Book your hire car with Gomarbella & Spain now and Then

Monday, 31 December 2007

Christmas Lights in Malaga

Marbella Old Town Christmas lights seen here in a side street just over the road from the Plaza de Alameda represent both austerity and hope for the future. It'll take another eight years to balance the books after Jesus Gil's systematic looting of the municipal coffers.

Whereas Gil would spend 400 000 € every year on Christmas lights, (money which Marbella never had) and dazzle his supporters, Mayoress Angeles Muñoz has spent less than half of that this year. Less light bulbs and extravagance but Marbella's future has never looked brighter.

On the subject of Christmas lights, I got an email just before Christmas from Yvonne.

She wrote, " Hi, I want to travel to see the lights in Malaga, can you advise the best way to travel there? I live in Marbella, have a car and am willing to park and ride (train or bus) Also, what times does public transport finish at night (for returning)?

I'd appreciate your advice asap. Many thanks, Yvonne"

I wrote back to Yvonne the next day and I'll put my letter onto my local transport page in a day or so.

To contact me please click on the tiny comment label below for help. Remember to tick the box which says "Email me any posts" so that my reply will be emailed to you automatically. Nobody sees your email address. It's a great system to beat the spammers. Give me a first name to reply to even if you make it up!

Write to me now if I can help you with any travel hints on the Costa del Sol or elsewhere in Spain

Update 8/09/10 Things are looking good in Marbella now and each year the Christmas lights

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Los Boliches Train Stop in Fuengirola

I always pick up my emails when travelling and so it was that earlier this month whilst I was in London I replied to an email from a Gomarbella reader.

John wrote in to ask me “Can I pull my suitcase between the Los Boliches train stop and the Yaramar hotel on the Paseo Marítimo in Fuengirola, or should I take a taxi?"

Back on the Costa del Sol the very next day, I missed the midday
Malaga airport bus to Marbella by minutes and rather than hang around for the next bus I decided to check out the advice I had just given to John and catch the train to Fuengirola train station and check out how far the Los Boliches stop is from the Yaramar Hotel and then take the bus home to Marbella from the Fuengirola bus station.

It was a great train ride from
Malaga airport to Fuengirola, a sunny day with cheerful piped music in the carriages. Los Boliches is the second last stop before pulling in to the underground train station and I was able to write again to John before he left the UK to come to Spain.

I was lucky with my connections and it worked out that by taking the
train to Fuengirola from Malaga airport and then the bus to Marbella I got home about 15 minutes faster than if I had waited for the next bus from the airport to Marbella bus station. I had fun on the way home too!

Got any questions about traveling on the Costa del Sol? Write to me on the blog page and I’ll do my best to help you.
To contact me please click on the tiny comment label below for help. Remember to tick the box which says "Email me any posts" so that my reply will be emailed to you automatically. Nobody sees your email address. It's a great system to beat the spammers. Please give me a first name to reply to even if you make it up!

Write to me now if I can help you with any travel hints on the Costa del Sol or elsewhere in Spain

Check here for information about
getting to the Stella Maris Hotel from the Los Boliches train station.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Istan to La Concha (6 hours)

Istan is a little white village set back about 17 kms from the coast overlooking the headwaters of the La Concepcion lake. To get to Istan, you turn off inland next to the mosque which is opposite Hotel Puente Romano. La Concha at 1217m is the summit of the Sierra Bermeja range of mountains just behind Marbella.

My walking friend Philip who you see in the picture and I had a long standing date to try a route that was new for us from Istan to the top of the La Concha range. This morning I looked up from my terrace just before setting off from home and the clouds which had been hanging over the range seemed to be lifting. We had scheduled this route two months ago so that seemed to be a good omen, I should have checked the weather forecasts before we left!


Setting off from the car park just behind the new Istan Hotel the path was reasonably trodden and marked with small cairns. Some readers might have done the route from Istan to Ojen (6 hours) up the ravine behind the polydeportivo, our path led off in a more south easterly direction to intersect with the top of the range.

A rare patch of sunlight lit up the Istan village in the photo above about half an hour after setting off. The Istan hotel can be seen in the foreground. A stream of clear water gushing from the mountain below us supplies drinking water to the village all year round.

After about 2 hours the clouds began to settle back down, obscuring the peaks. An hour later it was raining and there were clouds blowing upwards from behind us. When the path ended and the only further indications were cairns at intervals on a wet rock knife edge rising above us, with about 25 metres of visibility we took a reality check. I always advise walkers on La Concha to avoid the range when the summit is blanketed in cloud, it is easy to get lost and the work of the local rescue teams is complicated as a result. We turned back.

We'll do it again in the spring next year when we can see where we're going.

Update: October 2010 By the way, we did get to Marbella eventually but my very good friend Philip died from prostate cancer earlier this year. If you look at any of the hills or mountains in the Malaga province, you can be sure that we have walked them together over the last thirty years. Philip I am really going to miss you on those paths.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Spain now and then

Spain now and then seems to have been the pattern of my life recently.

Earlier this week I was in New Malden in London, teaching an 11+ exam revision course for the Extra Tuition Centre. I spent 3 days from 9am to 1pm helping well motivated young students prepare for their selective secondary school entry process and then from 2pm – 9pm each day I was with my 22 month old grandson. He is also selective about what he learns, preferring diggers and dump trucks to wolves sliding down hot chimneys.

On the way home to Marbella this morning, I enjoyed the BA check in procedure at Gatwick airport complete with touch screens and smiling, helpful ground staff and the leather seats, headrests and hot meals on board.

Last week I was in Essen over the weekend for a very pleasurable family birthday celebration. Taking the 6am Easyjet flight out of Dortmund on the way home I was back for in Marbella in time for my 1pm class at the hotel and tourism vocational training school. With 3 new classes starting next week, it’s going to be a little tighter to find time for European travel.

I always pick up my emails on my travels and so it was that last night from Battersea, London I replied to a gomarbella reader wanting to know if he could walk from the Los Boliches train stop to the Yaramar Hotel, Avenida Los Boliches s/n in Fuengirola. The photo above shows you the Los Boliches train stop.

To give him the best advice I thought it would be a good idea to check out the Los Boliches train stop personally and take the train from Malaga airport to Fuengirola train station on the way home today instead of the airport to Marbella shuttle bus.

In Gatwick’s carpeted North Terminal this morning the passenger assistance buggies moved sedately to and fro with blinking orange lights and muted bleeps. In Malaga airport later in the morning the buggies raced like Fernando Alonso along the marbled passages and honking passengers to one side.

Wouldn't Europe be boring if we all acted exactly the same way?

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Estación Benaojan Montejaque

This is the down train from Ronda rumbling through the tiny rural train station of Benaoján Montejaque just 20 minutes down the line heading to Algeciras on the south coast.

The up train to
Ronda train station from Algeciras runs on the lines nearest the platform. A sign on the platform politely asks passengers travelling in the opposite direction to Algeciras to cross the lines on foot to the platform on the other side, a reasonable time before their train arrives and apologises for any inconvenience.

The Hotel Molina del Santo is just five minutes walk from the station. Right next to a small river gushing with the purest water straight from the Sierrania de Ronda mountain range, the hotel is an old olive and flour mill.

Hotel guests often take the 1.40 up train to Ronda, do some sight seeing and have lunch and then catch the 4.30 Algeciras train down train getting off at the picturesque Benaoján Montejaque station a few minutes later.

The Hotel Molina del Santo is equally accessible from the Costa del Sol. Los Barrios train station on the coast is the second stop along from Algeciras. From there the train winds through the lush vegetation of coastal Cadiz between stork nests high on power pylons before pushing its way up the Genal river valley on a memorably winding track.

When the train service along the coast is extended from Fuengirola all the way to Algeciras, this veteran rail line now carrying passengers and rail traffic to Ronda, Granada and Cordoba will only carry cargo. Take the trip while you still can!

If you are doing this trip from the coast, then get on the train at Algeciras or at Los Barrios the next stop along. If you are not in a hire car then you will be doing this part of the journey by bus and you will need to consult one of the
Costa del Sol bus schedules to take the bus to Algeciras but get off at Los Barrios the stop before.

If you are doing a day trip from Gibraltar then you will be using
the La Linea bus station for your connection to Los Barrios train station.

MT sent me a link to a video showing the train journey from
Algeciras to the Ronda train station. Watch the video, read MT's comments below and then do the journey yourself!

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Jeréz Airport

I like Jerez Airport and driving there is always a pleasure. When you park the car the smell of the pines around the airport comes flooding in. Jerez town, Cadiz city and the Atlantic are all just minutes away.

We used to pick up a €0.01 ticket to Stanstead with Ryanair and the drive through the rolling cork oak covered mountains more than compensated for the extra hour spent on the road. Now I am sorry to say, we try to avoid flying Ryanair.

A couple of years ago we were putting our suitcases into the car for the return journey to Marbella one morning when we heard the snarling of Formula One engines at the track just over the Sevilla road. Three euros later and we were watching Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher testing their cars on the winding high speed circuit.

On our last trip to London a girl approached us in the check in queue in Jeréz Airport. She was a rep for Terravison which operates the Stansted Airport to London coach service. Seconds later we had a return bus ticket into London.

Getting back to the Costa del Sol needs some concentration, but if you make for the Cadíz Sevilla road, then Cadíz Algeciras, then Algeciras, then Los Barrios you can't go wrong.

Tell me what you think about Jeréz Airport or ask if you need some information on how to get there.

If you are meeting friends or family then check Jerez de la Frontera Airport Arrival and Departure timetables here.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

The Rain in Spain

My daughter in London sent me this photo yesterday afternoon. I had the air-conditioning on here in Marbella and the blinds were down to shut out the afternoon sun when the picture came through. It was really hot outside on our terrace in the afternoon heat of southern Spain.

Every time I visit London I take my grandson Sam on foot under this railway bridge and we head for Battersea Park. Next time I am across in London, there might even be flood water level markings on the walls.

Sitting in the cool of our apartment watching flood warnings, trapped motorists and helicopter rescues across Britain it was difficult not to feel detached, as if this was happening in Bangladesh or somewhere in South America.

Is this a result of global warming? If it isn't, why not play safe anyway and take just that bit more care of our planet wherever you are?

If you pass me the remote for my air con system I'll turn it down to save electricity. But only one degree mind you.

Oh! Yes and thank you for asking, my daughter's kitchen did get flooded that same afternoon.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Mexican braves Costa roads

Last week I was near Dunnes Store in Fuengirola when I heard the sound of Mariachi music pumping out just behind me in the car park. Looking round I saw Jorge parking his rig.

He was more than happy to pose for me and we had a good chat in the shade of the shopping centre. Jorge is from Monthlery in Mexico and has been on the road for two years now.

Biking up through the USA he crossed to England then pedalled up to Norway before making his way down through Germany, France and then right down to the south of Spain to the Costa del Sol where he is staying till the end of summer.

His bike carries a great sound system powered by a small generator and a GPS navigation system sits just above the front wheel. He tows all his belongings behind him in a streamlined shell.

I told him of my worries for his personal safety everytime he gets onto the roads on the coast but he laughed saying "I've got eyes in the back of my head!"

Jorge will need that extra pair of eyes. The standard of driving on the coast is not high. Next time you get behind the wheel of your rented car on the coast, don't expect the courtesy of and patience from other drivers that you normally get in a city in the UK for example. Rather prepare yourself for impatience, intolerance, unexpected manoeuvres and minimal road sense and you'll stay alive much longer.

Oh and look out for Jorge too. Having cycled all this way he needs all the help we can give him to get back to Mexico in one piece
.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

HOGS rule Costa roads

These weren't the the usual brainless Costa del Sol boy racer road hogs but genuine Harley Owner Group bikers from all over Europe including a couple from the USA.

Eight thousand of them got together this weekend and using Fuengirola as their base cruised majestically in and out of the towns on the coast. Wherever you were you could hear the rumble of big V twin motors.

A lot of the Harleys were trucked down in massive transporters whilst other bikers rode for up to three days from all corners of Europe to get down to the hot late spring sun of the Costa del Sol.

You could see gleaming customised bikes resting on side stands outside luxury hotels in Marbella, on every corner in Puerto Banus and as far inland as Ronda.

Police led a two thousand strong procession of Harleys through Fuengirola to kick start the weekend and there were stunts, demonstrations and outings for the three days.

As I drove home, just as I got to the bridge over the Rio Real golf course just before Marbella, I was overtaken on the tight bend by a HOG biker
hanging from high rise ape hanger handle bars on a stripped down highly chromed Easy Rider bike.

Just behind him was a low low gleaming customised yellow Harley ridden by a girl biker with her blonde hair streaming behind in the wind from her black helmet. I managed to wind the window down to listen to their throbbing bikes just as another giant Harley with tassels and flags flying pulled past me with an enormous Harley biker astride. What a way to go.

You can do it too! Come on down to the Costa del Sol, hire a Harley and feel like a king for a day!

Friday, 8 June 2007

¡Es la feria!

It's feria week in Marbella this week. Exactly at 12 midday every day during the feria, the music starts and the dancing begins in the Alameda Park in the very heart of Marbella.

On the 11th June we are celebrating dia de San Bernabe, the patron saint of Marbella. Every village, town or city in Spain has a saints day during the year and the celebrations go on for a week.

Banks work shorter hours, offices and warehouses close earlier and certainly on Friday afternoons. You wouldn't phone anyone else in Marbella to ask for the money you are owed and equally you can be sure that nobody (at least from Marbella) is going to phone you to ask for money.

Celia on the left posed her friends for me. I was lucky to get the picture because normally the guys hold onto their girls when they are dressed up in their flamenco dresses. Perhaps the men were having a cold beer and talking football at one of the nearby refreshment tents.

The feria starts with fireworks on Tuesday evening and then the feria de día takes place every day after that. At night there is a big attraction park for the kids with more dancing and fun until 3 or 4 in the morning.

If you still have the energy at the weekend, on Saturday you'll go through from midday to 7pm in the hot sun, dancing Sevillanas, drinking mojitos and singing the latest summer song. You'll meet all your old school friends who will have come back from all over Spain just for this weekend. At 7pm the street sweepers move in. By 9pm it's spotless and ready for you to do it all again on Sunday and again Monday which is a holiday! On Tuesday it's back to work.

Come on down! It's feria week in Marbella!

Thursday, 31 May 2007

Marbella has a new Mayoress!

The Partido Popular party came through with a clear majority on Sunday in Marbella signalling a return to normality in a town which has lost so much at the hands of corrupt politicians.

You are looking at an electoral table during last week's election. That's me, the President of the table in the middle. To my right, the two women like me are chosen by the Town Hall for the elections. To their right are the two PSOE representatives.

To my left, that's to the right of the picture are the PP political representatives. Pablo Mora on the extreme right is one of the new Town Hall's counsellors.

It was 15 long hours of work, from signing in the representatives at 8am, opening for voting at 9am, checking credentials all day long (identity cards are a good thing) closing voting at 8pm, counting votes then taking the results to the local magistrate at and signing off at 10.53pm. I got paid €53.20 for my time. No signature asked for.

Nobody beat me up as I left the electoral venue. No thugs stuffed the ballot box after closing of voting. Nobody's houses will be burned or bulldozed by the government as a result of the election. These are all features of Robert Mugabe's present goverment in Zimbabwe, my country of birth and the last country I voted in before coming to Spa
in.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Meet Marbella's new Mayoress

This is the face of Angeles Muñoz surrounded by well wishers at last Saturday's meeting to present her electoral team. From May 25th she will be Marbella's next Mayoress.

And what a meeting it was! As slick as any presidential campaign we waved flags and for 40 minutes watched large screen multimedia presentations of Angeles Muñoz visiting the different neighbourhoods and associations in San Pedro and Marbella.

It took her 10 minutes to work her way down the aisle in the large Palacio de Congresos in Marbella, followed by the two national Partido Popular heavyweights Javier Arenas and Mariano Rajoy who had come to back her campaign. Listening to her speak eloquently and with conviction it was worth the wait.

I believe Angeles Muñoz will lead us back into the mainstream of politics in Spain after years of isolation and that she will normalise and restore the relations with outside institutions which have been missing for so long.

I also believe that only Angeles Muñoz and her new team of Municipal counsellors will be capable of giving Marbella back the dignity and prestige that it deserves.

As I walked out it was good to feel that Marbella is on the move again and that a a new group of honest and hardworking fellow citizens are ready to work in the best interests of the town again after so many years.

Update: 8/10/10 Things have moved on incredibly since the fraud and corruption of our last two mayors. Marbella must now be one of the safest town halls in Spain to buy property in.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Big bikes and a fluffy poodle

Big Harleys from out of town, a fluffy poodle and its owner at the entrance to the Puerto Deportivo in Marbella this morning. What a fantastic day it’s been. If only all our Easter visitors last week could have had at least one day as good as this.

Just out of sight to the right of the picture at the entrance to the Puerto Deportivo the deckhand selling tickets for the boat cruise to Puerto Banus and back was doing brisk business. What a great morning to be out at sea with a gentle onshore breeze looking in at the Golden Mile which stretches between Puerto Banus and Marbella.

By midday the beach bed attendants had set out their beds and cushions, the trampolines had been set up and the bouncy castle was filling with air. The little tourist train trundled along the Paseo Marítimo whilst the power walkers and weight watchers worked up a thirst, sweating slightly in the warm sun.

It was that time of day when your taste buds tell you it’s too late for coffee but just right for tapas and cold beer or sangria in a beach front bar.

This was Marbella at its best.

Monday, 9 April 2007

27 hours to Essen from Marbella

In Gene Pitney’s 1963 hit song "Twenty four hours to Tulsa" the traveller never gets home to Tulsa because he meets someone else along the way. Happily my 27 hours on the road to Essen in Germany from Marbella over the Easter weekend were completely trouble free.

I was taking a car up to Germany with my daughter where she is going to live, study and work and we left on Good Friday at 9.30 am arriving in Essen on Saturday at midday.

It was a memorable trip, we alternated at the wheel, two hours and two hours off. There were no cars at all on our side of the road north through Spain and again during the early hours of the morning as we pushed up through France, our side of the road was empty.

I flew back this afternoon from the ultra modern Dusseldorf airport with LTU the German leisure airline. (Just 12 months later I would be back at the big
LTU stadium next to the airport to see Bruce Springsteen but that's another story.)

Before take off there was a sushi bar and then a massage seat in the departure lounge. Entertainers drew faces on children and gave out Easter eggs. On the LTU plane it was great to be served a hot meal with drinks included by well dressed, civil cabin crew. Of course I haven’t fallen out of love with Easyjet but not being asked to dump empties into an orange sack is very civilized.

“Which of the two trips did you prefer?” I hear you ask. I have to say to you that despite the ultra smooth German check in, the pleasurable wait at the airport and the quick, comfortable flight back, I enjoyed our 27 hour car trip more.

I missed our companionship and feeling of adventure as we set off on our 2400 km trip. South of Jaen we drove through rolling olive farms and passed through heavy rain storms in central Spain. We crossed the snow covered ranges north of Madrid in the late afternoon and in the fading evening light our little diesel purred through the secretive green valleys of the Basque country. We entered France as night fell

We listened to French radio stations in the early hours of Saturday morning on the long straight to Bordeaux and drank coffee at 3am at a fuel stop with a tall white-bearded Norwegian Harley biker riding through the night on his way home. We skirted Paris as the dawn broke negotiating the ring roads like rally drivers.

We crossed First World War trench lines north of Paris as the sun warmed our faces and passed roadside war graves on the border. Turning east towards Germany the Saturday morning shopping traffic in Belgium slowed our progress and dulled our escapade. It was a good trip as trips go.

From Malaga airport home to Marbella I took the faithful Malaga airport to Marbella Bus Station bus service. Because of the rain and the last of the Easter traffic there were no taxis waiting at the Marbella Bus Station so I chose to walk the last couple of kilometers. Somehow it kept the pleasure of the journey alive just that bit longer.

PS: You could now do the whole journey from Essen to Marbella on a bus using the online bus ticket reservations gomarbella reservation system. It would take you longer than 27 hours though!

Update: I went back two Easters later to drive the car home to Spain, it was due for it's ITV test. I took it easy this time, with only one stop. It's a great drive down the centre of Spain.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

More pillows please Housekeeper!

You might be asking one of these newly qualified hotel housekeepers for an extra pillow or blanket somewhere soon in one of Spain’s top hotels.

Graduating today after an intensive six month course in the Hotel Escuela Bellamar vocational training school in Marbella, the proud and happy housekeepers are shown here with some of their teachers after a farewell lunch.

Some of them will be starting work on Monday after Easter as far away as Gerona or Zaragoza. Such is the prestige of the course and the demand for trained hotel housekeepers in Spain that most students are offered contracts before their course ends.

Your housekeeper is there to make your hotel stay more enjoyable. Stop and chat next time you are passing in the corridor. Behind the uniforms and professional facade they’re ordinary people with hopes and aspirations just like the rest of us, They will appreciate your contact.

Update: 08/10/10 By the way, that's me over on the right at the back. I don't teach at the hotel school any more, with the cutbacks in Spain, there is simply no money for vocational training.

Friday, 30 March 2007

Okefenokee and Marriotts Marbella

As a kid I had read about alligators in the Okefenokee swamps in south Georgia in a National Geographic magazine so imagine my surprise when a very pleasant Okefenokee dweller, Pauline, wrote to me last year to ask how to get to Marriotts Marbella on the Costa del Sol from Malaga Airport. I mean do you correspond with anyone from Okefenokee?

I only give advice on what I know about so I tooled out on my motorbike one Sunday morning to find out exactly where Marriotts Marbella was.
OK it’s true that on April 7th of this year I will have lived in this part of the world for 27 years, but I don’t know everything about the Costa del Sol.

Now and again I am asked for information on getting to Marriotts Marbella and Marriotts Playa Andaluza in Estepona so I took the opportunity of taking a few photos of the area and put together a page with suggestions on
how to get to the popular time share resort Marriotts Marbella. I hope you find it useful. If you were wondering why I have shown you a picture of a bus stop, this is where you have to get off for Marriotts.

Pauline, thank you again for writing in from Okefenokee. I have dedicated this page to you. Watch out for those pesky alligators now.

Thursday, 22 March 2007

This is Tarifa

I am never sure at what point exactly I fall under the spell of Tarifa. I think it happens somewhere between the last roundabout behind Algeciras before the winding climb through the straits and just before I catch my first glimpse of the long white sandy beach stretching away from the walled frontier town to the foot of the giant dunes on Punto Paloma in the distance.

It could be that I am revitalized by the energy radiated from the humming generators nesting high above the road on wind turbines. First there were only six and now there are hundreds of the giants lining the hills and blown ceaselessly by the levante and poniente winds sweeping this most southern point of Europe.

We make for Hotel Restaurante La Torre where we have often stayed before. They have a special offer this weekend, dinner bed and breakfast for € 45 per person. It is a 100 year old house which has been extended and decorated in warm earthy colours. After our welcome we unpack and make straight for Punto Paloma.

Kite surfers slide across the cold clean foam flecked Atlantic waters with their sails soaring high above them. The butterfly coloured sails of board surfers flick backwards and forwards across the bay. On the beach elite wet suited athletes chat or lie entwined in the heat of the late afternoon Saturday sun. This is Tarifa.

At 9pm we are first down for dinner. The dining room is almost deserted. Our waiter explains apologetically "Real Madrid is playing Barcelona this evening". I catch the replays of the six goals by craning my head back to see a screen in the lounge. The meat roasted in a wood oven is delicious. Two good looking young men photograph each other and then examine the pictures approvingly. The wine is excellent and our room is comfortingly close above the dining room.

We go down to Sunday breakfast at ten. We have toasted rolls with olive oil and brushed with newly cut tomato. Fresh orange is followed by cups of coffee. Our waitress, different to the local girls is a Madrileña, a curly haired young woman with exotic features.

Checking out we make for the Hurricane a few hundred metres along the beach. The colonial style hotel is set amongst tall trees and tropical gardens. It is a beautiful morning and we pick an outdoor table overlooking the sea on the beach restaurant terrace.This becomes our base for the day.

Between excursions to the beach we have a salad and paella lunch piled high on our plates. We queue for large glasses of hot tea. No one is in a hurry, this is Tarifa. You will get your food and drink. At some point the magic of the clean Atlantic waters, the white sands and surrounding hills will wash over you.

On the way home we drive slowly, it has been a perfect weekend. As we climb back over the straits the whisking sails fade into the distance behind us. The enormous blades of the windmills are still turning. Across the straits we can see the flat roofed houses on the African shores. The peace of Tarifa stays with us long after we enter the sprawl of the Costa del Sol.

PS: You can now do online bus ticket reservations from the Costa del Sol to Cadiz using the gomarbella reservation system.

Sunday, 11 March 2007

Madrid Bombings March 2004

The King and Queen of Spain today inaugurated this monument in front of the Atocha railway station in Madrid, to mark the third anniversary of the 11th March 2004 Islamic terrorist attacks on the regional trains in the capital. 192 victims lost their lives and nearly 2000 others were injured in the 10 bombings on different trains in the vicinity.

Situated at the confluence of the Paseo de la Infanta Isabel, Avenida de la Ciudad de Barcelona and Calle Alfonso XII, the monument stands 11 metres high and is made of glass pieces which required special treatment to withstand the changes of temperature in the capital.

A transparent membrane suspended across the interior reflects different messages of condolences written in different languages, selected from amongst the thousands of tributes received after the bombings. Depending on the position of the sun during the day and at different times of the year, rays of sunlight project and show a different message on the membrane.

During that terrible day three years ago and for the week following I was too intent on following the tragedy on the national television and in the papers to notice that the statistics on visits to the webcam page from all over the world had soared off the scale. Belatedly I apologize to readers for not updating the page during that week and thank them for their concern for the victims and families of Spain’s worst terrorist attack ever.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

US tanks heard on Costa del Sol

OK so the APC is not actually in Spain but I did take the picture myself in Fallbrook, San Diego in California last September. I am fascinated by anything military and just had to (digitally) capture the rumbling armoured personnel carrier.

Fallbrook is in the canyons of what the locals call Avocado County above the massive Camp Pendleton marine base. Flares at night and the day long thudding of the enormous troop carrying choppers mark the rhythm of marine training programmes. The more activity you hear in the canyons, the closer we are to increased US military intervention somewhere else in the world.

The closest I’ve been to a US war machine in action was in Marbella on the very last night of the first Gulf war. The enormous B52 bomber appeared to be flying low out to sea. It was gigantic, so impressively large and loud that even the family dog looked up at the silhouette thundering above us and blacking out the stars of the midnight sky.

If you draw a flight path from the US military base in Rota on the Bay of Cadiz towards Iraq, it passes over the Costa del Sol and then south of the Spanish Balearic Islands where the US bombers would pick up Spanish fighter escorts as far as the Gulf.

When the US war machines start to rumble more loudly than usual in the canyons of Fallbrook, it’s generally bad news for someone else somewhere else in the world. Spain is no exception. The Madrid train bombings on 11 March 2004, just three days before the last national elections caused the immediate overthrow of the Partido Popular government.

The Spanish electorate thought at the time that the bombings were punishment for the government’s unequivocal support for the USA in the second Gulf war. What the voters couldn’t know when they voted was that Osama Bin Laden had actually given instructions to the Moroccan Al Qaeda terrorists to reclaim Andalucía for Islam, three years before.

It is true that any water irrigation channel on the dry slopes of the south is probably a relic of the Moor’s occupation of the Iberian Peninsula 600 years ago and it is also often said that the southerners are so friendly because they have been invaded so often! Andalucía is a really fantastic place to visit, learn Spanish, absorb the culture, live and work or build your dream castle, but remember you are doing it on a historic battleground.

While the ownership of Andalucía remains in dispute, maybe it is comforting that we can still hear an occasional familiar deep rumble reaching our shores.

Thursday, 1 March 2007

Hen Party in Puerto Banus

It’s great to be a web master on gomarbella, getting to meet interesting people online and sometimes being able to help with their travels and adventures on the Costa del Sol.

In the photo you are looking at a hen party in full swing in Puerto Banus last month. From left to right meet Sheena Patel, Sonal Patel, Leena Patel (bottom left), Rakhee Somani & Rav Sura

When methodical organizer Sheena contacted Gomarbella for some travel suggestions I never thought we would end up with a great online testimonial.

"Thanks for all your help and advice Mike. You saved me the time and effort and made things a lot easier for our short stay in Marbella. We had a fantastic time, even in the rain. We used your advice to take a taxi to Puerto Banus from our Hotel and it only cost just over 5 euros, we could have walked as it wasn't far but didn't want our hair wet! The drinks, food and people were great. We are definitely planning on coming back when it’s warmer and the sun’s out. Again thank you very much."

Sheena and her group came out to Puerto Banus at the beginning of February, it was a wet weekend but they had lots of fun. She then went on to organize another Hen party in London for those who couldn’t make it out to Spain and right now will be organizing her sister´s wedding for April. With Sheena in charge it is going to be a big success.

It all started when Sheena wrote to Gomarbella: "I have arranged a Hen weekend for my sister on the weekend of Friday 2nd to Sunday 4th Feb. We are landing at Malaga airport and our hotel is the H10 Andalucia Plaza Hotel in Nueva Andalucia near Puerto Banus. Would you please advise me on the best way to get to the hotel. There are 7 of us in total. I have had a look at taxis to Marbella but the cost was around € 90 per taxi. We are landing at Malaga airport at 11.10am. I also found the direct airport bus to Marbella but wanted to know how far the hotel is from there and how we get there. Also how long it will take on the bus? I would appreciate it if you could get back to me."

I wrote back to Sheena: "I would recommend going in the special Malaga Airport to Marbella Bus Station shuttle bus. The cost for each person would be about €3.91 It takes exactly 45 minutes.

Then from the Marbella bus station you can cheerfully go by taxi to the Hotel Andalucia Plaza it is a short taxi ride, about 10 to 15 minutes depending on the traffic and should be around €12 per taxi, you will need two taxis. With all the money you will have saved by using the excellent bus service, you can arrive at the hotel in comfort and style and you won't even notice the cost.

Check out this page for the Malaga Airport to Marbella bus timings, you should use the third column from the left and if your plane arrives on time your bus will be the 12 midday bus to Marbella.

Andalucía Plaza is a great base for your Hen weekend. There is an underpass from the hotel to the other side of the very busy CN 340 road. Use that if you feel like a walk in the early evening to Puerto Banus but get a taxi back."

Sheena wrote back: "Thanks for your help Mike, it will really save us the bother and time of searching how to get to the hotel when we get there. Just another little question, are there many people about in bars and clubs this time of year? Also is it really expensive there? Oh and what’s the weather like? Thanks a lot for your help, I will send you a couple of pics when we're back"

I wrote to Sheena: "Right now the weather is cold 12º - 15º but it has been warm all this winter so far so I am sure it will warm up for your visit.

Cost wise, drinks can be expensive in Puerto Banus, but still cheaper than the UK and you get double the quantity! The trick is to find a cheap bar in the port, top up there and then move on to the glittering places like the discos and nightclubs. Earlier on in the evening you can have a good pizza in Cristian’s in the port, very reasonable and elegantly served and then move on. My daughter Tarryn is visiting from London right now and she is a veteran of Puerto Banus. I’ll ask her for some suggestions."

Tarryn wrote to Sheena: "Hi Sheena, February is still quite a quiet time in Puerto Banus so generally people who are going out, head for the bars that are full of people. As my friend who's out a lot there, said "You can’t really go wrong at all because there are lots of bars to go to".

Here are a couple of names of bars to ask for when you are over; Terra Blues, second line back from the boats is a pretty chilled bar and not too posh really. Havana towards the far end of the port from where you will come in has music and dancing. Seven, second line again right down the end of the port if you start at Sinatras side. Scantily clad girls dancing but quite glam. Artusa is a good Italian restaurant for dinner and so is Picasso, (cheaper and good for a group)

Good idea to go along during the day for a walkabout and you will see the bars. You have to have a good look as a lot of the good bars are on what we call the second line. Plenty of guys outside handing out tickets to have drinks to get you into their bars.

Puerto Banus if you have been there before is pretty glam and everything still starts pretty late so dinner at 9 or 10pm is a good time to start then do the bars after that and night clubs last. Don’t expect too much to happen before 10pm

Night clubs to go to are Olivia Valere and Dreamers which are out of the port, but you will need a taxi there. Still all pretty quiet here in Feb but I'm sure you guys will make the party! Have fun! Tarryn"

Gomarbella wishes the bridal couple a long and happy life together!

Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Día de Andalucia 28th February

The 28th of February every year is a holiday throughout Malaga, Cadiz, Huelva, Seville, Cordoba, Almeria and Granada to celebrate Día de Andalucía. The eight provinces which make up the autonomous region in the south of Spain known as Andalucía were given recognition of their historical identity and right to self government in a referendum on the 28 February 1980.

Information in Spain is unusually factual and so I have to tell you that Andalucía has a total population of 7.849.799 persons. You might also like to know that men have an average life expectancy of 75 and that of women is 82. There are 9 state universities, 2 304 kms of highways and national roads and 4 international airports. (I am not sure why the women live longer than the men given the amount of time the men spend sitting in bars or parks whilst the good women work at home.)

Rather than spend a quiet day at home reflecting on 25 years of self government, the whole of Andalucía was out celebrating. Actually down here we celebrate any holiday that comes up. This is a part of Europe where a gathering of people, food and drink add up to a party. It can take a northern European years to understand the spontaneity of a celebration in the south of Spain.

Today was no different, a glorious sunny day on the Costa del Sol, the beach restaurants were packed. The chiringuito we were going to for lunch was full so rather than wait we walked along the edge of the sea for about 200metres to the next one and after a few minutes were shown to a table inside.

Sitting at the other tables on the beachside terrace were both foreigners and Spanish tucking into paellas, fried fish washed down with cold beers and wine. The fish was fresh, fried calamares, prawns in hot garlic oil, monkfish, salads and cold drinks. It was good to be together and the weather was glorious, just like early May and definitely not what you would expect of the last day in February.

Strolling back on the beach at around 4.30pm, there was no one actually braving the cold Mediterranean sea but plenty of folk were still in their bikinis and costumes soaking up the last warm rays of the 25th Día de Andalucía.

Sunday, 25 February 2007

Emma Webb Salsa Dance Teacher

Keeping the salsa dance scene hot and spìcy on the Costa del Sol is top salsa dance teacher Emma Webb.

London Wasps rugby team fan, Emma, pictured right at a big game back in the UK kindly took a few minutes off from her busy daily schedule for an interview with gomarbella.

Gomarbella: Emma, how long have you lived on the Costa del Sol and why did you come here?
Emma: I arrived in Spain in October 2000. I came here as a holiday rep for JMC. I had just completed a summer season in Turkey and was transferred here. I liked Marbella so much that for another 3 years I declined all offers of a relocation. Unfortunately, I then got glandular fever and had to return to the UK. However during my recovery, my Mother sold her house and decided to move to Marbella. So, I came back here with her! We then decided to buy Bar Cheers, in Cortijo Blanco San Pedro and have been there ever since.

Gomarbella: What do you like most about living on the Coast?
Emma: Mainly the weather! Although I never have the patience to build-up a suntan, I love being able to swim daily in the summer. Also the people, everyone is friendlier here and you can start conversations easily with strangers! The last time I was in the UK and tried to strike up conversations with people I found that they were so reserved!

Gomarbella: What do you like least about living here?
Emma: The fact that it would be a complete waste of time buying a season ticket for the best team in the world 'London Wasps'!

Gomarbella: What do you do in your spare time Emma?
Emma: I go out dancing and socialising with all the friends that I am lucky to have met over the years! Also, as owning a bar is such a sociable job, I enjoy simple nights at home in front of the TV! I would love to have more time, to visit different parts of Spain and explore surrounding areas.

Gomarbella: How did you start teaching salsa?
Emma: Around two and a half years ago, I decided that I wanted to learn Salsa, I found a teacher named Gary, who at the time was looking for a venue in San Pedro, so I offered him the bar and it went from there.... A year ago, once I could be taught no more, Gary passed his beginners class to me. He then relocated to the UK so I had an opportunity to teach all levels, without stepping on the toes of the guy that had taught me in the first place!

Gomarbella: What gives you the most satisfaction as a salsa teacher?
Emma: I love watching my students grow. It is great to dance with a student that I have taught, it makes me proud!

Gomarbella: Why do people take up salsa?
Emma: People take up salsa for many reasons. Some for exercise, when you are dancing advanced levels of salsa you burn 600 calories an hour! It is also a great way of meeting people. We have a dance night at the bar, on the first Friday of every month and we have regular nights out together. It is like stepping into an already made group of friends. Once you are able to dance, it is a great feeling! You can find my dance classes on the gomarbella salsa page

Gomarbella: How long do you think it takes a man to learn salsa?
Emma: Within a few months a guy can learn enough, to confidently dance basic salsa, then it is just a case of adding moves to his repertoire!

Gomarbella: Is it easier for a man or a woman to learn salsa?
Emma: Men are the leaders and women are the followers in salsa, so the men have to learn the moves and the hand signals that go with them, but most importantly they have to remember everything! The women just have to know the moves and recognise the signals.

Gomarbella: Where are the best places on the Coast to dance'
Emma: I would recommend Milonga in Estepona, Havana Bar in Marbella, Ranchon Cubano in the Summer, Disco Kiu's latin room and El Picaro de la Habana in Plaza Mayor Malaga.

Gomarbella: What suggestions do you have for salseros coming out to the Coast on holiday Emma?
Emma: Just e-mail me your details and I'll keep you in touch with where to go whilst you're here!

Gomarbella: What do you do when you are not teaching salsa?
Emma: Run the bar!

Gomarbella: Where would you like to be in a year's time
Emma: At the moment I teach in San Pedro and Calahonda. In a year's time I would like to be successfully teaching salsa full-time up and down the coast.

Gomarbella: Thank you very much Emma and good luck!

Update: 9/10/10, Emma is no longer teaching salsa, she has moved on but if you would like an idea of where to dance salsa, check through to the Gomarbella Salsa page.

Sunday, 18 February 2007

Cambridge Exams in Marbella

More than 50 English teachers from local school and language academies attended a University of Cambridge ESOL seminar on the Young Learners Examination suite. Aloha College Marbella which hosted the meeting is the main venue for the English language examinations on the Costa del Sol.

Pictured are a group of teachers looking at the latest textbook and resources on display and available from the Cambridge publishing group.

Local Secretary for the Marbella Cambridge ESOL exams, Richard Hayes explained that the Young Learners Examinations are designed for children from 7 through to 12 who are not native speakers of English. He revealed that the exams are growing in popularity world wide and already account for 25% of the Cambridge ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages) examinations in Spain.

More than 500 students on the Costa del Sol take one of the University of Cambridge English exams every year from YLE through to Proficiency of English at the highest level, where native English speaker level is expected. Most universities in Europe will give credits to students who have passed a Cambridge English exam, some from the Preliminary English Exam (PET) upwards.

Parents, students, schools, language academies in need of information, books, resources and advice on preparing students for Cambridge English exams are invited to contact the local examinations group.

Saturday, 10 February 2007

Easyjet from Malaga Airport

Juggling a jacket, car keys, watch, laptop, loose change and a belt and showing a boarding card all at the same time at the airport security scanner is about the hardest part of the Easyjet flights from Malaga airport.

London’s big draw is our 13 month old grandson Sam whose bedtime lullaby includes thanks for all that we have and enjoy. Whenever I take over this happy routine be it here in London or back home in Marbella, I always include a little song of praise for Easyjet for making it possible for us all to be together so often.

Before leaving yesterday on this trip I checked into my Easyjet online account and for €7.50 one way added an extra piece of hold luggage. It was a bookshelf which I had made for Sam. Sure enough it showed up on the screen at check-in. With a big “Fragile” sticker on it, we were through in record time.

Back at the beginning of 80s, well before the internet, the words "cheap flights" didn’t exist in the vocabulary of travel agents in Spain. Not many of us on the coast at that time had much money either so we worked out our own way of getting low cost flights to London. Needless to say it fitted in very well with the easygoing lifestyle on the Coast.

We would go down to Palms Beach Bar in the Marbella Puerto Deportivo. “Got any good tickets to London for me John?” Looking up at a row of charter airline tickets clipped to a line behind the bar with clothes pegs, John would check available dates. “Here’s one for a male passenger leaving this Friday. The guy wants 5000 pesetas for it.”

What we were actually buying was the return leg of someone else’s ticket to the UK. The charter airlines had to sell return tickets originating in Britain and a charter ticket was the cheapest way for holiday makers to get out to Spain. It often happened that travellers would fall in love with the Coast and simply decide not to go back home. To try to get some money back on the return flight they would leave the unused return ticket at the local English bar for a quick sale.

You have to remember that this was 20 years before 9/11. In those days at check-in you just showed your ticket. At immigration you just showed your passport. As long as you travelled on a ticket which corresponded to your gender you would board. It was Monarch Airlines who led the way in notching up security by introducing periodic checks at check-in to see if names on both ticket and passport corresponded.

A careful traveller I preferred to pay the extra 1.000 pesetas, about 6 euros now, for the original ticket holder to come with me to Málaga airport. He would check himself and my suitcase in, showing his passport which of course corresponded to the name on his ticket. Huddling to one side he would then hand me the boarding card in his name, I would press cash into his hand, take the boarding card from him and go through passport control where they would look only at my passport.

Coming home meant a scan of the Daily Mail last minute travel ads followed by a same day visit to a Soho based London bucket seat flight operator. With a round ticket in my name I would fly home ready to face any pre-flight spot checks. No sooner home I would pop down to Palms and John would peg my ticket up on the line to sell to some other needy traveller. A Mediterranean beachside bar is always seductive and a couple of ice cold San Miguel beers to complete the deal were as much a pleasure then as they are now.

The snows in England last night meant a 2am last plane landing at Gatwick. As we trudged silently along deserted walkways in the South Terminal building towards passport control I caught a glimpse of our Easyjet plane out on the frozen runway. It had brought us yet again safely to London.

Waiting for the first 3.05am train out of Gatwick to Victoria I thought about the two hours of sleep that we might get before Sam woke to find us. I decided that I did actually prefer the brilliant splash of orange along the side of the Easyjet planes and its internet booking system to choosing an airline ticket off a clothes line.

“He loves us all he really does
And Easyjet gives us a buzz

Good morning Sam!”

PS: Booking tickets is now a little more modern and you can now do online bus ticket reservations through the gomarbella reservation system!

Update: 8/10/10 actually I have gone off Easyjet for the moment. I prefer Aer Lingus, the ground staff are pleasanter than Easyjet regarding luggage and the cabin staff are excellent. Try it if you haven't flown Aer Lingus before.

PPS Sam is nearly five years old now and has a sister Megan, nearly two. We go across to London at leat once a month to see them.

Sunday, 4 February 2007

The Costa del Sol Hospital

I've just come back from a Sunday morning visit to a friend in the large Costa del Sol Hospital. Seven kilometres out of Marbella towards Fuengirola just in front of the Los Monteros Urbanization where Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffiths have their home on the coast, the regional hospital is a prominent landmark.

27 years ago when we first arrived in Spain to make a similar hospital visit we would have made a hazardous two hour journey to the Hospital Civil in Málaga. Our little Seat 850 would wind its way along the narrow coastal road passing through the very centre of Fuengirola past the bus station, over the Los Boliches bridge, negotiating the two lane road which wound tortuously around the cliff top curves before reaching Torremolinos with its English Pub signs offering Full English Breakfasts. Passing the very foot of the airport runway we would search for the hospital in the labyrinth of roads of 1980 Málaga. That was Spain then. Now we have a super fast road system and the ultra modern Costa del Sol regional hospital is right on our doorstep and served several times every day by the Costa del Sol bus service.

Our friend was on the second floor where the short term trauma patients stay. Sunday hospital visiting is big in Spain with nearly every two bedded room crowded with visiting family and friends in their smart Sunday outfits. With every day visiting hours until 9.30pm in the Costa del Sol Regional Hospital, the Spanish medical system expects the patient’s family to play a full part in the care and recovery of patients. Pay cards for the TV system in each room are available from the dispenser in the lobby next to the lifts. Water is dispensed from slot machines on each floor. Newspapers, magazines and gifts are sold in the shop downstairs. All of this supposes that the patient is mobile, or has a member of family on hand all day and if needed, sleeping overnight in the upright chair in the room. Don’t hang back in with supplementary care or lengthy visits to your bedridden friends or relatives, the hospital expects it.

Brilliant marble floor tiles reflect the light in the large cool entrance area and passages. On the way to the room we passed one of the open plan ward stations. Four nurses male and female were on duty. Two sides were open to the public. It looked purposeful and organized. Looking up as we neared we asked for our friend’s room and one of the nurses gave us her room number without consulting a list. The visiting room for family to meet mobile patients was airy and light and looked out towards the sea and the green links of the Santa Clara golf course. A young girl hooked up to her drip on a stand chatted comfortably to her friends.

The Costa del Sol hospital rooms are visited frequently. I asked the young woman cleaner how often the rooms were checked. “The rooms are cleaned once a day” she said, “And the bathrooms are cleaned once a day. Diapers are changed four times a day.” The older woman floor cleaner was off at 3pm and couldn’t wait. I asked her if she would be cleaning at home when she got home. “No!” she said putting both palms towards her face to indicate the need for rest, “I am going to sleep, then get myself made up and perhaps have a little walk in the evening” The bathroom, room, passages and lifts looked spotless to me.

A good looking young male doctor the very double of any star in a medical TV series breezed in. With a syringe poised at the ready he greeted my friend cheerily by her first name, asked her how she was, gave her an injection and was gone. Another young orderly leaving his laden food trolley outside, brought in a covered lunch tray, whisked off the insulated lid and moved briskly on to the next room. The food was hot and certainly looked and smelt appetizing; chicken soup, fish croquettes and hot chips with a side dish of paella. A fresh roll in a cellophane wrapper and an orange rounded off the meal. Exactly thirty minutes later another orderly popped in to remove the tray. No sooner had she gone than a member of the Costa del Sol’s excellent voluntary interpreters team called in to see if our friend needed any help or liaison with the medical staff. She was making a daily call on all the foreigners to make sure they lacked for nothing for the sake of language.

As the patient ate I read a colourful yet discreet sign on the wall outlining the rights of the sick in Andalucía from prompt admission and attention through to confidentially and full medical reports and records on discharge. Our friend certainly seemed to be receiving all the attention all she was entitled to.

The heavy rains from the night before had stopped and the sun was shining for the first time for some days when we walked back down to the car park. Dark clouds still hung over the Sierra Bermeja range of mountains which create the micro climate for which Marbella is so well known. The air was fresh and the car was pleasantly warm as we pulled back onto the busy CN 340 road.

Friday, 2 February 2007

Theft, fraud and deceit in Marbella

If you expected that a tale involving fraud and deceit on the Costa del Sol would feature luxury cars and corrupt politicians, you will certainly wonder what a dirty old Opel Corsa car abandoned on the Marbella streets is doing in the story. But first I must introduce you to a prominent player in our story.

This is the lucrative municipal tow truck business in Marbella. Park illegally for half an hour, the local police will phone the tow truck and bingo, your car is gone. You won’t get it back without a trip to the local Costa del Sol police station, close examination of the car’s documents, your documents and then a €95 payment to the tow truck company at the municipal car pound. The €150 fine from the Town Hall hits you later. It’s a great business to be in. To get the franchise for towing away vehicles in Marbella, all you have to do is keep the Mayor sweet. You will see how it is done later.

The story opens in France where an upmarket BMW X5 is stolen. The owner reports it missing to his insurance company and receives compensation. From France the scene shifts to the golden spires of Seville in Spain where the BMW X5 magically reappears and is sold to a Sevillano for an agreed price of €30 000. The new owner hands over a €12 000 deposit, takes possession of the vehicle and agrees to pay the balance when he receives the car’s papers.

Did you really think that the car’s papers would ever appear? Of course not! You wouldn’t fall for this age old scam would you? When the new owner realizes he is in possession of a car with no papers, he naturally reports the facts to the Guardia Civil only to be told he has bought a stolen car with false plates. Curiously enough he is allowed to use the vehicle but not sell it.

Let’s move on again to the jet set resorts on the Costa del Sol where the bargain price €12 000 BMW X5 pops up with a friend of the new owner at the wheel. The hardworking local police stop the vehicle and book the friend for drink driving. The tow truck takes the car to the municipal car pound under the Marbella football stadium. Did I mention that the tow truck company operates the municipal car pound?

Behind the scenes, the French insurance company which has paid compensation to the first owner is now the technical owner of the luxury vehicle and their representative arrives in Marbella to claim the vehicle. He finds not only the unconfirmed second owner of the car but his drink driving friend also desperately trying to recover the BMW X5.

Faced with three claimants for the car, what does the car pound do? They auction the BMW X5. Nobody in Marbella hears about the auction and so with no offers for the car, instead of returning it to one of its rightful owners, they give the stolen car which still has no papers, to the Mayoress of Marbella, Marisol Yagüe for her personal use. (This is the Costa del Sol, remember.)

Unfortunately for Marisol, the Operation Malaya corruption scandal investigators have had the Marbella tow truck company under scrutiny for similar four wheeled favours given to the previous Mayor of Marbella Jesus Gil and other Marbella Town Hall town counsellors. The car is seized by the investigators and Marisol Yagüe who is already in prison, faces further questioning as to how the stolen luxury car, impounded by the local Marbella police ends up her possession.

Our serpentine tale of theft, fraud, bribery and greed has almost reached an end. So where does the sad Opel Corsa pictured above fit in?

In short, the Marbella tow truck company is not interested in moving an abandoned vehicle for which they are unlikely to receiving towing costs. The Marbella Town Hall itself has no money following the sustained theft of municipal money by corrupt politicians. And it is also highly unlikely that any of the present counsellors in the squeaky clean team judicially managing the Marbella Town Hall until the elections later this year would now accept a bribe of a well used Opel car.

But check back here in a couple of weeks and I’ll tell you if the Town Hall, or the municipal police or the Marbella tow truck company can get their act together and move the car along.

Update: 8/11/2008 The new mayoress Maria Angeles Muñoz has thrown out the tow truck company and clamped down on the fraud and theft that was taking place at the highest levels in the Marbella Town Hall.

The car in the picture got towed away a couple of months after the blog was published. Be careful about where you park in Marbella though. Read the comment from an unhappy reader below.

If you have any questions about visiting Marbella, don't hesitate to contact me using the comments box below.

Update 8/10/10, Everything is done very much above board now in Marbella. I would say things are squeaky clean in fact. The Mayoress Maria Angeles will be voted back in comfortably at the end of her first four year term.

Sunday, 21 January 2007

Natalie Syme Tennis Champion

10 year old Natalie lives on the Costa del Sol with her mother and father Audrey and Colin Syme. In April last year she started a rigorous morning and afternoon tennis training regime with coach Daniel Marco at the Marco Tennis Academy in Elviria, near the Don Carlos hotel in Marbella.

Three times a week Natalie works out with a fitness instructor who does conditioning with the other young players at the club as well as other older tennis players and football teams on the Costa del Sol. Her schedule also includes time with her Dad who just loves to be on the court with Natalie, hitting balls and giving her extra serving practice and returns. Natalie’s Mum also plays her part helping with mind skills, setting short-term and long-term goals and positive thinking.

Asked about what she liked best about living in Spain, Natalie replied “The weather.” On the downside? “The people drive dangerously and don’t smile in the shops.”

Patriotic Natalie remembers her home town Dundee in Scotland fondly, “Yes, I miss the streets, the weather, I like the rain in Dundee and I miss my family.”

Competing locally in Spain and regularly taking part in tennis coaching clinics in Scotland and Britain Natalie frequently travels into Europe to participate in tournaments. Natalie is monitored by Tennis Scotland, where she is invited back for clinics at Gannochy Tennis Centre in Stirling, Scotland, the Scottish National Tennis Centre and sometimes other LTA tennis academies in the UK like the Nottingham Tennis Academy and the Loughborough Tennis Academy.

Her latest triumph includes being selected to play for the Scotland Under 12 team against Norway in the Holmen’s Tennis Tournament in Oslo on March 8th this year

Ex-professional coach Daniel Marco thinks Natalie has benefited from full-time training, starting in the morning when she is fresh and focused. Natalie herself said recently that there is nothing better she likes than getting up in the morning to play tennis.

As if Natalie’s day wasn’t demanding enough, she also fits in a daily two hour morning school work session at Angela’s School in Marbella, a small teaching centre which specializes in schooling continuity for students studying away from home and intensive English teaching for foreign students entering the international schools on the Costa del Sol.

Highly experienced teacher Angela says that Natalie approaches her school lessons in maths and English with an unusual determination and focus for someone of her age. If she brings the same attitude to bear on the tennis court, there is no doubt that she is going to go far.

How far does Natalie want to go? “I would like to play in the US Open.” replies Natalie simply.

Sunday, 14 January 2007

Picking Olives in Andalucia

Wood smoke drifted across the El Buho olive grove in the hills above Monda off the Costa del Sol this morning as we arrived. Our fellow workers were already hard at work. Teresa Lluansi, owner of the finca pointed us to our first olive tree and we set to work.

Spreading green netting round the base of the tree to catch the falling olives we beat the olive tree branches with staves as the ripe olives plopped onto the ground. Higher up the slope we could hear the rhythmic swish of sticks as our workmates invisible amongst the 250 year old trees alternately shook and beat the branches dripping with olives. Our eyes sharpened to distinguish the black fruit amongst the foliage and our fingers grew defter as we plucked the olives dropping them into our baskets before filling hessian sacks with the precious harvest. Incredibly in mid January high above the Costa del Sol in southern Andalucía the temperature was superb and we were soon in shirtsleeves as we systematically stripped our trees.

The fragrance of coffee prepared on a wood fire burning olive wood cuttings drew us together to compare notes on the colour of the olives picked from the trees and gathered from the ground. All of us appreciated the magic of the olive, and the golden liquid that it would yield and which would flow from the fruit that we held in our hands. We were all devotees of pan Catalán, two halves of a toasted whole meal roll with a smear of fresh tomato juice on each half and our precious olive oil dripped onto the warm bread.

Climbing the trees to hand pick the highest olives was an exhilarating experience. Looking out from between the tree tops over the rolling Sierra de las Nieves mountains towards the white villages of Tolox and Yunquera the olives fell steadily away from the branches into the basket pulled high into the tree. Lunch followed all too soon, delicious fresh salad with avocado and mustard dressing and olive oil of course with rice and barbecued chicken all cooked over the bed of coals. Home made apple pie with coffee to round off. Food is a vital part of any day in the country in Andalucía and we followed tradition to the letter.

Now slightly stiff after our open air lunch we loaded up the 10 sacks of olives we had picked and set off for the co-operative olive mill below us in Monda. The conveyor belts were silent, a roller bearing had broken and even as we waited a stream of pick ups, family cars and trucks arrived at the end of the day, all bearing their precious cargo to be pressed into the olive oil that has made Andalucía famous as an olive producing area. Our harvest this year would be pressed along with the other sacks brought in today. Five different varieties of olive go into the making of the cold pressed virgin olive oil from the Mudéjar mill in Monda giving the oil a slightly sweeter and highly palatable taste compared to the more acidic olive oils from the Cordoba and Jaen grove to the north of the Málaga province.

If you would like to join Teresa for the full experience of picking olives on her finca one weekend during the olive picking season between October and January of each year, write in to gomarbella using the comment form below the blog. See you there!

Friday, 5 January 2007

Kings Day in Spain

The Fiesta de los Reyes on the 5th of January every year is celebrated all over Spain. This is the evening before Kings Day when the three kings of Orient bring their Christmas presents to the children.

Three men dress up as the kings, one with a black face, and ride through the town in a procession, with excited children accompanying them on the floats and scattering sweets to their friends enviously watching from the pavement.

The processions form up in a side street in every town and village on the Costa del Sol before setting off around 6pm with crowds lining the route. After every sweet has been picked up everybody goes home for a formal family evening meal before opening their presents from the Three Kings.

The better the children have been during the year, the more presents they get from the Three Kings. It’s a great spectacle and well worth taking the children along to see.

Best of all the 6th of January, Kings Day, is a public holiday all over Spain and sometimes the next day is as well to give the children time to play with their presents. Come to Spain if you like lots of holidays!