polop de la marina

Polop is a small town close to Benidorm and after having past it for lots of times I finally turned right and entered the old town. The full name is Polop de la Marina and the town has left its best days behind. It used to be the residence of the Barony of Polop and Benidorm under the Crown of Aragon. The territory included much more land, from Guadalest to the Algar Rio and Villajoyosa and the castle was the most important one in the area.

During the 14th century the town was ruled by the infantes of Aragon. Since then, it has passed by personal descent in the same family, which, in 1430, became the Fajardo de Mendoza family. In the 19th century the feudal system was abolished in Spain and Polop became less important. The lordships lost their power but kept their titles and land and up to today the Baron of Polop still belongs to the same family, the Fajardo de Mendoza family.

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I didn’t know about the history of the town before we went there so it was a real surprise. The whole time we spent there, we met maybe five different people, probably tourists like us. But we went in the afternoon and everyone was at home enjoying the siesta and everything was closed. The town was really small, especially the old part so we decided to go uphill, towards the ruins of the castle, that was built originally by the Muslim during their reign over the Iberian Peninsula. The view was amazing and you can see the whole area. The mountains, La Nucia, lots of plantations and it was really breathtaking. Especially in the heat of the afternoon and the complete silence around us.

Next to the ruins is a small restaurant, that served some snacks for lunch and an old cemetery, that we also visited. The heat was burning and we saw some really old grave stones. The cemetery is not used anymore but it was a strange feeling visiting it all by ourselves. I think I have to come back to Polop later in the afternoon, when the streets become alive. This town felt so pretty but up to now I only saw the ancient buildings and not the current life.

 

 

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serra gelada

Serra Gelada is a Nature Park in the Province of Alicante that is located between Benidorm, Altea and l‘Alfas del Pi. We can see it from our balcony and I wanted to get to know more about it for a while. So last weekend we went on a spontaneous hiking trip that started in Albir. The park has two different hiking routes that start from Albir, the short one that we walked is about 5 Km and has almost no difference in the altitude level. The whole trail is paved and there is no way you can get lost. It ends at a small lighthouse. The second trail is one-way and around 8 Km. Because of the differences in altitude the trail is around 4-5h walking in one direction and good hiking shoes are recommended. So I guess this one might only be possible during the fall or winter. Along the way are no water fountains and the heat is burning right now.

The Nature Park consists of the mountains of Serra Gelada and a large area of the Sea and four small islands. The cliffs are amazing and we were so excited about the landscape. The first kilometer is along the water side and you can see Altea, Calpe and the Peninsular of Calpe, Albir and the mountains of Aitana of course. Yachts and Jet Skis cover the cost line and small boats stop everywhere for some snorkeling or swimming. There are no beaches along the way but small Calas with stones where you can snorkel and enjoy the silence and the nature.

The second part of the way is towards the lighthouse and along the trail you can find information desks about the flora and fauna and the origins of the mountains. Serra Gelada was formed after a shifting of Africa towards the Iberian Peninsula. Some parts of the mountains consist of limestone. The cliffs are up to 400m high and are home to many different plants and birds. One of them can only be found here in the Nature Park and is endangered. In the Sea you can find many different fish that are typical for this region. What‘s even more striking is the existence of fossils. Some rocks have marks on them, that come from creatures (called Condrodontos) that lived around 100 million years ago.

The lighthouse was closed but it is really small. We saw a sign that it is possible to see dolphins from the Nature Park and that they even swim really close to the coast! We will definitely be back!!

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moros y cristianos.

Spain loves its festivals and celebrations. And even with knowing that, my expectations were exceeded by far. After having experienced Moros y Cristianos I know how weird some of my questions might have sounded. I was expecting a spectacle in one place, comparable to Oktoberfest in Munich or just a big fair. But this was different. The first weekend of June we went to the town of Elda to visit “Moros y Cristianos”. The festival is all about the “Reconquista”, when the Spanish reconquered the Iberian Peninsula. Between 711 and 1492 the Peninsula was part of the Islamic Empires, only a small part way up north was not included in the Umayyad Caliphate. For more than 700 years the Muslims ruled over the Christians.

The festival “Moros y Cristianos” is mainly celebrated in the area where I live, in Comunidad Valenciana. You can find it in other parts as well but here it is really traditional. Every town celebrates it at a different date, some in the fall like here in Benidorm and others in the spring. The festival in Elda is one of the largest and best-known and has become a Fiesta de interés turístico nacional.

 

Elda is my boyfriend’s hometown with around 50.000 inhabitants. And all of them are on the streets during those days. Moros y Cristianos consists of five (!) official holidays, from Thursday to Monday you cannot find any normal life. The streets are crowded, people are all dressed up and stay out until the next morning. The festivities are divided into different parts, as they have to cover 700 years of history. It starts with the Entrada de Banda on Thursday and they have kids parades and many different things. We only went on saturday and were greeted with extremely loud gunshots and gunpowder. Around noon the Moros conquered the castle of the city and overthrew the king. The whole city was assembled around the city hall and the different groups of Moros y Cristianos were fighting and reenacting the whole scenery.

At night, which appears to be contradictory, the Christians enter the town in a huge parade, followed by the Muslims. Both groups are divided into different subgroups, 4 Muslims and 5 Christians. They are inspired by the society back in the days:

Moros: Realistas, Musulmanes, Marroquíes, Huestes del Cadí
Cristianos: Cristianos, Piratas, Estudiantes, Contrabandistas, Zíngaros

The parade is live on TV, a huge event that takes hours! To watch you need to reserve a seat and I was told that the first row usually sells out in January… So we watched from the second row and cheered for the different groups, some super colorful, others more traditional. Each group walks with lots of different lines and all of them wear a different outfit each year. The groups have some similiarities, but all of them are completely different. People either buy or rent the costumes and spend a fortune. There is even a competition for the best group! The parade usually takes place for almost 5 hours and passes through the whole city. Around 7.000 people participate in the parade!! And the earliest documentation of the festivities is form 1754. There is one part along the track, where we sat next to, where the local government is seated. Funny side story, the city mayor of Elda is still pretty young and has led his row for a while now. Why stop? So then the mayor parades in front of you and the people cannot stop cheering and waving. Bonus points!

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The mayor knows what he is doing…

While my boyfriend had never been involved in the parade, he usually dressed up with friends and wore some related clothes, for example the colors of his favorite group. His family participates, though. How cool is that, when you think you don’t know many people in Spain but then you wave to five different people in a parade!? That never happenend before.

On sunday I was told that the parade is repeated, only that this time the Moros start and usually people buy tickets for both days and just watch half. Because it really takes forever. The festivities ended on monday with a procession.

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summer vibes.

Benidorm is “city and beaches“. The city slogan is definitely true. The city center is filled with boutiques, souvenir shops and many restaurants. You can find everything here, from tapas places to foreign restaurants, waffles, ice cream, pizza, lots of cocktail places and of course many people. The city gets even more crowded around 8pm, when everyone is out looking for a nice place to eat. The atmosphere in the old town is really relaxed, lots of families, older people, and tourists.

The beaches are known all over Spain (and Britain) and are always clean and have been receiving the blue flag for years. The whole area along the Costa Blanca enables Spain to have the most beaches certified with a blue flag in Europe, but the beaches in Benidorm are one of the best.

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Levante Beach

I personally prefer Levante over Poniente and also favor Mal Pas when it is not too crowded. But usually it is, because it is only a really small area between Poniente Beach and the Mediterranean Balcony. Poniente is said to be calmer and for families, while Levante is always crowded, has lots of restaurants and bars right along the beach and even night clubs. The party never stops the closer you get to the British district. But still, it is worth trying to find a small free spot in the sand for your towel.

The water quality is also one of the requirements of the blue flag, and the water could not be more crystal clear. Along the Mediterranean Balcony you can see the color of the water changing when it gets deeper, it changes from transparent to turquoise to an amazing dark blue. The views of the water are simply amazing!

I don‘t mind spending my afternoons at the pool or the beach :). Our neighborhood has two pools that are always free to use and depending on the day and the hour you are either by yourself or surrounded by 3 families with 25 children that jump in the water and play with their air mattresses. But I always get a good sun bath! My tan has not really improved in the last weeks, I guess I am already at my limit. Now I’m working on not losing it until winter.

Summer is definitely something different in Spain. When people ask why I go on vacation I can’t hide my surprise… I already AM on vacation. This area is the perfect vacation spot and I haven‘t gotten tired of the sun yet. This feels like a #neverendingsummer.

work.

I’ve been working for four weeks already. Alicante has been treating me well. My usual working hours are from 8-16h and we could leave early in one of the last four weeks. I work 40h a week and in Spain it’s normal to have the lunch break included. Except that it‘s not a lunch break but more a „2nd breakfast/in-between-meal-break“ around 11h. I don‘t really get the times because I have breakfast on the way. More than one hour on the train let‘s me have time for many things… We can leave for twenty minutes doing whatever, usually I walk some blocks or get some empanadas, sandwiches, food for the rest of the day. Lunch is around 14h and we just eat at our desk. That‘s the usual way of my work schedule. As it‘s finally officially summer now, we changed the schedule. No more break and we get off at 15h. What a day! It takes me around two hours to go back home but still, when I‘m there, there‘s a lot of sun at the pool and I get to relax before I prepare meals, dinner, do laundry and stuff like that. Here are some thoughts on my last four weeks:

  • „it’s summer“ changes a lot of things. Nothing is open in the afternoon and everyone gets off early. Life starts again at night, but usually I am already asleep by then. I am not sure how to go to the doctors, have a meeting at the bank (luckily I did all of that in June), or do anything that requires governmental/legal/office support
  • Public transportation is not really big around here. We only have one car so my boyfriend drops me off at the train station in the morning – because the first buses leave around 10am. I take the first train in the morning at 6:40am and it arrives close to 8 to Alicante. Besides me, there are many people running outside, trying to make it to their offices before 8am. I hardly make it, usually its a 50/50 week. The train usually runs late but there‘s nothing I can do about it
  • My consumption of energy drinks has gone up again but who can survive a day like that without having enough sleep? Some days it’s simply impossible to go to bed before 10:30h.
  • Going uphill is not my forte – still. I has gotten a lot better though. We live uphill coming from the train station. So when I go home I walk around 30 minutes in the burning heat, after having spent 80 minutes on the train. My legs were sore in the beginning now I just consider it my workout of the day, sweating it all out
  • I am not a bookworm. I usually spend my time on the train with audio books (and I need recommendations…) or using my language app. In the first weeks I joined a group and was in lead with the most points. Well, I guess that no one else spends 160 minutes commuting every day. Lots of time for vocabulary and some grammar revisions
  • People are really used to their in-between-break. Why cant you bring more food? We all bring our lunch to work but since we don‘t have a break anymore my colleagues are super hungry during the day…
  • Breakfast in Spain is so cheap in the restaurants, even in Alicante you can get a sandwich with cheese and tomatoes for less than 2€. Honestly, there is nothing you can get for that in a German restaurant. Maybe olives…
  • Working clothes are overrated. My wardrobe has changed and I am using mainly dress pants and nice shirts for the office – but I am the only one. It’s time to go back to shorts!
  • Air conditioning is really amazing! During the heat wave in June the temperature outside was almost unbearable to work in around 9:30am. Our office is always around 22°C.
  • We hardly talk in the office and I have the feeling I don‘t know my colleagues at all. We send messages via Skype, which makes it a lot harder for me. But at least by now they don‘t ask what I meant after every message :).
  • I have noted so many times that I am used to working in the non-profit area. All of the offices I’ve worked at were less „number-focused“. Now we do reports, analysis, and evaluations all the time and I like it… As soon as I understood what the numbers meant :).
  • My digital marketing skills are improving a lot. We do weekly sessions on AdWords, I have time to improve my knowledge with tutorials during office hours and my colleague hasn’t stopped explaining me how everything works. He will be done with that soon I guess but until then I will soak up more information.

comida.

I love food and I enjoy going out to eat. In my opinion I have a simple taste and ordinary food makes me happy. I enjoy trying out new restaurants, nice views and a good atmosphere. While in Hamburg I only had a few problems, when something was too posh for me. Here, things are a bit different… I would consider myself almost vegetarian. For myself, I never prepare meat but I can eat chicken or some meat in a restaurant. Its just not important to me and I prefer to eat side dishes :).

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fresh fish in Calpe

What I don’t eat at all is fish and see food. But here in the area of Alicante people love meat and sea food! You can find the typical Menueverywhere, which is a cheap, three-course meal for lunch and drinks are included. You can choose between fish or different kinds of meat that usually include parts that I don’t like. Spaniards love their ham, which is either Serrano or Jamon York. For example ordering pizza becomes a struggle, when the only pizza without ham or bacon is Margherita… and usually the waiters are a bit irritated when I ask them if its possible to order something without the ham. On the other hand I have had one of the best meals here after we asked the waitress about a vegetarian choice and she just offered to grill some vegetables. It was soo good and much better than what the others had for lunch.

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I ordered one of the few “white meat” options and it was enough for three people.

What I love about the Spanish cuisine around here are some of the Tapas. I love Gazpacho, the cold tomato soup, when it’s hot outside. It tastes so good! Or patatas bravas, which are potatoes with a “hot” sauce. This can go from ketchup to something really spicy, depending on the restaurant. Tortillas are my favorite, potatoes with eggs like a huge omelet… Fitting into the stereotype of a German potato… I got lucky because my boyfriend loves to prepare food and cooks for me so usually we dine really well at home as well. Spain has lots of different cheeses to offer, I really started liking Manchego cheese and we always buy a lot. Olives are much cheaper than in Germany and we buy a huge glass with a gazpacho taste, so it also comes with onions, red bell peppers and garlic.

During the week when I’m working I prepare some fruit at home, because we don’t really go out to have lunch. Watermelon is amazingly sweet and cheap to buy, cherries are also much sweeter. Oranges for orange juice in the morning come in 5 KG-packs and don’t cost a lot at all. During my short break I usually get a bocadillo, a sandwich, when they have a vegetarian option. Usually it’s with tortilla. Or I buy empanadillas, small empanadas filled with spinach and cheese or other things.

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watermelon for my in-between-meal

Pintxos, that originally come from the Basque country in the North are really famous as well. In Benidorm you can find some narrow streets filled with Basque restaurants and they offer pintxos in every possible way. It’s a piece of white bread with something on top. This can be cheese, vegetables, chorizo, ham, sea food, everything. Some are designed really nicely, and it’s all fixed by a stick – a pintxo.

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What’s really amazing in the restaurants here is the breakfast. From time to time we have breakfast outside and you can get coffee and bread with tomato and cheese, ham, or just tomato for around 2 Euros. Juice isn’t expensive either, whereas in a German restaurant you already can pay 4 Euros for the juice. But because the oranges are mainly from this region they can sell them much cheaper. Another interesting thing is the cost of drinks. When you order a menu that I already mentioned, it might be that it comes with water, wine or beer. Any sodas you have to pay extra. But usually they are included as well. People told me here, wine is like water. It’s so cheap. One glass of white wine can be around 1,80 Euro. One time we ordered a menu at night with some friends and beer and wine just kept coming. For 15 Euros we had enough food for at least three more people and bottles of wine and beer included. I still can’t believe it. The prices are really well. Of course, you can find more expensive restaurants everywhere, but where I like to eat the prices are okay. Always keeping in mind that this is a really touristy area. In the small towns a bit further inside everything is even cheaper. In Germany, especially in Hamburg, it’s hard to eat out at night with wine and pay less than 20 Euros for 2 people. But here, it’s rare to pay more. Win! (Of course I know the cost of living in general is lower than in Germany and so are the salaries, but for now I still think in Hamburgian dimensions).

first month.

Yes, I’ve decided to move to another country. Inside of Europe. With my boyfriend, that is a native and already has a job there. That knows the language, obviously. That has family living close by. To a touristic area where you can find of Germans. Where the landlord puts all information in Spanish and English. On my first day here I met a German couple in the supermarket and still, it’s not every day because only the Englishmen are everywhere, but once in a while I speak German on the street. Doesn’t feel so exotic, so different… but still, I’ve moved to another country. I’m an official resident by now!

We decided what was best for us. And while my boyfriend extended his stay in Germany for a year and another and another until he lasted 7, I always knew he’d want to move back. Go home. And now things seemed so easy. We found an apartment, bought a car, and I’m starting to feel more and more comfortable speaking Spanish and I have started working as well!

Maybe it hasn’t sunk in yet. Maybe I haven’t realized it. Maybe I’m still in vacation mood. But why not move to another country, another city and try something new? We will both grow and make new friends eventually. Establish a much sunnier life close to the sea.

But now I am the foreigner that doesn’t adapt completely. That keeps on talking in his own language at home, prefers German over Spanish, needs help with everything and wonders why they don’t have translators at official places (not even the office for foreigners…). I know what it feels like signing things you hardly understand but feeling ashamed to ask about every single word. The person that eats different food and looks obviously foreign in almost every group because I’m super blond by now. Like the foreigners I’ve commented on in Germany. How it would facilitate their lives if they spoke the language fluently. If they mingled and made German friends and if they spoke up every time they don’t understand everything. I guess that’s karma :).

I’m not saying I don’t want to adapt but I still need some time. I’m excited to see how Spanish I can be. Isn’t that fascinating? How your environment and culture can change you and you figure out what’s most important to you? What it means to be German and to keep your identity while you are changing in order to arrive with more than just your body!

In the last four weeks I have reached a decent tanning level, went to the beach around twice a week, a lot more times to the pool, got to know different towns around here, had my first interview in Spanish and started working. Let’s see what the next four weeks have to offer!

 

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waiting.

Sometimes you know something big is going to happen. Something life changing. Or you just hope it will. I feel like I’ve spent the last months waiting. Waiting for the final job confirmation with my boyfriend, waiting for my last day at work, waiting for flights that were always delayed, waiting for my apartment to be empty, for my friends to say goodbye, for my own flight! But when I got here, nothing had changed. I waited for my boyfriend to get back home which could vary between 10 and 16 hours, waited for my stuff to arrive, my mom to get here, my job interview and so on. This can drive you crazy. I became best friends with Ted Mosby and Robin Scherbatsky, finished watching all 9 episodes of ‘How I met your mother’ in only a few weeks and my motivation level sank. The less I have to do the less I get done. Many people can probably relate because we are all used to our jobs, having more to do than we could ever finish without working over hours. At the same time struggling with chores at home, taking care of ourselves and enjoying company. Well after one month of unemployment I am glad to be back in this routine. I feel so much more organized and get things done! I am not really patient and these 4 weeks have been harder than expected. With no car and no friends I just stayed at home and watched TV. Worked on my tan and found a new language app which is working great. But when your day has around 16h and you have absolutely no tasks it’s hard not to do siesta, stay in bed and eat.

So welcome back to the stressful working life and to having a schedule and a plan when you wake up in the morning. Cheers to that!

bureaucracy.

Germany is known to be very correct. Lots of offices, lots of paperwork, slowly working officers… and in the end you need another paper to confirm you have received this paper. So I was expecting something less complicated in Spain. Oh well.

Everyone has a number here. While I was used to signing contracts and showing my identification at some places everyone here has a personalized number called DNI. As a foreigner you need a number as well but it’s not the same. It’s called NIE – Number for foreigners (Número de Identidad de Extranjero). People need it to sign contracts, start working, open a bank account, buy a car, buy a house etc. It took me 2 days to figure out how to register for an appointment online but I managed to do this from Hamburg. Last week was the special day and I had to go to a police station here in Benidorm. It was full of foreigners from everywhere – British, Russian, other East-European countries, Dutch… and we were only allowed inside with an appointment. Funny story: the officers were seated on 3 different desks, everything was so small you could listen and understand every conversation and they called out the names of the people waiting. And now imagine Spanish people that don’t speak any other language calling out foreign names… Usually the first names were okay like Elena, Andrej, Anja, Anna but then everyone was really focused and quiet trying to guess if it was his or her name.

All of us were missing at least one or two documents that could not be found online and we all met again in a bank were we needed to make a payment. The sneaky bank employee handed me a paper with all the information on how to open a bank account at his bank (A+ sales skills) and then we all went back to the second round. My name was called again, everything was fine and I could go pick up my number later during the day. All in all very successful and I even managed to receive another number I need to be employed. That went a lot faster and smoother.

But since Benidorm is so touristy I was expecting something way different. Next step was to register in Finestrat. That also went a bit differently. As Finestrat is so small I could just enter the city hall, head to the office to register, there was no waiting room or anything and no one was waiting anyways. It took 5 minutes and now I am officially residing in Spain!

altea.

I fell in love with this city immediately! Altea resembles an Andalusian town with the white houses and colorful flowers, the view over the sea and the mountains, narrow streets full of life and music. Compared to Benidorm and even other towns close by, Altea gives you the feeling of vacation. The city is divided into two different parts. Along the coast you can find lots of restaurants, a small marina and pebble beaches. People that live here enjoy the beautiful view over the sea and the yachts.

Tourists on the almost emtpy beach
Tourists on the almost emtpy beach

The old city is built around a church (Nuestra Señora del Consuelo) up on a hill. The church can be seen from any part of the city with its blue cupula. As my favorite colors are blue and white the city is made for me! The old town offers lots of nice restaurants, small boutiques and lots of stairs – and is mainly pedestrians only. The streets are so narrow that only residents are allowed to park here. Altea is also famous for cultural events, we even received flyers about an art night that’s coming up soon. The city appears to be very sophisticated and is home to many artists from the region.

At night the city is still alive, most shops and boutiques are open late. All the restaurants have nice little terraces and you can see either the sea or the mountains while enjoying dinner outside. The white surrounding gives everything a summer feeling even though we are still in “spring”. We will definitely be back for dinner or drinks!

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The narrow streets between the white houses
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View from Altea where you can almost see the skyline of Benidorm