Saturday, September 30, 2017

My Chinese Airbnb guests, to Santa Pola for the week, a new look at our apartment, the four of us together at the weekend and other stories.

Sunday 1st October 2017
The 4 of us together this weekend in Santa Pola. Here at the lighthouse cliffs with Pippa
Hi again everyone,

This week I am writing from our apartment in Gran Alacant near Santa Pola and about 10km from Alicante. We are enjoying a few days here with Suzy and her friend Juli who is like a surrogate son to me and brother to the girls (haha) and on Friday Olivia joined us for the weekend.

But let me start from the beginning. Last Sunday was a quiet day with the girls. After publishing my blog, I joined them on the swimming pool terrace and we played the new Spanish card game they had taught me ("culo") which I finally got the hang of. We would play more at our apartment in Gran Alacant later in the week. 

We had dinner on our own that night as the girls went off to Majadahonda to meet more members of their group of friends, aka as "la manada". I had cooked so much that weekend and needed to relax and wind down that night. 

That night we watched, like many other people in Spain, an interview by a popular and famous Catalan journalist, Jordi Evoli, with the head of the Catalan Government, Puigdemont, the man leading the whole movement for independence, commonly known here as "el proces".  The journalist, well known for his tactics of asking uncomfortable questions, made meat of the man and had him cornered with every question. Spectators of this programme are used to Evole making his right wing interviewees uncomfortable but not the left wing ones. It was revealing to hear that Puigdemont admitted the law passed in the Catalan court to hold the referendum was illegal as it was passed by less than 40%. I'm still wondering what will happen on Sunday when it is supposed to take place. 

On a lighter note that night, I was rather cross with Google when I saw an ad on my blog urging me to click on a link about "senior dating". How does Google know I am senior? What it doesn't know, or else the ad wouldn't have been there, is that I am happily married and in no need of any sort of dating service. They got it wrong a few days later too when another ad appeared, this time for "nocilla" (hazelnut chocolate spread) hahaha. 

On Monday morning, our Chinese guests were leaving. They really were good guests and the best of the 3 groups of Chinese we have hosted since I started Airbnb in March this year. From Shanghai, they were touring Spain in a big hired VW van. Lin, the girl who made the booking, had come with her boyfriend, a girlfriend and her Aunt and Uncle. She was the only one who spoke English. We chatted as they made rice and fried eggs for breakfast that morning. She told me her Aunt and Uncle wanted a photo with Eladio and I before they went. We were happy to oblige. The Uncle never stopped taking photos of the house, the garden and our dogs and Lin told me that it was her "dream house". They had visited Madrid the day before and even went to a bull fight. My information pack came in handy as they followed some of my recommendations, such as a meal at Botín, Spain's oldest restaurant near the Plaza Mayor.

Soon they were leaving and asked for the photo. They pulled out the chairs so that the older people could sit down at the front of the picture (haha) and Olivia, our family photographer when Miguel isn't there, took the main photo. Suzy took some too and it is one of hers that is below. You will notice that Elsa, our lab, managed to get in the photo too haha.

With our Chinese guests on Monday morning just before they left. 
They were so friendly and I really liked the Aunt. It was a pity we couldn't talk. The only Chinese word I know is "nihau". Eladio learned it too and came down that morning saying "nikau" which made everyone laughed. That day, upon our recommendation, they would be off to visit Segovia. They would be having lunch at Casa Cándido, the best place in town. Later Lin wrote me a super review although most of it was in Chinese. I used Google Translate to understand it but the words made me laugh when I read that the "furniture was hard as were the dogs". Google has to get better at translating hahaha. 

Our next guests wouldn't be arriving until Thursday so there was plenty of time to clean the rooms and change the sheets in time for Guilia and Camila's arrival. It's funny but they were our very first guests. I remember them clearly. They got lost coming here and I went to pick them up. It's so nice that they wanted to come back and a pity I won't be there to see them. 

I got another Airbnb reservation that day, from a widower and his two small children who wanted to visit the Warner Bros. theme park. He sent me a very poignant message about how much the trip meant to him and his children since he lost his wife in August after battling with cancer. I felt so sorry for him and promised to look after them as best I could. 

It was on Monday that I expanded my little house sharing business by placing an ad on another platform which is apparently very popular in the north of Europe. It is called Home Away. Lets see if I reap the benefits soon. 

That morning I went for a long walk with Suzy and the dogs and we came back to do, guess what, yes, more bread hahaha. It has become a bit of a craze. Monday's bread was made with spelt flour which I love. And here are the results.

The spelt and walnut bread I made on Monday
My friend Fátima was supposed to join us for lunch that day but didn't arrive until 3pm. She is always always late but I know that, so now always factor that in when I am expecting her.  She wanted to learn how to make bread but as she has a gluten intolerance she brought her gluten free flour made with rice and corn. It didn't turn out very well and looked like a big white brick and hadn't risen very much. I had agreed to take it to her house when it was out of the oven but when I saw it, I rang to say it was probably better to throw it away. However, Suzy wanted to try it for dinner that night and in actual fact it wasn't that bad. Apparently, according to what I read on the internet, the process for making gluten free bread is very different to making normal bread. I should have read that before I made it but now I know. 

I went shopping again that afternoon, to take provisions to Santa Pola and make sure there was enough food in the house for my Father, Lucy and the dogs. Suzy, meanwhile, was by the pool with her friends, Juli, Chati and Elena. Chati stayed for dinner where we were joined by Oli and we enjoyed another meal all together outside on the kitchen terrace. The September weather has been great so far. 

Tuesday came and I was up at 5.45. I had lots to do before we would leave for Santa Pola at 09.30. Juli and Suzy would leave at midday.  I wanted to arrive before them so as to have everything ready for when they got there. We took with us the new three piece sofa covers I had bought to replace the awful ones we inherited when we bought the apartment in 1999. I chose blue thanks to advice from my friends Sandra and Jacky who recommended it to go with the sea I suppose but also to enhance the blue from the plates and pictures on the walls. And this is the new look I am very pleased about. Neither Eladio nor Suzy said very much so I gather they are not impressed. For me it was high time we changed the covers. It makes the flat look much better.
The new look after I changed the three piece suite covers
After all the rigmarole of settling in, changing the sheets, cleaning the terrace floor, unpacking the food, etc, we sat down to a quick lunch I made of steak and salad. Just as we were sitting down on our terrace to read, Suzy and Juli arrived. 
Eladio on the terrace with Pippa here at our apartment.
They brought more food with them and so we would be well stocked for a few days.  After making a vegetable soup for dinner, Eladio, Pippa and  I - yes we brought Pippa with us - went off for a walk to the lighthouse by the cliffs with magnificent views of the small island of Tabarca.  And here I am posing for a photo by the cliffs with little Pippa in my arms. 
By the cliffs with little Pippa on our first walk on Tuesday to the lighthouse
It is a good 1.15h walk and we came home hungry for dinner. It would have been all healthy if it hadn't included the strawberry cheesecake ice cream Juli had brought hahahaa. 

Of course after dinner we had to watch the news to see how the "proces" was going - the move for independence in Catalonia - which I'm totally fed up with. Suzy and Juli later played scrabble on the phone and Eladio watched Real Madrid beat Borussia Dortmund in the latter's stadium. With 1 goal from Bale and 2 from Ronaldo it must have been exciting except that I was so tired I went to bed. 

On Wednesday, I was up at 06.30 and the first thing I did was to take Pippa outside to the garden for her morning call of nature. Living in a flat means she can't just wander into the garden by herself and I have to remember to take her down. Later with my cup of coffee, I read the news and was surprised and pleased to read that finally, yes finally, it had been announced by the heir to the throne in Saudi Arabia that from June 2018, women would be allowed to drive without a man's approval. It is the last country in the world to approve women driving and was about time too. I just hope that other restrictions on women there will be slowly lifted too. What a nightmare it must be to be a woman in Saudi Arabia. 

News that Twitter is experimenting with permitting a 280 character limit as apposed to the current 140 one caught my eye too. In one way I think it is a good thing as there is now more room to express oneself. On the other hand, as my friend Sandra pointed out, the whole idea about Twitter is to be short and to the point. In any case it is really an unimportant piece of news although it will be important for the American social media company. 

On Wednesday we went to the beach in the morning, armed with the sunshade and our old blue beach chairs. We have had them since our first summer here in 1999! And here is Eladio sitting under the shade reading his book, the autobiography of Felix Yusupov which he is finding equally riveting as my Father and I did.
Eladio on the beach on Wednesday
I was the only one to go in the water. It wasn't cold but the sea was a bit rough and I didn't want to brave the waves so I didn't spend much time in it.  Later we went on a walk to the end of the beach and back and it was very pleasant, mostly because there were so few people there compared to August; notably very few children. It was warm but cloudy and the temperature was in the low 20's most of the day. 

We came back to make lunch after which we had a siesta, read a bit on the terrace and then went for another walk with Pippa all the way to the lighthouse and back. On the way back I persuaded Eladio to go out and have fish and chips that night. He didn't take much persuading. Suzy who is vegan or tries to be vegan and Juli who doesn't really appreciate what fish and chips are, preferred to stay behind. We found Darby's Chippy quite busy but we were warmly welcomed by John, from Scotland and his wife. He really does make the best fish and chips  in the area and just as good as the best in the UK. Here, by the way, is Eladio's large portion. He removes most of the batter which horrifies me as it is precisely the batter I like most hahaha. Later when looking for  a link to the chip shop I wrote a review on Trip Advisor and of course gave them full marks. I hope John, who I think still reads my blog, sees that:-)
Eladio's portion of large fish and chips at Darby's Chippy on Wednesday night

I was happy to hear that their establishment was doing well. They have been here now for 11 years which is quite a record as there is a lot of business turnover in Gran Alacant. Being Scottish and both of us living outside the UK,  John and I lamented that Brexit was happening. Of course we did, neither of us was able to vote damn it. 

On Friday I was up at 6.15. I do wish I could sleep longer. Everyone else was up later at about 8.30. Suzy is like me in that she makes a cup of coffee as soon as she gets up. I joined her on the terrace and was rewarded with this lovely photo of my sleepy daughter who I think is looking absolutely lovely. She is so brown after her trip to Malaysia and Indonesia.
Sleepy but smiley Suzy with her cup of coffee on Thursday morning. 
It's such a treat to be with her here as we don't often have the quality time we are having with her here. The only downside to my stay here are the damned mosquitoes. I don't know why but there seems to be an abundance of them here now which is unusual for this time of year. They have bitten me all over and produce itchy attacks where I go mad scratching. There is no really good remedy for once you have been bitten. Ice seems to help as does a cold shower. Oh why do they bite me so much? Neither Eladio nor Suzy are affected although they have also bitten Juli but to a lesser extent. It must be my white and northern skin. The best remedy though, is to be busy so I got ready to go out to the market with Eladio where we would be joined later by Suzy and Juli. I needed something to take my mind off the itching:-(

The highlight of Thursday then was going to the Santa Pola market which is held here at Gran Alacant, a few yards away from our apartment. There are good fruit and vegetable stalls but the rest is a bit rubbishy although I did find some nice red trainers for a paltry 10 euros. I have yet to wear them.

But we were far more interested in the fruit and veg as we are a real fruit and veg family as you may well have noticed hahaha. And here we are, Suzy and I, picking our choice of tomatoes, lettuce, plums, grapes, water melon, peaches, pineapple and bananas.
Suzy and I choosing vegetables at the market yesterday
While there we also came across a stall selling roast ribs, jacket potatoes and chicken. We bought the former for lunch and made a superb salad from the provisions we bought that morning at the market. 

It wasn't really warm enough to go the beach in the afternoon so while Eladio slept his siesta and Suzy and Juli went to the swimming pool, I read on the terrace. I had another itching attack so suggested going for a walk to the lighthouse with Eladio and Pippa both for the exercise and to take my mind off the damned itching. 

We came home to make a superb or rather 2 superb small Spanish tortillas (made with eggs, potatoes and onions) and this is what the table looked like when we sat down to dinner.
Dinner at home on Thursday night - home made Spanish tortilla. 
I'm afraid I, at least, ate a bit too much and was soon feeling sleepy. That, though, could have been because of the wine we had for dinner, although mine was a tiny glass.

Friday came. We had run out of bread and milk so when the shops opened at 8.30 Eladio and I went to buy some and found a lovely new bakery. We bought freshly baked bread as well as delicious looking croissants and pain au chocolat and the equivalent here to danish pastry. For reference sake the name of the bakery is "dulce de leche". We then bought milk at the British supermarket Quicksave. Here I chatted to the owner who told me that many of the Brits in Gran Alacant were leaving and that few new ones were coming after Brexit. When I asked him why, he said it was because of the uncertainty of the future: pensions, health care and the low rate of the pound. What sad consequences Brexit is bringing us. During the Brexit referendum campaign no one ever thought of the Brits living abroad like me, or the fish and chip shop man John or the owner of Quicksave.  

We had a feast of a breakfast I must say. The croissants were at least as good as the very best in France which is unusual here. While here we had decided we would spend a day down memory lane, visiting Callosa de Ensarría where my parents bought a village house in the early 70's as well as Algar, a beautiful enclave in the mountains with natural waterfalls and restaurants, swimming pools etc. I used to call these our "Callosa Days". So we went on Friday morning. Juli and Suzy preferred to stay and go to the beach. It was probably the warmest and sunniest of the days we spent here.

Callosa is 55km inland from Alicante, so about 60km from here. But first we stopped at the chemist to buy mosquito repellent and a relief cream. The pharmacist confirmed there was a mosquito plague here and gave me a cream with cortisone and even anesthesia. It worked a bit but was not really effective. Swimming in the cold water at Algar would help though. 

We took Pippa with us having rung both the restaurant (Don Juan de Algar) and the natural waterfall park and both had confirmed they were dog friendly. Hallelujah I thought as it  isn't often dogs are allowed anywhere in Spain and I didn't want to leave her on her own all day in the apartment. 

The road from Benidorm (15km away) to Callosa hasn't changed that much and brings many memories. I love driving past the pretty little towns of La Nucia and Polop surrounded by orange and lemon groves and a fruit called níspero. 
The pretty little town of Polop on our way to Callosa. 
When I was a teenager and my parents bought the house in rural Callosa I always wished they had bought a place in Benidorm instead. Benidorm, even then, was horrific and gaudy and common but it was by the beach which Callosa wasn't. We used to have to take the bus which left at funny times during the day and took ages to get there or we would hitch hike, something you would not do today. However, my parents were looking for authentic and rural Spain where the tourists don't go and now I realise they made a much better choice. The funny thing though was that when my parents started learning Spanish, everyone in the village spoke Valenciano, the local dialect which is similar to Catalán. When they realised, they carried on with Castellano Spanish and learned it very well. 

Once in Callosa, we walked along the old familiar streets which hadn't really changed. Everything was ready for the village fiestas taking place next week, the Moors and Christians which I have actually never seen.
Eladio and Pippa walking along the main street of the old town of Callosa. 
One obligatory stop was at the ice cream parlour, La Jijonenca, where they make amazing home made ice cream but are not very friendly. It is now run by the nephew of the black dressed and bad tempered fat lady who use to serve us our favourite, either the turron ice cream or the delicious local drink called horchata. So happy to be there I tried to engage the new owner into conversation and tell him how we used to frequent La Jijonenca in the 70's but I could hardly draw a smile from him. It was full of valenciano (local dialect) speaking middle aged ladies and I realised that not much had changed. Thankfully the ice cream hadn't either and it tasted delicious.

From there we walked up the to main square where Eladio and I remembered watching the local beauty contest for "chiquets" and "chiquetas". We also remembered the café where Eladio started flirting with me for the first time. Wow that was so many years ago. From the square, knowing the way perfectly, we walked to Calle de las Flores where our old house was. It looked empty. This is the street.

Our old house in Calle de Las Flores, the second on the left. 
We bumped into a neighbour and I told her it used to be our house. We then mentioned the other neighbours who used to live there and I asked her about a girl called Rosa who was my friend, the daughter of Sra. María who used to lend us her telephone. I had lost touch with Rosa but remember her clearly. Amazingly the neighbour told me that Rosa now has an upholstery shop opposite the petrol station. So we made our way there, walked in and asked for her. Remember I hadn't seen her for probably 40 years and we had aged a lot. She came out and as soon as I said "it's Masha, do you remember me?" she did and we hugged and shed a tear or two. Wow, it was amazing to find her. She is now married of course and has twins in their late teens. She even got married the same year that I did.

We went to have a cup of coffee together and to chat and catch up on all the years since we had last met.  Eladio took a photo of us although neither of us was looking our best hahaha.
With Rosa my friend from my teenage years in Callosa, reunited on Friday.
I have a photo of Rosa when she was a teenager in one of my albums at home and must find it to send to her. Needless to say, we are now friends on Facebook. If there had been social media when we first met we would never have lost touch. 

We said our goodbyes promising to meet again in Callosa next time we come. We then walked back to our car and made our way to Algar which has changed a bit as it is much more commercial than before except for  the stunning scenery thankfully. It is only 1km from Callosa and my brother George and I used to walk there and spend the day at the waterfalls many years ago when we first came to Spain. In those days we didn't have much money and couldn't pay to use the two swimming pools. Thankfully today we can. So we parked at the Don Juan restaurant and pool where we always used to go and which we still visit occasionally when we come to our apartment in Santa Pola.
The pool at Don Juan 
Here we reserved a table and set up our little "camp" by the pool and left our valuables with the restaurant owner. It was 13.30 and we had an hour or so before lunch to visit the waterfalls. These days you have to pay to enter the waterfalls. When George and I used to swim there it was free. And these days too, they take a photo of you entering and charge 5 euros for the photo afterwards. I loved the photo they took but Eladio didn't like himself in it, so I can only show you half of the photo. Pippa is in it of course.
Entering Algar with Pippa
We  love Algar and always enjoy swimming in the natural pools even though the water is freezing.  However the rocks are slippery and the surface is very stony so it's not easy to get in or walk in the water. But this time we had brought along some plastic water shoes we were given in Aqaba on the Red Sea in Jordan where we went on holiday a few years ago.  They made a great difference. Pippa wasn't very happy about being tied to a rail while we did so but I'm sure she preferred that to the cold water. Here is Eladio in the water.
Eladio swimming in Algar
After swimming by the main waterfall we walked up the steep wooden steps (they are new too) into the mountains where there are more waterfalls and natural pools and we swam in one of them as you can see in the photo of me below.
Me being silly in one of the natural pools at Algar
The mountain air and the cold water made us hungry and we were soon back at the restaurant where we were given a table by the pool. As always, we ordered "arroz a banda" - a variation on paella - which is typical of Alicante, preceded by a plate of toasted local bread with alioli and fresh tomato sauce which I adore.
Toasted local bread with ali oli and fresh tomato sauces 

The arroz a banda at Don Juan de Algar on Friday
The lunch was sumptuous  and afterwards we lounged by the pool reading and snoozing and thoroughly enjoying being back at a place which means so much to us. You see Callosa and Algar saw the beginnings of our life together. It was there that we fell in love. That and my teenage years there with my parents always make for a wonderful trip down memory lane. 

 We left with a very happy feeling, satisfied with a wonderful day together. We were home by about 7pm and unfortunately both of us had started a cold, most probably because of the cold water. Thankfully, Juli, who also had a cold, had bought the famous Spanish remedy for this common ailment, "frenadol" and we both took it and would buy more the next day. Damned cold and mosquitoes we could well have done without.  

Oli was arriving that evening in Alicante and Suzy and Juli would pick her up. Her high speed train, the "Ave" was 1 hour late which meant she would be given her money back. If it is more than 10 minutes late I think you get a full refund. We wouldn't see her until the next day as they were meeting Merce, her husband Josema and toddler Jorge for dinner that night and would not be home until after midnight, well after our bedtime hahaha, which as you know is usually between 9 and 10 pm.  They first met Merce when we bought the apartment here in 1999, the year my Mother died. They were part of a group of friends who spent many happy summers here together. Merce is from Yecla about an hour away from here and they have kept in touch ever since. The girls even went to  Merce and Josema's wedding and they were to meet the couple's 2 year old baby, Jorge, for the first time on Friday night. It was a lovely reunion for them. 

 asked them for a photo together and they sent me one. It was a great reunion for them, their own particular trip down memory lane.

The girls on Friday night with Juli, Merce, Josema and little Jorge
Yesterday, Saturday morning, I was up at 6.35 and made my coffee in total darkness. I also fed Pippa and took her outside for her morning nature call haha. I read the news mostly about the illegal Catalan referendum scheduled for today and also wrote more of this blog so as to be able to publish it early this morning and spend the time with the girls. The four of us haven't been together here at our apartment for many years so this weekend was very special.

Oli was up early too and then Suzy and the three of us went out with Pippa to buy croissants, pastries and bread for breakfast again. We had a huge breakfast feast as we will today as none of us can resist the produce to be bought at the "Dulce de Leche" bakery across the road. I feel a bit guilty but assure you that as soon as I get home I will be back to my daily "gruel" aka oat bran porridge hahaha.

Eladio had an earache that morning so instead of spending the time with the girls on the beach we had to go and see a doctor in Alicante at a private clinic. The city was full of traffic and roads were being blocked because of an ongoing triathlon race. We got caught at a roundabout just past the port and suddenly a huge airport bus was leaning in towards us and scratching the side of our car. There were police there and as Eladio got out of the car to stop the bus driver from leaving the traffic lights, all the cars on the roundabout started parping their horns. The bus had not seen us and had bumped into our car from the right while we were nearly on the kerb on the inside of the roundabout. However the bus driver said we had caused the accident which we hadn't. So we had no alternative but to call the traffic police who took ages to come. I think we spent nearly 1.5h there after the accident. The car wasn't damaged much but as the insurance is only for third parties, if we didn't make clear the accident was not caused by us we would have to pay for the damage done. Thankfully the police who came saw clearly from the type of scratch on the car and our explanations that it was the bus driver's fault. 
The bus that bumped into us in Alicante

Eladio and our damaged car in Alicante on Saturday morning. 
We finally got to the clinic at about 12.30 and after being given a prescription, we came home to let poor Pippa out of the house. But soon we were off again, this time to have lunch with the girls, Juli, Merce, Josema and little Jorge. We had chosen to go to Darby's Chippy again as they now open at lunchtimes at the weekend. We were not particularly hungry after our enormous breakfast but none of us could resist the temptation of authentic fish and chips for lunch. And here we are all round the table. Juli took the photo, thanks Juli.
Fish and chips all together at Darby's Chippy on Saturday
Eladio and I were a bit tired after lunch and we went back to rest and read in my case. The younger generation went to have a coffee. Later the 4 of us - what a luxury - went for a walk to the lighthouse cliffs with Pippa. The selfie illustrating this week's post is  of us by the cliffs. It was a lovely end to Saturday.

No one was hungry for dinner so we just had a salad and fruit after which Eladio watched more debates on the Catalan referendum issue. As I write that now, it is early in the morning on Sunday 1st October the day it is supposed to happen although the government will try its best to stop it. 

Meanwhile we played cards until I, at least, dropped to sleep having previously sprayed my room with insect repellent. 

Today will be our last day here. Oli's boyfriend, Miguel, will be coming from Valencia for lunch and he will return to Madrid with us where he will spend the week with Oli. We shall be going back after lunch and hope to make the best of the few hours the four of us have  here. 

I nearly forgot to add that today is the anniversary of the passing away of my dear Mother who left us on 1st October 1999. No doubt my Father will be thinking about her today. In reality we think about her very often but today is a day we shall sadly always remember.

It is now the end of this week's blog post which I hope you have enjoyed. All that remains is to wish you all a great week ahead until you hear from me again next Sunday.

Cheers for now.

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