Hotel Occupancy Up in Ronda during Recent Long Weekend

Hotel Ronda Room
Hotel Ronda Room

Very exciting news for hoteliers and owners of self-stay accommodation in Ronda as the recent long weekend generated 90% occupancy across all of the Ronda Hotels.

Over four days, from Saturday 5th to Tuesday 8th December, Ronda was at its busiest with thousands of visitors from other parts of Andalucía and further afield descending on the city of the Tajo to enjoy the “puente”, translated as bridge holiday but also known as a bank holiday weekend.

“I had to turn people away, and with so many hotels closed for winter it was difficult to find alternative accommodation for guests”, so said Nieves Lara the proprietor of Hotel Ronda.

Statistics released by the Councillor for Tourism Maribel Morales show that 62.5% of visitors stayed at least one night in Ronda, while the remaining 37.5% were day trip visitors from Sevilla and the Costa del Sol. Most visitors stayed two nights in Ronda, with 11% staying the full four nights.

These figures are encouraging given the depth of recession in Spain this December, though retailers and a significant number of restaurateurs are complaining that takings are well down on previous years.

Reasons to use a Dedicated Currency Specialist

Living in Spain means having to use the Euro as our currency of daily life, compounded when large purchases are made from houses or cars, to renovations, installing heating or cooling systems, medical treatment, paying for satellite TV installation, and a lot of other expenses that may be specific to your lifestyle. Traditionally we use high street banks, without realising they don’t always offer the best rate of exchange.

Furthermore, in this difficult times like we’ve experienced in 2009 and going forward into most of 2010, losing money on currency exchange is easy to do. Did you know that most high street banks, building societies, and Spanish cajas offer the tourist rate of exchange when you send pounds from the UK to Spain, or in reverse, send Euros to the UK.

The commercial rate of exchange, which is what the banks pay is never the rate you pay, and there can be a significant difference between the two. A specialist foreign exchange company is more likely to offer the commercial rate than the tourist rate. This could mean a two to three point difference on the rate you’re offered.

Here’s an example. Right now (December 2009) the Euro is strong, and is hovering around 1.09€-1.11€ to the pound. Now let’s assume the bank rate you’re offered is 1.08€ to the pound. A foreign exchange company might offer you 1.11€ to the pound, I’m sure you’ll agree this is a significant difference, but in practical terms it means that transferring £100,000 to Spain will see a foreign exchange company give you an extra 3,000€.

Considering how often many of us transfer funds from the UK to Spain on a monthly or regular interval, even with smaller amounts we see a significant saving, and with the rate of exchange being so weak every little bit we keep in our pockets is better than just giving it away to banks when we don’t need to.

Foreign Exchange Fees can be Waived

One of the most compelling reasons to use a foreign exchange company though are because they often waive transfer fees that you might pay £25 to £40 per transaction to a bank. Transferring £500 for monthly living expenses and paying a £25 transaction fee amounts to losing 5%, notwithstanding being offered the tourist rate of exchange.

Spanish banks are not immune from taking a small percentage as well, we’ve heard reports of Spanish banks charging fees that can be as much as 1% simply to receive the funds. Admittedly the fee a Spanish bank charges might be a fixed amount that on larger transfers can be ignored, but on smaller monthly payments adds up. Some UK foreign exchange companies operating in Spain have agreements with Spanish banks to waive receiving fees.

So, if a specialist foreign exchange company offers a rate 3 points more favourable than a high street bank, and waives transfer fees, and is able to deposit your money into a Spanish bank without additional fees, then on smaller amounts you could be looking at savings of 4-8%, and that adds up month by month.

Larger transfers initiated through a bank also require registration for each transaction, to comply with UK and EU anti-money laundering legislation. Whilst there is no fee for this it does add to the hassle of currency exchange and means you need to supply personal details everytime. In contrast a foreign exchange company operating in Spain will assign an account manager who is able to process your transactions with information kept on file.

Improve your Currency Exchange Transactions

The rate of exchange fluctuates so much it can be disheartening to watch it from day to day, seemingly never improving, or only briefly when it does. Of course the problem is that when we need to transfer funds, Murphy’s law invariably comes into play and we are rarely able to capitalise on better rates. See our feature on currency exchange in Spain.

For me this is probably the strongest reason yet for keeping an account with a foreign exchange company. Your high street bank will never let you plan in advance, they don’t offer spot transactions, forward transactions, limit orders, and they certainly don’t offer rate watch services.

Spot Transactions
Buy Now, Pay Now: Probably one of the most frustrating aspects of moving currency from the UK to Spain, or vice versa, is the knowledge that banks offer a day rate, but you and I know the rate fluctuates during the day, and sometimes quite favourably, but the only people who seem to benefit are forex speculators. How often do we see financial news bulletins on Sky mention the pound rallied in the middle of the day, only to settle at days end? Spot transactions with a foreign exchange company eliminate this regret by allowing you to call your account manager and settle a transaction right now while the rate is favourable.

Forward Transactions
Buy Now, Pay Later: Consider securing a favourable rate as much as 12 months in advance by making a small deposit to a currency exchange company. You protect yourself against too much movement in the market because the trader agrees to fix the rate you negotiate. Currency exchange companies love this type of transaction, they’re able to plan further ahead themselves, which makes them more profitable, and we benefit from a known fixed rate of exchange if a major transaction is anticipated.

Limit Orders
Why not place an order for a particular rate of exchange that isn’t conducted until the exchange rate reaches the level you’ve specified. You are protected from negative movement because your transaction isn’t processed until the rate is reached. Here’s how it works, your currency exchange account manager enters the rate you want into their computer system, and your transaction is kept on hold until your rate is reached, then the transaction is processed automatically.

Most currency exchange companies are happy to deal with large and small transactions, there is no reason not to contact them even if the amount seems ridiculously small. Here in the Serranía we know of several retired couples who bought their Spanish homes with cash, and are quite capable of living on just 250€ per month which includes groceries, power, phone, and occasional tapas. Even so, currency exchange companies are the better option over a high street bank. Remembering that most banks charge a transfer fee, smaller amounts are even more reason to talk to a currency specialist.

Christmas Lights and Shop Windows in Ronda

The 4th of December was the day the Christmas lights went on in Ronda, heralding the start of the Christmas holiday season, which in Spain extends through to the 6th January.

Christmas in Spain is unlike English speaking countries. Here the 25th of December is a religious holiday, whilst the 5th of January, known as the three kings day, is the important day for giving gifts. Of course Hollywood’s influence means this is becoming muddled and children in Spain often get presents on the 25th and 5th.

Switching on the Christmas lights is an important occasion, made even more special as this is a long weekend celebrating two holidays, Constitution Day on the 6th, and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on the 8th.

The streets of Ronda were filled with people coming out to see this years lights, and to mix and mingle with friends in coffee shops, start the Christmas present buying spree, and enjoy the fresh evening air before the cold of winter really hits us.

The excitement was contagious, children were running and playing, calling to each other, staring with wild eyes in the windows of the shops with nativity scenes or Santa decorations, and Rondeños of all ages couldn’t contain themselves.

Several of the churches held special evening Mass services, so many in Ronda were wearing their Sunday best, though many more weren’t, being content to simply walk and enjoy the evening with friends.

The Christmas lights run the length of Carrera Espinel, Calle Sevilla, Virgen de la Paz, Calle Armiñan, Avenida de Málaga, Avenida de Martinez Astein, and are also in Plaza Socorro. The open air nativity is in the bandstand in Plaza Socorro.

While walking down La Bola taking the photos you see below, our friendly local busker was dressed as Santa playing Christmas songs on his accordion while singing “Merry Christmas” over and over again. We wondered if he knew the words and was just singing what he did know. Sadly the battery on the camera went flat and I wasn’t able to capture his Christmas spirit.

ronda-christmas-lights

Ron Morley, Benaojan Artist

Ron Morley, born in London 1938, painter in oil and occasionally watercolour.

Before his retirement in 2005 he worked freelance as a magazine and newspaper designer, moving around Fleet Street, London, in the cut and thrust of tight deadlines and graveyard shifts.

He now lives in Benaojan, Andalucía, and with a complete change of lifestyle, has time to ponder and tentatively paint.

His subject matter is close at hand and all engulfing, and for the moment it is enough to paint simple village scenes, explore the narrow streets, relish the blue skys and delve into the deep shadows.

He loves the medium of oil, working with its richness and depth gives him huge satisfaction and a freedom he never knew in the black and white rigidity of the British press.

More of Ron’s work can be seen at the Hotel Molino del Santo, Benaoján Estación.

Gallery of Ron’s Paintings

To display larger images, click the thumbnail

Christine Ellingham Acrylic and Watercolour Artist from Benaojan

All her life Christine Ellingham has been painting and drawing, in fact her entire working career has been devoted to creative pursuits. Born in Buckinghamshire in England, Christine studied art at Banbury College of Art with emphasis on life drawing and draftmanship, before completing studies at Hornsey College of Art.

Many artists struggle to find work, but Christine was lucky to start her career in the comic industry drawing picture strips in the 1960s. Drawing scenes from girls adventure stories that were serialised in newspapers. As an artist Christine had the flexibility to work almost anywhere if there was a post office in the vicinity, and during the early 1970s she moved to Spain.

It was whilst living in Spain that she lost the use of her right hand to ‘Focal Dystonia’, forcing her to learn to draw with her left hand. These were troubling times for Christine but allowed her to develop her skill, initially with illustrations.

As an illustrator Christine has drawn for ‘Woman’s Own’ and ‘The Lady’ amongst others, and has accepted commissions from BP, the Royal Mail, and British Gas. During the 1980s and 1990s Christine worked for several fleet street newspapers illustrating politicians and royalty, as well as providing food and financial illustrations. Most recently she has designed coins for several national mints.

Retirement allowed Christine Ellingham and her husband Ron Morley to relocate to Spain again, and has given Christine the opportunity to really develop her painting, in stark contrast to a career of illustration.

Her first love is water colour, though she finds herself mostly using acrylic on canvas, and whilst she does complete local landscapes, she has said that still life appeals to her more at the moment, though like any artist reserves the right to use any media that captures her imagination.

Christine is a regular exhibitor at Ronda’s Artesanía Market, and has permanent exhibitions on display in the Hotel Molino del Santo in Benaojan, and Hotel Molino del Puente outside Ronda. She also takes part in exhibitions organised by Ronda’s Casa del Cultura and in the Andalucian Soap Company Shop.

Commissions are not accepted at the moment.

Gallery of Christine’s Paintings

To display larger images, click the thumbnail

Be safe, portable power packs are a must have

Solar and Battery Power Packs
Solar and Battery Power Packs

Expats know that many of the countries we move to don’t have reliable electrical supply, of course we all know about the dangers of relying on electricity in African or Latin American nations where brownouts occur frequently, but expats moving to Spain should also be aware of the less than perfect electrical supply in some parts. Making sure we have surge protection, or portable power packs available is essential.

In the major cities brownouts are less common, but in the smaller villages or out ‘in the campo’, the Spanish name for rural districts, you can expect regular brownouts, perhaps even as often as several times per week. Brownouts are momentary blips in the supply of electricity, the lights might flash or dim, and you’ll hear machines like fridges shudder or slow and kick back on again.

Blackouts are full power outages, and luckily occur less often, but when they do, power can be disrupted for minutes to hours and in some parts of Spain might be frequent occurrences. Around Ronda and inland Andalucía, perhaps even parts of the Costa del Sol, you can expect a lot of brownouts, and during the winter rainy season frequent blackouts in the rural districts pretty much everywhere. The larger villages such as Arriate, Olvera, or Gaucín tend to get more maintenance work so their services are better.

The problem areas include isolated houses, small groups of campo houses, and several of the smaller villages, and brownouts may be a weekly occurrence, rising to daily occurrences during winter. Montejaque and Benaojan for example, two of the more popular expat villages tend to get less brownouts, but in the rainy season frequent blackouts can be a problem.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan a move to the Serranía or Spain, we believe most rural parts of Spain suffer from the same problem. It does mean however that taking precautions to protect sensitive electrical equipment should be a must. And dare I say it, if you choose to live in these areas, some kind of portable power pack that uses batteries or solar power should be considered a necessary investment.

A simple project you can do yourself is to buy a truck battery, and inverter, and a battery charging device. During blackouts this should be sufficient to power a lamp, laptop computer, or low powered cooking device. The downside is that if you don’t know what you’re doing you could electrocute yourself.

Considering how easy and practical gas cooking, heating and lighting is, most expats simply keep a spare bombona (gas tank) which can be used with a BBQ or camping lamp. The challenge is how to recharge mobile phones or laptop batteries when the power goes off, or when you’re travelling. I prefer a complete solution that doesn’t require any knowledge of voltages, or polarity, and doesn’t give my nearest and dearest heart palpitations when I connect electrical devices to it.

The most affordable battery/solar device we’ve seen in these parts that is capable of fully charging a mobile phone/blackberry/iphone, a laptop computer, or digital camera can be bought from Mobi Power Packs on the Costa del Sol, talk to Chris or Simone and tell them Ronda Today mentioned them to you. I believe they also have a helpline in the UK for expats who travel between Spain and the UK.

Devices that include batteries and solar panels for charging mobile phones or laptops seem to be marketed at travellers, the military, or aid agencies operating in third world countries, but my advise would be to ignore the marketing showing soldiers in full camo gear, and think about your own comfort and peace of mind. Believe me, I’ve lived in a small village, and a lone house in the campo, and I can assure when the power goes off you’ll be glad of the ability to recharge a mobile phone, especially if like many expats you don’t or can’t get a landline connected.

Pricing for these sorts of devices is very reasonable, in fact they’re price competitive with computer UPS devices or surge protection devices you could buy from high street retailers, and are not restricted to use in the home, they can be use in the car as well. Other manufacturers offer similar devices but I’ve yet to see them sold in Spain, which concerns me even if their prices are similar. Call me old fashioned but I want to be able to talk to them for the price of a local call.

Ronda – Tourist Information – Hotel booking – Activities – Events in Ronda and Surrounding Villages. Telephone 0034 681 14 70 24

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