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Adventure to El Campello

3 Sep
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Enjoying Xiringuito Ton-Tin with Sandie Sheppard

 

 

With so many interesting places and events here on the Costa Blanca in Spain, I have decided to start taking short trips to some of these spots. Serendipitously, I met a woman at a local jazz fusion concert, who also is a live music fan. While we shared a table, I was expressing my frustration about the difficulty finding information on the internet about live music venues. She then volunteered that she knew several live music venues and offered to send me the information.

 

Xiringuito Ton-Tin in El Campello, just north of Alicante, was one of the locations she recommended. During July and August, they offered daily performances every evening. The day we went the saxophone and trumpet players were featuring jazz, soul, bossa nova, and swing. The two musicians were fantastic. A few people danced, but at other events there seem to be far more dancers. Xiringuito Ton-Tin features a wide variety of music genres, and will continue to have live performances in September. It is located on the beach, with the seats and tables and large globe-shaped white lamps, all situated on the sand, which we loved. For those unfamiliar, Xiringuito, also spelled chiringuito, is typically a small beachside business where one can get beverages and snacks. Many times they are only seasonal summer spots. Xiringuito Ton-Tin regularly posts their calendar of events and video excerpts of concerts. Reservations are recommended as many tables were booked in advance.

 

Pepper at a concert

Pepper at a concert

To get there, we took the tram from Altea to El Campello, which took a little over an hour. I brought my little dog in a wheelie back-back, although I have gotten inconsistent information on whether pets are allowed, so I just placed the backpack in a position between my legs where no one could see what was inside. When we arrived, we ate at a local restaurant across the street from the ocean, and a very short distance from the tram station from which we exited. I only booked the trip the day before we left, yet still managed to find a reasonably-priced hotel that was pet-friendly in nearby San Joan d’Alacant. It was a bit too far for us to walk, so we took cabs to the hotel. A couple of times, the drivers appeared to be taking a circuitous route, which unnecessarily added to the fare, but I wasn’t familiar enough with the area to give directions.

 

The next morning, we took a cab to another area of El Campello, including a busy, active beach area. It offered numerous cafes and restaurants, a variety of water sports including an inflatable floating gym for kids. In the heart of central El Campello, there were some quality eateries for very reasonable prices, and interesting stores if you enjoy shopping (which I don’t.) We headed back to Altea mid-afternoon. This was a very economical trip, even with all of the activities, food and beverages. I am looking forward to my next Costa Blanca adventure.

 

Have you had any memorable short trips?

Summer Fun in Altea Spain

21 Aug
Summer in Altea's Casco Antiguo with craft booths

Summer in Altea’s Casco Antiguo with craft booths

While Altea (Spain) always has many entertaining activities, summer brings additional fun offerings. Ever a music fan, I appreciate the variety of city-sponsored live bands playing at various outdoor venues, including 40’s style Big Band, jazz fusion with a Mohawk-sporting accordion and keyboard player, flamenco, regional (Valenciano) folk music, to mention a few. I also went to a rock jam session held on Sunday afternoon at a local tram station, which had an eclectic, inviting atmosphere.

 

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One of the 60 mural paintings hanging from balconies in Altea’s Casco Antigua

In Altea’s hilltop Casco Antiquo, (Old Town), the church plaza and the walkway to it, which are sparsely filled during the winter months (as exemplified my Facebook cover photo), are now packed with throngs of visitors and locals. This month in Casco Antiguo there are a display of 60 painted murals by different artists which hang off balconies, hence named Balconades d’Altea. Also during the summer in Casco Antiguo, there are many artisan craft booths featuring various types of original art, jewelry, leather and more. Most restaurants in Casco Antiguo are open for the summer season, with many types of cuisine available such as Spanish, French, Italian, and other ethnic cuisines.

 

 

 

L'Olla fireworks

L’Olla fireworks

In June, we had the San Joan (Valenciano) for St. John festival, which features water-inspired activities, including parades and midnight bonfires at the beach, which normally are prohibited. Another popular summer beach activity is the spectacular firework display, Castell de l’Olla, over the Mediterranean. People head down to the beach with beverages and/or picnics for the midnight show, which this year lasted over 30 minutes. Alternatively, people may watch the show from the comfort of their balconies or terraces, as I did, or a café in Casco Antiguo’s plaza.

 

During the summer, many people enjoy going to temporary, seasonal chiringuitos, beachside bars/restaurants, which offer full service food and beverages with tables, and shade, if desired. I recently went to bonavida, a great chiringuito on the beach where I love their fried fish and seafood plate. (I recently posted a short video from it on my Facebook.) On many of the beach areas, there are lounge beach chairs and umbrellas available for rent.

 

One of the water sports marinas in Altea

One of the water sports marinas in Altea

There are many water sports available with a number of seaside businesses offering such activities as snorkeling, diving, kayaking, boat rental, sailing lessons, fishing, kitesurfing, and more. I love snorkeling, and every Christmas school vacation, I took my three sons to warm spots with good snorkeling, such Australia, Belize, Hawaii, Mexico, and various Caribbean islands. The Mediterranean in Altea is warmest in July and August, reaching 25C/80F degrees. For me, that is an ideal snorkeling temperature, so I scheduled a boat snorkeling tour this past week. It was postponed due to unusual rain, so I went the following day. The water was not as clear as I was hoping and the sea life not as vibrant to those which I am used to, but it may have partially been due to the recent rain. I enjoyed it anyway. There are also places to snorkel right off the beach without a boat. The dive center from which I took my snorkeling trip was located at Greenwich Marina/ Pueblo Mascarat. It was my first visit there, and I discovered new restaurants, and live music venues, including one, Macao, with outdoor lounge seating, which I plan to soon attend.

 

In the towns adjacent or near Altea, there are also many activities. This week-end there is the three day Festes de L’Albir, (Fiesta of Albir) with a car parade, children’s activities, food and beverage stand, music, games, and walk to the iconic lighthouse. Several bars in the Albir beach area offer live music, including soul, Latin, rock, comedy to name a few. Bar Cuba is one of my favorite spots, which offers complimentary bachata or other types of Latin dancing at 2000 on Saturday evening, and live Latin music for dancing Saturday and Sunday evening. They also feature other dance lessons throughout the week such as kizomba, salsa, line dance, and mambo for a nominal fee. I enjoy the instructive and professional complimentary bachata

Salsa class at Bar Cuba with Ray

Salsa class at Bar Cuba with Ray

lessons with Andres Ledesma so much, I took some small class private lessons with him.

 

What are your favorite summertime activities?

Sant Joan Festival in Altea Spain

26 Jun

BOOM BOOM BOOM. The sounds outside were so loud as to cause my dog, Pepper, to run to hide under the bed. I peered out of my window which affords a view of the cathedral at the top of Altea’s old town, where I was surprised to see fireworks midday. The fireworks signaled the start of the day’s Sant Joan Festival.

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Waiting to be doused with water at Sant Joan festival in Altea

Sant Joan Festivals are very popular in Spain, particularly in the Province of Valencia where I live, as well as in Catalan-speaking areas, and Galicia. Sant Joan is the Valenciana and Catalan languages way of saying Saint John. The Sant Joan festival in Alicante is Spain’s largest, and one of Alicante’s most important festival. The festivals occur around June 23, the day of Sant Joan, typically with numerous days of activities that vary with the location.

In Alicante, there are large “Ninot” characters that are set on fire, much like the famous “falles” festival in Valencia in March. The Ninot are amusing parodies of famous people or politicians made of wood, cardboard, mud, and other items. This year’s Alicante festival occurs for four days. There are noisy early morning (for Spain) wake-ups, parades, costumes, music and many more activities.

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Sant Joan parade with masks

In my town of Altea, when I first heard about the impending festival, I had no idea what to expect. My initiation to the festival was the booming fireworks midday, followed later by a parade of locals with cartoon character heads. There have been three early morning wake-ups by noisy participants yelling, playing instruments, and more fireworks. My apartment is on the street where all the local parade participants go as they head up the hill to the cathedral in Altea’s main plaza. One afternoon, there was a huge pan of traditional paella cooked in the plaza for all to sample. One midnight during the festival, people wade into the ocean. After all, St. John is remembered for baptizing Jesus.

This festival requires stamina. The first group of parade participants, which included many musicians, continued to march and perform for more than 12 hours. During the second afternoon parade, the noisy participants of all ages wore torn t-shirts and were soaking wet as they made their way up the hill. There were two groups, each carrying a tall tree, many drinking from large jugs or other vessels of wine, while the people watching on from their apartments above dump and spray water on the giddy participants.

 

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Raising the tree

 

Once done with the procession, in the plaza the trees are hoisted to stand erect. Men attempt to climb the tree as high as possible onto the unstable trees to tie on their ripped t-shirt. An ambulance was waiting nearby for anyone who might fall. However, I think it is nearly as dangerous for the women who wear spindly high heel shoes while walking on the uneven, rocky plaza surface, or dancing when the late night band plays.

 

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Climbing the tree to tie on a flag

Today, Sunday, parade participants wore traditional costumes while trekking up the hill to the accompanying music followed by a “solemn” mass. There are numerous activities scheduled including more music processions. (Altea music schools for youth and a professional school for adults so music is always a prominent part of any festival.) There will be more fireworks, and in the plaza another giant communal paella, and disco music starting at 11:00 p.m.

 

What has been your favorite festival experience in Spain?

A Fulfilling, Less Stressful Life Running an Artsy Bar in Idyllic Altea Spain

7 Jun
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Sara and David at their artsy bar in Altea

In the same week, Sara Wilson lost her job as a staff writer for a major business magazine, and her husband, David Fernandez, lost his position as a private chef for socialites in New York City. They used that as a springboard to “re-examine our careers and quality of life.” They originally met in France, married and moved to California, then to New York to further their careers. Even though they liked certain aspects of living In New York, their lives were stressful, too money driven, and they didn’t get to spend much time together. Sara reflected, “Life gave us solution when we got laid off within a week of each other.” After considering their options, they initially decided to move to more relaxed Spain with the idea of opening a restaurant with David’s father. When that didn’t work out as anticipated, Sara and David started exploring other options, and eventually settled on opening a bar and eatery.

 

Sara reported, “My six years at the magazine job interviewing entrepreneurs helped us in the process of starting our business.” She added, “Ironically, I learned from people’s stories and their tips for success.” David had previously completed culinary training in Paris. She noted, “David is more of a visionary and risk-taker than I am, but it was our joint talents that helped us develop a successful business.”

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Picturesque and historic Altea

They spent several months exploring towns in the Costa Blanca area along the Mediterranean. They briefly looked at touristy Benidorm, but it did not possess the attractive and friendly location they were seeking. Then, “Unexpectedly we encountered a village paradise…called Altea,” recalled Sara. “We loved Altea’s stunning coastline, white pebble beaches and inviting and tasty restaurants lining the promenade.” But it was when they entered the old town, once a fortress, that they were really “awestruck. We loved its picturesque, narrow, pedestrian streets, punctuated by small artisan shops, that lead up to the hilltop church plaza.” Thus they set about on finding a place in the old town, known as Casco Antiguo.

 

Not long thereafter, they found an apartment and a place to start their dream business, a café/bar which was promoting various forms of art. “The rent was the cheapest we had found, and was the right size for just the two of us to run.” It consisted of two floors that had been transformed from an old house. We liked the fact that it had a mezzanine, a decent stock room, it was just one street down from the church plaza, and was on one of the most charming streets of Altea.” The business had been operating primarily as a sports bar, with a focus on the arts, as well, hence the name AlteArte. Importantly, “The bar already had a local clientele.”

They bought the business, but not the building. Sara stated, “We had been warned that it was important that the business have an existing business license. Just as we were ready to finalize the purchase, we learned that AlteArte did not have a business license.” The owner had applied for it and it was reportedly in process for a substantial period of time, (not unusual with the Spanish bureaucracy), but it had never been completed. Once the owner was aware that this unresolved issue was holding up the sale, the license was quickly approved. Sara and David speculated that the business license application was likely languishing with the local authorities, and that the owner, who was a local native, got the process completed quickly. Sara said, “It helped to buy a turn-key business, with an established clientele.” The prior owner, who sold them the business, wanted Sara and David to be success, and was supportive in a variety of helpful ways.

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Typical evening with friends at AlteArte

Sara and David “wanted to change the ambience to a cozier environment, which we did by adding tables and changing some of the décor.” They later hung their now iconic multi-colored bicycle upside down from the ceiling, and added some other kitschy design elements. They provide Wi-Fi, and show major soccer matches (“fútbol”).   “By changing things, we lost some of the former clients but gained others.” During their first year in business, they were often complimented on their tasty mojitos, so they decided to make that a focus. They setup an increasingly growing mojito menu, and identified AlteArte as a “mojiteria,”which set it apart from the other bars. They also make “nojitos,” alcohol-free mojitos. Adapting to client demonstrated preferences, “We abandoned our early idea of making it a coffee-centric business, instead focusing on our excellent selection and preparation of teas,” in addition to other typical bar beverages. Although their service focus is primarily on beverages, they also have a small selection of tapas and quesadillas, the latter being a popular, but rare item in Altea.

 

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Casco Antiguo in Altea

Asked if they have encountered any problems or challenges in setting up their business, they reported initially the neighbors complained about noise and the tables and chairs they had placed on the stairs adjacent to their building. “Eventually, we were able to make peace with the neighbors, after convincing them that we would keep the noise down, and not cause them any problems.” During the slow time of year, they do minor renovations to AlteArte, but they noted it is hard to find qualified people who complete the work in a timely fashion. After deciding to start their business in Altea, Sara quickly began learning Spanish, something she felt essential in running their business.

 

The owner of their building had been renting out the top floor to various people as a shop with touristic and artisan items, but after a series of several failed businesses there, he asked Sara and David if they were interested in adding the top floor to AlteArte. “We decided to take this opportunity to expand. The top floor is primarily for special events and gallery exhibits, as well as weekly intercambio (Spanish English language exchange.)” AlteArte exhibits “one or two artists’ works each month.” The middle floor is an inviting area with pillows and populated with board games.

“The customers, new and old, shaped AlteArte’s atmosphere by natural evolution.” They have about an equal percentage of local and expat customers, with “most ex-pats in this area of the Costa Blanca area of Spain being Scandinavian.” In the beginning, most of their clientele came through word of mouth and Facebook. After opening the gallery on the third level, we reached out to local newspapers and magazines to promote those events.”

After they first opened in February 2010, Sara and David ran the business by themselves. “During our second and third summer, we hired our first employees. In our fourth year of operation, we hired Emily as our first full time employee. She had been a patron, and she had a good work track record of seven years at one local restaurant.” They emphasized it is very important to check out the reliability and work history of potential employees in Spain as there are generous laws favoring them, such as being allowed substantial sick leave just after being hired. A few months later, they hired another young woman, Ampy, full-time. Both employees are friendly, competent, and able to communicate with the clients regardless of what language they speak. “We pay them a little more than the typical local wage, and uncommonly, we also give them one day off a week including during the busy summer months.”

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Sara and David inside AlteArte

When asked about other start-up or ongoing expenses or requirements, “there was an initial food safety course, basic business insurance, and nominal annual taxes.” They have not had any tax liability in the United States based on their Spanish net income. “We recommend using a gestoria,” which is a person whose task is to deal with the idiosyncrasies of Spanish government departments, for paying complex fees and taxes. “We receive an annual visit from the health department to check for correct refrigerator temperature and proper sanitation.” With regard to promoting AlteArte, “We have done some marketing by advertising our business in local tourist maps. Because we are in the Old Town, which is a steep, historically-protected area, we are not required to have handicap accessible facilities.” Sara reported, “AlteArte has allowed us to cover all of our expenses including the luxury of having two employees” which affords Sara the opportunity to spend long visits with her family in California. This year she has had two separate one-month visits with her family. AlteArte has given David, now 40, and Sara, 37, “a more comfortable, and significantly less stressful lifestyle than at our prior high pressure jobs, and the opportunity to spend more quality time together.”

 

When asked what advice they would give to others considering opening a business in Spain, they recommend, “Be patient and committed.” They said, “One cannot expect to open a business just for a summer, and turn a profit.” They also stated it is important to understand the demand for the type of business one is considering, and the required permits if starting from scratch. “It is also essential to have enough capital for start-up costs, slow periods, and unexpected expenses.” Sara said, “I’m kind of glad I didn’t know before we started how many businesses end up closing down.”

Now celebrating over six years of operation, AlteArte, is a favorite with local ex-pats, Spaniards, and international travelers. They feature monthly art exhibits by local artists; a book club for which Sara often arranges for the author to be present in person or remotely; live music; weekly Spanish-English language exchange (intercambio); movie nights, craft, drama and dance workshops, cooking competitions, and many more. Asked about her most cherished memory, Sara quickly reported it was when director Eugenio Mira, an Altean native, chose to premier his movie Grand Piano at AlteArte, and afterwards had a question and answer session.

Alluring Alicante: Top Stops

4 Apr
Alicante with Santa Barbara Castle on the hill

Alicante with Santa Barbara Castle on the hill

Living in the beautiful, low-cost Mediterranean area of Spain known as the Costa Blanca offers many advantages, not the least of which is the opportunity to travel to enticing, affordable historical and cultural places in the country. Since moving to the Costa Blanca, I have been enjoying nearby venues, all within about an hour’s drive. Almost everything in Alicante is centrally located, so no vehicle is needed once you arrive, although local trams are available if one wants to explore outlying areas.

 

The cosmopolitan area, now known as Alicante, has been inhabited over 7000 years, with periods of rule by the Greeks, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths, and Moors. One of the iconic sites visible from much of the city of Alicante is the hilltop Santa Bárbara Castle, which dates back to the period of Muslim rule starting in the 8th century. It was named for the saint day on which Castilian forces captured it on December 4, 1248. Over the centuries it endured many captures and bombardments, and was sometimes used as a prison. After a period of disuse, it was opened to the public. Entry is free, but there is a small fee to use the elevators to get to the top, or one can walk to the top. The panoramic view is spectacular.

 

Alicante Barrio

Alicante Barrio

Located near the Santa Bárbara Castle, is El Barrio, “the Old Quarter,” which features narrow pedestrian streets, with colorful homes and flowers, a photographer’s delight. There are numerous interesting historic buildings including St. Mary’s Church, built between the 14th to 16th centuries on top of a former mosque. Its ornate baroque façade and interior are a worthwhile stop. The Ayuntamiento (Town Hall) is a baroque building located behind the Explanada Park. Besides the beautiful architecture of the exterior, inside there are historic archeological remains, the famous “blue room,” a chapel, and cota cero, a reference point inside the building from where the height of sea levels throughout Spain can be measured.

 

El Barrio also has shops and stores featuring everything from handmade crafts to luxury brands. Leather manufacturing is a major industry in the Alicante area, so inexpensive quality leather products are widely available.

 

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Iconic Explanada

Alicante is well-known for its regional cuisine. There are many dining options, from informal to formal including traditional tapas to innovative gourmet tapas, paellas, fish and seafood, as well as other types of regional Spanish and international cuisines. For foodies, a visit to the Mercado Central will delight the senses with abundant displays of fresh and unique offerings. There are places to purchase prepared food in the market, and cafes just outside. Another area offering quality cuisine is in the marina area, which can be reached by taking a stroll down the Explanada de España, which is the palm-lined walkway along the Mediterranean. It is paved with six and a half million marble floor mosaic tiles laid in such a way as to create a wave-like appearance; many consider this one of the most beautiful beachside walkways in Spain.

 

Spaniards love friends, family, fun, and festivals. To that end, in both the Old Town and in the Marina areas, there are many inviting sidewalk cafes for socialization and rejuvenation during the day, and lively bars or discotheques where people party until the early morning hours.

 

Prices for a nice hotel typically start around 70€; an apartment or vacation rental may be even less expensive with two or more bedrooms, kitchenette, common living areas and laundry facilities; most beverages including wine, beer, water, and soda for around 2€; and menu del dias (two or three course special menu of the day for as low as 10€.)

Bringing Pets to Europe

27 Feb
Pepper

Pepper prior to move

Bringing pets to the European Union (E.U.) from the U.S. is much easier than what it once was. No longer are there long required quarantines. The United Kingdom has relaxed their requirements and no longer have quarantine requirements. https://www.gov.uk/bringing-food-animals-plants-into-uk/pets-and-other-animals Non-E.U. countries, the policies can be different. Finland, Ireland and Malta also have their own pet import regulations. The following reflects the current requirements for up to five dogs, cats, and/or ferrets coming to an E.U. country from the U.S. As governmental regulations can change, it is advisable to check the website for the USDA APHIS (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal Plant Health Inspection Service.) Then click on the “Live Animals,” and enter your EU destination. For Canadians, the regulations are similar. Up to date guidelines for exporting pets from Canada to the EU can be found on the website: Canadian Food Inspection Agency under “non-commercial export of dogs, cats, and ferrets to the EU.”

 

  1. As far out from your desired departure date, check with individual airlines regarding their pet transport policies. Start by checking their websites, and then speak with an actual airline representative to get the specifics. Weigh your animal to determine whether they are eligible for travel in the cabin, under the seat in an airline-approved carrier. The weight allowed includes the pet, carrier and anything else placed in the carrier. Including his carrier, my dog, Pepper, was just at or slightly above the weight limit allowed by many airlines, so I booked on airlines with a more generous 8 kg. /17 pounds limit, including Swiss Air, Alitalia, and Iberia. Since my last flight which was in early 2015, several of the major carriers have increased their in cabin weight allowance to be 17 or 20 pounds. Also, some types of dogs are not permitted, such as snub nose dogs, in which case you can consider a pet relocation service. There are different policies for very young, unvaccinated pets. Airlines charge varying rates for transporting pets, from $50 to over $500, so take that into consideration during your research. Check to see if there are periods of time they do not transport animals in the cargo hold due to expected inclement or extreme weather. Some airlines don’t take pets via cargo in hot months as they have had animals die. If your pet will be in the cargo hold, consider booking during months or times that are typically temperate: morning or evening in the summer and midday in the winter. Also, direct (non-stop) flights are better for pets. Make sure the carrier purchased meets the airline’s regulations. Carriers or crates must afford the animal to move around, and typically have an absorbent cushion or rug with adequate ventilation. A carrier with wheels will make moving your pet through the airport far smoother. Because there are so many different airline regulations, costs, weight limits, etc., when deciding on an airline, I made a written grid to record each airline’s policies for easy comparison.
  2. Book your flight as soon as possible to guarantee a spot for your pet as they have a limit to how many pets can be on a flight. Space availability for pets is also determined by the type of aircraft, cabin and seating. Make sure your pet has a reservation. During the three times, I flew back and forth between California to the E.U. I was charged for my pet when I checked in at the airport. If you will be using other ground transportation once you arrive, such as a train, bus or car rental, check their pet transport policies. The first time, I brought my dog from Madrid to Alicante via train, and the second time directly to the Alicante airport via plane.
  3. Well in advance of your travel date, get your pet used to the carrier or crate. In the beginning, put the pet in it with a toy and snack. As s/he gets comfortable, leave the pet in the carrier when you leave home. Take your pet in the carrier on walks and in the car to get used to motion. For pets who will transported in the hold, it is especially important to get them used to being in their crate and moving.

    Pepper in transport crate

    Pepper in transport crate

  4. Well in advance of your scheduled flight, find a veterinarian who is certified and experienced in pet relocation to your scheduled EU destination. I strongly recommend meeting with the vet for an initial session to make sure s/he is qualified and experienced in completing all of the required steps within the tight timeframes necessary. Make sure the vet has the correct form (ANNEX II) and has previously completed them. If your pet is not already had a microchip inserted, this is an ideal time to do it. Let the vet know it is for travelling to an EU country. For EU countries, it must be an ISO 15 digit microchip, either 11784 or 11785. After the chip is placed, the pet must have a rabies vaccine, even if it already has a valid rabies vaccine. The rabies vaccine can be on the same day the animal is chipped or at a later date. This rabies shot must be administered at least 21 days before your flight departs. I did not understand that my dog needed to get a new rabies shot, nor did my vet inform me at the time of the dog being chipped. Thus I had to delay my departure date which resulted in a several hundred dollar change fee. During your initial appointment with the vet, I recommend having the vet do a physical to make sure there won’t be any last minute health issues. I also got him to prescribe a slightly sedating medication for the long flight. If you get a calming medication, make sure it is not contraindicated for flights, as was the first medication my dog was prescribed by a less experienced vet. Some airlines do not permit dogs to be sedated. Since my dog was flying in the cabin, I felt it would be in his best interest to take a sedating pill since he would be in his carrier for 12 to 15 hours, and I would be able to monitor him. Twice I gave him a trial of the pill before departing to make sure there were no adverse side-effects.
  5. The vet has to fill out the ANNEX II form about 12 to 15 days before departure. Then that form has to be mailed or taken by hand to your local USDA office, for certification. You have to enter the EU country within 10 days of the USDA certification, which is a very tight timeframe. This means that you should schedule the final vet exam and paperwork completion, at an early enough hour to allow you to get it to an overnight mail service. Make sure to check the USDA website for the mailing address for your region, mandatory fees which you must include, and include a return overnight mailing document with your address. Keep in mind some “overnight” mail services do not deliver on the week-ends.
  6. Prior to departure date, check for pet relief areas at the airports which you will be using. Some have indoor pet areas. For example, at the LAX airport international terminal in Los Angeles, near the business lounge, was a pet play and relief center with artificial grass. Arrive at the airport at least three hours in advance of your scheduled departure. About four hours prior to checking in, feed and provide water for your pet, and play to get them tired. At the airport, let the pet relieve himself one more time. Put the pet in the crate which in advance you have supplied with a “pet potty pad,” empty water dish, and cherished toy. Make sure the crate door is securely closed. Keep the pet paperwork handy in the pocket of the in-cabin pet carrier, or for a checked crate, somewhere else easily accessible. The pet must remain in the carrier in the airport and during the flight. If you have an airline transfer and there is no inside pet area, if you go outside, you will have to go back through security screening. Make sure to allow enough time in case of long lines.
  7. Once you are to your new EU home destination, find a good vet by asking local ex-pats who demonstrate attentive and caring behavior toward their pet. Ask around, and eventually, you will start to hear one or more of the same names recommended. Unless you are fluent in the language of your new country, make sure the vet can speak English. Introduce your pet and yourself to your new vet, instead of waiting for an emergency. At your initial appointment, find out about local health issues, get any vaccines or preventative medicines for your new country, a dog name tag with your local phone number, and a European pet passport (which is legally required.) Then, get out and explore your new home.

    Pepper (aka "Pimienta" in Spanish) at outdoor beach concert

    Pepper (aka “Pimienta” in Spanish) at outdoor beach concert

Quirky and Different Customs in Spain

6 Feb

I love my new life in Altea Spain. However, there are some quirky and unexpected things which I have encountered or needed to adjust to.

 

I recently read that when local children were enacting a bull run using toy wooden bulls that this year they would not be allowed to have the bulls’ horns lit on fire during the run. Apparently this was perfectly fine in prior years.

 

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Tree on which people climb to tie on their t-shirt at the St. John festival

During the many Spanish festivals, people sometimes engage in dangerous behavior. At the local St. John festival, participants carry a tree to the church plaza while encouraging observers to throw water on them. Once in the plaza, they pull the spindly tree to a vertical position and fueled with alcohol attempt to make the perilous climb to the top. What I found particularly interesting was the ambulances that were waiting just a few feet away. One has only to think of the running of the bulls in Pamplona for another example. Or the “baby jumping” festival near Burgos, where people in costumes jump over a mattress on which lie babies born in the prior 12 months. This ritual serves to rid the babies of evil spirits and guard against illness.

 

As I have mentioned in prior posts, dealing with the Spanish bureaucracy is nearly always fraught with difficulties, often because what you are told you need to do changes with successive visits. Similarly, I have had my rental cars towed two of the four times I rented them. In one case, I parked in a handicapped spot and put up my disabled placard. When I returned to retrieve the car, it was gone. When I contacted the local police, they informed me I had parked in a handicap spot reserved for a specific car, as indicated by the numbers on the handicap parking sign. I said I have travelled to and driven in many countries, and have never seen handicap spots for specific vehicles. I received a blank look, and was told I had to fork over around $150 to get the car out of impound.

 

I have also previously mentioned the multiplicity of problems I have had in receiving packages sent from the U.S. One box arrived gaping open, with items missing. Then the postman asked me to help carry it because it weighed a lot. Another box of household items was twice returned to my son, first because I declared there was no monetary value to items which were only sentimental, and the second because they did not see the documentation that I had submitted the nearly 100 Euros customs fee. I have been trying unsuccessfully for more than two months to get a refund for that, and there is no chance of getting a refund on for the hundreds of dollars I spent in having the box mailed here twice.

 

The sidewalks in my village are made of attractive, but incredibly slick tiles, especially when wet. It is so precarious that people typically walk in the road when it rains. I see many more people here with arms and legs in splints or casts, which I would bet is related to the falls people have. I have jokingly suggested that maybe the tile sidewalks were the idea of the local orthopedic physicians.

 

Moros Y Cristianos festival 2015 in Altea

Moros Y Cristianos festival 2015 in Altea

The Spanish definition of opening early means 9 or 10 in the morning. Such opening times are understandable in light of the lengthy afternoon siesta, and businesses and meals occurring late at night. Often when businesses close for several weeks or months, there is no sign informing the would-be patron of the closure. Nor are there websites for businesses which provide that information. Businesses including grocery stores are closed for national and local holidays, which can sometimes last several days. After the several day local Moros y Cristianos (Moors and Christians) festival, all businesses were closed for the day, not for the holiday but for a day for people to recover from the festival. After four days of festivities and drinking starting at 8 or 9 in the morning, and ending around 4 a.m., they need a recovery day.

 

I find Spanish people generally genial, and polite. They always greet you when you enter their business. In their vehicles, they are very good at stopping for pedestrians at crosswalks. However, when walking, they may suddenly cut right in front of you or stop and block the sidewalk while conversing. When picking up my dog’s excrement from the sidewalk, I have had people step over my head, and roll over my foot with a stroller.

 

Sometimes there are what seem to be arbitrary rules. When we recently went to a high end musical and dance variety show which featured a choice of two dinner menus, we were told everyone in our group had to order the same menu. Otherwise, we would be placed at separate tables based on our dinner choice.

 

Have you ever encountered unexpected behaviors/customs while living in or travelling to a new country?

 

 

Six Easy Steps for Bringing Pets to Spain

3 Jan
Pepper at beachside concert in Altea

Pepper at beachside concert in Altea

Bringing pets to the European Union (E.U.) from the U.S. is much easier than what it once was. No longer are there long required quarantines. However, in non-E.U. countries, the policies can be different. For the United Kingdom, there is a four month quarantine. Finland, Ireland and Malta also have their own pet import regulations. The following reflects the current requirements for up to five dogs, cats, and/or ferrets coming to an E.U. country from the U.S. As governmental regulations can change, it is advisable to check the website for the USDA APHIS (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal Plant Health Inspection Service.) Then click on the “Live Animals,” and enter your EU destination. For Canadians, the regulations are similar. Up to date guidelines for exporting pets from Canada to the EU can be found on the website: “Canadian Food Inspection Agency under “non-commercial export of dogs, cats, and ferrets to the EU.”

 

  1. As far out from your desired departure date, check with individual airlines regarding their pet transport policies. Start by checking their websites, and then speak with an actual airline representative to get the specifics. Weigh your animal to determine whether they are eligible for travel in the cabin, under the seat in an airline-approved carrier. The weight allowed includes the pet, carrier and anything else placed in the carrier. Including his carrier, my dog, Pepper, was just at or slightly above the weight limit allowed by many airlines, so I found an airline with a more generous 8 kg. /17 pounds limit. Also, some types of dogs are not permitted, in which case you can consider a pet relocation service. There are different policies for very young, unvaccinated pets. Airlines charge varying rates for transporting pets, so take that into consideration during your research. Check to see if there are periods of time they do not transport animals in the cargo hold due to expected inclement or extreme weather. Some airlines don’t take pets via cargo in hot months as they have had animals die. If your pet will be in the cargo hold, consider booking during months that are traditionally temperate. Make sure the carrier purchased meets the airline’s regulations. Carriers or crates must afford the animal to move around, and typically have an absorbent cushion or rug with adequate ventilation. A carrier with wheels will make moving your pet through the airport far smoother. Because there are so many different airline regulations, costs, weight limits, etc., when deciding on an airline, I made a written grid to record each airline’s policies for easy comparison.
  2. Book your flight as soon as possible to guarantee a spot for your pet. Make sure the pet has a reservation. During the three times, I flew back and forth between California to the E.U. I was charged for my pet when I checked in at the airport. If you will be using other ground transportation once you arrive, such as a train, bus or car rental, check their pet transport policies. The first time, I brought my dog from Madrid to Alicante via train, and the second time directly to the Alicante airport via plane.
  3. Well in advance of your travel date, get your pet used to the carrier or crate. In the beginning, put the pet in it with a toy and snack. As s/he gets comfortable, leave the pet in the carrier when you leave home. Take your pet in the carrier on walks and in the car to get used to motion. For pets who will transported in the hold, it is especially important to get them used to being in their crate and moving.
  4. Well in advance of your scheduled flight, find a veterinarian who is certified and experienced in pet relocation to your scheduled EU destination. I strongly recommend meeting with the vet for an initial session to make sure s/he is qualified and experienced in completing all of the required steps within the tight timeframes necessary. Make sure the vet has the correct form (ANNEX II) and has previously completed them. If your pet is not already had a microchip inserted, this is an ideal time to do it. Let the vet know it is for travelling to an EU country. For EU countries, it must be an ISO 15 digit microchip, either 11784 or 11785. After the chip is placed, the pet must have a rabies vaccine, even if it already has a valid rabies vaccine. The rabies vaccine can be on the same day the animal is chipped or at a later date. This rabies shot must be administered at least 21 days before your flight departs. I did not understand that my dog needed to get a new rabies shot, nor did my vet inform me at the time of the dog being chipped. Thus I had to delay my departure date which resulted in a several hundred dollar change fee. During your initial appointment with the vet, I recommend having the vet do a physical to make sure there won’t be any last minute health issues. I also got him to prescribe a slightly sedating medication for the long flight. If you get a calming medication, make sure it is not contraindicated for flights, as was the first medication my dog was prescribed by a less experienced vet. Some airlines do not permit dogs to be sedated. Since my dog was flying in the cabin, I felt it would be in his best interest to take a sedating pill since he would be in his carrier for 12 to 15 hours, and I would be able to monitor him. Twice I gave him a trial of the pill before departing to make sure there were no adverse side-effects.
  5. The vet has to fill out the ANNEX II form about 12 to 15 DAYS before departure. Then that form has to be mailed or taken by hand to your local USDA office, for certification. You have to enter the EU country within 10 days of the USDA certification, which is a very tight timeframe. This means that you should schedule the final vet exam and paperwork completion, at an early enough hour to allow you to get it to an overnight mail service. Make sure to check the USDA website for the mailing address for your region, mandatory fees which you must include, and include a return overnight mailing document with your address. Keep in mind some “overnight” mail services do not deliver on the week-ends.
  6. Prior to departure date, check for pet relief areas at the airports which you will be using. Some have indoor pet areas. For example, at the LAX airport international terminal in Los Angeles, near the business lounge, was a pet play and relief center with artificial grass. Arrive at the airport at least three hours in advance of your scheduled departure. About four hours prior to checking in, feed and provide water for your pet, and play to get them tired. At the airport, let the pet relieve himself one more time. Put the pet in the crate which in advance you have supplied with a “pet potty pad,” empty water dish, and cherished toy. Make sure the crate door is securely closed. Keep the pet paperwork handy in the pocket of the in-cabin pet carrier, or for a checked crate, somewhere else easily accessible. The pet must remain in the carrier in the airport and during the flight. If you have an airline transfer and there is no inside pet area, if you go outside, you will have to go back through security screening. Make sure to allow enough time in case of long lines.

Once you are to your new EU home destination, find a good vet by asking local ex-pats who demonstrate attentive and caring behavior toward their pet. Ask around, and eventually, you will start to hear one or more of the same names recommended. Unless you are fluent in the language of your new country, make sure the vet can speak English. Introduce your pet and yourself to your new vet, instead of waiting for an emergency. At your initial appointment, find out about local health issues, get any vaccines or preventative medicines for your new country, a dog name tag with your local phone number, and a European pet passport (which is legally required.) Then, get out and explore your new home. Most eateries in Spain are dog-friendly.

Pepper saying goodbye to my son, Spencer, who was returning to California

Pepper saying goodbye to my son, Spencer, who was returning to California