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When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money!

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Not all Brits deserting Costa Blanca

Brits participating in local events
Much has been made in the British tabloids today of ex-pats packing up and disappearing, with headlines such as "Spanish dream has ended for 90,000 ex-pats". I really don´t know where they get these figures from and local radio presenter Dave Rowland has been on BBC Radio Wales this morning to dispute this claim.

Fiercely patriotic Benidorm at fiesta time
The National Institute of Statistics released figures that showed for 2013 the number of registered inhabitants in the Alicante province fell by 83,000. This is a TOTAL figure and not just ex-pat residents as implied in the British press. Of that 40,000 were British, 14,000 German and the balance made up of other nationalities, including South Americans. However, bucking the trend are Russian and Chinese nationals - non EU citizens who invest half a million euros in property have the right to remain as residents.

Work and Health Care

British Consul Paul Rodwell
There are two main reasons to explain why some ex-pats are heading back - work and health care. Unemployment in Spain is currently 26% against the UK figure of 7%, with under 25´s in Spain hit the hardest. That figure rockets up to 56% - only Greece has a higher percentage of young people out of work, at 62%. Many Brits don´t help themselves either by not learning the language therefore limiting themselves to work opportunities. Also there is no benefit culture here as in the UK - no work therefore no contribution into the system = no benefits! As it stands, unemployment benefit for those entitled to it only last for a year in most cases.

The second primary reason for Brits heading back is health care. In December 2012 health care entitlements changed. Up until that point, if you registered at your local Town Hall that you were resident you were automatically entitled to free Social Security health care - NHS equivalent, just like a Spanish residents. However, with the economic climate and the health system in crisis new regulations were introduced.

British Government pays Spanish Government

Local Social Security hospital near Benidorm
Pensioners who have retired to the sun and are entitled to NHS health care in the UK, and continue to receive their pension are 100% covered. The British Government pays the Spanish Government a fixed sum per person to cover health care. Those that are working LEGALLY, by which I mean declaring their earnings and paying tax are also covered - whether employed on a contract or autonomo, self employed. The ones which are affected are those working in the black - cash in hand and early retirees, as they are not contributing into the system. They have 2 options for those living in the Valencian community, which includes the Costa Blanca - pay a monthly contribution which is in the region of 70€ per person per month or take out private health cover.

Brits still buying property

What brings most Brits here - the climate
So in short, many that do go back usually fall into one of those 2 categories - also some pensioners with failing health return to be near family - not because the care here is poor but the language barrier can be isolating for them. But it should be noted that Brits still continue to top the list of property buyers in the region..... that tells a story in itself surely. Don´t believe everything you read in the British press - I should change that to anything really!

Relevant articles
Spanish property still top with Brits
New residency requirements
Benidorm says NO to The Sun newspaper article

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Taxi from Alicante airport?

Alicante airport

Alicante Airport

The ongoing dispute between Elche taxi drivers and "illegal" carriers appears to be coming to a conclusion. A meeting held back in March between the Director General of Transport, Councillor of Transport in Elche - under which El Altet Alicante airport comes under and the President of the Association of Taxi´s in Elche have agreed upon a three point plan.

Up to now Elche taxi drivers have been up in arms that taxis from other regions such as Benidorm and Torrevieja have been "stealing" customers. Officially only Elche taxi drivers can pick up from the taxi rank at the airport but there have literally been physical fights between the drivers when an impostor has been seen.

Automatic License plate reader

One of the measures is for an automatic license plate reader to be installed at the airport, to track the number plates of all those making drop offs and collections. This would automatically flag up those that are making multiple trips. According to the Elche taxi drivers association, there are on average 40 such drivers every day compared to 82 from Elche and they estimate that they loose 40% of their business because of them. AENA, the airport operator will be responsible and bear the cost of this. This would obviously target those making illegal taxi runs for black money - you will often hear and see them advertising locally that they can do a taxi run for cash in hand. But be very careful - they are not insured and there have been instances in the past of them being pulled over and the passengers being told to leave the vehicle by local Benidorm police.

They have also agreed that more police surveillance and inspections will be carried out - currently there are 8 police assigned to the airport. The third measure is to limit taxi drivers from other locations to a maximum of 6 services to the airport per month = 72 per year.

Shuttle Transfers

Buses all waiting for passengers
Many coming on package holiday have bus transfers included - you make your way down to level minus 2 from the arrival hall and you will see rows of waiting shuttle buses. This is where you pick up independently booked shuttle buses too, such as A2B, Travel Republic, BeniConnect - they need to be pre-booked, you can´t just turn up but they are dirt cheap. I have heard of instances of a return shuttle transfer for as little as 5 euros. The disadvantage is that it may be a long journey once you hit Benidorm, with multiple hotel drop offs.

Ground floor for ALSA

If you opt for the ALSA bus, head up to the departures floor and turn right. At the far end you will see the bus stop and queue. You pay the driver on the bus (9.45 euro) and it is an hourly service - but it does NOT run 24 hours a day. They depart on the hour every hour between 10am and 11pm - but please note there is NO bus at 6pm... I can´t work that one out either! Great if you arrive during service hours but otherwise you will be stuck. Bear in mind that the bus only makes 2 stops in Benidorm - on the Avd Europa and at the main bus station, so unless your hotel is very close by you will need to get into a taxi - local buses do not allow luggage onboard.

Alternatively pre book with a registered company. By law they have to have a print off of the names of the passengers which they are collecting to show if requested by the police. If they cannot produce this they will be fined and turned away - this prevents anyone just turning up a pretending that they have a pre booked fare.

So if you are not hiring a car or have a package then give it some thought when you book your flight.

Relevant articles
Bus shuttle transfer from Alicante airport
Costa Coffee at airport
Proposed renaming of Alicante airport

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Packing for your holiday - read on!

Do you feel stressed?

Packing to go on holiday is always a stressful experience - especially if you are traveling with children. With the astronomical penalty charges of excess luggage, you stand at the check in desk fraught with anxiety, wondering whether you will get away with your load. I have been there many a time, especially after having a little "shopping spree" in the UK!

Jam packed overhead lockers
Many opt to just go with hand luggage - fine if you are going on a short break or with no children, but virtually impossible otherwise. But with this comes problems too as there is not enough overhead locker room to accommodate every passengers hand luggage. The consequence is that some has to be placed into the hold - generally there is no charge for this, but often the bag will not have a lock.

Luggage inspections

But unfortunately, whether a case is locked or not does not render it safe. Many incidents are being reported where items have gone missing from locked luggage which has been checked in. Customs officials are within their rights to search "suspect bags" even without the owners permission or presence, especially if there is a suspicion of illegal or dangerous materials - but procedures are not being followed according to a report by John Vine, the Chief Inspector of Boarders and Immigration. He has found that "record keeping was so sloppy at Edinburgh, Luton and Manchester airports that in half the reports there was no record of who had authorised the search". Often confidential material was was examined and discussed between staff which Mr Vine stated was "cause for concern".

Many opt for hand luggage - but will it go in or under?
Many passengers have often suspected that their luggage has been opened by rogue luggage handlers - there have been several TV documentaries about it, resulting in arrests, of groups found to operating in organised syndicates - selling stolen items on. The predicament comes for many travelers of what to do with valuable equipment. Last year this plight became reality for photography student Callum Sampson, who travelled on Ryanair to Stanstead, as reported by The Mail. His camera kit, worth five thousand pounds had been taken. Airline "T&C´s" state that all valuables should not be checked in but kept on them in their hand luggage, but unfortunately for Mr Sampson, his hand luggage was already to capacity with other equally expensive equipment. To add further misery he did not have travel insurance and both the airline and luggage handling company are denying wrongdoing on their parts. However, it should be noted that even if he did have insurance, the maximum amount payable is nowhere near that value. Generally it is between 300 - 500 pounds depending on your policy. It may be possible to increase this but obviously there would be a hefty premium and strict conditions attached. You really need to check the small print in your policy as every company is different. The same applies to health insurance cover.

Hand luggage

New Ryanair policy
Ryanair have now caved in to public pressure are are now allowing a second piece of "small" hand luggage - BUT be warned, the dimensions are 35 x 20 x 20cm, which I find a really odd size. They also stipulate in their T&C´s that only 90  pieces of hand luggage can be stowed in the overhead lockers and the remainder will be carried free of charge in the hold. So although all seating is now allocated my advice is that you will still need to be near the front of the queue if you want to guarantee your space for your carry on bags. However, Ryanair and Monarch are one of the few "low cost" carriers that DO allow a second piece of hand luggage. Both Easyjet and Jet2 only allow one piece and surprisingly, EASYJET has the smallest dimension at 50x40x20 and not Ryanair as many would have though.

Boarding passes

They certainly are trying to make amends to their past image of being a very customer unfriendly airline ... good on them. Personally I love Ryanair and as long as you adhere to their policy, which lets face it is widely publicised you should be ok. One of the other changes to their policy is the printing of boarding passes - they have certainly reduced the charge if you forget to print yours off. However, with the introduction of allocated seating it has become a little more complicated for those that do not wish to pay, but await one being allocated free of charge. You will only be able to print off your boarding pass 7 days before departure. Subsequently, this means if you are on an 8 day holiday or more you will have to print your pass off somewhere in the resort. There have been instances of places in Benidorm that are charging 4 euros per boarding pass - worth checking if your hotel will do it free of charge first.

A warning for those traveling from LUTON airport, they only allow 1 piece of hand luggage through the security gate regardless of the individual airlines policy - for example, Monarch allow 2 pieces on all their flights but the regulation at Luton they say is "out of their control".

Relevant articles
Does your hand luggage fit?
Hand luggage security warning
Are you adhering to hand luggage rules?
British Embassy issues advice on holiday insurance

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Bumper to Bumper parking in Benidorm

Article in today´s Daily Mail
I read with great amusement an article in this mornings Daily Mail - that Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls is under police investigation following a "fail to stop collision". From reading that you would have thought it was a major incident, but no, he was performing not a 3 but 7 point turn and clipped another car without realising. This only came to light after CCTV footage was viewed.... If I was in his shoes I´d be more embarrassed that it took 7 "manoeuvers" to turn a car in the opposite direction!

Now if you are in the least worried about your car being "clipped" then DO NOT drive to Spain is my advice! The Spanish are notorious for using bumpers as guides, after all, that´s what they are for. If you ever watch a Spaniard park you will notice that they NEVER use their mirrors but go back and forth, hitting the bumpers of the car in front and behind. Virtually every car has scratches and bangs, so if you in the least bit "fussy" then just don´t.

Normal here....
A friend of mine recently had an altercation with a Spanish driver. He was sat outside a cafe with his car parked directly outside. A car pulled in and scratched his bumper - one that had just been repaired and respray the day before. He confronted the driver who initially denied it was him then when he pointed to the blue paint left behind, exactly the same as his vehicle he looked and just said "oh it´s only a little graze". He spoke to half a dozen witnesses who were also sat outside and they all agreed it was his vehicle that caused the damage so the police were called. On arrived he explained what had happened to them yet when the police started asking the "witnesses" suddenly no-one had seen anything!

Alicante airport car hire desks
If you are hiring a car it is probably worth taking out the full cover as you will almost certainly end up with some damage by the end of your holiday. It is frustrating, but you soon get use to it - I know that I certainly have as my car has plenty of dents and scratches through no fault of my own. The resort is jam packed with cars this week for the Easter holidays and sometimes I wonder whether half of those driving even have their license!

But onto a more serious issue of licenses, Benidorm local police and the local AFA Alzheimer´s Association are calling for the Directorate General to introduce changes to current traffic regulations for those people affected by the condition. The current situation is that a license is valid for a ten year duration for those under the age of 65 and thereafter, it needs to be renewed every five years. Both the Psychologist and President of the AFA explained that "until the patient has to renew the license there is nothing to stop them from getting into their car". Obviously each case needs to be assessed individually as those in the early stages would still have the capability to drive, but specific legislation would ease the burden of many families and careers.  They are contacted on a regular basis from worried children and spouses of sufferers who do not know how to act to prevent them from getting into their cars. The local police have also indicated that they see more and more incidents involving drivers with some form of dementia. The proposal has already been referred from Alicante to Madrid, where it has generated "great interest".

Relevant articles
Parking fines in Benidorm
The rules of driving in Benidorm
Driving in Spain

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Sunny weather not good news for all

Vibrant Levante beach last weekend
The continued good weather here in Benidorm is great news - particularly for those holiday makers who have chosen to spend their Easter break here. The Levante beach has been packed, with many even taking to the waters to cool down! This week also sees an influx of domestic visitors, with many driving from Madrid for the "Semana Santa" - so parking will be even more difficult than normal.

Breathtaking view - you wouldn´t believe this was Benidorm
If you want a slightly more tranquil beach environment then head to either the Poniente or La Cala beaches - both sandy but much quieter. However, if you are a little more adventurous why not head to one of the semi hidden coves dotted around the coastline.

Tio Ximo
Almadrava and Tio Ximo are 2 such treasures, both located at the foot of the Sierra Helada in the Rincon de Loix. You can drive part of the way to both or if you don´t have a car then you can pop onto the number 24 bus. This will take you part of the way but they only run a limited service between 11am and 1pm then again 5pm till 8pm. From the bus stop there is a short-ish walk to either, but Tio Ximo is far more accessible.

However, this prolonged dry spell hasn´t been appreciated by all. The hoteliers, bars and restaurants love it but it has been devastating for local farmers. This Autumn and Winter has been the driest of the last 150 years and as a consequence virtually all of the almond and olive crops in the province have been lost, costing farmers around 60 million euros in lost revenue.

Turron - main ingredient is almonds
The price of watering crops has soared for farmers, now costing 60 euros per hour which most cannot afford. When you look at the price of local crops such as oranges, you can pay as little as 40 cents per kilo at the market. Factor in the cost of watering and having to employ people to pick them, then you can start to understand how farmers are suffering from this drought. Shortages will cause prices to rise and one local industry which will feel the pinch are the turron producers.

Almond groves in bloom
Jijona, just outside of Alicante is the birthplace of turron production - a sweet nougat made with almonds and manufacturers will have to resort to buying almonds from outside of the region, no doubt resulting in escalating prices. Antonio Rico, Director of the Institute of Geography at Alicante University has warned of the long term damage to the local economy. With lack of long term rain damage to the almond trees will be permanent, costing the local economy 142 million euros. He has called on the Department of Agriculture to approve a restructuring plan to include planting new trees immediately. If you ever drive out towards Jalon when the almond trees are in flower it looks like a blanket of snow - so pretty, it would be a shame if this was lost as it´s a real magnet for the community.

With the shortage of rainfall bad news was reported about the Guadalest reservoir this week. In the last quarter of 2013 enough water was lost from this and a second reservoir into the sea, which would have been enough to supply the town of Benidorm for an entire year! Emergency reservoirs are now having to be activated but the Mayor of Benidorm has stated that there is no risk of water shortages for households and businesses in the town.... hmmmmm.

Relevant articles
Spanish turron production
Jalon - a short drive from Benidorm
Chocolate factory in Villa Joyosa

Monday, 14 April 2014

"EFEX" - coming to Benidorm Palace

You often hear the term "Upping your game"  when it comes to entertainment, but Benidorm Palace are taking things to a whole new level this year. The new show, called "EFEX" will debut on 24th April and will leave you speechless - literally!

Troupe in rehearsals
Once again I had the privilege of attending rehearsals for the new show and was able to speak with David Moore - the Artistic and Creative Director. This year's show is going to be like none other - "totally unique, more modern and very technical" he told me. You will be delighted to hear that the Irish dance is back, however this time round there is a fusion of Spanish -  but with a real twist! They have also gone Oriental - with some beautiful Japanese routines and stunning costumes but what makes this show extraordinary is the involvement of "The TwinsFX" , one of the leading companies operating in the field of theatrical visual effects and illusions.

David Climent with Paul, his mentor
"The TwinsFX" run by identical twins Paul and Gary - hence the name, have spent the last 6 months planning and developing the illusions. I sat down and spoke with Paul during rehearsals who said that this will be THE largest effects show in Europe and that some of routines will have their premier here on the stage of Benidorm Palace. He is here to train David Climent, who will be performing some of the dangerous and very technical illusions, rehearsing 6 hours per day The Twins have performed around the world for the last 15 years and worked on some show stopping projects including Dr Who Live, The War of the Worlds live tour, with all the major theatre, film & television companies and theme parks such as Alton Towers and Chessington.

David Moore on stage directing
The sets for the illusions all came over on a 45ft lorry - some were even built in America and will stretch the boundaries to create exciting and innovative entertainment. It is not the first time that twins Paul and Gary have been involved with illusions at the Palace - how many of you remember that breath taking moment about 10 years ago when a helicopter appeared on the stage? Well The TwinsFX bought that to you so you can only begin to visualize what´s in store for you...

6 of the new British dancers
Many of the illusions will be seamlessly integrated into the dance routines and the troupe are having to learn new and difficult techniques to support and complement the illusions. There is a fantastic military style LED number, with laser lightbulbs part of the outfit which will stun you. The troupe are made up of 18 ladies and 8 men - with several of the girls new recruits from the UK. At one point the majority of the dancers were East European but the Brits are now taking over that position. I spoke to the newbies, who had attended auditions in London and Manchester earlier in the year and were delighted to have been selected for this prestigious show and venue. All are trained dancers and for some their first job, so they in particular were very excited about being in Benidorm.

Elaborate headpieces for this years show
The costumes as always are truly a work of art - all hand made on the premises. With the size and weight of some of them it´s amazing that the girls can manage to move with such elegance - often balancing the plume of the headdress, complete with feathers and spanning so wide that the girls have to walk through the doors sideways!
From what I have sneaked it is certainly in a completely different league to previous years - you will be left in awe of "how did they do that" and want to go again and again... trust me! How they will top that next year ..... well there´s a challenge!

Relevant articles
Backstage at Benidorm Palace
Benidorm Palace - Why it´s Europe´s top entertainment venue
Behind the scenes at Benidorm Palace