In this blog I will only talk of positive things, promise.
For example I am really pleased about my winter garden. It has brought us an endless supply of rocket, lettuce, Swiss chard, leek, herbs like parsley, mint, dill, coriander, marjoram, oregano, rosemary & thyme.
Now at the end of February even the nettles are coming to an end as they are starting to flower. I have been making good use of them in my nettle soup, which everybody loves, and have dried enough to keep me supplied for the year in my green tea with nettle and mint morning cuppa. The rest will be used as liquid fertiliser.
I am now also harvesting the biggest carrots I ever grew. Apart from that soon we can eat fresh peas, beetroot and later on leeks, onions and garlic. Courgettes and peppers are coming up, so are Calendula from my own seeds and poppies from last year.
My newest experiment is to dig a hole to dump the kitchen scraps into and let them decompose in-situ, right there where the nutrients are needed when I plant the next crop. It works a treat, as my rocket salad gave us huge amounts of delicious peppery leaves, enough to supply the neighbours.
Four Ladies and Nigel
At the moment we are full, meaning two rooms are taken. Downstairs is Maria from Malaga, a substitute teacher for a primary school in Almonte and here for 3 weeks. In our red bedroom with the single beds we have two ladies from the Czech Republic. One, Martina, is a professional photographer of horses and Lada, who has been here before. She owns a stud farm back home and buys her horses here, in Andalucia. This time she is here for 10 days to train a young horse. She intends to split her time between the Czech Republic and El Rocio.
One fine Sunday I went on a cycle tour which brought me all the way to Hinojos on the nice calm road through the National Park. Usually I go as far as the Camping Village Doñarrayan Park or the Restaurante Almoradux but this time I followed the small cycle path and continued until I saw the first houses of Hinojos.
This concrete path is called the Carril de Cicloturismo El Arrayán and is 5.77 kms long and just gorgeous at this time of year. Everything is lush and green, it’s like cycling through a jungle.
All included I did 40 kms in three hours, including small breaks to sip water and take pictures and felt it the next day, but it was worth it.
Not for this Year….
We are now into March and finally construction on the swimming pool has started. The hole in the ground has been here since last May and with the help of Robert’s expertise in steelwork and building, it will progress.
They started with laying down a layer of insulation on the ground and around the sides. On top of the insulation three layers of steel frame has been put and rubble used as spacers to keep them slightly apart, so the concrete seeps between. Rods along the sides will reinforce the three rows of blocks.
Yesterday the concrete was poured and unfortunately the lemon tree was in the way of the concrete lorry and had to go. I am heart-broken.
Do you feel this is no time to travel? Too many restrictions?
Well, let me tell you, what has been going on in this part of Spain.
As you know, we run a little guest house, just three rooms on booking.com.
Booking send me an invoice for January 2021 and to my utter surprise, we managed to pull in €200, not to mention the few guests under-the-radar, the phone bookings.
We had three cyclists staying with us, two from Poland and one French guy, who has been cycling since October 2020 and will keep going around southern Europe until July, mostly camping.
We also had a guy visiting his girlfriend in Almonte and our ex-guests-now-friends from Sweden made their way back to Spain by ferry and car.
Their journey was only disrupted by a road block in France, where they were asked for their Covid pcr-tests. They didn’t have any and are due a fine, although the fine would be a lot cheaper than the actual test back in Sweden. It would have been nearly impossible to be still in-test throughout the journey anyway.
Test costs seem to range from €30 to €60, or more in Sweden and France, where the test costs 135 Euro.
A German lady and her friend also got on the road with two jeeps and pony trailers totally unencumbered, although they stuck to the night-driving ban.
And now we had a full house, or rather three occupied rooms with one substitute teacher and two lads working on wind turbines.
In the last week in January we went to Matalascanas, the beach and visited the car park at the end of the promenade, where in the winter campers usually stop by. This time there was only two, one German and one Dutch camper. We chatted to the young Dutch couple, which had two little pre-school children with them and had just come from Portugal. They took this last opportunity for an extended family adventure and would be on the road until the summer.
We hear also from football teams, golfers, sun-seekers and Spanish students taking to the air to achieve some sporty goal, get some badly needed sunshine or refresh their language skills.
A friend of a friend returned from five glorious weeks on Tenerife (she has her own hairdressing salon and had to close anyway) to Frankfurt at the Beginning of February. Nobody wanted to see any documentation. Only two days later the local health board phoned her and said: “We are aware that you were out of the country and have not registered with us. You need to take a test immediately.” She already had booked a test from the Canary Islands for the very next day after her arrival and was negative. So she had visited her recently renovated shop. But the reply was “Until we send you an official letter that you can go outside, you have to quarantine.” Certainly the German bureaucracy is still working.
My mother always said no dish is eaten as hot as it is cooked (translated from German). Things seem or are made to seem far worse than they are in reality.
I certainly will visit who wants me within a reasonable range and have prepared accordingly. The condition in Spanish jails seems quite ok, because I will refuse to pay a fine …. (famous last words).
Collection of photos: a spider found on an olive tree trunk, possibly Eusparassus dufourii.
Three of our four cats in a tree; our lamb Laurie and our new gifted statue, what a Beauty!
I would like to explain my position, even in the danger of losing some of my followers.
Let me explain, how I come to have my view, that we are being misled in a way not experienced and seen before, as this is global and personal.
As a child of the post World War II generation, I have been reared and encouraged at school to think critically, to ask questions and to draw my own conclusions, to read between the lines, to mistrust statistics and governments and always inform myself, to look for facts and a second opinion.
I have been brain-washed at school with the most horrific images, which no child should be confronted with, and they left their mark on my psychic. My parents knew however, not to share their war time experiences with a young, impressionable mind. Although one homework assignment was to interrogate my mother (my father had died when I was nine years of age) what they knew of the extermination of the Jews. Were they not aware of what went on, did they not see the stream of people with the yellow David star on their sleeves being herded away. Did they not hear rumours of the concentration camps?
So I have carefully been primed to be suspicious of people in power, of politics and the ideologies of powerful groups, be it the church hierarchy or some men’s clubs like the freemasons. I know that power corrupts, that money corrupts and wealth is the means to influence decision-making in the upper echelons. I am also aware that keeping certain information secret is a means for manipulation.
In 2019 we experienced for the first time a global common enemy we could all fight against together, the Corona virus, Covid-19. What is so very strange is that to this day, over a year later, nobody has isolated and proven its existence.
Never before has been the daily mortality rate been counted worldwide, with all media singing from the same hymn sheet and no discourse, no discussions is allowed, with all critical voices being shunted away, censured and simply disregarded and discredited.
To this day, the rate of the official Covid mortality is below 1% in all populations. A simple percentage per population calculation will show this, but this figure is never shown.
Never before has been daily reporting on deaths been done, never before were we confronted with stories from hospitals, that work to save lives. It is scary, shocking and frightening to witness our vulnerability and mortality.
This goes on every day, but normally, before Covid, every minute people were also dying or being born without us being made aware of it.
I won’t even go into the so-called Conspiracy Theories, because I do not have to even do this, as common sense is enough to see through this effort of control being taken increasingly of peoples personal life’s through tracking and tracing apps, through police controlled road blocks and fear, until it becomes normal, the new normal. And yet the restrictions and opening and closing of shops, schools, restaurants, gyms and public places seem erratic and non-coordinated, based on where you live, as if nobody travels to work, mixes in those environments, where air travel is ongoing and trains, buses and cars still cross community and country borders. If there would be a serious threat to human life, like the pest, this would not be happening.
Here we have found a common enemy, which luckily is available in all countries worldwide and so necessitates the same measures in all countries. Historically our enemy were outsiders like other nations, the Jews, the gypsies, immigrants, black slaves, communists, ethnic minorities, homosexuals, the list is endless.
And here we are in a situation, where we are being told ‘We are in this together’ while being kept apart; while we are being told where to go, how long to stay, who to meet, what to buy, sections of supermarkets being out of reach. We are not allowed to express our most human feelings, to hug, kiss and enjoy one another’s company. We are being deprived of coming together to support each other, as it was possible in war times, where we rallied and gave each other hope.
Our hope now comes from a syringe. An injection, which has not been sufficiently researched and trailed on humans, no long term effects are known and, which plays into the hands of the population control idea of the Bill Gates Foundation, there could possibly be the effect of infertility. But whether you pin your hopes on this being the golden bullet or not is not so important, it is what comes with it. An increased surveillance system; as to be effective, most of the world population will need to have proven immunity. No matter that our immune system already fights the corona virus group to which the common flu belongs, to 98 % and more.
At present, immune compromised people, persons with pre-conditions and the elderly are at risk, many with life-style diseases, which are preventable and curable. Statistics tell us, most victims of Covid-19 are over the age of 85 years, well over the life expectancy. Basically, we are not allowed to die.
Mortality rate of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Spain as of November 24, 2020, by age group
And here it comes, the dreaded theory. In the background, I believe, the response to the pandemic is orchestrated by the WEF, Bill Gates and his foundation and the interests of multi-million dollar corporations, the pharma industry and governments.
Who are they?
The World Economic Forum is the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation. The Forum engages the foremost political, business, cultural and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas.
The Forum Members community represents outstanding firms from around the globe that are among the world’s top innovators, market shapers, disruptors, including niche market leaders and regional champions.
They are businesses of established influence that continue to help growing economies thrive, contribute to societal prosperity and are transforming into global leaders in their industries and regions. Together, they form one of the Forum’s key pillars of global business and address urgent issues, explore emerging trends and help facilitate the Forum’s mission of improving the state of the world.
‘As of January 2016, the community of Forum Members comprises more than 390 firms from over 60 countries. Membership is by invitation only and a result of a diligent review of selection criteria. Typical Forum Members exceed their industry standards in a variety of metrics,…’
Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of World Economic Forum, argues that the long term economic consequences of the pandemic will exacerbate the climate and social crises that were already underway and this will make more urgent the “great reset” of our economic and social systems.
He states, that ‘“changes we have already seen in response to COVID-19”, which have forced us to quickly and radically abandon some habits in our lifestyles that were considered essentials prior to the pandemic. This “great reset” would be based on three pillars:
Steering the market towards fairer outcomes, bearing in mind environmental and social risks and opportunities and not just focusing on short term financial profits.
Ensuring that investments pursue shared goals, such as equality and sustainability. In this regard, the author mentions the European Commission €750 billion recovery fund which represents a major opportunity for progress.
To harness the innovations of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to support the public good, especially by addressing current health and social challenges.’
“The pandemic represents a rare but narrow window of opportunity to reflect, reimagine, and reset our world” – Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum.
‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution is transforming the consumption landscape by creating opportunities for value through game-changing technologies. With consumer spending driving approximately 60% of global GDP, embracing the power of technology to create value is paramount to ensuring progress throughout developed and emerging economies.’
‘Managing Epidemics with Consumer Wearablesaims to establish an ethical, accountable and practical governance system that provides authorities and public health officials with useful information for epidemic response using derived insights from information collected on consumer wearable IoT devices.’
IoT stands for ‘Internet of Things’, examples are Smart Mobiles, smart refrigerators, smart watches, smart fire alarm, smart door lock, smart bicycle, medical sensors, fitness trackers, smart security system etc.
Nice words for some, the Techies and Silicon Valley types. It is just too convenient that this ‘pandemic’ is giving world leaders, be they politicians, global businesses, pharmaceutical industry, experts in one thing or another, a reason to confine us all and feed us identical information on all channels, with no discussion or alternative opinion or expertise allowed.
Basically, it is all about money, control and power. And everything is happening right in front of our own eyes, in plain sight. I certainly did not sign up for this and do not like this intrusion into my life. Time to ditch the smart phone perhaps?
Back to Covid-19. What is it?
What kind of virus is the one that induces COVID-19?
SARS-CoV-2 belongs to the broad family of viruses known as coronaviruses. It is a positive-sense single-stranded RNA (+ssRNA) virus, with a single linear RNA segment.
Other coronaviruses are capable of causing illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS, fatality rate ~34%, and SARS-CoV, a beta virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
Coronaviruses didn’t just pop up recently. They’re a large family of viruses that have been around for a long time. Many of them can cause a variety of illnesses, from a mild cough to severe respiratory illnesses.
The new (or “novel”) coronavirus is one of several known to infect humans. It’s probably been around for some time in animals. Sometimes, a virus in animals crosses over into people. That’s what scientists think happened here. So this virus isn’t new to the world, but it is new to humans. When scientists found out that it was making people sick in 2019, they named it as a novel coronavirus.
Coronaviruses have all their genetic material in something called RNA (ribonucleic acid). RNA has some similarities to DNA, but they aren’t the same.
When viruses infect you, they attach to your cells, get inside them, and make copies of their RNA, which helps them spread. If there’s a copying mistake, the RNA gets changed. Scientists call those changes mutations.
These changes happen randomly and by accident. It’s a normal part of what happens to viruses as they multiply and spread.
Because the changes are random, they may make little to no difference in a person’s health. Other times, they may cause disease. For example, one reason you need a flu shot every year is because influenza viruses change from year to year.https://www.webmd.com/lung/coronavirus-strains#1
Although for most people COVID-19 causes only mild illness, it can make some people very ill. More rarely, the disease can be fatal. Older people, and those with pre- existing medical conditions (such as high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes) appear to be more vulnerable.WHO, Feb 25, 2020
Latest statistic, as of 11.02.2021:
As I write this, 2,361,485 people have died around the world from or with Covid-19.
World population: 7.7 billion people, 2,36 million of 7.7 billion is: 0.31%.
To date, only 0.31% of the world population have died from, with or of Covid-19.
In comparison 56 million people died in 2017: For example 1.18 million died of tuberculosis, 2.38 million died of digestive diseases, 2.56 million of lower respiratory diseases, 3.91 million of respiratory diseases. We never heard about them.
The average age of those who have died from coronavirus in England and Wales since the start of the pandemic is 82.4 years old.About six in every 1,000 infections now result in death, down from about 30 in every 1,000 in June. (that is a 0.6% fatality rate)
I still believe the response and restrictions imposed on the population are unjustified and will have long-lasting consequences; businesses going bankrupt, more people on the dole, increased depression, anxiety and suicides, children already being referred to psychological services with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Mask wearing and distance keeping are most probably going to be the norm for some time to come. And forget about traveling the world, which we once saw as a right, even a right of passage for young people.
This so-called vaccination will not stop the stringent restrictions as nobody knows if it is effective, for how long, if people are still infectious because it has not been researched enough before being administered.
We are trying to discover all places of interest to tourists visiting the area. So one Sunday we set off to discover if there are any further points to access the beach. We stopped at a place called Acantilado del Asperillo, meaning ‘bitter cliff’. I am not sure this is the actual translation as often words and expressions here are very much local and no translation can be found in dictionaries. The area has a car park and is accessed through a gate. And then you can walk up and down on sandy paths through pines, scrubland (maquis) until you get to see the dunes and the coast. It is not an easy walk and some people come to mountain bike there as we could see by the tracks. There is no access to the beach, but a grand view over the coast when you scale the dunes.
We had a lovely young couple staying for two nights here. She was from India, he was from London but has Indian parents. He was engaged in the Brexit negotiations regarding agriculture as an assistant negotiator and she was starting a PhD in business. We had very interesting conversations at the dinner table. One evening Sughanda made us a nice authentic Indian dinner and the following night I cooked us a vegetarian three-course meal. It is nice to have strangers become friends and we learn so much about what goes on in the world without it being filtered through a news medium.
This is one of the loveliest cakes I have ever tasted, not because I baked it, but because I can actually enjoy it, as it is gluten free, lactose free and even fat free. Additionally it has my favourite cinnamon and spice flavour, is moist and easy to make. This is an adapted recipe, because what I found on the internet was either too complicated or had lard as an ingredient or no actual pumpkin. Ok, yes, you do have to make the pumpkin jam first. But I am working on a version where you could also use peach puree or other fruity ingredients.
Prep Time 10 minutes Cook Time 10 minutes Total Time 20 minutes
Ingredients for 2 cups
15-ounce can (425 g) pumpkin puree or 3 pound pumpkin
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger or fresh root
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups (425 g) granulated sugar
(I also like to add 3 tablespoons of lemon juice.)
Combine pumpkin puree, orange juices, spices, and sugar in a medium saucepan. Cook over high heat until the mixture begins to boil. Continue to cook while stirring constantly for 10 minutes or until thickened. Transfer to sterile glass jars, seal and refrigerate until ready to serve.
The jam will keep for up to 3 months stored in the refrigerator.
If you don’t have canned pumpkin, you’ll need to cook and puree the fresh pumpkin first. Then measure out 15-ounces to be used in the jam. A 3-pound pumpkin should yield enough puree for the recipe.
Almond Pumpkin Cake
Ingredients (for 8 portions)
150 grams brown sugar (or light brown)
5 eggs, beaten
200 grams ground almonds
1/3 cup (4 tbsp.) pumpkin jam.
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
Almond flakes to sprinkle on top.
Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
Beat eggs and sugar together until frothy.
Add everything else and mix until creamy.
Transfer to cake form (I love my silicon forms as nothing ever sticks to them),
Sprinkle almond flakes on top.
Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 35 minutes.
Now that all, and this time I mean all, olives are finally taken down, we have time for other things; although Nigel of course is always busy pruning the trees and cut fire wood from that. In our climate zone this is now gardening season for leafy greens and root vegetables. So I am out to tend to the now exploding encroachment of weeds, which are lovely wild flowers when they are in the right place.
I even managed to sow courgettes, of which two are producing fruit! The peppers are also still continuing and I have peas, french beans and a huge amount of rocket, from my own seed, growing. There is also lettuce, onions, garlic and beetroot, kohlrabi, sweet potato, carrots and leeks coming on.
This year my olive pickling has gone upmarket a notch with a gadget that scores the olives so that the soaking period is greatly reduced, the bitterness also and the finished result should be a lot milder than last years product.
I won’t go into the (other) C-Word, suffice to say that we are all confined to our communities, not allowed to travel without a good reason, like work or medical appointments, to other towns or provinces. We are however privileged in so far, as our community encompasses not only Almonte, but also El Rocio and Matalascañas. So we are allowed to walk the beach.
Out of reach is Lidl, which is in Bollullos, but I needed to stock up on our magnesium supplements and wanted to say goodbye to our Schwedish-German friends. Since Robert cycled over to return Nigel’s bike and I dropped him off half way I figured I might as well go the whole way and sneak into Bollullos the back way, using the agricultural caminos. All worked well, I had a coffee with Karin, his wife, and nearly got stuck in a huge puddle on the way back.
Out of reach of course is Sevilla and Huelva. Luckily I had my main clothes shopping done before the lock-down. But I had tickets purchased online way back in October for a nice intimate Candlelight concert ‘Bandas Sonoras’ at the Fundación Tres Culturas del Mediterráneo and after hearing our Italian guests and our neighbour travelling the country with no problems, no check-points, I was determined to see that concert. Yes, I am a non-believer or Querdenker, as they call people in Germany that do not believe this virus justifies such stringent restrictions of people’s life to the detriment of the economy, or more important, their livelihoods and generally being human to each other.
The other reason is that the concert operators were instructed by the government not to scrap the performance but merely change the time to afternoon rather than evening, all safety measures of course in place like mask wearing, 2 meter distance and temperature check.
Anyhow, Steffi and I set off on a Sunday and the roads were deserted. It was like after an apocalypse had taken place. The venue was at the outskirts our side, so we did not have to traverse the whole city. Opposite the lovely Arabian-style hall was a cafe, full of families enjoying a nice, sunny autumn afternoon, common sense was prevailing. As you can see from the photos it was a really nice, safe and wonderful experience, four musicians playing tunes from famous films transporting us away from the madness for a little while, soothing the soul. Condemn me if you will, but I have no regrets, (which would probably be different if we would have been stopped and fined), but I am happy to have been able to support those artists and they were delighted of the crowd of about fifty people to have turned up.
In December it is time here to pay the taxes for our vehicles and house and the land. For that we had to make an appointment in the local tax office and receive the dockets, this year to be paid in the bank. The banks seem to have a lot of extra responsibility other than taking your money, loaning you more and selling insurance. They are also involved in taking your tax payments. In our bank this is only possible up to 10.30 am. And at that time the queue is usually so long that it would take over two hours. I tried their banking machine outside, without success. While walking up to the post office I spotted another banks laser light bar code reader (ours didn’t have that) and proceeded to get the business done.
Then we heard it – English spoken, with a Northern Irish accent, here in Almonte! You never hear much English here, the place is shared between the local Spanish, Romanians, Moroccans and Germans, never English.
We hung around until the lady had finished her mobile phone call and Nigel walked up to her, saying “What a nice Irish accent you have.” “Yes, straight from Ballymena, County Antrim.” What a surprise, the same town Nigel hails from. Well, he wasn’t going to let her get away and invited her for a chat and some tapas, which we had planned on having anyway.
Nigel even got to chat to her father on the phone then, running through names of the Ballymena football teams from over forty years ago. And since Roisin herself was happy to have found someone to talk to in her language amidst the Arabic, Spanish and Romanian we brought her to our finca for a nice cup of tea I was going to say, but in fact it was a Gin & Tonic on the terrace. She was delighted to have found someone to share her story and background with, and so is Nigel as she can reconnect him to the place he has left at nineteen years of age, over forty years ago.
This year our olive harvest was finished after 3 weeks with the help of 4 workers and ourselves. After the workers moved on to another finca, we cleaned up after them. Because even we always leave a few olives hanging as they tend to hide behind leaves. In three days we managed to get another 50 kgs, 25-30 euro from this exercise.
We also had a German guest staying who wanted to check out the area, as her friend is in the process of buying a finca for her horses. After she left, we took a well deserved short city break and drove to the north-west of Portugal.
Nigel always wanted to see Porto and I wanted to see Coimbra, which was once the capitol of Portugal. It is the fourth largest town after Lisbon, Porto and Braga.
It was a great choice for a quick escape, as Portugal is so much more relaxed about the virus threat or should I say corona codswallop. Businesses have to make sure you wear a mask but on the street it’s up to everyone to make their own decision, a lot more freedom and common sense.
On the way up we stopped at Peniche, a peninsula and one of Portugal’s most important fishing ports, which exports fish all over the world and is also prime surfing destination.
As we had a long days driving behind us, 660 kms, we didn’t look too far for a bite to eat and ended up in The Murphy’s Irish Pub just across from our room at the Praça da República. Nigel tried a glass of Guiness which was bad, watery. I had vegan sausages, all in all not a revelation but it is a cosy pub, lots of space on two levels, very helpful and nice staff and great decor.
Afterwards we wandered around and Nigel ended up ordering a Kebab and we were accosted by a Spanish student. She was very chatty, very curious and very drunk. Her two companions surely had their hands full looking after her.
Coimbra houses 21,000 students and 1,500 teachers/researchers and is the most cosmopolitan university in Portugal. This is reflected in the night life and vibrant arts scene in the town. We arrived on a Sunday and the following Monday being a holiday the students weren’t back in the town. Also of course the covid-19 measures put a little damper on things, like the street parties being dispersed by midnight. At least that meant we were able to get a car parking space across from our accommodation and the bars and restaurants were not overcrowded.
Our room was part of the NS Hostal & Suites group on Rua Lourenço Almeida de Azevedo, just across from the Sereia Garden, Jardim da Sereia which is a very sumptuous green park with tall, old trees, several fountains, stairs and cobbled paths.
From there we went through the Botanical Garden past the Aqueduto de São Sebastião to the promenade along the Mondego River. What I love about having a city break, and expect, is to have everything in walking distance for a change. You can have a nice view across the river to the old town up the hill, all spread out in layers of houses climbing up to the top, where the palace was and now the university lies.
The University of Coimbra was founded in 1290 by Dom Dinis and is the oldest academic institution in the Portuguese-speaking world and a world heritage site. In fact King Joao III gave his palace to the university in 1544, and it is still used to this day by students.
The Biblioteca Joanina however was a revelation. It is a baroque building, so lots of gilding, decorations and wonderfully carved wood.
I was not allowed to take photos, which is understandable, considering the age of the books. The building has three floors and shelters about 200,000 books dealing with medicine, geography, history, humanistic studies, science, civil and canon law, philosophy and theology. Today, the University has seven faculties – Arts, Law, Medicine, Science and Technology, Pharmacy, Economics and Psychology and Educational Sciences.
We also visited the laboratory and building of sciences, where many very old simple instruments and machines for measuring and weighting anything you can think of, gasses, metals, distance of planets in the solar system and others, too many to absorb in one visit.
After our walking tour of Coimbra and a nice Sushi lunch we went on our way to Porto, only 120 kms from Coimbra, on the coast. The weather was grey, drizzly and only 20° Celcius, as opposed to our 30 degrees in Almonte, but it was a nice change from the dusty heat.
The Pleasures of Porto
We arrived in Porto slightly after the check-in time and had gotten detailed instructions how to get into our ‘Vintage’ apartment right at the river at Avenida Gustavo Eiffel. From the apartment we had a wonderful view of the other side of the River Douro to Vila Nova da Gaia and the Luis I Bridge, a double-deck iron construction,the top for the tram and buses, below for cars and pedestrians. An amazing sight.
I really begin to fall in love with north Portugal. It does not have the stony harshness and touristy feel of the Algarve, but maybe I haven’t seen enough of that part yet. I am attracted to the fresher feel, the greener vegetation and old trees, which are missing in the deep south of Spain and Portugal.
Also the flair of a crumbling, decaying former colonial civilisation is part of Portugal’s attraction, being the poorer neighbour of a much bigger Spain. I have to admit, I also prefer the music in Portugal, which is more influenced by English tunes on the radio, they seem to be stuck in the 80’, and the more french sounding traditional songs. Also because of the financial constraints American tv shows in english are not dubbed and so the Portugese speak and understand english well, which makes it much easier for us there,as we are still struggling to get a handle on the southern Andalusian dialect back home in Almonte.
Did we make the right choice? It could have maybe been easier settling in Portugal, but would we have had the great experiences growing olives and welcoming guests as we have now?
It’s not too late, our next move could be to Portugal…
But let me tell you about the cute wine bar that was only two houses from our apartment, A Bolina. We spend both nights there, eating (nearly) everything on the menu, which was not that much, as it has more wines than dishes, being a wine bar. I discovered a Portugese cake without flour and with pumpkin jam which I will try to bake soon, which is right down my path of gluten-free cooking.
The next day Nigel took a day off driving and we boarded the Yellow Bus for two tours around Porto AND its twin across the Douro, Vila Nova da Gaia.
Its a great way to learn about the history and interesting places without getting sore feet, getting lost or wasting time waiting for buses, additionally it was raining, so we huddled under the covered part on top of the bus.
We had a nice seafood lunch in Matosinhos [https://porto-north-portugal.com/matosinhos-porto-portugal.html] a major fishing and surfing town with lots of beaches and any amount of restaurants to chose from.
We also tried out the funicular, that brings you from the river level up to the old town for €2.50 which is pulled up along the old city wall of Porto.
Across the River Doura is the much bigger town of Vila Nova da Gaia as I mentioned before. And actually Porto is a bit of a imposter, as the wine of the Douro region is actually stored in the cellars of Gaia! All the well-known port wine manufacturers, like Sandeman, Taylor’s and Cálem have their warehouses there to export around the world [https://www.travel-in-portugal.com/vila-nova-de-gaia].
We happen to bring back a bottle of said ‘Portwine’ and boy, is it strong with its 19% vol alcohol. As we learned on our bus tour, to enhance the flavour and preserving the wine, they add a dash of grape spirit called aguardente after 4 days fermentation, this process is called fortification.
The next day we drove east across Portugal to visit a lawn growing enterprise near Placencia in Spain. The drive through the mountainous terrain inland was so different from our level plains around Almonte.
Tobacco in Placencia
The outstanding feature around Caceres and Placencia are the tobacco fields and drying sheds. We had not a clue what these huge brick buildings were used for that were scattered in the fields until our curiosity could not be contained any longer and we drove up close to some buildings. As soon as I looked inside I realised they were tobacco drying sheds as the leaves were hanging up on rafters on several levels. Women were working , tying the bundles, stripping the dried leaves off the stalks and stashing the leaves into boxes bound for Switzerland to be used as chewing tobacco. I had no idea that people still use that stuff.
Apparently the tobacco drying warehouses contain different varieties of tobacco for the mixing of flavour. I have seen dried tobacco before, in Ireland. Even there once tobacco was grown for the domestic market.
Placencia and Caceres, being in the province of Extremadura, are a prime example for an industry that hasn’t changed much through the centuries, watching the women doing their work by hand with the so called ‘dark tobacco’, all year round as they tell us.
A Short History of Tobacco in Spain
It was back in 1492 when Christopher Columbus, in his first trip to America came across people smoking a cone called “Tabaco”. Seville then developed as the port that received all the legal trade with America and from there tobacco first entered into Europe.
The French ambassador in Spain brought the tobacco plant to France, from where the plant and habit of smoking spread across Europe. The first tobacco factory was established in Seville in 1728.
In 1636 the first tobacco monopoly in the world was established. It was called “Real Estanco del Tabaco”. However, the Canary Islands have a special tax regime and were never part of the Monopoly so other companies make cigarettes and cigars in the islands, with many small cigar manufacturers existing, mainly in the Island of La Palma.
The number of tobacco factories in the Spanish Peninsula has been reduced since the 1990s from 13 to 2, one for cigarettes in Logroño and one for cigars in Cantabria.
Tobacco is grown in several regions of Spain with Extremadura producing 95% of the total production, especially in the valleys of the Tiétar, Alagón rivers and Jerte, in the North of Cáceres, providing an income to around 20,000 families in the region.
The traditional Dark Air Cured Tobacco (Tabaco Negro) has been replaced by flue-cured and Burley for its use in American blends. The traditional Spanish Dark Air Cured cigarettes nowadays represent 10% of the market, with American Blend cigarettes being the most popular ones. Virginia, Burley (E and F), Havana and Kentucky are the varieties that are the main crops being Virginias of greater extension with a total of 8.167 hectares.
Spain is the third biggest producer of tobacco in Europe. Through the overproduction in countries in America and Asia the international market is saturated and thus the industries here in Spain claim that they can barely pay the farmer 2.40 euro per kg. A century ago contributed around 16 percent of the country’s GDP Spain’s tobacco industry. Today, that figure has fallen to one percent, the overwhelming majority coming from heavy sales taxes.
Another blow to the tobacco industry is the EU-wide ban on menthol cigarettes commenced in May 2020. And this is the reason our German guests was unable to find her favoured smoke, when she visited in late September. In response the tobacco industry circumvents these new laws by selling menthol oil to drop onto your filter or self-roll tobacco or menthol flavoured filters.
In 2018, tobacco companies sold 31.4 billion flavoured cigarettes in European Union countries, the highest consumers being in Finland, Poland, Hungary and the UK. Now no cigarette with a characterizing flavour can be sold in these 28 countries to prevent young smokers to get adiccted to a perceived ‘healthier’ cigarette.
We have moved up in the world of olive farming. In 2017 we started with a few donated bucket and crates, borrowed ladders and our trusty Toyota to convey our small harvest to the Co-Op in Almonte. We only managed to pick about 2-3 buckets a day, which is 40-60 kilograms, sometimes even less, because the olive trees were so bad; too high to reach, too overgrown to produce much fruit and too diseased, full of dead wood.
Three years later we have four people engaged to help picking, we have a jeep and trailer and a proper crate to transport our bounty to the agent, who collects the olives for the factory in Sevilla.
Thanks to our contractor, Antonio Sanchez, who also acts unofficially as our agricultural advisor, our olive trees look much healthier, greener and fuller. The constant pruning that Nigel does all year round is essential to achieve a good balance between too many or too few branches. We still have a long way to go when it comes to shaping and selecting the right branches to keep. And of course it takes time to let fresh regrowth mature to carry fruit.
This year we started harvesting on Wednesday, 9th of September with 2 Spanish workers and Steffi, our all-round talented neighbour. The following Monday, 14th of September, another Spanish worker joined us and now we are 6 persons picking olives every day.
This is necessary, as the sooner the olives are picked the more money we get. The longer they stay on the tree, the lower is their value as they will mature and turn black and our return on them sinks to 20 cent per kilo as opposed to 75 cent per kilo when they are green.
We are lucky in so far that we have bought an olive farm and not a vineyard. Because of the impact of the virus measures being taken to protect the population through restricting gatherings of people and cancellation of festivals the wine consumption is down 40%. Thus the price of grapes has nose-dived. In our region here grapes are being left on the vine, as it just does not pay to even harvest them.
Luckily, olives still seem to be a staple on every table and the price is good this year because the lack of rain, again, means less tonnage is being brought in.
On Friday, 18 September 2020 we had our first rain since the end of May with heavy downpours and stormy conditions. The day before I planted out my second batch of tomatoes this year, hoping to get some fruit, as the days are still hot well into October and November, we will see if it works. I also have four young courgette plants in the garden.
Hail the Archeress
After a hiatus of seven years I have finally dug out my flat bow and home-made arrows again. They are a sorry sight, maimed and broken most of them. But I have set up a target, a dart board, under an olive tree and surprisingly even manage to hit it, now and then. It’s a great, powerful feeling to release an arrow in absolute silence and see it fly, powered by simple force of resistance and leverage. I always have enjoyed this ancient craft of instinctive, traditional archery as it requires concentration and skill. Not for me the various implements like cords and pulleys, bow sights, cams and cables on a compound bow that measure the distance and set the exact force to hit home the arrow. In Ireland I had joined a mad-hatters club of archers in County Longford, the Warriors of Queen Maeve, which were more about the roaming of woods and cracking jokes than the seriousness of notching up points to be the best archer of them all. The attraction was the constant changing of targets, rubber animal shapes in all sizes, from a rat to a standing bear set up in various distances from the shooting positions in the wood, which resulted in contortions, kneeling, crouching, and sideways bending to get a clear view of the target through the trees and undergrowth, sometimes even climbing up on a fallen tree trunk or a platform to shoot up or down hills and valleys. To hit your target was real luck, or skill, or mostly a combination of both, just great fun to challenge yourself not to lose or break the arrow in the process, hence my only four remaining arrows.
So I will have to repair, maybe make some more arrows and practice, practice, practice until I can move up to my stronger bow and execute some serious archery.
We are advertising our finca for campers on various sites like pitch-up and areasauto-caravanas.com for people that like a quiet, rural place far from crowds and noise. Occasionally we do get somebody. Since we are not a dedicated camping site and do this only on a trial basis we do not have any services as yet.
In August a huge campervan drove up with seven people, three generations. They were the rather tiny granny and her grandchildren of 18 months and six years; also her three children, two sons and a daughter with her husband. Did you count? They all shared happily this one space, only Spanish are so family-loving. They had all they needed in this campervan and we only supplied water and two hours of generator connection. We don’t really earn anything out of it, it’s the novelty and giving people a choice, when in the high season all camping sites are stuffed full of holiday makers.
Another day one Renault arrived with four French lads and their tents. These were three brothers and a friend, they were really nice and we prepared breakfast for them. They also needed a shower and toilet, which was fine, as we had no guests in the downstairs bedroom. With the Covid-19 drama ongoing we cannot have guests, strangers, sharing a bathroom.
When we had Dodi and his tent here for a week, he definitely needed access to a bathroom, which was not possible when we had guests in the house.
Therefore I set upon Nigel with much nagging to build a compost toilet. And so he did, within four days he had constructed a solid building which will withstand any storm. Then the olive harvest started and we (or rather Nigel) have not got around to adding a roof, a proper door and a nice tiled floor, but it will happen.
I am all in favour of a dry toilet, which is by no means a new and radical thing. Compost toilets have been around for donkey’s years but nobody seems to want to invite them into their homes. I have come across them first in the 1990s in the Health Food Store in Berlin I worked. They sold upmarket types for garden sheds and holiday homes. In Ireland I used one in a converted outbuilding on a farm. Also German friends of ours that bought a finca have built a simple one and use it every time they are in the country, until they have modernised the house. A perfect solution for water preservation, no fussy plumbing required, and it provides the garden with manure. There is no smell, as liquids are soaked up by a layer of sawdust. They resulting human manure has to be composted for at least a year to be used in the garden. If you don’t believe me please read for yourself ‘The Humanure Handbook’ from Joseph Jenkins, available from Amazon or separate chapters are free to download.
The Egg Trick
Hens are clever; they hide their eggs in plain sight. We recently found a clutch of 19 eggs, right beside the door to the hen house, under the rose bush. We should have known because previously they hid the eggs around the corner in the rose bush. So without a date on the eggs, how would we know how old they were and if they were still ok to eat? It’s easy. Just put the eggs into a bowl of water and the fresh ones will stay below, see the egg marked ‘new egg’ in the photo, the old ones will float as the gases inside the shell develop. With the floating eggs I made a nice ‘dogs dinner’ scrambled egg. They were all good bar one that smelled like rotten eggs smell. The dogs anyway were delighted about their nice dinner.
The world we live in is divided, and always will be, by nature.
Between the hunters and the hunted, the perpetrators and the victims, people that love Brussels sprouts (I do) and ones that hate them. Some people prefer dogs over cats, or vise versa.
The divisions exist mostly in our brains, through judgments.
We are at present divided by fear and confusion. Fear against a virus, that is part of the ‘flu and cold viruses, but behaves differently, seemingly unpredictable, because we haven’t had time and experience to suss it out yet.
We are unsure whether mask wearing is life saving or nonsense, at least I am, because different so-called experts give diametrically opposed answers.
Our collective governments chose to restrict the most basic of human needs, to socialise, meet our families, carry out our hobbies (singing, playing wind instruments, mens’sheds, dancing) that help our mental well-being, all in the name of trying to save us from a virus, that to date has officially killed just about 0.026 per cent of the world population.
Conspiracy theories don’t help with feeling calm, all of it adds up to feeling completely controlled, by the virus and the governmental restrictions, and at the same time not feeling in control of our life at all.
However, here we are receiving guests.
August has been a very busy months, thankfully, making up for the 4 months of solitude. We had even non-Spanish visitors, from France, Brasil, Holland, Ireland (although living in La Linea) and Portugal. One day we were six nations assembled:
Of course, we both are already two and then four guests make up six.
Guests either love it here, and 90% do, or they hate it.
There is a kind of person that should not be here, should not book here; mainly city-dwellers that need to be right there where the action is and other people; where everything is in walking distance, bars, cafes, restaurants, parks, entertainment. Some people hate to drive over the dusty, bumpy road with their beloved car and yes, the Spanish like to keep their cars shiny and clean.
Most people like a bargain; I do, but read no further than the price and end up here, en el campo.
We had a run of the friendliest people that gave us 10 point reviews on Booking.com but also a few flops, people that were unhappy and gave us bad reviews.
One couple arrived in the afternoon, their faces already not as bright as could be, saw the room and ask if there is a terrace, which I showed them and also the other bedroom upstairs. They favoured it as opposed to the high-quality sofa bed downstairs. Unfortunately it was only available for two nights, not the three nights they had booked. They proceeded to lie down for a rest and after an hour went out, never to be seen again.
An hour later I received the cancellation on my handy. Right, well, I feel it was a bit childish to walk away like that instead of trying to sort something out. I could have given the other room for two nights and then returned the money for the third night. I now get to keep the payment for three days, but they gave us a bad review. It seems to be a recurring theme that the Spanish are too proud to admit they made a mistake and have to find reasons why our place is unacceptable to them.
Another time the guests arrived also in the afternoon, he got out of the car, was shown the room, changed his clothes and drove away. He returned some time later, had a shower and left, again, never to be seen again. His girlfriend didn’t even get out of the car. He also left a bad review, he didn’t even stay overnight. He was not treated any different and everything was the same as for any other guest.
You can’t please everyone, certainly not when the expectations are different from reality.
We go out of our way to please our guests, make up dinners or lunches at the drop of a hat, breakfasts at 7.00am, will accommodate early or late arrivals and Nigel provides most of the entertainment, coaxing Spanish to speak English and most oblige and even get to enjoy practising a long forgotten foreign language.
And then…. there came a knock on our front door on Sunday noon. We did not expect anybody; our last guests were just ready to leave. Upon opening the door I saw two casually dressed men, shorts, sunglasses, t-shirts and a Toyota car. And then they identified themselves as the local police and told me there was a ‘denuncia’, we have been reported. I think our guests were more in shock than we were, because I am duly licenced and have an accountant to show i am willing to pay tax, if I had enough income. So I proceeded to copy the requested documentation and they informed me I had to take details of every guests ID, passport or similar. I was actually waiting for somebody official to tell me what I needed to do. Obviously it is up to the entrepreneur to obtain this information for themselves. That is what I fell down on and my excuse was that Booking.com keeps all that info. Anyway, they said they would email me a program, so I can easily input all the required information, and so I wait… In the meantime I am of course complying, so they won’t pull me up a second time, as they promised to be back.
I first suspected a couple of guests that booked for three days, but disappeared after an hour’s rest without a word and subsequently cancelled the booking. I got in touch with them and they swore it wasn’t them. So who objects to our little business we will probably never know.
And then there was Emil (not his real name) from Holland, that arrived here with his tent and not much more than stories to his name. With thirty-five years of age, his mother pulled the purse strings because he had lost his passport so many times, that the police thought he sold it off. There is a reason of course for his misfortunes. At fifteen he had a bad car accident which left him in a coma for a week and since then he has trouble focusing, remembering and concentrating. Anytime he needs some funds, he calls his mum to explain how much, what for and she would transfer some to his account.
He, or rather his mother, booked for one night and he stayed six.
We felt sorry for him and brought him along to the beach and to a night out in El Rocio, together with another guest. On her last night, we had a little sun-downer on the upper terrace, Gin&Tonics, music and some Aniseed liquor, Emil’s favourite. He fell for her hook, line and sinker, but she had to return to her friends and job in Malaga.
Guapa & Ingles
We have added to our menagerie of hens, cats and dogs and now have permanently also two horses on loan from Sandrine, the owner of Doñana Horse Adventure. Ingles came first, he is 24 years old and retired. When our neighbours horses were still around, he was happy having the odd chat with them. But they went home, having eaten everything available, and so he went in search of company, jumping the fence and breaking a few posts in the process. To alleviate his loneliness Sandrine brought along Guapo, a white temperamental seven-year old. Now they are happy together, although Guapo is a little bully, trying to get his fair share of oats and more.
Isla Cristina, Huelva FISHING PORT
The harbour on Isla Cristina, just after Huelva town, is one of the most important fishing ports in Spain, so a guest told us. So we went to visit some Saturday evening. It took us one hour to get there. Isla Cristina is also one of the summer hotspots for life on the beach with numerous holiday apartments, hotels and holiday homes.
Here we see the gritty, dirty side of the sea, although in the evening all is quiet, the fishermen still resting from the early morning return with their big catches, which are being sold in the market hall and now in the many restaurants scattered throughout the town.
We select a quiet restaurant, Bar Escobalin (you can download their menu) directly at the harbour which sits relatively forlorn on Calle Muelle Marina, where the working boats are anchored. At half past eight we are, as usual, too early and have to go for another little stroll to watch the crabs slowly walking sideways away from the incoming tide.
At nine o’clock the owner proceeds to take out more tables and chairs and the small restaurant grows into a rather large affair, it seems it is a well-known place to eat away from the restaurants opposite the Lonja de Isla Cristina, the seafood market, where you find later on the crowds eating the fish and seafood caught in the night.
In fact, this seafood market functions like an auction house, where all the fish is coming along a conveyor belt and is being sold off to the traders and restaurants. It opens at 3.30am and sells its wares until 8pm.
Of course the Gamba Blanca de Huelva are famous all over Spain and command a price, depending on their size, from €25/kilo to up 125€/kg.
And ordering a small dish of Huelva gambas in garlic and olive oil in a restaurant will set you back around €14.00.
We ate well for €32.00 with two tapas as starters and two racíon medio and one plato, a good slice of pez espada, swordfish. Yes, we were hungry and enjoyed our night out, because with so many guests we seldom have time to go out in the evenings.
He is handsome, strong and Italian. And I just love him. He is called Polti.
I love to handle him, plug him in and hear him roar.
Is it a sign of Corona-Madness or just a sign of over-domestication since the lock-up and lack of meeting people?
I have started talking to my new vacuum cleaner. I have heard myself introducing him to our downstairs bathroom and telling him to clean those corners well. And look, there is Imelda in the shower, the palm house plant. She needed a bit of de-dusting and some freshening up ….
I am reading a book called ‘The Shaman’ by Noah Gordon and its having me in its thrall, I think about the people and the storyline incessantly. I love historical fiction, as not only is it entertaining, I also learn a bit about how people lived in bygone eras. This one is about a Scottish doctor putting down his roots as one of the first settlers in Illinois. There are still the last remaining native Indians, which are moved by force and threat to the reservations and also still slaves. It is a very emotional story, with interesting medical and agricultural details thrown in. I was surprised to see that I am not even half way through and so much has happened already. It just shows, the more change and drama a story has, the more it keeps the reader engaged.
Maybe I should be a bit more inventive in my blog, and not keep strictly to reality and truth?
Early June, Phase Three of the Corona Opening
The beach season has finally returned and with it the siesta. We don’t usually go to the beach before 16.00 because it is just too hot. Swimming in the warm Atlantic and splashing with the waves is the ultimate stress buster. I just feel myself de-tense, and I get a whole body work-out too.
We did that from Monday till Wednesday, when we finally realised that the beach was actually not open, not at all. The red flag on the main beach in Matalascanas was still up and police was patrolling the promenade.
A man beside us on our normal spot at Heidi Bananas chiringito told us, to fold up our sun umbrella, as it would attract the police and they can fine us. What? Really?
Well, we weren’t the only oblivious or ignorant people, for there were more umbrellas to be seen flouting the law. But we folded it up and pretended we weren’t sunbathing at all…
It was going to get worse…
They nearly got us, €600 euro each for breaching the order to stay in our province. On Sunday evening we took a drive to Villamanrique with our guest Andres. We decided to take a road we didn’t know yet to El Rocio through the National Park. Half way a police patrol with three cars and six officers stopped us.
Oh no, I left all the papers, passports and NIEs in the other bag, Nigel’s driving licence was in the jeep, how stupid. Now what?
So the officer asked us where do we live, where did we come from, where do we go to and how did we get here. Turns out, we left our province on the way and were in Sevilla province, by maybe six kilometers. There was no sign or indication that pointed this out to us. Our guest explained that that he was here to find a job, stayed with us and we wanted to show him around a bit.
I don’t know what did it in the end, but we got off, puuh! But next time we would be fined, up to €600 each. Maybe it was the car, steering wheel on the wrong side or the fact that we are extranjeros, not speaking much Spanish, or our obvious stupidity, going around without identification. At least the car had a valid NCT (ITV) and new tires, so that was in our favour.
And then there was BERLIN….
Impressions of an unusual journey:
I ended up spending the rest of the months in Berlin, three weeks to be precise. On Sunday I got a phone call from the carers that look after my mother. She had just been out a week from one of her more frequently-getting hospital stays and they were getting concerned about her condition. So by Thursday I was en route via Sevilla – Madrid- Frankfurt. The train from Sevilla to Madrid was full and so were the flights, Corona or not. But the airports were eerily empty, devoid of food, drink, noise and bustle. What a very relaxing and strange experience.
My mother was 96 years old, born in 1924 and witnessed the second world war as a young woman. She had to become part of the war machinery by working wherever she was sent; farms, an ammunition factory, do secretarial work and never got to carry out her chosen profession, hat making. She nearly died of diphtheria, had typhus and chill blains.
After the war she got married and moved from her native Havelberg to Berlin. There the young couple shared the bombed out city by lodging in cramped conditions, several families to an apartment until my father took over the upholstery business of his father. My brother was born, then I, 11 ½ years later. The marriage was not a happy one, my brother left when I was five, my father died when I was nine. Then my mother started to blossom and enjoy life again. She needed to look after me and became a shop assistant with a family friend, who had three fashion shops to her name. The work was varied, brought my mother into different parts of Berlin and she enjoyed earning her own money. She was good at her job and was eventually taken on by the big fashion store ‘Kuehl’ who owned a store Am Ku’Damm and another in Steglitz. She worked there nearly up to 70 years of age.
Her twin brother had already died in 2002, she mourned him deeply for two years, even though they had little actual contact, his family living in West-Germany.
Any time in the last few years after I visited her, I thought that this could have been the last time I saw her alive. Her death did not come unexpected at her age and we had time to say Good-bye.
She was the lucky one in this crazy time of Covid-19. Would it have happened earlier, I would not have been able to be with her, or my children. We feel privileged to have had the chance to share these last days with her, even if her dementia meant there was very little real conversation.
She died on the 19th of June 2020 and we were so very lucky to be there with her, my two children, her grand-children, and I. I stayed with her in her apartment where she died, as was her wish. I can only express my deepest thanks to the dedicated carers, who looked after her with compassion and love and did not let me out of their thoughts, even when she was gone, sending messages on Whatsapp how I was keeping.
I had time to sift through all her paperwork; every postcard she ever got, all her bills, shopping lists, even my father’s documents from when he was released as a POW (prisoner of war) in France; all my letters to her she never threw away, which are my innermost thoughts and my life story, she was always a part of that.
For her funeral we were fifteen, as most of the surviving relatives were too old to make the journey and by then my brother was also out of hospital. She has found a resting place in a quiet, intimate graveyard with old trees and an old village church nearby, and this in the heart of Berlin, not far from where she lived for 70 years.
Considering it all, I have to say that this was a good experience. Everything came together wonderfully. And most important of all my mum did not have to suffer long. It was the second time I have accompanied a person in his/her last days, every time is different, every time is special and every time it is painful to let go.
I have been busy at the sewing machine as the wearing of face masks is here to stay and I hate disposable anything. Too much throw-away items like gloves, masks, bags, wipes, paper towels and gowns are being used to combat the spread of this ominous corona virus.
I am in trouble, again. Not in the criminal sense but in the food way. Since my teens I have been interested in and looking for information on healthy eating and slowly developed my own way of cooking and creating dishes that are based on lots of vegetables. I don’t have a sweet tooth, so sweets, chocolate, deserts and unfortunately fruit don’t feature in my diet a lot.
The other important part I believed in is whole wheat and sour dough breads. I am aware that white sugar and white flour are bad for you and should be minimised. However, now that I am gluten-intolerant I have to cut out the wholemeal and am left with the gluten free white, starchy alternatives like maize, rice and potato starch. They don’t fill me up since the gluten is a hard to digest part and makes you feel full.
I have now mastered to bake nice, fluffy toast bread with egg, sesame, poppy, sunflower and pumpkin seeds. I have also baked lovely gluten-free muffins, cakes and cookies.
Only now to realise that, as I had the suspicion, these starchy baked goods will play havoc with my midriff. Yes, it’s the dreaded spare tire. And it won’t budge, even though I have embarked on a strenuous daily 45-minutes dance-fitness routine and all my legs and arms are strong and toned and my heart gets a good work out too. I have done this now six weeks. It’s great fun and makes me feel – every muscle in my body.
I have never been on a diet as I eat healthy enough and my weight has been stable. I did some fasting when younger, and would prefer this as a renewal and clean-out.
But the bulge has to go!! This means to avoid the majority of all cereals, starches and carbohydrates; which brings me to the Keto-diet. I have read up on it and dismissed it at first. It would mean eating a lot of protein, so more meat and cheese and milk products. Now, I am also lactose-intolerant and cream and butter is a pure terror on my digestion. So I am pretty much limited if I also want to be more vegetarian then not.
I needed to do a lot more research on this one and maybe adjust my attitude. Here is where I looked:
‘The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, moderate-protein and very low-carbohydrate diet. Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy, but on a strict ketogenic diet, less than 5 percent of energy intake is from carbohydrates. The reduction of carbohydrates puts the body into a metabolic state called ketosis. Ketosis is when the body starts breaking down stored fat into molecules called ketone bodies to use for energy, in the absence of circulating blood sugar from food. Once the body reaches ketosis, most cells will use ketone bodies to generate energy until you start eating carbohydrates again.’
Thank goodness for our hens which produce wholesome eggs every day. At least here is something I can eat without guilt or pain. I also rather like feta cheese (and other cheeses), Greek yoghurt, avocado, fish, chicken or turkey, nuts and seeds. Dark chocolate, tea and coffee are allowed for some reason, of course unsweetened and only berries when it comes to fruit. Luckily courgettes or zucchini features heavily as a vegetable and at the moment I have so much that they get pickled, frozen and turned into chutney.
Keto means no baked goods or even muesli, no honey or juices, no starchy, sweet fruit like bananas, apples, canned fruit. No potatoes, not even sweet potato or rice. This is tough, I don’t think this is for me since I don’t suffer from a disease and am not overweight and also this disclaimer worries me a bit: “Like most highly restrictive diets, it is difficult to meet nutritional needs while doing keto,” says Stone. “It often comes with uncomfortable side effects like constipation and the ‘keto flu.’ Also, the long-term health consequences are not well understood.”
There are also side-effects like bad breath. So I will take the middle road by cutting out most carbs and see what happens. We are now into the hot summer, with temperatures of over 30 degrees Celsius, so naturally we won’t be eating the starchy comfort food popular in Germany and Ireland. A smoothy or salad for lunch will do nicely, and for dinner it will be even more veg, meat or fish and some carbs for Nigel, as he burns a lot more calories per day and needs them.
The recommendations include a 24-hour fast once a week, which has always been a great way to boost the body’s defense system, clear out the intestines and give the tummy a rest, clear the fog in the mind. Most religions have fasting in-build into their believe system, like Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Taoism, Jainism, and Hinduism. Go to https://www.telegraph.co.uk/lifestyle/11524808/The-history-of-fasting.html to get a rundown of the history and benefits of fasting.
Now, this is a real challenge. Because I love harvesting delicious fresh produce from the garden, I love cooking and eating I am not sure if I have the willpower to do without those pleasurable things…..
End of May – full on summer
I had my first success with carrots, which is funny as I had given up on growing carrots. I actually only threw the remaining carrot seeds from last year’s debacle together with the chamomile seeds into one half of our high growing container, thinking that as the chamomile grows up the carrots grow down and also this companion planting will deter the carrot fly. Lo and behold, the carrots actually grew!
We actually had one guest in May, a Spanish single traveler that got stuck in Huelva during the quarantine and stayed with us for one week. Angel was very kind, he brought back food for the dogs and cats and introduced us to typical Andalusian dishes, including snails, caracoles. They are seasonal and are collected in the vineyards (or gardens). We ate them, Nigel liked them , I only ate them as revenge for their cousins eating my plants, but won’t repeat the experience.
First day allowed in the water
Andalucia has now entered phase two of the de-escalation, as the government calls it here, and we are finally allowed into the water and not just looking at it. We only go in the late afternoon, as the heat is dangerous, it is over 34 degrees Celsius.
(and not another word of the ‘virus’ in this blog)
There are quite a few very lovely, strong leeks in the garden that started their lives last September. Now they have reached full height and are going to start to push up flower stems inside. We obviously can’t eat them all at once, so they need to be preserved. I am freezing these four leeks.
leeks with lodgers
ready for washing
cut in chunks
ready for freezing
Step 1: stick knife into the ground to loosen the leek from its roots by cutting around it. I keep the roots in the ground as organic matter which is very needed here as the soil is very loamy and sticky, and gets hard like concrete when dry.
Step 2: shake the leek vigorously upside down to dislodge any snails!
Step 3: discard any old, dried and discoloured outer leaves and cut the upper green leaves off from the lighter coloured stalk. I use the entire leek, why waste it?
Step 4: wash the dark leaves; it’s easier when cutting off the part that was attached to the main trunk. Wash also the trunk or stalk part.
Step 5: Cut all in equal big chunks, but keep dark and white parts separate.
Step 6: Blanch cut bits for 2-3 minutes (depending on the size) in boiling water; drain, splash with cold water to cool down and bag up. I blanched the outer green leaves, which tend to be tougher separately and then bag them up together with the white parts.
The other vegetable that starts producing now at an alarming rate is the courgette or zucchini. Last year I just could not get them going, but this year I successfully raised four plants from seed. They are lovely just sautéed with butter (or oil) and garlic, and I add them to almost everything, from soups to Bolognese sauce, curries and chutneys. And the stuffed courgettes were not bad either.
This year I have started to pickle them sweet-sour together with some pumpkin and onions and they turned out very yummy. The next batch will go into chutney.
Let me explain why I enthuse so much about my garden and its successes and failures. I was born and reared in Berlin, when it was still divided by a wall and fenced all around. I grew up in a street with tall old buildings and big old trees, in a district considered fairly good, where we were not allowed to speak slang. My mother is from a town 70 kms to the north-east, my father was from Berlin, but his parents hailed from Vienna.
My mother instilled a love for the outdoors and nature in me. She would take me to the parks, the lakes, the forests and the amazing sandy beach, all in West-Berlin. We took the pleasure steam boats across the chain of lakes, visit the island of peacocks with the mock castle, went swimming in summer and sleighing and ice-skating in the snow in winter. She was once very sporty and loved being active, she never drove a car and so all shopping was done by foot, which kept her active until only two years ago, at the age of ninety-four she finally had to admit to needing help, as she lives alone, still at ninety-six.
I have always dreamt of green fields behind the grey walls of the houses. I always cried when returning from a holiday away from the city. I was always stressed by the people, the traffic and not being able to see the horizon. So it was only a question of time when I would leave the big city behind and venture forth, to lonely places, blue horizons and endless sky.
My first escape out of the city, other than a holiday, was a six month stint on an organic farm in north Germany near Flensburg. I then studied agriculture and that brought me to Ireland, another six months to learn the ways of farming and proper English. Ireland has long been the escapism dream of Germans. Many have bought a small holding there and settled away from the maddening crowd.
There I met my husband to be, eventually got married, lived and worked on his dairy farm, had two children, worked as an agricultural consultant, divorced and finally continued my life with Nigel in Spain. I would not like to live again in a city or even a town. So here I am, trying my hand at gardening in the hot climate. Now you know why I am so filled with wonder, excitement and awe when a little seed grows into a big plant to give us food and pleasure as flower or herb.
It came out juicy, lovely, more-ish. As usual I adapted the recipe to what I have available. I believe recipes are not to be taken too serious; they serve me more as an inspiration to try out something new. Here is the recipe:
5 medium apples, room temperature, peeled, cored (I used a mix of both and pears)
A little lemon juice for spritzing the apples
3 large organic free-range eggs
1 cup packed organic light brown sugar & 1/2 cup organic cane sugar (this sounded way too sweet, considering that my strawberry yoghurt already had sugar in it, so I only used a ¾ cup of sugar, which was just right)
2 teaspoons bourbon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons extra light olive oil
1/4 cup sour cream (I used strawberry yoghurt)
2 cups almond flour aka almond meal
1/4 cup rice (this confused me, does it mean cooked rice or rice flour or actual uncooked rice? I went with the latter and it gives the cake a surprising crunch as the rice did not fully cook. It’s not bad but maybe milled coarse rice would achieve a nicer result)
1/2 cup potato starch or tapioca starch (I used Maizena, maize starch)
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon McCormick Apple Pie Spice ( I used ground cloves)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon or cardamom, 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
Preheat oven to 350ºF/180 C. Line a 10-inch springform pan with greased parchment paper. Springform pans are deeper than average cake pans. (Mine is a silicone form).
Chop the apples/pears and toss them into a bowl; spritz with a little fresh lemon juice. Toss to coat.
In a separate bowl beat the eggs with the sugar until smooth. Add the vanilla, oil and sour cream/yoghurt; beat to combine.
Stir together the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Slowly add them into the wet mixture and combine well. Drain the apples, if necessary (you don’t need any extra lemon juice). Toss them in a light sprinkle of cane sugar.
Pour half of the cake batter into the prepared pan. Add the drained sugared apples into the batter. Shake the pan a bit. Add half of the nuts.
Pour the remaining batter on top of the apples; shake the pan again to distribute the batter around the apple pieces. Add the rest of the nuts to the top and lightly press in.
Bake in the center of a preheated oven for ~ 1 hour. The cake should be done in about 60 to 70 minutes. Test for doneness with a wooden skewer. If the cake begins to over-brown before it is done, cover the edges loosely with pieces of foil.
Cool on a rack for ten to fifteen minutes. Loosen the cake gently from the sides of the pan with a thin spatula. Release the clasp and remove the pan ring. Allow the cake to cool completely on a wire rack. Serve warm or room temperature. Obviously best eaten with whipped cream or custard …………….
So what happens if you are in week five of the Corona-Virus lock-down?
Not much. Just some mundane things like your hair getting longer and greyer, your patience slowly running thin and you are trying to occupy yourself with keeping somewhat from shape-shifting into a doughnut with several methods. One of them is an iron-strong will not to snack after dinner; to cut out the chocolate bar after lunch; not to bake another delicious cake.
Although saying that, we are of course lucky as there is always some hard-core work do be done on a finca and in the garden.
Even painting the entrance can be counted as this, as holding a brush to painstakingly trace around and inside the lettering can be quiet strenuous.
We were just getting into the groove of cycling around the finca, Nigel even clocking up to 15 kms, when our first pony arrived on loan from our neighbour to eat the greenery.
Everything is now lush and quite overgrown, so cycling actually got a bit hairy. There is a riot of colour displayed, particularly after all the rain we have been getting.
best lawn ever
rain in Spain
The daily work-out for Nigel is either handling the chainsaw to prune the trees or now expanding on the width and length of the future swimming-pool, which involves only hand-digging and bringing buckets full of clay, which is as hard as concrete, to the surface and depositing them along the fence line as barrier for the dogs.
I do some weeding, light digging if needs be and have taken up the Figure8 dance fitness (see https://bodyfx.tv/jaana-rhythms/), an online course to get me sweating and rediscovering my waistline, some day. The daily 45 minute workout leaves me aching and tired, so it must be doing something. It’s based on mostly Latin dance moves, which I am familiar with, and some high-octane Jive or Charleston.
We also harvested our first potatoes. The stalks got hit by blight, a fungal disease and so Nigel dug them up to rescue the spuds underneath. They are nice, some very small but edible. He has planted some more now.
Nigel also built a rocket burner, an emergency stove for outside, and it works a treat. Within 20 minutes we had a lentil stew bubbling away on it.
How do we feel about the increasing length of this quarantine?
Nigel’s life really hasn’t changed that much, as he prefers to be at home on the finca and keeping himself busy. It has more an impact on me as so far I don’t have to handle phone calls and online inquiries from potential guests. It makes me feel a bit surplus to requirements even though I have no problem keeping occupied. There is always the blog, the website development, continuous Spanish learning, gardening, baking, cooking, etc.
And yet I object to the curtailment of the freedom of movement, I think it goes too far. By all means protect the vulnerable and make protective gear available to all that come in contact with the elderly and already sick persons. Maybe I underestimate the dangerousness of this virus, but since we are not given the comparative figures of ‘normal’ death rates and a correlation between real Corona victims and percentage of population, the reported figures are skewed. And any scientist or doctor who says so is not given credit or newsworthiness. I have heard of such physicians that have been bullied and threatened. We are as a populous governed by fear. Only fear will really keep us in check, this has always been the best method of controlling citizens. Look to any dictatorship, the third Reich under Hitler or the Mafia stranglehold on life in Italy and other countries. What happens now, in the whole world, without questions asked, is without precedence. It makes me wonder.
Anyway, we just have to get on with it and I say this again, we are one of the privileged, as we have an income and very few bills to pay. Like all owners of supermarkets, tobacconists, pharmacies, food stores, veterinarians, farmers and field workers our life keeps going on much as it was before, minus the guests and their money.
So this virus is selective in its impact on the livelihood of people. Some will receive government help; others will fall through the cracks. A lot of businesses will close for good and we don’t know the economic outfall of it all yet.
When all this overwhelms me I try to concentrate on the positive side, because every evil has some good, nothing is black & white. So the reporting of wild things coming out to play, like goats in a town in Wales, an Orca whale in the harbour in Mazagon (only 45 minutes from here), a wild boar in Barcelona, a panda in Hong Kong Zoo finally falling pregnant as a result of no Zoo visitors, and less traffic on the roads is good news for hedgehogs and badgers.
Not to forget that air pollution has reduced dramatically, for the first time people in China’s metropolis can see blue skies, even seismologists report lower vibrations from “cultural noise” than before the pandemic. And little or no airplanes in the skies, even Gretta Thunberg couldn’t foresee that her wish would come true so soon.
We added to our family, as our cat Shadow gave birth to five kittens, three of them male. She was originally given to me as a male, but when our Jack became interested in him/her, we realised it is a she. Life happens.
after: from 2 to 7…
On the olive pruning side of things, we tried the grafting method which our neighbours employ to rejuvenate a branch that was cut as it lost the vigour to produce olives. When an old arm is cut off, new growth will sprout as in photo 1. Too many sprigs and you have then to select which ones to keep. Instead you can take a sprig from a strong, vigorous olive tree, another type even, and slip the prepared sprig into the outer layer, where it will take root. To keep the site moist and prevent other suckers forming, damp clay is used to close off the cut and an old bag wrapped around the outside to keep it in place.
you don’t want this
you want this
three pointed sticks
disease in trunk
I have been trying out more no-gluten recipes.
One of them from Glutenfree-on-a-shoestring is called Japanese Milk Bread and came out very well; so well in fact, that the yeast dough flowed all over the bed, where I had it sitting in the warm sunshine for an hour. I had so much dough that I also made a bap that was delicious eaten warm. It’s light, fluffy yellow bread, good for jam and sweet spreads. I added sesame seed to the recipe.
I substituted the cream of tartar with more vinegar, the butter with sunflower oil and left out the xanthan gum. The flour mix was from a supermarket, it still worked well.
The other new item on the menu is a tortillita, made with equal amount of rice and chickpea flour mixed with cold water and any nice additions like onion, prawns or anchovies or anything you like, even parmesan or cauliflower.
Here is the basic recipe for 2 pers:
100g Rice flour
100 g Chickpea flour
½ cup of water, mix well until sticky, add salt to taste
½ finely chopped onion, ¼ cup chopped parsley
possible addition: 1 tin chopped anchovies, pinch of chili pepper.
Glutenfree Apple Cake
The Apple Cake, also glutenfree, transformed into a Birthday cake for my daughter Elaine. Unfortunately we had to eat it ourselves as she could not be with us as planned thanks to the dam*!?x/&# virus.
We have been in nearly perfect isolation for now three weeks. Just the Saturday before the state of alarm on the 15th of March was called out we went to look at the new boardwalk at Cuesta Maneli, which was burned down in 2017 during the wildfires that raged in the National Park. On the way we met our last guests, that came the previous week with a big motorhome and stayed two days with us and then moved to Matalascañas. Now they are stranded in Portugal until the borders open again. We showed them our favourite part of the beach and had great fun.
first mobile home
an easy victim
at least now he is relaxing
We also added to our flock of hens in time and have now eight hens roaming our finca. They will soon give us eggs. We now have 3 white, 2 grey, 3 red hens.
the old flock
We are aware that we are privileged in this time of quarantine. We have a beautiful house and five hectares of olives, through which Nigel now pedals every day on his new mountain bike. One lap is 1 ½ km. So we don’t suffer of this confinement, in fact we enjoy the tranquillity and having time to ourselves.
Now we have time to do things, which we don’t usually get around to when we have to look after guests.
new bike – new joy
happy healthy salad
patching up jobs
a wonderful herb for respiratory ailments
beautiful in flower
All the olives that have been sitting in brine since November/December are now in different marinades, with herbs or garlic, lemon, chili etc. I received a bagful of lemons from our neighbours across the road and proceeded to pickle them in salt. Apparently they add a zesty lemony flavour to lots of Moroccan dishes. It’s really easy, just cut off the tops and bottoms, nearly quarter them, fill coarse salt into the gaps and layer tight into a jar, always with salt between. Fill the jar with squeezed lemon juice and wait for a month at least.
ready for marinating olives
more olives and pickled lemons
I have taken up baking, a necessity if I want to eat some decent gluten-free bread and cake. My bread is now a staple and I have added scrumptious muffins to my repertoire.
Here are the recipes, taken from the internet:
Blueberry & Banana Quinoa Flour Muffins
SERVINGS 12 people PREP TIME 15 minutes COOK TIME 25 minutes
3 Tbsp Unsalted Butter (I replaced it with coconut oil)
1 cup Milk (lactose-free or rice milk)
1/2 cup Maple Syrup (I substituted with honey)
1 Banana smashed
1 cup Blueberries (I had none, so used frozen fruit instead).
Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Line a muffin tin with paper liners or grease well with butter or oil.
Mix dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside. Melt butter/coconut oil in a saucepan on low heat.
In a large bowl add eggs and beat together. Add milk, melted butter, maple syrup/honey and smashed banana to eggs and mix well. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and gently fold in blueberries.
Bake for 25 minutes until the tops spring back when lightly touched.
Banana Blueberry Quinoa Muffins
these silicon shapes are fantastic, peanut butter cookies
These cookies turned out a bit on the dry side, maybe because I used very little peanut butter that I had left in the jar and added some rice flour to make the mix less sticky. I only used the peanut butter up this way because the quality was not great. There you go, if you don’t use first class ingredients you won’t get great results.
Soft, chewy, Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Cookies make the perfect pick-me-up cookie, or snack. These easy flour-free peanut butter cookies are loaded with healthy fats and protein and are quite scrumptious.
Preheat the oven to 180°C and lightly oil a 9-hole muffin pan
Whisk together the eggs, coconut milk, maple syrup, and ginger.
Add in the grated carrot and apple and stir to combine.
In a separate bowl, mix together the remaining (dry) ingredients.
Pour the dry ingredients into the bowl with the wet ingredients and mix until combined.
Fill the muffin holes 3/4 of the way up and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until muffins test clean.
Spicy Carrot & Apple Muffins
lovely silicon shapes
At this stage in my gluten~ and lactose free journey I am not looking back. Meals and baked goods can be just as delicious as the wheat flour and milk variety. It’s just a matter of trying out new recipes and to be adventurous. The ingredients can now be purchased in the supermarket, from maize flour to quinoa flour, special bread mixes etc. Nigel is well adjusted to my style of cooking and has no complaints.
We had some time on our hands, a few days with no guests booked and decided to go on our second trip to Vila Nova de Milfontes on the Portuguese West coast to collect our new lawn. This time it was gorgeously sunny and warm. The hotel HS Milfontes Beach, Duna Parque hotel Group, sits right at the beach with a breathtaking view from the restaurant. In the winter it hosts Olympic rowing athletes from Russia, Poland, France, Germany and other countries training for the next competitions.
We booked the ‘Romantic Break’ just after Valentine’s day and so were greeted by a chilled bottle of bubbly and towels shaped into swans with lots of red hearts dotted everywhere. The price was a steal for €82 for one night including dinner buffet and breakfast buffet.
Because we had traveled with jeep and trailer and not stopped on the way we were hungry and made the most of the buffet, so much so that bed was the only option after eating our way through all that was on offer and since they were used to hungry young sportsmen and ~women there was plenty of good food: freshly baked pizzas, sushi made on-site, salads, fish and meats cooked to your liking and anything else.
The breakfast buffet was good and I had per-ordered gluten-free bread which came with two gluten-free muffins.
cat feeding spot
mouth of the river
We had a stroll through the charming cobble-paved streets and drove up to the other side of the river Rio Mira before collecting our tonne of freshly cut and rolled up lawn. Camposol does not only grow grass/turf for football pitches, golf courses and amenity sites, it also grows root vegetables for the Spanish and French market.
carrots for feeding livestock
our new lawn
delivery of turf
loading the trailer
On our way home we were stopped to let about a thousand racing cyclists pass, also from all over Europe.
News from the Garden
We have a few newbies, apart from another fountain at the front we purchased a set of garden furniture on-line through Mano-Mano. The set includes 6 pieces and came in boxes. Unlabelled. The instructions author should take a leaf from the Ikea book, but I put them together eventually.
getting to grips with it
Nigel has fulfilled his dream to do away with the plain brown tiles around the base of the house and replaced them with decorative tiles.
potato planting in February
Peas and sprouting cauliflowerr
delicious fresh peas
Our garden, which has lovely fresh peas, leeks and cabbage available at the moment (in February!) is being extended into the old potato plot. We installed a fiberglass container as a Hochbeet (high plot), filled it with layers of twigs, home-made compost and soil and it has now chamomile, carrots, beans and maize coming on. The carrots and chamomile were direct sown and covered with fleece, which speeded up germination and the maize and beans were raised in my little hotframe.
This must have been the hottest February on record. We had 24 degrees on at least 3 days and the beach and restaurants in Matalascañas were packed on the Sunday.
10 km walk along the beach
fossilised bird? plant?
Out the Window…..
On the second last day of February we had our brush with a suspected case of corona virus.
A mother and daughter had booked to stay for 3 nights and on arrival the mother felt really ill and went to the local health center. She received antibiotics and was told it was just an infection. In reality there are no testing kits for the Covid-19 virus available, so nobody knows what she had. Her symptoms were headaches, fever, lethargy, no appetite while her daughter was coughing across the table. We took it upon ourselves to entertain her 8-year old daughter, who was full of energy, loved our cat Jack, enjoyed the hammock, and played cards with us and with the soap bubbles for a while.
Unfortunately we had a full house and the guests downstairs overheard the conversation and slipped out the back window in the morning to avoid contact with the sick lady.
They did however explain themselves to Nigel, when he was out feeding the hens. This lady had asthma and so was alarmed and afraid to contract the virus. They still loved it here and promised to be back.
In the meantime I proceeded to contact the as-yet-to-arrive guests, what I thought was my duty under the circumstances, as the sick guest worked at the Madrid Airport and we received one cancellation. At this stage we weren’t feeling too well ourselves with a tension headache. I proceeded to close all our rooms for three days, just in case.
In the end the sick lady decided it was best to return home, even though it meant to drive to Sevilla, return the hired car and take the train to Madrid, meanwhile spreading whatever made her sick.
Today we feel better and are much relieved to have a full house of healthy guests…
Out the window, the second
As you are not allowed to smoke in the rooms, the guests in our downstairs bedroom seem to make a habit out of opening the tall window and stepping outside to smoke, leaving their stubs behind.
As for the other st of guests, which also smoked and booked for two, arrived with three (bringing the teenage daughter also), and then complained the bed wasn’t comfortable enough and stating that there were clearly three windows and no bars, they gave us a 6.3 score.
I feel like commenting in my reply to their review, if you want bars go to prison…
As a treat for the New Year, seeing that it is the big 2020, we wanted to celebrate in style the incoming new decade, or at least that was my wish.
After considering Seville, Huelva or even Almonte, we agreed to check out Gibraltar, as we had omitted this English enclave on our Grand Tour in 2017. We booked the very nice four-star Rock Hotel for two nights, which would bring us nicely into the new year maybe with a bit of a party. The line up on the Casemates Square wasn’t exciting but at least some fireworks were promised, which turned out to be lovely. It’s been a long time since I, a Berliner, have seen fireworks. And we Berliners always put on a stunning amount of exploding stars, sparks in all colours and fire showers and going on for an hour all over the city, with thousands of parties and live music events. I miss that, being out in the sticks on a farm in the middle of Ireland for 25 years and now living in the Pampa near the National Park. My wish was fulfilled in Gibraltar, we had fireworks, music and I did a bit of dancing, too, just me. Gibraltarians don’t seem very enthusiastic when it comes to abandonment, must be the stiff upper lip syndrome.
I can recommend ‘The Rock Hotel’, the lounge and food are really enjoyable, but don’t expect too much of the bar. There was only one draught beer. They also could not mix me an Aperol Spritz, which is Aperol, Prosecco and orange (they did not have Aperol), I took a Martini instead of the Aperol, which also worked well; but their Gin selection is very good! The service was rather slow and reminded us a bit of ‘Faulty Towers’, the bar man equally as enjoyable as Manuel. The staff is mainly Moroccan, but very friendly and obliging. Breakfast is a steep £17.95 per person, of course it is good quality and they even cater for gluten-intolerant guests, which is a bonus. One excellent breakfast at that price was enough for us, so after check-out the next morning we wandered into town for a pub breakfast in ‘The Horseshoe’, which was a third of the price and also good and quick.
The Rock Hotel
WWindsor Suspension Bridge
Windsor Suspension Bridge
view of the Bay of Algeciras
So what is Gibraltar like? It’s basically just a rock with a skirt of land, where all the houses sit and then further up is the Gibraltar Nature Reserve with a lot of historical military batteries and the monkeys of course! In fact they belong to the species of apes, which means they do not have tails and a bigger brain. On Gibraltar live the Barbary Macaques, which were introduced to the area of Gibraltar by the Moors from the Atlas Mountains who lived there between 700 and 1492, Wikipedia tells us. There are about 300 of them in groups and you can watch their antics, especially lousing each other. They ignore people, as you are not allowed to feed them. They are fed peanuts from what we could see.
up the tree
young and last years baby
curious baby monkey
eating the nectar
The views from up the rock are stunning, the mainland of Spain, the strait of Gibraltar and of course Morocco, especially Ceuta, which is a Spanish enclave and ferry go there daily, and another trip to make on our list.
Apart from that it hasn’t got a lot going for it, we think. It is, no surprise, very British, all the shops are your usual stores you find in England. Unfortunately the architecture is not very appealing, a mix of Spanish, military and utilitarian. It misses the cute English cottage style. Even though there is no tax, we don’t think it makes that much difference, as prices are steep lending to its place as tourist destination. Of course cigarettes and booze, alcohol, are really cheaper. So we got cigarettes for friends and I stocked up on Gin, it is still even cheaper than in Spain.
view of the rock & mosque
stocking up on the good stuff
stocking up on the good stuff
On the way to Gibraltar we dropped off a guest with his bicycle at he bike shop in Cadiz, our last good deed in 2019. On the way home we looked at the surfing capitol Tavira.
Getting Your Car through the NCT Spanish Style
Our little Toyota Auris has done a good many journeys to and from Ireland and brought us around Spain, reliable and economic, packed to the hilt and bicycles on top. So we cherish her. That’s why we went through the procedure to import her to Spain. We engaged a ‘gestor’, an agent that knew about the complicated way to do that and all went well, eventually. Two years on the Spanish NCT, the ITV (Inspección Técnica de Vehículos), now tells us on the retest date, that we need to replace the entire back lights as the fog light and pilot light are on the wrong side. Why only now? More expenses we grumbled and hoped through our good mechanic to maybe get second-hand lights. But alas, no, they had to be purchased new. So it was done and we went back. Only to be told now we also had to do the entire set of front lights.
This whole episode reminded us of the first private doctor we visited for the annual check-up. It took three visits to finally get a referral for the blood test to be done by a specialised laboratory. Anywhere a professional is involved means several repeat visits so they can get the most out of it.
Glass window for stove
Our cast-iron chimney insert has done us one year of good service. The guests love to come home at night to a blazing fire and a nice warm house. Unfortunately one of the windows cracked when Nigel tightened the screw and we needed a replacement quickly. So I thought the correct way to achieve full satisfaction would be to order one from the very company that manufactures them and we bought it off, Bronpi. So I sent an email with our customer details and photo of both the stove and the catalogue picture, to make sure it would be an exact match. No reply. A week later I phoned them and ordered one window, giving them our customer number, so they had our previous purchase details on file. We actually went the 2 ½ hours drive to their shop in Lucena to collect the pane of glass, only to realise on our return – it didn’t fit, it is too small. This was a week before Christmas, no way would there be one available before the new year. In the end I went to a specialist glass shop 5 minutes from us in the industrial estate, it took 5 minutes to cut the right size. Now, why didn’t we do that before?
My friend Teresa then helped me, in fact she wrote it, to fire off a sharp email to Bronpi complaining about the wrong glass. And lo and behold, the next day I got a phone call from them apologising and asking what I wanted, my money back, of course. Their solution is to send a courier to collect the wrong glass and refund us the money. Right that seems complicated as in fact there is a hardware store in Almonte that sells Bronpi products. That was two weeks ago and I have not heard from them since.
But this is Spain where things seem to take a few turns before coming to an end, satisfactorily or otherwise.
So you would think, that moving to Spain to the countryside, to a spot that nobody has heard of back home, including ourselves, would make life simpler and less eventful because we have only one direct neighbour, who is Spanish, and further up the road another couple, happen to be German and English.
Apart from the trials and tribulations to set up home, renovate and grow roots, of course a constant stream of strangers, that give us money to stay in our house, gives us enough entertainment and reasons to throw our arms to heaven.
Last week however the drama really came to our doorstep. On the way to the NCT (ITV) our Spanish neighbour called us into his house to view his security camera footage. It showed a guy seemingly dancing, shouting, and taking his shirt off, knocking at the door and acting otherwise quite strange. He wasn’t supposed to be there, the property is fenced, the gate locked and has a bundle of big dogs apart from the cameras, and nobody was at home.
It turned out to be the English guy, in a state of mental confusion. He run away from home, believing his wife wants to kill him. We met her later on and she told us that indeed he has a psychosis brought on by years of drug use and now being on withdrawal, and she was trying to find him. He appeared again in the afternoon on the camino, shouting and calling for Nigel. He briefly came inside the gate, Nigel trying to calm him down. A short while later the police arrived being called by our neighbour, and all went very still. In their presence he took his prescribed medication and everybody went home eventually. We helped out over the next couple of days by letting the wife have our jeep, as theirs was gone and they have no transport other than a bicycle, to be able to attend the clinic, the police station and the court; a long story, a sad story, a common story. He is now in a mental intuition after spending two nights on the streets and she wants to get a divorce, as after 15 years she has enough of trying to keep him out of trouble, always looking after him and realising that it has sapped all her strength and energy.
For the past two weeks already the storks are making themselves at home and comfortable in their nests around here. In La Palma de Condado the pair on top of the church were busy repairing the storm damage by adjusting and adding twigs to their nest.
inside the Cafetería Confitería Nuestra Sra. del Carmen
Plaza de Espana
Any days we have no guests we use to explore our area. We still know very little about the town of Huelva and its beaches. So one Sunday we drove to Punta Umbria, which is another summer escape for town people with hotels, villas, apartments and restaurants. It also has a sports boat harbour. In the winter of course it’s quiet and not many places are open but there will always be people at the weekends and fiesta days to enjoy the sand, sea and stunning views.
The other good news is that WE NOW HAVE A GENERATOR IN PLACE. There is no solar system in place, as far as i know and have researched, that has not got a back-up system in place. Most dwellings are connected to the net, if they are not, they have a generator. Ours took a while to arrive because it will run automatically once the solar battery bank reaches a low level. It is such a relief and it got us already over one week of rain and the period of shortest day length. For the past three weeks we have spent about €30 on diesel to recharge our batteries. Which is essential for pumping water for showers and toilets, wash machine and generally all appliances and lights.
animals need no health service
The Private Health Saga
There are two health systems in Spain; the public one, where 95% of the population are looked after, everybody that is employed here, and the private system, where you voluntarily pay a health insurer, that’s us. We are unfortunately not eligible for the public system because we arrived here after 2012, when eligibility changed and excludes immigrants, which are not employed. Even though we work, we are self-employed and pay taxes, which do not entitle us for free health care. It’s complicated. In order to qualify we would need to pay monthly contribution of at least €280 per person, rising with age. The public system is good, one of the best in Europe, but there are also waiting times for surgery etc. Anyway, so we pay a little less than €200 for two per month, which pays for a range of essential health care, i.e. consultations, x-ray, biopsy, annual check up plus blood test and others we haven’t yet needed. It does not pay for medication or dentistry, although a yearly check-up and cleaning is included.
This is a rural area, Huelva with ca. 100,000 inhabitants being the next biggest town. So there is not much choice in private clinics or doctors. We are currently on No. 2, which is a lady doctor in La Palma de Condado, hence the photos. We needed to change as the previous doctor, a heavily overweight guy who practices only on Wednesday afternoons in Almonte and sits otherwise in Pilas, was very inefficient. It took three visits until he finally gave us a referral for blood tests and his prescription for Nigel turned out to give him increasingly painful muscle cramps. Every time we go, he swipes the insurance card and cashes in.
For my annual check-up I have teamed up with Teresa and we go to the private hospital ‘Costa de la Luz’ in Huelva together. It has all the specialists and equipment to do all sorts of investigations and surgery. I am only exploring at this stage and am very lucky to have Teresa to explain the ins and outs to me and even make the appointments. This is actually quite normal here in Spain, usually all the family goes together to any doctor and gathers daily around the hospital bed.
In the public system all is happening streamlined as you would expect it from Germany, Ireland or England. In the private system here however it seems you are punished for your choice and money. Everything has to be done by the patient, the doctor basically only writes referrals and prescriptions. So for the blood test we have to go to another location, a laboratory that specialises just in taken and analysing bloods. For x-ray it’s another special unit, or the hospital. For any tests you have to get them done, collect the results in person another day and bring them to your GP who will interpret them and write a prescription. Luckily in the Costa De La Luz Hospital all specialists are in the same location. But that doesn’t mean you get all the investigations done in one day, or the results. That’s as far as we have figured it out.
Christmas – Navidad at Casa Halcon
We had pre-Christmas visitors, Dylan, Nigel’s son and his girlfriend Kaycee from Hongkong.
It was nice to have youngsters around and I really enjoyed this bit of family-time. Of course we showed them the usual places, El Rocio, the beach in Matalascanas, Mazagon and Christopher Columbus’s ships by Huelva. One day they took the bus to Sevilla.
Matalascanas beach walk
We included a trip to the western side of Portugal, to Vila Nova de Milfontes, because there is a company, Camposol, that grows roll-out grass, which Nigel wants to use for our front lawn. This place has a lovely beach, with a river outlet and even though it was rainy, windy and dull it looked stunning. I am already looking forward staying there again, this time without the rain, when we go back in March to collect our piece of ready-made lawn.
Kaycee gave an impromptu concert on the piano in the restaurant where we had a few drinks. She is a gifted musician and it was a really uplifting, wonderful experience listening to her. Unfortunately it rained all the time during their few days with us, so not many photos were taken. These photos below are taken from the web to show the location.
I have broadcasted it probably already 4 times: we are now finished our olive harvest. But this time for real, the last load amounted to only 19 kgs, which are about six euros. We are really harvesting three times: first the green olives for eating, Manzanillas, Gordals and Verdials, but only if they are deemed big enough. Small ones stay on the trees. Then we collect the left over olives that have turned deep red and black or are blemished, have fallen to the ground, are small or have evidence of insect attack. So one olive tree can be visited 3-4 times, as some have a split personality, they can be half Manzanilla and Verdial or part Gordal, small and big olives.
Sometimes I feel like a truffle pig, crawling beneath the trees, picking up fallen olives, because to us, everyone is precious, as they are so few. We still have to do heavy pruning, correcting years of neglect.
After writing this paragraph in Mid November we still had another two days of olive harvesting going on in the first week of December, this time at our friend’s finca near Bollullos. They have four hectares of oil olives, mainly Picual and Cornicabra and one hectare of wine, the Zalema variety. A few trees were left after their son and Nigel did the main harvest and they offered us the remaining olives to make olive oil for our own consumption as payment in kind. So we went and worked another two half days and brought the olives to the Olionuba factory in Bollullos. This olive oil will be enough for us for year and would cost us about €300 to buy.
oil olives from Bollullos
FOOD: AGONIES & JOYS
So at this stage I have figured out, that I cannot eat animal fats, including butter and cream. Also I am lactose intolerant, which is not so bad, considering all the lactose-free products on the supermarket shelves. Additionally I now have to exclude all wheat, barley, rye and mostly oat products thanks to the gluten in those cereals, which means ordinary cakes, biscuits, pizzas, pastas, crackers, bread, bread rolls are also off the menu. I am not moaning here, just being astonished about my body changing and reacting so badly to food, which I used to take for granted and loved. I can live without ice-cream and biscuits and cake, no problem, as I prefer the savoury taste anyway. Switching from butter to olive oil is quite acceptable in a country that produces the majority of the world’s olive oil. The lactose-intolerance happened suddenly about four years ago. The gluten thing has been brewing in the background as I always found too much bread would make me feel bloated and sluggish. This culminated finally in a lot of stomach cramps and rushed trips to the toilet.
Now that I have reached peri-menopause a lot of the symptoms that most women grapple with have to do with changing hormone levels and the body’s adjusting to that, so why should the digestive tract and the diet stay the same? Also being over fifty means the body starts showing that it has had enough of one or the other food or abuse and lets us know it needs a change or a break to stay vibrant and healthy.
Luckily I always like experimenting with food and rise to a challenge. Any guests with vegan, vegetarian or other food requests will receive a custom-made meal, no problem. Therefore on the menu are now gluten-free bread, wheat flour is replaced by rice and chickpea flour which in turn leads to new recipes. I now bake my own bread with a special no-gluten mix and add seeds to make it real yummy.
no-gluten bread No.1
no-gluten bread No.2
As long as I can eat potatoes in all its delicious reincarnations like chips, crisps, mash, baked and boiled, I am alright. Vegetables and salads are my other mainstay. And not to forget eggs, particular our own from our free-ranging happy hens. There is so much you can do with eggs; you’ll never run out of a good meal.
Sofie and Jack the cat
‘Large White’ (Pieris brassicae)butterfly on Rosemary
our neighbour’s pet pony
‘Large White’ (Pieris brassicae)butterfly on Rosemary