Posted in Spain

What is it like coming home after 6 months in Spain?

 

Kitsilano neighborhood Vancouver, Canada

My husband Terry, our Yorkshire terrier Amy Lou and I, have been back from Spain since May 1st. Six months away from home is a long time. What is it like to be back, you may wonder? It first feels a little weird. It may sound cliché but you do come back changed a little.

Luckily, we returned to a sunny and exceptionally warm month of May in Vancouver. We did not see rain for a month and had few cloudy days. This made for an easier transition and nice welcome home.

Vancouver is such a beautiful city where everything is lush and green. We really enjoy the ubiquitous bike lanes and renewing with our active lifestyle. It is amazing to see that it is the most insignificant things that you miss, like the grocery stores, Shoppers Drug Mart (I know, this is silly eh!), the variety of restaurant cuisine, and of course your own stuff! Your bed, your home, your pots and pans and everything that you have accumulated instead of just what can fit in a large suitcase.

Like I said, six months is a long time and because we liked Nerja and the Costa  del Sol so much, it felt like we “cheated” a little on Vancouver. It feels like we fell in love and now have a mistress in Nerja. Spain has stolen our heart. Ha Ha!

Jokes apart, Vancouver and Canada in general is such a great place to come back to and the summer weather is usually quite nice. We didn’t really want to leave Spain but we are happy to be back especially knowing that we will be right back in beautiful friendly and warm Nerja in November!

Hasta Luego!! I will continue the blog posting in the fall. Thank you for following us on our retirement journey!

Posted in Spain, Spanish life, Travelling with a dog

Last post about our six month experience in Spain.

Photo: Nerja, Spain

Six months away from home is a long time, but for us, it felt like we actually were home in Spain. It is easy for a Canadian to feel at home in Spain because it is very easy going and the people are similar to Canadians in many ways. Here are the things we loved about Spain and things we liked less which are very few.

Starting with the positives:

More Sunshine: There is a lot more sunshine in Spain than in Vancouver. Even if it was the rainiest and coldest winter in 50 years we were told, we found the winter here like a sunnier version of May or June in Vancouver. The sunshine usually comes out at some point even on forecasted rainy days.

Longer days: In the depth of winter in December, the sun comes up at 8am and goes down at 6pm. Compare this to Vancouver winters where the sun comes up at 8:30am and goes down at 4:15pm, that is a major improvement for your mental health.

Milder winter: November and April are like summer in Vancouver at about 18 to 24 Celcius with slightly cooler evenings in November. You can still have 20 Celcius days in December and January but it generally hovers between 12C and 16C. February is the most unsettled month with a mix of overcast, rain and sunshine,  usually all in the same day. March is usually nice we are told but we experienced torrential rain and downpours like I have never seen, even in Vancouver. Everyone here kept saying, “no es normal”. Unfortunately, most of our guests came in March.

More outdoor living: you spend tons more time outdoors. Long lunches in the sunshine are a way of life in Spain. We loved our lunches sitting outside basting in the sun and watching people go by.

Dogs anywhere on terraces: For a dog owner, this is such a welcome change from Vancouver where you can’t have your dog on any terrace or café. We could have Amy Lou with us everywhere and she was a big hit for waiters and passerbys.

Cheaper food: Our grocery bill was 40%-50% cheaper than in Vancouver.

Cheaper booze: Beer and Wine is incredibly inexpensive here. Even fine wines are more affordable and there is plenty of good wine to have even in grocery stores.

Cheaper restaurants:  Spaniards go out to eat A LOT! And that is reflected in the restaurant prices. There are restaurants everywhere filled with people especially for lunch everyday and dinners on weekends. The big cities have the most excellent fine dining and international restaurants. But the small cities or pueblos also have amazing selections, all at discounted prices compared to what we pay in Vancouver. We found restaurant prices to be about 40%-50% cheaper than in Canada or the States. Also, you don’t see much fast food here. People prefer their privately owned restaurants to food chains which is so much more authentic to me!

Cheaper mobile phone service: Our cell phones plans in Canada cost us $140 per month with tax. In Spain, we pay 20 Euros or $30 Canadian.  WHY are Canadian mobile phone plans so expensive? This is a ridiculous difference.

No cable need w antenna: If you have a house, you can have perfect TV reception with an antenna. If you don’t care about cable, that is a clear perk.

Cheaper real estate: House prices are not cheap on the costa del sol but significantly less expensive than Vancouver. A nice 3-4 bedroom house and 2-3 bathrooms with a pool will cost about 600,000 to 800,000 Euros or $1m to $1.2 million. The same house in Vancouver would be 2 or 3 million if you could find it. A 2 bedroom condo would be about 300,000-500,000 euros compared to $700,000-$1.5million in Vancouver. This is oversimplified of course but it give you an idea. There are also more affordable detached homes with a view.

Cheaper rent: if you prefer to rent, a two bedroom apartment would be approximately 400 to 600 euros per month or the equivalent of $600 to $900 per month. Short term rentals cater to tourists and are more expensive of course. Apartments go for $75 to $150 per night in high season or $250 to $350 per night for a house. We rented in the winter months and paid $2000 per month which was a very good deal for a 4 bedroom, 3 bathroom house with a pool and view of the Mediterranean.

Grow your own fruits & veggies year-round: the weather is conducive to gardening and growing your own fruits and veggies year round.

Fast and inexpensive travel in Europe: You can easily and affordably travel everywhere in Europe for weekends or longer getaways. Think about spending a weekend in Paris one month and Berlin the next! What a pleasure without the long flights and expensive tickets.

Here quickly are more positive to travelling or living in Spain:

Very good medical access and quality care

Easier to meet people

You will never get the restaurant bill until you ask for it.

Spaniards are clean people; Garbage collection daily, Beaches swept daily, Sparking clean toilets, alley way, etc

You can drink beer on the beach

Less rules and regulations about everything

No obnoxious drunks

The best thing we liked about Spain is the Spaniards! They are chilled, polite, friendly, and happy people!!

Here are the things we liked less:

More expensive energy

More expensive cars

Not as good grocery stores

No shoppers drug mart, I miss our SDM!!

Not as good restaurants in Nerja but great in Malaga

Some owners leave their dog poo on the street but this is about to change with new regulations and DNA poo testing to fine the ones who don’t pick up after their pets! Wow!!

That’s it…we could not find more things we like less. As you can see, we loved Spain and can’t wait to go back for another winter in the sun!

Posted in Spain, Travelling with a dog

Amy Lou’s perspective on 6 months in Spain

Hi, it’s me Amy Lou, the Super Model of la Costa del Sol! Ha Ha! That is what my mom calls me because I am the most photographed dog in Spain with my stylish sun glasses.

My mom and dad brought me with them to Spain for the winter and I was nervous at first but I feel right at home now. I too love Spain, here is why.

  • I can go anywhere with my mom and dad except museums.

  • Spaniards love dogs, they smile at me a lot and they tell me how cute I am everywhere I go.
  • I am welcome on all restaurant terraces and even inside in many. Mom usually puts me in a tote when her food arrives which I like because I can rest and peek out the window while my parents eat their meals.

  • They eat lots of fish in Spain, I like it because my mom always keeps a little for me including the lovely crispy skin.
  • There are many yorkies here and small dogs. Big scary dogs are rare.
  • It rarely rains here and when it does, it doesn’t last all day so I rarely have to walk in the rain.
  • I don’t have to wear a wet and smelly rain coat everyday.
  • I have had no skin allergies this year and no ear infection.
  • It is sunny a lot and I love the warm sun.
  • We live in a house in Spain with a beautiful walled garden where I can run around unleashed. There are no coyotes or eagles to be worried about. Just stray cats to chase away.

  • I made a new friend. Her name is Perri and she gave me a lovely Flamenco dress! I gave her my second pair of sunglasses.

  • We go on day trips and getaways a lot and my parents take me with them everywhere. I like snoozing comfortably in the car.

  • And the number one reason why I like Spain and traveling with my parents is that there are lovely new smells everywhere and lots of pee-news to discover!

Please like my post, it is my first one!

Posted in Spain, Spanish life

Spain’s Semana Santa is all about tradition and devotion.

Semana Santa is Holy Week in Spain, the week which leads to Easter. This is a BIG event for Spaniards. Some say that it has been celebrated since the 12th century, for certain since the 16th century, in Sevilla.

At first, you might be surprised by such a display of religion but Semana Santa in Spain can truly be enjoyed for what it is. A wonderful tradition and display of devotion. Please take a minute to read on to find out what it is all about and why this tradition is an important one in Spain.

Photo credit: roomsevilla.com

My photo taken in Sevilla this weekend.

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My photo taken in Sevilla this weekend.

From Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, huge statues carried on floats called “Pasos”, some as old as 300 years, representing various images from the Passion of Jesus Christ take to the streets in processions that last up to 12 hours almost every day during that week and on the “Madrugá”, the Holy Thursday night, the processions run all night long through to the next day!

The people who carry the floats are devoted locals, performing an act of penance, repenting their sins. They are called Costaleros and wear a protective garment on their head to take the weight off the float. There are 20 to 40 costaleros per float and they practice all year long even in 40C August! That is devotion. Some of the floats weight a ton and costaleros can switch out every hour or two to take a break. I have read that each year a special section of the hospital opens up to treat costalero injuries.

Photo credit: Tío Spanish

My photo taken this Holy Thursday in Nerja.

The cone like head dress you see in all the processions are worn by “Nazarenos”. No, they are not members of the Ku Klux Klan. The attire is born from a desire to repent sins without revealing the identity of the person. There can be up to 3,000 nazarenos participating in some of the bigger processions in Sevilla. Kind Nazarenos will carry bags of sweets and give them to kids as they go by so they know they’re friendly!

Photo credit: Sevilla.abc.es

We are in Sevilla now for 3 days and could not be happier to have been here to experience the tradition, pride and solidarity this annual event is all about. Come to Spain during Semana Santa and feel the passion!

Some of photos were taken in Nerja on Holy Thursday, a smaller and more intimate event where you see the floats up-close. The others were taken by myself in Sevilla this weekend.

Posted in Spain

When you invite friends and family to Spain, they will come. Here are my comments on our experience.

When we rented our beautiful house for the winter months on the Costa del Sol, I felt a little guilty to have all this space just for two people and a 3 kilo dog. I also thought that it might be a little lonely being away for this long.

Terry and I like to share and entertain so, it was only natural to offer a visit to family members and several close friends. I then explained that we would not be tour guides and what we offered was a place to stay for a few days while they explored the area.

A total of 10 people came and stayed with us. Two came in January and February and 8 in March. What fun we had to see them all and be able to share our beautiful little town we love so much. All of our guests have been fabulous. Everyone was truly awesome in respecting the house we rented and gracious even if the weather was not the best at times.

Most wanted to come in March of course, when the temperature crosses over to 20 Celsius normally. However, we had a full month of unsettled and cold weather when most of our guests were here, from the end of February to end of March. It was the rainiest, windiest and coldest winter in Spain in over 50 years! We had two “deluges” during that period. I had never seen so much rain before. Not even in Vancouver. Can you believe that!!

While we enjoyed our time with them very much, it became redundant towards the end. We had developed a schedule and sightseeing route including the best restaurants and cafés which we repeated with each one of them. Think about what it is like to do the same circuit 6 times in a row over the span of a few weeks. Oh la la!

Entertaining for this long, this many guests is quite tiring as well. You had to plan breakfasts, some full meals and bites with aperos. You have to plan walking routes, excursions, have alternatives in case of bad weather. Some guests don’t always want to do what you have planned for them. And of course, you have to wash sheets, towels, clean bathrooms and the rest of the house non-stop.

One thing I would do differently however would be to spread out the visitors or bunch them up together. It would be much less work and redundant for us to have two or three couples at the same time instead of three couples one after the other.

One group per month would be ideal and 3 or 4 days is perfect to see the sights in the area. This way, we will be refreshed and looking forward to spending time with them.

All in all, we feel blessed to have had such good guests. Everyone picked up after themselves, did not make one complaint and were a true pleasure to have around. There was not one awkward moment. It strengthens every relationships. We made memories to cherish forever.

Thank you Universe for allowing Terry and me to have such abundance of great relationships in our lives. In the end, sharing and caring for each other is all that matters!

Here were our guests this year!

Posted in Spain, Spanish life

What happened to sunny everyday Spain?

Look at this Vancouver Canada style of rain we are having today!  As I have reported before, rainy days in Spain are rare. We have been here for 4 months now and only had a few days of rain. It rarely last a full day or 2 days at most before the warm sun returns. January and February are however cooler with more overcast days and showers. But again, this rarely last more than a day or two, until now.

A powerful late-winter storm, given the name Storm Emma, is bringing rounds of heavy rain in all of Spain, Portugal and France. Total rainfall through the weekend could reach 250 mm (10 inches) in the hardest hit locations of northern Portugal and western Spain. We are in the south, thank God!

The bad news is that as Emma lifts northward toward the British Isles on Friday, another storm will target the Iberian Peninsula with more rainfall and believe it or now, a third storm will then arrive early next week, bringing additional downpours and gusty winds.

I feel sorry for the visitors who are currently in Spain working their way to us in Nerja. It is always sad to leave rain or snow at home to come to a sunny destination and find bad weather instead. We are hopeful that things will turn around for your arrival next week.

One thing is for sure, the sun here is never far and when it comes out, it is incredibly warm and lovely even in winter months!!

Posted in Spain, Spanish life, Travelling with a dog

Road trip to Barcelona: Should you drive or fly within Spain?

The nice thing about Spain and Europe in general is that if you drive half hour in any direction you are bound to meet a village, town or city to explore and discover. The land is populated by quaint white-washed villages called in Spain, Pueblo Blancos, beautiful seaside towns along the coast, spectacular mountain villages or majestic cities all different from one another. It would take more than a lifetime to see them all. It is simply impossible to get bored in Spain. One will instead either be charmed and seduced or intrigued enough to plan a second trip.

Terry, Amy Lou and I went on a week long road trip last week, up the coast to Barcelona. We stopped on the way to Valencia and were incredibly surprised at how beautiful this first class city on the costa Blanca is. Wow! What a beauty this city is with endless beaches, first class art and culture centers and a gorgeous old city core. This is a classy city renowned for its fine restaurants and art galleries. We must go back for an extended weekend next year!

We then drove all the way to Barcelona. This elegant city is bustling with life and energy. The architecture from the modernist days of Gaudi adds a different look compared to other Spanish cities.

You can also hear and feel the very distinct Catalan culture here. Barcelona is a huge and very busy city. You really need to take a bus tour, like the hop on hop off bus, to get an overall look of what the city is all about.  Here is a picture of Amy Lou on the Hop on Hop off bus illegally and incognito in our carrier bag.  We let her head out while on the bus.  Such a good traveler!

The city has so much to offer such as; the Gothic quarter, the eclectic and artsy El Born, the chic neighborhood of Eixample, a walk down the super busy La Rambla, the surrounding area, the locals call “Las Ramblas”, the Port and its amazing marina restaurants, the majestic and avant-garde Sagrada Familia, and the other Gaudi designed masterpieces, Casa Milà, La Padera, and Parc Gruel.

So much to see and do in Barcelona. One must also sample the delicious Pintxos, which are the Catalan version of Tapas but mostly on a slice of baguette bread like the picture below.

We will definitely go back to Barcelona. Four days was good but it deserves a second visit just to soak it all in and live the Barcelona lifestyle. A word of advice about Barcelona, it is incredible noisy. The World Economic Forum rates it as number 7 noisiest city in the world. Bring earplugs to sleep well!

Also, while there were no tolls at all to drive to Madrid or Granada, there were tolls as you approach Valencia and all the way to Barcelona. See the cost below. Not cheap!

On the way back, we stopped for a night at the sea side town of Altea. Wow! We were pleasantly surprised at this beautiful old village where you can also stay in a small hotel on the pebbly beach with stunning views of two mountains extending to the sea. This is a really nice little town to stay for a couple of nights.

The drive to Barcelona is a total of 9 hours. Stopping one night each way cut the journey in half and was perfect for us and our little dog, Amy Lou who by now, has got the hang of road trips.  She loves hotels as well because we get to all hang out together in the big bed!!

You may wonder whether it is best to fly or drive from the costa del sol to Barcelona. If you have time like we do, driving is fun and you get to discover other places you would not see if you flew. When you add up the time spent to drive to the airport and wait to board, fly and cab to the hotel, all in all, it took us two more days but these were spent discovering new towns. We really enjoyed this road trip and would do it all over again someday.

As far as cost is concerned, here is the tally:

Flying from Nerja/Malaga to Barcelona
120 euros x 2 tickets + dog fee 80=320euros. (You can do it cheaper with Ryanair but they don’t take dogs in cabin. This was the fare with Iberia)
Parking car at airport = 50euros
Cabs to and from airport in Barcelona = 100euros

Total approx. cost of flying: 470 euros or $714 Canadian dollars

Driving from Nerja to Barcelona
Gas: 90euros
Tolls: 11 euros x2 + 35 euros x2 + 15 eurosx2=122 euros
Parking 4 days in Barcelona: 60 euros
Hotel in Valencia with parking and breakfast = 120euros
Hotel in Altea = 80 euros
I don’t count the extra meals because we would have gone out to dinner in town most likely anyway.

Total cost of driving: 472 euros! Ha Ha!! About the same. Who would have thought.

We rented a beautiful little apartment in the chic Eixample neighborhood in Barcelona. That was $675 Canadian for 4 nights. Contact me if you want the link.