Author Archives: MySpanishAdventures

Hola España!

Hola España!

452

The trip to Spain this summer was a bit more tiring, as I had just spent a week and a half in India for my daughter’s wedding (note to self: a direct flight from Mumbai to Newark is not optimal. Eighteen plus hours in the air is not the best, especially with a number of squealing/crying children in nearby rows.) So after arriving in Madrid, and driving 5 hours to the casa, we took a much needed nap before heading out for groceries.

Later that evening, we were eager to make our way to Azabache, a local restaurant in Arboleas, for the Friday night barbacoa. (Bottle of wine, bread with aioli, salada mixta, french fries, and barbacoa mixta… all for 14 euros. Total. That’s for the two of us!) The last time we had been was in March and this restaurant was very Spanish, so we were not expecting the huge crowd of people spilled out on the patio. Actually from our house across the rambla, we could hear music, but it must have been the echoes off of the buildings in the pueblo that made it sound spanish… it most certainly wasn’t spanish music… it was a guy with a karaoke-type machine who was belting out some oldies. I guess during the summer months the owner is trying to draw in crowds with this entertainment, but it was not quite the ambiance we were hoping for.

Nonetheless, the food was tasty and we went home full and ready for a good night’s rest!

Rockslides, Ramblas, and Real Spanish Food

Rockslides, Ramblas, and Real Spanish Food

We stopped in at the casa and were happy to find everything in order there. Grocery list in hand, we drove over to Zurgena to get a few things from the grocery store. We have a grocery store within walking distance from our house, but the one in Zugena sells a few items that we like. Brand familiarity is key, and once we have found some things we like, we are happy to keep buying them.

While back in the States, we have been keeping updated on the local goings-on by checking in on the Arboleas Forum, and had heard about a rockslide in Zugena. When we read about it, we knew exactly where it had happened because it was just across the way from the Cayuela where we like to shop for groceries. Word was that the damage had been cleaned up, but that the homes that are built up against the mountain were not habitable at the moment, because it was still dangerous. Driving over to Zurgena would give us the chance to see how bad the rockslide was, and find out if things were back in order.

Zurgena rockslide

The rockslide in Zurgena

It looked as if some of the damage had been cleaned up, but from what we had read on the forum another slide had taken place. Zurgena is a cute little village. It seems typically Spanish and at the plaza where we parked there were a lot of children out and about — playing and enjoying the nice weather.

Zurgena

Children playing in the Zurgena Plaza

Speaking of children, this made me laugh… I thought it warranted a photo.

Baby on Board!

Bebe a Bordo!

We love being back in España! Where else can we walk into town and see a farmer walking through the rambla followed by his herd of sheep and goats? No sheep dog necessary! They just follow him along…

Sheep and goats in the ramba

Baaaa!

After a power nap, we went to the restaurant El Castillo in El Rincon. I was craving some fresh vegetables, so I ordered ensalada mixta (media.) This turned out to be a fantastic (and huge!) salad that Curt and I shared. We followed this with calamares fritos and lomo. To finish off the meal, the waiter brought a nice digestif.

El Castillo pan y alioli

Pan y alioli

El Castillo ensalada mixta

Ensalada mixta

El Castillo dinner

Calamares fritos y lomo

Digestif El Castillo

Digestivo

 

 

 

Back to España!

Back to España!

Spring Break for a teacher in the U.S. means time to high tail it out of town, so we’ve decided to spend some time in the Spanish countryside for some rest and relaxation. This time we flew from Dallas to Boston and then had a connection that would take us to Madrid. The flight from Dallas to Boston was uneventful, but once we got off the plane at Logan Airport, it wasn’t too clear how to catch our connecting flight. We met up with a lady and her daughter who were also on their way to Madrid and were a bit flustered at not knowing where to go to get their connecting flight. I decided to take matters into my own hands, ask some random airport employees (who were chatting with each other about girlfriend troubles.) These guys told me we had to go outside and take a bus to the International Terminal E, so we hurried outside — we only had an hour from touchdown to take-off, so there was no time to waste. Once outside, the four of us (the lady and her daughter were tagging along) looked for the bus to Terminal E. A rental car company bus pulled up and I thought I’d see if he’d take us there even though we weren’t rental car customers. As luck would have it, the driver was nice and said he’d drive us over to Terminal E. What good luck!

The bad part was that once we arrived a Terminal E, we would have to go through security again. Time was ticking, the tag-along lady was getting even more on edge, and the line to get through security was unbelievably long! I got out of line and asked another airport employee if we could get through any quicker since we had a connecting flight to catch. He told me to go through the First Class line, so off we went! Let this be a lesson to you: Ask and you shall receive! Sit still and be quiet and you’ll probably miss your flight!

We arrived at Barajas Airport at around 6:30 in the morning, stretched our legs, got a bite to eat, and picked up the rental car.

Curt in Barajas Airport

Having a bite to eat at Barajas Airport

Tortilla at Barajas airport

Tortilla y café con leche

Ibiza rental

Ibiza

We’ve been to Spain in the heart of winter, and the heat of summer, but this was the first time we’d been so close to springtime. It was exciting to see the fields looking so green and the almonds in full bloom.

The drive from Madrid

Green fields!

Almond groves

Almonds in bloom

Fields and groves

Scenery on the drive from Madrid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Great Post Office Debacle of 2012

The Great Post Office Debacle of 2012

While we were speaking with our neighbors, Bob mentioned the post office. This got us thinking that we really needed to stop in and make sure that there wasn’t anything there for us. Last night we drove by and checked on the hours because we were planning a big day Friday. We needed to go to Mojacar and check in with the bank, wanted to pick up a few gifts for family back home, and then go to the beach one last time. The Arboleas post office hours are Monday through Friday 8:30 to 10:00 so that was going to work out just fine!

We got up and zipped across the bridge into town, and when we got to the post office there was a bit of a line. No problem! We’ll be in and out of here in a flash! (cue ominous music, yet again…)

Arboleas post office

La oficina de correos

Finally it was our turn in line. I was prepared for any confusion: I had written down our names and address just in case my caveman Spanish might be misunderstood. The man behind the counter said, “No, we don’t get mail for that address here.” I explained that our neighbor gets his mail at this post office, and certainly mail for our house would be delivered to this post office as well since all four homes are connected to one another. He said he would double check. But when he came back to the counter (which is about ten steps from where he had to go to “double check” — this is a small post office) he said, “Sorry, but that mail is delivered to the main post office in Huercal Overa since that address is across the bridge.”

Now, keep in mind that “across the bridge” is within walking distance, so we were baffled by this craziness. Some nice British people in line behind us asked the guy one more time, in much better Spanish than mine, but he told them the same thing. So the lady in line asked if we knew where the post office in Huercal was, and then kindly gave us directions. Of course the directions were those “Just go right round the bend until you reach the first roundabout, go right and then go through two traffic circles and then turn left before the hospital” or something to that effect. No one ever uses street names, since you probably couldn’t read the street signs anyway since they are stuck to the sides of buildings and you’d cause an accident slowing down to read them. Curt seemed to have the directions under control, so we said a hearty “Graçias!” and drove over to Huercal Overa.

Huercal Overa is just shy of a half hour away from Arboleas, so we would be able to drive over there, check on the mail situation, then make it to Mojacar in plenty of time for the banking and shopping.

(Could someone PLEASE turn down that ominous music…???!?)

I’m not going to bother with the minute details of us driving around Huercal Overa looking for the elusive post office, but suffice it to say that we were getting pretty frustrated. There was obviously something missing in the directions, and we were going mad. Any sign that said “correos” got us hopeful until we realized it was leading us not to the post office, but to a mailbox

correos

Not what we were looking for…

Finally we decided to park and we walked into some building that looked somewhat official. I honestly don’t remember what it was, but it had words on the front that made me think the people inside could possibly deal with city matters, or crazy English speaking tourists, or something… At any rate, we ventured inside and found a lady behind a glass window. (An older lady in a lot of makeup and a tiny outfit.) My guesses were wrong because this lady spoke NO English whatsoever. She was, however quite nice. I asked her in Spanish for help in finding the post office. She rattled off a bunch of directions, and when we looked like deer caught in the headlights, she emerged from the glass booth and took us outside to the sidewalk to show us how to get there. How nice was that?? We said “Graçias!” and headed on our way.

While driving there, we realized that the directions were lacking in one key turn, but no matter — we were on our way and would soon be done with this wild goose chase!

(That ominous music is seriously giving me a headache… Do you mind???)

We got to the Huercal Overa main post office and of course there is a line. But, you know, we were happy to actually be in the right place, so we tried to keep a positive attitude. There was one, yes ONE, clerk dealing with this huge line, while another woman wandered about behind the counter. Every once in a while a man appeared and said something to one of the ladies and then disappeared in the back. There was much sighing in line. Eventually the line was being held up by a man at the counter who was shipping multiple tiny boxes… one by one… box after box after box. Finally the extra lady behind the counter begrudgingly opened her window and took the next customer. Someone came into the post office and tried to go right into her line, but it was like dropping a goldfish into a pool of piranhas: None of the others waiting in line were going to let that happen! “Get to the back of the line!!” The person slinked to the back.

More sighing, shifting of feet, grumbling… now the second lady was only dealing with people who needed to pick up mail. Which, by the way, was no one… The guy mailing what looked to be like 50 mini vhs tapes of questionable nature was still at the first window… I was trying to keep calm, cool, and collected, reminding myself that stress causes premature aging…

Finally! It’s our turn! Oh happiness! If we had tails we would have been wagging them. We go to the counter, I get out the notebook with our address handily written on it, tell the woman we are here to check on any mail for our address, and she says, “Oh, for that address, you need to go to the annex next door… but it’s closed now.”

Wha—?

 

 

Un día normal

Un día normal

We were really getting into the swing of this relaxed Spanish lifestyle. On this morning, Curt got up and met his cycling buddies. I was always interested to hear about which new place they would show him, because that usually meant we would be investigating it later. While he was gone I worked on my blog, but I was still so far behind at posting because we have no internet connection. (Bob was so kind to give me his password, but in all of my craziness, I somehow lost the piece of paper, and am too embarrassed to ask for it again.)

When Curt came back, he said that they had cycled by what seemed to be an interesting restaurant. The funny thing was that as he described it, I knew exactly what he was talking about. While back in the States and researching for places in Arboleas with free wifi, I made a list of several restaurants and bars in the area that had been recommended. Just because I’m so thorough (!), I also would scope out exactly how to find the place, even to the point of checking it out on GoogleMaps street view. As soon as he started to describe this restaurant which sat high on a hill overlooking the valley, and talked about its cement balustrade along a large patio, I said, “Oh I know that place! El Castillo! In Rincon!” Sure enough it was the same place. We decided to take a drive out there for a clara and some free wifi.

El Castillo Arboleas

Every restaurant has
a cute little napkin just like this

El Castillo bar

El Castillo has a nice little bar area where
just hanging out and using the wifi is normal

El Castillo views

What a beautiful view from the patio
of El Castillo Restaurante!

Does it get any better than this? A gorgeous sunny day with blue skies, a short drive to a great place to eat and relax… the aggravating events of yesterday were on the back burner… this is what it’s all about!

We stayed there for a while, made a quick stop at the store for a few groceries, then made our way back home. When we arrived, we found Pepa outside with her husband Antonio. We had not met Antonio yet, but after some quick introductions and a bit of conversing in “caveman Spanish” we were invited into their home next door. I was really sweating it out trying to keep up with Pepa’s rapid speech, and andaluz accent, but Curt thought I did really well keeping up. They showed us around and talked about how they are renovating this home, but live in another home in town. Pepa was so cute and would get excited and talk faster and faster. Antonio would laugh and pull me aside and say it all again much slower so we could understand. They are seriously the cutest little couple. (And when I say little, I do also mean that they are short in stature — I felt like a bit of an Amazon, although I am but 5’6″.)

We chatted for a little bit and then went to our house next door. The rest of the day was spent puttering around until we went back over to that other bar in town, El Campillo. This is a definite hangout for some of the locals — mostly British, but also some Spanish. They play cards, watch TV, and can basically hang around as long as they like. We decided to do the same, and then ordered some tapas.

Tapas Bar Campillo

Tapas from El Campillo

I almost forgot about taking a picture, but managed to remember before we ate all of the tapas. We chose the Spanish tortilla, patatas bravas, albóndigas (meatballs) with tomato and peas, and mushrooms with shrimp — all served with bread, of course. We stayed until well after dark, then made our way across the bridge back to the casa for a good night’s sleep.

Just un día normal in our Spanish village…

Get Audi here!

Get Audi here!

On the way back home from Cazorla Nature Park, we zipped along the road, without much issue with traffic. This might be a good time to reflect on some of the differences between driving in Spain and driving in the US. I will say that back in the States, people have the idea that driving in Europe is “crazy.” Comments like: “I’ve heard they drive like maniacs!” or “You’ll get killed trying to navigate big cities like Paris or Madrid!” are quite common. I have to put my two cents in here.

What I’ve noticed is that people drive with a purpose in Europe. People seems to drive like they need to get from Point A to Point B and they just move when they need to so that gets accomplished. On the other hand, people back in the states, who also need to get from Point A to Point B, do so while texting, talking on the phone, handing a McDonald’s Happy Meal to Junior in the back seat, etc. To me, that is more frightening than the aggressive driving in any big European city. One major difference attributing to this is that the use of cell phones while driving is a no-no in Spain. You can check out driving laws here.

Some other observations:

People in Spain use the left lane for passing. People in the States get in the left lane and hang out there, causing traffic to slow down behind them. Much cursing and road rage ensues.

People in Spain are supposed to wear reflective vests if they are on the side of the road. This is taken very seriously, apparently. We never saw anyone broken down on the side of the road without one. In the US, people will be practically lying underneath their broken down vehicle wearing shorts and flip-flops (another no-no in Spain, if you recall) right on the side of a four lane major highway. I think people in the US would find the reflective vest a bit too unfashionable. I mean if you’re going to get run over while changing a tire, at least you should look cute.

People in Europe navigate the glorious roundabouts with ease. I am a big fan of the traffic circles! No waiting at lights. No standoff at the stop signs where the other person doesn’t know it’s his turn and you are waiting for him to finally move through the intersection. In the US, people seem to be petrified of the roundabout. We have a total of ONE in my town back home and drivers are always slamming on their brakes in the middle of it.

Now I’m sure that there are exceptions to all of these observations, but honestly what is common place as far as driver distractions in the US, I just haven’t seen in Spain. People are not eating slices of pizza off their dashboard, or guzzling 32 oz sodas, or applying mascara at intersections, or reading a few pages of a novel…

That being said, we were on our way back home, and behaving nicely by staying in the right hand lane until needing to pass. Strangely enough, every time someone crept behind us and passed like a lunatic, it was one of these:

Audi sedan

“Get Audi here…!”

Not a silver one, or a white one, but a black Audi. Over and over again. Passed by a shiny black Audi. I wish I would have kept a tally because after a while it was quite humorous.

At one point there were some trucks traveling along, and one kicked up a rock that seriously sounded like a gun shot. If we were getting snoozy, that certainly woke us up! Even though we were beat from our day at Cazorla Nature Park, we decided to stop by Serón to get a feel for that town. It was late in the afternoon, so we just drove through the town and stopped to look at a sign that gave information about the area. We will have to return and make a day of it! I am very interested to see the old mines.

Just before we got home, while driving on the A334, Curt noticed a guy in the road wearing one of those caution green reflective vests. The guy seemed to be standing right in the middle of the lane. I am not certain what exactly our words were, or even which one of us said it, but it was something to the effect of, “What is that crazy nut doing in the middle of the road??” Well, it turns out that the “crazy nut” was pulling over cars for speeding. So he waves us over and tells us that we were speeding and should have only been going 60 km/h but were going 84 km/h. Can’t hardly argue with that. But then comes the clincher. The fine is 50 euros. Cash. As in payable now. Ahora. This might be a good time to mention another difference about Spain and the US. People in the States hardly ever have cash. And here was this Guardia Civil Trafico guy expecting us to rustle up 50 euros out of our pockets like some lucky winners on the way home from a casino. I start counting up all our cash, loose change, every possible centivo, and I only come up with around 30 euros.

“Oh well,” he says. “Then you leave the car here. You can not drive until you pay the fine. You are not citizens of Spain, right??”

(Of course not, dude… you can just look at us and tell we are not locals!)

So, he wanders off to round up more violators, and leaves us in the car. He managed to pull over a couple of others, and during this time Curt went to ask the cop’s trusty sidekick if we could go over the the cash machine to get the money.

Now, let me preface this by saying that I am a skeptic. I am not a person who blindly trusts random people, even IF they are wearing florescent Guardia Civil Trafico clothing. As far as I’m concerned that get-up could have been picked up on the black market and put on by a crazy nut who is making money off of speeding travelers.

That being said, the traffic cop said, “Okay, you can drive to the bank machine, but you must leave your passports here.” That didn’t sound like a great idea to me. I’ve seen enough episodes of Locked Up Abroad to know that untrustworthy people are everywhere. So my thought was to let Curt drive to get the cash and I would stay with our passports and the car. The traffic cop acted like this was an insane idea. He responded with, “Of course you can trust us! We are the police!” and then made a facial expression like we were full-on insane for even questioning him.

Against my better judgment and the inner voice that was telling me that this could be the next great scam, we did leave our passports and went to get money. The whole time I fretted about them being gone when we came back, and I was in general, a nervous wreck.

I’m happy to say that they were still there when we returned. They had pulled over even more people and were no where near being done with their fine collecting. Curt paid the guy, got the traffic ticket, and strategically positioned himself far enough from our vehicle so I could document it for posterity without being the obvious paparazzi tourist.

Spain traffic ticket

Time to pay the piper

Guardia Civil Traffico Spain

Yup. Got the cash, Señor.

Guardia Civil Traffico

Hand off of the documents.
“Buen viaje!”

Now that this was done, we drove (carefully and within the speed limit) to Zurgena for some groceries. We decided that this was just “one of those things” and weren’t going to let it annoy us. What can you do? You got a ticket. No big deal. It wasn’t chump change, but thankfully it was only 50 euros… (insert ominous music here)

When we finished picking up a few groceries at the Cayuela, we plopped back into the car, only to see this:

cracked windshield Spain

Remember that loud noise on the road?
Yes. Under that dust is a cracked windshield.

No problem, you say? The rental car insurance will cover it, you are thinking? Well, let’s just say that we had foregone the rental car insurance because it was more than the price of the rental for two weeks. Let’s just say that we were living “on the edge” and thought we could pass on it. This made the traffic ticket seem miniscule. A windshield is going to be costly. Our only hope was that Curt’s regular insurance would cover it, as car insurance usually does cover rentals. This called for drinks and free wi-fi, so we decided to drive over to a local bar called La Campillo so that we could get all of this figured out.

Long story short, after internet searching and phone calls to the insurance company back in the US, we found out that Curt’s insurance wouldn’t cover anything outside of the US. This was one of those live and learn type of days. Note to self: pay for the rental car insurance!

On the positive side of the coin, La Campillo was a great find. A small bar/restaurant with 1 euro claras and free wi-fi. Now I had a place to go to upload my posts!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cazorla Nature Park

Cazorla Nature Park

We dedicated the next day to an all day excursion to Cazorla Nature Park, which is located within an hour and a half’s drive from our house. As usual, I did my research and was really interested to see this part of Spain because it is supposed to be a huge nature preserve (the largest protected area in Spain) and one of the largest forested areas. Some of the pines in the park are some of the oldest in Spain — over 1,300 years old! Wow! I had read about the diverse and abundant wildlife that can be found in the park, and was hoping to see some of the meadows that are perfect for raising flocks of sheep. Our house is in a very dry part of Andalucia, and the Carloza Nature Park seemed like it might be an interesting contrast. Two of Spain’s main rivers, the Guadalquivir and the Segura run through the park, so there was hope to see part of a river, or even a waterfall!

We drove northwest from the casa, and finally arrived at the Embalse de Negratín., which is a reservoir just at the southern end of the park. It was a little amazing to see such a broad expanse of water because the area we’d just come from is quite dry.

Embalse de Negratín

Driving over the dam

After driving over the dam, we stopped in a parking area to get a better look at the reservoir. It was pretty, but an odd shade of greenish-blue. Was that natural or do they put something in the water?? Hmmm…

The dam at Negratín

Embalse de Negratín

views of the embalse de negratín

The water was so calm near the dam.

Cazorla Naure Park

Beautiful mountains in the distance

From here we left and drove on to a town named Hinojares. During our house hunt, I had found the most adorable home, fully furnished, and located in this whitewashed town. I used GoogleMaps and walked along the street view of this little town and thought it was absolutely charming. Unfortunately when I inquired about the house, it had actually been sold about six months prior, but was still listed as for sale. Apparently this is typical here in Spain. Homes are listed by multiple “estate agents” as they are called, and the seller may not let all of them know when the home is sold. I contacted several agents about a number of homes that had already been sold, but the listing was still online. In addition to this, the different agents might not list the home for the same prices. It’s very different from what we are used to here in the States.

But I digress…

The town of Hinojares is located in a valley, and we stopped at a scenic overlook to take some pictures.

Hinojares

Hinojares

Hinojares village

There was an interesting sign at the overlook which explained a lot about this area. The translation into English seems a bit weird, but this is what it says (I quote):

“HINOJARES IS IN THE BANK OF AN OLD LARGE LAKE

The south of the Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas Natural Park has a different landscape. Nowadays you find arid soils in this area which originated at the bottom of a large lake.

Long after the formation of the mountains of La Sierra del Pozo and Quesada, only 20,000 years ago, in all the region there was an enormous interior lake which accumulated at the bottom mud and sediments coming from these mountains. But about 11,000 years ago a great movement of the earth’s crust tilted the area, the rivers changed the course and the lake disappeared leaving an arenous bottom.

During these 110 centuries the landscape has become eroded, the currents and the rain have carved the loamy rocks at the bottom of the lake as you can see in the white slope in front of the viewpoint. If you look carefully, upon the town, there is a plane horizon formed by these ochre and white lands which correspond with the material accumulated at the bottom of the old lake. The erosion continues taking down the no very solid lands of the original horizontal landscape and generates other full of precipices and gorges.

Among the materials at the bottom of the lake there are also rocks rich in salt. Some brooks dissolve them forming the courses with salty waters which has allowed the extraction of salt in manual exploitations like the Salt Pans of El Chillar.”

Wow that was hard to type because the translation is worded so strangely. Maybe I can get a job with Spain’s tourism council and help out with these crazy translations!

I thought this information was interesting though… even if the wording was odd. Maybe it’s the teacher in me, but I think all that history-of-the-Earth stuff is fascinating! I quoted it here because I searched and searched for some online resource to link to about this “ancient lake” but could find nothing about the geologic history of the area. I’m also curious about the Salt Pans of Chillar… if anyone has information to enlighten me, please share!

We left the lookout point and found an area with goats. This was no where near the green pastures with flocks of sheep that I was hoping for, but it was a creature in the Bovine family, so I was a step closer.

Goats in Spain

Goats!

The next town we drove to is called Zujar. We passed through there lickety-split, and then stopped at another mirador to have a picnic lunch.

Zujar, Spain

Zujar

Groves near Cazorla Natural Park

Lots of groves

Mirador de Todosaires

Cortijo Todosaires

Cortijo Todosaires

Mirador de Todosaires information

Why do annoying people
have to vandalize cool stuff like this??

We saw this sign over and over while we were driving. Thank you GoogeTranslate for letting me know it means “Cattle Route.” Just for clarification, we did not see any cattle along this route, but I was on the lookout!

Vía pecuaria

Vía pecuaria

What we did start to see were more trees, more craggy cliffs, and more winding roads. In some places the roads were quite narrow and curved, but we were lucky not to have much oncoming traffic. We did meet up with a giant tour bus, but the driver was nice and stopped to let us pass through as opposed to making us squeeze by with him barreling past.

Cazorla Natural Park, Spain

 

Cazorla forest, Spain

Evergreen trees in abundance!

 

Cazorla mountains

 

Rocky mountainside in Cazorla Natural Park

Everywhere you look you can see how the shifting of the Earth’s plates created these awesome landforms.
(It’s all very science-y.)

Dried flowers Cazorla Natural Park

 

Cazorla Natural Park

“…a long and winding road…”

Field in Cazorla Natural Park

A green field! Perfect for sheep!

It was very warm while were were there and we didn’t see a lot of other people around. I think more people would be visiting when it was not so sweltering hot. This was a beautiful nature park with lots of hiking trails and signs with information about birds that could be seen in the area. I would like to return when the weather was a little cooler and more comfortable for hiking. This park is very large, though and I would imagine that there were a lot of people enjoying the lakes and cooling off! Next time I will come prepared with some detailed maps of the park, but for this trip it was time to make our way back down the mountainside.

Cazorla Nature Park

 

Mountain road Cazorla Nature Park

 

Embalse de Negratin

Back to the Embalse

So we bid adios to Cazorla Nature Park. Or maybe just ‘sta luego! Poor Curt was pretty tense after the narrow, twisty roads (we don’t have many of those in Texas) but our adventure wasn’t over for the day just yet…

 

An evening drive

An evening drive

When we were house hunting, we had been ga-ga over a very remote house, but our low-ball offer was refused, and that is what led us to buy our current casa. Every day, as we are cooking in our kitchen, or enjoying the terraces, or waking up and looking out over the mountains in the distance, we say: “Aren’t you so glad we bought this one?” But today we decided to take a drive out to the other house, to look at it with different eyes. The eyes of owners of a wonderful spanish house, instead of the eyes of two crazy Americans who thought that buying a fixer-upper in the middle of no where would be a good idea.

We drove all the way out there and kept saying, “Oh my gosh, this is far from town!” The hamlet seemed sad and had just a few inhabited houses. The rest are vacant. Some were closed up and look like the owners haven’t been around in a while. There weren’t any people around. It was pretty quiet — not even barking dogs.

The countryside is beautiful out there, but seeing how kind of sad and dreary it was just confirmed that buying our reformed 300 year old casa on the edge of town was the best decision for us. After taking it all in, there wasn’t much to do, and Curt wasn’t feeling like walking among the houses, so we started to make our way out of the hamlet. We did pass by some grapes along the narrow road beside a house that had chained up gates, so I rolled down the window and let a few “fall in my lap.”

Grapes from Los Utreras

Grapes from Los Utreras

After this excursion, we went back to Albox and stopped at the Lidl. We wanted to go back to the beach before leaving Spain and were looking for an umbrella to shield us from the sun. It turns out that we hit the jackpot at this Lidl because not only did we find our beach umbrella, but also a shower rack that we had been looking for. Lidl is a grocery store, but in the center of the store they sell all sorts or random things like shoes, toasters, toys, etc. We picked up a few other food items while we were there. One thing I was so curious about was this melon. We had been seeing it in all the stores, but I had no idea what it would be like inside. It’s called Piel de Sapo, which means, literally, skin of toad. I guess the skin does really look like a toad’s skin!

Piel de Sapo melon

Piel de Sapo melon.
Similar to our Honeydew melon.

 

It’s a dirty job…

It’s a dirty job…

It was our understanding that José would be coming by in the morning to empty the septic tank, so we hung around and cleaned house all morning. We did some more rearranging of furniture and got the place spic and span.

Downstairs lounge

Cozy corner in the downstairs lounge

View from my upstairs desk where I work on my blog

View from my upstairs desk where I work on my blog

It was a good use of the day, but I was getting frustrated because as the day was going by and José was not making an appearance, I was thinking that we could have gone to the market in Albox that morning. People always talk about the “mañana” attitude in Spain… meaning that when you need something done, it happens “mañana.” Now whether mañana is actually tomorrow or not is debatable… I’ll be the first person to admit that I have a very loosey-goosey attitude about time and don’t like to live by a clock, so I was trying hard not to be too annoyed. Still, tick-tock, tick-tock. That’s the sound of our vacation passing by.

A knock at the door! Excitement! Was it José?? No. Theresia. She had come by to say that José had called her and when she asked if everything had gone well he said, “Oh I’m going this afternoon.” Obviously there was a bit of miscommunication somewhere, but he was calling to make sure he knew where our house was and to ask if we could meet him behind the grocery store and lead him to the house. He wanted to meet after siesta. That meant 5:00 that evening, and we wondered if he would arrive at five, or if he’d be casually late.

We were excited to drive over to the grocery store. We parked in the back parking lot, and sat in the car, craning our necks around at the slightest sound: “Is that José?” “Do you hear a truck?”

At 5:15, a tractor pulls into the parking lot. It was pulling a big tank type thing, which Curt called a Honey Pot. Seriously?? That is NOT full of honey, Honey. We waved to José and pulled in front of him, leading the way. Getting into our row of houses is a one-way operation, so Curt parked in what is a common parking area at the end of Bob’s house. (This was once a threshing circle, but now is just a grassy area for parking.) I went ahead on foot and motioned to José where the septic tank was. José realized that he needed to back the vehicle in, so he went back out of the drive and backed the tractor and tank in like he was maneuvering a Mini.

Emptying the septic in Spain

There’s no honey in that honey pot, Winnie!

I dashed upstairs to take pictures of this, our first major home maintenance activity. I wanted to document this but didn’t want to be like some freakish American paparazzi tourist, taking snapshots of this poor guy doing what I thought might be a disgusting job. Plus, I wasn’t too keen on being nearby when he opened up the lid of the septic. I was hoping that being on the upstairs balcony would keep me and my super sniffer far from any smells.

Surprisingly enough, while I was imagining myself retching in disgust, the whole operation was quick and relatively clean! He first opened up the main lid, gagged a bit, then opened up the interior lid.

Opening the septic tank

Opening the outer lid

Full septic

Eeek! Full septic!
**cough, cough**

The black bag in the picture was on top of the inner lid. I have no idea what is in it, however I do know it was not a dead cat or a big piece of liver! José said he thought it was on top of the lid to make sure it was not letting any smell out. We took his word for it. He attached the huge hoses to his transporting tank, put the other end of the hose into the septic tank, and turned on the pump.

Getting the septic tank emptied in Spain

Emptying the tank

Emptying our spanish septic tank

Chug, chug, chug…

In no time José was done. We paid him and he went on his way. We offered to let him wash sus manos, but he said he had more work to do, and said adios. We were quite happy to have gotten this accomplished because it was one of those things that we knew we were going to have to take care of, and thanks to Theresia, it was no problem. Hopefully we won’t have to get it done again any time soon. The problem with our septic is that it is not a “drain away” type because of where it is located. If it had a drain field, it would be draining into the back of our neighbor’s house, and that would stink — literally! But that also means that all the water we use goes into the septic tank. After this ordeal we will be a little more mindful of how long we take in the shower or just how much water we use in general.

Now that chore was done, we were ready to go out and explore. That’s the wonderful thing about summertime in Spain: daylight seems to last forever!

Theresia: A wealth of information

Theresia: A wealth of information

I returned from Humbugs and just a short time later (just after the five o’clock end to siesta) we received a visit from Theresia. Arboleas is a small town, and it hadn’t taken long before word had spread that “The Texans” were the new owners of property here in town. That is “Texans,” mind you, not “Americans” but “TEXANS” …and there is a difference, folks… be sure about that! I think that Theresia was quite interested in coming over to meet us, being that we were new to town, and we were happy to hear what she had to say.

Theresia has lived in the area for many years now and was a wealth of information! She is a city councilwoman and had previously worked for the tourism office of Arboleas until funding was cut and that office was closed. The office was located in an old train station which is right near our house.

Arboleas Visitor Information Center

The now closed Arboleas Visitor Information Center

It’s a shame that the visitor information center has been closed. I’m sure it would be an asset to the community, but as with all of Spain at the moment, funds are being cut and this is just a sign of the times.

Theresia knew exactly who we meant when we asked her to help us contact Diego about emptying the septic tank. The problem was, the number we had was not a correct number. Luckily for us, she was armed with a cell phone and fluent Spanish! She called someone else who called her back with Diego’s number, then she called the number and ended up finding out that it was not Diego but his son José who would empty the septic. No matter, we were just happy someone was going to do it! We arranged for José to come tomorrow morning.

After all that was squared away, we sat and chatted for a while with Theresia. She told us many stories about the locals and at one point she mentioned Pepper and we excitedly said, “Oh yes! We’ve met Pepper!” She looked perplexed and when we said she lived next door, Theresa said, “Oh, no, not that Pepa! Another one! That’s a very common name. Short for Josephina.” So then we felt like silly Americans again when we realized that we were hearing Pepa from everyone, but only thought it was their British accents which makes “Pepa” sound the same as “Pepper” to us. Ooops.

We heard all about yet another Diego who was born and raised in Arboleas and whose family worked on the railway when it passed through this area. We learned about the nearby town of Serón and the abandoned mining town of Las Menas. (You can read about it here on another blog) I took a lot of notes because I was very interested in visiting the abandoned mines and Curt was very interested in visiting and sampling the famous serrano hams that are cured in the town of Serón! We learned where to swap out our butane gas bottles and about the Spanish traffic law that will cost you a fine for driving with flip-flops on.

No flip flops while driving in Spain

No driving in Spain without wearing a full shoe!

And it’s not just flip flops, it’s any shoe without a back strap. This was good to know, because the last thing we want is to get a traffic ticket in Spain.

The most interesting bit of information Theresia shared with us, however, had to do with the septic. We were standing outside and she was telling us the basics, which we were already aware of, for example: don’t use an excessive amount of caustic cleaners, don’t flush random things that may not break down easily, etc… and then the conversation went like this:

Theresia: Now, I know this sounds terrible, but the best thing you can do is find yourself a dead cat, and toss it in.

Me: (Speechless.)

Theresia: I mean if you can manage to find one, they say it gets it all working. You just have to find one.

Me: I’ve seen a lot of cats here, but not any dead ones…

Theresia: Well, they say if you can find one, you just toss it in!

Me: (pointing to the lid of the septic tank) In there?

Theresia: Oh yeah, just open it up and toss it in.

Me: I don’t think I’d want to open it up, to be honest.

Theresia: Well then you can always use a big piece of liver…

Me: Liver?

Theresia: Sure. Liver. Then you could just cut it up into pieces and flush it down the toilet. They say that works, too. But not as good as a dead cat.

Me: What about those little packets they sell in the store? You know those packets that you flush to help build up the bacteria?

Theresia: Oh, those? They say there is no proof that they really work…

Fosas Sépticas

Fosas Sépticas bolsitas?
Third in line for effectveness…
after cat and liver.

Okay, so luckily Bob had already given us this package of Fosas Sépticas as a “housewarming gift” after talking to him about our septic troubles. He laughed with us that while most people bring a bottle of wine to new neighbors, he was bringing this. We had a good laugh with him about that. Now, just in case you think Theresa is the only person to suggest this dead cat treatment for the septic, or that it is uniquely a Spanish idea, I’m including a link so you can read more about it. Rest assured that we went with the bolsitas.

We bid adios to Theresia and she said she’d check back with us tomorrow to make sure that José made it over and took care of emptying the septic tank.

Even though it was nearing evening time, we took a little drive before dinner. We drove to the nearby town of Huercal Overa and passed through the little town of La Cinta where we saw these pomegranates, and passed though another community where we saw another Spanish gatita.

La Cinta pomegranates

Pomegranates in La Cinta

Spanish cat

“Sophie, eres tú??”

Then we went back home and had a nice dinner of pork fillets, rice, and vegetables. Earlier in the week we picked up this bottle of wine for 1,10 Euros. If you aren’t “current with the currency,” that’s crazy because that’s less than $1.50. Now, granted, don’t serve this at a dinner party, fancy or otherwise, because it was nothing to write home about; but it still is amazing how inexpensive bottles of wine are here in Spain!!

1,10 euro wine in Spain

How you say… El Cheapo?
(1,10 Euro wine)

We had to stop in at the Chino to pick up the wine opener. Ironically, I think it was more expensive than the wine itself.

 

 

Visiting the Arboleas City Hall

Visiting the Arboleas City Hall

Curt got up early and met his new found buddies for a ride in the Spanish countryside. His bike rides in Spain are very different from his rides back home. At home, he gets up, goes out riding, comes back. In Spain it goes more like this: Get up, go to a local bar and meet the cycling friends for coffee, leave there and ride for a while, stop somewhere along the way for coffee (maybe a slice of carrot cake or something), ride home. It’s quite a long production, and with the terrain being more hilly, the stops along the way made it nice. It exemplifies the whole way of living in Spain compared to the way we live back home. So often we just seem to rush to get from point A to point B, but how much more enjoyable is life when we slow down and stretch out the time we take to do the things we love to do?

He had to cut his ride short today, however, so that we could meet up with Bob to go visit City Hall. We met up with Bob at around 10:00. He gave us the contact information of a woman, Theresia, who was an interpreter and could help us out with information about who to hire to empty the septic tank. This lady was very familiar with the area and from the sounds of things, would be a great contact for us. He also gave us his password for his wi-fi so I could try using it while we were here. I was pretty excited about that! Maybe my visions of updating my blog on the terrace would soon become a reality!

Bob offered to drive us across the bridge to Arboleas to see the mayor. I managed to look like the silly American when I almost opened the car door, not realizing that it was a car he brought over from the UK and I was about to plop myself into the drivers seat!

We made our way over to the Arboleas City Hall.

Arboleas City Hall

Arboleas City Hall

When we got there, we followed Bob since he knew exactly where he was going. We went upstairs to an office and the mayor’s assistant invited us inside. Bob told him that he was there to see what had become of the denuncia that he had filed last week. He introduced us as the Americans who bought the house on the other side of Juan’s house and said that we shared his concern about the condition of that house. The man then said, “Oh yes, I was just on my way to visit the house. Just a moment.”

Hmmm. What good timing. He was just about to visit the house… (She says skeptically.)

At first there was a bit of scurrying about with the mayor’s assistant getting his keys and a camera to take pictures of the house. When we were on our way out, he stopped to talk to another guy. They were both speaking in Spanish and there was a lot of mention of “Americanos” during the discussion. The next thing we knew we were shuttled back into the assistant’s office and the assistant said that they wanted to look at the house on GoogleMaps to make sure they knew which house we were talking about. Again there was a lot of talk in Spanish with lots of “knowing looks” and mention of certain townspeople. We finally realized that the second guy who had appeared was actually the mayor of Arboleas. After more discussion, he went out and we were left with the assistant. Finally I decided to cut to the chase and just point blank asked, “So, will something be done about this house? I am worried that nothing will be done because the owner knows someone in town or something.” (Later Bob told us that he was thinking, “Oh boy! Those crazy Americans! They just come right out and say it!”) The mayor’s assistant just knowingly said, “Oh, no, the mayor has more information which may help us to get this taken care of very quickly.”

At that point we all took off to go back to the house so the assistant could take some pictures of the place next door. I invited him into our house so that he could take some photos of Juan’s house from the vantage point of our upstairs terraces. Juan’s house is in terrible shape and we wanted to be sure that the city doesn’t just allow it to continue deteriorating with the owner doing nothing. It is his responsibility to keep up with the property and at this point it is not habitable –

House next door in Arboleas

From the entry of the house next door.
No, that is not a skylight…
that would be the roof which has fallen in.

So after a lot of picture taking, the assistant told Bob to contact the City Hall next week and find out what progress had been made with the situation. The mayor’s assistant was very pleasant, and he complimented us on how nice our house was. (That made me feel good because we think our house was renovated in a very traditional way, and it was nice for a Spanish person to give us that compliment.)

At this point, we were really hungry, so we decided to get something to eat and try out wi-fi option numero dos: Humbugs restaurant. By the name you can guess that this is another British run establishment! It is very close to our house and we could have wallked, but we chose to take the car anyway. I took along my laptop and was hoping to be successful with the wi-fi.

When we got to Humbugs, Curt was surprised to see his riding buddy sitting there having a bite to eat (small town!) We were starving because by now it was already past twelve o’clock, and we went ahead and ordered “The English Breakfast” which consists of an egg, beans, tomato, ham, sausage, and toast.

Humbugs English Breakfast

An English Breakfast

We had a discussion with the waitress before we ordered because we wondered what type of beans they were. As it turns out they are simply the Van Camps Pork ‘n Beans type. As usual the coffee was great and the meal as a whole was just what the doctor ordered. In addition, the wi-fi worked like a charm… but was verrrry slow. It took forever to upload pictures! I was able to post an entry or two, but it was taking forever. Luckily the people in Spanish restaurants really don’t mind customers just lingering around! While waiting for pictures to load, I called Theresia. She is a British lady and very friendly. She said she’d come by after siesta and we’d get a hold of Diego (who was supposed to be the person to empty the septic tank.) At this point, Curt was looking a little like he needed a siesta himself, so I told him to go ahead and drive back to the house and I’d finish my uploading and then walk home. At first he didn’t want to leave me there, but this restaurant is literally a few minutes’ walk away. So after a little convincing, he went back to the house for a nap.

I chatted with the waitress a bit more after he went back for the siesta, finished up my blog entry, and then walked home. I was looking forward to meeting Theresia to see what kind of information she would be able to share with us!

 

The search for Wi-Fi

The search for Wi-Fi

Before leaving the States, I made sure that I did some research to find out where I might be able to access free wi-fi while in Spain. I knew that some bars and restaurants offered it, so I just had to find out which ones. Anyone who knows me knows that I am the queen of internet research, so in a short time I had a list of five places in Arboleas that offered free wi-fi.

After our trip to Cabo de Gata, we decided to scope out one of them, the Bar Trinidad.

This is definitely a spot frequented by and catered to the British. No chance to really practice our Spanish here…

We sat at a table in one of the dining rooms and ordered a couple of claras (well, actually I probably went ahead and used the British term shandy), got the wi-fi password from the waitress, and tried to get connected. Unfortunately the connection was terrible, and we realized that our search for free wi-fi would have to continue.

As we sat and relaxed, we started to see the effects of our trip to the beach: In true tourist fashion, we were looking more and more pink.

We stayed for a bit and then went home to make dinner. The next day was expected to be quite interesting because this was the day that we had made plans to go with Bob to visit City Hall about Juan’s House and the denuncia

 

Cabo de Gata Beaches

Cabo de Gata Beaches

Cabo de Gata Natural Park lies along the southeastern coast of Spain and covers an area of more than 113,000 acres. This area has the lowest rainfall in Spain and all of Europe. Its average precipitation is only 4.72 to 7.09 inches per year. Wow! That’s dry! I had seen lots of beautiful images online and was very interested in taking a day trip there. We decided to drive over to Agua Amarga because we had read that it was a quaint fishing village with a beach that was visited by mainly Spanish, and so was not commercialized. That was just what we were looking for!

Cabo de Gata

Map of Cabo de Gata Natural Park

We packed a picnic lunch of bread, tuna pasta salad, chips, and some kiwis. The tuna salad was from the Mercadona and was great for taking with us on these day trips because we wouldn’t need to keep it cold, but could pop it open when we needed a bite to eat.

pasta con Atún

Tasty, portable, and perfect size to share.
Even comes with its own little spoon!

All we needed to bring along was a knife to slice the kiwis, and a spoon to scoop them out. If you haven’t discovered this simple way to eat a kiwi, you must learn pronto!

Eating kiwi with a spoon

You get every last bit of the tasty kiwi when you scoop it out with a spoon.

 

We left the house and arrived at Agua Amarga (which, by the way means “bitter water”) in less than an hour. The beach was fairly busy. This beach is the most visited in the area, but the town of Aqua Amarga has less than 500 inhabitants. We parked in the parking area just before the beach. There were a lot of really cute whitewashed houses right alongside the beach. I think many of these are rented out to tourists.

Agua Amarga

Agua Amarga beach villas.

Agua Amarga

…wouldn’t mind staying here…

Agua Amarga playa

The beach at Agua Amarga

Agua Amarga

White cliffs

Agua Amarga beach

Calm water

 

North end of Agua Amarga playa

The north end of Agua Amarga playa

Agua Amarga boats

There were a lot of little boats in the water at Agua Amarga.

After strolling along the shore at Agua Amarga, we thought we should drive a little farther north to Playa de los Muertos. This does sound like a morbid place since the translation is “beach of the dead,” but I had read that this was a really beautiful beach and wanted to take a look. The name is due to a supposed dark and treacherous past. Stories are told that many bodies of pirates, sailors, and sea merchants were washed to the shore of this beach. Luckily that was a long, long time ago, so I figured we’d be safe!

We drove north toward Playa de los Muertos…

Road to Playa de los Muertos

To Playa de los Muertos

Driving to Playa de los Muertos

… almost there!

As it turns out, there were so many people going to Playa de los Muertos… cars lining both sides of the road… people everywhere… that we decided not to stop there. I was certain that we could find a more quiet beach, so we drove just a bit farther north. We saw a small turn in alongside the road, and decided to investigate. This, it seems, was a little beach just to the north of Playa de los Muertos where Spanish people hang out. This was just what we were looking for! We parked in a big gravel area, changed into our suits, and walked down to the shore.

Parking at the beach north of Playa de los Muertos

The parking here was better since it wasn’t just on the side of the road.

 

North of Playa de los Muertos

View from the parking.
This beach was not as crowded.

 

What was really neat was that this beach was not a sand beach. It was made of little pebbles, so not only did you and your blanket stay nice and clean, but the water was unbelievably clear. On other beaches, the sand kicks up with each wave, making the sandy water into a suspension that looks cloudy. Not here! The water was crystal clear! It was gorgeous!

Spanish pebbble beach

Little pebbles on the Spanish beach

Clear waters at Playa de los Muertos

Crystal clear water!

 

We spent the afternoon lounging around on the beach. Our picnic was perfect, and we must’ve said twenty times: “This is awesome! Can you believe how pretty this is?” This beach was a great find and we knew we would want to come back another day before heading home to the States.

North of Playa de los Muertos

Beach views

On the Spanish Beach in Almeria province

“This is the life!”

Swimming in the Mediterranean Sea

Bucket List Update:
Swimming in the Mediterranean Sea,
Check!

North of Playa de los Muertos, Spain

Living the life in southern Spain!

Meeting our Spanish neighbors

Meeting our Spanish neighbors

After the big day of cleaning yesterday, which left me tuckered out and covered in mosquito bites (note to self: keep the screens closed as soon as dusk falls!), we spent this next day lounging around. In the afternoon there was some shouting and calling from the front of the house and when we went to see what was going on, we were happy to meet our neighbor and two of his friends. Our house is located in a row of four houses. From right to left, there is “The Spanish Lady’s House,” our house, “Juan’s house,” and “The British People’s House.” That’s how we’ve always referred to the different houses since we had never met any of the owners, but only heard who owned which house.

The man who came to visit was Bob (Yes! another “Bob!”) and he owns “The British People’s House.” He and his parents bought their house 15 years ago and had the house renovated. His parents had been living there since then, but now, because they are getting up in years, have returned to the UK. So Bob and his wife are going to do a little updating to the house and plan to use it as a holiday home.

He talked to us about “Juan’s House” which is really at this point just a ruin. The roof has fallen in and although Bob had offered to buy the place from Juan in the past, it doesn’t seem that Juan is too concerned about selling it, because after discussing one price, he proceeded to up the price to a ridiculous amount that he knew Bob wasn’t going to pay. Bob let us know that he had put in a denuncia (complaint) with the city hall, asking them to look in to the issue. We agreed that this was a good idea, because we have been wondering what will happen as the house next door gets in worse and worse shape.

Three houses in Arboleas, Spain

“One of these houses is not like the other…”
Juan’s House, Our Casa, & The Spanish Lady’s House

Bob said he was heading back to the city hall on Monday, and that we could tag along if we wanted. Maybe two neighbors having a concern over the ruin would be more effective than just one. We agreed and made plans to ride into town with him Monday after Curt got done cycling with his new buddies.

It was really nice to meet Bob and his two friends. Very nice people! We took the opportunity to ask them a few burning questions. One was: how to start the space heater? When we came to stay at the house in January, we nearly froze and couldn’t figure out how to start the space heater. It has a butane tank attached to it, and instructions and everything, and I felt like I was translating it all properly, but we still couldn’t get the thing to start! We got the lesson on how to operate it, so next time we are here in the winter, we should be toasty warm.

Heater

Ooops! We were supposed to flip that orange tab up to turn the gas on!

They also helped us out and showed us exactly how to change out the tanks. The gas stove uses a tank like this also and since we aren’t familiar with these at home, we wanted to find out all this important information before the tanks  became empty and we had to swap them out.

The other thing we had to find out about was who to call to empty the septic tank. Bob, not this Bob, but the other Bob — the last-owner-of-the-house-Bob — had left us a note to get the septic emptied every 10-12 weeks and to call “Diego.” He included a phone number and a handy list of phrases like: Puedes vaciar mi fosa septica?  and Cuando puedes venir? and Cuanto me cobras? Now, I am not 100% sure that is all grammatically correct, but even if it isn’t we really appreciated him leaving that information for us. The problem was that when we tried to reach Diego, we only got a voice mail and he never called us back.

Bob (this Bob, neighbor-Bob) told us that he really didn’t know about emptying the septic because his parents were the ones dealing with the house while they were there, but he said he would Skype them and ask.

We also asked him about where to access free wi-fi in Arboleas. He said that he wasn’t sure but that he had wi-fi and we could use it while we were staying here. How awesome! He said he’d be back with info about the septic and would give me the wi-fi password at that time. I am tickled pink to think that I can update my blog from the terrace!

While chatting with Bob, we heard more noises from the front of the house, and here was our other neighbor, The Spanish Lady! Turns out her name is Pepper and she was out for a walk with two children. Pepper and her husband Antonio live in a house somewhere in town and we had heard that Antonio was not keen on leaving the “in town” house because he liked to hang out with his buddies and play petanca. This is a bowling type of game known as boules or pétanque in France, and bocce in Italy. You can read about it here.

Pepper is super sweet, and super fast talking! My head was spinning in an effort to keep up with what she was saying. We were able to communicate enough to get across that we were, in fact, the notorious “Texans” that she had heard about. She was very concerned about whether or not we had a dog. She relayed to us how the previous owner’s dog liked to nip at her and she was quite happy to hear that we didn’t have a dog with us.

After a little bit we bid hasta luego to everyone.

That night for dinner, we cooked the chicken from the Zurgena grocery and enjoyed a leisurely evening at home. Tomorrow we were planning an excursion to Cabo de Gata and the beaches there.

Zurgena

Zurgena

When Curt came back from his ride he was pretty chipper. He had been riding along, passed another guy on a bike who greeted him, to which Curt responded “Morning!” This caused the man to stop his bike right away. I guess the guy was not expecting that greeting or the American accent. It turns out that this was a British guy who lives in Arboleas and he invited Curt out to cycle on Monday with a couple other guys. Look at that? Out one day and he’s already made cycling buddies in Spain!

Curt had ridden out to a nearby town called Zurgena. We had seen it when we were house hunting and it was a cute traditional looking village very close to Arboleas. Today was the weekly market in Zurgena and he said that as he cycled through the village the people were starting to set up their stalls. We decided to drive over and check it out.

Zurgena

The village of Zurgena

 

Zurgena market

Vegetable and fruit stall,
and the candy man!

 

Zurgena market clothes

Clothing stalls, too.
Lots of things for 5 euros.

 

Zurgena market honey

Honeycombs!

Vegetable stall Zurgena

We bought some vegetables and fruits from this stall.

 

Zurgena market

2,32 euros

 

After browsing the market, we went into a little grocery store to pick up a few things. We were determined to figure out the coffee creamer situation, for one thing. This time we picked out what was called nata para cocinar and made sure it was liquid.

Cayuela Zurgena

Cayuela

 

Nata para cocinar

THIS is good for coffee creamer.

 

El Raton cheese

Slightly odd brand of cheese:
El Super Raton??

 

Meat and cheese counter at Cayuela Zurgena

This was the meat and cheese counter.

There were a few ladies hanging around the meat counter chit chatting. I didn’t pay much attention to them because I was trying to figure out what to buy for dinner, but all of a sudden Curt was getting my attention saying that the ladies all started talking and pointing to him and all he could understand was “something about muchacho and then they were pointing at me!” I think what happened was the ladies were talking and thought he was waiting his turn so they stopped talking and told the girl behind the counter that the “muchacho” was next.

I told the girl behind the counter I wanted a chicken breast and she asked if I wanted it filleted. I’m glad she asked because it saved me from having to do it, and it meant the chicken would cook really fast once it was sliced so nice and thin.

We were happy with our little outing that morning and went back to The Casa to do some house cleaning. We needed to freshen up the place since it had been closed up, wanted to do some laundry, and also wanted to rearrange some of the furniture.

 

Cycling in Spain

Cycling in Spain

I’ve forgotten to mention a few things in my last post. Thing one is that my feet did return to their normal unswollen state, thankfully. Thing two is that cream you want to drink in your coffee is NOT what is sold as whipping cream in Spain. Upon opening it, we found something pretty much the consistency of yogurt. This is not like what you get when you buy whipping cream back at home.

Anyway, back to Cycling in Spain! Curt was chomping at the bit to get out on the open road, so he got himself all ready and headed out.

Curt going cycling in Spain

Happy face!

 

Curt and bike

Why does he look like he’s stealing the bike??

 

Curt on is Spanish bike

On the road below our house

 

Curt cycling in Spain

Heading out for the first ride in Spain!
Living the dream!

Bike shopping

Bike shopping

You do remember The Dream of the Vuelta, right? That is what inspired all this to begin with! You shouldn’t just dream the dream, but live the dream, I say! So today was a day for us to go shopping for Curt’s bike. He had already done some investigating via the internet before we left for Spain and found several bike stores in Cartagena, which is a town on the eastern coast of Spain about an hour away. If it seems like every place I write about is “about an hour away” it is true. The location of our Spanish casa is great! You can draw a radius of an hour’s drive in all directions and will find yourself on multiple beaches, in the mountains, at a lake, in the desert, at a nature park, or at a ski resort. It just depends which direction you choose to travel.

We headed to Cartagena, armed with the addresses of three bike shops. Two were in what is called the polígono industrial or industrial park, which you will find on the outskirts of towns. This is where you find larger stores that are selling construction materials, big furniture stores, or car dealers. How hard could it be to find giant stores on the outskirts of a town??… insert ominous music here..

Suffice it to say that addresses plus able bodied intelligent people plus stupid phone that keeps rebooting every single time you try to access a map does not equal happiness. Quite the contrary. It equals frustration and lots of it. I was inclined to search the outskirts of the town, thinking that a giant industrial zone might be easier to spot than a shop in the old downtown area, but who am I to deprive Curt of the fun of driving around and around and around this lovely town?

Plaza de Jaime Bosche, Cartagena

Plaza de Jaime Bosche

Oh happiness! There is a tourist information center just on the other side of this plaza! But as luck would have it, just as we reach the entrance, the huge metal gate-like doors swing shut, and a booming latch is drawn much like closing up a castle door.

Siesta Time, people! Hasta luego!

Tourist information center, Cartagena

Cerrado!

Disgusted with the phone.

Disgusted with his phone.
(Hmmm… my iPhone never has those problems… I’m just saying…)

Just when we were at the end of our wits, we stopped at a Repsol (gas station) and Curt went in and asked the guy if he had a map of Cartagena. The guy was super nice and gave him what we fondly call a “fun map” of Cartagena. This is a map that shows some streets, but not all, and its main purpose is to show someone the highlights of the town. None of which involve the polígono industrial, of course.

Cartagena

We drove along the harbor….

Cartagena war memorial

A sculpture and war memorial that is dedicated to the soldiers who fought and died in Cavite, Philippines during the Spanish-American War.

Bike lanes in Cartagena

These bike lanes in Cartagena look like their own streets!

Luckily we were able to somehow piece together bits of the map and believe it or not found the downtown bike shop — just in time for siesta! So it was closed!

Ciclos Curra, Cartagena

Patience is a virtue.

Looking through the windows, we could see that they only sold mountain bikes, but as luck would have it, they had a map to their larger store posted on the window! This showed us how to get to the polígono industrial! I took pictures of the map with my fully functioning phone, and then we headed next door to  get something to eat, since nothing would be open again until 5:00.

The restaurant next door was called Sabor Andaluz. We ate lomo y patatas y huevos, which was pork loin and potatoes with a fried egg. It was really good. This was not a “touristy” restaurant at all. Lots of Spanish people were there. It was a good place to sit back, have a café con leche, and regroup a little before trying to find this elusive polígono industrial.

Sabor Andaluz

Sabor Andaluz

Sabor Andaluz menu

Test yourself with the Sabor Andaluz tapas menu! What would you order??

Sabor Andaluz, Cartagena, Spain

Just a teeny bit stressed…

Sabor Andaluz

Lunch!

Sabor Andaluz waiter

Yes, the guy in the black shirt was someone’s waiter.
Yes, he is smoking while working.
And yes, the beer near him went down nicely with the smoke, but I didn’t get a picture of that…

While we relaxed with our meal (we had a while before siesta would be over, so why rush?) we noticed this thing that looked like a deposit box of some sort. It was a bit like a mailbox, but it was actually a trash bin. It looked small, but apparently what you put down the slot must fall down into some gigantic bin under the street because people came one after the other dropping in their bags of trash. One guy, who must have been a janitor for some building actually brought cartloads of trash, bags, boxes, etc and it all disappeared into this little drop box. I was so curious as to how large the underground bin was, and how they went about emptying it… Can you tell I was fascinated with this thing??

Cartagena trash

Mysterious….

Stomachs full, and nerves calmed, we hit the road again in search of the bike shop in the polígono industrial. Due to my fantastic co-piloting skills and Curt’s keen ability to navigate the Spanish streets, we managed to find it lickity split. There were two shops in the industrial area, so we visited both, picked out a bike, spoke “cave-man Spanish” to the salesperson, and amazingly enough got everything sorted out to purchase. It was easy as pie! …insert happy music which is followed by screeching halt sound here…

Now, trust me, I am happy to know that credit card companies are on the lookout for thieves and fraudulent activity, BUT when your card is declined after spending an entire day driving around a strange city, having doors literally closed on your nose, getting somewhere only to arrive at a time when the place is closed for two more hours, then finally thinking the whole shopping craziness will soon be over, only to have the guy behind the counter say (and trust me, you know it in any language) “No, the card doesn’t go through,” you want to scream. And I don’t mean stomp your foot and pout — I mean full on scream like in a crazy movie where the camera pans back and you see the windows rattle and people cower.

So yes, this is what we had to deal with next: calling our credit card companies and letting them know they needed to take the blocks off of our cards.

Fast forward to the final scene…

Ciclo Curros, Cartagena

Buying the bike.
Finally.

 

 

 

 

On the road again….

On the road again….

This time when we got on the road, we had an easier time navigating out of Granada… after all we had driven around and around so many times the night before, that we almost knew it “like the back of our hand,” as they say. A quick map recon, and we were on the open road. This would be an easy ride, and we were excited to get to The Casa and see if everything was okay there. The house had been closed up since the end of January, and we had no idea if we would find any surprises when we opened the front door – we hoped not!!

On the road to Arboleas

On the road to Arboleas

Driving to Arboleas

Timing is everything when you are traveling, and we had to plan ahead: We wanted to get some groceries to have on hand for tomorrow’s breakfast, but we knew that stores would be closed by the time we got to Arboleas. So we stopped in Baza, which is about an hour from the house and right on our way. It was perfect. We stopped at the Lidl
and picked up things like coffee, bread, butter, peach jam, milk and cereal. We also needed some creamer for the coffee, but I have to say that was quite the challenge. There is no “creamer section” in the grocery stores in Spain. Most people use regular milk, I believe, but we are partial to the creamy goodness (read into that: fatness) of half and half. This put us in a real quandary. They had some cream for whipping and then some for cooking. We chose the one for whipping and hoped for the best! Then we were back on the road.

The next thing to think about was the fact that we were getting pretty hungry. We assessed the grocery situation and decide to eat before going to the house. You may be thinking we were crazy driving an hour and then going to eat before putting our groceries in the refrigerator, but the thing is that milk products are pasteurized differently in Europe. They undergo ultra-high temperature pasteurization in which the milk is heated to around 280 degrees but for a really short time. This process allows the milk to be shelf stable and can be stored unrefrigerated for a long period of time. Once it’s opened, you do want to refrigerate it, but it stays fresh longer. I was reading that some people say the milk doesn’t taste as good, but we found it to be real tasty. You can buy whole, low fat, or fat free. It seems that the low fat milk is 5% so it is creamier than low fat milk here in the states. I was already familiar with the whole unrefrigerated milk product situation, so it wasn’t weird to me, but I guess some people think it’s really strange… whatever… I think people who are super finicky are really strange, so touché! The ironic thing is that people here in the states especially those buying organic milk, have already been drinking UHT milk, but it’s sold in the refrigerated section so as not to creep out the Americans. (That’s my fun fact of the day!)

So because of the unrefrigerated milk products, the only thing we had to worry about was the butter. No one wants to return to a big melted mess, but we had purchased real butter (not margarine, people!) and it is sold in a single rectangular block, not four sticks, so knowing what we know about science and larger solids holding temperatures for a longer time, we were able to have dinner and not worry about the butter melting.

We drove over to Albox and visited the restaurant Triana for the usual 5,50 euro chicken meal. We  have done this now each time we arrive in town, and it’s a good safe bet as far as a filling meal for a decent price. We were eager to get to the house, but things do move slowly in Spain, and we likened our waitress to a turtle, moving slowly… very slowly. You have to understand that in Spain, people don’t rush into a restaurant, shove the food down their gullets, and leave — it’s a slow process — you sit, you chat, you eat, you chat, you have a coffee, you chat…. keep in mind that the wait staff do not expect tips, so honestly it does not matter how long you stay. No one is rushing you out the door so they can turn the table over for the next customer. It’s very nice actually, to feel no pressure to finish your meal. Not like here in the States where a waitress once asked me, as I had my fork midway to my mouth on maybe the third bite of my main entrée, if I had “saved room for dessert.” I told her I’d have to let her know after I actually had a chance to eat my main course… sheesh. As I said, no worries about that in Spain, but on this occasion we were chomping at the bit to get to the house!

Good meal finished, we said “adios” to the waitress, and drove home. You have no idea how glorious it was to NOT be lost! We found the house in perfect shape. No big surprises! We just had to plug in the refrigerator and we were ready to hit the hay!

 

Dining in Granada

Dining in Granada

Before leaving Granada, we stopped in at the Hotel Guadalupe, which is literally across the street from the Alhambra parking. The hotel looked very nice and had been renovated during the winter of 2010-11. This would be a place to stay when we visit Granada again for a second look at the Alhambra. We sat in the bar and had a clara and some tapas. Unfortunately this was not true tapas eating time, so what we were served were just snacky things like chips, olives, bread, etc, but we enjoyed being in the air conditioning and taking a rest after the long day at the Alhambra.

Hotel Guadalupe

Hotel Guadalupe

 

Hotel Guadalupe bar

A typical sight:
jamón hanging in the bar.

 

Hotel Guadalupe, Granada

Snack time!

 

Hotel Guadalupe tapas

Chorizo, olives, and breadsticks

After our snack, we went back to the Hotel America to pick up our luggage. While we were loading our car, we saw more spanish gatos. This time a puny mama cat with her baby (who was almost as big as she was) and the papa gato who was sitting on the windowsill of the hotel.

Mama and baby cat, Granada

Mama and baby

 

Cat at Hotel America, Granada

Papa keeping watch

 

Papa cat at Hotel America

“¿Estás hablando a mí?”

While having the photo shoot with the cats, we started chatting with some fellow travelers who were from Canada, but after a minute or two the Alhambra security guard came up and told us to hit the trail. There is no parking in that area in front of the Hotel America, and he was peeved that we didn’t throw our luggage into the trunk and leave right away. Ah well, “Adios, Alhambra! …luego, Granada!”

The Alhambra

The Alhambra

When I told people back in the States that during this trip to Spain, I would be visiting The Alhambra, most people had no idea what was the significance of this palace. But when I let them know that this was where Christopher Columbus met with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella about funding for his famous trip, it made more sense.

So here comes a bit of a history lesson!

Spain was part of the Roman Empire in 220 B.C. and was ruled by the Romans for about 500 years. The Visigoths took control in the year 409 and much of the positive influence of the Roman Empire was destroyed. The Moors, who were from Northern Africa, took control of most of the Iberian peninsula in 711 and began to rebuild from the ground up.

During the time of Moorish rule, which lasted for almost 800 years, much of what we consider uniquely “Spanish” developed. When you think of Spanish words, many of them are actually derived from Arabic. When you think of Spanish cuisine staples like rice and saffron, the Moors are to thank for that. The dry lands of Spain were irrigated with similar techniques used in Syria and Arabia, and many new crops were introduced, including pomegranates, oranges, lemons, eggplants, bananas, peaches, grapes, figs, apricots, sugar-cane, and cotton.

The Moors were, in general, tolerant people, and the Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived harmoniously, sharing various parts of their culture, music, dance, and art. There was a big focus on learning and huge libraries were created. Art, mathematics, and architecture were very important during the Moorish rule as well.

We can see so much of this in the palace of the Alhambra. The name Alhambra actually means “Red Fortress,” and from where it sits way up on a hill in Granada, you can see the reddish cast of the stone walls. I imagine that seeing it from afar during sunrise and sunset would just accentuate that. I read somewhere that the Alhambra is considered the “greatest book ever built” because the interior is decorated with walls and walls of writing in beautiful and intricate script. Before my trip, I had researched a lot about the Alhambra, but nothing could prepare me for the beauty of actually being there. I hope you get a smidgeon of that beauty from the photos I took on our day there.

View of Granada from Alhambra

On the grounds of the Alhambra
and looking out over Granada

Los Palacios Nazaries

This was Los Palacios Nazaries and we had to enter at a scheduled time.

Waiting in line at the Alhambra

Waiting to enter the Nasrid Palace

We were lucky because the day was slightly overcast, and the line for waiting to enter the Nasrid Palace was under some shade trees, so it was not too hot. I was also happy because the people in line were civilized and patiently waited their turn… (unlike crazy people who practically shoved my teeny children off the ferry boat dock on the way into Disney World years ago, as if there was only one ferry to cross over to see Mickey and Minnie, and they were going to get on it, and no 6 year old was going to get in their way, by golly!!)… anyhow, I digress… The point being: everyone was quite polite and we all entered civilly and were able to enjoy the sights.

Mexuar, Alhambra

This is the entrance to the Mexuar

The Nasrid Palace is divided into three areas. The first is the Mexuar, which was a more public area. This is where the council met and where the sultan would administer justice. There is a large room which was the council meeting room, and off to the side is an oratory which was used for prayer. This is a room with many arched windows and the interesting thing about it is that it is set at an angle from all the other rooms, so that it slants southeast toward Mecca.

Mexuar council room

Council room of the Mexuar

wood ceiling of Mexuar Alhambra

Look at the amazing wood ceiling!

Ceiling of the Golden Chamber

The ceiling of the Golden Chamber was really pretty. This was a room where people had to hang out and wait to be seen by the sultan in the palace beyond.

 

The next area is the Comares Palace, which was the building that separated the public and private spaces of the Nazrid palaces.

Comares Tower

Courtyard of the Myrtles.
Looking toward the Comares Tower.

 

Facade of Comares

The facade of the Comares Palace

You can see the walls are just covered with carvings! The walls are made of stucco, which made the decorating much easier, I’m sure. The main components of the oldest parts of the Alhambra are made of plaster, stone, and wood. The Moors felt that things on Earth are temporary, and that things would change as time went by… nothing man-made would last forever, and there are many parts of the Alhambra that had been torn down and rebuilt from the first building of the Alcazaba in 839 to the time when the Moors were driven from Spain. It wasn’t until the Moors were driven out and the Palace of Charles V was built on the grounds of the Alhambra that we see marble and more “permanent” building materials. Another consideration for what the original structures were made of had to do with using materials that would breathe and allow airflow in such a hot climate.

Comares wall detail, Alhambra

Comares wall detail

Tree of Life, Alhambra

The Tree of Life

Alhambra woodwork

Look at the details in the woodwork! The Moors were true mathematicians as can be seen in the intricate designs of this inlaid wood pattern.

Comares door, Alhambra

Palace door

Alhambra niche

Niches like this one are all over the Nasrid Palace. They sometimes held vases with flowers, but most often they held urns with water, which was symbolic of hospitality.

 

Alhambra doors

Look at how HUGE the main doors are… and then how small the other part of the door is! It looks like people were a lot shorter back then!

 

Courtyard of the myrtles

The Courtyard of the Myrtles looking toward the south gallery

Then we came to the Hall of Ambassadors, or the Throne Room. This is a large square room surrounded by arched alcoves. This is where the sultan would lie on his throne, huge stained glass windows behind him, the light casting a mysterious glow around him… I just imagine how it must have felt to enter the room and see that. The stained glass was destroyed in an explosion of a gunpowder factory in 1590, so the room is probably a lot brighter today than it was when the sultan was in power. The wooden ceiling is made of 8,017 individual pieces of wood put together like a puzzle. The design depicts the seven heavens of Islamic belief.

This is the room, that in 1492, Columbus pitched to the King and Queen of Spain his idea to travel west to reach the east and all of its riches. Little did he know that there was a significantly large land mass in between Europe and Asia… and the rest, as they say, is history!

Hall of Ambassadors

The Hall of Ambassadors,
or Throne Room

 

Much of the decorations within the Nasrid Palace are either tile, inlaid wood of various geometric designs, or script. There are no realistic representations of living things in the old palaces because the Muslims believed that man was not the creator of things in nature. You will find stylized representations of plants, especially the pineapple, which they felt represented hospitality, and many stylized shell motifs which are a universal symbol of life, water, and fertility.

I read that there are over 10,000 inscriptions throughout the Alhambra and experts have finally deciphered them all. Only about ten percent are actually religious, but the rest are verses of poetry or often just words of advice, such as “Enter and ask. Do not be afraid to seek justice for here you will find it.” or “Be brief and leave in peace.”

Alhambra script

Arabic script. So artistic!

Alhambra

“The only conqueror is God.”
This is repeated all over the Nasrid Palaces.

There was some renovation going on while we were there. The fountain in the Courtyard of the Lions was being restored, as was the Mirador of Lindajara.

Courtyard of the Lions

Courtyard of the Lions

Alhambra Mirador restoration

Restoring the Mirador of Lindajara

Mirador of Lindajara

This room looks out over the walled Garden of Lindajara. Before additions to the Alhambra (after the expulsion of the Moors) looking through these archways would have given someone a view of the entire city of Granada.

 

Garden of Lindajara

Garden of Lindajara

Courtyard of Lindajara

Courtyard of Lindajara

Across this courtyard, are the apartments of King Charles V, who was a grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella. The apartments were built for his state visit, but hardly used because his new wife was scared of the frequent earthquakes and instead they stayed in the city below. It is obvious that the design and architecture is very different from the other parts of the Nasrid Palace. This is where Washington Irving stayed in 1829 (He’s the American author who wrote “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”) and while he stayed at the Alhambra, he took lots and lots of notes, and later wrote Tales of the Alhambra.

Private apt of Charles i

Private apartment of Charles V

Washington Irving, Alhambra

Washington Irving slept here.

In addition to the Nasrid Palaces, we saw beautiful gardens, a church, and another tower and oratory. After our long, long, hike up and down the Rock of Gibraltar yesterday, we were happy that the Alhambra, while huge, was a place we could stroll through and not have to battle too many flights of stairs. My feet were getting less swollen, but weirdly enough, they were still a bit puffy.

Remains of the Palace of Yusuf III, Alhambra

Remains of the Palace of Yusuf III

Tower of the Ladies and Oratory, Alhambra

Tower of the Ladies and Oratory

Alhambra

 

Church of Saint Mary, Alhambra

Church of Saint Mary

We then went to see the Palace Charles V. This is said to be one of the most impressive examples of Renaissance architecture in Spain, but honestly after seeing the Nasrid Palaces and all the beautiful architecture and carvings, the Palace of Charles V paled in comparison. It’s huge, made of marble, and had many columns surrounding a circular courtyard, but to me, it didn’t hold a candle to the Nasrid Palaces!

Palace of Charles V Alhambra

The Palace of Charles V

 

Palace of Charles V doors

 

Palace of Charles V

West facade

 

Palace of Charles V

 

Palace of Charles V

Column detail

 

Palace of Charles V Alhambra

Classic Renaissance style architecture.

 

Palace of Charles V, Alhambra

It looks complete when you go through and visit it, but Charles V never completed it because he was also nervous about the more and more frequent earthquakes in the area. Now it houses the Alhambra museum, which we visited, and also a temporary art exhibit, which was also interesting.

It was starting to get warm — no longer so overcast — but we still wanted to see the Alcazaba. An alcazaba is a fortress, used for military purposes. It is the oldest part of the Alhambra. The views of Granada from the watchtower were amazing!

Alcazaba, Alhambra

The Alcazaba

Alcazaba, Alhambra

Plaza de las Armas

Stairs to dungeon Alcazaba

These stairs lead to a subterranean dungeon

Watchtower, Alcazaba, Alhambra

Torre de la Vela
The Watchtower

Alcazaba, Alhambra

The view from the watchtower back toward the keep

Bulwark of the Alcazaba

The bulwark of the Alcazaba

view from the watchtower, Alcazaba, Alambra

A view from the watchtower

The last part of the Alhambra that we wanted to see was the Generalife which is a gorgeous garden that had been created by the Moorish kings. The problem was that we were really wiped out from the plane ride, the car ride, the trek around Gibraltar, another car ride, and the walk around the Alhambra. We only saw a little bit of the Generalife because we were so tired. The little bit we saw of the gardens were very pretty.

Generalife

 

Generalife

 

Generalife

We will need to visit the Alhambra again. It is tough to see it all or to truly absorb all of the information and history that goes along with each part of it. This was an amazing place and I am so happy that I was able to see it, to be in a place that holds so much history, to stand within the same walls as have sultans, kings, queens, and explorers…