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Top Five Things To Do in Elche Spain

6 Aug
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View from the top of Altamira Castle of Basilica of Santa Maria

Located in the southern area of the Valencian Community, just south of Alicante, Elche makes a great one or two day trip. It is the third largest city in the Valencian Community, with Valencia and Alicante being more populated. The Palmeral de Elche (the Palm Grove of Elche), which consists of approximately 200,000 palm trees, was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, and is one of the main draw for tourists.

The area is believed to have been settled by Greeks, then Carthaginians and Romans, followed by others including several centuries of Moorish rule. The city offers a mix of nature, history, an engaging city centre, and the option of lovely beaches and great shopping, with over 1000 shoe factories!

 

The following are my recommendations for the best sites to visit:

 

  1. I recommend starting at the Museo Arqueológico y de Historia de Elche (MAHE), located in the Altamira Castle, built during the 12th to 13th century. The museum provides visual, written, and verbal information on the history of the area in displays which provide a summary of each of the periods of occupation. The most famous archaeological find was the statue “The Lady of Elche,” believed to be from the Iberians in the 4th century. A copy is on display, with the original being in the National Archaeological Museum of Spain in Madrid, which is a source of contention for the people of Elche who believe it should be returned to Elche. During my tour of the museum, I found the succinct overviews of each era to afford adequate information without museum fatigue. The MAHE facility is modern and mostly accessible, with the exception of the very top of the castle. Take those remaining stairs to reach the top of the castle for a panoramic view of the city and the adjacent Palmeral.
  2. As soon as you exit the MAHE, you will find part of the Palmeral, and the municipal park. The Palmeral is thought to be established during the 5th century by the Carthaginians. Sophisticated irrigation systems were added during the Arab occupation during the 10th century. It is the only such palm grove in Europe, and the northernmost such palm garden. In this part of the Palmeral, there are paths where one can observe the varying vegetation, ponds, swans, historic buildings, a restaurant, exercise stations, playgrounds, and more. The Palmeral is not only confined to this area, but is spread around the city. There are maps available at the Tourist Office or hotels, which provide suggested paths to view the palms.
  3. Across the street from the MAHE and Palmeral is the city centre where there are a number of visit-worthy historical sites. The Basilica of Santa Maria has layers of history, with a beautiful Valenciana Baroque façade. Originally a Mosque, after the Reconquista, a Catholic Church, probably Gothic style, was built. It was here that the liturgical drama, Misteri, Elche Mystery Play, was first presented. In 2001, it was declared a UNESCO “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity,” and is performed every August in conjunction with the Assumption of Saint Mary. Later the church was rebuilt with different styles over the centuries, eventually with the current emblematic regional blue tile domes.
  4. Nearby the Calahorra Tower, built in the 13th century in the Amohade style, was the most important entry gate to Elche, with the road leading to Alicante. Note the shape at the base of the Calahorra is wider to provide structural stability. However, this did not prevent severe earthquake damage in 1829, which resulted in the loss of the two upper floors. On the surviving back wall, there is a colorful vertical garden, flanked by a gastro-restaurant, which is an inviting place for a meal or refreshing drink.
  5. The Huerto de la Cura is a 12,000 square meter garden displaying Mediterranean and tropical plants. It is famous for its Imperial Palm, which features a unique date palm with seven branches. It got its name from a visit by the Empress Elisabeth of Austria, Sissi, in 1894. The park’s inviting paths, plants, and ponds provide an enchanting and tranquil respite. There is a souvenir area where you can buy plants and regional food and craft items.

    Seven branch Imperial Palm

    Seven branch Imperial Palm

Favorite and Unique Foods in the Costa Blanca Area of Spain

23 Jul
fresh fish and fishmongers

Fresh fish and fishmongers

Being a foodie and lover of nearly everything from the sea, I feel like I am living in food paradise here in Altea, which is on the Mediterranean in the Costa Blanca area of Spain. I previously spent time with a friend, originally from the city of Valencia, just an hour north of Altea. She always provides interesting cultural and historical information about the area.

 

We went to the old town area of Benidorm for tapas, also known as pintxos. I must add that Benidorm is a place I usually avoid, as it is known for drunks, bad behavior, crazy “hen” and “stag” (in the U.S. known as bachelorette and bachelor parties), exotic dancers, legal prostitution, and mediocre entertainment. However, there are a few redeeming activities, including the tapas spots in the old town, many of which are similar to those in San Sebastian, a culinary delight which boasts the most Michelin stars per square meter, and three of Spain’s three star restaurants out of a total of seven. Like any touristic spots, it is easy to end up in a place with mediocre food and poor service. That is where a local friend can be helpful.

 

Sepia

Sepia

We started at a parallel street to the main tapas alley, where we enjoyed a small glass of wine accompanied by a simple, but tasty tapa of orejas fritas (fried sheep ears) for only 1€. We then moved on to the main tapas alley restaurants. My friend explained the specialties of each. One featured suckling pig and suckling lamb, common to areas of central Spain like Toledo, south of Madrid. (No hate mail please.) My youngest son and I are big fans of sepia (cuttlefish, similar in texture to calamari “steaks”) and small fried octopus legs (rejos,  which have a similar texture and taste to calamari rings and tentacles.) While in Benidorm we ordered huevos de sepia, (eggs of sepia.) Obviously, not every tapa appeals to everyone, but it is fun to go with friends, and share various tapas, including ones never tried before.

 

Besides the omni-present many varieties of regional Spanish jamones (hams) and delicious cheeses available throughout Spain, each area of Spain has its own specialties.

Party-size mejillones (mussels)

Party-size mejillones (mussels)

Even travelling only a half hour inland, one will find different local specialties. Rabbit is popular in my area. There is a dizzying variety of fish and seafood. After a year, I am still struggling to learn the names of all the fish, and shellfish. For example, there are many varieties of bi-valves, not just mussels and clams, but many types of each of them. The specialty seafood markets and even the regular grocery stores have an incredible amount of fresh stock, with fishmongers ready to prepare them to your specifications. You won’t see any fresh fish which is already fileted. Another unexpectedly delicious find was gulas also known as angulas (baby eels) which have the consistency as thick spaghetti with a seafood taste, They can easily be prepared with shrimp, garlic and abundant olive oil (after all, Spain produces the most in the world) and baked for a short time. They are also used in many other ways including salads and toppings for tapas.

 

Gulas (baby eel) and shrimp

Gulas (baby eel) and shrimp

Squid ink pasta or paella are delicious if you like that inky seafood taste. I find the black color to be an inviting, unique experience. On one occasion, when my son and I were at an outdoor venue for salsa-dancing, we ordered the paella negra with seafood. I was surprised that of the 15 or so fellow dancers sharing our table, ex-pats who now live here, none had previously tried it. After a first cautious bite, each of them dug in for more.

 

Paella is a Spanish dish originating in Valencia, so there are many choices of types of paella from which to choose, although there is only one traditional type according to the hardcore, which consists of rice (typically bomba), green beans, rabbit or chicken, snails, saffron and other seasoning cooked in a shallow pan. Other popular local paellas include paella negra (squid ink previously mentioned), verduras (vegetable), a la banda (with squid rings), and mariscos (seafood.) However, there are many iterations of paella, including but not limited to arroz meloso (a slightly moister rice dish) and arroz caldoso (a soupier rice dish.) It is not unusual for a restaurant specializing in rice dishes, an arrocería, to have 10 to 20 rice dishes.

 

fideuawithrabbitandseafood

Fideua with rabbit and seafood

Another popular dish is fideua, which is a dish prepared similar to paella, but made with small pasta instead of rice. For both paella and fideua, which are freshly made to order, allow at least 30 minutes for preparation. But since this is Spain, your meal is likely to last at least two hours anyway.

 

Cocido de pelotas (a stew made with “balls”) is a hearty stew with cabbage-wrapped balls made of ground meat, spices and a binder. Homemade, good quality pelotas are widely available at local butcher shops. The weekly local farmers’ market offers delectable, seasonal fruits and vegetables.

 

Bounty of weekly farmers' market

Bounty of weekly farmers’ market

When I went for pizza, very popular here as in many places in the world, I saw the special topping of the day was “granada.” Although I speak decent Spanish, that word was unfamiliar. I learned it is the word for pomegranate, which actually sounds quite similar. This time of year Valencian oranges are abundant and incredibly cheap, which make delicious fresh orange juice, known here as zumo (not jugo as is commonly used in many Latin American countries.)

 

While I do love the food here, there are some things I miss that are not readily available here, including Mexican-style corn tortillas; many Asian condiments; spices like sage, allspice, red chili flakes, habaneros or other spicy chiles; and my shameful favorite junk food, Cheetos.

 

 

 

 

 

Altea Spain: Architectural Features

8 Jul

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How to Apply for Non-Lucrative Visa or Residence Visa for Retirees for Spain as US Citizen

11 Jun

Due to popular demand, I am re-posting my series of blogs about how to get a “non-lucrative (retirement) visa to live in Spain. I have just completed my second renewal, which was considerably easier than my initial application, mostly owing to my experience at submitting  the correct documents. Here is my most recent visa, with personal info redacted:

Spanish visa/NIE card

 

 

At the time of my first post in July 2015 about the process of  how, as a U.S. citizen, to apply for a non lucrative residential or retirement visa to reside in Spain when I discovered this excellent and informative blog post by Jed on www.bucking-the-trend.com on February 17, 2014. So with his permission, I instead posted his blog, and then added my experiences where they were different. I was surprised to learn the requirements vary depending on which Spanish consulate you are required to apply. Here is Jed’s post:

How to Apply for Non Lucrative Visa for Spain as US Citizen – Bucking the Trend.

MY EXPERIENCES IN APPLYING FOR A “RESIDENCE FOR RETIREE” VISA

The process for applying for a non-lucrative visa to live in Spain as a U.S. citizen varies with which consulate you are required to go through. WHAT??? I thought the process would be the same since it is a national visa, but with some research online, and then personal experience, I was surprised to learn the requirements were sometimes different.

 

My first inkling about this came when I tried to inquire from the Spanish consulate in Los Angeles about the requirement of providing documentation of having a place to live in Spain, yet having to be in the U.S. to apply for and wait for the visa.  I had read a number of stories about the capriciousness of whether or not visas were issued by the Spanish government, so I was reluctant to rent a place in Spain without an assurance of being issued a visa. Moreover, I did not want to pay for a place which would sit empty for many months or possibly until the lease expired. When I initially contacted the L.A. consulate and naively asked how I was supposed to be in the U.S. yet have a permanent address in Spain, I was simply told I had to do everything required on the application.

 

When I inadvertently got on the San Francisco Spanish consulate website, there were different requirements, with no mention of the need for documentation of housing ahead of time. I wrongly assumed that the requirements would be the same across consulates, so I again contacted the Los Angeles consulate, (my mandated consulate based on living in San Luis Obispo County), noting that the San Francisco consulate did not have the housing requirement so did I have to at the L.A. consulate, to which I received the same response as my first contact with them, that I must do everything required on the application. They added that the requirements can vary depending on the consulate.

 

So I “relocated” to the San Francisco Bay Area with my son, and with my new address in Marin County, I submitted my visa application, sans documentation of a place in Spain to live. Interestingly, after booking my appointment via internet to submit my visa documents, when I showed up for my scheduled appointment, the man asked about my housing documentation. In my best, albeit slow Spanish, I smiled and explained that I did not yet have a permanent place to live in Spain because I would do that as soon as I arrived. Apparently, that was acceptable to him. Although it should go without saying, bring patience and politeness to your appointment at the consulate. I have seen curt and even rude people, whose behavior interfered with achieving their goal of getting a visa.

 

Also, on the San Francisco consulate’s website, they had a specific application “Residence Visa for Retirees,” which the L.A. website did not, although the requirements are largely the same with the exception of the variation between consulates. There are additional documents required to submit for those with a spouse and/or children.

 

There is a requirement to have all documents translated into Spanish. Living in California with many translators, I thought that would be easy. However, as with any time one deals with the Spanish bureaucracy, things were not that simple. I inquired as to whether a certified Spanish interpreter in California would qualify, and was told, it depended. The Spanish government may or may not accept the translation. As there were many documents that needed translation, including the reasons you want to move to Spain, criminal history check, medical certificate, medical insurance with no deductible, proof of minimum retirement income, with some documents requiring notarization, I tried to find a translator who was certified by the Spanish government. The first person I found was located in Spain, and after she learned I was in the U.S., she said she could not do the translation. The Spanish consulate website had a link to interpreters, but it was not working. I finally got someone at the consulate to send me the list of certified translators. One was conveniently located in the San Francisco Bay Area, and we exchanged documents by mail. She was fabulous, quick and met all translation requirements.

 

There were also some deadlines about how long you had to retrieve your visa from the consulate once notified of approval and to travel to Spain. One has to show proof of flight/travel arrangements when retrieving your visa, and the travel has to be scheduled within a short time, which generally means high flight costs. I got my notice of approval of my visa just shy of three months after I applied, and was required to pick it up within a few weeks. My flight to Spain was two months later.

 

In my next posts, I will discuss taking a pet to Spain, the procedures required once in Spain to actually get your Residential Visa/NIE card, and the first renewal of my Spanish visa.

 

Quality, Bargain Travel within Europe

8 May

Water Wheel: Treviso

While I loved my new life as an ex-pat in the lovely Mediterranean village of Altea, Spain, I relish the opportunity to affordably travel to other destinations. For my most recent trip, I went to Venice, Paris, then back to where I live, with all three flights costing only 150 Euros.

 

There are many low-cost options available for transportation and accommodations. My original plan was to go to central Spain to the historic, beautiful and interesting cities of Salamanca (with arguably the most beautiful plaza in Spain), Segovia (with its intact Roman Aqueduct), and Avila (with its intact medieval city wall), all UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Spain has the second most UNESCO World Heritage Sites, after China.

 

Piazza San Marco

However, getting to those locations from where I live is not easy to do in a timely manner via train or flight. I did not want to rent a car or take ride-sharing Bla Bla Car. As I did not want to spend many hours to get to my destinations, I looked at the direct (non-stop) flights that departed and arrived from the two airports closest to me, Valencia and Alicante. Originally I found direct flights from my preferred airport of Alicante to many destinations, and I decided to go to Venice, then Paris, then home to Alicante airport. I also checked for airlines and hotels that accepted dogs, as I initially planned to take my small dog, Pepper. I subsequently decided not to take him because it would preclude us from going to events like the ballet in Paris, or restaurants which have only indoor seating.

 

Often flight, bus and other transportation schedules within Spain and Europe are not published until a few months before departure. Whereas my initial search found direct flights from Alicante to Venice, when I went to book it, there were no scheduled flights for March, none until July. Being flexible and willing to search for other options can yield reasonable alternatives. I was going to meet my son in Venice on a Sunday in March, and all the flights with more than one leg took a ridiculous length of time. I then found a flight the prior day, a Saturday, to Treviso, which is only a mere 30 minutes train ride to the Venice train terminal for only 3,40 Euros. I decided to get a hotel in Treviso, “The City of Art and Water,” that Saturday and explore the town, which has interesting history and culture. The next day, I strolled around town before heading to Venice. Of course, I had researched, and where necessary, scheduled all the connecting ground transportation for the whole trip. That was not necessary for the train from Treviso to Venice. In Italy, (and some other European countries), after you purchase your ticket, you must validate it in one of the machines on the wall or you risk getting a large fine when they train staff check your ticket.

 

As private water taxis are very expensive in Venice, as are taxies in Paris, I scheduled them on Alilaguna, a group water taxi for about 14 Euros one way and 25 Euros roundtrip, and Blacklane for a roundtrip private transfer from Paris Orly airport to our hotel in the Plaza Vendôme area for about 50 Euros each way.

 

One unexpected issue we had on the flight from Venice to Paris on Transavia was just as we got to the staff to present our boarding passes we were told we could only have one carry-on, and that we would have to put any other items including my purse in my carry-on suitcase, which was already stuffed full. I had to throw out a few items in order for my purse to fit. All three flights were about two hours. It was the first time I had taken low cost airlines, and found them organized, and comfortable enough.

 

We enjoyed stops in historic churches, art museums, live music venues, and public gardens. Included in this article are some of the interesting sites we saw on this trip.

 

For me, one of the many considerations, albeit not the most major, in making a decision to move to Spain was the ease and cost of travelling to relatively nearby European and African countries.

 

 

 

Spain: Residential Visa Renewal

26 Apr

“Come back after 30 days to pick up your new Spanish visa. You don’t need an appointment; you can pick it up between 9:00 and 2:00,” she told me in Spanish. HURRAY! This was my second renewal of non-lucrative (non-working) residential visa/NIE card.

This time the renewal process was surprisingly easier than my initial visa application (the first part done in California and the completion once I arrived in Spain), as well as the first renewal. The best part of this visa renewal process was that I no longer had to travel twice from Altea to the provincial capital of the area, Alicante, which takes about an hour each way by car. Instead, I was able to get my fingerprints “huellas” appointment at nearby Benidorm, and also pick up my visa there.

Part of the reason this application was easier was because the requirements were the same as the first renewal application. I keep a file of each application with copies of all documents including what to submit and the documents I submitted. Before starting, first check the government website to make sure the requirements have not changed. The reapplication can start up to 60 days before the visa expires, and up to 90 days after it expires. For your convenience, I have included the links to the internet sites I used, which I filled out, then saved and printed. I cannot guarantee the accuracy of these links, as they sometimes change or are not working; the latter was the case for the government website when I initially looked for it.

I then proceeded to complete and print EX-01. I then asked my financial adviser to draft a letter regarding my financial status, demonstrating that I met the minimum monthly income requirement. In my case, I used my private retirement account, and also the projection of what I would receive from Social Security once I reach 62. Attached was a recent copy of my retirement account showing its monetary value, and the most recent Social Security Statement, which can be found online. I review the email draft for accuracy, and then have the original (which is required) with an original signature by the document’s author; the signature must be notarized. Once I receive the original and notarization, I take it to an official translation office to have it translated into Spanish by a certified Spanish translator.

I made a copy of my current Spanish medical insurance which shows it is in force and that there is a zero co-pay. Since I did not have a Spanish bank account, I found a local agent who could issue the annual policy with an annual cash payment rather than the standard monthly bank deductions. My annual policy is around $1100 U.S.

I also made a copy of both sides of my current Spanish visa (NIE) card, and all of the pages of my U.S. passport. Since I had just renewed my passport, there weren’t any travel stamps on any of the pages, but one has to copy all of the pages regardless. (I was able to renew my passport by mail by sending it to the U.S. Embassy in Madrid; I received my new passport in less than two weeks, paying the shipping fee to the delivery driver.)

There are additional requirements if you have minor children, which are described on the government website. The instructions are generally in Spanish, another good reason to learn it; the staff at the visa application offices often do not speak English. If you have problems understanding or implementing any of the requirements for the visa, for a fee, you can employ a gestoria, a person who is experienced in dealing with the vagaries of the Spanish bureaucracy.

Next, I went to the local Oficina de Extranjería with all of my documentation to make sure I had everything correct. I had gone online to print Modelo 790 codigo 052 and printed it, but I was told I still needed to go to the bank to pay the 15,76 Euros. Make sure your address on file in Spain agrees with the documents you are submitting.

If there are any problems or missing information, you receive a certified letter. Once all documents were correctly submitted, I received an email with instructions for setting up an appointment for fingerprints. As with the whole process, the instructions are in Spanish. However, they do show photos of which items to click on the website. They also say to leave blank the box entitled “Fecha de Caducidad de su tarjeta actual.” After you select the best appointment time, they email you a paper with the appointment date, which needs to be printed and brought to the appointment, along with printed form Tasa Modelo 790 codigo 012, which has to show paid; my fee was 18,54 Euros. While it did NOT say it on that instruction sheet, you also need to bring your passport, current Spanish visa, and photos, which are described in the visa initial application instructions. I saw numerous people turned away from the office for such things as lack of an appointment; not bringing a valid passport, current Spanish identification card, paper showing you have paid the fee; or one parent bringing a child to register him/her but not having both parents present as required. The varying 790 forms need to be paid in advance, at a bank, where they are stamped.

At the appointed police office, I had an unusually short wait compared to typical wait times at a Spanish government office. They took several fingerprints of each of my index fingers, took the photo I brought to be on my new visa, and reviewed my Spanish visa and US passport, along with the paper showing my appointment date and time. The clerk then gave me a paper designating when I could return to pick up my visa, noting the hours, and that I need to bring that paper, my Spanish visa, and U.S. passport. While the clerk told me to come back to retrieve my visa card after 30 days from the appointment with her, she did not mention that the card must be retrieved before 45 days after the appointment; otherwise, the availability of the picking up the new card expires (which I read on the bottom of the form.) This second visa renewal was completed about three months after first submitting my application, only two months after my visa formally expired, as compared to a prior renewal which took eight months.

Here are links to my prior posts on getting a Spanish residential visa: https://starrtreks.com/2015/07/09/how-to-apply-for-non-lucrative-visa-for-spain-as-us-citizen-bucking-the-trend/; https://starrtreks.com/2015/07/26/patience-and-tenacity-requirements-for-obtaining-a-spanish-residential-visa/; https://starrtreks.com/2015/08/09/you-must-be-kidding-steps-to-get-a-spanish-visa/.

What have been your experiences in getting or renewing a Spanish visa?

Visual Alicante

9 Jan
Ayuntamiento (town hall) with sliver of Santa Barbara castle

Ayuntamiento (town hall) with sliver of Santa Barbara castle

1893 ceramic business sign

1893 ceramic business sign

Ornate door with plays of shadow and light

Ornate door with plays of shadow and light

Statue on top floor of building

Statue on top floor of building

Charming house

Charming house

Old town buildings with original materials and signature blue pots

Old town buildings with original materials and signature blue decorations

Decorative historic door

Decorative historic door

Architecturally interesting building

Architecturally interesting building

Old door

Old door