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21.05. – 31.05 Monte Gordo , Portugal

Monte Gordos beach is an extension of the lovely soft sandy beaches of the Costa de la Luz. It goes on for miles. And even now at the beginning of June it is relatively empty, but filling up slowly as the hotel attendants bring out loungers, wind breakers and a little table to collect fees. Time to go!

One evening on the way to the bar we met a little Dutch great-grandmother who was rather drunk and unsteady. Nigel chatted her up as we were a bit concerned whether she would make it safely home. She told us her life story and we said good-bye near her hotel. When you have lost your husband and your kids are grown and you want a bit of sunshine you have to travel solo. But in a place like Monte Gordo that is quite safe. Lots of Dutch come here and bring their bicycles. So now there is bike hire everywhere and you feel as if you are in Amsterdam.

Again we were very lucky with our Airbnb choice, as we had a whole apartment with large terrace for a knock-down price of €30/night. This was in walking distance to the beach.

One day we took a drive into the hinterlands and the fishing village of Fuseta with its archipelago of sandy beaches.

In Vila Real de Santo Antonio you can get free books to read on the beach and advice in the tourist office and there is a gorgeous fish restaurant at the end of the harbour where the campers park, called Tasquinha da Muralha. It looks like a shack and has wobbly benches outside. But inside you can choose your fresh fish caught the same morning from the chilled display, it is weight and then baked in loads of olive oil and garlic and served with fresh bread and salad. We had green wine with it, which the owner had on hand from Northern Spain. Absolutely Delicious! And the price of €22.50 for two was also very easy to digest.

One day was spent driving around looking at more real estate with our agent. Most of these split up farms have relatively new farm houses with up to 5 bedrooms and around 5 ha of olive, fruit or almond trees. Some we liked, but not the price. So now it is a waiting game to let the prices cool. In the meantime we will try to learn about how to look after almonds and olives to be prepared shall we become care-takers of a small holding.

Pictures prove oranges are all-year round growing on trees (see mature and small green fruits middle right). The tree on top is a carob tree with the carob pods.

8.05 – 14.05.17 It’s all bull – Algar – Cadiz province

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unusual tapas (sweets)  and a basketful of olives at a roundabout:

Moving further west, we found a lovely small town in Cadiz province, near Arcos, which is not far from Ronda. But we like it peaceful and calm, so Algar was just right. Algar is a sleepy town, which you could comfortably walk all the way around in 30 minutes. Or cross, up and down small streets, in 10 minutes. But the views are again breath-taking. Really, Spain is spoiled with scenery, this area has a large ‘embalse’, Embalse de Gualalcacin, a man-made reservoir nearby which adds to it attraction; the waters being turquoise, even on a rainy day. It has also green hills and valleys, which makes it look like Ireland in sunshine.

 

Cadiz province is blessed with fertile, undulating land which is used for all types of agriculture:

From tillage, potatoes, tomatoes, sunflowers, pasture, goats, sheep to bull breeding. Yes, we came across a ranch that has 400 cows to breed the TORO BRAVOS, the bulls used in bull fights. Nigel of course had to get up close and a security guy drove out in his jeep to see who we were nosing about. But he was a very nice man that explained everything to us and drove us into the place. We even met the owner and his assistant on their very beautiful horses. Passing earlier we saw them rounding up the 3-year old bulls on their horses. These bulls are exercised daily and fed grain to make them strong and muscular. One bull can sell for up to €18,000 in Madrid’s bull ring!

(photos: bull breading ranch)

Ronda – Bull ring

In beautiful Ronda I wanted to see finally a bull ring from the inside. There is something fascinating about the bull fighting thing. It’s probably because it is dangerous, bloody and gruesome, even violent and brutal. It is an intrinsic Spanish phenomenon, a part of Spain just like Paella and Flamenco, so I wanted to see about the why and how.

Being bitterly disappointed in Pamplona (well, it is famous for the running of the bulls in July) and in every other town on our way (nearly every town has its own bull ring, but nearly all of them are closed and not in use anymore), we could finally indulge our curiosity.

Ronda’s bull ring is one of the oldest and unique in that it features covered seating. It is impressive in its architecture and facilities, as it also incorporates a riding school and stables. So it is not all blood and gore, but always ends that way….

There is a museum housed also that shows some artefacts of the life of a torero and other country sports and the military.

 

But this is all I want to know and see about the demise of a beautiful animal like a bull, bred and reared in the countryside pastures, to end as a piece of bloody meat at the admittedly old age of 3 or 4 years (as beef usually ends up being killed at 18-36 months of age).

The Story of the boom and bust in Spain 01.05. – 08.05.17 (Zagrilla)

 

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After a stint in a town apartment we spoiled ourselves with a Spanish villa in the countryside.

It was advertised on booking.com and airbnb as room with mountain views (yet again, I know), pool and breakfast and kitchen use. However, the pool was not yet awoken from winter hibernation and the kitchen had not seen a decent cook in ages, i.e. most essential items were missing. It also behaved like a haunted house – creaking doors everywhere that refused to be opened and closed.

But it is a charming villa with sumptuous decor, Arabic style tiling and open fire place. The view over the valley is lovely, the view at the back however reveals the true story of this property.

There you can see a redundant crane, a big circular hole in the ground and a building site containing the hastily built shell of a conference centre. There are steps down to a farm style building with bar, several bedrooms and showers. This obviously used to be a holiday apartment and party pad.

Arriving at the entrance to the Cortijo Mirador you can see 12 nearly completed detached 2-storey houses, but no plumbing, landscaping or electricity connected. This is the sad picture of a dream turned into a nightmare; the bubble that burst in so many countries when the property boom and financial speculation finally came to a shuddering standstill and reality hit very hard. It hit so hard that many families in Ireland had to emigrate to find a new life and jobs elsewhere. It bankrupted many a man and woman and left people frustrated, helpless and suicidal.

So the owners of Cortijo Mirador and the planned holiday camp of Oriel Village had to find jobs elsewhere, mostly in Malaga. This family can count themselves lucky to still have some control over their property and now try and get some money in by renting it out.

During our 6-day stay we only had people in the house on the first night and the weekend, the rest of the week we had the whole grand villa and garden to ourselves. It was a very relaxing, tranquil week, with only the cockerels and dogs bothering us in the early mornings. We made do with an improvised washing line (thanks to Nigels ingenuity) and I managed to cook with one gas ring working and a lethal toaster.

From our sanctuary we took trips to nearby Antequera, a pretty medieval town with pre-historic dolmens. In Ireland we can be pretty proud about the ancestors that left behind monuments like Newgrange and other dolmens, passage graves, souterrains and crannogs and so on. But this dolmen blew them out of the water with the sheer massive size of the stones standing upright and laid on top.

We also went to see Torcal de Antequera, an amazing karst-landscape, shaped by 200 million years of being under the sea, and of wind and rain.

At the salt-lake of La Laguna de la Fuente de Piedra there are flamingos to see. Unfortunately only very few were present and instead we got to see some small turtles. They looked like rocks lying along the shore, being very shy creatures, that would quickly disappear into the pond from the slightest noise or vibration. [http://www.andalucia.org/en/natural-spaces/nature-reserve/laguna-de-fuente-de-piedra/]

28.04. – 1.05.17 From the mines to the Olive Groves of Jaen

We now wanted to leave the mountains and move further inland towards Jaen and Cordoba.

What a sight – millions of olive trees, all over the valleys and hills of Jaen province. Oceans of the small green olive tree, in rows upon rows…

We settled with Lee in Martos for a few days to admire this truly Spanish landscape, the production of 28% of the world’s olive oil. More than 60 million olive trees grow here, producing 43% of Spain’s olive oil.   [https://worldstrides.com/2013/12/jaen-spain-land-olive-tree/]

To get up and close we went on the Via Verde de Aceite, a green way on the old railway track from Martos to Jaen.

We also visited the old Arab Baths and Museum in Jaen, which is for free.

Another day brought us to the very beautiful city of Cordoba, which is comparable to Granada or Seville in its amazing architectural witnesses of an era now gone. It is impressive to see how once Islam, Judaism and Christianity existed side by side. In the long run, Christianity won out and has altered and added onto the ancient sites.

We visited the Mezquita, which is a Mosque-Cathedral. Its oldest part dates from 786-788, when it was started as a mosque by Abd al-Rahman. The latest addition was added in 1748, so many different architectural styles, like Islamic, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque, have shaped this huge structure. And it is awe-inspiring and at the same time beautiful.

It is true, both religions have their artwork and prayer sites in this one building but respect each other’s spaces. This building-complex is big enough to give both world religions a home and allow for peaceful contemplation within its lofty airy space.

22. – 28. April ALQUIFE – GOAT SHED AND MINING TOWN

 

This was another Airbnb find on the cheap, the whole apartment for under €30. In fact we nearly had the whole place for ourselves, as apart from the owner, very few people turned up during our 1-week stay. The dwelling was a converted goat shed, now housing instead of goats a small cinema, 3 ground floor apartments and 5 bedrooms on the first floor amidst almond trees. And with view of the Sierra Nevada’s snow-topped peaks from the northern side this time.

As usual, dogs and cats were about. And three hens that were quickly despatched by the fox, that strikes when the dogs are away from the place. Marion our host takes this philosophical. Even the fox has to live, so let him have them. There’s always more.

Alquife is a former mining town. Mining has been carried out here since roman times. This mine, Spain’s biggest iron mine, produced up to 40% of Spain’s iron, closed in 1996. But the spoil from the underground and then open mining operation were visible as huge man-made mountains. Research on the internet reveals that it is hoped to restart mining, with access to 1000 ha of land for possible exploitation. In the meantime a solar business put up ca. 10 ha of solar-panels to generate electricity [https://www.exclusivegranada.com/menu-english/the-old-mines-of-granada/the-iron-mines-of-alquife-guadix/].

In Alquife the old town that hugged the rock has been deserted. A landslide destroyed several houses which are now kept pretty by lime-wash. We clambered around this part and imagined the life of the miners back then. Now the two bars in the town barely scratch a living and are glad when pilgrims take this route on their way to the Camino Mozarabe de Santiago. They can stay at La Balsa for €5/night. This is supporting tourism in this area.

As quaint and away-from-it-all La Balsa is situated, I didn’t get much peace to write my blog. The day I was sitting in the hammock phoning my mum a car arrived. The two Spaniards wanted to sell some wine to Marion, who was not at home. Then two pilgrims arrived and we tried to figure out what to do until Marion would return. But all was well as she did know about their arrival. These are situations where my bit of Spanish does help, but it does nothing for a prolonged conversation. But we always experience the Spanish to be helpful, polite, patient and friendly and not one bit put out by our feeble efforts at their language.

We took to cycling up the road towards the mountains and also visited Granada twice during our week in Alquife.

Our first evening visit to Granada was a bit prosaic – Nigel wanted to see the FA cup semi-final game between Manchester City and Arsenal in an Irish Pub, Hanigans & Sons to be precise. For any football fanatic this would be a valid reason but for me this is a sacrilege. I mean this is Granada – one of the most beautiful towns in Spain or the world, you don’t spend your time in front of a tv screen. So I disappeared into the small streets of the Albaycin, the Arab quarter to suss out a place for dinner and acquire a lovely light Pakistani style loose pair of trousers.

Our chosen Moroccan restaurant, El Divan, can be forgotten about. I have never had such tasteless and flavourless food in my life. Where were the famous Moroccan spices? We had the cous-cous, the humus, and chicken with vegetables, but no taste. Even the milk shake was watered down. A typical tourist-trap menu.

But on our next visit we did go and visit the Alhambra, one of the world’s most visited and cherished buildings, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This amazing palace and fortress complex with lovely gardens, enclosures, fountains and water features was built in the middle ages by the Moorish rulers of Al-Andalus, as it was then known. The Islamic colours, patterns and craftsmanship is unforgettable and cannot be taken in on one visit.

We only walked the inner free areas because even a week in advance all tickets for the palaces were sold out for the next 4 weeks! So be warned, a visit to this treasure requires at least 4 weeks forward planning. This applies also for the gardens, the Generalife and the fortress complex. [https://www.alhambradegranada.org/en/]

But we had a place booked in the Arab baths, the hammam, which included for me a 15 min massage. A Hammam is a most wondrous place, a place to let your senses drift away and relax. The Hammam in Granada is lit by candles placed in niches, there is sweetened peppermint tea available and four pools and a steam room await your weary bones. The atmosphere is calm, nobody is allowed to talk loud and soft Arabic music plays in the background.

The pools have water trickling into them in different temperatures and are surrounded by beautiful detailed Arabic tiles and ornaments and intrinsic carvings. One of the pools is ice-cold to finish the cleansing process by closing your heated pores from the steam room. We braved this one twice as the reward was the hot marble stone!

You can choose your massage oil from Pomegranate, Rose, Lavender and Red Amber oils. A massage in such surroundings will enhance your experience of total bliss. Before and after you can lie on the hot marble stone. [http://granada.hammamalandalus.com/en/]

It doesn’t get any better. This is pampering in a sublime fashion. It is difficult to describe the whole experience in words, maybe poetry would do it justice. You just have to go and see for yourself. I surely will return to Granada, the Alhambra and the Hammam many more times.

On our last day, Peter from Holland arrived to take care of La Balsa until Marion’s return from Italy. We invited him for dinner and had a very good night. Full of introspection, psychology, philosophy and got to see his invention: reading glasses as fashion items. He wanted to design reading glasses that can be worn unobtrusively, as a piece of jewellery or fashion item. They needed to be small and easy to wear. His design is patented and hopefully will make him a rich man some day.

 

16.04 – 21.04.2017 Woofing in Cortijo Tesoro, Buquistar, Alpujarras

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It was time to embark on our second woofing job with Jose in the Alpujarras. His Cortijo Tesoro lies not far from the highest (claimed by the inhabitants) village in Spain, Travelez. In fact, the Camino de Trevelez runs practically past his holding.

Jose and his partner Andrea have spent the past 15 years doing up the various original stone buildings on the farm with the help of woofers. By the time we arrived most of the work was done. We had to drench the new natural tile floor with a linseed oil concoction and then paint the ceiling with lime whitewash. Under no circumstances were we to touch the oiled chestnut beams. In fact, we had to clean up some of the paint that went astray before we got there. This vexed Nigel. So he was taken away to help fix the water supply.

The cortijo is typical for the traditional Islamic architecture the Moors brought to the country of Spain from the Atlas Mountains in Algier, Morocco and Tunisia. It was the Berbers who brought their knowledge and traditions to Andalucia. This intrinsic knowledge to work with the natural materials that surrounded them in the mountains was very useful in the region of the Sierra Nevada and the Alpujarras. The cortijos are made of stone, oak or chestnut beams, launa (water-impermeable breathing clay-layer), pebbles and lots of lime wash.

Typical ceiling made from chestnut beams, stones, launa and gravel:

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Jose’s cooking was absolutely delicious, vegetarian meals cooked in a jiffy and tasty. He would put many a restaurant to shame with his culinary virtuosity.

He is also a very accomplished guitar player and singer. We witnessed this on our third night there when we had bought a bottle of vino tinto, a bottle of lambrusco, a lump of cheese and a big bag of crisps. Jose was delighted about the naughty supplementation of his larder. The next day he accused us of having given him a sore head. I beg you – only after 2 glasses of vino! The man needs to get out more. But we had a lovely evening under the stars of the Alpujarra.

The Berbers or Moors as they were called then also brought with them the science of preserving and making use of water, which is scarce and a luxury in those regions. So every drop needs preserving and put to its full use. To that purpose they have constructed Acequias = irrigation canals, channels, that runs alongside the mountains and to anywhere where water is needed, for example the agricultural used areas with orange, olive and almond trees, gardens and dwellings.

These acequias are now looked after by the population and maintained, because life depends on it. Sometimes you can see the original dug out channels, sometimes they are strengthened with concrete along motorways or bounded by stones. Sometimes they look like natural streams, distributing and sharing out their life-maintaining moisture along the way, so that trees, scrub and wildlife can live.

On our last night we went to Atalbeitar with Jose and his guitar and Jim, the new woofer kid on the farm. Well, ok, he is 34, and is travelling the world for the past 3 and a half years.

This night turned out to be a jam session with the resident Hungarian jazz artist, Jose with his guitar and a local on percussion. You wouldn’t really expect that kind of music in a little mountain village high in the Alpujarras in Spain, but music is a universal art and can be transposed anywhere in any form or style. And so we listened to a Spanish jazz session in a typical cortijo. This is run as an unofficial restaurant run by the Hungarian piano player and his Canadian wife.

 

Going for sugar along the Camino de Trevelez

 

During our 6-day day with Jose I was assailed with homesickness!

Well, it is not so easy to mould yourself to another person’s life-style and be confined and defined by their times of eating (too late!), habits and living arrangements (creaky single beds and door to his bedroom). So there comes a time when you want to just do as you please, flop back into your own way of life and spread yourself out again.

Unfortunately the weather had become cold and as we departed it deteriorated further. So just as well we left the high southern mountains and drove instead to the northern slopes of the Sierra Nevada, to Alquife.

On the Road Again 12.-16. April

 

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Pension La Ola, Grao de Castellon

After all this work we thought we deserved at least 2 days at the beach, which we had in Grao de Castellon. Our room had a view of the white sandy beach and the palm-tree lined promenade. Pension La Ola also boasts a grand restaurant with sea view. What’s not to like?

Torrevieja with Helena, car got impounded

On Good Friday we stopped over with a friend in Torrevieja. The town was congested with locals for the Easter festivities. So it was near impossible to find parking near Helena’s apartment bloc. But we did. And regretted it the next morning. Because the car was gone…. Gone with the bikes, hopefully.

The only evidence of my car was a yellow sticker on the pavement, for it had been dragged away and impounded. Now we had been a bit dubious about the whole area, it looked a bit shabby and dark, so we did wonder if our bikes were safe and checked on them on the way to the restaurant, where we were to have the ‘best paella in town’. Half an hour later the car was towed away. Tough luck.

After the Paella we had to visit the local Irish Pub. As you do. And listen to the Dubliners and Christie Moore. Well, the Irish stick together. But I can tell you once we had retrieved the car the next morning and paid the fine plus the towing (it cost us more than a room in a hotel would have) we left that town never to return.

Hotel Mi Casa, Antas

So we needed another escape and found it in Antas, at Hotel Mi Casa, which is a very cute little hotel with marble entrance and stairs, situated at a round-about. But since it was Easter weekend, there was little or no traffic. Nearby is the beach of Vera, Playas de Vera. We really wanted some normal, touristy sun-bathing after all our adventures. It so happened to be a whole Naturist area, Natsun Naturist Resort.

Natsun, located on the naturist beach of Vera Playa, with two km. sandy beach in a pinturesque bay is an excellent holiday resort in a quiet and natural scenery. Those who wish to enjoy their holiday on the Andalousian Mediterranean Coast, provided with all conveniences and many possibilities for sport and leisure, will feel at home at Natsun.

Vera Playa, well known for it’s long summers and very mild winters, is situated on one of the last streches of unspoilt Spanish Coast, and as such very appropiate for naturism in natural surroundings.

The Natsun complex, in Vera Playa, is easy to be reached by car, coach or by airplane, and is opened all year to all friends of naturism. (http://veraplaya.es/en/)

Not a problem for me, as I was well used to this form of holidaying from my childhood in Germany and Denmark. But this was the very first time for Nigel to go free of clothing in public. Seamless tanning, bliss!

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 After the short beach episode we left on our way south-west, off to new adventures, that took us right into the desert of Tabernas. There we had a stop-over at the Wild West town of Fort Bravo, Texas-Hollywood.

Apparently in the 1960s and 1970s more than 100 films were partially shot at the two film sets in the bleak Almeria desert landscape of Tabernas, Oasys (formerly known as Mini Hollywood) and Fort Bravo including Westerns such as A Fistful of Dollars, The Magnificent Seven, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; also Lawrence of Arabia and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. More recently, an episode of Dr Who (A Town Called Mercy starring Matt Green; Series 7, episode 3) was shot here. (http://www.andalucia.com/entertainment/themeparks/minihollywood.htm).

Adra

After our drive through the deserts around Tabernas and Almeria we turned towards the sea and stopped in a lovely fishing village called ‘Adra’ for lunch. We went to the local fishermen’s restaurant right at the harbour. Only old men were left at the bar, because as usual we were getting the lunch time wrong, trying to lunch at 3 pm. But they had a selection of tapas that we hungrily devoured. We stared with 4. And had another four after that!!! With the three drinks the bill came to €12. And what a feast we had for that, delicious. (8 Tapas, 3 drinks =12€)

It just shows, go where the locals go and you won’t be disappointed.

Woofing in Beguda 06 – 12.04.17

This was to be our first woofing experience ever!

We were excited, the farm sounded lovely:  nestled in a valley in the volcanic landscape of the Catalan region around Olot, known as La Garrotxa. The online description spoke of the traditional restored farm house from the 15th century, inhabited by a Scottish-Catalan couple and their two cats and golden retriever Brigid (sometimes aka Brigitte Bardot or Brigid Jones).

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Our room was absolutely grandiose, huge. It took up the whole upstairs side of the rather big structure and had a big carved Catalan king sized bed. Oak beams and white wash completed the picture. The ancient church was just opposite and we had the view of the snow-topped peaks of the Pyrenees to admire (and the grave yard).

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The market garden was well organised, with neat rows of 55.70 m length and irrigation pipes laid out. We arrived at a perfect time to rescue the onions and garlic from being smothered with weeds. Well, this is what you have in an organic system, it takes a lot of basic hand-weeding to keep the herbage under control, if you don’t mulch or employ plastic as ground cover.

So for the next 5 days I was basically on my knees getting to grips with the chickweed, fat hen, grass and other common garden weeds – five hours at a stretch.

Thankfully the sun was warming up the air and at eleven o’clock I took off my jacket and put on my straw hat. There is something meditative about being close to Mother Nature and hear bird song (and unfortunately the ever-present sound of the rendering factory nearby). The cuckoo also gave a guest appearance and Nigel was drafted into setting up a badger fence. Apparently, this ubiquitous animal has a habit of pulling the squash out of the garden and mauling them. Of course there are also the wild black pigs, plentiful in the oak forests of Catalonia and the Pyrenees.

We came across a herd of brown porkers, albeit fenced in as part of a business, ham factory on our walks in the immediate area. They were a lively bunch and a bit easily scared, but full of fun & games.

On the Sunday I needed to get the urge out of my system to cycle to Olot onto the Greenway, the old railway track from Olot to Girona, the ‘Via Verde del Carrilet           Olot-Girona’ while Nigel put in some overtime to finish the rustic timber fence with Joan.

Unfortunately Nigel spread the McWilliams ‘flu and our host Joan succumbed first and then me. So exploring was hampered somewhat, but one day we went to have a look at the local villages of Castellfollit de la Roca, a village hanging from a rock, Argelaguer , Besalu, and Banyoles, famous for the huge reservoir lake bordering the town.

Argelaguer (with cat-feeding station)

Castellfollit de la Roca

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Besalu

Banyoles

On the last day Nigel was put to the task of first rotavating an area of overgrown vegetable plots and then collecting the bits of grass sods to use as transplants for the driveway. It ended up looking like a hair transplant ….. .

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After 6 days tending to their garden, Judith and Joan took us out for dinner as a thank you.

dead snake
shrivelled up adder on road

 

L’Ametlla del Valles 1.05 – 5.05 Camp Can Noble

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After sharing bathrooms, meals, cats and dogs we thought it was time to treat us just a little before embarking on our first woofing experience. So I booked us into a lovely old-world villa again with extensive gardens on the outskirts of L’Ametlla del Valles. It also had a swimming pool and tennis court, but this needed our initiative to clean it up for the season.

The couple that runs the place are from Estonia and Russia, so we had a lovely Estonian-Russian-Spanish BBQ one evening. This was special, as at the moment they only serve an extensive continental breakfast with a Russian twist.

Again we took our bikes down and cycled along the river on a bicycle path along the Garriga. Not far from our villa there was a newly opened restaurant La Castell Rosanes, that serves Japanese style cuisine. This was unexpected and very nice. It also sheltered us from a thunderous downpour after our cycle tour.

There are lovely mountain villages and monasteries plentiful in this region. We went to visit Sant Miquel del Fai. It’s a very dramatic, breath taking setting high up looking down a long green valley with amazing rock formations and caves and tumbling waterfalls, if you come at the right time of year.

Puls

Another trip brought us to the small medieval village of Puls where we accidentally came across an estate agency. The lady inside was English and so we made the first real effort in gathering information about property. This lady told us we were in the ‘Golden Triangle’. This area is situated between Girona, Palamos and L’Estartit on the coast. It has very good soil and growing conditions, so land is expensive and some industries and tourism makes this also an attractive destination for French visitors.

Empuriabrava

The travel guide and our hosts told us about Empuriabrava, a former swamp that was bought up and drained by the Germans in the 70s and transformed into a marina with berthing places in front of each property,  that also have parking plots and gardens for the rich and spoiled. Well, we came, saw and ……. went. At this stage the gloss has faded and lots of properties are for sale. It is a rather artificial setting but if you have a yacht and seek a place to anchor and lay down your head in privacy it might be the place for you.

SALOU – 23.03-26.03

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We stayed in Salou just to have some time for walks on the beach. Normally Salou is a place packed full of tourists, but we had the beach nearly to ourselves and only at the weekend the Spanish themselves would come to take in the sea and run, walk and cycle along the endless promenades.

Myriam also had cats – 3 of them, all in the apartment. Nigel’s slight allergy against cat hair didn’t bother him too much, but cats on the breakfast table are a deal-breaker.

We had long walks on the deserted beach and also spent a day in Tarragona. The day in Tarragona was well spent visiting the ancient pre-christian burial sites, the ancient walled town and the museum, as it was a rainy cool day best spent inside.

Tarragona Cathedral

Tarragona

18. – 23.03.2017 Calçotada, Paella and multiplying cats

Through Airbnb we booked a lovely country-side villa near Reus with a big old garden, chickens, rabbits and two cats. One of which gave birth to 5 kittens during our stay.

Salva and Eva have an organic garden and decided to host a 3-course Calçotada barbeque for 15€ per person and invited people over the internet.

Calçots are a member of the onion family that are basically charred on a grid over a fire. A calçotada is a messy business and the participants usually wear bibs and traditionally swill wine. The calcots are served with a typical sauce, that should be made well in advance:

Ingredients:

1 mature tomato per person. 100 grams of toasted almonds for each 3 people 1 entire bulb of garlic for each 2 people. 1 “nyora”(type of dried pepper) for each 2 people. 1 litre of olive oil for each 10 people. A little parsley, vinegar, salt, a small chili (optional)

Blacken the tomatoes and garlic over the flames (not embers), make sure that the flame isn’t too “live” as they need to be cooked. Scald the “nyoras”in boiling water . Crush or blend the almonds with the parsley and the chili (if you want a spicy sauce). Then mix in the peeled tomatoes and garlic and the pulp of the nyoras (discarding the seeds). The sauce is made by slowly stirring in the olive oil. Add salt and vinegar to taste.

(https://spanishsauce.wordpress.com/2008/03/04/calcot-sauce-recipe/).

So our first Sunday was spend feasting in the garden and getting tipsy.

 

Nigel could not be kept away from helping in the garden, cleaning up the driveway of weeds. So after watching this going on, I thought we might profit from this hyperactivity and decided to sign us up for woofing with http://www.ruralvolunteers.org.

This would give us so many advantages: free meals, free accommodation, experiencing new and to us as yet unknown ways of farming in the Mediterranean climate, learning and practicing Spanish and exploring places off-the beaten track. For that we only have to work 5-6 hours a day.

Unfortunately the busy period was over, as the orange, wine and olive harvests were all completed in the early winter and pruning had been done, so only places with vegetable gardens would need help.   I succeeded in getting 2 positive replies back from the 5 places I applied to.

When we told them we had our first paella in St. Sebastian, they were rather taken aback, as Northern Spain is not the place for typical paella.

So Eva set about to cook us a most delicious paella from scratch, and I could follow all steps and all authentic fresh ingredients. This was also a thank you for our help around the house and garden.

 

We also experienced the cat giving birth to 5 kittens on the sitting room couch. She was a very young and brave and very affectionate mother, only 9 months old herself. This would be her first and last pregnancy our hosts assured us. Cats are hard to find homes for, whereas the young rabbits could be sold for €10 each!

We took the bikes down for some local cycles around the back roads and orange groves. The lovely old couple that cultivated the big field beside Salva and Eva with all sorts of vegetables were so generous and gave us herbs, artichokes, tomatoes, oranges, chard, onions and more than we could carry. They were simply proud of their produce that we admired and wanted to share it.

We had such a nice time there, that we didn’t go anywhere much, our hosts probably thought we would permanently lodge with them. But they had another couple already booked for the weekend, so we moved on to Salou.

16-17 March 2017 – on the road south

Medieval  Montblanc

In San Sebastian I bought an Orange sim card for my windows phone. But the internet would not work – never did, so that was no good. So on the way south, through Pamplona and taking the scenic road A2 to avoid tolls, we stopped in Zaragoza to buy a Spanish phone. Finally we were in contact with the world again and not dependent on wifi spots and our B&B having wifi. This was soothing for my nerves, because as the navigator and general travel manager I needed to get us to the way-out places that Airbnb throws up.

But that is exactly what we want – authentic Spain, rural towns or villages, with very little touristic influence. And that’s what we got in our next stop with Merche in Salas Altas. As the sat nav does not give away local info (it seems all the streets that I need are not loaded, but come up when we are just around the corner), we needed to ask in the local bar to locate Merche. Unfortunately they were not aware she was renting out rooms, so it took a while until somebody made sense of our or rather my rantings. Finally she came to collect us.

It was a lovely rural setting, with orange and wine groves, that we investigated curiously. How are they planted, pruned, trained along those wires and posts. Intriguing for an agricultural consultant with only mid-European training and lately plenty of bogland  experience and a Leitrim farmer, that knows more about rushes than raisins.

1504.Organge-Tree

 

 

On the road home to Ireland – II

Cabo de Ajo, between Santander and Bilbao

Costa de Ajo (2) 

03.06. Zaratan, Castilla Y Leon, beside Valladolid

Our next sleep-over was 400 kms north in the Castilla Y Leon region further north, in Zaratan, beside Valladolid.

We stayed in the pink bedroom of the 5-year old daughter of our host, another find on Airbnb. The new pull-out single bed was amazingly comfortable. Nigel went to the bar to watch yet another football match, this time Real Madrid and Juventus, while I tried to make headways with the blog. So he is getting into the spirit of living in Spain by eventually following the Spanish football.

IMG_20170603_145341fields of barley with cornflowers

The next day we drove towards Cantabria, on the coast. As soon as we climbed the Cordilleras, the climate changed dramatically. The clouds hung low and rain greeted our journey north. The temperature went down to nine degrees. This was the end of our lovely warm, sunny journey through Spain and the start of acclimatising again to the Atlantic weather torments.

We would have liked to see the pre-historic cave paintings in Altamira, west of Santander. These are at least 14,000 years old. But as the museum closes at 15.00 on a Sunday we would not have made it this time around. [http://en.museodealtamira.mcu.es/Prehistoria_y_Arte/la_cueva.html], http://en.museodealtamira.mcu.es/web/docs/Conoceelmuseo/Mda_Brochure_Museum_of_Altamira.pdf%5D

I had a small hotel booked at the sea in Cabo de Ajo. At least the next morning brought some clearer weather.

  

France 04.06 – 06.06.17

Through France it became briefly warm again around Bordeaux. But going towards the Normandy there was no denying pullovers and jackets were needed again, at least for me. We allowed ourselves two stops in France, north of Nantes in Niort and 30 minutes from Cherbourg, Barneville-Carteret.

06.06.17    Barneville-Carteret, Hotel de Paris

We were a day late for some festivity, which meant that everybody recovered and most premises were closed, including restaurants. The local restaurant bar only served pizza, no doubt the frozen version.

So we had to take the menu in the hotel; which wasn’t bad, with three choices of starters, mains and desserts, all for €17.90 per person. But we were told in no uncertain terms not to be earlier than 7 pm and to reserve a table. But what surprise it was to me to realise that the food was ok but not up to standards of the famous French Cuisine. My baked courgette starter was good but Nigel’s fish cakes were dry and had little hint of fish. Our duck legs were ok but as is normal in France there wasn’t much with them so we had to order a portion of chips, to the consternation of the front desk lady, who was also doing all other duties, except the actual cooking. She said that this was not part of the menu (our neighbouring eater also had chips) and it would confuse the chef.

Well, Nigel insisted, so they came eventually. Unfortunately the desert was evidentially pre-cooked the day before and consisted of cold and dried-out fruit crumble in a ramekin, served without custard or cream and lacking in sweetness.

What a great disappointment! So we didn’t chance the breakfast for €8 each the next morning and drove the 4 miles to Carteret. This is the actual seaside town, boasting a harbour and 4 star hotel. There you can have breakfast for €17.95 per person. Suffice to say we declined and went to a small shop, that offered breakfast and stocked an amazing amount of teas in pretty Chinese tea chests. It also stocked kitchenware and accessories, all with gorgeous designs. No wonder, as it was run by three women. I ordered two fresh orange juices, green and black tea, all selected from the extensive tea menu. Then I hoped for baguette with ham and cheese respectively. Only to be told ham and cheese were not on the breakfast menu.

In France, the country of delicious varieties of cows, sheep and goats cheeses, no cheese for breakfast? And I even went through the embarrassment in trying to order in French. They could if we insisted but of course I didn’t want to cause too much hassle so we had our freshly baked baguettes with home-made jam and honey. I also bought 200g of the delicious fresh vanilla flavoured green tea I had for breakfast. Then we went to pay and saw behind us – a counter with cheese and ham! We were incredulous.

So now you know why we prefer Spain over France!

           Image result for port of carteret

The Carteret lobster.                              Port of Carteret.

Wikipedia tells us that Carteret is located facing the Channel Islands (Écréhous 12 km, Jersey 22 km, Sark 40 km, Herm 45 km, Alderney 45 km, Minquiers 45 km, Guernsey 55 km), and Chausey 55 km). There are 1578 second homes, a hotel capacity of 151 rooms and 600 campsites. The summer population is estimated at 12000. Tourists are attracted by, among others, the marina (311 berths inside, 60 visitor berths, and 95 anchorages) and for fishing, mostly for crustaceans. Together with Portbail and Denneville, Barneville-Carteret is part of the Coast of the Isles.

Leaving Cherbourg with Irish Ferries on the Oscar Wilde.

And that is the end of our first part of finding a new home in Spain.

TO BE CONTINUED……

 

On the road home to Ireland – I

31.05 – 2.06. Merida, Extremadura, amazing city of Romans

From our friend the estate agent in Matalascanas, where we spent the afternoon and who now stores my bicycle and suitcase full of light summer clothing we went straight to Mérida. Mérida is the capital of western Spain’s Extremadura region. We did not plan on staying but on seeing the amazing aqueduct we decided to explore the city a bit more.

 

Merida was founded by the Romans in the 1st century B.C. You can still admire the remains of the ancient city which includes the still-used Teatro Romano, which has a double tier of columns rising onstage and the ancient Puente Romano, a 792m bridge spanning the Río Guadiana. This adjoins the Alcazaba, a 9th-century Islamic fortress built over Roman walls (see above).

Above you can see photos of the Roman Amphitheatre and the Theatre, where a summer festival of classical theatre is presented, usually with versions of Greco-Roman classics or modern plays set in ancient times. The Roman Amphiteatre was used for Gladiator fights as the figures of different styles of weapons depict.

The Acueducto de los Milágros, (whose name means aqueduct of miracles), is the second most complete in all of Spain, after that in Segovia. It stands in a pleasant park, straddling a small canal connected to Mérida’s river. On top of the arches storks can be seen rearing their young.

It was a very hot day and we were delighted when, sitting in a café, suddenly under the awning sprinklers started to diffuse to a fine mist of cooling water over us. What a refreshing delight, we had never experienced this before. Of course this invites you to have another beverage, and another just to sit there and be cooled.

IMG_20170602_162156

15.05 – 22.05.2017 Matalascanas, Costa de la Luz

We are on holidays at the endlessly long golden sandy beach of Matalascanas , which is surrounded by the 77,000 ha Doñana National Park. This extends to over 255,000 hectares including buffer zones, where building, agriculture and other economic activities are restricted. This vast wetland system with dunes and the Guadalquivir Delta marshes allow refuge for an amazing amount of wildlife and flora to exist, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Do%C3%B1ana_National_Park

Not surprising birds of prey are roaming the air over juicy beach bums and storks are nesting everywhere. On church steeples, pylons, chimneys and specially erected posts.

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We are taking time for running, cycling, swimming, padel playing and letting it all hang out.

Padel is actually a lazier form of tennis, because the court is much smaller and you use the Plexiglas walls also. There are seemingly different rules about where you get points when you hit the wall, but we just went for the fun of it.

We also are now seriously house-hunting and have made friends with Chris, estate agent & all-in-one-solution man and his family. He is bringing us around to look at prospective properties.

We also have lined up some properties for rent picked out of the idealista and habitaclia websites, but with disappointing results. The estate agent in Aracena lets us drive up 2 hours only to tell me the property is no longer available. Well, at least this way we saw the amazing views of the Rio Tinto and the iron ore, copper and silver mines there. These minerals have already been exploited by the Iberians and Tartessians, followed by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Visigoths and Moors from about 3000 BC. [see http://www.andalucia.com/province/huelva/riotinto/home.htm%5D

We came by a village called ‘Campofrio’ which means Cold Country, which is very true as the temperatures in the Sierra Aracena are at least 10 degrees less then at the coast. Nearby is ‘Montefrio’ , also not a place I want to live.

We looked at another rental property, that is apparently owned by a British lady (lots of places are), but we only get to meet the lodgers on the premises, as it is split in two who warn us off and point out all the bad bits. They even go so far as to phone the son-in-law in London who tells us all this in English. But we already saw that this was a no-runner. But it just shows how the Spanish go out of their way to help you and will not rest until you have made friends and your hands are full of their produce, eggs and blueberries in this case.

Near Matalascanas and in the middle of the Doñana National Park lies El Rocio.

This is a charming wild-west looking town, where the streets are pure sand and horses are the main means of transport, every house has a wooden porch and a wooden rail to tie your horse to. Around the week of Pentecost around one million pilgrims gather with their horse drawn carriages and their traditional costumes to venerate a 13th-century statue of the Virgen Del Rocio (Virgin of the Dew).

HISTORY OF EL ROCIO                                                                      

This cult dates back to the 13th century, when a hunter from the village of Villamanrique (or Almonte, depending on which version of the story you follow) discovered a statue of the Virgin Mary in a tree trunk in the Doñana park. A chapel was built where the tree stood, and it became a place of pilgrimage. Devotion to this particular version of the Virgin was initially a local affair. Then, by the 17th century, hermandades (brotherhoods) were making the trip from nearby towns at Pentecost; by the 19th century, they came from all over Huelva, Cadiz and Seville, on a journey taking up to four days. [see http://www.andalucia.com/festival/rocio.htm]

And because the following week is pilgrimage weekend and all hell will break loose, we depart to Portugal, 1 ½ hours west.