If I was having a coffee right now, I would be sat on the shady terrace of our apartment , which is currently ‘home’. I’d be scrolling through photos and videos, I took a few nights ago in Vera at the Moors and Christians parade. But, I’m under strict instructions from Steve, not to write another blog on Spanish fiestas, parades, carnivals etc! Sipping on my coffee, I would be stressed about the fact that I haven’t written a blog post for 3 months. Or maybe I’d be preoccupied again with Brexit which is making it impossible to plan anything and be wondering what the impact will be on living in Spain for us? Life has been busy and very sociable and I do still have my list of ‘must visit’ places in this lovely area of Spain, which I can then share on my blog.
But there is also a place I would like to re visit, Nijar, which sits between Sierra de Alhamilla and the Mediterranean coast. To be more precise , Cactus Nijar which is a commercial nursery on the outskirts of town. The founder and owner Toni Brugger moved from Austria and set up the nursery and garden almost 20 years ago. I was first taken there by friends when there was small music and art event one hot balmy evening. What a setting, and of course my photos cannot do it justice. Nijar is not far from the film studios where the ‘spaghetti westerns’ were made. and you could easily imagine Clint Eastwood riding amongst the cacti!
The garden’s many varieties of trees include olive and palm with strategically placed sculptures throughout the garden and highlighting the different types of cactus plants. It is an inspiration however large or small your garden or terrace may be?
Of course cactus plants just thrive in our climate here, as I well know from our last garden. In fact I’ve grown (excuse the pun) to think they can be quite stunning and beautiful and more importantly, fairly low maintenance.
PS… for those of you who don’t get bored of seeing photos of Spanish fiestas, parades and carnivals……!! Vera Moors and Christians parade……
Now if Steve was sitting having a coffee right now ……
If I was sat here having a coffee right now …… Carole would have made it!
‘Thank you Darling’ …… what would I be thinking about? Well if I were still a smoker, I would be thinking about the sheer pleasure of finishing said coffee and then lighting up. The coffee taste still fresh in my mouth, as I flip the lid of the fag packet and slowly remove a ciggy. The excited anticipation of the first drag and feeling the nicotine ‘hit’ as my brain shouts its approval and writes ‘pleasure’ in my eyes. But, sadly, that little pleasure is no more. I’ve tried to get high on cacti but it just doesn’t do it for me. So what would I be thinking about? Maybe the book that I’ve been writing for so long, that now, when I decide to write, I have to re-read the first few chapters to remind me what its about! One day soon it will be finished and I will unleash it to the public scrutiny. It will be trashed and I will be ridiculed and I will know that I should have spent my coffee breaks more productively. So what am I to think about as the aroma of the beans and my taste buds combine to provoke an idea? Life. Life is a subject of incalculable facets. A subject of such magnitude that I think I’ll go and watch the Michael Macintyre ‘Waitrose’ sketch on YouTube.
“Lovely coffee Darling and good luck with the blog …… no fiestas etc”
Normally, our party season kicks off mid-May at the Jauro fiesta. But, finally, we made it to the Aguilas Carnival. With over 200 years of history, it was awarded “Fiestas of International Tourism Interest” in January 2015.
And so many tiny children participating!
The carnival is also the most famous in Murcia and people travel from all over Spain to enjoy it!
The carnival is over many days and the parades last anything between 2 to 4 hours! We went on the last evening for the Grand Parade.
There were thousands of people in carnival spirit helped by the “cuerva”(wine based drink) which is one of the well known features of this carnival. It’s said that the drink, La Cuerva, is prepared using all the left over alcohol from Christmas. Now there’s an idea as I peep in our drinks cupboard! Lots of spirits mixed with red and white wine plus soft drinks. I couldn’t find an exact recipe but as there is a contest for the best Cueva, it sounds like anything goes? The judges decide on the tastiest and name the winning drink “Super Cueva”!
A little tease for you ….. zoom in and count the lolly sticks in the photos above on the floats and outfits …..
Another feature is the “cascarones de confetti” (eggshells filled with confetti). Months ahead of the carnival, eggs are blown rather than broken and the eggshells stored by the locals. They are then painted or covered in colourful tissue and filled with confetti. On the Saturday before the big carnival parade in the Plaza de Espana, the cascarones are thrown during the battle of Don Carnal and Doña Cuaresma.
Doña Cuaresma (representing austerity, self denial and abstinence) wins and imprisons Don Carnel (representing mischief, merriment and excess) and we enter Lent. He escapes (end of Lent) and they get together and we party at the fiestas following Semana Santa (Easter week). This battle is played out in many carnivals all over Spain.
Yes, we decided to shake it all up and start a different chapter to our adventure in Spain. Of course we are still ‘chilled at sunset’ but a new location not so far away from Antas. We are back amongst people, bars and Spanish restaurants, plus a spa and a gym and all within walking distance. Still close to all our lovely friends and with stunning views, open spaces and can now add a sea view to the mix. In fact we are now just an 8 minute drive to the Mediterranean coast at Garrucha. Sounds good eh?
We will be at least six months here at Valle del Este, Campo de Golf. Renting for us, right now, is a good option and not being financially tied to Spain. Brexit is such a shambles but cannot be totally ignored, so we will sit back and see what pans out …… definitely do not feel like discussing Brexit in our blog!
Meanwhile, the immediate plan in our garden apartment is to relax more, finally get my easel set up and paint at home as well as at my weekly class. Steve will finally finish writing his book! And we want to travel more in Spain and visit family and friends more often back in the UK.
I still can’t believe it is three and a half years ago we arrived in Spain, a dream we finally made come true. We planned as much as we thought possible, after reading endless information, soaking up episodes of ‘Place in the Sun’ and taking Spanish language lessons before we arrived! Once actually living here day-to-day the dream and reality were so often different and I don’t mean in a bad or negative way at all but just different.
Firstly, making new friends, we found our new life soon became very sociable! But they also became our lifeline for advice in our first year. Everyone helped each other especially when being so rural in the campo. Just back in November, we had storms and small flash floods and with non-stop WhatsApp chats, we all checked who had flooded where and if help was needed? I admit, I did have one of those ‘I’m a Celebrity, get me out of here’ moments when one day we had no internet, intermittent electricity and no water indoors (plenty outside!). But then that lovely Spanish sunshine returned and the stormy days were quickly forgotten and all was back to normal.
‘Normal? now that is a word to give some thought to? We have had so many ‘firsts’ since starting our adventure here which are now considered our ‘normal’!
Speaking Spanish, sadly still poorly, almost everyday including texting in Spanish to couriers, builders and Spanish friends.
Pruned (and respected) the many different, often giant cacti we had in our garden without them attacking either of us!
We owned a swimming pool, learnt how to maintain, tough job, I know but someone had to do it!
Saw snakes (not poisonous) up close and personal on our patios and in the courtyard.
I still have a Spanish hairdresser who doesn’t speak much English, so those first few visits caused me the same anxious feelings I get when going to the dentist!
I’d peg out the washing and wonder at the fab views of rolling hills and seeing rabbits and partridges wandering in our garden …… OK, there were also a few ‘nasties’ crawling as well!
I started taking art classes and even hanged some of my finished pieces in our home.
We were recommended Felix, the four foot tall and wide, one eyed local Spanish gardener (bless him!) who arrived at dusk, a few months after we moved in, waving a saw and he soon pruned every tree and more!
We picked our olives and took them to the olive press in exchange for extra virgin oil, delicious and such fun!
It was so normal to go outside and pick a lemon from our tree to accompany our fish dishes …… Oh! OK, …… gin and tonics!
We had lived here 10 months, when we were invited for the weekend to Granada with our Spanish friends. That was a very intense Spanish lesson but we learnt so much about the Spanish lifestyle, really great. After a few wines, I really thought I could be fluent in Spanish but ……
Fiestas became an important fixture on our calendar and we still always try and visit a new one each year as well as being loyal to our dear Antas fiesta.
Honestly, so much has happened since we arrived here, too much to mention but our blog is a lovely diary of the highlights!
Having lived in a Spanish cortijo, it was wonderful in so many ways but they do need never ending TLC almost everyday of the week. The renovations improved our cortijo and were a true labour of love but often the work needed redoing every year due to the nature of the build and climate. We asked ourselves, did we really want to continue spending our savings and time working hard on the cortijo for a few more years? The answer was ‘no’. Nobody sees themselves getting older …… who bloomin’ wants to? But if something happened to us in our home, the emergency services would never have come out to us, it would have been quicker to drive to the medial centre, if you could! I guess, when Steve fell off his ladder and only injured his ankle, it made us look at the reality of where we lived a bit more. It is a tough balance, our dream house with so much space, potential, lots of land, swimming pool and surrounded by countryside with such privacy versus total practicality.
But we moved a month ago and it is so different here and impossible to compare, it really feels like a new exciting and happy chapter!
Well, I can tell you what I got up to on this chilly Spanish Sunday morning. I went with our neighbours Kay and Mike to the nearby port of Garrucha. We parked at the marina opposite the dry dock where currently, there is an old 34 metre yacht, formerly named the ‘Jazmine’. It had been deteriorating for 15 years a few kilometers up the coast in Aguilas. Richard Burton bought, the once luxury yacht, from Aristotle Onassis as a gift for Liz Taylor. Just one of a number of their yachts, when they were arguably Hollywood’s most famous couple!
But it was a time when glamour and mystique went hand in hand, with the public having only the occasional glimpse of the legendary couple, not like today with 24/7 news on social media.
I guess for the younger readers of this blog, they were the George and Amal Cloony of the 60’s and 70’s.
We took a short stroll to the huge marquee erected in one of the marina car parks, where Gastro Festival de la Gamba Roja was being held. Such a great way to try tasty tapas, including the famous local catch of the Garrucha prawns.
Local restaurants had prepared their specialties and the aromas, the hustle and bustle of visitors made for a wonderful atmosphere.
For the first time I tried a typical local tapa of deep fried aubergine with a crispy coating and sticky honey, delicious. Kay and Mike chose seafood and bacalao (cod) tapas, also equally delicious!
In fact, Almeria has recently been confirmed as the new Spanish Capital of Gastronomy for 2019! With over 300 gastronomic activities already planned, it will be a very busy city. This will also be great for tourism, really putting Almeria and the province on the map. Currently León is the Spanish Capital of Gastronomy.
After a couple of hours wandering around the huge marquee looking at all the gastronomic delights on offer, we finally sat down with our ‘cafe con leches’ and we all agreed it had been a very civilized and chilled way to spend a Sunday morning.
So, here I am sitting sipping my coffee at Almeria airport. I’m feeling a little apprehensive about my trip to the UK, and try to distract myself with a little people watching. We all love people watching, don’t we? And there seems to be almost a pattern of behaviour when flying so I couldn’t resist making a few observations for a blog. However, photos were a no no!!! Shame!
I’ll start in ‘departures’, where in and amongst the queuing hoards at check-in, my interest falls on a couple of seasoned ‘baby boomer’ travellers. They are cultured, adventurous, language savvy and looking at ease. Each is sporting the biggest backpack. They dress in beige and grey trousers with logoed tee shirts featuring some clever and witty slogan. Stomachs are accentuated by 40 year old bumbags (now back in fashion). Can’t make out if these people are stooped with age or the weight of their back packs. Trendy or stupid? I prefer a case with handle and wheels! Baby boomer man drops his phone and bends down to pick it up, the weight is too much and sends him sprawling into a couple of young guys in front who lift the back pack off him, so he can stand up again. There is no substitute for youth however trendy you try to look.
So, why are most people impatient and grumpy in the cafe? It’s probably been an early start, need a caffeine fix, anxious about flying etc etc. But always, there is an angry English person being rude to the Spanish serving staff. Ranting in English, not one word of Spanish. The staff just look on bewildered and their ‘crime’ was serving a latte instead of a cafe con leche. High drama indeed!
I am sat close to the exit of the Duty Free Shop and I spy a tiny, very, very thin, mahogany stained old lady, Almeria’s ‘Madge’ (character from ‘Benidorm’) . She is loaded with her bottle of gin and fags and grinning from ear to ear. Was she just pleased with herself or had the earlier gins just kicked in? Bless her!
The mobile phone eh! What would we do without it? Conversation was thin on the ground, most people were either fixated at their screen or plugged in. The nodding heads of the under 35’s or maybe now 40’s, sporting earphones or if a teenager, enormous headphones. They look like they should really be outside guiding the planes to their gates! It is funny how technology has gone into reverse, phones and earpieces are just getting bigger and bigger, keeping up with waistlines and egos. Occasionally, the phone rings……YES! I’M AT THE AIRPORT HAVING A COFFEE ….. CAN YOU HEAR ME ALRIGHT? Half the airport looks up and says ‘yes’!
Out of the corner of my eye I notice a young couple with a baby desperately trying to collapse and fold a buggy with the military precision akin to packing a parachute! They are trying not to disturb anyone by whispering to each other and goodness, how much hand luggage does a little baby need?
Then, how could I not mention the business traveller. Always appears stressed, in a hurry, last person to turn off their mobile or laptop once on the plane. They frantically call their office to make sure the world can survive their few hours of being incommunicado? No, I was never that bad!
Finally the fun part, you’ve queued at check-in, you’ve stripped and queued at security, you’ve had your €3 bottle of water confiscated, you’ve queued at the gate and you’ve queued on the ramp. At last you are one step away from the plane door. That last couple of feet are filled with anticipation and trepidation. You start to look around the bodywork of the plane, are there any cracks, signs of metal fatigue, can you smell a fuel leak and then you are in and there’s that feeling of no longer being in control! You have to rely on the pilot. You slowly make your way down the aisle passed the ‘economy plus’ who smile and stretch their legs at the ‘cattle class’ passing. Then, you’re in the main cabin looking for your seat number, watching with amusement as the struggle for the overhead lockers goes on and there it is 23C. I look down at my seat which is filled with a man tapping away on a 10cm keypad. “Are you sure you can’t sit somewhere else” he indignantly says as he is forced to gather his belongings.
He’s gone, I relax into my seat and dig out the in-flight magazine ready to try and fill the boredom of the flight. Then as I’m flicking through the pages, the intercom sparks into life…”Good morning ladies and gentlemen, unfortunately I have some bad news, due to a technical issue ……….”
Just can’t believe my last post was over 2 months ago – sorry! Where did the wonderful summer go? A cruise, trip to England, watching the World Cup, partying at a few fiestas and days on the beach of course.
Then, on the really scorching hot afternoons here, it was a case of sofa, a good movie and ice cream. That got me thinking of my favourite movies – not easy! I often see on other blogs – top 10 lists but Steve and I listed 40 plus movies straight off. Somehow, I have got my list down to top 20….sort of…. It would change yet again if I was asked tomorrow!
Officer and a Gentleman
When Harry met Sally
Sleepless in Seattle
Good Morning, Vietnam
As Good as it Gets
Terms of Endearment
Saving Private Ryan
The Italian Job (original)
Steve loves all movies, so his list is not in a time warp like mine! What are your favourite films?
Anyway, we said ‘adios’ to August and welcomed a little September rain. (Now that’s something I didn’t think I would say when living in Spain.)
But the rains brought a lovely freshness and it is still around 24 degrees but with no humidity. Autumn is here and the garden has come alive with so much flowering.
Why do weeds grow faster than plants? But hey, we will even have the start of a ‘lawn’ in the coming weeks! It really is more like Spring.
Soon, we are allowed to take Charlie for long walks on the beach followed by hot fresh coffee. Yes, it will also be ‘adios’ to my lovely iced coffees!
The farmer who owns most of the land around our house is also busy. After removing dead orange trees from 3 fields back in May, we are now all ‘ploughed’ ready for the farmer to plant the much promised olive and almond trees. Wow, the smell from the blossom in a few months time will be gorgeous!
In a few weeks the pellet burner will be firing up the central heating and we will be all snuggled up. Dare I say, making plans for Christmas????!!!
It’s July and as the searing sun beats down on Antas, the scenery looks more and more parched and desert like. (We’re about 80 kilometres from Tabernas Desert.) So, I started looking back at photos I took a few weeks ago which led me to reminisce on how our garden has evolved in the last three years but is still very, very much a work in progress and always will be and I have never experienced such fast growing weeds as here in Spain!!
We started on the garden around our refurbished courtyard back in November 2015.
And the courtyard went from this…
…to this, our modern surprise inside our cortijo. The perfect chill out or party (fly free) outdoor room!
Last week, I was sitting on a plane, thinking about my next blog post? I had been in England for a week and had enjoyed a glorious English summer (unusual). The countryside looked so green and lush and gardens were bursting with colour! Plus a few BBQs, country pubs and a tea party at my aunt and uncle’s and I was pondering why we decided to leave England?
I realised I was looking at England through the eyes of a tourist and sorry, but there are a few things I don’t miss, like the grey skies, cold winters, rain and the M25 ‘carpark! I certainly do not like the rush rush, the hard sell and the more and more computerised lifestyle that England has embraced.
Then a few experiences I had there really set me wondering if the geeks that design computer programs ever consider using common sense or just keeping human beings?
I forgot when popping into Sainsburys, that the self-service check-out tills have been ‘breeding’ in my absence and I’m directed to one in a polite but firm manner. Of course as a ‘trainee’ still, I made a mistake scanning and needed a human being to help me. Then, I scanned a bottle of wine and needed another human being to confirm I was over 18 years old!
But it got much better than this, when taking the hotel bus from Heathrow to the Holiday Inn to collect my hire car. The bus driver had no change for a £5 fare and there were several of us with £10 and £20 notes. But, hey, no problem, I could pay by bank card. ‘No, computers down’ the driver said proudly. Knowing this, did the driver ensure he had plenty of change and used his common sense, no! We had all been waiting over an hour for the hotel bus and then he suggested we all go back into the terminal and get change – would he wait for us – no! In order to be allowed on the hotel bus, a few of us clubbed together and paid for others tickets, knowing we knew we would be refunded at the car hire desk on arrival. The car hire company didn’t hold cash in their plastic card world and so I was informed that only after my return ride back to Heathrow, could I then claim the money by photocopying my bus tickets and then e –mailing them and waiting 21 days for a computer to refund!
My lovely Mercedes hire car had a super-duper on-board computer which had a bright red triangle light which lit up when I was driving too close to the car in front – common sense? No, just annoying as I was bumper to bumper at 10 mph on the M25!
Getting ready for my return, I thought I would check-in for my flight indoors on the computer – common sense, I think so. It was simple, all I then had to do on arrival at the airport, was go to the ‘bag drop’ desk at BA terminal 5 Heathrow and go through security and have a nice leisurely coffee. But I was directed to a computerised check-in desk, where I had to scan my boarding pass, print off my own luggage tag and attach to my case as instructed by the computer. (Well, OK but I don’t remember applying for the job of BA ground staff….)
My case happily wobbled along the conveyor belt, got stuck and the computer flashed up ‘congratulations, your luggage has been refused !!!’ and then ‘wait for assistance’. After all this, a human being was required and said to me ‘don’t worry, it’s OK madam, you have probably not put the baggage label on correctly’, quickly followed by ‘oh! madam you did do it correctly!!!!’. Shock, horror I could understand a computer or had I just used my common sense? Anyway, the human climbed onto the conveyor belt and rescued my case and then had to over-ride the computer and re start the whole baggage check-in again.
From all the hustle and bustle to Almeria airport, where you disembark and walk across the tarmac to the terminal where the pilot is waiting to bid you farewell! I am very quickly reminded of the personal touch in Spain and yes, this is sometimes very slow and could even be mistaken for lazy or disinterested. But I think that basically the Spanish resist against a rushed and computerised lifestyle plus it saves their jobs. (Except Spanish banks but that is another ‘post’!)
Anyway, I’m now a qualified supermarket check-out person and airline check-in person and all unpaid labour! I’m looking into the future when I will be loading the baggage on the plane or even flying it!!???
We decided to celebrate our birthdays (I forget which one now!) and our silver wedding anniversary with a special holiday. Chilling on fun deck and cruising out of Barcelona, taking in the South of France, Italy and Montenegro and finally back to Barcelona.
We arrived mid-afternoon on the Friday and had our first mini taste of Barcelona. We checked in at the hotel and headed straight to La Sagrada Familia, just 10 minutes’ walk away.
Wow, the Gaudi masterpiece is just stunning, beautiful, amazing captivating …… Our tour included going up one of the towers – the passion tower – looking out over Barcelona city!
Now, my challenge is how many of the hundred plus photos to feature on this post as none of them really do justice to this spectacular structure due to be finished 2026! (Visit http://www.sagradafamilia.org for all the history – fascinating.)
We will definitely go back to Barcelona and visit all the sites!
After a morning stroll around the city we boarded the ship Saturday lunchtime and set sail for Villefranche Sur Mer which is nestled between Nice and Saint Jean Cap Ferrat on the Cote d’Azur.
Still a fishing village with so much charm and French chic but bustling with locals and tourists. We decided to spend most of our time there after catching the bus into Nice for a few hours.
Nice was hectic as the Monaco Grand Prix was on…..poor Steve, so close and yet so far…..another year?
Monday we docked in Livorno, west coast of Tuscany, Italy. A cruise gives you a real flavour for places but it is impossible to visit all the sites in a day. So, we decided to visit Lucca and Pisa with Tuscanybus.com which was an excellent service and tour. Lucca is known for the well preserved Renaissance wall surrounding the city plus Lucca is the birth place of the opera composer Puccini.
Such a pretty place and we sampled our first Italian ice cream!
After chilling in Lucca for a few hours, we moved on to Pisa which as expected was super busy with tourists, but still amazing to visit. The leaning tower of Pisa, 185 feet of white marble! But the bell tower is not the only attraction in the Field of Miracles – Campo dei Miracoli. There is the Cathedral, Baptistery and ll Duomo (Italian for The Dome).
The following day, we arrived in Civitavecchia Port and took the train to Rome S. Pietro just 40 minutes away. Well, as the English playwright John Heywood said…Rome wasn’t built in a day… and for sure even on the best ‘hop on, hop off’ bus tour, it is a challenge to visit all the awesome sites in a day! But before we took the bus, we walked only 15 minutes from the station to the Vatican City, the smallest city in the world (110 acres) and where the Swiss guards still serve as the military force.
St Peter’s Square and St Peter’s Basilica are stunning and vast and again, impossible to really capture in a photo. Especially, in a sea of Japanese tourists with either umbrellas or selfie sticks!
We had a 10 hour exhausting but fun day. Apart from the café, where we stopped and had 2 coffees, 2 small pastries and 1 small bottle of water. I jokingly commented that the bill will be huge as there was a cash machine by the door…28 euros later!! Still, we had plenty of cents to throw in the Trevi fountain in order to get that perfect photo.
We strolled around the area and took a peek at the Pantheon, a former Roman temple. But Steve wasn’t allowed in as he was wearing a vest t shirt, so did I, but my shoulders were good to bare….ha! ha! Back on the tour bus, through the streets and more tourist points of interest until we reached the Colosseum – another wow to finally see in real life. Also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre and the largest ever built.
Back on the bus, final photo opportunity was the Altare della Patria, a huge monument built to honor Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy.
Phew, just minutes away from the station we chilled in a lovely Italian café with fresh pizza and ice cold Peroni beer.
My step counter had almost exploded….our poor feet!!
Good morning to Wednesday, as we docked at Salerno, a port city in Campania and about 1 hours’ drive from the Amalfi coast. We went ashore for coffee and a strolled around and just wanted to relax after Rome. Didn’t fancy a boat trip for the day when we were cruising anyway!
After a day at sea, we started sailing into Venice at Friday lunchtime, a place we have both really wanted to visit for many years. Every passenger was out on deck with their cameras. Breath-taking as we sailed by Piazza San Marco, Saint Mark’s Basilica, Doge’s Palace, and the excitement just kept building. (Also couldn’t believe there were four other cruise ships dominating the cruise port skyline when we docked!).
We were half an hour walk from where our dear friends Dee and Rob were staying – we were all going to share the Venice experience!
Plus we met with Italian friends Angelo and Marco who immediately advised us the best way to see Venice was to ‘walk Venice’……the step counter was ready again! They also took us to the Venetian Ghetto area which a lot of tourists miss. (The ghetto was an area where Jews used to be compelled to live by the government.) We sat outside eating Venetian style tapas (cicchetti) and drinking good Italian wine, just bliss soaking up the atmosphere with the boats passing by. We walked back to the ship and Venice at night looked magical! Venice didn’t disappoint.
Next day, we all met up and started the step counter, crossed a few canals, caught a water taxi to Saint Mark’s Square and took a boat trip to Murano, famous for its long tradition of glass making.
A factory visit, a showroom visit, glass pendants for Dee and I, lunch and back to the real hustle and bustle!
Somehow, we walked by Doge’s Palace, through Saint Mark’s Square, by Saint Mark’s Basilica, the clock tower, took photos of the Bridge of Sighs without losing anyone! Stopped at a café for a well-earned drink, and then finished walking over the Rialto Bridge and meandering through many narrow streets, over so many tiny bridges back to the hotel.
Farewell Venice, it didn’t disappoint, did I already say that? We will go back there, for sure.
Sunday morning we docked in Porto Corsini. With a large marina and then beaches and pine forests, pretty. We took the local ferry and bus into Ravenna and strolled around the market etc. The ship sailed early afternoon and we enjoyed cruising across to Montenegro.
Kotor Bay is the deepest natural fjord-bay in the Med and the sail in scenery was stunning.
We visited the walled medieval old town of Kotor, winding streets and squares and Romanesque churches, shops and cafes. It was a bit touristy, but great fun and was a lovely port to end our fantastic cruise!
We had a final two days cruising an chilling back to Barcelona and home to Antas.
I was born in Albox, Almeria province in Andalucía, Southern Spain. Albox is situated in the heart of the Almanzora Valley with the Mediterranean coast about 45 minutes away.
Can you remember your favourite childhood memory growing up in sunny Spain?
I have so many memories but here is just one from my early childhood. I remember waking up on vacations, getting myself dressed in shorts and polo shirt and running outside into the street to play with my friends. When I was young my ‘pueblo’ was very quiet and all the houses were open and we could run in and out, at any time alone. The feeling of freedom!
What do you think are the most endearing traits of the Spanish people?
I think the climate creates our personalities and the pleasant temperatures invite us to go out and socialise.
Can you pick fruit from your garden each day?
Yes, at this moment I have avocados, bananas, oranges and lemons. In each season of the year there are different trees to pick from – is this paradise?
What exactly is a ‘Mediterranean diet’…..?
Our Mediterranean diet is about consuming natural produce prepared in a traditional way. The balance between vegetables from the garden, protein from meat and fish and unsaturated fats from our olive oil, makes this diet a reference for healthy food worldwide.
And your favourite tapas whilst sipping an ice cold beer by the Med?
The fish in this area is of great quality and fresh. For me, the perfect tapa to accompany a wine or a beer.
What’s on the ‘menu del dia’ – a traditional Spanish meal please?
The menu will always have salad, soups, meats or fish accompanied by vegetables. Fruits and pastries are part of a typical ‘menu del dia’. The variety of products makes it easy not to repeat the same dish very often.
What is the key to cooking the ‘perfecto paella’?
The perfect paella does not exist! Each chef has his own technique and each region has different key ingredients in their paellas. The paellas with fish and seafood are more common on the coast and paella with meat, you will find inland. It’s like a “pizza” where you can put different ingredients.
What do you think is Spain’s biggest contribution to world culture?
Throughout history there have been many contributions that Spain has made to the world in the field of science and culture. But one of its most important has been its language. Spanish is used daily by 500 million people as a means of communication throughout the world. After Mandarin, it is the second most spoken language.
What is special about the Spanish guitar music?
The most important guitar maker in the 19th century was Antonio de Torres who was born in Almeria. It is his design that we recognize today as the modern classic guitar. They are the standard in flamenco and international classical music. The creativity of this instrument instantly recreates landscapes, colours, light, smells, feelings and sensations of Spain.
Flamenco originates from Andalucía so how often do you practice?
I spend my leisure time in my music studio. So I practise when I meet friends or musicians who know and share the flamenco duende – passion and inspiration!
Fiestas are very important in the Spanish culture…why?
Spanish fiestas symbolize the essence of Spain and the Spanish people. They are colourful, vibrant, usually noisy, often chaotic and always good fun! They’re the vital ingredient to any party.
I only have 10 days in Andalucía; please can you suggest an itinerary of ‘must see’ places?
Andalucía is a very large province to visit in only 10 days, but there are some essential places to go, I think?
If we start our route in the west of Andalucía, by the Guadiana River, which is on the border with Portugal, you can visit the beautiful and excellent beaches of Isla Cristina and the Doñana National Park. For nature lovers there is a lot of wildlife adorning conservation areas of true natural beauty. From San Lúcar de Barrameda you can take a boat to navigate the Rio Guadalquivir to Seville.
Once in Seville, you should visit the Torre del Oro (military watch tower) and the cathedral with the Giralda tower (bell tower).
Giralda the bell tower of the Cathedral of Seville and orange trees full of ripe fruits in a sunny day
Then, there is Archivo General de Indias which contains some of the most important historical records of Spanish colonialism in the Americas and declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Discover the neighbourhoods of Santa Cruz, Triana and visit the Maria Luisa Park. Amid the scent of orange blossom, take a horse driven carriage ride. Finally, after some tapas visit a “tablao flamenco” to enjoy the music and dancing typical of Andalucía.
Taking the motorway to Cadiz you will find Jerez de la Frontera where it is possible to visit the bodegas and taste their world famous wines. The Port of Santa Maria offers an opportunity to taste the excellent fish and seafood along with a good wine from Jerez!
Cadiz offers its carnival with a show of “chirigotas” (music groups) with lots of fun and where Don Carnal defeats Doña Cuaresma as part of the entertainment.
From Gibraltar to Malaga is the Costa del Sol, where you can visit the well-known towns of Marbella and Torremolinos. Sit and take a coffee while people watching – the rich, famous and glamorous!
From Malaga it’s about a 50 minute drive to Antequera Dolmens, the megalithic constructions from the past and El Tórcal nature reserve, known for its unusual limestone rock formations.
We can re-join the motorway onto Cordoba where you discover the world famous Mosque – Cathedral, of Arab origin and later adapted to the Christian religion, turning it into a cathedral but respecting its essence.
Stroll through the streets of the old town, especially when it’s the Spring Festival, as private houses open their flowered courtyards to the public. It really is a ‘must’. You will also find goldsmith workshops, where they still make jewellery in the traditional way.
A drive from Cordoba to Jaén will take you through a landscape of olive trees, where the intense smell of the olive oil production invades all the senses. The castle of Santa Ana and the towns of Úbeda and Baeza are also worth stopping at?
I think a trip to Granada is very special and to tour the Alhambra Palace is spectacular. Walk along the banks of the Rio Darro, filled with bars, music and shops with the Alhambra Palace as the backdrop, especially at night, is beautiful. During the winter and spring the Sierra Nevada ski resort is open. Yet a few kilometres away are Motril and Almuñécar with a tropical climate.
Finally, Almeria province, the great unknown or the ‘orchard of Europe’ has a mild temperature with an average of 13º C in winter and 26º C in summer which makes it very attractive to live all year round. In the capital you can visit the cathedral and the castle of the Alcazaba. The mountainous interior of Almeria finds the towns of La Alpujarra (also part in Granada province), Vélez Blanco and Maria. Back along the Mediterranean coast you can see the more touristic towns of Roquétas de Mar, Mojacar and Vera, perfect to enjoy the sun, beach, tranquility and a magnificent gastronomy.
But, really I have only mentioned just a few places in Andalucía…
So, to end our interview, how was it growing up under Franco rule?
My childhood, like that of any child was far from any political events. I was not even aware of the historical time in which I had to live. It was only later, in my adolescence, when I became aware of the situation.
My first years were spent planning childhood imaginative games in my neighbourhood, at school and with family. At home, people never talked about politics, it was taboo. It was a quiet and safe neighbourhood, as I mentioned before. The games I played with my friends relied on and developed our imagination in order to occupy our days. I also remember my vacations at my grandmother’s house in a rural environment. We had to find the water for the house on a donkey and at night the rooms were lit by candles!
When I was 10, we moved neighbourhoods to a house that my father had built. On the terrace I made a dovecote and I took care of our pigeons. After football, this would occupy my time encouraged by my older brother! A teacher taught me to play the guitar and it would become my favourite hobby and passion, still today.
My first music group, in my adolescence played protest songs. I guess I became more politically aware and understood the importance of freedom within a dictatorship. In Spain there was an air of real change with the death of Franco. The transition from dictatorship to democracy happened in my new music band, between the chords of Rock & Roll and the university. There was a journey with a lot to discover!