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Spanish Lifestyle. Living in Spain

Monday, November 23, 2009



Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A ‘teenage’ night out in Benidorm

A ‘teenage’ night out in Benidorm

I don’t understand why so many people turn their noses up at the mention of Benidorm. Although known for having its fair share of lager louts, Benidorm has something for everyone – from theme parks, to beautiful beaches, nightlife and even the odd tea dance here and there.

My teenage kids have been going to Benidorm most Saturday nights for the best part of a year. All the local English kids do, meeting up on the train and heading off for an all night party.

Although I have had nights out in Benidorm myself, I hadn’t actually toured the bars of the British quarter where all the teenage bars and discos are located. As I had a friend over recently from the UK with her two teenage boys, we decided to book a hotel for the night and see what it’s all about.

Starting out at 11pm, we head for the ‘strip’ where we hear it all happens. By 11.10 we’ve picked up a good few free ‘shots’ walking down, as all the bars have people outside offering them to entice you in. A bar offering ‘two for the price of one’ encourages us to drink yet another free shot and buy a Vodka tonic each to get another two free. In the UK shorts are precisely measured, but not here – each glass contains more than half vodka with barely room for the tonic on top. We also get treated to live entertainment by ‘Sticky Vicky’, who although I have seen before, sat through once again for the benefit of my friend who really shouldn’t miss this ‘treat’. For the few who haven’t heard of Sticky Vicky, she’s the crutch queen of Benidorm, appearing totally naked (in her 70’s) and pulling all manner of things from her nether regions.

More bars, more shots, more shorts and by 4am we have drunkenly danced ourselves to exhaustion. I didn’t know I still had it in me! Weaving back down through the British quarter, we see people passed out on the floor, puddles of vomit, fights and our kids (trying to hurry away before we catch up with them but not succeeding). At this point I am told, I went alone into a rave club, from where the kids had to rescue me from the dance floor where I thought I was ‘raving’ along with the other occupants. Of course it was more from embarrassment in case any of their mates were in there, than the need to save me from myself. At this point I had lost my friend, which is easily done in the crowds down there, and decided to make my way back to the hotel. Jumping on the back of a strange boys moped, apparently I demanded a lift back as my feet hurt. My daughter was trying to get me off and the poor Spanish boy was apologising for not being able to take me because his mate was waiting for a lift. I dread to think what he must he have thought – this ‘old bird’ jumping on his bike. Disembarking ungracefully, I left him in peace and went off to find my friend with whom I staggered back to the hotel, via a food van selling cardboard chips.

All in all, we had an excellent night out, but I now have reservations about my kids going there. The British square in Benidorm is a teenagers paradise but a parents worst nightmare. No one appeared to be looking out for those kids passed out in the street, making sure they don’t choke on their vomit. Where were their mates, who should have been helping them? I am told, although wasn’t around to see it, that every morning at 8pm they have to steam clean that strip to remove the blood, sick and broken glass.

As ‘sensible’ adults, we were enticed by free drinks, ‘two for the price of one’ offers on shorts, and the overall party atmosphere – so can fully understand how these kids get in the state they do. Our kids were fine that night, but whose to say it won’t be one of them next time?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Full of the joys of Spain

Full of the joys of Spain

You know those people who wake up every morning uttering inane expressions like 'oh what a beautiful day', when all you see are grey skies and pouring rain? I used to have a friend like that and had prozac been invented at the time, we would have presumed her to be on a very high dosage - after all, there is probably only a few days a year that this saying truly applies.

However, living in Spain and saying the same thing actually means something. Despite being here five years now, I still admire the blue skies, green mountains and sparkling Med, every day thanking my higher conscience for making the decision to move. Friends are always saying 'don't you miss....', but no, I don't. I miss my friends and that's it - nothing else. Why would I? I have a 15 minute drive to work in the morning along the coast road in sunshine and with the sea beside me - as opposed to a 40 minute train journey in the rush hour to Charing X or a long traffic jam on the A2. Although I actually work harder than I did at home, there is plenty of time to enjoy life and if the work doesn't get done, I adhere easily to the typical 'Manana Manana' syndrome - there's always tomorrow. I know only one person who is stressed, whereas in the UK everybody I knew was stressed over something.

I have my problems - who doesn't, but its either the kids or the bank balance that worry me, not if I'm wearing designer clothes, if my make is perfect, whether I can afford a holiday, whether I'm late for work, where I'm going to find time to go shopping, if I'm going to be the victim of a teenage gang attack as one of my friends has been recently, etc. etc.

All in all, a fantastic climate really does make a difference to your whole life - and yes, I wake up every morning thinking 'oh what a beautiful day'.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Spain's little nasties

Spain's little nasties

Sometimes I miss the good old English creepy crawlies, having had some nasty confrontations with the Spanish varieties. I’m sure there are worse parts of the world in which to live, but I for one wouldn’t choose them.

Amongst the worst are the caterpillars, centipedes and spiders, whilst for pets it’s the sand flies, processional caterpillars and ticks.

My bedroom ceiling resembles a graveyard consisting of spiders, centipedes and mossies and we have now learnt, after several nasty experiences, to carefully examine every corner of our bedrooms at night before going to sleep.

Mosquitoes, despite nets on all the windows, still manage to sneak in and haunt the bedrooms at night. Just when you are dropping off to sleep you hear that awful buzzing noise around you, yet they completely disappear once you turn the lights on, only to return when the lights go off and you settle back down. Although not painful, the itching can keep you awake for hours.

Some mornings you find an array of bites which are quite obviously from different insects, some bites have two puncture wounds together which I think are from centipedes, others are swellings with one puncture, probably from spiders. Both of these are painful, as opposed to the itching of a mosquito bite.

Centipedes are not small as in the UK, and can be anything from an inch – 6”. This may not sound too large, but if you wake up and find one that size on your leg as my daughter did when she spent the night in the ‘campo’, you really would get a shock – and probably a nasty bite. Centipede bites are quite painful, a friend of mine had to have her swollen foot lanced in hospital due to the spreading venom causing so much pain. They are extremely quick – I suppose that’s expected from something with that many legs, but believe me if you’d been bitten by one, you would make real sure that you did not go to sleep in a room with one still running around.

The pine, or processional caterpillars live in cocoons in pine trees and drop down ‘en masse’, marching nose to tail in search of food. There may be hundreds at a time and their hairs are dangerous both to humans and animals. The only way to stop the procession is to burn them, as the hairs can still have an effect when the caterpillar is dead. An animal that inhales the hair, will suffer severe respiratory problems which are fatal if the antidote is not injected in time. Death is relatively quick, within about 12 hours – as we found out last year with one of our cats. Luckily, they are not around all year, mainly between the end of Jan – end March.

Ticks can cause irreversible damage to animals by disease transmission. Attempting to pull them from your pet can leave the head buried under the skin which can result in a nasty infection. Burning the body of the tick once it is blood filled (often you won’t notice them until they are full) works, but obviously this depends on whether your pet will stand for this. Luckily for us, our dog used to keep still and allow us to burn them.

The Sand fly lives in overgrown gardens and woody areas and is at its most dangerous to animals in the early hours of morning during the summer season. Disease from the Sand fly can lie dominant in dogs for years, and can be transmitted from dog to dog. The best preventative measure is to buy a special collar, especially if your dog lives outside. Sand flies rarely come indoors, and fly close to ground level.

There are apparently 13 varieties of snakes in Spain, of which only the vipers are dangerous. It is very rare to see them unless you walk in the mountains, but occasionally you will see some quite long ones slithering down a quiet road.

I have had two recent ‘episodes’ concerning rats which I haven’t encountered in the previous 4 years, although apparently rat colonies are quite prevalent in the villages. Sitting at a small Spanish bar in the port area of Calpe having a drink with a friend after a long day at the beach, we were deep in conversation when I felt movement on my shoulder. Thinking it was my salt encrusted hair blowing in the wind, I didn’t take a lot of notice until my friend leapt from her chair at the same time as a face appeared at the side of mine. The table behind us also jumped up, as did I as the rat jumped from my shoulder to the ground. When the bar owner came out to see why half his customers were standing in the street, we explained about ‘el rato’, and he laughed and said that they were living in the storeroom at the back of the next door building. A rather peculiar attitude from a guy that also sells food.

Last Monday, having been out all day, we returned home to find a big hole in the mosquito net at the kitchen window. Positive it hadn’t been there before, but convinced by the children that it had, we went to bed not giving it a second thought. Tuesday, I covered it up by using superglue and a piece of material to make sure that nothing that stings or bites flew in. Wednesday evening my daughter and I walked into the kitchen as a large rat fled from the new hole he was biting in the net. We now have to keep the kitchen window closed despite the still high temperatures whilst I decide whether I am capable of trying to poison him. Having kept pet rats in England, I’m not sure that I can.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Buying a car - driving in Spain

Buying a car - driving in Spain

When buying a car in Spain, prepare for the fact that it may not look new for long! 18 months ago I paid 24,000 Euros for the first brand new car I’ve ever owned. Today it looks like a 5 year old car. Driving in Spain is actually a pleasure most of the time – very few traffic jams, lovely scenery and usually a lovely sunny day – its just the other drivers that are the problem. How many people can say they’ve driven through Spain and not been cut up on a roundabout, blocked in by someone double parking, had some irate driver 2” away from your bumper for miles, or come face to face with a driver on the wrong side of the road? Most of these circumstances are not one offs, but regular occurrences.

I have a neat round towbar dent in the back bumper from someone backing in to me whilst I was parked, and a dented front number plate gained by the driver in front suddenly deciding to reverse into a parking space which I was partly covering at the time (no reversing lights, hence no warning). I have also had the front bumber, wing and bonnet totally replaced after a lady opened her door without looking, in a narrow village street, plus various dents and scrapes where a driver has been determined to squeeze into a space in which he barely fits. Dents and scrapes in my pride and joy make me angry, the attitude of the perpetrators enrages me further. They truly do not see it as a problem, in fact the lady who took off my wing told me off for getting upset as she kept repeating ‘no problema’ over and over again. Her attitude was that the insurance would fix it, so why worry? True enough, but when you are on your way to an appointment because you have to work, have to pick up kids from school, and there is no local bus services in the area, it proves to be a big problem when you are unable to use your car. The insurance did not pay for 10 days car hire, so yes, it WAS a problem.

Ever seen some of these drivers parking? They judge their distances by banging into the cars front and back numerous times until they are safely snuggled in the middle. They double park, the park on zebra crossings, they pull up in the middle of the road and jump out to nip into the local shop whilst you sit tapping your fingers and waiting. No amount of horn slamming or shouting gets the result you are looking for – no-one is in a hurry to let you pass.

I also have a key scraping from front to back on the drivers side, and the Peugeot badge on the boot has been prised off with a knife - probably due to kids. Not to mention what the dog has done. Following its return from the garage with its brand new bumper and wing, the dog obviously decided he didn’t like the new smell to proceeded to eat it. I now have a partially chewed wheel arch and bumper at the front. That’s apart from the claw marks on the boot – god knows what he was doing on there.

One of the young guys who makes the signs for our office was hit by a speeding driver overtaking him last weekend – the passenger side of his car is a complete write off, but the Spanish guy who hit him jumped out, threatened to hit him, and then drove off again leaving him in tears of shock. The police can’t do anything because he has no description, and left with with the impression that they didn’t really care about it anyway.

As there are no drains, or cambers on the majority of roads, when they flood (which they always do when it rains) you can find yourself driving through rivers up to your wheel arches, even when it dies down the roads are still dangerous as the have no grip. However, Spanish drivers don’t seem aware of this and just carry on as normal. Best not to be on the roads when its wet.

If you let someone past, or stop for pedestrians, don’t expect a thank you – you probably won’t get one, and if you do it will be from another English driver or possibly German – never Spanish.

Zebra crossings are another hazard. My daughter’s friend got hit by a moped who overtook a car approaching a crossing in Benidorm. The moped driver came off his bike and her friend got taken to court and charged. He had to pay compenstation to the driver for his injuries, despite the fact that he too was taken to hospital with injuries!!!

Many urbanisations and country villas still have dirt track access as opposed to tarmac roads, in fact the main entrance road into the Jalon valley is so full of potholes that you arrive in the valley with bumps and bruises if you come over the mountain too fast. Unfortunately, I have to drive there every day so I expect very soon I will have a large bill for suspension repairs. Surprisingly enough, I know very few people who have suffered punctures.

Villages often have exceptionally narrow streets where once upon a time only a horse and cart would pass. Many streets are wide enough for one car only, yet receive two way traffic and allow parking. A weird tradition they have is that on the first of the month, the parking is changed to the opposite side of the street. You have until Midday to move your car if it is still parked on the wrong side, or it will be towed away. I have no idea why this is. Pavements are so narrow that everyone walks in the street, and if you live in the village you will have parked cars with 12” of your front door, making it very difficult to squeeze in with your weekly shop. Virtually impossible with a baby’s buggy I would think.

If I was buying a car now, I would probably opt for a second hand one - I'd probably find it less stressful. Second hand cars hold their value better here as they are less prone to rust, but are therefore more expensive than in the UK. Trading in your old car is encouraged, as the government try to avoid cars of over 10 years old being on the road. I don’t really know why this is, as most cars look like they’ve been driving in Spain for 10 years even if they are relatively new.

Read the book 'Moving to Spain' to find out more about life in Spain.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Hospitals - Having a baby in Spain

Hospitals - Having a baby in Spain

Last night my daughter gave birth to her second child in the hospital in Denia. On the 45 minute drive to the hospital which is our nearest, I wondered how on earth emergencies make it on time. I was later reminded of a recent case where a British guy living in the Jalon Valley had phoned for an ambulance and was told there was a delay and he would have to drive himself. He got ten minutes down the road to Alcalali and had a massive heart attack at the wheel of his car.

On arrival at the hospital, an hour later than my daughter Coral and her boyfriend Ylli, we were told in A&E that we couldn’t go through to the maternity unit. Whilst loitering about wondering what to do, we happened to spot Ylli further up the corridor who told us how to get round to the unit. However, he too had been denied access and had no idea what was happening inside. The unit itself is behind a locked door, meaning you have to wait until someone comes out to be able to make an enquiry about anyone inside.

Coral does not speak much Spanish, so I knew how anxious she would be feeling on her own in there, especially as her labour was quite advanced when she arrived. An hour or so later, a midwife informed us that one of us could go in and see her. She was sitting upright on a chair at a desk, still in t-shirt and trainers with a sheet wrapped round her waist, whilst the doctor informed us that they didn’t have her notes and would have to repeat urine and blood tests that had been taken only three days before. They then gave her a scan, all the while telling her ‘tranquila’ (calm down). Once the tests were complete, we were told to walk down the corridor to a spare room where she could lie down. In this advanced stage, and still with no pain relief, I requested a wheelchair as Coral was convinced she couldn’t walk, but our request was greeted with a withering look that said ‘what a fuss you are making’ – we had to walk.

Once Coral was settled on the bed, I was told I had to leave, as only the father could be present from then on. Although we understood that only one person could be in the room at any given time, we had intended to take turns as both her brother and sister were also there to support her. Very different from the birth of her son in the UK, where there were five of us in the room during labour, and my own births – none of which had less than three present.

Whilst waiting in the most boring corridor on earth, we saw other couples arrive, but only the women were admitted to the unit whilst the men waited outside. I suppose it was like this in Britain many years ago, but we have been brought up in a time and a country where families, and even friends, are involved in the birth of a child.

During the next five hours, no-one came out to let us know what was happening. We tried knocking on the door a couple of times but were either ignored, or told to go away. We were unable to leave the ‘waiting corridor’ to go to the drinks machine or to have a cigarette, as there were so many people lying on gurneys on the way to the exit, that we were told we would disturb them and would be unable to get back in.

Then we heard the screams and knew that a baby was being born. Two Spanish women waiting near us complained about the noise, we told them to shut up. An hour later the baby was bought to the door of the unit but was quickly taken away again. We were told that if we waited another hour, Coral and the baby would be taken to a room on the ward and we could see them. An hour and half later we were informed that it was too late and that we should come back at 9am. When we left the hospital after 3am, we had no idea how Coral was, how much the baby weighed or where they had been taken. I have photos taken at, and directly after the births of all of mine, and my first grandson, but not this one.

This morning Coral phoned and although all is well, informs me that she will never have another baby in Spain. Despite requesting and being denied pain relief, she was told shut up, stop crying and calm down during labour and birth, was made to walk from the labour room to the delivery room 10 minutes before giving birth, and felt that she was treated very badly by unsympathetic midwives and doctors.

Had we been born in a different country, we may well have found the treatment of both Coral and ourselves acceptable. Spain is supposedly a family orientated country, but in this instance the family were treated like bothersome nuisances. Maybe we have been spoilt in Britain, but having had three births of my own, and attended two of others, I am used to a very different attitude. I know there are reports of NHS hospitals leaving people in corridors on gurneys, but I have never seen it for myself. Some of these poor souls were hooked up to monitors and ventilators, and had just been left haphazardly in passageways all over the hospital.

This has been one of the most frustrating and infuriating episodes of my life, and for the first time in four years I wonder what the hell I’m doing here. Despite being the only hospital in the area, it is in need of modernisation, more beds, more human resources - and the staff should be injected with a dose of ‘bedside manner’ - even the ambulances parked outside seem to have only the most basic necessities inside. I now dread the thought of myself or my children becoming ill and needing a hospital. NI, or ‘Autonomo’ contributions are compulsory for self employed workers at 226 Euros per month, which covers health care and hospital treatment, private medical is approximately 550 per year. In order to avoid the likes of Denia hospital, I know which way I’ll be going in future.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Telefonica – the bane of my life

Telefonica – the bane of my life

I would love to hear from anyone who has a good word to say about them. I used to think it was because we were English, but the Spanish also complain about them. I live in dread of having to phone directory enquiries because I know that my simple request could drag on for days, weeks – or in the case of ADSL – months.

Until recently, when you dialled 1004 for an operator, you waited for the electronic voice to say ‘Diga me’ (meaning ‘tell me’ in Valenciano) upon which time you shout ‘Hablas Ingles’, meaning you want to speak to someone in English. Then you get the awful piped music which has been the same for four years - ‘na na na - na na na - na na na na na na na - na na na - na na na…etc, (I think it was designed in the hopes that people would cut off rather than listen to it ) which you could listen to for 10 minutes – only to be found that you are then cut off and have to start again. They have very few English speakers, so the wait can be long. Now it has been changed to a fully automated system where you press 1 for this, 2 for that – but if you don’t understand what each option is saying you can go round in circles for ever – only to be cut off at the end of it.

ADSL is another matter. Any queries must be directed to the technical department where there are no English speakers. If you have a problem, and you don’t speak very good Spanish, you will need someone to make the call for you – or pay Telefonica 85 Euros to come out and check it. This would be a mistake as 99% of the problems are at their end anyway.

With Telefonica the customer is never right. If you complain, they will just cut you off. They have the monopoly and with no competition as yet, they treat their customers very badly. I have worked in a call centre in the UK, where all customer enquiries/complaints are logged, so that anyone else answering a call from the same customer can check the database to see what the enquiry is about and how another operator has tried to assist. Not so with Telefonica, no matter how many times you call, they have no record of any previous calls, or what the enquiry was about. The same enquiry can get you many different answers – none of which are very helpful.

In my business, property sales and rentals, I have to be able to answer enquiries at all times, and have five websites to control, therefore I need an ADSL connection at work and at home. As some areas still do not have telephone lines, even in an established area like the Jalon Valley, I suppose I am lucky that I have it at all, but I have moved home quite a few times in four years and each time the scenario is the same – a bloody nightmare. Now I am moving offices, which probably means I will be unable to work at the new one for the next eight weeks.

First you have to arrange the ‘alta’ and the ‘baja’, disconnection of existing line and reconnection at the new place. You cannot pre-order the ADSL connection, nor can you have a new line until your old one is disconnected. Despite calling 10 days in advance (which is the required time), the line is never disconnected on time, meaning you cannot have a phone line in the new place. You cannot request your ADSL until the new phone line has been installed and switched on (there is a 24 hour delay between installation and a working phone). ADSL then takes 21 days, which in my case has been up to eight weeks each time. Despite the fact that it is a business line, they just take their own sweet time. Meanwhile, you are making endless calls to find out the problem, and each time the operator will give you a different story – it is on, the problem must be your computer – the telephone pole is too far from your house, we can’t install it – we have no record of you ordering it – you cancelled it last week………., the list goes on and on. Meanwhile na na na - na na na, is installed into your dreams and Telefonica brings out the violent side of your nature - even if you don't normally have one.