Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Arrival in Valencia

Chris, Jo, Liz and Brian on the apartment terrace

We all arrived safely here at the apartment on Sunday afternoon around 4.30pm, closely followed by Tim from and his wife, Diana, to show us around and hand over the keys (thanks for the bottle of bubbly!). Around two hours later, Jimbo the Scot arrived complete with around 30 boxes of our stuff plus kids bikes, folding bikes, kitchen sink etc. After filling the hallway to the point of bursting, we all managed a plate of tuna and pasta with the remnants of the bubbly.

Yesterday was an early start for most with the decanting of thirty boxes into thirty neat piles (Chris says 29 because his didn't end up in a neat pile!) and the children both went down to explore the swimming pool a couple of times (see below)

The swimming pool
The 'piscina' (swimming pool)

Chris and Jo both made some English friends at the pool. Meanwhile, Brian spent the day fizzing over a problematic broadband connection. Despite the engineer from ONO (cable broadband company) turning up around 4 hours early, after he'd left, it was a further half day trying to get anything to work!

Of course, the biggest celebration of the day was Liz's birthday (I'm thinking of running a poll on the blogsite for people to guess her age!). Having failed to provide her with a birthday card, Chris and Jo both designed one for Brian, but then forced him to hand over 1 euro each for the results (Chris reminds me I'm operating on a line of credit as I have yet to pay!)

To round off the afternoon, a Skype call with various members of the family followed by a long cycle along the old Turia riverbed, past several playgrounds, crazy golf, past the Palau de la Musica and the Gulliver (a children's drop slide and climbing frame in the shape of a giant concrete Gulliver from Gulliver's Travels).

Some of us were up nice and early this morning, though we discovered Chris sprawled out, fast asleep on the sofa in the lounge (just like a teenager, but without the booze and fags!), but when he finally came to, he discovered a series of mosquito bites all over, so he needs a day of cold swimming pools and salty sea water to calm the itching down!

Cottenham to Valencia

The trip from Cottenham to Valencia was lots of fun and surprisingly the ferry trip from Portsmouth to Bilbao was calmer than anyone could have expected (a previous ferry trip northbound last Tuesday has seen Force 10 gales so we had anticipated a swell at the very least).

Arriving in Portsmouth on Friday evening, Chris and Jo were told off for taking a photo in the port itself (for security reasons!) which I thought was a little unfair, so I took one instead!

Portsmouth ferry terminal

The ferry was due to leave at 9.15pm, but because of the weather shenanigans earlier in the week, we finally departed at 11.30pm, by which time we were all very tired, though we still managed a three-course meal in the carvery (despite the dissuasive efforts of one of the restaurant's managers who seemed a little 'unsure' as to how to deal with people with special dietary needs - it reminded me a little of some of the better episodes of Fawlty Towers - can't remember if it was the goose-stepping episode or one of the ones where Basil abuses the diners when they ask for any particular item on the menu!). Still, the rest of the catering staff were absolutely fantastic and provided an A*** service, as if by way of an apology!

As we've said, the crossing itself was so smooth, we hardly knew we were moving. Perhaps the funniest aspect of the trip was the huge number of whale 'twitchers' (as I referred to them) on board. These folks - hundreds of them - were up on deck at all times of the day and night with cameras on tripods, binoculars, deckchairs and other gear, dressed in a weird array of clothing, eyes permanently fixed onto the horizon. I'm not certain a single one of them spotted anything other than a very occasional fin, but it was highly entertaining watching them run from one side of the ship to the other as someone called out "whale at 11 o'clock" or similar. I was dying to shout out a few false alarms just to see them all get some exercise!

Chris, Jo, Liz and Brian on board 'Pride of Bilbao'

With nothing much to do on board, we did watch a movie in the ship's small 'cinema' - more of a lecture theatre - Evan the Almighty. Very funny if you haven't seen it already.

Sunday morning we were up with the seagulls and after a rushed breakfast, we were amongst the first to depart the ship. Jimbo the Scot kindly navigated us to the motorway just outside Bilbao before we overtook him and started on our eight-hour car journey south. Coincidentally, we bumped into him again at a service station a couple of hours later before we arrived ahead of him at the apartment on Sunday afternoon. The bikes had managed to stay intact on the back of the car and within a couple of hours we had been reunited with all our luggage as Jim hit Valencia. In fact, Chris reminds me that Jim went a bit 'off course' when he got into Valencia, but one of the benefit of a 9th floor apartment is that we can see most things with a bird's eye view, so when Jim put his warning lights on,we were able to spot him and navigate him down to the apartment from over 500 metres away.

Arrival of car and bikes at the apartment

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

For boxes and bikes, the journey begins...

Jimbo the Scot arrives in Cottenham

A completely mad panic late last night as Chris and Jo were off to bed (oh, yes... and we were in the midst of trying to get the next issue of the magazine off to bed too) when the phone went...

Jim aka 'Jimbo the Scot' called from the ship, Pride of Bilbao, as it was due to dock in Portsmouth from its Bilbao trip. Force 10 gales had delayed the ship en route, and for reasons I still cannot fully fathom (though they make perfect sense to everyone else!), he would need to alter his route around the UK for his numerous pick-ups for the journey back to Spain. This means that he would like to do the Cambridge pick-up sometime Wednesday afternoon... that is today! Well, with around 18 hours notice and a full 24 to 36 hours before he had been due to pick up our stuff, Jim arrived - thankfully to around 20 fully packed, taped and labelled boxes, 4 bikes, 4 deckchairs and our little emergency pine table which has been put up, taken down, put away, lent, lost and returned to base more times than I've had hot dinners. Well, the table and all the other weighty contents are now on their way round a quick circuit of the UK before meeting up with us again - and Jim - at Portsmouth on Friday night for the sail to Bilbao.

Jim aka 'Jimbo the Scot' packs 'em in

I spotted Jim whilst I was driving back to the office in Histon. You cannot miss the lorry! I called Liz to forewarn her and Chris and Jo were then dispatched, camera in hand, to flag him down as he arrived at the bottom of our street. I think Chris might make quite a good photographer as he gets older...

Chris and Jo inspect the lorry

Not so sure about Chris and Jo's abilities in the lorry-packing department!

Now we just have a further day-and-a-half slog packing up the car, sorting out the house - oh, and mentioning plans for our departure to our wonderful staff! Actually, the staff have - as ever - been great. We had a lovely evening out with them last week - drinks and a curry - and we were presented with a set of Pedro Almodóvar DVDs. We cannot think of anything more appropriate for our time in Spain than the collected works of Spain's foremost film director (thanks for the suggestion Emma!). Of course if the staff start misbehaving, then rather than carry out our threats to place webcams throughout the office in our absence, I'll just post evidential photos from last week's curry night on the blog!

Meantime, back to that packing...

Friday, 10 August 2007

The apartment, the planning, the packing...

We'll be in the centre tower - 'Torre 2' - a four year-old apartment block, with the stunning view shown in the post of 1 August. Now all we've to do is to pack, load up the stuff for freighting - courtesy 'Jimbo the Scot' - pack the car, horsewhip the children (and staff!) and set off for Portsmouth... two weeks today.

We're all very excited at the prospect of the next few months of our adventure, but the workload prior to the journey seems never ending. Being one for lists, I am in my element with spreadsheets and bits of paper, but the problem is that the lists are ever-lengthening whilst time is shortening!

Jimbo the Scot was a lucky find through the Spain Expat website - a chance sighting of his email address and absolute luck that he had a trip scheduled to coincide with the very days we will be travelling to Valencia. On top of that, he's booked on the same ferry and has offered to lead us out of Bilbao and onto the motorway. Some things appear to be too good to be true!

We seem to have sorted out our technology, so the VOIP phone (Internet-enabled to you and me!) is already working fine so our friends can call us on a local UK number - and no one will ever know that we're sitting on our balcony in eastern Spain, sangria in hand! The only real concern now is that the broadband connection works from day one. If someone should switch the Internet off one day, it'll cause us more than a few headaches...

The school books are piling up for Chris and Jo! Several online orders have elicited the majority of the English language books required for their new school. Chris's curriculum must be interesting - he requires a book on the life of John Lennon as well as Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - one end of the spectrum to the other! Liz and I are both wondering how they'll feel in their new school uniforms. Cottenham Primary School is, by comparison, a far more casual affair - uniform-wise, you understand!

We keep reminding ourselves that we'll have a clear fortnight before Chris and Jo start school to run around buying school uniforms and other essential items, as well as enjoying another two or three months of great weather in sunny Valencia, before the 'winter' sets in.

Can't stop thinking of the swimming pool (and gym!) ...

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Avenida de Francia Panoramic view from our balcony

Avda de Francia Panorama, originally uploaded by snowgoose1.

We finally made it to Valencia last Thursday and spent a couple of days looking at apartments. Whilst the very first apartment was a little depressing - four bedrooms in a rather grim layout on two floors with prison cell-type windows and a rental price which would not look adrift in Park Lane - we managed to find far more likely accommodation on Friday.

This apartment, on the ninth floor of a 4 year-old luxury building overlooks almost every important area of Valencia, and within 200 metres, boasts a supermarket, bars, cafes, two restaurants, a tennis club, a free car park, its own swimming pool, gymnasium, sauna and meeting rooms. Additionally, there are two cycle rental places, several children's parks, crazy golf and the world's most stunning performing arts centre all within five minute's walk. As if that's not enough, the number 19 bus stops directly outside the entrance to the apartment block, giving a 10 minute journey time to either the old part of the city or the beach - equidistant on both directions.

There are abundant cycle routes throughout the city, including the area of the City of Arts and Sciences, the beach at Malvarossa and the America's Cup Port, which means that no where is more than 10 to 15 minutes away from anywhere else - and it's as flat as Cambridge!

So when is everyone coming to visit?!

We now have less that four weeks remaining in Cambridge to sort out all the household and business affairs - our ferry leaves at 21:15 from Portsmouth on Friday 24 August, arriving Bilbao at around 08:00 on Sunday 26 August. By Sunday evening, we'll have arrived in Valencia and the 'vacancies' sign will go up, unless our many friends have pre-booked the year ahead!