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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!