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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.