It might have been April 1 but it was no joke

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April Fools Day is not a feature of life in Spain1 but yesterday’s events certainly appeared like a huge practical joke but, sadly, they weren’t.

First I need to explain that all Spanish people are given an identity number, known as a DNI, and anyone from foreign countries planning to live in Spain for longer than three months needs to apply for an NIE. That’s the equivalent of the DNI but for citizens of other nations.

Knowing we needed one each, Lisa and I used the services of a gestoria to make our lives a bit simpler. A gestoria, or gestor, is a person who deals with administrative bureaucracy on behalf of a client.

Our appointments this morning were at the nearest office to our home – but that was in the city of Almería, more than 100 kilometres away.

We arrived in time, checked in and waited for our numbers to be called. So far so good, the agent looked through our papers and everything seemed in order, except one. Instead of being able to pay for our NIEs there and then, we were told to collect the necessary forms from the reception, complete them, take them to a bank, pay the money and then return to the office with the receipted form.

Simple, yes? Sadly, no – in fact far from it.

The first bank said we had to pay at an automatic machine but it kept coming up as ‘technical error’; attempts at other banks encountered the need to give our NIEs first. The mere fact that we wanted to pay the money to get an NIE seemed to get lost. No NIE, no payment accepted, no receipted form.

Just how anyone is supposed to enter their NIE on a form that they need to use to get their NIE is beyond me. Sounds like a script good enough for a top comedy show.

Then Barry, our Spanish-speaking friend who drove us to Almería, had a bright idea and went to the branch of the bank where we have an account. There the money was paid, without the need for a NIE, and the forms duly stamped as paid. To solve this muddle had taken visits to seven banks and taken nearly three hours since we left the office.

Great, now we could return and get our NIEs.

Well, that was our fond dream. It turned out that the NIE office, which stays open until 5pm from Mondays to Thursdays, closes at 2pm on Fridays.

After leaving Almería, we returned to the town nearest our home in an attempt to see the gestor to ask him to arrange new appointments for us. But, by then it was 4.40pm; his office will reopen on Monday.

 

1 Spain has its own equivalent of April Fools Day. It is December 28, ‘Day of the Holy Innocents’.

Andalucía: Great scenery, fantastic weather and improving accessibility for those with disabilities

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andalucia scenery andalucia beach

There can be absolutely no doubt that the area of Andalucía in the south of Spain is a lovely place to visit on holiday. There are many places to visit, fantastic and varying landscapes plus gorgeous Mediterranean beaches.

   And all this while enjoying the very best of Europe’s weather. Of course, it is a wonderful place to live, too. My wife Lisa and I moved here last November but that is another story.

   Getting around most places in Andalucía, and elsewhere in Spain for that matter, is not a problem for the majority of people. Similarly, access to buildings is largely pretty easy and not worth a second thought.

   Not worth a second thought, that is, as long as you are able-bodied. For those who have physical disabilities, however, it is not always so easy but tourist sites and hotels are fine and generally the situation is getting better. Accessibility is something that matters to me as my mobility problems, caused by multiple sclerosis (esclerosis múltiple in Spanish), mean that I’m in a wheelchair when out and about.

   Now, in more modern towns and cities, or in developments that have taken place relatively recently, there are few problems. In Andalucía, you can see real differences.

   In many towns the pedestrian crossings regularly alternate between those at road level and those at pavement height; the latter also serving as traffic calming ramps. But, for a wheelchair-user, both are easy to cross because the road-level ones have proper dropped pavements each side while the pavement-level ones are just that, flat and level.

   However, not all dropped pavements are as good. In older towns, originally built well before the invention of motor vehicles, some facilities for the disabled have been added but not always with sufficient thought.

   To see this, we need look no further than the road right behind the medical centre in Cuevas del Almanzora, in Andalucía’s Almería province.. There, someone has felt the need to install a dropped pavement, which is a good idea for wheelchairs – so close to the medical centre. But why on earth has the bottom of it been left well above the road level? Dropped from the pavement height it may be but there is still a significant step to overcome. Words fail me.

   Then there is one pedestrian crossing with a dropped pavement on one side of the road but a full height kerb on the other. Of course, tourists and my fellow British expats may be tempted to laugh at such a situation but I could show everyone an example of something similar in the UK. There, a crossing has a dropped pavement on each side but, having crossed the roadway, you are then left on an island with a kerb to negotiate to enter the car park.

   Actually, talking about car parking, that reminds me about people from other countries using disabled parking facilities.  Disabled parking cards issued by any EU country are recognised throughout Europe but how they may be used depends on the rules of the country in which you are parking.

   So, a holder of the disabled blue badge from Britain must remember that here in Spain it does NOT give you the right to park in a ‘no parking’ zone like it does on yellow lines in the UK; it simply gives the authority to park in a bay designated for that purpose.

   Finally, a word about access to buildings. Fair’s fair, this is improving throughout Spain but we have to realise that what may be desirable may not always be possible. What can we do, for example, about an old town post office with its door at the top of five steps and with no room for a ramp or a lift? Not a lot.

   However, in the same town, the branch of one bank, Banco Popular, with a step up to its door has recently been completely refurbished, including moving the door to eliminate the step and provide a flat and level entrance. Good planning for those with disabilities and parents with children in strollers.

 

 

Around and about

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So many of you have been asking about the environment here in our part of Spain that I thought that I had better answer your questions in a post.

Our home is in the province of Almeria in southern Spain, between Costa del Sol and Costa Blanca but, thankfully, nowhere near the popular tourist destinations. We are in a small community of about 30 or so properties (I have never counted) in a valley completely hidden from the main road. There is a village in walking distance and a town some 8km/5m away.

The market is only yards from the sea.

Lisa shows the market is only yards from the sea.

The climate, as by now you must be aware, is sunny. It is said to have 330 days of sun here every year. As such, we are surrounded by palm trees, oranges and lemons grow just down the road from our front door and there are a variety of plants that grow well in tropical climes as well as some desert ones.

Agriculture is one of the major economies with melons and lettuces being two of the major crops. Near us, it was fascinating to see, just last week, people working for a local co-operative arrive and harvest a field of lettuces by hand.

We are in an area where desert meets the mountains and sea. Indeed, we can be on a Mediterranean beach in 10 minutes. Most of the rivers are dried up but they occasionally flood when the rains come. The wettest month of the year is September and the worst of winter tends to be January and February.

That's me, wearing sunglasses by the Mediterranean.

That’s me, wearing sunglasses by the Mediterranean.

Average temperatures reach their peak in August with highs of 30˚C/86˚F but occasional days of 35C/95F are not unknown. At night the average low temperature is 22˚C/62˚F. Spring and autumn temperatures are more moderate; they go up to about 23˚C/73˚F and down to around 12˚C/53˚F.

November’s average high is 20˚C/68˚F but, in fact, yesterday it reached 22˚C/62˚F. The nights, however, are quite chilly with average lows of 10˚C/50˚F.

This morning, Sunday, we visited a market in a nearby town right on the Mediterranean. The stalls were set among palm trees (see main picture), the sky was blue and the sun beat down. The temperature was 23˚C/73˚F; another glorious day. Did I mention it is sunny here?