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29 Jun 2011

Spain-Portugal high-speed train link postponed

Portugal's new conservative government today announced the suspension of the high-speed train link to Spain, although it maintained that it could be reconsidered at a later date and with a revised budget.

As had already been outlined in his electoral campaign, the new Portugese prime minister, Pedro Passos Coelho (pictured, right), confirmed today that the project would not now go ahead, despite the fact that half the work on Portugese soil has already been done.

The decision, which will now be debated in the Legislative Assembly, means that the future rail link, which was started with EU funding and is already well advanced in Spain, could be re-evaluated in the future under "new conditions".

The conservative coalition government, that took over after the socialists were defeated in the elections on June 5th, included in its manifesto many more measures to save money in order to alleviate the recession and to be able to meet the terms of its international financial rescue package.

Pressure on Portugese debt forced former prime minister Sócrates to ask for financial help in April of this year, and in exchange for the 78 billion euros of aid granted by Brussels and the International Monetary Fund, the government in Lisbon has to adhere to a very strict programme of reduction in public spending.

As far as the high-speed train link (AVE) is concerned, Passos Coelho said: "the project could be subject to a re-evaluation, including the contents and calendar, with an eye on optimizing costs, under new conditions and taking into account the legal status of the contracts that have already been signed".

The AVE link between Lisbon and Madrid was supposed to have been opened in 2013.  The high-speed rail projects between Spain and Portugal were revised two years ago, with both governments agreeing to delay the Vigo-Oporto link, which had also originally been scheduled to open in 2013.


Hot Sangritas and Blanco con lima

If you think Sangria is passé, populist and puerile, think again. Red wine or white wine punch (called Sangria Blanco) packs bursts of vitamin-enriched fruit with wine, brandy or rum, and can be served as a hot mulled drink in winter, or with sparkling soda or lemonade as a long summer refresher.

Did you know that sangria (or a version of it) is one of the world’s oldest known alcoholic beverages? Hippocras was made from wine, and enriched with spices, notably cinnamon and is traditionally attributed to the Greek physician Hippocrates (in the 5th century BC). It was first mentioned in texts from the mid 12th century onwards. Lacking fresh water options, many European households would drink alcoholic beverages, livened up with spices and fruits, safe in the knowledge that the alcohol would kill any bacteria.

Spain has been supplying wines from several varieties of red and white grape since 200BC when it was first actively planted with vineyards by the Romans. The local Spanish sold their best wines, reserving only a few bottles for their red wine punches, known as Sangria. Usually this meant Rioja, and later Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon blends, which formed the traditional sangria made popular on countless package holidays for tourists in the 70’s. Since then, sangria has appeared in white wine versions, sparkling with cava, dashed with soda water or extended with fruit juices (particularly peach or nectarine in Southern Spain where it is called zurra) and has become synonymous with tapas, or that most typical Valencian meal – paella.

Experts agree that the flavour improves with time; sangria is best left chilled overnight to allow the fruit infusion to blossom. Although many restaurants use cheap local house wines, connoisseurs say that sangria should be made with a good-quality wine (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Rioja or Californian Zinfandel) so as not to be outweighed by the fruit flavours, juice, soda water and ice. Experimenting with fruits is the key. Anything from cranberry and orange, to pear, peach, lime and grapefruit can give your sangria a twist. For the white wine version, you might want to combine it with apple or grape juice and a small bunch of fresh mint. For sangria with a real kick, add gin, triple sec or brandy, and if the result is too potent, mellow it out with some ginger ale, or the ubiquitous Spanish casera. The best part of sangria is taking your favourite fruits or varying it according to the seasons, and surprising guests with subtle flavour differences.

For a hot Halloween punch, Jamie Oliver recommends the addition of cinnamon, vanilla pods and star anise, making a hot syrupy concoction of the fruit, caster sugar and spices first, and adding the red wine after. Mulled wine is more commonly a Northern European drink, stemming from the Swedish Glögg or German Glühwein but the influence of the Chilean Navegado, (which is heated wine, spiced with cinnamon sticks, orange slices, cloves and sugar) has led the Spanish to adopt sangria for the same purpose. Although generally a citrus fruit drink, some recipes for sangria suggest adding sliced apple as it absorbs some parts of the wine that don’t taste great, which is why you must allow the fruit time to soak.

If you are planning a Mexican meal, you can even spice your sangria with jalapeños or chilli sauce, (when it becomes known as sangrita) or try a Valentine surprise with rosé wine and soft berry fruits. Just as the Spanish language has travelled the world over, blending with local influences, so can sangria adapt to our changing culinary and gastronomic tastes. It need never remind you of teenage hangovers in Benidorm again!


Spanish-style Sangria and Sangria Blanco

- 1 or 2 bottles of red (Rioja/Valdepeñas) or white wine (Chardonnay/Albariño)
- 1 orange (grapefruit/mandarins/peach/nectarine)
- 1 lemon (lime/pear/kiwi/handful of cranberries or blueberries)
- 1 apple (optional)
- 4 tsp of sugar
- 1/2 cup soda water or Spanish casera
- Large pitcher or bowl of ice
- 4 shots of dark rum, triple sec or brandy
- Cinnamon sticks, vanilla pods, or cloves in an orange

Preparation: Slice or chop the fruit into wedges and soak in the wine in the fridge overnight or for a couple of hours. Pour the wine, soda water and brandy into a punch bowl. Add half the sugar, a sprinkle of the cinnamon, the vanilla pods and the spiced orange. Taste. If it doesn't taste sweet enough, add more sugar. Add ice and serve. To serve, spoon fruits into glasses or goblets and pour over the spiced wine.

Note: If you are preparing sangria immediately before serving and you like it fizzy, pour the soda water or casera into the bowl first and pour the other ingredients in slowly. If you make the white wine or Sangria Blanco version, use appropriately pale colour fruits. If you want spicy Sangrita, add one diced jalapeño chilli and a dash of Tabasco or pepper sauce, to taste.

Halloween Sangria

- 1 bottle of red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot or a Spanish Rioja)
- 1 peeled sliced orange (add curled zest to taste into cooking pot)
- 1 peeled sliced lemon (add curled zest to taste in cooking pot)
- 1 tsp ground nutmeg
- 2 tsp ground ginger
- 5 whole cloves
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 1/2 cup sugar (or honey can be substituted)
- 2/3 cup brandy or cognac
- 1/2 cup water

Preparation: Combine all ingredients in a large pot and gently warm the ingredients on low to medium heat (avoid boiling), for 20-25 minutes. Stir occasionally to make sure that the honey or sugar has completely dissolved. When the wine is steaming and the ingredients have blended well it is ready to serve. Ladle into mugs, garnish with a blood orange segment and enjoy!

Alicante's Gegham Ghazaryan was last night named the "G'Vine Gin Connoisseur 2011" making him the purportedly the "best gin barman in the world".

Alicante's Gegham Ghazaryan was last night named the "G'Vine Gin Connoisseur 2011" making him the purportedly the "best gin barman in the world".

Ghazaryan beat an international field of 15 other finalists to the title, coming out top overall after sitting a written exam, an aroma exam (focusing on citrus fruits, spices and ingredients in gin), producing his own commercially viable gin from different distilled gins, and a speed test involving five different gin-based cocktails.

Ghazaryan's winning cocktail was the "Coupage Floral" made with G'Vine Floraison gin, fresh lime and pink grapefruit juice, cardamom and ginger syrup, blueberry reduction, and served on ice with flambéed lime and grapefruit peel.

Apart from the coveted title, Ghazaryan, fromthe Xandom bar in Alicante, won a cash prize and the chance to tour the best gin bars in the world with his winning cocktail.

Hotel sector to take on 60,000 more staff this summer than in 2010

Spanish hotels are set to take on 60,000 more seasonal staff this year than they did last summer, an increase of 26%, according to figures presented today by the president of the Spanish Confederation of Hotels (Cehat), Juan Molas.

This means that hotels will be taking on some 290,000 extra employees this summer compared with 230,000 in 2010.

Hoteliers are hoping that 2011 will be better than last year, thanks in the main to the economic recovery in the main European markets and an important increase in Russian tourists (35% more bookings than last year).

Give the increasing affluence of foreign tourists, Molas warned Spaniards holding out for that last minute deal that they might be disappointed, as many places are already fully booked for the summer.

The home market, which accounts for 50% of the business in some areas and which is still undoubtedly being affected by the recession, is still a cause for concern amongst Spanish hoteliers, and prices are still very much determined by national demand.

Ryanair to close base in Reus, Spain

Budget carrier Ryanair said Wednesday it will close an operations base in Spain's northeastern Reus because of contract disputes with the regional authorities.
Ryanair said that since November 2008 it had used the airport in Reus, south of Barcelona, as a base for three planes in summer and one in winter. It planned to close the base October 30.
The airline blamed the Catalan government and Tarragona authorities for its decision.
"Unfortunately, these institutions have repeatedly failed to comply with commitments to support and help the development of the Ryanair base in Reus," airline vice president Michael Cawley said in a statement.
Ryanair would continue to fly to Reus using planes from other bases after the closure, the carrier said.
"At Ryanair we are overwhelmed by requests from many other European airports for us to base our planes there, with lower costs and more reliable partners than we have in Tarragona," Cawley said.
Ryanair regretted the loss of jobs but was prepared to consider re-opening the base if it obtained "reliable guarantees" that the authorities would abide by contract agreements, he added.
An airline spokesman declined to say how many jobs were affected.


Fitch downgrades Spain's Banco Sabadell

Ratings agency Fitch downgraded the ratings of Spain's fourth-biggest bank, Banco Sabadell, by a notch on Wednesday owing to its exposure to the collapsed real estate market and weak economy.
The agency said it had trimmed the Barcelona-based bank's long-term debt rating to "A-" from "A" with a negative outlook.
"The vast majority of Sabadell's activities are undertaken in Spain and thus its performance is highly correlated with that of the Spanish economy, which has uncertain growth prospects and has suffered from the collapse of the property sector," Fitch said in a statement.
"Like many Spanish banks, this is likely to continue affecting asset quality and profitability," it added.
Banco Sabadell's exposure to the real estate sector totalled 10.8 billion euros ($15.4 billion), and repossessed properties totalled 3.1 billion euros, at the end of the first quarter of 2011, according to Fitch.
The bank's profitability "has held up relatively well", helped by good cost control, a healthy level of commissions and its focus on small and medium-sized firms, it said.
"However, sharp deterioration in asset quality since 2008 led to large loan impairment and other charges, the latter mainly for foreclosed assets, affecting operating profitability and net income," Fitch added.
"Managing the real estate exposure will continue to be challenging due to a high level of land financing."
Investors fret over the state of Spanish banks, hard hit by the collapse of property bubble in 2008, an ensuing recession and a steep rise in the cost of raising money on financial markets in past months.
The government and Bank of Spain have forced a wave of consolidation in the sector and are requiring banks to quickly increase the proportion of rock-solid core capital they hold to above international norms.
Spanish banks' bad loans amounted to 115.35 billion euros or 6.36 percent of total assets, in April -- the highest ratio since June 1995, the central bank said in a report released earlier this month.


4 Jun 2011

BRITISH expat has been arrested after allegedly stabbing a fellow Brit who he accused of having an affair with his wife.

The 48-year-old, identified by the initials P.D, was apprehended after a 32-year-old man was discovered with a stab wound at a bus stop in Torremolinos.
The victim was taken first to a local medical centre and then to hospital in Malaga after allegedly being attacked at his home.

It is believed that the attacker worked at a bar visited regularly by the victim and his wife.

Paris luxury-home prices rose the most in the world in the 12 months through March as buyers from emerging markets competed for a limited number of properties

Paris luxury-home prices rose the most in the world in the 12 months through March as buyers from emerging markets competed for a limited number of properties, Knight Frank LLP said.
Values of houses and apartments costing more than 2 million euros ($2.9 million) increased 22 percent in the French capital, Mark Harvey, a senior negotiator for the London-based property broker, said in an interview. Hong Kong was second with a 15 percent rise and Helsinki third with 12 percent. Shanghai and Beijing completed the top five.
Buyers from the group of Brazil, Russia, India and China “are increasingly looking to Paris as a safe haven to invest funds in a mature and high-performing market,” Liam Bailey, head of residential research, said in a statement. “Like London, supply is hindered by a paucity of new-build developments.”
Measures by Asian governments to curb property speculation appear to be working, with luxury-home prices in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing and Singapore growing 11 percent as a group in the first quarter compared with 55 percent a year earlier, Bailey said in the statement.
London prices gained 8.6 percent, putting the city in a tie for sixth with Singapore. Zurich followed with an 8 percent increase.
Los Angeles had a 2.2 percent decline and Moscow took the bottom spot on Knight Frank’s 15-member Global Cities Index, with prices contracting 8 percent. The index compares the performance of prime housing markets, defined as the top 5 percent to 10 percent of the mainstream market, in key global cities chosen by the broker.


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