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A good time to celebrate

solstice new light

Officially, according to the calendars, the shortest day or winter solstice this year is tomorrow, December 22. This is because the actual time of the solstice is 4.48am UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) which is equivalent to GMT (Greenwich Mean Time). And that means it will be at 5.48am CET (Central European Time) in most of continental Europe while it is on December 21 between 8.48pm PST (Pacific Standard Time) on the west coast and 11.48pm EST (Eastern Standard Time) on the east coast of mainland America.

Confused? Well, don’t forget that it’s only the winter solstice or shortest day in the northern hemisphere. South of the equator it is the summer solstice or longest day but I am not going to get involved with exact times there.

The winter solstice is also closely associated with and often celebrated as Yule but, in reality, the Pagan festival of Yule runs for 12 days.

The winter solstice itself is the first day of winter and, in Pagan traditions, marks the rebirth of the Sun God or the Horned God of the Hunt and celebrates the return to hours of daylight being longer than hours of darkness.

Bonfires have played an important part in the festivities, as they still do in many areas in Spain today, being long established allegorical symbols of cleansing and purity.

It is widely accepted that, as Christianity spread, the ancient Roman winter celebration of Saturnalia and Pagan Yuletide were seen as being an ideal time for Christmas. Never mind the historical fact that Jesus was not born in December, nor the highly unlikely situation of shepherds being outside in the cold and snow tending their sheep. Instead, the sheep would have been brought off the hills already and put safely into their winter quarters.

Oh, and just to add to the issue of the date; if the bible story is correct in that Joseph and Mary travelled to Bethlehem because of a census, it cannot have been in the winter. Censuses were held when it was safer for people to travel.

Today, many Pagans continue to celebrate the winter solstice with some also choosing to celebrate Yule on the same day as the Christmas holiday. It is convenient and makes sense as the Christian winter holiday still falls inside the 12 days of Yuletide.

The Christian and Pagan celebrations are remarkably similar. Although existing well before Christianity, Yuletide includes decorated Yule trees, Yule decorations, Yule gifts, a Yule feast and the burning of a Yule log. Then there is the Ancient Druid influence of introducing the sacred mistletoe plant into the festivities.

Doesn’t it just make you wonder where today’s Christmas celebrations had their origins? One thing is definite, they most certainly did not start in Bethlehem on a bitterly cold December night.

Happy Solstice everyone. Remember, from tomorrow days get longer again.

  

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Facing the challenge of change

genelect gary neville

Left, the four political leaders vying for power in today’s Spanish General Election; right, last month Englishman Gary Neville was appointed coach of Valencia football club.

Today, Sunday, is the General Election here in Spain but I promised not to bore you with news or comments about it.

I’ll just say it is being contested by four main parties, two of which have only been formed in the last year. The voting system here is different to that I have been used to in the UK but, in time, it will become obvious to me.

Opinion polls are pointing towards a possible result that could mean that no party will have an overall majority but neighbours don’t believe that and think one party will win power outright. The centre-right Partido Popular (People’s Party) has been the government for the last five years and is looking to continue but we will have to wait and see how the election turns out.

To be fair, it appears that football /soccer is more of interest to the population of the country (or, at least, mainly the male part of it) than politics. Whether it is matches in La Liga, the Spanish football league, or any of the country’s leading clubs battling in one or other of the European competitions, you can be assured that bars with large screen televisions will be packed with football mad fans all drinking and cheering in good humour. Once the final whistle goes, the bars become like ghost towns.

Such is the interest in football that the various managerial comings and goings are followed more closely than the political ones. With five managers in the top flight sacked in the last three months and gossip about a few more possible changes, there is plenty for the football supporters to chew over.

The five clubs who have changed their managers are Las Palmas and Levante in October, Real Sociedad and Valencia during November with December bringing a new face to Espanyol. Yes, it’s all happening in La Liga and managerial ins and outs are providing plenty of subject matter for not only the fans but also football journalists and pundits.

Then, next week, once the election results are known, it will be the turn of the political ‘experts’ to give their views about what happened and why as well as commenting on the make-up of the next government, be it one party or a coalition, and the identity of the new prime minister.

 

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Dining outdoors wearing short sleeves in December

The Mediterranean is just feet from our table.

The Mediterranean is just feet from our table.

Friday was seven days until Christmas Day, one week to go exactly, and we enjoyed a lovely afternoon meal outside in the sun.

We had returned to El Faro Restaurant in Villaricos (see http://50shadesofsun.com/?p=932 for our first visit there) for its superb Menú del día (Menu of the Day) that offers an amazing salad platter and bread to share plus three courses, a

Our main course, partly eaten when photo was taken,

Our main course, partly eaten when photo was taken.

drink from the bar as well as coffee for just 12€. That’s about £8.80 or $13, a pretty good price for all that.

So, while the UK was experiencing temperatures peaking at 12-13°C/53.5-55.5°F with winds of 30mph and gales forecast, we ate lunch on the restaurant’s terrace overlooking the Mediterranean just a matter of feet away, as we enjoyed a shade temperature reaching 23°C/73°F and no wind at all. We were both wearing sunglasses and I was more than comfortable in a short-sleeved polo shirt.

Short sleeves, sunglasses and sangria. Cheers.

Short sleeves, sunglasses and sangria. Cheers.

Spain is the sunniest country in Europe and the climate on the Costa Blanca has been described by the World Health Organisation as being among the healthiest in the world. Its Mediterranean coastline, from the Costa Blanca to the Costa del Sol, enjoys an average of over 300 days of sunshine each year. When northern Europe is being deluged or is frozen, you can almost guarantee that the south of Spain will be bathed in sunshine.

After we got back home, I checked a world weather map online and I found that the afternoon temperature was almost on a par with Honolulu and higher than many other ‘hot’ places including Cape Town and Sydney.

Lapping up the December sunshine. The cardigan soon came off.

Lapping up the December sunshine on the terrace. The cardigan soon came off.

It is no secret to our family and friends that Lisa and I moved to Spain for its delightfully sunny weather, but why does southern part of the country benefit from such weather?

Having donned my researcher’s hat again, it seems that the country actually has three main climate zones: Atlantic, Continental and Mediterranean. Basically, north-west, central and south-east respectively.

Well, we live in the province of Almeria which, along with most of Murcia and Alicante, has what is described as semi-arid climate – indeed, Almeria is said to be the driest part of Spain. Although we have not experienced it yet, having only arrived last month, it is very hot during the summer with average highs of 30°C/86°F but temperatures can exceed 40°C /104°F and the drought usually extends into the autumn.

South-east Spain is known for having a sub-desert climate, with rainfall as low as 120mm/4.7in a year in the Cabo de Gata which is supposedly the driest place in Europe.

We know our winter has yet to arrive and fully expect it to be cold but our neighbours tell us that only occasionally can we expect a morning frost and that snow has only been seen once in the last eight years. We shall see!

 

 

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If GM creatures are ‘safe’, why worry about ‘negligible risk’ of escape?

gm salmon

Two stories in the news are currently giving me a few concerns. At first glance, they may appear unconnected but they are linked by the facts that they involve genetically modified creatures and that one has already been approved while a field test of the other is being supported by a parliamentary scientific committee.

Now, we have heard a great deal about genetically modified (GM) crops and the subject has been the cause of a protests, debate and international restrictions. To some, GM is a solution to the world food shortage while to others it is a step fraught with dangers, a step into the unknown, a frightening step too far.

I will not knowingly eat anything that includes a genetically modified ingredient and, when I used to have a smallholding, I always bought GM-free animal feed.

The first news story giving me concern is the decision of the USA’s FDA (Food and Drug Administration) to approve GM Atlantic Salmon as suitable for human consumption while at the same time saying that there is no need to label it as being genetically modified.

The decision only relates to two land-based breeding and production facilities, so far, in Canada and Mexico. Maybe I am being cynical, but isn’t it strange that both sites are outside the USA even though the company involved is based in Massachusetts?

Further, apparently, there is almost no chance, a negligible risk, of any GM fish escaping and mixing with natural fish. Almost no chance? That means there IS a chance, however small. And, if the GM salmon is so safe, why even be worried about any escaping?

The ‘good news’, however, is that all the GM fish will be sterile females – but more about that later!

The second story is that a scientific committee of the UK parliament’s upper chamber, the House of Lords, has called on the government to support a field trial of GM insects. It claims they could provide safer alternatives to pesticides or even eliminate transmission of lethal diseases.

Such a move has been the subject of a ban by European Union regulations but the committee feels that this ban has already been broken and that Britain should now take a lead.

But where would it go? How can a field trial be controlled? How can GM insects be prevented from mixing with natural ones? Ah, but they would all be sterile!

Lord Selborne, who chairs the committee, said that companies need to be encouraged as GM insect technology has the potential to save countless lives worldwide and to generate significant economic benefits for Britain. Potential to save lives? Maybe but also a potential for unknown disaster too.

Mark Shadlow, chief executive of conservation group Buglife, said: “We are surprised that the report didn’t summarise the environmental risks that were highlighted in its evidence gathering and instead recommended a UK ‘field trial’, without making a clear case for a UK problem that needs to be tackled or, therefore, the type of insect to be trialled.”

In both cases, though, the GM creatures are said to be sterile (female salmon and male insects) and incapable of reproduction. If they are so ‘safe’, I wonder why such precautions are even considered necessary.

Environmentalists have long opposed the plan, saying the modified fish could escape its containment and mix with wild salmon populations.

The FDA said an escape is almost impossible because of redundant measures put in place to contain them in tanks. It also says that because the fish are sterile, they would not be able to breed with wild salmon.

But is sterility any guarantee? Not according to Canadian scientists who have found that the GM salmon ‘are capable of hybridizing with wild brown trout, creating offspring that carry modified growth genes and outcompete both wild and GM fish’.

Even if successfully kept apart from other creature, is ‘all same gender’ any real safeguard against reproduction? Well, no, not really. Nature has a number of examples of creatures that can change sex to overcome a shortage of one of them.

Molly Edmonds, writing in How Stuff Works – Health, says, “Reproductive success and continued survival are the main reasons that species change sex. The change could also occur due to environmental factors or chemical triggers that scientists don’t understand yet.”

 

Pic: A genetically modified Atlantic salmon with a natural salmon of the same age. Picture by Aquabounty, the Massachusetts-based company behind the GM salmon project.

 

Note: The author of this blog was named Farming Journalist of the Year in Wales, UK, while Rural Affairs Editor of a regional newspaper group, in 1999.

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Sometimes it pays to be a problem solver

cat tree cat tree sofa

Today Lisa has been putting her construction and puzzle solving skills to good use. She has successfully built what is described as a cat tree. This is a combination of a massive cat entertainment centre and scratching post.

cat tree hammockWe wanted something for the two cats to scratch and also keep them amused and this cat tree certainly seems to fit the bill.

Within an extremely short while of Lisa finishing her assembly work, Priscilla (who we call Prissy) roused herself from sleeping on the sofa and ambled over to take a closer look. In fact, she settled down into the tree’s hammock and promptly curled up in it.

cat tree topTwo days ago, we were treated to another feline success. We have a cat flap to allow our two girls to come and go as they please, something that Prissy got used to doing very quickly. Pooka, on the other hand was more reluctant to try it but perhaps That is not so surprising, given her age. She is, in fact, 17½ years old. We kept showing her the cat flap, from both inside and out but to no avail.

Then, on Sunday evening, we saw she was outside and neither of us had opened a door. That first time, Pooka sat by the door to be let back in but Lisa went outside to encourage her to come back in trough the flap. Since then, there has been no holding her.

Both our babies are going out and coming back in whenever they want to; they have total freedom to enjoy the Spanish weather however they please. Whether we are at home or not makes absolutely no difference.

The girls were both born in Florida, so they are used to the sunshine we get here. Pooka got so fed up with the cold and rain in Wales that she gave up going outside. She stayed resolutely in our a apartment. Even when we did get the occasional sunny day, she refused  to go outside as it was too cold for her. Here, though, she does not have that problem as even December daytime temperatures are higher than the average summer ones in Colwyn Bay.

Aside from our cats, deliveries continue to arrive daily, sometimes more than one a day via different courier companies. The absolute best was just the other day when I responded to the doorbell to find two delivery vans outside. They were virtually nose to nose having arrived from different directions but at the same time.

Each delivery that we receive means that we are ever closer to getting our home just as we want it. It really should not be long now although some items are not due to arrive until the New Year.

For now, though, our thoughts are turning towards the festive season and all the Yuletide brings. Our first such celebration in our new home in southern Spain is one which we are both anticipating with much fun and one that we really intend to enjoy.

 

Pics: Top – The cat tree that Lisa spent so long putting together. Our two cats show how interested they were.

Middle: Prissy settles into the cat tree hammock.

Bottom: Up on top, Prissy decides it’s time for a wash.

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Life through time

OK, this might seem a bit self-centred but this blog includes so much about Lisa and I today, a little looking back may not be a bad thing. So let’s begin by delving back 63 years, yes there I am, about 4 – 6 weeks old with my brother Graham, aged 11, and sister Averil, 7.  Today, I am 63, Averil is 70 while, sadly, Graham died aged 48. He would be 74 now.

baby_edited

baby_edited alone

 

 

 

 

Me a few months old, not sure of the exact number. Note the blond curly hair.

 

 

family

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our family in, I think, 1959: Back: Averil, 13, Graham, 17, and Dad. Front: Me, 6, and Mum.

young referee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1970: I qualified as a football (soccer) referee and started refereeing adult matches in the 1969/70 season while I was still at school – good job that the players didn’t know that their referee was still in high school. This picture was taken when I was 18.

 

ian circa 1976_edited

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At work, about 1976, so 23 going on 24. The fashion was for longish hair covering your ears – not easy to accomplish when you have natural curly hair.

 

ian circa 1980_edited ian 1982

Solemn and smiling, which do you prefer of these two photographs? I know that these were taken in early 1982; I was aged 29.

ian 1983

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1983 I was Senior Warden of the Masonic lodge of which I had joined in 1979. I would become Master in January 1984.

wedding day 2011

 

 

 

 

 

31st October 2011, sunset on Samhain/Halloween: Lisa and I, just married on Fort Myers Beach in a pagan handfasting ceremony by a Notary Public, licensed by Florida to conduct weddings. Our wedding was eight days before I turned 59.

murder mystery

Lisa and I with the remainder of the cast of Murder at the Theatre, performed at Theatr1 Colwyn, North Wales, UK, in August 2014. Lisa wrote the murder mystery, directed it and ended up acting in it (all for the very first time) when one of the cast pulled out – and that is why she was presented with her very well-deserved ‘Star of Fame’ award. 1Welsh spelling.

 

Joanne and us_edited_edited14th November 2015, our last night in the UK before moving to Spain. Joanne Jones joined us for our farewell meal in the Paanshee Bengali Restaurant in Prestatyn. Note my new hairstyle, curls and waves are all gone – now its ‘number two all over’.

 

ES-UK-US

15th November 2015: Lisa and I arrived in Spain to start our new life together.

We met in Second Life, an online virtual world; we took our relationship into real life; now we are living happily in our new life in the sun.

We were told by some that we would not make a go of it; others wished us every happiness.

Lisa and I are really happy and plan to be so for a very, very long time.

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Building up to Christmas – part two

Our new HD Smart TV. On the right is our new small broadband tv box.

Our new HD Smart TV. On the right is our new small broadband tv box.

On towards Christmas we go, with part two of our somewhat different, if not unusual, preparations for this year’s celebrations.

The guy who runs his own TV satellite business arrived late on Friday afternoon to install what we need to get good television reception here.

We already get a feed from a satellite dish but that only provides the free channels and we want much more, so we had already opted for his services. Not knowing whom to contact, we took advice from our neighbours and this man, named Bob, came highly recommended.

He gave us the choice of a new box that would give us the paid for satellite channels, like most of our neighbours have, or a brand new box that works via the internet and brings us all that and more. And the ‘more’ includes more than 850 films, free ‘pay per view’ channels, catch-up, and even channels you have to pay extra to see in the UK. It even includes the BT channels at no extra cost.

Of course, we chose the best package – at the same price as the other box – and he set it all up for us. And we still have our ex-UK Sky box connected to the satellite dish so we would still have some television even if the internet was to fail.

It seems OK, so far, but I am always a bit suspicious of new technology. That being the case, I’ll reserve judgement until we have had it for a little while. The programmes available for just 250€ a year, yes a YEAR, are all the ones offered in Sky’s most extensive package including sport and movies, plus the ‘paid-fors’ such as the football clubs’ own channels, BT and ESPN. Then there are the other services not available via Sky such as the 850 films, free pay-to-view and, he was at pains to point out, some rather graphic porn channels which make’s Sky’s ‘adult’ channels look like kids’ comics.

To be honest, I am not sure how much that would actually cost in the UK but, based on my old Sky subscription in Wales, it must be £80 or more every month or close to £1,000 a year. Meanwhile, here we are paying just 250€, and that is about £185, for a year. Now that is a pretty good deal in any language.

As far as Christmas itself is concerned, we did not bring anything like decorations with us. That, of course, means we have to buy new and that is exactly what we plan to do but not until the after-Christmas sales when they will all be reduced. So, this year, just for once we will not have a tree nor put up any festive decorations.

Christmas dinner will either be what we regard as traditional, as long as the new cooker is installed by then, or it will be at a restaurant in the afternoon. We will just have to wait and see how things develop on that front.

 

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A bit of fun for the holiday season

A friend of both Lisa and I, Gwawr Jones, yesterday posted on Facebook that everything there is so serious and that it was time for a little fun. She then listed, in sets of three, names she was known by, places she had lived, and so on.

Thinking about it, I thought I would try and take it a little bit further, so here goes:

Names I go by

  1. Ian (well, besides ‘uncle’, the only one I admit to!)
  2. Uncle – to nephews/nieces, great nephews/nieces, great great nephews/nieces (ooh, feeling old now)

Some places I have lived

  1. Cuevas del Almanzora, Spain
  2. Colwyn Bay, Wales
  3. Clwt-y-Bont, Wales
  4. Fulham, London

Three of the places I have worked

  1. Caernarfon & Denbigh Herald – Sub-editor
  2. LRC Products (Durex etc) – PR Manager
  3. Kentish Independent – Reporter

Three organisations for which I have volunteered

  1. Scouts – Scout Leader, District Commissioner
  2. St John Ambulance – Regional PR Officer
  3. MS (multiple sclerosis) Synergy – Secretary

Things I love to watch

  1. Undercover Boss
  2. The Chase
  3. Light entertainment
  4. Surprise Surprise
  5. Films

Things I love to hear

  1. Country music
  2. 1960s music

Some places I have been

  1. Hawaii
  2. New York
  3. West Berlin (while ‘wall’ still existed)
  4. Norwegian Fjords
  5. Barcelona
  6. Canada, Sweden, France, Italy, Iceland

Three things I love to eat

  1. Paella, tapas and other Spanish food
  2. Chips (fries) – with or without fish
  3. Curry

Three people I think may respond

  1. Lisa Franks
  2. Jeanie Brooks
  3. Meg Optional Chandler

Three things I am looking forward to

  1. Summer in Spain
  2. Using our outdoor area as extra living space
  3. Visiting beach on Christmas Day, maybe (depends on temperature)!

What would your list say? Please comment on my blog page www.50shadesofsun.com

FELIZ NAVIDAD, MERRY CHRISTMAS

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Building up to Christmas – part one

gift

It’s a bit of a strange way to build ourselves up for the Christmas season this year.

You see, after Lisa and I decided to move to Spain, and had been here and found the home of our dreams, then came the difficult part.

We bought a furnished property but without any kitchen items such as crockery, cutlery, pots and pans, microwave, toaster, kettle, teapot – the list goes on. We also knew that we needed a new washing machine and wanted to replace the working but old traditional cooker with a more modern range one.

So, it has been a busy time and something like a newly married couple goes through when setting up their home together for the very first time. I am sure that Lisa and I have gained just as much pleasure from doing this as any newlyweds. In fact, as this is the first home we have really set up together, the whole exercise has been more fun than a chore.

Then, as each box arrived with no indication of what it contained, it was just like opening wedding presents. Although we had ordered and paid for everything, discovering the contents as we opened each box was a surprise.

Actually, although I am using the past tense as most items have now arrived, there are still a handful that have yet to arrive – so the fun goes on, lol.

We ordered the washing machine from the local branch of Euronics and it was delivered and installed inside 24 hours. At first, though, it would not go into the spin cycle so an engineer came out and spent about 30 minutes here. We have no idea what was wrong but the important thing is that it has worked properly ever since.

Our new range cooker arrived a week later, again thanks to Euronics, but has still not been installed as we have been having a great deal of difficulty in finding gas fitters who can give a firm commitment to a particular day. At the moment, the job will go to the first one who can guarantee completing the installation before Christmas.

Our new television has arrived but as it was delivered in a fully branded box, we have left it unopened until Bob, the guy who runs the company that provides satellite and broadband television connections, arrives. Then we will know that it is installed properly. The model we ended up buying, for the technically minded among you, is a Philips HD Smart 200Hz LED with a 32” screen.

We looked at various options but felt we do not really need a 40” screen as we don’t want to feel overpowered by it. The Smart TV option was not that much more expensive, although I am not really sure what we are going to do with it.

As far as high definition is concerned, I did have that in the UK for a time but stopped paying for the HD channels on Sky as I could not really see any significant improvement. Now, all TVs seem to be HD and we have been assured that we will see a difference this time. I hope so. One good thing about our new system is that we don’t have to pay more for HD channels; they all come as part of the basic package.

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Eat now, pay later at new restaurant

el faro name

Picture this …

A couple walk into a brand new restaurant, are welcomed by the owner and shown to a table. They place their order and then, seeing no credit card signs, when the first course arrives, the male customer asks if he and his wife can pay by card. They do not have enough cash with them.

The owner explains that the business is so new, just four days old, that the bank has not yet arranged the credit card system but “not to worry, relax, enjoy your meal. You can pay tomorrow, the day after, no rush.”

Outside seating and a great sea view.

Outside seating and a great sea view.

That is exactly what happened to us yesterday when we found this seaside restaurant in the village of Villaricos. We did not know it was newly opened; it just looked good and had a lovely sea view. The fact that it also had excellent disabled access was just a bonus.

We had the splendid meal of the day.

Lisa and I chose seafood paella instead of a sharing salad platter as our first course and then we both enjoyed tuna steak and chips (fries) as our main dish. Along with these we were served bread and had sangria to drink. In truth, the paella alone would have been enough for lunch and we were both so full that we decided not to order dessert and went straight to coffee, in our case cortado, to finish.

All that for just 12€, that’s roughly £8.60, each. I have to say that we were most impressed by everything: the food quality, the cleanliness, the service, the building itself – purpose built out of wood, its position and view and the entrance suitable for everyone of whatever ability.

The restrooms are in a separate building off to the side but can be reached easily. Both are large and have plenty of room for a wheelchair to get in and turn around easily, at the same time allowing for transfer to and from the chair.

El Faro's bar with Maria at work in the kitchen.

El Faro’s bar with Maria at work in the kitchen.

In a mixture of Spanish and English, we learned that the new El Faro (lighthouse) restaurant is run by Francisco Rico Rodriguez, his wife Maria Jose Collado Gomez and their son.  Francisco takes responsibility for ‘front of house’, his wife is the chef and their son, another Francisco but everyone calls him Paco, takes care of the bar. A perfect family business based on dad Francisco’s 24 years’ experience gained working in his parents’ own establishment in the same village.

Husband and wife team: Francisco and Maria.

Husband and wife team: Francisco and Maria.

We went back today to pay for yesterday’s meal, still amazed that they would let a couple, eat a meal and then leave without paying. Remember, they had not seen us before, we are obviously not fluent Spanish speakers and were not asked for any evidence that we live in Spain. They might have never seen us again but, of course, they did and will do again and again.

El Faro is open from 9am to 11pm, seven days a week. Evening meals are 17 each, including a glass of wine and coffee. We’ll return soon.

 

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