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Showing posts with label day trips. Show all posts
Showing posts with label day trips. Show all posts

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Friday Morning in Guardamar

I have never been a person who likes to lie on the beach for hours, and fortunately, my husband does not like it any more than I do. So we have only been to Guardamar del Segura a few times in the five years that we have lived within 15 minutes (according to real estate agent promises) of its "glorious beaches" on the Mediterranean. Our full-year neighbors on one side of us go frequently, especially at this time of year when the weather is sunny and warm, but breezy enough so it is not too hot--and when the beaches are not overcrowded. Off they go in the car in the morning at 10:00 or so, with beach chairs, a parasol, books, and of course sunglasses, hats, and sunscreen. Back they come a few hours later, often while we are having our salad lunch in our front sun room. Sometimes they return later, having partaken of a light lunch at one of the chiringuitos or restaurantes in the town of Guardamar, on the beach front or one block up from it.

This past Friday morning we had no previous arrangements that we had made, nor any particular errands that we needed to undertake at that time, and the weather was beautiful, so off we went at about 10:00 with the goal of walking along the beach. Not lying, not sitting and reading, but walking. We thought we had dressed for the occasion, I with clogs and Johannes with sandals, and short pants and shirts, I with a large scarf and Johannes with a jacket in case it got too windy near the water.

We found our way into the city of Guardamar and headed to las playas. Even before we could see water at the end of the street, mindful of our neighbors on the other side who had gotten a 100 euro parking ticket for parking in the wrong spot near the beaches last year, we turned off onto a parallel avenue and parked on Avenida Cervantes. We headed on foot down toward where we figured the water was, following a man who was carrying an aluminum beach chair and sun umbrella, so it seemed like a safe bet. In only one block we came to a parking lot  (paid parking, with mysterious colors of lines separating the parking stalls, so I was glad we didn't have to figure that out) and then to a wide expanse of sand. Stopping for a moment to look to our right and to our left, and seeing nothing but sand, water, sky, and a few groups of people lounging in various spots to either side, we chose the left and started walking in that direction.

Guardamar del Segura finds its roots in the sea. Since the 8th century B.C.,  Phoenician, Greek, Carthaginian, Roman, and Arabian sailors have arrived, men employed in the most ancient traditions of the Mediterranean--fishermen, businessmen, and pirates--whatever the occasion required.
We soon realized that it was hard to walk in the deep sand with the footwear that we had--hard on his knee, said he of the two-year-old titanium replacement--and we headed farther out toward the water and got to more solid ground. But we were dodging groups of sun-bathers and even though one of us enjoyed a view of one bare-breasted lady, we soon headed back inward and found a boardwalk. And there, before long, we found a nice little restaurant where we enjoyed a cool drink and a tostada con atun, and listened to quiet music--not the usual blaring pop songs that one often finds on the beach.

Since time immemorial, fish has been a food of the greatest importance to the people of Guardamar, whether it came from the river, lagoons, or sea.  
After our light refreshment we continued walking to the left and came to the end of the built-up beach restaurants and bathing area, and wandered one street back, passing the polideportivo with its municipal swimming pool and assorted sports fields. Across the street was an "infant school" and since it was now a little after noontime, we were treated to the site of parents arriving to escort their very young children--some as young as three years old--home from their morning classes. And we also found three large tiled walls along an old canal (photographed above and below), which told the history of Guardamar back through the ages.

Beginning in the Middle Ages fishing products were carried by canal to the interior towns. Nevertheless, this fishing village also sold fish in a small harborside fish market, as well as
directly through the streets with live fish jumping in the nets.
And then we made our way back along Avenida Cervantes to our car and headed toward home. The real estate agents are right--the beaches of Guardamar are beautiful and they are only 15 minutes away. We were home by 1:30, in time for me to hang the laundry that had been in the washing machine while we were away, and then to make salads for lunch in our delightful sun room.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Pusol Museum and School

El Museo Escolar de Pusol. Photo from its website.
A group of some 50 adult students--mostly northern European and of retirement age--from the Centro de Estudios Hispania in Algorfa came to the Museo Escolar de Pusol one morning in April and were met by a somewhat smaller and much younger group of Spanish students. The students, you see, are the docents at this rural teaching museum, which also houses a small colegio (elementary school) for the children of residents in the surrounding area.

Before arriving, I had envisioned the museum as a sort of mini Old Sturbridge Village, a Massachusetts open-air museum that reproduces and reinterprets life in 1830s New England. It is similar, though on a much smaller scale, and on the day we were there all activities took place indoors.

We divided into two groups; mine went first on a tour of a dozen or so galleries that showed implements used in farming, carriage-making, shoe-making, wine-making, and other occupations formerly important to the area, as well as typical rooms from the farm and village houses. Before each tableau stood two or three very young students--usually age 7 or 8--who, at the signal of their teacher, gave us an introduction to what we were seeing and what life was like in their home area in "the old days." The exact era of the old days in question never became clear to me--they seemed to stretch anywhere from 19th century to the 1950s--but they were definitely in the past, and in the long-ago past for these children. The students spoke Spanish, of course, and very quickly--they obviously wanted to get through their memorized speeches before they forgot them--so there is a limit to how much information was taken in by us old people, but we all recognized many of the artifacts shown and described, and the youngsters were earnest and adorable.

After a mid-morning rest break and light "pic-nic" we proceeded to a classroom and were instructed in the art of making braided white palm (palma blanca) decorations for the upcoming Palm Sunday celebrations. Though seasonal, this braiding of palm leaves is a long-established tradition in the greater Elche area, usually done by regular inhabitants in their homes, with the products sold in florist shops all around Spain and exported even farther afield.  We had good teachers, but I decided right away that I was not going to wear my little palm flower for Palm Sunday.

Then we switched guides, and my group went through the exhibits showing a large variety of commercial establishments typical of the geographic area in days gone by, including a shop, drugstore,toy store, and an office. This museum and its incorporated school were established in 1969 by the idea of a young teacher in the school who wanted to introduce new teaching methods while maintaining memory of the early life and culture of the area. The idea was successful, and the museum and school were recognized by UNESCO in 2009. Rather than slipping into being a backwater country school in a forgotten rural pueblo, the school now attracts students from far outside its geographic catchment area, becoming a sort of magnet school in Spain.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Children at Eroski Dos Mares

© 2014 Johannes Bjorner
We have no idea why these "seven little Indians" came suddenly parading through the Eroski supermarket at Dos Mares shopping center in San Javier, Murcia, yesterday. But they were happy and pleased to have their picture taken. We were glad to do it, and they made us happy too.

El Tiempo de Alcachofas

Estamos en Semana Santa y ya sabes que es tiempo de Alcachofas, habas y guisantes.

"We are in Holy Week and you know that this is the time of artichokes, beans, and peas."

Well, no, I have never thought of artichokes as especially a dish for the most important holiday in Spain, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter, though of course I realize that eating artichokes would be appropriate for the meatless meals of Lent, or Cuaresma, as the period is called here in Spain. But yesterday morning, the first Saturday in Lent, we drove south through the countryside just to be out to enjoy the sun and crisp spring weather. We saw field upon field of large green bushy plants that certainly looked ripe for harvesting, and I suspected they may be alcachofas, or artichokes. We stopped the car for a closer inspection, and sure enough, now I am certain what an artichoke plant looks like. The leaves are quite raggedy and have prickles, sort of a combination of giant dandelions  and thistles, with, of course, a large round layered bulb, or head, growing out at angles, which is actually the flower of the plant.

Artichokes ready for harvesting. © 2014 Johannes Bjorner

Given the plenitude of artichokes, I thought I should look for some artichoke recipes to try, and given that we have just entered Lent, I figured I have five weeks in which to investigate this dish if I intend to follow local custom and serve alcachofas during Semana Santa. Truth be told, I have never found an artichoke that I really enjoyed eating. I remember the first one very well. It was in Argentina, and my mother-in-law served artichokes as a special first course. I did not even know how to eat the plant that was placed before me, but fortunately this was a very long time ago, I was young, and I was a foreigner who had not grown up on a farm, so no reason I should have known how to eat an artichoke. It didn't have to be fancy, I was relieved to see. Patiently I watched as others tore the green leaves from the bulb and dipped them in melted butter, then sucked the inside of the leaves into their mouths. Eventually I tried it myself, and they didn't taste bad as long as I soaked up enough butter. But I would just as soon have dipped anything else into the butter and then into my mouth.

Years later another neighbor made a nice bubbling hot artichoke dip, also as an appetizer, and served it informally as a spread on crackers. These artichokes were mashed, as far as I could tell, for they bore no resemblance to a solid vegetable at all. That dish was OK, too. It was pleasantly warm and had added cheese. Edible, but I didn't ask for the recipe, even though she told me that it was perfect for spontaneous get-togethers, as I was likely to have all the ingredients on hand, once I bought the canned artichoke hearts.

If I have eaten other artichokes through the years, they have been disguised and/or innocuous.

Foods from Spain tells us that Spain produces 300,000 tons of artichokes annually, making it the second largest producer in the world (I believe it follows Italy) and the largest exporter.  Moreover, our drive from San Miguel de Salinas south to Murcia province took us smack dab through the largest artichoke growing area in Spain. The Foods from Spain website also gave me some ideas about contemporary uses for artichokes, but I needed to begin on a more elementary level. I found "Twelve Recipes with Artichokes" and then "Rapid and Very Simple Recipes for Artichokes" with a Google search on alcachofa recetas. I also found directions for peeling artichokes, and this, I realize, may be one of the biggest hurdles in preparing them. Nevertheless, I will be investigating and evaluating these recipes in the coming weeks. I'll let you know if I come across something that I like. And if I don't write about alcachofas again, you'll know that I didn't find anything that seemed worth the effort. Or, perhaps that I became sated with "Ode to the Artichoke," by Nobel literature prize winner Pablo Neruda. Really.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Callosa de Segura

Friday morning was a glorious day. When we looked outside the bathroom window, we could see bright-colored oranges in the grove that starts near our house and stretches out towards an unusual craggy mountain in the distance. The mountain was crystal clear. In a half hour we had loaded and started the washing machine and the dishwasher, so that some productive work could get done while we were out, and off we went to the town of Callosa de Segura.

Callosa de Segura lies inland and is a town with history, and well kept. We walked up and down several streets (Callosa is built right next to a mountain) enjoying the varied architecture of the houses, some old, some new, some ornate and elaborate, but all, it seemed, well-maintained. There is a beautiful central plaza, with plantings, walkways, and a fountain, and since the sun had disappeared by the time we reached there, we looked for a café where we could sit inside and have a café con leche and tostada. We found Cafetería Las Rocas. In a little nook there was a tiny booth with an old square wooden table and two wooden benches facing each other, just enough for two people, or three if you pulled a chair up to the third side of the table. Which you would do, because on the fourth side of the table was an artistic cut glass window, with several layers of glass framing, a treasure in itself, but it also opened onto one of the most charming views I have ever seen.

We had left hurriedly, without camera or iPad. I have two pictures of that view, but they are locked inside my cell phone. I do not have a smartphone, or rather, I guess I do, but in addition to being smart, it is secretive, and it has not divulged to me, within the limits of my patience, the technique of siphoning images from its tiny window to a computer screen. So I will have to compose a word picture of the window and the view.

The window itself is rectangular, with the shorter sides at top and bottom. It measures, perhaps, 18 inches by 36. The surface is a mixture of clear and frosted glass, the frosted portions gracefully arranged in a large floral pattern, so that light refracts through the various irregular panes in interesting ways. By the time we got our coffee, the sun had reappeared and we were treated to lovely sunlight coming through the window, and a clear view outside of the plaza, a very tall palm tree, and another mature and tall tree the name of which I always forget, but we call it the upside-down Christmas tree, because the needles grow upwards on wide-spread branches, ideal as a base for Christmas tree decorations. Perfectly in the center of the horizontal pane of the window, but high up in the vertical, we could see the craggy rock of Callosa mountain, rivaling the rock of Gibraltar in its majesty, but in a sandy color rather than dark.

There was life in the plaza. Las Rocas had a large tent with many tables and chairs outside for the benefit of smokers and hardy souls who had not looked for the warmth of indoors. A few people were seated at the tables, and I watched the server take drinks and snacks out to them. A feeble older woman walked slowly by, escorted by a younger woman, her daughter, perhaps, or a neighbor. Several women walked by with child strollers, and in the distance on the other side of the plaza you could hear and just barely see some elementary school students engaged in a game of football. Occasionally a man or two would walk past, dressed in business attire, on the way to or from an appointment. It was still early, around noon, and there were all the signs of life in a busy village in late morning.

We paid our bill and walked out, and I turned to look into the window that I had spent such a pleasurable time looking out. I could not see in. The outer surface was a mirror, and I found myself looking at myself, with the green trees, the café tent, and the tall rocky mountain peak reflected in the background in a blue sky.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Going Back Home to Roquetas

How many homes can one person have in a lifetime? Lots, I guess. I have just recently returned to my current home in Spain from my, what? original home in the United States. This past Thursday morning when I woke up, I realized that we had no definite arrangement on the calendar for that day. And when I checked, we had nothing definite for Friday, either. And it was a beautifully sunny day outside, so I wanted to go for a ride. Only a couple hours later, we had thrown a few pieces of clothing, our toiletries, and our electronic gadgets (cachivaches) into the car, and we were off to Roquetas de Mar, the Andalusian town we called home when we first came to Spain to live, in 2003.

Roquetas lies right on the Mediterranean about a three hour drive from our current home in Algorfa. It is in the province of Almería, which is the easternmost province of the comunidad of Andalusia, which stretches over almost the southern third of Spain, from the Mediterranean Sea on the east to the Atlantic Ocean and Portugal on the west. For several months in 2008 and 2009 we drove the route in between often, as we commuted back and forth on occasion between the Roquetas condo and the tiny apartment we rented in Torrevieja, in Alicante province, to help us decide whether we really did want to pull up stakes and move to a new home in Spain. We determined that we did, and eventually sold the condo in Roquetas during the first year of the financial crisis that hit in 2008 and is still making its effects evident. Although we have talked about returning to Roquetas for a visit several times in the past five years, we had not. So this spontaneous trip was anticipated, but not planned.

Ironically we drove north to get onto the E-15. But as soon as we joined that major highway running through Europe, we went south, toward Murcia. The car knew the way, because this is how we go to Ikea, which has furnished much of our Algorfa home, and also to the Apple store, where we have gone for help and some of those cachivaches in the past two years. This time, though, we drove straight through Murcia, ignoring the two exits that we usually take. An hour after we had started, the road turned west, and we did, too, and then we really felt like we were on our way.

As it neared noontime we began looking for a restaurant that we had often stopped at during the time we were making frequent trips. The only problem was that we couldn't remember the name of it, nor the town in which it was located, nor the proper exit to take. Actually we knew that we wouldn't recognize the exit anyway, because we were not traveling on the same road that we used to use when we traveled between the two places. Then we traveled on a new toll highway,  the AP-7 (the P stands for Peaje, which means "pay, " and pay we did, to the tune of more than 11 euros, about $15 then, for a one-hour ride). We knew that the tolls had climbed even higher over the past five years, and we decided that we didn't want to support that highway robbery. So we were traveling the E-15, which in some places goes parallel with the AP-7, and we were on the lookout for an exit to the remembered restaurant in a not remembered town.

We gave up before we even got close, we discovered later, but instead we found a nice roadside restaurant on the side of an "easy off, easy on"service road. It was Mi Cortijo, which is a word I had to look up when I had a chance. My Cambridge-Klett dictionary says it means "country estate" or "country house," but an online reference I found first made it sound more like working farm and its various buildings. This establishment just looked like a large roadside restaurant. We sat at a table in front of the house and shared three tapas, some bread, a glass of wine and a gaseosa. It only took 25 minutes, start to finish. I think that perhaps the definition of tapas is changing in Spain, or at least in my  mind, to mean "fast food," because the various tapas offered by a restaurant are ready (and usually displayed in counter top trays) when you are. Most provide very good fast food. So in less than a half hour we were back on the road to Roquetas, which we reached just a little over an hour and a half latter, after an interesting stop.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Back to the Land

We took a drive in the country last Friday morning, just because the sun was shining, and even though the wind was blowing strongly, but we had nothing urgent planned, and it had been a long time since we moseyed around in this part of this country. So into our German Ford Fusion we piled and tootled off through the countryside, headed away from the city and the sea, just to see what we could see.

Field in cultivation, La Finca Golf Resort. ©Johannes Bjorner 2014
It was green. As we made our way along roads we knew, we noticed a huge increase in the number of cultivated fields. Not once, not twice, but several times we came across great stretches of land that had formerly been scrappy looking, going to seed, or used as junk lots. Now there were row upon row of tiny new olive trees standing a foot above the brown earth, or furrowed rows of cultivated land just waiting for seeds or plants or irrigation hoses, or in one case, a line-up of medium-sized earth-moving equipment, just getting ready for leveling and plowing the land.

This is a positive sign. Not only does it mean that there is some substantial money from somewhere going into investment, but that the money is going into investment in agriculture rather than more housing development. The last thing that Spain needs is increased  investment in holiday homes; thousands--probably millions--of apartments, quad houses, and villas are standing empty and/or uncompleted, the ugly symptoms of over-hype, over-development, and an unending financial crisis.

New olive trees on the road to Algorfa. © Johannes Bjorner 2014
We live in, and were traveling through, a semi-rural area of Alicante province, with small villages that were agricultural and isolated long before European holiday-makers and pensioners started coming to the sun in the 1980s and changed their way of life dramatically. We speculated that some of the old village farmers, rich in land but poor in cash, who had been sitting on their land until the right offer from the housing developers came through at an opportune time, have finally gotten tired of waiting and have smartened up. After decades of development and eight years of crisis, they have gone back to the land and are using it for Spain's and their own development.

And it's green.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


The city of Elche is home to a number of interesting attractions (think thousands of palm trees) but yesterday, its most important attraction for me was shopping. Elche is home to the closest El Corte Inglés, Spain's premier department store, and I had to buy a gift. I was looking for something of high quality, even luxurious, and "typically Spanish," though I had not defined exactly what that might be, other than perhaps it would be something in leather. This was not the sort of thing that I would look for at the Sunday market or the Chinese discount stores or even at one of the nice shopping malls with a range of Spanish and English stores nearby, because I was not looking for clothing or household furnishings.

It took awhile. I spent a long time looking at nicely bound blank books, some in leather, but as it turned out, they were made in Canada. We browsed through the decoración area, and I was not inspired for this particular purpose, although I did find several items of slight passing interest for myself. But I realized how foreign to my current life modern international department stores are, since I am no longer furnishing a new house and my closets are full to overflowing with items that I have little opportunity to wear anyway and cannot locate on the rare occasions when I do.

Eventually I stumbled across what I think is the perfect item, from a Spanish designer, with a touch of  luxury, but I'm not talking about that until after the gift is given. And then we decided we needed a cup of coffee, or perhaps more than a cup of coffee.

We got out of the city first, but decided to stop at a fairly new camping "resort" that we have been driving by for a year or so without stopping in. Camping is one of those activities that the participants in this marriage do not agree on. I had too much tent camping as a child, and while I appreciated the extensive travel that camping afforded our family, I did not like the disruption and extra mealtime chores and toiletry/sleeping discomfort that it entailed. Johannes, on the other hand, camped by himself on many trips through Europe as a student and was free to ignore any chores that he didn't feel like doing and to decide totally by himself on anything he wanted in terms of eating and sleeping. European campgrounds, I have discovered during the course of our marriage, are somewhat more luxurious than any of the ones I stayed in as a child. I daresay that U.S. campgrounds have gotten more luxurious in the decades since my youthful camping trips, too, but fortunately, I have not had to find out.

When we lived in Roquetas and biked to Aguadulce we often stopped at a campground on the beach in between the two towns and enjoyed a coffee at the full-service restaurant. We had also stumbled on a rather elegant restaurant at a campground in Guardamar when we biked there a couple times. So I had no doubt that this campground that I had seen opening to great fanfare in the past couple years would have a restaurant that would be at least adequate and perhaps much better. After all, this campground was advertised as a four-star eco camping resort.

The Marjal restaurant did not disappoint us. Actually, we did not get in to the restaurant; we only were in the bar and cafe. But there was a sign stating the Saturday special of a tapa and a drink for 2 euros, so we made our selections from the platters on the bar and carried them out to one of 50 or so tables outside. We had a pleasant time enjoying the sun and the fresh breeze and watching the other visitors: a Swedish family close by with two small children, a couple of pensioners like ourselves, seated farther away, so we couldn't hear them, some Spanish women enjoying a drink together. Then a large group of young children pranced through the open plaza carrying colored pictures, and I realized they must have been to an art class or some group activity, and we speculated that this must be fall vacation week in some countries of Europe and we hadn't even noticed.

Before going back to the car we took a little walk through the "pitches" to see how the locals lived. We saw camping "caravans" of every size and shape--all with outdoor seating and eating areas and at least one canvas awning to give shade, many with more. The only tents I saw were small auxiliaries on the same pitch as a metal caravan--apparently providing guest quarters, or perhaps just an alternative place to sleep if one didn't feel like sleeping in the RV itself. Clearly no one was undergoing much hardship in the way of bathroom and cooking facilities. I saw one person coming back from a communal shower building, but I am sure very unit had indoor plumbing, refrigerator, and cook stove, if not more. Plus there is a bar and a restaurant just a short walk away.

We cut back through a smaller area with wooden bungalows, and it was here that we happened upon a Dutch couple sitting on their veranda with two glasses of white wine and a tray of hors d'oeuvres. We only asked one question, "Does your little bungalow have a kitchen?" and they invited us in for the grand tour. Two bedrooms, each with closets and an air conditioning/heating unit, a bathroom with shower, a living room and dining area (also with a/c), and an "American kitchen." "American kitchen in Spain means open to the dining and/or living area, but this particular American kitchen met my standards, too. In addition to the fridge, freezer, range, oven, and microwave, there was a dishwasher. Luxury in camping.

This was the third winter season that this couple had spent at this campground, and they told us that this year they had asked for the same bungalow they had last year. Clearly they were satisfied. As the Dutch lady said to me, "This is not camping."

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Cartagena and Mar Menor

One of the fun aspects to living on the Costa Blanca is that there are several low-cost day bus trips to various sites in the area. We were ready for a day out one Thursday recently, so we signed up to go to Cartagena and Mar Menor. We had been before to Cartagena, an old port city about an hour south of us; but for some reason we had never been to the inland lake, Mar Menor, that stretches near the coast between us and Cartagena.

We hopped on the bus at 9:30. Of course we made a number of stops on the way south to pick up other tourists out for the day, so it was almost 11:00 by the time we rolled into the port area of Cartagena. That didn't matter to us, as we were most interested in the train ride to Mar Menor, and for that, we were told, we did not have to appear again until 2:45. A nice amount of time for strolling through the old part of the city, having a special lunch, and relaxing, we thought.

One of the first things we saw was the huge ceramic plaque pictured above, which depicts the two thousand year history of Cartagena, or Carthage as it was called in the Roman times. In fact, the first date is 227 a.C. (ante Cristo, or before Christ, as we might say). At various times we walked by and around the Roman theater, which is in the process of being restored, but we didn't go in, as we had visited that before. We just looked through a few holes in the walls surrounding the area. It hadn't changed any that we could tell.

We did, however, find a few stores, and since this was the first day of August, the August sales were on. I bought a pair of black leggings, definitely out of season, and I hope I remember them next fall. We also found a delightful corner cafe bar and went inside to take advantage of the light air conditioning. We each chose a tapa, and in addition they brought bread, and we called that and a tinto de verano to drink, lunch. The president of Spain was on television; they were beaming live pictures of his questioning by the Congress in the messy financial scandal that is filling the front pages of the newspapers now. I was reading one of the newspapers that are always hanging around the cafe bars and saw that the black box recovered from the Renfe train that had derailed at high speed a few days earlier showed that the engineer (el maquinista) was talking on the phone immediately before the accident with the interventor. What is an interventor? I wondered, and since my companion didn't know, when we went to the bar to pay the bill, I asked the man behind the bar, "Quien es el interventor?" "Rajoy!" he spat out, obviously more  absorbed by the current political scandal than the train tragedy, and none too pleased with the president, either. I tried to explain that I wasn't talking about politics, but the train derailment, but something got lost in the translation, because he assumed I was asking him who his interventor was. "¡Yo!" I am, he said indignantly. I was unenlightened; we left still mystified.

Testing the water in Mar Menor.
The train trip to Mar Menor was on a local carrier, not on a Renfe train, and we did not go at high speed. Nor did we start on time--we were delayed by at least half an hour. I had brought a paper map of the area with me, so I was able to find our location and the end station on the map and follow along as we stopped at, I think, nine or more isolated stations. We were driving through rural areas, old mining towns--the bus tour operator had told us that this was a tin and silver mining area in former decades. Because of the delay (never explained) we had less time to enjoy the lakeside at the end of the run--only 45 minutes, but we all dutifully trooped out, walked to the only cafe bar in town, and sat with another tinto de verano, watching swimmers in the water and enjoying distant views of buildings on a narrow strip of land that turned upward like Cape Cod in Massachusetts, although this is called La Manga (the sleeve). There were cooling breezes, and it seemed like a perfect, lazy summer day, and I can understand why people go to La Manga. Maybe we will go again some time, but in our car.

The train ride back was made in a half hour after the train finally got there...and then we climbed on our bus and were back in Torrevieja in a little more than a half hour. Of course, there are always a lot of drop-offs after a day out, so we had missed the regular news on TV by the time we got home. I checked my regular dictionary for interventor and found that it can mean auditor, or supervisor. Or ticket collector on a train or metro, as I have found our from other dictionaries since.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

On the Road to Albir

We started out to Albir on Friday this week. It had been a long time since we took a day trip to see something new in this part of the world, and Friday petanca had been cancelled, and I was ready to get out after sending a lot of time at the computer through the week.

Albir is on the Mediterranean coast, north of Alicante and north of Benidorm. We were curious because we knew a lot of Norwegians live there--it seems that every time we read either of the two free Norwegian newspapers, they are always mentioning attractions and services in Albir. We also knew some people who had lived there once, and we wanted to see what it was like.

There is a choice of roads leading north of Alicante, though whether you end up on the free coastal N-332 or the inland toll road, AP-7 (or 70 as it inexplicably is sometimes called on road signs but not on our map), can be a matter of chance rather than choice, at least for us. So it was on Friday, when we suddenly found ourselves at a wide string of toll booths strung across the highway. No matter, we knew we would be driving for another half hour or more, so we didn't mind taking the toll road. Of course, choosing the right lane to go through is always a challenge, because the icons that indicate electronic payment or credit card acceptance or cash or a human attendant are never very clear, especially when they flash in the strong sun. We picked one that looked as though it would have a human attendant, but when we got to the little cabin where we expected to see a human, there was nobody in sight. It took a couple minutes, but then we realized that all we had to do was push a button and take a ticket, just like you do when you enter a parking garage.

And then, 45 minutes later, when we were ready to exit the toll road--at the exit closest to Albir but beyond it, at Altea--we had to once again play the "which lane do we go through? game. We wanted to pay with cash, or if necessary, by credit card, as we don't have an electronic automatic deduction account. We were poised for the lane on the far right--that would be where a human would be, wouldn't it?--but then we saw a car go sailing through, obviously with some sort of sticker being sensed automatically. I looked and didn't see any human--anywhere, in any of the lanes. Oh, well, there was another lane with two cars ahead of us: we would just get in line and watch them closely to see what the procedure was.

The car in front of the car in front of us was having problems. I could see that the driver slipped the ticket into a slot on the left. Then she opened her car door, because apparently she wasn't close enough to reach the money slots, and put a bill in a basket for money on the right side of the toll booth. The basket didn't move. Neither did the lane barrier. Neither did the car. But we did. We backed out...and tried the next lane. I could still see the driver that was stopped. And I thought I could hear a disembodied voice giving her instructions on what to do.

But now we were at the business part of our toll booth. We put the ticket in the slot on the left. Either something flashed or we heard another disembodied voice--I can't remember--tell us that we owed 5 euros and change. Ah, that was the problem, we could see immediately. The other driver had put the 5 euro note into the change basket, which was, of course, unable to sense its value.With the benefit of quite a few minutes of observation by now, we slid the 5 euro note into the slot for bills, which sucked it up immediately. Then we fished around until we found some coins for the centimos that we owed, and threw those into the small basket on the right of the machine. They made a lovely rattle as they went down a chute.

Bingo! The barricade went up, and we never got the disembodied voice giving us instructions, although we did wonder where the voice had come from, whether there was actually a person in one of the ten or twelve lane cabins or whether the voice was completely manufactures. Hopefully we will never have to find out!

Another technological challenge met! We proceeded on our way. But we can't help but think that one way to help the Spanish unemployment situation would be to employ a couple humans at the toll booths.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Plaza de Colón, Madrid

We had time to spare last Wednesday, March 20, as we walked along Calle de Serrano in Madrid from the embassy of the United States to the embassy of Denmark, and it was warm and sunny. After locating the Danish embassy we went across the street to the Plaza de Colón, where a number of police or military (it's hard to tell which is which) were standing about. We thought perhaps they were there in preparation for an upcoming political demonstration, as we had previously seen signs in the Metro station that there were planned work stoppages later that day. But no, they said they were there because they raise a large flag one day each month, and they are always there when the flag goes up.

We thought we might as well be there, too, since we just happened to be there on the one day of the month that the flag was raised, and it just happened to be sunny and warm, and there just happened to be an empty table at a cafetería across the street, and we just happened to have plenty of time. So we stopped and had a coffee and a granizado and read the newspaper, and a few minutes after noontime we heard music and saw that an enormous flag was being unfurled. It went up quickly, and then the band marched away and there was no more music. The flag continued flying and every so often was spread out to its full width in a gentle breeze.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Finally, Benidorm

Looking toward the Poniente Beach in Benidorm ©2012 Johannes Bjorner
Last Sunday provided lovely fall weather and we took a day trip by bus to Benidorm. I had never heard about Benidorm before arriving for the first time in Spain eight years ago, and it took a couple years and several off-the-cuff references to it before the word Benidorm settled in my conscious as a tourist destination. As with many tourist destinations, it seemed to be a place that was either hailed or reviled. The first time that I thought I might sometime go there was probably six years ago, when some friends in Roquetas spent Christmas on one of the gala hotel package deals in Benidorm, because, as they said somewhat apologetically, they "liked it." Other people, when I asked about Benidorm, snorted as though  they wouldn't be caught dead there. And others tried valiantly to contain their incredulity when I said, and continued to say for several years, that I had never been to Benidorm. After all, it is not just a tourist destination, and not far from where we live now in Alicante province; Benidorm is also the name of a well-known British TV program that has now been running for more than five years.

Benidorm is a city situated on the Mediterranean Costa Blanca, 20 kilometers or so north of Alicante city, and immediately north of Villajoyosa, where we had passed an interesting day a few weeks ago. It is widely acknowledged as the city that created the 1960s tourism industry in Franco's Spain. Giles Tremlett, Madrid correspondent for The Guardian newspaper, describes his first approach to Benidorm in a chapter titled "How the Bikini Saved Spain" in his book Ghosts of Spain.

"A few miles north from Alicante a thin, mysterious pole-like structure began to emerge over some distant hills....The gradually broadening shape ahead of me was Spain's tallest building, the Gran Hotel Bali. It stood like a proud, raised finger on the edge of a place whose current name is not only easily recognised, but has become a modern legend of its own--for this, finally, was Benidorm.

If anywhere in Spain symbolises the country's latest invasion, this is it. A fresh invading horde, sun-hat and sandal-wearing northern European tourists, has rampaged its way along this coast over the past forty years. The horde has made Benidorm its capital. This time there has been no resistance. The burghers of Benidorm have rolled out a welcome carpet of concrete, tarmacadam and brick. Jointly they have vandalised what was once one of the most beautiful spots on the Spanish coast.

Even those of us who are instinctively appalled by Benidorm, however, cannot help but be awe-stuck by what has happened here. For locals it is a genuine miracle....

Benidorm is to package tourism what Las Vegas is to gambling--the undisputed capital of the world."  
Faber and Faber, ©2006, pp. 97-99.

Our Sunday bus picked us up promptly at the agreed-upon hour of 9:10--we had only to avoid the bus to Benidorm from the competing tour company that left from the same spot ten minutes earlier. As with all day coach tours, there were a few additional stops to pick up additional passengers as we proceeded north, but once we were on the road, it took less than an hour and a half to arrive in Benidorm. First drop-off was Terra Mitica, a huge theme park on the inland side of the highway which, at a few minutes before 11:00 AM, had nary a car in the immense parking lot. I'm sure that is different in July and August, and we were reminded that there was a reason that we had decided in August to postpone our trip until the summer holidays and some of the vacationers had gone.

The next drop-off was center city. We drove down a long and wide avenida toward the beach, then reversed direction to go back up that street to what would also be our pick-up point six hours hence: just in front of the medical center. We stayed on the bus to the following discharge point, though, the site of the large outdoor market, which is held on Wednesdays and Sundays. The crowds were immense, but we spent little time there, as we have easy access to our own outdoor market, much closer. At our market, though, we don't have to battle the silent electric mobility carts that were all over the sidewalks, both at the market and elsewhere throughout the city all day. This sight explained an article I had read in one of the local weekly papers a couple months ago about tourists "terrorizing" the ambulatory population with their mobility scooters. Indeed these personal mobility solutions tend to creep up on unsuspecting walkers more stealthily than the communal golf carts I had experienced at Florida resorts.

Roman Relic in Benidorm?
©2012 Johannes Bjorner
We walked and walked--part of the assignment for this trip was to practice long-distance walking in preparation for our excursion to the Frankfurt Book Fair this coming week. From the market area we walked along the main street fronting the long beach area to the opposite end of the city, to the old town. Even those who profess dislike for Benidorm say that its old city center is attractive, with narrow streets  and a pretty church facing the sea from a high cliff. We think we saw the old town--we saw the church and narrow streets--but just because Benidorm has an old town, it doesn't necessarily mean they have preserved it as other Spanish cities have preserved their casco antiguo. We saw a single site that may be a relic of Benidorm's Roman era--but there was no sign or indication, so it may also have been a hoax.  Still, we found a place for lunch and watched a troupe demonstrate Argentine tango and then at about 1:00 we began to see groups of people making their return trip into the city center, beach chair in hand, on their way to the traditional Spanish dinner. Our return trip was on the wide beach promenade running along the Poniente and Levante beaches, and we found plenty of people to watch, and a place for ice cream, and we even ventured in to a few shoe and clothing shops to browse, but made no purchases.

In my view, Benidorm is like many Spanish seaside communities: lots of sun, sand, sea, beer, tapas, and chino novelty shops. So it was the first to generate tourism; it is the first of many. It is, in fact, somewhat more attractive than many others--I saw no unfinished housing blocks and I think there are wider streets and more green areas than in many other tourist towns. (I think it compares favorably with Torremolinos, another old destination on the packaged tour route, on the Costa del Sol.) Yes, there are skyscrapers, many, many hotel and apartment skyscrapers. I don't see how they could do it, but to my view from down below, they all looked as though every rental had a clear view to the sea, although it may have been very small and only from one window or balcony. Benidorm is also gambling and big entertainment shows, and Mundo Mar, another theme park, but we didn't get to any of those attractions and we won't miss them.

Will I go back to Benidorm? Maybe. There was a dress in a couple of the shops that I have not seen elsewhere... and it is easy and cheap to get to if you just want to have a day out of the house.  Or maybe not. But I'm glad I have seen it, and I am neither hailing it nor reviling it.

Returning from Benidorm at Dusk. ©2012 Johannes Bjorner

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Day Trip to Villajoyosa

Thursday evening before we went to bed we realized that for the first time in living memory, we had no appointments the following day. Having been almost housebound for six weeks earlier in the summer, and busy with therapy and routine errands ever since, we were sorely in need of a day off, out of the house, and away from the usual. So we decided that, if we still felt up to it the next morning after waking up at some point during the night to listen to the final speeches of the Democratic convention taking place on the other side of the Atlantic, we would take off and drive north along the Costa Blanca.

We were out of the house by 9:30, a bit early, especially as it was a somewhat hazy day, with no sun making its appearance by that time. We took the road eastward over toward Guardamar and then turned north on the N-332.This was familiar territory for us--it's one of our two main routes to the airport just south of Alicante city. Still, it had been awhile since we were on it, and we enjoyed seeing the flamingos in the marshes north of Torrevieja and the tall salt mountains in Santa Pola--for the first time I saw a backhoe moving around some of the salt that will no doubt be spread onto icy roads in the north of Europe later on this year.

I have often remarked that one of the reasons I don't feel as though I am living in a country with 20% unemployment is that there are no factories nearby where large numbers of workers have been laid off. Tourism and agriculture are the big industries here, and both operate on a smaller scale than the industries I grew up with. This trip, though, I was reminded that there are some factories around. We drove past the Johnson Controls plant in Guardamar and then went by Alcoa Europe on the south side of Alicante city. We also passed by the huge patent office that is built into the ledge of a seaside cliff between El Altet airport and the city of Alicante. I have wondered about this immense office in such an unlikely location since staying at the Holiday Inn Express almost ten years ago and opening our curtains the first morning to discover that our room faced away from the Mediterranean--and directly into the front of the patent building. We didn't stop here this time (but I did discover, as I prepared this blog entry, that this is the office that registers and manages European community trademarks and designs). We just continued along our way, now in the sun, and hugging the Mediterranean on our right--passing through the raw materials that the area uses as a base for its successful tourist business.

After an hour and a half we came to El Campello, which used to be a small fishing village and is now a suburb north of Alicante, complete with electric tram that runs back and forth from the city at frequent intervals. I know because we stopped for refreshment in a cafeteria with a view across the tram line toward the sea, and at least four tranvias chugged quietly by while we drank our coffee.

Colorful houses in Villajoyosa.
© Johannes Bjorner, 2012
Back in the car we continued north  toward our destination: Villajoyosa. Villajoyosa is known for its colorfully painted houses, which so far we had only heard about. Even the sound of Villajoyosa makes me feel joyous, though joyosa more properly refers to joyas--jewels--than joy. We did not see any painted houses as we drove into town from the south, but we took a right turn and soon found ourselves down on the road beside the beach, where--this being September and a weekday--there was parking available. We found a spot and turned our back on the sea to look at the jewels of the painted houses that in turn looked out onto the blue Mediterranean.

We wandered around through colorful narrow streets, up one, down another. We were, somewhat loosely, looking for El Museo de Chocolate, which had been mentioned in the Spanish tour book we brought with us. No details about where, or opening times, or anything useful like that, but having been told more than once that I was born with chocolate genes, it would have been sacrilegious not to at least make an attempt to find a chocolate museum. Johannes is not shy about asking for directions. The first time he asked, a lady resting on a park bench said, "Oh, it is lejos" (far from here). Up in the main part of town, she meant. So we continued upward. The next person we asked employed two others to get an informed opinion. We were still lejos--a twenty-minute walk (and they didn't even know we were walking slowly on a newly replaced knee). The good news was that we were headed in the right direction.

In the next little leg of the journey we worked our way up to the main street of town, exactly where we had turned right to drive down to the sea an hour before. By now we had lost most of the colorfully painted houses and were just maneuvering through the busy streets of a small city. We had been told to walk straight ahead (todo recto) toward the train tracks, so we crossed the main street, still heading up, and recto. But then we came to a fork in the road, and no train tracks. A woman in a little shop for recien nacidos (newborns) came out and pointed us to the proper road, and now we were only a fifteen-minute walk from the museum.

Reflection shown in the glass facade of the Valor Chocolate Building.
© Johannes Bjorner, 2012
Our next few minutes brought us to the train tracks and the news that we were only ten minutes away. We walked by a large car park, the mercado de abastos indoor market stall area, a MasyMas and a Consum grocery store, and several restaurants. And then we spied an odd glass building, set off from the sidewalk by a vehicle gate, that showed the distorted reflection of the building across the street in its glass panels. As Johannes ducked around the lowered and locked gate to get a closeup picture of the glass pattern, I saw the small sign that affirmed that this was the Museo de Chocolate and also the factory of the Valor chocolate company.

"Adult Pleasure" at the Chocolate Factory

When I spied the sign saying that this was El Museo de Chocolate, I read it quickly and saw only 10:00 and 13:00. Darn! It was 12:40 now. "Hurry," I said, "we only have twenty minutes!"

But I was wrong, as the guard who had given us permission to photograph the building said quickly. The last tour is at 13:00 "en punto." We should go out the auto entrance to the sidewalk, proceed to the far end of the block-long building, and wait at the gate. At 1:00 PM "on the dot" the pedestrian gate would open and the last tour of the day would begin.

Valor had kindly set up two large umbrellas and three long benches, where we could sit and rest for twenty minutes after our long walk. I read as we waited, and suddenly I realized that 25 or so people had joined us and now it was standing room only. Most were Spanish, but I heard a couple English voices. There are not a lot of events that begin "en punto" in Spain. Trains are one. The Valor chocolate factory tour is another.

Having walked the length of a city block (the front facade of the glass building) we now walked the depth of a block and were ushered in to a small, make-shift theater, where we saw a short film about the "discovery" of chocolate (thank you, Christopher Columbus) and the making of it in general, and especially by the Valor company. The screen was not large, but the images of crushing cacao beans and the addition of milk filled the space available and were tempting. We were treated to a selection of Valor's television commercials for its products, and I found it incongruous, with a large number of children in the audience, that its slogan "adult pleasure" appeared so often. Nevertheless, it's a good slogan and one of the few adult pleasures that can be maintained in vigor as the years increase.

We then went into an adjoining building that featured two stories of memorabilia from this family-run business that was started by Don Valeriano Lopez Lloret in 1881.  Images of some of the items we saw, as well as an English-language chronology, are on the web. My favorite was a print ad reproduction that showed two very skinny adults "who didn't eat Valor chocolates," two very fat adults "after eating Valor chocolates," and two modestly sized and happy adults who ate Valor chocolates "twice a day." A recipe for adult happiness?

Our group, which had been divided into Spanish and English speaking factions for the museum visit, then reunited as we went into the factory itself. Language was not an issue here, as the noise was loud enough that little could be said anyway. We wound our way up and around a narrow catwalk through first, a very hot part of the building, and then a very cold part. If our guide was at the front of our group, I lost her. There was only one way forward, though, and we followed it, observing on our own the activity below us--surprisingly few people on the factory floor, but a multitude of different work stations for mixing, conveying, quality-control, packaging. There was one long belt of chocolate bars moving the width of the factory floor, and only two women at the end, occasionally pulling a piece off. It was impossible not to recall the "I Love Lucy" episode when Lucy and Ethel got a job in the chocolate factory.

All roads lead to Rome, and all factory tours lead to the factory store. Valor was no exception, but we were greeted by three large plates of different kinds of chocolates, free for the sampling. They were good. Following the advice from the old print ad, I helped myself twice. We also made a few purchases before we left. I don't buy chocolate often, so I don't know whether the prices were better than, worse than, or the same as in retail stores. They seemed reasonable. We hadn't paid a centimo for the tour, and the guide had disappeared, so we couldn't even tip her, so the least we could do was buy some adult pleasure to take home after our day out.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Exploring San Miguel

Today is not Sunday in Spain, but it is a holiday--the festival of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. This is one of those rare occasions when we knew ahead of time that there was going to be a holiday and that the stores would be closed on Wednesday. There had been articles in the free newspapers to warn us, and I had read the articles in time. We were a little discombobulated, however, when we saw a sign in the Consum grocery store last Saturday stating that not only would it be open all day on Wednesday, the 15th, it would be open until 10:00 PM, which is 45 minutes later than its normal closing time of 9:15. I think perhaps that means that there will be festivities in the evening and that we should be prepared for loud music and fireworks starting shortly after 10:00.

Anyway we drove out at about 11:00 this morning, following Johannes' piano class, because, well, just because it is good to get out of the house and do something during the day. We did not need groceries, so we headed away from our usual route and drove inland, between orange groves, to San Miguel de Salinas, a town that we had driven through several times, but in which we had rarely stopped. It seemed like a nice day to explore the main street and old town on foot.

Indeed it was, and made even easier because, due to the holiday, we were able to find a parking place right on the main street. We got out and walked slowly up the street, past several cafes. My half-serious goal was to locate an establishment called Bargain Books, where a couple of the women in my book group had purchased English language editions of three of the titles we have read. We did get there--it was right where they said it was, close by the plaza, across from the church. And conveniently, across from two cafe bars where lots of people were sitting out and enjoying coffee or cold drinks and a talk.

We found an empty table and sat and enjoyed our usual: cafe con leche and a media tostada con atun y tomate. And it was then that I realized that I was in witness of a rare sight in Spain. We were seated in between two tables of groups of women enjoying leisure time out. Women only--there were no men. That doesn't happen too often, as women in Spain have a rigid schedule, even if they don't work outside the home. But it can happen on a holiday, and it was lovely to watch ten middle-aged women enjoying each others' company, the good weather, and freedom from the daily schedule.

One group disappeared, though, as the town clock struck 12:00, probably to make their way home to prepare the afternoon dinner. The other stayed around awhile longer, and just before we began to make our way back toward the car, I noticed a funny thing about the cafe. The proprietor had begun setting out more tables, presumably for the dinner or afternoon crowd, whereas there had been only five for the early morning coffee customers. Each of those five tables was shaded from the sun by a large umbrella. Four of the umbrellas had bright red backgrounds with small Coca-Cola bottles in white splashed across them. The one odd umbrella had a white background. But when I looked closely I saw that it had a single Coca-Cola bottle marking it. That was a bottle of Coca-Cola Light.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Key Issues

I've been meaning to write about locks and keys and security in Spain for a long time, but now that circumstances have forced me into being the one in the family who locks the locks, remembers the keys, and worries about security, it's time.

All houses in Spain, I believe, come equipped with numerous locks and keys. There are four locks between the inside of our house and the sidewalk in front, a space that I can traverse in about a dozen footsteps.  First there is the lock for the wooden front door. Then there is the lock for the wrought iron grate, or grille, that protects the front door. On the other side of the grate is the sunroom, formed on two sides with sliding glass doors. There is a lock for one of the sliding doors, too, which needs to be used when leaving the house. Then when you walk down two steps and over the tiled terrace, you pass through the metal gate that separates our terrace from the public sidewalk, where the car is usually parked. That gate has a lock and key, as well. That's four.

We lock all four locks every evening before retiring for the night, and when I am going to spend the afternoon upstairs in my office, I make sure the gate and the grate are locked. The sunroom door has to stand open enough so Goldie can wander in and out, and the front door itself has to stay open or ajar so she can find her way all the way inside the house. Goldie hates to get stuck on the wrong side of a locked door--the wrong side being whatever side she is on.

Goldie leaving for a stroll. Photo Copyright 2012 Johannes Bjorner.
Although four doors are locked at night only three have to be unlocked in the morning, but you can guess who is the first one demanding that the doors be opened. It used to be that we opened the back, kitchen, door to let Goldie out for her morning inspection tour. There we could leave the protective grate shut and locked--we have told Goldie that she can get as fat as she wants as long as she can still squeeze between the bars of the grate. Two petty break-ins in the neighborhood recently encouraged us to have a deadbolt installed in the back door. It's such a pain to unlock both the deadbolt and the regular kitchen door lock that now what I usually do is open the front doors instead. That means unlocking the front door itself and the front grate, as I am not thin enough to slide between its bars. All those locks have to be opened and shut with keys, but the side sliding door in the sunroom can be unlocked from the inside by removing a round center bolt that prevents the two adjoining sliding doors from sliding. I've decided that at 6:00 AM anyone prowling around will probably not notice that the side door is ajar--and if they do, they are probably too big to slide through the bars, too. After Goldie springs out, I can retrace my steps, lock the front grate and push the front door to where it is slightly ajar, and have a cup of coffee or return to bed to read, or both.

What with marble and tile floors, no wall-to-wall carpeting, stucco walls, no insulation to speak of, and tile roofs, there is little flammable material in most houses in Spain, so my fears of having to use four keys to get out of the house in event of fire are somewhat allayed. Still, we keep a second set of keys inside the front door, with the three keys we need to get out (the sun room key only works from the outside, so we don't need an extra for that). This extra set saves me from going up and down stairs a hundred times a day to the purse where I try to always keep my keys, except when they are in my pocket. I don't keep my keys in my pocket all the time because they are too bulky and because, in spite of extreme vigilance and determination for several years, I have still managed to buy a few pairs of pants without pockets, or without serviceable pockets.

Car keys are also a trial. We have two sets of car keys. Since I am usually the secondary driver, my key is the one that does not have the automatic door opener and lock. My key just opens the door--and only the door on the driver's side, I discovered to my dismay--and the trunk. By hand, by inserting key in lock; not remotely. I keep this key on my master key ring, which is another thing adding to the bulk.

Since I've graduated to being major car driver for a period of time, I have appropriated the main car key. This is a separate key ring that contains the key that can be used to open any one or all car doors remotely. There are only three buttons on the remote, but I still hit the wrong one sometimes and lock the car when it is already locked, or open the trunk when I don't want to. Heaven only knows what I would do if we had a device that rolled the windows down or turned on the air conditioning automatically.

Getting ready to leave the house for morning errands or an outing has become an activity that can take several minutes. First I have to make sure that I have both sets of keys--the house keys and the car keys. I go out to the car and move it to the optimum curbside position, where the walker can stand steady at not too much of a slant. The weather has been hot, so I generally leave the keys in the ignition, power down the front windows, and turn on the air conditioning. Then I return to the sunroom and help the patient with his walker out the door, across the terrace, and into the car. Fold up the walker and stuff it in the back seat. Return to the house with my own set of house keys and shut the front door, lock the front door, shut the grate, lock the grate, shut the sunroom door, lock the sunroom door (but leave the side door open for Goldie), and shut the gate and lock the gate. Then I get in the car and try to remember to stop at the recycling station with one of the bags of bottles, containers, or paper that I have previously stuffed into the car.

Photo copyright 2012 Susanne Bjorner.
Returning, there is also a procedure, with the addition that we usually stop first at the mailbox, where I use one key to open the master mailbox area for the community, and a second to open our private mail box. Then I park along the curb, leaving the patient in the car until I open the gate, the sunroom, the grate, and the door--where all too often I find that Goldie has gotten herself locked on the wrong side of the closed door. Then the patient hops in, and I go out to move the car, lock the car, close the gate, lock the gate, leave the sunroom open for the cat, and close the grate and lock the grate. We usually leave the front door open until after we have had lunch, and then we push it to just ajar, turn on the air conditioning, and settle down for work or siesta. We have had our outing for the day. Goldie is the only one (we hope) who can elude the locks and come and go as she pleases.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Callosa del Segura

Like many Americans, I spent last weekend sifting through paper receipts and scouring electronic records, preparing my federal income taxes. I made the deadline--even uploading my electronic filing "early" on April 14, but I still had to send data and a paper check for a 2011 IRA contribution before the deadline, which thankfully was on April 17 this year. (Even though I lived in Massachusetts for many years, I didn't remember until I read emails on Monday that April 16 was Patriots Day, and that was why the deadline was April 17 and not April 16). But Patriots Day is not celebrated in Spain, so off I went to the post office on Monday and mailed my IRA paperwork.

But then I remembered that I had to file a form with the state of Ohio, and this form also had to be sent by earth post, not electronically. Oh, bother! Off we were again on Tuesday morning to the post office. Going to the post office is rarely a speedy errand in Spain, and it was especially long that day. Plus there was an irate customer complaining about something for twenty minutes in front of me in line.

When we finally finished in the post office, and went out again to the lovely spring day, we both felt that we deserved a day off in the sun. So we hopped back in the car and headed out of town to the small city of Callosa del Segura. According to a regional map, Callosa is prehistoric, dating from the Bronze Age, and its name may be a Greek word meaning "beautiful place," but transmitted to modern times through the Arabic, in which it meant "fortified castle." For me, it is first and foremost the mountain I can sometimes see outside my bathroom window, or rather, the town that is nestled up next to the striking craggy mountain in the distance.

After getting to Callosa, we found a parking place on the side of the Mercado de Abastos, the building housing the indoor market of fish, meat, produce and sundry stalls. We stopped first for sustenance in the form of cafe con leche and a shared media tostada. We read the morning newspaper with its dreary news of promised cuts in health care and education as an effort to repair the economy of Spain. Depressing news, but it was not too difficult to put it behind us on such a warm and sunny day.

We walked across the street and into the Mercado de Abastos--the lightest and brightest indoor mercado I have seen in Spain. I am on the lookout for local products to take to a conference as a door prize gift basket, but they have to be products that will pass through U.S. Customs, and the fruits, vegetables, and of course the meats and fish were way too fresh and unprotected to pass that test. So we just wandered through and left by  another door, and that is where we saw the large sign saying that the mercado had recently been restored and refurbished and that was why it was the lightest and brightest and cleanest-looking mercado I have seen in Spain.

We continued wandering through the streets, and a gentleman stopped us and insisted upon helping us find whatever it was we were looking for ... and directed us to the jardin: "Turn right at the next street and walk down until you see it--it is a beautiful garden," he said in English.

And it is. One side of the plaza is bordered by the Calle del Idioma Esperanto (see below). The opposite end fronts on to the local colegio, the elementary school, and since it was 12:30 or 1:00, the area was filled with women and men standing in groups and waiting for their young children to be released from  morning classes in time to go home for the traditional Spanish luncheon meal with all the family. In between is a large expanse with all types of trees and walkways, and always, that wonderful, odd-shaped Callosa mountain in the background.

It's easy to get in to Callosa--you just follow the mountain. It was harder to get out. We turned the GPS on, but Gloria had not caught up with the construction that was happening, and we found two desvios (detours) on the way (or was it one desvio viewed twice?). At any rate, we made it home for a late lunch, even by Spanish standards, and then each went on to our usual afternoon activity, a siesta and piano practice for one, desk work for another. It was a good day.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Las Cuevas del Rodeo Art Exhibition

Painting by Johannes Bjørner
This Sunday in Spain, the first in October, was a perfect day for the inauguration of an art exhibition at Las Cuevas del Rodeo in Rojales, a rustic area in the hills behind the center of town where the municipal authorities have seen fit to provide studio and exhibition space to artists at no--or very low--cost. Some of the caves are used full-time by various artesans, but no. 4 is loaned out to any artist, on application, for a month.

It would be comfortable to say that I happened on to this exhibit casually and by accident, as I happened by the first day of school in the colegio next door a couple weeks ago. But that would not be truthful, since for the last month I have been living with the artist while he assembled more than 50 paintings in the living and dining rooms of our house, together with myriad paraphernalia for hanging them, piping in music, and providing light refreshments on opening day. Friday this week he took the paintings out to the caves and the walls throughout the entire house are now bare--and Saturday we went out to hang them and set up for the opening from 11:00--2:00 PM Sunday morning.

And then this morning dawned and we were out the door at a little past 9:00 to do final preparations for the inauguration: buy some ice, move the white wine to the cooler, cut the cheese, and set up the snacks and drinks kindly provided by the municipality. Two good English friends arrived and took over the duties behind the bar, leaving both the artist and me free to mingle with guests who spilled in suddenly at 11:05 and kept us busy until 12:30. The crowd thinned out a bit then, but new people continued coming even past the 2:00 official close. Should I be surprised that the first group were mostly Scandinavians, then we had Germans and English, but the Spanish made their appearance during the last half "official" hour? I was happy for my husband's sake that so many people showed up and enjoyed the viewing and made several purchases, but I was surprised and especially touched myself to meet a woman who reads this blog. Since I write mainly for my friends and family at a distance, it was a real treat to meet a reader face-to-face, on this Sunday in Spain.