Friday, 22 January 2016

Life in the Extreme

If you have been directed here from another blog, please note my new blog can now be found here

Life in the extreme

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Life in the Extreme...............................a postcard from Extremadura

Well, here I sit, on the terrace admiring the most amazing views and I am aware of how blessed we are to be able to live in such a glorious place.

It is hard to believe that we have now been in Spain just over 4 months and living in our house for just over 8 weeks.
Although we started off looking at houses in the Alcantara area, 

We finally ended up,in the centre of what has been referred to as cultural triangle of Trujillo, Merida and Caceres, each about 30 minute drive away


We probably saw about 15 houses in total, some suitable, many way off the mark, however each house affirmed for us, what we did and what we did not want.  On each house visit we armed ourselves with pen and paper, making notes, positive and negative, trying not to be swayed by the pretty pretty.  In some houses we could see faults, and the house would not overcome the faults, in others the same faults did not seem as much of an issue.  All the time our main mantra was to ensure we stayed within the budget we had set including any renovations.  Eventually we narrowed it down to 3 houses, and we returned to each for a second look.
None of the 3 where "Perfect" but then we knew, they would not be, but it came down to which one we could put our stamp on with our limited funds.  What were the Upsides and could these negate the downsides. 

We agreed that we would not discuss with each other each house until we had seen them all, then we wrote down which of the 3 was our preference, that way, neither would be influenced by the other, after all this is a home for ever now, no "popping" it on the Market and hoping for a quick sale.  Fortunately we both agreed on the same house.  I suppose its a bit like getting married.  My daughters used to ask me, "Mum how do you know the"one", its a bit like that with a house you know when you know.
So our home is a 3 bedroom, 1 Salon, tiny kitchen and Huge Dining room +  1 bathroom, Finca with just under 1 hectare of land.  We are moving the Kitchen into the dining room to create a nice space, keeping everything simple. 

We have started with the basics, there was solar here already, but it needed upgrading, which after a few stressful weeks is finished, satellite internet connection has been installed, which has enabled us to skype family back home whenever we like, this has been great, as most of them have already had a walk around the Finca, equally for them, they can see where we are living.

We already had several outbuilding which contain our water deposits and all the Man Tools.   A chicken shed is next on the list for the outside.  

Since we have lived here we have been lucky to discover some wonderful people, especially our Spanish Neighbors, who generally are here at the weekends, and are always, popping in to ensure we are OK, usually with gifts of  fresh veg and fruit.
On the housekeeping side we have our residencia sorted and our healthcare for the first 2 years, we are hoping that Extremadura will follow suit and allow early retirees to pay into the health system, but for now we wait, we have purchased a car and now we live life as we want.   Oh yes and we now have 2 dogs added to the family along with our existing UK cats, who apart from each having a visit to the vet, one a bad eye the other a gash from the fencing,have settled in really well to finca life

Meg & Zara

Meg the Border Collie and Zara the Mastine Both arrived via our builder covered in tics and god know what else, Zara has a hernia, but now they are happy healthy and lucky dogs... as we are equally lucky owners

It has been a very stressful 3 months, moving abroad is not to be done lightly, there are many hurdles to overcome and so far we have managed to get over most of them. I am sure more will be up before much longer, but each day that passes, we settle more into a new way of life, its not better or worse than what we had in the UK, its different, but the main difference is, that we could not have this life in the UK, We could not at 55 years old, be sitting on a terrace, deciding what to or what not to do.
 Who knows what the future will bring, but I refer back to a quote in my very first post

If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary - Jim Rohn

There is not really much more to say on this chapter of our lives we now move forward to the actual living life rather than planning what will be,  I have titled this blog post, "Life in the Extreme" because, I will now be writing a new blog about our lives here, which will include my hobbies, issues we come across and daily life on the Finca. The good, the bad and the ugly!

I hope you will join me there at 



Saturday, 15 March 2014

It is all very beautiful and magical here

Here we are again another 4 weeks have been lost in the preoccupation of moving to Spain.   Life it seems, can, pass you by very quickly if you are not careful.

We are now in Spain and settled into our basic but cosy rented accommodation.  The house sits on the border of Spain with Portugal, so close that I am in the bedroom typing this piece in Spain, whilst my husband is sitting in the Garden  having a coffee in Portugal.
Left foot Spain  right foot Portugal
The scenery here is, I have to say amazing, and it is easy to see why those who came before us were seduced into living here.    Extremadura is, I have been told ,(I have not measured  it to confirm) about the same size as Switzerland  or was it Holland, anyway it contains approx 1 million people, (1 million and 2 now!)  Of that million, 300,000  live in the 2 major towns/cities, Badajoz and Caceres and a few more in Merida.  Leaving the rest of the landscape, roads and sheer beauty for the rest of us.  You can travel down the Motorway/Road/ Camino for miles and miles and not see another car, house, village or person, you will see endless oak, Cork trees and fruit trees under which grazing on the land are, cattle, pigs and sheep.  Small enclaves of houses come into view and villages appear all of which are welcoming and a joy to visit.

 Roman fortresses and moors buildings are to be seen all around, and the villages are awash with cobbled stones and houses with little red roofs. You can be in a town and suddenly come across small green areas of grass where goats or sheep graze.

In our little enclave of about 50 houses, we, like most villages in Spain, have the advantage of a merry band of dogs, all of which ,look well cared for and contented.   We have named them and look out for them on our excursions  out of the village.

Monty -  Monty is, without doubt the top dog, if he had a baton under his front leg, and a little beret on, you can almost see him arranging the troops in Africa.   Monty is usually the first to spot  our GB car heading out of the village.  He will sit and nod you through like someone at a border patrol one false move and you're in the brig.  Following closely behind Monty is Yorkie, who is the most untidy and scruffiest little dog I have ever encountered.   Yorkie always looks like it is all too much for him, and simply follows Monties commands.  I think he has decided that Montys' ways are to be suffered and it is probably easier to follow than to argue.  Yorkie, unlike Monty who sits and nods, lays in the middle of the road, and lays, and lays, eventually he will lift his head, give us a cursory stare shuffle over a bit and let us proceed to the next checkpoint charlie, who we call Squeak.

Squeak looks to be a cross between a doberman and a Chihuahua, erring on the side of a Chihuahua ( re his size)   He really is there just to make up the numbers, he trundles down besides the car, driving my other half mad as he keeps going out of sight and we are worried he will end up under the wheels.  Soon enough though the gang of 3 are sighted in the rear mirror trotting back to the border control, job well done.   If you can manoeuvre through the gang then you can get get out of the village to get to where you need to go.  There is a caveat to that.  If the Cowman has decided that his Cows need to go up or even down the village you may have to wait a bit longer, equally if the local goat herd takes a sudden urge for village life as opposed to mountain life then you really are in a  M25 situation.

Finally, of course there is more to moving here than the pretty pretty, we have been busy viewing houses and have made some decisions , there is the getting on and living bit to do yet, but  to start with , we want to enjoy these moments and I just wanted to explain and show to you the pleasure we, at this early stage, are having in this glorious environment.  The title of this particular piece comes from a quote, I read a few days ago

It is all very beautiful and magical here - a quality which cannot be described. You have to live it and breathe it, let the sun bake into you. The skies and the lands are so enormous, and the detail so precise and exquisite that wherever you are you are isolated into a glowing world between the macro and the micro, where everything is sidewise under you and over you, and the clocks stopped long ago. 

Ansel Adams
from A Letter to Alfred Stieglitz from Abiquiu, New Mexico., September 21, 1937

He could have been describing Extremadura

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Having just checked my very first blog post I note that it was published on the 12th Jan 2013.  As I sit here and write this next chapter it is hard to believe that a whole year plus 4 days has past.

Since that post we have made many friends on this journey to our next destination,  most who have advised us and supported us.  But we have also encountered those who have looked at us like we are 2 bricks short of a full load. 

  "De cuerdo y loco todos tenemos un poco."

 A few have made comments such as

I could not leave my children...
wont you miss them”

I think it is they that  “miss” the point. Our two Daughters have been our biggest supporters, and for that I am very grateful. The hardest part of having children is when it is time to say goodbye, Be it when they first went to school,  left home or moved in with boyfriends.   Now it is different, although the goodbye is the same,   it  somehow  feels different, our “children” are in their 30's,  but now the difference is that we are doing the leaving,  it feels unnatural for the parent to leave the child, however this has to be part of  our process.  I have tried to bury these feelings deep, but now with 4 weeks to go, its there, raw and red, rising in my stomach, making it churn and acid filled. I have to face reality and either I quench the acid , and stay in the UK  or we have to learn to deal with it. But I also know that my husband and I need make this journey, we need to do it for us, it is not a whim, its a yearning that we have had for a long time. I know in my heart that although the distances may be long between us and them,  mere roads, seas and mountains cannot separate our hearts from each other.

So, it is a year since we first started the final part of this stage of the journey, (as you know we eventually settled on the stunning area of Extremadura), We have now sold and move into a rented flat here in the UK. This,  it turned out , was to be a very quick process, it only  took 8 weeks between putting our house on the market to completion.  I have now handed in my notice at work and leave shortly, with my NHS pension in place.  A leaving party has been organised, and everyone at work has been very kind with their words, however, I am sure some, young bright thing will take over and improve on my work, after all that’s what makes the world tick, one person goes and another takes their place.

S1 healthcare forms organised, we both have cover for 2 years, hopefully they will arrive in Spain, we wait and see. Producing these will be our first foray into Spanish bureaucracy

We have scheduled a ferry crossing Portsmouth to Santander, and managed to obtain a “pet” friendly cabin,  we are allowed to to take the cats into these particular cabins.  For those of you interested, the ferry is the Cap Finistere and they also have a dog walking deck.

We have decided to take the journey slowly, after all we are in no rush,  nothing else planned! so a hotel and dinner with our girls the night before in Portmouth, a 24 hour ferry crossing and then a hotel in Palencia 2 hours out of Santander

- both the Uk and Spanish hotels accept our cats in the room which is brilliant. The following day we arrive at our rented accommodation.

Our rented accommodation is a fully furnished pad. When we sold our UK home most of our goods and chattel were put into storage Once we have bought a place to live we will send over for them.

Apart from the goodbyes, I am feeling unsettled. Usually when you sell a house, you are either buying a property or renting, you know whats next.  We only know that it will be in Spain. When I describe my feelings as unsettled that is probably the wrong word, it is a combination of unease and excitement, where will we live, what will the views be like, will it be,  how are the locals etc etc etc...............So much to think about. I think we just now want to get on, make our way, make the mistakes and learn, we are under no illusions there will be mistakes, but as one stage ends another stage starts, and as my Granny used to say

el que hace la paga.

Back Soon x

ps apologies for poor Spanish Translations I am still learning

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

When you have an itch you really just need to scratch it - Day one our first impressions

The last time I looked at this blog was back in May. Shortly after our trip to Andalusia, and the discovery that there was Capital Gains Tax to pay on our house sale in here in the UK if we sold and moved within the same tax year.

Throughout the months that followed, we have continued to carry on with life in the UK as usual.
Maintaining the garden, tea at the local garden centre. So British!

We did have an unusual event. My husband had spinal surgery in July, which we always knew was on the cards, and, I am pleased to say he has recovered well, and as we suspected, is now unable to work in the industry he was in before, the upside is no pain, and can walk, prior to the operation chronic pain and could just about make it to the kitchen. Now he is unofficially semi- retired, and looking forward to new experiences in Spain. At the age of 55 we count ourselves lucky that we are in a position to be able to commit to a change in our lives.

As the husband was now at home, he has become the main "seeker" of information on our move to Spain; he has been following the ebbs and flows of the economic situation and the housing markets, collated information etc. I think he sees himself as a BBC Correspondence in charge of the move to Spain. When I return home after work, I get an immediate update on what has happened, where and why. I almost expect him to sign off with his name!!!

The summer months past, what a glorious summer we had here and we continued with our daily routines, but always at the back of our minds was the eventual change that we would be making to our lives. I have continued to make progress learning the Spanish language and now I feel, that I am at a stage, where I just need to be in Spain, using the language skills that I have so far learnt. My husband on the other hand needs to study more, and to that end, I am about to take the old adage used in the medical profession. See one, do one, teach one, and teach him, what I have so far learnt. Not sure how that will work, but if this blog is renamed, one man goes to Spain, we have divorced.

As you may remember from my previous posts, I always had an itch that I had to scratch, that itch is called Extremadura.
If I am honest I had concerns about this trip.   I have no idea where my desire to move to Extremadura came from. I think many years ago I stumbled across something on the web or watched something on the TV. I then started to investigate the region more. Its history, flora and fauna etc. Although we had discussed the possibility of moving abroad in the future, the where and when was not decided, although we had always thought it would be Andalusia,    Extremadura was not on our list of possibilities. However, whatever it was that I had read, it must have stuck with me, as I was the one who pushed for this particular visit. My husband agreed that we needed to go, if only to rule it out, and to ensure that I had scratched my itch. I just hoped we would not be disappointed and I had not built up some fantasy in my head.  So on September 9th we flew to Madrid to start our reconnaissance trip to this fairly unknown and remote corner of Spain.

Our first Destination was the town of Trujillo, which is situated approximately a 3 hour drive from Madrid airport. At first the landscape was pretty uninspiring as we drove towards our destination, not wows or look at that. Not the endless olive groves and white villages clinging to the hillsides in Andalusia. We drove the empty roads, and commented on the lack of people, it looks as though no one actually lives there. I have read that the population is about 1 million and all in an area the size of Switzerland.

As we drove into Extremadura the landscape unfolded in front of us. We started to drive through forests of corks and oak, areas are known as Dehesa (scrubland).

The Oak woodlands went on for miles, dotted throughout the landscape, with their brown trunks and the green foliage, sometimes these forests were dense at other times they were scattered throughout the hills, Dark shiny skinned Iberian pigs wandered beneath the trees, grazing on the grasses and the acorns.

The acorns contain oils and enzymes, which are, apparently crucial in the production of Iberico Hams. Amongst the trees we also saw cattle grazing on the wild grasses. Extremadura is full of cattle ranches some go on for miles. Then suddenly we would drive through an area of open plains called chorros. Again where cattle and horses grazed.

Usually I am not a fan of what I refer to as “flat Lincolnshire land”, but in Extremadura I will make an exception. Although when we were there the grassland was scorched dry and brown, from a long hot summer, it was not hard to imagine how, after the first rains and in Spring time, the land would burst into life with flowers, what a sight that must be, We made a mental note, even if we do not move here we must come and see it,when in full bloom.

Among the forests, and the plains the Cork trees came into view. Whilst you may not have heard of any famous Extremdurian wines, the cork you remove from your bottle of plonk, may well have come from a cork tree in the area. I have read that 26% of the world’s market in wine corks, actually come from Spain. Many of the trees had already had their cork harvested, what was left was highly polished trunks, shining like conkers in the sun.

There were mountain ranges in the distance and sometime around us, it was truly gorgeous.

We continued to drive to Trujillo, a perfect little town, where we spent the evening, having dinner in the exquisite square and preparing for our first full day in Extremadura and viewing our first properties in the area.

Next time, Trujillo, brain on plane and a sense of peace.........................

Main Square Trujillo.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Death, taxes and childbirth! - Did not see the second one coming

So here we are another month on from my last post and another month closer to the move.If I am being perfectly honest my feelings about this move change from absolute certainty to real fears of the unknown. Which I think on reflection is healthy.

The one thing that all mankind has in common is that we have all made our fair share of wrong decisions; anyone who has not made a bad decision has never had to make one or has spent their life avoiding them.  Every day most of us make decisions, from minor ones - should I have the large chocolate cake, to changing jobs or moving to another country.  Life is full of choice but it appears that the bigger they are and the more options we have the harder they get, choosing to jump out of the way of a speeding car is an easy decision to make almost, choosing to live in another country and then decide where, is much more difficult.

How we originally came to the decision I cannot remember. It seemed to be a long drawn out process over many years. It is said that you should, when making a decisions review the pros and cons. I am not in favour of the pros and cons rule after all how you can decide a pro or a con until you have lived it or experienced it. For those of you already in Spain some of the Pros you went for probably did not materialize  and may have become cons like for instance intense heat in the summer and cold in the winter, how many times have I been told - lucky you moving to Spain all that lovely weather, and yes the con is the weather will be fairly decent for a fair amount of the time, but there will be intense heat and freezing cold.

You could always spend time analysing the decision and choices that you have for example
·        What is the probable outcome of this choice?
·        What outcomes are highly unlikely?
·        What are the likely outcomes of not choosing this one?
·        What would be the outcome of doing the exact opposite?

Finally there are those who follow their gut instinct.

I have read somewhere that research shows that people who make decisions quickly, even when lacking information, tend to be more satisfied with their decisions than people who research and carefully weight their options.

Well to be honest although I have said we are following our gut instinct we have also spent time researching all the issues around moving to Spain. This leads me, to where we are now.  Having researched to death the move to Spain it was a HUGE shock to find out this week that if the house does not sell this side of 2014 and we move in 2015 the same year as the house sale we are liable to pay capital gains tax in Spain, unless we arrive after the tax residency rules of 183 days
Of all the things to miss this is one thing that could have caused us a major concern.
This is not really mentioned on any of the forums etc. and it is my belief that this is because people did not declare CGT when they sold up in the UK and moved to Spain, it is only now with the new overseas assets declaration that immigrants ( ex-pats) are starting to think about this.   I thought that this was a recent tax law but no it has been in place for many years. If you sell in the UK, move to Spain and do not invest ALL of the capital gain in a new property you are liable for CGT on the portion that is left UNLESS you were not TAX resident in that year. However if you know different please leave a comment and let me and others know.

 So for us if we sell before end of 2013 and move out in 2014 then we are fine. However if the house sale takes place in 2014 we have to ensure we do not take up permanent residency until July 2nd. This reminds me of a line in Gone from the wind

Death, taxes and childbirth! There's never any convenient time for any of them.

Why am I telling you this, because I think it proves that no amount of research can prepare you for the pitfalls that will occur once you have made your decision, you can analyse, write up the pros and cons but we are always at the mercy of governments, and legislators, whatever country you live in and at the end of the day as my old Nan and probably yours used to say, you have made your bed now lie in it.

We are still making our bed and it’s looking good. If not a little untidy from recent developments!

Saturday, 30 March 2013

So we have changed our minds!

Home and thinking about the Future

So here we are now back in the UK, full of hopes, fears and a little confused.  We know that Spain is where we want to be, where in Spain is another subject. We started this journey with a plan, large house, lots of land, up in a mountain, goats, horses etc etc.  Sitting at home in the UK that looked like the ideal life for us, everything we had always wanted, self suffiency plus the potential to have some rental income to top up my pension. The original idea changed as the trip progressed.
This trip to Spain enabled us to meet ex pats already living in Spain.  Some fell  into the category of those who had something to gain from us moving to Spain and others  fell into the category of future friends.  I will briefly cover the former.  If I heard the phrase  don't worry, its Spain once, I  heard it hundreds of times, especially from the agents.  It is clear to me that the " turn a blind eye" culture is alive and well in certain quarters, which actually worried me more.  We were told that we were under no pressure to buy, really, your telling me, I never had any intentions on buying a house on this trip, we had told everyone we contacted prior to our visit that this was the case, I can only assume that some prospective buyers do change their  minds once they are in Spain.  It was amazing as to how many properties would not be their in a few weeks, and did you  know you can put a 3K deposit down and move when you wanted.  Plus buy to lets are a great investment at the moment.  Needless to say most if not all are still for sale with a lot more added to the lists since we arrived home, and I am still not sure about the buy to let investments after all and 11% return on investment, I would have thought they most people would be biting the agents hands off.   Having said all that some of the agents were informative without any pressures and answered our questions with knowledge and experience.  Moving swiftly on we also met folks who I know we would love to meet again and would easily become friends.

We had one day out of researching areas, and we spent that day in Cordoba, near to where we were staying with Alan and Lorna and the Alpaca farms.  Their house is in what can only be described as an idyllic situation, 20 minutes down a track, up and down, round and round, amazing views and surrounded by olive groves and a pretty babbling river flowing through.  Although if you read Lorna's blog  from a few months ago, you will know that the pretty babbling river turned into a torrent of flood water complete with a run away car.

Lornas Blog
olive groves

views of Alpaca's and Olive groves

Cordoba was lovely, although the highways into the city made you realise that this is not just a little historical town but a major city, living and breathing. We managed to park and walked to the old quarter.  How pretty is this, lovely cobbled streets, old buildings,leaning into each other covered in the early signs of the up and coming patio festival, which must be an amazing sight when in full bloom. Orange trees in full fruit, ripe for picking except don't they are very bitter and husband found out. The Cathedral was just beautiful and we spent a long time in here, truly amazing. Lunch was had in a little restaurant up one of the side streets,  We shared a salad to start and then Spanish Omelet and Calamaris it was all very yummy. The afternoon was a gentle stroll looking at what else was on offer, the amazing Roman bridge for one.

The Start of the Patio Festival
Smiling before the first bite

After Alan and Lorna's we traveled to Alcala Real, stayed at a lovely B&B run by a young couple a real family home.
Sunny Spain
The view from the window was amazing, the castle in the distance. We woke up the following morning to 3 inches of snow. This actually enhanced the view even more, however it did nothing for my nerves re driving, the B&B in Alcala Real, is at the top of the town and we were heading down to move to our next stop Valor in the Alpujarras. Snow was not on the agenda however, after a gut wrenching drive we managed to get to the main roads safe and well and headed for out next destination.

The weather over the 3 hour drive was mixed, snow, hail sunshine and more snow.  As we eventually arrived in the region, the climb up and around the mountains began. The roads were amazingly well looked after, we did come across several rock falls, but these appeared to be well cordoned off and managed.  The views were amazing, as we travelled up and down the weather changed, lots of snow, not so much snow no snow.  As we travelled the signs for all the Alpujarras villages came and went, and they brought alive for me the book I had recently read, The Hand of Fatima, a lovely story about a boy and his life in the 15th century. Eventually we arrived at Valor, and met our next hosts. We were shown to our accommodation, which was a lovely little house, typical of the Alpujarras. However the arrival was marred by the Hosts. Remember it was freezing, we were offered a tiny little heater which apparently we could use for an hour or two, it would have just about heated a mouses toe.

 However that was not what upset me the most.  Having offered us the minuscule heater, they asked if we were there to look at houses, yes we said, well that was a big mistake.  We then received what I think they thought was constructive advice, which actually came across as offensive and actually plain bloody stupid., and while sharing the knowledge with us became actually aggressive.  I will select some of the phrase that stuck with us.
Don't buy a house in the country, the police will make you work the land - Not much fun when you are retired and they make you work.
The shops don't open in the afternoon, so you cannot buy milk
I don't drive..........and I never use the buses.
If the house you buy is  too close to the road the police will knock it down
Know I know that everyone has different experiences of their lives and I know that if you buy  property with agricultural use then yes that's what you have to do, But I have yet to hear of British OAP's being picked up on a Saturday and being made to work in a chain gang. Maybe I was being sensitive but I was really angry, I was paying money to stay in the house, I did not ask and pay for advice from someone who had not even asked my name.
That night I text someone who I had been in contact with before our arrival for a recommendation for a hotel. However one of the best things that happened on this trip was that they invited us to stay. So after our house hunting day around the Alpurujjas we arrived at the house.  I cannot express in words how welcoming they were.   We had a  fabulous dinner, several drinks and some amazing star gazing. We awoke the next morning, rested, warm and happy,  this was our last day in Spain and what a way to end.  This couple were living the life of  our dream, a lovely home, not fancy as in huge rooms or marble bathrooms, but comfortable and Spanish,  land ,not acres and acres, but enough to grow vegetables etc, lovely views but close to a sweet village that was  full of Spanish life .They were  rich in spirit and giving and we found new friends.  They gave us advice in a calm and measured manner a great deal of which we took on board, including some that we may not have wanted to hear, but enabled us to re consider our ideas.
So back to the beginning, here we are back in the UK.  We have made changes to our plans. No longer do we want a top up income, we would rather have the money in the bank, a smaller house with land but a smaller than originally thought. No horses, but definitely dogs, two, Spanish Mastiffs, maybe a goat, but heating is a must as in a priority.

We are not bothered that we have changed our ideas, that's the whole point of visiting Spain, what works on paper here in the UK is not necessarily going to work in reality.  Always remember, YOU have the power to change your life because YOU have the power to change your mind

We have another region to visit, we are going to Extremadura in August, as this is an area that  I have always had a yearning for and it is an itch that I have to scratch. 
So I leave you for the moment with a selection of photo's from our trip