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Now living in l'Olleria, south of Valencia

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Splish Splosh!

Tracy and I have been very lucky with our swimming this year. Almost exclusively, we have had the pool to ourselves when doing our daily 32 lengths.

Last week, as I was swimming along, I spotted something in the water. I thought it was a cicada, but ignored it. As we swam by, the disturbance of the waves moved it, so I didn't see it again for a little while. When I saw it again, I could see that it had a large body and several legs.

Hmm. A spider. A LARGE spider.

Once again, it disdappeared for a while, then I saw it again. Not a spider - a tarantula.


I knew Tracy wouldn't be happy if she suddenly saw it, so I deceided to do something up-front about it. I shouted to the lifeguards that there was a tarantula in the pool. "Alive or dead?" "Alive." (I had seen it's legs moving.) "Really - they normally sink to the bottom of the pool." "No, this one is here, on the top - can you get something to catch it?" I expected him to come back with a net on a pole (for leaves etc), so we carried on swimming while he wondered off.

As we returned, he was standing at the deep end, checking in the pool. "I can't see it. Ah, there it is." He wanted me to push it across to him, so he could catch it in a plastic cup. I didn't like that idea much, so I told him to throw the cup.

With great trepidation, I managed to catch the tarantula in the cup, swim with it in my hand, holding it up and give it to him. I was totally freaking out! I thought, if the spider now realises it has sides on the cup, it might climb out, and run down my arm! ARGH!

He took it away, and we carried on swimming. As we watched, we saw the two of them messing about with it, then he shouted, "it's dead now", before throwing it away on the grass at the back of the gardens.

I'm not sure whether they killed it, or, if they just said that before setting it free. Either way, at least I knew I wasn't going to swallow it!

Grupo Hits

After the Comedy Parade, we bimbled back to the bar for another drink, encountering lots of Spanish friends on the way. I really must start wearing my glasses more, as I seem to miss them, but thankfully Ed doesn't!

We happened to met an English couple we knew, as well as loads more Spanish people as we sat outside the bar. (With the new non-smoking laws now, Ed has to sit outside - not a problem in the summer!) After a while, we strolled to the park, to watch and listen to the live band. We were a little bit worried, as everyone seemed to be walking in the opposite direction. As we got there, there was just a rubbish DJ on. Not very good. We sat down in the park and had another drink (it is fiesta week) and after a while, heard the band start up again.

They turned out to be some kind of 80's tribute band, playing loads of U2, music from films and a bunch of other stuff. They were pretty good and it was fun watching them. The lead guitarist was (possibly) my age, but he certainly knew how to play. (I'm not convinced the lead singer was much younger either!) After a while, I suggested to Ed that we go, but he was genuinely enjoying himself. Then, the singer said this would be their last song... it was nearly 5:30am! No wonder I was tired.

Having been on coke all night (the fizzy kind - not the powder), I drove home and the first thing we encountered was the policia local. I expected to get stopped, but he just smiled and let us pass by. Phew! They know who we are, and where we live, so they seem to be quite happy leaving us alone.

More fun every night this week, so I guess I'd better start taking some siestas!

Comedy Parade


What a time to start a parade. Midnight! We bimbled in to town at about 10ish and had a drink or 2 in one of the bars, then strolled up the high street in search of anyone we knew. As usal, there were an assortment of dining and patio chairs lining the high street, for those ready to watch the parade.

Near the top of the High Street, we encountered Victoria (whose husband Paco is one of our biker friends) and her family. We chatted for a while, and then we stood behind them as the parade started.

As usual, there was a huge amount of political 'party bashing' with notices on the floats which would cause terrible offence in the UK!

There was a brilliant range of themes again, causing laughter all the way down the streets. First of all, was a group referring to the new swimming pool. I found this one particularly funny, as Tracy and I have the open pool to ourselves every day. In this case, there were about 30 people - more than I've ever seen in the pool!

There were people dressed as Glass Blowers / Ghosts (bemoaning the loss of l'Olleria's famous glass industry); a lorry carrying a tableful of councillors at a meeting (the lorry stopped sharpish in front of us, and two of them nearly fell off their chairs!); Adults dressed as children, playing kiddie games (with all of the traffic now, it is impossible to play in the streets any more); A group of people dressed in black, carrying flaming torches (suppling illumination to the council) [I did laugh, when one of them accidentally set fire to the cloak of the one in front of him]; a bunch of very irreverend nuns, along with the Pope (who visited Spain just a few days earlier) [one of the nuns had a cushion up her habit - but the Pope's bodyguards were so good, that someone thought they were real!]; there was a huge troupe of hippies (I don't know where they got their clothes from, but they were brilliant) and, finally, some bullfighters and a wooden bull on a set of wheels.

I know I've missed a few out, but they were all very good. The parade took about one-and-a-half hours to pass us. Thankfully, after a while, we managed to get a chair too!

Each troupe had it's own band, and they were all excellent. Ed did spot that one girl was in more than one band, scurrying back to join a later one! (I wonder if she got paid twice too.)

I even spotted my students in amongst the parade, but they were all too busy enjoying themselves to see me - ah well, I'll tease them later!

Marta - La Festera

On Friday night, was the procolmation of the Queens, Captains and Ambassadors.

They all met up at the main square in town, and then paraded through town up to the park, where they were presented, one by one, and received their vestments.

One of our biker crew has a little girl, who was a festera this year. We met them at the square, which was really nice. He looked very proud, dressed up in his suit (only the 4th time he's ever worn it), with his hair nicely gelled! His wife is very pretty, and she too looked lovely, in a nice black shift dress and towering heels.

Little Marta was thrilled to be there and gave me a huge hug. I don't know how long it took to do her hair, but she looked as pretty as any bride would do. Beautiful curls and rosebuds everywhere. Come the parade, she also donned little white lace gloves. (This is not unlike a communion attire, but it is not a religious ceremony at all.)

We joined in the parade though town, slipping out for refreshments before going to the park to watch her being presented. We go there just in time, and she was lovely as she walked up the long aisle, with just a small sublte wave to mum and dad on the way! Afterwards, she had a fiddle with her dress before she could sit down properly, but then she was perfect, sitting very still throughout the rest of the presentations (while some of the other children were very fidgetty).

She will wear this dress again to a church mass and on the float in the main parade, but for other presentations, she will wear the local Valencian costume (more photos will obviously follow).

Sunday, 21 August 2011

I'm A Horrible Person

The swallows were just about ready to fledge, so Ed told me to take a quick look, before they left the nest for good, probably next week.

I took the camera, and climbed up the ladder. one proud baby sat on the edge of the nest, checking me out, while the other two ducked inside. I set up a shot, but I didn't hink it would be very good, as I could hardly see the the other two. As I took the photo, the flash went off, and frightened the chicks. The biggest one flew off, and another one fell out of the nest at the same time, hitting me on the shoulder as it fell. Tragically, Max was waiting with great enthusiasm beneath me. I shouted at him, but he managed to catch the poor thing under the ladder, and ran off proudly with it in his mouth.

I was very upset, and shouted at him and Ed raced down to catch him. He spat it out, and it flew off, but, as it wasn't really ready to fly, Max managed to catch it again. Poor thing. Ed made him spit it back out again, and then he picked it up and put it straight back in the nest.

I felt awful. It was entirely my fault. The parents came back, and only found 1 and a half chicks. The next day, there were four swallows perched in the poolhouse. Two adults and two babies. Ed left it until the next day, then checked inside the nest. Sure enough, the one Max had had was dead. Ed put it in the septic tank. Hopefully they will still come back next year, but Ed thinks they might not, if they think the nest is unsafe.

That's the second lot of baby birds I've upset this year. I think I'll just stick to watching them for a while.

No Matinal

We happened to bump into Julian when out shopping yesterday, and we arranged to go out, even though there wasn't a decent matinal on this week. In the end, there were 4 horses of the apocolypse, but 5 of us, as Emy came too.

We headed out towards Alcoi and then towards the coast. It was one of those 'Kodak Moments'. As we crested the hills into the Costa Brava, the mountains in the distance were stunning. The mist was lifting and lay in layers half way up the mountains. The bottoms were clear, as were the tops, but beautiful horizontal layers wrapped theyselves around the mountains like chiffon. Fanciful? True, but also very lovely to see. Sadly for Mr Kodak, I didn't have the camera with me today. Fail.

We thought we were going towards the Mariola mountains, but we actually ended up going past Guadalest, and having breakfast in the restaurant next to the Motorcycle Museum. The restaurant was really nice, and the food was a normal hearty bocadillo, with an assortment of pickles and olives. Water, coke and coffee were also consumed in large amounts, and the bill came to €5 each. Tourist trap or not, they weren't taking advantage of anyone.

We bimbled across to the museum, which, to my surprise was open (on a Sunday). Closing day happens to be Saturdays. For just €3 could could spend a long as you liked inside. It was just one large room, with a collection of well restored bikes and cars. There were a few that I had seen before, but Ed was much more familiar with them than I was. I did spot a few things worthy of comment, but we certainly had a good time looking around. However - boys will be boys - everywhere, there were signs saying 'Do Not Touch', but the 3 of them were practically climbing on the bikes showing each other how things work and explaining everyting. I thought they would get told off, but they chatted with the museum keeper too, and I guess he understood their enthusiasm, rather than any likelihood of them causing any damage. Sadly, no photos, as I didn't have my camera.

Outside, there was a stall selling local produce. Honey, different fruit jams, wines etc, as well as the usual tacky souveniers. There were gourds hanging outside too and Ed asked me what they were. I wasn't really sure, but Julian came to our aid. They were actually vegetables (courgette / marrow etc) which are hung up until the flesh inside dries up, leaving the just seeds inside. They were very light, and as you shook them, you could hear the seeds rattling. They are used simply for rustic decoration. At €25 for a large one, I think I might grow my own!

We came back home the windy way, rather along the main road, as it was actually quicker than being held up in the coastal traffic. With the weather being as hot as it is right now - staying out after 2pm is not a good idea.

I don't think we'll be out on the bikes for a while now, as the l'Olleria fiestas start this week. Juilian's daughter is a Festera this year... so watch this space.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Street Racing

Oh, where to begin?

Back in the UK, we used to watch motorbike racing most weekends. This was a great social event, with there often being 20 of us larking around together. Here, it has been replaced with the matinals, but we still like the racing.

In Xativa today, there was a series of street races. They closed off the centre of town, and made a route around several streets, forming a circuit. In the centre, the pits were in the streets, and the start/finish straight was in the road below the Avenue.

Not knowing what the schedule was, we walked all around, both inside and outside of the circuit. It was possible to cross over between races/practices, but it was all very carefully supervised.

There were several categories, and we watched them all practicing, trying to work out what was going on. Finally we spotted some people with small brochures, but unfortunately there were none available when we got there. All of the cafes within the cordon were open, and even set out little stalls outside, selling a bocadillo and a drink for about €4. This saved having queues inside, and when they were running out, someone just made some more up. Even a bottle of water was €1. Still much more than it ought to be, but better than £1.50 which is normal in most places that have you trapped.

We saw everything as we walked around. For a while, we watched from next to the 'pit crews'. They were all frantic with stop watches, and shouting times to each other. One chap constantly genuflected and kissed the cross around his neck. At first, we thought it was as his rider completed each lap, but it was every few seconds. The poor chap was obviously frantic about somebody. Bless him. Literally.

When the actual racing finally stated (at about 12:30) it was amazing to see how quickly they drove through the streets. Ed thinks they were up to about 80/90mph in some places. All that protected the public was a bit of fencing, and all that protected the racers, was a pile of straw bales in strategic places. Great fun.

There was a race for classic bikers (or classic bikes?). When some of the riders took their helmets off, it was time to be impressed. I don't know if they were old spanish champions, but they certainly weren't spring chickens any more. Good for them.

The really odd thing, was the total lack of marshalls. There were yellow flag men on the corners, but that was it. If you fell off, I think you had to get yourself and your bike back up again! The lap counter, was a man with a big flip top yellow counter, who stood right in the track, moving out of the way if too many bikes came at once!

It may sound amateurish, but it was actually very well organised. I don't think anyone was hurt, and everyone had a really good time. Excellent. Bring on next year.

Palmera Matinal

Brave souls that we are, we went to a matinal on our own! Actually, I did anticipate meeting an English friend there, but it wan't essential!

This was near to Gandia, in a tiny village. Looking at the map in advance did no good at all, as the park wasn't named on Google. Thankfully, the organisers of this event didn't want anyone to miss it, and there were bright green 'MOTO' arrows at every junction from our side of Gandia. As we got into the village, there was a chappie in the road, wearing a flourescent jacket directing all the bikers into a side street. I don't know what would have happened, had you not wanted to go (LOL).

We parked up, then realised the we were opposite the stunt display area. Hmmm. Hope he doesn't fall off, and skittle our bikes. We followed the crowd, and found the park. A lovely grassy area, with lots of trees. As it was so hot, there were even mesh canopies hanging from the trees, to keep the tables and chairs in the shade.

We paid our pennies (cents) and got our T-shirt, bocadillo and drinks. For this one, there was even ice-cream for later. It was another well organised venue. There were even things for the children, and we were entertained by an aerobic class on the stage with 5 people on mini trampolines, as well as the stunt show.

We had a nice day bimbling around the village and chatting in the park, but it was too hot to go on the rideout. The weather is wonderful, but it's not compatible with protective clothing, even if we do have special 'air flow' jackets, with mesh panels in.

Night in Xativa

This weekend is the big August Fayre in Xativa.

This is a bit like the County Show in Stafford, except that it caters for everyone and it's in the centre of town!

Along the main avenue are loads of stalls and a funfair, but throughout the rest of the town, there are different events in diferent places.

We were invited out for a meal by a friend, who has an appartment on the top floor of some flats, overlooking the castle. We had a lovely meal on her terrace, before strolling down the avenue.

What a treat. There we were, in a beautiful town, having everything explained to us. It was like having our own tourist guide. Although we already knew a lot, she told us lots of little things that we didn't know. For example, there are always stalls selling walking sticks - apparently it is traditional for a man to buy himself a new one each year, and, at the same time, buy his wife a new fan, to show how much he still loves her. (I laughed and said that her mum must have loads... having forgotten that she was divorced - oops!)

I mentioned a particular fountain that I had seen pictures of, but hadn't found. She took us to one, but it wasn't the one I wanted, then she took us to another, which was the right one. I had been passed it countless times, but had been looking into a park on the other side of the street thinking it was in there, and had missed it every time!

We strolled back through the old town, which was a delight to her, as she hadn't done so herself for a long time. Although it was about 1 am, there were loads of people still around, with the fayre being on, and it being so warm. Everyone was happy and relaxed. What a contrast to any English city late at night.

Arenal Beach

Last week, Ed suggested a day out at the beach.

We left at lunchtime, and headed to Javea. After a bargain lunch at Scallops (more than anyone can eat, for €9 including a bottle of wine), we headed for the beach.

While we were eating, we noticed that the sea seemed rather rough. Unusually, there were big rolling waves crashing into the shore. We sat in the sun for a while, then ventured into the water. As expected, the sea was nice and warm. We walked out quite a long way, and had fun jumping in the waves.

We soon realised, that it was better to be further out, so that we could jump before the waves broke. Every now and then, there were some really big ones (about 10 ft high) which broke before they reached us. When these hit, there was nothing you could do, apart from take a big breath and hope for the best! After one of them, I turned around, but couldn't see Ed. Finally, he emerged from the foam, having struggled to find his feet. He looked at me and laughed, "it was just like being in a washing machine".

After a while, we went back to the beach. Looking at Ed's watch, we had been in the water for nearly an hour. Later, after all that pummelling, we both slept like the dead!

As the sun started to fade, we decided to take a stroll along the front. It was lovely seeing everyone having such a nice time. Youngsters were mixed with grandparents, everyone respectful and happy.

Thankfully, I knew a quick way out off the carpark, so we didn't even get stuck in the holiday traffic. It won't be such a long time before we go again.

Flower Power

Having done the front of the garden now, I didn't want any sunflowers where they were last year. However, as I was weeding, I noticed an escapee.

I left it to grow, and it has done very well. It's about 5 ft high, with a massive head. The other day, a big bee decided to collect some pollen. It was inside for ages, and was completely covered in yellow.

I think I know where to plant them for next year, so that we get a good display, so, fingers crossed that they all flourish as well as this one.

Tavernes Matinal

With one of our 'gang' working overseas at the moment, we weren't sure if we would still be going out on Sunday. A quick call on Saturday night, and we were all fixed up, meeting at the petrol station in the morning.

We went to one of the seaside towns, to a weekend event. There were tents everywhere in a compound and lots of bleary eyed people. Someone that worked with our friend said that it had been so hot during the night, in the tents, that hardly anyone had slept. There was even a garden sprinkler system set up in the roof of the outside bar, trying to keep everyone cool!

This meeting was literally next to the beach. Brilliant. However, I'm not so certain that the tourists in the hotels on the other side of the road were quite so happy. Presumably, the night before, there had been a noisy disco outside, which was now in full swing again. We had a nice walk around, and returned in time for the raffle. The girl shouting the numbers was very confident, making lots of jokes as she called out the numbers. I wish I spoke Valenciano! I understood the numbers, but not much else. To our delight, the chap we had chatted to earlier won a prize. It was only a T-shirt, but good for him.

It was a roasting hot day, about 38 degrees, so as soon as we could, we rode off home. This time, we took the main road, so that we could get home as quickly as possible! The ride there, through the mountains was lovely, but travelling at such slow speeds in such heat is no fun at all. I had my jacket and gloves on, but I did feel a little jealous when someone passed us wearing just a t-shirt.

ooooooooo (not ahhh)

For the 4 nights that it was on, we went to the bull running at Aielo de Malferit.

Although we were nice and safe on the first night, perched on top of an A-frame tressle, for the next 2 nights, we were in the mix! Scarey.

The first night, we stationed ourselves near to one of the cages, and scurried in at the first sign of trouble. It wouldn't be so bad, but this one seemed to be full of 16 to 20 year year old, and there was a strong smell of waccy baccy around! The second time, although we were in pretty much the same place, we were somewhat braver. Always making sure there was a clear route to safety, we spent a lot of the time in the middle of the course.

We certainly had some entertaining moments. Once, the bull charged our cage, and everyone rushed to the back, leaving me facing the bull. Although I was safe inside, I was convinced that I was going to be covered in drool, as it tossed it's head around. Yuck.

Another time, a lad ran towards our cage, being chased by the bull, but we could all see that he wasn't going to be quick enough. As he almost reached us, hands reached out to pull him inside, and, thankfully, the bull skidded a little, giving the lad a chance to get inside. The same night, a different lad was running, but had nowhere safe to get away. In desperation, he ran vertically up a wall. As the bull tried to work out what he was doing, it was distracted by another lad, and the one that had been in trouble managed to get away. (Parkour, eat your heart out!)

On the final night, we were back on our perch. Thankfully, this night too, there were no serious injuries. However, right in front of us, a young lad was running from the bull, but it caught him. It hit him square in the back, it's horns going either side of his waist. Somehow, he grabbed the horns, and lifted his feet up, so he was riding on the bulls head! Amazing. The bull ran quite far with him, then tried to smash him into some fencing. He managed to stay on, but then the bull turned and stumbled, and he fell off. The bull immediately tried to get him again, but it was distracted by the crowds. The lad was taken straight to the first aid post (someone found his shoe for him) and when we saw him later, he had a small plaster on his back. but that was all. I bet he frames his torn t-shirt though!

The last bull of the night was very funny, as it didn't want to go back in. Five times, the man with the big bulls guided it back, but at the last moment, it turned and ran back up the road. The poor man ended up dragging the big bulls as they too had had enough. Finally, in deparation, 2 fireworks went up; everyont ran to the side; and four small bulls were released at once. Rather than causing chaos, they simply ran to the top, then all of the bulls ran back down together, straight into the cages at the end! What a finale!

Cheep cheep

I think we have single handedly saved the sparrow population around here.

Ed built lots of bird boxes, and the sparrows and blue tits fight for them. The best one, is a big house hanging in a pine tree, and there is always a scrabble for that.

On the terrace, the bird house we can access has fledged it's forth set of babies. We went to take a peep, and show one of my students, and the poor little fledglings fell out of the back! They were probably just 1 or 2 days away from fledging on their own, so it must have been a shock to mum, when she came back and they had gone. We all felt quite bad about it, but hopefully they all survived.