Gota Fria.

Shocking news. Our little idyll has been devastated by the recent, and on-going, atrocious weather conditions in Ontinyent, Spain.

However, at this stage we are counting out blessings. People have died and so many others lost their properties completely or have been flooded.

Gota Fria or Cold Drop is a weather phenomenon that happens when the temperature plummets suddenly and then it rains, a lot. But this time it is far more than a lot.

The river Clariano rose 30 foot in 2 hours due to the unprecedented amount of rain that has exceeded all records going back to 1917.

The town and surrounding areas are in the middle of what has been categorised as a ‘Catastrophe’.

But it wasn’t the flood waters that affected us. We are at the top of a hill over looking the valley. It was the surface water run off that was our downfall. We can only imagine the amount of water it took to create this much damage.

Viewed above is the entrance to our drive and to the left you can see where our drive has ended up. It has been washed away and is now blocking the access road to the properties further down the hillside. This was after a day of rain that saw 10 inches of rain per sq m every hour. Apparently it was described as being similar to standing in front of a pressure washer

Julian and Marijsa kindly went to view our property yesterday and took these photographs. It is devastating.

Part of the drive remains intact but the gaping holes offer no confidence in supporting what is left of the drive through the current deluge.

Our re-modelled garden

Julian did inform us the house was ok, but the garden and terraces have slipped

We are due to visit on 25th September and know not whether we will be able to even reach our drive let alone view the devastation beyond it.

However, on the plus side, Julian has informed us today that the damage is no worse at the moment and we only have another battering of torrential downpours to get through this evening and it should start abating.

We are in contact with people in Ontinyent and watching events unfold on an hourly basis through social media and the community spirit is absolutely outstanding. Both Deb and I are looking forward to becoming part of this amazing town.

This blog is not just about the fun and exciting side to buying abroad, but also to bring to life the realities and disappointments. This is a biggie.

The clean up and reinstatement will be a major project and one that I intend to describe fully through this media.

In-Betweening

What do Deb and I do between visits to our little Spanish idyll? Plan our next visit naturally.

We spend our downtime discussing what we had achieved during our last visit, what we want to achieve during our next and our plans for the near, mid and distant future. I sometimes wonder what we talked about and how we spent our time prior to purchasing the house.

But of course I know what we did and what we talked about, and so do you because it’s so well documented in my previous blogs, and in great detail. This house purchase has dominated our lives for the last 3 years and now we have achieved our goal it still dominates our lives. Dwarfed only by our focus on Josh and his studies, it is currently fighting for second place with work commitments. Sorry clients.

Talking of work, we do have that little inconvenience to distract us some of the time. Well, I do anyway. Deb had her contract terminated at her last position when her buffoon of a boss eventually realised how many holidays he had signed off. For some reason he found 56 days holiday over a 12 month period somewhat excessive. That didn’t include Bank Holidays either.

Anyway, Deb is now my temporary admin assistant while searching for a flexible position where they have a more broad minded attitude to holidays. Good luck with that hun. I can see her being with me for a while.

We are returning to Spain in the last week of this month and staying for two weeks.The timing has been dictated by the return to University of our son Josh. He will be commencing his 3rd year of a Masters in Civil and Structural Engineering in a few weeks and we will be helping him to move into new student accommodation with his pals. We’ve had him back at home for 3 months and he will be really missed, so the return to Spain will be a welcome distraction.

For our late September trip we are looking forward to seeing the drive and car park after being re-surfaced with small gravel, which will be replacing the large stones that are so uncomfortable to walk on. We organised this work to be carried out while we are in the UK, so it will be completed on our return.

We are planning on decorating the main bedroom in time for the arrival of the new bed we ordered during our last visit if, and it’s a big IF, it gets delivered on time. Past experience of Spanish logistics leave us with little confidence, although some of the blame for this could be attributed to the fact our property has no address.

We will also be having a re-naming ceremony for the house. It is currently saddled with the imaginative and original name ‘Buena Vista’. Novel, don’t you think? We will be changing the name tile to ‘Casa én Trébol’ or House in Clover. This appropriately reflects our feelings for the house and our aspirations.

I don’t want to ‘big up’ this ceremony, it will just be Deb and I in attendance with a glass of wine for a toast and a few nibbles, but it’s something we need to do to make the home ours.

It won’t be all work, work, work though. We want to get out and about looking for interesting bits of furniture, fixtures, fittings for the internal re-design of the house to Debs’ desired Moroccan style. We plan trawling local markets, towns and old town areas of the more popular coastal areas.

There is a very large market in Ontinyent every first Sunday of the month and as we are there for last week of Sept and first week of October, we will make it this time. We have also heard good things about the market in Javea old town on a Thursday, so that will be benefiting from a visit as well.

During this trip Deb also wants a day out to the beautiful city of Valencia, on the train, or el tren. Brilliant! Marvellous! Can’t wait!

Can I just say, I do not do public transport. I suffer the experience of the airport and flight in close proximity to many other people because, frankly, there is no alternative. A two day journey to Spain which includes a ferry trip, then a drive through France is not an alternative. But el tren to Valencia from Ontinyent, 85km, has an obvious alternative, a car.

I like the privacy of my car, my own space, and the ability to arrive at my destination at a time of my choosing, not one dictated by a public transport timetable that is, at best, advisory. I also don’t have to sit, or stand, in close proximity to anyone else. You can guarantee that I would get the mouth breather stood next to me with the personal hygiene of a wart hog and an inability to talk quietly into his phone during a long winded phone call. I can feel myself getting angry just thinking about it.

‘But we’ll get the opportunity to enjoy the scenery.’ Said Deb. ‘I already do,’ I replied, ‘from the comfort of the passenger seat.’ ‘Well I don’t,’ she retorted, ‘as I’m always driving. Do you want drive into Valencia?’ I’d seen it from the air many times and that idea didn’t really appeal. ‘Not really, no.’ I said quietly.

‘It’s not like the UK rail system,’ Deb said encouragingly, ‘the Spanish train system has a fantastic reputation. The trains are clean and comfortable, they run like clockwork and there are enough seats for everyone. Just think, we can sit and enjoy the scenery together and the station is right in the centre of the city, no issues with parking.’ It did seem ok when put like that. ‘Sounds good.’ I replied, but still needing to be completely convinced.

So el tren it is going to be, and I’m having nightmares already. I shall publish my experiences in detail following this traumatic experience. In the meantime I will be plotting a way out of it.

Watch this space!!

English or Spanish

My opening mantra whenever we enter a Spanish shop, store, restaurant or bar is ‘Soy Inglés. Hablo un poco de español.’

A simple statement that explains that I am English and can speak a little Spanish, with ‘little’ being the operative word. We do know quite a few individual Spanish words but it’s the putting them all together so they make sense that is troublesome.

This simple statement gives the member of staff four options. Gleefully embrace the opportunity to practice their own English, try to enhance our knowledge by speaking to us in Spanish, look around in complete panic for a colleague who has a modicum of English or reach for their phone and Google ‘Spanish to English translation’ as quickly as possible.

If they try the second option it soon becomes obvious how limited our knowledge is and they revert to one of the other three.

We have experienced all of these. A very helpful shop assistant who had an impressive ability to speak English but couldn’t understand it when we spoke back to her in English OR our pigeon Spanish. Then there was the assistant in a bed shop who phoned her boss in order that he could translate the conversation and an interior design shop assistant that we conversed with for more than 30mins via Google translate.

Deb and I, well mainly Deb in all honesty, thrive on the challenge of attempting to converse in Spanish, even with our limited knowledge. But the younger Spanish people we have come across seem very keen to communicate in English. As one young shop assistant explained, ‘It is important we learn English, it will give us more prospects.’ I fully understand, but this is a two-way learning street.

I remember one particular visit to our favourite supermarket recently where we were going through the checkout and the assistant was talking to me in English such as ‘How many bags do you need?’ ‘Do you have a Consum loyalty card?’ and ‘That will be 76 Euros and 15 cents please.’ There was a lot of wine in that particular shopping trip.

I was replying in Spanish and trying to put into practice my lessons, ‘Tres bolsas por favor.’ ‘Si.’ and ‘ Setenta y seis euros y quince centavos.’ I said as I handed over the money. It was a surreal situation but she wanted to practice as much as I did.

It is important to us though that we learn Spanish and are able to converse at some level in the native language of our adopted country. That only seems right and respectful.

But also a lack of Spanish means we potentially miss out on many of the cultural aspects of life in the country and have less of an opportunity to integrate within the local community, and we want the ability to integrate as this is our future home.

With these thoughts in mind we had commenced our Spanish lessons at the start of this year, but do I want to pass an ‘A’ level in Spanish or just be able to get by on a day to day basis with a conversational knowledge? Well, I have no intention of sitting another exam at my age and ultimately, with my almost 60 year old brain, it is quite difficult to absorb and retain new information. Especially past, present and future Spanish verb conjugations. Ser and Estar? My brain felt like porridge following that lesson.

As it happened, making that decision was irrelevant as we had to postpone our Spanish lessons simply because of the amount of times we have been, and are going, to our Spanish home this year. I just didn’t have enough time to catch up on the backlog of work my holidays were generating, let alone concentrate on learning another language.

We have both kept up with Duolingo though, a really useful App that enables you to learn your language of choice at your leisure.

We will get there eventually, assisted a lot by our frequent visits to our new Spanish home. During the process we hope to help our new Spanish neighbours as much with their English as they do with our Spanish.

Give it 12 months and I’ll be writing this blog in Spanish.

So, you want to buy a property abroad? Where to start?

From personal experience I would suggest: decide on the Country, decide on an area, decide on budget, decide on what type of lifestyle you want to live which will ultimately dictate the type and position of property that will suit you. For example, a first floor 35sq m apartment in a busy resort complex with a 5sq m balcony overlooking the 3 pools in the complex will hardly suit a couple who have a passion for gardening and who thrive on peace, quiet and tranquillity.

Once you have established all of the above, do extensive research, contact local property agents then go and investigate your chosen area and the properties that suit your requirements. ‘Thanks Rob,’ I hear you say, ‘for stating the strikingly obvious. What a pointless blog.’

‘Hold on there Tonto,’ I respond, ‘some people don’t think that is obvious at all.’

It’s true. They would prefer to let someone do the hard work for them and get a free holiday at the same time by going on A Place in the Sun. This is a UK television programme with the purpose of finding people their dream home abroad. Early readers of my blog will know that I am a great fan of the show, but not some of the people who appear on it.

I did though, feel very sorry for a couple who appeared on one episode I saw the other day who were searching for a holiday property in Southern Spain.

‘We’ve really thought about this and we’d like a small finca with a bit of land.’ Said the lady of the couple to the presenter. ‘OK,’ said the presenter, ‘let’s go and view the first property.’ I was really excited by this as so few people want to view finca’s, most want properties in the thick of things in holiday resorts.

Bear in mind a finca is a small country house set within it’s own grounds, perfect for those who like privacy. Ours is a perfect example.

Property 1, unbelievably, was an apartment on a complex. The couple looked a little surprised but gamely went through the motions of critiquing the property. Unsurprisingly it wasn’t a contender.

Property 2 was a house, but it was a mid-terraced town house, arranged over 4 floors and with the only outside space being on the roof. More surprised looks and more, slightly less enthusiastic, comments, and you could tell their hearts weren’t in it. ‘I’d really like to see a finca.’ The lady of the couple said. ‘OK.’ Said the presenter.

So they went to property 3, a detached house on a golf complex with minimal outside space and very close neighbours. Sadly, I couldn’t help roaring with laughter at the absurdity of the situation, but then I was also beginning to get angry on behalf of this poor couple. Bless them, they went through the motions yet again, made a few positive noises but it was obvious it wasn’t for them.

‘I don’t think this one is for you either.’ Said the presenter. ‘I think you mentioned a finca earlier, shall we go and see one of those next?’

The relief and childlike excitement on the couple’s faces were obvious and off they went.

Property 4 was the worst possible example of a finca I have ever seen, and between Deb and I we have viewed hundreds during our search. It had been completely modernised, which is not a bad thing in principle but it is if you remove all the character. It was on an open plot with no trees, bushes or plant growth of any kind and had very close neighbours. It was featureless, characterless and completely exposed to all and sundry wandering past. This particular example did not appeal to them at all, I can’t say I was by that.

‘I don’t think finca’s are really for you,’ said the presenter to a shocked couple, ‘let’s try something else.’

Property 5 was a modern townhouse, on a complex and with outside space on the roof. At this point, if I were taking part in this farce, I would have given the producers a piece of my mind and then buggered off to the nearest bar, for a very long time. But no, they went through the motions yet again and then were sent on their unhappy way to discuss overnight and make a decision on camera tomorrow.

The show ended with the couple making all the right polite noises but not purchasing anything. You don’t say!

I kid you not. This is actually a real episode. I think the producers struggle with the concept that not all Brits want the resort or golf experience.

If you’re serious about buying abroad, do as you would if you were moving in your own country, get out there and visit these places yourself, under your own steam and you can decide what to view at your leisure. Trust me, you will soon start realising what is right for you and what your priorities are. Make your own arrangements and start establishing relationships with people. We’ve met really interesting people and characters during our long search, some of whom I think will remain firm friends, and we’ve had a fantastically entertaining and exciting experience throughout.

I’m sure you will too.

Loshildickos Inmobiliaria

I think it’s time to highlight the team that have played, and are still playing, a huge part in our Spanish purchasing experience.

During the 3 years prior to purchasing our dream home we had dealings with so many property agents that I’ve lost count. But both Deb and I consider ourselves incredibly fortunate to have purchased our property through Loshildickos Inmobiliaria. http://www.loshildickos.com

Julian, who came to Spain from England, and Belgian Marijse are the family team that are the reason this property agency is so successful.

Both Julian and Marijse have been established in Ontinyent for years and have a passion for the area. They have a fantastic local knowledge and built up a long list of quality contacts, from lawyers to gardeners and builders. They are more than willing to share this information with you to make your experience as trouble free as possible. They also have a huge range of properties on their books to suit all budgets.

They were exceptionally patient with us during the roller coaster ride that was the purchase process of our Spanish home. Even when we made the offer of a rent-to-buy deal for 3 years because we couldn’t get a mortgage, this meant they wouldn’t get their commission for 3 years, they still enthusiastically responded to all our communications. Fortunately for them and us it wasn’t ultimately a route we went down.

That is something else which is absolutely key, communication. Purchasing abroad can be quite stressful and if you’re always waiting for days for a response to your queries it can be really frustrating and worrying. Communication with the Loshildickos team was outstanding with quick responses by e-mail, WhatsApp or phone calls.

Anyway, deal now done and Julian and Marijse are still on hand to advise and help with our on-going project, putting us in touch with good quality, reputable tradesmen and even turning up at meetings to act as interpreters. Their help and advice has been, and will be for sometime I’m sure, absolutely invaluable.

We are not a special case, read the reviews on their website, they are the same with everyone of their clients.

Interested in an inland Spanish property, try the best first.

Just a note to say that this is not a ad-supported blog, but a true and honest review of a family run firm dedicated and committed to delivering the best possible service to their clients and customers before, during and after purchase.

Thanks guys.

It’s all about the Bass

Well, that was a lovely 10 days at our Spanish home.

I would have given a brief overview while we were there but I think we had some technical difficulties with publishing for some reason, so I thought I’d leave further blogs until we returned.

Gloriously sunny and hot throughout, apart from the final day where it rained in the afternoon, but both Deb and I thought this was a good thing for two reasons. Firstly, it gave us a brief respite from the constant sunshine but, secondly, it meant that we had the opportunity to go out and purchase a new bed. We’ve been meaning to do this for sometime but other serious commitments such as sunbathing, swimming, reading, and other pleasurable activities that you do on holiday, had taken over.

We decided to go searching for a bed around 1pm, forgetting that most shops shut for siesta between around 1.30-4 or 5pm. Pretty awkward you have to admit but I’m sure we’ll get used to it and work round it.

We eventually located one on an internet search that was open all day, a large store in Gandia on the same commercial estate as Leroy Merlin where we, eventually, received our outdoor furniture from. The store was called Konfort Sueños and we can highly recommend them if you happen to be in Gandia and have the need for a king sized bed. Staff were exceptional, our salesman had good English and indulged our pigeon Spanish. We haven’t progressed much since we had to temporarily stop our Spanish lessons.

I will though reserve a full and proper review until they have delivered our new bed, to our new house with no address, on the day they promised, 27th Sept, when we are at the house again. I am not full of hope after our experience with Leroy Merlin and outdoor furmtiuregate, but watch this space.

On our way back to our home town of Ontinyent, we drove through a damp town centre to find them setting up the streets for the Moors and Christians festival.

During the 4-5 day festival the streets of Ontinyent come alive with festive high spirits, colour and music in this dramatised recreation of the Christian conquest of the town by Jaime I in the 13th century. The festivities take place at the end of August, and the whole town takes part on one or the other sides (in the role of either Moors or Christians) and re-enact key events such as the entry into the city, parades by both sides, and the reception of the troops by their embassies.

But we would miss it as we were travelling back to the UK on the first day. We will however make sure we’re there for next years’ raucous activities and stunning spectacles.

We closed up the house the following morning and off to Valencia airport we went.

The airport departure lounge was like a creche, there were kids everywhere, with various degrees of behaviour. Now I don’t mind children, after all I was one myself at some point and I certainly had varying degrees of behaviour, but you sometimes forget that as you get older, so I am very tolerant of others.

Deb and I were sat by our gate waiting for boarding to commence and we heard this loud, throaty screeching and screaming coming towards us. It got louder and louder when, all of a sudden, this couple appeared round the corner looking stressed and pushing a buggy containing a very disgruntled baby of around 18months with a voice that belied his minimal proportions. We looked at each other in horror as we imagined being sat in front of such a little angel, then laughed in relief as they walked past. ‘That was close,’ said Deb, ‘Imagine being on the same plane as that screeching.’

Boarding commenced and we queued up with all the other passengers and then we heard the screeching again, but this time coming nearer. The parents had gone to the wrong gate, I thought that maybe they were trying to put the baby on a separate flight but were unsuccessful. So all three joined our queue. This kid could scream I tell you. I seriously thought at some point my ears were going to start bleeding. Fortunately, because we have extra leg room seats, we get to board first so we were able to escape the row before any serious damage was done.

We sat comfortably and then heard said child approaching the plane, still in full voice. You could see everybody thinking the same, ‘Not near me, not near me please.’

Pavarotti’s love child then sat, with his parents, only 3 rows behind us. It was bloody awful. Only one thing for it, headphones on and Simple Minds played at full volume for 2 and a half hours.

The child did give up after approx 90 minutes but by then surrounding headphoneless passengers were either trying to get out of the windows or just quivering wrecks in the aisles, grinning maniacally and throwing peanuts at themselves.

Top tip for children free adults travelling in the holiday period. Get the most expensive over ear headphones with the best bass feature you can afford. You cannot put a price on sanity.

Welcome

Quite a lot has happened since our June visit including Deb eventually losing her job. The amount of holidays she had taken, and was due to take, was the contributory factor. However, because she is a Contractor, no reason has to be given, just a weeks’ notice. Anyway, she can now take holidays whenever she wants with no guilt attached.

We have also temporarily postponed our Spanish lessons. Our holidays this year were coming with such frequency that I was struggling to keep up with the workload of new and existing clients. I was, and still am, working evenings and weekends and simply couldn’t give the time to lessons, studies and revision. I told Deb I wanted to give up the lessons temporarily and, although she really enjoyed it and was coming on brilliantly, she said she would give up as well. ‘After all,’ she said, ‘we are in this together and we can both pick it up again in the future. It’s only enjoyable because we’re both there.’ How true.

One thing we have learnt this year is that we can’t take this amount of holidays next year.

Fortunately we have our son, Josh, home from University for the Summer and he can take some of the workload from me and also carry on the business while I am away this time. So this visit will be even more relaxing.

Anyway, welcome to Casa en Trébol

The house itself was constructed in 2005 as a replacement for an old finca. The surrounding area is protected and subsequently any development is strictly controlled. In fact new construction is prohibited and only replacement dwellings are allowed. In this instance the original house footprint couldn’t be increased and we have approx 80sq m of house with a 17sq m covered front porch. The house size has to work for us as there is no opportunity to extend. Good job it does work for us.

The house is arranged over one level, has 3 bedrooms, one bathroom, a lounge/dining room and separate kitchen. There is a small outdoor kitchen and a double garage. A couple of storage sheds complete the buildings and they are all set within 2700sq m of terraced land.

The land has five, South facing terraces with the house and parking area at the top, the drive and pool on the next level and three further levels going into the valley which are filled predominantly with olive trees but also with a host of other varieties.

We are surrounded by farm land and are completely private. Building on the land around us is not permitted so there is no danger of a new urbanisation or a block of apartments being constructed.

The house needs little work doing to it apart from furnishing, decorating and changing curtains etc and this can be done over time. Deb has settled on a Moroccan theme for the lounge/diner and main bedroom and wherever possible authentic items will be purchased. We are looking forward to searching for the appropriate shops and stalls in local towns and further cities. Any recommendations from readers for gratefully appreciated.

Outside there is plenty to do and we feel this area is really important as it’s where we will spend the bulk of our time. The first task has just been completed, the refurbishment of the dilapidated pool area.

Julian and Marijse, owners of Los Hildickos http://www.loshildickos.com/ who were the agents for the sale, have been invaluable with recommendations and advice. Through them we sourced the builder for the pool refurbishment and also Jose, who handles the week to week maintenance of the plot, which is a weight off my mind as I didn’t relish the idea of gardening every time we visited. Especially that amount of land.

Jose will also collect the olives from the 50+ trees that we have and take them down to the local press. We will receive a few litres of our own olive oil as a thank you but he will benefit from the rest. It suits me as I don’t fancy harvesting olives and dragging them to the local press. I don’t think the company who hire our car to us would be too pleased either.

The next job is the drive and car park area. Both have been laid with stones of such a size that they are quite uncomfortable to walk on and they have just been laid directly on the ground so weeds grow through. We want this replacing with a weed barrier and smaller stones laid over the top. This work will be carried out next and will again have a positive effect on the view from the house.

We are hoping this work will be carried out by the time of our next visit at the end of September, but it’s weather dependant. Not in case it rains but if it’s too damned hot. It is Summer after all.

After this is complete it will be just on-going maintenance on the house and buildings.

You may ask why we would take on a plot this size at our age. The answer is simple, privacy. You are only guaranteed the privacy if you own the land around you.

We are very private people and thrive on peace, tranquillity and seclusion. All amenities are readily accessible a couple of minutes drive away in town and therefore we are not isolated. Perfect.

As another aside and not meant to be a political comment, I’m hoping this Brexit farce sorts itself out soon as well. If Sterling continues It’s downward spiral it will have an effect on the amount of work we can afford to carry out.