Sunday, 2 October 2016

Inaugural visit to the house with no name



Cathy and I have owned our place in Blanca for just under two months, and finally the time came for us to head out there and refamiliarise ourselves with the house and to properly investigate our new local area. 

Cathy picked me up at an obscenely early hour of the morning to get us to Gatwick for our 5.50am flight to Alicante. By 10.15, our adventure had begun - we had our hire car and we were on the road from Alicante to Murcia. Given that autumn had arrived in the UK just before we left, it was lovely to head out into blue skies and temperatures in the mid-20s. The satnav did its job and delivered us to the centre of Blanca but then it was a question of whether we could actually find the house by memory, since we didn't have a street address. The house is across the river from the main part of town, in a tiny area called Los Tollos. OK, so memory didn't quite do the trick but a quick squint on Google Earth helped us work out where we'd gone wrong and 5 minutes later we were rounding the bend for our first view of the house in 8 months. 

And there it was, in all its rural stone glory! It looked better and bigger from the outside than we'd remembered. Since we didn't yet have the keys, we were planning to just have a good look around the outside and take some photos before heading to the estate agents office to pick up the keys and the deeds. This plan was scuppered by the fact that we had an unexpected meeting with our lovely Spanish next door neighbours. It was a challenge language-wise as, quite rightly, they speak no English, my Spanish isn't really far above basic these days, and I'm used to the standard Madrid accent. Not much help when faced with a 60-70 year-old lady, missing a few teeth, with a very strong Murcian accent and a knack for speaking at a hundred miles an hour! After a brief chat, a couple of snuggles with their very cute (adopted stray) cat, and a lovely offer of "If you need anything, just ask us" from Pilar and her nameless husband, we went back to the centre of town to meet Tracey, Álvaro and Marina at Casas de España

Two hours later, we had the keys, the insurance documents (no deeds yet as they're still with the registry office) and our newly-issued bank card. We headed back to the house with the agents to go over the house with a fine-toothed comb and come up with a definitive list of required renovations. Tracey, lovely though she is, has the memory of a goldfish and didn't seem to be able to recall any of the details discussed in our multiple recent emails so we were effectively starting from scratch. Fortunately, Alvaro is not only a lawyer but also an architect, and he had the good sense to bring a pen and paper. An hour later, we had our list and Álvaro was ready to start contacting various contractors to sort out a quote (which has yet to materialise).

If things go well, over the next couple of months (and if the quotes are acceptable!), we should have at least the ground floor completely rewired including a new fuse box, the water connection reinstated, a repaired roof, two repaired ceilings, a false insulated wall over some damp, a couple of new beams, a new kitchen worktop, new toilet, repaired bath/shower, new kitchen taps, a water heater and, most importantly, a roof terrace! We are keeping our fingers very tightly crossed on the roof terrace front because there's a public streetlight screwed to one of the exterior walls (a wall which will have to come down!) and Álvaro is going to have to talk to the town hall about repositioning possibilities! There's a somewhat shorter list of "possibles" - replacement door and windows, and the demolition of an interior wall to make the entrance room much bigger - but they'll only get done if it all comes in under budget! Now it's fingers and toes crossed!

Over the next two whirlwind days, and in no particular order, we:
- stocked up on all sorts of cleaning products and implements ready for an assault on the dust and cobwebs;
- tracked down a second-hand furniture shop in Lorquí, haggled for and bought a cute little chest of drawers, and didn't buy the marvellous motorbike leaning near it;
- found another (recommended) furniture shop in Abarán but it was closed due to it being the town fiesta;
- negotiated the ludicrously enormous roundabout on the outskirts of Murcia in order to get to Ikea and bought a coffee table, a chest of drawers, an outside table and chairs, 2 bins, a loo brush (!), a washing-up brush, an uplighter (every house in the world has to have an Ikea NOT uplighter) and, most importantly, two cat-print design cushions;
- struggled from the car into the house with said purchases, very helpfully watched by two blokes on their balcony further down the road, who seemed to find our efforts rather amusing. Always happy to oblige!


- went to the market in Ricote where a very smiley stall-holder was so baffled by the fact that I only wanted one plum, he wouldn't charge me for it, and I bought some hilarious printed trousers for €3;
- walked a long way in Archena (where we were staying) to get to a highly recommended tapas bar only to find it's closed on Monday evenings;
- walked to the same tapas bar the next evening and had a really delicious meal with 6 large tapas, a huge plate of grilled vegetables and 9 beers (!) for just over €30;
- enjoyed a classic cheese and tomato breakfast toastie and fresh orange juice on both mornings at a lovely little bar down the road from our hotel;
- met our immediate next-door neighbour, a youngish guy who lives alone in the L-shaped house that abuts ours, and found his Murcian accent is almost more impenetrable than the older lady in the next house along, but we did get to see his bread oven (ooh er);
- visited the bizarre "Museo de Esparto" in Archena. No, we didn't know what it was either and the English translation "esparto grass" or "halfa grass" didn't help, but it's what espadrilles are made of (hence the name);
- found a dessicated lizard on the kitchen floor, probably the most recent living occupant of the house, who we formally named Des but then unceremoniously swept into a large black rubbish bag;
- swept all the floors downstairs, brushed all the cobwebs off the ceilings and walls downstairs, and discovered just how much better a place can look by simply doing those two things! 
- walked from the house into town to see how long it takes. 25 minutes, if you stop to take photos and cross the river to see the public laundry baths, but 15 minutes (slightly uphill) on the way back if you keep walking! 
- identified the first accessible panadería (bakery), so a lovely early morning walk into town, along the river, to buy bread for breakfast and get back will take about 35 minutes. Lovely!
- were inexplicably called over by a large group of old men near the river in town who (I think) thought we were looking for where to swim! We explained not and when I said we were English, they roared with laughter. OK. Bye then!
- found the Blanca tourist office (shut)

I'm sure we did lots of other things but my memory's not what it used to be!

For me, the best thing about those few days was the reminder of just what it was about the Ricote Valley that impressed us so much back in January. It is a beautiful, verdant valley, a gorgeous green lush landscape amongst the dry, arid mountains all around. 

With any luck, my photos of our trip are HERE. Everything about Picasa seems to have changed since the last time I used it so my editing and sharing might have gone horribly wrong. House pics should be first, both before and after our brief clean, then our tootling about shots. 



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