We successfully completed on the house purchase on November 25th!! On the day it was relatively straight forward. The bank representative appeared to hand over the cheques, everything was read and signed, and we met the vendor who spoke perfect English. Trying to be mature and respectful I refrained from asking him out loud “How can you be worse at DIY than me?” or “Did you do the plastering in the dark?”
Selena’s father came to stay with us over this period so we managed to empty and clean the rented house in El Puig, clean and prepare the new house and, using a rental van, move everything into our new home. Thankfully the vendor had left plenty of furniture and a fridge freezer so we managed to live reasonably comfortably for those first few nights, with all of our main belongings still in the UK, having rented a furnished property since arriving in Spain. It turns out that the previous owner had bought the house fifteen years ago, but only lived there for two years, returning on occasion to check and work on it. Many of the houses here are used as summer retreats rather than permanent homes so it’s not unusual for them to remain unoccupied for long periods.
I remember seeing it for the first time when driving around the area and exploring. It looked quite grand with the double gates and a tiled staircase leading up to the terrace. I still think it looks grand but the reality is that the house is smaller than it looks. Because it is built on a deceptively steep hill the back of the house is on ground level, but the front is on the first floor, with a garage and storage underneath. This does provide a lovely terrace outside the front door with views to the sea that we adore, with glorious sunrises each morning, but inside the house is on one level with bedrooms along the right hand side and an open plan lounge and kitchen to the left, with one bathroom at the rear. With its aluminium sliding windows and layout it has the feeling of living in a caravan. There are electricity cables hanging from the ceiling and partially demolished walls within, where the previous owner abandoned his project, but it has an open fire, hot water and functioning kitchen appliances so we can cope.
There is a little bar just a few paces away and Mildred, the South American owner, has been incredibly friendly since our first visit. It’s open all day and also functions as a small shop so we can always get any basic provisions that we may need. It’s also a good opportunity to meet the neighbours and any tradesmen, and to practice our Spanish. I bumped into my neighbour Manolo yesterday, who has a yard of many ducks and geese, and he said that he had just been to church. ‘That’s strange’, I thought to myself, ‘I don’t know of a local church’, and when he saw my look of confusion he explained, with a smile, that that was his name for the bar.
Gradually we are beginning to make the place more homely. A lorry load of our belongings from England arrived last week so now we have our own furniture and even our Christmas tree. There is very little phone signal here so I have been working my way through various companies to try and get the internet installed. Four different companies have been to the house, climbing onto the roof and checking for signal from the local masts, but all four said it wasn’t possible due to the hills and pine trees. This was all taking time, making appointments, signing up for contracts and packages, only to be told it couldn’t be done when they came to the house, and we began to get very frustrated. How long can we cope without phone/internet/TV?! There’s a large part of me that has always thought that it would be quite nice to be cut off from the world in some ways, but the reality is rather different, especially with a four year old around. Eventually we signed up with Viasat, a worldwide satellite internet provider, and they were efficient and had us up and running within a day or two of contacting them. They even took me to the bar for breakfast. The only downside is that we now have a large, ugly satellite dish bolted to the front corner of the house, but it will see us through this first year.
Currently the only cause for concern (apart from the huge amount of work to do and money to spend!) is the nightly noise from the local dogs. I have travelled throughout Spain for many years and realise that many dogs are kept outside, or are free to roam, but haven’t experienced them in such close proximity. All of the visits I made to the house prior to purchase were by day or evening, when all has been peaceful, but once darkness falls all of the dogs seem to go berserk. It really is like trying to sleep in a caravan in the middle of Battersea Dogs Home. There seem to be one or two strays that wander around so if they are seen or heard by those within gardens / yards it sends the latter into a frenzy and the same applies if people or cats walk by. Earplugs, double glazing or poison. Those are the three options I think.
In other good news our trusty Fiat Doblo has been spending more time with Mario! The ITV (MOT) is due in January so I had arranged for him to check it over and put it through the test. Last week, after taking Selena and Lizzy to school, I delivered the car to him at 9am. I told him that the car was still making the same knocking noise that had plagued it since the beginning, despite Mario having ‘fixed it’. Two hours later I received a call and had to go back to the garage because he was in a slight panic about the airbag warning light being on. I explained to him that the light only came on after he had worked on the car previously and that he had told me it wasn’t important and not to worry about it. He gave me an astonished look. “Really? But we need to fix it for the test” “Well go on then Mario!” Foolishly I had thought he was ringing me to say that it was all done and it had been for the ITV and passed.
At 4.30pm I managed to get the car back so that I could go and collect the girls, only to be told I had to take it back next week as they hadn’t finished. So on Tuesday I took it back at 9am again, and wandered down to the beach to kill some time (rather than killing Mario). At 1pm he called and spoke about things I couldn’t understand but essentially I gathered that it required more work and wouldn’t be ready until 6.30pm! Selena and Lizzy therefore had to get the train from Puçol to El Puig and we waited around until 6.30. Selena was heading into the city for the evening so she managed to get a lift, while I once more dragged Lizzy to the garage. Surprise, surprise the car wasn’t ready as the parts had only just arrived so they were running late! I spent two more hours in the cold and dark entertaining a tired and hungry child who had left the house at 8.15 that morning, making sure that Mario didn’t lock up and go home as the garage was due to close at 7. Finally, at 8.30, the car was ready, to the tune of nearly 600 euros. The good news is that it feels like a new car! We’ll have to wait and see how the ITV goes in January.
I’ve always been something of a risk taker, or a ‘chancer’, and somewhat impulsive, and fortunately, throughout my life, more often than not I’ve landed on my feet. With cars however, I’ve not been so lucky, but that will teach me (again!). Hopefully the Fiat will remain trouble free for the next year or two and I will be seeking a recommended and reliable mechanic for the future, as much as I like Mario in a weird way. I voiced my displeasure as best as I could in my limited Spanish but ultimately there is one cultural difference that you cannot avoid. In England you make the appointment and the car is worked on and of course there are times when unforeseen circumstances cause delays. In Spain the mealtimes take priority. Even when it came to booking the ITV Mario’s assistant was clearly worried that it was going to impinge on his ‘almuerzo’ (a hearty brunch which is hugely popular here). Every morning there is a sign on the door ‘estamos almuerzando’ as they take their break. Then there’s the siesta (in this case the garage closes between 3-5) so before you know it the working day is decimated.
Such is life in Spain. No complaints, just some frustration, which is largely aimed at myself.
Next up is a trip back to England tomorrow, to spend time with friends and family for Christmas and New Year.
Happy holidays everybody. Feliz Navidad.
P.S. We don’t have a post box, or any way of receiving mail at the house yet. In January I have to go to the town hall to register as resident and rent a post box!