Feliz Navidad y Feliz Año Nuevo!

 

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Here in Spain, the Christmas and the New Year celebrations are slightly different those in the England.

22nd December – The day of the draw for the national Christmas lottery –  El gordo (the fat one). The draw goes on for most of the day, with many winning tickets and prizes varying from small amounts to hundreds of millions of euros! The prize pot this year was over two billion euros!!!

24th December – Christmas Eve sees a family gathering and a large meal of many savoury dishes including fish and meat. Plus many sweet dishes, ‘el turrón (nougat – honey, sugar, and egg white, with toasted almonds or other nuts), los  polvorónes ( a soft and very crumbly Spanish shortbread) and marzipan.

25th December – Christmas Day is not so different with some gifts and a family meal.

28th December – Los Santos Inocentes, the origin is religious but nowadays it is festive fun when everyone plays jokes on each other, joke news on tv and in the newspapers etc, just like April Fool’s Day. I guess with Spain loving a fiesta, it is another excuse for a celebration in between Christmas and New Year!

31st December – Nochevieja (old year). This dinner is spent with friends rather than family. And did you know, you should wear red underwear to bring you luck during the next year?! Most people watch the countdown to the New Year with the ringing of the bells at Puerta del Sol in Madrid. The tradition is to eat 12 grapes within the time it takes for 12 chimes, followed with Cava and plenty of it! Then the real fiesta starts and at sunrise you have a typical breakfast of hot chocolate with churros (strips of fried dough dusted with sugar or cinnamon).

1st January – A family dinner but maybe not much of an appetite for anyone due to ‘resaca’ or to you and me ‘hangover’!

6th January – El dia de los Reyes Magos (the day of the Three Kings or Three Wise Men). The children write their letters to the Kings with their gift wishes. On the 5th, they should go to bed early, leaving their shoes out for Kings to visit and fill with gifts! Then on the 6th, the traditional breakfast is Roscón de Reyes which is a ring-shaped cake decorated with dried fruits symbolizing the precious gems that adorned the Kings lavish clothes. Normally, hidden in the cake are two plastic-wrapped figurines, a faba bean (similar to a broad bean) and a small king. Whoever finds the small king will  be “king” or “queen” of the feast and will have good luck all the year. But person who finds the faba bean has to pay for the roscón!

 

 

Wishing all our family and friends a wonderful Christmas and a happy 2018!!

 

 

 

 

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Our first olive harvest!

 

It would seem that quality extra virgin olive oil is super healthy and, probably the healthiest fat in the world! Here’s why…

 

Protects Heart Health.

Helps Fight Cancer.

Helps with Weight Loss and Obesity Prevention.

Supports Brain Health.

Fights Mood Disorders and Depression.

Great for Boosting Skin Health.

Can Help Prevent or Treat Diabetes.

Helps Balance Hormones.

 

When we moved into our cortijo, we knew we had olive trees in our garden ( plus grape vines, pomegranates trees, orange tree, lemon tree, fig tree and many almond trees). Our oldest and largest olive tree shades the pool terrace. This tree was in desperate need of a good prune in order to grow good olives. We were introduced to a local Spanish gardener who, appeared one evening waving his hand saw and winking with his one good eye! Hola!

 

 

 

As expected, we had no olives last year but, this year we had loads. However, do you have any idea how many olives you need to pick to fill a crate?

 

 

We spent ages laying the net at the base of the tree and, raking our olives off the branches. We had a few more olives on the young trees in our orchard but, we needed help, especially as our puppy, Charlie was munching through quite a few! Our friends Kay and Mike kindly ‘lent us an olive tree’ in their garden and, helped picked more olives. Kay was determined to fill our first crate to the very top.

 

The following day, we all went to the olive press in Lubrín, just a short drive away. The olives are pressed at the Almazara de Lubrín factory. A family business which can currently grind up to 180,000 kilos of olives every 24 hours. There are five varieties of olives grown in this region. The hot, dry climate, mild winters, hours of sun and the influence of the Med so close, results in a very distinctive product from other regions in Spain. The extra virgin olive oil produced gives an intense flavour with a mild bitterness and fruity taste.

We arrived to find a long queue of trucks and tractors with their trailers full of olives, cars and vans packed with stacks of crates, so we wait patiently and excitedly with our one crate!

 

 

The process started with Steve tipping our olives through a large grate in the ground.

 

 

As our olives trundled along the conveyor belt, a handful were removed and taken to the laboratory to be tested for quality and oil content. Oh! Yes, all mod cons, no donkeys pulling large stones involved! All of us stand with eyes fixed on the display board waiting to see how many kilos we had collected.

 

 

The light flashes – 18 kilos! We receive our special form and in exchange receive 3 litres of Almazara de Lubrín Extra Virgin Olive Oil!!

 

 

Fantastic, good fun and, another cherished memory made in Spain. We will be nurturing our olive trees much more now. If you had told us 5 years ago that we would be picking our own olives etc, we would just never have believed it!

 

olives

 

Serón, Almeria

 

 

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So, there has to be a plus side to doing a 3rd year of level 1 at our Spanish lessons apart from revision! Yes, we are invited on the ‘school’ trips organized by the Casa de la Cultura in Antas. To date we have visited Cape Palos, La Manga, Murcia and last week Serón.

Serón is in the province of Almería, Andalusia and located at an altitude of 822 metres. and in the heart of the Sierra de los Filabres.

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On approach, you first see the castle at the very top of the village giving the most stunning views of the Almanzora valley. The Moorish castle dates back to the 13th century. The Christians taking charge in the 17th century.  This fortress in Serón is included in the  Ruta de los Castillos (The Castle Route) throughout Andalucia. There is major restoration happening currently.

 

 

 

Visit Parroquial de la Anunciación Church where, at first sight, it has a stunning marble interior, however it is actually all marbleizing (painted marble effect) as the pueblo couldn’t afford marble.

 

 

 

Serón holds the Fiesta de Jamón (ham festival) on the first weekend of July each year. We had expected to visit the jamon curing specialist producers in Serón, however, in true Spanish ‘planning’ style, at this time of year there are no tours as the producers are crazy busy preparing for Christmas!

But our stop at Seronés Artesano cheese company more than compensated. Especially as our Spanish tutor sneaked off to buy some red wine to compliment our cheese tastings! In order for the cheese to be of excellent quality, Seronés choose the best milk from the Murciano Granadina breed of goats.

 

 

 

Here come some facts – The Spanish Breeders Association of Murciano Granadina  states that they will refuse to accept any goat that has even the tiniest amount of white hair. Their milk has 5.6% fat, and 3.6% protein, which is better than most other goat breeds in Mediterranean Europe. Seronés Artesano’s Gourmet achieved bronze in the specialty of cured goat unpasteurized cheese at the International Cheese Festival with over 3000 participants. Amazing after just two years of professional production…….all in this small pueblo!

So the only decision, goats cheese with orange (I bought!) or with peppers or rosemary, thyme….. www.serones.com  (Before consuming, it is recommended leaving the cheese for about 30 minutes at room temperature so that all its qualities are enhanced)

We hop back on the coach and drive a few kilometres for a late lunch at Las Menas set further up the mountains. Las Menas is an old abandoned mining town. Originally lead was mined and later in 1885 turned to extraction of iron ore. The mines eventually closed in 1968 because they were unable to compete with North African suppliers.  There are ruins of buildings and an information board showing what these buildings were when it was still a thriving community. A popular place for picnics, camping and hiking etc in the summer season but was really quiet at this time of year, apart from us ‘school kids’!

 

 

 

Finally, full with lunch, cheese, wine and lots of walking up really steep hills, we all relax on our coach ride back to Antas. Another little ‘gem’ discovered in Spain.

 

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P.S Now for the real cheese tasting!

 

 

 

 

10 things that’ve made us happy!

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We thought we would take a great idea from our god-daughter Rosie’s blog ‘Cider with Rosie’ and list 10 things that made us happy this month.

Fame at last! If you would like to visit aplaceinthesun.com and hit the tab ‘news and features’ you will see our smiley faces as they have featured our move here! (Thanks James).

Just recovering from our third Antas fiesta. From the parade of the Virgen de la Cabeza statue, the children dancing flamenco, to the live music, just 4 nights of fun.

Meeting up with our Belgium friends Jeannine and Georges, at the fiesta, of course, as they have been away for 2 months.

September weather is still sizzling hot with balmy evenings, so making the most of it before autumn arrives.

An evening with Ezequel and Geli, who feed us their delicious home-made tapas and correct our attempts to speak Spanish! And a tip, wine helps you to be more fluent.

Rosie and Jason’s darling Ottilie was one year old on Saturday. A little party girl from the photos we have seen!

Friday evening, Cold Feet is back on tv – yeah!

Charlie, our 4 month old puppy, can finally co-ordinate all four legs when running! More on him later!

Our newest plant ‘tecomaria capensis’ is bursting with flame orange flowers. It is next to our lime or lemon tree …will be a surprise?

Finally, this was sent to us….. a ‘tweet’ from The Queen regarding the itinerary for King Felipe back in July – ‘Tomorrow we shall be taking the King of Spain on a trip in a glass bottomed boat …. so he can inspect the Spanish Armada’!

 

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Moros y Cristianos Fiestas

 

Summer is finally here in Spain and the fiestas are in full swing with the ‘Moors and Christians’. This is the key fiesta in Mojacar and having been told how good it is, we went on the final day and were not disappointed. It was fabulous!

Here is the history bit…

It is to remember the peacefully negotiated surrender of Mojacar and local pueblos at the end of the 15th century to the Christian King. Most importantly the motto is ‘no winner or losers’. On the third and final day the Great Parade starts early evening. All the town’s residents split into different guilds or ‘cabilas’ and are involved in the parade dressing in stunning, colourful costumes mixed with non stop bands who have the loudest drums!

 

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There were thousands of people there to fully enjoy and party until the early hours. My photos take you through some of the parade but working with my mobile phone and many rogue arms, heads and other mobiles, was a challenge but enjoy and feel the spirit!!

 

 

It is going to be a long night for these young boys

 

 

 

Is this Bruce’s brother?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Never too young to participate!

 

 

Ready to try this (after a vino blanco?)

 

 

See you in June next year?

 

 

But it is a new month, so good excuse for another fiesta….we are off to Rojales!  It really is amazing how stunning all the costumes are at these fiestas? The local councils (Ayuntamiento) know how to prioritize the funds! Bring on the girls

 

 

And the guys

 

 

And of course the children and bands

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time for a little siesta… until the next fiesta!!!!!

 

aaaa fiestas de san pedro

Two years on…

It has been two years since moving to our cortijo here in Los Chopos and we thought that we would take time out to reflect on the good, the bad and downright mad!

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‘Manana’ means tomorrow or more likely, ‘possibly tomorrow or possibly not’.

‘Let’s have a cafe con leche’ means let’s sit and ponder on things we need to do in the house, manana (see above!).

Not all bills are sent out, some you are just meant to know about and pay them and then, you have to work out where and how you can pay them. Not all banks can accept payment for particular bills and those that do, often will only accept payment in cash. Some bills can only be paid through a cash machine.

Where you live depends on the eyesight of the person preparing the bill. Carole has recently been moved from our home here in Los Chopos, to a flat in Alicante.

The thick walls of the house keep you cool in the summer and warm in the winter – lies! The thick walls of the house keep you hot in the summer and freezing in the winter.

Decorating rooms actually means replastering.

Falling from the top a ladder onto a tiled floor is not recommended!

Spanish laws change on a daily basis hence four visits to Almeria with different paperwork each time when applying for our ‘residencia’.

Receiving our post (and the neighbours) means the postman popping letters through our car window when he sees us in town or flagging us down if we are on the road to give us all of the post for Los Chopos, so he doesn’t have to bother driving up there.

Courier service means, ‘I have no idea where you live so I’ll deliver here.’ Normally a shop or cafe. Sometimes, they will actually call and arrange a place where we can go and meet them.

How not to look like a tourist means wear jeans in 30c heat and walk in the shade at all times of the year.

Learning the Spanish language is fun but hard,  if the Spanish can say the same thing three different ways plus in masculine or feminine form, they will!

Take care with pronunciation especially when going to pay the bill … ‘pago’ means ‘I pay’ and not ‘pego’ which means ‘I fight you’!

No traffic, even on the motorways…bliss. But take care driving at roundabouts as nobody indicates and if they do, for sure they are not taking the exit you expect.

Free parking, even right on the beach!

Tasty fresh fruit and vegetables, straight from the fields to our weekly market.

Good news, we found the swimming pool lights – bad news the previous owner didn’t ensure they were earthed.

The weeds in the garden actually grow while you are watching.

Best businesses to run in Spain – a pharmacy (la farmacia) or lottery shop (tienda la loteria).

Spanish people are very helpful, thankfully plus we are lucky to have really good neighbours Becky, Ian, Catherine and Martin – much needed when living in the Campo.

We have made some great new friends who we hope will be friends for life!

Finally, ‘happy one year anniversary’ living in Spain to our dear Kim and Paul!

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Another gem discovered!

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We have discovered the Secret Garden and Mo­roc­can Tea House, Casa Mor­isca at Crevillente.

 

 

The owner, whose dream was to bring a little piece of Morocco to Spain, moved from Granada and began by buying a piece of land which had a small house and as the story goes one palm tree. Over the course of 37 years, his hard work and constant development of the land, has given us the enchanting secret garden which is now a large family home and business. The one palm tree is now lost amongst the palatial gardens that surround the home affording many hidden seating areas in which to enjoy your tea.

 

 

Wandering through the maze of rooms, you discover a plethora of small courtyards, hidey holes and finding yourself on a balcony overlooking other small balconies and further places to explore.

 

 

Finding a hidden staircase we continue back on the ground floor with more seating areas inside, warmed by lit open fireplaces, a welcoming feature in the chill of a March evening.

 

 

As the sun sets the lanterns start to sparkle and the candles line the paths, just magical. With the lullaby charms of the fountains, the gardens are a really tranquil oasis. Until the peacocks roaming around start to ‘chat’ it must be time for tea! At least 20 aromatic choices from fruit to spicy all served up with Moroccan sweet cakes. A truly enchanting treat and ‘chill out’ place which is not only beautiful but also inspiring.

 

 

We will definitely come again!

 

Chilled to the End

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This month’s blog is a very personal account of our dog, Freddie, who has sadly passed away at the grand old age of thirteen. If you are not a dog lover then you may find this account a tad boring but for those of you who are, and understand how dogs with their unconditional love, can really get under your skin, then please enjoy Freddie’s tale.

We adopted Freddie when he was about eighteen months old from the RSPCA in Chobham in Surrey. He had had a very poor start to his life and had been acquired by the RSPCA from a gypsy after a sharp eyed employee had seen Freddie along with his mother, chained up outside. The chain around Freddie’s neck had become so tight that his skin had grown over it and it was slowly strangling him. I would not have believed this if I hadn’t seen the photographs taken by the RSPCA where the chain had been cut out of his neck. The photographs were taken so that the charity could prosecute the owner but the gypsy disappeared so no action was taken. Freddie’s mother was in such a poor state that she was put to sleep.

I was driving through Chobham on a day off and on a whim, decided to go to the Kennels. We had been casually looking for a new dog for a few months (our previous dog had passed away nearly two years earlier). As I wandered along the line of Kennels, various dogs were barking and jumping up at the chain-mail fencing desperately seeking a little attention. It can be a heart breaking sight. Carole and I have always liked bigger dogs, and German Shepherd or a variation of, has always been our preference. I reached one kennel and there was a handsome shepherd-cross sat quietly leaning against its cage. He let me stroke his nose but didn’t seem too fussed, he just sat quietly. I phoned Carole, who was in Austria with her work, and said that I thought I had found our next dog and that I was going to reserve him so that she could meet him on the weekend.

With the office formalities out of the way I was allowed to take Freddie for a walk. He was pleased to be out but didn’t appear to care what or who was on the other end of his lead! He walked quite nicely with no real pulling, just plenty of sniffing and being generally nosy as dogs do. I called his name a couple of times, which at that time was ‘Blue’ but he didn’t respond. I’ve spent my whole life being ignored so there was nothing new there!! After the walk I returned to the office and expressed an interest in ‘Blue’ and that is when I learned his story. He had been at the RSPCA for about three months whilst they waited for his wounds to heal and for them to assess his suitability for adoption. That day was the first day he had been available for adoption and it did feel a little bit like fate.

Carole and I returned at the weekend and spent time in a large room playing with Blue and checking his aggression levels, but he didn’t appear to have any. He was quite happy for you to take a ball from his mouth and he just appeared to love to play. We were told that they didn’t think Blue had ever lived in a house so to expect damage and mess if we decided to adopt him. Undaunted we went ahead and said we wanted him and after having us and our home inspected to make sure we were suitable, a few days later I was driving Blue to our house. After a twenty minute drive, he hadn’t thrown up or poohed in the car. So far so good. We let him into the house and he basically nosed around, checking out each room in turn, found his bed and said ‘thank you very much, this will do’. Blue or Freddie as we named him was now our responsibility. I took three weeks off of work to train him and get him settled. Freddie was a German Shepherd cross with a Border Collie, incredibly intelligent and loved to learn new tricks. Although his coat was all ‘Shepherd’, his personality was mainly ‘Collie’. Freddie never did damage anything or mess in the house and after the three weeks I spent with him, we realised that he was going to be the perfect pet. He was sociable with other dogs, always came when you called his name and showed no signs of aggression to any living thing…..except cats! What is it about dogs and cats.

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For a dog that had had such a poor start in life, he seemed very well adjusted and this was testament to the behaviorist who had looked after Freddie at the RSPCA. She had told me that she had wanted to adopt Freddie but her partner had said no as they already had three dogs, but she had done a first class job with him. There were the occasional signs that Freddie still had a few issues, after picking up a cane in the garden, Freddie ran into the house and didn’t reappear until I had put it down, he didn’t like his tail or his tummy touched but over time these things no longer bothered him. I would walk him first thing then again when I got home and last thing at night. During the day, Pat, the local dog walker would take Freddie out with a host of other dogs. Pat was a gentle guy who just preferred dogs to people. When walking Freddie through our local village of Bagshot, complete strangers would often ask us ‘Is that Freddie?’ He was well known in the village. He was a people dog. He would play with other dogs when he felt like it but most of the time he preferred human company. Whenever friends or family came to the house, Freddie was convinced that they had come to see him rather than us and that was quite often true. At Christmas he would often get more presents than us as the family and all of our wonderful neighbours would give him presents.

We had so many wonderful times with Freddie and he never ceased to make us laugh, whether it was chasing snowballs and not understanding where they went when they hit the ground or coming up to us with a ball and nudging us to play with him or nudging us for a little affection, running around in circles barking his head off as a train would pass under a footbridge at Bagshot station. Trains were his most fun. I had to time our evening walks so that he would see both trains passing through Bagshot of an evening or else he would linger by the station and I would have to put his lead on and coax him away. I decided to take him, one stop on the train one day thinking he would be so excited but actually he was coolness personified and just took it in his stride. That was so typical of Freddie.

There is a selection of your kind comments below from people whose hearts were touched by Freddie and we thank you for them

‘he was the perfect dog………..he felt like family’… ‘the best dog I have ever been with and we will remember him always’   Elliott

‘ best dog ever. God bless Freddie sleep tight, off to the big park in the sky’   Claire

‘l just  keep remembering what a lovely dog he was , l remember at Bagshot going to my bag for his bones and he’d  be chewing on them , and how he’d rush out the door , and he’d like to stroked between his ears’   Mum

‘what a lovely dog he was’   Andy, Meg, Billy and Danny

‘he really was the most wonderful dog and what a fantastic life……….’   Dee

‘he was such a lovely soul’   Avril

‘he was such a gorgeous boy………..run free Freddie’   Frances

‘such a beautiful boy’   Janice

‘A film star life for Freddie, in comparison to so many of his clan’   Tony and Noi

‘we will keep him always in mind as a nice but most of all sweet dog’   Jeannine and Georges

‘we haven’t known Freddie for long but loved him to bits. We so enjoyed his visits.’   Kay and Mike

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Every picture tells a story…

Believe it or not, we do actually get ‘seasons’ here in Spain, although a bit mixed up. In the autumn the plants come back to life after a long hot summer and the desert becomes green again.

Never expected to take this photo! We had sleet but fortunately Los Chopos was just below the snow level.

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Just two hours north in Alicante and further up to Valencia and all of Northern Spain had meters of snow.

We had the wettest December in 30 years and last week the coldest temperatures that some locals have ever known. Thank goodness we have another road to Antas, after the rambla filled up with water just before Christmas. Well we wanted an adventure!

So, time to turn on the cosy fire, snuggle up and dream of summer…

Steve and Freddie with their winter coasts!

Spot the difference?

Snug as a bug in an Ugg…

We tried iced tea but it was too bloody cold!!

Blimey it’s cold.

Thankfully, Spring is getting closer as we start to see almond blossom everywhere.

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Freddie’s thought – I like to curl up in front of the fire with a good book. I’m currently reading “Hound of the Baskervilles”.

 

My recreational drug!

Finally, after months of saying ‘when I get time I would love to… ’ I confess I have an addiction!

I attend a great little art class in beautiful Bedar which is a typical Andalucian village set in the hillside with stunning views out to the Mediterranean.  What more could I need to inspire me alongside Trina my great art teacher and owner of the Bedar Art Center.

Trina has run the center for several years and she and her husband Klaus have their own eventful story on how they discovered and moved to Bedar! I would like at some point to go to the ceramic classes although not sure if Trina’s patience will stretch that far? She says that creativity is a great way to open up, expose and put yourself out there and well it’s been a while since I’ve done that, so to speak! Trina’s wonderful, original ceramic Whimsy People are set off among her paintings, greeting cards and much more…

Her workshop is inspirational, colourful, fun and perfect to indulge a few hours away with the other ‘pupils’. It’s sociable and a laugh with even an Arty Farty Christmas Party!

After months of Steve telling me ‘don’t put too much paint on the brush’ and Trina telling me ‘Come on, get some paint on that brush and that paper’…..I start to get it. I’m currently painting with acrylics which I have never done before. Maybe I will try working with oils and canvas? I now have an easel, paints etc at home, meanwhile I start to progress very, very  slowly. Here are a few of my efforts!

Plus a work in progress, dear Freddie!

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more art…Rojales

Expressions of art can be found everywhere is Spain. On a recent visit to Rojales, we discovered Caves Rojales ‘Cuevas del Rodeo’.  Rojales is a typical agricultural Spanish village with the River Segura running through the town and situated just inland from Guardamar in southern Costa Blanca.

As you enter Cuevas del Rodeo along the paths there are sculptures leading to the cave houses.

Steve and Paul appreciating art!

and Kim and I were in the leather shop……

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Every month there is an arts and crafts market and each month a different artist exhibits in the gallery cave. Children embrace the arts a young age.

Walk by more cave houses and take the steps to the bar and live music (in summer season).

The Casa de Las Conchas is the lowest entrance to the cave area and the owner Manuel has spent many years decorating his house with shells.

Definitely  well worth a visit!