PORTUGAL TRIP 4. -7.10.2020

Coimbra

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.

Coimbra Calling

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.

cute balcony

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.

We visited the palace; unfortunately not much was left from the original ceremonial rooms because most of it is converted into lecture halls and seminaries. The Capela de São Miguel (St. Michael´s Chapel) [see https://www.centerofportugal.com/poi/st-michaels-chapel-of-the-university-of-coimbra/ ] is worth mentioning, because the organ (1737) has 2,000 pipes and I’d love to hear a blast from it.

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

Luis I Double-Deck Bridge

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.

seagulls resting

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.

authentic Port Wine

[look here for in-depth knowledge of the several different types of port wines https://wetravelportugal.com/port-wine/ ].

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.

Sources:

https://www.interempresas.net/Agricola/Articulos/52072-Extremadura-campo-de-cultivo-del-tabaco-espanol.html

https://english.elpais.com/elpais/2016/01/27/inenglish/1453899453_789142.html

https://www.thenationalnews.com/business/in-pictures-tobacco-farming-in-spain-1.262797

June, 2020, 4th months of Covid- Madness

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….

On the bus to Sevilla

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.

Impressions of Berlin:

Early summer in February

dav

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.

dav

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.

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