen minutes or so marking the map with places of interest. Once again my investigative skills came to the fore and I deduced that she probably did not get very many tourists calling in to seek information at this time of year, however, I was also getting the feeling from listening to her that perhaps their was not very much to see here in this mountain town. Whilst I cannot put my finger on exactly what it was that gave me this impression but it may have had something to do with the attractions that she was pointing out to us, many of which were actually on the periphery of the town, namely a fruit market and an olive oil processing plant that had a visitor museum, she also recommended a restaurant that served an excellent and good value ‘Menu del Dia’ (Menu of the day) which again was located on the way out of the town !! We thanked her for the information and her time explaining things to us then left and just decided to do our own thing, namely, a quick wander around the town, well we had taken the time to get here so we thought that we may as well take a look around, we were in no hurry to be anywhere else and although it may only have been 14 degrees(c), the sun was shining and we were warm enough.

Outdoor space usually comprises of roof terraces

You can see for miles around, unless the cloud comes in that is. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the best thing about Alhaurin el Grande are the views looking away from it !!

Now we know that this town does have an International Ex-pat community, the property programme I mentioned earlier had told the prospective property purchasers that it had, so they would not tell lies now would they ? and we did, on our meanderings through the town, hear the odd English voices. Also, to be fair, although on the surface this town gives the impression of a being just a typical Spanish working town, this is the ‘Winter’, nothing looks its best at this time of year and we do not know whether this place had been affected by the storms that had occurred only a few weeks ago, if it had, then all credit to them as it bore no obvious external scars of having been devastated. We also know from personal experience that you should never judge a book by its cover, although externally, buildings may look a little dowdy, unpainted or old paintwork flaking, but inside people keep their homes immaculate and beautiful. Additionally, in the Summer season the streets are often adorned with flowers and shrubs, the surrounding land is awash with colour from the many fruit trees, Oranges, Lemons, pomegranates, the Greens, Purples and Black Fruits on the acres of Olive groves so perhaps the timing of our particular visit was not the best. We were perhaps a little personally disappointed too, due to the fact that we comparing this town with others that we had previously visited, places where we were not actually expecting anything special but then were more than very pleasantly surprised, but here and now we were just not getting a feel for the place, we had not discovered any nice ‘Plaza’s’ or ‘Green’ spaces. To its credit, the long and winding main shopping street had everything you could want as a resident here, Supermarkets, Banks, a modern looking Library, Schools and shops of every description from clothing, electrical items, general hardware, gardening, Bars/Cafe’s and Restaurants and so on and so forth, so from a ‘Place to Live’ perspective this town, and probably many others like it, has everything a person or family could need and I dare say that the cost of property would be very much cheaper here than down nearer the coastal locations, probably the difference between owning a ‘Villa’ up here to only being able to afford an apartment down there !! The other crucial factor is of course the weather, when there is low cloud then up at this altitude there are no views, but it can actually be much hotter up here in the summer, although a lot colder in Winter and there is certainly a higher risk of snow in the colder months, we can see it up in the mountains from our apartment window, so it depends very much on what you want or need and after all, the sea and beaches, if you want them, are only a thirty-minute drive away.

We had walked from the top end of the main high street to the bottom, quite a distance and quite a descent, but we were now close to what the lady in the tourist office had described as the large ‘fruit market’, so, although we did not need any fruit, sometimes it can be nice just wandering in and out of the stalls enjoying the aromas from the citrus fruits and their vibrant colours. However, I guess you could best describe it as being ‘lost in translation’, or indeed misunderstanding as to what, in our minds constituted a ‘Fruit Market’. When we went to a fruit market we would normally purchase a bunch of bananas, half a dozen oranges or apples, a bunch of grapes, a single cucumber etc. Here you purchased items by the crate !!

A Wholesalers Fruit Market !! Not quite the actual type of fruit market we had visualised !!

We did not stay in the ‘fruit market’ for very long, it wasn’t as if we were asked to leave or treated in a hostile manner, in fact quite the opposite, the traders were very pleasant, a little bemused perhaps at a couple of obvious foreign tourists wandering past their stacks of fruit, but they all smiled and said ‘Hola’, but you just know when you are somewhere you really know you should not be and all you want to do is get the hell out of there, without making it look that way, well that was us !!

After leaving, the same way that we had gone in, we laughed at ourselves for we both knew that this would be one of those silly memories, that in years to come, we would remember again and laugh about again and of course, put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the lady in the tourist office !!

From there it just went from bad to worse, it does not matter where we have been and what we have done in the past, we often continue to make the same silly mistakes. We had come out of the gated forecourt of the ‘fruit market’, we were on a main road, so, common sense would have told us to turn right and head back into town in the same direction that we had come from, we didn’t, we turned left. Well it would have been a long walk back that way and it was quite a long steep gradient so we were sure that there would be an adjoining road further along that would take us back into town. We walked, and we walked, we watched as the buildings in the town started to get smaller and then disappear into the distance behind us. Our gut feelings, on more than one occasion, had told us to stop, turn around and re-trace our steps, but did we listen, no of course we didn’t, what kind of adventures would we have  if we ever did the sensible things ?

Eventually, as of course I knew we would !!! we came across the road that would take us at least back in the general direction of the town, wouldn’t it ?

It was still a long and steep walk back into town, but we did finally get there, thank goodness this was not summer and the temperature had remained at a low 14 degrees(c)

We took a well deserved sit down at a small Cafe with a couple of thirst quenching cokes, which didn’t touch the sides when they went down. It was time to leave but we both felt that we did not want to finish that days adventure on a negative note, this town had to have some sort of redeeming feature. We again referred to the map the tourist office lady had given to us, we mulled over her hand written notes and saw the ‘Olive Museum’ reference, it was out of the town, not far, in fact, looking at the map we realised that we had been within three, or four, hundred metres of it when we were on our long walk back, why we hadn’t seen this, on the several occasions we had consulted the map, during our walk back I do not know. Well in fact I do, our priority had been to try to identify a suitable road/route back to town and not look for a tourist attraction or place of interest, but if only ……………. ?

We walked back to the car then drove to the Olive Processing Plant, from the lack of cars in the car park it did not look busy, well at least that was a positive, no hoards of people getting in the way of me taking my mandatory photographs of all the historical equipment that would have been used and on display, perhaps there would even be working demonstrations of such equipment and a chance perhaps of tasting some freshly pressed virgin olive oil, I was beginning to get quite excited at last, maybe this adventure would prove to have been worthwhile after all.

The ‘Olive Press’ museum

Well, the photographs speak for themselves, that really was all that was on display in this museum. No people, not even a curator to explain things, no information boards to explain the process, the only saving grace was that there was no entry fee or donations box. On the walk across the car park we saw the actual modern-day processing plant and a small shop, Shazza went for a ‘look’ around the shop whilst I invited myself through the large open doors onto the factory floor as it were. There was one man who had gone in, in front of me, with half a dozen plastic containers, he placed them on the floor by the tap of one of the circular containers and I assumed that he was going to fill them with the oil, although I did not wait around to watch him do it, one more click of my camera shutter and I was out of there, now best I go and find Shazza.

The more modern day machinery !!

Now you cannot come to such places without having a look inside the shop now can you ?…… Shazza, the key word here was ‘LOOK’ !!

We were both getting hungry by now, but I certainly knew Shazza was ready to eat without her saying a word, which was exactly the reason that I knew her stomach clock alarm had sounded, she had gone quiet, always a dangerous sign, I needed to feed her and sooner rather than later otherwise this ‘Maniana’ town would be awoken from its peaceful existence by the Wrath of the Hungry Shazza monster !! 

Now I know that the lady in the tourist office was trying to do her job, to give some tourists some information and ideas of things to do and see in and around this not so interesting mountain town, she was very pleasant and friendly and I do not blame her personally in any way for us not really enjoying this visit. Neither would I want to prevent her from being able to earn a crust to feed and support her family, but to be completely honest I do have to question whether this town really has anything to substantiate the need to have a ‘Tourist Information Office’ at all ?

We were now in a dilemma, the lady had provided a recommendation of a place to eat, now you may call me pedantic, or even a bit fickle, but her recommendations to date had not materialised into the best of experiences thus far, so do we give her the benefit of the doubt ? What if this place was not very good and she only recommends it to everyone because it is owned by her Husband or Brother or Sister or Son or Daughter or Cousin…….. I’m only saying !!

What the heck we thought, what is the worst that could happen ? On reflection, scrub that question !!

The good news is that, out of every recommendation that she had provided to us, this was the only one that truly lived up to it. We were very fortunate to have arrived when we did, most of the tables were not occupied, which was a little worrying at first, but literally within fifteen minutes of us sitting down and ordering our food, the place was packed to the gunnels. The ‘Menu del Dia’ at this establishment comprised of a drink which was either a soft drink, beer or wine (glass of, as opposed to bottle !!), starter, main course, dessert or coffee and all-inclusive for only €10 per person. There were at least ten different choices for both starter and main courses and half a dozen dessert choices and the quantity and quality were excellent, so a most excellent conclusion to our day trip.

The scenery on the journey back down the mountain was as good as it had been going up, the advantage being that the temperature started to rise again !!

The whole purpose of our ‘adventures’ are to get out and about and explore our local and wider areas, although of course, it certainly does make these outings much more enjoyable if we unexpectedly come across ‘little gems’, but we know that this is not always going to be the case, the reality is that many of the towns and villages that we visit, especially up in the mountains, are not there primarily for the tourist experience, they are normal communities where people live and work and just get on with their normal daily business. The overriding factor though, which I perhaps do not always emphasise enough, is the genuine friendliness of the people we meet, always welcoming and willing to help if they can. We may not find the need to want to re-visit ‘Alhaurin el Grande’ again, but it was somewhere that we ‘wanted’ to visit and having done so we can tick it off our ‘Places to visit’ list.

Where to next Shazza ?………..

Posted in Winter 2015/16 | 4 Comments

A Trip Down Memory Lane

It was nearly time for Sonia, Shazza’s mum, to pack her suitcase and return home to a much cooler climate, the ‘Works of Fiction’ had even mentioned the ‘F‘ word in the UK weather report !! Whatever is the BBC coming to ? I hear you shout in disbelief, surely they have not stooped so low as to hire Gordon Ramsay to now present the weather forecasts ? Now calm down, things have not got that bad just yet, actually the ‘F’ word to which I refer is, ‘Frost‘, and yes this actually is quite a normal occurrence for this time of year in parts of the UK, but being British we always have to sound alarmed and despondent as if it is something new and totally catastrophic that is being thrust upon us, I personally blame the EU, well we blame them for everything else, so why not go the whole hog and blame them for the adverse weather in the UK as well ? However, here in the very much more temperate climate of Southern Spain, where Jack Frost (Alias Michel Barnier) only reaches as far as the Northern Spanish Extremities or the peaks of the mountains of Andalucia, it is still a very pleasant and sunny 21 degrees(c), with the odd one or two degree variance from day-to-day. So, in order to send Shazza’s mum home with more pleasant and warm memories of her time out here with us this year, rather than her focusing on the horrendous three-day storm, and to perhaps provide her with fond reflections of her holidays in Benalmadena many years ago, we decided to take her, on her last day with us, on ‘A Trip Down Memory Lane‘.

Although Shazza and I had also been to Benalmadena before, a couple of years ago, on that occasion it was to take the cable car up the mountain to the ‘Bird of Prey’ centre to watch the variety of magnificent species close up and to watch them fly, unfortunately, just as we got up there and seated, the heavens opened so the display was cancelled and we came back down the mountain and walked to the sea front to have a spot of lunch. I remember being totally underwhelmed, it was like a ghost town, barely any traffic on the roads and only a handful of people out and about, although it was warm and sunny down at sea level the beach was like a desert, very sandy but deserted !! But to be honest, it was January after all and Benalmadena is another one of those holiday resorts which basically closes down when all the tourists go home at the end of the season. What stimulated my interest on this occasion was that I like Marinas and looking at Boats, Sonia enjoys looking in shops and Shazza likes food and my research revealed that Benalmadena had a large shopping ‘mall’ type setup, encircling the marina, this would satisfy all our requirements. The co-ordinates were entered into ‘Snoopy’ the Sat Nav and off we went………

My first impression was not the best, I do not like crowds, they make me feel uneasy. Whether it was the days I used to travel into London on a crowded train, then being packed in to a moving metal tube, underground and squashed like a sardine, then emerging into daylight only to do battle with commuters rushing to and fro along the crowded pavements, I used to be completely knackered as I arrived at the main HQ building, before facing the same very unpleasant return journey home. No, I preferred it when I was alone in my car, even if all the lanes on the Motorways were busy, even if my journey would take hours, at least I had my own personal space and when I arrived at my work destination, for in those days I covered the whole of the UK, I was much more relaxed, so now, give me wide open spaces any day of the week, give me my ride on mower to cut nine acres of grass, give me acres of hedgerow to cut or give me long coastal paths to walk, I really do prefer not to do crowds if at all possible.

Benalmadena Marina was heaving with people, the noise from kids crying, even screaming, because mum or dad wouldn’t buy them yet another toy, or an ice cream, or pay for them to go on a boat to watch dolphins. The trip boat ticket sellers would step out in front of you, block your path and then try to get you to buy a trip ticket, okay if it was just the odd one, but every few metres another would do exactly the same, it was irritating. The amount of people walking with heads down, faces fixed firmly on their device screens while their fingers tapped away texting messages, almost zombie like they kept walking forcing anyone and everyone to go around them, women with pushchairs, elderly folk, it was crazy and this mobile phone mania was not just confined to use by youngsters !! Music blasting out from the bars and cafes, at times the noise was deafening. People, walking frames, pushchairs, dogs on long extendable leads, coming at you from every direction, I was too busy checking, every couple of minutes, that my wallet was still firmly secured in my pocket to really take time to stop and enjoy looking at the large array of boats moored up.

So there we were, in an environment that I should have been happy in, with lots of boats on their moorings, shops galore for Sonia to pop in and out of and lots of eateries to tantalize Shazza, but to be honest I just felt uncomfortable, nervous and irritated, it was not the pleasant experience I was hoping for so I was more than pleased to get the hell out of there after a very short space of time, out into the open where at least I felt as if I could breathe and could be a little more in control of my own personal space.

It was good to feel the fresh air again, to look out on the wide expanse of the sea. The beach was just as pristine as the one in Fuengirola, although here, there were hardly any people on them. Sonia wanted to walk along the promenade, something she did when on holiday here, although it was busy with tourists it was nowhere near the same volumes of people as we had experienced in the Marina.

Just part of the expansive Marina complex at Benalmadena

The local dinghy sailing club enjoying the calm sea

What storms ? Another perfectly manicured beach

At least they are not sat on a blanket with a sorrowful looking dog, shaking a plastic cup at you. These two just played their music and smiled and nodded in appreciation when passers-by dropped a few coins into their bag on the floor

All of the front line hotels had access steps straight on to the seafront promenade

The lines of street traders didn’t bother you, unless you made the mistake of stopping and looking !!

We were happy to walk as far along the promenade as Sonia wanted to, she could remember some of it but I guess that in fifteen years there must have been a few changes from when she was last here, with her husband, on holiday. Shazza and I had not met each other before her dad passed away just over fourteen years ago, so I never got to meet him, she often talks about him, as does Sonia, but at this particular moment I did not know what memories were flooding back through her mind, although I hoped that they were all good one’s. When she was ready we re-traced our steps back towards the Marina, to where the car was parked, but before returning home we found a little place on the periphery of the Marina where we had lunch, up a side street and onto a raised terrace, it was quiet and peaceful. Unlike our visits to Fuengirola, Shazza and I both agreed that there was nothing at Benalmadena that would make us want to come back, seen it, done it but didn’t waste our money on buying the tee-shirt !!

The drive to Malaga airport to get Shazza’s mum on to her flight home was a pleasant one, we had remembered to put our clocks back by one hour the night before to mark the end of Summer time, the sun was shining, the sky was blue and the sea sparkled. Fortunately, the check-in desk for her particular flight to Doncaster was empty, unlike the queues for the flight returning to East Midlands !! Sonia doesn’t like hanging about and prefers to get through the security checks and into the secure area of the departures area as quickly as possible. So once she had checked in her hold luggage we walked her to the security gates and then said our farewells. We took the traffic free, and faster, ‘toll’ motorway route home, just a one hour drive from Malaga airport to the apartment where we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening just relaxing on the balcony, making the most of the afternoon and early evening sunshine.

The next couple of days were spent cleaning the apartment, washing the bedding and preparing the guest bedroom for our next visitors at the end of November, shopping and then getting back into our own routines. We enjoy having family and friends visit and we want them to enjoy their time with us, there are lots of things to see and do during the brief periods of their time with us so it involves getting out and about quite a lot, subject to the weather of course. Once we are on our own again we settle back into a more sedate pace of life, it may seem odd to some, but we do not view our extended periods of time out here in Spain each year as being on holiday, well not in the true sense of the word, for us it is more a case of coming back to our home after working away, even though, in reality, we have not taken up formal ‘permanent’ residency here.

During our previous returns here, they were always much later in the year, generally the third week of November, although it was mid-December before we arrived last year due to my knee operation. Although the winter temperatures are much warmer out here than in the UK, it had still always been too cold to swim in our pool, but this year, with our much earlier arrival and much higher temperatures, we finally got the chance to christen it. Shazza loves swimming, she is pretty confident in the water, whether that be  in the sea or in a swimming pool, whilst I on the other hand can swim, but I am not a confident swimmer so I prefer being on top of water rather than actually in it, in a kayak on a lake or river is my preference. So whilst I was happy to just stretch out on the sunbed and listen to music on my iPod, she was happier being in the pool. Occasionally, in between music tracks, I would look over to the pool, mistake Eric, big mistake !! I could see her beckoning me with her hand so I turned off my music to see what she wanted, “Are you coming in ?” she asked, “What is the water like ?” I responded, “Lovely” she said, with a beaming grin on her face. Now I already knew that she was probably telling me lies, I should just have said “No my little mermaid, you enjoy having the pool all to yourself“. But no, is it a male macho image thing or what ? We just do not want to be considered a ‘Whimp’, why not ? I ask myself, being a whimp doesn’t make you a bad person, just a whimp. As I placed my foot into the water, only ankle-deep at this stage, certain sensitive extremities of my body did a sudden hasty retreat right up and inside my body for protection !! Whether it was the icy cold of the water or my ‘Gonads’ shooting up into my body, I do not know which, probably a combination of both, but I let out a sharp squealing sound, a manly one of course, but a squeal nonetheless !! Shazza just laughed, an evil mischievous laugh, “It gets warmer once you are in properly and moving around” she said, as she swam off to the other side of the pool. I couldn’t get out now, that really would be mega whimpish, no there was only one option, just get in and hope that hyperthermia didn’t cramp up my muscles and I drowned !! She was right though, once I started to swim I started to feel warm, or was that the cold water causing an involuntary release of the contents of my bladder ? There was another advantage that I discovered as I started to swim, my ‘Gonads’, which were still concealed deep inside my body and refusing to reappear any time soon, did mean that, without the usual drag factor, I could glide effortlessly through the water !! Two lengths of the pool was enough for me, why is it that the pool looked much smaller when I looked at it from the guest bedroom balcony but once in it, it was much longer, no matter, I had not backed away from the challenge, however, if she thought that I would be taking another dip in that ice-cold water then she could think again. Thankfully, the air temperature was much warmer than the water temperature and once out of the water I began to warm up in the warmth of the sunshine.

We were now back into our more relaxed daily routines, as usual, the first coffee of the morning is taken out on the balcony whilst we she decides what is on the agenda for the day. When she is not taking us out on her adventures further afield, we stay in the local area, it can be a walk down to the beach and along the promenade, sometimes just as far as the Marina, sometimes into Sabinillas and sometimes beyond the town to Caceres beach. We She has three walking paces, the ‘Stroll‘, which is by far my preference, the ‘Walk‘ done at a slightly quicker pace than the stroll and used when she wants to get to somewhere in particular without spending time dawdling, then there is the ‘Fitness‘ pace, which is about double the pace of the walk and a lot bloody faster than the ‘stroll’. She adopts the same categories of walk for our local trips into Estepona, but fortunately we only use the ‘Walk’ or ‘Fitness’ pace one way and that is usually when we have parked up at the Marina end of Estepona, it is quite a long walk into the main town from there and so, as she always wants to get in there quite quickly, we do the fast bit first and then the sedate ‘Stroll’ back. Now she is not deceiving me by making out that she is doing this for me, her ageing husband, for I know that when we go into Estepona, at the ‘Walking’ pace, it is purely for one reason and one reason only, she is heading in the direction of food, on the way out, when she has ben fed and watered and has a full stomach……………….. need I say anymore ?

I like our Marina, it is smaller than the one’s at Estepona, Fuengirola, Benalmadena and Puerto Banus, as far as the number of boat moorings are concerned, but the moorings on ours are close to the public areas so you can watch the boats coming and going from the comfort of your chair at one of the many bars and restaurants, whereas the others, generally, you cannot. You can also walk out to the outer harbour wall and watch the boats out on the open sea, or watch people fishing from the rocks, or just watch the large catfish that reside in the marina and then there are the boats, all shapes and sizes, well, not quite the mega sized yachts that they have in Puerto Banus, but still, there were some that were big enough to still require a Lottery win to own, fuel and run them.

And on a nice day, such as this particular one, you can see the mountains on the north coast of Africa from our local Marina

We like to just occasionally ‘stroll’ around our little Marina to view the array of boats, large and small

We watched craft of all shapes and sizes coming and going, well it was a nice day for it, if you owned a boat that is !!

At least we are back into normal holiday attire !!

If we win big time on the Lottery…………. this one has my name on it ?

So, we have been out here for twenty-three days now, Shazza’s mum went home a week ago and the sensitive areas of my body are now back in their rightful place, thank goodness for that. It always takes us a little bit of time to relax down into our Winter break, perhaps it is because we had our first visitor out so soon after our initial arrival that it has taken us a little longer than usual, but we are at that point now and have five more months in which to enjoy this relaxing lifestyle. The sun is still shining in our little piece of heaven, we had our daily ‘Stroll’ as far as Sabinillas this morning and now it is late afternoon and we are sat on our balcony just enjoying the last of the days sunshine, so whilst I finish writing, editing, spell-checking then publishing this blog post, Shazza is sat peeling the fresh prawns that she will add later to the seafood chowder that she is making for our evening meal, it isn’t a bad life really.

Posted in Winter 2015/16 | 7 Comments

Tourist Income Has Advantages !!

It is always nice when the sun shines and, thankfully, that is one thing that can be guaranteed in Southern Spain during the Winter months. However, as recent events have once again reflected, which is contrary to many people’s perception of it always being wall to wall sunshine in this part of the world, it does rain here and when it does it can last for days. Fortunately, the warm days, although not necessarily all sunny one’s, do outnumber the wet days and so you do not have to wait too long before you can put away the Umbrella’s, Raincoats and Wellington Boots and get back into some more comfortable clothing like tee-shirts, shorts and flip-flops. I do have a lot of sympathy though for those people who had booked a late short-break holiday expecting to come for some last-minute sunshine and then, due to events beyond anyone’s control, they end up having three days of this valuable holiday time spent confined in their hotels, rental apartments or their hosts residence. I do not think that Shazza’s mum was really too bothered, for like Shazza, she enjoyed reading her books and was quite happy to just sit and read, or watch some drama on ‘Netflix’, to while away the hours, with the odd glass or three of Gin & Tonic and, I have to say, that she was more than happy to act as a volunteer to try my latest concoction, Jack Daniels with Honey and a large scoop of vanilla ice cream, she wasn’t overly concerned about the calorie intake but I really should have known better than share my particular liquid nectar with her, now I will have to head back to Gibraltar to re-stock my depleted Jack Daniels supply !!

Fortunately, for my liquor supply if nothing else, the vast improvement in the weather meant that we could get out and about again and so we headed for nearby ‘Fuengirola’, nearby being just a one hour easy drive North on the very good A7 coastal road. Shazza and I had been to this location before, however, on that occasion we had only walked up the Promenade as far as the Marina where we stopped for lunch. Whilst Shazza’s mum has been to Spain on holiday previously, Benalmadena, many years ago, which is just a little bit further up this same coastline, she had never been to Fuengirola and so it would be somewhere different to take her. There is no getting away from the fact that Fuengirola is one of those typical charter flight holiday destinations that feature in all of the glossy travel agent brochures, with its holiday resort hotels and holiday rental apartments directly overlooking the beach and with high-rise buildings stretching as far as the eye could see, it is just one of the numerous concrete cities that line this part of the coast. Like many of the popular UK holiday seaside resorts, Fuengirola seafront is row on row of what I call ‘tourist tat’ establishments, shops selling all of the usual paraphernalia, straw hats, baseball caps, multi-coloured windbreaks, air beds, flip-flops, sunglasses, fridge magnets, etc. etc. etc. Then there are the copious amounts of eateries displaying primarily Union Jack flags, although their were some German and Dutch as well, but the amount of establishments with boards lining the pavements, declaring that they sold ‘All Day Full English Breakfasts’, Fish & Chips, English Sunday Roasts even one establishment that advertised “Pukka Pies” ” Then their were the bars advertising brands of British Beers the most popular it would appear being ‘John Smiths’ and just so holiday makers did not miss their essential football during their holiday period, Live Premiership Football was on offer in bars all along the seafront, what better way to welcome guests to Spain !! it was like being in Blackpool or Scarborough, the only difference being that this place had something those places rarely experienced, sunshine and hot temperatures, apart from that it was home from home !!

The holiday makers are still here and the return of the hot Winter sunshine brings them back out to the beach

No sign of storm debris on the beach at Fuengirola

Lots of beach sand art on display, some quite simple and basic………

Others a bit more intricate

We walked up the seafront promenade first, whilst our beach at Sabinillas still bore the scars of the storm, the beaches here in Fuengirola were pristine, I guess ‘Tourist Income Has Advantages‘, that is not a complaint or criticism just an indisputable fact, if your resort is one that thrives mainly on the income from the influx of tourists for seven months of the year, and from the large numbers we were seeing their were still plenty about as it was the half term school holiday period in the UK, you obviously have to make sure that the main attraction for coming to places like this, the beaches, always looks their best. It was also pretty good for me too, we stopped for a coffee at a ‘Spanish’ cafe on the promenade which provided lots of people watching opportunities and although, as expected, the main language I heard from the conversations of people who passed by our table was English, I was able to tune in to the odd Dutch, German and Scandinavian accents. But that was enough for me, it was time to look beyond the seafront facade of this bustling resort to see what else, if anything, it had to offer ?

Like most of the Coastal towns and cities, including our own, once you wander behind the front beach line attractions you discover the real heart of the place and Fuengirola is no different. There are two main streets that make up the bustling shopping area and even for a non-shopper like me, I have to confess at being fairly impressed. It was not just my surprise at how modern it was and the vast number of retail outlets available, this place catered for all your needs and provided plenty of choices, but it also combined the new with the old, there were lots of little side streets that led into small plaza’s with smaller artisan shops and bar/cafes. The little streets were maze like, you turned a corner and were met by another street with more little artisan establishments, florists, fruit and vegetables, shoe repairs, little bars and small Tapas eateries all set amongst local residential whitewashed town houses and apartments, not of the high-rise variety.

Fuengirola also has a small train station, with a regular service to stops along its route to Malaga, including the station at Malaga Airport. I was beginning to realise why this place is so popular, it would be so easy to take one of the numerous very cheap flights from the wide choice of UK airports, just the three-hour flight to Malaga, then from the airport terminal get on a train and within thirty minutes or so be in your holiday home or rental apartment in the heart of this sunshine resort, no need to go to the expense of hiring a car, I could now see the appeal of why so many may purchase a holiday residence here. Additionally, Fuengirola has a lovely river, overlooked by a castle which is open to the public, on either side of the river there are wide and well paved cycle and footpaths, making it a very pleasant and picturesque alternative to the hustle and bustle of the seafront promenade. I was pleased that we had taken the time to explore beyond the main tourist attractions, although once again it had only been another brief exploration, but discovering the ‘real’ Fuengirola had impressed me enough to want to make return visits and perhaps spend a little longer enjoying its charm, but we had also seen a lovely little Tapas bar and after perusing its list of tasty treats that tantalised our taste buds, Shazza and I decided that we must come back and try it out, it would be rude not to !!

The Castle at Fuengirola with the river below, we had parked at the bottom of the castle, just to the right of the buildings in this picture, in the ‘free’ car park. Then a short walk across the foot bridge and we were in the resort itself.

We walked back to where we had left the car and headed home, we were all feeling a little tired from the walking and the heat of the sun, the ‘Works of Fiction’ had forecast a temperature of 21 degrees(c), the temperature gauges we had seen in the town showed 24 degrees(c), I do not complain when they get it wrong in our favour !! It was nice to get back home, open the french windows on the balcony and enjoy the late afternoon sunshine with a gentle breeze blowing in, “What would you like to drink ?” I asked Shazza’s mum, I shouldnt have asked, now I need to purchase more ice cream as well !!

Posted in Winter 2015/16 | 4 Comments

Nature’s Forces !!

One of our neighbours told us that we could not have timed our arrival in Spain much better as we had just missed two days of storms, that had been the tail end of the one that hit Mallorca which had caused the devastating floods !! However, for us, by the time we arrived, normal service had been resumed and the sun was shining, the daytime temperatures were a very pleasant 25-28 degrees(c), the night time temperatures did not fall much below 18 degrees(c) and the humidity was at 85%, but we were not complaining, this is what our Winter Sun break was all about, and so followed a good period of hot and humid weather. It lasted for a period of six or seven days before dramatically changing and when I say dramatically, boy do I mean it, we, well not just we, the whole of Spain as it happened, were unfortunate to be right under two storms, one arriving from the West the other from the East, they collided right over Central Spain, I guess I had never really thought about weather systems travelling in opposite directions at the same time and just thought as wind and rain directions as singular events. Anyhow, whilst the magnitude of the collision provided us with some of the most spectacular lightning shows that I think I have ever witnessed, it also produced continuous Thunder that lasted for hours, I am talking about seven or eight hours of the most consistent explosive like thunder I have heard, if this were the Gods having a domestic spat then they were certainly very unhappy about something, this was more than a mere tantrum, this was a full-scale rage !!

It certainly brought back memories of events from two years ago when, whilst on another of our Winter breaks out here, our local town and communities witnessed the worst floods they had experienced in over twenty-five years, that event caused extensive damage to buildings and infrastructures and literally wreaked havoc, that storm was more about volumes of water and did not provide the same spectacular lightning or sound show as this current one, although the consistent seventy-two hours of heavy rainfall was in similar proportions so we were expecting the worst. Fortunately, more by luck than judgement, during the brief period of better weather, a day or two before the maelstrom hit us, we had already been out and re-stocked essential supplies in readiness for the arrival of our first guest, Shazza’s mum, so at least there was no need to attempt to go outside in these atrocious and unsafe conditions. We hadn’t even got the contingency of having ‘Kevin’ the kayak out with us, he was still stored in the garage of the ‘Little Fokker’, although, upon reflection, trying to paddle that back from the supermarket, uphill, overloaded with Shazza’s ‘few bits’ of shopping, against the torrents of water which would have been flowing against us down from the mountains and weaving in and out of the flotilla of vehicles charging towards us would have been more akin to a watery version of the fairground ‘dodgem cars’, so to be completely honest, that may well have been just a little too exhausting for us, so perhaps leaving Kevin behind was a good decision after all ?

The storms lasted for a full three days, and nights, and after watching the local and national Spanish News channels we once again feared the worst for our local area. Deaths were being reported, images were broadcast of flooded rivers which had burst their banks and felled trees and buildings with consummate ease, just like a hot knife slicing through butter, vehicles were carried down flooded streets in towns and villages as if they were just made of polystyrene or cardboard, demolishing most of what got in their way. From the large mountain town of ‘Ronda’ right down to the large coastal city of ‘Malaga’, the devastation really did look like something you would see in a disaster movie, but unlike the previous storm two years ago, our local town of Sabinillas did not get a mention.

When the rain, the lightening, the explosive thunder and the thick black foreboding clouds finally gave way to sunshine and blue sky, we ventured out to see what carnage awaited us. It appeared that we had survived relatively unscathed, yes, the mountains of debris that had been washed up onto the long stretches of beaches made it look as if we had been hit by a tsunami, but we saw no evidence of the structural damage we had witnessed two years earlier, there were no flooded streets, no wringing wet furniture piled up outside private residences and no business premises being mopped dry, thankfully, it would appear that the flood damage repairs and improvements, that had been completed after the last incident, had prevented the same devastation and destruction this time around. However, we thought it best to put on hold any adventures further afield for the time being, especially the ones that I knew Shazza had been planning up in the mountains, at least until they had got the roads cleared of debris and carried out the essential repairs to the affected local villages and towns infrastructures.

After being contained for three full days Shazza and her mum felt the need for some retail therapy and decided to drive in to Estepona, which itself had suffered some flood damage but nothing major. I on the other hand had no desire to spend hours aimlessly walking in and out of shops, “No thank you, but thanks for asking” was my courteous response to their invitation. “So what are you going to do all day ?” they asked. It was very rare for Shazza and I not to spend all our time together, we were generally referred to by others as being ‘joined at the hip’, but whilst we both enjoy walking, Shazza does not enjoy my frequent stops on such walks for the taking of photographs and so when we were out together we can often be identified by two very distinct sounds, the continuous clicking of my camera shutter and the continuous noise from her ‘Huffing, Puffing and Tutting’ at me !! So I was going to take this rare opportunity to have a walk, just by myself and armed only with my cameras and my binoculars, it was not going to be anywhere new, just a local coastal walk that we had both done on numerous occasions, a walk where I knew that in places I would encounter solitude with lots of astounding scenery. I had planned to walk from the apartment all the way to an old cliff top watchtower at the head of Caceres Beach then back along the beach towards the town, then through the Marina and on to the small fishing village of Castellon before finally making the short trek back up the hill to the apartment.

Although it was a warm day, around 22 degrees(c), it was grey and overcast with a strong breeze, so not tee-shirt, shorts and flip-flop weather but jeans, shirt, hoody top and trainers would suffice, as no rain was forecast, although when did forecasts ever bear any resemblance to reality ? I would take my chances.

The cliff top watchtower, a nice place for a bit of solitude and to enjoy the scenery

I was more than happy to spend a bit of time at my watchtower vantage point, it was so peaceful, and without having any other human presence around, I just sat for ages just gazing out to sea, alone with my thoughts. It was grey and misty and so, although I knew that on the horizon there would have been a flotilla of large vessels slowly travelling in both directions, today they could pass unnoticed, hidden in the shroud of grey mistiness. My attention was drawn to a couple of sea birds, Guillemots I think, perched on a rock just beyond the foreshore, they would gaze, almost mesmerised, into the depths below, looking for their fishy lunches, but neither took the plunge so perhaps the larder at that point was bare. However, as I turned my gaze to the other side of the watchtower, a single guillemot was sat atop the sea and frequently it would swim down and, after what appeared to me to be an eternity, it re-appeared, but much further away from where it had gone out of view. Was it just having a look around, I asked myself, or was it actually finding the fish that its feathered friends, out of sight around the corner, couldn’t see ? I used my binoculars to try to get a closer look, although it was difficult to know just where, once it had dived below the waves, it would re-appear. When it did surface, by the time I had located it through the binoculars it had disappeared again. Now lesser mortals may have become frustrated and given up, but not I, the challenge I set myself was to use the zoom lens on my camera and try to get a picture of it eating a fish. I ‘clicked’ and ‘clicked’ the shutter button repeatedly without knowing for sure whether I had got any pictures of the bird at all, let alone eating a fish, or indeed whether any of the shots would be in focus.

Checking out what is on the lunch menu perhaps ?

Finally, I got this ‘catch of the day’ but more by luck than good photographic skills !!

It was the noise of a powerful boat engine that made my photographic subject take flight from its successful fishing grounds and as the source of the noise came into view this now was the new focus of my attention. Since the migrant crossing routes from Algeria, Tunisia and Libya, to Italy and Greece have become much harder, these people have had to seek out new routes, so with the aid of the people traffickers, that of course make money from these desperate people, they are now making the crossings from Morocco, across what are very busy and dangerous shipping lanes of the Gibraltar Straits, to the coast of Spain. There are constant reports, virtually weekly, of the Spanish Coastguard and Police intercepting numerous such crossings, but many are still making it to the beaches of the Costa del Sol and we are seeing, on a daily basis, the police helicopters flying along our particular coastline and the Coastguard RIB’s patrolling the shores of our beaches.

The Spanish Coastguard Patrol Boat, now a common site due to the proximity of the Moroccan Coastline and the influx of migrants !!

I had not really done very much walking in my first hour of being out, I had been thoroughly enjoying my bit of solitude and the tremendous views that surrounded me, mountains and sea, that time was irrelevant. However, when I did re-enter my conscious world I knew that my walk back would take some time, so I decided that I had better head back towards civilisation, and having not prepared a picnic or flask, I was certainly ready for a cuppa.

This species of fisherman did not appear to be having the same success as the feathered variety, it is all about location, location, location !!

Although this must have been a newly erected bridge, the old one had been destroyed in the previous storms, this new bridge was certainly not here last year. However, this new one had not survived these latest storms, so you bridge designers, I guess it is back to the drawing board for you guys !!

I would not say that I consider myself to be an environmentalist, or even a passionate and deeply focused ‘green’ campaigner and I am certainly not an activist, but I do enjoy nature. I watch a lot of it on the TV, nature and wildlife documentaries, things like ‘Blue Planet’, ‘Wild Alaska’ and all that sort of stuff, even programmes where people go off to live in remote areas of our World amongst nature. I recently watched some programmes about the pollution of the sea from ‘Plastics’, a major issue around the world and one that affects even the remotest human uninhabited Islands and I guess that like a lot of people, I was quite horrified at what I saw, not just the awful deaths of the fish and other creatures that live in our Oceans and Seas, but the amount of rubbish, not just plastics, that is being washed up on our beaches. Can it just be that the demand and the use of materials manufactured from plastic is on the increase or could it be that we are running out of space on land to bury it so are resorting to having it dumped ‘unofficially’ thousands of miles out to sea, where nobody can actually witness it being done ? Unfortunately, and I guess I am not alone at doing this, after watching such programmes and switching off the television, or even watching a different programme, I then just go about my normal everyday life without giving the pollution issues a second thought, well it isn’t as if the pollution issues are something that I am personally confronted with every time I set foot outside the door. But as I commenced my walk on this particular occasion, down on the beach, the scale of the problem was right in front of my very own eyes, it was not something that I was watching on a Television screen, there it was, not just the odd discarded drinks can, plastic bag or chocolate wrapper but human pollution on a grand scale, on the beach right at my feet and as far as my eyes could see right along the vast stretch of sand !!

It is amazing at how powerful ‘Nature’s Forces’ can be. To carry debris this large and heavy high onto the shore !!

A discarded metal lock !!

More Plastic and Fishing Net, thankfully, this lot just entangled bamboo debris and not sea creatures or birds !!

There are numerous recycling points strategically placed along the full length of the beach areas, pity that some people still choose to ignore them ?

I was shocked at the amount of human pollution I was seeing on the beach, much of it I know had probably been washed ashore, brought in on the storms, but lots of it did not bear the signs of having been at sea for long, if at all ? I have refrained from publishing the majority of the photographs that I took from just this relatively short stretch of beach, but the nice relaxed thoughts that had dominated my mind at the start of my walk had quickly turned to sadness with the reality of the extremity of the pollution situation, it had somehow put it into a real personal perspective for me, the reality that we, the so-called superior and highly intelligent beings that we are, really are destroying our own planet and ‘all’ of the different species of life that lives on it, not just with plastic pollution of our land and oceans, or with greenhouse gasses, but in every other way possible, looting of the Earth’s natural resources, destruction of rain forests, fracturing the land below our feet even when we know it is creating seismic activity, nuclear weapons testing etc. etc. Perhaps I really am turning into an environmentalist or perhaps, seeing this amount of human pollution with my own eyes, in what, in the grand scale of things, is a relatively small geographical area, has made me appreciate the magnitude of the problem we face, a problem we have created and one that we really must do something about, or is it too late and the damage we have already caused, too great ?

I was not the only one walking amongst the debris that was scattered the full length of this particular beach but, would they be effected by it in the same way as me ?

The debris stretched as far as the eye could see, all of the beaches right up the Costa Del Sol would have looked like this after the storms !!

THE CLEAN UP OPERATION GETS UNDERWAY !!

“Well guys, this is the big picture, you turned up late for work which may explain why your colleagues bagged the mechanical big boys toys and you two only get the hand tools !!”

Some of the views on my beach walk were better than others, even on a dull and overcast morning

There was a certain eeriness that was becoming obvious to me, I know that I like a bit of solitude now and again but I was back into one of the tourist parts of the town, what was missing was the people !!

Everywhere looked empty and desolate, a sure sign that the main holiday season was nearly over

In the middle of this palm Tree Island was a beach shower

Now that is how to construct a sturdy bridge across a storm drain !!

This outlet, where the mountain waters escape to the sea, had already been cleared of the debris.

This part of the promenade would usually have been much busier with people, where is everybody ?

An eery emptiness !!

This would have been my more usual coffee stop, there had been some structural changes since our visit last year, a new deck extension and a roof on the sun terrace, but this too was closed !!

The latest new kid on the block !! When we left Spain, at the end of last years Winter break, the foundations of this were just being constructed, we didn’t even know what the actual building was going to be ?

Now where should I sit to enjoy my morning coffee ? We had taken lunch here, before the storms had arrived, then the sun had been shining, it was very warm and this decked dining area was very busy. Amazing what impact on trade the lack of sunshine can have on such businesses.

Having once again been provided with a lot of my own personal space over my coffee break, I was once again in no rush to be anywhere in particular and so I sat back in my chair and let my thoughts just wander to wherever they wanted to roam……… Whether it was the sound of the sea gently lapping onto the shore, or the noise of the large palm trees swaying in the breeze, but my mind started to imply that it may have perhaps been ready for a period of personal contemplation, which is always best achieved with one’s eyes closed, so I thought it best that I make a move.

All alone with nobody to play with !!

Even the locals were removing their inshore fishing boats to their Winter storage sheds

The feeling of emptiness continued !!

At last !! The sight of a few more human beings

Although they suddenly disappeared again ?

Cannot think why, but an old song entered my head as I continued my walk…….”All Alone Am I….”

Even the wooden board walks had been stacked ready for their transportation into their end of season storage facility

There had not been anything to slow me down on my walk through the towns promenade, well you can only take so many photographs of nothingness can’t you ? Although Shazza would tell you that that is what I do the majority of the time !! It was still very warm as I approached the Marina complex, however, just before I got there I passed the ‘Heladeria Kiosk’ (Ice Cream Stall), Shazza and I had passed this many times on our numerous promenade walks and although often tempted, we had not succumbed to any of the vast choices of tasty flavours, the walks had after all been one part relaxation and enjoyment and the other part was fitness regime, so the intake of that many calories would have undone any health benefits of the walks !! Initially I walked past but a little voice popped into my head and asked the question, “Why Not ?“, it was a perfectly good question, brief, but a well presented question all the same. I thought about it for what must have been a nano second, perhaps two, and as I was unable to come up with a good solid argument I turned around, walked back to the heladeria kiosk, perused the colourful display of flavours and settled on a tub of vanilla ice cream. The only way to ensure maximum enjoyment of such a delicious delicacy is to not have to partake of multi-task activities, that is to say, if you try to walk and eat you have to think about putting one foot in front of the other whilst visually looking out for oncoming obstacles whilst trying to co-ordinate the movement of digging plastic spoon into ice cream before manoeuvering it into one’s mouth, which can distract concentration from one’s taste buds and therefore spoil the total self-indulgent experience !! Basically, I sat down at a table, that had been provided by the heladeria, and scoffed my ice cream.

I was going to enjoy this !!

Not the best of views, a beach toilet with a door hanging off !!

Bringing home the mornings catch. This trawler was too large for our Marina so would have been one from Estepona just twenty-minutes up the coast . I wondered if they were watching me watching them ?

There was no doubting that these two had plenty of space on the beach to enjoy their fun

“Didn’t I tell you that if we got down here early that we would get a prime spot on the beach ? Nice of them to provide all of this bamboo material to build a raft as well !!

My timing could not have been more perfect, by the time I had finished eating my tasty treat, had walked through the Marina and was just making my way through the fishing village, my phone indicated that I had received a text message, on checking it I discovered that it was from my beloved, they had returned from their retail therapy session and were at the bottom of the hill to the apartment and asked if I needed a lift home. Now realising that I had taken on a calorie or two more than I had intended, which the walk up the hill would have gone some way to working off, I responded that I was close to where they were but that it was okay and that I was happy to walk. There had been no response to my response so I had assumed that they would have just driven up the hill and would be waiting for me, hopefully with a nice hot cuppa, when I arrived home. As I turned off the promenade to commence my ascent of the hill I instantly recognised ‘Wuxly’, parked up and waiting for me. Now, I could have been totally ungrateful for this act of kindness and refused the lift, however, I was certain that that would have been like a stab in her heart with a dagger, so quite unselfishly, without any thought for my own health and well-being and not wishing to hurt her feelings, I somewhat reluctantly accepted her kind offer, after all, I am certain that Shazza would make other opportunities for me to work off all of those calories………….. !!

Posted in Winter 2015/16 | 2 Comments

Good To Be Home

As the weather was very good, as we departed Portsmouth at around a quarter past one in the afternoon, it was 16 degrees(c) and sunny, and the sea was calm and even when we got into the usually choppy Bay of Biscay, on this occasion it was actually nothing more than a light swell, so we both hoped that the Captain may have put his foot down on the accelerator pedal, or the boating equivalent, and make up for the lost time, but alas, as we sat in our cabin the following morning, enjoying our continental breakfast, the tannoy announced that our arrival time in Bilbao would be at 14:15pm, so we had not managed to make up any time overnight, so, if we add-on the forty-five minutes (on a good day) it would take to actually disembark the ferry, that would mean that we would not actually get on the road proper to commence our ten-hour drive until around three o’clock in the afternoon. The only real irritation with the delay in our arrival, and disembarkation, was that it meant being robbed of one and a half hours worth of daylight, it certainly makes long drives a lot less boring if you can see the spectacular scenery and not just red tail lights or bright white headlights of other vehicles in your eyes, but hopefully we should have sufficient daylight to get us to, and around, Madrid.

There is a real difference between driving on Motorways in England and those in Spain, in the UK the majority of the network of Motorways are lined by row on row of hedgerow, bushes and trees so rarely do you get a chance to see the surrounding countryside, then there are the frequent delays due either to the sheer volume of traffic, the constant road works or the inevitable numerous accidents. By contrast, in Spain, once you have cleared the Port, or major cities, you are generally on roads that have much less traffic, roads where generally most of the essential repair or improvements works are done late at night and early hours of the morning so as to minimise traffic disruption, then there are the stunning and often spectacular views that stretch as far as the eye can see.

Our total travel mileage from Bilbao to the apartment (via the Madrid route on this occasion) would be six hundred and forty-three miles, and even allowing for two re-fuel and toilet stops, it would take us just ten hours to drive from the North Coast of Spain to very nearly the bottom South East Coast. I still find it quite amazing that in under eleven hours, travelling by road, you could be in Gibraltar from Bilbao. But I had an advantage that would ensure getting to our destination sooner rather than later, my driver was Louis Hamilton !!

Near Empty Motorways and not one single Road Maintenance Traffic Bollard in sight !!

Quick stop for Re-fuel and Toilet then back on the service road to the Motorway and back to those spectacular views

For all my bluster about traffic free motorways here in Spain, unless you hit the Madrid ring road at night, after around 9:00pm, or in the early hours of the morning, then you are going to hit very heavy traffic and it can be slow going, the same applies to the ‘Seville’ route. We always build these potential delays into our travel plan, if we did not meet such delays then we could probably knock an hour off the journey time. Shazza can become very impatient with the lack of progress when we come across these hold ups in the journey, after travelling at her usual speed of 300mph she gets quite frustrated at being forced to a crawl at 30mph !! However, we were thankful that we were able to negotiate the Madrid rush hour traffic whilst we still had daylight.

The temperature when we disembarked the ferry in Bilbao was a very pleasant 23 degrees(c), although it was partially cloudy it was very humid and so we were glad that we had the Air-Con in the car re-gassed a couple of weeks prior to leaving the campsite. Because the first half of our journey entailed several high altitude ascents, we had anticipated constant variations in the temperatures and at one point it dropped to 14 degrees(c). However, once we had cleared Madrid and headed further South the temperature rose to a more consistent 24 degrees(c), even when the daylight faded and the darkness fell at around 8:30pm, it still remained very warm and humid and when we finally arrived at the apartment at 01:00am on the Friday morning it was still a balmy 20 degrees(c) and would stay that way for another couple of hours before the temperature started to rise again !!

Although we were both very tired when we pulled in to our car parking space we still had the little matter of unpacking the car and lugging everything up to the apartment, at least three trips worth !! Why does everything always feel twice as heavy when you unload it to what it did when you loaded it ? This is now our fourth Winter here and you would think that by now all we should be arriving with would be a bag of clothes, well it would appear that Shazza always finds a ‘few’ bits she needs to bring with her, on this occasion the holdall with our clothes was on the rear passenger seats, as every inch of space in the car boot had been taken up with those ‘few’ bits !! We could have left the unloading of the car until later that morning, after we had got some sleep, but we knew that after the long drive we would be too wired to sleep and that it would be a lot hotter if we left the unloading until daylight hours with the temperature anticipated to get to 27-28 degrees(c), so we bit the bullet and got it done. At least everything would then be in the apartment and could be unpacked and sorted at our leisure over the next couple of days.

The mains water stop cock taps for the apartments are located in a locked utilities cabinet at the entrance to each block, so the first job before going up was to open the cabinet and turn on our respective taps in order that we could start flushing through all the water outlets in the apartment. Although we had drained the outlets before we departed, after being stood empty for seven months there would always be some retention of water in the pipes and one good thing about our jobs as Wardens on a campsite was that we had learnt about the prevention of ‘Legionella bacteria’ and the water temperatures that they can thrive in, so by flushing through all of the Cold and Hot water systems, before using them, we were ensuring that we were getting rid of any nasty bugs. Once the water tank had re-filled we turned on the Immersion heater but we would have to wait a while before we could use the first full tank of water to flush through the hot water system. We had come prepared with bottled water so that we could make ourselves fresh mugs of coffee, flask coffee is fine when you are travelling but it does not taste so good after ten hours. We leave the apartment fully secured with security locks fastened on all the windows and the balcony doors and then we lower the heavy metal security shutters for added security so inside it is pitch black. Like it had been in most of Europe this year, it had also been an exceptionally hot Summer in Spain with temperatures in the high Forties at one point, so the heat and humidity hit us as soon as we opened the apartment door, the most pressing task was to get the security keys to the Door and Window locks out of the safe, lift the security shutters and then open all of the doors and windows so that we could start to aire the place through and reduce some of the heat. We do have a very efficient Air-Con system running through the apartment, but we thought that turning it on at that time of the morning may have made too much noise and we did not want to risk waking our neighbours above us. By the time we were ready to fall into bed we had already removed all of the dust covers from all of the furniture, got the furniture back into place on the balcony and re-positioned the living room/dining room furniture back into their respective positions, now, all that would be needed after a good nights sleep would be plugging all the electrical equipment back in, checking that the WiFi worked and then going to do some shopping to re-stock the food cupboards and fridge/freezer.

We were both awake by 07:00am, neither of us had slept well for even with several windows and doors open there had been little breeze to cool the heat or lower the humidity. It was whilst we were enjoying our morning coffee sat on the balcony that Shazza discovered, from the local news on her iPad, that today, Friday 12th October, was a Public Holiday in Andalucia. That meant that all the shops, including the Supermarkets, would be closed and all our food cupboards and fridge and freezer were empty !! We knew of a small local general store located down in the small village of ‘Castellon’, on previous visits out here we used this to pick up a Baguette on a Sunday when all other food shops were closed, we thought that perhaps, as this generally supplied the small local community, that it may have remained open. It wasn’t as if we would have to go without eating, this place is still in holiday season and so the numerous Restaurants and Cafe/Bars, in the Marina complex and our local town of Sabinillas, would still be open so we decided that a proper meal at lunchtime would be the order of the day and then we would pick up a baguette to take home so that we could have a sandwich in the evening, at least Shazza’s ‘few’ bits had included a tin of tuna and corned beef as well as a jar of marmalade, strawberry jam, coffee and a bag of sugar, now I know why some of those boxes were so bloody heavy !!

The sun was up and the temperature, even though it was still only 10:00am, was already at 23 degrees(c) and there wasn’t even the slightest of breezes, so the order of the day was tee shirts, shorts and flip-flops, very nice, very nice indeed. We did not feel like walking down to the sea even though it would only have taken us, at a strolling pace, just fifteen minutes, I think it was more the thought of the uphill ascent on the way back under a burning sun. We have never been out here as early as this in the year so it was nice to see all the Beach Bars still open each with their own sun beds, chairs and tables, layed out on the beach and there were so many people out and about, the whole place had that holiday buzz about it. We were interested to see what changes had occurred since our last visit, some of the Beach Bars, which were formerly shack like structures were now re-modernised and had been re-built of brick. Although initially, before we departed last year and were aware of these upcoming changes, we thought it might have spoilt the ambience, there was something tropical about the wooden walled and bamboo roofed beach bars that gave the long stretches of sandy beaches that certain holiday feel. However, to be completely honest, these new structures had actually enhanced the look, it gave it a more ‘up market’ ambience, perhaps our local area was trying to look a little less ‘Benidorm’ and more ‘Marbella’, although strictly speaking this was never a ‘Benidorm’ and our very pretty, but small Marina, could never accommodate the size, or number, of multi-million pound motor yachts like our neighbours just forty minutes or so North, no this is not a glitzy resort, this caters for the ordinary man on the street with not so deep pockets. Although there is a large contingent of International ex-pats who reside here permanently, as well as those who come for beach holidays, this remains primarily a place where the Spanish come on holiday and if you venture outside of the Marina, the ex-pat enclave, then the majority of voices you hear are Spanish and that is what we like about it.

As well as the new look beach bars there were still the Restaurants and Bar/Cafes that we were familiar with, one or two had changed ownership and re-named themselves but in the main it was still the same place to us. We were ready for lunch and as always we needed to decide, out of the vast choice, where to eat. Fortunately, our decision was made easy, a new establishment had opened along the seafront promenade so we decided to give it a go. We ordered a couple of drinks whilst we perused the menu, unusually for me I just fancied a nice cold beer instead of my more usual Tinto Verano, however, Shazza, who normally settles for an ice-cold glass of Diet Coke, decided she would have the Tinto Verano for a change. It was nice to sit outside, under the shade of an umbrella, looking out across the beach and the sea, watching all the people passing by and eavesdropping on other people’s conversations who were sat around us. We got into conversation with the polite and very efficient and friendly waiter and discovered that the establishment had opened in May, he was from Romania but had left as there was no work for him, his wife and eight-year old daughter remained in Romania as she had a job and his daughter was settled into a good school, he would go home to see them in November when he would be given a month’s holiday. Lunch was a simple affair but really tasty, we started with bread roll and Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar dip, followed by a ‘mixed salad of the house’, basically lettuce, cucumber, thin shavings of carrot, red pepper, pineapple, peanuts, chopped dates and feta cheese, really refreshing and that was followed by ‘Secreto Iberico’, which is fried slices of pork from the black pig, one of my favourites, accompanied by proper home-peeled and hand cut chips and the usual token gesture of side salad, this is not what you would consider fine dining, just a good inexpensive basic tasty meal and it was absolutely terrific, we would certainly eat there again and try something else, which is a good recommendation as it is not what we say about some of the places we have frequented !! After another couple of cold refreshing drinks, well it would have been rude not to, we meandered back from the town, along the promenade, through the Marina and into the small village of ‘Castellon’. Unfortunately, our little general store had closed for the Public Holiday so no baguette and so no sandwich this evening, oh well, I guess after a bit of a Siesta we would just have to force ourselves to go out again to find somewhere to grab a bite to eat and seeing as we would probably not venture further than the Marina perhaps a cool refreshing Gin & Tonic, just to quench our thirsts you understand after all, it isn’t as if you can come out without having a drink or two, especially in these temperatures and of course, as you already know, we are polite and considerate people and it really would be rude not to !!

Whether or not it had been down to our need to be polite the previous evening is irrelevant, but I had the best night’s sleep I had had for 3-4 days and awoke early feeling fully refreshed. It was Saturday and the shops, more importantly, the Supermarkets, would have re-opened after the Public Holiday, so the task for this morning was to go and get yummies to re-stock the cupboards and fridge and freezer, well it isn’t as if we can afford to keep eating out every day, mores the pity. Now food shopping may be one of Shazza’s favourite pastimes, sad person that she is, but it certainly is not one of mine and the Supermarket was busy, and Shazza had not made a shopping list which meant that we would be spending a lot of time laboriously trundling up and down shopping aisles, and, with the ever-increasing weight of a shopping trolley, zig zagging through the hoards of other sad people, frequently stopping to peruse different brands of every item, made even longer because it is all in Spanish and Shazza needs to interpret what the labels say, has it got a  low or full fat content, how much sugar is in it etc. etc. etc. Then, once we have queued up with the hoards at the check-out desk, and once the cashier has finished having a conversation with Mrs. Spanish Housewife in front of us, our seemingly never-ending conveyor belt of goods is individually scanned and we can pack it into one, two, three, four large shopping bags, cart it all to the car and load it into the boot. Once back at the apartment complex car park, it all needs to be lugged up to the apartment, in stifling hot temperatures, deep bloody joy, did I mention that I hate food shopping !!

I was anticipating a night in with a home-cooked dinner, well it wasn’t as if we didn’t have enough food in the cupboards and fridge/freezer to now feed a small army !! “Should we eat out tonight” Shazza enquired, “We ate out, twice, yesterday” I responded, emphasising the ‘twice’. “But it is nearly your Birthday and the ambience on a Saturday night will probably be better than midweek” she said, with a knowing smile on her face. The smile being that I had mentioned, whilst in the UK, and with thoughts about being over in Spain for my Birthday, something that never usually happens as we have always been working until mid-November, that it would be nice to go out for a meal on the weekend before my actual birthday as it would likely be more livelier than a night during the week. Now she has used my own suggestion against me so how could I refuse ?

At the time of the year that we normally come out here it is the end of the holiday season, the majority of holiday makers, of all Nationalities, have returned home and there is a tranquility about the place, more importantly, we could walk into any restaurant and always get a table without having had to make a reservation, a small oversight on our behalf. My favourite restaurant is most definitely ‘Victors’, an Argentinian Steak House in the Marina, that would be where we would go, a fitting birthday treat, not an inexpensive one but it was my birthday after all. I could already taste the Empanada starters and the superb open grilled medium-rare Steak, finishing off the dining experience with their unique Whisky, Walnut and Ice Cream Liquor dessert, before we had even left the apartment, the gastric juices were flowing. We had decided to walk down, rather than take the car, so that we could both enjoy some falling over juice together. As we approached the restaurant we could already see that it was full, we approached the waiter stood at the entrance door, “Any chance of a table just for two persons” I enquired, hoping that perhaps there may have been a little corner table inside they could squeeze us into, he shook his head “Perhaps if you come back in fifty minutes there may be a table empty” he said, in an apologetic sort of way. Unlike many restaurants in the UK, over here, once you are sat at a table enjoying your meal and drinks, they do not try to rush you out so that they can get more customers in, so once all the tables are full they do not take further reservations, it is more a case of chance of a table becoming available when you arrive. Now it may not make good business sense but it certainly makes it an enjoyable and relaxed dining experience for the customer. I probably could have gone to one of the numerous nearby bars and whiled away the fifty minutes, however, there was still no guarantee that a table would be available and more importantly, it was already later than we would normally have eaten as we wanted to get into the Spanish way of doing things, which generally means not eating before nine o’clock in the evening, often much later, but there was no way that Shazza’s tummy food clock was going to wait for nearly another hour !! There were plenty of other choices, provided they had an available table, so we wandered along trying to decide what it was that appealed to our taste buds, we came across a place that we had eaten at on a couple of previous occasions, in fact we had booked our New Year’s Eve meal there two years ago, it was a Spanish owned restaurant but it specialised in French Cuisine, we entered and were relieved to see that tables were available. We were greeted by the owner, he didn’t remember us but we recognised him from our previous visits, he always showed the customer to their table and took the initial drinks order before handing them over to their respective waiter for the evening. It was a very pleasant ambience, piano music playing in the background, very romantic and although it was quite a formal service, our waiter was very friendly and engaged in general chit-chat rather than just the usual waiter type conversation, what the evening’s special menu choices were or recommending a wine to go with the selected main course. The food was superb, as we knew it would be, the service was impeccable but also relaxed and friendly and the ambience was just right. We were on the second level of the Marina complex and had been given a window table, overlooking all the boats moored in the marina and as it was now dark outside, the multi-coloured neon lights, from the variety of Restaurants and Bars, reflected on the water. It may not have been ‘Victors’ but this was still a really enjoyable birthday meal.

The night was still young when we left the Restaurant, it was a warm evening, although the breeze had got up. It was time to mingle with the rest of the night revellers, although some of the bars were a little too noisy for our liking so we chose an Irish bar which was more peaceful. We sat at a table outside and very shortly an elderly gentleman came across to take our drinks order. He introduced himself as Michael, the proprietor of the ‘Cork Tree’ Irish Bar, his strong accent confirmed his origin of birth. He took our drinks order, a Gin and Tonic for Shazza and I reverted to my favourite tipple, Jack Daniels and Coke. When he returned, the large glasses, without either the tonic or coke added, looked like ‘trebles’, we were not complaining, but a nice touch was that he brought Shazza a soft woollen shawl to put around her shoulders to protect her from the stiff breeze. It was nice to just sit with our drinks, people watching and listening to the noises around us from people at the numerous other bars, we have not had this experience out here before as we always come out when it is much quieter, and generally, at this time of the night, too cool to sit outside. When we had finished our rather large drinks we were ready to return home, we had come out without the car prepared for a much longer night with probably a glass or three more of the old falling over juice, but whether it was the hectic last couple of weeks catching up with us, or perhaps the reality that we really are not big drinkers, we were both ready to get back and get a good nights sleep and one thing that we both agreed upon when we reflected upon our first two days back in Spain was that it was ‘Good to be home‘.

The ‘Works of Fiction’ had forecast light rain between 09:00-12:00am on Sunday, so after having had a couple of relaxing days it was now time to give the apartment a clean. Whilst we always give the place a thorough clean before we depart, after seven months of standing empty it needed freshening up. Being so close to the beach and the sea, the sand carries on the wind and in the rain, so the external windows, that are not protected by metal shutters, certainly need a good wash. The sand also finds its way into the smallest of gaps, namely between the running tracks of the sliding windows and doors and I can only assume that due to the humidity, it ends up being a wet brown mess rather than just grains of sand that can be quickly picked up with a vacuum cleaner. I set about doing inside and out, on the  windows and doors on the balcony, eleven in total, then a dust of the light fittings and finishing off with a mop of the tiled floor. Shazza concentrated on the guest bedroom, our first guest, Shazza’s mum, was due to join us in less than a week, then she got stuck into the kitchen, it was a full mornings work and that was enough for one day, the rain, when it arrived, was no more than five or ten minutes of spits and spots, typical ‘Works of Fiction’.

Over the coming six months we will have guests every month, primarily family, but also, our friends, Roy and Amanda, who we have known for several years now and remained in contact with, but who we have not seen for a while now, are renting a place just a short distance from us, that is walking distance and not a car drive. They arrive in the New Year, so we are looking forward to once again meeting up in the flesh so to speak and having a good catch-up. Shazza, without any shadow of a doubt I am sure, will already be planning more ‘Adventures’ to go on whilst we are here, so I eagerly await discovering what she has in store for me this year, deep joy !!

Posted in Winter 2015/16 | 6 Comments

I Like It When A Plan Comes Together

Now it isn’t as if we have never done a site close down before and at the end of the day it isn’t exactly rocket science, so it would be probably be more than a little over dramatic to actually state that we were both feeling a little anxious about this seasons final closure procedures, but to put it into some sort of perspective, after all this is the first time that we would have completed a site close down all by ourselves and on our own site, so it was probably just a bit of eager anticipation, combined with a smidgen of nervous anxiety about whether all of our carefully pre-organised preparations would all come together and that everything would just fall into place. Now, as a I am sure that you know by now, I am a compulsive list maker, who generally covers everything down to the minutest detail, so what could possibly go wrong ? In an irrational sort of way, my mind compared our preparations with similarities to baking and as long as we made sure that we had all of the equipment and ingredients that we would require, and we followed our procedural step by step instructions, surely we should end up with the perfect outcome ? ……….. well as long as I don’t count the time my Soufflé’s didn’t rise, or the time my Bakewell Tart had a soggy bottom, or my Rock Cakes actually lived up to their name or my Sherry Trifle turned into more of a Eton Mess … !!

During the final couple of days, or should I say the days when our site was still ‘officially’ open to paying guests, we still had two or three of our ‘Seasonal’ guests on site and they were not leaving us until the Sunday evening. We also had two ‘tourer units’ who were scheduled to leave by lunchtime on the Monday, the very last official day of the 2018 season. Unfortunately for me, our handful of guests were spread out on pitches all around the top area of the site and, whilst we still had paying guests on site, we still had to keep the Service Points open, it would have been too much to hope that they would all have chosen pitches close to just one service point so that I could have closed the others down, but that is the way it goes I suppose.

One of our ‘Seasonal’ guests was having their caravan collected by a local storage facility on the Monday, all of the other seasonal caravans had already been removed. Several of our ‘Seasonal’ guests do not want to tow their caravans home with them so they arrange to keep them in Winter storage locally and they arrange, directly with whoever it was they chose to use, to collect them from our site and then re-deliver them again on the first day of the new season, thankfully by the last weekend most of the seasonal caravans had already been removed. It helped that we knew Robin, one of the people who stored several of our customers vans, he had already informed us that he would be up first thing on the Monday morning to collect the last caravan. Fortunately, all of our guests had vacated what I refer to as our ‘Lower Touring Field’ on the Sunday morning, so I was able to close this area down, remove all the pitch markers, turn off and secure all of the Electric Hook-Up (EHU) bollards, remove all of the signage and then completely shut down the one service point in that area, that had been a bonus and put me a little bit ahead of myself.

By mid-morning on the final day of the season, we waved our final guest a cheery goodbye, and after spending several days talking with us, they were well aware of the real reason for our very joyous demeanour and so as they departed they wished us a good Winter break and we were able to finally close the site gates, closed to any more guests that is. We could now both get on with our individual site closure tasks, although some jobs, like fitting the large Window and Door covers on the Reception building, meant us having to work together. By the end of the day the external areas of the site were done, every pitch marker had been taken in, all of the metal pins that needed to be straightened were sorted and then the pitch markers were all washed, put into numbered bundles and stacked and stored, ready to go straight out, in a logical numerical sequence around the site at the start of next season. All of the  EHU bollards were checked for serviceability, a bit of overkill really as they would all be checked at the start of the new season anyway, but at least we would know in advance what was, or was not, working, the bollards electrical supplies were then isolated and secured. If it had been a wet day this would have been a miserable task to undertake, fortunately, although there was a cool crispness in the air, it was dry and the sun kept making intermittent appearances. In addition to the numerous EHU Bollards spread around the site, each area of the site also has Electrical Distribution Service Units (DSU’s), we have four, so they too had to be turned off and secured. The three remaining ‘Service Points’ and ‘Chemical Waste Points’ were dismantled, taps and hoses removed, signage removed, fire extinguishers, fire boxes and fire bells removed, dustbins removed and drain grates from the water points removed and winter covers placed over them. The trailer was not large enough to take everything all in one go so I dismantled all of the service points first and then made several trips collecting everything and taking them back to the Storage Compound where I then unloaded the trailer and stored each item into their pre-arranged winter storage areas, at least at the start of the new season I would know where I had put things, unlike at the start of the season when we were new to the site and had to search for things. These ‘closure’ tasks are not particularly arduous but can be time-consuming, but we were in no particular rush, it was lovely to have the site to ourselves and there was a wonderful peaceful and relaxing ambience about the place. It was as if the wildlife had themselves waited for this period, the rabbits were out in abundance, hopping from one patch of grass to another, not even giving me a second glance, the large black crows sat on branches looking down at me, occasionally letting out a sharp vocal craw as if to tell me to hurry up so that they could have the place back to themselves. I had not seen any pheasants on the site at all during the season, but now they were appearing out of the hedgerows and I watched them as they casually strutted, as they do, across the now barren touring fields, stopping occasionally to peck at the ground and have a watchful glance around. Perched on a wooden fence at the bottom end of the site, an area that overlooked a wooded area, with a stream running below, was a large Hawk, I had often seen a pair of them throughout the season, flying high above the many fields that encircled us, but this was the closest that I had been to one. It had either been resting, or scanning the woodland floor for prey, every so often casting a glance in my direction then finally, deciding that I was probably getting a little too close for comfort, it opened its large wings and effortlessly soared into the sky above. I may not know the names of all the different types of birds that I see, here or anywhere else on our travels, but I just love being surrounded by nature and now that all of our human guests had departed I was beginning to have a much better appreciation for the wonderful scenery and nature that was quite literally on my front doorstep.

Finally, I removed all of the remaining site signage and stored them either in the workshop or external storage building. Shazza was busy doing all of the office stuff, which included having to go into town to the bank to pay in the last of the site cash takings. The site Information room had to be cleared, books from the lending library, assorted information folders and the defibrillator, before she could give the room a good clean. She worked methodically through the front reception, into the outer office and then our Wardens bathroom, however, it was pointless cleaning the back office as the plumber would be wandering in and out the following day, to do the site drain down. We had achieved a tremendous amount by the end of the first day and we were very pleased that no unforseen issues had raised their ugly heads, the ‘Dark Forces’ must be busy elsewhere, I thought to myself, mischievously messing with other people’s lives, if they can keep away from us for a day or two more then I would be more than happy.

It is a strange feeling, for most of the season, apart from the first few days before we officially opened the gates to paying guests, we had been used to people and vehicles sharing our space, all of the night lights on the EHU bollards lit up the site and there was always a bit of movement, vehicles coming and going, people using the Service Points to collect water or dump their rubbish in the bins, people walking dogs, but now there was an emptiness, no caravans or motorhomes on pitches, all EHU bollards switched off, which left us at night looking out upon an eery darkness, no noise, apart from the occasional vehicle driving past the front gates or the sound of an owl hooting, after seven months of noise this near silence was quite a surreal feeling. We could have gone off site that evening and enjoyed a meal that had been prepared and cooked by someone else, however, we were both feeling pretty tired after a full on day so we settled down in the comfort of the ‘Little Fokker’, we reviewed our respective ‘To Do’ lists and took great pleasure in crossing off all that we had achieved that day. Before we could do much more we would be in the hands of our external Contractors and we could only hope that they would turn up, as arranged, and do what they had to do then leave us to do our last bits.

We were awake early, washed and dressed and then we eagerly awaited for our contractors to arrive. The only one we did not have an arrival time for was the company who would be coming to empty our large rubbish skip. Normally our skip emptying would have been done on a Friday morning, however, we had cancelled the Friday collection and changed it to the Tuesday, so we would now have to fit in to their schedule, which could mean waiting until late afternoon, although that wouldn’t be a problem it would just be nice to get another job ticked off the completed list. Mikey, our plumbing contractor, good to his word, arrived at 8:00am and commenced draining down the water outlets on the site, he was happy to get on with it and didn’t need (or want) me to accompany him, probably a wise decision as I would have asked far too many questions and slowed him down, fortunately, for him, Robin arrived to collect his last caravan to put into Winter storage and so I made my way across to see if he needed a helping hand, he didn’t, I was beginning to feel surplus to requirements. To my utter joy the large truck arrived to empty my rubbish skip, it was our usual driver and we always exchanged pleasantries and general chit-chat so at last I stopped feeling like a ‘Billy No Mates’. Within the first couple of hours of the day our site drain down had been completed, and before he departed we confirmed the date for him to come back next year and turn on the water again, pressurising the system, filling the tanks and flushing through the pipes, Robin also  waved goodbye and wished us a Merry Christmas and confirmed what date and time he could start bringing the vans back from his storage site and then, shortly after he drove away, the large truck left the site. Sharon started her final close down of the office computer systems, she had to wait so that she could sign off the contractors otherwise they wouldn’t get paid for the bits of work that they had just done. There were still minor bits ‘n’ pieces to be done, mainly in the storage shed and workshop, which I got on with before being alerted by Shazza that the truck had arrived to collect the two tractors, these were already parked up outside ready just to be driven onto the back of the truck, strapped down and then they too disappeared down the country lane to their winter storage site. It had all gone like clockwork, the seven ‘P’ system had worked (Prior Preparation and Planning had Prevented a Piss Poor Performance), we had now, well very nearly, completed our first full opening and closure of our first site as Wardens and it had all gone exceptionally well, ‘I like it when a plan comes together’.

We would not be the only Wardens going through this site close down process, others would be doing the same, either now, if they were on early closure sites like ours, or in another five weeks time. The experienced Wardens would be used to these start-up and close down procedures but I wondered how many newly promoted Wardens, like ourselves, would be feeling the same apprehension as we were feeling. Of course not all Wardens were on Single Couple sites, some would have Assistant Wardens to share this workload burden but the responsibility for getting it all arranged and completed would remain firmly on their shoulders and some, unlike us, would have had Toilet and Shower Block buildings to clean, drain down and board up, so in the grand scheme of things our site was a relatively straight forward process.

It was a bit of an anti-climax driving away from the site for the last time this year, Shazza in ‘Wuxly’ and me in the ‘Little Fokker’, I had expected to feel a bit of elation, as we had both consistently talked about this moment over the last two or three weeks, the final padlocking of the front site access gates. However, it was not a feeling of elation that occupied my thoughts. I do not know what thoughts Shazza was having, although I would hazard a good guess at it being thoughts about the following week when we would be in Spain. I found myself doing a review of our first season, right from the first day we had arrived, the first five bleak winter weeks of Snow, Hail, Fog, Rain and Gale Force Winds !! We had had a good first season as Wardens, we encountered no major crisis, anything that had cropped up, from a blocked fuel filter on the ride-on mower, broken throttle cable on the tractor, welded cable in one of the EHU Bollards, minor leaks or blocked drains on the Service Points etc. we had just got on and dealt with them as they occurred, as you do. We had never previously worked on sites that had all grass pitches, seasonal guests for the whole duration that the site was open or caravan storage facilities, but these things have  added to our overall experience. The ‘Guests’, whether they were seasonal, regular tourers to our site or new short-term visitors to our site were, in the main, all absolutely lovely people, and I genuinely mean that, but……….. there always has to be the token ‘dick heads’ doesn’t there ? The ones that do not want to listen to instructions or obey the site rules, fortunately at the end of this season I can count that particular group of people on just two fingers !!

I do not anticipate going through these anxieties again, for when we return to our site next year it will be a return to a familiar place, we know our site now, we know what keys open what doors and padlocks, we know the locations of all the essential facilities, the water meter situated thirty metres up the road from the site entrance, the location of the mains electricity switches, the locations of the four sewage holding tanks around the site, where all the site equipment is stored, the site signage, and the locations where they need to be placed around the site and we also know when our tractors will be returned to us and when the plumber will arrive to turn on our mains water and flush through all the systems, this is the sort of stuff we did not have a clue about when we first arrived on site in March this year. The only unknown will of course be the weather, I do know that I will have nine-acres of grass to try to get cut before we open our gates to our guests, more so the guests pitching areas, especially the ‘seasonal’ pitches that will be required virtually from day one, but the weather is something that I have no control over so I am not going to worry about it, let’s face it, last year I could not see the grass, or the roads, or most of the site, as it was covered in snow and thick fog for the first five weeks !! But for now, all of that is another six months away, first we have an appointment with some much-needed Winter Sun in Spain, and then, when we do return to these shores, it will only be one week before the UK ceases to be a member of the EU, or not, perhaps the Politicians from all sides in the negotiations may have finally seen some sense, we will just have to wait, like everyone else, to see how it all unfolds ?

Normally when Shazza and I are driving independently from each other, her in ‘Wuxly’ and myself in the van, and heading for her Mums house, she, otherwise known as ‘Lewis Hamilton’, would drive ahead of me, treating the Motorway network as if it were a mega sized Formula 1 racing circuit,  so she would generally get there well before me. However, on this occasion our first destination from our site in Devon was going to be the Motorhome dealership just outside of Nottingham. Regular readers of my blog will be aware that last December, when were waiting to board the ferry to Spain for last years Winter Sun break, we received a ‘Urgent Recall Notification’ in respect of the van, well it has taken ten months to get the parts from FIAT, so I had arranged to drop the van off at the dealership and leave it with them for two days to replace the parts before collecting it again, so Shazza would need to come with me so that we could travel to her Mums together in the car.

We never travel directly from site to catch the ferry, depending on which vehicle we use to travel to Spain we leave the other at Shazza’s mums, this time we are taking the car to Spain so once I get the van back from the dealers in a couple of days time, the van will need to be winterized, the water systems will need to be drained down, cupboards emptied, winter covers attached etc. We also utilise most of this pre-Spain time visiting family, many that we have not seen for seven months, Shazza’s relatives were fortunately all in the same local area but we would use one day to travel to Leeds to visit my mother, then as we start our drive South to Portsmouth we would have a day in Swindon to see Chris and Sarah and of course the grandchildren, then the following day a stop in Winchester to see Stacey and Dean, it would be a busy few days.

So, I collected the van from the dealership as arranged, new parts fitted with no problems, or none that they told me about at least and before departing I also took the opportunity to pre-book it in for next year, upon our return from Spain, to have its first Annual Mechanical Service and its second Habitation and Water Ingress Inspection. The new FIAT mechanical service regime is every two years or ten thousand miles, whichever comes first but it still needs annual habitation checks to maintain the ten-year warranty protection. Then it was back to Shazza’s mums to get the van ready for its long Winter lay over, then over the following three days it was the family visits before packing the car and starting our eagerly awaited journey South. We had seen the grandchildren just four weeks ago, when our third had been born, she hadn’t grown that much since then and still spent most of the day sleeping, although occasionally when we were taking turns at nursing her, she would open an eye to check out the strange arms holding her and to see who and where the new voices were coming from. The ‘Twinnies’ were their usual energetic selves and as Grandad had arrived it must be playtime !! We spent the afternoon and evening with them and after saying our goodbyes and giving our last hugs and kisses to the girls before they went to bed, we had our dinner with Chris and Sarah in relative peace. We had pre-booked a two night stay in a hotel near Winchester, my daughter had only recently moved into her new home so she wasn’t yet ready, bedroom furniture wise, to accommodate guests. She would also be working the day of our visit so the plan was for us to do some sightseeing around Winchester, a place we had never visited before, then we would go to their home in the evening and have Dinner with them before returning to the hotel. Winchester is only a thirty-minute drive to Portsmouth so we could have a bit of a lay in the following morning before making our way to the ferry port. Well that had been the plan !! I received a text from my daughter informing me that she had arranged to take the afternoon off so could meet her at her house at lunchtime and then we could walk into Winchester for lunch followed by some sightseeing, it is good to remain flexible and we were happy to have the opportunity to spend much more time with her as we would not see her again until we returned next year. She had already got visitors coming over from Australia for Christmas so she was not able to take any more time off to come out and see us in Spain, not this Winter break but perhaps next year.

The girls enjoying a Bit of girlie time together

We haven’t had many opportunities in recent years for a Dad and Daughter photo, with of course, Humphrey the Beagle

The gentle flowing river that runs through part of the City

We had enjoyed our time in Winchester, albeit a relatively short visit on this occasion, but now, with Stacey and Dean having made it their home, there would be plenty of opportunities for re-visits. It was a lovely historic city and I found myself humming a tune from the 1960’s, people of a certain age group may remember a pop group from that time, although they were in reality only one hit wonders, the ‘New Vaudeville Band‘ and their song ‘Winchester Cathedral‘, my daughter and Shazza both looked at me as if I had suddenly grown two heads, “Don’t you know the song ?” I enquired. Dean likes all the ‘Golden Oldies’ and has refurbished an old stereogram (record player) to play his collection of ‘vinyl’ records on, so I thought that Stacey, my daughter, may have at least have heard the tune but Shazza !! I know she is younger than me but I was surprised she hadn’t heard it before. Neither of them answered my question, they just looked at each other with that certain look and then quickened their pace ahead of me, youngsters eh ? no appreciation for real music, songs with lyrics that you could understand, not like most of the rubbish you hear these days, then I heard my inner voice shouting at me, “Eric, you are sounding just like your Dad !!” Dean finished work at 4:00pm and met us at a pub for a drink, or three, before we all  walked back to their house and he showed me the work he had so far completed on their renovation of a Sprinter Van into a Camper Van. At the moment he has managed to strip out the van to its shell, fitted flor insulation and re-wired it completely, ready to power whatever equipment he installs at a later date.

We ordered a takeaway and then after dinner we made the short drive, back to the hotel. We were able to have a bit of a lay in the following morning, we did not have to check-in for the ferry until 10:45am and it was only a thirty-minute drive to the Port. We received a text, from Brittany Ferries, advising us that our departure would be delayed by ninety-minutes due to bad weather in the Bay of Biscay the previous night  which would delay the arrival of the boat, although they still wanted us to check-in at the original time. It didn’t really make much difference to us, we were now on our long Winter break and so a small delay was quite insignificant really.

Once on the boat we settled in to our spacious de-luxe cabin, it had everything we required to make the most of our twenty-four hour crossing. We had been lucky enough to have been allocated a front corner cabin so it was a bit more roomy with a large double bed, a lounge area with comfy seating and coffee table, en suite facilities, tea & coffee-making facilities, mini-bar stocked with a selection of soft drinks (included at no extra charge), TV and DVD player, a complimentary box of fruit and an English newspaper and a complimentary continental breakfast served in our cabin the following morning, what better way to enjoy the journey ? After unpacking my overnight bag I went up to the last passenger accessible deck to watch as we glided out of Portsmouth, next stop, Spain.

The Spinnaker Tower stands at the entrance and exit to Portsmouth harbour.

Goodbye Blighty, see you again in six months time…

Posted in Winter 2015/16 | 4 Comments

What Should We Do ?

The long hot balmy scorching weeks of Summer are now just a distant memory as we sit, huddled up on site in the comfort and safety of the ‘Little Fokker’, outside we can hear the rain beating down on the roof and we can feel the van rocking from side to side (for all the wrong reasons !!) in the gale force winds as the effects of the tail end of ‘Hurricane Helena‘ batter our shoreline, although technically, by the time it actually reached us, it had been downgraded to just a storm, however, without a chance to even take a breath, that storm was followed immediately by another storm, this time it was ‘Storm Ali’ and of course, as everything comes in three’s, that was followed, almost instantaneously, by ‘Storm Bronagh‘ with rain being carried on 60mph winds, even stronger gusts in more northerly locations wreaking havoc and leaving carnage in its wake !! We  cannot remember a time when we have experienced being so consistently battered by three back to back storms over so many consecutive days? The ‘Little Fokker’ was taking a real beating and Shazza had already resorted to taking her sea sickness pills even though we were nowhere near ready for getting onto our ferry to Spain. I was going to say that we were still on dry land, but that really would not have been an accurate statement, our nine acres of grass was more than a bit squelchy underfoot and the road outside our front gates resembled a fast flowing river as waves flowed down into the village below, if I was grateful for one thing, it was that at least our campsite sat on the top of the hill !! Surprisingly, with all the strong winds that we have experienced on site this year, we have not been called upon once this season to assist our guests with recovering awnings that had been uprooted and, either blown over the top of their caravans or had attempted in making an Ariel escape, at great pace, over the hedgerows in the direction of the Atlantic Ocean and the Canadian coastline !! No, it would appear that our particular guests are of the hardier ‘extreme camper’ variety who are well experienced and well prepared for enjoying their caravanning in the UK’s very changeable weather conditions, using ground fixing pegs that reached so deep into the ground they nearly had to apply for planning permission, as it was a close run thing as to whether this could be considered to be ‘fracking‘ for shale gas !!

We could have spent our day off having a well deserved long lay in under the duvet, but no, there was a short respite in both the strong winds and rain that we took this window of opportunity to drive to Swindon as we had a new granddaughter to go and introduce ourselves to. Although it meant a three-hour drive it also gave us another opportunity of course to see the ‘Twinnies’ again, who had just that week started pre-school,so we were going to surprise them by meeting them at the school gates when they finished at lunchtime, that is if they hadn’t been held behind in detention !! Well that had been the plan, and it had been a good plan which would have worked, had it not been for the journey from hell. Due to a fatal accident on the Motorway that morning, we got stuck in the aftermath and after several re-routes we arrived at Swindon, six hours later !! by which time the ‘Twinnies’ had got home from school, had their lunch and were so tired that they were fast asleep when we arrived, as was the newest edition to the family, although that was only to be expected after all she was only six days old.

We would normally have started our journey back to Devon at around 4:30pm, but seeing as we had arrived a lot later than anticipated we wanted some extra time with the girls so decided to delay our return by a couple of hours, this would allow the peak rush hour traffic out of Swindon, and around the busy motorway junction at Bristol, to ease somewhat, and we were also thinking that the Motorway, twelve-hours after the morning accident, would now be re-opened and that we would have a straightforward trip back to our campsite. Wrong !! before we even got to the Bristol junction on the motorway we saw the neon-lit signs informing us that the M5 was closed between Junctions 24-25 until at least 7pm, these were the same junctions where the scene of the morning accident had occurred. We could not believe it, perhaps, by sheer coincidence, there had been another accident in exactly the same place because surely, after twelve hours, the road could not still be closed as a consequence of that mornings incident ? There was no simple route to divert onto so instead we elected to stop at a big shopping mall on the outskirts of Bristol where there was a vast selection of eateries, we would stop and take the opportunity to have our evening meal and then hopefully, by the time we got back on the road, the Motorway junctions would have been re-opened. Again, it had been a good and very logical plan, unfortunately, we were the only ones who thought so as, although we had stopped for a good hour and it was just after 8pm, no sooner had we re-commenced our journey when we came across more neon-lit signs advising that the road ahead was still closed, although from the amount of other traffic all heading in the same direction as us, you would not have thought so. Shazza, who was doing the driving, turned to me, “What should we do ?” she said. I thought about it for a moment, the other traffic, cars, buses, lorries etc. were all moving freely across all three lanes and, looking ahead into the distance, there were no tell-tale signs of traffic slowing down, “Perhaps, they have opened the road and have not got around to turning off the road information signs” I said hopefully. Shazza repeated her question, “What should we do ?“. I had to think quickly, Shazza needed to make a decision, “Keep going, we are still a long way from the junctions and I will check the road reports on my mobile phone” I said, in what I hoped was in a confident and assured tone. To say that the ‘up to date’ road reports were useless would be a gross understatement, every one that I read told me about the accident that morning, the number of unfortunate fatalities and other victims with injuries, the type and number of vehicles that had been involved, the fact that the Motorway had been closed on both sides and even the length of tail back of the traffic queues, but not one of these ‘traffic updates’ gave any information on the current situation, absolutely useless, all of them. We kept going but eventually, in the darkness, we could see the stream of bright red brake lights ahead of us, eventually we, along with everyone else in all three lanes, came to a halt, with only the very occasional opportunities of edging forward a couple of feet. We were approaching Junction 23, that would be our last opportunity to get off and try to find an alternative route around the congestion, but we were stuck in the centre lane with lines and lines of huge trucks that were nose to tail to each other on our inside lane, our escape route. The exit junction edged closer and I saw a brief opportunity to get in-between two trucks, one had been a little slower at moving forward, probably too busy texting or playing games on his mobile phone, he would either hold back and let us in, or just crush us under his giant wheels claiming not to have seen us from his elevated position. “Now, go for it !!” I instructed Shazza, at first she was hesitant but again I said, “Go, Go, Go” and so she went for it and we survived. As we drove up the slip road and off the Motorway I was quickly assessing the road direction signs to find the most logical route, “I think the traffic is now moving on the Motorway” Shazza said in a frustrated tone, I looked across through the trees that were obscuring a clear vision of the road below, and sure enough the traffic appeared to be flowing freely, not very fast but a steady flow, “What should we do” Shazza asked, it was a question of hers that I had somehow become accustomed to on this particular trip !! “Let us get to the roundabout at the top of the road and then I will be able to see if the traffic is moving properly” I said, so we did and it was, so we just went straight back down the slip road and rejoined the motorway and eventually, with no further delays or deviations we managed to get back to our little sanctuary, just as the rain started again, we got inside the van, put the heater on, turned the kettle on and settled down in comfort after a very long and tiring day.

We are currently in a state of ‘suspension’, no we are not bungee jumping off the reception and office roof as a source of entertainment for our guests, with only ten days left on site we have now made all the post-season, as well as next years pre-season, arrangements with all of our external contractors and service providers, so we know, and more importantly, they know what days to turn up to do whatever it is they have to do and that will not be until after the final official day of the Season which, for us at least, is Monday 1st October. There is just the actual physical close down of the site facilities, jobs that Shazza and I have to do and ones that will require us to utilise all of our teamwork skills to get everything done so that we can drive away on time as scheduled. Those that know me will not be surprised to hear, I have my ‘To Do List’ ready, it has been ready for weeks, but apart from a few minor jobs, we are unable to close down the site properly until all of our ‘guests’ have departed, and therein lay the frustration. The weather, although it is still pretty horrendous, has now added a twist into the mix in that the daytime temperatures have plummeted, so as well as it being very wet and windy it is now cold, in fact it is worse than that, it is Bloody Cold !! So who, in their right minds, would leave perfectly good secure bricks ‘n’ mortar homes with central heating, unrestricted flow of piping hot water, shower, bath, flushing toilet, unrestricted WiFi etc. to come and spend days in a grass field in a small plastic box, but our guests, just like those martian invaders in the War of the Worlds’, still they came“…………..

As the darker nights start to draw in, and with the recent stormy weather that feels sometimes as if it has been as early as lunchtime, we are now spending much more time squirreled away in the van, during the summer we would spend most of our evenings in our more spacious and airy Awning but even with a fan assisted heater it is now too cold to do that. So we either watch the television, if there is anything worth watching, or watch programmes that we have downloaded onto iPlayer, but again there have not been that many worth downloading. Shazza likes her ‘foodie’ programmes whilst I prefer Nature or Travel programmes but even they have been few and far between recently. Inevitably we just end up talking to each other, you would think that with all the time that we spend together, working together on site and living in the van, that we would run out of things to say to each other, yes we have our quiet times where Shazza will sit and read her books whilst I read travel stuff, other people’s travel blogs or I just switch my head into travel mode and make hypothetical travel itineraries. But we do spend a lot of time discussing the future, our most consistent and prolific topics of conversation revolve around two primary subjects, Spain and our future travels in the Motorhome. With Spain, other than our annual Winter breaks, we often discuss whether we will actually choose to apply for permanent residency there at some point in the future, Shazza would do it tomorrow but I am not yet convinced that that is where I want to finally call home. We discuss whether, if we don’t take up permanent residency, we keep that as the location of our ‘bolt hole’ or we sell up and move elsewhere, I am a keen supporter of France or Italy, but perhaps we may even decide to just purchase a bolt hole back in the UK, which I see as being the logical solution if the outcome of ‘Brexit’ is not favourable towards extended motorhome travelling. As with a lot of things, until we actually know the impact nobody can make informed decisions, however, talking through some potential options now, may make such decisions easier when the time comes. My favourite topic of conversation, and the one that still fills me with a sense of excitement, is when we discuss getting back to our travel adventures. I just enjoy travelling in the Motorhome, wether it be across the channel in Europe or here on ‘home turf’, there are so many wonderful locations within the United Kingdom and I would be happy to spend as much time exploring each Country and Region within it, as I would spending time across the water and exploring the countries and regions of Europe. However, combining the explorations of both means that we will certainly have plenty of choice when the time comes. We have recently finished watching a series on TV, ‘Britain by Bike‘, and that, as well as other similar travel orientated programmes that we have watched, always gets our travel juices going and sometimes provides inspiration for us to visit areas we had not previously considered. We still watch the property programme, ‘A Place In The Sun’, but not for the property aspects as we are more than happy with our current ‘Bolt Hole’, however, when they focus on the region around our Spanish location we get to see Towns, Villages and Countryside areas that we may not, as yet, have explored ourselves, so it gives Shazza ideas for more of her ‘Adventures’ during our Winter breaks, I am not sure that this is a good thing !!

Posted in Winter 2015/16 | 4 Comments