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The housewarming party – preparations

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Weeks and even months have passed since the big housewarming party of Alegria, our Spanish house. The date was set on June 1st, invitations were given to all our local friends, family, builders and gardeners with families, neighbors, designers, bankers, legal contacts, main suppliers – everybody who had helped us in the building process and settling down in Spain. Totally we expected ca 85 + guests.                                                   The period before and after the party were hectic – hence no time nor mood for blogging. Especially I remember the feeling of a slight panic the last days before the big day… Our invited guests from Sweden, Finland and Estonia started to arrive while the builders, pool guys and gardeners were working overtime to get everything ready with the plants, garden and poolside. The pool terrace still looked like a big mess just couple of days before the party and even if everything was happening quickly we were kind of nervous…. A lot of things needed to be organized, for example seating. So my brother-in-law constructed smart sofas using pallets and floor boards and when ready and cleaned these became trendy and funky furniture. Luckily our daughter has made a brilliant choice of boyfriend who also is a brilliant chef so we got a great help as they took care of the dinners for our early guests. We had a great team with lots of experience of arranging dinners. We had our nice planning evenings on the sunset terrace (the photo above). For the party itself we engaged a British chef, Dani Bowler who took care of all the preparations and cooking, occupying our kitchen from the day before. So in spite of the ongoing works around the pool we were quite confident that everything would be as close to perfection as possible.

 

The guys from Charlesworth Gardens did an amazing job transforming even the most unwelcoming corners of the garden to beautiful spots to relax your eyes on. I’m very happy for the new vegetable garden in what used to be a useless sloping corner of our garden. Lee and his guys built terraces there with stairs and a nice path leading down to a fig tree that when growing bigger is going to give some shade for the parking area. In this garden I want to grow herbs, tomatoes and strawberries in the big plant beds. And the young fig tree already gave us some huge sized velvety and really tasty fruit!

 

Before all the plants could be planted to their final spots we needed to get rid of a huge pile of local limestone saved from the old outer wall that had to be taken down. We decided to use it for more stairs leading to the different levels in the garden. A sunburned senior stonemason came to finish off the work with the natural stone – something he has most probably been doing his whole life. It was fascinating to follow him carving the blocks and fitting them perfectly on their places.                                      One day he came with a box of local fruit, nispero, from his garden. This juicy fruit, mainly used for marmalade, is very common in this region but unknown for most of people from outside.

 

Our builders worked hard with tiling around the pool on before the pool could be filled with water. The back wall was built and decorated with natural stones – the finishing lasted until the day before the party. The pool company worked hard until the day before the party to get the waterfalls, lights, heating and cleaning system working.

 

Finally everything was cleaned and our early guests jumped in the pool to test it! I didn’t have time to try myself but I didn’t hear any complaints at all! I would have my time to relax after the party – that was what I thought…

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Now I will post this but I keep writing och downloading the photos from the party! I promise it will not take another three months 😀

See you soon!

April whims

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All of a sudden it is end of April! The winter and early spring have been so nice and calm here in Alicante and even if the nights are cool, the days have been filled with sunshine. Until the easter holiday – the most celebrated holiday in the catholic Spain – that came with stormy weather, heavy rains and thunder that lasted over the whole easter. We felt guilty – our Swedish friends who came down for a break from work and studies were disappointed as the sun was well hidden behind dark clouds and rain kept pouring down… while the weather in northern countries was unusually summer-like. The only amusement we could offer was the spectacular thunderstorm around the valley that we followed from the panorama windows. We imagined all these large Spanish families in their drafty houses, wearing woolen socks and cardigans around the big dinner table filled with tapas, paella and lots of Spanish wine. Our house is luckily built according to nordic building norms so we can keep our feet warm by just switching on the floor heating…

The rain also meant many cancelled traditional easter processions through the streets of many towns that require lot of preparations to get all the spectacular dresses ready and rehearsals for carrying the valuable statues through streets filled with spectators. Spanish communities are very good at preserving their traditions. I can imagine the disappointment of children and adults looking forward to the big happening of the year… Lots of checking the weather forecasts I guess. The easter traditions in Spain are taken seriously but younger people and families also use the Semana Santa (easter week) for vacation at the coast. For northern people the easter holiday is more about food and meeting family and friends than about religion. We do not bear in mind that Jesus was suffering on the cross, we eat our easter meals without compassion. However during the rainy weather we used our new gym with a crosstrainer, treadmill and table tennis to punish our sinful bodies…

The rain, said to be the worst in several decades causing flooding, damaged cars and property, gave a nice boost for both the old and new plants in our garden as well as the nature around. The old orange tree is full of blossom and smelling divine! Also the fig tree promises some harvest.

While it has been quiet and peaceful inside the house, outside there are lot of more or less noisy works going on… Spectacular planting projects have been done where enormous palms have been lift up and planted with help of a crane truck. Charlesworth Gardens is the contractor who helps us with the big garden project. As the plot is on a mountain slope, the garden is planned in different sections and levels. The watering of the garden, which is necessary here due to very long dry periods, has been planned already when building the walls and structure in the garden with many water outlets where to connect the automatic irrigation system. It is exciting to follow the process even if it will obviously take some years before the plants will develop and build that lush greenery we are looking forward to.

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The other major project is the pool. The old one, traditional 5 x 8 meters swimmingpool was leaking. We decided to go for a new design and new tiles. We are not much swimmers so we wanted to adapt the pool to our needs and build different levels in the pool, where you can sit with a drink or lay down partly in water and relax in the sunshine. What we have noticed about our pool area is that during the low season most of the poolside is in the shadow of the trees growing just outside our garden, in the national park. In high season the pool is in full sun and the water temperature goes over 30 degrees. All this has been taken in planning. We just hope everything will turn out well at the end…

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Inside the house things have been moving on slowly… It is depending on our “laziness” as it takes great effort to get us out of our comfy house to visit numerous shops in order to find chairs, tables etc. Luckily we have got good help from a local interior company, A-Style and Carmen in first place, who have helped us to sew curtains, custom-make headboards and find some nice furnitures both for indoor as well as outdoor use.

We both are very satisfied with our bedroom in Scandinavian style situated on the highest floor with a generous bathroom and walk in closet, consequently also having an amazing view over the coastline and mountains. It feels special to fall asleep to the sea of lights and wake up when the rising sun colors the mountains on the opposite side of the valley in pink. I’m happy and proud that my visions turned out so well…

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Well, some progress has been made with furnishing but still lot of details as bedside tables, bookshelves, paintings etc missing. However we are going to speed things up in May as we are expecting lot of guests to Alegria party that is going to happen 1st of June! We will invite everybody who have been helping us with this project in one or another way and our neighbors, friends and family of course. More about the party in my next post! Bye for now!

 

Back on track!

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More than 3 months have passed since the last post on this site! My old PC refused cooperating when importing the photos which eventually made me to step up a level and buy a MacBook Pro. So now I can present a gallery of photos taken last days in our house Alegria!

 

Step-by-step the house has been changing from a building site to a home with curtains, wardrobes, soft furniture and even TV sets. The process of designing and furnishing the interiors is really enjoyable but the decorating has to take its time. Until the right pieces of furniture, paintings and decorations will cross our roads at some point and find their places in our home, we use what we have. Pieces of garden furniture work fine as coffee tables, dining chairs etc. From start I have had two “special projects” in my mind that I have run from idea to reality through the whole building process. I am proud and happy that my visions came to life and are giving the house this special touch I thought they would. I am grateful to our builders and the carpenter for being so helpful…

The first project that came to my mind when the windows were still empty holes, was the “framed panorama” project. The views from the two huge windows over the valley and the coastline is stunning and look like two big paintings in our living room so I felt these should be framed! Our carpenter Francesco built the frames exactly as I wished and the wide window sills were covered with the same solid stone as the stairs by the tough stone guys from Benidorm Marmoles. To highlight the “paintings” even more we installed Philips Hue light strings around the frames that allows to choose a light in any desirable color.

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The other big project was the staircase leading to master bedroom and the roof terrace. The stairs were planned in the Spanish way, steep and narrow and we could not do much to change this. However, instead of building walls around the stairs we left everything open, installed spotlights in the floor and that maked a big difference… The steps are covered with natural stone (Lungomare) in a way that the pattern continues from step to step. Again, fantastic work by the Marmoles guys! The banisters are crafted by the same company who made the balcony rails, windows and all other metal work in our house. I chose the iron bars myself among the dusty samples in the workshop. The hall project is still not completely finished but at this stage I am really satisfied with the outcome!

 

 

During autumn months we had our closest relatives and friends visiting us. My mom stayed 6 weeks in October and November, enjoying both the warm weather and sandy beaches of Mediterranean as well as the cooler November with all nice walks. My siblings visited as well as Pers family. Pers mother is in wheelchair now and we all have to adopt to a new reality, to new everyday routines. While building the house we have tried to make is as handicap friendly as possible – which has been challenging as the house is built on a mountain slope.

 

New big projects are just about to begin! The preparations for the garden works are already started and part of the plants are already delivered and waiting for planting! I will follow this project with my camera and hope to post some nice garden views soon! Happy Valentine!

 

The story of the white piano

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Back in February when my 55th birthday was coming closer my generous husband Per asked me if I had some special wish, a new car perhaps? Or a nice party? I told him I had been thinking about a piano for our new house Alegria…

In my childhood the piano was the most valuable item in our house in Rakvere. My parents were fond of music; my mother had an exceptionally beautiful voice (she dreamed of becoming an opera singer) while my father often sat at the piano playing his favorite melodies or accompanying my mother. Lot of them where energetic pieces as marches inspired of the communist era but also soulful melodies about our small country with its picturesque landscape. I was always fascinated when the cover was taken away to tune the piano – the inside looked exciting with all soft hammers that hit the strings.

Also at my school in Rakvere, located in a beautiful white building of thirties, the grand piano was standing  at the place of honor in the beautiful sunny auditorium. The piano was always carefully covered, I remember my fascination the times the piano was uncovered and the big lid was open. Music had an important place at my school, we had several choirs led by our enthusiastic music teachers. Arvo Pärt, a world famous composer of today, was a pupil at my school and has started his musical life growing up in my hometown Rakvere.

Also Per’s childhood home has a piano and the clear sounds of it can be heard in the whole big house when his sister is playing. Also he, as well as me, took piano lessons as young and we both regret that we did not put more effort in it. Therefore we were delighted when Clara and Elsa started to take piano lessons, and even more now when Elsa has taken her piano playing to a higher level, training every week with a brilliant Russian piano teacher.

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I cannot tell exactly when the piano seed was sown in my head. I was reading about the craft of piano making in Estonia and accidentally checked the Estonia Piano Factory homepage. Estonia has a long tradition of skillful piano makers who also worked for famous factories in Russia and specially in St Petersburg, the town of culture. Many of them opened their own manufacturing and, when Estonia became independent 1917, started up their own production in the home county. However during the soviet era all the factories were closed down, except for Estonia Piano Factory that became a very prestigious factory exporting to many countries. The Estonia Piano Factory was purchased by the employees when Estonia regained its independence in 1991. A lot of effort was put to redesign the instruments collaborating with leading piano experts in Europe to create grand pianos of the highest level. I learned also that the factory now was owned and managed by Laul family including Mr. Venno Laul, the famous choir leader and important person in the music life of Estonia.

I really liked the idea of having something extraordinary from my little motherland! Something that daily reminds me about my background, something to be proud over. So I dropped a question through the homepage regarding retailers of Estonia piano in Spain.

 

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I got a surprisingly nice answer from Mr Venno Laul himself with an invitation to visit the factory and get a private demonstration of the mini grand piano that would be our choice for the house in Spain. I was excited – it felt like an adventure…

On March 27th at 13:56 I parked my car at the backyard of the piano factory, following the detailed instructions from Mr Laul, turned left to Kungla street and walked until I found the entrance. I pushed a button saying ”director” and soon a friendly voice gave me further instructions where to find the office. Finally Venno Laul, an elderly tall and stylish man, welcomed me and introduced his son, pianist Indrek Laul, who guided me through this exciting building with its many production premises.

A new world opened up for me… It was thrilling to see how much knowledge, technology and fine craftsmanship is needed to produce one grand piano, regardless if it is modeled for a living room or a concert hall. The Estonia piano holds many different quality parts; for example the Renner action, manufactured in Stuttgart, means that the instrument is on the same level as a Steinway, the most known piano in the world.

One of the most important final stages is the tuning. Only a small amount of people qualify for this work, that needs absolute pitch hearing. A piano can be set to more soft or more brilliant tones and Estonia piano is known for its warm romantic sound.

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In the demo room Indrek Laul demonstrated the piano of model 168, the smallest one in the production of Estonia piano factory that would suit our living room. I was overwhelmed when he started to play The Dying Swan of Saint Saëns – one of the ballet solos Elsa has done on the stage…

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I felt me treated like a queen during my visit and the whole atmosphere in the factory made me impressed so when the tour and demo was over the decision was not hard to make: we would have a white Estonia mini grand piano for Alegria, our Spanish home. Luckily I had an OK from Per with me…

Our nice and friendly email contact with Mr Venno who was a real gentleman lasted through the whole production process. I was always welcome to the factory when I visited Tallinn, to follow the progress. In May I visited the factory together with my brother in law Valdo to get instructions for the installation and in June, a short time before the piano was going on its long journey through Europe I visited the factory once more together with Elsa and her friend Louisa from California.

 

We came by ferry from Sweden through Finland and hurried to the factory.  Mr Venno met us in the silent factory – it was the day before Midsummer eve, a state holiday, that meant half working day. There were only the director and one craftsman left who wanted to work instead of going to party. Mr Venno seemed to have no hurry – he showed us our white piano with great enthusiasm and told about all the parts inside. We were enchanted and amused. This visit was an amazing experience that stays in our hearts!

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Only some days after our visit the white piano, being tuned, left Estonia with DSV transport through Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Polen, Germany, France to the final destination in Spain. At the day the piano arrived to Alicante there was a confusion as we expected to get a home delivery but we sorted it out with a helpful DSV representative with beautifully sounding name, Mari-Liis Lilleleht. Finally our workleader managed to organize an express transportation from DSV terminal in Alicante to our house in Albir.

The early morning of July 10th felt like the Christmas eve; we were waiting for the piano that should arrive just after 8 am with a crane truck normally used to take up the building materials to our yard, situated on the mountain slope. It was a great relief to finally spot the big truck coming uphill – we were unsure whether we had any insurance for this part of transport.

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We were well prepared – Valdo and our building team with their muscles tense and me with my camera and iphone ready to capture every step of this important happening. The heavy crane lifted the box to the terrace as easily as it would be a soil bag.

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After a short struggle with mounting of legs the 250 kg piano could be rolled to its final destination, the living room at villa Alegria.

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After having written most of this text I get a phone call from my sister in Estonia. It was announced that Venno Laul passed away on October 14th, one month after his 80th anniversary.

I feel sadness; this very special man was still so vital, so passionate about his job, so kind and so polite and attentive.  On the other hand I am happy that I had possibility to learn to know him – our interesting conversations will always be in my memory. I hope some of the soft sounds from the white piano in villa Alegria will touch him high above us…

 

 

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“Dear Mrs Linda,

What a pleasure to know that the piano is on its place now, in one piece! All the steps you have planned lead to the day when you will be able to enjoy the sounds of your piano. Right now only seeing the photo gives a great feeling, the piano is really angel-like with its elegance and suits so well in your new house.

I wish you many beautiful musical moments!

Warm congratulations to You,                                                                                                               Venno Laul”

 

 

 

September in Spain

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Rain pouring down…

We were warned about the heavy rains that usually occur in September but it is difficult to believe it when the sun is always there, sometimes after some morning haze over the sea. Sometimes the sunbeds are moist when you go out on the terrace before the sunbeams reach over the mountains. Now we and our new house have experienced these massive showers – when everything gets flooded and the soil is swept away from your new flowerbeds, still waiting for the plants. One morning I woke up to a dripping sound in the corridor and found that someone had placed a bucket under the roof window 🙂 Our building leader says it was a good rain-proof test.

But the Spanish nature is well prepared to take advantage of these showers and in only a few days everything starts to grow and bloom hysterically. I’m already making plans how to collect the valuable rain water that does so good for the garden!

Even if there is more “important” stuff to organize/decide at this stage I cannot keep away from the garden shops (just for planning purposes) and end up dragging home lots of plants and sacks of soil. Luckily I have had my friend Nina here who gives me good help. So consequently I have started some small plant projects using old pots left at the property and the new built-in flower beds.

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When I came here alone one evening in beginning of September I was totally blown away by how everything had changed since I left this place in the end of July. Even if all the big jobs were done in July, everything seemed to have just fallen on their right places! The doors were there, the bathroom furniture installed, the staircase in natural stone…. just amazing. Everything was tidy and the view through the clean windows was stunning. I was wandering around in the house, sparsely furnished, airy, with wonderful warm lighting. It was overwhelming to see my ideas realized, all the materials and surfaces I had picked among hundreds, every light positioned according to my wish – everything felt just “right” . All has been made with such precision, feeling for the handicraft and material, you could see the quality in every corner, on every step! I felt great admiration for our building team, for the stone cutters, for the carpenters who had realized all our ideas and wishes. It seemed unreal but still so wonderful to know that this place now was our home for coming years, where we would love to spend most of our time.

 

 

A week ago I met my husband Per, who left the house in the end of May and hadn’t seen the progress in live since then, at the Alicante airport. He came with Uzanna who was a bit confused and nervous after the hours spent in the plane in her cage among other “special luggage”. At the same time I said goodbye to my brother and his wife visiting me one week and helping in getting things in order.

The biggest change since last time has occurred outdoors, all the outdoor tiles done, piles of material and rubbish gone, terrasses ready for sunny days and soft evenings with family and friends, flowerbeds and soil waiting for plants and fruit trees. It will be a pleasure to furnish and decorate every space in and around the house! My family seems to be as happy as me. A new chapter in our life just started.

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The next post will be about the white piano above! Bye bye until then!

Calor!

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After exactly one month I am back in Spain. Do I need to say that I am very excited to see the progress in the house…

Me and Elsa arrive to our house after sunset. We took our car from the airport, two hours delayed and without my bag – after a long search process found at Arlanda. No problem – I have some clothes stored in the new house. We park the car outside, switch off the Securitas alarm and start to open the heavy temporary gates to the yard. The big house looks a bit scary with its big dark windows. We look forward to come inside, turn on the lights and unpack our stuff, tired after the delayed flight. But –  why doesn’t the code of the padlock that I used so many times before work this time!?? Finally we manage to create a hole big enough to crawl through and enter our new Spanish home. Not very graceful first entry.

The house looks amazing – so much work done since we left it in the end of May! We turn on the lights in every room and just walk around. Am I dreaming, is this beautiful house really ours!? Our building team has almost finished the main floor and the master bedroom upstairs with only few installations still to be done. The light arrangements I have planned are just as beautiful I hoped they would be. The view outside is breathtaking.

 

An hour later I leave Elsa in the empty house and return to the airport in Alicante to pick up my sister and her husband arriving with a late flight. They are staying two weeks and give me some help with cleaning, fitting and furnishing the house.

Before we left the rented house we moved over a lot of stuff we bought so we would not need to start from zero. We got kitchen-ware, vacuum cleaner and coffe machine, beds delivered by Danish design in Altea and other important stuff to survive first days in an almost-ready house. We have two chairs but no table to start with – the table ordered from Concept is arriving only in August.

When I see the kitchen in the heart of the house, complete with worktops and lights I’m filled with gratitude: it looks better I could hope. We had chosen the worktops of natural stone, named Perla venata in a big stone factory filled with thousands of slices of stone cut from huge blocks. Each slice, even from the same block, clould look different so you cannot really know how the final result will be. I can say I’m really satiscfied with the choices we have made – everything is so functional and works so well together. Our kitchen designer from Concept in Altea has done such a nice work with our kitchen, it for sure is the kitchen of my dreams!

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While it is nice and quiet inside the house, at least after the electician and plumber have finished their works in the bathrooms, there is lot of action going on around the house. Sometimes things happen TOO fast – yesterday I almost got a nervous breakdown when I discovered that during the quarter of an hour, while I was talking to our building manager regarding a mysterious wall in the garden built during an hour I was away, on the other side of the house too many balcony railings were installed with insane speed. It resulted in some extra work: the wall was taken down as well as the railings that were reduced to half of the length. I have discovered that Spanish builders love steep and narrow steps and lot of railings while I like more open garden with practical pathways. I will keep my eye on them….

 

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I thougt only we people of north talk about weather all the time. I was so wrong! The world you most frequently hear here right now is CALOR – the heat. I feel sorry for the guys working in our garden in the hot sun building stairs, walls and painting the house. I guess they look forward to their vacation in august, when it is even more calor. I wonder where they go for vacation, Iceland maybe?

Luckily the climate in the house is perfect thanks to the air condition and the new fridge has an ice machine. I am not suffering at all. While Elsa is sweating at the Russian masters ballet camp my days float in a pleasant way. I wake up at 8:00 to the sound of starting cement mixer and jolly voices outside. Our building guys look always happy (even if I make them redo some projects) and work hard all day long except during their siesta when they lay down on the floor of our future gym. My days pass planning at the computer, visiting furniture shops and findig suitable lights, doors etc.

In the evenings when the workers go home we spend good time at the pool and have dinners at the terrace.

 

This morning the view from the livingroom window was a bit different:

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Time to go to sleep, a new day arriving soon! Buenas noches!

Searching and planning

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Yesterday we had guys from a local window factory taking measures in the house as we are going to order new sliding doors to the living room and windows to some other rooms. In general, except for the two panorama windows in the sitting room, the rest of them are planned mainly to close out the sun…. The Spanish people traditionally prefer to close their windows with shutters while we from the Northern hemisphere want them as big as possible. Luckily the architect agreed, somewhat reluctantly, to change some of these on her drawings.

The windows in Spain are often covered with grids. These have naturally a special preventive purpose but they can also look really beautiful! Right now I’m quite fixed about everything concerning Spanish ironwork. Therefore I felt blessed to be invited to visit the workshop where the windows as well as the grids and balcony rails are produced – mainly in the traditional way. A lot of interesting stuff there!

 

The work with the big outer wall is continuing. With the building permission we also got the liability to move the outer wall one meter closer to the house to give space for a sidewalk. That was indeed a very big work and now we need to make the wall even higher and longer… At the same time the work with garden replanning is going on. Because of the location on the hillside, the level differences are big and the old stairs etc must be taken away.

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Tomorrow we are flying back to Stockholm. The three weeks spent here in Altea/Albir have just flown away. I already look forward to be back here in January! Meanwhile we are going to spend some nice time with our families and try not to think too much about the building process here 🙂 Wish you all the best!