La Manga 2014 – 15

December to end of January 2015

After Christmas, we continued to train for the races we had entered and Mel managed to get out windsurfing on a couple of occasions. Most days were sunny and dry with little wind but the nights and early mornings were cold so we didn’t feel the need to get up early to run! On New Year’s Eve we ran a 5.2km race in Cartagena at 5.30.pm – the 33rd San Silvestre race. There were a lot of runners, many in fancy dress; the route started in the centre of the town, winding through the narrow streets and ending back in the square in front of the town hall. We both achieved second place in our age category and we stayed for the presentations to receive our third trophies in Spain this year. Afterwards we drove to Chris and Gaynor’s place in El Escobar to spend a very pleasant evening with them and Derek & Anne. We stayed the night and came back to La Manga the next day.

On Friday 2nd January we went to the campsite restaurant with Chris & Gaynor, Derek & Anne and Trevor & Sue (our neighbours). Trevor and Sue would be leaving La Manga the following week so the evening was a farewell get together for them.

On Saturday 3rd January Mel went to Calblanque with Chris to do some windsurfing on the open sea. They enjoyed a good session on the water and windsurfing in different conditions to Mar Menor.

On Wednesday 7th January we went to our first Bridge lesson with Martin from the Netherlands. We don’t really play cards and although I have tried Bridge before many years ago I don’t remember much about it so we are beginners. Some people in the group are there to improve so it is quite a mixed ability group. Martin is trying to cater for all of us and moves swiftly on with the lessons and it is quite a challenge. We will stick with it and hopefully get to a stage where we can play with others and begin to get into the strategies and protocols. The lessons will continue every Wednesday until we leave in February.

We have enjoyed getting around in the hire car and have extended the period of the rental until we leave La Manga. We have been to Paddy Singh’s again, visited Los Alcazares, La Union and Cartagena and done the shopping etc easily. On Wednesday 14th January we went over to Chris and Gaynor’s again with Derek & Anne and Keith & Zena and we all went to Puerto de Mazarron to have a meal at The Wok Chinese Buffet restaurant there. The food was excellent and we had a great evening with our friends. We stayed at Chris & Gaynor’s and drove back the next day.

On Saturday 17th January we drove to La Marina near Santa Pola and met up with Ed & Caz who we know from skiing in Bourg St Maurice last year. They are staying not far away with family and will be arriving in Bourg this year on the same date as us (February 26th). It was good to have a brief catch up with them at the hotel where we were staying overnight before the Santa Pola Half Marathon on Sunday 18th January.

In the afternoon we went into Santa Pola to collect our race numbers and check out the lay out for the race. There was a running fair in a marquee inside the castle where we collected our numbers with chips attached, t-shirts and packets of chicken soup and salt! Yes – salt – desalinating salt water is a major business in Santa Pola! It is also a very nice seaside town and we enjoyed walking around and having lunch on the seafront. We went back to the hotel (Hotel Montemar in La Marina) and had a rest before going out to in the evening in search of pasta! We found an Italian restaurant run by Germans with mostly British customers in a near by urbanisation! We enjoyed a good helping of pasta to set us up for the race tomorrow.

We got up at 7am on the Sunday and after breakfast in the hotel we drove into Santa Pola, parking easily close to the centre. It was very cold but dry and not much wind. We had a coffee and then headed for the marquee where we could leave our bags. We met another English runner, Des who had flown from the UK for the race and was going back later that day. Mel & Des headed for the ‘blue’ start and I went off to the ‘pink’ start further back in the field. There were a lot of runners (over 8000) and it took five minutes to get over the start line (for me). The first 5km were very slow as the streets were narrow and a lot of runners started in the wrong place. The sun came out and much of the race was along the sea front so it was very pleasant but neither of us achieved the times we had hoped for. Mel did 1 hour 34 minutes and I did 2 hours so no prizes this time. We went back to the hotel and had showers before driving back to La Manga.

Mel started with a cold and cough the week before we were due to run our last race in Spain for this year, a 10k in Los Dolores, Murcia on Sunday 25th January. This race was as well organised as all the others we had done – chip timed, well filled goodie-bag, good support form the locals, roads closed and monitored by the police, free food and drinks post race and trophies for 1st, 2nd and 3rd in each age category (although our vet category was 50+) and overall. Mel struggled to do his best due to his cold, completing it in 43 minutes 24 seconds and I finished in 52 minutes 16 seconds, which meant I was first FV50. The presentations started soon after the race finished and as usual the podiums were there and this time I was on the highest one!

On the way back we stopped off at Paddy Singh’s for a roast Sunday dinner which was very nice and meant we didn’t have to cook when we got back. We have completed five races this year in Spain and have thoroughly enjoyed the experiences which I’m sure we will repeat next year.

Christmas at Chris & Gaynor’s house, 2014

Chris and Gaynor Andrews very kindly invited us to their house in El Escobar to spend Christmas with them along with Derek & Anne and Keith & Zena. On Christmas Eve, we drove to their place with Derek & Anne arriving shortly after 3pm. It was a lovely day, warm, sunny, blue sky, no wind and as we pulled up Chris and Gaynor were on their roof terrace welcoming us to their abode! They have a lovely house with four studio apartments attached around a central area with a swimming pool. It is a fabulous location in a village with views all around and not far from Fuente Alamo and the main route to Murcia, about 40 miles from La Manga. We randomly chose our apartment and we had number 3, a large studio with a double bed, kitchenette and shower room all fully kitted out. After settling in we were given a guided tour of the house, bar, terrace, barbecue area and rooms – it has everything you could want. We then had a walk around the village which is a typical Spanish village – quiet, with a school, bar and community centre. We were also introduced to the horse belonging to one of the villagers which Gaynor is able to ride.

When we got back we started to prepare the buffet meal for the evening. We had all contributed to the spread of food which was extensive even considering Derek’s reputation for finishing off all the food laid out (which he didn’t!). After having plenty to eat and drink we joined in a game of Jenga and had a fun time trying not to knock down the pile of bricks. We retired to bed about 11.30. pm, all tired and full but looking forward to Christmas Day.

It was a cold night, but we were cosy under our duvet with the heater on in our room. Mel and I got up at about 8am and went for a short run – it was very cold! When we got back we wished everyone ‘Merry Christmas” over a breakfast of cereals and croissants. Chris and Keith went to play golf at Fuente Alamo whilst the rest of us chilled out on the balcony in the sunshine. We had our instructions from Chris about what time we were to put the oven on and start to prepare the dinner; on schedule we all went off to do our bit. We were responsible for the ‘pigs in blankets’ and the stuffing, Anne & Derek were on mashed potato duty and Keith & Zena brussel sprouts and carrots. Chris and Gaynor were cooking the turkey, the Yorkshire puddings, broccoli and all the trimmings to go with the traditional Christmas dinner. It all went like clockwork and we sat down to eat just after 3pm. Chris and Gaynor had laid the table out in a very festive style in Apartment number 4 and we had a lovely Christmas dinner. After dinner, we retired to the main house and had a relaxing evening, watching a bit of TV and recovering from all the food we had managed to consume.

The following morning we had breakfast and left about 11am; Chris and Keith went to play golf again and Gaynor and Zena went for a walk. We got back to the campsite just in time to see the Boxing Day Charity swimmers wading into the water. It was a nice day again but it was cold; the swimmers were very brave!

We had thoroughly enjoyed our Christmas 2014; it was special to be with friends and to spend time at Chris and Gaynor’s lovely place.

Trip to Granada, December 16th – 19th 2014

granada-tourist-train-mapWe left La Manga at about 10am and had a good trip to Granada via Alhama de Murcia, Lorca, Baza and Guardix (N342, A92, A44, A395). The roads are so good and there is never very much traffic. We arrived at the Hotel Macia Real de la Alhambra (http://www.maciarealhotel.com) at about 2pm; it was very easy to get to as it was just off the ring road (A395). After checking in, we caught the bus from just outside the hotel into the city centre where we meandered for a while to get our bearings. The tourist information centre gave us some useful advice about the city and some maps before we made the return trip to the hotel by bus. It was cold outside so we were glad to get back to the hotel and Lesley had a bath, which was a luxury we don’t normally have at the campsite. We decided to eat at the hotel and had a nice meal in the restaurant, but we were the only ones in there!

On Wednesday we enjoyed the buffet breakfast in the hotel (a wide selection of hot and cold choices with coffee, fruit juices, fruit, pastries etc) and then went by taxi to the Alhambra (http://www.alhambradegranada.org). We picked up our pre-booked tickets and paid for the audio commentary and set off for the “Generalife” area. After looking around this part, we made our way to the Nasrid Palaces which our tickets gave us access to at 11am. Entry to the palaces is very strictly controlled so that not too many people are in there at the same time. The palaces are unique in style, reflecting both the Christian and Moslem influences on the architecture; they are amazingly well preserved and looked after, the intricacy of the carvings has to be seen to be believed. Water is a very key aspect of the design of the palaces and gardens and is a theme throughout; the scale is incredible covering a huge area at the top of the hill in Granada (built there for security). The throne rooms designed to impress certainly do that and the specific function areas e.g. the watch tower telling the people when to irrigate the land demonstrate how the community lived. The audio commentary was very helpful providing us with interesting and informative facts about the different areas.

We left the Alhambra at about 1pm and got on the city tourist train directly outside the palace (http://www.lovegranada.com/transport/granada-tourist-train/) – 8 Euros each. The ‘train’ offers a tour of the most important sights of the city and is designed to be able to travel along the narrow streets of the Albaicin (the old town). These trains are equipped with panoramic style roof and windows in the carriages to offer a better view of the city and they also have an audio system. We alighted at the Cathedral and had a look around inside. Granada Cathedral was built by Queen Isabella immediately after the conquest of Granada on the site of the Mosque. This cathedral is a masterpiece of Spanish Renaissance style.

We had lunch (Menu del Dia) in a small square (Plaza de Romanilla) next to the cathedral (10 Euros each) before getting back on the tourist train, returning to the Alhambra where we took a taxi back to the hotel. We booked to go to see Flamenco dancing in the evening through the hotel reception. We were picked up outside the hotel at 8pm and went by minibus to the Sacromonte area of the Albaicin. We were guided around part of the Sacromonte area and found out more about the gypsy population who have lived here for many years in houses that are built into the caves in the hillside. We were also able to get amazing night views of the Alhambra which was lit up making a very atmospheric vista.

The Flamenco show was held in a small cave with about twenty people in the audience, very intimate and cosy. There were three female dancers and one male, two guitarists and two singers and we were completely captivated by the performance. The dancing took place immediately in front of where we were sitting so we were drawn into the intensity and emotion with which the dancers performed. It was an extremely enjoyable experience, one which we would love to do again.

On Thursday (Lesley’s birthday) we drove up to the Sierra Nevada via the A395 to the ski resort of Prado Llano. It was a lovely drive on a sunny day, but it is uphill all the way and quite winding so would not be easy in the motor home. It took about 45 minutes and when we got there we had a bit of an exploration talking to the local tourist officer and also a member of the British Ski Centre based in one of the ski shops (http://www.britishskicenter.co.uk) before enjoying a coffee in the sun. Probably not the right place for us to ski as there is a limited range of slopes and access to them, plus nowhere to camp in the motor home.

After a rest back at the hotel we took a taxi to the Plaza Nueva and walked around the Albaicin area again. It was a cold evening and after a very nice tapas meal we took the taxi back to the hotel. On Friday morning, we left the hotel at about 10am and drove back to La Manga via the A92 to Gaudix but then took the road towards Tabernas. Westerns, such as ‘A Fistful of Dollars’, ‘For a few dollars more’, ‘The Good the Bad and the Ugly’, were all filmed here (not in Arizona!). Typical Western towns were built which you can still visit today and which are typical representations of the conquest of the American Wild West. We stopped in Tabernas for a coffee and then completed our journey back to La Manga, arriving at the campsite at about 3.30.pm. A thoroughly enjoyable trip which we would be happy to do again.

October 10th – December 8th 2014.

We arrived at the campsite in La Manga on Friday 10th October after a good journey from Bilbao, stopping on the way just north of Madrid at Pico de La Miel campsite (http://www.picodelamiel.com). The crossing from Portsmouth was rough this year and we didn’t get much sleep so we were tired and decided an overnight stop was the best plan. We arrived at La Manga about 3pm and started to set up on our usual pitch, PQ41. We hooked up to Derek & Anne’s satellite and the TV signal using their bigger dish has been working well. We are using a different Wi-Fi provider this year (Albacom) and this has been much more consistent and faster than last year. We have been able to download programmes from i-player, surf the net, receive and send emails and Face-Time the family very efficiently.

It always takes a few days to set up the pitch and to organise the windsurf trolley, sails and boards. We also collected the washing machine and Mel plumbed it in inside the tent so that we could do some washing. We started to run straight away as the weather was good and Isobel arrived a few days later so I arranged to have a weekly run with her the following week.

The weather was hot, sunny and dry for most of these first two months in La Manga, but not much wind so Mel hasn’t windsurfed very often so far this year. But we have done a lot of running and been on a few bike rides too. I also started to go to the Dance Fitness and Pilates classes lead by Paula on Monday 20th October and continued to do this for five weeks and then I decided to just go to the Pilates class and have a run first.

We started to go to Spanish lessons again with Delphine on Friday mornings. We enjoy her sessions, but we don’t feel we have made a lot of progress; we don’t get much chance to practice speaking Spanish. All our neighbours are German, Dutch, Swiss, Austrian, Belgian, English but not Spanish! We are not sure we will be carrying on doing the lessons in January.

We both increased our weekly running mileage and Mel did a lot of training on the hills leading up to doing the 14km race in Cartegena on Sunday 23rd November, Cross de La Artilleria. We had some difficulty trying to enter this race, but we were helped by Pili, the person in Cabo de Palos Tourist Information Centre. We both enjoyed the experience of our first Spanish race, there were a lot of people running and supporting. It was quite a challenge working out the organisation, where to start etc. We left soon after we finished but when we looked at the results, Mel had won his age category (in 61 minutes) and I was second in mine (78 minutes). We went back to see Pili to ask her how to get our trophies and she very kindly collected them for us and we went back a few days later to get them.

We went for fish & chips in the campsite restaurant with Derek & Anne a few times and started to go to the Tuesday night quiz with them. We weren’t very good and were either last or in the bottom three even after Trevor and Sue arrived and joined our team. Some people seem to be regular quiz goers; none of us are, but it is a fun evening! I have been running every Tuesday with Isobel who I ran with the last two years. It is good having someone to run with; it helps keep you motivated and it is more fun.

Before we left the UK, we booked a hire car (www.rentalcars.com) on the internet. After doing some research we managed to get a good price for three months hire (300 Euros) but we also decided to purchase ‘collision waver damage’ insurance in the UK as Martin Lewis advised (£180) so we wouldn’t have to buy it when we picked up the car (www.carhireexcess.com)

On Saturday 1st November, our friend John Dixon very kindly took us to San Janvier airport (about 35 minutes drive away) to pick the car up. It was completely straightforward and we drove away in a 4-door Opel Corsa with only 8000Km on the clock, a very nice clean car. We did a small detour on our way back to La Manga to explore the town of Torre Pacheco where we will be doing a half marathon race on December 14th. After some shopping in the Mercadona and Aldi supermarkets we drove back to the campsite.

Our first trip out was on the following Tuesday when it rained heavily all morning after a windy night. Derek and Anne came with us to the Parc Mediterraneo in Cartegena where we did some shopping and browsing around the shops there – Decathlon, Leroy Merlin and Carrefour etc. We bought a vacuum cleaner for the motor home!

It is very handy having the car to go shopping or to visit new places we haven’t been to before. Also, it has enabled us to enter a couple of races, the half marathon in Torre Pacheco as mentioned before and a 14Km race in Cartegena on Sunday 23rd November. Derek and Anne have also been able to do some shopping with us so that they don’t have to carry it all on their motorbike, like we have done in previous years.

On Sunday 16th November, we went out for lunch to a restaurant called Meson Galindo, which a friend recommended to us. It is in a village called La Puebla about 20 minutes away. We hadn’t booked a table, but they fitted us in at the back as we had arrived early enough but very soon the whole place filled up with mainly Spanish people. The food was very nice and reasonably priced, 10 Euros, 12 Euros or 15 Euros for a very substantial meal. (https://www.facebook.com/restaurantemesongalindo). We, hopefully, will be going there again.

We found the English butchers in Los Belones thanks to John telling us about it (http://www.missinglinks.biz). It is owned by Steph & Paul and they have a very good selection of meats, home made sausages, ham, gammon and pasties and pies. We do like to patronise Spanish shops, but there are some things they don’t do which we like e.g. the gammon, sausages and ham. They have been in Los Belones eight years and have a good business which is frequented by many of the Brits living locally, but also by local Spanish people. We have also been to the fish shop (pescaderia) in Los Belones where they are Spanish but very willing to help you choose your fish and prepare it for you.

It was Mel’s birthday on the 6th December and after starting the day with a run, he went windsurfing. It was a good day for it and he enjoyed having the right wind conditions for an enjoyable session on the water. In the evening we went to Paddy Singh’s restaurant in Los Urrutias and had a very tasty curry. (https://www.facebook.com/Paddysinghsrestaurant)

Mel’s back started to be painful again at the beginning of December, the same problem he had at the end of August in Greece. We have entered a half marathon race in Torre Pacheco on the 14th December so he needs to be OK to do that. He decided to go to a Physiotherapist called Fernando, he was recommended by Paula and is based at La Manga Club. We went to see him and Mel had a full hour’s session with him, getting treatment including ultrasound and electrotherapy. Hopefully, he will be OK for next Sunday’s race.

We have kept in touch with Laura, Caroline & Tom regularly through Face Time and What’s App. Laura has been busy as usual taking Ella to all the different activities she does – dancing, swimming etc. We missed Ella’s birthday party but saw the videos of her ‘Frozen’ party and also her dancing performance. Caroline is thoroughly enjoying her teacher training and is putting in a lot of hours into preparing her lessons but is getting very positive feedback. Tom has moved to a different apartment with Ellen in Kowloon and is training to be a sports coach which he is hoping to take up after Christmas when he finishes his current job.

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