We made it back from our journey south - arrived at 3am this morning. And our mission has been accomplished!
Were we a bit optimistic - maybe a tad unrealistic - in our expectations? Possibly. We set off (without children) on the 600km journey south in two cars packed to the brim with our things that had made it from England to Valladolid - not the things still stored in the barn in Leon. Cesar (who could not find his way out of a paper bag) leading the way with the GPS; me, with my infallible sense of direction somewhat uneasily following behind, having already told him that if he went wrong in Madrid, I would not follow him. Some strange thing kicks in when I know I'm going the wrong way - I KNOW it's wrong, everything feels wrong and I have to put it right as soon as possible. Cesar does not have this instinct. He has the opposite of a sense of direction in that if he should turn right, he'll instinctively turn left and vice versa. (This is how he once ended up in Belgium instead of Italy but that's another story.. and one he wouldn't want me to tell.....he stayed for six weeks!)
The journey down was remarkable in that we had no complications, the GPS worked beautifully, we stopped twice for coffee and tapas and we arrived in our two pieces at around 4pm as predicted. That's when the problems began.
We had arranged to meet an agent who had some houses to let, some were holiday lets and some were available for longer lets. We had very specifically said that we needed to see only those places where an immediate let was possible - so we could leave our things before going back for the children. First thing I did was to confirm this with him and surprise, surprise - only one of the five met this vital condition! One was currently occupied; two were currently for sale and had only minimal furnishings (and, as it turned out, no heating, no light, no water either!) and the last had only two bedrooms! Were we downhearted? Well, Cesar was deep down in that Slough of Despond by the time we'd seen all of them... actually, not all, because we couldn't see the one that was occupied - which of course, the agent assured us was the best of all!! And the only one that was available was not suitable, of course.
We returned to the cars, which we'd left in supermarket carpark - with great trepidation, packed as they were with tempting items - and had a 'picnic' and a bit of a 'conflab' - this word is one we have always used in my family and means the sort of discussion you have when no one knows what to do. A 'conflab' with lots of people is definitely the best sort - with two it can easily look like an argument, a nasty, recriminating argument, with rude words and negative body language. I do hope any onlookers recognised it as a 'conflab' and not anything else.
After our conflab, we went back into the centre of Alcala in search of other estate agents - and found several - which was a good sign. What was less helpful was that we also discovered that many places available for rent have been taken by the olive pickers for the duration of the harvest, which lasts until March. And anything else was being 'reserved' by the expected arrival of people coming to work at the brand new hospital in mid-January. We felt a tad doomed....
Enter Mercedes; (whose name means 'mercy' as it happens) - or rather, we entered the estate agency where Mercedes works. From that moment on, I felt sure things would work out fine. She showed us a place that I liked very much, more for its perfect location - with fantastic views of the town square, the gorgeous old library and the castle on the hill - than for it's decor or facilities, but it would do if necessary, if it really had to because there was nothing else. She then insisted that we go to see what the other agents could find for us so that we could make an informed decision; which we did. Knowing we would have to stay the night, we booked into a nice hotel and had another conflab, which went much better and resulted in some practical thinking and positive decisions. We knew we liked Alcala la Real; the people could not have been more helpful, more friendly or kinder; the town felt safe and comfortable and although a lot of people live there, it seemed like everyone knew each other. The schools were all centrally placed and there were plenty of children playing around the plazas and parks. We walked from one end to the other in less than twenty minutes and passed excellent shops, supermarkets and bars. It was OK. It was more than OK, it was really very nice.
The receptionist in the hotel told us we would 'sleep like kings' on the new mattress under the nordic duvet and she was right. We did.
We spent the morning looking at various places - all pisos, our hopes of finding a house to rent had been well and truly dashed the day before - but none we liked better than the first one. We decided to go back to Mercedes and ask to see it one more time. This time, I tried to look closer at the flat itself, rather than look out of the window at the views and it did leave a bit to be desired. I would still have taken it, despite the lack of heating but Cesar was less convinced.. then Mercedes played a trump card. She had been doing a bit of looking on our behalf whilst we were elsewhere and had managed to find another piso that had been recently renovated - the owner hadn't confirmed the completion of the work so she hadn't been able to show us the day before. She hadn't seen the apartment herself either but thought we should go and look together.
And you guessed it - it was absolutely right for us for now!! What luck - four bedrooms, a large lounge, central heating, brand new double-glazed windows, new beds, new sofas, new everything! The only thing is that it's so newly reformed that some things still have to be done - so we will have to wait a week before we can move in. But that's not a problem.
I have now a confession. The only thing that mattered to me was to find a place with a bath. Here, we have two but they are half-sized things and not worth wasting water on filling - you have to sit with bent knees and it's not relaxing at all. Well, you guessed it again, this piso doesn't have a bath. How can people live without baths!!?? I don't know, but I am going to find out. It does have an enormous shower so I guess I'll have to live without a bath for the time being... but, do you know what... I'm not that bothered! I'm really just so happy to have found it.
We celebrated by eating a few tapas, which were excellent, and buying a lottery ticket for the big January Lottery. We are not 'players' but buying a lottery ticket is the done thing in Spain, especially at Christmas and New Year. So we bought one. For luck.
Then we spent the next few hours unloading our things into the piso, which is on the fifth floor and when we'd done, we marvelled at how much fits into two cars ... and how much more we have wrapped up in the barn in Leon. Then we decided we wanted to get back to the children as soon as possible and that's how we arrived back at 3am - it's a 7 hour journey but it gets a bit easier every time as we begin to recognise the various sights and places en route.
There - that's all for now. No photos because the printer has been taken to Alcala so I can't download anything yet. But watch out - they'll be here before long! Alcala la Real here we come!