Spanish exploring for spring

Hey – it’s warming up, isn’t it? It’s always a bit later here at 1115m in the high hills of Andalucía. But there they are.Those first clues – the floor tiles underfoot don’t make you flinch as you climb out of bed, orchids showing up and showing off in the campo, jasmine buds tentatively unfurling in the garden, and the birds getting, well, all jiggy. Speaking of our feathered friends – the Swallows are back on our terrace this week, having made their long journey back to us – they’re looking fat and well, and are always happy to chat while we hang out the washing.

SONY DSC

Speaking of journeys, we will set off this weekend to Valladolid, ostensibly to watch UD Almeria get totally obliterated by the local football team, it’s part of the 21st birthday treatment for The Boy, currently here on his Easter break from student life in Wet Wales.  We also booked a stay in Toledo on the way back – love it in that hill top walled city of swords and Kings, El Greco, and from what I remember – great cake! Expect plenty of photo fodder on our return.

toledo-726944_1280

Himself and myself will be celebrating a wedding anniversary of many moons this June, so we have decided to mark the auspicious occasion (we don’t, normally) with a trip. He suggested Rome  – I meh-ed a bit and  shrugged. Then we both thought of magical Marrakech, considered it for about, oh, 2 seconds, and promptly booked bargain flights and a splendiferous Riad to go with them. I cannot wait. A stopover at Córdoba  (ida) and Sevilla (vuelta) will complete the trip.

marrakech-604088_1280

A weekend in May before that, to wish my mother a happy birthday and take her for a G&T, will complete my tinker travels for the first half of this year – I was there in January but she’s getting on and I am a bad, careless and vagrant daughter.

bar-209148_1280.jpg

So, sit down here beside me, and tell me; how is your spring shaping up?

 

 

 

Going hunting in Spain (No shootin’, no fishin’)

SONY DSC

Blinking against the intense white light, made even more effulgent by the snowy frame of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, I curse the fact I have yet again forgotten my sunglasses. Looking down instead, where the already dried out wild herbs of thyme and mountain sage crackle and snap satisfyingly underfoot, I begin my hunt, the search for orchids. Watching my step too, the uneven ground needs no help to send me flying, I am increasingly awkward with age, and do not welcome another ankle impairment.

I note where the wild boar have already visited this morning, a sounder of swine in party mode, turning over earth, rummaging through the herbs and grasses with vigour. I wonder what they found? Some edible root delectable to swine taste? Who knows? Perhaps a yet to be discovered Michelin-worthy wild ingredient.

boar-849352_1920

A gunshot bangs closely – too close – and I shudder.  I have no entanglement with the local love affair of blasting the wildlife from this land. I hope the trophy is not our tusked friends. Probably.

I look across the valley, my corner of Spain.  North to snow-capped Mulhacen, south to the Mediterranean, the white villages like handfuls of sugar cubes in between , folded in to the mountain sides. The stretches of pollutant plastic down below the line of smog that is the Costa Almería. No sign of the great white hunter at least from where I survey, and I continue my own pursuit for the first, early orchids.

hunter-160297_1280

I’m rewarded with a coterie of Giant Orchid, with many promising yet to unfold from their shining, stocky green leaves. A very early Mirror Ophrys –  Ophrys s.Speculum – makes this type of hunt completely worthwhile, looking like an ancient Chinese swordsman in full warrior costume. Well, that’s what I see!

SONY DSC

Woodcock or Sawfly (can never tell which) make up the day’s discoveries, as I walk back to the quiet mountain road, passing Grape Hyacinth and treading the perfumed prickly carpet of herbs.

SONY DSC

A deep breath, a good look around, a lungful of pure air. The best remedy for scrunched-up shoulders, tired eyes and a mind that tends to lean to despondency for no reason at all.

SONY DSC

If you’re exploring the Alpujarra, contact me and I’ll happily show you/send you guides to the best local spots for orchids – as long as you’re careful to respect the area, watch where you tread, and unlike some half-baked guests we once hosted – don’t pick them!

 

The 10 commandments for expats in Spain

Thinking of a move to sunny Spain and wondering where to start? Once you have all the travel arrangements and new home sorted out, and finally unpacked, you should then find out how best to fit in. Confused? Then follow some simple rules, and feel more at home in Spain. After a decade here in the Alpujarra region of southern Spain, we have fallen foul of at least a few of these ‘rules’ – so be prepared!

patriot-1019885_960_720

Commandment 1.

Thou shalt give blood, sweat, tears – and another Xerox copy.

When you go to finalise paperwork (a bit of an oxymoron as there is always more, and never a ‘final’ ream of paper to get through) always remember to bring many, many copies of absolutely everything that pertains to the subject at hand. A vial of blood may also be handy. Add approx one ton of patience and you’re almost there.

shutterstock_180918260

Commandment 2.

Thou shalt punish the liver – an evil organ.

Party etiquette. Your child  – settled in school and lisping like a local – has been invited to a friend’s birthday. Yay – a couple of free hours. Wrong. Forget pinning the tail on the mulo, or birthday games of any sort. You will also be expected to attend. The kids will be kicked into the street to play (whatever the weather) while the adults eat Russian Salad and get completely sloshed on home-made wine. There will be many of these – prepare your liver now.

images (6)

Commandment 3.

Thou shalt not poison thy neighbour’s wife.

Foreign food. Never bring a non-Spanish dish to a party. It may as well be labelled ‘radioactive polonium’. Everyone will ask you to explain what it is, what’s in it, how did you make it – but NO-ONE will eat it. You’ll be encouraged to bring it home again, where it can sit in the fridge looking reproachfully at you for 3 days before being slung in the bin. As for curry – ha.

spices in bowls: curry, pink and black pepper, paprika powder

Commandment 4.

Thou shalt not get frustrated.

Never assume a free morning is the ideal time for popping to the bank, the doctor and the Town Hall. One thing at a time. Always. Listen to everyone’s aches and pains in line at the bank, their marital troubles in the doctor’s, and be prepare to be surprised at the Town Hall – Ayuntamiento – where you’ll be presented with another bill or ten you hadn’t known about.

Oficina_La_Caixa_Baranain

Commandment 5.

Thou shalt not arrange anything in August.

Never attempt to get anything at all done in August. Spain is closed. The roofer, gynaecologist and lawyer you desperately need to speak with are all at the beach.

4091828_7962085e

Commandment 6.

Thou shalt stay pale and interesting.

Oh no. Never go to the beach in August. In addition to it being packed out with all of the above  – see Commandment 5 – you’ll feel hopelessly, pathetically under qualified when you take out your sandwiches. Mama and extended familia next to you will have salad, wood fire cooked Paella and cold beers, coffee and cakes, and a tablecloth on a table to seat 20.

paella-1167973_960_720

 

Commandment 7.

Thou shalt be assertive.

STOP being so polite. Please and Thank You gets you nowhere. If you want another drink, bang your glass hard on the counter. Shout louder, harder, stronger.

No, we still can’t do it either.

©carolmbyrne.com

©carolmbyrne.com

Commandment 8.

Thou shalt become a supergrass.

Be prepared to tell everyone in a room how much you earn, how much you owe to the bank, how much you weigh, and the details of your sex life. In detail. Ya Está…

scales-1

Commandment 9.

Thou shalt honour the little people.

Never expect to find somewhere to eat a quiet, romantic meal, with all kids tucked up in bed. Noooo, kids stay up as late as everyone else, and are happily ignored as they scream and run in close proximity to your prawn cocktail. Grin and bear it. Tell one off at your peril. That might be a hanging offence, I’ll have to check…

kid

Commandment 10.

Thou shalt remain smug.

Enjoy yourself, turn your face to the sun, and your back on stress and worry. Never worriedly say “but what if…” instead wait until it might happen. Have a healthy respect for football and local fiestas, take the generous gifts of fruit and vegetables with gratitude, and you’ll soon settle into your new life in Spain.

Good choice, by the way 😉

relax in hammock, lazy vacations

 

 

Photographs author’s own, Google free images and from Pixabay.

 

The Beer Run and a Bomb Shelter

With the beer shelf of the fridge looking sadly empty we interrupted our morning to take a quick trip to Adra and our current favourite shop for essentials –  Lidl.

We timed it right as there was 50% off the second bottle of most of the ‘nice’ beer labels, so we threw Belgium, the Czech Republic, and Germany into the trolley with some of their Italian range of food and headed back.

“Fancy a look at the museum while we’re here?” asked Museum Man Stan. (I wish he felt the same about the beach)

I did, so… we did.

Entering the museum, the nice chap at reception turned on the lights and gave us a few pointers for looking around – then asked where we were from. “Ireland  – piped up Museum Man Stan – he almost always refuses to admit to his Queen and country – Er, Alpujarras, we live in the Alpujarras.”

Nice chap: “Which part?”

Stan: “Murtas”.

Nice Man: “Ah Murtaaaa  – a big smile – (it’s always the same reaction). My family were from there in the 1800’s….There’s also another foreigner there, an Englishman, a photographer, do you know him?”

Soy yo, (That would be me)” admitted the Honorary Irishman.

Apparently, they had met years ago, when Nice Chap visited the village and he purchased one of Stan’s photographs that was displayed in the bar – giving him his contact details and asking for more, explaining that Nice Chap was in fact the tecnico cultural for Adra, and he wanted to do an exhibition of the Honorary Irishman’s work. Yay.

Except the Honorary Eeejit lost the details and never followed it up.

So, fast forward to this morning.  Nice Chap turned out to be Javier Sanchez Real, author of Farua, that annual cultural book on Adra, in addition to his tourism/cultural role, and a mine of info on Adra.

We promised to come back armed with camera and notebook – because the museum is seriously good,  and I’ll cover more on it in another post, but do go – and he gave Hon Eejit all the details again, as unbelievably he is still interested. He’s also love me to write some info in English 🙂

refugios1

Photo from http://www.adraturismo.com/en/quehacer/visitas-guiadas.html

Javier then directed us down the street to the ancient town walls, and instructed us to claim a key from a bar, saying he sent us 🙂 which would enable us to have a private look inside the Civil War bomb shelter, which we duly did. It was fascinating, and was also used to shelter those who walked the route from Málaga to Almería as detailed in the book The Crime on the Road by Norman Bethune. Paul Read  – Forgotten Stories From Spain: The Ambulance Man And The Spanish Civil War is another great read on the same subject.

So that was our rather interesting morning…yours?

Soho Málaga: Street Art and Boho Living

Last Monday we dropped No. 1 son back to Málaga airport, and the first leg of his trip back to Bangor Uni and his waiting exams. Christmas and New Year done and dusted, we chose Monday to check in overnight in Málaga (a date now better remembered as the day Ziggy Stardust checked out of planet Earth).

SONY DSC

©carolmbyrne.com

We love a short city break, a chance to breathe a bit of carbon monoxide and eat nicer tapas than is served up in the Alpujarra hills of home (which is admittedly a bit hill-billy and decidedly porcine). With fish tapas on our minds, and the idea of a cold Victoria beer or twenty, we booked the fairly modest 3* Soho Bahia Malaga, aiming to explore that area for a change.

SONY DSC

©carolmbyrne.com

It’s a very cool Bohemian area, minus the polished glamour of a few streets across, and filled with buzzing little bars, many sex shops, boutique hotels, and lots of brilliantly executed graffiti – so a colourful area by anyone’s standards 🙂

©SONY DSC

©carolmbyrne.com Yo Tupac!

SONY DSC

©carolmbyrne.com

We checked into our room on the 7th floor of the hotel – a bargain at £35 for 2 with an admittedly awful breakfast – and admired our terrace views of the iconic Art Deco buildings, Málaga cathedral, the Málaga ‘eye’, and a ridiculously large cruise ship in the port. The hotel itself sports a 7 floor high mural of Venus and a sailor by Okuda and Remed.

943821_923143281067917_269753266134313622_n

DSC08197.JPG

A few steps away next to the river is CAC – check out the temporary exhibitions if you’re passing. We were sent into a dizzying spiral by JOSÉ MARÍA YTURRALDE’S Meditations on the Void.

12509411_923547977694114_3206946293240540946_n

The eagerly anticipated terrific tapas didn’t disappoint, crab croquetas and a cone of crunchy deep fried camarones were devoured at the colourful and burstingly fresh provisions market, cold Málaga beer washed it all down. Other stops included Tagliatelle with pesto, clams and mussels – alive, alive, oh – more big gambas, great cheese, and a few glasses of wine.

SONY DSC

©carolmbyrne.com

12552686_923369964378582_5047008344558362906_n

©carolmbyrne.com

In Málaga soon? It’s for much more than the Costa and the airport…so(ho) see for yourself!

 

A Tale of a Princess

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, on December 2nd at 16:16, a Princess was born, with golden hair and bright green eyes. (Okay, blue eyes, but they eventually turned green).

She lived with her mother, father and brother in a big, big house at the top of a big, big hill, in a strange country where the sun never shone and it always rained, and the people spoke a strange language, without vowels. (Come on, cwtch??)

This was where she learned to torment her brother mercilessly, and wrap her father around her little finger. The Evil Queen was a little harder to manipulate, but succumbed eventually.

The Princess went to school where she learned to write all her ‘d’s and ‘b’s back to front perfectly, and where she met her BFF.

She led a charmed life, stuffed her pockets with slugs and spiders, and made the Queen terrified of laundry and pockets. She wore her shoes on the wrong feet, and her favourite colour was blue. She liked to decapitate her dolls and save them for the health visitor who came to see her brother.

She went to ballet (think elephant) art (she was, and is, very arty) and made everyone very, very happy. She prayed once a week at the high altar of the Pick ‘n’ Mix counter of Woolworths. (She actually cried when she heard it closed down).

Once, she went to see a real Queen, and insisted on dressing herself and putting her shoes on the right feet. She gave the real Queen and Prince an eyeful as their car passed. Later, the Evil Queen discovered that the Princess had forgotten to wear her knickers.

One day, the family decided to move their Kingdom to a land where the sun always shone and where it never, ever rained. The Princess told her teachers and they all cried. She told her BFF, who howled and broke all our hearts. The BFF’s parents were extremely angry and stamped their feet, but were happy enough with a pilfered light fitting and a few bottles of left-over booze from the abdicating King and Queen.

The BFF was inconsolable. The Princess moved anyway. She learned a new language  – with far too many vowels – and grew even more tall and beautiful. She still tormented her brother, but loved him a bit more as time went on.

isseyandjosh

She found new BF’s – but there’ll only ever be one BFF, L.G. x – and discovered that boys are way less complicated than girls. Except when the Princess fell in love – then boys became really complicated.

She learned to dream and think in her new language, and swear profusely. She grew up to be kind, willing, very untidy, love all creatures (2 legged and 4 legged) however mangy, and bring them home, and she still keeps the King wrapped around her little finger. She’s not terribly keen on the Queen these days, but that’ll pass, and they love each other really.

They might, possibly, all live happily ever after.

Happy Birthday

Today, as it happens, she’s 17, her lucky number, and her lucky year. Happy birthday Smelly, have a great one. xxx

 

Witchery Pokery in Spain

I am aware Hallowe’en has passed, yes.

I can hardly believe its December already though, the curse of growing older and watching time speed past me. If anyone speaks fluent Fly please let them know to buzz off for winter – we appear to have an entire grist upon us, despite living at altitude here in the Alpujarra.

Back to the witchery pokery of the title…Have you heard of the Sabia, or white witch, often found in these little white, rural villages? We have, she lives right next door in fact.

Jean_François_Millet;_a_collection_of_fifteen_pictures_and_a_portrait_of_the_painter,_with_introduction_and_interpretation_(1900)_(14784165573).jpg

The Sabia

Traditions and superstitions abound in the pueblos of Andalucia . The story of the Sabia or white witch is one that still endures.

Known to have powers that could cure where the village doctor failed, known to be good with nature, and often with a history of spectacular healing where traditional medicine has failed, she is regarded with esteem and never extorts money. (Although I think her palm is often crossed with silver 🙂 )

Busier than any local bar, her door is opened with regularity, especially at the weekend or during the holidays as folk from far and near – often travelling great distance – come and see her. Asking around, I’m told she once brought a child – a little girl –  from death’s door back to the here and now – the doctor’s couldn’t help her, there rests her ‘proof’, and her good reputation.

Have you heard of the Sabia before? Do you have one in your pueblo?

The Yays and Nays of UK (V Spain, of course!)

Last weekend, when I should have been attending the wonderful idea-forming WABAS conference in Antequera, we instead flew to Wet Wales to visit Uni-based son in Bangor. The clash of dates occurred due to uni reading week, in fact the same problem as I had last year.

I don’t often ‘go home’, which is, of course, Dublin. We lived in Wales prior to upping sticks to our Spanish mountain, and despite various old neighbours and friends visiting US, I have not returned to Wales in almost 10 years.  Bangor has been the boy’s choice of home for over a year now, so I thought I had better make the effort and see where he has chosen to study. Hmm, Study. Loose term, that 🙂

bangor

So with flights booked, car hire arranged, Travelodges paid, dog-sitter cajoled, off we set last week, stopping for the night in Nerja at possibly the best value hostel in the world 🙂 If Carlsberg made hostels, well, here are the details of Hostal Abril if you wish to see for yourself.

hostal abril

The weekend went swimmingly, no delays, no problems, the Boy is doing great because he’s happy and has a great bunch of totally mad and lovely mates. But, I did that old expat thing of asking myself whether I could/would ever live there again. I’ve come up with a few Yays and a smatter of Nays, do you agree?

Yay! 🙂

Sunday papers

Specifically, the Times, and the supplements to provide us with loo and bed reading for the rest of the week. I really miss Sunday Morning in bed with AA Gill.

Sunday_times

Autumn Colours

A leafy, tree-lined lane with the smell of rain, and woolly mittens grasping the dog lead. The views of North Wales are unbeatable. Well, if it wasn’t for THAT entry on the Nay list.

download (4)

Beer

Remember Noddy Holder “Save your thank(es), I’ll have a pit of Banks(es) “? No? Well, we were living in Wolverhampton at the time. Nothing like a decent pint, in a warm pub, with convivial company and no blasted strip lights, bullfights on telly, or Pipa mountains to trip over.

Thirsty?  Here’s a list of 24 cracking Welsh breweries to sample as soon as you can.

images (1)

Greggs Sausage Rolls

Yeah, council house trash, me. But really, you have to admit – they are the best 🙂 And Boy would simply not survive without them.

4623046462_dbcedd85f8_b

Polite service industry

Yes please, Thank you, No problem. Friendly, smiley people at Hertz Liverpool, Llandudno and Bangor Travelodge, shops, pubs, restaurants.  Zara need to send their staff over to Blighty for a weekend’s Smile Course.

download (5)

Poundland/stretcher

It’s that common gene again. I cannot help it. Fill your boots.

download (6)

Driving

Drivers who know what to do at a roundabout.  Folk giving way and waving. Using a Zebra crossing without risk of immediate death.

NonUK_Roundabout_8_Cars

Happy dogs

I’m not saying they’re aren’t any, but I didn’t see one miserable looking starved canine all weekend.

images (2)

Nay 😦

It’s bloody filthy

I’m no Martha Stewart, in fact I’m a bit of a slob, and prefer dog hair and comfort to Febreze-ing the casa any day, but by God sticky tables and carpets seem to breed in the UK. Wet weather and carpets do not go together. The streets, public loos, the airport, they all need a power wash.

cleaning

Bouncers

More bouncers than clientèle in Wetherspoons these days. Everyone seems to like a fight to wash down their Speckled Hen. And where are kids after Gin O’Clock?  They’re all banished to make way for the gunfight at the local OK Corral. Odd.

DSCF6053

Drunks

Yep, the UK needs a Tapas revolution. Mucho throwing back and throwing up – seems to be something of a weekend thing. As is wearing as little as possible on a night out. Oh hang on, I did that once.

Heugemeug

Yeah, well, the Weather

Horizontal rain, wind, ALL the time gets a little bit boring. Those attractive leaves aren’t so great when they’re slippery and soggy, blocked drains and puddles, and view-spoilers are a big no-no for me. Hate to be so boring and regular about it, but yes, I prefer walking on sunshine. I mean, if I cannot wear Flipflops in November there’s just no point.

512px-Flip_flops_-_just_pick_one_up

Laziness

As in attitude towards day to day stuff.  Do it for me, click a button, have it delivered. NHS, Banks, even shopping. Is it because we have to do everything the long and tiresome way here in Spain that it was so obvious to me? The British tourists ‘stranded’ in Sharm el-Sheikh as a prime example. Whining and whinging over the media about having to stay a few extra days in what is now, probably, the safest place on earth. You chose a cheap holiday in what is essentially a guarded compound between war zones – so accept the risks. Don’t engage in the media sport of destroying their tourist industry just because your fortnight was cut short.  You all have it a bit easy in the UK – you should appreciate what you have and harden up a little.

Apologies for the rant, kind of slipped in. So…What’s on your Yay/Nay list? 🙂

Holy Days of Obligation

You HAVE to go to Mass, it’s a Holy Day of Obligation.  Get there smartly, don’t slinge.

The standard answer to “Mass again? But, why….???” when I was a skinny small teenager with a big fat attitude.  So, sulking, we would dutifully slinge up that hill to St Mary’s and stand outside the back door, acting as cool as we could under the circumstances.  One of us having drawn the short straw would be sent in to hear the message from the homily, so we’d all have the same answer when we got home – sort of singing from the same hymn sheet I guess.

Today is yet another H.D.O. in Spain.  Puente del Pilar – the pueblo church bells of San Miguel are ringing as I type, but I think there will be more than just a few blue rinse jobs there today, as it’s also the day of the Spanish military celebrations.  Any excuse for the Guardia Civil to tuck their trousers into their mirror-shined boots and wear the three cornered hat.  I find it intimidating to be honest – but I guess that’s the idea.

It’s also Hispanic day for the Spanish speaking world. Día de la Hispanidad commemorates the day Columbus first set foot in the Americas  – so there’s plenty to celebrate today.

copyright Carol M Byrne

For our village, it’s another opportunity to come home to the countryside and be fed by Mami, a reason for the Abuela to to grin toothlessly, another day to be spoiled for the Nieto.

The village Great and the Good will be invited to the local police station to have a few bevvies, denuncias and feuds forgotten for a few hours, at least as long as the Brugal flows.

Then, as full as proverbial ticks, they’ll weave their way home to sleep. Tomorrow it’s back to normality.  Quiet once again, the square chimneys will send blue spirals of smoke to fight the chilly autumn evening.  The scent of Almond wood will hang heavily in the air, and the sound of tractors and chainsaws in the distance.  Until the next fiesta – it won’t be long!

Abuela – Granny

Nieto – Grandson

Brugal – Popular Spanish Rum

Puente – Bridge – or extra day off work tagged onto the weekend for post-shenanigan sore heads 

Walk this way. If you’re Jewish.

Fences at Ceuta and Melilla may be impenetrable to fleeing immigrants, but the Spanish borders there and on the mainland look set to come down for the once-banished Sephardic communities from around the world.

Star_of_David.svg

Unwanted guests

Kicked out by Ferdinand and Isabel back in 1492, it looks as though the host country is having a re-think of the guest list.

The option of converting to Catholicism, leaving their homeland, or dying wasn’t much of a choice for the Jewish community in Spain back then, and most left, eventually scattering all around the world.

A time of great importance,  as the expulsion of the Jews also became a turning point in the history of Spain.

So, what’s changed?

On October 2nd, tomorrow, Spain begins reviewing citizenship rights to the relatives of those who lost their homes and homeland back in the 15th century.  It’s all thanks to the passing of LAW 12/2015 earlier this year, which grants citizenship to relatives of Sephardic Jews.  Under this law, the relatives of the formerly displaced Jews will not have to actually visit a sun, sand, or Sangria Costa to take advantage of the changes.  All they need to do is hire a notary, and pass a couple of tests on language and history.  We can presume they’re well versed in the latter.

Where are they now?

The majority of new citizenship titles are expected to come from Morocco, Venzuela, and Turkey. Perhaps a gate and a welcome sign will have to be inserted in some of those fences, after all.  It’s a funny old world.