Welcome everyone Sandra in Spain - FlamencoI’m Sandra Piddock, and I’m a freelance writer, dividing my time between Spain and the UK. I’ll write about anything that interests and/or challenges me, and I like to focus on the lighter side of life whenever possible.. Read more
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Only in Spain!

It could only happen in Spain

Parking or camping? The traffic cops explain

Europe is much more motor home friendly than the UK, and that means that sometimes motor caravanners from all over the place just pitch anywhere for free. On the long drive through Spain and France, we’ve occasionally parked up for the night when we couldn’t find a campsite or a safe truck stop, and we always wondered if we were unintentionally breaking the law.

However, this new Facebook page seems to explain it well, along with all other traffic-related matters. It’s run by the Torrevieja Traffic Department, and they post articles and short posts about the traffic laws in Spain, as well as answering questions from followers.

It’s illegal to discriminate against motor home drivers, and local authorities cannot ban motor homes from parking in an area where other vehicles are allowed to park. However, all vehicles must respect the parking guidelines, so if there is a parking area marked off along a residential street, you can park there, but you must keep the vehicle within the marked area. It’s the same with parking spaces on a car park. Park within the lined spaces, even if you need to take up two bays.

When the motor home is parked and the engine is turned off, you can eat in it or sleep in it. However, if you put out the awning, or get the tables and chairs out, you are classed as camping, and that is illegal. So basically, all those people around Playa Flamenca and La Marina who have their generators out, the satellite dishes set up for TV and the tables and chairs tastefully arranged are breaking the law. And it’s also illegal to dispose of your waste water just anywhere. The same rules apply in France, and in fact some Aires where you are permitted to park up overnight for free or for a small charge also stipulate that you mustn’t set up awnings or camping furniture. This applies particularly to Aires in town centres.

The best plan would seem to be to use wild camping wisely – think parking not camping. If you want the tables and chairs out, take them down to the beach or into the countryside, or book into a  campsite,  but don’t set up your tapas table right outside somebody’s casa. That’s just good manners anyway, isn’t it?

Another option – which many motorcaravanners don’t seem to know about – is to park up at a ‘Venta.’ That’s an independent roadhouse, rather than one of the chains of eateries that are strung out over Spain’s autopistas. You’ll need to come of the motorway to find one, but if you go in and buy a meal, they’ll be happy to allow you to park up overnight for free. In most ventas, a home cooked meal for two will cost less than a night on a campsite anyway, and you can really relax and enjoy your overnight stop.

Again – remember it’s parking not camping, so don’t get out your collapsible rotary drier and wash your smalls in the car park. It will only put people off their dinner, and the venta owner won’t want that! When you’re looking for an overnight stop with a motor home in Spain – which is a very motor home friendly country – just remember you need to be people friendly, and park up in a way that won’t cause annoyance or disturbance to others. It’s all about good manners, as I said before.

Driven to distraction!

Driving in Spain can be a real challenge, despite the great roads and lack of traffic.

Driving in Spain can be a real challenge, despite the great roads and lack of traffic.

I only started to drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road when we moved to Spain in 2008, and I have to say I much prefer driving in Spain to driving in England – particularly around Algorfa, where more than 4 cars at a junction constitutes a traffic jam! One thing I’ve never got to grips with though is the psyche of the Spanish driver. The moment he spots a foreign number plate, the Spanish motorist morphs into Fernando Alonso. He simply must overtake, even if it’s on a bend or there’s a solid white line in the road, which means no overtaking, the same as it does in the UK.

There’s a simple explanation for this. Your average Spaniard is never in a hurry – unless he’s behind the wheel. Then, he just has to get there first. It’s nothing personal against the Brits, he’ll overtake anyone who isn’t going fast enough for him, which means just about everybody else on the road. That’s why when you’re already on a roundabout, a Spanish driver will leap out in front of you, because he knows he can get there first. Or he’ll overtake you on the roundabout, because you’ve sensibly slowed down to negotiate it, and he can see no good reason for that.

Speaking of roundabouts, what really annoys me is the way the Spanish signal their intentions. They don’t, and you have to play Mystic Meg and guess where they’re heading. Again, a little basic knowledge of the Spanish character helps here. The average Spaniard is so full of his own importance behind the wheel he expects everyone to know what he’s doing and where he’s going. If you don’t guess right, it’s your fault, not his. He’s in a juggernaut, therefore it’s obvious he’s taking the motorway for Alicante. Why should he cut short his mobile call or stub out his cigarette just to let the other road users know?

If you’re a pedestrian, take care when crossing the road, even on a pedestrian crossing. Make that especially on a pedestrian crossing. The Spanish view crossings as a challenge, not as a road safety measure, and the only time they’re likely to stop for you is if there is a policeman in attendance, such as at school turning out times.

There are red and white crossings on very busy roads in Spain, at which drivers are obliged to stop for pedestrians. Don’t bank on it, though, because nobody seems to have informed the Spanish motorists of their obligations, so they’ll sail across the red crossings happily. That’s if they haven’t parked across them to pop in for a cheeky lottery ticket or a barra de pan.

The best way to get across the road safely is to try to cross where it’s patently dangerous to do so. The Spanish drivers will admire your spirit and disregard for the rules and will stop to let you across. I know, because it’s happened to me more than once. A good place to try this is the Punta Prima roundabout, by the Punta Marina shopping centre. Save your legs – don’t walk up to the blue pedestrian bridge – just walk out in front of one of the cars. Everybody does.

However, I don’t recommend you try this with young children in tow or while in possession of a zimmer frame.
So, has this put me off driving in Spain? Not a bit of it. If anything, the whimsical attitude of Spanish drivers has made me a better driver, because I’m extra vigilant these days. I’m also a ‘glass half full’ girl, so after a particularly frustrating experience on the carretera, I console myself with the happy knowledge that at least the Spanish aren’t so fond of hooting their horns as the Italians.

Photo credit: Maggs224.com

How do I know if the community I’m buying on is right for me?

Looking good - but check out that the community you are thinking of moving to is as good as it seems before you sign on the dotted line

Looking good – but check out that the community you are thinking of moving to is as good as it seems before you sign on the dotted line

This post was prompted by someone who messaged me after reading my blog post about buying on a community. She asked if there was anything she could do to find out what life was really like on a particular community, and how she could avoid potential problems. To some extent, it is the luck of the draw, but there is also a lot of research you can do on your own behalf.

Talk to the President (or Vice President)

Remember that the President is the person who is legally responsible for all aspects  of administration of the community. He may have a Vice President to assist, and a Committee to bounce ideas off, and some Presidents may involve the Committee in the decision making, but in law, it’s all down to the President. So, talk to the President, raise any concerns you may have, ask about the community rules, and how the fees and the budget are calculated.

If the President is not happy to discuss  the community with you, maybe you should look elsewhere. When we were buying on La Finca, the incumbent President was very helpful, and played a big part in our decision to buy on that particular community. The best type of President is a strong character who will strike the right balance between being friendly and approachable, and also firm  and decisive when it comes to making tough decisions and acting in the best interests of the community as a whole. If everyone loves the President, he’s not doing his job right.

Check out the minutes of previous AGMs

Okay, minutes can be a bit dry, and not really give you a ‘feel’ of the community itself, but they will give you an idea of who turns up at the meetings, and how the voting goes on decisions. If there’s a good attendance at the AGMs, that means the owners are proactive in their community. If the attendance is low, and there are a lot of proxy votes – especially if the proxy votes rest with just one or two people – it’s a bad sign. It indicates two things: that a lot of the community members don’t really care what’s going on, and that some people may be rounding up proxies to get the outcomes they want. This can happen when a vociferous minority make their preferences felt, and other community members are either intimidated or feel that it’s not worth putting their views forward.

AGM minutes can also give you a good idea of how well the community budget is planned and executed, and you can see how many debtors the community has. If owners are not paying their fees, then essential community services may have to be curtailed.

Ask around locally

If there are problems in a community, the word often spreads. Just come straight out with it and say you are thinking of buying on X community, and does whoever you are talking to know if it’s a good idea. Check out local expat businesses – lurk around in the English supermarket or mail room and listen to the gossip. And check out local forums for inside information.

Check out the local English language papers

Most local newspapers have an online edition with a search facility. Put the name of the community into the search engine, and see if anything interesting comes up. If there’s a long running dispute, or if the community is socially active and integrated with the locals, there’ll be something about it in the local English language press. It will help to give you a more rounded picture of the community and your prospective neighbours.

Putting in the research before you decide to buy a property on a community within an urbanisation could mean the difference between living the dream and being landed with the home from hell.Take the time to check it out, listen to the locals and look at the community objectively. You know it makes sense!

Why I’m sorry we bought a property on an urbanisation

Our corner of our urbanisation - beuatiful but problematical too

Our corner of our urbanisation – beautiful but problematical too

When we came to Spain on our bargain £25 property inspection trip in July 2007, we were very nervous about parting with our hard-earned cash, because at the time, the furore about the Land Grab Laws and corruption on the Costas was at its height. We really wanted to live in Spain, but we didn’t want to wake up one morning with the bulldozers at the door, or find ourselves landed with a beautiful but unsellable property because the right planning permissions were never obtained. We discussed this with the property agent who was assigned to us for our visit, and she suggested that maybe we should consider buying on an urbanisation, as it was less likely that we would face problems in the future.

After living here for twelve years, the first piece of advice I’d offer to anyone thinking of moving into a property on an urbanisation is ‘Don’t do it!’ We love our ground floor garden apartment, and we have some lovely neighbours – although most of them ony use their properties as holiday homes – but we wish we hadn’t been so nervous when we bought our home in the sun.

The big disadvantage of urbanisation life is that you’re cut off from real local life. Most urbanisations are full of expats from all over Europe, but you don’t find many Spanish people living on them – or at least you don’t in our area. If you want to learn Spanish and integrate with the locals, buy in the village. It will probably be cheaper, you’ll be nearer to the shops and services, and you’ll be living like the locals.

Another major drawback of life on an urbanisation is the way the Communities of Owners are administered. Under the Horizontal Law, urbanisations are divided into smaller groups of properties known as Communities. Our community on La Finca consists of 57 properties, and basically all the owners have a say in how things are run, and how the community budget is spent. That’s a great system if all the owners are interested, but of course, it doesn’t work that way in practice. So major decisions which affect every owner can be taken by a vociferous minority.

I’ll have a lot more to say about life on an urbanisation, but I really wish we’d have known all about the downsides before we signed on the dotted line. Don’t get me wrong – I love our life in Spain. I’d love it even more though if we were down in Algorfa, living amongst the locals.