Our Travelogues

This is a collection of travelogues that give us some reminders of and you the opportunity to see a little into the enjoyment we get from most of our travels. (Trips to Calpé are currently the exception as they are often more work than play and you'll have to look to see what I mean.) New trips will be added as they occur and the US trips will be the first to be 'back-added'.

USA Trips

I suppose that this section can be justly accused of being a real 'nerdy family section', but I hope that my family at least will derive some enjoyment from it.

It Started With a KissIt Started With a Kiss

As the picture caption says... If I hadn't kissed Lynne I would not have ended up marrying her and probably would never have gone to the States. That first trip was in Feb 1995 to get married in Las Vegas on Valentine's Day. We had seven nights in Vegas but spent one of them at the Grand Canyon. I will never forget that first view!

The next trip was for our 5th Wedding Anniversary in 2000. We had a wonderful car and drove about 2,000 miles to do the 'Grand Circle Tour'. Google for it if you want to know more about what it is.

The latest trip was 2005 for our 10th Wedding Anniversary. And boy what a trip!

My intention is to update it on a semi-regular basis, adding or changing the graphics on each page to give a rolling illustration of the diary text. I also hope to scan in things from the ephemera to add atmosphere. Each new US trip will be added as when they happen (= afforded!)

Keep coming back, as there's lots to share and I will add more and more to it over the coming weeks and months.

1995 - The Wedding

The Missing LimoThe Missing Limo
Our first trip to the USA, the best bit for me was getting married to Lynne.

13th Feb - The Flight Out

Garrath's bit

This was my first ever 'long-haul' flight, and I think Lynne's too. We really had no idea what we were in for at all. First there was checking in. We had to get to the check-in for around 8:00am for a 10:00am take off. Usual chartered flight chaos, compounded by the huge number of passengers a 777 can carry.

The flight, 'uphill' against the Jetstream, took over 12 hours, so we landed at around 10:00pm body-clock time but it was only about 3:00pm local time. 12 hours is a long time to be cooped up, and that huge plane shrank as the journey went on. Still the in-flight entertainment was impressive with a widget in the seat arm that pulled out on a cable. One side was a games console and controller for the on-demand videos and audio. The other side was a phone! Lynne was tempted to use it but the cost was just plain silly.

Lynne's Bit

My wedding hat caused a reorganisation in passenger luggage. I had carefully lodged it in a locker when a stewardess came with more luggage to jam into the locker. I exclaimed,

"You can't do that, I'm getting married tomorrow and this is my wedding hat!" I explained to the stewardess and she took up the cause by announcing "Ladies and gentlemen, if you have something in this locker can you please move it. This lady is getting married in Las vegas tomorrow and we have to make sure that her wedding hat gets there undamaged." Fellow passengers were duly compliant, gave us their congratulations and moved their stuff then the stewardess found some soft packing to ensure that my hat made the transatlantic trip completely unharmed. This was the first of many happy memories of the trip.

14th Feb - Wedding Day

The Wedding DayThe Wedding Day

The great day! What a tale! It was fun and I got to marry the best woman in the world!

The start wasn't so much fun though. Jet lag and/or being 8 hours ahead meant that, despite the long, long day before, we woke at about 4:00am and decided to go downstairs for an early breakfast in one of the Aladdin Casino's 24 hour buffets. When we got back upstairs Lynne had loads of time to get ready and we were all ready shining like a new pin by the time the Limo was due to collect us at 9'o'clock. But it didn't, we had to make several calls to The Little White Chapel before a non-limo finally collected us.

Which meant that we'd missed our appointed 10'o'clock wedding slot (the last one of the morning which is why I had booked it in the first place), and were informed that we would just have to join the line. Lynne 'sweetly' informed them that "in the UK a line is called a queue, and queue rhymes with sue, and that's just what we'd do" if they didn't get it sorted. So they took us outside to take the 'after the wedding' shots for the album we'd also booked.

We then got to ride back to the hotel in the Limo which they'd finally found. There we had our Wedding Reception. Me and Lynne consuming two bottles of Californian 'Champagne'. It was very nice and dirt cheap and did the job. Thank you to the Table Manager who took our photo after the Croupier politely declined my request stating it would break the State Gambling Laws to touch my camera.

Our Wedding ReceptionOur Wedding Reception

2000 - The Grand Circle Tour

Our second trip to the US. Organised through US Travel in Leeds and a lot of it was spent in the car, a Dodge Intrepid. A beautiful and comfortable piece of automotive engineering that we clocked something like 2,200 miles on in about 12 days.

After our return we found out that the tour we did was a well known one and called the Grand Circle Tour.

5th Feb - Manchester to New York

Drove to Manchester Airport - Mails Garage their usual efficient selves. Continental Airlines' check-in proved fast & friendly, including its own security check required before reaching the check-in desk. Flight good, great mix of staff (age as well as ethnicity) & friendly service. Lynne well catered for.

The plane was a Boeing 777 - the damn thing's a flying network! There was a LCD screen in the headrest of the seat in front with control gadget in the seat arm. This could be removed on a spring-reeled cable and was not only the channel control and games console control, but it was also a telephone. Swipe your card in the built-in slot and phone the world from 35,000 feet!

As we took off just before lunch and flew westwards we had daylight all the way. The flight path to Newark didn't take us far enough north to over-fly Greenland, so no spectacular views of ice-fields this trip. But the views of Nova Scotia, the Canadian east coast and the coast of Maine were very good.

Newark Airport baggage & immigration OK. Found an ATM after a bit of a search on departure level & caught a cab into New York. Got the most beaten up Newark yellow cab going! Driver seemed not to speak English and the boot lid was held down by a bungee, with the weather seal in the boot.

New York Hilton & Towers Hotel great - right in mid-town Manhattan, on 6th Ave at 52nd St. While we were checking in, Lynne asked for 'as high up as possible', and they put us on the 33rd floor - the Executive rooms start on the 34th (up to the 45th)! Could see the Hudson River west along 53rd St.

Got a cab to Macy's. Spent about 2.5hrs wandering around the store, and only got around the 1st, 2nd, & 3rd floors of the Broadway building that is the women's dept. Went through onto 2nd floor of the 7th Ave building for the men's dept, but didn't see anything I fancied. Bought a couple of gifts for people in the Valentine Day displays on the first floor (ground to us). Lynne tried on blue jeans. Size 6 (= 8 UK size) in Tommy Hilfiger & Calvin Klein were too baggy! At $48/$49 (£36ish) she was really sad. In the end she got a pair of Liz Claibornes @ $38 in a size 4 (= 6UK).

Walked along Broadway from H??????? Sq to where it crosses 7th Ave at Times Sq. Had dinner at the Manhattan Chili restaurant just off Times Sq. Really good food. Walked through to 6th Ave and back along 6th Ave to the hotel.

Had a nightcap in foyer bar & early to bed knackered!

6th Feb - New York

Didn't sleep well. Lazy start - out about 10:00am. Walked North on 6th Ave to Central Park. Took a horse & carriage ride around the South end of the park in bright sunshine on the snow, which lasted about 20 mins. Saw the ice rink made famous by the film Love Story and the top of the apartment block where John Lennon lived & died. After the ride finished Lynne told me very quietly that doing that ride was one of her life ambitions fulfilled.

Walked South down 5th Ave - very posh shop land! Lynne went into a very posh cosmetic shop called Saphora and bought some excellent cosmetics at less than half UK equivalents.

Caught a bus for 10 blocks South down 5th Ave to the Empire State Building using the $4 Fun Pass that gives 24hr unlimited riding on buses & subway (didn't go on it). Went up the Empire State Building, only to 86th floor - the 102nd floor observatory is not open week-ends!! It cost $7 and the queue wasn't bad. Takes 2 elevator rides. First to the 80th floor, then from there to the 86th floor. There is a third lift to the 102nd floor, which tops the top cylindrical bit. Still, it was a bright sunny winter day with visibility reported as 25 miles. Great views on camcorder.

Walked part way back towards the hotel on 6th Ave looking for a bar where we could have a beer and look at the guides for something to eat, the target being Broadway Joe's Steak restaurant. Spotted a restaurant & bar in a cross-street called Cafe Un Deux Trois and went in for a beer. Got introduced to Rolling Rock beer, excellent. Decided to stay for a meal. I had a nice Pate de Campagne & Lynne had Gravlax - something I had not heard of before. Its thinly sliced salmon that is marinated & not cooked! Lynne then had Steak Tartare, which came with fries. I had Steak Frites, which was a thick lump of sirloin steak with a huge pile of fries. ($24 - very spoilt!) The quality of the meat was so good I really enjoyed it cooked medium rare. We shared a salad with Roquefort cheese sauce. By this time, after a couple of hours of steady eating, its go for bust! So its desert time. They did a gluten free Creme Broule, and I had a wonderful Chocolate Gateaux that tasted of chocolate, not suqar - not at all sickly! Finished off with Fonseca Bin 27 - one I had not heard of (Bin 69 for me), but beautiful nevertheless. It was Lynne's first vintage port, and she loved it!

Caught a cab back to the hotel for a nightcap. Early night.

7th Feb - New York to Las Vegas

Up early again, so had a bath and went down at 6:15am for an early breakfast in the hotel restaurant called the New York Marketplace. Had a three egg omelette with ham & American cheese and breakfast potatoes (small cubed saute with skins). Lynne had the buffet with fruit followed by scrambled eggs, bacon & breakfast potatoes. Really good.

Got a cab to Newark Airport, which took about 35 mins. Again the check-in was smooth & easy, giving us time in the airport.

Got a window seat by sitting at the back. Just behind a group of three IT types, one of whom was a real NY loudmouth. They drank steadily & got louder as they did. However when disembarking we had a chat and they were really nice. The up side was that the weather was clear and the view great all the way. Fabulous views of the Colorado Plateau (part of which we are sure is the area called the Great Escalante Staircase - of which more later) on the approach to Las Vegas McCarron International Airport. On internal flights the headphones have to be rented, so having our own really paid off.

Las Vegas did an Amsterdam on us - baggage on wrong belt, but after that we got out onto the concourse to find it completely different & 5 times bigger. Later learned we were in the main building this time as there was no need for Immigration, which is in a separate terminal for International flights. We were security checked LEAVING the concourse - its to ensure people really have their own luggage so their trip is not spoilt.

Found the shuttle bus after a little difficulty and got to the Alamo lot. No problem with the advance booking. Tried to sell me up to a sports utility vehicle (4x4 type) but with Lynne sat outside with the luggage I declined, only to be told that the Pontiac Grand Am allocated did not have cruise control! So upgraded to a Standard car. And what a car! A Dodge Intrepid 2000 - long, lean & mean. It came with just 99 miles on the clock. No problems starting the car this time!

Got to Ballys OK. Asked to be put up high & told them of NY 3325. They put us on the 24th, a lovely large room with a 4 poster bed with a mirror on the underside so you see yourself instead of the ceiling! The view was West overlooking the Bellagio (an empty lot when we were in the Aladdin 5 years before) and we see the fountain show on the half hour. Also, the block between the Aladdin and Bally's that was a car park and a few small shops on a mini-mall is now the Paris, complete with its 2/3rd scale model of the Eiffel Tower. Self-parked and had a ridiculous walk through the Paris to get to Bally's to get to reception. Valet parking is free, and worth a $2 tip, to save on the huge walk.

Had dinner in the buffet - cheap & cheerful. Also Lynne had gluten problems!

Drink at the bar & early to bed

8th Feb - Las Vegas

Seem to have switched clocks, up at 7:00am and out by 9.00am. Went to Belz Factory Outlet Mall and spent a long time there getting bargains in clothing & Lynne got a good pair of Reeboks. The food courts weren't much good for breakfast - Lynne had a hot dog on a jacket potato! Returned to Bally's and used the Valet Parking (which is free + a $2 tip) which is so easy compared to the 5 mile hike through the Paris to the self-parking! Also the idea was to set us up for Bellhop assistance with the bags in the morning.

Packed the acquisitions and went down to the bar for a couple of drinks before going out to find dinner. Took a stroll south past the Paris. Its very impressive, The Louvre styled building with a 2/3rds sized Eiffel Tower inserted into it. (You even see the hidden legs inside when you go in!) Past the almost complete new Aladdin and on down the strip. Approximately where Hamburger Hamlins had been is the Harley Davidson Cafe. When we ordered a beer while looking at the menu we were offered a chrome mug @ $5 each. When they came they were glass with a sunburst chroming such that the rim is fully chromed but the base is fully clear. Made the mistake of having a starter and unable to finish my burger and fries. When the mugs were brought back with the check they were boxed up nicely. Tottered back to Bally's.

Managed a drink at the bar & early to bed again, not so much knackered as stuffed, but to get going early to Bryce Canyon.

9th Feb - Las Vegas to Bryce Canyon

Up quite eary & checked out of Bally's by 8:00am. Set off up I15 to look for breakfast. The Dodge Intrepid soon showed its value - bags of legs and a superb cruise control. Didn't take much notice of the 'Last liqor store - stock up now!' sign as we left Arizona and entered Utah (you clip its NE corner as you leave Nevada). Stopped at St. George for gas and the attendant recommended one of the two adjascent diners as having an excellent breakfast buffet. It was!

Found the turn off for Zion no problem and got there in good time. Bit put out that the minimum fee was a 7-day pass for $20 when we were only using the State highway to go through, so when we we saw the visitor centre we stopped to look. (Saw our first snow - just left-overs from clearing up.) Found a CD Rom and this set a trend to find these instead of still photo's. Decided to get our money's worth and drive up the canyon. Quite pretty but no more spectacular than Cheddar Gorge really. Saw lots of hikers & campers who must be enjoying themselves & getting $20 worth. As its a dead-end doubled back to highway U-9 and set off up the switch-back to the tunnel near the top of the pass. Lynne did very well negotiating the tunnel which had a size restriction, and when we got there, warnings about sharp bends!. We had heard about this tunnel, 1.1 miles longe & built in the '30s to the contemporary vehicle size, with no lighting. (This becomes obvious when you get there - no power lines for miles!) But its a very interesting tunnel. It doesn't so much drive through the mountain as run up the pass just inside the steep valley wall rather than on its surface. This allows intermittent 'windows' in the tunnel left wall for ventlation & illumination.

Continued to make good time up U-89 so stopped at Hatch for a drink & 'restroom'. It seemed such a guiet place and the lady so pleasant we decided to have a snack - I found out what a Club Sandwich really is. Got to Ruby's Inn at about 2:45pm and put the clock forward an hour to Mountain time. Got our first taste of Mormon Utah, the formula's are all there but if you try to strike up a conversation they shut down on you. Opted for a ground floor room to save lugging cases upstairs and 'cos it was nearer the main lodgec (all the rooms in the main lodge being occupied by a week-long 'Quilt Retreat'). Lynne very dis-chuffed to find that the room had no shear (lace to you & me) curtains. When we queried it we found this applied to all rooms. So much for being a Best Western.

Got settled in and went overto the lodge to 'suss things out. Bought some orange juice to go with the duty-free vodka - good job as well. Surprised that was no communal area. When we went into the restaurant for a cuppa it was easy to see that they really expected you to order food, eat & leave - they clearly had difficulty with us sitting over a cup of tea

2005 - Flagstaff

I guess we call this trip the Flagstaff trip as we stayed eight nights in a self-catering 'Comfy Cottage' that we rented near the centre of Flagstaff, Arizona. However we had other memorable days during this trip, not least our day out to Death Valley from Las Vegas at the end of the holiday.

18th Feb 2005 - Death Valley in Bloom

This was the most amazing day for a number of reasons. The amount of rain! The once in a century sight of Death Valley painted green and yellow with Desert Marigolds and getting stopped by a State Trooper on the way home.

The day started as it pretty well meant to go on! Rain, rain and more rain. It absolutely chucked it down all the way from Las Vegas to Pahrump and the junction there towards Shoshone. The thing that struck us how green it all was compared to the previous two trips in 1995 and 2000!. It did ease for a while and we stopped once to take photos of the flowers before starting to chuck it down as we approached Shoshone and the diner where we had decided we would breakfast again. What a change from the last time in 2000! That time is was sunny and warm and we walked round the caves behind the main street that were littered with tin cans left over a hundred years ago by prospectors who had dug them out and lived in them.

The sight of Death Valley in bloom was awesome. We probably should have guessed after several stops on the way from Shoshone to Badwater before we got to Death Valley proper to photograph flowers and green plants. But this view was simply breathtaking and definitely qualifies as the once-in-a-lifetime experience. A rare privilege indeed!

Ashford Mill PanoramaAshford Mill Panorama This panorama was taken at Ashford Mill which is just into Death Valley proper after the junction where you join Badwater Road and head north. You can find it by entering 'Ashford Mill Death Valley' into Google Maps. The small figure on the left is Lynne reading the plaque in front of the ruins of all that is left of the mill.

The Calpé Saga

This is a collection of journals of our ongoing saga of restoring Lynne's family property in Spain back to a useable holiday home in the early 21st Century.

Autumn/Winter 2007

More adventures into the Spanish property.

24th November

Kids arrived in good time and we had lunch together before the taxi arrived and took us to the airport. No check-in again - real nice! But security was a nightmare. The liquids thing is still in place so they took the two cans of orange juice I was carrying. They queried the two jars of Marmite but Lynne made the point that they were not liquids and were factory sealed, so they gave way. But on her part used perfume they were less helpful. The young man wanted Lynne to go back out to information to get a clear plastic bag to carry it in. But as we had online check-ins she would then have to go to the check-in desk to get a new boarding card! A senior security person produced a clear plastic bag, which went straight back into the back pack as soon as we got into the duty-free shop around the corner. What a waste of time.

Flight okay apart from a pack of five 'lads' pissed and loud just behind us. But the flight was half empty so we got a row of three seats to ourselves.

Picking up the car was a breeze and turned out to be an automatic Fiesta. It drives well. Uneventful drive up to Calpé and picked up the keys from under the Geranium pot and let ourselves in. (Not realising that we were passing an open Mercandona.) Found the gates open which K said he would do, and the electric on and the new front door only single locked. Learned later that this was part of the K welcome

Then down to the bar, which was shut! Café Ardennes was up for rent. So we went to the Irish pub - the Lagonda it is now called. Then home for a nightcap and to bed.

25th November

Lazy morning after yesterday's travel. When I did get up and out I found La Merced was closed and up for rent too! Called Keith but missed the supermercado at La Fustera too by being too slow starting. Drove into town and looked at the damage and how the repairs are coming on. Took some photos

Took the Marmite down to Keith and were treated to a few G&T's. Walked to the Royal India for dinner (but were picked up by Keith on his way to the garage and saved some time). Had a good Indian curry, so Lynne decided it is a safe place to eat so we booked her birthday there.

Then we went to the Lagonda for a few drinks. Finally we tottered home and to bed after a nightcap.

26th November

Up with the alarm and a sharp start. Called Peter & Perran and arranged for them to call later in the day. Peter late afternoon & Perran early evening. Went to Las Barcas in the port for a Tortilla de Patatas breakfast then into town to shop at that Mercadona. Called into Dompti before the shop and got some bits including waste bins and scarves for Mums.

Stopped off at LB for a cuppa on the way home.

27th November

Got going early. Admittedly I was slow and grumpy about it but breakfast was nice - grated apple, yoghourt and honey on GF cornflakes. And got to Altea market by ten.

It was grey and raining in Calpe but looked brighter towards Altea, but no it was raining there too so we bought a brolly. We both needed cash so we walked the length of the market to the cash machine. Lynne spotted a smart cardie. Had tea, coffee & TdP in a smart new place, Cafe Diesel by the garage. Very nice TdP! Walked back along the market. It almost stopped raining for a while but once it started again stallholders started packing up, even though it was barely past 11:30. Lynne got her cardie but it was a close call. Gave it up as a wet loss and headed for LB for a cuppa.

Watched a couple playing dominoes and the rain over two cuppas, then headed home via Mercadona as Lynne wanted peppers. We decided to have lunch at LB tomorrow.

Lynne invented a wonderful new dish which she called Calpé Chicken. She wrote it down in her Palm.

Spent the afternoon in; me updating the laptop & Lynne painting postcards - one was a portrait of her new cardie.

Went into town and looked chest freezers. Came to the conclusion that most are C rated but found one rated A+ for €590. Found a Tabacas to get stamps and saw that 500g of Golden Virginia was €45, or about £30 for Alan. Found I didn't have his number in my phone to text the price to him.

Then it was car and bar. Over a few drinks decided to go for the A+ model. Then it was home, snack and bed. Tried to e-mail Alan the baccy price at work.

28th November

Lie in util 9:15 - 10 hrs sleep! I must've needed it. Perran's guy turned up while we were still in bed to finish the strimming he couldn't finish in the dark on Monday. Asked him to get rid of the Yukka too.

The gas went on the boiler while running the bath this morning. Very deep but tepid bath today. Decide to defer lunch at LB to Sunday.

Spend a while resurrecting the chain saw chain. Just need a plug to make it work again. Can get one when get new gas.

Go to LB and play a few games with new dominoes. Then onto Royal India for dinner. Then on to Lagonda for a couple of drinks.

29th November

Up bright and early to bathe so be on time for Peter at the Town Hall. (Actually we both slept badly. But Lynne did revive the fire!) The day was bright & sunny but cool.

Got to town early enough to have a cuppa and be on time for Peter at the Town Hall. He was slightly late as he went to the house first! (Thumb up...) The application went through easy, Peter was surprised, he says Benissa is impossible without €1k of architect's drawing. It would seem that Lynne's prints were a suitable “substitución”! The 'permissions' will take between 10 & 14 days. One glitch was being asked for Lynne's NIE number letter. Found Joyce's so Lynne signed as her. Peter put in the price of front work only to keep the Town Hall fee (€150 + 4%) down. He will bring us a full “estimate” before we go. Called at Marcia's Dance Centre to clarify the forms in the post. Dropped off one copy at the new Santa Lucia office on Gadriel Miro, then went to Café Dany's to celebate, and found the 'missing' NIE letter.

Went to buy the freezer we'd looked at the other day. The sales lady could not have more helpful. We got an extra discount and free next day delivery. We chose the A+ rated model on the grounds the extra would pay itself back over time in reduced running costs.

Went home via the delicattesen on the Moraira road. Its German and does GF! Bought some GF Bandnudeln, which Lynne put in the soup for lunch. Spent the afternoon demolishing the two awful melamine wardrobes in the hall and getting ready for K&A's visit for drinkies. Also removed the double layer of tie-on covers from the sofa & chairs. They went straight into the bazura.

Lynne put together the nibbles from Mercadona and I did a load of logs with the chainsaw. Called Perran about bringing his trailer round to cart away the remains of the wardrobes, but he asked me to call again in the morning.

Very pleasant evening with K&A for drinkies and burning lots of logs.

30th November

Another bright sunny start. Stuck in waiting for the freezer to be delivered. I baked one of the GF baguettes from Mercadona (5 mins to warm the oven & 10 mins to bake) and fried sausage. With my pan (bread) we both had bocadillos for breakfast. It was nice to see Lynne enjoying bread.

The freezer arrived just after 11am. They guys delivering it seemed pleased it was going in the garage and not upstairs. Spent about 45 mins cutting wood for logs for the dumpy stove for this evening. Lynne has decide she wants an easel for painting so we will go into to town this afternoon when things have reopened. Then realised I'd forgotten to call Perran, he had asked me to call again this morning.

Then went back to town and bought Lynne her birthday present; an easel, paints and brushes, plus a canvas and a board. The Lagonda was not open (as in we were too early) so we went to 'Frankies bar'.

Early night.

1st December

Despite early night - a good long sleep. Lynne slept the clock round. Called Perran but his phone was off.

Got to Calpé market about 11am. Walked the length of it and bought a new tortilla pan for the UK. Bought throws for sofa and chairs.

Called into LB for rest & recreation. Stopped at Mercadona for some bits to go with aubergines we bought on the market. Lynne invented a wonderful stuffed aubergine dish.

Ended up staying in. Had a long chat to Cesca on MSN.

2nd December

Another bright sunny day with a gentle start before setting off for Guadalest.

Usual stops at the Farmers Co-operative and the bag shop. Bought the rug we promised ourselves last trip to go in front of the fire in winter.

Had a very pleasant lunch at La Xorta. "Coeliaca? No problema!" We both had the 'menu del dia' which was melon with ham, roast leg of lamb with sliced potatoes and pud (Lynne had fresh pineapple and I had ice cream). It came with wine and bread. They also gave us a shot of a delightful liquer that Lynne correctly identified as Blackberry. We decided to forget the Royal India and booked lunch for Lynne's birthday on Friday.

Perrand called while we were at La Xorta and we arranged for him to call with a mate, Ben, and his large trailer. Perrand said to take advantage of the size of it. Agreed €40 for the job.

Lynne had a siesta when we got home then we went to Lagonda when she woke up. I baked her baguettes and we had a bocadillo supper - very nice. Which made us quite late to bed.

3rd December

Up sharp, breakfast and dressed in scruffs to sort out what we can get into the big trailer. Perran and Ben turn up just after 8:30 and we get the wardrobes and fridge into the trailer, plus the radiogram, a box of books, the washer and spinner and a load of other stuff including bedding and a full but rotten case, didn't even look inside it it was so mank. Turned up another telly too. Called Keith about it and arranged for him to call round tomorrow morning to see if it works and can be passed on. Also arranged to go down to his house at teatime tomorrow to sort out the website foibles.

Then bathed and ready for town. Call Peter to see about payment only to find that he has been called into the Town Hall, so agree to meet him again at 11:30. As suspected they now want architect's drawings so Lynne decides its time to "just pay the man". He is apologetic about his estimate that he has with him as it is now with IVA as it has to all be official. We arrange with Peter that we will talk to our Abogado, Linda Townsend to get the name she recommended before. So we go down to her office to find out it is Manolo Cabrera 96 583 12 29. Had a cuppa at Café Dany's and then call the number. The lady who answers says she will speak with the architect and call us back.

Call into Mercadona on the way home. The architect himself calls during lunch, mentions Linda's recommendation and offers to call at 12:30 tomorrow, we take his arm off. Call Peter to tell him and he offers to be there. Going to Valencia gets postponed till Wednesday.

Do some logging during the afternoon. Then into town to walk the market street when there is no market on. We thought for a moment we were on the wrong street. But we found the Moebles and bought the coat stand for the hall. Took it back and left the car at the house. Found a delightful Spanish bar opposite Lagonda (closed on Monday). Could be our new watering hole?

4th December

Yet another bright and sunny day. And a gentle start as we have the architect coming today, so we have had to postpone our trip to Valencia till tomorrow.

Passed the morning pottering in the garden and doing some logging. Also Keith called around about the telly exposed by the garage clear out and we tried it, but it was knackered so it ended up in the bazura.

Peter turned up about 12:20 and set to on the toilet tap, it only took him five minutes to fit the one I'd bought ages ago and never had the nerve to fit. Then, after a flurry of calls about where Nirvana actually is, the Architect, Manuel J Cabrera (then something double-barreled) Dr. de Arquitectura, arrived and introductions made all round - its Manolo to his friends, "his nickname" as he put it. We then let Peter and him discuss what we were proposing but it soon turned to a conversation about the state of the steel beams. They need cleaning off of paint and concrete and protection coating before being rendered over properly if they are still sound. Otherwise we are looking at a complete change of priority and expenditure. Manolo was insistent that we need a 'topograph' or survey to validate the size of the plot and the building on it. (Apparently we are allowed a maximum of 0.3m2 of living space per 1m2 of land area.) An extra €500 we weren't expecting but of future use so a good investment. Manolo's fee is €1500. So that's €2000 + IVA of course. Manolo explained about Obra Major and Obra Minor. The change of use as we would know it by walling in the balcony and effectively adding another room is definitely Obra Major and needs his services. Changing the coloured and bedroom windows, and the garage door are not and are Obra Minor. Apparently the Town Hall fees are higher for Obra Minor but that is more than off-set by not needing an architect and survey. He was clearly concerned about the steel beams, but then showed a fascination with Hadrian's Wall, we mentioned coming from Northern England and he asked if that is near it, and has an ambition to walk its length. He then told us all about needing iron for our citrus trees and what to do with the Nispero. So we got some history and horticultural advice thrown in for free.

Before setting off for our new watering hole we called down at Keith's and sorted out the AFPO website foibles in less than an hour. The Señora has really got her head around what the guy at the end of the bar said. She brought us a tapas with our first round that had only one piece of pan to one side. Same again with the second round. We then had an intense but positive session over the menu and ended up with a salad to start then Conejo con Ajilla for the main course. We had flan to finish. All washed down with a couple of beers and glasses of rosada. With coffees and two Soberano and the pre-prandial rounds the whole thing was only €43 total. An excellent evening.

The stars looked very bright in a clear sky on our walk home for a nightcap after a lovely meal at our new watering hole. Probably the best day weatherwise yet, shame about the house!

5th December

Lynne woke early, so I did too; to the thought that the banks will be closed like Mercadona tomorrow. So we won't be able to get Peter his deposit. Also thought that they might closed Friday too, because banks are like that. So we need to check this morning on our way out of Calpé. Then it started to get light to another clear day.

So we had a bath and got the day going. Lynne called Keith about the banks and learned that Calpé market is Friday because of the fiestas. Then we decided that Lynne would check the bank while I filled the the car. No notices but Lynne spoke with a couple of English ladies who assured us that the bank would be open, just like Keith did. So that will have to be business morning.

The drive up to Xeraco was no problem. Need to update the directions Keith got us and return them (done). The train journey into Valencia was delightful passing through huge areas of rice paddies with load of Little Eggrets, which makes us think that the one on Calpé beach was lost.

Arrived in Valencia English lunchtime and hungry to find that everywhere appeared to be café and pastries. So we found the EMT35 bus to the bit of Valencia Lynne wanted to see, the Ciutat de les Art y les Ciencies (I think).

Took loads of great photos but the place was shut because Queen Sophia (is it?) was visiting tomorrow for the festivities, for sure the level of clean up going on makes preparations for a visit of the the QEII look quite poor.

So Lynne had an idea, lets get the bus back to the station and get the train back to Xeraco and drive down to Denia for lunch and the afternoon. So we go back to the bus richer in photos but not much else. I suggested that we explore a few of the back streets and we found a pedestrian street with a few café bars and one had Paellia Valenciana. Didn't even ask the price but ordered "un ración", tea, coffee and water. A huge plateful for €8 each plus the drinks. It was true Piellia Valenciana with Jamon, Sausage and Black Pudding. I was worried about the last but it is made with rice around here (spooky that) and hours later we knew that Lynne was okay. BRILLIANT! A piella that we both enjoyed. We hassled the server for the bill and caught a train straight back to Xeraco. While we were on the train I got a phone call from Peter Fiebert our builder inviting us to go to lunch in the mountains with him via a 'flea market' in Jalon on Saturday. Naturally we said yes (as Calpé market is on Friday this week ;-) It fell right into my prediction the previous day that I could see us becoming friends with Peter.

Then we drove the N332 down to Denia. Lynne was asleep for the bit before Gandia where there were 'working women' (mostly South American looking) plying their trade along the main road.

When we got to Denia we parked on the road next to our favourite car park next to the station (because it was closed) and walked into town. Our favourite Milanese Silver Jeweller had gone. We had a good walk around and shop before hitting the motorway back to Benissa and the main road to Calpé. I didn't see anywhere to get Lynne a birthday card but a good bottle of perfume has made up for it - phew! I got some really nice shoes and a new scent, plus one for Francesca to say thank you for looking after the dog and cats and house. Cheap at twice the price considering.

We hit Mercadona for GF bread and pan for me. We then hit the Lagonda for a pint of cider for Lynne before hitting our new watering hole across the road. The first thing the Senora asked was Lynne 'bien', obviously meaning was she okay after last night's meal and beamed when Lynne indicated she was fine. We had a few drinks and after 'la cuenta' she gave us each a Soberano. So we are well in there now.

6th December

Yet another bright day. I woke early and left Lynne to get another hour and a half's sleep. Light breakfast and then set to moving all the wood. Used the area of concrete hard standing by the back wall to make a new stockpile of kindling. Emptied the wreck of a paint store and took the tins to the bazura. Then demolished the wreck and swept up all the rubbish to leave the red bricks exposed for Peter. It looks neater at the back than I can ever remember.

Got cleaned up and had a lovely quiet afternoon. I painted a birthday card for Lynne using the picture of Helmut on my phone, as I had got a load of grief from Lynne about not having a birthday card for her as I hadn't seen any. It came out okay and Lynne seems to like it.

Keith dropped Audrey off with us and went to pick up their friends who were joining us for dinner. We got to the restaurant first and Keith turned up a few minutes later alone, saying the house was locked up and dark. We waited 15 mins then sat down. An excellent dinner that was fine for Lynne, if a little limited.

Home for a nightcap and bed before a busy birthday tomorrow.

7th December

Today is Lynne's Sixtieth Birthday. It is a big day for her. But this morning has to be a working day. So despite not having a good night's sleep we stick to the plan. A birthday cuppa in bed and then strip it and take it and other laundry down to the Lavanderia for 8 'o' clock. The cuppa included the card I made yesterday afternoon and the perfume bought in Dénia in previous afternoon.

Got back and had breakfast and a bath before heading for town. The supposed market on Friday didn't happen so we went to the bank to get Peter his cash and then to the Tabacas for the roll-your-own stuff for Alan and David. Next was the shoe mender where we got yet another set of keys cut to the garage for Keith and Audrey and rang Perran about collecting the set we had cut earlier in the week again. (I think we have been ringing the wrong number somewhere along the line, which is why he hadn't replied. It looks like the phone does not remember the +34 international code on the front of a number when dialled). We then went to Café Dany's and when on our second round of tea and coffee I worked up the nerve to ask him about about coffee and condensed milk (leche consendada), he called it a bon-bon and smiled brilliantly as he can do. He didn't serve it with sachet of sugar, and it didn't need it. Mmm! :-) By which time is was time to head for Guadalest and lunch.

It was a nice drive in brilliant sunshinre and temperature of 24C. We stopped at the Farmer's Co-operative and bought Saffron for the paella, sun dried tomatoes to take home and a couple of lovely looking pomegranates for breakfast tomorrow and Sunday. We had a lovely chat with the guy about his old dog, which was a golden retriever type and stretching and sleeping in the warm sunshine (what bliss). He told us about him being 15 and arthritis and lots of medication. We told him we knew with Be-Bop and how he had passed on and now we had Helmut. A typical lovely Spanish shopping experience. We then stopped at the bag shop on the corner just below La Xorta and Guadalest. Lynne bought a "very useful bag" as the Patron put it and she was given some postcards and a purse as gifts for purchasing a €26 bag. We were about to leave when Lynne needed to make a call, and while she did I spotted a lovely black and red leather patchwork back with a collapsible handle and wheels that was basically a laptop back but with extra space for an overnight bag, perfect for one nighter in London on Govt. projects, like what I am working on now. The Patron knocked it down €2.5 to €30 when we explained we didn't want to change Lynne's bag but wanted it as well. We bade him "hasta la primavera" - until the spring. He is always very nice to us but never remembers us, no doubt due to the coach loads that stop at his business all year round.

We were made very welcome at La Xorta and given a window table with a fabulous view down the valley to Altea some 15km away. A little vase of two yellow roses and a pink rose bud were put on our table. As on Sunday, Lynne being "celiaca" is absolutely no problem. She had prawns in avocado followed by cornejo (rabbit) this time in tomatoes and garlic and a side of chips. When Lynne queried them the guy thought it impossible that the chips could have flour in them. They had been potatoes only this morning and mimed peeling them in a way that convinced us that he had done it personally (and he probably had). My starter was also unexpected; I thought eggs with ham (huevo jamon) would be a cold starter but no, it was ham slices on fried eggs, and what fried eggs they were! By comparison my pork steak with rice and peas was quite tame but very tasty nevertheless. When it came to 'postres' (pud) Lynne thought she was limited to fruit but the waiter who was brilliant last Sunday and today asked if "milk, gelatine and lemon juice" was okay. This turned out to be what the menu called Lemon Mouse and was the best sweet she had ever had, according to Lynne. My flan (with biscuit in so Lynne couldn't have it) was quite tame by comparision. We then had tea and coffee, again accompanied by that fabulous Blackberry Liquer. We now suspect they make in themselves as (we learned from ex-Pharmacist, Audrey Wildman) it is possible in Spain to by pure ethyl alcohol, something not possible in the UK. Unfortunately it started to cloud over during our 'Spanish long lunch' and that persisted for the rest of the afternoon with the sun occasionally peeking through. I'll leave it to Lynne to write about Lady Bountiful of East Lothian on the table next to us.

In the end we decided not to go the last few hundred meters into Guadalest but to go back down and into Altea old town. We went down to Calliosa d'en Saria and for a change turned right at the roundabout. This took us to Polop, which we drove around and decided we must go to again, and then onto La Nucia before arriving in the top end of Altea. Our favourite café with the overlook was closed so we tried one of the church square cafés where we felt as welcome as a fart in a space suit. We were given a hand written bill for 50% more than we would expect. Won't go there again. Had a nice wander around and view of Benidorm in the late afternoon and took photos.

Then we set out back to Calpé. Lynne called Perran about collecting the keys. Lynne also mentioned the Architect's comment about the citrus trees needing iron rich feed to which Perran responded he had plans for stone circles and enriching the ground with (in essence) worm pooh! He said he or Willy (him of the weather prediction most extra-ordinary) would be round to collect the keys soon after we got home in the next 30 mins. Although we were hoping that Willy would arrive so we could ask if he'd known (like the flamigos) about the storm before it arrived it was Perran with his four year old son and two bags of worm pooh that arrived to collect keys. We showed him how to manage the garage door and asked him to remove the pile of rubbish when he could and send photos of the heavily pruned Olive and Almond trees, "so I can show my mother progress" Lynne said all sweetly.

I got the fire going for later then we set off for evening drinkies. We stopped in Mercadona for mangos and yoghurt to go with the pomegranates. I shouted 'hola' to the boss man of our new watering hole as he went in ahead of us and got a smile and an 'hola' back. We were stood in the fruit section wondering out loud what the Spanish for mango was when the young man in charge of the section asked in very polite English if he could help. We asked what the Spanish for mango was, only to be very politely told that it was...

"mango" - DOH!

We then went into the Diamonte Beach, the recenlty build very posh looking hotel for a glass of Cava for Lynne. It turned out to be a 1/3rd of a bottle sized bottle and at a very reasonable price, as was my 'cagne'. It is very nice but full of rich pseuds. We then moved on to our watering hole. We asked about Cava but they were out and none till Lunes (Monday) so it was "rosada y cagna" and the boss man brought a plate with a slice of pan with a slice of sem-curado and a slice of sem-curado and a fork, plus some olive to the table. He points at the bread and says "pan para usted" and points at me, and then points at the cheese and fork and says "sin pan para usted" and points at Lynne. With our next round it was jamon (ham) the same and with the next round it was bacon on pan for me and bacon with fritas patatas (chips) for Lynne, they've obviously forgotten what the guy at the bar said about chips being no good because the fry all their battered seafood in the same oil, but its the thought that counts. While we were there we had a call from my Mum to say Happy Birthday and then a text and a call from Francesca to say the same and tell us about the new reformed Helmut that fetches and gives - unbelievable!

We then had a brandy each and tottered home to bed. (After a nightcap of course, or in my case a couple as I was writing this;-). Hasta manana

8th December

Woke at 4:15 for a call of nature and the sky was glowing like there was low cloud, and the wind sounded like it could build up to being stormy. Are we at the end of our run of nice weather? Woke at 8:15 and there was a lot of cloud but by 9:15 when the sun is properly up we were getting watery sunshine in the windows so what the day will be like is to be seen.

Prepared our now usual breakfast of pomegranate, mango yoghurt before having a bath and dressing. Then ate the above with maize balls for breakfast. All ready for 11:00am as arranged with Peter, who true to form arrived a little late. We were introduced to his partner Dorothea and their visitor Michael, who is an artist. Peter told me that he was not sure about how he met Michael but that he did not have a clue who it was he was looking for when he picked him up from the airport. Lynne has described them all beautifully in a posting on our web site.

First we went to Jalon and had a great walk around the flea market there. Lynne and I's love for brass parafin appliances saw us part with €30 for a Primus stove that had been well cared for and well cleaned up. A new branch to Lynne's blow-torch collection. Then it was time to head for lunch. Peter drove into the middle of Jalon and headed out of it on a road at right angles to the length of the valley and main road and up into the mountains. After a long winding climb on mainly single track road we pulled up outside an old wine museum and started walking towards a posh looking restaurant. Then Peter suddenly turned in towards what looked like an old barn with a for sale sign on it. It wasn't, the sign was VerdiVent and it was the restaurant. You need to book two weeks ahead or more to get a table. There is no mains electric or water. Water is delivered a tanker full at a time and there is a generator puttering away outside the kitchen. The patrons are French and German so it was a little fraught for Lynne but the food was very good, although postres was a single choice of crépes, and Lynne declined the offered alternative of fruit. We really must take Peter and Dorothea to La Xorta next time we are here.

Peter then drove us back the scenic route. In his huge, non-electronic Toyota SUV he is a very good driver and the perpendicular drops from the road gave spectacular views. There was a herd of goats by the road side and Dorothea insisted Peter stop as she loves goats. So Lynne and I got a chance to photograph a beautiful sunset and look down on Calliosa d'en Serria from a location I would never have expected. After a lot more long winding road along the mountain sides we ended up back at the Jalon junction of the N332 main road to Benissa outside Calpé. A huge scenic circle. When we got back to Nirvana we invited them in for a drink and they accepted, which made a pleasant conclusion to the day. Peter and I did business. He will e-mail me a recepit for the €4000 deposit we have given them and he will send us an estimate for the cleaning and protecting the steel beams early next week.

Lynne and I pottered over a few nightcaps and went to bed early. We did have a nice period chatting with Cesca on MSN during that time.

Autumn/Winter 2008

Introduction

This short journal is about our November / December trip to Spain. The second this year and the second in the car. The reason behind it this time was to have some time in France and Barcelona on the way to give Lynne a break as my way of saying "Thank you for looking after me and for all your hard work following my broken ankle."

The round trip was a tad under 5,000 km or about 3,125 miles and the Jeep literally cruised it. We also realised that it is possible to pick up the Euroroute E15 at the entrance of Calais docks and follow it all the way to Calpé but that necessitates going around Paris. So the next time I am thinking the route will be the E15 from Calais to the E17 around Reims and then pick up the E15 again and follow it all the way to Calpé.

29th November

The day started early with a diversion into Tescos to get Lynne a supply of gluten-free bread for the trip. (We know we can get it when we get to Calpe from Mercadona.)

We then hit the motorway to get to Dover for 3pm and our ferry. Even with a couple of stops including a picnic lunch we made it to Dover early enough to pay a £10 fee to get on the preceding ferry and landed in France about 5pm instead of 6pm. SeaFrance are good and there was free WiFi so I played on my iPhone for the hour and fifteen minutes crossing. Being a Saturday afternoon the ferry was quite empty and getting on and off was quick and easy.

Got to Arras about half seven and got a parking spot in the square (Place des Héroes) in front of the Hotel de Ville very near the Hotel Diamante our room for the night and was where we stayed last time we visited. The big square around the corner (Grand Place) with the underground car park where we parked last time was full of a Christmas Fair which we had a nice wander around. Lynne bought a set of double-nine dominoes.

We then looked for somewhere to have dinner. We tried the Café Brussels and they were very helpful. Lynne thoroughly enjoyed her huge dish of Moules. Had a drink in a bar near the hotel before retiring to bed tired but repleat. Breakfast wasn't until 7am but with her bread Lynne ate well and the hotel proprietor filled our flasks at no extra charge. Altogether a nice return to Arras after ten or so years.

30th November

This was the first truly long drive of the journey and we were not too sharp about setting off either. As we hit the A26/E15 we realised that we could avoid Paris and all the junctions by following the E15 Euroroute to the E17 and going round Reims to rejoin the E15 to get to Narbonne, then turn East to get to Carcassonne our second night's stopping place. Keeping a long journey short it turned into a 11.5 hour marathon mainly because I had underestimated the time for the journey (never believe a Google map timing) and because of rain reducing the speed limit from 130kph to 110kph and it getting dark. Too late we realised that we should have rung the hotel before 7pm if we were going to be late but it turned out not to be a problem being winter. When we finally arrived about 9:15pm the hotel turned out to be right below the walls of Carcassonne's old fortified town La Cite, quite spectacular! It was very basic hotel but its position made up for that.

And fortunately there was a restaurant in the old town open late, Auberge des Ducs D'Oc where we just had to have Cassoulet, the dish of the region. They even did it without the breadcrumbs for Lynne. Brilliant! While we were having our meal I got a text from Lou asking if something in with the photos of their Civil Ceremony that we'd given them needed to be kept. I replied "Hello from Carcassonne..." and got an astonishing reply from Lou that she and Kerri had just left there the day before. They had spent their 'honeymoon' there and we'd missed them by a day! We finished the meal with a 'pud' of the local rocket fuel called "Marc" and were even told where in Carcassonne we could buy it. By the time we'd finished eating it was quite late and we were very tired so it was straight to bed. No open bars might have contributed a bit too?

In the morning there was a passable breakfast again so Lynne filled up as well as me before we took an hour or so to wander around La Cite in the rain before heading off on the (relatively) short 3-4 hour drive to Barcelona at about 10:30am. We didn't fancy crossing the modern city to get some Marc so that will have to wait for another time.

1st December

The drive down to the border was uneventful and took less than two hours. Crossing the border was a non-stop process with the Spanish border control guys standing around looking macho with their big guns but casually waving us through. Another two hours including negotiating the 'Ronda del Litoral' and some of the commercial district of east Barcelona saw the car safe in the underground car park of the Express by Holiday Inn for the next three nights and us unpacked in our room on the sixth floor by 3pm.

Lynne demanded we make good use of the afternoon available to us. So it was a taxi to the Parc Guell for a long wander, or should that be wonder, around and also seeing Gaudi's house that is located within the park. When it finally got dark we got a taxi back to the hotel and set out to find a place to eat.

Turning left out of the hotel we turned immediately left up the street, Carrer de la Llacuna, by the side of the hotel and headed for what we thought a likely area of the Avinguda Diagonal, one of the big boulevards that now has trees, walkways and the tram system running up the middle. Quite a long walk and it was mainly retail with cafés for cakey-faces; our first indication of what a lot of cakey-faces the Barcelonas are. Still we did walk almost to the bottom of Barcelona's (better) answer to the 'Gurkin' in London and stopped off in an interesting bar that had nothing that Lynne could eat. So we headed back towards the hotel with the intention of asking at reception about areas with places to eat. We missed the street we came up and came to the next one along called Rambla del Poblenou and were (almost) spoilt for choice on places to eat. We ended up in La Boqueta (which I think means kebab as that was the speciality). The waiter dragged the chef out of the kitchen as he spoke English and we both ate well. Pud was Carlos Primero, they opened a new bottle for us and poured the usual ludicrously large 'Spanish measures'. When we got back to the hotel there was no-one behind the bar so it was off to bed.

2nd December

A gentle start with another filling breakfast to set us up for the day.

Then a taxi to the Fundació Joan Miró. A modern artist it turns out that Lynne is mad about but I'd never heard of but who had donated a lot of his work to Barcelona. It took all morning to work our way around both the permanent and temporary exhibitions. The latter was a lot of his works loaned by other museums.

The museum was on the hill near the Olympic Stadium where Microsoft held its TechEd last night bash in 2001. We walked back down the hill to find the cable car across the port and discovered that Barcelona has two cable cars; the second one going up the hill to the castle at the top. The ride on the cable car was great fun but the centre tower, which we wanted was closed. So we had to ride the whole distance and were faced with quite a long walk to Las Ramblas that Lynne wanted to see next. Not to be deterred Lynne and I worked out which bus would take us near and the driver was very helpful and friendly by making sure we got off at the right stop, giving us a cheery wave as he drove off.

We then spent the next few hours wandering up the Ramblas and ended up at the big square, Plaça de Catalunya, which has the El Corte Inglés store on one side. Lynne enjoyed our walk around that, the motive being to try to find her a lens hood.

Eventually it was time for a taxi back to the hotel and off to La Boquetta for a meal. This time one of the waiters spoke English and again we had Carlos Primero for our puds.

3rd December

We are getting good at the breakfast thing and filled up again in preparation for the day.

Today we decided we would go to the Museo Picasso for our culture vulture bit and then on to see La Sagrada Familia (aka the Gaudi Cathedral).

Again the art museum took most of the morning to work our way around and very good it was too. The museum is in a old part of the city that has very narrow streets that are barrier controlled to allow only residents and public service vehicles in. We then strolled through the old quarter to find a main street to catch a taxi to the cathedral.

La Sagrada Familia is an amazing piece of architecture that was started more than a hundred years ago and is still not complete. It is currently a site of intense activity as it is due to be completed in 20/25 years. I guess that it stood part built for a very long time indeed. The inside of the cathedral is a mass of scaffolding but the museum in the crypt is fascinating. It tells how Gaudi designed the cathedral as a set of models and how these were all lost in a fire.

By the time we finished it was getting on for tea-time so we decided to walk in the direction of the Plaça de Catalunya to catch a taxi back to the hotel. In the process we came across two more Gaudi buildings, so it was a bumper day for his architecture.

We went to La Boquetta again and had the speciality kebabs for our third meal there. When we had our puds there was very little left in the Carlos Primero bottle so I offered to buy it from them but they insisted on giving us the remainder as two modest measures. So we consumed a whole bottle in just three nights. When we got back to the hotel there was actually a member of staff behind the bar so we just had to have a nightcap (or two), knowing that we could take a leisurely start in the morning for the four hour drive to Calpé.

4th December

Well we did it again! A leisurely start over a filling breakfast and away from the hotel about 11 am. Little bit of scare leaving Barcelona on missing an turn but more by good luck than good management we got back onto the E15 and headed South. We took our time and enjoyed the scenary so the total travel time was more like six hours instead of the Google Maps quoted four.

Arrived at Nirvana about 5 pm to a pretty chaotic scene. A great chunk of the red bricks had been rendered white, but not quite all of it! :-( Loads of Peter's stuff in the garage. Headed for Mercadonna and shopped for the essentials, then hit Mejias III for our usual early doors. Got our usual friendly but incomprehensible welcome.

Summer 2009

This trip could easily be sub-titled "The Find a Builder Trip". We have arranged to meet with three new builders as it is clear that Peter is not going to honour his contract or refund us our deposit. What do you do with a secondhand cement mixer?

29th May

Flight day! This trip we are taking the easy way and flying by Jet2 from Leeds/Bradford to Alicante and hiring a car. Look at the water meter when we arrive and its reading 562.8 Litres. The trip takes just over six hours door to door. The hire car is a Kia Picanto and quite nippy. Nice to have aircon that works!

Greeted with the stair bannister virtually fallen off on the outside and a window pane fallen in on the inside; great start. More jobs for the builder. I was right about the boiler gas, our last bath last time finished the bottle. Went to Mercadona and got some essentials then to Aitana Bricolage to get sealant (better than putty here) to put the window pane back and a chain and lock for the gate.

Then down to Mejias III our favourite bar for a few drinks and a meal, cannot face cooking on the first evening. Got a lovely warm welcome again. A few brandies at home and off to bed.

30th May

Slept nine hours solid! Both of us! Gentle start to the day with healthy breakfast of honey, yoghourt and Nisperos, then off to the Calpe Market for 'freshies'.

Spent morning on the Market. Lynne bought some clothes and we got loads of fresh fruit and veg. We also got a cast iron plancha for the paella burner. Resulting shopping was too heavy to carry so Lynne stood with it on the main road closest to the market while I had to go and fetch the car. So we were very much in need of Café Dany by the end of that shopping expedition.

We then had a troll down and up the Avinguda Gabriel Miro, stopping for a cuppa at Cafe Dani's againt to write postcards only to realise we were still one short! So continuing we got another card and stopped in our other favourite café Bar Buena Vista (it looks straight down Gabriel Miro to the sea) for yet another cuppa to write that one; then retrieved the car and headed home.

Stuck the pane back in while there was no wind, only to find that tube labelled Clear was in fact filled with white! (Subsequently discovered that it goes on white but turns clear as it goes off.) Lynne spent the afternoon cooking the veg on the new plancha with me assisting. Then I stuck another loose pane back in. I think it will need a few tubes of sealant to keep things weather tight until the work is all done

Anyway, fully fed we headed for the bar via Mercadona, only to find it closed! Need to remember that Mejias III closes early on Saturday for Sunday off. So stopped in at what Lynne calls the "green bar" but they had bull fighting on the telly. Ended up in the Hotel Diamonte Beach and, whoo-hoo!! They have free WiFi! :-D Ended up having quite a few drinks and got home at around midnight. So a late night to bed. Probably because of the nine hours sleep the previous night.

31st May

Funny night of fitful sleep and slept in till 9:15, only to wake to gentle rain! Well that saves watering the garden today.

Slow lazy morning with no sign of the cloud lifting. Which stretched into the afternoon with a late lunch. Eventually bathe and dress to go down the Port for some games of dominoes.

Find that the Benidorm boat is on again so decide to do it on Wednesday, builders permitting.

Then on to the Hotel Diamante Beach for a dose of free WiFi. Ain't modern technolgy wonderful! Sat in the bar of a Spanish (admittedly POSH) hotel chatting on IM to my daughter in Leeds about her impending birthday courtesy of the free WiFi. Makes being a techie worthwhile.

Heated a ton of beans with breakfast meats for supper, lovely. But then realised we had no chocolate! Disaster and a must for Mercadona tomorrow.

A few brandies for a nigtcap and off to bed around midnight again.

1st June

Woke early after a short but solid sleep. Lynne was up at six and me not long after. First breakfast is healthy combination of peach, banana (and boy do they taste better!) and yoghourt. Early signs are for the forecast sunny day, and it developed nicely as we got ready to get into town to go to The solicitor's office for the certificates of non-residence. Got into town at 9:30 and it don't open until 10:00! So an opportunity for our first cuppa.

Back to the solicitor's office and yes they do have the file complete with licence etc. from the Town Hall. So head back to the car via Café Dany's only to find that he's closed on Mondays! :-( so head for the paint shop where Lynne hopes to buy some day-glow paints for her picture of the Council Worker from yesterday in Café Dany's. So we stop at a place we've tried before and emjoyed a huge 'racion' each of Tortilla de Patatas for second breakfast. At the paint shop Lynne had no luck but as we had decided over second breakfast we went back to the Abogado's and borrowed the file for the Obra Mayor.

And so back to the house for a chill out lunch and afternoon waiting for Tristan with builder. I stuck back another three panes and did a list of works we want doing. Lynne and I both liked the builders that came with Tris. No nonsense guys to whom nothing was a problem. They gave us loads of time talking through all the jobs and in the process giving us the impression they do things right, not cheap. They are coming back next Tuesday with a quote for us. So that was Builder Day 1.

Then we went out and did e-mail at the Hotel Diamante Beach before going Mejias III for a session. Once home had a nightcap before putting Lynne to bed and trying to sort out the PC which I think might have been compromised during Saturdays update which did not go smoothly! :-( and finally to bed myself.

2nd June

Another brilliant sunny day. Had our healthy 'first breakfast' of cereal, fresh fruit and yoghourt A great start to Builder Day 2. Not so great is that he does not arrive at the appointed time of 10 am. Poor guy spent half an hour getting lost and arrived at 10:30. He surprised us and overturned our prejudice that an English builder called Mick would be the usual rip off merchant. Instead he was very considered with attention to detail and even reprised what was wanted before leaving. It could be hard to choose!

Took the gate chain key back to Keith and had a drink while sorting out his AFPO editing problems. Then wemt into town for keys to be cut. Came home via Diamonte Beach for WiFi and Mejias III. Ended up sittimg out on the balcony for a few more more drinks and some supper.

3rd June

A delicate and slow start to the day! Don't remember finishing yesterday's entry. Also phoned Monasor, the builder that our German neighbour recommended and insisted that we get a quote from. Candido doesn't speak English but Abdellah does. Awaiting a call back to arrange a visit.

Today we took Keith and Audrey out to lunch. The plan was to head to Guadalest and have lunch at Xorta but they are closed for their holidays. We headed for Guadalest anyway making our usual stops along the way. Now we have been aware of the restaurant 'El Riu' at the Farmer's Co-operative, well you can't miss the huge outdoor kitchen easily; especially when there is a tower of flame from the wood on it! So we decided to give it a go and what a success. They were very helpful from the outset and there was a good choice. Lynne thoroughly enjoyed her spatch-cocked brace of Quails grilled on the wood fire outside followed by Rice Pudding!

We the spent a pleasant couple of hours wandering around the town. During which time the builder called and arranged to call at 10am the following day.

Dropped off Keith and Audrey upon our return to Calpe and stayed for a drink or few. Ended up drinking their Gin all evening. Oops! Tottered home to bed about eleven.

4th June

If I was delicate yesterday morning the hangover lasted all day today! :-(. So a low start but we were still ready for our callers from Monasor. Again they were pleasant, helpful and professional. They will call us early next week when the quote is ready. They told us that they are the largest and oldest established builders in Calpé.

We then went into Calpé and pottered, with a cuppa at Café Dany's of course! Stopped at Las Barcas at the Port on the way home and played dominoes for a couple of hours, enjoying a couple of tapas for a light lunch.

Eventually got home and Lynne invented 'Arroz de Salchichon' for a late lunch. Couldn't get on the Internet by dial-up at and has to resort to Keith and his broadband to do some necessary Internet banking.

Finished the day with a daily dose of hotel WiFi followed by a few at our favourite watering hole. Watched with interest as the Boss made Sangria. Made him laugh when I said "Es un pocito de todos!" meaning a little of everything. Then home for a nightcap and early bed for tomorrow's adventure.

5th June

We had planned to go on the boat to Benidorm today but it was very grey and misty when we awoke so we called it off. Of course by the time the boat was scheduled to depart but too late to get down to the port to catch it, it was bright sunshine. So we just slobbed about the house for the morning.

For the afternoon we drove up to Denia and had a light tapas lunch at an obviously up-market café near the station. We then wandered around the shops as we are wont to do. Denia is obviously suffering as a surprising number of shops had closed. We then drove back to Calpé for the free WiFi at Hotel Diamante Beach before passing the evening in our favourite bar. Finally we go home for supper.

Our first truly to ourselves holiday day!

6th June

What brilliant chill out day! We agreed that we could give Calpé Market a miss this morning and just had a lazy morning before going down to our neighbour's for a lunch of nibbles and drinkies. We were not the only guests with a couple we had met a couple of years ago also being invited.

The nibbles were cooked on the barbarcoa. The other guests left but it was clear we were welcome to stay on and talk for ages with more drinks.

Now we are on our balcony having a few more drinks in a lovely evening breeze. I guess that this is all for today.

7th June

A suitably lazy Sunday start before getting ready to go out. We decided to drive into the Jalon Valley to a place called Alcalali.

This takes us through Jalon itself where we have been to the Saturday Flea Market. We Spend a bit of time driving through the tiny streets of Alcalali before deciding to drive on to Parcent, thinking we have never been there before. Only to realize when we get there that this is where our neighbour Keith brought us for paella with his Sunday lunch group a few years back. A lunch that turned onto an almost unpleasant 'let's knock politicians especially Labour ones' session. The up side being that it has meant that we haven't been asked to join that group again.

So we had a wander around, though there's not much to see except where to get lunch. We looked at L'Era where we had the paella before but it looked like a private Christening party by the look of the cake in the centre of the room with a huge, white, plastic Stork on it. In the end we chose a beautiful hall-like building with a bar near the door and a full procenium arch (albeit small) and stage. The tiles around the Walls were beautiful. The staff were helpful and we both enjoyed our choices from the menu del dias at €11 each. It was the Co-op Agricola 'El Progres'. We are starting to find our own watering holes and lunch venues at last.

After returning home to charge phones we took 'a promenade' in the eveming sun along the seafront before abusing the Hotel Diamonte Beach's WiFi over a few. Another great Sunday.

8th June

Another slow start day with a delicate edge! Decided to invite our good neighbours for drinkies and nibbles the following evening. Managed to flag Keith down and asked when he drove past the door while I was in the garden. As I was 'taking out the trash', taking a bin bag to the bazura I was spotted by a builder whose van was marked Dari Construction. He drove back to the gate and asked to quote, to which Lynne agreed. He seemed very nice and was attentive to the detail. He reckoned he'd seen the owner around the place last summer, which confirmed our suspicion from the unexpected electricity consumption in July and August that our errant German builder had been living in the house even though he'd denied it. The builder promised to e-mail us a quote early next week.

Eventually went into town to get the rest of the cigs we wanted. Lynne bought some masking fluid to execute a water colour idea she had and we bought some clip frames to hang a couple more personal touches at Camping Nirvana. Had our second breakfast at Café Dany's which has had a face lift with new glass decals and colour scheme to the signage. Drove up to the station to find the times of the tram to Altea for the next day's trip to the market.

Stopped to shop for the drinkies event and saw the other guests from last Saturday walking along the road and pipped the horn and waved as we disappeared around a corner. So we decided to invite them as well. Got their number from Keith and called. And they accepted. Had a huge salad lunch.

Passed the early evening walking the other promenade, the one the far side of the Peñon from us and decided it is decidedly down Market compared the nearer one. More touristy compared to the Madrillien that occupy 'ours'. Ended up at our favourite watering hole for few, including the usual tapas so no need for supper. Spent too long on the balcony with the brandy bottle before retiring to bed.

9th June

Yet another delicate start! :-( So didn't make it to the ten o clock tram to Altea as planned and the eleven o clock was about twenty minutes late. Needed a cuppa when we arrived in Altea after a delightful train ride with views that were new to us.

All of which meant we made the market about twelve with an hour to get around the whole thing, not impossible. I bought another pair of pants and a replacement 'man-bag' as the current one is getting too floppy and tatty looking. Lynne enjoyed a good bit of retail therapy as an antedote for all this builder bid tension. Enjoyed the 'tram' ride back to Calpe as much as the ride there. The new trams are really quite posh and do raise it up from being a quaint narrow gauge railway. Got home about three, which gave two hours for a late lunch before the gardener and his builder came with their quote.

The quote was exactly for what we had asked including their additional suggestions but broke the bank by about 5%, which meant us subbing the work and there being no contingency left afterwards. Not a situation we liked at all. So then we called Monasor, our German neighbour's builder to enquire about their quote as they hadn't called as promised yet. We arranged to meet Abdellah at the house at about seven. Their quote was way smaller but digging into the detail they had not got all of the work included. Abdellah went around again and remeasured, and he seemed much more focussed on his own without his boss Candido with him. He promised to rework the quote by 11 o clock the next morning, so we agreed to meet with him again then. Felt despondent as we headed for our watering hole. We had hoped that they would prove the best. The mismatch had dented our confidence in them quite badly and we were thinking that it was break the bank time with Tristan's guys, not a happy prospect.

10th June

Another gentle start getting ready for our eleven o clock appointment with Abdellah at the Monasor showroom. It surprised us with its size, the quality of the products they stocked and its overall professional air. This time the qoute was 99% correct and still significantly lower than Tristan's guys. Lynne was so relieved! Especially when we realised that they had still left out the new pillar and Candido told Abdellah on the phone to throw it in free. We told him that we would make a decision and let him know before the end of the day.

Over a cuppa at Café Dany's we decided to follow up on the other two builders and give them a last chance to quote. So we tried to contact them. The English builder Mick (Michael Smeeton) who was our architect Manolo's recommendation had been ill and wasn't ready and the other guy wasn't answering his phone. We had also planned to drop Manolo's project folder off at the Abogado's office but over the cuppa had decided to hang on to it, just in case. We called in to tell them and Lynne asked about the situation vis-a-vis the errant German builder's cement mixer taking up most of our garage. She tried to call him; his mobile was switched off and the landline to his home was disconnected. We were advised that we had made what could be construed to be a reasonable effort to contact him but they didn't want to know what we did with it.

We had to call into Manolo's office to collect the copies of the plans we had arranged to have made for whichever builder we engaged. On the way Lynne decided that she wanted Monasor, not just because their price didn't break the bank (big a factor as that was) but also because she had confidence in them not to let us down. They are too big and have too big a reputation to risk it. So we called Abdellah and arranged to meet with him again at the showroom to sign a contract with them. Then we went to a café near Manolo's office at the Esmerelda and I bought Lynne a small bottle of fizz to celebrate, persuading her to break her no drink at lunchtime rule for once. They gave us two oysters with it as tapas, and Lynne enjoyed them a lot. So fortified Lynne called Tristan to break the news and I texted the other two builders to say we had made our decision. Talk about taking it down to the wire! From Tris's point of view it wasn't all bad as it left us the funds to paint the house and he is doing that sort of work now so we told him we'd be after a quote next trip.

The afternoon was taken up with some packing up of the house before we went down to Monasor and did the paperwork. Lynne is so relieved that its over and we are confident about the work being completed. Abdellah reckoned that they would complete all the work in about six weeks, which means that we will need to travel out around the end of July to inspect and make the final payment. She also asked about the stone facing around the bottom of the house to protect the new rendering and Abdellah arranged to meet us at 9:30 the next morning to measure up before we had to set off for the airport.

From Monasor we went to Mejias III for a meal and a few drinks. Told El Hefe (the boss) that we were leaving and got a warm farewell again. Got home to find samples of stone under the gate with a card and a note from Abdellah confirming his appointment next morning. This increased confidence even more.

11th June

Travel home day. Got up to a seven o clock alarm and got bathed and breakfasted quickly. Then finished packing up the house before Adbellah arrived as arranged. Again he arrived early! In Spain! He measured up and quoted. Lynne decided that it needed doing and agreed to the price. So she wrote another cheque as a deposit on this work and Abdellah went off looking pleased. He had just upped the total contract value by about 20%, his boss had to be pleased with him.

We then did the final packing up stuff and checked the water which was 569.6 m3 so we used just under 7 cubic metres in the fortnight including some serious watering. Then we called down to Keith's to say goodbye, which involved a brief chat and a cuppa, so we set off for the airport about 15 minutes later than planned but still in good time. Good job too. All the roadworks on the motorway near Alicanté are now finished and we were presented with a split that was Murcia and the Airport to the left and Alicanté and the Airport to the right. Not being sure which was the usual route I chose left and we had an interesting time on a low tank taking 15-20 minutes longer than usual, going about 30 Km further than usual and paying €2 more on the toll to learn that the correct choice is Alicanté to the right.

Still that meant the check-in queue was minimal and we got through security quickly enough to give us time to have our picnic lunch before boarding. We pushed back 15 minutes early but that gain was lost in the wait for our baggage at Leeds/Bradford. Nevertheless we were in the Club starting our first drink by six o clock.

Another adventurous trip to Calpé over and done with. We are actually looking forward to the next one!

Summer 2009 Pt 2

The builders said they would be finished by the end of July and they kept to their word! So a trip to pay them had to be hastily arranged.

Autumn 2009

This trip is mostly a holiday but we do look into geting the house painted.

14th November

Back to flying Jet2 and had a good flight with no problems at either airport. The hire car, a Seat Ibiza automatic is very nice. The house was fine and we hit Mercadona for provisions for the weekend. Walked down to empty the post box and called on Keith and Audrey but they appeared to be out. The contents of the post box included included two Suma letters and a Correos delivery note. Looks like a banking problem has left the rates unpaid. Let Keith and Audrey know we had arrived okay on the phone. Then off to Hotel Diamonte Beach for our dose of WiFi, only to find that it is no longer open and unlimited. You now gave to produce a bar bill at reception to get access to one hour for free.

15th November

We have had a quiet day at home; partly because Lynne hurt her back while sorting out her camera back pack.  Keith and Audrey stopped on their way out to lunch to say hello. Agreed to catch up with them tomorrow. 

On our way home yesterday evening from Mercadona there was a glowing sunset behind 'Table Mountain' that made Lynne determine to be in the same place tonight. From the house the prospect didn't look good so we deferred but then set off walking for our 'dose of WiFi' at the Hotel Diamonte Beach. And while walking down at 5:45pm there was the most spectacular sunset! So out came the Casio compacts and here are a few of the results.

16th November

Despite this being supposed to be a holiday today turned into a business day. A number of lessons were learned:
1. Rates are due on Sept 1st here.
2. The bill comes in the post on the 1st August.
3. Ditto the first half of the Basuras
4. Second half of the Basuras is due 1st April. (So I'm guessing that the bill comes in the post 1st March?)
5. If there are not enough funds in the bank not only does the 'Recibo' not get paid but the Direct Debit gets cancelled. (We already knew about not being allowed overdrafts here.)
6. All the above means a trip to SUMA to get a new bill and new direct debit mandate. And there is ALWAYS a queue!

So, we had a longer than expected morning in town queuing at the bank, SUMA and again at the bank. But by the time we returned home for lunch were we no longer debtors. Despite all this we enjoyed the bright sunshine and warmth.

The afternoon was taken up with Monasor coming to measure up for estimates and the gardener coming to be paid for the next six months maintenance.

We decided to 'eschew' the WiFi and went straight to Mejias III. We started with the Spanish idea of a G&T, lots of ice and gin with a slice of lemon and a splash of tonic. We then both had the liver from the 'Menu del Dia'. We finished with a brandy, Soberano for me but Lynne had a Ponche, which is a Spanish brandy liqeur. We strolled home after a pleasant meal to bed.

17th November

We had planned to do 'the Tuesday usual', namely Altea Market but with the bright sunny morning we decided we couldn't be *rsed and had a lovely lazy morning enjoying the warm weather. Only slightly marred when we couldn't pay Mercadona for the 'nibbles' shopping with our debit cards. Yesterdays debt settlement had meant some money juggling between accounts that had left our personal account short. Fortunately we had enough cash on us to pay. So while Lynne got on with preparations I moved more money out from England on the Internet.

All her work was for having Keith and Audrey over for drinkies. It was a very pleasant evening of chatter about everything and nothing as usual. Agreed to lunch together at the Co-op in Parcent on Friday.

18th November

Started off very grey and windy. But as is often the case here the sun as it gets up burns off the clouds but the wind persisted for most of the day only dropping towards sunset.

Another gentle start, heading into town in time to get a haircut. But we started with Victoria Car Rental about a back shelf. When we collected the car it didn't have one. The woman at the airport office said I should have selected one in the options section on the website. I hadn't spotted that among the baby seats etc. that fill such options lists. We left the car parked outside the car rental and Lynne took us into the Multiprecios next door. Came out with a new pedal bin and standard lamp plus some energy saver bulbs, the place has an enormous range of them. We left those in the car and got me my haircut. We then dropped into our favourite in-town watering hole, Cafe Dany's. We got a nice greeting and a new first, a tapas of Olivas with my beer; that hasn't happened before. On the way home Lynne decided that today was not a good day to try to photograph the large flock of Pink Flamingos currently on Las Salinas as they were 'hunkered down' against the wind in a tight bunch right in the middle.

Had a pleasant light lunch with the left over dips from the evening before. Then got Lynne's online account unlocked by phone that I'd managed to lock at the bank the day before. The funds I'd sent from the UK bank had arrived so I distributed them around accounts and we are solvent again. The clouds looked good for a spectacular sunset so we walked Lynne's big camera and monopod down to the corner by Pepe Agua's but it was a complete washout so trudged back to the house.

My Inbox was filling up so I suggested a 'dose of WiFi' before Mejias III. The young barman is a delight and we are helping each other with our 'Spanglish', learning today that the Spanish pronunciation of WiFi sounds like "wiffee'. The rest of the evening passed very pleasantly at Mejias III watching Spain trounce Austria 5-1, consuming drinks and being fed tapas at regular intervals. 'El Jefe' made a break through with Lynne's gluten intolerance when two of the same tapas came out for another couple so he gave one to us joking that Lynne could have the ham and I could have the bread. I said that this was not possible due 'contaminacion'. From that point the bread came on a separate plate. How's that for service, especially for a freebie!

19th November

Another cloudy start with no urgency to get anywhere as we are waiting for the gardener to drop off some spray. Turns out that he literally meant over the road, at our new English neighbour. Her name is Bee and her dog is Leo. The bay tree got sprayed and we had another 30 minute chat about the garden in the process. I noticed that our German neighbour went and had a word with our gardener, which looks like more business. Then she came in to ask us about how reliable is he? Lynne asked her about furniture shops and she said they got all their living room from Teulada. 

The plan to check out furniture shops in Calpe became a plan to go to Teulada.  It took us a couple of hours to walk the length of Teulada's main 'drag' going into every Muebles as there are a lot of them. We found what we want but it is made to order, whick takes four to six weeks. So we came to an arrangement to order it from England before our next trip. 

Finished the evening off by walking down the bar for a few and despite only having had first and second breakfast but no lunch the tapas filled us up. A night cap saw us off to bed at eleven.

20th November

Today's weather forecast on the bar tv yesterday was for sunny and cloudy but by 10 am it was a clear blue sky with bright sunshine. A great day for our troll out to Parcent for lunch with Keith and Audrey.

The run up to Parcent was nice in bright sunshine. Part way through lunch our new friends Chris and Ali came in with their visitors from England. We found out later that Chris was disappointed as there was no roast pork left. Apparently the four of us having it had finished it off. It was a nice change being served with beans and carrots and a fine mashed potatoes. 

We came back via a bar in Alcalali where Chris et al caught up with us again. We then drove home via a country route, part way along which we stopped for Lynne to photograph a cock turkey in 'full rut'!  We dropped Keith and Audrey off and took the car home. This gave us the evening to head for the bar via a bit of WiFi at Hotel Diamonte Beach. At Mejias III we watched the football till quite late  After a pleasant session we started to walk home only to realise very quickly that we had been 'marked' by a hoodie and that it would likely not be safe to walk up the dark roads to the house. So to verify if we had been marked I made a fuss about forgetting something and we double backed towards the bar past him and then observed. He carried on towards La Merced but just when we thought we might have been wrong he reappeared and seemed to hang around the junction outside Mercadona. Time for a taxi!  We were greeted with surprise when we re-entered Mejias III and a pantomime developed as we tried to explain that we were being followed. At one point El Jefe asked where the guy was and afterwards Lynne and I were convinced that if it had been outside the bar they would have gone out and decked him. Then our taxi arrived and took us home; Arrival is great value for money by comparison!  A couple of nightcaps were required to steady the nerves before bed. This will change our behaviour in future. 

21st November

Saturday is Calpe Market day so up and out pretty smartish, collecting the laundry from Lavanderia Ana that we dropped off yesterday on our way out. Surprise, surprise we got a parking space on the main road by the Ford dealership next to Aitana Bricolaje.

The next two hours was spent doing the length of the Market, stopping part way to try a new bar, Bugatti that we won't try again. Lynne only partly fulfilled her mission to get every seer-sucker short sleeved shirt the 'shirt man' had as he didn't have any in her size. She did buy four shirts, only to be disappointed that one was badly marked in a way that wouldn't wash out. Then it was time for Cafe Dany's and again I got a tapas with my beer.

On the way back to the car we had to pass the Muebles, furniture shop, that we bought the computer table from a couple of trips back, so thought we would have a look in and it was a 50% off sale!  And they had something we liked.  The two chests of drawers arrive "maximo Martes", no later than Tuesday. Stopped at Mercadona for a few things to get us through Sunday and home for lunch with the mushrooms and eggs we bought on the market. Amazing, every egg in the box of six medium eggs was a double yolker!

We drove down to the port and played dominoes at Las Barcas and watched Deportivo beat Athletico Madrid 2-1 with a penalty in the 95th minute. Real shades of a recent Man U win and Ferguson injury time.  We then moved onto HDB for a 'dose of WiFi'. And spotted Lynne's Christmas present, so we have to go back tomorrow night

Spring 2012

In the past standing in the garden near where we know the septic tank is located would be rewarded with a faint sound of trickling water after the loo had been flushed. I sort of noticed that this time this was not the case. So when we had the builder over for something else I asked him about the broken bit of concrete sticking out of the ground in that part of the garden. Some poking around with a 'windy pick' the next day revealed that the main pipe carrying all waste water and matter to the septic tank was totally blocked and that all those flutings and bath emptyings were going under the house but not exiting!

Long story short, we had to have a new septic tank dug. Six meters deep! Into solid lime stone at a cost of €5,000!!! Total savings wipe out.

I will put some photos in here at a later date.

Autumn 2015

This section contains our blog entries for our first trip to Calpé this year.

A Sunless Scorcher, Denia and A Fond Farewell 05.10.2015

Today started cloudy and it stayed cloudy all day. When we are in the UK a cloudy day usually means a cooler day than a sunny one but here that certainly wasn't the case. It was scorching, seriously hot and humid all day. Maybe the cloud trapped in the heat. Maybe the high humidity meant that we got none of the cooling benefits from sweating. Whatever, it was bloody hot, far to hot to do chutney as I had intended so we got into the air conditioned car and I drove us to Denia.

It is a few years since we have been to Denia. The last time we visited it was showing serious signs of decline as a result of the economic crash, known here as crisis econòmica. There were empty shops, closed restaurants and there was a general feeling of decline. It had a deeply sad, neglected feel about it which is why we haven't been for so long. Well, we don't know what the authorities in Denia have done to address this but whatever it was, it worked. The place was buzzing. Car parking was as easy to find as Rocking Horse droppings, the shops were vibrant and busy, the restaurants doing a roaring trade and the port had some seeeeeeeeeeeriously expensive, mega yachts in dock. It was lovely to see this transformation and we spent the day enjoying it.

We had checked out some of the restaurants' offerings to see if they might be suitable for me and got them down to a shortlist of two. When we gave my explanatory card to a waiter at the first one he screwed his face up. That was enough, bad attitude - not going there. We have since memorised the Spanish for 'I don't like your attitude' (no me gusta tu actitud) and we will use this next time we come across any establishment that sees me as the problem rather than someone who has a problem that needs to be catered for.

The second one was quite different, they laughed and said it was no problem and when we sat down the lady came across and explained what I could have on the cheapest menu del dia, suggesting adaptations that they could make. In the event we ordered from the a la carte menu - just Menu in Spanish - and we ordered a special salad each for a starter. She declared that it would be too much and suggested that we have one between us. I ordered grilled Sea Bass and she said that it came with salad and that would be too much salad, so when I suggested grilled vegetables instead she agreed and adapted the order accordingly. Garrath ordered Spaghetti Bolognese for his main course and all was well.

The food was delightful. The salad was indeed more than enough for two and that Sea Bass did not die in vain. It was perfectly cooked as were the grilled vegetables, and there was a lovely variety of vegetables too. Garrath polished off his spaghetti with gusto and they even managed to provide me with a gluten free dessert. Bliss!

I had already bought a pair of rather flash, patent leather boots and Garrath had spotted a pair of shoes in the same shop. The shop observes the Spanish working day and closes for lunch and a siesta between 14.00 and 17.30 so we had time to meander around the town and the port, stopping for teas and waters in cafes along the way. When we got to the port we saw some mega yachts harboured there - impressive machines but nobody should have so much conspicuous wealth when so many in the world live in poverty.

When the shoe shop opened again they didn't have the shoes in his size. Deeply disappointing but it just means that we will have to go to the Pikolinos shop in Alicante.

Sadly, some time during the day Garrath lost the steel, titanium and diamond bracelet that I bought for him several years ago. He apologised profusely but there was no need. These things happen. At the end of the day it is only a bracelet. It can be replaced. It is a thing and ultimately things don't matter. People matter, living things matter, inanimate things don't. He is still around to lose a bracelet. That is much more important.

Immediately upon leaving the shoe shop he got a phone call from Peter, the guy who is taking the Kawasaki. He had managed to get a van to take the bike away and had been trying to get in contact via the land line all day. So we returned to the car park and I drove us back to the house in Calpe where we were joined by Peter, the van and his mate.

I did as my photographer friend Colleen suggested and took a lot of photos of the bike before it was taken away, then Garrath had to bid a sad but fond farewell to his big baby, the Kwakka. He will complete the paperwork when in the UK, but he retains visiting rights when in Spain!

Peter had already been in touch with another bike fanatic who might be interested in taking the old Honda. He is coming to the house tomorrow evening to have a look. I know that if he does hand over the Honda it will be an even bigger emotional wrench for him, so I have to be there with cuddles, tissues and a tough reality check if he wavers. I do understand but I do hope that he does take that big step. We shall see, but if it does go I will take lots of photographs.

Marijke came around with Tikkus to tell us that she had been to see another vet, that Tikkus has an enlarged heart and that she is on lots of medication to try to prolong her life. Tikkus still has a zest for life so it is worth a try, but we all know that it is only a matter of time before the hard decision has to be made. She is a lovely little dog and deserves every chance, but I think that this trip is the last time we will see her.

We are now in - yes, you've guessed it - the local watering hole that has free WIFI where I am reflecting on a busy, eventful and very hot day. It is 21:25 now and at Garrath's side of the table it is 26C, on my side of the table a mere 25C. Such is life, such is technology. Time for another cooling drink methinks!

Back Off Thor!!! 13.10.2015

Today was designated a business day the first task being to go down to the bank to withdraw enough money to pay the gardener for the next half year's maintenance and for all the 'little extras' that add up to a huge amount. It looked like a good day for a business day, dismal and cloudy with rain forecast, so after a much more rapid start that usual we went down into Calpe town.

It seemed that after the four day Fiestas with shops all closed, the world and her husband had headed into town to do catch up shopping so parking was an issue. Garrath needed some glue to fix the new lampshade that broke while he was putting it on the lamp so we went to Brico Aitana (the hardware part of the store where we have a discount card) and used their car park. Even there we were lucky to get a space.

Glue purchased plus three very cute mini capacos (builders buckets) for snacks we went to the bank. We used to love that bank when it was CAM (Caja Ahorra Mediterráneo) but CAM has since been gobbled up by Sabadell and we hate it now. CAM used to have a delightful Dutch lady, Cristina, who was incredibly helpful and fluent in many languages. As soon Sabadell gobbled up CAM she and all the other CAM staff disappeared, presumably hoofed unceremoniously, and were replaced by fewer, less helpful and less linguistically accomplished staff.

On a previous trip we had to wait two and a half hours just to pick up a bank card. When we finally got to speak to a staff member and said that the wait was unreasonable she urged us to complain to head office and say they were understaffed because she herself was paid from 08.00 to 14.00 but was expected to work until 18.00. So not only does their service stink, they bully and exploit their staff too.

Anyway, we went into the bank, took a queue ticket and waited - and waited - and waited! When we got to the desk the guy was pleasant enough and we got the cash OK, but I had already determined that we need to move all our business to another bank. The wait is bad enough but I refuse to support any company that exploits its staff so from there we went to the small, very friendly little bank where Garrath has his Spanish account and enquired about transferring accounts.

The lovely guy in there who speaks wonderful English explained that we have to open accounts, provide passport, NIE numbers (National Identification Numbers) utility bill details etc. then leave it to him to negotiate with Sabadell over a period of several weeks until the transfer is completed. I expressed disappointment that it is such a complex process and he said that he knew that in the UK it is a very simple process, a matter of pressing a few buttons and that he is very jealous! So yet another business day needed. Ugh!

While we were walking back to the car it started raining, not terribly heavily at first, but enough to need an umbrella and start to creat large puddles on the badly drained roads. We realised that it would be impossible to drive anywhere for lunch so we called in at Mercadona (the GF aware supermarket) to get some stuff for a light lunch in the hope that the weather would let up enough for us to go out to dinner.

Fat chance! When we got out of Mercadona the deluge was so dramatic that the roads were seriously flooded and I was very lucky to get the car through the deep water and home. Garrath had intended us to stop at the local watering hole for tea and free WIFI but I said, "F*ck that for a game of soldiers, I'm getting us straight home through this river if I can," and that is exactly what I did, in spite of protests from the car with four danger warnings one of which 'Take the car to the garage immediately!' I only hope that it dries out by tomorrow, but looking at the weather it is another case of Fat Chance!

The rain abated a little during the afternoon giving false hope that we might be able to get out for a meal. Fat Chance again. The gardener, Perran, came to collect his cash at a time when the rain had actually stopped. Deep joy and yet more false hope. He too had ploughed through knee high puddles and actually had to go to the garage to get his car fixed.

Needless to say, once Perran left the bloody heavens opened and it hasn't stopped since, We have thunder, we have lightning and we have rain, rain and more bloody rain, roof thumping, street bouncing, flood creating, going out preventing RAIN and if it carries on like this it will be sleep preventing, sitting inside a drum RAIN!!!

Back off Thor! I am thoroughly pissed off with your antics. You have robbed me of a day's holiday and it is not the first one. You have scared me witless by making me drive through a river to get home. I am grumpy, hungry and thoroughly hacked off. You have robbed me of lunch, dinner and a day's recreation. Enough is enough!

Being Busy, Oily & Sweaty, Seaside Lunch, More Business.

I was up earlier than Garrath as usual (06.50) so I set upon a new preserving adventure, making Moroccan style preserved lemons and limes. It is simple enough. All you have to do is stuff the fruit with salt (posh, coarse sea salt) then stuff them hard (the more squashed in the better) into jars and topping the jar up with lemon/lime juice. You are supposed to turn the jars once a week but we can't because we won't be here, but we shall see. It it works it is the perfect, saleable comestible for the excess of lemons and limes that the trees are producing. Apparently you can preserve Kumquats in the same way which might be tempting but since Kumquat chutney is THE most delicious chutney ever, I doubt if I will do that.

Today was designated the clearing up and preparing to close the house day plus the changing of bank accounts day. The first job was to oil all the oak furniture, a tedious, oily, but very necessary task. We have learned from past experience that it is futile to bathe and get dressed before doing this because it is an intense, messy, sweat inducing-job so you have to bathe again after doing it. So the task was done whilst still wearing jim-jams (PJ's to my American friends.) We have got it down to a fine art now so it only took one and a half hours, but we were knackered with aching backs afterwards so a hotter, longer bath than usual was called for. Consequently that is exactly what we had.

A few chores later - replacing table covers, seat cushions, books, ornaments; sorting out chutneys and jams to give away; printing out paperwork for the bank and the like - and we were ready to go to lunch. Thinking that this would be our last lunch in Calpe this trip we decided to eat at a restaurant on the Partida La Fossa so that we could enjoy views and sounds of the sea while eating.

Lunch was at La Terraza and it was delightful. I had anchovies with garlic to start while Garrath had a prawn omelette. For the main course I chose Lomo A La Plancha Con Huevo - pork loin with egg - and Garrath chose Albondigas Casera - meat balls house style - and we had a mixed salad to share. We even got a dessert, a chocolate layered ice cream though mine didn't have the artistically squirted, caramel flavoured goo that Garrath's had. Why can't they make gluten free caramel flavoured goo I wonder?

After lunch we meandered along the prom, back to the car then back home to collect a gas bottle that we needed to swap for a full one at the local Ferreteria (hardware shop.) Garrath insisted on taking an alternate route c/o the satnav which involved twists and turns along single track roads with high walls. "It is much shorter," he assured me but it took twice as long so I have flatly refused to use the stupid route ever again. The 'discussion' about it (Garrath always describes his argumentative nature as 'discussion' or 'conversation') with me bad grumpily declaring,

"Well I'm doing the f*cking driving so I'll decide what f*cking route we take!" That was well below the belt because Garrath had had his license suspended because of the brain tumours, but sometimes one has to use below the belt tactics to end an argument.

Gas acquired we started distributing some of the chutneys, one lot to the French guys out back from whom we got an invitation to dinner next May, more to Julian and his family, also out back, then to Ula and Jurgen. Tomorrow we have to gift some more to Robert & Marijke and to Keith & Audrey. It is a tradition now. I make jams and chutneys from the garden produce and I give them to neighbours and friends.

The start of the tradition is interesting enough to note here. When first I took on responsibility for the falling down wreck that my mother had abandoned, there was considerable hostility from the neighbours. I was her daughter after all and she had upset most of them, not least by allowing the property to become the neighbourhood eyesore. I knew that I would have an uphill struggle trying to overcome their hostility so I made jam, lots of jam, from the garden produce. I labelled it carefully with the name of the property and at the end of the stay sent Garrath off to give jars to all the neighbours. He was bewildered but I told him to trust me and he did as I had asked. The very next stay the formerly hostile neighbours all came to thank me for the jam - a fine conversation opener - and thus the hostility was dispelled and a tradition established.

Making jams and chutneys is a bit of a bind during a break but sooooooooo worth it when the reception to that simple gesture is friendship, kindness and social interaction.

We had hoped to get into Alicante tomorrow but when we got to the bank we found that it was a typically Spanish long-winded, convoluted process that demands lots and lots of paperwork, some of which we had not predicted would be needed so we have to go in again tomorrow to complete the process. No wonder Luis is jealous of the UK process (see yesterday's blog.) After one and a half hours we are only half way through opening the bank accounts and it will take three months to transfer the business from our current bank. Hmmmmm, this is Spain after all!

Post bank we had to walk back to the car through an unfamiliar area where the shops were now open and enticingly illuminated. They included a perfume shop. Let me explain. I am now relaxed enough to be able to have days where I don't wear any make up. We call them NMU (no make up) days. But I describe myself without wearing perfume as being stark naked. I have a whole cupboard full of perfume and I need an equivalent here so it was my moral duty to go in and start the process, which indeed I did.

Bliss, they had all the best designer names and what is more THEY WERE DISCOUNTED! I walked out with two old standards (modern ones are too pink and sugary for my tastes) having enjoyed a significant saving. I'll be the sweetest smelling old bat in Calpe. I even got freebies, a bit demoralising because it was anti wrinkle stuff but at least I made the saleslady laugh and think a little by saying that I had earned my wrinkles and wear them with pride.

After the drive home and putting goodies away guess what? We trundled down to the local watering hole for our final dose of Spanish anaesthesia.

Life is good!

Bonding, Bikes, & Parting With Loved Ones

Today, for no apparent reason whatever, the MIFI widget started working again. Phew, what a relief, connectivity again, or so we thought. In fact it is functioning erratically, sometimes at a pace that makes a snail look like Formula One by comparison. Add to that the fact that our web site is behaving very erratically and I had a frustrating morning trying to post my blog and upload my latest verse. Whatever, it took most of the morning and involved a lot of swearing.

At 12.00 I had to give up and slap my face on because we were being taken out to lunch by our Dutch friends, Rob & Marijke. We got to choose the restaurant - El Riu on the road between Callosa d'en Sarria and Guadalest - and best of all, we were chauffeured.

El Riu is for those who appreciate truly Spanish restaurants and in the case of foreigners, those who accept the right of the Spanish to behave as they do in their own country. I have heard English people in there bitch and fratch because the place is noisy on Sunday. Their arrogance beggars belief. This is a Spanish restaurant populated mainly by Spanish people, and Spanish families get together for Sunday lunch to share food, affirm family bonds, catch up with each other's gossip and they do it NOISILY. That is their way. It is their country and their way should be respected. The English people who bitch and fratch about it should either learn to shout or choose another country.

Most of the main courses are cooked over a wood fire on the huge, open barbecue outside. The cooking is simple and good, the ingredients excellent. For starters we both chose the special salad while Rob had Mountain Sausages and Marijke had grilled aubergines. Rob, Marijke and I chose Conecho Al Ajillo (Rabbit with garlic) while Garrath chose Secreto De Cerdo Iberico (a cut from the Pata Negra pig that is located between the bacon and pork shoulder in the inner region.) The Rabbit was delicious and I made a complete pig of myself by continuing to eat it long after I had satisfied my hunger, simply for pleasure. Judging by Garrath's silent dedication to eating during the main course and the fact that there wasn't a scrap left on his plate I'm guessing that his Secreto De Cerdo Iberico was delicious too. While the others had wicked looking cakes and cheesecakes for dessert, I had a simple Flan Con Almendros (caramel custard with almonds) but at least it was a proper dessert. Chat was as ever, easy and free flowing even though it had to be shouted, a lovely lunch time.

We returned straight home because their much loved dog, Tikkus, is not well. Later, while I was taking photographs in the garden, a very tearful Marijke told Garrath that she and Rob were in dispute about what to do. Tikkus is 13 and obviously sick but still has an enthusiasm for living so Rob wants her to have the expensive tests to see if there is a way of prolonging her life. Marijke who has, like we have done in the past, hung on way too long after her dog should have been given a dignified exit, wants to do that for Tikkus right now. It is the eternal dilemma when we hold the power of life and death over our much loved pets - when to let go. I can see both their points of view. They are equally valid. We will have to face the same choices with our two before long and it will be heartbreaking. All we can do with Rob & Marijke is support whatever decision they finally agree upon.

On to more partings, this time Garrath and his much loved motor bikes that have been sitting in the garage in Spain for the last few years. Now that he has lost his driving license and it is unlikely that he will get it back, they are just sitting there, reminders of what once was and now cannot be. Our gardener put us in touch with a bike enthusiast of his acquaintance and he has agreed to take the Kawasaki Z1000. Garrath will get on to the internet tomorrow to see if he can find a home for the Honda CB 500T. If not it will be consigned to the great scrap heap in the sky. That will be a huge emotional wrench for Garrath because he has had it since 1980, but it will be better than the constant reminder of the losses brought about by his brain tumour.

On to more cheerful things, we are now in the local watering hole, Garrath has bought me roses again, the wifi here is free and I will be able to upload my blog in good time to keep the readership happy so life isn't all bad!

Broken Sleep, Weird Dreams, New Eateries, Old Friends, 29.09.2015

Unsurprisingly in view of yesterday's poisoning I had a troubled night's sleep. I shall spare you the most gruesome details. Suffice to say that along with them I had weird and troubling dreams and woke in a fever at 04.10. I'm guessing that was when last night's doses of liquid anaesthesia and ibuprofen wore off. After an hour or so of drinking tea and distracting myself on the internet I went back to bed and got a few more hours of feverish, dream punctuated sleep.

I wish that the jokers who cause these episodes had to go through all the pain and distress that they cause me. Maybe that way they would take the matter more seriously. Whatever, what can't be cured must be endured so on with the day, albeit slowly and cautiously with the first of the day's stops being the Farmacia to buy some Paracetamol to calm down the fevers and ease the pain.

The weather is looking a bit iffy and there is a 40% chance of rain between 14.00 and 16.00 and up to 50% chance of rain between 19.00 and midnight. I just love the weather app on my Apple watch! During the first rain risk period we will try out the new place for a leisurely lunch. Fingers crossed a) that they feed me safely and b) that we don't lose the bloody umbrella again! In addition to my other duties I have to act as the external memory module for he who has a hole in his head, and as one who loses her cup of tea several times a day, and forgets to pick up the shopping list, I'm not very good at it. Inadequate as I am in that role, I am his sole supporter so he will just have to make do.

Speaking of rain I was most amused when perambulating down Partida La Fossa in the rain yesterday. The traders in the open fronted shops had replaced the mannequins with bikinis on with ones wearing plastic macs, then when the Sun came out again, whipped them in and put the bikinied mannequins out again. That's marketing for you.

We bought Paracetamol tablets at the Farmacia then walked on to the restaurant only to find that I couldn't take the damned tablets because they contain starch. It is a good thing that I read the micro writing before taking any or I would have made the effects of yesterday's poisoning a lot worse. I discovered the danger of medicines after having had abdominal surgery in The Yorkshire clinic. They gave me Tramadol tablets and in addition to all the pain of the surgery I got the bloating, cramps and other nasty stuff from the tablets. It was only Garrath's extensive research on the internet that revealed what the problem was. While food manufacturers are compelled to display exact details of ingredients, drug manufacturers are not. Most tablets contain binding ingredients one of which is starch and this can be wheat starch and that contains gluten.

The 40% chance of rain forecast between 14.00 and 16.00 came to pass while we were in the new-to-us restaurant. We think that the Spanish word lluvia means rain. It doesn't. It means torrential downpour. As with many coastal Spanish restaurants the main eating area is outside under a roll out roof and with fabric & acrylic walls that can be rolled down or up as appropriate. These are fine but when subjected to a heavy downpour like today it is like sitting inside a snare drum played by Ginger Baker on speed.

The restaurant El Minarete is frequented by well to do Spaniards as well as the visitors and expats who can afford their prices. The menu is extensive and expensive but well worth it. The only down side, no dessert for me. They did offer me fruit but I declined politely, mainly because I don't know the Spanish for "That is an ingredient, not a dessert." So I did my usual spectator at the feast trick as Garrath waded his way through a spectacular three chocolate tart with fruit, chocolate sauce and chocolate ice cream.

We had parked the car quite a long walk away so walked along Partida La Fossa. Fortunately the Farmacia was still open so we were able to go in and explain the problem. The young pharmacist was very helpful, he researched until he found a brand of Paracetamol that contained maize starch and we bought that. Significantly the one that could poison me was €2.30 while the safe one was only 63 cents! See I'm cheap to keep - no expensive desserts and cheapie tablets.

After a brief sojourn to the supermarket for GF (gluten free) cornflakes, GF bread, Mediterranean yogurt and a GF dessert for me. Fortunately Mercadona (the supermarket chain) is the most GF aware retail venue that I have come across, ever, anywhere, so they cater for my needs very well, and it is just down the road from us.

Garrath declared that we were in need of post retail trauma therapy so I drove us to the local watering hole for tea, coffee and water. The stay was cut short when another bunch from Essex came it for a high volume, group squawk! Never was their a truer saying that this -

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Guess what this bunch were talking about - people, LOUDLY, and sex of course. The conversation, such as it was, was very loud and competitive with everyone squawking at once and nobody listening. I am firmly of the belief that there is a correlation between the volume at which people converse and their intelligence. The dumber they are, the louder they are. We were glad to get out of there with our eardrums intact.

Back home and we got a phone call from our Dutch friends and neighbours so now we are off for a pleasant evening of catch-up conversation. We will defy the saying by talking about ideas, events and people!

Builders, Buggered Computers, Chutney and a Mega Sulk 01.10.2015

We had a visit from our builders front man, Abdellah, this morning in response to a message that Garrath had left on his ansafone. Abdellah is a charming Moroccan man who started with the firm, Monasor, at the lowest level, worked his way up and when he injured his back and could no longer do heavy work the firm valued him so much that they kept him on as their chief negotiator.

We have had lots and lots of work done by Monasor and found them to be 100% reliable with both the quality of their work and their timekeeping. When we had a huge project done (converting the balcony to a room and having supporting structures built) they said that it would be completed by the end of July and Lo and behold, we got the phone call the week before telling us to come out because it would be finished on July 31st, which indeed it was.

We learned long ago that you never tell Abdellah what to do. You tell him what the objective is and he tells you the best way to achieve it. The thing is that he is always right. When we have the balcony enclosed and made into a room we had said that he should fill a window space with shelves. He took an executive decision and walled it in so that we can get furniture on both sides and he was right, so right.

This time the objective is to improve the lighting in the two bedrooms, the bathroom and the kitchen. We told him the objective and he gave us the solutions so we spent much of the day searching for and buying the necessary lights for the bedrooms and the kitchen. The bathroom light Monasor will provide and they will be embedded into the false ceiling that they are to build tomorrow. See, we hadn't thought of that but Abdellah, bless him, did!

Garrath had promised to go down to Keith's house to sort out a computer problem. It happens everywhere we go. As soon as they find out what Garrath does for a living, out come the computer problems and off he goes into the inner sanctum wherein lives the computer, guardian of all precious info and gateway to all valued personae, to try to solve it.

Garrath doesn't mind sorting Keith's stuff one bit. They have been very good friends to us keeping an eye on the house while we are away, taking photos of building works and sending them, giving invaluable advice and being fine company when we are here.

After the visit from Abdellah and Garrath's Doctor Megabyte act, we assembled the new Food processor and I got on with preparing the Chuck It In Chutney. Actually this batch is fig, lemon and chilli - lots and lots of chilli so I think I will label it Salsa Volcanica. My Mermelada Volcanica (hot chilli jam) proved very popular so we will see how well the hot fruit & chilli chutney goes.

The new food processor is pure magic, very efficient and brilliantly designed. It finely sliced five onions in a breath and chopped half a kilo of chillies in seconds. Yes, you read that right, half a kilo of red chillies in this chutney. I don't do bland! It's assistance made the chutney preparation the easiest it has ever been because I have always had to do all the chopping by hand before. OK, taking the green tops off 1/2 a kilo of chillies was no fun, about 8 on The Kumquat Scale, but what the heck?

I can sense you asking

"What on Earth is The Kumquat Scale?" Well, I have done lots of boring tasks in my time but far and away the most boooooooooooooring is the preparation of Kumquats for preserving. They are tiny, ovoid citrus fruits and each fruit can contain up to seven pips, so they have to be cut in half across their equator and each all the seeds carefully extracted. When you have to prepare five kilos of Kumquats thus (a kindly, rather contradictory donation by the neighbour who always asks why I make so much work for myself by making preserves) you truly understand what boredom is all about. So when it comes to measuring how boring a task is we use the Kumquat scale. 0 is neutral, 1 mildly dull right up to 10 which is mind numbingly, excruciatingly boring. It is a useful scale to have, especially when it comes to preparing ingredients for chutney and attending Valuation Tribunal training days. Topping those chillies was a mere eight, preparing Nisperos (Loquats) a dreadfully dreary and hand staining task, is a nine, the last Valuation Tribunal training day was nine point five. Maybe for the next training day I should take along a few kilos of Kumquats to prepare then the training sessions will be fascinating by comparison?

I have yet to devise a scale for measuring how interesting something is. I am inclined to call it The Professor Brian Cox scale With Prof Cox as a rivetingly, fascinating ten and the Valuation Tribunal trainers as a big, fat zero! That's it, I have devised it so if you note me describing somebody as an eight on the Professor Brian Cox scale you will know that they are worth spending time with.

Back to chutney! We cooked the lemons in a pressure cooker until really soft then I carefully removed all the pips - seven point five on The Kumquat Scale - and pureed them using the whizzy stick (stick blender.) All fresh ingredients were added to the preserving pan, sugar and vinegar added and the whole lot brought to the boil - about ten litres in all. It was lunch time so we switched off the induction hob , covered the unfinished chutney and went to the local cheapie that understands my needs very well and had a very satisfactory lunch. Grilled vegetables for me instead of French fries of course, I am the unwilling consumer of a healthy alternative. I did get a dessert though, Arroz Con Leche con Canela (chilled rice puddling with cinnamon) and that covered my need for carbohydrates.

On the way back Garrath insisted on calling in at the local watering hole so that he could top up the mifi. I was cross about this as we had previously agreed to go straight home. He compounded my annoyance by having a beer when I, as the driver, was stuck with having water, so I did what any reasonable woman would do, I sulked. You know, the classic, no eye contact, answer only in monosyllables, tight lipped kind of sulk. When he asked what was wrong I gave the standard woman-in-a-sulk answer,

"Nothing" issued in tone that would have done justice to Hitler. I don't apologise for my classic sulk. I reserve the right to have one whenever Garrath pisses me off right royally. He can sulk for Britain when I piss him off so fair's fair.

When we got back Garrath suggested that we stay in so that I could complete the chutney boiling. Gee thanks Garrath. My reacion was to say,

"F*ck that for a game of soldiers, it is too late," so I simply brought it up to the boil to sterilise it, covered it with cling film and insisted on walking back down to the local watering hole.

I started writing this blog while we were there and fully intended to finish and post it from before we left, but our gardener, Perran, lately the father of a very, very new baby boy Aron, arrived so we just had to help him celebrate didn't we? And we did, very assiduously. That's why the blog is so late!

Chutney, Buggered MIFI & Entertaining 03.10.2015

The day started sloooooooooooowly because Garrath said those dangerous words,

"Shall we just have one more," down at the local watering hole last night. I should have been sensible and said "No," but after a couple of drinks when I start to say "No" it comes out of my mouth as "Why not?" What the hell, it was a great day followed by a very pleasant night.

That out of the way we found that the MIFI isn't working - AAAAAAAAARGH! We admit it, we are techno junkies, addicts, saddos who can't live without connectivity. It is seriously traumatic to be without it. We need therapy on occasions like this, but without wifi we couldn't access an online therapy site.

Thwarted from doing my usual morning activity I needed a demanding distraction so after getting ablutions and hand washed laundry sorted I started on the chutney again. If I were to advise an aspiring jam or chutney maker my advice would be this -

*Buy every bit of preserving kit that Lakeland has in its catalogue. You will need it all.
*Never start on the boiling process without a reserve stirrer near at hand because the second you stop stirring is the second that the preserve will burn and be ruined.
*Never bother with the oven or boiling water methods for sterilising jars. Use the microwave. It will save you acres of time and effort, though you will have to use boiling water for the lids.
*WEAR AN APRON AND A LONG SLEEVED GARMENT. Trust me, I know and I have the burn scars to prove it.
*Buy pretty labels or print pretty, witty ones on your computer.
*Never give away your produce as gifts unless you are prepared to be accosted by people returning clean, empty jars and wearing expectant expressions.
*Always put extra labels on your produce with the exact ingredients. People have allergies and they need to know.

I have an uncanny knack for preparing things without measuring them then finding that they fit the containers I have prepared for them exactly, but this morning I excelled myself. After the chutney's final boiling and reduction I had precisely the right amount to fill one five litre jar, three litre jars and one half litre jar. When I say precisely I mean exactly that, to the gramme and not a single gramme wasted. Let's see if I can do the same with the next batch, cherry tomato, Seville orange and chilli methinks. Sounds weird? Well I'm willing to bet it will be deeeeeeeeeee-lish!

This afternoon, after a 'just feed me' lunch at the local cheapie. It is on a parade where we can watch the world go by. This along with Partida La Fossa provides me with much verse material, and this is the latest -

Silly hats In Calpe

I wonder what the age is
For wearing silly hats,
I see them all the time here
On preposterous old bats.

Bats of either gender,
And somewhere in between,
All wearing stupid headgear
In beige and pink and green.

Some like jockey's helmets,
Have enormous peaks
Made of woven straw or plastic
They look like Mallard's beaks.

Some caps once worn by Donovan
Are sported on the beach,
It seems good taste and discretion
Is way beyond their reach.

White flat caps are favoured
By ageing Belgian men
While Alpine caps on Germans say
Its World War 2 again.

I've worked out what the age is
For wearing silly hats,
It happens when you're old enough
To become retired expats.

Lynne Joyce 03.10.2015

After lunch we had to do the shopping for an evening of entertaining out English and Dutch friends and neighbours. It is the easiest entertaining that we ever do. All we do is provide seating, drinks and nibbles and leave them to it. They obviously enjoy each others' company immensely but never get together unless we invite them. We simply listen to the lively exchange of fascinating banter, refill glasses and plates and let them get on with it. Easy, peasy and very entertaining. We have given up trying to get a word in edgewise. Why bother? Our egos don't need it and conversation is not a competition so we just sit back and enjoy.

All in all, a very satisfying day.

Chutney, Burns And Visiting Friends 09.10.2015

A brief blog at the end of a very busy that was taken up mostly by chutney completion, a summary of which is here -

Up
Turn hob on
Stir chutney regularly
Garrath up
Stir chutney regularly
Drink tea while stirring chutney regularly
Run bath
Stir chutney regularly
Garrath has bath and gets dressed while I stir
Garrath stirs while I have bath and get dressed
I take over chutney duty and stir chutney regularly
Get Garrath to take over stirring regularly
Put on make up
Take over chutney duty
Stir chutney (now volcanic) constantly
Turn off hob
Go to lunch
Stop at local watering hole for tea and coffee
Get back
Garrath goes to Rob & Marijke's to play Dr Megabyte
Turn on hob
Stir volcanic chutney constantly
Burn arm with splashed volcanic chutney
Turn down hob
Go out to garden to get an aloe vera leaf to put on burn
Apply Aloe Vera juice to burn
Improvise dressing with wet kitchen towel and cling film (one handed)
Turn up hob
Stir volcanic chutney constantly
Test chutney for thickness
Stir volcanic chutney constantly
Garrath returns
Get Garrath to go down to freezer for ice while I stir chutney constantly
Turn hob down
Crush ice for improvised ice pack using freezer bag & cling film
Turn hob up
Stir volcanic chutney constantly
Get Garrath to stir volcanic chutney while I go to the loo
Don rubber glove to catch drips from improvised ice pack
Test chutney for thickness
Stir volcanic chutney constantly
Keep tuning hob up and down to avoid volcanic splashes whilst stirring constantly
During down hob phase select jars and lids and wash them
Rinse jars
Test chutney for thickness & determine it is ready for bottling
Prepare all kit for bottling
Get Garrath to design and print chutney labels
Sterilise jars and lids
Bottle chutney
Converse with gardener who has brought over his invoices while bottling chutney
Complete bottling
Smugly count the 20 jars over and over
Remove improvised ice pack & rubber glove
Join Garrath and gardener in discussion about fixing the drive
Give gardener jars of last year's chutney
Return upstairs and smugly count the 20 jars over and over
Lock house
Walk down to Rob & Marijke's house and spend a pleasant social evening with them
Come back to the house and write this brief blog
Feel very smug about completed chutney production.

So there you have it in brief, a day in my life here in Spain. When we return here in Spring today's chutney will be matured and perfect for eating. Success!

Diversions & Distractions, Friday 25.09.2015

Diversions and Distractions, Friday 25.09.2015

The day started inauspiciously when we ran the bath and the water was muddy, obviously the result of the road works going on nearby to repair a water leak. It was supposed to be a hair washing day but I decided it would be best to pass on that, though Garrath did suggest that it might add some brown to my greying locks. No thanks Garrath, just accept me as I am!

We have read all the adverts for microdermabrasion treatments, therapeutic mud baths and the like so we had a bath anyway. The silt around here is iron rich and red so I like to think that we emerged from the bath looking a little more sun-kissed. Sadly the muddy water didn't do much for my wrinkles and saggy bits so those adverts are definitely a con trick.

There is very little ripe fruit in the garden because the gardeners harvested it and put it into the freezer in preparation for our arrival so we went down to the freezer to explore breakfast possibilities. Harvested indeed, our freezer is a big one and it is full, very very full! There are Chillies, Strawberries, Pomegranates, Loquats, Figs, Seville Oranges, Lemons and Limes - lots and lots of Chillies, Strawberries, Pomegranates, Loquats, Figs, Seville Oranges, Lemons and Limes!

In the past I have spent days making jam, a rather laborious process. Chutney, on the other hand, is much easier and it keeps better so when the predicted rains come next week I shall be making copious quantities of 'Chuck It In Chutney.' The cheap Chinese shop sells large glass jars at a reasonable price so bottling will be easier than usual. I will, of course, have to supply all our neighbours as I always do, but I will think of a more appealing title for the preserve to put on their labels. Ideas for a more appealing title are welcome.

The weather forecast for next week is rain, rain, thunder, lightning, and yet more rain so photography jaunts are out of the question and beach shots are unlikely. So a week devoted to preserving nature and the gardeners' bounty will be good use of time. There has been a two year drought around here so the rains will be most welcome. I like the Chinese saying, 'There is no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.' I'm just pleased that Garrath and I are still around to enjoy the rain, though a little concerned that we don't have any wellies here. What is Spanish for Wellies and where can we buy some?

The first jaunt of the day was delayed because our exit road was closed by the guys who made our bath muddy. There followed the most convoluted alternative exit route done mainly by guess work, one that I forgot to repeat in reverse on the way back so yet another weird and wonderful alternate route had to be engaged in, via the supermarket. That water leak is really challenging my navigation and driving skills.

After the enforced diversion we got to the cheap Chinese shot to exchange a mistakenly purchased charger. That done we parked in Plaza Major, and got some tedious housekeeping tasks done. The mifi widget was topped up at Movistar so that we continue being in-touch techno junkies, Garrath went to his Spanish bank where the staff can give the world a lesson in helpfulness and charm, we went to the solicitors to arrange payment of the non resident taxes, I managed to pop into a shoe shop and buy some shoes, then to another shop to buy a matching handbag. We then had a cuppa at our favourite in-town where we discussed and decided on the big decision of the day - where to have lunch.

Garrath, working on the principle that there are no pockets in shrouds, has determined that no cooking will be done this trip (apart from me preserving a freezer full of fruit that is) and that we will lunch out every day. Mejias Tres was chosen and we got there just in time to beat the queues that characterise their lunch service. The food is simply cooked and good, the service quick and efficient, the price incredibly reasonable and they cater for me beautifully, bless them.

There used to be a common belief, usually among the sniffy English, that the Spanish are lazy. It is utter rubbish. I have never seen anyone work so hard, fast and efficiently as Angel, Eva, Danny and the new waitress whose name we do not yet know, and the work ethic generally here is very good. Our builders are exemplars of that. Every job they have done for us - and there have been some very, very big ones - has been done very well and exactly to the deadline they gave us. The Spanish can give the English a lesson in working hard.

After lunch we took a leisurely stroll in the bright sunshine down Playa De La Fossa again. This is where I started my photographic mission to take photographs that I will post and dedicate to Lifesnapper, a fellow photographer who posts images of scantily clad, pretty, slender young women all the time. I am constantly chiding him and suggesting that he should open his mind and learn to appreciate the charms of more mature and more rounded women, so my photographs are devoted giving him a lesson in this. It is fun to have a photographic mission and really focusses the mind.

Tea and sea at Spasso and photographing scantily clad, corpulent beach belles over, we meandered back home via the supermarket and yet another bewildering, convoluted alternate route only to find that they had opened the road again. AAAAARGH!

Then there was nothing for it but to repair to the local walk-to watering hole for liquid refreshment, sneaky candid photos via the iPad, sketching and people watching. There will be an illustrated verse to follow. Well refreshed we tottered home to a light supper and bed by 23.00.

Its a tough life out here!

Dominoes, Paella and Thunderstorms.

Dominoes, Paella and Thunderstorms.

A lovely, lazy Sunday was planned because the weather forecast predicted rain, but for most of the day the Sun managed to beat the clouds into submission. We are getting bored with the pantomimic 'You choose, you choose' conversation so we quickly agreed to go to Las Barcas in Calpe Port, play dominoes (it is a ritual with us there) then have lunch there.

This time we decided not to confuse the staff with our Lancashire dominoes set (they go up to double nine) or the bewildering triangular dominoes. Instead we took the standard set. Several cups of tea, glasses of water and games of doms later we moved into the restaurant for lunch.

Las Barcas is a favourite venue for Paella and the quality of the Paella is evidenced by the number of Spanish families who go there to eat it. Sometimes you can't hear yourself think for the sound of the Paella pans being scraped to get the best bits off the bottom. It is a perfectly acceptable Spanish pastime and after consuming a lovely, healthy Special Salad each, we cheerfully joined in this charming Spanish ritual.

There are so many rules surrounding Paella it is mind boggling. Bomba rice must be used. Nothing else will do. It should never, ever be stirred. The pan must only be shaken. That way the rice sticks to the bottom to create the umami crunch of the socarrat, the black crust that sticks to the bottom of the pan, 'Valencian caviar' as it is jokingly referred to. That is why the Paella is cooked and served in the paella pan.

Paella is traditionally a Valencian Sunday picnic dish cooked over a wood fire in the open, but nowadays Spanish people are busy so they prefer to go to as restaurant to eat it. It is never eaten in the evening and having consumed it many times for Sunday lunch we now fully understand why it is a lunch time dish. You definitely need a siesta after eating it!

Most paellas are the classic summer variety, containing rabbit, chicken, snails when they are in season, Valencian tomatoes, flat green ferradura beans and lima beans, but we had Paella Mixta that contained seafood as well. Don't tell the rule makers or we will be drummed out of Communidad Valencia!

Suffice to say, the paella pan was scraped clean, every single grain of saffron infused rice was greedily scoffed, every item of seafood prised open and eaten and those rabbits and chickens did not die in vain. Deeeee-bloody-licious.

Amazingly we even managed a pudding (postre in Spanish.) For me that is a rare and very special experience. This wasn't the usual raw fruit that I get offered. Bugger that for a game of soldiers, that's an ingredient, not a pudding. No this was a proper pudding. Granted, my choice was very limited but the Arroz Con Leche (rice pudding) was lovely. I don't like English rice pudding at all but the Spanish serve rice pudding chilled with cinnamon and it is lovely. All in all, this was a delightful repast, but maybe the 'light' in 'delightful' didn't really apply.

We had a few more games of dominoes, more tea and coffee then the sky turned into a foreboding shade of navy blue so we paid up and left, just in time for me to realise that I didn't know where the windscreen wiper controls were. Oops! Much fumbling and experimentation later I worked it out and got home with them on full pelt. It was a good thing that I had remembered to put the umbrella in the boot or poor Garrath would have been soaked to the skin opening the gate.

When we got inside we turned off all the electrical gadgetry (momentary withdrawal symptoms only assuaged by the knowledge that the storm could have burned them all out) then had the privilege of witnessing the most spectacular thunderstorm either of us have ever seen. It was stunning! The lightning was fabulous, the thunder deafening. The rain drummed on the roof like the best orchestral percussion section we have ever heard. Have you guessed by now that we both adore thunderstorms.

I have managed to get some terrific photographs of the water features that appeared in our garden. What once were steps became a waterfall. The patio became a pool. The drainage channel by the gate directed water to a stone that then became a fountain, both roads, front and back, became rivers. It was wonderful, joyful, natural and ooooooh sooooooo welcome. You could almost hear the trees sucking up the moisture in blissful gratitude, and the softer plants revelling in this much needed source of sustenance after a two year drought.

Somehow it always rains when we are here. See here -

http://c-n-u.eu/node/748

We don't mind. The ground needs it, the reservoirs need it and we are not made of sugar so we won't dissolve! Whatever, it is predicted to be a rainy week so this is the week when I will do the preserving.

After the thunderstorm we both had the much needed, post Paella siesta, then guess what - off to the local watering hole.

Life is good!

Fruit Gloop, Laundry, Lunch With Friends & The End Of A Dream 07.10.2015

The day started with one of my very few culinary duties this week, making the breakfast gloop. We have run out of strawberries so this time it was figs, lemons and limes from the garden. When zesting the lemons and limes I noted how much more oil I was getting out of them that I would with shop bought ones. Those expensive trees were worth the money, if only for that.

I haven't a clue how I do this but again I got an exact amount, to the gramme, enough to fill two litre canisters and one half litre canister exactly. With luck that will be enough to see us right through this stay, if not I will have to make more, probably Nispero and lemon this time. Jeez, its a tough call!

It is laundry day two today, soooooo much work involved. Yesterday we delivered the bag of dirties to Lavanderia Ana, today we have to pick up the cleanies from there. Garrath loves laundry days in Spain because he doesn't have to use the washing machine (I'm banned, the last time I touched it I broke it) hang out the laundry then take it down when dry and fold it. It is a real laundry holiday for him and if we won the lottery he would never touch a washing machine again.

We decided to go down to the local watering hole for half past elevenses then on to Lavanderia Ana to collect the cleanies. On the way down we were alerted to something being amiss by a commercial van driver. I pulled over and he told us what it was in Spanish delivered at a speed that would have done justice to machine gun fire. We were clueless of course, so by a series of gesticulations he showed us where the problem was. It turned out that one of the gardeners had left a pair of safety goggles on top of the car, I hadn't noticed and had driven off with them still there. Well you don't expect your hire car to be wearing safety goggles do you? Regardless of the language barrier it was a pleasant exchange accompanied by much laughter. It was very kind of him to alert us but unsurprising because the Spanish are, by nature, very kind people.

The extent of the gardeners' work last night became fully apparent this morning. The pruning completed we now have a delightful weeping Olive tree. I had asked for it to be pruned into very popular pom pom topiary but in carrying out this very gradual process over the year that had seen the potential of a rather original weeping style tree. I was consulted of course and I agreed that it would be a lovely idea to follow that theme. Remaining vertical limbs lopped off and we now have a very stylish weeping Olive. I do believe that we might have started a trend!

All the weeds have been strimmed leaving a nice green carpet that could almost pass as a lawn if you squint. The gardeners used to rotivate the earth but that killed off my beloved wild flowers so now they wait until I have had time to photograph them all then strim them. Leaving the roots intact binds the soil together nicely and the strimmed weeds give us the faux lawn.

I do believe that we have extended the repertoire of our team of gardeners. They were accustomed to working for people who want easy maintenance, decorative gardens. I set the condition that is a plant doesn't produce something edible, medicinal or for security protection it has no place in my garden. I think that they had to go back to the text books. Now we have a clearly defined herb garden, lots of healthy and productive fruit trees and chillies everywhere and I am now informed that we are developing a vegetable patch.

We keep finding plants that we don't recognise beacause one of the gardeners, Willie (we call him Chilli Willie because of his success growing chillies) has taken on the edible plant mantle with enthusiasm. He keeps experimenting with new fruits to see if they will flourish. We currently have Physallis ripening and a very lush, as yet unidentified fruit ripening on a very healthy looking, very thorny bush with beautiful, eye-shaped, glossy leaves. That one is a rip roaring success Willie. Now can you tell us what it is please?

After collecting the laundry from Lavanderia Ana we made it home just in time to go down to Keith & Audrey's house to get into Keith's car and go to Parcent for lunch. We discovered the cafe restaurant at the Cooperativa Agrícola El Progreso several years ago when the restaurant we had intended to go to in Parcent was fully booked with a private party. I suppose the nearest English equivalent would be a working men's club but with a restaurant, a lovely stage with a proscenium arch, beautifully, ornately tiled walls and a gorgeous wooden floor whose creaks remind everyone of long gone school days, church halls and youth clubs. When we discovered it its clientele was strictly Spanish and so the food was very typically Spanish, and very good value too.

Later we took Keith and Audrey there - big mistake. Keith is El Presidente of AFPO, the Association of Foreign Property Owners and since we took them there word has spread like wildfire among the expat communities and the place is always full of expats, especially English ones. So what was our safe retreat from expats is safe no longer! Next time we find an expat free retreat we are going to sneak off there in heavy disguise and keep our mouths firmly shut about it.

They have always been pretty good about dealing with my needs but this time they excelled themselves. I even got some gluten free bread to go with the aioli - wow - and they cooked my patatas fritas separately to avoid contamination. Whoopee, brilliant awareness and a portion of uncontaminated chips!

After lunch we went back to Keith & Audrey's for tea and chat, always easy and enjoyable, an interlude that had to be curtailed because we had to go back to the house to wait for Peter and his fellow biker who were coming to take the Honda away.

When the time came Peter introduced us to Nigel, another bike fanatic, and what is even better, a mechanic. Peter admitted that when he came for the Kawasaki on Monday night he hadn't checked out the Honda thoroughly and on seeing it tonight said that he had missed out on a great opportunity because it is "very tidy." Nigel's response was to say "Tough," and express his delight at getting a very nice freebie. Both bikes will be treasured and even better, they will be ridden, something they haven't been for several years.

I took parting photographs of course, for Garrath's benefit I thought. I also thought that I would have to deal with his grief at having to part with the beloved Honda that he has owned since 1980, but guess who is the one who is grieving ? Me! Somehow seeing that bike go into the van and the van disappear out of the gate along with our dreams of moving to Spain and riding the fabulous biker roads out here opened the flood gates of grief and sadness that I have been suppressing since Garrath's hospitalisation on January 3rd. I guess I'm just tired of having to be strong and always having to cope and see the positives. At some time the tears had to flow and tonight might as well be the night.

Pass the tissues guys. I need about six boxes, and then I'll be back to the person of whom people say,

"Lynne is strong, she will cope, she doesn't need any help."

Gas, Gardeners and Hot Air. 06.10.2015

A day of mixed activities, some work, some leisure and pleasure, started with the usual routine getting ready stuff, then a trip to the local Ferreteria to get a new gas bottle. There is no mains gas or sewage here. Gas comes in bottles that have to be lugged from the Ferreteria, Sewage is dealt with by a septic tank - one that cost us €5,000.00 to replace just a few years ago, which considering that we don't own the house was a bit of a squeeze. Still, gave up hoping that my mother (who does own the property) would take any responsibility for it long ago.

New gas bottle acquired we bumped down to the local supermarket for essential breakfast supplies then bumped back to the house again. I say bumped because the gas bottle rolls around rather alarmingly in the boot every time I take a roundabout or brake. Every time we come we say that we ought to get wedges to stop this and every time we forget!

Breakfast is the only meal where I have to do any food preparation and even that is minimal. It consists of me making breakfast gloop, a puree of fruit from the garden, to put on gluten free cereal along with yogurt. We lunch out every day, supper, if we have any, is just shop bought charcuterie, cheese and crisps. The deal is that I do the washing up, Garrath does the drying and putting away, but this is so minimal that it takes only minutes. Bliss!

After putting everything away, closing the shutters and the like, we made our way down to Partida La Fossa and gently perambulated to the restaurant of our choice, La Terraza, a Ristorante, Arrozeria y Marisceria. Roughly translated (and my translation is very rough) it means that they specialise in rice dishes and seafood. The staff were helpful and seemed to understand my issues well so I ordered a house salad for starters, Garrath ordered Croquettes for starters, and we ordered a sharing rice dish with rabbit and artichokes. When starters came Garrath had eight croquettes, and my salad was gargantuan. Hmmm, I'll order that as a main course next time.

When the rice dish came we were surprised and delighted. Somewhere between a soup and a stew, the stock in which it was cooked was utterly delicious, there were lovely vegetables and the rabbit was divine. Unsurprisingly we couldn't finish it all and didn't have room for a pud, though there were plenty on offer for me. Next time ......

On the next table there were two Spanish couples with their small children. The twin boys who were immediately next to us started to get restless and wanted to engage with us. They were told gently not to disturb us while we were eating but they persisted. What followed was exemplary parenting on the part of both their parents. Distraction was tried, when that failed boundaries were were firmly set and when they failed to respect them they were placed in their buggy and moved away, effectively excluded from interaction. There was no violence, no harsh words, just firm boundary setting and enforcement. Why can't more parents in the UK do that? I for one get sick and tired of being expected to tolerate the unruly, often seriously intrusive behaviour of out of control brats, brats who turn into monsters who think they are entitled to everything and responsible for nothing.

After that very pleasant repast we went for a meander to the end of Partida La Fossa with me taking photographs of Lifesnapper's beach babes along the way and calling into a couple more cafes for tea, coffee and water. During one of those stops I saw the silliest of silly hats thus far. I managed to capture that in a sketch that will become a painting to illustrate my verse tomorrow.

We had some amusing times with our Apple watches. At several points while we were sitting at the same table mine had me in Teulada while Garrath's had him where we were in Calpe, Garrath's iPhone had a good signal with Orange and mine had a poor signal with YOIGO.

We had expected to have a visit from Peter's mate who wants to take Garrath's beloved Honda but when we got back there was a message to say that they couldn't make it this evening but would come tomorrow, so guess what - down to the local watering hole. There we met our team of gardeners who were on their way to our place to Pom Pom the Olive tree, do some strimming and tidying up.

So here we are again, writing blogs, enjoying a wonderful evening temperature of 24C at my side of the table, 23C at Garrath's side (Apple watches again) blissfully cool after the hot air of the day (29C) referred to in the title, being eaten alive by those miniature marauders, snickety, snackety horrible bitey things and indulging in whatever drink takes our fancy.

Life is tough!

Good Sleep, Drug Therapy and Old Friends.

Whoopee, with the able assistance of Paracetamol and Ibuprofen I managed to get almost eight hours, fever free sleep. Bliss, and I feel so much better for it. I am still suffering some post poisoning symptoms, they will take ages to clear, but with judicious drug dosages they should settle down in a week or so.

On the positive side it is a salutary reminder that the gluten intolerance is severe and not my imagination as some people imply and even tell me from their position of verbal diarrhoea, non expertise. It beats me a) why would I want to imagine such severe reactions and b) who gives these shits the right to make such a judgement? These are the same kind of people who tell me that I can always have a banana instead of a meal (do I look like a chimpanzee? No don't answer that!) Or they tell me that a little bit won't matter, that I can take a day off now and again, that I am being difficult, or worse still give me a lecture about what I should eat. If ever you read a newspaper report about me committing murder or a serious assault, you will understand why!

The new restaurant didn't poison me so we know we have a safe haven there, though they could use the lesson in desserts that Annette suggested I give them. I might just push my luck and do so.

We have decided that next time we go we will walk there. It will take about half an hour, then I can have wine with the meal, then we can perambulate back, call in at a few bar restaurants on the way to check out eating possibilities there then totter home having made a day of it. That will be fun.

We spent a very pleasant evening with our Dutch friends and neighbours last night. It was the kind of evening where revelations about our four equally traumatic pasts were shared because we have learned to trust each other and have made the next move in bonding. Robert and Marijke are both very interesting and Rob is a good raconteur. He is 75, Marijke is 77, and she is a living testament to the fact that that old age does not preclude glamour.

Robert was born in Indonesia when it was still the Dutch East Indies and he spent most of his adult life working all over the world. In fact he has only spent eight years of his entire life in The Netherlands. Thus he has an endless supply of fascinating stories to tell. Especially fascinating are the stories of when he was stationed in Burma at a time when it was still a closed country, so the only way officials could ensure that he was accepted was to make him a commissioned officer in the Burmese Army.

Robert's house testifies to his love of the Far East, for it is full of Far Eastern antiquities. Marijke's apartment testifies to her love of Dutch antique furniture and ornaments, all these in spite of the fact that she hates The Netherlands. Both their accommodation and their experiences help to make them interesting to spend time with. Their gardens evidence their Dutch heritage. They are lush and beautifully tended. We had a lovely, bonding evening there, one that we will no doubt repeat before the end of our stay.

Today we had lunch with our English friends and neighbours, Keith and Audrey. They come from Keighley, the town in England that I used to represent as a District Councillor, so that is always a good conversation starter. Keith is President of AFPO, The Association Of Foreign Property Owners, and he and his AFPO colleagues do a sterling job representing their members. There are always a whole host of anecdotes that come out of that every time we meet.

Keith, bless him, offered to do the driving and I gratefully accepted. They took us to a restaurant in Teulada via a route that I will never be able to replicate and because we have only ever been to Teulada via a more conventional main road route, I have no idea where in Teulada it is located. Thank goodness Garrath got one of their cards so that we can use satnav to locate it.

The people at the restaurant had been checked out by Keith & Audrey before to see if they could cater for me. They were true to their word, fully understood my needs and catered very well indeed. Patatas Fritas (French Fries) are a no-no for me when they fry battered and other floury things in the same fryer so when other people has Patatas Fritas with their main course, I had grilled vegetables. Even though I would sell my soul for an uncontaminated plate of Patats Fritas, I was content with the healthy alternative - well, sort of! Joy of joys, I actually got a dessert for a change, and a very nice dessert it was too, a light and very flavourful, home made chocolate mousse. I consider that part of my five a day. After all, chocolate is made of beans.

After lunch we returned to Keith & Audrey's house for coffee, tea and liqueurs, and to catch up on the gossip. Keith and Audrey are from the opposite side of the political spectrum to us so there is always a very lively political debate, invariable conducted on their terrace. Unfortunately their terrace is a much favoured location for every possible variety of snickety, snackety, horrible bitey thing in Spain so the lively debate was punctuated by frequent applications of Fenergan, the magic cream that subdues the ferocity of insect bites.

We terminated the visit at 19.45, made our way back to the house and settled in for a quiet evening of blog writing and planning for tomorrow. Garrath has promised to sort a computer problem for Keith, I have to negotiate with the builder's front man, Abdellah, to get some lighting improvements done and I have chutney to prepare. Lunch will be at the local cheapie that caters for me very well, again with grilled vegetables instead of Patatas Fritas, then who knows? Well actually I do, a jaunt down to the local watering hole. After all we haven't been there for two days. Their profits must be well down!

Hard Work Day (for Monasor) 02.10.2015

We slept very well ably assisted by our celebratory refreshments last night, then had to hurry up getting ready because the builders were coming. They arrived promptly at 09.00 and set about their task with vigour. Abdellah had decided that the poor light in the bathroom should be sorted by installing a new, lower ceiling below the level of the beam that obscured much of the existing light and setting four flush mounted spotlights into it. That was the first task. He said that he would try to get the electrician there in the afternoon to do the remaining jobs but couldn't guarantee it.

The builders, two Moroccans by the sound of Abdellah's conversation with them, worked solidly from 09.00 to 13.30 and installed the new ceiling with wiring set up for the spotlights. Where we had expected the standard, English style, suspended ceiling, what we got was a brand new, solid ceiling, immaculately plastered. I have been to Morocco and seen some of the amazing plasterwork over there so I can safely say that if you want brilliant plastering done, hire a Moroccan. The standard of their work is stunning and they cleaned up impeccably too.

I occupied my time while the builders were busy by boiling down the chutney stirring it constantly to prevent it burning. Since this is a task that reaches a dizzying 9.25 on The Kumquat Scale I occupied my mind by moving one of the computer chairs into the kitchen, setting up my iPad and typing the rest of yesterday's blog with one hand. I did get caught out at one point because access to the toilet was blocked by the builders' kit so I left Garrath on stirring duty while I hightailed it to Keith & Audrey's house to use their loo!

When Abdellah arrived for the second time to pick up the builders he brought Candido with him. Candido is Andalusian, a delightful man, and the one who has the final say when it comes to building projects. An animated discussion followed but was curtailed because Candido was more interested in the chutney that I was making. We discussed what it was, the strength, the ingredients (I do very well with culinary Spanish) and he declared that it is good for making you strong, virile and manly. Hmmmm, the rest is fine but I'm not sure if I'm looking forward to growing that beard!

After they left we went for leisurely lunch at La Minarete. I had Salmon Carpaccio which was delicious and beautifully presented. Garrath had a goats cheese and caramelised onion salad. It looked delicious and he ate every scrap with relish. I had chosen Tuna a la Plancha so the lady came to ask me how I wanted it cooking. After a confusing exchange in my poor Spanglish

http://c-n-u.eu/node/465

she cottoned on and gave a lovely demonstration that I will use from now on. She used the flat of her hand to represent the tuna steak, pressed it down and went 'Psssssss' flipped it over quickly and went 'Pssssss' again then lifted it up to indicate removal from the heat. Perfect, that's just how I like my Tuna and that is just how it arrived, just seared on the outside, completely raw in the centre - deeeeeee-lish! It was beautifully presented and garnished with beautifully cooked grilled vegetables.

Garrath's Merluza a la Romana was quite different to the Merluza a la Romana he has had elsewhere. It was in 4 cm chunks and in a saffron infused coating and cooked to perfection, again beautifully presented and garnished. Dessert was out of the question, we were so stuffed. Besides, Garrath didn't want his hand stabbing again for eating a rich dessert when I could have none.

After lunch we decided to walk it off by perambulating to the end of Partida La Fossa and checking out possible restaurants on the way. I collected more photographs for my post that will be dedicated to Lifesnapper, the photographer who posts images of nubile young women. I am trying to persuade him to appreciate the beauty of older, rounder ladies and there are lots of them on Playa De La Fossa, so I am capturing them in the interests of his education and enlightenment.

The weather was gorgeous, 27C with bright sunshine and a cooling breeze so we enjoyed the seaside meander immensely. A La Coste backpack was waiting for me at a shop that sold high end designer gear (remember, there are no pockets in shrouds) but sadly they didn't have the lovely matching La Coste shoes in my size. It will be a mission to find them elsewhere.

We found a cafe at the very end of Partida La Fossa with as lovely view and good, free wifi so rested ourselves there before the meander back to the car. While we were there a very flash motor yacht and a beautiful ketch moored nearby providing more photo opportunities for me - bliss. Eventually we wandered back taking note of restaurants on the way and got back to the car having had true, complete R & R.

When we got back to the house we were delighted to find that all the lighting had been completed. We now have a beautifully lit bathroom, kitchen and two bedrooms to add to the beautifully lit living room and dining room that they did before. The bathroom ceiling will be painted next week when the plaster has had chance to dry.

I never cease to be amazed at the quality of Monasor's work or to be impressed at the skill of builders, plumbers, electricians, painters, plasterers and the like. I think that we in the UK have made a fundamental error in pushing kids to go through university, in many cases to get degrees that are of no use whatever in the world of employment. Bring back apprenticeships say I. When the toilet is broken the last thing I need is a PhD. I need a plumber and a good one at that. We don't need more graduates. We need parity of esteem for all skilled work.

Strangely, almost spookily, when we got home it was pub o'clock so after a quick turnaround we wandered down to the local watering hole where I am writing this in a lovely evening temperature of 23C . Well it would be rude not to, wouldn't it?

Laundry Day Spanish Style

Laundry Day Spanish Style

After a good, wine assisted sleep last night I got up at 06.00 knowing that we had a tough day ahead - laundry day. Ablutions, breakfast, bejewelling, perfuming and painting the face to make me recognisable completed, we were ready to face the daunting task. Its hard but it had to be done, principally because I had no clean, lightweight and light coloured LONG trousers to wear. Why long trousers you ask? Well the snickety snackety horrible bitey things

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that are flourishing in the garden this year are doing so with me as the special item on their menu! Once again my legs are covered in bites and the Port wine stains that go with them and one ankle has a balloon like swelling. I love animals, I love all kinds of animals and birds, reptiles, insects I love them all, except for Cockroaches and these evil little bastards!

Back to the tedious task of laundry. We had collected it all, bagged it all, now it was time to face the evil deed. So I started - the car of course - drove down to Lavanderia Ana where Garrath handed it over, got the receipt slip and an instruction to collect it at 14.00. That part of the task over we repaired to the local bar to sip tea and coffee and take advantage of their free wifi. From there we went to our favourite supermarket for a few bits and bobs then to the Chinese shop for more essential gadgets for all our techno toys. From there I went to a Farmacia to buy - yes you've guessed - insect repellant! The Farmacia is very near to another favourite bar restaurant so we popped in there for tea & coffee and to wait until the 02.00 collection time at which point we collected the freshly laundered items from Lavanderia Ana.

Jeez, that was hard work and it is not over yet. We are now at the port where we had a splendid lunch at Las Barcas (house salad for us both then Swordfish with Salsa Verde for me, Hake Basque style for Garrath.) When we leave here we will have to go back to the house, run the gauntlet with those evil snickety snackety horrible bitey things to see if the repellant really works, then we have to unload the clean laundry and put it all away.

I have no doubt that we will need post laundry trauma therapy after that. They provide that service at the local bar at very reasonable hourly rates and they throw in wifi for free. All this and blistering sunshine to boot. How do we cope?

Lousy night, Laundry Collection, Utility Shopping, and Lunch With Friends 14.10, 2015

Absolutely lousy night first of nightmares (temperature probably) then of non sleep, first waking at 12.50 then repeatedly trying to sleep, getting up, trying sleep again getting up again, etc etc - boooooooooooooring! I hate nights like that but whinging about it serves no useful purpose so I shall move on.

When I did finally give up on the idea of sleep and get up. Hoo-bloody-ray, the rain has stopped. Granted the skies were murky, the weather looked unpromising, BUT THERE WAS NO RAIN!

We got ready pretty sharpish and headed off to collect the laundry that we could not collect yesterday because of Las Lluvias (Spanish for a deluge) then did some basic, getting ready to go shopping, - dehumidifiers, oil for the oak furniture etc. This time we were able to call at the local watering hole for tea and water before heading back to meet up with Keith and Audrey to go out for lunch.

Bless Keith, on the three occasions that we have gone out to lunch together he has driven to give me a break from driving, a much appreciated, kind gesture. Speaking of driving, just as I have become accustomed to driving the Peugot 308 we are approaching the time when I have to hand it back. Still, I have that one last motorway ride to come - wheeeeeeee!

We went once more to the Cooperativa Agricoles de Progreso in Parcent and the meal was delightful. After being provided with gluten free toast with which to enjoy the pungent alioli (love it) I took the waitresses recommendation and had the soup as a starter as did Keith. Audrey and Garrath had their own selection and delicious as it looked, I fear that they missed out, big time. The soup consisted of whole lentils (the green kind, similar to Puy lentils) sausages, chorizo, potatoes and the most delicious stock ever. I can honestly say that it was the best soup I have ever had, ever, anywhere, and I have dined in Michelin starred restaurants.

After that I had the local sausages. Sausages? How dull you might say. Well let me remind you that English sausages are stuffed with ingredients that actually poison me, so getting sausages that don't poison me is a real treat. What is more, most English sausages are dull, blandly, flavourlessly, dull and this is certainly not true of Spanish sausages. I had three, one a slice of black pudding style, spicy and well seasoned, another a conventional pork one but again well seasoned, moist and spicy, the last one a fresh Chorizo and all three were beautifully cooked and accompanied with contamination-free chips. Deep joy!

When it came to dessert I had only one choice - flan (caramel custard) but at least it was one choice more that I usually get. I was so preoccupied with the delicious comestibles that I had that I hardly noticed what the others had. Frankly I don't care. They always have a vast array of choices, I don't and I was thoroughly enjoying mine.

After lunch we repaired to Keith and Audrey's house for tea and chat, always easy with them in spite of, or maybe because of out political differences, Garrath did his Dr Megabyte trick with Keith's smartphone, and then we said fond farewells and we got back home to do dreary stuff like put away Lavaderia Ana's sterling efforts.

It didn't take long for us to determine that a visit to the local watering hole was long overdue (missed last night due to the ****ing rain) and here we are again.

While we were here Garrath was reading The Independent on line and delighting in Jeremy Corbyn's exchange at Prime Minster's Question Time today when he put down David Cameron . We delighted in this and celebrated Corbyn's honesty and common decency as compared to Cameron's thinly disguised, Thatcherist, support for the exploitative and self serving.

The male partner of an English couple who were sitting at the table next to us was earwigging and became stony faced, particularly when Garrath commented that Cameron's 'Starter Homes' initiative would be beyond the range of him, even at his inflated salary. Ill disguised anger suffused his (Tory) face and he called for the bill.

When there was a problem with the ticket machine and the lady serving tried to explain what was wrong, Garrath tried to help, but incandescent Tory ignored Garrath with a fury that was palpable. It seemed to us the fact that Garrath obviously earns a salary that is way in excess of his and is still a Socialist was something that he was not, on his self appointed high horse, prepared to countenance.

After they had left Garrath asked,

"Did I upset them?' And when I responded with, "Yes, seriously," he responded with "Yay, Success!" It is great fun winding up the self-appointed Bourgeoisie.

I received a brilliant offer on a suite of software that expires before we get home so while we are here on free WIFI we decided that I should buy it and download it tonight. Sadly the download speed is nightmarishly slow so we are still waiting, and waiting, and waiting! It seems that I am going to have to sit here and drink wine until the long winded process is over.

Jeez, the sacrifices I have to make to be a cyber junkie, hic!!!

Phone Calls, Changed Plans, Glittery Things And Christmas 10.10.2015

The day started with the usual routine of getting ready and while I was in the bathroom I said to Garrath,

"I think we should come here for Christmas." No response but he was obviously thinking about it. Having given it serious thought and after a brief discussion the statement was made,

"Why the hell not?"

Plans for the day were made, first some routine phone calls, two to change the lunch arrangements for tomorrow (our friends' dog is poorly and they don't want to travel far) and one to book lunch at El Riu on the way to Guadalest. The lunch arrangements were changed successfully but there was no response from El Riu (fiestas) so we decided to go to El Refugio in Moraira instead and booked that.

First some shopping for essentials then a call into the local watering hole to get some bank transfers done with their free wifi and an internet search to see if a Christmas trip was viable. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, by doing the bank transfer bit, I learned that I had a silly amount of money in my current account. Mmmmmmm, itchy fingers on the debit card!!!

The internet search about the Christmas trip confirmed its viability and Garrath went on to book and pay for the flights expensive at that time of year but what the hell, here it comes again, THERE ARE NO POCKETS IN SHROUDS!

I phoned later and booked the dogs into kennels - job almost done. All we have to do now is book a hire car. Whoopeee! As one who normally hates Christmas with a passion, I am really looking forward to this one. We are bringing hand luggage only and any warm clothes we need for here will be purchased when we arrive.

After unloading the shopping we made our way to Moraira along the winding coast road. I am getting used to both the road and the car so Garrath only complained once - a record for him. When we got to Moraira we walked towards the restaurant in a leisurely fashion and when we came to my favourite art jewellery shop I had ten full minutes before they closed. In like a shot, I found their Ambar (Amber) and with a full three minutes to spare I had managed to buy a gorgeous shell carved pendant inset with a pearl, the chain that it was displayed with, a stunning, huge, uniquely designed ring in the same coloured Ambar and a pair of perfectly colour matched drop earrings with two huge chunks of Ambar hanging on exactly the same kind of chain that the pendant is on. Pockets, shrouds, banks - sod it, I will be the glitziest corpse in the grave .

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We arrived at El Refugio three minutes late, early by Spanish standards, and went on to have a fabulous lunch. I ate so much beautifully cooked fish that I should have a brain the size of a planet tomorrow! El Refugio is undoubtedly the best restaurant we have ever come across when it comes to catering for me. Why? The boss's daughter is coeliac. Best of all the food is to die for.

After lunch (during which I had taken off my jewellery and put on the new stuff) we went for a leisurely meander through the marina and the town, stopping for a cuppa on the way. The fish in the marina entertained as usual, still convinced that all humans at the marina side are bread providers, even though the regulations have changed and you are no longer allowed to feed the fish (such a shame.)

Then the drive back on the winding road, a brief stop at the Chinese sells everything cheap store (well it would be rude to drive past) then home just in time to put the camera away and repair to the local watering hole on foot, which is where we are now.

All in all a truly delightful day, not only for its contents but for the prospects for Christmas that it achieved.

Quiet Calpé Day

Today we decided that we would have a quiet Calpé day. We went into the Hiper Calp Chinese store and sorted out the bedside charger purchased yesterday that didn't fit.

Then we went and parked in Plaza Mayor and used 'shanks's pony' to get around the banks for cash and do some 'messages'. These included calling into Linda Townsend's and finding out what this year's property tax is. Arranged to pay it via internet banking (and did while sitting in Spasso looking at a beautiful blue see). We then went to Blasco where Lynne bought some winter shoes for home before going into Cafe Dany's for a cuppa and aceatunas. When we came ut of there we called into Galeria Aitana looking for a winter bag in blue for Lynne. I ended up buying two lovey leather bags. A larger US mail style one for home and a smaller 'man bag' style for here that will hold my iPad as well as wallets, etc.

We then headed to Mejias III for lunch, arriving around 13:45 and getting in just before the rush started. And it carried on till 3pm when we finally left. Digestion of lunch was aided by a stroll along the promenade to Spasso, where several cuppas were consumed. We love it, sitting looking at the sea and watching life walk by.

Rain, Rain, More Rain and Chutney 08.0.2015

Rain, Rain, More Rain And Chutney 08.10.2015

I woke at 04.50 after a restless night characterised by disturbing dreams, none of which I can remember now. No worries, maybe my subconscious needed to rattle them around my sleeping consciousness. Who knows? I'm damned if I'm paying a dream therapist to try to make sense of them. That's just another kind of hocus pocus and I have no time for hocus pocus of any kind.

From around 06.00 it rained and with a few short breaks it rained all day. Some of it was soft rain, some of it head numbing, roof drumming, heavy as hell rain that made mushroom splashes on the ground and turned Avenguda Jaime 1 Conquerador (James the First Conqueror Avenue in Valenciano) into Riu Jaime 1 Conquerador (River James the First Conqueror in Valenciano.)

We didn't mind. We are not made of sugar to use a well worn phrase coined by former Councillor colleague John Prestage's mother. We have waterproof clothing and what is more, after lunch I bought myself a pair of ankle wellies - sorted. Besides, we knew that today and tomorrow were going to be rainy, we also knew that the painter was going to come to paint the new bathroom ceiling, so we had already designated today and tomorrow as chutney days.

I woke Garrath at 07.40 because I knew that we had to be finished with the bathroom early because of the painter. He was as he describes himself, "A bit flat" which is hardly surprising in view of my crack up last night. That was enough to flatten anybody's batteries, including mine. Nevertheless we got on with things.

As it happened the painter arrived at 09.20 and had his work done in an hour, a superb job done by a really meticulous professional. It transpired that it was the very same painter who had painted the entire interior of the house some years ago, a job that he did so well that it is still immaculate, and considering what a peeling, damp damaged wreck it was with layer upon layer of peeling, water stained, cheap paint, he is a painter of near genius. He is also a lovely man with a very cheerful, positive attitude. I am beginning to believe that all Monasor's employees have to pass a good looks test (he was pretty) and be advanced graduates from Charm School.

After ablutions and breakfast and receiving the painter, I started the chutney preparations. The tomatoes, chillies and Seville Oranges had been thawed out overnight, the spices were ready, the vinegar and sugar at hand. All I had to was steam the lemons until they were soft, peel the onions, de-pip the Seville Oranges and lemons (therein lies a story) and chop everything.

When I use Seville oranges straight from the trees they have to be boiled or steamed until they are very soft before they can be used in either marmalade or chutney (They are tough buggers.) It is the same with lemons and limes (equally tough buggers.) Kumquats are not so difficult, apart from making you want you cut your own throat with boredom when preparing them. We have a deal with the gardeners. They harvest all the fruit, after taking what they need, bung it in plastic bags and stick it in the freezer for me. I am delighted to report that freezing Seville oranges renders them soft enough to be used without prior cooking - what a relief. I shall claim that I knew that all along and had them frozen deliberately!

I had already topped all the chillies and tiny cherry tomatoes last night (a straight 8 on The Kumquat Scale) so all that was needed was to steam the lemons and de-pip them and the Sevilles. There were 3 kilos of Sevilles and about a kilo of lemons. I started with the Sevilles while the lemons were steaming. I cut them in half across their equators and used the handle of a teaspoon to remove the pips.

I had previously thought that Kumquats were the champions of the citrus world for the production of pips but oh no, I was wrong. Sevilles are winning by a mile and are absolute champions in deviously, deliberately hiding them. Each orange has around twelve segments and each segment can have up to six pips lurking in there. Some have none just to fool you. Some have just two, some more so you can't make an educated guess. You just have to prod and poke until you prise the reluctant bastards out and no matter how meticulous you are some will manage to evade your explorations. They score 9.75 on The Kumquat Scale and are only saved from being a 10 by the fact that they are big enough to hold, unlike those piddling, fiddly Kumquats!

Sevilles duly, and I confess, rather grumpily prepared, I moved on the the now soft, steamed lemons. They too presented challenges. I think that Perran planted a so-called seedless variety. For seedless read ' fiddly little annoying seeds that are really hard to get out.' At times like this Marike's words,

"Why do you make so much work for yourself?" springs readily to mind, but so does "I've started so I'll finish."

Sevilles and lemons de-pipped, it was time for the onions. Sadly Garrath didn't respond to my comment,

"And now comes the job I hate most" by offering to peel the onions for me, so I plodded on while he recharged his batteries. Garrath recharges his batteries by relaxing and withdrawing into his own private world which is fine. Today my recharging has to be achieved in the way that I usually do it, like one of those bikes where you pedal like crazy to put more charge in, with lots of activity. T'was ever thus!

Onions peeled I then employed the new Food Processor. All electrical items have to have a name so that you can swear at them when they go wrong so we have decided to call the Food Processor Abdellah, because like Abdellah, it seems to be able to cope with just about anything without getting flustered. Anyway, Abdellah sliced the onions in a breath and then went on to chop the chillies, the Sevilles and the lemons.

I used the whizzy stick (stick blender) to whizz up the tomatoes then it was time for the easy bit, to chuck it all in the preserving pan along with the sugar, vinegar and spices gentle heat it all to boiling point, boil it for five minutes to ensure that everything was sterile then cover it so that we could go to lunch. Phew, what a breeze after the mental health threatening process of de-pipping!

It sounds tedious and laborious, which it is, but what we have to note here is the objective - the immense satisfaction I get from the production of delicious things that neightbours, friends, the gardeners and the builders this time, will get when I hand over truly delicious, home made, unique preserves that are given with genuine love and appreciation.

Lunch was had at the local cheapie and it was lovely, salad, a starter, a main course and a dessert along with a drink, and all for €9 each. Having navigated the torrent that was the road I remembered that it was at the shoe shop next door to the restaurant where I had seen the ankle wellies so I went in and bought them then had the pleasure of plodging through the puddles on the way back to the car. (Plodging, a peculiarly English entertainment borne out of having so much rainy weather, it consists of stamping heavily through puddles so that you cause maximum spray, noise and disruption. I love it!)

A brief call at the local GF aware supermarket later and we were back to both Garrath and I recharging our batteries in our own particular ways, him with whatever, me with the chutney boiling. He booked our restaurant for Sunday with Rob & Marijke and upon informing Rob of this became aware that he has to do his Dr Megabyte act with Rob tomorrow morning while I chutney boil again. (Deep joy, I have the unending joy of bottle and lid sterilising to do and then messy bottling with as little spillage and skin burning as possible.)

Come beer o'clock (I wish) we repaired to the local watering hole to imbibe the electrolytes that facilitate both our recharging systems, beer in Garath's case, wine in mine.

Who said this was a holiday?

Recovering From Poorlies, Quiet Start, New Places, Old Friends

No blog yesterday because I was poorly, taken all strange, dizzy, nauseous and feverish so I had to come home and put myself to bed. Yuk, just what you don't need on hollybags and just what you don't need to read about so I shall pass swiftly on.

This morning we had a slow, steady start because I still felt grotty, but eventually I thought that I might survive so we set off on a jaunt on the understanding that if I started to feel dire again I would turn around and come back. This is one of the many down sides to being the only driver.

For some unfathomable reason I decided to drive to a town that we had seen the signposts for but never visited, Pedreguer. Garrath chose the route there and it was a visual delight, lovely winding roads through spectacular mountains, picturesque and interesting to drive, it took us through lovely villages but was always wide enough to drive comfortably.

A short circular detour enabled me to take pictures of a wonderful ruin that I have passed before but never stopped to photograph - another one off my 'Must Capture' list, and then we were off again.

When we got to Pedreguer we found a parking space easily then walked into the town centre where we found the remnants of some kind of celebratory parade (today is a National Fiesta.) Everybody was dressed up to the nines and to my delight The Guardia Civil were in dress uniform and that included those gorgeous, distinctive, patent leather hats with a folded up kepi at the back. Needless to say they were the focus of my photographic attention.

We had a cuppa and water at Centro La Musical, a lovely very Spanish cafe that boasts lots of photos of their bands from donkeys years back to the present day. The clientele were affable and noisy and the staff had a delightful manner that English serving staff would do well to emulate.

After that we moved to a restaurant recommended by Trip Advisor only to find that every table was reserved, not surprising because the food being served looked magical. Thwarted in our epicurean ambitions we went back to the car and drove to La Brisa in Teulada where we were welcomed and recognised, so much so that they brought me toasted gluten free bread to enjoy with the appetisers. Lunch was excellent and after it I felt a lot better.

Back to Calpe via a new-to me road, also bendy but wide enough to enjoy. I am now familiar enough with the car to fling it around bends, Spanish style, though not at the breakneck speed that they do it.

We called at the supermarket that only closes on Christmas day then called at the local watering hole for - well water actually. Whatever bug has got me requires me to rehydrate furiously, probably because I am pumping it out of my pores at a rate of knots. That done we headed home to prepare for the guests that we were expecting for the evening.

I have a very long history with Ula and Jurgen, our guests for the evening. When my parents moved here in 1973 they befriended Ula's father, Karl Hoffstadt, who was their next door neighbour. Later I befriended Ula's brother Hans and his wife Elvira. Ula has since inherited Karl's house and we have befriended her and her husband Jurgen, a delightful, gentle man, a former university teacher whose skills are still so valued that he continues to be a guest lecturer all over the place.

We had a lovely evening of easy conversation that affirmed the bonds that already existed, bonds made even firmer by the fact that Jurgen is also a cancer survivor. It seems that there are lots of Swords of Damocles that people live under. We learned that they too have the 'No Pockets In Shrouds' philosophy firmly embedded in their lifestyle policy.

All in all a lovely day in spite of the fact that this blasted bug is still bugging me, though not so alarmingly as it was yesterday.

C'est la Guerre!

Spain Autumn Trip - day 1

Spain trip Autumn 2015 - Journal, day one.

After a very early night (20.30) I got up at 02.00 which is a pretty good sleep for me. It allowed me to post a series of 15 photos of stormy skies on ePHOTOzine, the kind I hope we will be leaving behind for three weeks and three days. What usually happens with the Autumn trip though is that the UK gets an Indian Summer while Calpé gets its first rains. Not that it matters much to us. After all, we are not beach types and it never rains in bars. It never rains in El Corte Ingles either!

Packing quintuple checked, house checked, paperwork checked, scrubbed clean, bejewelled and cosmetically enhanced, I left for the airport with Garrath at 05.15. The very pleasant AA cab driver punctuated the ride with just enough conversation to make it pleasant but not enough to be intrusive. I wonder how many racists ride in his cab, receive his excellent, polite service and still hang on to their ridiculous prejudices?

During the waiting time at the airport I finally managed to complete bizarrely complex the online banking registration process for my bank account. Once allowed into the hallowed grounds within their electric fence that surrounds my money, I found that the service I required wasn't available there so I had to phone. I successfully overcame what seemed like a squillion automated voice obstacles and got through to a real person, a very charming Indian lady who informed me that my call was unnecessary as I no longer have to inform them when I go overseas. AAAAAAAAAAARGH! I hate banks!

The boring, boarding process proceeded unremarkably as did taxiing and take off. Typically, the weather was gorgeous! The airport and the plane provides masses of sketch book and acerbic verse material. The usual quota of garrulous airheads is scenting the cabin with the perfume of their freshly bleached hair, groups of 'Us Lads' are noisily anticipating a holiday of which they will remember very little, older women with cheap perms and badly fitting false teeth are trying to engage their disaffected husbands in facile small talk - same old same old.

Fortunately, this being Wednesday, there are none of the Stag and Hen parties that make Thursday and Friday flights miserable. Jet 2 have tightened their policies considerably thank goodness. They now have a police presence on the "troublesome flights" (air stewardess speak) and those flights are 'dry' - no alcohol served, so hopefully when we are forced by circumstance to take one of the "troublesome flights" it will be less obnoxious.

Make no mistake, I have no problem with men in tutus and wings carrying magic wands, men dressed as Nuns, or anyone sporting bizarre fancy dress. I wish all Jellys, Traceys and Kayleighs well with their forthcoming nuptials and if they want to dress up prior to the big event, good on them. To each their own say I. What I do have a problem with is drunken, airhead morons trying to involve me in their noisy idea of fun and completely denying me privacy and quiet during the flight. To my utter delight the complete absence of stag and hen dos has made the flight out bliss.

In one of our favourite beachside bars now, drinking tea and coffee I might add. We had lunch at Mejias Tres then instead of going shopping - it can wait - took a stroll down Playa De La Fossa. It is very warm and sunny but with a delightful off the sea breeze. Sunshine, green tea and sea, what more could I possibly want?

We will prise ourselves away from this idyllic setting eventually, do the necessary shopping, return to the house which is fresh smelling and leak proof, thankfully. Phew! Then after putting the shopping away we will, no doubt, meander down to the local neighbourhood bar to take in the atmosphere and the odd drop of alcoholic beverage. Its tough but somebody has to do it!

The Finale

This is it, the final blog from our Spanish trip. It is over, the travelogue ends here (until December with the Lanzarote trip and Christmas when we come back to Spain, then again in the Spring, all being well.)

This morning we went to the bank to conclude the business of opening bank accounts. Luis, the bank worker who has helped us throughout, was delightful. He has already transferred one of the direct debits and will complete the rest ASAP, which, since this is Spain, could be months away. No matter, the Kutxta Bank is small and friendly unlike Sabadell which we are leaving without conscience.
After the banking business we went to our favourite Spanish bar in Calpe town for tea and water and tapas and to bid a fond farewell to Candido, the guy who serves there and with whom we have developed a very affable relationship over the years that we have been restoring the house.

Back home and back to the depressing business of packing, tidying up the house, the last chutney deliveries, packing the car in preparation for departure. We had a scratch lunch with what was left in the fridge, and excesses were put in a carrier bag for Audrey. We hate waste so we have a caring, sharing relationship with Audrey to make sure that there isn't any. Between her and the compost pit, most stuff is covered. I know that Keith will thoroughly enjoy my Honeyons (onions in vinegar and honey) and pickled chillies because his tastes are very similar to mine. He once had the cheek to complain that one year's Mermelada Volcanica (chilli jam) wasn't as hot as the previous year's batch. That's my boy Keith!

We left for the airport at 16.30 and had a great drive that ended at 17.35, a journey that we always estimate will take 1.5 hours. Hmmm, that self depressing accelerator pedal on the Peugot 308 was responsible, I'm convinced of it. When I commented to Garrath,

"Gosh that didn't take long," he replied drily, " I'm not surprised, you were doing 140 k.p.h!" It was that pedal Garrath, not me! Fortunately the pedal doesn't do automatic depression in radar controlled zones, a very smart design feature by Peugot.

Needless to say we reached the airport early and because of that we there was no queue at the check in desk. Bags through we were free to meander through the various checks on the way to the departure lounge. Cleverly they always make you walk through the airport shop first and there I purchased a perfume that I can only get at airports or on planes.

I resisted the urge to go into El Corte Inglés zapateria (shoe shop) first because there was no room in my hand luggage for shoes and second because I have filled my shoe buying quota for this holiday. I even had to leave a new pair behind, a delightfully frivolous pair in glitter and patent leather. They will do nicely for the Christmas trip.

What I failed to resist was the leather shop where I purchased a new wallet. I had determined that I would buy one on this trip but since we hadn't been to any markets or done any shopping other than food shopping I had failed in that mission. No matter, I am now the proud possessor of a very flash, designer job that fulfils all my requirements.

We found a seat in a Tapas bar, got drinks, I rearranged my hand luggage to include the perfume, transferred all my vital cash and cards to the new wallet and then we waited for the gate to be called. Garrath is always anxious on travel days - he would have us at the airport the day before if I let him - so he took on the responsibility for jumping up and down every fifteen minutes to see if the gate had been called. Eventually it was so we proceeded there to find that a queue had formed even though the gate hadn't opened. I fail to understand why people do this? The plane can't leave until the last person is on board so why queue? Is it the Sheep tendency in people or is it a peculiar British addiction to queueing? I just don't get it at all.

We sat and waited until boarding had commenced and got on the bus that was to take us to the plane. Because we hadn't rushed to be the first in the queue we were among the last on the bus so very near the door and therefore early on to the plane while those who had rushed to be at the front of the queue were among the last. Makes sense doesn't it?

The usual routines were followed, packing the bags in the overhead lockers, turning off electrical equipment (always traumatic for cyber junkies like Garrath and I) the safety check, taxiing to the runway, take off etc etc. Now it is time to settle into the flight, accept the fact that the holiday is over and for me to reconcile myself to returning to the wrong side of the Channel. No driving at the other end so a few G & T's will ease the pain a little, but only a little.

Such is life!

The Hire Car - ZZ Top

The Hire Car - ZZ Top.

Once we landed at Alicante we made our way to the coach pickup area and within a short time were picked up by Victoria rent A Car's shuttle bus. Paperwork was sorted, payment made and one of their guys brought round the car we had hired - a Peugot 308 Diesel automatic. Garrath has had his driving license revoked so now for the first time in Spain all the driving is down to me. Last time we hired an Opel Corsa automatic that was so dreadful that I flatly refused to drive it. I called it the leapfrog machine because the gear changes were so clunky. So naturally I approached driving this unknown beast with some trepidation.

We can not have been more than a kilometre away from the hire centre when I said of the car,

"Garrath, I want one!" Honestly, it drives like a dream, especially on the motorway. Gear changes in the six speed gearbox are as smooth as silk, the gadgetry is easy and problem free, the aircon is fabulous, the seats are comfortable and the boot space more than adequate. It doesn't quite have the capacity to be flung around tight corners at high speed like the Seat Ibiza Automatic that we have loved in the past (OK I admit it, it could so I did) but it is a wonderful ride.

There is only one problem with it and it is potentially a very serious one. Somehow, without you being aware of it, it manages to grab your accelerator foot and gently press it down so that before you know it you are doing 140 kph in a 120 kph limit. The sound insulation is so fabulous that you simply do not notice. Honest guv, it was the car, not me! This is why I have named it ZZ Top and anyone who has driven on a motorway whilst playing ZZ Top will understand why. I swear that Peugot must have employed the members of ZZ Top to help with the accelerator design and sound insulation.

I had thought that having to do all the driving would be a toil but I now know that it will be an absolute pleasure. Now all I have to do is get a guarantee from Garrath that because I am chauffeuring him, he will pay half of the speeding fines!

Thunderstorms, Food Processors and Being Poisoned.

The day started rather spectacularly with another thunderstorm so we stood in our jim-jams and watched the free fireworks show in an enormous, classic Anvil-shaped cloud. I managed to get shots of the cloud but I am clueless about how some people manage to get shots of lightning. I'm guessing that it involves tripods and long exposures and since I didn't bring the tripod that would be problematic. Ah well, I'll leave it to those who can and just watch the show.

It was a blood Moon last night but here it happened between 02.00 and 06.00 when we were safely tucked up in bed, I missed getting shots of that. There was also another factor involved here - I am useless at Moon shots! Again, best to leave it to those who can.

I did get a few rare-as-rocking-horse-pooh shots though. After a rather unsatisfactory lunch (more of that later) we took a stroll down the Partida La Fossa. It was raining so I got a shot of the completely empty beach! We have been coming here to restore my mother's property twice a year since 2005 and I have visited many times before that. Amazingly this is the first time that I have seen the beach totally empty, even at night, hence my describing the shots as rare-as-rocking-horse-pooh. A few seconds after the rain stopped and the Sun came out the beach babes were back, essential beach kit in tow, striving for the best bits of sand.

Our first morning venture out was to the local watering hole so that Garrath could use their free WIFI to top up the data sim in the MIFI widget (technophobes skip this bit.) We took the umbrella of course, because it was still raining. Anyway, two cups of tea later the mission was accomplished and we moved on to the supermarket, minus the shopping list that we had left behind! It later became obvious that we had left something else behind - the umbrella! Garrath justified this with

"I've got a hole in my head," but I have no such excuse for leaving the shopping list behind.

This poor weather week is when I will be making chutney and with the amount of fruit we have in the freezer That will involve the chopping of lots of onions, not a task to relished (yes that pun was deliberate!) Rather than do that by hand I decided that I need a food processor so we went into town to find one. For some weird and wonderful reason food processors are a rarity in Spain so it was quiet a traipse to find one. We did of course, and a really brilliant one too. It has the usual processor bowl, a blender goblet, a centrifugal juicer, a citrus juicer, metal and plastic blades, a cream whipper, slicing and grating blades of various sizes. It has to be the most all-singing, all dancing food processor that I have ever come across, so much so that I will replace my current one in the UK with an identical model when I get home.

After purchasing that we returned home to unload all the purchased goodies then back to the local watering hole to see if the umbrella was still there and, because Garrath fancied a pizza, to see if they could accommodate my needs. The umbrella was still there exactly where Garrath had left it but when we asked about the possibility of a gluten free meal for me there was an obvious lack of understanding which is always a bad sign. The waitress did offer to provide me with a meal of grilled fish or grilled chicken and lettuce. Unfortunately I don't know the Spanish for "Jeez, have you any idea how many times I get offered that shit?" Her lack of understanding was such that it was obvious that nobody would think to clean the grill before cooking my food so we politely declined and left.

Why oh why do so many caterers offer me dry grilled chicken or fish with lettuce? I really cannot think of many things that are less appetising and there are no carbohydrates in there at all. I ****ing despair!

Garrath was still determined to have a pizza so we went to the beach front Italian place and went through the same bloody pantomime. I was assured that I would be safe with Carpaccio which is a raw beef dish so I chose that. It comprised of paper thin slices of raw beef, tiny sprinklings of Parmesan and finely chopped celery, four thin slices of raw mushroom and a glaze that I took to be balsamic vinegar. Hmmmmm, pleasant enough but not a lot there so I ordered a side of grilled vegetables. That comprised four thin slices of aubergine, one mushroom and half a tomato. It was less than satisfactory and stupidly expensive for what it was. Garrath got his pizza but that too was very disappointing. Not going there again.

We went for a wander down Partida La Fossa where I got the empty beach shots, and it gradually became obvious that the restaurant had managed to poison me. Either they hadn't bothered to check the glaze and that contained modified starch or they has grilled the vegetables on a plancha that hadn't been cleaned after bread or something floury had been grilled on it. There is even a possibility that the raw beef wasn't simply sliced beef after all but some kind of composite glued together with modified starch. All the usual symptoms that identify gluten ingestion came and as usual steadily got worse, so that by 17.00 I was in serious distress. Deep joy, this will take aaaaaaaaages to clear.

One good thing did come out of the trip along Partida La Fossa though. Garrath said that we ought to look for other restaurants to eat at and not far from the one that poisoned me we came across one with an extensive and interesting menu. The patron asked if we needed a table and we explained that we had already eaten but were just checking the menu. There was something about his manner that inspired confidence so I showed him my explanatory card in Spanish and asked if they could accommodate my needs. His response was perfect. Roughly translated -

"Sure, no problem, we will make sure that your food is prepared in a different part of the kitchen." That showed a level of awareness that we haven't come across since we went to the AIC (Italian Coeliac Society) registered restaurant in Venice. We live in hope.

The thunder clouds have now gone, the sky is bright blue, the Sun is shining and I feel crap! Time to go to the local watering hole for liquid anaesthesia!

Venice Feb 2012

This book is about our trip to Venice in February 2012. Although more than a year ago, it seems worth starting a record of it anyway.

Lisbon April 2009

The original idea was to use up some of our Air Miles and my Priority Club Reward Points on a weekend break to a European capital, e.g. Budapest. But the more we tried the less we suceeded. Even at the end of April it's cold! We decide we wanted warm and so we ended up with a mid-week break in Lisbon, Portugal. This is our diary of that trip, which I hope to update each day WiFi access permitting.

Sunday, 19th

Spent the day quietly finishing preparations to depart. All the animals were subdued as if they knew what was happening.

Helga and Helmut trotted off to their holiday without looking back, and loose leads to boot! :-O. The cats were their usual indignant selves.

Had a good meal. The Crown Plaza gave us access to the Chef and he did Lynne proud. Plenty of booze and we have had a good chill out start to our holiday.

Monday, 20th

The Crown Plaza Hotel did us proud with Lynne's breakfast. The duty chef like the guy the night before being meticulous about the detail of what was safe. So we stoked up for the day and got our money's worth. But boy! The bill considering it was just extras; dinner for two, a few drinks and breakfast (this was not included in the Reward Points booking) made it surprisingly expensive! At a Crown Plaza I guess you have to expect that.

Found MAVP (what was Males) no problem. Checking in was a breeze before being taken to Terminal 3. The airport was nice and quiet so check in and security were easy. I have Titanium! We had time for a cuppa before heading for the Gate.

The flight from Manchester to Heathrow was 30 minutes late taking off but only 15 minutes late landing at Heathrow. The blurb about the transfer said to allow 120 minutes between T5 and T3 but in the post Easter quiet it only took 30 minutes. So we had plenty of time for another cuppa. The gate at Heathrow for the flight to Lisbon was posted early but we then had to wait as "there was a problem disembaking the previous flight". I really wish Lynne had not read that e-horoscope saying she might take a circuitous route and arrive late! In the end we took off 30 mins late but landed at Lisbon only 15 minutes late.

On our way out of the airport we went to the Tourism desk to collect the Lisboa Cards only to find that with all the excitement of the payment failure etc that I'd forgotten to print the voucher out. We tried to e-mail it, find a working WiFi point (thank heaven I decided last minute to take my laptop with me) and buy a memory stick. All fruitless so an hour later we left in a taxi for the hotel.

The hotel turned out to be a quite quaint place with loads of character. We tried to get the Lisboa Card voucher printed out at the hotel but again failed. The version from the hotel lobby internet computer was missing all its graphics but appeared to contain all the relevant information. An attempt to print PDF's from my external hard disk also failed. (It was the following day I realised that I'd given them a Mac format disk to attach to a Windows PC!) But we had the funny format voucher. It was now past nine and the restaurant was about to close so we decided to get into dinner. The staff were really friendly and the Maitre'd was really helpful to Lynne. So we had a great dinner, discovering a particularly nice label of Vinho Verde. We then had a few post-prandial ports, chatting with a nice Portugese guy, Louise, who was working on a MacBook Pro in the bar. When I dug out my MacBook Pro to look at the voucher problem again he bought us a 20 year old vintage port to try because we were obviously good people with a MacBook Pro and iPhones. We ended having a couple more of those as well before going to bed relaxed and tired.

Tuesday, 21st

Breakfast was the usual continental affair with lots of the local styles of breads but with a twist; the most delightful freshly made scrambled eggs too. The loaf of GF bread I baked for Lynne had survived the journey so she had two slices of that with breakfast and we both stoked up for the day.

The first job of the day was to get down town to the Praça de Comerçio to the tourist office and redeem our voucher. A taxi got us there quickly enough and we got a good look at the centre of Lisbon into the bargain. The taxi driver spoke good English and said we must go to Sintra, a village that like Saltaire is a World Heritage site. We agreed to call him on Thursday to take us. When we got to the plaza he directed us up a pedestrian side street to find the tourist office. After wandering about for a bit and enjoying the sights we eventaully realised that the kiosk in the middle of the street was what he had meant. In the process Lynne had spotted a posh frock shop and bought a beautiful designer 'safari-like' outfit. As we were leaving the shop the lady showed Lynne a lovely top and from that point on I could hear the gears whirring. We asked at the kiosk about the Lisboa cards and were directed back to the Praça de Comerçio to the proper tourist office. But the lady in the tourist office would not redeem the voucher because it did not look right. She double-checked with her manager in the main office and this was confirmed. They would not give us our cards for fear of not being paid by Neoturismo, the Spanish company behind the cards. Apparently this had happened several times before and they were not prepared to risk not being paid again.

We found a nice café called Brown's that had free WiFi so we sorted out e-mail on the iPhones over a beverage and I e-mailed Neoturismo saying that we had lost more than half a day of our three days because the voucher would not print out and asking for a full refund.

We came out of there having looked at the map and decided to gently stroll back up through the city towards the hotel. This turned into a four hour sight seeing walk with lots of stops for cuppas and to look in all sorted of shops. We saw several of the city's large squares, the biggest theatre, a delightful arabian influenced building that turned out to be one of the city's main stations, the elevator that connects an upper area of the town with the lower area and one of the city's three funiculars.

At the café we stopped at in the Praça de Rossio Lynne insisted I try the local speciality, Pasteis de Nata; a sort of custard tart invented in the big Lisbon monastry many hundreds of years a ago, it was delicious. We also found a café that sold the port we had tried the evening before as recommended by Louise so we bought half a bottle each of Ruby and Tawny to bring home. It was a very pleasant experience but our feet were throbbing by the time we got back to the hotel. We had a little rest to still our throbbing feet then went of an evening walk in the park opposite. It turns out it is named after our English King Edward VII and it was a lovely evening so we took loads of photos as we strolled. We stopped for a couple of pre-prandial drinks at a bar near the hotel and then returned to the hotel for dinner.

We had decided the night before that the hotel was so good at feeding Lynne safely that it was not worth the grief in such a short break of finding somewhere else to eat. And we were proved right with another excellent meal and another bottle of the excellent Vinho Verde to wash it down. This time in the bar we got chatting with a couple of guys who were in town for a conference on ICT. One, a Finnish guy Jari, was particularly friendly. So a few Portugese brandies were had and we went to bed relaxed and tired again.

Wednesday, 22nd

Another 'stoke up for the day' breakfast and then off on our 'culture-vulture' day. The plan being to do the Museum of Modern Art and the Gulbenkien Museum. We passed a huge El Cortes Ingles and Lynne pronounced that we had to go in on the way back!

First stop the modern art gallery. Whilst the exhibition itself was pretentious we enjoyed a lot of the pieces that had been contributed. We bought combined tickets for both museums and the Darwin Exhibition.

We then walked through the park that the two museums are in. Lots of photo opportunities of flowers, other plants and ducklings. Sarah Houlton had told Lynne this was a must do.

The Gulbenkien was impressive but a lot of the stuff was not to my taste, but I loved the two Turners and the Renoir portrait of Claude Monet's wife.

We shared a smoked salmon salad while our feet settled down from throbbing, taking extra time over our tea. We also agreed to give Charles Darwin a miss. This went further by deciding to give Sintra a miss too and get all day tickets for the City Line buses. A hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus service that circles Lisbon taking you between the major sight seeing places for one price.

So we wandered back through the park, with more photo opportunites. Then went into El Cortes Ingles and had an good oggle at the loads and loads of high priced fountain pens from the likes of Mont Blanc and Cross. We also each bought an 8GB Kingston Memory Stick for just €22. Vowing never to be without a pen drive again after Monday. Lynne has another good day hewing at the seam of life. :-)

Rather than go back to the hotel we found a cafe on the main drag behind the hotel and had our apperatifs sat outside on the street watching the locals go by. Very relaxing before going to get dinner and cheaper than the hotel bar.

Thursday, 23rd

Again we stoked up for the day with hotel breakfast before setting off on our sight seeing bus day.

We went to to the neighbouring hotel where I had spotted the sign for tickets only to find that it is a different company, CitySightSeeing. So we decided we would go with that. When we get to the big circle Marques de Pombal there is a thirty minute wait so we go to get a cuppa to pass the time.

The plan is to get the 'blue line' and get off at Praça de Comerçio and walk up to Lynne's posh frock shop and she spends an arm and a leg on the top the lady in the shop showed her on Tuesday and she hadn't stopped thinking about. We then went to Brown's Cafe and used their free WiFi to complete the online check-in but the MacBook Pro died again without warning before I could print them to PDF! :-(

Undeterred we went back to the plaza to get back on the 'red line' bus and had a lovely trip around Lisbon to get to the museum. And we timed it perfectly, we waited only a few minutes before it arrived.

Had a salad lunch at the museum before going into the exhibition, the Berardo Collection Museum. There was a permanent exhibition and three temporary exhibits. One of which was HUGE! We really were all kulcha'd out after two hours. We had a cuppa before getting the bus back and saw even more of Lisbon. A perfect third day! Found a bar near the ' Marques' for a pre-prandial 'wet'. We agreed to give the bar a miss after dinner and go straight up to pack before going to bed.

Dinner was as good as usual and we consumed our usual bottle of Vinho Verde. The remanents of which we took to the bar while I got the boarding cards printed out from the PDF's I had to create. Fractalia, the hotel's internet provider, could no more print out these than it could the Lisboa Card voucher! :-( We met with Jari from Finland again and he was pleased with way he had delivered his paper at the convention. So we had one more drink and decided we could pack in the morning.

Friday, 24th

Today was our last stoking up breakfast. We had planned last night to pack ready for this morning but decided at the time to have another Portugese brandy instead! So it was quick showers and down to breakfast at 7:30. Breakfast over we then got packed in 30 minutes and headed for Reception at 8:30 where I paid the bill for the extras. It was half what I was expecting (and less than twice what we had paid at the Crown Plaza at Manchester Airport) considering we had dinner in the hotel each of our four nights, with a good bottle of wine; Vinho Verde and drank at the bar three nights. Our taxi, booked for 9 am the evening before, was waiting; in fact it was the taxi I'd spotted from the window at 8:30 am when we got back to the room to pack. The journey was much shorter and cost only €10, stark contrast to the €25 journey of the unmetered cab when we arrived on Monday.

So we arrived at Lisbon Airport with loads of time to drop the bags off, the Fast Bag Drop being carefully 'policed' by a charming young man. We then had time to do shopping and finally get a cuppa. Boarding was smooth but we were 'pushed back' about 15 minutes late due to loading standby ticket holders. We then were held on the taxi way before take off and got put in the Heathrow 'stack' for 20 mins. Then to top it all the buses from the plane to the terminal took nearly 20 mins to turn up! In all we were nearly an hour late at Heathrow. Good job we had nearly four hours between the flights as we needed most of it. We got the bus from Terminal 3 to Terminal 5 without any real problem but at Terminal 5 we hit the full weight of the Government's Homeland Security. We had to queue three times to get onto the Departures concourse. Can't remember now what the first one was for? The second was at big signs stating "Border Control"; there were four desks for EU passport holders but only one staffed so the queue grew and grew. Then we got to security: obviously the security you go through at Lisbon Airport is not good enough. You have be be security checked before you can be allowed onto a British domestic flight. The queing system was actually quite effective but the security staff at Heathrow Terminal 5 are appalling. Rude, abrupt and dismissive. They wanted everyone to take off their shoes and belts off (even thought the sign says only belts with LARGE buckles) I challenged them that at Manchester Airport I was not made to do so and I was told it was national policy, to which I asked "then is Manchester breaking the rules?" A most unpleasant experience and one to make me want to avoid Terminal 5 at all costs. We decided as it was still holiday and about seven hours since breakfast that we'd have a proper meal in the terminal and the café called Giraffe were very good about Lynne's needs so it was a very pleasant and welcome meal. The flight from Heathrow to Manchester only took 40 minutes compared to the one hour ten minutes on the way down and was over in a breath! So it was call MAVP and wait for the car. We were sat down in the Club at 8:10 pm starting our first drink. Our holiday was over.

Saturday, 25th

Just had a real p*sser with iPhone synchronisation! Something about making notes in each day of the Calendar repeating entry and then synching it I lost the original repeating entry and a day and a half's worth of journal entries! Argh! Technology.