A New Life – Charlie Brown
After spending over four years working at sea, I knew normality was calling and it was time to settle down – whatever that was!
One evening after working from my home in Nottingham (26th May 2016), I settled on the sofa and watched a documentary about Benidorm. I had visited Benidorm once as a child and we had a horrific experience…so much so, my mother wanted to fly home the next day. I had always associated Benidorm with cheap novelty gifts, hen & stag parties galore and all you can eat Chinese buffets washed down with gallons of larger for a pittance.
Shortly after the programme I phoned my dad and told him I wanted to move to Benidorm, Spain. He nearly choked on his coffee.
I found a fantastic group on Facebook called ‘Benidorm-Seriously’ who gave me some valuable advice. I truly believe without their continuous guidance and support my spur of the moment idea would become nothing more than a dream.
The following day (27th May 2016), I phoned my manager and explained my intentions and requested a few days off to suss out the local area. Within 24 hours of watching a sixty minute programme on a town I had never visited, a one way flight to Alicante was booked from East Midlands. I was lucky and found an apartment I loved on-line so arranged a viewing for the following day.
28th May 2016, armed with my worldly possessions – two suitcases weighing just over 50KG, I flew to Alicante. I landed at 10.00am and jumped in a taxi to the Melia hotel where I was staying ready for my 1.00 pm viewing with the estate agent. I rushed into the hotel room and grabbed a shower.
I left the agents contact details in my case and nipped onto my balcony to have a quick cigarette before meeting her in reception. I closed the balcony door behind me only to realise there wasn’t a handle on the outside! It was absolutely scorching (28 degrees plus) and I was stranded on the 18th floor of a huge hotel. I did my up-most to shout to attract attention but to no avail. I didn’t have any water and started to feel claustrophobic. I managed to contact a friend in Ireland who phoned the hotels reception and explained the situation.
After a long sixty minute wait I was finally released but subsequently had missed my appointment with the estate agent! On the condition it was still available, I did manage to secure a viewing for the following day.
That evening I wondered into town for the Benidorm-Seriously meet. Remember, I had only spoken to these people on the internet and didn’t know what to expect. I was nervous, anxious and even considered giving it a miss but I was greeted and welcomed with open arms. A great night was had by all!
The following day I went to visit the apartment I had spotted on-line. It was brand new, furnished beautifully with a superb view of Benidorm’s skyline and Levante beach. I knew this was the one but decided to play it cool in-front of the agent and told her I’d sleep on it.
Rent prices in Benidorm, like any other popular town or city, vary incredibly. You can rent a room for £10 a day or live in a modern duplex penthouse complete with your own plunge pool for £120 a day. Whilst my soon to be new pad wasn’t a duplex it certainly wasn’t cheap – nearly double the price to other apartments close by. Being naive and slightly immature my budget was much higher than what I could realistically afford. I was still in cruise ship mode, expecting Meriam to appear and ensure I was fed and watered.
Estate Agents in Spain can be unpredictable and I would advise anybody looking at renting or buying to enter any agreement with caution.
Do your homework on the agent first…do they have an office? Can the previous tenants vouch for them? Will they issue a contract before you part with any money? Always, always, always get a receipt as most of these deals are done by cash.
Most agents will charge a new tenant two months deposit (equivalent to two months rent), one month commission (which they keep) and then your first months rent. You very rarely receive your deposit back in Spain as the agency automatically keeps half to pay the landlords commission.
With this in mind, I proposed one months deposit, one month commission and four months upfront and a discount of £50 a month. Eventually after a stressful four hours of negotiation via Google translator they agreed on the condition I paid all of the cash the following day. I agreed and skipped back to my hotel to enjoy a celebratory beer. I whipped out my TSB debit card to pay and it declined! I had already told TSB I was in Spain and last time I’d checked there was over 5K so panic set in and I raced to my hotel room….
…..after spending over thirty minutes frantically trying to login into my internet banking (but failing miserably) I decided to phone their UK call centre. An hour dragged whilst I was passed from one department to another. My dream of collecting the keys tomorrow and living in Spain were rapidly fading.
To make matters worse I had forgotten my telephone banking password! Despite being able to give them certain information only I would know, the fraud department said: “We can’t take the chance, you need to fly back to the UK and present your passport at your local branch”.
After devouring half a packet of cigarettes and a quick G&T I decided to post a Charlie rant on their Facebook page and to my amazement it was shared by a few hundred people.
Miraculously, my debit card was working the following morning. Powers of social media
Albeit stressful, the following week was a great insight to Spanish life. I opened up my first Spanish bank account and took out health insurance with Sabadell – they offer a special account for ‘non residents.’ I arranged for fiber optic internet to be installed with Movistar which I found very expensive – £80 a month if you want a decent connection!
SKY/English TV was another box ticked although it’s not actually SKY but an ex-pat who connects a box to your TV and bills you £35 a month for the privilege.
Finally, a lovely Spanish lady helped me arrange my NIE number at the local police station. I did try and do this on my own but the language barrier made it near impossible. She charged me £100 for her time.
After a stressful but productive week I decided to venture out in Benidorms Old Town. This part of Benidorm boasts quaint narrow cobbled streets with an abundance of alfresco eateries, small local bars and designer shops. There isn’t a motorised buggy in site.
It takes twenty minutes to walk from new Benidorm to the old town but this gentle stroll can be done along the sea front. It’s like visiting two completely different countries.
The old town is renowned for it’s gay friendly bars, outrageous drag queens and is home to one of Europe’s largest gay pride festivals every September.
Unfortunately my evening didn’t end well. I was in a bar and after quite a few sherries I was approached by a young couple who initially seemed very pleasant.
As I had run out of cigarettes they offered to escort me to the nearest tobacconist…big mistake! They led me up a side street and took £200 out of my pocket, waved it in-front of me, kissed me on the cheek and slowly walked off.
Adrenaline, anger and sheer frustration at myself for being so naive and trusting. A police car drove by and I explained what had happened but the officers just shrugged their shoulders and drove off! Ever since the incident, I very rarely venture into the old town on my own.
Apart from being mugged in the old town my other fear is cockroaches! I wrote this on Benidorm Seriously (a Facebook group dedicated to helping people in Benidorm and the surrounding area with over 38,000 members!).
“Can anybody tell me about insects here? Are any dangerous that I should look out for?
I’m currently locked in my bedroom after seeing something scuttle along the kitchen floor.
Don’t laugh but I had a full blown panic attack but fortunately my inhaler was in my room.
I’m going to have to ask the agent to come out tomorrow and do a deep clean. It happened halfway through my meal so I didn’t even get to eat properly. I probably shouldn’t of left the food out but I had no choice! Never been so scared. I have a serious phobia of spiders/insects – don’t know why. Dad calls me a wimp but I just go into complete melt down. I didn’t have my glasses on so it could be a scorpion or anything. I think it’s under the sofa now and no I haven’t had a drink. Just going to have to wee in a bottle and wait for the agent to come tomorrow.”
My friend Lindsay helped me throughout the evening via Facetime. I would put the call on video mode and hold my phone out the bedroom door to see if she could spot anything scuttling around. After a restless sleep and being tormented on Facebook by my chums, my landlord came the following day and apprehended the naughty insect.
I spent the next few months enjoying and embracing all aspects of Spanish life. Benidorm really is the best of both worlds…the concrete jungle is home to some fabulous tribute acts, comedians and variety shows – on par to a 4* cruise ship.
I particularly enjoy the tribute shows. The old town is home to some gorgeous restaurants where seafood and fresh steak is served on tap.
Bizarrely, it’s impossible to get a Chinese delivery! Despite there being numerous Chinese restaurants, none of them offer a delivery service. My new favourite is Sushi – yup even in Benidorm!
Subconsciously, I was making friends very quickly who now have become my Spanish family. Granted, I’m quite happy to pull up a pew and talk to anybody but I was overwhelmed with how close the ex-pat community is. I’ve somehow managed to bag myself over eight adopted mums & dads as well as big sisters and brothers.
I’ve been very lucky to have lots of friends come and visit over the year. I somehow managed to persuade my 75 year old Gran who is used to 5* World Cruises on Cunard to visit for a week in August. Gran had an absolute blast, dancing to the Beatles until the early hours and lounging by the pool with her book during the day.
All in all 2016 was a great year for me. I left my life at sea, secured a job I love, moved countries, made some amazing new friends and toured Japan in September with work, HOWEVER, there was something missing. Whilst I enjoy my own company and unwinding in the evening with some naff TV I was starting to get lonely in the apartment by myself.
When I was born 23 years ago, my parents had a dog called ‘Charlie’ who sadly passed away on the same day I arrived. Unsure what to call their new son, Mum & Dad decided on ‘Charlie’……in theory, I was named after a dead dog.
In Spain hundreds of dogs are born each day with a high percentage ending up at dog rescue homes or even worse, abandoned. I’ve seen several stray dogs over the year which breaks my heart. I noticed on a Facebook page that ten puppies had just been born and were in need of a new home ASAP. Another rash decision on my behalf (you can see what’s coming)….
Snoopy has given me a purpose and new lease of life. I adopted him when he was just six weeks old. Three months later he’s turned into a mischievous but love-able rouge. A true babe magnet, I love him dearly. He’s still got a lot to learn but we enjoy afternoons on the beach or chasing next door’s cat – shush! He has become very attached to me but it’s important he keeps mixing with other people.
Last month it became apparent that my apartment wasn’t practical or suitable for both of us. Snoopy needs a bit of outdoor space and I was craving a bath. I was sat in a bar having lunch when I spotted a plush pad in Torre Lugano, a modern complex slightly further away from the hustle and bustle of the main town. The rent was £150 cheaper a month and with two large bedrooms & bathrooms, impressive balcony with spectacular views and a spacious lounge – it really was a no brainer! You guessed it…without even viewing the property I emailed the agent and offered to pay a deposit straight away to secure the property.
A few weeks later, I’m sat on my new balcony now with Snoopy by my side. Despite the torrential rain we’ve had to endure this week, I’m happy and content with how my Spanish dream has panned out.
Charlie’s Top Tips….
- I was already employed by a company in the UK before moving to Spain so had a secure & regular income. Without the job security I doubt I would have ever made the move. If you’re prepared to work long hours for little pay – you’ll be fine – but don’t leave your job in the UK expecting the same wage!
- Always barter with the agents – their commission is negotiable – they would rather take a percentage than none at all!
- Be as sociable and outgoing as you possibly can. Without my Benidorm family, I don’t think I would of made it. Get friendly with your locals. Remember, you need to find them – they won’t find you.
- It’s hard but you must remember you’re here to live and work. Unfortunately, it isn’t one big party. It’s taken me a while to adapt and appreciate that – I would say I’m just about settled and look forward to my nights out at the weekend – you actually enjoy them more!
I hope you’ve enjoyed the read. A special thank you to Benidorm Seriously – Tracy, Derek & Hazel you deserve an OBE.
UPDATE – 24th JULY 2017
I’ve just spent twenty months in Benidorm. An exceptionally diverse and charismatic town hidden between the hustle and bustle of Costa Blanca.
A town that welcomes all nationalities, genders, beliefs and principals. A town that welcomes old and new generations. A town that is renowned for it’s warm and friendly community, natives and expats alike. A town that serves some of the best food in Europe (Old Town) and is home to exceptional nightlife, regardless of your preferences.
In April 2016I had a misconstrued perception of Benidorm and surrounding areas. My family referred to the town as ‘ Blackpool in the sun’ and I vividly remember friends commenting on Benidorm as ‘Benefits in the Sun.’
How very sad, shallow and wrong they were.
Granted, Benidorm, for some reason, has an awful sterotype and stigma it really doesn’t deserve.
Ignorance can be very dangerous and normally those who choose to comment, haven’t even visited for a day.
….C’mon…the Old Town is simply stunning!
Without delving into too many details, I am thankful and grateful of my time in Spain.
I arrived on my tod yet somehow left with an abundance of friends I call for life.
I have always suffered with depression, drink and anxiety. Unfortunately it’s a trait that has haunted our family for a while but Benidorm gave me a sense of ‘being’ and highlighted what family and friends are all about.
Over the past few months, the above took it’s toll and I completely lost it. My apartment, friends, Snoopy (my dog) and even my job. I made mistakes, lost/gained friends and my Spanish dream somehow spiraled out of control.
All of the above could have been prevented. We all know drink is a massive depressant and it’s near in-possible to work when you don’t even want to make a cup of tea.
In eighteen months, I’ve learnt so much about myself. I’ve had to live, pay rent, pay bills, seek medical help independently (even though Rose pushed me along), manage money (still work in progress, I may add) and stand on my own two feet.
I did it the hard way by moving to a foreign country that I hadn’t visited before.
I’m writing this now in (not so sunny) Ireland before my flight back to London tomorrow.
Benidorm, I will be back. Not sure when, but I’ll be back.