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

 

 

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.

Friendship, Fun and Festivals

At Casa Halcon in May

The month is already over – it went so fast, so much has happened. Apart from guests coming and going and our little dog family growing, we also had friends staying here and I went to Madrid and Segovia for four days, to meet my friend Fiona there.

The weather has brought us already temperatures over 30 degrees with night time temperatures also above 23 degrees, too much for a comfortable night’s sleep.

The strawberry tunnels in the area have been mostly taken down and the land is ready for ploughing. We have seen buses lining up to take the Romanian and Moroccan workers back home. This is a month earlier than last year. The strawberry originated in shady woodland of the northern hemisphere and so do not tolerate the intense heat that has descended upon us. My four plants have stopped producing and are shriveling up. I am not sure the plants will survive the heat of the summer like they would do in the winter, hibernating. I fear, I will have to replant as they have not produced runners and then also keep them under cover, against frost in the winter and the sun in the summer.

Our potatoes have produced a good enough crop, but again also have not flowered before the stalks died off. Obviously plants do behave differently when subjected to heat. My sunflowers and sweetcorn are growing and forming flowers but are stunted in growth. Again, it is the heat doing that. With courgettes I had absolutely no luck this year, even though In Ireland they never gave me trouble. You live and learn. I try to use mulch, died pulled weeds, to cover tender young plants to give them some ‘sunscreen’.

To my surprise the home-sown leeks and kohlrabi do not seem mind the heat.

Segovia & Madrid

Spain has much to offer and we have not seen the half of it yet. So I arranged to meet my friend Fiona in Segovia. I am proud to say this trip was solely conducted with public transport, which is really well organised and not pricey. The trip enfolded thus:

Car to bus terminal in Almonte – Bus to Sevilla Plaza de Armas Bus terminal (1.15 hr, €5.05) – Bus to Sevilla train station Santa Justa (€1.75) – high-speed Train to Madrid-Atocha (2.30 hr) – Metro to Madrid-Charlemartin Station – Train to Segovia (27 min., whole train journey (€55.65). Finally Bus into Segovia centre (30 min., €2.00).

Security on the high-speed train is tighter than when crossing the borders between France and Spain, or Spain and Portugal, which is nil, nada, zilch. My ticket was checked three times and all bags had to go through a scanner.

By car this would have taken 5.30-6.00 hours and up to 600 kms, depending on the route. But why bother, if trains and buses get you there in time, with great connections and air conditioning?

SEGOVIA…

…IS BEAUTIFUL AND COLD and lies in city in the autonomous region of Castile and León. Well, to me it was cold anyway. I left Almonte in 26 degrees and sunshine and arrived in Segovia with 18 degrees, going down to six degrees at night, additionally it was overcast and grey. It is a lot farther north and is at 1,000m altitude, it is also close to several sky resorts, which explains a lot.

We had two nights booked and intended to do the full circle walking around the town to pick up on all the monuments. We did visit the castle and many many boutiques….

Between the first and second century A.D. the Romans built an impressive aqueduct (http://www.romanaqueducts.info/aquasite/segovia/index.html) which can be admired in the old town, which is also full of ornate churches, pretty medieval townhouses and at the other end of town the castle, or Alcazar, is situated that apparently inspired the Disney logo castle.

The castle is a gothic style jewel from the 12th century [see https://www.spain.info/en/que-quieres/arte/monumentos/segovia/alcazar_de_segovia.html] and sumptuously decorated. We’d walked around with craned necks to admire the ornately carved ceilings. The architecture that has been handed down from the Moorish occupiers concerns itself a lot with ceilings. Also walls are top to bottom decorated with stucco and tiles, often incorporating Islamic script, praising Allah. This style is, in my eyes, so much more uplifting and celebrating the gifts and talents that god-allah bestows on humans than the Christian churches could ever come near.

some of the gorgeous ceilings of the castle:

The castle, or fortress, was also a military school, which explains the tiny knight’s amours and different sized weaponry:

There is so much to feast the eyes on, that one castle a day is quite enough.

It was rather cool and shopping makes you warm, all this trying on of lovely frocks. It’s a nice town for that, as not overrun with people and we had peace and quiet selecting our rich rags.  We employed restraint and came away with a nice long black lacy dress for Fiona and I obtained white jeans adorned at the bottom, a colourful silky skirt, a t-shirt and some much needed undergarments.

The other cultural thing we did was visit an exhibition in the Torreón de Lozoya, at the Plaza de San Martín. Simply because we had time and everything else was closed. The tower itself was unfortunately closed. One exhibition was about the Orden Espanola de Carlos III, with the portraits of members of the Orden and their costumes, the other was below and a modern photographic exhibition with black and white portraits and a video show of men’s faces, just coming from a shift from the mines. No words, no subtitles, no names, just dirty, dusty, tired honest faces. It was amazing what deep impression they made on us, how we were moved by the humanity shown. It was nearly voyeuristic just looking at their faces looking at us. The attending nice young man at the table upstairs filled us in on the background afterwards.

That night we had a horrible dinner consisting of deep-fat fried chopped up suckling pigs trotters….

I would be ashamed of serving such cremated bits of bone, grizzle and microscopic amounts of meat. But apparently this is a delicacy in this region, and warrants the €22 euro. I hoovered up the over-priced patatas bravas instead. To aid Fiona’s digestion we went in search of a decent glass of brandy, which she got. Port they didn’t know, so I had a sherry instead.

After breakfast the next day we took the bus back to the train station to go to Madrid; a much warmer place indeed, and a great city, if you happen to like city life. Fiona had already spent a night there and had a handle on where to go. We had booked an arty Airbnb apartment at the back of the artist’s exhibition and working space, an interesting set-up. I had booked us a session at the Hammam, the Arabic baths, which we were in need of after exploring the area. I hadn’t walked so much in a long time.

We visited the grand Prado museum [https://www.museodelprado.es/en/visit-the-museum ], where we came eye to eye with Mona Lisa’s twin, painted simultaneously with the other original one, by a pupil of Da Vinci. And of course Hieronymus Bosch’s fantastical works and other old masters, too many to take in on one afternoon.

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Mona Lisa II

El Retiro is a big lush park, complete with man-made lake and boats. So we hired a boat and took to rowing a while.

Somehow I didn’t get to see the Palace, even though we were as far as Plaza Mayor, next time. Instead we went to a street full of tapas bars and finally found a place with a really good selection of reasonably priced titbits. Every single bar was full of people and more waiting to come in. The metro system brings you anywhere in Madrid at any time of day or night, as is to be expected of the capitol of a major country. For me, being from Berlin, it is another city, full of people, traffic and noise and I yearned to go back to our quiet finca after these four days.

We then did the touristy thing for Barney, Nigel’s friend who came to stay with us for 5 days which includes our usual tour: El Rocio, Matalascanas and the beach, Mazagon and the yacht harbour with the little bar, the Donana National Park and Cristopher Columbuses ships. The same we did with Cordula, who came by bicycle from Malaga and went on to Sevilla.

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In between we had some revellers from the ‘Transition’ festival, a week-long psychedelic and trance music festival [https://www.festicket.com/festivals/transition-festival/2019/] near Almonte. This has been going on for the past ten years already and young, and not-so-young descend on Almonte and disappear into the woods. From there they emerged in search of a good nights, or days, sleep away from the constant music. We hosted two DJ’s and other participants. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rAYPMyb7Zpk].

 

Little Owls in Olive Trees

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After only being on booking.com for seven months, we already received their award for having achieved 9.2 out of 10 points on their review scale, which is nice. Nicer still is when our guests tell us ‘don’t change anything, you are doing everything right’.

The most elaborate and lovely review was posted by our Canadian ‘birders’ Janice and Art on google maps: “A stay at Casa Halcon is worth going out of your way. If you happen to be interested in nature, this is a great place to start your tour of Donana National Park. El Rocio is a mere 23 minute car trip. Casa Halcon is worth a stay even if the local history and nature aren’t your main interest. The owners of this Inn are dynamic, talented and experienced hosts. They run the Casa and the surrounding olive farm. If you are fortunate, you may be able to ask Angelika for a super delicious homemade dinner for a modest fee. The breakfast is unbeatable. The accommodation is both attractive and comfortable, which is a major achievement as Angelika and Nigel are “off the grid”, an ecological bonus. The dogs stay outside. If you are dog people, though, be sure to ask for an outdoor visit with Sophie and Drops. Both are adorable. Take an evening stroll down the road and say hi to the horses. As darkness falls listen to the calls of the Little Owls from amongst the Olive trees-magical!”

Said Owls are active night and day, and their call is like a bunch of kittens, but none of us has ever spotted them, as they are very small and secretive.

Our guest book is also full of praise and maybe we have now come to expect that everybody should love it here, which is not the case. Occasionally we do get people that book, but do not stay. This leaves us a bit floundered, because they do not say what made them cancel. Our location shows now up correctly as being in the countryside, 4 kms outside of Almonte. It shows you can’t please everyone and it serves to keep our feet on the floor and our heads a reasonable size.

Our Canadians hired a guide from Ronda, who spent two days with them, showing them the local wildlife around here. See http://www.wildandalucia.com/trip-reports/    http://www.wildandalucia.com/ :

Latest birding trip reports to southern Spain  11, 12-2-2019. Best of Doñana
Our classical 2-day best of Doñana Tour with Art and Janice, Canada. Seen remarkable sights such as Greater Spotted Cuckoo, Black-winged Kite, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Lesser Kestrel and Squacco Heron. Our first day was a magnificent introduction to Doñana along the whole north side of the park, i.e., José Antonio Valverde visitor centre, Dehesa de Abajo, etc. On our second day we visited El Rocío area and the Odiel’s marshes at low tide, giving us a nice bunch of waders. Great days in good company, enjoying great local fish and challenging bird sights .  9 raptor species among a rough 90 species. The season’s officially started!

 

We have now also extended the back garden, this will be its final design. It is lovely to see the first seedlings coming up to herald spring: spinach, garlic, tomatoes, leeks and the potatoes that Nigel planted the 20th of January. The peas are also doing very well. I also tried my hand on decorating a few flowerpots, cheering them up a bit.

We had so many lemons, that I decided to make some lemon jelly and lemon chutney, which turned out nicely. The rest will go for lemonade – when I get around to it.

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shop in Castlepollard, Co Westmeath

We had to make a quick Ireland visit end of February. This time Nigel’s sister Elaine and her husband Ian kindly agreed to mind our finca, house and animals. It makes for a nice warm break from frigid Ireland, where we arrived to sparkling sunshine and blue sky. We started out in Tipperary, spending a night at one of Nigel’s best friends Paddy and Joan outside of Clonmel. I also got to see my son Frank, who is working on a dairy farm nearby. Further north though, in Leitrim, the sky turned the usual colour grey and I never took off my winter coat while helping Nigel to spruce up his farm, which is being rented out.

We stayed with his neighbour Mick and Valinda and their kids in the very nice house beside the lake. On the first morning we ‘walked the dogs’ which involved kayaking on the lake while the dogs run along the lakeshore. It was bliss slowly gliding along the serene, calm and silent lake. The next day, after a day toiling away pulling weeds and cleaning drains, I immersed myself in their sumptuous outside Jacuzzi with a view over the said lake and surrounding mountains. Not a bad way to enjoy the Irish countryside! We were also kindly invited by friends of Nigel to dinner on both nights, so we had a nice time socialising.

What was this machine used for not so long ago?

It sits in the Donana National Park, the El Acebuche Visitor Centre site [see http://www.juntadeandalucia.es%5D, where we went one Sunday for a long walk. This side of the National park is open to visitors at no cost. They have extensive board-walks and bird-watching huts scattered about and a wetland,  that greeted us with a frog- or toad-concert.

Answer; it is a pine-crusher, to expel the pine kernels from the cones. To this day you will see folks beating and climbing the pines to collect the pine cones to extract and sell the kernels.

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spring flowerSilene ssp.

IRELAND, RAIN and GARDENING PAIN

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We went for a flying visit (literally) to Ireland to conduct some urgent business. And to collect post which has been sitting there for months. It was no surprise that it was raining for the whole duration, which was 5 days, including the travel days. So we ended up with a miserable cold to bring back to Spain.


DOLLY AND BABY GIRL

 

 

 

 

 

Snail Solutions

It also rains in Spain. Lots. Since October we had more than our share as TV and newspaper reports attested, for example according to ‘The Watchers’ https://watchers.news/2018/10/18/extreme-rainfall-deadly-flood-potential-spain-october-2018/ :
“Extreme weather conditions are expected across the IberianPeninsula and the Balearic Islands from October 18 – 21, 2018. The event follows devastating floods that claimed 13 lives in Mallorca and another 13 in neighboring France over the past couple of days. There is a potential for similar rainfall totals and extremely dangerous weather situation.

Spain’s national weather agency (AEMET) issued Red rain alerts for Castellón and Terruel, Orange for the Balearic Islands, Alicante, Valencia, and Tarragona, and Yellow for 11 other neighboring provinces. The weather front is expected to arrive on October 18 and continue affecting the region through Sunday, October 21 plunging Spain into the worst ‘gota fria,’ a Spanish term meaning ‘cold drop’ that explains a sudden drop in temperature, in a decade.”

 

rainy days

Average monthly precipitation in October from AEMET (Agencia Estatal DeMeteorologia, Gobierno de España) state for Huelva 5 days of rain with an average of 56 mm. When I looked at the actually rainy days in October to December this year for Sevilla, I saw that we had no rain the first week in October and then daily heavy downpours, with 27.5 mm in one day alone and 230 mm in total for October! Of course we are not the only ones that suffered unprecedented amounts of rainfall.

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The result of all the rain is that I swapped slugs for snails here in Spain and there are just the same pain!

So I declared war because my gardening here is still trial and error as I get used to the new soil, climate and site specific conditions. Tomatoes with sunburn, shrivelled peppers and rock-hard aubergines being some results.

I have tried the beer trap, but it would take a whole beer barrel to keep the snails away from all plots. My cold frame has a beer trap in it and so far no snails have come near my little ones.

I have cut up plastic drink bottles to act as cloches, but they just climb in, the slimy pests! Online I got my best weapon yet, a roll of copper band that sticks onto surfaces, so all pots and cloches are prepared with the metal barrier. When they crawl over it they receive an uncomfortable electrical charge, so they stay well away from it.

I prefer barrier methods to poison, which always will have some impact on either the soil or some innocent organisms.

Therefore I also use fly food covers as barrier and safe nursery for my baby spinach plants.

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copper hoop