Sunday, 5 November 2017

Our Spanish Adventure - Part Two


Parcent from our terrace

We did not know Spain very well.   We had spent four walking holidays exploring Wellington’s Spanish and Portuguese battlefields in the 1990s.   More recently we had enjoyed a walking holiday in the Canaries.   Despite this we had decided to consider moving there on retirement.

In the 1970s we had spent five years living in Germany, so we had some experience of life outside the UK.  That was when I was serving in the army, and we lived in a military community.   We did have a few local friends, but most of our social life was on garrison.   It did give us an insight of how difficult it might be living in a completely foreign community.

In 2004 there was a lot of interest in living and working in Spain.   It seemed a lot of Europeans, many of them British, were moving there to work or retire.   There were programmes on TV about the experience and regular exhibitions at local hotels sponsored by estate agents.   We attended a few, and accepted an offer of a free four day “inspection visit”.   We used the visit to get a feel for house prices and what was available in our price range.  The estate agent was disappointed that we did not put down a deposit.

When we returned to UK we started our research.   We had no clear idea what part of Spain we wanted to live in, and would have to narrow down the choices.   We were very aware that living in a foreign country is a lot different from a short holiday in one.

We wanted to move for a better retirement experience, which meant the weather and the relaxed and friendly life style.   However we also wanted a comfortable life with all the advantages of living in the UK, including access to an English speaking community.   We also wanted to be able to enjoy our two hobbies, wargaming and hill walking.

It did not take long to realise that the most suitable area for us would be the Costa Blanca.    The weather was less extreme than further south in Andalusia.   It had a large ex pat population and the local community catered for it.   On our inspection visit we obtained a copy of the local English language newspaper, which included a large pull out section about clubs and activities aimed at ex pats.   There would be a large number of English speaking people where we might find fellow wargamers.   There were also a large number of walking groups which would make exploring the surrounding hills much easier.

Most ex pats live on the coast, between Benidorm and Denia.   The holiday resorts are really a sort of “Blackpool in the Sun”.   That was not what we wanted at all.   So we expanded our search inland.   


Parcent in February (almond blossom time)

Our research had revealed that there was a very popular walking area called the Jalon Valley.  It is half an hour from the coastal towns of Denia and Calpe, and another 15 minutes from the holiday mecca of Benidorm.   We contacted a local estate agent and arranged to spend a week looking at suitable houses.

One of the first villages we visited was Parcent.   It is situated in the middle of the valley and surrounded by mountains.   Our first impression was “Scotland with sunshine”.   It has a population of about 1000, of which about 100 are ex pat.   A mixed collection of British, German and Dutch.   For such a small village there are five bars and a mini supermarket.   We had found our new home.

Next week I will tell you about moving my large collection of model soldiers and settling them in their new home.

12 comments:

Robert (Bob) Cordery said...

Paul,

It sounds as if the pair of you went about your move in a very sensible and methodical way ... which is probably why it has been so successful. I have met quite a few people who moved to Spain without too much thought ... and are now back in the UK.

Some of them had no idea what they were letting themselves in for, and thought that it would just be like being on holiday all year round, forgetting that the legal and health care systems are different, homes still need to be maintained, not everyone speaks English, the shops don't all sell 'English' brands, and that at some times of the year the weather can be just as bad in Spain as it is in the UK. When the 'holiday for a lifetime' wasn't as good as they hoped, they sold up, and returned to the UK ... only to find that the money they had available to buy a new home no longer bought a five bed detached house (like the ones y sold to pay for the move to Spain) and they had to seriously downsize.

All the best,

Bob

thistlebarrow said...

Hi Bob

Thanks for your comment.

There are certainly a lot of pitfalls in moving to Spain, and it requires just as much thought and planning as any other major move. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that things work just the same here as in the UK, and they don't. The language is a major problem, especially here in Valencia. The shops and bars on the coast all speak English, but police, doctors, town halls etc do not. A lot of ex pats think they can avoid all of that administration, but sooner or later fall foul of the system.

The "Manyana" way of life which everyone loves on holiday can turn into a nightmare if you are trying to get a builder to complete a job, or waiting for the town hall to process an important piece of paper.

Many people make the mistake of thinking everything is going to be "better" when they move out here. They associate Spain with happy holidays of sun and cheap booze and meals. They forget that we all bring our "baggage" with us, even to Spain. It is true that the weather is very pleasant for most of the year, but the cheap booze can makes things worse rather than better.

Despite that all of our friends are agreed that moving here is the best thing that they have ever done. Providing that you have made your plans, and live within your means, it can be a wonderful retirement. Easy to make friends, because most people you meet are ex pats who want to make friends too. Lots of activities and groups to join in. Entertainment and eating out is much cheaper than the UK.

But like everything else in life, the more you put in the more you get out.

People who are miserable and unhappy in the UK will probably be just as miserable and unhappy in Spain. Negative people who find fault in the UK will do the same here. Most important negative people tend to attract other negative people. However the opposite also applies. If you move here expecting that everything will not be perfect, and prepared for things to go wrong, you will probably be pleasantly surprised when they do not..

I would say that with the pleasant weather and friendly people (both British and Spanish) it is probably easier to make a success of moving to Spain to retire than moving to a different life style in the UK.

Jonathan Freitag said...

Paul, excellent start to series ans Parcent looks beautiful. You really did your homework beforehand and it looks to have paid dividends! Your response to Bob above is just as enlightening as your blog post.

You mention English, Germans, and Dutch as ex-pats but no Americans. Do Americans not retire to Spain?

Awaiting more...

thistlebarrow said...

Hi Jonathan

Thanks for your comments.

Glad that you are enjoying the series.

Bob raised a lot of valid points and I would always recommend that anyone think very carefully before making such a major move. Retirement is difficult enough, without moving to a foreign country and culture. We encountered many problems, some of them major, which I have not mentioned. But on balance we have no regrets at all about our decision to move to Spain.

I have only met one American in my eleven years here. He was a visitor who I met on one of our mountain walks. However we do have a Canadian who owns a house about six doors away! He uses it as a holiday home and he and his family visit two or three times a year. I don't know him very well, but it has always struck me as very strange that you would buy a holiday home so far away. I suspect that most American people retire to Florida or similar rather than the Costa Blanca?

Ross Mac rmacfa@gmail.com said...

I've also been enjoying these posts.

Luckily I didn't have to go so far to find my ideal retirement home and community. Although I grew up in Montreal, I have lived most of my life in Halifax NS and an hour into the country away was just fine.

Just for curiosity though, I checked and from Halifax, Spain is actually closer than Mexico or the West Coast! More than a bit more Foreign in every sense though so I can understand that its not popular here.

thistlebarrow said...

Hi Ross

Thanks for your comments.

You were fortunate to find your ideal retirement area so close to home. I suspect that the important thing for a lot of us is to just move somewhere different to start our new life in retirement. I can remember walking to work on a wet and windy morning speculating what I would do on such a miserable day if I did not have work to go to!

I was discussing this with a friend recently and he commented that "if Scotland had the same weather as Spain no one would come here we would all retire north of he border".

As you approach retirement age the prospect of long warm winter evenings sitting on the naya with a glass of wine are very appealing.

regards

Paul

Robert (Bob) Cordery said...

Paul,

Thanks for your very informative reply to my comment ... and your comment about miserable people being miserable wherever they are rings very true! It certainly sounds like the people I had in mind when I wrote my original comment.

As you gather, my wife and I frequently go on cruises, and are gobsmacked by the attitude and lack of understanding demonstrated by some Brits abroad. I once heard one fellow passenger say 'I just don't understand why P&O insist on going to places where they don't speak English' and another state that they would never eat food ashore as it was 'foreign muck that gives you a bad stomach' as they tucked into their full English fried breakfast whilst sitting out on deck in the Caribbean in the low 30s! Earlier this year we went to Casablanca, and one woman complained that (a) she had been turned away from the door of the King Hassan Mosque and (b) men had stared at her as she was wandering around the Medina. She was totally oblivious to the fact that this had happened because she was wearing a skimpy top and very brief shorts!

All the best,

Bob

Jonathan Freitag said...

Having received our first snowfall of the season today, the "prospect of a long warm winter evenings..." sounds pretty darn inviting!

thistlebarrow said...

Hi Jonathan

It can get quite cold here in December, January and February. And in January this year we had snow for one day, the first time in ten years. But though cold, the winter days are usually sunny and bright. So providing you find a shelter from the wind it can still be quite warm. People often say that Spain is a cold country with a hot sun. It certainly beats those endless grey wet days I associate with winter in the UK.

regards

Paul

thistlebarrow said...

Hi Bob

I often follow your cruise experiences on your blog. Its a lovely way to see to travel and experience different countries and cultures.

I know what you mean about "Brits abroad". We usually visit the coast once a week for a "people fix", and I am often embarrassed by the behaviour of fellow countrymen (and women).

That is no doubt why Benidorm is so popular with Brits. A lot of "English" bars, all day English breakfast and chips with everything. It is quite unusual to find a Spanish bar, as opposed to a Spanish run tourist bar, on the coast. Many of our friends who have holiday homes here and visit two or three times a year will only eat "English food" whilst here.

regards

Paul

Robert (Bob) Cordery said...

Paul,

Years ago Sue and I used to go to Tenerife for out holidays, and we found a bar that was run by a bilingual English couple, most of whose clients were local Spaniards or Brits who worked there and who were married to locals. We always went back here and got to know lots of locals (including the local head of the Secret Police ... who was bald, wore an eyepatch, and had an artificial hand!). Brits would come in, hear people speaking Spanish ... and walk out!

Because we got to know so many locals, we always got great service when we went to the shops or the bank ... and a lot of the Brits who were staying in the same hotel as us wouldn't talk to us because they thought that we were Spanish! Apparently saying 'Hola', 'Gracias', 'Denada', and being able to order a drink and food in Spanish was enough to confirm their assumptions.

What a funny bunch we Brits are!

All the best,

Bob

thistlebarrow said...

Hi Bob

On the coast most bars are run for, if not by, ex pats. They all speak English and provide typical English style food. Away from the coast there it is the opposite. Most run by Spanish for the Spanish. A very few cater for ex pats and even fewer cater for both.

We have friends who run a very good restraurant in Parcent. It is very popular with ex pats, but hardly ever get Spanish customers. This is partly because the Spanish tend to only support their own. It is mainly because of the different eating habits. The Spanish have their afterenoon siesta, and then work until 8pm each day. So they don't want to eat out until about 10pm. The ex pats tend to eat very early, 7.30pm is quite normal. Our friends would rather not have a Spanish couple arrive at 10pm for a meal, just when all the other customers had left and they wanted to clear up and close down.

The main difference is the language, but not by any means the only one. It is not that ex pats don't like the Spanish, or indeed the other way around. I am always surprised and pleased at how welcome we are made to feel in a small and very Spanish village. But the life experience of the two are very different, and I suspect we all just feel more comfortable amongst people who share out interests, habits and life style.

regards

Paul