Wednesday, 30 November 2016

My family abroad: Mum and Dad’s villa plans

Dad retired at 60, just over four years after they bought their plot of land.  They had chosen the plan for the villa, taking one of the builder’s standard designs and modifying, extending and altering it in numerous ways to suit their needs.  Oddly their UK neighbours also chose the same basic design and also modified it so that by the time the two houses were finished they were quite different.
The main living area was a three bedroom single storey villa which formed the upper floor, reached by a set of stairs build around the curved front of the villa.  As the hill sloped away another lower floor (or underbuild) was created which Mum and Dad would use as the garage, utility room and huge games room with a full size table tennis table, darts area and table and chairs, with doors to a covered outside bar, barbeque area and lower garden.  (The future owners would convert this into a separate, independent apartment for guests.)  The pool was on the main living area level and above that was another garden with petanque courts and fruit trees, and above that two further high level gardens for cacti.
Their friend’s house also had the main living area on the top floor, although this was slightly below street level.  They too had a utility area and garage in the floor below but as their plot was steeper they also had another underbuild below that which in time the friend’s turned into a home cinema with the rock of the hillside protruding into the room on one side as a feature!  Below that was the pool and garden – it was a long way down from the house terrace to the pool, if I remember correctly it was well over 40 stairs!  I think that was possibly my first lesson learnt about buying in Spain – find a reasonably a level plot if you intend staying there into your old age!
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Thursday, 17 November 2016

My family abroad: Costa Blanca

My family abroad:  Costa Blanca
In the 80’s my parents begun looking around Spain for the area they considered most suitable for their own retirement.  Dad had always said he would like to retire somewhere warm, Mum was less sure about the idea but agreed to look – the extra holidays were a bonus and she had always loved looking around show houses anyway!  Having holidayed in various locations in Spain and other Mediterranean countries and islands they first considered the Balearics, but soon decided that mainland Spain would be their best option.  They checked out the Costa del Sol market but settled on North Costa Blanca as they both loved the dramatic scenery.960x640_bestfit-copy-126
The Ap7 motorway from Alicante airport going north had yet to be built but was planned, so each trip they had to travel through Alicante city, along the coast road (the N332) through eajoyosa, Altea, Calpe, , then either head slightly inland before reaching Javea and Denia or turn off to follow the minor windy coast road to Moraira.  Dad loved Moraira on the first visit.  Back in the early/mid 80’s it wasn’t the slick up-market resort it was later to brand itself – sometimes referred to as the jewel in the crown of the Costa Blanca by estate agents in the early 2000’s.  The town centre was small, old, and typically Spanish, a little tired and quiet.   In fact, Dad once described it as ‘a bit like being in the wild west’!
They recalled the tale of how they stayed in a rather shabby hotel in town and Dad announced this was where he wanted to live.  Mum was not enamoured at all!   However she agreed that IF they could find the right house she would be prepared to ‘give it 5 years’.  Dad was still five years off retirement (which he would take at 60) so there was plenty of time, Mum figured, to change his mind!  Several trips later they concluded that the only way to get the house they wanted was to have one built so they started to hunt for a plot of land in Moraira.

My family abroad: The beginning

My aunt and uncle were the first people in the family to buy a property in Spain.  In the mid 80’s they bought an apartment on the Costa del Sol, a small Spanish fishing town called Fuengirola near Malaga.  I didn’t visit there until 2012 and by then it had grown to a huge and very busy town busting with people.  Initially they bought the apartment as a holiday home, about 10 minutes’ walk to the marina/port area in a small apartment block overlooking a park.  Their neighbours were all Spanish, they had deliberately avoided an ex-pat community.
My aunt and uncle worked hard on learning Spanish as they intended to integrate as much as possible into the local community when they moved there in their retirement.  They had a neighbour in the UK whose sister had moved to the town in the 60’s with her daughters and the lady, Doreen, agreed to look after the apartment while they were in England.  They had several years of visiting the apartment before their retirement and it was on one such trip that they took my widowed Grandad with them.  I was told that when he and Doreen met it was love at first sight!  There cannot be many who emigrate at the age of 86 years old but before my aunt and uncle retired my Grandfather packed his bags and moved to Fuengirola to be with Doreen, who was only a couple of years older than my Dad.
Not that long after my aunt and uncle moved permanently to Spain.  Grandad stayed after Doreen passed away, spending his last few weeks in a Spanish nursing home at almost 95 years old.  My uncle passed away a few years later but my aunt has stayed, still in the same apartment, and now in her early 80‘s is still active and leads a busy life in her adopted country.
Also in the 80’s my parents were visiting various parts of Spain, searching for a place they felt they wanted to call home.  And so my family abroad had begun.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Memories of a young Traveller - Don’t drink the water!

Don’t drink the water!
There was once a (rather bad) sitcom named that.  But in actual fact back in the 60’s and 70’s the tap water in Spain, even in the hotels, wasn’t of drinking quality.  Although none of my family experienced problems we did hear of others who suffered tummy upsets.  Buying water in a bottle was another new experience, the UK didn’t have shelves of bottled water in the supermarkets in those days.  Trying to clean your teeth without swallowing the tap water was another new experience too and one as a 5 year old I remember as being rather tricky.
As we didn’t use tap water we didn’t have orange squash either, something all British children drank at that time.  And there was no lemonade, it was orangeade or cola or fizzy lemon.  To a child this was very strange.  And another daily drink missing was fresh milk, so no warm milky drink at bedtime.  Milk came in strange cartons and tasted funny because it was treated so it didn’t have to be refrigerated, (fridges were a luxury item still).  To a child used to full cream milk in bottles delivered by the milkman before breakfast daily it was all a bit odd.  In those days we still had cold milk at school too at morning break time, a third of a pint if I remember correctly.
And there was wine!  Wine was not allowed for 5 year olds but it seemed the Spanish consumed vast amounts and it was very cheap and available everywhere at any time.  In 60’s Britain wine was drunk at a dinner party, bought from a local off licence that could only open for a few restricted hours a day and certainly wasn’t cheap.
And another strange food was olive oil, copious amounts used on the food that was presented.  It tasted odd, sort of nutty and fruity at the same time.  My grandad complained about it being greasy but the food wasn’t greasy.  We had no idea it was healthy and would one day be a mainstay in British cooking too.  Can you imagine certain TV chef’s reactions if they were told they couldn’t use any olive oil – they would have to completely re-write their cookery books!

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Memories of a young Traveller Childhood Spain – more oddities.

Childhood Spain – more oddities.
One year I remember the hotel advertising that one night they would be showing an English film in one of the bars.  Rumours abounded about what it may be but a Bond film was the clear favourite.  We all settled down to watch, too many people packed into room so it was hot.  A Tom and Jerry cartoon came on and we laughed at the antics of the feuding friends.  A nice touch for the children before the film, so we thought. Then another Tom and Jerry, then a third and even a fourth.  It was getting a little boring, we had seen them all before!  Eventually, Tom and Jerry-ed out, we welcomed the interlude.  My sister and I, along with most of the other children, were packed off to bed while our parents settled down to watch the much publicised film.  In the morning we were told that our poor parents had had to endure another hour of Tom and Jerry cartoons!  I have no idea why the Spanish hoteliers thought a couple of American speechless drawings represented the best of the British film industry but, being British, no-one had any intention of complaining!

Until recent years there were no UK daily papers available on the actual day, you could buy them at an extortionate price the day after they were published.  Hence we would never really know what was happening back in old Blighty while we were on holiday.

It strange to today’s youngsters to think that we didn’t have any contact with our friends or family for an entire fortnight.  No English TV, no internet, no mobile phones, no emails.  How did we survive?!  Each year Dad would ensure my grandparents and a friend knew the name of our hotel, its location and through which travel agent in town we had booked our holiday so if we needed to be contacted we could be.  I don’t ever remember any emergency requiring Dad to be called so maybe, just maybe, we did ok surviving without today’s technology.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Memories of a young Traveller Childhood Spain – with my Grandparents

Childhood Spain – with my Grandparents
On our second visit to Spain my Dad had thought it would be a great idea to take my Grandparents (his parents) away with us.  My Grandmother had never been outside the UK and my Grandad’s only previous experiences had been whilst serving during WW2, mainly in North Africa.  My relationship with them was probably unusual, I was not close to either, although my relationship with my Grandad grew closer over the years.  My Grandma had never forgiven me for being born a girl and I can honestly say although I saw her almost every week of my childhood we were almost estranged.  I wasn’t therefore particularly excited about them coming along.
My strongest memory was that I saw my stern and fierce Grandma, a woman who usually frightened me, laugh and smile.  My Grandfather I remember as being fun but always saying or doing the wrong thing.  I suppose today you would call his comments racist and bigoted but it was the 60’s, pre EU days, his memories of sights from the War still playing over in the back of his mind.  My Dad was forever apologising to people for his behaviour.  He hated the food, the ‘foreigners’ and the heat!  He told a ‘bloody crout’ to ‘go back to his own country’ and when Dad pointed out that as we were in Spain we were actually the foreigners he replied that he was British so couldn’t possibly be foreign!
However my strongest memory of them is at the beach. Grandad with dad taking me into the sea and between them swinging me high as I ‘jumped’ the waves.   Grandma sitting under the thatched sun shade knitting, wearing her flowered frock and hat - and still in her stockings!  Despite everything they both said it was the best holiday they had ever had.
My Grandma died in 1985 and a year or so later my Grandad holidayed in my Aunt’s apartment on the Costa del Sol and when he met the lady who looked after the apartment for my Aunt it was love at first sight.  Doreen had lived in Spain over 20 years so was not inclined to move back to England now she was a pensioner in her early 60’s.  So at the age of 86 my Grandad moved to Spain to spend his last years living as an ex-pat.  He and Doreen had 7 happy years before she died of cancer and my Grandfather outlived her by another two years, staying in Spain, living to the ripe old age of nearly 95.  A happy but rather ironic story!

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Memories of a young traveller Childhood Spain-Barcelona

Childhood Spain - Barcelona
One year we stayed close to Barcelona.  To be honest my strongest memory of this holiday was that it was quite unremarkable!  I know I met a fun bunch of people and spent hours in the pools messing about with my friends.  Our parents got on well but it wasn’t a friendship that was to last much beyond the holiday.  The beach wasn’t the best either, the sea becoming too deep for me quickly and the waves were large, so we stayed around the pool at lot.  The food was different too to that eaten on the islands and further south.
My strongest memory is of the excursion into Barcelona, a city with unique architecture and atmosphere.  It’s Spanish, but not quite so, due to the strength of the Catalonian culture.  Franco was still in charge on my childhood visit so the city residents were supposed to speak Castellano, the national language, but Catalan could still be defiantly heard.   After touring the city, of which from that visit I remember surprising little, we visited the famous Barcelona football ground.  Stood near the top of the stand looking down on the pitch it would be fair to say that as a non-fan of the game I was decidedly underwhelmed by the experience.  One memory stands out clearly, the pride with which we were told this pitch had the ‘greenest grass in Spain’ – as a child from the UK I just couldn’t understand why I was supposed to be impressed by the stuff that grew the same colour in my own back garden!
Many years later I returned to the city, this time with Dave, and it had a totally different effect on me.  The Catalan culture and language plus its unique architecture give Barcelona a very different feel to the Costa Blanca.  It is a city I intend to visit again one day.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Memories of a young traveller Childhood Spain – Sunburn and donkeys and coach trips

Childhood Spain – Sunburn and donkeys and coach trips
We didn’t use sun screen in those days, we used oil on our bodies.  No one worried about skin cancer and getting sunburnt was just part of the holiday.  We used large amounts of ‘after sun’ to cool our hot skin every evening.  We even laughed about how red we were and how you could spot the new arrivals as they were so pale or so pink.  I blistered on several holidays on my shoulders and back, but it was never considered a concern – how times have changed.

Highlights of the package holidays were the excursions.  Early in the holiday you would select your choices and on the appropriate day we would pile onto the coach with our hotel issued paper bag containing out packed lunch.  We visited caves with underground lakes, old Spanish villages that clung precariously to the hillside, waterfalls of icy mountain snow melt, vineyards with bodegas, potteries and glass blowing factories, to name just a few of the trips.  At each we would buy souvenirs that would take pride of place back home on the mantle until our next holiday.
A spanish doll
I collected a huge array of Spanish dolls dressed as Flamenco dancers, all sizes and colours, taking at least one home each year.  Each year at least one person boarding the plane would be carrying a two foot high donkey wearing a sombrero, wondering why it had seemed such a good idea to buy it!  But to me that was a symbol of the Spain I knew and loved – donkeys wearing sombreros pulling carts.  Privately owned cars were few are far between in the rural areas in the 60’s and early 70’s, people used bicycles, donkey and cart or walked.  Spain was a relatively poor country and the roads were full of potholes and bumps.  The other common sight on the roads were old tractors – rusty, noisy and belting out black fumes – but pulling a cart in which sat the family.

Memories of a young traveller Childhood Spain – friends

Childhood Spain – friends
It seemed each year we met a particular family that became our friends, some for just the holiday but some became long-term friendships, a few even life-long for my parents.  In fact we remained friends long enough for me to attend at least two weddings of my childhood holiday friends.
On one visit to Majorca our new friends had two children with whom we later holidayed again a couple of years later in Ibiza and when teenagers we hired a couple of boats on the Norfolk Broads.  Their son was two years older than me and one very bored siesta time, when we were supposed to be resting away from the heat of the day, about ages 8 and 6, I remember sitting with him on the balcony trying to aim Spanish Smarties (that didn’t taste that nice) at unsuspecting sunbathers four floors below!  Fortunately we were never found out!
One year we met a family on the plane and got chatting.  Their youngest daughter, Tracey, was a year younger than me and we became firm friends.  It was a friendship that was to last many years and as teenagers we visited each other’s houses for holidays without our parents, she lived in a very rural location in the Cotswolds and I in suburbia in Surrey, and we both envied the other’ one’s location!
That particular holiday when I met Tracey there was a children’s fancy dress competition, the catch being that all the costumes need to be made from crepe paper, which the hotel supplied in reams of all colours.  My sister, Tracey and I entered as ‘The Three Bears’ in wonderful costumes made by Tracey’s mum (who was a good seamstress) and I had a notice written on card saying ‘The Three Bears’ hung around my neck.  I was the middle size so I was Mummy Bear.  The winner was a ‘fried egg’(!) and we came second, but were announced as ‘The Three Blind Mice’.  And our runner-up prize?  One pair of swimming arm bands to share between the three of us!