Monday, December 31, 2012

Bingo, Catalan style!

Tonight we were invited to see Bingo Catalan style in the village ballroom. We arrived once the game had started but it was very simple to follow. Each participant had brought a small gift that was used for a prize. The cards were a series of numbers with no letters on them at all. A drum was rolled, the number called out and also shown on a big screen. We hadn't brought a gift so we couldn't play but next time we will. It was fairly easy to understand the numbers being called out in Catalan. To win a small prize you had to complete a row or for a large prize three rows in one section of the card. Some of the large prizes were very impressive, including a flat screen television. There were even a couple of people taking orders for soft drinks and nibblies. A fun night out.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

A quiet day at the Aiguamolls

It was a beautiful twenty degrees celsius today and time to visit the Aiguamolls nature reserve. On the drive down we passed one field filled with egrets and white storks. A tree was full of hawks. Our hopes were high for a spectacular day at the Aiguamolls.

Looking out over the ponds from the first blind there were still lots of mallards, including a couple perched on a rock sharing it with a large turtle. Several small black coots splashed and scooted across the water. There were several northern shovelers with their bright green, brown and white markings, along with some brown headed Eurasian wigeons and huge numbers of Emporda geese, many resting on the little islands. The cormorants were perched on their usual log with wings hanging out to dry. All the flamingoes and spoonbills have disappeared. Have they continued on the migratory route to Africa? The rest of the pond was filled with Great Blue heron and white storks. It was interesting that there was not the variety of birds that there was a year ago. Has the warmer weather made a difference?

We did pass a family of deer grazing in one of the fields. Since it was such a nice day we continued past fields of cows and Camarague ponies down to the beach. We watched a brown short-toed eagle, with its almost owl-shaped head, perched in a tree, but every time we went to take a picture it flew off after its prey.

Perhaps the best part of the day was being the only people walking along the sand at the eighty-metre wide beach. I made the comment that the water was never this flat when we came here to swim and just as the words were out of my mouth, little white capped rollers started to break on the shore.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Pessebre brings Nativity story to life

Tonight we took a trip to the neighbouring village of Llanca to visit their Pessebre, which is a series of nativity scenes. It is held in the grounds of a magnificent old house. Fortunately, the high winds earlier today had died down so it made the walk much more enjoyable. Everything is lit by outdoor lighting with Roman soldiers holding flames to light the way. The Irish music and Christmas songs coming from loudspeakers was quite jaunty. It was as if a bit of Riverdance had come to Catalunya.

We passed several nativity scenes, a stable with live horses and a lovely little dark brown pony. Satan and his devils were warmed by their fire. Angels of the Lord in white garb stood on high and King Herod sat on his throne looking sternly over his retinue. Several of the displays showed what life was like in ancient times and some not so ancient times. Women were washing clothes, scrubbing them on a washboard and hanging them over bushes to dry. Schoolchildren were learning their Roman numerals. There were displays of vegetables, seeds and nuts. Cracking almonds by putting them on a log and hitting them with a wooden hammer must have been tedious work. Another lady inserted corn into a black contraption with a winder separating the corn from the husks. There was even an ancient tavern with wine served in wooden cups. Selections of breads of every shape and size were on display.

My favourite scenes included the animals. Several chickens were in little coops and some were scratching away at the grass in an enclosed space. One lady was holding a tiny kid that had a very loud bleat. In another area there were several small, white, very young lambs. Fisher folk  gathered around their traditional boat with real fish in a basket. In all of the displays people were dressed in the garb of the time of the nativity.

We passed the three wise men and several shepherds. As we were nearing the end of the pessebre we wondered where the caganer was. For those of you who don't know, the caganer is usually part of the nativity scene. He is a character squatting with his pants down in the act of defecating in the nativity scene. They are unique to areas of Catalunyan culture. In fact you can buy little caganer figurines of the rich and famous. We hadn't seen one in any of the nativity scenes but just at the end in his own separate alcove was a more modest caganer.

At the end of the pessebre it was time to have a little hot chocolate and a slice of cake. It was a warm, pleasant night for the display, which concludes tonight. It takes a tremendous amount of work to present the pessebre but what a pleasant way to get the whole town out  in the winter time.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Peralada Christmas fair

Motivated by a clear blue sky, no wind, and a balmy nineteen degrees, it was time to visit the garden centre. While we were admiring the plants we noticed really lovely wood carvings for the garden. Many were kon-tiki variations but the one that caught our eye was a beautiful hedgehog. The lady in the store explained that the man who did the carvings was showing more work at the fira, or fair, in Peralada, a nearby town.

It was just a short drive to the magnificent, old town known for its castle and monastery. We followed the trail of stalls, once again selling meats, cheeses, flowers, soaps, nougat and jewelry. Eventually, we came to a square lined with a number of stalls and an outdoor cafe. A stage had been set up and a man was entertaining the crowd playing  his guitar and singing. After listening for awhile we continued through the narrow lanes, hoping to find some water buffalo cheese, one of our favourites. We found the carvings at the very last stall. After admiring these carvings, especially one tall modernistic kon-tiki in what looked like burled oak, we retraced our steps to the beginning of the fair.

It was well past lunchtime when we looked up at a van selling xurros in paper cones. To those of you who don't know, xurros are elongated homemade donuts. It took less than five seconds to decide that this would be an excellent food choice. The batter spewed out of a machine and then the donuts were placed in a fryer. They were served to us piping hot in a paper cone with sugar sprinkled over them.  Really it is the same concept as the old sixpenny bag of chips.  I was a bit appalled that someone had ordered us a bag each. We found a park bench in the sunshine and started our feast. Delicious and addictive even if they did leave a little bit of grease in your mouth. I couldn't finish all of mine there but I did manage to down the last few at home while preparing lunch. We were doing so well on our holiday eating up until this point.....except for the nougat yesterday!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

There might be giants

This afternoon we visited the gigantes de cazubos, roughly meaning giants or big heads or  as they are known in Catalunya, gegants, at the Museum of the Emporda in Figueres. The huge heads are made of papier mache and plaster and then painted. They include warts and all. In fact one head resembled someone we know. Some of the heads on display dated back to the mid 1800s. A lady from Girona was demonstrating how she made the giant heads and some smaller ones. Most of the colourful heads were historical characters or heads resembling ordinary people while others were cartoon characters.

The giants are usually hollow figures several meters tall, with the papier mache head and arms, the rest of the body being covered in cloth and other clothing. Their frame is usually made of wood or aluminum. Someone walks inside the frame and controls the movements of the gegant in a parade. Quite often there will be gegant couples and towns will send their gegants to walk in other town's parades. The gegants may represent the townspeople, kings and queens and local nobility.

After our museum visit we returned to the streets of Figueres to join the masses of people shopping or just enjoying passegata on this warm evening. The Christmas market selling poinsettias, smalls wheels of cheese, meats, nougat, marzipan, lots of lovely looking sweets and little miniatures. Bars and restaurants were filled with people eating tapas, us included. Fortified with a little plate of shrimps cooked in garlic, oil and spicy chili peppers for me and a small plate of squid for Seamus, it was time to return home.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Sick dolphin comes ashore

We noticed a small gathering of people on the beach at lunchtime today. Using the binoculars for a closer look we could see someone in the water wearing a wetsuit with what turned out to be a dolphin. Quickly, we jumped in the car and went down to the beach. Could we be of any assistance? A striped dolphin was floundering very close to shore. Occasionally he would turn over on his side, seemingly looking at us,  and stay in that position for a while before rolling over to open his blowhole for a breath.

I asked one of the fisheries people, who was closely watching the dolphin, what had happened. It hadn't been caught in a fishing net as I thought, but was really sick. The vets were on their way, but not to take the dolphin to an aquarium as that would be too stressful.

Suddenly, the dolphin managed to turn itself around and swam about thirty metres down the beach staying on top of the water. We thought it was looking stronger but sadly it came back into the beach and then stayed in one spot.

By the time we left the vets still hadn't arrived. We kept checking the beach but not a lot was happening. A jeep with a trailer was down in the parking lot for a time. Unfortunately, we missed what happened but the next time we looked the dolphin, jeep and fisheries people had disappeared. There have been two episodes in the last twenty years of a disease attacking the striped dolphins along the Spanish coast. Hopefully, this isn't evidence of a third.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Perfect weather for hill walking

We had beautiful sunshine today with very little wind, a perfect day for a walk. Just outside the village is a very rough road, not suitable for cars, that leads to several trails through the mountains. As you climb higher you pass the remnants of old farmhouses dating back to the 1700s and 1800s. The hills are covered with the old stone terraces that now support stone pines and not the vines that they once did. In the 1870s a vine louse wiped out the entire viticulture in this area.

Finally, we reached the goat farm but we couldn't see any goats. Today we opted to visit the old church of Saint Baldiri. To do this we followed a narrow track lined with prickly pear cactus with their purple fruits, rosemary, stone pines and some thorn bushes. As we got closer to the church we were passed by several huge 4X4s, some with hunting dogs. I caught a glimpse of a wild boar in the back of the penultimate truck. It may seem cruel hunting the boar but they have up to three litters a year with up to nine piglets. They can be very destructive to gardens and crops.

Saint Baldiri is a ruin of an old church, watchtower and some other buildings. It is in a beautiful, almost parkland setting, where you can look out over the Mediterranean. It would have been a lovely spot for lunch if one of the hunters hadn't left his dog trailer with a couple of hunting dogs in it. One of these was making the most piercing plaintiff cries that you could hear for a long distance away. We climbed a narrow, rough path that eventually leads to Taballera Bay. It was a little further than we thought so we decided to stop for our ham and cheese baguette with tomato rubbed into the bread. It was delicious but unfortunate that we didn't take any wine with us. By now the sun had moved lower in the sky and we decided to visit Taballera Bay on another day.

On our return trip we went right up to the goat farm, which is an old stone ruin. There were no dogs outside today so we walked around the farm only to discover several mothers with their kids. My favourite was a white kid with two black eyes and striped black socks. The ruin is actually an old abandoned village where the goats run free.

Looking out over the valley we passed some pine trees shaking at the top.There were some men up the trees gathering the large pine cones. I'm not sure how they move their huge, loaded bags back to their car. We have seen this before in the trees behind our house. The first  time it was a little disconcerting to have someone shouting, "Hola," from the very top of a tree he was shaking within a few metres of your house.

Back at the car we were already planning which new path to follow on our next trip up Goat Farm Mountain.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Fresh fish and a mysterious yacht in Port Vendres

After a day of strange howling winds that whipped the choppy water away from the beach, moved the barbecue and gas bomba and brought dirt into the house under the sealed windows and shutters, we were glad to see the sun and hear the silence.

We decided to head up the coast to France, passing the naked vines and bright yellow broom on the hillsides. With the two o'clock restaurant deadline looming we stopped in Port Vendres. As we walked along the quay Forgas we could see a mast towering over all the other boats, the Mirabella III. Once seated in the restaurant our server told us that the yacht had been seized because the owners owed 4 million euros on the boat, but the rumours about the boat were rife. After lovely grilled sardines we had a look at the super-yacht, over 40 metres long. It was originally built in Thailand and was so big that elephants were needed to help move the yacht from the boat shed to the water. It was refitted during 2010 and has five luxurious suites on board. It can be yours for over 5 million euros and the price has already dropped by 2 million euros. It can be rented for $90,000 a week. One rumour is that the boat sailed into port and filled up with 30,000 euros worth of fuel that the owners couldn't pay for, causing the douanes -- customs police -- to seize the boat. Apparently the onboard computer has been mysteriously stolen. The boat is registered in Jaluit, a tax free atoll in the Marshall Islands. The mysterious yacht is visible all over the village. It will be interesting to follow the next chapter in its history.

We continued our walk along the quay towards the fish market, passing a number of ocean-going fishing boats as well as some smaller vessels. One part of the market has piles of every kind of fresh shellfish imaginable. The take away section at the back always has something enticing, including the coquilles St. Jacques in a puff pastry vol au vent we bought. The separate fresh fish shop with its huge selection is a treat to visit but deciding what to buy is a challenge. a beautiful piece of sole won the day. Good eating for the next two days.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Casa Anita, a little gem in Cadaques

It was warm but very windy, which always limits what you can do in a day. Today we decided to take the trip over the mountain to Cadaques and visit Casa Anita, a restaurant that had been recommended to us by an Irishman working in a cutlery shop in Barcelona. We had located the restaurant on an earlier trip, up a narrow back street just behind the beachfront, but it had been closed for November holidays.

Casa Anita has been serving customers for over forty years. The son of the original owners, along with his wife and sister now run the restaurant. If I understood correctly as I listened in to the owner speaking with some French customers, the mum and dad thought that restaurants were getting too commercial, and so opened their own restaurant, serving a limited menu of fresh and homemade food. The tables sit 10 or more people and years ago the place could be filled with hippies.

The restaurant resembles an Italian cantina. It is in the bottom part of a house with arches leading into the two rooms. The ceiling and walls look like the original stones but now plastered over. Once seated at one of the long tables the owner sat down to tell us what the fresh food of the day was from a limited selection, but we knew that would be the case before coming. In fact I thought that they would just bring you food and you wouldn't get a choice.

First, lovely tasting olives. These were followed by bread and oil, the oil harvested only a week ago. I have never tasted oil like it. Delicious. I don't normally eat much bread but I must admit I couldn't stop. Our starter was hot grilled eggplant, red pepper and onions with white beans. This was mixed at the table with more oil added. Again delicious. We had opted for grilled sea-bass for the main course, accompanied by home made frites. Sometimes you can just look at frites and know they are going to be tasty. The main course...perfection. Then the wife came to tell us about the desserts. We tried to be strong but finally shared homemade mascarpone ice cream topped with figs in syrup with a splash of cointreau. What a heavenly dessert! This was topped off with a cafe solo. We had another chat with the owner, who then brought us a digestivo of grappa but mixed with a little cream. It was like Bailey's but grappa. I highly recommend this as a way to drink grappa.

Now we braved the wind for a walk along the front. The waves were literally swirling in every direction and splashing up over the promenade in places. We watched a couple of sailboats, moored in the middle of the bay, being really tossed and turned. There were very few people around, very different from our usual trips here. Nevertheless, it was a special day. Casa Anita we will be back.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Vin Novell on a sunny Sunday afternoon

The local novell wines arrived in the village today, with four vineyards setting up tasting stands. This is the Spanish version of nouveau beaujolais, and the tasting is one of many wine related events organized by the village bodega. First stop was to rent a proper wine glass for 5€ then buy four tickets for 5€ for the tasting. For our first glass we tried a light wine from Espolla, which went down very easily. Then we tried wine from Capmany, one of our favourite wine places. The full body was more to our taste. Now it was time to trade in a ticket for a little tray of pan tomat, which is tomato rubbed into bread, and three different types of local cheese. Once fortified with the food we tried one of the wines from Gariguella but it was acidic and to us had an odd taste. It was dumped in the sand across the street. We decided to go back and have more of the Capmany wine. Lovely.

All of this takes place in a square right down by the water. The sun was out and the wind had died down. It is always fun meeting up with people at the wine tasting events, especially towards the end when some become quite merry. The secret, of course, is to tell the person pouring when to stop so that you don't spend the rest of the day recovering. These new wines are 14% alcohol. We recouped the money for our rented glasses and bought a bottle of each of our favourites.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Checking on the birds

This morning we had a big market in the village, which attracted lots of people as yesterday was Constitution Day and tomorrow is Immaculate Conception, both national holidays in Spain, and a good excuse for a long weekend. Since the sun was shining and there was no wind we decided to visit the Aiguamolls nature reserve taking the route up over the mountain behind us.

It was a slow climb as we had to follow several of the cows that live in the mountains. Today they decided to move location following the road and leaving it strewn with cow pats. At first we thought these cows were wild but now we don't think so; however no one ever accompanies them.

Once over the mountain we stopped in one of the Emporda agrobotigas, where we bought some figs in syrup and some fig jam. Notice the fig theme this week.

The parking lot at the Aiguamolls was quite busy since many people have taken a long weekend. Walking along the path to the first pond we spotted a lone water rail strutting in the dense grasses. It is a brownish bird about the size of a chicken. The first series of ponds were teeming with so many birds that there was standing room only on some of the little islands. There were still lots and lots of mallards but this time they had to share the pond with some northern shovelers, tufted ducks and lots of greylag geese. There were shiny black shags and greater cormorants lined up on a log. Two flamingoes had their pink and black under feathers fluffed up. Depending on their sex, they were either making a mating display or challenging each other. A large white spoonbill moonwalked backwards stirring up the bottom of the pond to find food, watched by two lone white storks and some great blue herons.

We continued down the main path passing a tree felled by recent high winds. This particular tree housed two huge stork's nests. Those storks won't be pleased when they return. The next pond had more mallards and a tree filled from top to bottom with cormorants. We spotted several raptors in the area, long legged and common buzzards, a sparrow hawk and a merlin. We climbed up a ladder to the second floor of the next blind. Against the darkening sky we watched a tree full of fat common wood pigeons. Suddenly, beneath them, four deer appeared and browsed their way along the field. But best of all far off in the field was a deer lying down, who eventually flopped over for a nap in the sunshine. He was joined by another deer a few metres away.

The finale of the afternoon was the stunning sunset of mottled black and shades of red  mixed with the twilight blue of the sky. Beautiful.

Christmas mailing and fenugreek good excuse to go to Perpignan

After several days of waiting for various people to: refill our oil tank; deliver firewood; repair our ASDL, fix the furnace; and weld a new hinge onto the door to the oil tank, as well as thwarting an attack by tiny sugar ants on our Walker's mincemeat tarts, it was time for a trip to Perpignan. We really wanted to mail some things from a French post office since we know some things mailed at the post office in the next village never arrived.

The drive to Perpignan was a little slow because of the huge number of trucks, especially those from the Czech Republic and Poland. I wonder if they were filled with oranges? (I know, many other things as well!) Of course by the time we arrived the Bureau de Poste was closed for lunch. We headed off to Arago, our favourite restaurant for the menu of the day, medallions of pork with caramelized onions, sliced carrots, horse radish and zucchini with some lovely frites. All delicious. A cafe corto - short espresso - completed a beautiful meal. We wandered around the narrow streets before heading back to the post office, along the way passing a Christmas market, where we didn't manage to resist the fig loaf.

The post office was open and we completed our mailing using postage machines, which are similar to bank machines only they weigh your package and finally spit out the postage you need. They save big long lineups at this time of year. Finally, we were back on the road. We were hoping to pass a hypermarket on the way out of town as we needed some fenugreek and other herbs that we can't find in Spain. The traffic was even worse on the way out of town so we didn't find our hypermart. Finally home, we enjoyed a nice cup of tea and our fig loaf.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A looping drive through the Col de Banyuls

At last the wind has died down. There is one lone windsurfer floundering in the bay, which means that we can actually go somewhere without fear of being blown away. We decided to quickly have our morning coffee at the Nautica and head for Collioure,  an hour away up the coastal road, in France. At the restaurant we were just about to sit down when we were pleased to see two familiar faces: an English couple whom we had met last winter but not seen since. By the time we left the Nautica the wind had come up a little and there were a few clouds in the sky.

All this caused a slight change of plan. We followed the winding coastal road through the lovely but now stark looking vineyards of Roussillon to Banyuls sur Mer. We more or less dove in the door at Sebastien's restaurant, where there was a nervous moment as the server slowly lifted his sleeve to carefully check his watch. We just made it before the dreaded two o'clock curfew.

Lunch was a lovely piece of grilled loup de mer or seabass. We don't normally eat dessert but Seamus opted for the warm fig tart and I had a grand marnier ice cream soufflé. Both were delicious.

By now the wind had risen so instead of a walk along the promenade, we decided to follow the longer back route through Banyuls to Spain. The road meandered through golden vineyards passing several wine tasting cellars. Then we followed a stream lined with tall grasses on one side of the road and more vineyards on the other. Once we started the steep climb towards the Col de Banyuls, the mountain was lined with vine terraces some weirdly lying on the diagonal. As the switchbacks on the road became sharper, the vineyards were replaced with olive trees, still unharvested, and then the ubiquitous stone pines and rosemary.

We stopped at the top of the mountain that separates Spain from France marked with  memorials to the hundred thousand people who escaped from Spain between 1939 and 1941. From here we had a magnificent view over the vineyards to Banyuls and in the other direction over the Spanish Pyrenees.

Back in Spain we followed the much straighter road passing carefully through a flooded stream. Finally, we were back on the main road to the Port. We stopped briefly at Rabos, one of Seamus' favourite photo sites. Even though it was almost dusk when we got home,  there were still several windsurfers taking advantage of the high winds.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Soup for a windy day

When we arrived back in the Port, the weather was a balmy 15 degrees. However, the last few days have seen winds gusting well over fifty kilometres an hour with the temperature about 12 degrees. The beach is covered with dead sea grass and a lone log. Last night one of our neighbour's trees broke in two and this morning at the Nautica, our morning coffee stop, the tops of some waves were breaking over buildings that house gear for the fishing boats. Needless to say the boats have been in port these last few days. It is very difficult to walk any distance or even open the car door. Even the few windsurfers in the bay are having difficulty with the high winds and choppy seas. At night we hear a lot of creaking and something banging in the wind. After much exploration the banging remains a mystery.

Tuesday saw us in Figueres at the local market stocking up on fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, eggs and water buffalo cheese. It is so lovely to move from stall to stall picking out your food from the vast selection. Some things you just won't find at the market because they aren't in season. There wasn't a fennel bulb in sight.

We always have home made soup on the go. It was time to make minestrone using an old Italian friend's recipe handed down from his grandmother. I love how Italian men are such good cooks. I have halved the recipe. Just in case you want to warm up on a cold day, here it is:

Dino's Minestre

  • 1 large onion
  • 10 cloves of garlic
  • one half (maybe less depending on your taste) hot pepper
  • 4 potatoes
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 pieces celery with the leaves on
  • zucchini
  • bay leaf
  • small handful of marjoram
  • small handful of oregano
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh rosemary chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 4-6 cups of chicken or veggie stock
  • 1-28 ounce can of tomatoes (use good plum tomatoes....San Marzano or whatever you can get)
  • 1 jar of cannelloni beans drained and washed
  • A handful of parsley
  • Put 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pot. Add onion, chili pepper, garlic, plus the rest of the veggies. Cook up.
  • Add stock, bay leaf,marjoram, oregano, rosemary, salt and pepper to taste.
  • Add can of tomatoes. Take a tomato at a time out of the can, squish in your hands and add to the pot. Add the juice as well.
  • Cook for 20-30 minutes.
  • Add the beans in the last 6 minutes.
  • Add the parsley at the end.
I had some fresh basil I stirred in at the end. This soup will last for three days and then we may freeze some. It is delicious and so good for you.

Looking outside, the wind has died down and the sky is a beautiful blue. Let's hope it stays like this.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Wedding bells in Canada, turkey in New Jersey

Our trip to Toronto for a very special wedding has come and gone all too quickly. Our trip began with a train ride to Barcelona on a Sunday afternoon, arriving in time to locate an Irish pub that was showing the Scotland vs New Zealand rugby game. And we were in time to catch the second half. There was some good natured rivalry with some Kiwis, who were fairly disgusted that Scotland had scored some tries against New Zealand. We were very happy for the same reason even though Scotland went down to defeat. After the game we had time to walk down Las Ramblas past all the vendors and immobilised people dressed to portray various statues to the marina at Port Vell. It is always lovely to see all the huge yachts at their moorings. Later in the evening we walked to the Market restaurant beside the Santa Caterina Market. It is always busy serving the freshest food. Once again I had the most delicious sautéed baby squid in garlic, oil and parsley topped with a fried egg. This is truly a mouth watering good dish.

Early Monday morning we were boarding our Lufthansa flight bound for Frankfurt and then Toronto. Even though we arrived in Frankfurt early we just had time to negotiate the labyrinthine terminal to catch the next plane. Although this flight was comfortable one has to wonder about the new Austrian chef employed by the airline. This was without a doubt the stodgiest most heavy menu I have ever seen. Doesn't this chef realise that you are sitting on a plane for nearly nine hours and not spending that time toiling in a field?

It was nearly dusk as we drove into Toronto along the Gardiner Expressway. This piece of highway hasn't changed in many years. It is still crumbling away and hasn't got a long life left. It seems that no alternative plans have been made to replace it. As former Torontonians we were pretty alarmed by the number of high rise condominiums that have sprung up along the old railway lands. Toronto seems to lack much foresight in its urban planning and high rises are springing up willy nilly. Even our hotel in the historical TD Bank building had a high rise stuck on top of it. However, the original old vault down in the basement  was very interesting and led to "The Path," a gigantic underground pedestrian walkway that runs for kilometres, all of it lined with lovely shops . For anyone familiar with Toronto it goes from Union Station to the Eaton Centre. After a few false starts we got used to navigating underground and travelled around easily.

Our Toronto visit was very enjoyable, dining with old friends and making plans to see them again in the future. We were fortunate to have lots of laughs when we watched Carolyn, my husband's daughter, performing her stand up comedy routine at a local lesbian bar. We did meet her boyfriend later in the week.

The main reason for our trip was to attend Nadine, Seamus' elder daughter's wedding to the charming Jorge. Our first meeting with him was at an Italian restaurant in the theatre district followed by a trip to the cinema to watch Skyfall at 11:00pm. It was just like being in Spain going out late at night. Later in the week we met his gracious parents, sister and grandmother who had travelled from Mexico for the wedding.

Finally, the big day arrived. After a quick make over by Drew at the mac store, I was ready. We were ready. Pictures were taken before the wedding at a church opposite the St.Lawrence Hall in the freezing cold. It didn't matter. Nadine was stunning in her strapless, slim wedding dress that flounced elegantly as it reached the ground. Jorge looked very handsome in his suit. After all the picture combinations were taken there was a little lull until the wedding. Finally in the historical St. Lawrence Hall, wine glasses in hand, we took our seats for the ceremony, which was quite beautiful. There was one very funny moment when the lady performing the ceremony asked Jorge if he took Nadine in sickness and so on. He questioned, "Really?" which caused much hilarity before he gave the right answer, "I do." We won't mention the glitch with Jorge's ring.

After more drinks and mingling it was time for dinner and some good natured speeches. The tables had white rose centerpieces, that complemented Nadine's bouquet of white roses and anemones with the most amazing dark purple centres. Jorge's mother had bought lovely material for napkins, which she had made by local artisans, who sewed on lace borders and monogrammed the napkins with N and J, the initials of the bride and groom. Unfortunately, no mariachis performed during the meal. After the meal it was time for the DJ, more tequila shooters for several people, not us, and chatting with the other guests. Later at night some quesadillas were served before everyone was on their way. The wedding was very special. The couple looked very happy and it was one of those days that we will always remember.

The next morning we drove to the airport, just missing the Santa Claus Parade crowds. Our destination was the Philadelphia area, where we enjoyed visiting relatives and friends. There was lots of dining including a sumptuous Thanksgiving dinner complete with roast turkey. This was a treat since we have never seen turkey in Spain. On Black Friday we visited friends in Maryland, who live in a beautiful, old house built in the seventeen hundreds, overlooking the Chesapeake. George Washington visited the house during one of his campaigns. Later we visited our friend's daughter in Baltimore, another newlywed and her husband, in their home in the historical area near Federal Hill. It was a treat to stand in the park atop Federal Hill looking out on the picturesque Baltimore Harbour. It looked totally restored with no tall buildings in sight. We would like to return another time and explore it further.

On Saturday we reluctantly said our good byes before our return trip. It was really lovely spending time with friends and relatives. Best of all was being there for Nadine and Jorge's wedding day.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

No storks but lots of other bird life

We had a lovely clear blue sky this morning. Since we had to go to Empuriabrava, we decided it would be a good day to catch up on what was happening at the Aiguamolls Nature Reserve. But first we stopped at our favourite restaurant, the Blue Sky Cafe with its outstanding Italian chef, for lunch. I started with quail salad, which had two pieces of quail dipped in flour and fried served with salad. The quail was delicious. My second course was a beautiful piece of cod set atop pieces of sliced potato, some cherry tomatoes, thin slices of green and red pepper and some thinly sliced garlic cooked in parchment paper. Seamus had salmon cooked in a cava vegetable sauce. Usually, we don't have dessert but I weakened and had beautiful pannacotta topped with a few raspberries, currants and blackberries. Did I mention that the menu of the day cost only €12? Meals at Blue Sky are always outstanding and great value for the money.

At the Aiguamolls we immediately headed for the first blind looking forward to seeing the storks. What a surprise! The two hundred storks were gone. There were still lots of mallards. In fact we watched one male mallard holding something underwater that looked like it could have been a stick but it turned out to be a female mallard's head. There were some new arrivals: grebes, coots and a lone northern shoveler duck. The cormorants had staked out their usual place, shared with a few ducks, on a floating log. There were a few great blue herons on islands packed with mallards. There were large, white spoonbills perched on an island and flamingoes flapping their vividly coloured pink and black wings. Some of them looked like they were trying to walk on the water. Later some of them looked like they were swimming but in reality they were crouched down with their heads at water level scooping up food and eating it. Every so often a brown marsh harrier would swoop overhead.

We walked down to the barn with all the huge storks' nests. Empty. All the nesting platforms were empty. Even the resident stork colony had flown the coop for warmer climes in northern Africa. The Aiguamolls is on migratory routes stretching from Iceland, Scandinavia and Russia to Africa.

The water level in the Aiguamolls was very high. The channels down each side of the path were full. Today the Camarague ponies were standing in a field almost covered in water. As they fed you would hear big slurping noises as they found the grass underwater. There were some very young ponies still dressed in their brown coats before losing them to turn white.

Suddenly, the sky darkened and it was time to retrace our steps. We heard a man in a field calling someone. Eventually, a Camarague pony came along following the man and leading a long line of cows. It was a funny sight.

Back on the road again, we stopped at an Agroboutique that we hadn't visited before. There was the usual wine and more olive oil than usual. In the back of the building was a huge antique olive press with three giant rectangular stones that were used for pressing the oil. Outside the building next door there was a huge hopper filled with big, green olives.  One old man kept coming out of the building with big jugs of olive oil. A frantoia. I had to go inside and take a look. A number of men were waiting for their oil. There was a huge electric crushing machine that had pipes leading into a steel vat. A lady turned the tap on the vat and out came beautiful, green olive oil to fill a jug. The same old man carried more jugs of his oil back to his car. I wish that I could have tasted the oil. We may return on the weekend when the agroboutique has several events going on including a demonstration at the frantoia.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A favourite walk through amazing rock formations

This afternoon we took a drive to the old Club Med site in the Cap de Creus Park. Even though we've had some rain over the last week, it still looked quite parched up in the mountains, all the riverbeds still dry. Purple flowers on the wild rosemary were the only blooms we saw. We passed several olive groves, and people carrying huge orange tubs of olives that they had just harvested. Plumes of smoke came from other groves, where the harvest had been completed and small piles of pruned olive branches were burning creating a beautiful smell.

Once we arrived at the old Club Med we felt a few drops of rain but decided to continue with our walk. It was one of those days when the sun shone, but then clouds appeared and then blacker clouds appeared. This was one of the original Club Meds, and typically accommodated over six hundred people in summer. Over time it became less fashionable and went into decline. Now all the buildings have been demolished but the tarmacked roadway remains, which makes for very comfortable walking.

This is a walk like no other. I suppose that you could compare the area to a moonscape. There are huge slabs of sandstone and shale, which have been eroded with the fierce wind and storms. There are many caves and huge rocks rising high above in the shapes of wolves, mushrooms, dinosaurs, unicorns and men with long pointy noses.

I saw them all today. Some of the slabs of rocks are so eroded that they hang precariously and look as though they might fall at any time. The shale has a windswept look as if it had been tossed up by the sea in horizontal and vertical layers. No words can adequately describe the unique beauty of this spot.

Finally, we walked down to a small cove where we had a lovely big ham and cheese baguette with tomato rubbed into the bread. The walk had given me an appetite and surprisingly I ate the whole thing. I was tempted to jump in the water, which felt swimmable, but when the sun went behind the clouds it seemed less inviting. Next time.

We retraced our steps but at a slightly quicker pace as the sky was becoming quite dark and the air around us increasingly humid. But luckily we made it back to the car without any rain. A quick drive took us to the end of the Cap de Creus, where we sat outside and had an espresso. A perfect ending to one of my favourite walks.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Lots going on during Todos los Santos

Thursday, All Saints Day in Spain and France. Unfortunately, this will be the last time it is celebrated in Spain as a national holiday because of the austerity measures. Next year it will be a regular working day. There were lots of visitors in the port with people sitting on benches or walls just soaking up the sun. The scuba diving boat that we haven't seen at all lately made at least two trips today. 

There were even more people in the village on Friday, which was market day. As well as the two fruit and veggie stalls there were many other clothing, hardware and jewellery sellers at the market. There were so many people in town that we couldn't even get parked  to do our shopping. This is a relatively rare occurrence even in the summer. All day people strolled around, visited the shops and caught some sun.

On Saturday afternoon, we decided to visit Figueres once the shops were open. As we drove along the highway we could clearly see the beautiful snow covered far Pyrenees. River beds that were completely dry until torrential rain last week were now bursting.

The Ramblas area in Figueres has now been deemed a tourist site. It is very close to the Dali museum and in fact this should have happened a long time ago. Businesses in the area are are allowed to stay open over the lunch time. The huge tree lined square in the Ramblas is often the site of various festivals. This weekend it was the First Modernista Fair taking a leap back in time to the early twentieth century at the beginning of modernism. The vendors in the many stalls lining the square  added to the atmosphere by dressing in turn of the century clothes. It was a delight to wander around and admire and smell the various stalls selling cakes and baked goods, artisanal cheeses, Serrano hams, huge tubs of olives of every shade of green, orange and black, jewellery, candles, herbal concoctions for every imaginable ailment and toys. One stall had a huge pan of different kinds of white beans with some prunes and the most delicious smell of spices simmering away. Several people were enjoying this for dinner. Others stopped at the crepe stall for Nutella crepes.

We passed the roast chestnut stall to watch the biggest barbecue that you could imagine. It was cooking different kinds of sausages, pork and huge slabs of spareribs. A huge seating area was set up at the end of the Ramblas and people were dining on the barbecued food accompanied by big hunks of fresh bread and sangria or beer. It smelled quite wonderful. This project is to help revitalise the Ramblas. I think it worked. I've never seen so many people in Figueres, many from nearby France. It certainly created a lovely atmosphere.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Wedding wardrobe good excuse for trip to Perpignan

Our closets were severely challenged for an upcoming wedding. Not to worry. It was a good excuse to make a trip to Perpignan. As we journeyed across country we noticed a number of people harvesting their black olives. The olive trees are kept quite short, which makes harvesting easy. Some people were dropping the olives into big black tubs, while others had tractors with big steel containers that they parked under each tree. The branches are shaken or prodded by sticks causing the olives to drop.

As we passed through the areas of fire damage it was good to see that lots of ground cover is re establishing itself. It is amazing how the fires stayed away from most buildings and towns.

We were really taken aback when we left the country road and arrived in the border town of La Jonquera. Right in front of us was a very bare bottom. It was a hooker dressed in a thong, black suspenders and stockings and skimpy top. She turned around so we saw the full picture. It was a little surprising. Most of the hookers don't line the roads anymore as there are huge fines for the hooker and the johns. Usually, they wear more clothes, especially in the cooler weather.

Once we arrived in Perpignan, we had a quick lunch of duck and frites. What a delicious combination. There are lots of lovely shops along the lanes in Perpignan. And the good news for us is that many close for only an hour at lunchtime and more and more of them are open all day. They even have on going sales. We stopped in a huge square lined with bars and restaurants and sat outside for a coffee. The server kept bringing out orders of a lovely red drink along with beers. Our curiosity got the better of us and we asked what it was. A combination of beer, lemonade and grenadine. I didn't catch the name of it but I am going to order one next time we are there.

We completed our wardrobe upgrade at Galleries Lafayette, a beautiful French department store. After one more quick stop at the pharmacie to buy French Green Clay, which looks like fine dirt but is excellent for stopping heartburn and removing toxins from the body, our visit to Perpignan was over.

We look forward to our next visit to Perpignan. It is a lively university town with a really nice atmosphere and lots going on. The town supports two rugby teams and rugby shops abound. We may even find time to look at more of the historical sites.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

We join the local pool

We have now joined the piscina municipal (swimming pool) in Roses, a town that is half an hour away via a twisty mountain road. It is a beautiful pool with very few people using it during the day. The centre also includes a well equipped gym and lots of classes. After a workout there are a couple of hot tubs, a hamman and a sauna.

It is a little different when you join the pool. You have to go to the pool to get some forms, then visit a photographer for a photo, and then your bank, which will stamp the forms for your automatic debit. All of these are returned to the pool and only then do you become a member.

The locker rooms are vast and the lockers are free -- insert one euro to get your key but you get the euro back. Or for seven euros a month you can have your own locker.

A funny thing happened today in the locker room.  While changing I could hear the piped in music which seemed to be coming from a Spanish radio station that was playing a lot of English language tunes. Including one catchy song with the lyrics "She can f...k you but I can f...k you better," over and over and over again (Fuck you betta - Neon Hitch). I don't think it was really appropriate but if you don't speak English, I suppose the song sounds cheerful enough. We encountered this song once before in a restaurant, and I asked them to turn it off. Again no one knew or perhaps cared what was being sung. Not really music to accompany a meal.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Hot soup rewards final swim

The weather has done an abrupt change with winds of over eighty kilometres an hour threatening to increase to one hundred and twenty-five kilometres. At coffee this afternoon the spray from the breaking waves was flying right over the buildings. Looking down on the village a lot of spray is whooshing across the road to the restaurants.

It is hard to think that a little over thirty hours ago the weather became warmer with the sun shining between the clouds. It warmed up enough that we decided to venture in to the Sea for one last swim. It is fairly easy to get into the water but today the wind picked up and the water really was coolish. I stayed in for a good half an hour but I was sustained by the thought that I had made some seven onion soup with sage before we left. Seamus stayed in a for a shorter time. A really hot shower and some home made soup after a swim, perfect.

Lots of activity at the Aiguamolls

Today was our first trip to the Aiguamolls Nature Reserve in many months. The last time, there were very few birds other than the colony of storks and their young that had started to fly. Most had flown off to their summer homes. It was a muggy, overcast day with rain threatening. We arrived to much clacking of the black storks' beaks. What a noise they were making.

Our first stop is the blind near the entrance and main buildings which overlooks several ponds. What a surprise! There were approximately two hundred storks young and old and hundreds and hundreds of mallards in the water and on the islands. We have never seen the ponds so busy. And even better, in the far distance we spotted some flamingoes.

We negotiated the path to the blind at the far end of the pond. A few classes of enthusiastic five-year-olds racing each other passed us dressed in their very smart teal and red tracksuits. They were blissfully oblivious to the "Silence Please," signs.

Once we settled in the far blind we were very close to the flamingoes. There were at least fifteen of them, some very pink and a few white. There were five of them in a group all shuffling their feet to stir up the bottom in their search for food. A cormorant had its wings out to dry sharing a log with some gulls and mallards. There were a few northern shoveler ducks and many more storks.

Back on the main trail we passed the old barn, its roof adorned with four or five huge nests, which surprisingly were still occupied. In fact storks were in residence in all the nearby trees and platforms that make up the main nesting area, as well as standing around in the surrounding fields. We don't know if these storks have just arrived or if they never left and we wonder if its normal for the flamingoes to be here so early. We will have to return soon to find answers to our questions.

Since it was well past our regular lunchtime by the time we left the Aiguamolls, we decided to go to our favourite restaurant, the Blue Sky Cafe. The Italian chef produces the best value "menu del dia." Today I had porcini mushroom risotto that had an incredible taste. We thought that you couldn't find porcinis in this part of Spain but someone picks them locally and sells them to the restaurant. In fact we now know the area where they come from. Porcinis are a delicacy that can't be found in our markets. In Italy they may sell for €30 a kilo or even more. Weather permitting we may go porcini hunting one day but if we are lucky and find any, we will keep the spot secret. That is the way with porcini hunters, the spots are jealously guarded.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

An Autumn swim

After a week of mixed weather we woke up to a warm day with a totally clear blue sky. At the Nautica, our coffee spot I noticed a woman with wet hair. Had she been swimming? Once home we noticed a man wading in the water. That was enough motivation. We grabbed our swim suits and it was off to the beach. At this time of year no one goes swimming but today the water was quite nice and I stayed in for a good fifty minutes and  could have stayed in longer. It was quite lovely.

When we were about to return to the car, we met the lady with the wet hair from the Nautica. She was probably German and lived locally for now. I say this because she lives here and there and at the moment lives in a neighbouring town apparently rent free. She seems to stay in homes that people aren't using but she likes only large homes. I assume she stays with their permission. At the moment she is being pulled towards the mountains as well. I have no idea where she lives there. She feels unencumbered living without contracts; however she does have a car and a little dog, Mr. Biscuit. She was swimming but never wears clothes and swims at the deep shingly beaches on the far side of town. I'm sure this lady has more stories to tell. If we see her again stay tuned.

Later in the afternoon it was still hot and I decided to go for another swim. This time the water was toasty hot. Why do more people not go swimming at this time of year? After 1600 metres I reluctantly decided to come out of the water. Home and dry again, we decided that we were in need of a coffee after all this activity. We decided this time to walk to the Nautica. Out into the bay was the funny little marooned boat we spotted the other day. Someone had emptied it of all the water, rigged the tarp as a sail and was paddling it into our beach using the centre board for a paddle. He did finally make it as later we saw the boat pulled up on the beach and anchored with bricks. I wonder what will happen to it now?

We continued on our walk passing a couple of fishing vessels that don't normally dock here. One has a purple crane and a smaller purple boat on it,  the other vessel was emerald green. Both are equipped with huge lights for night fishing. More fishing boats have been fishing closer to shore lately. Many of the smaller traditional malorquinas are out fishing and bring in quite big catches. These boats don't even go out very much in the summer. We watched another of the smaller boats, Pere Joan, bring fish in twice today.  As well as our five large fishing vessels we have some smaller boats. As we returned from the Nautica we watched the Maca unload a huge catch. The fish is always sorted in blue plastic or wooden trays by the time the boats come in to shore with gambas, sea bass, sea bream, sole and other fish whose names I don't know. I would like to buy from the boats but I have only seen a transaction take place once. There were an inordinate number of white vans lined up at the fish market to take their catch to fish shops and restaurants.

Tomorrow we are hoping to experiment with swimming when it is overcast. It will probably be our last chance at swimming in the sea this year because once again we will be experiencing gale force winds by the weekend.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Weather warning

Weather. We have had so much of it. On Thursday it became increasingly overcast with black clouds hanging very low on the mountains. We decided to walk to the Nautica for a coffee, prepared that we might get really soaked. After stopping for a quick chat with our neighbour on our return journey, quick because of our limited language skills, we made it home before getting wet. The sky became darker and the air heavier but oddly enough there was no rain.

We receive our weather information from Windfinder, a really great website that even tells how many millimetres of rain to expect every three hours. It was forecasting some torrential rain but despite everything being dark and heavy, we got just one shower on Friday morning.

On Saturday morning Seamus took our guests to the Llanca train station; they were off to Barcelona. It was incredibly humid and dark. We could hear the hunting dogs barking and howling in pursuit of wild boar. This time we even spotted an orange-clad hunter on one of the hills opposite us. Our Windfinder was predicting rain all day but it was holding off. Finally, in the afternoon, we decided to go for a walk along the  Ronda to the lighthouse. Again we were prepared to get wet. The Ronda runs parallel to the sea shore, where the huge rollers were pounding the rocks, sounding like thunder. Just before the rollers broke they showed that lovely turquoise blue colour that  huge waves make. Further along the campground was completely empty and the waves were making that crinkly sound they make on shingle beaches.

At last we were at the lighthouse. All our summer swimming spots were getting pounded and the beach areas were gone. The sky was becoming blacker and blacker and the humidity was so high that you could touch it. Still, we had gone halfway on our walk and were still dry. We continued on our return journey admiring all the prickly pear cacti. Every time I think about picking the lovely purply looking pears, I remember getting some thorns in my knee last year that took two weeks to work their way out. We passed a few other hardy people on our way back. This time I felt a few drops of rain. It's amazing how that can motivate you to speed up your walking! Good news. We made it home dry once again. What odd weather.

Late in the evening the rain arrived. What a relief! In the night it really started pounding down accompanied by huge flashes of lightning and booming thunder. We unplugged our modem, which has  previously blown up in a storm. At one point it sounded like there was a swimming pool on the terrace above that had suddenly drained.

In the morning the little bit of rain that was forecast didn't arrive. The low grey and white clouds even managed to part for the sun for a short time. Once again we could hear the hunting dogs howling in their enthusiasm as they flushed out the wild boar. This time we heard several gun shots at different times. I'm sure the hunting teams will be having a good meal tonight.

A look around the house showed that we still had a leak in the garage. Outside the guest bedroom door there is now a three foot drop into oblivion. The earth and gravel has totally come away from the foundation. It's a good thing we spotted this from the outside rather than using the door from the inside.

Now our trusty weather forecasting website is showing lovely weather for the rest of the week. No rain and warm weather. I hope it is right.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Lots of entertainment when the wind picks up

Yesterday saw the first of the predicted bad weather. Although it was still warm, the winds were very strong. In fact walking was quite difficult. We decided to take our visitors to Cadaques, where the wind was even more vicious than in the port. Once down on the sea front we noticed a number of people watching the activity around a cabin cruiser, the Perafita, that had slipped its moorings and was now beached. There were several men braving the wind and rough seas trying to pass ropes underneath the boat and then attach these to a crane. It took several tries to get this right before the crane could lift the boat, which then had to be dropped onto a trailer being pulled by a tractor. It took several attempts by the tractor driver to back the trailer into the perfect position. Finally, the boat was on the trailer but seemed to be stuck at the stern end. At last with a bit more manoeuvring the boat was free.

We battled the wind along the sea front at Cadaques and finally settled on a restaurant for lunch. I had the vitello tonato, very thinly sliced veal with a mayonnaise type sauce made with tuna. Lovely.

Our final stop was the Cap de Creus where the intensity of the wind had really picked up. Usually when you get to the bar at the very end of the Cap it is very tranquil but today we had to hang on to our coffee so it didn't go flying. After admiring the view and watching four fishing boats returning to our port it was time to get out of the wind and return home.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

One last swim in the sea

I had to stay home while Seamus drove to Girona to pick up the last of this summer's visitors. Our car is too small to fit four people and luggage. As I was having lunch on the terrace, I noticed two people in swimming or perhaps dipping in the water. Well that was extremely motivating. I donned my swimsuit and headed off to the beach.

The water was a little cold getting in but still swimmable. Since it was calm I decided to do a workout and once I have decided what to do I usually stick to it. As I was swimming I was hoping that Seamus would arrive home and pick me up, since the breeze was picking up and the air was a bit cooler than the water. Watching the church clock I knew that forty-five minutes had passed and now it was getting a little harder to keep going but keep going I did. Finally, just as I had finished 2600 metres Seamus arrived and it was definitely time to get out of the water. This was probably the last swim of the season or was it? This morning after coffee a well insulated man went in the water and got right out. Unfortunately, we had things to do today and the heavy rains and high winds start tomorrow but just maybe I can swim in the Sea one more time this year.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Always the right time to visit Perpignan

It was another lovely, sunny day, perfect for a road trip to Perpignan. We travelled across country to La Jonquera on the Spanish French border. It was the first time since the summer fires that we had made this journey. As we approached Capmany there was evidence of more and more fire damage with whole areas of trees scorched right next to vines that hadn't been touched. It is always sad to see scorched olive trees.  As we neared La Jonquera the area became more and more stark with everything  burned except for adjacent buildings and villages. Just on the outskirts of Jonquera is a large brothel. The vegetation all around this building was burnt but the brothel itself was saved. The hillside in front of the Bellaguarda fort was decimated. This was where the fire started with a wayward cigarette butt.

We arrived in Perpignan in time for lunch outdoors, tomato veloute soup with basil and the lightest piece of feta. The main course was rack of lamb on a bed of fava beans....not really my favourite. Why did I order it? For me the best part of the meal was seeing fellow diner James Hook, Welsh and Perpignan rugby player. There are always lots of rugby types in Perpignan.

Most of the shops in Perpignan are open all day or if they close it is only for an hour or so at lunchtime. We headed off exploring the lanes lined with lovely boutiques. We did lots of browsing, not even being enticed by the many sales. In every store we were greeted with a friendly, "Bonjour." We prefer shopping here to Barcelona since it is only an hour away and the stores have a much nicer selection of items as well as being quieter.

Perpignan is a lovely city to walk around. There are many historical buildings such as Le Castillet  built in the 1300s as part of the town gate, which subsequently became a prison and now houses an art gallery. The well landscaped Basse river runs through the center of the town. One side is lined with high end shops and lots of restaurants with seats overlooking the river.

Eventually it was time to return to the car but not before having an espresso with a delicious apple filled pastry, the lightest pastry you could imagine - Yummy!

Once in Spain we stopped at the agro co-op in Gariguella to pick up some locally made oil, and vegetables. Two donkeys were outside, one harnessed to a cart. The owners had driven the cart down to the bar, while they had a drink. They live by the tortoise sanctuary and the lady has several donkeys. We are looking forward to visiting next time we are in the neighbourhood.