Category: Photography

Back to Spain to make a House a Home

We got away from Mansle nice and early on a Saturday morning and even made it past Bordeaux without having to slow down much.  Crossed the border into Spain same as usual, only knowing we were in another country by the slightly different road signs.

We made good time and arrived at the hotel just outside Zaragoza before dark.  It looked like at one time it was a pretty fancy place – marble stairs, etc., and every second guest had a dog.  Spain isn’t quite as dog-friendly as some places so where dogs are allowed you’ll definitely find lots of them.

Another early start the next morning and we headed generally south and a bit east.  At one point we saw some smoke off to the left and not much later saw a convoy of army fire trucks heading towards it – they’re not wanting anything to get out of control in the current dry conditions.

We followed fairly main roads all the way home – the car’s GPS didn’t seem to know some of the newer roads but we knew where we were headed and I had my ever-present maps so it wasn’t a problem.

We got back to the house mid-afternoon and were glad to unload and relax for a bit – it’s been a lot of travelling in the last few weeks.

While we were gone the solar panels for the hot water had been installed as planned and the pool drained – not as planned.  Apparently there was so much mud in the bottom from the dust storms in March that the filter simply couldn’t handle it and it had to be drained and several inches of mud shovelled out by hand.

Since then we’ve arranged several more things but the most annoying has been the water situation.  Apparently not only did we need to take over the ‘rights’ – it was even part of the deed of purchase – but also had to become members of the local water co-op.  The plumber’s wife – who is also our pool cleaner – helped interpret for us at the water office so we could get things rolling.

A few days after arriving back we saw a small pillar of smoke coming from the north just below the sanctuary.  Not long after there was a spotter plane, then a couple of helicopters with water buckets dousing the blaze.  Again – taking no chances, thank goodness.

We’ve done a bit of outside work as well, such as chainsawing the old and rotting wooden rails around the decks, and planting some lovely colourful flowers in some of the windowboxes and planters.

Also putting up some of the artwork from Papiano has made the inside seem more like a home and less like just a house.

The days are usually quite sunny and are getting hot but there’s almost always a nice cool breeze in the evening and again in the morning.

Sitting on the terrace beside the pool is very relaxing – jumping in for a swim will be even more so once it’s filled a few days from now.

Quick trip to Papiano and back

On Friday morning the estate agent visited to have a look at the house – it was the same agent that sold Colin the place almost five years ago.  We spent the next couple of days sorting out all of the stuff that we wanted to take down to Spain, with the rest going into the cellar for retrieval when we return with the campervan in October.

We had a nice visit with John and Janet one afternoon at the bar, and then broke the news to Antonio that we were selling the house.  It’s not like we’ll never be back but we just don’t spend enough time there anymore.  There will always be races nearby that we will come to see and whenever we’re in the area we’ll stop by to say hi.

With the trailer crammed full and the back of the car also stuffed we stopped at the bar on our way out of town for a final cup of coffee.  We returned to the same B&B in Susa – not so much traffic this time as the four-day weekend had ended the day before.

We were hungry and followed the B&B owner’s directions to a restaurant in the town where we enjoyed a very nice meal.

It was a bit of a walk but the evening was lovely and we needed the exercise.

There are quite a few war monuments in the town – I believe the Alpine Corps had a large presence in the area – I wanted to call it the ’resistance’ but I don’t think that’s quite right.

At breakfast the next morning there were two french gentlemen that we chatted with for a bit.  They’re partway through a pilgrimage to Assisi and have about 47 days to go.

They didn’t have anything good to say about the Camino di Santiago, however, as according to them it’s far too crowded now – and likely not enough real ’pilgrims’ on it anymore.

We made it back to Mansle in good time the next day – a seven-day trip with four of the days spent driving – not our typical journey.

Over the next couple of days we re-organized the trailer and are being even more particular about what is getting taken to the spanish house.  We need to make room for Henry in the back of the car – Mo sits on my lap but Henry needs a bit more room so not everything we brought from Papiano can continue with us.

We had another good fish and chips lunch at the same place as before, although this time we sat outside and ended up covered in tiny little bugs/flies – likely from the corn fields across the road.  We also enjoyed dinner one evening at the campground – lovely weather these days with blue skies and nice breezes.

A Lunch, A Sportif and Another Lunch, and…The Ballet (Go Ukraine!!!)

On Saturday there was a meal at the bar that we really enjoyed.  It started with a salad that had pieces of meat in it – when I asked the english fellow that was sitting next to me what it was he said some fancy french name.  When I asked again – no, what is it? – he revealed that it was chicken gizzards.  I was a bit concerned that it would be like liver or kidney but it wasn’t at all – it was actually pretty tasty and reminded me a bit of pork.  I ate most of it, although did have a bit of help from both Colin and Mo.

The main course was duck leg served with creamy mashed potatoes and truffle – it was absolutely delicious, and probably the best meal I’ve had at the bar.  I couldn’t manage the cheese course or the dessert, although they both looked equally good.  We’ve met the english fellow before and he’s quite nice – he has a big old dog that’s blind and very well behaved, even when food is around.

The next day we attended two events.  The first was a sportif sponsored by the local cycling club – there were four different routes depending on how far each rider wanted to go.  We helped out at the food stop that was setup at the ‘lake’ near Luxe – we made sure all of the various food plates were re-stocked as groups arrived and devoured things.

After the last riders had left we helped pack up and take things back to the hippodrome, which was the location for the start and end of the four routes.  About an hour later all of the helpers regrouped for a lovely lunch of roast pork and a potato and cheese dish, along with a nice green salad and the usual crusty french bread.

The second event was very enjoyable as well but a bit more serious.  We’d gotten tickets to the Kiev ballet and the place was packed – I estimate there were probably 700 or 800 people there.

It was a fund-raiser for the ballet company as they’re basically trapped and unable to return to Ukraine because of mad-dog Putin and his insane illegal invasion and attempted genocide.

They started out with a demonstration of basic warm-ups and exercises, then got into the real show – and it was thrilling.

They did a lot of different numbers, and at the end got a rousing standing ovation.

We really, really enjoyed the evening, and it seemed everyone else did as well.

We packed lightly and got away again on Wednesday morning, crossing from France to Italy through the tunnel and reaching Susa in late afternoon. 

We’d booked a B&B and it was a nice little family-run affair with boys playing basketball in the courtyard and grandma and grandpa tending the backyard garden.

After settling in we went for a short walk – some nice little ponies next door and a couple of donkeys next to them.

Also back the other direction some very nice looking goats.

After breakfast at a decent time the next morning – including the best coffee we’d had in months – we were on our way again by about 8:00.  We made pretty good time for the first couple of hours, then started noticing how heavy the traffic was becoming.  We almost came to a standstill at some points, even though there were virtually no semi-trucks on the road.

We finally googled and found out that it’s a holiday in Italy and folks seemed to all be off to the Adriatic coast for a four-day weekend – bad timing!  Luckily as soon as we turned south towards Perugia the traffic died completely – barely any, although lots of road construction.

We arrived in Papiano early evening, stopping at the bar for a quick drink and to say Hi to Antonio.

Saliente to Mansle

Removal of the skanky jacuzzi contraption made the terrace look a lot better.  

And it’s lovely to have a garden that is well planted and laid out.

Leaving the house on a Sunday was a bit sad – we’d just started to get used to being there, but at least we’ll be back fairly soon.

We drove generally east and up the coast before turning inland just past Valencia.  Originally intending to stop around Zaragoza we ended up finding an aire well short of that in the town of Teruel.  The aire wasn’t too bad – right across from a guarda-civil station and next to a skateboard park.  Lots of activity and noise until a certain time, then remarkably quiet.

As usual when going a long distance we passed through lots of beautiful countryside and saw many sites of interest – although also as usual we didn’t stop except to let the dogs out now and then.

We originally planned a three-day trip but the second day’s drive went so well that we made it to the border and decided to keep going all the way to Mansle – stopping of course for a few things from the cheap shops right on the Spanish side of the border.

We hit the Hope Charity shop for more books and jigsaw puzzles, and the next day had a lovely fish-and-chip lunch with Tony and Joyce.  The owners of the restaurant have several dogs, and are caring for several others that were rescued from Ukraine – I believe they have 9 now!

We have, of course, visited the bar a few times and it’s so nice to see Edith and Sylvain again, as well as many of the other regulars.

There’s a fund-raising ballet in town tomorrow for Ukraine, and their flag is flying along the side of the church right across from the bar.

Snoopy is doing well – getting a little bit plump from all of the treats they give to all of the doggies.  Mo and Henry like going to the bar at least as much as we do!

Walking home the other afternoon after coffee I noticed a door-knocker on one of the houses.

I’m not sure how many times I’ve walked along the street and never noticed but interesting door-knockers are everywhere…

The hands are actually a bit creepy – reminded me of Thing in the Addams Family.

We’ve had some rain but also some lovely days and the spring blossoms are beautiful.

The birds in the neighbourhood are ravenous – we’re not sure how many fat-balls they’ve eaten, and the seeds in the blue ball feeder go down super quick.  I guess the birds are feeding their little ones right now so need all the extra food they can get.

The Giro d’Italia is on right now and for the first time in six years we’re not going to see any stages live so we’re compensating as best we can by watching GCN-plus on tv (via Colin’s phone).  Hopefully next year…

Settling in to Saliente

Settling into the house has been very easy in some ways, and in others not so much.

It’s wonderful to be in my master bedroom with the huge bathroom, but the hot water wasn’t working so we couldn’t have showers.  Also the washing machine kept stopping because of ‘not enough water’.

We got hold of a local plumber and arranged for him to visit.  We want to replace the gas cylinder water heater with a solar one, as well as the house heating system.  The current system uses red diesel and neither of us likes that so we’re going to get a pellet burner for the main living room that will act as both a fireplace and heat the radiators as needed.

The plumber’s wife does pool cleaning which we badly need – you can’t even see the bottom of ours through the algae and muck.  There’s also a crappy ‘jacuzzi’ on the terrace by the pool that we’ll have to empty and dispose of.

It turns out that the hot water does work, although the canister did need replacing.  The problem was that we kept testing the hot water in the kitchen, where for some very strange reason the hot water pipe was not connected (or turned on, or something).  Anyway I did get a very nice shower before we ran out of all water.

The plumber came up the next day with his wife, who said she could definitely rehabilitate the pool, while he went down to the lower, larger water tank and opened something up that allowed a bit more water to be pumped to the smaller upper tank that feeds the house.  He also arranged for another fellow to partially fill the lower tank from his tanker truck in a couple of days.

A few days later we went into Albox and had another meeting with our bank guy – he helped us setup our new cards, and we also arranged house insurance.

Back at the house we realized that the loud ‘cawing/squawking’ that we’d been listening to day and night was not a large exotic bird, but a small frog living in the pool.

I thought I’d rescued him and proceeded to scoop him out (on only my second try with our new net) and deposited him in a shady part of the garden in a bit of water.  Well – it turns out he didn’t want to be ‘saved’ or relocated, as the very next morning we found him once again singing his mating call at the top of his lungs from the pool.

We’ve seen other local wildlife such as rabbits, and this morning Colin saw a fox, who seemed to be interested in the rabbits, but I was too slow to get a pic.

Sitting on the terrace at any time of day is very pleasant, and there’s always a beautiful view to be had.

I’m also enjoying being able to do yoga again – my master bedroom is large enough that I can put out my mat with plenty of room to spare.

Another fellow has come to do some measuring for balustrades for the inside stairs, as well as fencing for the front yard.  It’s quite a large space so we’re only going to enclose part of it – the raised beds for our veggie gardens will be outside the fence, although we will have to ensure that they are rabbit-proof.

One afternoon we walked the dogs on the rambla to the nearby restaurant – it was just packed, and there was a bouncy-castle for kids and music playing.  We didn’t think it was an after-funeral party and decided it was either a wedding celebration or christening party.  There were lots of kids and the little girls were all dressed up with frills and bows – very cute.

When I sit on the terrace beside the pool it’s easy to envision how it will look next year with some strategically placed flowering shrubs in pots and a couple of nice large umbrellas – it’s going to be gorgeous and I can’t wait!

Getting the House!

We arranged a second visit to the new house in order to find out about where fuse boxes and water controls, etc. were.  The current owners were very accommodating, and while Andy (from the estate agents) did an inventory of the furniture that will be left for us we walked around with the owners and they told us all they could about everything.

There are two water storage tanks and the lady told us who to call when we need fill-ups.  She’s so nice and is leaving us a list of who to contact for everything we might need.

It was very nice to find that I loved the place as much on the second viewing as I did on the first – I can’t wait to move in!

We’ve taken a couple more drives around the area – we figure if we’re going to host the odd small bike group once in awhile we better know the best places to ride.

Yesterday’s trip was quite long, but some of the countryside was so beautiful it made the hours worth it.

On the way back we missed a turn in one of the small villages and ended up going for a few miles on a rambla, but we made it ok and ended up where we expected near the sanctuary.

We signed the deed for the house almost a week ago.  Waiting at the notary office for almost two hours was a bit nerve-wracking but in the end it was all ok.  Our lawyer had sent the funds for the purchase ‘the slow way’ and the sellers didn’t want to wait 3 or 4 days for the $ to show in their bank so our lawyer went off to the bank and had them recall the funds and re-send them ‘the fast way’.  No problem!

We were given the keys and I almost skipped for joy.  A quick run for groceries and we were on our way to our new home!

The next day we arranged for the wi-fi service, but all else will have to wait for three days as it’s yet another long weekend here.

The first thing we discovered was that we had no hot water – first on our list now of what we’ll have to deal with.  Next will be getting the water tanks filled, arrange for the pool to be cleaned before mid-June, and have the heating system checked.  Oh – the joys of home ownership!

Slow days over Easter and another step forward

We received the contract for the house by email from the lawyer late one evening.  We had a couple of simple questions that we emailed back to them but by then everything was shut down for the five-day Easter weekend.

Not able to do any business we had a couple of very slow days, taking only one day-trip back north to Chirivel.  Once again we commented on the beauty of the area, and doing the loop in a different direction we came back via Oria.

Sitting outside one afternoon at the campground we got a bit of a shock – we had the canopy out as it was nice and sunny and were surprised by a large thump above us and seeing some spray.

I jumped up and stepped away to get a view of the canopy and could see what looked like bird poo spread out all over.  Colin got the hose out and sprayed it off – it was gross.  I was very glad for the canopy as I’d been sitting right below where the worst of the poo was and might have gotten it right in the face!

A short while later when inside the campervan Colin noticed that some of the brown shit had come thru the open vent above his bed and was sprinkled on his duvet – since we had just done a bunch of laundry the duvet cover was hanging on the line drying so the poo/goo was right on the duvet itself.

It actually didn’t smell bad so we’re not really sure what it was – maybe mud and bits of grass or leaves/needles.  We couldn’t figure out where it came from – we hadn’t noticed any large birds, although it was very windy and could perhaps have come from one of the large trees nearby.  It’s a mystery.

Another day we drove up near the new house and while Colin sat with the dogs outside the restaurant and had a coffee I finally – for the first time this year! – got on my bike.  I rode up the nearest rambla and pedaled leisurely along below the house and north almost to the sanctuary.

It was a very nice ride, although I did have to pay good attention to the ‘road’ surface, which is a combination of dirt, gravel and sand, and having many washout grooves from all of the recent rain.

I think being able to explore the ramblas will almost make up for not being able to ride the canal paths in and around Worcester anymore.

The ride north was all gently uphill, and hardly noticeable – you could only really tell there was a gradient at all because going back south to the restaurant I hardly had to peddle – I might even have been able to coast the whole way if I’d wanted to.

After the long-long Easter weekend we got to do some more business.  A quick visit to George at the estate agent office answered most of our questions regarding the contract.  He printed it for us and we signed it.  We then popped into the bank, which we were lucky to get into as it was market day and the street was packed with stalls.

Our representative was with other customers so we made an appointment for an hour later.  When we saw him at noon he did a transfer for us of 10% of the house purchase – our bank cards hadn’t arrived yet and we also don’t have an NIF number so we couldn’t do it ourselves.  We gave him the papers showing where the large transfer of cash from the UK came from to back-up the anti-money laundering file on the account.

After the bank we returned to where we’d parked the camper van – about a km back along the road out of town because of all the extra parked cars for the market.  Next stop was to drop off the papers at the lawyers – a one-pager from the bank showing the 10% had been done, as well as the signed contract.  Another step forward!

Day Trips and The Shaggy Dog

A few days ago we took another day trip to the Sea, this time heading for Playa de Mojacar.  It was quite a pretty area but we could see that it would be infested with tourists in peak season – even now it was almost over-run by brits.

We did have a nice drink at a cafe, then took a walk along the beach back to the campervan before driving a bit further north to the beach near Villarico again.  We actually got the lawn chairs out and sat in the sun before having lunch overlooking the Sea.

Another day we took a little drive north, going through Taberno, then taking a smaller road winding through the hills to the town of Velez-Rubio.

There were very few settlements along the way but mile after mile of lovely  almond orchards. The distance was 32 km and it took an hour.

We took a short walk around and had a drink before heading home via a different route.  This time we went west to the town of Chirivel where we turned south – and was it ever a beautiful drive.

We ended up joining the road that goes past the Sanctuary, then on down to Albox.

Again we got to sit in the sun for a bit, and we watched as more and more campervans arrived – Pedro, the owner, had told us he was hosting a paella party and had invited some friends.  The place wasn’t totally full, but there were dozens and dozens of new arrivals.

Saturday was another beautiful sunny day, and the music started around noon.  The paella was served up mid-afternoon and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

Although the ‘party’ ended quite early almost everyone stayed for another night.

Since Henry was getting very shaggy he was starting to look like a sheep so he got a grooming.

It took about two hours and he’s now half the dog he was before.

Now instead of looking like a woolly sheep he looks like a baby lamb.

Bacares and Sanctuary

Finally a warm and sunny day – I did a load of laundry and hung it on the line, then we decided to take another day trip, this time west to the town of Seron.  One of the houses we were going to view was just outside the town and George had told us how lovely the town centre was.  As we’d bought the other house on the spot we didn’t need the viewing of the Seron house but we thought we’d like to see the town anyway.

The drive west wasn’t the most picturesque as there’s a lot of industry and gravel pits, etc but the further we went the nicer the countryside got.

You can see Seron from a distance as it’s clustered around a castle at the top of a hill.  We drove along the base of the hill but decided not to take the campervan up into the centre as we were concerned about how narrow the roads were likely to be.

Since it was still early we chose to drive south a ways and do a loop back before going home.  The road wasn’t too bad as it wound up and up to the summit, with an elevation gain of over 1400 meters.  There were quite a few cyclists making the effort and it couldn’t have been easy.

The views along the way were fantastic but there was nowhere to stop and take photos from – a couple of view points would have been great, or even just a pullout.

Stopping in the village of Bacares we had a walk around – it’s not a bad little place, but very isolated.

After our walk we sat down outside the cafe/bar and had a coffee.  There were a bunch of birds in cages on the windowsill – the cages are so small the birds can barely turn around in them and they make little noises at each other.

It seems very mean to me – I wondered what kind of bird they are, and if they’re perhaps on the menu of the restaurant, or what else their purpose might be.

The sparrows come and land near the cages – wonder if they’re communicating with them or just trying to steal their food.

After leaving Bacares we stopped partway along the road north and had a nice lunch on a flat wide spot with a great view.

Nearing the town of Olula del Rio I actually got a decent photo of a sculpture that’s outside a museum/art gallery.  She’s called ‘La Mujer de Almanzora’ (The Woman From Almanzora) by spanish artist Antonio Lopez.

When we returned to the campground it was sunny and warm enough to actually get the lawn chairs out and sit outside under the canopy.  We weren’t out there very long before the wind became too much and we had to wind-in the canopy and retreat inside again.  I’ve still been wearing my winter coat and the lighter black jacket hasn’t been out once yet – so much for warm southern Spain!

We’ve now signed some papers at a notary’s giving our solicitor power of attorney to get our tax numbers and other house-related things for us such as sorting out utilities, etc.  We also met him at a bank and he helped us open some accounts so we’ll be able to deal with a local spanish bank – things are moving along rather nicely.

Rain, rain and more rain – spending lots of time inside watching YouTube videos.  Finally sometime during the night the rain let up and there’s actually a bit of blue sky this morning.

A couple of nights ago Mo fell out of bed and seemed a bit out of it when I hauled her back up.  We think she’s injured something on her right side – if you pick her up in the wrong position she yelps.  Nothing seems broken or anything as she’s walking fine, but just a bit tender.  She now has pink marks on the back of her head as I’ve been kissing her more than usual.

This morning we took a drive up to the sanctuary – El Santuario del Saliente – a work crew was clearing some of the rock falls caused by the recent rains but the drive was worth it.

The sanctuary is on a promontory with fabulous views of the valley below to the south.

I went inside and it was lovely – a tiled inner courtyard and then the ‘church’ part.

I was all alone and it was a very peaceful feeling – as near a ‘religious’ experience as I’ve ever had.

We stopped at the local restaurant on the way back to the campground and had a lovely lunch of fried calamari.  Back at the campground we watched two races on GCN – the Scheldeprijs and then the third stage of Itzulia Basque Country.  

A Brief House Hunt

We got hold of the estate agents and they managed to book three viewings for us mid-week.  

As we had a day before the viewings we drove to the nearby village of Arboleas and had a coffee.

There are lots of brits here but the village was lovely none-the-less (hahaha – just kidding – I love brits).

There seemed to be an extra large number of cats in the village, some of which were quite cheeky – sitting on parked cars, and sauntering by slowly taunting the dogs.

After our coffee we walked around a bit, then got driving again and just kept going.  It’s less than an hour to the sea, so we drove past Vera and north a bit along the coast to Villaricos.

We found a large space next to a beautiful sandy beach and had our lunch, then took the doggies for a walk into the town.

The next day we viewed three properties, all of which are ‘country houses’ as we requested but as we drove to the first one we wondered if we’d chosen the wrong category.

Part of the drive to the first house was on a ‘ramblas’, which is a dry river bed – well, dry most of the time other than a few times a year when it’s briefly flooded.  The road is maintained and not too terribly bad, but the house was quite remote.

The house had a lovely pool area and lots of rooms but was rather dark inside and other than the terrace around the pool there was no outdoor space.

The second house was even more remote, and badly needed a lot of work before being habitable.  The owner was a brit who gave up during covid and basically abandoned the house to the lizards and the elements.  While we could see great potential if fixed up, there was just too much to do.

The last house of the day was on a better road, but the house itself as well as the pool, while nice, was quite small – the koi pond wasn’t enough to make up for it.

As we discussed it later and the next morning we decided to look for ‘villas’ rather than ‘country houses’ but had to eliminate quite a few as they were right in a town.  We visited the office and had a good chat with George, who is british but speaks fluent spanish.

He helped us narrow down what we should actually be looking for, and mentioned a large country house that had recently lowered the asking price.  We hadn’t noticed it before as it had been above our budget at the time, but now wasn’t.  Someone was viewing the house that afternoon, and we indicated that we were eager to see it also, as soon as possible.

The next morning we got a call from George – the homeowners were open to seeing us in less than an hour!  They had received one offer on the house, and it was insultingly low – they are desperate to sell so wanted to see us asap.

We met Andy, the very nice fellow that had taken us around the other day, and he led us to the house which was about 20 km out of town.

The only hitch was the side road up to the driveway – it wasn’t paved and with the amount of rain recently the dirt road was a bit soft and the campervan couldn’t make it up.  As we tried repeatedly to back up and get more speed a tractor came behind us.  He realized we weren’t going to make it so pulled back and over a bit so we could back down past him to the paved road and pull over on a conveniently placed wide spot.

We walked the short way up to the house and one of the owners was waiting for us.  As we’d watched a video about the house on the website earlier we kind of knew what to expect – and we weren’t disappointed.

After a tour of the grounds, pool area, and the house we had a quick private discussion and made an offer on the spot.  It took about two minutes for the agent to get a positive response from the owners and we shook hands on it!  And for less than the asking price, which was already discounted quite a bit from the original.

We were in the office later that same day signing the papers and are already waiting for a response from a solicitor to take care of the legal paperwork, etc.  We own a house in Spain!!