Search "Sundays in Spain"

Showing posts with label Alicante. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alicante. Show all posts

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Another Sunday in Spain

This morning I woke up in Alicante city, the capital of the province in Spain where I lived dozen years until two years ago. We had a delicious breakfast in the elegant old style (pre Crisis of 2008) in the NH Rambla hotel (Spanish tortilla, cheeses and cold meats, including jamon serrano, several breads and sweet cakes, at least five fresh fruits and six fruit juices, and eggs, bacon, and sausages cooked to order). Then we had a couple hours free before we were to pick up our rental car, so we walked down the Rambla toward the harbor and along the Esplanade, watching people, browsing the small white tent-shops with handicrafts, and pausing for a tinto de verano at one of the sidewalk cafés, because the weather was sunny and warm enough so I was comfortable just in light slacks and a three-quarter arm length blouse. Not even a scarf.

Everyone was out, as is typical of a Sunday morning in Spain. Children playing, vying for balloons. Young couples, some pushing strollers. Young women in pairs. Men in groups playing cards and chess. Single old people walking with a crutch or a cane, or riding a motorized scooter. People carrying lightweight folding chairs, on their way to or from the beach. Musicians and impromptu dancers. Tourists and locals. Everyone was enjoying the sun, a gentle breeze, the opportunity of leisure, and the experience of sharing common space in a city by the Mediterranean. It was a perfectly ordinary autumn Sunday in Spain.

I first saw Alicante in May of 2003. We had come to Spain for a week's vacation from our summer cottage in Denmark, with the idea of finding a place where we could live for six months of the year. We traveled then from Alicante clear over to the Costa del Sol and ultimately chose a spot in between those two, but even that wasn't until the following year. What I remember from that first glimpse of Spain was the Esplanade in Alicante with its wavy tiled pavement, and that a feria de libros was taking place in the white tents. I didn't buy any books then, but I remembered the tiles and the walkway and the water and the palm trees.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

More Salt

Salt mountains in Santa Pola  © 2014 Johannes Bjorner

We drove along the N-332 seaside road north to Alicante city on Thursday this week and passed the huge mountains of salt that are collected there and shipped out all over the world to alleviate wintry road conditions. This salt is not taken from the lake in Torrevieja that I wrote about previously, but from the salt flats bordering the Mediterranean immediately south of Alicante city.

I felt like Phil, the groundhog who emerges from hibernation each year on February 2 and, upon seeing his shadow, wreaks revenge, bringing six more weeks of winter to estadounidenses not just in the region of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. When we returned from our sun-filled morning, we saw news programs showing that they had received more snow in the middle and eastern U.S.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Happy Books

Inside Happy Books, ©Johannes Bjorner 2012
One of the unexpected pleasures we had in Barcelona was stumbling upon a store called Happy Books. Given the name and the bright colors of children's books and cookbooks on display in bins out front, I thought at first that it was a bookstore for light reading only. The store was crowded (this was the Sunday before Christmas) but we made our way in to browse, and then we went farther and farther in. True, I found a good share of light reading (pizza cookbooks in a circular shape, for example) and young adult books (YA classic editions of literature from around the world, including Lazarillo de Tormes, a Spanish classic that I had read part of). As I got farther in, however, through room after room leading to the next, I found many forms of enlightenment. The clean, modern architecture gave way to older, more historic, and beautifully restored stone and brick arches--but still with excellent lighting. We browsed for a long time, and we stood in line to make a purchase. As we left I asked if the store was open tomorrow (Christmas Eve day). We were happy to hear that it was.

But we never got back to Happy Books, because later that evening we discovered Casa del Libro just a few steps down from our hostal on the Rambla. Another large bookstore, with sections for English and French and German books, in addition to Spanish. By this time it was ready to close, so we went back there the next day. Twice, as I recall--once early in the morning and then again later at night. We are obviously starved for the ambiance of large, well-equipped bookstores, and I am glad that by now in my stay in Spain I have gotten to the point where I can browse and buy comfortably in Spanish. We left eventually without all the books we wanted--size of luggage being one consideration, but also the realization that while some things look compelling when on holiday with loads of time looming, they too often lie languishing when you return to everyday life and have lots of other things to do.

Yesterday, however, we were suddenly "in need" of a travel book, or at least in need of browsing some travel books. Lo and behold, and thanks to the Web, we found that Casa del Libro has many casas, and one of them is in Alicante city. It was a beautiful, warm day for a drive, so off we went. As we approached our destination we found a parking lot with no difficulty and dived in--the rule in Alicante being to "park first, then walk."  We set off on foot for the store and found it with only a little backtracking. We browsed for an hour, and limited ourselves to one selection. "Should it be wrapped?" I was asked at the cashiers, because everyone else was buying gifts for the Reyes Magos to deliver that evening. The Three Kings bypassed our house last night, and that's just as well, because we have already had a very full holiday season, planned and unplanned. One of the unexpected pleasures of the new year is the discovery of a good multilingual bookstore within an hour's drive of our house. And close to a fine little restaurant we had seen during the walk from the garage, where we treated ourselves to the menu del dia, a larger-than-normal luncheon for us, which made the day all the more enjoyable.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Renewing Residencia, Part 4

Today was the day to go to Alicante to get finger-printed--the last formality before I could get my renewed card for continued legal residency in Spain. I had received a letter in the mail giving me the address to go to (Policia Nacional and Guardia Civil, on Calle Campo de Mirra), plus the list of papers I should bring with me: this letter, two photographs of a certain size, shape, and color (carnet), valid current passport, old residencia card, certificate of empadronamiento (my legal address), and stamped form verifying I had been to the bank to pay the residencia fee. For good measure, a new three-part form for the fee was enclosed. But I had previously paid a fee and had a copy--would that be good enough?

When we checked with the bank, they said there should only be one fee for one tramite, and I had paid it way back at the beginning of this tramite, when I went to Orihuela in November. The same cannot be said for the certificate of empadronamiento. These certificates are only valid for three months, and the one I had gotten at the beginning of these proceedings ran out, very inconveniently, less than a week before today. So last Thursday we dropped by the ayuntamiento in our town, with a copy of the escritura, our house deed, to request a new certificate of empadronamiento.

No problem, and since this was the second time we had requested one (it was actually the third, but who's counting?) the woman at the town hall told us we didn't need the escritura. We just needed to pick up the copy on Monday--it takes two days.

So yesterday we picked up the certificado de empadronamiento at noon, checked and re-checked that we had all the papers needed, and investigated how to get to the Policia Nacional in Alicante. The designated time--it would be too much to call this an appointment--was between 9:00 and 2:00. I set the alarm for 7:00 AM, which is a somewhat unusual occurrence in this household now, but I woke up at 6:00 and used the extra time to find the Policia Nacional on my iPad. The directions sounded correct, and when I viewed the location using Google Maps, I knew it was right--the static picture showed a line of people waiting outside a boring looking building, so it must be a police station. I also found the address on a paper map of the city, to get a better idea of the larger picture than I can find on a screen, and when we got in the car at 8:00 my trusted driver found it on the GPS.We listened anxiously to Gloria Perez Sanchez as we drove off, wondering whether she would agree with Google Maps on the iPad.

Forty-five minutes later, we knew that she did, and shortly thereafter we drove into a parking lot next to the police station. Only about 20 people were in line in front of us, and the line was moving. As we got to the front, a police officer checked my papers and directed me through a door to the inside of the building. But no, my husband could not accompany me into the building--no compañeros during this procedure--he had to wait outside.

I went inside with the number I had been given: no. 26. Five rows with about 20 seats in each comprised the waiting room, and I was directed to a seat in the third row. The number machine showed that we were on no. 4.

The line moved surprisingly quickly. By 9:20 we were on no. 13, and at 9:30 my number 26 was posted. I went through the glass doors, waited again,  and eventually was directed to one of the six or seven desks handling these affairs. I had all my papers in my hands (and all my back-up papers from the previous excursion in a folder in my bag). The clerk looked first at my proof of payment and laid it on a stack. Whew! Then she looked at the computer screen, my passport, former card, and the letter. Then she took out a unique square-shaped set of scissors and cut out two photos from the set of three that I had given her. She pressed some keys on the computer and out came some papers. I had to sign my name in two places, she asked if I understood Spanish, and when I said "si, un poquito,"  she told me in Spanish that I could pick up my card in a month in Orihuela, and gave me my old card attached to a paper indicating Orihuela. Then she directed me to the fingerprinting office immediately behind me.

I was pretty sure they wanted my right forefinger, but I was not prepared for the fact that I could not press the finger onto the inkpad or the receiving paper myself. No, the officer had to guide me in that, because there is a very special way to roll the finger horizontally from right to left. We did that twice, on two separate sheets of paper--one for the files, I suppose, and one for the card that I will pick up in Orihuela a month from today. After I rolled my finger--or rather, after the officer rolled my finger--I got a little paper to clean my hand. ¿Listo? I asked. Listo, said the officer. Hasta luego. Well, not any time soon, I thought to myself. I'm going to Orihuela in a month, not back here. I don't expect to be back here for the next ten years, which is when this card will expire.

As tramites go, this one was not traumatic.We stopped at the cafe bar on the way out and had a cafe con leche and media tostada con atun y tomate. And we were finished with that by 10:00 and had the rest of the beautifully sunny day to enjoy ourselves. Since we were in a part of Alicante that was new to us, we decided to continue on a different route and see something new before we left the city and went back to our area to do banking and go to the grocery store. We did pursue a different route, and we did see something new, though not what we had planned as we sat with our cafe con leche. But that's what happens when you go joy-riding in a new part of the city without listening to Gloria Perez Sanchez. Since we hadn't turned her on, she couldn't warn us about what roads not to take. But at least we didn't get caught while going down the ambulance- and taxi-only lane in an otherwise one-way street next to the hospital. I guess we were far enough away from the police station by that time.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

In the Middle of Christmas

Merry Christmas. Glaedelig Jul. Feliz Navidad. It is Christmas Day, and if you think Christmas will be over and done with tomorrow, you have not spent Christmas in Spain. It is a slow and relaxed holiday here, spanning a couple weeks, at least.

We did start Christmas celebrations a little early this year, last Sunday, the 18th, when we were invited to an early Christmas dinner at the home of English friends. They needed to do dinner early because they were going to Benidorm for the holiday itself. As it turns out, they were one of three sets of friends who chose to relocate to Benidorm for Christmas this year. We had thought of that ourselves, but too much travel in November made us change our plans. Perhaps next year will be the year we go to Benidorm.

The real, though unofficial, start of Christmas in Spain is on the 22nd, the day that the national lottery, the Sorteo de Navidad, is drawn. This is the biggest lottery in the world, giving out more money and drawing more participants than any other. It takes four hours just to pick the winning numbers and amounts of earnings; it takes place in Madrid every year on the morning of the 22nd and is televised live throughout the country. The 22nd was Thursday this year, which was also the day that we took a small overnight trip to Alicante city. Our excuse for the overnight was an evening Christmas concert at the Auditorio de la Diputación de Alicante (ADDA), the new theater that opened this year and which we have enjoyed before. We were off to Alicante first thing in the morning, and that gave us time to walk through the unusually fine mercado central building that was just across the street from our hotel, and then sit in the Plaza Nuevo in the sunshine, having a glass of wine and light lunch. There happened to be an office of the lotería just next to our cafe, so we could listen to a young member of the chorus sing each number, and then hear a second member respond by singing the amount that ticket had won. For the first time, I had bought a ticket this year--actually only a décimo, one tenth of a 200 euro ticket--and I was hoping to hear one of the children of San Ildefonso sing "ochenta y nueve, cuatrocientos, noventa y siete" and follow that with a mil (thousand) or so euros, but no one did.

Since I didn't have to claim a winning, I had time to pass through the gift and kitchen departments of El Corte Inglés looking for small gifts and enjoying the other shoppers (a surprising number of whom spoke Danish, as we had also curiously heard in our hotel). Then after a brief siesta back at the hotel (more Danish in the elevator) it was time to walk four blocks or so (400 meters--we don't talk about "blocks" in Spain) to the ADDA. Since the concert began at 8:00 we were not going to have a chance for a proper dinner before the music, but we were counting on finding a bar and tapas to tide us over, or more likely, substitute for dinner itself. We didn't find that, but that's another story. We did make it, pleasantly full, to the concert early enough to stand in line for a few minutes before the doors opened at 7:30--although the seats are numbered, the tickets never seem to be, so it is first come, first seated (and it helps if you know the layout of the venue, which we do now, because you seat yourself). The auditorium was festive, the musicians and director in good form, the musical selections enchanting, and it was a lovely evening. The next morning we enjoyed the typical Spanish breakfast buffet in our hotel, and finally asked one of our fellow guests what the occasion was. Turns out that there was a bridge club of some 34 members from Denmark, who were off on an annual year-end excursion, which explained a little bit why we had heard nothing but Danish spoken by other guests during our stay.

When we returned home the tiles for our new terrace--our Christmas gift to ourselves--had been laid and the workmen were doing the grouting and cleaning up very well as they went. They finished the job and on Saturday morning, the 24th, came around for the final payment. Over the years we have been in Spain we have had a number of house improvements made in December--new windows, a gas fireplace, and now a terrace--and they never fail to get done, and paid in cash, on Christmas Eve Day. We had just enough time on the 24th to get ready for another Christmas celebration--this time Christmas Eve dinner Scandinavian style, at a Swedish restaurant with Danish friends. The company was wonderful and the food equally so, with the typical cold table buffet of herring, salmon, shrimp, and fish, plus all the traditional hot dishes, including more salmon, and finishing with at least three desserts.

So this morning when Christmas Day, the 25th dawned, it could have been a little anticlimactic, and indeed we took off on our traditional Sunday activity, wandering through the Sunday outdoor Zoco market. I had seen signs the previous week at several stalls that had said they would be there on the 25th. Well, there were a few stalls open--maybe 20 percent. We commented that it was now easy to see who the Morrocan and other Muslim vendors were--they were the ones who were there on Christmas day. Spaniards have their big Christmas celebration on Nochebuena, Christmas Eve, and it consists of a big and long dinner, which starts at 9:00 and lasts at least until midnight, and then there may be extensive sobremesa (after dinner) into the wee hours. The only Spanish voices we heard this morning were talking about the wonderful fiesta they had had the night before.

There were very few English voices at the market--most English here celebrate on the 25th with a big roast dinner at 2:00--but we found two Scandinavian cafes open, and had coffee first at the Danish one, and then the Norwegian one, though the Norwegian cafe seemed to be staffed only with Russians today. Then we took a nice long drive along the Lemon Tree Road to Guardamar and walked the beach, and then continued south to Torrevieja, inspecting road improvements along the way that were finally done, only two years late, but are now quite impressive.

In a few minutes I will go downstairs to prepare our simple Christmas dinner: specially cut inch-thick steaks of Argentine beef (such a thick cut must be specially ordered in Spain), fresh asparagus and mushrooms, Spanish potato bollitos, and a Spanish custard dessert that is a gift from our cleaning ladies. After partaking of cold and hot salmon yesterday, I decided to put aside the salmon first course I had planned. Tomorrow is another day, and even though life gets sort of back to normal before New Year's, Spain doesn't finish Christmas until January 6, when the Three Kings bring gifts to the children. That means, yes, that the stores are still busy and festive. There are indeed twelve days of Christmas, and still a lot of celebrating to do.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Renewing Residencia, Part 3

We are still married. That's what we had to prove to the Spanish immigration authorities to move paperwork on my residencia renewal forward. (See part 2) Although we did not have any idea how to prove this, we had been told to go to the Danish consulate, since my application rests on the fact that my husband is a European Union citizen. We were hoping that one bureaucracy (the Danish consulate) would be able to communicate to another (the Spanish immigration office) and know how to verify this status.

On Tuesday we called the Danish consulate in Alicante. I was hopeful after the conversation. Sure, come around tomorrow morning at 10:30, a very Spanish man said. So Wednesday we piled in the car with Gloria GPS again, and after braving city one-way streets and parking shortages, we arrived at the consulate, which turned out to be a tiny office in a multi-story building that also housed the German and British consulates. We got there shortly before 11:00--we are becoming adept at living according to Spanish time--and explained the situation: We were renewing my residencia; we have our marriage certificate from the U.S., plus a Spanish translation, and we have proof of my earlier residence in Denmark, another European Union country, and a Spanish translation. What we are asked for now is a statement showing that we are still married.

The consul hemmed and hawed a bit. I told him that we had copies of our separate empadronamientos, each showing our legal address, which was the same. Wouldn't that be indicative? No, that was not important; he didn't even look at them. What he needed, he said apologetically as he pointed to a list of fees for various consular services, was 109 euros. That, plus about 45 minutes to type up the statement.

Without much choice, we agreed to pay the fee and to disappear for a cup of coffee while he took up the task of producing the paperwork. He would call us if he finished early, because that might give us enough time to get to the immigration office this same day and complete the whole process.

Off we went for coffee. Not much gets accomplished in Spain without stopping for coffee in the middle of whatever is underway, and fortunately the coffee is good. After coffee we went next door to El Corte Ingles, a nice department store, where we intended to buy tickets to an upcoming Christmas concert. But after standing in line for ten minutes, the phone rang. As good as his word, our papers were ready, so off we scooted to pick them up.

I laboriously read through the bureaucratic language of a short (16-line) document. It repeated already known facts--when and where we had gotten married--but contained the important phrase siguiende actualmente casados (continuing married through the present). Wonderful! We paid the fee, got the original, two copies, and a receipt, and rushed off to the immigration office.

By now we knew the procedure: In through the security check, stand in the triage line, get a number, then proceed to the waiting room. We were pushing the end of the day--it was almost 1:00 by the time we got there and we knew they closed at 2:00. But the triage director assured us that if we took the number and waited, we would be seen that day. What was there to lose? Once again I became number M-002, and we waited, more than an hour. We used the time to sort through all our documents and place the originals and a copy of each document together, in order, in a notebook.

At 1:55 there were only three other parties in the waiting room. Finally M-002 was called, at a little after 2:00. The gentleman who attended to us was efficient and pleasant, but it was good that we were prepared. He asked and we were able to supply the right paper almost instantaneously. For most, he examined the original, glanced at the copy, kept the copy and returned the original to us. He took the six photographs that I had in one set and cut out three of them, then returned the other three to me. He kept two and affixed one to a copy of my application form, which he then stamped several times and gave to me. Approved! Within two months I should get a letter telling me where to go to be fingerprinted; then I can expect to get a laminated card that looks very much like the one I have in my possession now, which officially runs out today. It will have one of those pictures, my name and other identification details, address, and a fingerprint on the back. I suspect that it will also expire five years from the date of my application, which means I should have the opportunity to revisit bureaucratic hell yet one more time. But in the meantime, I am legal.

We went back to El Corte Ingles to buy our concert tickets and enjoy a celebratory luncheon on a sunny pre-Christmas weekday. Life is good. And we are still married.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Renewing Residencia, Part 2

Filling out the application forms for the renewal of my residencia permit was tedious (see part 1), but I completed them this past Monday morning. As it turned out, my Spanish class was cancelled, so no sooner was Johannes' piano teacher out the door after his lesson than we were out the door and on the way to the ayuntamiento to pick up the promised certificate of empadronamiento. It was ready--not at desk no. 3, where I had ordered it, but at the Informacion desk immediately inside the town hall door. Then we walked across the plaza to the bank to pay the 10 euro and 20 centimo fee required. The bank turned out to be very busy--with Tuesday a holiday, everyone was trying to get their business done on Monday. We continued on with errands and found a bank that was slightly less busy--at least they had time to try to sell me a private health insurance policy while we processed the payment...but I paid the fee, the multipart form got stamped four times, and two copies were returned to me to take with me that afternoon.

Monday afternoon at 3:30 we left for the 4:00 appointment, and arrived comfortably on time at 4:30, having come into Orihuela and to the policia nacional via yet another route and scrambling for a parking place. The room which we had originally approached the week before was the examination room, and every chair along its periphery was taken. We nosed around, trying to find out whether they were calling names. Someone said they were, but I had not heard a single name in more than ten minutes. We asked a woman seated in the periphery what number she was--she was no. 5. I was no. 21. We went across the street for a coffee and a tapa.

Only fifteen minutes later we returned, and somehow they had gotten to no. 31 in the interim! No problem. Johannes went to the front of one line and started translating the official's Spanish to the Irish couple that were petitioning there. For this courtesy, I was promised the next session. And it came quickly, but no sooner had I sat down and presented my papers, my current residencia card, and my passport, than the official said, "No, no! Alicante!"

But my town official told me to come here to Orihuela, I told the official. No, he was wrong. Orihuela is for petitions from people who are European Union (EU) citizens. I am from the United States--estados unidos (EEUU) in Spanish, but not EU. Those who are not EU comunitarias must go to Alicante. Jose, my town official, had made the simple mistake of assuming that I was English, or perhaps Danish, as my husband. Or maybe he just didn't know that there is a separate office for non-EU citizens, since we are in such a small minority.

What with two legal holidays during the week, plus a couple days with a bad cold, it was Friday before we had the strength and the time to enter "bureaucratic hell" again, which is what one American friend terms this type of typical Spanish paperwork. After my Spanish class we jumped in the car with every important piece of paper we have in our files. We were going to be prepared--even if we expected to do nothing more than to find the correct office in Alicante and get an appointment time for a later date.

Luck was with us. Our GPS buddy Gloria Perez Sanchez got us to the right building straightaway and we found parking easily. A guard at the door instructed me to put my papers and purse on the security belt and walk through a metal detector. I passed to a short line and waited for five minutes or so before being greeted by a woman who looked at my papers, performed some unknown triage, and gave me a coded number: M002. Then we got to pass through to the "plaza" courtyard of the building, where I first discovered that there were 50 or so people waiting. By this time it was noontime, and I was grateful that they were still assuming I could be seen before the office closed at 2:00.

An electric sign periodically flashed numbers and what desks the people holding those numbers should go to. There was a series of I numbers, C numbers, and R numbers. There was also a line showing what numbers had been "recently called." One of those was M-001. It continued showing M-001 as recently called for over a half hour. Finally I saw, and heard, M-002.

A young woman greeted us pleasantly when we got to the private desk, but immediately glanced at the papers and told us we didn't have the petition. Well, we had the wrong petition--we were still carrying  two copies of the petition for EU citizens. She gave me the proper paper, the one for non-EU citizens, and I wondered whether I would be able to fill it out at her desk or whether I would have to go back to the "plaza" and wait for another attendant later today or on another day.

That was the least of my problems, it turned out. Since I am not an EU citizen, it seems, there is absolutely no reason for Spain to grant me permanent residence on my own merit. The "condition" that has given me legal status as a resident so far is that I am married to an EU citizen. I become eligible through my husband. Though this is not welcome to hear, it's not a surprise, either, and we are prepared for it. We have copies of our marriage certificate (from the United States) and of the legal notice showing the change in my name from the one that was used on the marriage certificate to the one I use now (also from the U.S.). We have copies of official records proving that, for a brief time, I lived in Denmark and thus have a Danish "person number." And we have official (costly) translations of these documents from English and Danish to Spanish--we used them all the first time I applied for legal residencia status five years ago and was finally granted it after a couple years. But what we don't have is any official statement showing that we are still married.

We are still married.

But where does one get such proof, I wondered? And why do they think we would be sitting here together in bureaucratic hell if we were not still married, I asked myself rhetorically. The official tells us to go to the Danish consulate in Alicante--apparently there is one--for a statement verifying our marriage status. This seems illogical to me, but I am hoping that it will make sense to another bureaucracy. Regardless, it is too late in the day to start to find the Danish consulate. Besides, as we discover later in the afternoon when we look it up online from home, they are only open until 1:00 PM. So now we have another goal for our next week in bureaucratic hell. I wonder what we need to do to prove that we are still married?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Special Concert

This is the new auditorium of the province of Alicante. It opened to the public today, and we were there.

No, we did not go to the special invitation-only assemblage of dignitaries last evening, but we were there for the first concert open to the public. It was a "family concert," starting at 12:00 noon on this Sunday in Spain, no tickets necessary. Expecting a long line, we arrived at 10:45 AM. We were not the first, but there were not many people standing in groups around the outside of the building. The parking attendants told us that doors would not open until 11:30, so we went across the street for a café con leche and media tostada con atún y tomate, but we had a front window view and in only 20 minutes we high-tailed it back across the street to find out place in the line that was forming.

A half hour later, the line started moving, and we made our way inside. The Alicante Symphony Orchestra played "El Sueño de Eros," by Oscar Esplá, originally an alicantino, then Mahler's 3rd Symphony, Dream of a Summer Morning, "That Which Love Tells Me." After the intermission, during which I toured the building, there came three Spanish pieces, and then three encores, one of which was vocal. Plus a charming speech by the director, Joan Iborra, congratulating Alicante on the achievement of this cultural icon. And lots of applause.

There is a video on YouTube that shows and explains (in Spanish) the ingenious logo of the auditorium, only part of which you can see in the photo at the top of this piece.  It's a clever musical play on the initials ADDA, Auditorio de la Diputación de Alicante.

It's a wonderful experience to be a small part of the inauguration of a cultural monument.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Blanket Trip to Guadalest

This past Thursday I took the day off for a "blanket trip" to Guadalest. These blanket trips are not like the fabled blanket parties of my youth. They are free bus trips, sponsored by a blanket manufacturer, to various tourist attractions. All you have to do is promise to sit through a half-hour demonstration of the company's premium merino wool bedding products. The company provides coffee and a muffin as an inducement. Since the demo runs a little over the half hour, they add a mild liqueur at the close of the demo.

We were picked up at a nearby bus stop at 9:15 and had very comfortable seats in an air-conditioned coach for the one-hour trip north to Benidorm and then inland to our destinations. Informative English commentary along the way pointed out sites and gave us history of the area that was new to us. We got the blanket excursion out of the way in the morning and then had two and a half hours in the beautiful mountain village of Guadalest in the afternoon.

Our first stop in the village was at a Spanish bar for tapas of albondigas (meatballs) and tortilla, washed down with a small glass of vino tinto. Fortified, we wandered on the stone-paved walkways toward the castle perched at the top of a granite mountain. On the way, we passed by an incredible number of museums, shops, and more restaurants, but we couldn't resist a tiny open-air museum. It was the Magic Garden of the Museum of Ribera Girona, outdoor home to sculptures of over 150 animals and insects, all hidden among the lush vegetation. I could have spent the entire afternoon there and still not found all 150 species.

On we went again up the stone walkway toward the Peñon de la Alcalá tower, and then we found a beautiful surprise--the lake of Guadalest. I knew there had to be some water. I learned a long time ago that guad means "water" in Arabic, and al is the definite article "the." Este is "east" in Spanish. Guadalest has existed since Moorish times, so I believe the name of the town means "water to the east." This is not what our guide told us, but I think she was wrong. This is my fantasy and I'm sticking to it.

And it will be a long time before I forget the luminescent turquoise blue-green of the clear water far below the ancient town wall of Guadalest. It could be the most beautiful lake I have ever seen, but it's not really a lake--it's a reservoir. Formed when the Guadalest River was dammed from 1953-1964, the reservoir  provides water to several surrounding towns, including the huge tourist center of Benidorm. I now realize that one can drive or even hike around the reservoir, so I have Guadalest on my agenda for another trip in the future, this one not dependent on the good graces of the blanket company.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Lady of Elche

When I headed off to the city of Elche on a day bus trip with the Danish Friends Club last Thursday, I thought I was going to see some of the 200,000 palm trees in that UNESCO World Heritage city. But three kilometers before getting to Elche proper we stopped at an archeological site in L'Alcúdia to see the Dama de Elche (Lady of Elche), or at least, a reproduction. According to our two guides, the Lady of Elche was discovered by a sixteen-year-old boy in 1897 who was working on the private farm where the museum and archeological site now are situated. He thought he had encountered a very large stone while digging in a field, but carefully unearthed a polychrome stone statue of the head of a woman. Shortly after the discovery, the bust was whisked off to the Louvre in Paris, but returned to Spain in the 1940s. The statue is noted by experts as a well-preserved piece of Iberian art dating from the 5th century BC and is key in claims of Spaniards that there was an Iberian culture here before the Romans, Moors, and Christians.

The original now is displayed in Madrid in the national archeological museum, so we saw a reproduction. In fact, we saw many reproductions, because part of the hundred-year anniversary celebration in 1997 was the creation and placement on the grounds of several imaginative larger-than-lifesize artistic interpretations. I've since read about art historian John Moffitt's claim that the Lady is a forgery--a controversy that neither of our guides mentioned--but the family on whose farm it was found preserved the location and privately financed archeological excavations through the next three generations, before getting public authorities to take over the project. There are lots of artifacts in a small museum today; archeological work is continuing with the University of Alicante. A pre-Roman temple has been unearthed and we were cautioned not to take anything from the grounds, as it could be a relic.

It was an unexpectedly delightful morning adventure, even though it did delay our arrival at the palmera. The grounds are extensive and it was a beautifully crisp fall day. We walked a lot, and you can even rent bikes to get around. Perhaps next spring we'll take a picnic and go visit the Dama de Elche again and see what else has been found.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Trámites of Moving

Trámites in Spanish refers to to steps to be taken, or to procedures. Inevitably, these are bureaucratic procedures, and even though the word exists in singular form, it is most often seen in plural. There are always many steps to be taken. This week we have been occupied in the trámites of moving, the procedures one follows to officially re-establish residence in a new residence.

The first step is empadronamiento, the registration of your new address at the local ayuntamiento, or town hall. Even though we moved some two months ago, we had not taken this step yet because you need to produce evidence of the fact that you really live where you say you live. Evidence can be a water or electric bill, but since most people living in Spain these days have those bills paid automatically by direct debit from a bank account, and since monthly accounting statements have dropped to bi-monthly or quarterly statements, you may have to wait some time before collecting that evidence. We took a copy of the deed to the house we had bought, which itself took a few weeks to be forwarded to us from the registro of deeds.

That evidence plus our NIE cards (an ID card showing we are foreigners, but legal residents--Spain's version of the U.S. "green card") was accepted by the man behind the Información desk at the Algorfa ayuntamiento. We moved on to another desk to receive the paper copy of our empadronamiento. In addition to this certificate, we had to fill out and sign a paper to be included in the local census. Questions included age, place of birth, level of education attained, and occupation. This is important, we have learned, because it establishes officially that there is a large foreign population in certain areas, and it helps increase services to those growing populations.

In addition to what we are required to fill out for the census, we could elect to register to vote. I am pleased that my official residence, despite the fact that I am not a Spanish citizen, allows me to vote in local elections and in EU elections for representatives to the European Parliament!

Next task was the transfer of our health care cards from Andalucía, the comunidad where we previously lived, to Alicante, our new comunidad. This involved a couple trips, because the first centro de salud (health center) in Algorfa wasn't open and then we found we had to go further up the chain to the centro de salud in Almoradí. My husband came out with his new card and a new doctor, and therefore can now make an appointment for any health matter he wants to discuss or investigate. There was a glitch in my transfer. For some reason that was not important in Andalucía but is in Alicante, I don't have a social security number--that's right, there are not enough numbers in my life.

We had to go to yet another office in yet another administrative center further up the bureaucratic chain to register for my número de seguridad social. We found the office in Orihuela--I think we only had to stop the car and ask four times for directions--but at almost noon, the office was not accepting any more clients for that day. The remainder of that trámite awaits completion this coming week, when we expect to be at the office when it opens at 8:30 on Tuesday. Then, presumably, back to the centro de salud in Almoradí for the health services card. But perhaps not before playing tourist in Orihuela for a few hours and seeing what that old city has to offer.

We also spent time at the tax office finding out what taxes are due when on the car and the house property, and we still need to change the address for the car and driver's license. That gets done at the Dirección General de Tráfico in Alicante. Another day, another trámite. And another opportunity for a day out to explore.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Sunny Day in Alicante

It's not Sunday, but after more than a week of living surrounded by boxes of possessions to unpack and boxes of furniture to assemble, we declared today, Tuesday, to be Sunday and set off by car and train to the "big city" of Alicante, capital of our new province of Alicante.

The closest train station is Catral, which turned out to be a ten-minute drive up the highway from our house. We bought round-trip tickets to Alicante for the really low price of 4€ and change and had a cup of café con leche while we waited for the hourly train in the picturesque rural station. The one-hour ride into the city made five stops along the way, a couple that we noted for future exploration. Besides orange groves and palm tree farms, it took us by the Holiday Inn Express near the Alicante airport, where I had spent my first night in Spain when we came to investigate seven years ago. We've stayed at that modern hotel once since then, as it is convenient to the airport and sits quaintly across from not only the train track and the major thoroughfare to drive into Alicante from the south, but also just beside the ledge upon which a large modern building that houses Spain's patent office sits. Oh yes, there's a nice view of the Mediterranean, too, if you're on the side that does not look at the patent office.

Although the day started out hazy, by the time we reached the city it was sunny with a light breeze, and we refreshed ourselves at an outdoor café with giant goblets of tinto de verano (a red wine spritzer that heralds the summer) and a tapa of tortilla. We walked down a couple main streets toward the waterfront, stopping for a longish browse through El Corte Inglés, perhaps the Nordstrom's of Spain, with branches in all the major cities, but only in the major it is always a treat on the rare occasions when we are in a location that has one. The travel department of El Corte Inglés was not able to get us a reservation at a good rate at the hotel we had picked out for a future trip to Madrid, but we ambled through the furniture and home electronics sections and discovered that service still exists. If we order a bed, mattress, TV, or other large item, it will be transported to our home at the floor price quoted, with no delivery charge. Even the sale items on oferta!

Mostly we just enjoyed the experience of being in a real city that is not just a tourist area. We continued walking and stopped again for sustenance, this time an all-day breakfast of café con leche, juice, and a tostada. Orange juice is almost always served in Spain with a packet of sugar on the side, though I think that is decidedly unnecessary. I eat my tostada (a toasted half baguette) simply, with a sprinkling of olive oil over the tomato jam.

We were just in time for the 3:10 train back to Catral, and we walked in our door at 4:15. And made the reservation for the Madrid hotel at a good price through the Internet.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Celebrating Shellfish

The unexpected little pleasure in Alicante city last week was the Jornadas Gastronómicas del Marisco. We stumbled upon it--after climbing the stairs to exit level from the underground car park at a midpoint along the harbor in city center, we were unable to exit. A huge white tent was being erected over the stairway and a great deal more--or was it being torn down?

We asked the workmen, and with luck, we found out that the Jornadas were just beginning that day. They would be opening around mid day, which, of course, could be anywhere from 12:00 noon to 2:00 PM. I was skeptical that this makeshift meeting hall could be transformed in only a couple hours. Nor was I certain what to expect. The word jornada means roughly " a day," and can refer to a working day (jornada continua or jornada partida), a distance (as in dos jornadas for a journey of two days), and a conference or symposium. Would there be small stalls of exhibits? a conference room, with speakers? Would it be open to the public, or reserved for trade visitors? Whatever, would there be free samples?

Returning in early afternoon to the huge tent, we found a lively group of at least 100 people at one continuous table finishing a repast of what was obviously the fruits of their trade. We had apparently missed the speeches, but the kitchen was still serving. We ordered arroz con mariscos for two and got a huge platter of rice generously dosed with olive oil and flavored with saffron, with four or five different kinds of seafood in the casserole. Fortunately we found a table outside facing the sea and away from other people. The only eating utensils provided were flimsy plastic forks and knives--totally inadequate for removing mussels from their shells or cutting squid. I don't know how those 100 business people managed to eat their selections politely at the big, long banquet table, but I was glad that I didn't have to keep civil company while eating Tom Jones style!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Driving Me Crazy

It's past time for me to become a legal driver in Spain. I had been told that my U.S. driver's license is not valid here after six months of residence. But how to do it? None of my English or Danish friends could tell me what to do to get a carnet de conducir. Being citizens of another European Union country, they can just use their native license.

My Spanish teacher said I probably had to go to Alicante, the capital of the province, 30 miles away. I couldn't believe that a city the size of Torrevieja (about 100,000) didn't have a drivers registration office--after all, there are motor vehicle inspection stations in every little berg--there's even one on our street! Surely if they make it so easy to regulate the cars, they wouldn't make it so hard to regulate the drivers, I thought.

I haven't found anything like a Yellow Pages in Spain, so, of course, we tried Google, And we found the website of the Dirección General de Tráfico (DGT). But understanding and responding to information needs is not the best thing that Spaniards do. I saw dots on a map showing where provincial offices were located. Apparently the nearest one was indeed somewhere in Alicante city. No address, no telephone number, no email address.

We dropped in at the police station around the corner. These would be the people who would stop me and demand to see my license if I ever dared drive without one, I reasoned, so they should be able to tell me where to get one. Well, not exactly. They gave me two phone numbers in Alicante city, but no address. One number didn't answer. The other one was busy.

So I headed out to Alicante on a sunny Thursday with the legitimate driver in the family. We planned to ask for the address at the tourist office or the Alicante police, whichever we came to first. We found the tourist office first, though that also was not without asking three times--there's something wrong when you have to ask where the tourist office is when you've seen it on a map and also have observed the traffic sign telling you to turn left! The office staffer only looked a little puzzled when we told him that the tourist attraction that we were most interested in finding in Alicante was the DGT.

But we got the address and traipsed to the office in the city center. It is commonly understood that in Spain, if you need to do government paperwork, you allow a full day (that would be the whole day the government office is open--until 1:30 or 2:00 in the afternoon.) There were seemingly endless lines with at least a hundred people. But I spied the small sign that let us skip picking up a number and pushed us toward the Información counter. Only two people before us, and then a young lady listened to me telling her that I have a valid license from the U.S: but that I have residencia in Spain now. She scanned the list of countries with which Spain has agreements, did not find EE.UU., and gave me a one-page flyer telling me I would have to apply for a carnet as though I were just learning to drive: take a theoretical test and then a practical one. Oh my! Within the past five years I have taken the theoretical test in Indiana and then again in Ohio. They were hard enough, and they were in English.

The usual way to learn to drive in Spain is to take a course at one of the numerous driving schools, but you can also take the tests at the DGT, we learned. Of course, I'm not really learning to drive all over again; I'm learning to drive in Spanish. Or more accurately, I'm learning how to pass a multiple choice test about driving rules, in Spanish. After I get beyond that hurdle, I'll worry about actually driving in the Spanish roundabouts, I mean, rotondas.

I had to go to another office upstairs to inquire about the test preparation book. No, you can't get it here, they said, with more than a little surprise. You have to buy it, but you can get it "in any bookstore." And by the way, it also comes in English. You can't take the tests in Alicante in English, but you can if you go to Murcia or Valencia, the provinces to the immediate north and south of Alicante province.

I haven't found "any bookstore" with the test prep book yet, in Spanish or in English, but I've seen sample tests online. Passing the driver's tests has become my winter project and the new focus of a specialized language course. I have every intention of at least studying the book in Spanish. Whether I actually take the test in Spanish or in English depends on how much weird stuff they pack into those questions. I'll never forget having to know all the rules about driving farm machinery in Indiana, though I do admit I've forgotten the rules themselves. But I haven't driven any farm machinery and have no intention of doing so. I do, however, intend to drive on Spanish roads.