Early summer in February

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Fresh grass in Vila Nova

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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…

 

A lot can happen in a small space of time……

Gibraltar

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

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.

CADIZ IMPRESSIONS

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.

Neighbour Trouble

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.

THE STORKS ARE BACK

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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.

 

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.

 

 

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

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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.

 

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.

But honestly, this cute town should be kept as a secret, because it kept its charme  by not being build-up with hotels and is mainly enjoyed by locals and Portugese, see https://algarve-south-portugal.com/vila-nova-de-milfontes-portugal.html for more information.

Vila-Novade-Milfontes.8

 

 

Manzanillas, Gordals, Verdials, Picuals and Cornicabras

Church in Almonte

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.

 

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.

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.

SPRINGTIME IN OCTOBER

'Shadow'

The rain has finally arrived and given the trees and the car a welcome wash-down, and refreshed everything. The starlings are noisy in the trees and the buzzards and falcons are circling above.

The temperature has briefly dipped to below ten degrees at night but is up again to a balmy fifteen. We had a fire in our stove lit to keep the cold at bay, but now it is not necessary.

I have planted five types of spring bulbs today: Daffodils, Tulips, Iris, Fresias and Anemones.

Because of the severe lack of water, farmers have to feed their livestock mainly bought-in straw. Joaquin, a farmer not far from us, feeds his sheep and cows all sorts of fruit that are otherwise dumped. Lately, we saw his cattle tucking into a heap of limes. Yes, the small citrus fruit.

I know, there is citrus pulp included in cattle feed, but these were real, juicy fruit. Now, I am not sure about that. Last year he fed a load of sweet potatoes to his sheep and some died of bloating. Hopefully more rain will mean some fresh growth soon.

Gardening Olives

What we are doing at the moment I call gardening rather than olive harvesting.

Let me explain.

When people are gardening, they are doing it usually for pleasure and no monetary return is involved. It is an activity born purely out of the enjoyment to be outdoors, listening to the birds, the hens scratching, bees buzzing and feeling and smelling the earth, the end result being a lovely flower display or vegetables and fruits for the table. Nobody would ask you what you earn from this labour of love.

At this point in our olive harvest we are gathering left-over olives, which have turned black. These were deemed to small to be picked green, as the bigger the size, the higher the price. So now they are only few of these on the trees or up high and for 30 cents a kilo nobody would bother to take them down. We are however, and it is also like housekeeping, cleaning up. So the return is minuscule and we are laughed at. But I can think of a lot worse things to be doing then cherry-picking olives under the blue sky and getting a good work out at the same time. Believe me, dear reader, it is strenuous exercise. You stretch up high with or without a long-handled plastic fork, pulling the last olives down and then bend down to collect them from the ground. It does come for free, so no need to enroll in a yoga class or pay a monthly fee for the gym.

When we have done the black olives that are used for making olive oil, we will start the next round of green eating olives at a minimum of 60 cents a kilo, these are the Verdial. They are slightly longish, bumpy and spotted, rather than the plump, round Manzanilla.

Minus One

We started out originally with eight hens, which got decimated for different reasons to four. We then bought three more but are again down to five.

From our four dogs for keeps, little cutie Bonny vanished. So Clyde has lost her sibling. Apparently a number of dogs have disappeared in the neighbourhood and a white van has been seen driving about. We can only assume she has been kidnapped, so we are left with three dogs: our giant Mastin Sofie, Drops our stray and her daughter Clyde.

We also had three cats. Sadly we found Sam, our red one, dead on the road the other day and are left with Jack and Shadow.

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Traslado del Virgen continued – The Outfall

On one of our exploration evening drives we took the route that the pilgrims take from El Rocio to Almonte out of pure curiosity. It is hard to believe that a throng of people marched this camino in the middle of the night, with no lighting and through pine woods and pure sand, carrying a statue as if that wasn’t hard enough. There are Stations of the Cross, decorated arches along the whole way but also an enormous amount of litter. It is an utter shame to see plastic bottles strewn all over the camino and blown into the forest even after a week passed. Obviously religious fervour does not include taking responsibility for the environment. A wooden statue is celebrated like the famous golden calf, venerated and huge amount of tax payers money is spent on organising this event, for security, catering, decorations and what not. According to the online edition of Sevilla ABC news stated 1,4 million people took part, calculated by the amount of cars parked in the specially opened spaces, the amount of water bottles sold, buses used and toilets flushed. And again, Mother Earth has to suffer even as a Virgin is carried on hands…

Eclectic mix of guests

Most weekends we are completely booked out. We had a booking for the downstairs bedroom with private bathroom which turned out to be a gay couple when they finally came in the door. An hour previously they had phoned as they were lost, even though I always sent the location and a description how to get to us via Whatsapp to every guest. After trying to guide them here I finally handed the phone over to another guest, thinking that my bad Spanish might be the reason of their lostness. These boys needed devine guidance to get them to our place; they were near, yet so far and I handed the phone to the priest, who also stayed the night in our casa and luckily had returned just in time to save the lost sheep. These gentlemen came with a sports Audi coupe and gave us one of the worst reviews, a   3.5 out of 10. All was wrong, obviously they would have been better off with a five-star hotel in the middle of town.

Other guesting gripes are phone bookings with the result that the people don’t turn up. I take phone bookings midweek to fill rooms but not at the weekends. This Saturday I had three bookings for one room, with one immediate cancellation and one no reply, which is rather rude, but eventually a booking came through via booking.com and we had all rooms full. It is a bit exasperating because each time I send a personalised whatsapp message with directions after saving the number into the mobile phone.

It is true, I do get blue, and sometimes I think of the green, lush fields of Ireland. The familiarity that 25 years of living on a relatively small island instills, the ease of conversing in a language which I picked up from primary school but only mastered after a few years of practical application in County Westmeath.

I thought a warm climate supports the growing of plants. Alas, the heat is just as bad as frost, both burns the leaves and shrivels up the poor things. Granted, it’s too hot for slugs but instead we have burrowing furry things attacking plants from underneath. They felled most of the aubergine plants. On the upside I am proud of the lovely kohlrabi and beetroot, these are yummy.

Now in the first week of September, it is time for autumn sowing, and more kohlrabi and beetroot, fennel, beans, peas, herbs, brussel sprouts and later salad are on the way. The hot soil temperature has seeds germinating within 2-4 days, but it is important to keep them shaded and moist or they’ll get burned.

Which they did. Now we are already well into October and temperatures reached above thirty degrees and killed off my lovely pea seedlings. Fennel, Brussel sprouts and Kohlrabi did not germinate at all but the beans are fairly happy, as long as they can enjoy some shade. So for next year the garden will definitely need to get proper shading   installed over all parts.

BERLIN

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We spent three nights in Berlin to visit my mum, who is now 95 years old. This time it was on my birthday so she got a lovely bunch of roses. Unfortunately and understandably she has slowed down a lot and a two hour visit is all she can take.

 

As a treat we watched the VIVID show in the Friedrich-Stadt-Palast. I always wanted to see this iconic building from the inside. I studied not far from there Agriculture Sciences at the Humboldt University. The Palace has kept his old style feel and art deco interior. It is supposed to be Europe’s biggest stage, in depth. The orchestra sits right at the back of the stage and we could glimpse it between the actors and dancers. It was a spectacular show with headgear designed by Philip Treacy, the Irish hat designer and custom-made music, dance and decorations for this place.

We also watched the winning runners of the Berlin Marathon pass us at the Fehrbelliner Platz, just around the corner, where my mother lives. The drizzly rain felt refreshing to us since we had no rain here in Almonte since April.

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Berlin Marathon

In the meantime we had our house angel Sara and her mother and sister mind our finca and look after our furry and feathery friends. They had a lovely weekend at the beach and we were all happy.

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Olive Season 2019

This year the olive harvest started already in the first week of September. This coincided with the wine harvest, so the area was a flurry of activity. The reason of the early date is the lack of water. The olives are starting to turn black and so need to be taken down as the green ones are used for eating at the table, not for oil. This year the yield is down by 50-60% so we don’t need help this year. We have finished the Manzanilla variety and are close to 2 t and Nigel has started on the pruning until we harvest the Verdial olives.

The Virgen Comes to Almonte

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La Paloma Blanca

Our town Almonte has worked itself into a fever pitch preparing for the arrival of the Virgen of El Rocio,  La Paloma Blanca, the White Dove how she is called among many other names. And so the decorations include millions of white paper flowers strung over the streets and around poles, at windows and archways. The Virgin herself is a small, 12th century statue of Mary and the baby Jesus, but here in El Rocio she is the Virgin of the Dew (= Rocio), or the Mother of the Marshes (of the Doñana National Park). A small nugget of useless information: her statuary vestment was designed by no other than Yves Saint Laurent in 1985.

This is a very important occasion which only occurs every seven years and of which the Almonteñas are very proud of.  For nine months the much loved statue will reside in the church in Almonte until she is returned to her home in El Rocio.

As with all religious or historical festivities the Spanish put in an enormous amount of work and effort to make this a fiesta to remember.

The whole way along which the Virgen is carried is sumptuously festooned, archways and domes are constructed and decorated by hand with rosemary sprigs and palm fronds, white crepe paper and gold lamé.

But the hardest part is the midnight pilgrimage from the shrine in El Rocio to the church in Almonte.  The Virgin is carried in her sedan on the shoulders of the parishioners on a 15 km long fairly rough camino, with no lighting and any amount of dust.

The plan was apparently to leave El Rocio at 20.00 in the evening on the 19th of August, but excitement and sheer exuberance eroded the patience of the participants and so they started moving at half past four in the afternoon.  That meant the main road between Matalascanas and Almonte and further to Sevilla was closed;  which meant a detour of two hours for us, as I saw fit to spend a few hours at the beach on that very day, knowing full well that the next day that this road would be a no-go because of the returning traffic from El Rocio and Almonte. So we had to divert along a camino that cuts across the National Park from Mazagon to Almonte. A scenic but rather rough drive with about a hundred speed bumps scattered along the way.

To us this fanatical veneration of a statue seems strange, particular when most people we ask answer that they are not really religious. The Spanish just like a reason to arrange a fiesta and then be in the midst of it, seen and be seen, they love being part of a crowd.  This of course is another reason why Spain is the party destination per se.

Of course having a holy statue also helps to generate income from visitors and a lot of new shops have sprung up selling everything from holy pictures, to plates, t-shirts, bags, medals and other religious paraphernalia. A few new bars and restaurants have opened and every building got a makeover.

For some reason, the virgin seems to be particular poplar with the gay community. We frequently have gay couples staying that plan to go to the shrine in El Rocio. Mind you, there is also a fiesta with food, drink and marihuana to be had in El Rocio. So one goes with the other I presume.

[see also the blog describing the Pentecost pilgrimage:   http://christophotto.com/andalucia-the-miracles-of-el-rocio  and more  http://www.andalucia.com/festival/rocio.htm ]

We were told that up to a million visitors were expected, so we thought we could make a killing. Initially I had my rooms booked out for those three days, only to have all of the reservations cancelled in advance. So I raised the price for the last-minute bookers, only to end up with a nearly empty house. I can only assume that people decided to save the money as they would not have needed a bed being on the camino all night and then afterwards, tanked up on coffee, headed home or to a nearby couch in a friends house. Our experience with renting our rooms now is that up to a certain price people are willing to pay, beyond that they will just find other accommodation, even though we are on the lower price bracket. Of course other providers in El Rocio or Matalascañas are flexible and adjust their prices downwards to attract guests, and if I am not on the ball, I miss out.

Saying that, having the house a few days to ourselves is a welcome break and gives my head peace. It’s not easy for a rather introvert person like myself to continuously welcome strangers into our home, worse when they also want to use my very own sacrosanct kitchen, even if it is only to make coffee, constantly. After all, I want to supplement our income by providing home-cooked meals and hearty breakfasts to our guests.