Category Archives: Arboleas

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

 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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!

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!

 

Arboleas Coat of Arms project

Arboleas Coat of Arms project

As if I need to add another project to my never-ending list of projects… I was thinking that La Casa (we still need to come up with a name for it) needs a wall hanging of the Arboleas coat of arms. So I found a picture of the coat of arms…

…and created a layout of the design on some graph paper…

Arboleas Coat of Arms design

I think it has potential to be super awesome. I picked out the embroidery floss colors and am ready to get started. Let’s just hope I’m not still working on it when I’m in the proverbial “Old Folks Home.”

Back to Madrid

Back to Madrid

It was time to pack up our things and leave our newly acquired home… time to get back to reality, back to work, back home…

We bid adios to the neighborhood gato and the flowering sweet almond…

Cat and almond tree

“Hasta luego, gatito!”

We locked everything up and drove back to Madrid. We arrived in the evening and checked into the Hotel Clement Barajas.

View from our room at the Hotel Clement Barajas

Looking out the window from our room at the Hotel Clement Barajas

Hotel Clement Barajas view

Barajas

Barrio Barajas

Getting ready to leave Arboleas

Getting ready to leave Arboleas

The night before we left Arboleas to head back to the U.S. we went over to the Hostal Meson for dinner. They were having some sort of “quiz night” or “games night” in the larger part of the restaurant. There were a lot of happy noises coming from the Brits behind the closed dining room doors, but we were shuttled into another smaller room off to the side.

I had been put off by the previous meal there, but we decided to try the paella. It was a good choice, and we had a nice meal.

Hostal Meson Paella

Paella

Then we went next door to the small grocery store to buy a few snacks for the road tomorrow and for the plane ride home. We got a big kick out of these Pringles. The jamon flavored ones have a couple of jamon legs hanging like they do, and then the Pringles chip is also hanging like a leg of jamon. Too funny. I love how the chip flavors are so interesting outside of the US. Like in Canada where you can buy Ketchup flavored chips. Or Roasted Chicken flavor. You just don’t find that at home.

Jamon flavored Pringles

Pringles hanging like jamon!

Exploring to the west

Exploring to the west

Looking south from our house we could see that there were some old railway tracks, so we decided to spend the next day doing some exploring. We drove along and found the old Arboleas station. A ruin, now, but had some character. We parked the car across the street and had to climb up a little hill and battle some weeds and brambles to get to it. Of course just taking a picture from the road was not good enough for me! I had to go inside.

Arboleas train station

The old Arboleas station

Arboleas station

Do you see the prickly pear cactus growing on the roof??

Totally run down and falling apart, the station is only used as housing for the birds. They obviously eat the prickly pears and have “deposited the seeds” on the roof! The inside of the building was in bad shape. Originally it must have had some nice tiles on the floors, but now it is a mess!

Inside the station

Inside the old station

We liked the tiles with ARBOLEAS on them, though.

Arboleas

Since it was January, we thought it would be fun to drive about an hour to the west toward Baza and see some snow as we got further toward the mountains. So we took off for a little drive west and made a loop to the south and east to return back home.

Driving west

Driving west

Toward Baza

There’s some snow!

Sheep

Sheep!

It was a really nice drive. We were amazed at how different the terrain was just going about an hour west. Our casa is in a great location because about an hour east or south and we are at the beach; about an hour west or north and we are close to the mountains… we have so much to explore!

 

 

A walk around Arboleas

A walk around Arboleas

We spent the morning cleaning up around La Casa. The previous owner left a lot of things that we wanted to go through and reorganize. I lined the shelves of the upper kitchen cabinets (he had tiled the bottom cabinets — nice! easy to wipe clean!) We went through all the tools and what not that he left, and did some rearranging.

After that we took a walk over to Arboleas. The walk to the village takes us through a small olive grove and across the bridge which is surrounded on either side by lemon and orange trees.

Arboleas

Looking toward Arboleas

Olive tree

Olives

Lemons

Lemons!

Citrus groves

The groves along the bridge to Arboleas

Oranges

Oranges

Oranges

…just one, honest!

Arboleas is a small village, and while there are a couple of places to eat, and a few shops, it is a very low-key place. The narrow streets are winding, and it was a little confusing to find our way around.

Arboleas streets

Arboleas

There is a church and a Moorish watchtower, which are both very prominent among the other buildings, so we went to visit those. The Iglésia de Santiago was built in the late 19th century. The original church of Arboleas was built in 1492, after the expulsion of the Moors, but it has since been destroyed and nothing of that original church remains today.

Arboleas Church of Santiago

Church of Santiago

The Arboleas watchtower was built during the 15th century, but I don’t know much about it other than that.

Torre de Arboleas

Torre de Arboleas

View from the Arboleas watchtower

The view from the Arboleas watchtower

During our walk around Arboleas, we happened upon this interesting little park. It was full of these weird exercise machines. You just know we had to try them all out…

Arboleas exercise

Arboleas workou

Ooof!

Arboleas exercise park

Tony Little, eat your heart out!

There is a square in front of the city hall, and next to that is a small park with stone benches and a statue of Al-Arbuli. From what I have gathered, Arboleas was named after Abdalacis Ben Abu Al-Arbuli who was a 14th century Moorish scientist. Al-Arbuli was a resident of the city and he wrote a book (called Food Treaty) about the foods of Andalucia. The book is in the Spanish National Library, so it definitely holds some major significance.

Arboleas City Hall

The City Hall of Arboleas

Al-Arbuli Arboleas statue

Al-Arbuli

 

In Arboleas

In Arboleas

We checked in to the Hostal Meson, and wanted to walk over to the house since it was literally a five minute walk from our hotel. It was getting dark, but we were eager to snoop around. We got to the house (Thank you GoogleMaps for allowing me to memorize the walk to the house!) and we were surprised to see lights on, and the shutters open.

Before continuing your read, I’d like to invite you to click this link to open up a new window and enjoy some background music… it will add to the experience.

As we walked up to the house (and I hope you are listening to the music!!) We heard drumming. Yes, drumming. You have got to be kidding. We buy a house in Spain, in a small village in SPAIN for goodness sake, and someone is practicing the DRUMS at night?? It was coming from the house directly in front of us. I was ready to scream. How could this BE?? Would we be tormented by the drumming every day? Every night?? We tried to block it out of our minds, but much like this Iron Butterfly Ina-Gadda-Da-Vida drum solo that you should be listening to, it just seemed to go on forever.

We had been curious as to what the owner was leaving with the house, because although we had an inventory list of all the furniture, we really had no idea if he was leaving small kitchen items and what not. We peeked in the downstairs bathroom window and could see that he had left all necessities (even toilet paper, hand soap, and a clean hand towel hanging on the rod!) This was exciting to see because we knew then that we might not have to buy everything under the sun for our stay. No one was in the house, so we were curious as to why the lights were on and the shutters open, but we were happy that we got to peek into the downstairs bedroom and bathroom! It was really getting dark, the drumming was continuing, and our stomachs were starting to growl, so we decided to take a drive over to Albox, which is just a few minutes away and get a bite to eat.

Triana is a little restaurant that was recommended to us when we stayed at Casa Olivos in September. It is open late and you can get a chicken dinner for right around 6 Euros! That’s a super deal.

Meal at Triana in Albox

Yum!

The first time we were there, Curt tipped the waitress, and I think she was super excited about that because she brought us an after dinner drink afterward. In Spain, it really is not customary or expected to tip. If you do leave a tip, it is typically your change to even out your tab, but it isn’t like here in the States. The server is not miffed to not receive a tip, but of course tickled pink (as our waitress was, because we were clueless.)

One thing we were tickled pink about was that it seemed as if the smoking ban in restaurants was now being enforced. There was a sign stating that there was no smoking allowed in the restaurant. Like I mentioned before, there are A LOT of smokers in Europe, and we are quite spoiled here in the US to be able to eat in a smoke free environment all the time.

We finished our meal and made our way back to the Hostal Meson. Lucas, our Spanish lawyer, had managed to get the notary to agree to do the closing with Curt’s NIE and not mine, as long as we would go to the foreigner’s office in Almeria and get my NIE and file it with the notary within 30 days. This was a huge relief because we would not be rushing tomorrow and stressing about getting the needed documents in time for the completion. Andrea was meeting us at the Hostal Meson at 10 a.m. and would be driving us to the bank in Vera to sort out our funds. We needed a good night’s rest because tomorrow was going to be a big day!!