We’ve always loved Christmas … people seem to be nicer to each other, have fun and relax a bit. People become, well, better people for the most part.
This will be our third Christmas here, and it’s a little different to the ones we used to have back in the UK! Back then we would spend a fortune on decorations, presents and food, and our house was always full of visitors. It’s a much quieter affair these days!
We do take the day off from doing any non essential work of course, and this year our good friends Anita & Paddy have invited us for lunch – it’s been years since someone else cooked for me on Christmas Day! God help them, but we’re taking Luna and Persi with us – they love playing with Paddy & Anita’s dog, Holly – they’ll be tearing around the garden like nutters all day I’m sure!
Christmas Eve has always been my favourite day, and this year I plan to spend the afternoon drinking tea, eating cake and watching It’s a Wonderful Life! I loved it when our kids were small, the building excitement, too many sweets and Christmas films on the tv while I made a start in the kitchen – always party food on Christmas Eve for tea!
Getting traditional British goodies is possible here, but at a price. In previous years here I haven’t bothered buying anything British for Christmas, but because we’re out for the day, I decided the least I could do was get some traditional fayre – 12 Mr Kipling mince pies, a small Christmas cake and a really small Christmas pudding was over €50 but hey, why not! (I would’ve made all of these myself but my oven packed up 6 weeks ago and I’m waiting for a spare part, plus buying some of the ingredients is nigh on impossible!).
The traditional Belen is up in the village – a life sized nativity scene, and the village is decorated with lights – I think we’re all ready! A timetable of events taking place in the village has been published, although with rising Covid numbers over here, I’m not sure if all of the activities will be able to take place – but it is lovely to see so much effort being made to bring the community together.
So wherever you are, and whatever you’re doing this year, we would like to thank you for sharing another year with us, and we hope you have a very very Happy Christmas.
Over the last few years, Halloween in the UK has become more and more American, so we were curious to see how Spain celebrated it when we first moved here.
In Spain, October 31st is known as ‘Día de las Brujas’ (Day of the Witches), November 1st as ‘Día de Todos los Santos’ (All Saints Day) and November 2nd as ‘Día de los Muertos/Difuntos’ (Day of the Dead/All Souls Day). … In Spain, most celebrations happen on November 1st which has been made a national holiday (known as a red day here).
On All Saints Day in Spain, some families take the opportunity to visit the cemeteries where their ancestors and loved ones are buried. As a family, they then clean the graves, leave flowers, light candles and take time to remember their dearly departed.
This week in the village there has been face painting and a movie for the children, and on the 31st October the children usually dress up and go out collecting sweets (not called trick or treating here). In larger towns and cities there will be parades with music and fireworks – remembering the dead doesn’t have to be a miserable affair!
The cemetery has had a lick of paint and a good tidy up before All Souls over the last few weeks ready for people to visit the graves of their loved ones.
Most villages have their own cemetery, usually close to the undertakers (tanatorio), which in turn is usually close to the church! It made me laugh when we saw this as it looks very efficient! There is a law in Spain that a body has to be cremated or embalmed within 48 hours of dying, so funerals happen really quickly here, which I think is a good thing.
We have noticed more Halloween type things in the shops recently, but not nearly as much as in the UK.
Of course, living outside of the village in the campo as we do, we won’t get any children knocking on the door for sweets, but we might pop into the village for an hour on Sunday evening to join in a little!
The big difference here is the focus is all on remembering loved ones rather than dressing up for sweets and treats, which keeps it closer to the pagan festival of Samhain where All Souls Day originated from many years ago. We still celebrate Samhain, and we place a simple meal outside for any passing souls, which is the traditional way to celebrate.
However you celebrate Halloween / All Saints and All Souls, have a wonderful weekend!
With Mum and Dad arriving next week, we’ve been thinking about where we can take them and some things we can go and do while they’re here. I’ve done a blog previously giving a quick overview of the province, but I thought I’d give some specific places to visit this time.
We haven’t actually spent much time at all sightseeing here – the first year we were trying to get this place habitable, and then the pandemic hit, so we’ll be seeing some of these places for the first time too!
Almeria is in a special location – they say you can go skiing in the morning up in the Sierra Nevada’s, and then go and lie on a beach in the afternoon! It’s a great place if you are sporty – lots of walking and hiking in the mountains, and water sports down on the coast. Kayaking out from Cabo de Gata is really popular (don’t think mum and dad would be keen as hilarious as that would be!).
Almería has some truly beautiful beaches. Or you could hire a boat and go and discover the coves around the coast too! Then there are organised boat trips where you will often catch sight of dolphins. There are various places along the coast where you can find these – Cabo de Gata and Aguadulce being just two that I know of. Aguadulce is lovely, and very close to the popular resort of Roquetas de Mar (personally my idea of hell … rows and rows of hotels and bars selling English food!!). I’m planning a boat trip for mum and dad from Aguadulce – they last a couple of hours and cost about €30 each – longer days trips are also available.
Then there’s the many little villages dotted around the province, usually with great local bars and cafes so you can while away a few hours with some cold beer and tapas! As you go towards the mountains of course you get spectacular views to enjoy with your cold beer! Another drink you might enjoy over here is Tinto de Verano – wine of summer – basically a red wine spritzer and very delicious on a hot day! There are some beautiful villages near us that I plan to take mum and dad to – Laujar de Andarax, Almocita and Padules – they’re all within half an hour of us, and we have tried and tested the tapas there!
Overlooking Almeria City is the 10th Century Fort – the Alcazaba. It’s free entry if you’re an EU citizen and €1,50 if you’re not (sorry Dad!). There are beautiful gardens and you can walk around the ruins of the Fort, once lived in by the King of Almeria.
Almeria is home to Europe’s only desert. The town of Tabernas sits on the edge of the desert, and is a nice place to wander around. However, most people go to this part of Almeria to visit Mini Hollywood and Fort Bravo. Loads of films have been made here, and you can visit some of the sets and even watch a Wild West show! I think it famously started with the Spaghetti westerns, but in more recent years there have been Indiana Jones, Top Gun, Game of Thrones etc to name but a few, made here.
Then there’s the cathedral and various museums in Almeria city to explore! The city is right on the coast, so you can do your shopping, wander around the museums and then down to the beach to enjoy a spot of lunch looking out across the med – we did this the other week and just kept sitting there saying how lucky we are!
Almeria has become a more popular holiday destination over the last few years and there really is something for everyone – the busy city with bustling markets and lots of shops or you can escape to the more tranquil settings in the mountains or hidden coves around the coast … we’re certainly looking forward to doing a bit of touristy sightseeing ourselves over the next few weeks!
I recently found out that Spain is a popular destination for holiday dental treatment, and having been twice recently I can understand why!
All dentists here are private – there’s no provision under the State Healthcare system. But, and this is a huge but, it’s so affordable!
Back in the UK there were times that I should’ve gone to the dentist, but just didn’t have the money, and finding an NHS Dentist was impossible!
A few months back I broke a tooth eating my healthy morning cereal! It was so bad it just couldn’t be ignored. I went into the dentist and got an appointment for two weeks later. I went in thinking, this is going to cost a fortune!
No obligatory form filling (unusual for Spain), no full check up including x rays like there would be in the UK to bump the price up. And you don’t have to be a resident. I was in the chair for 20 minutes – no injections (and no pain), one totally rebuilt tooth (seriously, you wouldn’t spot the mend) and it cost … drum roll … €50 … seriously! There wouldn’t have been change out of £250 in the UK.
So a few days ago I had bad toothache, and realised I had an abscess on one of my back teeth … no waiting, no putting it off, I called for an appointment and went down to the dentist. Abscess drained and he told me what prescription to get from my doctor, which was sorted within an hour. I have to go back next week to see how it’s looking – he reckons there’s a small chance he’ll be able to save the tooth, but there’s a chance I’ll lose it. Today’s bill – €20! That’s what you call affordable dental care! And I’ll be going back next week knowing the only worry will be whether I lose my tooth or not, and not what it will cost me!
So, some advice … now that it’s easier to travel and the cheap tickets are back, look up a dentist in the area you’re planning to come to and get booked in for anything you’ve been putting off!
I never thought I would hear myself say that I don’t dread going to the dentist anymore!
Our normally tranquil and peaceful life was somewhat shattered on Sunday with the arrival of a mule in the field at the end of our road …
This poor little bugger gets moved around, and sometimes we have passed him in a field further away when we’ve been out for a walk. The very short tether, lack of food, water and shelter did upset me. The dogs had a quick bark but didn’t seem overly interested then.
But on Sunday he got moved a bit too close, and the dogs were beside themselves! The mule was now on ‘their turf!’.
They both went down there, and when Luna realised the mule was tied up, she got bored of barking at him and went to come back home. Rog heard the commotion and went down to investigate (in the pitch dark)!
But Persi, well, that was a different matter altogether! He’s only 8 months old and hasn’t been able to contain himself at this new arrival. Persi was barking furiously, wanting to play, Luna was trying to drag him away, the mule started kicking out, and Rog was shouting at, well, all of them!
We had friends staying here too – they must’ve thought they’d come to a madhouse!
We had to tie the dogs up Sunday night to make sure they didn’t go back over there – something we don’t like doing, but if the mules hoof connected it would definitely have had a sad ending, so better to secure them.
The next morning we decided to let them off in the hope they would now be bored of the new arrival, but no, Persi was off like a shot. Luna gave chase, closely followed by Rog (he has walked / run about 2 miles going back and forth). Persi has an injury on his face – not sure if that was Luna or the mule, but it hasn’t deterred him at all – talk about not learning your lesson!
Rog has been taking down water for him – it’s heartbreaking to see him tied up on a really short rope with nothing except an empty water bucket by him. He drunk the first bucket in one go – just broke our hearts!
So Persi is under house arrest, and currently being walked on a lead … I just hope they’re not planning on leaving the mule there for too long … for everyone’s sake!
Now you know me, I’m an animal lover, and we need all sorts of animals to create a balanced eco system … but there is a list of animals in my head where my attitude is ‘you leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone!’. At the top of that list here for me is the rat…
I remember our neighbour Paco saying to us ‘you know there are rats and snakes in the campo don’t you?’ – to which we replied of course, it’s the campo! You have to accept there’s all sorts of creatures out here!
Over the last few years I’ve caught the occasional rat out of the corner of my eye, but recently they’re getting bold and brave. Rog had one that made a nest in the shed, so he cleared out anything that could be used for nest building, leaving just a few rags in a drawer . After doing up the caseta and laying a floor, the droppings became very clearly obvious – and we think they’re mithering the chickens as they try to get the chicken food.
But this week, just the worst thing imaginable happened to Rog…
Whilst in the shed, he reached over to get a rag out of the drawer … stuck his hand in and grabbed a rag … which then started to move in his hand 😱😱😱
The shock of having a rat in his hand instead of a rag meant he dropped it and the rat made a run for it. Rog said he was annoyed with himself for dropping it as we could’ve had one less here … not a problem Mr C!!! Definitely forgive you that one!
To say I’m nervous about going in the shed is an understatement – I needed to get my pruners and gloves out this morning, and I thought, be brave, you can’t keep asking Rog to get everything out for you. So, like a ninja, I picked up my pruning shears and used the blade to open the glove drawer very gingerly, and only when I was sure it was rat free would I pick up the gloves 😂😂
So I’ve made some poison using chicken feed, peanut butter and salt, as well as sprinkling salt around their haunts. It’s the best way to deal with them when you have other animals – this won’t harm the dogs or the chickens, but should kill the rats, as their bodies can’t deal with salt. Melting their insides … sounds good to me!
Back in 2019 we experienced our first fiesta, and it was brilliant – carnivals, the evening dedicated to carrying the huge statue of Santa Ana all the way around the village, lots of gatherings, eating and drinking, and more fireworks than you could shake a stick at.
Starting around the end of June, each village has its fiesta, generally starting Thursday through to Sunday or Monday. You can see all along the valley as each village takes it’s turn to celebrate.
Fast forward to 2020 and the height of the pandemic – everything was cancelled.
So we were interested to see what we would be able to do this year for the fiesta.
We’ll, I have to take my hat off to the ayuntamiento! Although the celebrations are slightly different, with masks and social distancing , they have managed to come up with a variety of ways to celebrate.
It started with a children’s competition for decorating their shoes, followed by the same competition for adults. We were having a coffee at the cafe one day in the week, when this group of children walked by:
Sunday was a bike ride around the village – a great way to get people together safely! This was followed by an art exhibition by a local artist who died earlier this year. There has also been summer cinema showing films outside and a music group performing traditional music (that didn’t start till very late and we’re rarely in the village at night!).
Today (Monday) is Santa Ana day, and her statue was carried into the middle of the village this morning, accompanied by the village band, where she waited until 9pm for an outdoor mass and a lot of fireworks, before being carried back into the church. (No easy task when you see the size of the statue!). The street was lined with people, where they would normally follow behind the statue as she is carried right around the village. So something very close to normal for Santa Ana day. All carefully organised to make sure people stay safe. 👏👏👏
This is a link to a video on Facebook of the statue being carried through the streets earlier today:
Whilst outside doing some washing this afternoon, being hounded by flies, it got me thinking about the top five things we love and hate most about living here – some on the list are relevant to our particular location whilst others are more general about Spain!
Things we love:
The climate – obviously! In Almeria we average just under 3,000 hours of sunshine a year, and it only rains on 25 days in an average year. Average temperature is 19 degrees.
The sense of community – there are events almost every weekend in the summer (in years with no pandemic!) where the community comes together to enjoy … well, being alive! Everybody helps each other here.
The fiestas – we’re keeping our fingers crossed that we may be allowed our big summer fiesta again this year. There is a love of fireworks here, and no party would be complete without them!
The cafe culture. I think this is where the pandemic hit hard last year. Spain is a very sociable country and people spend time with friends and family at the local cafe, enjoying a cold beer and some tapas.
The work life balance. When there’s work to be done, sleeves get rolled up and people work hard. BUT, and this is the bit that’s missing in other countries, people here work to live, not live to work. Weekends are precious, and so aside from the big stores in the city, you’ll find local shops closed on Sundays – I love that.
So then … the top five things we hate!
Number one has got to be the flies – they drive you to distraction from June until about October. Even when they’re not in you, you feel like your skin is crawling with them after a while. I am often seen doing stupid dances whilst doing jobs outside – just to keep the flies off. It’s a sight to behold.
This next one is very personal to me – Rog doesn’t mind them, and that’s the snakes. Literally, my blood runs cold when I see one.
Learning Spanish. It’s the second fastest spoken language in the world, and when the locals fire a conversation at you, it’s almost impossible for non native speakers to understand. Where we might have 3 words for something in English, there’ll be two dozen in Spanish. Makes our heads hurt … but we’re getting better!
The use of car horns. Many delivery vans visit the villages selling bread, fish, gas bottles etc, and they literally drive around continually honking their horns to let people know they’re there. This might go in for fifteen minutes each time.
We’re struggling to think of a fifth thing … oh, the bureaucracy! Everything you want to do involves reams of forms. When we changed our mobile phone numbers to Spanish ones we popped into the bank to let them know – 20 sheets of paper each with multiple signatures. When trying to register the car when we bought it, I actually cried outside the fifth government building with the fifth form out of sheer frustration. My advice – never ever try and do these things yourself – pay a gestoria – they are administrators and know the systems. You will never fathom it!
The list of things we love was really easy – the only difficulty was keeping it to just five things! When we did the list of things we hate, we struggled to think of five things – tells us we’ve made a good move!
Almeria was actually third or fourth in our list of preferred areas when we came to Spain. Top of the list was Malaga province, mainly because we knew there a little more. Then came Granada or Jaen and then Almeria. For a few months after we made the decision to move, we became avid watchers of A Place in the Sun, when it was about southern Spain. Whilst it is without a doubt an intensely annoying programme, it did give us a few insights into different areas around Andalucía. That, coupled with lots of research on the internet looking at house prices, climate, distances to airports etc, all contributed to deciding our top areas.
During our property search when we got here, we quickly ruled out Malaga – the properties we could afford would’ve been very difficult to live in – very very rural and on top of very steep mountains! We then discovered just how cold Jaen and Granada can be in winter, and we had to consider things like distances to airports etc, having elderly parents. There was a suitable property, although it was at the very top of our budget and needed work. This was in Alcaudete in Jaen. There was just something about it that didn’t feel right, but we kept it there as an option – until we saw this place.
Driving over to Almeria, we had heard of the plastic tents, but nothing prepared us for the sea of plastic tents that went on for miles. The further we drove, the more convinced we became that we would be buying the house in Alcaudete.
But then we turned off the motorway and started heading towards the Alpujarras and Illar. We spent a lot of time staring out of the window just going ‘WOW!’ at the scenery! There were still a few plastic tents dotted here and there, and we can even see one from our finca, but you get used to them, and they play a huge and important part of the economy in this part of Spain.
The scenery here is dramatic to say the least. That’s probably why so many films have been made in the area. Not too far from us is Little Hollywood, where you can visit some of the film sets from movies made here – including many spaghetti westerns, Top Gun, Terminator, Indiana Jones and Star Wars to name but a few.
The climate is special too – summers are short and hot and winters are short and cold, and the rest of the year it’s, well, just lovely!
They always say that the special thing about here is you can go skiing in the morning and sunbathe on the beach in the afternoon! We’re about 30 minutes from the coast, and 30 minutes the other way you find yourself in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
The city of Almeria is actually lovely – you can wander round the shops then walk over and have lunch by the beach! This part of Spain was heavily influenced by the Moors, and you can see the remnants of this today, not only in the architecture but also in the food.
Almeria’s popularity is growing – there are growing areas of expats, particularly over towards Mojácar and Albox way. Even here in our small village there are probably a dozen expat couples from the UK, as well as from other countries. Property prices tend to be cheaper than other places such as Malaga too.
On the coast you can find Cabo de Gata – a beautiful nature reserve with stunning beaches and little white villages – somewhere we have yet to visit (mainly because of the lockdown), but it’s definitely on the list of places we want to see.
This is also a popular area for observatories – clear skies with little or no light pollution make it a great place to stargaze – we have sat on our roof terrace mesmerized by the Milky Way over our heads!
Little villages dot the landscape, all of which have little bars & cafes serving authentic tapas. Almeria is a place I would definitely recommend hiring a car and having a roam about, and I feel so unbelievably lucky to call it home.
Spain loves a party! And what must every party have … fireworks, lots and lots of fireworks!
Each village has their own series of fiestas throughout the year, and we made the effort to go to most of them during 2019 – they’re all about the community coming together, and we thought it was really important to be a part of that.
Last year, of course, everything was cancelled. I can’t tell you how sad it made people feel .
Yesterday was Santa Ana day. As she is the patron saint of our village it’s a big deal here. For those that may not know, Santa Ana was Mary’s mum (Jesus’ Granny). Obviously we’re still living with lots of restrictions, but our village was declared covid free a couple of weeks ago.
I take my hat off to the Ayuntamiento for the way they managed to celebrate yesterday – obviously no parades, no brass band etc, but what they did do was bring in a churros van and everyone in the village got free churros and chocolate in the morning – pop along to the van, pick up your freebies and take them home to enjoy. Then at lunchtime there was mass, which was streamed on Facebook, accompanied by fireworks. And last night, a huge firework display for everyone to watch from their balconies, again, streamed live on Facebook.
The amount of thought that went into organising a safe way for everyone to celebrate is astonishing, and is testament to how well local government works here.
Each town or village has an ayuntamiento – a town hall. Each village also has an elected Mayor. The Mayor (here it’s a lovely chap called Carmelo, who, just like the rest of us, farms oranges) works with the other committee members to run all aspects of the village.
Bearing in mind there’s only 380 people in our village, we have a municipal swimming pool, a floodlit astroturf football pitch, a small theatre, and a handball court. A small army of workers constantly sweep the roads, cut the trees, paint the walls and benches etc – every week some sort of maintenance is happening to keep the village looking lovely.
So the next celebration is Easter of course – usually there’s a parade here on Palm Sunday and then lots of community events over Easter – we’re highly unlikely to be able to have anything close to a normal Easter here, but we all have a little heart after yesterday that we’ll find a way to make it special.
Out here in the countryside, the weekly shop is a little different to what we were used to in the UK. Large supermarkets with an enormous amount of choice, and all veg available all year are just not a thing here. In Almeria you have loads of big supermarkets, but we rarely go down to the big city these days!
Locally, there’s the daily fish van that comes round the village beeping his horn vigorously – we’ve never bought from him as he doesn’t get to our village until lunchtime, and we’re always back at the finca by then if we have been out. Some locals say never to buy the fish as the van isn’t refrigerated – the fish is kept in polystyrene boxes in the back of the van, and would’ve been in there for hours by the time he gets to us!
We have two food shops in the village – they’re small, but you can get your staples there if you run short, and we do like to support our local shop where possible. We do go to the nearest ‘bigger town’, Alhama, which is about 4 miles away, as there is a small supermarket there, so between Alhama and what we have in the village, we can get everything we need.
Then there’s the pharmacy – if you want some headache pills, you can’t get them in the food shops – there’s no crossover here! Different shops for different things.
But the highlight of the week is the market on a Wednesday. Every village has its particular market day, so if you miss yours for some reason then you can always find a nearby market within the next day or two (when there’s no pandemic and you’re allowed to travel anyway!).
The number and variety of stalls vary from week to week, but there’s always a couple of fruit and veg stalls, a butchers van, usually one selling clothes, one with household items – pots and pans etc, and a linen stall with bedding and towels. Sometimes we get shoes, handbags, scarves, and underwear too!
You can always tell when it’s fiesta time – extra stalls appear with special flowers and posh dresses!
We always get our veg from the lovely Alexandra. It seems normal to us now, but I remember when we first moved to Spain how we couldn’t get over the size of the veg – it’s all huge! And it’s really fresh too. You don’t go with a shopping list – you decide what to buy when you get there based on what’s available and what’s in season. The only things I really miss are parsnips and swede – never ever see them here (probably because they need a frost and that just doesn’t happen here!).
I remember as a child going to do the weekly shopping with Dad on a Thursday night – butchers first, then the green grocers, followed by the supermarket (and always the fish and chip shop on the way home, making sure we were back for Tomorrow’s World and Top of the Pops!) – going shopping here is just like that (minus the fish and chips, Tomorrow’s World and Top of the Pops of course!) in that you go to different shops for everything. I didn’t realise just how much I’d missed that till we got here – it really is like going back 40 years!
Like most things about life here, rushing is pointless. Standing at the veg stall isn’t boring .. it’s just an opportunity to catch up with other people and enjoy the sun for a while! This slower, calmer pace of life is wonderful and I would heartily recommend everyone trying to introduce a bit of this ethos into life! It would’ve probably driven me mad though if I was working full time with a family like I used to – it was a struggle to find the time to do an online shop back then, never mind visiting different shops!
Over the last year during the pandemic, shopping hasn’t been as much fun as it used to be … after getting our stuff from the market we would go and enjoy a leisurely coffee at the cafe and have a gossip. Unfortunately, our cafe has been closed since last Autumn as our lovely cafe owner, Antonio, is very ill with Covid – I’ll take this opportunity to wish him a speedy recovery – the cafe is such an important part of the village and it’s just not the same without Antonio and his family there. Fingers crossed we have better and happier days coming again.
Spain certainly seems to have different building regulations to what we’re used to in the UK, even more so when you buy a cortijo on a Finca.
Many cortijos were built without any permissions or sign offs at the end of the build – think along the lines of building a shed in your garden!
Most houses don’t have a damp proof course, so suffer from some damp and paint peeling off the cold cast walls.
When we bought this cortijo were went in eyes wide open and knew what we were buying – and also accepted that some work would need to be done to live in it all year round. And I think we’ve been pretty lucky – the house has been way better than we thought it would be. Some of the electrics and plumbing have been ‘interesting’ to say the least, but Rog is handy in both of these areas so with a bit of hard work and some choice swear words, we’ve had everything working ok.
But there, in the back of our minds was ‘what’s going on under the shower tray?’ We took the decision to leave it well alone while it’s all been working ok.
But a couple of weeks ago we had a problem with the hot water – there was literally a trickle coming out of the taps. Knowing the water here has loads of calc we called Emilio, our gas man, to clean out the boiler pipes with the special diluted acid to get rid of the calc. But then disaster struck!
We turned the hot water back on and even though the taps were off, we could hear water running in the house – there was a leak somewhere. The leak had been plugged by the calc so now the pipes were clean, the leak could flow freely! At which point I buggered off to the UK leaving Rog to sort it out!
It turns out that the water pipes were laid and then the concrete floor was poured. So Rog had to dig down and around to find the leak, taking out the shower as part of the process. He had to dig fairly deep …
So the good news is we do now have running hot water, but the bad news is we have no shower or bath! So, we called our builder (also called Emilio!), who once again looked at something in our house and simply said ‘Madre Mia!’. The situation has forced our hand to get the bathroom totally re-done (which was on the list for some point in the future). We’ve been and bought all new tiles and new fixtures and fittings for the bathroom now in case we go back into lockdown like other countries in Europe, but Emilio can’t do the work for a month … it’s going to be a very long month I think!
We’re turning it into a wet room and have chosen tiles we actually like 😂. It’ll all be worth it when it’s done!
Since moving to a predominantly plant based diet, I can’t tell you the new things I’ve learned, and the experiments that have been carried out in this kitchen!
It really helps having such lovely fresh produce available, and a good nose about at the market often comes up trumps. My herb and spice rack has never been used so much!
Lots of people on a plant based diet use these vegan and vegetarians alternatives – ‘pretend meat’ – but the problem I have with these is that they’re so highly processed, and when you read the labels you find they’re not that good for you (or for the environment). When we first went down this road we had a trip into Almeria to go to a big supermarket and bought a variety of alternative products to try, and very quickly decided that we would rather just not eat the alternatives, and instead stick to cooking with fresh plants from scratch. Apart from the fact they’re highly processed, don’t taste that good and are expensive, we would have to do a 62km round trip to get any of them. Nah!
And I’ll just say, pretend cheese made from cashews … ewwwww… it tastes like cardboard flavored with whatever they use to make quavers crisps.
Growing up with an Irish Mum and an English Dad who suffered terribly with stomach ulcers (he ended up having most of his stomach cut out), we ate very plain food at home. It was all plain meat and boiled veg, stew and dumplings, Sunday roast with Yorkshire’s – in fact, the first time I ate pasta was after I left home! My first curry was about six years ago – I know, it’s shameful!
So, I decided it was time for this old dog to learn some new tricks – and once you get started, it’s amazing what you can serve up with a few veg, herbs, spices and a little inspiration from You Tube! The great thing is that I have time now – I’ve always loved cooking, but now I’ve become quite passionate about it. After a long day at work it was often difficult to muster the energy to cook something exciting. Living here and only having a small supermarket locally means I have to get inventive with basic ingredients or face a trip down into Almeria for supplies.
A few favourites of ours have become:
Veg stew with white beans and dumplings – ready from scratch in 30 minutes and perfect on a cold day.
Veggie paella (I call this paella de Finca del Cielo – if Spanish people saw my paella they would have a fit as it’s not terribly traditional!).
Poached quince crumble with oat milk custard (ooh get me!)
Deconstructed tortilla (don’t laugh but it’s way easier than trying to flip a tortilla when you make them as chunky as I do!) Again, it’s my own take on a Spanish tortilla and does not conform to tradition!
Fried cauliflower rice. I used to buy the tubs of cauliflower rice in the UK but had never made it myself. As they don’t have that sort of stuff here in the shops I now make my own, and am quite ashamed that I ever bought it – sooooo easy!
So, over the next few days I’ll share the recipes for these on the ‘recipes, tips and ideas’ page. They’re all really flexible recipes – they change every time I cook them depending on what’s in the fridge!
The great thing about cooking without meat is that it actually becomes quicker and healthier and you don’t have to sacrifice flavor. I have been astonished at how easy the change has been, and by not going for the ‘pretend, processed stuff’ we’re saving a fortune every week. Eggs feature quite heavily in our diet as the girls lay an average of 3 a day between them – I think I have cooked eggs in every possible way over the last few months!
I thought I’d miss dairy, but I really don’t. We use oat milk instead of cows milk, and the only problems I’ve come across with this are cakes and Yorkshire puddings. We did try rice milk, and a few years ago I tried almond milk, neither of which I was that taken with.
I have bought some nutritional yeast which is used to add a cheesy taste to food, and it’s ok – you can sprinkle it on sandwiches or over salads and pasta, or stir some into your pasta sauce before serving. We wouldn’t eat it every day, but it makes a change now and again.
We said at the start of our change in diet that we wouldn’t be arseholes about it, so when I make cakes, I buy a pint of cows milk. I have now found a few recipes that don’t call for milk but use water instead. There’s always an alternative way to do things, and as I become more knowledgeable I’m sure our use of cows milk will go to zero.
Occasionally we buy a chorizo and I’ll add a little bit to a paella, but this is becoming more and more rare. I’m amazed that we haven’t craved a bacon sandwich yet, and we happily walk past all the meat and cheese etc in the supermarket without a second glance!
I think the fact that we said if we really fancied a bit of meat then we’d have some has helped – when you tell yourself you can’t have something you immediately start to crave that very thing! But I’m happy with the choice we’ve made – I feel well, I’ve discovered a passion for cooking and we’re saving money – what could be better than that!
Spain and its culture have been a real surprise to me. Now that we’ve been living here for nearly 18 months I feel that we are really starting to understand what makes this little corner of Spain tick.
Like many people, my only previous experience of Spain was as a holiday maker, and I had only been to Malaga twice before and a couple of visits to the Canaries. There was a bit of me that thought that maybe that’s how all of Spain was – a bit ‘Benidorm’ but I wasn’t worried as we had planned to live an isolated life, so we wouldn’t be in the thick of it too often.
Our actual experience has been so different to the stereotype and I think it’s mainly because we’re away from the coast and tourist areas.
Food – when we moved here we decided to make a concerted effort to learn about real Spanish cuisine. I am now an expert paella and tortilla maker (although they’re not always completely traditional!), and both have become part of our staple diet as they’re quick easy and healthy! Of course, Spain is famous for tapas, and we have become big fans over the last year. There really is a massive difference between the tapas that you get at tourist resorts and the tapas you get if you drive away from the coast – I would really recommend taking a drive and stopping in almost any village cafe to try some proper tapas. Tapas translates as ‘small dish’ and it’s so much better than a Greg’s sausage roll or a bar of chocolate, which was my go to food in the UK when I was hungry in between meals! Generally, the diet here is so much healthier than in the UK – fruit and veg at the markets tends to be seasonal, so I don’t write shopping lists any more – I go to the market and choose from what’s available, and that dictates what we eat for the next week. We use loads more olive oil now, especially as we got 31 litres of it from our olives lat year! The other dish I would recommend if you visit Spain is the toastada – a toasted baguette topped with smashed tomatoes which is traditionally eaten for breakfast – a little drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt on top makes it perfect! Meal times are quite different here – Spanish people think it’s hilarious that the English eat dinner at 6pm ish as it’s customary here to eat at 9.30pm! During the very hot weather this makes absolute sense, as it’s simply too hot to eat earlier than that, but in the winter we do tend to close the front door once it’s dark at about 5pm and revert to British mealtimes! The only thing I bring back from the UK with me now is tea and vegetable diet for dumplings – sorry, but Spanish tea just doesn’t cut it – it’s soooo weak! So whenever we visit the UK we make sure there’s some room in our case for bags of Yorkshire tea – and when it gets serious I get my parents to post a box of it over! You can buy PG over here in the bigger supermarkets, but it costs a fortune and only comes in tiny boxes – the Spanish aren’t a nation of tea drinkers! But other than tea and suet, we don’t actively seek out traditional British goods any more. We’ve found Spanish alternatives which suit our new way of eating perfectly.
Family and community here are so important; children are adored and everyone talks to them – they never seem to be an annoyance or in the way, and as a result they are generally beautifully behaved with fabulous manners. Respect towards your elders is a massive thing here.
There is one thing that has been hard to get used to though which is the staring. Men openly stare at women, and they don’t look away when you catch them! Apparently it’s purely appreciating the female form – hmmm … the jury is definitely out on this one!
Queuing is hilarious here! In the UK we are used to orderly queues, and pushing in is tantamount to treason. In Spain they just don’t queue, BUT there is a system! You go into, say, the bank, and everyone is just standing around. If you speak Spanish you then ask who is the last person in the general direction of the crowd, and once identified you know who to go after. If you don’t speak Spanish you have to memorize everyone who was in there when you arrived 😂 (the latter was us when we first arrived in Spain!). There are occasional podgers- and they get glared at and whispered about, although generally nothing is then said to them – it just seems to be accepted that they must be really busy!
Customer service – prior to moving to Spain we read loads of articles about living in Spain, and many cited terrible customer service as one of the downsides of living here. Well, that’s not our experience at all. Sometimes you go into a shop and think great, there’s only two people in front of us, and then you wait half an hour to be served! Why, you ask? Well, each person is given the time they need, and when it’s your turn, you’ll get the time and attention you need too. Nothing wrong in my book with that! Maybe the people who wrote these articles didn’t smile or speak Spanish, and if that’s the case then they can’t complain really!
Someone asked us the other week what our views were on bull fighting. Well, I said, personally I think it’s cruel and I don’t agree with it – however, I respect the fact that it’s a tradition here, and as I’m not Spanish I’m not going to pass judgement (but you wouldn’t catch me going to a bullfight). The response was, well, you have fox hunting! So we had to explain that it’s been outlawed and that ordinary people like us have never been fox hunting. Not everyone gets up on a Sunday morning and nips out on their horse with their dogs to go hunting – funny to hear how other people imagine England to be like!
Attitudes towards women here could be considered a little outdated or old fashioned in other countries – men and women really do have pink and blue jobs – a woman might come and pick some fruit at the finca, but you wouldn’t see them digging or fighting with a rotavator. It has a slight 1950’s feel to it. And do you know what, in this type of community it does actually work, and we have slipped into this way too for some things (but not everything 😂😂) – Rog does the majority of the heavy work outside and I do the washing, cooking etc. I do occasionally like to climb a few trees to prune them and grapple with the rotavator though, much to the hilarity of everyone who sees me! When you live like this each person really does have to know their strengths and weaknesses and you have to play to your strengths to get things done.
Everyone seems to own or part own a finca here for growing fruit and veg. And they all seem to help each other out – if someone is out spraying then they seem to do their neighbours finca too! One of our neighbours, Pepe, brings us potatoes and last week a huge carrier bag of peppers – he’s clearly a bit of an expert grower. He’s offered to come to our finca to help us a bit with our veg – I think he’s seen us struggling to get to grips with the very different soil, climate and timings for veg and so is going to come and teach us – how nice is that! He invited Rog over to see his finca (not me, because a woman wouldn’t be concerned with such things here!) to show him the best way to grow here, and the best way to irrigate etc. Once upon a time I would probably have been a bit miffed, but it’s actually really nice not having to prove anything to anyone anymore.
Religion is big here – the vast majority of the population is catholic and all the villages have a church in the center of the village , around which everything revolves. Holy days of obligation are observed, and they are usually public holidays. Each village has its own patron Saint – in Illar it’s Santa Ana (Mary’s mum). The annual fiesta sees an enormous statue of her being carried around the town, and everyone does the walk with the statue – it takes a good hour and there are stops on the route so that an enormous number of fireworks can be set off for her. This explains why, from the day we arrived here, I have been called Ana instead of Anita – as the name Anita is a derivative of Ana it’s much better to be Ana – actually it’s considered an honor.
The annual fiesta lasts for 4 or 5 days with Friday night being the evening dedicated to Santa Ana.
When we decided to quit the UK we cited a big part of the reason as being that we were fed up of living to work rather than working to live … and I think we have found the perfect place with like minded people and we certainly feel very much at home with the culture (except for the staring 😳).