STAR OF THE SEAS: VIRGEN DEL CARMEN

Virgen del Carmen, Torre del Mar, Spain

Over the past couple of days, various festivities in honour of the Virgen del Carmen, the patron saint of fishermen and sailors, have been in full swing.

Around 16th July each year,  many of the coastal towns and fishing villages of Spain celebrate by parading the statue of Virgin del Carmen through the streets, accompanied by the steady rhythm of a brass band, the resounding thump of a drumbeat and the cries from the crowd of “guappa” or “viva” as the statue passes by.

At dusk, after the procession arrives at the water’s edge, the Virgin del Carmen is taken out to sea on a flower-decked boat, accompanied by a flotilla of fishing boats (jábegas),to bless their fishing grounds.

The Virgen del Carmen is of great importance to the inhabitants of Axarquían towns and villages such as Caleta de Vélez, Nerja, Rincón de la Victoría and Torre del Mar because many larger towns and holiday resorts along the coast were once small fishing villages where the sea provided their daily existence.

But we need to look back to the scriptures of the Old Testament, centuries before the birth of Christ, for the origin of the Virgen del Carmen.

The Bible tells us that the prophet Elijah went up Mount Carmelo near Haife, in Israel to pray for rain to relieve a great drought that had parched the lands.  Whilst Elijah was on Mount Carmelo, he saw white clouds forming, which would bring the much needed rain.  Elijah interpreted the clouds as a sign of the coming of a Saviour who would be born of a Virgin.

In gratitude for the rain, the community dedicated itself to praying for the mother of the Saviour to come, and the Order of the Carmelites was formed.

On 16th July 1251, the Virgen del Carmen is said to have appeared to Englishman, Simon Stock, who was responsible for building Carmelite monasteries throughout Europe in the 13th century.   The story goes that when she appeared to him, the Virgen was holding a scapular and she promised that Carmelites who show their devotion should use this as a sign of privilege that they would be “granted the grace of final perseverance and be delivered from eternal Purgatory”.

Scapular worn for Virgen del Carmen, Torre del Mar, Spain
A scapular was originally an apron, forming part of the dress of a religious order, but for the lay-faithful, scapulars usually bear images, or verses from scripture.  Devotional scapulars typically consist of two rectangular pieces of cloth, wool or other fabric that are connected by bands. One rectangle hangs over the chest of the wearer, while the other rests on the back, with the bands running over the shoulders.

The Virgin Mary of Mount Carmelo (the Virgin of Carmen or Virgen del Carmen) is also known as Stella Maris (Latin for Star of the Sea) which is the name given to the Pole Star (Polaris) used by mariners for centuries as celestial navigation.

EDITED TO ADD: These photos were all taken during the evening of 16th July 2014 in Torre del Mar.  I had to wade out into the sea, above my knees, to take them because there were so many people on the beach, it was the only way of getting the chance of some good shots without thousands of heads or bodies in the way.   My sundress was soaked and I had to try to hold it up with one hand and take photos with my other.   Happy days :) 

Which is your favourite Spanish festival?

Cost of Living in Spain Series: Watching The Currency Market When Buying And Selling Spanish Property

House in Spain

When I got to point #2 in a recent article entitled 10 Ways To Save Money When Buying Your Spanish Property, it had me casting my mind back almost nine years to when we were about to buy our first property abroad, here in Andalucía.

We had sold our house back in the UK in record time, and were renting a town-house in the pretty, mountain village of Frigiliana.

Having never rented a property before, it seemed sensible to see if we liked the area as a place to put down roots, as well as to experience the full range of the seasons of the year, before we actually bought somewhere. After all, the weather may have been hotter in summer or cooler in winter than we had imagined – and indeed, it was!

We made many house-hunting trips to various towns and villages, both inland and along the coast towards Málaga, and eventually as far along the western Costa del Sol as Estepona. For various reasons, but mainly because of fewer high-rise buildings and built-up areas, we decided that the Axarquía region, to the east of Málaga, was the place for us.

We knew we would be transferring a sizeable chunk of the proceeds of our UK house sale via a currency firm (into Euros) to pay for our new house, so we took the opportunity to keep an eye on the fluctuating currency market.

As a result, we were able to jump in right at the top, to bag a cool €1.50 euros for each £1 sterling.  This gave us almost ten thousand euros more than we had originally been expecting, which was enough to put a brand new kitchen with matching appliances into our new property. Quite a bonus!

And yes, I do know that the market could have gone the other way, but on this occasion, it didn’t.

Blue door in Frigiliana, Spain

Over the next few years, the British Pound made a steady decline against the Euro until it almost hit parity (when £1 only bought €1.08, at its lowest rate).  This meant that for many British expats living in Spain and relying on an income, savings or a pension from the UK, their income in real terms had reduced by almost one third.

Then, of course, came La Crisis, as it is known in Spain, when the difficult economic situation has meant that some British expats who may not have carefully planned for their future (as well as some who did) have been left in the unfortunate position of having to sell up and return to the UK.

Things have improved a little over the last few years, with the current exchange rate against the British Pound being €1.26 as of today’s date (15th July 2014).  But there are still anguished mutterings amongst British expat house sellers that they are having to accept lower prices than they paid for their properties, several years ago.

I want to look at this in more detail, using reverse psychology to see if the situation is really as bad as they think.

Key in house door

Back when I bought my house in January 2006, with the exchange rate at £1 buying €1.50, a €300,000 euro house in Spain actually cost £200,000.  To keep the figures simple, let’s assume that almost nine years later the price of that house has not risen at all and is sold today for €300,000.  Converted back into British Pounds (again keeping it simple, so let’s use €1.25 for each £1) then the initial £200,000 investment now converts from the €300,000 sale price, to £240,000 - an increase of 20%, due entirely to currency fluctuations.

Even if that self-same house were sold for only €280,000 (€20,000 less than was paid for it) the conversion into British Pounds would be £224,000 – which is still an increase of 12% over the £200,000 that was initially paid for the property.

So maybe the situation is not quite as bad as some people imagine.

Rooftops of Frigiliana, Spain

Of course, my example above is a simple one and does not take into account any of the following:

  1.  Capital gains (or any other) tax which might become due once the house is sold.
  2.  Where under-declarations were made at the time of purchase (when everyone in Spain was expected to pay for part of the price of the house in cash,  and furtively sneak  €80,000 to the vendor in a plastic, Mercadona shopping bag).
  3.   Legal and/or estate agents fees.

Whilst the above example is only applicable if someone is selling up in Spain and moving back (or at least sending their money back) to the UK,  if you are selling and want to re-purchase in Spain, because of the current housing market, you are now in a powerful position to negotiate prices when buying your next property.

Stairway to Heaven

To illustrate my point, I have only used simple, rounded figures, and it’s always wise to take legal and financial advice when making substantial property purchases.  

The purpose of this post is to indicate the advantage of never under-estimating the fluctuation of the currency market, which is a point often missed, or at least not discussed, as it should be.

This post is not meant to offer legal advice, merely an observation.

 

 

One Trip Every Month: La Fortaleza, Vélez-Málaga

Entrance to La Fortaleza, Velez-Malaga My trip this month is a local one – to La Fortaleza, the medieval fortress and Alcazaba in Vélez-Málaga, capital of the Axarquía region.  Of course, as with many other places, I see the fortress towering above the town every time I pass by, but somehow never got around to visiting before now.

La Fortaleza was in a bad state of repair for many years and, as a result, was not open to the general public – but that has now changed. Alcazaba - Fortress La Fortaleza, Velez-Malaga Located on the highest point of the town, about 80 meters above sea level, the Alcazaba or Fortress was built during the 10th century under Moorish rule, but achieved its greatest prominence during the 14th and 15th centuries, as one of the most important strongholds of the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada. It’s worth remembering that the River Vélez was once much deeper and wider than it is now, and that the valley formed part of a trade route through the Zafarraya Pass from Granada to Málaga, making the town strategically significant.  

Vélez-Málaga may not have been a very large town, but it was well fortified and defended by a solid set of walls, some of which can still be seen.

As with many Spanish monuments, the directional signage to La Fortaleza leaves a lot to be desired, but if you head for the Fernando Hierro Sports Stadium in Vélez-Málaga and take the Arenas road, following signs for La Iglesia de Santa Maria/Museo de la Santa Semana, you will find the Alcazaba (La Fortaleza) just before the church.

The restored Tower of the Alcazaba (the fortress La Fortaleza) is open every Saturday and Sunday from 10am – 1pm and offers spectacular views over the town and the surrounding Axarquía countryside. Admission is FREE.   

Don’t forget your camera! One Trip EVERY Month Logo This post is my contribution to the One Trip EVERY Month Challenge. If you’d like to join me, here’s how:

  • Each month, visit somewhere and then write about your trip or describe it using photographs – whichever suits you best.
  • Don´t forget to title and tag your entry ’One Trip EVERY Month Challenge’, and link back to this page.
  • Display the Challenge logo on your post or in your sidebar.
  • HAVE FUN!  

Are you ready to join me by taking ONE TRIP EVERY MONTH? What are you waiting for? GO!

“Game of Thrones” scouting film locations in Andalucía for Season 5

SSSHHHH!  For all of you Game of Thrones (“Juego de Tronos” in Spanish) fans out there, I’ll let you into a little secret.

The Andalucía Film Commission has been showing representatives of the Game of Thrones’ production company around filming locations in Andalucía during the past two months, as they gear up for season 5.

And, I can reveal the three top locations in Andalucía to you, in no particular order:

Alcazaba, Cordoba, Spain

Alcazaba, Cordoba, Spain

Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (also known as the Alcázar of Córdoba)

Alcazaba, Seville, Spain

Alcazaba, Seville, Spain

El Real Alcázar de Sevilla (also known as the Alcázar of Seville)Within the Alhambra Palace, Granada

Islamic arches in the Alhambra Palace, Granada

La Alhambra de Granada (also known as The Alhambra Palace of Granada)

Do you watch Game of Thrones?  Which of these famous Spanish monuments do you think would be best suited to the TV show with the largest world-wide audience?