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

andalucia name

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.

 

 

Really fresh juice from locally grown fruit

orange trees2_edited

Just have to say that we enjoyed a great addition to our breakfast this morning. Peter, one of our neighbours, rang the doorbell yesterday and handed Lisa a carrier bag absolutely bulging with oranges and grapefruits that he had picked from trees nearby.

Having thanked him, we wondered how we could possibly eat them all before they spoiled, especially considering the fact that grapefruit still languishes on my ‘I don’t like’ list of foods. So, thinking it over, I suggested that Lisa make her own freshly squeezed orange and grapefruit juices.

She liked the idea and, this morning, she tried making orange juice for the first time. We don’t have a juicer so, instead, she used our blender – with impressive results. To be honest, we weren’t too sure how it would turn out but we needn’t have worried. It was excellent. We didn’t bother sieving it to remove the odd bits after all, back in the UK we used to buy fresh juice ‘with bits’ from Tesco.

Next time, we will try grapefruit juice. Although I don’t like the fruit itself, I know the juice is a pleasant drink and will have no problems with that.

Sitting here on Saturday with the sun streaming in through the windows, it seems quite a lot warmer than the 14C being recorded at our local weather station but, of course, that is the shade temperature – just as they always give in forecasts. It is always warmer in the sunshine itself.

Talking of weather, I see that, so far at least, those forecasting the UK weather seem to have covered themselves in confusion once again. Over the last few days there have been awful predictions of heavy snow and ‘an arctic blast’ of freezing air set to bring temperature as low as -15C. Granted that this was going to be worse in parts of rural Scotland but even there it has not got that cold. At the moment, the worst I can find is -3C but it will, no doubt drop tonight as it does every night.

Artic winds? It seems that the forecasters got in wrong again but there’s always tomorrow for them to redeem themselves.

Here in southern Spain, we are experiencing our own winter with tonight’s low forecast to drop to just 2C, which will be the coldest that we have known it in the two months we have lived here. Such is life!

Weather ‘tis nobler … *

Conwy valley in North Wales was flooded in December.

Conwy valley in North Wales was flooded in December.

Lisa and I had more than one reason in our minds when we decided to move from the UK to Spain but the major one was the vastly different weather conditions in the two countries.

We were both tired of seeing almost constant grey overcast skies, seemingly never-ending high winds that, on one occasion, flattened our garden fence and rain, rain and more rain for days on end.

Since we arrived in Spain, the UK has been hit by some pretty atrocious weather resulting in widespread flooding after it was hit in quick succession by storms Desmond, Eva and Frank. On the upside, though, it has been unseasonably warm; you could even say ‘mild’.

That being the case, December’s weather in the area where we used to live, in North Wales, just had to be compared with where we live now. That was our first full month in our new home.

With the help of various weather sites on the internet, facts and figures about temperatures, wind speeds and rainfall were gathered together; I hope you find them interesting.

Short sleeves, and sunglasses in southern Spain in December. Cheers.

Short sleeves, and sunglasses in southern Spain in December.

Temperature: Colwyn Bay basked in an average a high of 55˚F/13˚C and a low of 43˚F/6˚C which, I have to agree are more like spring temperatures than those usually experienced in December. Meanwhile, Cuevas del Almanzora enjoyed a much warmer average high of 68˚F/20˚C and a low of 51˚F/10.5˚C.

The warmest day in both places was the 16th when thermometers rose to 62˚F/17˚C in North Wales but reached 72˚F/22˚C in our corner of southern Spain. In contrast, the coldest day where we are now was the 20th when the temperature fell to 45˚F/7˚C compared with 32˚F/0˚C, freezing point, on the 13th where we used to live.

Rainfall: Rain that led to widespread flooding in various parts of the UK fell near enough every day of the month in Colwyn Bay. It totalled 100mm/4inches, which is much higher than usual for December. It averaged more than 3.2mm/0.13inches a day and the day when it rained most was the 12th when 11.94mm/0.47inches were recorded.

In Cuevas del Almanzora, however, in the same month rain fell on just three days and totalled just 10mm/0.4inches.

Wind speeds: Those storms mentioned earlier meant that North Wales was lashed by winds averaging up to 20kph/12.5mph with the fastest sustained speed of 58kph/36mph; gusts reached 82kph/51mph.

That is vastly different to what we experienced. Winds here averaged just 11.75kph/7.5 mph with a fastest sustained speed of 25.75kph/16 mph; gusts reached only 35.5kph/22mph.

Summary: While Colwyn Bay enjoyed milder temperatures than usual for the time of year, it was subject to heavier than average rainfall and stronger than normal winds.

Cuevas del Almanzora enjoyed warmer temperatures, almost no rain and much less wind.

Hey, no pushing there. Form an orderly line for our spare room!

 

 * Apologies to William Shakespeare.

Grateful to have left stormy weather behind

december flood  december sun
Contrasting Decembers: Floodwater in North Wales; Oranges growing in the sun in southern Spain.

I feel really sorry for friends, family and others we left behind when Lisa and I moved to Spain. No, I am not being smug about the weather here; I feel genuine sorrow for the atrocious weather they seem to be constantly enduring in the UK.

Of course, any severe weather affecting anyone, anywhere, is a cause for concern but my immediate thoughts are with those in the UK, where we lived until two months ago, followed by those experiencing their own stormy conditions in Lisa’s homeland, the USA.

One of the major reasons that we chose to move to Spain was the promise of warmer, drier and more settled weather. The four British ‘summers’ from 2012 to 2015 were not good experiences for either of us with the first and last being the worst. Additionally, the weather exacerbated my Multiple Sclerosis symptoms and my health did take a downward turn.

In this blog, on August 8, I wrote: “We were getting fed up with the weather and we both wished for more sunshine. Also, we had noticed that my MS symptoms seemed to get worse as temperatures changed; more consistent weather was called for.” Since then, I have written about the great weather here in Spain and how we have enjoyed sitting outside wearing short-sleeves in the December sunshine.

What I have not said before is that the more settled weather here seems to be having a beneficial effect on my health in that my MS symptoms seem to have stopped deteriorating and, in some ways, are showing hopeful signs. Now, this may just be the natural ‘good days, bad days’ associated with the illness but it may also be the change of environment and a slight increase in my absorption of natural vitamin D from the sunlight.

As yet, it is too early to tell but one thing that we do know is that we are both generally happier and healthier in the sunshine instead of the almost constant cloudy skies, never-ending wetness and too often high winds we were forced to accept in North Wales. Our former neighbour in Colwyn Bay, in fact she and her husband live in the flat above the one where we used to live, told us only last week that they have had “nothing but rain and gales” since we left.

Lisa and I used to attend weekly coffee mornings in the UK where we were the youngest couple. On the rare warm days, we would dress for the weather and enjoy it but a popular expression among older members was that the ‘hot’ weather was “too much”. The so-called hot weather, to them, was anything over 70˚F/21˚C. I even saw one national newspaper headline saying Britain was ‘sizzling at 70˚F’. Ridiculous!

Leaving the murkiness of the UK behind means that we are certainly in no danger of suffering from Seasonal Affected Disorder here! As I type this on December 29, the sky is blue and the sun is shining. We did have some rain during the early hours but any evidence of that has gone now.

Looking forward to winter?

A satellite image taken at 6am CET on December 22. The UK and most of northern Europe is hidden by clouds but in southern Spain it is clear and sunny as usual.

A satellite image taken at 6am CET on December 22. The UK and most of northern Europe is hidden by clouds but in southern Spain it is clear and sunny as usual.

With the passing of the winter solstice this morning in Europe (but last night in the western hemisphere), we can all look forward to lighter days even though the worst of winter is still to come. That’s true even here in southern Spain, where Lisa and I now live, in an area that is said to enjoy the best climate ln Europe.

So let’s look at that in a bit more detail. We live about 8km/5miles outside Cuevas del Almanzora in the province of Almeria – all of which is included in the region known as Andalucía (Spanish spelling).

The Almanzora climate has more than one unique quality. Indeed, together they ensure that there is nowhere else like it in the whole of Europe. The area has:

  • The most sunshine in all Andalucía;
  • The least rainfall in the whole of Spain;
  • The warmest and driest winter in all Europe.

In fact, the area in which we live has Europe’s only desert climate but, at the same time, is busy agriculturally with very many fields of crops.

It boasts a year round average of a full nine hours of sunshine a day and a total rainfall of less than seven and a half inches. In winter, the average maximum daily temperature is 19°C/67°F from October to March.

We enjoy mainly clear sunny days and star-filled night skies when the temperature drops considerably. The days have so much sun that Europe’s only solar power station is located here, while the clear night skies and lack of light pollution has led to one of Europe’s most important space observatories being established here.

There is nowhere else in all Europe that can equal this area’s enviable record of sun and rain. In summer, it is hot and dry inland but cooler down on the coast at places such as the fishing village of Villaricos, while the plateau above the Almanzora, is cooled by pleasant sea breezes. Even during the winter months, it remains the continent’s warmest and driest place to be.

Some of our outdoor furniture arrived yesterday, so it’s time to soak up some sunshine and healthy vitamin D. Have to be a bit careful though as, even in December, it does register on the tanning index. Don’t want to get sunburnt!

 

A reason to celebrate

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Today, December 8, Spain has a national public holiday on the day of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. This is a religious celebration observed by many Christians, mainly Catholics, around the world.

Some churches organise processions through the streets but, on checking the internet, I was unable to find any details of one in the whole province of Almeria. Of course, most Catholic churches will each be holding a special Mass today.

The feast focuses on the belief that the Virgin Mary was conceived without sin but that does not mean that she was conceived without sexual intercourse. The Catholic church, of which I am not a member, teaches that Mary was conceived by St Anne through conventional means – her father being St Joachim.  What ‘immaculate’ means is that, despite her conception being the result of sex, Mary was kept free of original sin.

I think it is important to emphasise that the Immaculate Conception has nothing to do with the other belief that Mary gave birth to Jesus while remaining a virgin.

Theological controversy, in which this blog is not getting involved, surrounded the feast of the for centuries. Many theologians throughout Christian history, including St Thomas Aquinas, questioned the Immaculate Conception.

It remained open for debate for many years until Pope Pius IX proclaimed it to be an essential dogma in the Catholic Church on December 8, 1854. The written document on this is known as the Ineffabilis Deus. Since then, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception celebrates the belief that Mary was born without sin and that God chose her to be Jesus’s mother.

Ok, that’s enough about religion!

The weather here continues to be enjoyable and so very different from that we experienced in the UK in December or that Lisa remembers about this time of year in her native New York city. Here, today started sunny and with a clear blue sky but it was cold with a temperature of only 8˚C/46˚F. Since then it has warmed up considerably and, as I write this, it is now a comfortable 14˚C/57˚F.

genelectGoing out and about, there is plenty of evidence of political activity with banners everywhere exhorting voters to choose one party or another in the General Election on the 20th. And there are a host of parties to choose between when making a decision.

A couple of things about the election that do seem to be a good idea is that publication of opinion polls are prohibited in the last few days before voting takes place and campaigning has to end two days before election day. The very last day is set aside as a day of reflection; a day free from being badgered by one or more of the parties vying for power.

 

Stunning Mojácar and a date to remember

mojacar

Yesterday, Sunday, started off with an overcast sky. Despite it being December, it was the very first really cloudy sky Lisa ad I had seen since we arrived here in Spain. But, before you smile too much, I should point out that the sun did come out in time for us to enjoy a siesta-timed lunch in a delightful restaurant right on the beach.

It was at a place called Mojácar Playa (‘playa’ means beach) where we went after taking a look at the amazing town of Mojácar itself. It is unlike anything that I have ever seen in the UK; and Lisa says that she has never come across such a sight in the US either.

Although I called it a town, it is really a village that has become much more than that in both size and importance. It has been inhabited since around 2000 BC and, at various times has attracted different peoples. These have included the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks and the North African Islamic Moors. When the Moors established themselves in Spain in the early 8th century, the province of Almería came under the authority of the Caliphate of Damascus.

Visually, and I suppose architecturally, Mojácar is stunning. In its lofty hillside position, its white buildings glisten in the sun as it commands amazing views over both the surrounding countryside and out over the Mediterranean.

It is hardly surprising that, despite the overcast start, we were able to enjoy lunch in the sun as Mojácar has more than 3,000 hours of sun per year. Rainfall is seldom and weak, with an average rainfall of just 200mm (that’s less than 8 inches) per year. The average yearly temperature is around 20 °C.

The average temperature in summer varies between 26 °C and 32 °C. while in winter it is between 10 °C and 18 °C. Winter is normally mild and never lower than 4 °C.

Thanks to Mojácar’s being close to the sea, the maximum temperature in summer is considered mild. However, in the inland zones of Almeria, during summer, day time temperatures can reach 40 °C; even the low evening temperature is high enough to warrant the use of air-conditioning, especially during June, July and August.

Today is a bank holiday because yesterday, Constitution Day was on a Sunday. Another grey start but already we can see patches of blue sky and have some sunshine.

1941

IMG_0089Before closing today, I need to draw your attention to it being the74th anniversary of the Japanese attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. We went there last December and visited the memorial that stands over the USS Arizona that lies where it sank on that fateful day and which is the last resting place of 1,102 of those killed on board that ship.

We all owe everyone in our armed forces a debt of gratitude for the service they give and the risks they take on our behalf. To those serving now, and to veterans of former wars and campaigns, I salute you.

Picture: Part of the Roll of Honor in the Memorial, listing all who died.