About Carol Byrne

Originally from Dublin, now happily living alone, high in the Alpujarra region of southern Spain, Carol enjoys a sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle, edits, proofreads, and writes punchy posts and expert content for travel and organic beauty sites, handles social media, and regularly reviews products and services.

Spanish Food – The Pigs of the Sea

The Almadraba.  Do you know about it?

It’s the very controversial method of tuna fishing that is still practised in the south western corner of Spain. It normally involves herding tuna, and encircling a shoal in nets in order to hook the majestic fish.

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Tuna can reach up to a few metres long and can weigh up to 500 pounds.  A little more than that little round tin in your pantry!

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Although now strictly controlled, and practised by only a handful of fishermen,  the history of the Amadraba stretches back as far as 3000 years.

The name  – although Arabic –  (meaning circle or enclosure and also signifies to strike or to hit) dates to the time when only the intrepid would venture into the unknown seas past the Pillars of Hercules, and head into the wild ocean full of dread and mythical sea monsters.

The ancient Phoenician fishermen called Tuna ‘Horse Mackerel’, or more often ‘Pigs of the Sea’.

Why?

Naturally, fanciful ideas and legends grew up around these mythical creatures, and one I particularly like is this one which comes from the Greek historian Polybius.

Then again, old Polybius was a politician, so it might not be the truth!

Close to the coastline around the Pillars of Hercules grew small stunted acorn trees, that not only flourished on the land where herds of pigs devoured the fallen crops, but were also planted deep in the sea.

Here the crop would swell and produce very large fruit. The migrating Tuna would greedily feed on the tasty acorns and therefore grow to an enormous size.

And so, this was how they became known as the ‘Pigs of the Sea’.

What’s for lunch?

Images Wiki Commons

British Territory allows ‘Swarm’ of Migrants through.

In fact, they were welcomed with open arms just this weekend.  You didn’t know?  Where have you been?

Crowds pushed through and sailed through passport control, welcomed with gusto. They crossed a busy border strait, with two different oceans on either side, and didn’t even have to get their toes wet.  Lost children were safely plucked from the sea of people at various times during the day, and handed safely back to their designer-clad parents.

The crowd carried few belongings, mostly fresh drinking water, and a few snacks for the long queue ahead, as well as their documentation. They were identifiable once inside the fenced secure compound by their wristbands and entry papers.

But this was no war, no running for your life, no sweat.  The migrants were of many nationalities, three different passport holders in our little group of five.

Where was I?

It was Gibraltar Music Festival – where the migrants carried money – lots of it – and we all went safely home at the end of the two day festival.

A cashless event – the wristbands, or smartbands,  were ‘loaded’ up so no money was exchanged at the many food and drink outlets.

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Copyright David Johnston

Driving home – I idly wondered allowed whether any of us had money (non-refundable) left over on our smartbands.  Oddly, we all had a quid or two (maybe not so strange, as the drinks were not a rounded up price)

Hmm, so if we all had an average of £2 left, and there were 15,000 revellers….well,you do the maths. Perhaps a timely donation to the real refugee crisis?  No that would be smart marketing.

Our Favourite Granada Hotels – their best bits!

There are all sorts of reasons for a mini break.  Any parent savouring the delicious liberation that teenagers bring when they reach the magical age of fending for themselves will know of at least one.

Where we live is a rural and lovely holiday spot – one for kicking back and relaxing, with some of the cleanest air in Europe surrounding our mountain-top village.

But, sometimes we want more… We love a quick city break – eschewing the rolling mountains and countryside of the Alpujarra and injecting ourselves with a little much-needed carbon monoxide.

Granada makes the grade

Granada is not only on the doorstep – it has everything we ask for.  Architecture, culture, jazz clubs and gin joints.

Choosing a hotel is usually the second thing we do, after checking to see what’s on.  Sometimes we go for one we have previously strolled past and liked the look of.  A Patio Andaluz is usually a deal-breaker.

I’m often asked to recommend places to stay – which is difficult, ‘one man’s meat’ etc.  Here are some we have stayed in this year – and their best bits!  So, here’s what they say, and what we say:

Gar Anat

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The Blurb:

This charming boutique hotel in a converted 17th-century pilgrim’s hospital with running balconies surrounding an interior courtyard is a 6-minute walk from Granada Cathedral and 3 km from Alhambra’s medieval complex of palaces.

Quaint rooms with beamed-ceilings feature décor themed around novels and poetry. They all have free Wi-Fi and TVs, plus room service. Some have balconies, Jacuzzi tubs and antique furnishings.

Continental breakfast, served in a stone-walled cellar, has a surcharge. Afternoon Teas are complimentary There’s a stylish lounge with a library of books in English and Spanish, as well as a computer for guest use.

Address: Placeta de los Peregrinos, 1, 18009 Granada
Our view:  The friendliest place we have ever stayed, staff who were chatty and knowledgeable, without that creepy servile attitude you sometimes encounter. Great room with double aspect windows, large bathroom and excellent toiletries. Centrally located in the Historical area.  Indian food stockist next door was a bonus!

Vincci

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The Blurb:

The Vincci Granada Hotel is located in the centre of Granada, Spain. This is a modern establishment equipped with all the comforts of a four-star hotel and the latest technology which makes this hotel, one of the best hotels of Granada.

It is ideally located so that both tourist and business travellers can enjoy this historical city.

The Vincci Granada offers the visitor a modern hotel, cosy and exquisitely decorated, which upholds the idiosyncrasies of the city. Of course, its hallmark is the personalised treatment and care for details which make any stay here unforgettable.

Avda Constitucion, 18 Granada , Granada , 18012, España | 902 515 555 | +34 93 269 11 26

Our view:  It’s not in the centre, it’s a 10 minute ride away.  But there’s a great secondhand clothes shop next door which sells designer labels and high street brands for a fraction of their cost, so worth a rummage.  The Vincci is actually a little old-fashioned, but the black and white décor and slightly Jeeves-ish staff shouldn’t put you off.  It’s cheap, and more than cheerful, with big rooms and beds, and a choice of pillows.  Bear in mind though, that the rooms start on the 11th floor – so no ground floor rooms available. Not for you if you dislike heights – great if you love Granada views.

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View from our room on the the 14th floor of the Vincci

Abades Recogidas

The Blurb:

Decorated with art showcasing Granada’s history, this modern hotel is an 8-minute walk from the Granada Cathedral and 1.9 km from the Alhambra.

The trendy, earth-toned rooms and suites feature free Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs and minibars. Suites add separate sitting areas.

Amenities include a bar/lounge and a rooftop terrace. The hotel offers a breakfast buffet at an additional charge.

Address: Calle Recogidas, 7, 18005 Granada

Our View: Like the Vincci, we return to this one regularly.  It’s spotless, modern, art-themed, with huge showers on the second floor – small shower over bath affair on the 4th.  Slap bang on Calle Recogidas, opposite Zara so ideally placed for the sales, for nightlife, for discovering Granada.

Hesperia

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The Blurb:

The Hesperia Granada hotel is an elegant old building with an unbeatable location, right in the historic heart of Granada. It’s a short walk to the city’s most popular tourist spots, and it’s also very close to the city hall and the business district. Plus, you can walk to the Alhambra Palace in around 20 minutes. 

  • Central location in an elegant historic building
  • Close to the city hall, the cathedral, and Granada’s best tapas bars
  • 20-minute walk to the Alhambra Palace

The hotel is built inside an historic tenement block, so all our 68 guest rooms are unique. They’re spacious, with large bathrooms and sleek hardwood floors. Each one is decorated in a classic Andalusian style, and some of the Junior Suites and Superior rooms overlook the small square at the front of the hotel.

  • Rooms decorated in classic Andalusian style
  • Fully equipped bathrooms
  • Some superior rooms and the junior suite look out across an attractive square

The hotel serves a sumptuous buffet breakfast every morning. We also have 3 beautiful Andalusian-style courtyards, as well as private parking and free Wi-Fi .

Reservations: +34 91 6008146
Tel.: +34 958 018400
Our View:   Loved it.  Simple as.  Friendly, great value, spacious room that felt like home – or that we would like home to feel like!  Really friendly at the desk, a tranquil and very cool place to stay.  Will go back.  Wonderful wine bar opposite, gin joint to the right a few doors down, where Federico will pour until you stay stop. *There’s Cava and Oysters too 🙂
My top tips:  Always smile and ask for an upgrade at check in, if it’s quiet they’ll more than likely give you one.  Booking.com is brilliant for late great deals, the more you use it, the better the deal.   If you want a late check out at your chosen hotel, then ask – again if they’re not that busy they usually don’t mind. What are your favourite Granada hotels?

Spanish Dreams? Reality Bites

“Are you mad?  Ah – go for it – lucky ba$tar*s.  Can we have your furniture?”

I admit most of our friends took the realistic approach when we shared the fact we were decamping from our very normal life to a leaking shack/money pit 1115 metres up a Spanish mountain.

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But, wait, stay right there.  This is not a “Hey look at us, didn’t we do well” lifestyle post.

It’s been, well, great – and almost 10 years on we are happy enough with our lot – although it has not always been easy.

Especially the cold and hard winters we have endured since we arrived with boxes of linen and cotton clothes, and a selection of flip-flops – our woolies and 15 tog quilts gaily abandoned in a Newport skip.

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©Carol Byrne

 

But –  this is the middle of summer.  Spanish summer.  The sun has got his sombrero on. Woop – right?

The expectation

Calls from home – wet and windy Ireland calling…

“You must have a great colour”

“How blue is the sky?” (This last one usually asked through gritted teeth, as in Ireland we wear the sky as a grey bobble hat)

“You’re off for dinner? Oh imagine, sitting OUT”

“Saw your area on A Place In The Sun – it looked FABULOUS.”   Er, no, you didn’t.  Just Christopher Columbus and us made it this far up a blasted mountain.  Maybe Mallory if he was lost.

Image of a glossy highway sign on blue sky

The reality

Actually no.  I’m a faded brown, sort of sludge colour.

Why? Well, since our day (note the singular) on the beach this year, when we overdid the idea of a day off and turned deep Gamba pink, we haven’t sunbathed.

I did buy a relaxer-lounger garden chair, but haven’t managed to sink my bum in it once.

Why?

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Wiki commons

 

 

It’s too bloody hot.

So, envy-filled friends and family, imagine a different picture.

Closed shutters, drawn curtains.

The fan whirring and pushing hot air around.  Re-runs of A Place In The Sun on TV.

Flies.  Big flies.  Flies that might normally be indicative of a dead body in close proximity.

Little flies.  No-Sees.  They salsa through the mozzie nets, laughing at us, and with needle precision torment us all night.

We eat out – sure we do.  At 11 or 12 in the darkness when it’s cool enough, the mosquitoes have us for postre as we sit there sweating and heavy breathing.

Entertainment is mostly checking the dogs for ticks.  And then checking us for ticks. *Shudder*

So, dear friends and family, look fondly at that ‘soft weather’ – and be bloody grateful.

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9 signs you’ve settled in

Moving to Spain means a transition in mindset and lifestyle as well as geographical relocation.  You might be immediately comfortable, or wonder if you’ll ever settle in.

But watch out.  There are signs that will show if you do – so here are 9 to look out for:   🙂

1. Flat feet. Wide feet.  Feet 2 whole sizes larger than the ones that first excitedly entered Spain.  Your flip-flops are your best friend.  No longer do you breathlessly lust over Blahniks – your high arches and post-party foot aches are a thing of the distant past.

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2. It becomes perfectly normal – indeed absolutely necessary –  to shout loudly “Who was last?” as you walk through the door of anywhere with a queue.  The medico, the bank, anywhere.

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3. Although there are 20 impatient people huffing behind you, the bank counter seems like the ideal spot to discuss  your impending operation in full detail, with gusto.

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4. Slippers are as important in winter as flip-flops in summer.  The perfect footwear to go shopping in.  Team them with that furry housecoat and you will set off your outfit perfectly. Go for the full village experience and buy them from the travelling van with the megaphone.

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5. Market clothes start to look like an attractive possibility. Elastic is a definite possibility.  Big knickers a complete necessity.

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6. The neighbours have started to actually eat the food you bring to gatherings.  Of course they do, you’re using their recipes.  You have banished all manner of spice and stopped hankering for a Jalfrezi. The only Naan in your life is the one that sends you a birthday card.

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7. You fully accept that inviting the neighbours round for a dinner party results in their bringing the entire clan.  Granny in the corner sucking on a bit of Jamón, 20 kids eating something lurid and staining, whilst jumping all over your white Bauhaus sofa.  Get over it.

kids calm

8. Brandy or Anis and coffee sounds perfectly reasonable at 8am.

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9. You have developed an interest in the Spanish TV soaps, but only at full volume. and the quiz shows, the word games.  But just to improve your vocabulary, right?  And wearing that slipper and housecoat ensemble.

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Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  As soon as these signs appear, it’s too late – you’re already done for.

Keeping your Laptop Cool in Hot Weather

Flaming June! It certainly got hotter last month and July in Spain has started with mercury rising rapidly and us getting a little hot under the collar. Everyone back in Ireland and the UK think this means we just head to the beach – if only!
Workdays are still just that – and my laptop never gets a day off – it’s autonomo, remember?! 😉

So, I’m sharing a few hacks that keep my laptop cool whilst I whizz around social media– because believe me, if it stops – then there’ll be trouble!

1. You know how your glasses mist up? Well, your laptop does that too, on the inside. So when you move from aircon to heat it suffers. If you have to do that then close it down and start it up in the different temperature.

2. Treat it like the baby and the dog – don’t leave it in a hot car. Laptops have ‘safe’ ranges when it comes to temperature. 10 to 35 degrees Celcius are the safe limits.

3. Your screen won’t benefit from an all over tan so if you really have to work in the sunshine then sit in the shade.

4. Despite the name – don’t use it on your lap (says she typing on her lap) Use a cooler stand or your desk, beds are a no-no. Unless you want an indoor BBQ with you as the main meal.

5. Here in Spain up in the mountains we get, well, mountain weather, and a storm can appear out of nowhere. So remember to unplug your laptop and your router.

Autonomo – self employed

Allergic to E?

Nooo, not that sort of E.

Life provides enough hallucinatory satisfaction.

Sandra Danby @sandradanby on Twitter has nominated me for this:
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And sooooo 

‘What Fun!’ – I thought. 

A task, a summons, a trial. 

To scrawl an account of script minus that non-consonant symbol twixt D and F. 

Hmmm. 

Possibly a tad arduous, laborious than first thought. 

This is a situation for much constraint –  an additional hour por favor? 

I challenge Sue, Matthew and Jo

24 things about love and marriage… …no horse, no carriage

Shoes

On Food

He dislikes celery, tarragon, mustard and yoghurt.  I like everything except innards.  But I do like Callos, which is essentially a bowlful of pig’s innards.

We love Middle Eastern flavours – no meal is ever complete without the magic of spice.

We both love to cook and hate to be criticized on our efforts.

chili

On heated discussions

I shout.  He sulks.

I throw.  He ducks.

I have a smart mouth – he has a patient(ish) nature and knows when to shut up.

irishcalm

On the arts

We love art – our first date was Warhol at the South Bank.  It was shite so we went for a pint. That was better.

We once went to Paris on the proceeds of something very dodgy and spent all our money on cheap Left Bank food and a very expensive book on Dali – there was an exhibition on in a fancy hotel where all the guests smelled of money.

We love music.  All music.  The Kindle might actually be fused to his left hand.

On family

Our kids have (perhaps unfortunately for them) a mixture of our looks and personalities – but are like chalk and cheese.

The best noise in the world is a houseful of our kids and their mates having a great time.  No matter how many or how loud.  Spanish kids are LOUD.

Both of us are hopelessly disorganised – it’s lovely.  Our kids at all ages and past times jump out from the most unexpected places – pictures in drawers and boxes. We’ve never had a photo album except our wedding album.  And I’m not actually sure I know where that is.

On growing up

Still not managed it.  Despite the bigger numbers – it doesn’t seem likely in the near future.

We love a party, and always will.

We drive everyone mad because we speak at the same time.  Wear earplugs to our house.

On work

These days?  A little role-reversal.  Work to live – never live to work.

He’s my cha-cha.  We have all realised I was always rubbish at housework.

But I can spell. He can’t do that – uh-uh.

On Social Media

He doesn’t even know his own telephone number.  Nope.  Not happening.

I, well…you know that already.

On Spain

We have a mutual dislike of bingo playing, fish and chip eating, and chavvy twat expats.  But we enjoy finding the other kind and spending time with them.

We love it here – after 9+ years we’re still discovering something new in every day.

But…

The one thing we do miss about England…is Sunday morning and the papers in bed.  And gigs.  Live music.

Strange but true

I once walked him to Peckham station in the early hours and went home to bed. An hour or so later, I  got up, showered, breakfasted, caught a number 63 bus, then a train and went down to Victoria to catch a tube one more stop to work at Sloane Sq.  As the doors opened he was sitting there.  He had fallen asleep and, well…ever seen that movie Sliding Doors?

The difference between Spanish and Expat parents

kids calm

Well, can you spot the differences?  An example.

Idling around a quiet hotel pool recently, the only sound to break the idyll was a gentle murmuring from other guests, and just the scrape of a sun-bed being positioned, or the ppffft aerosol of more SPF applied and of course the laughter of happy kids in the water.

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The low wail that led to a screech like a fire engine, sudden and LOUD, made us all sit up and focus towards one end of the pool, as the lifeguard jumped in with a panicked splash and emerged with a girl of about 7, hands to her face and blood gushing forth.

Her parents were next to us, Padre slowly levered himself up putting down his book and Madre walked with no particular hurry to the shower area where the lifeguard was sluicing the kid down.

She had smashed her front tooth – and was inconsolable.  Wails of “I want to go home” and “I miss my friends”, “I’m ugly now” mingled with snot, sobs, tears and big shuddering intakes of breath.  Madre placated, cuddled and crooned, and after 5 minutes pushed her off and told her to shut the F**k up. Padre went back to his book.

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Which is about typical.  I had to giggle – she was pushing for the underage Oscars.  Everyone nodded, smiled and went back to sunbed arranging and SPF application  The kid shut up.  She forgot about her tooth and went back in the pool.

I turned over to face the sun and spied an expat couple who sat at the side of the kids pool (about 1 foot deep) whilst their kids played. Constant cries with loudly projected voices of “Play nicely Thomas”  “Be careful Jake” “No splashing your brother” accompanied them.  When they left, flustered, anything but relaxed, with their equipment and kitchen sink, kids in all-in-one suits and Tintin-type swim hats – it was only about 22 degrees –  Mum and Dad fussed and held their hands and instructed not to walk too close to the pool. They were just short of a lead.

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What if they had fallen in?  Well, I guess someone might have fished them out.

Have we become fussier?  What happened to risks and tough love? When I fell over as a kid  – most days – I got a splash of iodine, a sugar sandwich, and was sent back out to play, the blood hastily wiped as it ran and congealed into my once-white sock. A lovely big knee scab afterwards that would itch and beg to be picked along the edges as it healed.  Like a big fruit pastille.  I still have the lumps and marks today. My mother was right about the picking.

So, can you spot the difference?

Virtually me!

Hi Ho

Going to work used to be an actual place.  It involved someone else doing my tax, uniforms and shifts. With travel and all weather, and real people to contend with. These days I’ve discovered something different – and a whole new ‘me’.

It’s not just about being self-employed, working in pyjamas, or flicking over to helpful groups on Facebook between gigs.

I’ve discovered it’s rather satisfying to mould my own destiny, and I seem to have created a lifestyle I like and enjoy.  Being internet based, or being ‘virtual’ – doesn’t mean being out of touch.

A Clear Focus

Quite the opposite, I find I have become far more focussed than I would have thought possible – I’ve uncovered the leader in me – I had no idea one was lurking there all these years!

Folk often ask me how I can work all day on my laptop – they’d hate it, it must be so boring.  Far from it.

I use much more different mindsets and skills to master problems, than before.  I’m capable of juggling 4 or 5 different companies and jobs in an average day – one minute I’m writing snappy content, the next I’m extolling the virtues of chemical-free beauty, promoting a festival, handling a team of bloggers, using social media skills, or fronting a customer service role.

Communication is direct and easy.   I’m happy with conference calls, webinars, shared file drives, instant messaging.

Deadlines are met, problems are banished, things get done.

I never take on a role I might not be able to fulfil – and I only work with people I think I can get along with. So far, so good.  Who can say that in the ‘real’ world?  Can you?