Tag Archives: Multicultural friends

Affordable Luxury in the Jewel of Spain’s Costa Blanca

17 Apr

Altea

Here is an excellent article about Altea written by my friend, Ted Williams (aka Paul Theodore Williams) for International Living magazine.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Dear Fund Your Life Overseas Reader,

One of the challenges of moving overseas is selecting the right place for you. Cost of living, climate, convenience, and several other factors will play a big part in your decision.

But when you find the perfect place for you, it’s something you won’t be able to put a number on. You’ll just know it.

Texan native Paul, who tells his story below, is one of the folks who has found his perfect overseas home. Read on, and discover why he’s so taken with this little town on Spain’s Costa Blanca…

Shane Ormond

Shane Ormond
Managing Editor, Fund Your Life Overseas

P.S. If you like the romance and culture of Europe…then Spain is calling your name. It offers sophistication, charm, comfort…and at a price you’d expect to see in Latin America. In fact, it’s the best bargain in Europe today. Uncover the insider secrets to find your ideal Spanish destination in our comprehensive Spain Uncovered Bundle—available this week only at an almost 50% discount. Act before midnight tomorrow and you’ll receive a free report on Spain’s Secret Income Opportunity.

***

Affordable Luxury in the Jewel of Spain’s Costa Blanca
By Paul Theodore Williams

This morning, I awoke to the spotless Altea seaside, refreshed by an early spring shower. These March mornings are cool, and showers are frequent at this time of year, but the afternoons are sunny and warm enough to peel off the jacket.

I took my two dogs for our morning ritual, walking down to the craggy beach just a couple-of-minutes from my home. The crisp morning air is a refreshing and energizing start to the day. As the waves crashed rhythmically against the shore, I began to wake up and turn my thoughts to the day to come.

These mornings, walking the coast in Altea, the jewel of Spain’s Costa Blanca, may feel like part of a vacation commercial. But it’s my normal everyday life, compliments of working as a teacher in Spain.

I teach at a school about seven miles inland from Altea. Is that why I came here? Not really. Teaching, for me, is a means to an end—a way to live life on my own terms. I’m not making a fortune by American standards, but compared to the cost of living, I live comfortably, have a constant flow of disposable income, and get plenty of time off to do what I want.

Coming from Texas, I was used to a lower than average cost of living. However, Altea is even drastically more affordable than that. My first home here was an apartment on the seafront, which I rented for just for $485 per month, with my utilities totaling at about $100 monthly. Since then I’ve met my wife—she was the landlord of that apartment as it happens—and I’ve moved on from that apartment to something bigger.

Fuel is more expensive here but my car gets 45 mpg and we only use it for going to work and our weekend adventures, since the whole town is happily accessible by foot. One stroll through the jasmine-filled streets and you’ll never want to get back in a car again. Fruit and vegetables are at least half the cost of back home and finding organically grown produce is the norm, not the exception.

We both love to cook, but we also love to eat out. For an authentic, traditional Spanish meal, you’ll get a glass of wine, starter, first and second courses, and dessert or coffee for about $11 at lunch and $16 at dinner. A great bottle of wine, that I would expect to cost $20 to $25 back home, may set me back about $5. If I’m watching soccer with the boys I can get a pint of beer for $2.70.

One of the best Indian restaurants in the area, Crown of India, sits on high in the old town with a 270-degree panoramic view of the mountains and coast. They offer a wonderful dining experience for about $20 including wine or beer. But I must admit, my favorite restaurant is a Michelin-star restaurant, BonAmb, in Javea, about 30 minutes away. It’s more expensive than the other restaurants in the area but they bring the essence of the Costa Blanca from land and sea to table with a refined, sophisticated touch.

Here, I’m able to indulge my love of food. My wife and I enjoy frequent outings to enjoy the region’s world-class wineries and artisanal cheeses. My favorite winery close to home is Mendoza in neighboring Alfaz del Pi. The extended four-hour tasting includes a tour of the grounds, and a tasting of eight wines along with locally produced meats, cheeses, and olive oils.

I could live in other towns nearby and live on even less, but Altea is my heaven on earth. To my front, I have the Mediterranean Sea with its calming rhythm; to my sides and back, I have a backdrop of rugged mountains. Together, they form a microclimate that means less extreme highs and lows in summer and winter, while also giving the town a magical light that must be seen to be understood.

 

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Historic and Tasty Jijona: Costa Blanca Day Trip

18 Dec
Jijona (Xixona)

Jijona (Xixona)

Another great day trip in the Costa Blanca area of Spain is a day in Jijona, a short drive in the hills northwest of Alicante. Jijona, also known in Valenciano as Xixona, is famous for its Turrón, an almond-based nougat.

 

Turrón is particularly popular at Christmas time in Spain. Jijona has a yearly four-day Christmas festival, which obviously features turrón, along with other Christmas- and winter-oriented gifts, like hats, scarfs, toys and more.

Jijona Christmas festival

Jijona Christmas festival

 

Turrón is typically made from finely ground almonds, egg whites, honey and sugar. It comes in a variety of textures and forms. There is one with a soft paste-like consistency, which, to me, had a gritty, not pleasing texture. There are soft and hard turrón bars, with pieces of almonds. I saw chocolate-flavored turrón, turrón-flavored gins and liqueurs, and many other non-traditional additions. Samples are generously provided from the Christmas parade of wooden stands located in the central market. There are also other Christmas-related exhibits, and food/tapas booths with adjacent seating where people can rest their feet, and enjoy a snack and beverage.

 

Turrón samples readied for festival go-ers

Turrón samples readied for festival go-ers

The Moors brought almond farming and turrón to Spain during their occupation of the area. During the 16th century, King Felipe II praised turrón, which increased its popularity. Historically, there were a few main families who dominated the turrón market. These decaying family mansions feature beautiful architecture and are visible on one of the main streets in Jijona: Monerris Planelles family home, Rovira family home, and Aracil family home. Only turrón made in Jijona and Alicante can receive the official seal of authenticity, “Consejo Regulador de Jijona y Turrón de Alicante.” There are tours available at the turrón museum and factory. Several other areas have a similar type of nougat like turrón, including Catalonia (Spain), France and Sicily.

 

Snow well

Snow well

There are other interesting things to see in Jijona including historical churches and a convent, the remains of a castle (destroyed in the Spanish War of Succession), “and snow wells” (thick walled round buildings located in the cool Carrasqueta mountain range which came into use in the 18th century to store snow for making ice cream.) In August, there is a Moros y Cristianos festival, which are very popular in the province of Alicante. Parking is typically a fair distance from the touristic areas, but are well-marked and on an easy, gradual incline.

 

 

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.

Retiring to a Fun, Inexpensive, Quality Life

20 Mar
Altea on a rare cloudy day

Altea on a rare cloudy day

Today I got up at the crack of noon. It’s not something I do every day, but it is a luxury I relish after those late Spanish nights out with friends. Yesterday, I had two Norwegian friends over to my house for a traditional American dinner, something they asked if I would do. Here in Altea, in the Costa Blanca area of central Mediterranean Spain, it is sometimes difficult to source some typical American food ingredients, but it makes for a fun challenge. When I wanted to make authentic Jamaican Jerk chicken and could not find habañero peppers, David, a chef and co-owner of my favorite local bar, AlteArte, volunteered to buy some for me at a commercial food market for restaurants. AlteArte is a local mojiteria (bar specializing in making mojitos) and arts bar.

 

After our American dinner, Daniel, one of my invited guests, was hosting his monthly movie night at AlteArte, so we took the short walk to it in the center of the historic old town at the top of the hill. We stayed late enjoying the busy, convivial atmosphere. The prior week Daniel had me to his house for a traditional Norwegian dinner. Both he and his roommate each created their unique regional specialty dishes. Being from north of the Arctic Circle, Daniel’s dish was roast pork with crackling skin. Delicious! I love the opportunities to meet new friends with whom I can exchange our different cultural traditions. Another particularly memorable experience I have had was when a Nepalese family invited me to their house for a delicious, homemade meal at their home. It was my first time eating traditional, homemade Nepalese food, and afforded me the opportunity to get to know more about their lives and culture in Nepal.

 

Seafood paella

Seafood paella

There are always challenges when trying to re-create and share American traditions to my friends in my new home country, Spain. However, mostly I embrace the new cultural and food customs here. Jamones (various types of ham and pork products) are a Spanish favorite, served simply as thin slices or often as an ingredient in many dishes, like steamed clams with pieces of ham. I have even found ham in the usually vegetarian gazpacho blended soup and in steamed clams. There is an incredible bounty of fresh fish and seafood from the local Mediterranean. I enjoy spontaneous daily forays to local bars where, in the evening, I get a free tapa with my glass of wine for as little as 1, 20€ ($1.32.) Inevitably, I encounter friends with whom I enjoy genial conversation.

 

Bar Cuba

Bar Cuba

Although I was an avid live music fan when I lived in the Central Coast of California, here in Altea Spain, there are many diverse activities, including the many regional Spanish festivals, live music, in addition to the time spent celebrating new cultural experiences with friends. One of my regular favorites is going with friends to Bar Cuba, for salsa and other types of Latin dancing to live music by Rafa, a friend who is originally from Venezuela. Bar Cuba is co-owned by Raúl and Nikki; Nikki is a friendly, competent businesswoman who originally hails from Jamaica. Other nights she schedules salsa and other Latin dance classes, karaoke, televised soccer games (fútbol), and specialty international dinners. Living in Spain allows me to enjoy traditional Spanish festivities, as well as experience cultural experiences from the variety of ex-pats who live here.

 

With the low cost of living in the Costa Blanca, I no longer have to work, and can focus on friends and fun. The Spanish are known for their many festivals, which offer spectacle and fun. Where I lived in California, it was nearly impossible to function without a car.

Moros y Cristianos festival

Moros y Cristianos festival

Here in Spain, I relish no longer having to have a car. I walk to all of my local activities, or take convenient, efficient, inexpensive public transportation to nearby towns, with unexpected health benefits. Instead of finding it difficult to even arrange a short monthly get together with a friend in California, here in Altea, rarely does a day go by where I don’t meet up with friends, whether planned or spontaneous. It is sometimes hard for me to believe that I live in one of the most beautiful villages in Spain, with such an inexpensive cost of living, and fulfilling quality of life.

 

Party…Spanish style!!

19 Mar
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Party paella being prepared

Yesterday was a stellar day in that I was invited to the birthday fiesta of the “novio,” (boyfriend) of my good friend, Carmen, whom I have known for about a year. She came to Altea about a year ago, and now lives with Pepe in the adjacent town of La Nucia. Since La Nucia is slightly inland, the houses are more likely to be single-family detached homes, often on large plots of land in the undulating countryside which harbors fruit trees and other vegetation, horses, and other scenic pastoral sites. Although very close to my town of beachside Altea, it has considerably different feel.

Since I (proudly) no longer own a car, Pepe picked me up and drove to his “estancia” (ranch.) En route, he explained that he lived in Altea when he was young, but has been living in La Nucia for 40 years. Upon arrival, he gave me a tour of the house, outbuildings which housed two separate barbecues, and many fruit trees. I laughed as I recognized that the blue granite counters he had in his kitchen were the same as I had installed at my former house in California.

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Mejillones (mussels) being cooked

Carmen, who is Cuban, was busy cooking dishes from her nascent land, including rice with black beans, pork (which had incredibly crispy delicious skins), and “tostones” (fried plantains.) Although I am not usually a fan of plantains, these were excellent. I watched as she pounded them a little flat and then fry them in oil. I rescued one batch from burning when she left the room to greet some newcomers. The following day (today as I write this,) when we spontaneously met for lunch and I told her how much I liked them when I usually don’t, she said she first soaks them in vinegar.

After her cooking creations were bundled for transport on party day, we took the short drive up the hill to the large outbuilding where the fiesta was to occur. Typical of this area, were two huge pans, one of paella and the other of mejillones (mussels) being expertly prepared by two local women. Paella, after all, is originally from Valencia, and Altea is part of the Communitat Valenciana (as they say in the local Valenciana dialect.)

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Carmen helping with the party preparation

Of course, there were the typical cheeses and cured meats available, with loaves of fresh baguettes (as common here as on my many trips to France,) free-flowing wine and beer. With the mussels and paella, several large mixed salads lightly dressed were served in the middle of the lengthy table.

The promise of Cuban music for dancing was frustrated by the lack of cooperation of the equipment brought for that purpose, but Pepe backed up his car to the large open doors of the building and cranked up his Cuban tunes. Rei, a local salsa teacher, got (almost) everyone up shaking their groove things. The multi-cultural assembly including locals, Columbians, Cubans, a Norwegian and others made for a great experience including the chance to practice my Spanish and find new dance friends for the weekly Sunday Cuban/salsa music at Club Cuba in nearby Albir.

Toward the end of the birthday party, they served what was the best dessert I have ever had, and even one of my best desserts ever (although I am not much of a sweet eater.) It was vanilla custard between layers of thin, crispy puff pastry like a mille-feuille (Napolean) but with fresh fruit on top.IMG_0450 As it was time to leave, leftovers and lemons from Pepe’s trees were offered to take home. I was driven home with my large, gorgeous lemons in hand, feeling utterly happy with my new life in Spain. Unfortunately, my photos do not reflect the full revelry of the day as my camera battery crashed but what few I got are shown here.

Why I Left “The Happiest Place in America” to move to Spain

6 Mar

 

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Hallmark photo of Altea

When I told people of my intention to abandon my lucrative professional career as a forensic psychologist in California and leave the San Luis Obispo area to move to Spain, I got one of two reactions. They either thought I was nuts or they were envious. In either case, they asked why I would leave the area that has been touted by Oprah Winfrey, National Geographic, U.S. News and numerous others, to be the best place to live in the United States, if not the world.

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Casco Antiguo (Old Town) Altea

My decision was based on a combination of factors that were sometimes difficult for me to explain, or perhaps more aptly, for them to understand. The quality of life in my small, picturesque beachside town of Altea (consistently rated as one of the top 10 most beautiful villages in Spain) far surpasses the stress and money-driven culture to which I had become accustomed. Life here and in many parts of Spain are driven first and foremost by family. One commonly sees multi-generational families strolling along the beachfront esplanade, dining or drinking together (often until very late at night), and fathers and grandfathers confidently and lovingly caring for the family babies and children (with no women in sight.) Spanish people work to live and generally are not consumed with a desire for wealth or material things. Besides family, friends, food and fun are valued. It didn’t take me long to appreciate this simpler, but more fulfilling existence.

Before I moved to Spain, I had a busy, in retrospect, too busy, career as a forensic psychologist specializing in the evaluation of and testimony as an expert on Sexually Violent Predators. As my third and youngest son was approaching high school graduation, I realized I was tired of working so hard to maintain our upscale lifestyle including our 3500 square foot home on a French-inspired fully landscaped acre, an expensive car, and the cost associated with living in a highly desirable area. After being the sole breadwinner and parent to my three boys for over 25 years, I wanted a change to a simpler, better quality life. For me, that meant Spain.

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Fish with leek sauce at local beachside restaurant

My wanderlust had led me to travel to almost 40 countries, and while I had frequently fantasized about moving to Italy, France or Spain, I never really thought I would do it. When I reminded my youngest son of my plan to sell the house when the youngest graduated high school, he was less than pleased and would have liked to stay forever. The month before he was to graduate, I put the house on the market and I had accepted an offer only six days later. I felt pangs of guilt and he was none too happy to have to negotiate final exams, senior graduation activities, and moving all at the same time. Once I had put the house for sale, I interviewed three companies for my estate sale and selected the most experienced with the lowest commission rates. I sold everything from the pool table, to the grand piano and every bit of furniture, except the items I had promised to my sons and the few pieces of kitchenware and children’s mementos I planned to ship to Spain.

View from my place after sunset

View from my place after sunset

Even though I had previously travelled to Spain, it was to larger cities, not the type of quaint village I so desired. So I took the unorthodox approach of diligently researching all of my requirements on the internet which included a picturesque village on the Mediterranean, temperate weather, music and dance events, and no need for a car. Thus when I arrived in Altea, it was the first time I had been there. It was more beautiful and magical in person than photos could portray. At the top of the hill is the Altea’s iconic cathedral with its royal blue domes decorated with white ceramic tiles. The plaza on which it sits is the site for many of Altea’s festivals. Below, the white buildings cascade down from the top of the hill, in a manner reminiscent of a Greek village.

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View of Calpe from Altea beach at sunset

While there are many things I love about Spain, as anyone who has lived there knows, the bureaucracy is atrocious. If you need to conduct any official Spanish governmental business, expect to have to return multiple times to accomplish even a small task, and be prepared to be given different instructions each time. A case in point was my visa, which I did eventually receive after negotiating the inconsistent, and sometimes impossible, requirements. However, the details of that endeavor would take a whole, separate article!

Concurrently, I began diligent, daily practice of Castilian Spanish, as I only spoke basic Mexican Spanish. One of the things that attracted me to Spain was that I would be able to speak the language by the time I was ready to move there in an estimated year and a half while getting my affairs in order. I was in for a big surprise when I found out the primary language in Altea is Valenciana, similar to Catalan. Once in Spain, I readily made friends with locals, from Spain and many other countries, and honed my Spanish with practice each evening over drinks and tapas. I found it far easier to make friends in Spain than where I had been living in California for the past nearly 30 years. When I would head out for my evening at one of my customary places, I was typically greeted with, “¿Vino blanco?,” as the friendly waiters anticipated my usual white wine. A decent glass of house wine, white, red or rosé, is typically around 2€, and sometimes includes a tapa; beer is even less and these prices are at oceanfront spots frequented by locals and tourists, so prices can be even lower if one goes to places where there are primarily locals. While enjoying my wine and the view of the turquoise Mediterranean, I sometimes end up conversing with someone, and often we end up exchanging contact information or agreeing to meet on another occasion.

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View of Altea church at dusk

I wanted to test drive my town and neighborhood before renting or buying. I first stayed at a vacation rental I found on the web. This allowed me to live in Casco Antiguo, (old town,) like a local, and decide which particular area met my needs before settling on a permanent spot. In the northern Costa Blanca where I live, there are one or two bedroom apartments, some furnished, for as low as 300 Euros, which is currently about $340. Less expensive rentals are available away from the beach and the historic old town or if you go to the towns more inland.

Meals can be an incredibly good deal, as well. Many restaurants offer a “Menu del Dia” from which you can order two courses, and get bread with alioli (the Spanish version of aioli), a beverage (wine, beer, soda or bottled water), and either a dessert or coffee generally for around 10 to 13€. I was surprised that I quickly adapted to the Spanish tradition of having a larger, late lunch, and then later skipping dinner or having a tapa. This is very economical and resulted in the unexpected benefit of losing weight.

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Beachside dining with Calpe in the distance

fill my days with Zumba and other dance classes,  a typical late and long Spanish lunch (almost always eating one of the many delicious fish or seafood choices), taking my dog to play at the new dog park, going home for a siesta or household tasks, and then heading out for an evening drink where I would meet up with friends to talk and dance, often well past midnight. On Sundays my Cuban friends and I head for live Cuban music at a bar which has a vibrant international crowd. My dream of a simple, fulfilling life has been realized.

Stay tuned for interesting and fun accounts of my time in Altea and beyond.