Tag Archives: Alicante

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.

 

 

 

Terrorism and Travel

22 Mar

Gothic Sainte-Chapelle stained glass

A shooting involving a terrorist at Paris’ Orly Airport, while I was going through the security check there, was an anticlimactic end to my 60th birthday celebration in Venice and Paris with my middle son, Michael. Orly is France’s second largest airport. Just before I was scheduled to board my flight home to Alicante, Spain, I noticed the departure gate had changed to the downstairs departure area. As I tried to go to the new departure gate, the airport security officers told me there would be no more flights that day from Orly. Without explanation, they corralled us into the far half of the boarding area, not allowing anyone to leave. The televisions were switched off, and the departure screens frozen, which continued for several hours. We never received any notification from airport staff as to what was occurring, but I googled “Orly news” where I learned that a terrorist had tried to wrestle a gun from an airport police officer, and that he was shot. I did not learn the details until after returning home. Even though I had been told around 845 a.m. that there would be no further flights from Orly that day, around mid-day, without any speaker announcement, the boarding boards were turned back on, although without accurate, updated information on departure times. We finally boarded and departed around 330 p.m. As I write this on March 22, 2017, there has been a terrorist attack in London near the Parliament, and possibly inside.

 

There is no place in the world in which one is free from the possibility to violence, terrorism or even natural

Sacré Couer

disasters. In 1998, not long after the terrorist attack on the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, my oldest son and I went to Nairobi and then on safari the Tsavo Park area. Of course, at the time, we didn’t know that the attack was part of an organized terrorist organization. Not long after an American Airlines flight crashed in Queens, a borough in New York, in November 2001, only two months after New York’s September 2001 attacks, we flew to Europe. It was initially speculated the crash could have been a terrorist attack, but it was later determined to be caused by human error. During a tour of eight African countries, while in Bamako, Mali, the nation’s capital, we stayed at a hotel, where several years later, in spite of security, Islamist extremists took 170 people hostage, shooting 20.

 

Enjoying live classical and Brazilian music at Venice’s Caffè Florian, reported to be the oldest café in the world, dating back to 1720

That said, as a psychologist, particularly a forensic psychologist where we rely heavily on statistics, I make informed decisions based on statistics rather than irrational fears. By far, I have a significantly greater chance of being killed by violence, particularly in the U.S., or by disease, or accidents. I choose to live my life with joie de vivre, focusing on relationships, food, culture, adventure, and curiosity. And if I should meet my end in a travelling accident, for me, that is far better than being holed up in my home or a bunker, or living my life in fear. To that end, I will be providing future blog posts on my Venice and Paris trip, and am providing a sampling of those photos here.

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

Patience and Tenacity: Requirements for Obtaining a Spanish Residential Visa

26 Jul

Get ready to have your patience and tenacity tested if you are planning on applying for a Spanish visa. The application process is like a moving target. This is my second post on my experience in getting a non-lucrative residential visa, sometimes known as a retirement visa, to reside in Spain. In my last post, I discussed my experiences with the sometimes idiosyncratic application process, which can differ depending on which Spanish consulate where one is required to apply.

Once I arrived in Spain in March 2014 with my approval for a Spanish visa, I immediately sought permanent housing which was necessary to complete the requirements to obtain the visa and get my NIE (national identification number.) As I have found with most tasks involving the Spanish bureaucracy, one can expect to have multiple attempts before successful completion. For example, when I went to the local “ayunamiento,” town hall, to register the address where I was living, I was given changing requirements. First, they said the address of my rental I gave them didn’t exist, even though that is the address used by the owners to pay taxes. The owners suggested an alternate address, which was successful, and they provided me with a statement that I was renting from them. Next the ayunamiento worker assigned me the new task of getting a copy of the trash bill which showed the owner’s name, as well as a copy of his identification. After four trips, I was successful for what I initially thought was going to be an easy task. That set the tone, or should I say pace, of the next steps.

Next, I went on the required governmental website to get an appointment to get my fingerprints and submit my paperwork. This appointment had to occur in Alicante, about an hour’s drive from where I live in Altea. Thus I either had to rent a car or take the two hour tram. I chose the former. At the appointment, I brought all of the required documentation. The worker asked why I did not come to the appointment within the required time frame, which I recollect was around 45 days. I explained that the website issued me a specific date over which I had no control, which was almost two months beyond the deadline. Thankfully, that explanation was acceptable. Of interest, the woman who was processing my application turned to her colleague saying, “California dream,” apparently a dream they both shared. She could not understand why I would want to move to Spain from California. I explained my reasons and she was apparently satisfied, but still had difficulty fathoming.

Whereas I was initially informed by local officials in Altea that I would be given my visa at that appointment in Alicante, at the end of it, I was told I needed to return in exactly 30 to 45 days in person, with my U.S. passport. On June 30, with low expectations, I returned to the Alicante National Police. I was pleased and surprised to find my visa card ready. With that, I now had my NIE number, necessary for almost everything, including such things as getting internet at home, receiving shipped packages, etc.

I noticed the expiration date on my newly issued visa was March 11, 2015, the date I initially applied after arriving in Spain. So starting in late January 2015, I began working on the application for the first renewal of my residential visa. Not surprisingly, I encountered more bureaucratic twists and turns, which will be the focus of my next post.

Costa Blanca Spain: Quality European Living at Affordable Prices

10 May
Iconic View of Altea

Iconic View of Altea

The Costa Blanca area of Spain is often overlooked by North American as an ex-pat living option. While less familiar than the more well-known Costa Brava and Costa del Sol, the Costa Blanca offers a more temperate climate. It is an area of approximately 120 miles of Mediterranean coastline in the province of Alicante. In the month of August, highs average around 84 degrees Fahrenheit and in January around 52 degrees, with total rain about 14 inches annually.

Besides the great weather, the area has many other inviting features. European culture with contemporary music, opera, symphony, ballet and other forms of dance, visual arts are widely available. There are many famed Spanish festivals here, including Easter week (Semana Santa), and Moros y Cristianos. Alicante is in the Valencian province, with Valencia being the third largest city in Spain, where there is the famed unique City of Arts and Sciences complex which houses museums of several sciences and the arts, Las Fallas (featuring elaborate paper mâché statues often with characters that reflect pop culture which are ultimately set aflame in their numerous neighborhoods) and the nearby La Tomatina (infamous tomato throwing festival.) Many Spanish are avid sports fans, as participants or spectators, particularly for soccer; bike, car and boat races, basketball, ocean activities and more.

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Typical street in Altea’s Casco Antiguo

Besides the many coastal communities, there are numerous charming inland towns in the hills, valleys and plains which have castles, ancient ruins, historic buildings, caves, and parks and other nature attractions. Many local words and names such as those beginning with “al” or “ben” are Moorish in origin. The influence of the occupation by the Moors from 718 AD to 1492 is still visible in the terraced hillsides, and numerous orange trees. Each town on the Costa Blanca has its own distinctive charm. Altea is considered the “cultural capital” of the Valencian region and is also known for its iconic hilltop church with shiny blue cupola and white tiles. Villajoyosa has distinctive differently brightly-colored seaside homes, which were intended to guide fishermen back to their specific abode. The provincial capital of Alicante is a sophisticated and historic city, with a stylish promenade area featuring cafes and upscale stores, a large marina and beach area, and the Santa Barbara Castle sitting atop the Mount Benacantil. Elche is home to a grove of about 200,000 palm trees, which have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Benidorm is a popular spot for people wanting a lot of activities, and is party central for many European vacationers. Its two beaches are consistently rated as among the best in the world.

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Sample of delectable (free) tapas served with beverage

The cost of living is surprisingly affordable given all that the area has to offer. For example, rents in Altea range from 325 to 350€ per month for a one-bedroom apartment or studio, and 400€ plus for a large three bedroom. In Elche one can find a 300€ three-bedroom apartment that is centrally located. The Costa Blanca offers ample apartments or homes for sale for under 100,000€, and some under 50,000€. Because of the unique characteristics of each town, it can be advantageous to stay in the widely available, affordable vacation rentals while test-driving a town or even a neighborhood. Several websites, which feature both real estate rentals and sales, can be accessed before visiting the area.

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Bounty of Local Crops at Farmer’s Market

Olives, olive oil, wine, local fruits and vegetable, and the bounty of the Mediterranean are diet staples, and, of course, Spain’s ubiquitous jamones (hams.) Food is generally inexpensive. Most towns have a weekly farmer’s market where there is dizzying display of colorful flowers, fruits and vegetables. At restaurants, in many towns, there is a menu del dia (typically a two or three course meal, with bread, beverage, dessert or coffee) at a nice beachside restaurant cost between 10 to 14 €, and less if one goes to places less upscale or frequented by locals. A glass of wine or small beer (“caña”) can be found for under 2€, which includes a tapa.

The area has many European ex-pats, including British, German, Norwegian and Dutch. That makes for a supply of English-speaking medical professionals. Medical treatment are good quality and prescriptions tend to be significantly less expensive than in the U.S.

Many people do not have cars, instead walking or riding a bike. There is good and inexpensive public transportation on the Costa Blanca, with clean timely buses, and a tram that runs from the northern most town of Denia to Alicante. In Alicante, one can access the national railway system including high-speed trains, and the modern and efficient airport, the sixth busiest in Spain. One person can comfortably live on 1000€ a month or two for 1500€, which includes rent, food, utilities, public transportation and entertainment.