Search "Sundays in Spain"

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Zoco Market

On Sunday morning we usually spend an hour or two at the Zoco market, a huge open-air bazaar or mercado that is only a couple miles from our house in Montebello. It's not exactly true that you can buy anything there, but you can buy an awful lot of different things. There are hundreds of stalls in a dozen or more aisles, selling various types of clothing (outer and inner), books, DVDs, ceramics, hardware supplies, kitchen utensils and cleaning supplies, window glazing, outdoor furniture, indoor furniture, flowers and plants, personal care items, and food.

Oh, the food! Vegetables and fruits, locally grown. Two weeks ago every fruit stall suddenly had figs, and that was how I learned that figs were in season (and they were gone the next week). Frutos secos (nuts), where I usually get the whole almonds I add to my morning cereal. Olives. Beans. Spices. Cheeses and more varieties of embutidos (sausages) than I knew existed. Bread. Cakes and pastries. Roast chicken on a spit, and paella, to take home with you in case you don't feel like making Sunday dinner. And it wouldn't be a market, or Spain, if there weren't lots of places to sit down and enjoy something to drink and eat on the spot.

We usually drive, because who knows what we might have to carry home? But this morning we decided we needed some walking exercise, so for the first time, we struck out on the short walk to the entrance of our urbanization, then down the country road going parallel to the highway, around the highway exit roundabout bringing cars from north and south, and up the path to the huge parking lot. It only took us twenty minutes from our door to the spot where we usually park the car, and then another five minutes through the lot to one of the entrances to the market, where hawkers were busy as usual, offering free day trips to a blanket factory somewhere in the area--"no purchase necessary."

After walking for a half hour in the sun we were ready for our ritual visit to the Danish pølsevogn at the back of the market. In addition to the traditional Danish hot dog, with all the trimmings, this hot dog stand also offers a fresh copy of today's Extra Bladet newspaper to read while you devour the dog and sip the Carlsberg.

Thus refreshed we made quick work of our shopping. Johannes found two DVDs to watch this week, and also a loaf of pan gallego, a delicious crusty bread that we had enjoyed for the first time as the base of a tostada in Alicante a couple weeks ago. I picked up fresh green beans and apples that I need for the Mediterranean salad and American apple cake I'm planning to make for overnight visitors this week. And then we decided to treat our visitors, and us, to a Danish pastry wienerbrød stang for breakfast, and shouldn't we also reward the man who consistently offers us delicious sharp bits of cheddar cheese each week--which we gladly accept but decline to purchase huge chunks of, for cholesterol reasons? Yes, we left the market with a five euro chunk of cheddar for our English friends, and for us.

By now we had enough to carry, so we headed out, stopping only to buy the Sunday El País, a former daily staple but now, due to rising newspaper prices and the lack of a corner kiosk, an occasional treat. The trip home took twice as long as the walk to the market. By 11:30 it is really hot and sunny, and we had to stop at Monty's, our local air-conditioned bar, for an agua con gas and café con leche to help us make the last few blocks to our house on Tomillo street.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Menú del Día

On Wednesday morning this week we left the house sooner than anticipated, because we got a sudden telephone call saying that Johannes' new glasses had arrived at the optician and were ready for pick-up. And was he ready to have them! We had intended to go out to Mercadona, one of the many local supermarkets we patronize, to buy the week's supply of heavy stuff: wine, two kinds of bottled water, and kitty litter. We limit our trips there to once a week or so, because it's a little farther away than we usually need to drive, and there are at least four other branded supermarkets between here and there.

Mercadona is on a direct line between our house and the optician's, so we rushed off to the optician's and planned on stopping at Mercadona on the way home. But the optician is right next to the large Habaneras shopping mall in Torrevieja, so we stashed the car in the coolness of the underground parking garage at Habaneras. did the business at the optician's, and then, since we were there, took a trip through AKI looking for wood for new shelves in the kitchen, and through the next-door Carrefour to try to find a suitable folding kitchen stool, and then, somehow three hours had gone by just like that. And we were hungry! And you know what they say about doing grocery shopping on an empty stomach.

So we did something that we hardly ever do--we went out for lunch. Our normal Mediterranean diet lunch consists of a mixed vegetable salad, with a fruit salad for dessert. But today we wanted more than a quick stop for a late-morning tostada or early tapa, and it was now well past 1:00, so we could be sure that restaurants were serving menú del día.

Menú del día is the best way to eat a meal in Spain that offers you choice and plenty of food, and does not bring you a surprise when you get the bill. Offered only at lunchtime--the main meal of the day for most Spaniards--it customarily allows you to choose from among three or four selections for your first course, main course, and dessert. A single beverage (wine, beer, or water) is often included in the fixed-price menu, but sometimes not--check so that you don't get surprised at the end of the meal. Prices (usually somewhere between 8 and 11 euros per person) and the selections for the menú del día are normally listed on a placard outside the restaurant.

We stopped at a place called The Dining Room, which we had noticed near the Mercadona on a previous trip, and were delighted to read on the poster that their menú del día could include only two courses for 6 euros, and we could choose either a starter or dessert in addition to the main course. I quickly decided on the grilled chicken for main course, though I was tempted by the lasagna. Beverage was clearly not included in the six euro price, and we were hot, though we had a table in the shade and a breeze occasionally blew through, so we ordered tinto de verano wine coolers (with ice!) and awaited our main courses.

Not too long a time passed (but enough so we ordered a bottle of water with more ice) before our plates appeared, each with three(!) small breasts of chicken, grilled, plus the usual french fries, plus a bonus of lettuce, tomatoes, and onion that was more than a garnish--at least a one-serving vegetable. This was an English bar and restaurant, but that's not why we got the chips--I have discovered that French fries are the usual accompaniment to fish or meat courses in Spain.

It was very filling, but we concluded our tasty lunch with dessert of watermelon for me and ice cream for my companion. Much more than we usually have for lunch, but thus fortified, we proceded on to Mercadona to accomplish that weekly purchase of wine, water, kitty litter, and a few more items. And then home to put away the purchases and fall into bed for one of those Spanish siestas.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Spanish Efficiency

Since I've shared my frustration about going through trámites over the past few weeks, I thought I should let you know that some things go right, and fairly quickly.

Two weeks ago, we discovered a water leak in our underbuild, also known as the half-cellar underneath the house. Careful investigation revealed that it probably came from a leak in water pipes going underneath the floor tiling in the main floor bathroom. This sent panic into my heart, as we had already met another couple in this development who had a similar problem with their main floor bathroom. The repairman that their insurance company sent in managed to dig up and destroy every single one of the floor tiles in the bathroom before finding that the problem was at the very entrance to the room. After some time, they got their leak fixed and the floor tiles replaced--albeit not with the same type of tiles that had been installed when the house was built eight years ago--but the water had not been connected some months later. I really didn't want my entire bathroom floor dug up, and I certainly didn't want a non-functioning bathroom for months on end.

We contacted our insurance company, and last week a young repairman came to determine the cause of our problem. He announced immediately that it was probably a leak in the pipes underneath the floor at the door to the bathroom. He drilled and made a horrible racket, but he found the leak and repaired it, and only destroyed two tiles in the process. This week, another repairman showed up to replace the tiles. We had already scouted out an acceptable near-match for the sea green mist tiles on the floor, but he had found a better one. He also drilled and made a horrible racket, but when he was done, the two tiles were in place and you might not notice, as you walk into the bathroom, that they are slightly different from the rest of the floor.

There's something very nice about how the insurance system works in Spain. Something goes wrong. You call the insurance company. They send someone to fix it. You don't have to get estimates from three different service providers; you don't have to pay the repairman; you don't have to subtract the deductible. Since the repairmen are hired by the insurance company, you don't have to fight about the insurance at all, and chances are, the repair person knows the situation as well as or better than you do. Our guy diagnosed the problem as soon as he walked in the door--he had already fixed two other similar leaks in our development (not the one at our friends' house--they had a different insurance company).

All we had to do was to be home to let the workmen in, and, after the job was completed, verify by phone that we were satisfied.

The Orange Grove

When we first moved into this house in Montebello, I wrote that I had a view of orange trees from my bathroom window, but there were no oranges on the trees. That was true in June.

Now in August, as you can see on the photograph to the right, there are some oranges on the trees. True, they are not yet orange. I have no idea when they will turn orange, but I'll keep you posted.

The Greatest Sandbox

On most mornings, we head out of the house at about 8:00 to walk to the play area in our Montebello urbanization to get in three or four games of pétanque. The recreation area includes a soccer field (in the foreground to the left), a children's playground with slide and swings, two pétanque lanes, and a handball court. It's all "paved" in fine beige sand.

This morning as we went out the door and locked the gate, Goldie refused to come inside and wait for our return. Oh well, she could wander in our street for awhile, and she could even jump the fence and find a shady place to wait for us to come back an hour later.

We walked the block down the street, and then another block past the orange grove, over to the recreation area. We were just at the point of throwing out the first ball when who should appear but Goldie, who had followed at a discreet distance. She nosed around the pétanque lane, discovered that the red "pig" ball was not some of her dry cat food, occasionally chased one of the metal balls, and wandered off to inspect the other recreation facilities and the adjacent orange trees.

And then, sure enough, she reacted to the largest sandbox she had ever seen and used it just as she would her litter box at home.

The next time Goldie comes with us to pétanque, we'll bring a plastic bag.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Summer Shopping Sundays

Summer Sundays in Spain are different from winter Sundays, at least on the coast. During July and August people from the north of Spain flock to the southern and eastern costas, and people from the interior parts of the southern and eastern provinces also flood outwards to the beaches. Locals who live year-round on the coast sigh and moan about the lack of parking spaces, but they know how their bread is buttered, or more precisely, adorned with olive oil: tourism.

I have another reason to look forward to the thousands of tourists who come during these weeks. The arrival of tourists to an official tourist region means store openings on Sundays. Yes, Spain still lives most of the year with Sunday being a "day of rest" from commercialism, as long as you don't count the busy Sunday outdoor market or the hundreds of restaurants, bars, and cafeterías that do big business on the "day off." But for Sundays in December and the summer holidays, the larger grocery stores and entire shopping centers that are located in tourist areas are given special dispensation to stay open on Sunday to cater to tourists.

Everyone, I think, loves it. You do not hear just English, German, French, and Scandinavian voices comparing prices and value in Carrefours, Lidl, Consum, and Eroski on Sunday. You also hear Spanish, and you see lots of Spaniards pushing gigantic shopping carts filled with clothing, shoes, electronics, and food. The entire Gran Plaza shopping center had been open on summer Sundays when we lived in Roquetas, and we had noticed that nearly every grocery, hipermercado, and large hardware and building supply store that we have entered here on the Costa Blanca also carry signs advising that they are open on Sunday in July, August, and the first half of September.

Which is why we skipped our usual visit to the local outdoor market this morning and headed to the Ikea in Murcia. They had been out of the shelving we need for the kitchen on our last visit, and their online site now showed that stock had been replenished. We have gone so often to this Ikea that we know the shortest and easiest way, and we have it down to just about a 45 minute ride, only the last five minutes of which are heavy with traffic.

But today we noticed that there was practically no traffic during the last five minutes, and when we approached the parking lot in less than five, we realized there were no cars--none at all--in the parking lot. Sure enough, the sign on the door listed the Sundays and festivos that Ikea is open, but there was a big blank next to the month of agosto. We drove around to several other big box stores, and even parked and went into a shopping mall, to see whether there were any signs that anything might be open in the next few hours. A few other cars were doing the same thing, and the voices of disappointment we heard were Spanish.

Giving special tourism dispensation is a local prerogative. Obviously the officials who are authorized to make this decision in the province and city of Murcia have chosen not to allow Sunday opening during the summer months. Oh, the frustration! I had already been anticipating my favorite treat from Ikea's cafeteria for lunch. But that was counting my shrimp before they had nestled down on an open-faced sandwich.

Back in the car we turned again toward Alicante province and home. I remembered years ago when we lived in northern Massachusetts--still under blue laws at that time, but no more--and we would drive across the border into New Hampshire to shop on Sunday. We even bought one of our cars one Sunday in New Hampshire. Now we passed by our house in Montebello and the open-air market, which was still going strong and tying up traffic, and proceeded on to the Habaneras shopping center on the outskirts of Torrevieja. Everything was open. I noticed that even McDonald's had a sign out saying they serve breakfast from 9:00 until noon (previously they never opened until 11:00). I wonder if that is permanent, or summer-time only.

We spent an hour in the AKI home DIY center, and came out with above-bed lamps, energy-saving bulbs, and the electric cable and switches to install them. So not all was lost. At least we got something for the house, and we still had time left to do a home project on this Sunday in Spain.

Monday, August 3, 2009

If It's Tuesday...

Tuesday this past week was the day we set out to be at the office in Orihuela early to go through the trámite of getting my social security number. We didn't make it quite by the 8:30 opening time. Just as well. When we arrived at 8:40 there were already people outside the door, standing, some smoking, most talking, waiting their turn. We hurried inside and picked up our number: number 105!

The inside office was packed, but it was air conditioned. Needless to say, the few seats were already taken. We stood at a counter-top desk along the far side of the room and worked on a sudoku. After a few minutes, we checked the sign that told what number was being served. It was number ten.

At 9:30 we went outside for a little air. We walked around the corner and found a cafetería with tables in the sun. The air was still fresh, and we sat out with a cup of coffee. There was a kiosk down the street, and we added a morning newspaper to the paperwork we had with us to pass the time.

Back at the social security office, we checked the number sign again. As in offices everywhere of this nature, there were multiple desks--at least six--and as in offices everywhere, not all of them were working. I saw three in operation, and we calculated that the numbers were moving along at the rate of about 30 per hour.

More sudoku. More newspaper reading. More watching the people as they came to the intake desk to get a number. And then we noticed that no more numbers were being given out. It was only 10:30, but the "appointments" for the day were filled. The lady at the reception desk simply said that there were no more numbers: "Mañana. Come back tomorrow." This was small comfort for the multitude of people--Spanish, English, a few German--who were coming in to an office that is open from 8:30 to 1:30 and who had expected to be served that day. It's not an unusual state of affairs in Spain, and most Spaniards took it philosophically. Some English were a bit more panicked. One woman explained that she had been there before and never seen it so busy, but now she was going to England on holiday at the end of the week, and needed the European card that extended her healthcare rights out of Spain and throughout the EU. Some new EU regulation had revised procedures and required the issuing of new cards.

We went out for another coffee and a tostada, this time at a cafetería in the shade. Thus fortified, we returned for our final wait. At 11:30 we passed the 100 mark and began to inch our way toward the front of the room where the consultation desks were staged. For the first time, I saw that the room was much larger than I had noticed before, and there were many more seats toward the front. But they were still all filled. Finally, number 105 was called for desk number 6.

We explained to the young woman at the desk that we had moved our residence from Andalucía, that I had to exchange my previous health card for one valid here, that we had completed empadronamiento, and that we had been sent here by the Almoradí centro de salud. My heart sank as I heard her explain that, since I am not a European citizen, I qualify for the health card only through my husband, who is a European, and could she please see our marriage certificate. We had gone through that process before, when I originally got the card in Roquetas. It involved finding the original of our Ohio marriage certificate, going to Denmark, establishing the fact that we had indeed been legal residents there long ago, and getting an official translation (to the tune of 300€) into Spanish of the marriage certificate and the Danish residence papers.

Presumably we have that paper in our files somewhere, but it had not occurred to us to take it with us this morning, because I did have my Spain residence card and the prior health card, which I could only have gotten after showing those marriage papers. Too much logic! But in time, we convinced the young woman that she didn't need to see those papers once again. At noon time we left the office, a signed and stamped letter authorizing me to receive health benefits in hand.

Wednesday, we took that valuable piece of paper back to the centro de salud in Almoradí, where it took a relatively short time (a half hour, but that's another story) to get my health card.

We had intended to have a day out and play tourist in Orihuela after getting the paper, but by early afternoon, we had energy only to find our way to the tourist office, pick up a map and brochures, and retire to a cafetería for a bit of lunch and leafing through the literature. Seeing more of Orihuela than the 50 meters around the social security office will have to wait for another day.