Monday, February 27, 2012

More action in the Aiguamolls

We returned to the Aiguamolls nature reserve mainly to check up on the flamingoes. It is a lovely spot to have a picnic, which we did, before beginning our walk. The resident cat again came to visit but this time wasn't hungry enough to chew on the large piece of multigrain bun I gave her. I think she really just wants company as long as you don't touch her. We have reached a truce.

From the first blind we looked right down on flamingoes feeding in the pond. One was particularly funny as it continuously shuffled its legs in place as it was feeding. There are definitely more flamingoes than last time we visited. They have been joined by even more moorhens, coots, cormorants and a variety of ducks as well as a number of great blue heron.

We eventually reached the field where we visited with the Camarague horses the last time we were here but it was flooded and no horses were in sight; but just before we reached the beach there they were in large numbers in a new field. In the distance we were pleased to see a very young colt close to its mother. Then we spotted another one perhaps a few days older. In my excitement I managed to receive a shock from the electric fence. Gradually, a few of the horses came close to the fence to visit and get some carrot sticks and fresh grass. This group included the mother with the new, brown, furry colt running beside her. He was beautiful. I was a bit indignant when one of the more greedy horses actually bit the mother and left a mark, but that's nature.

We stopped to watch the large number of white storks in their huge nests made of twigs in trees and on the man-made platforms. The nests are chosen early in the season by the males. There were probably at least fifty storks with many nests and one or two birds in each nest. Quite often the birds would preen each other as the storks are prey to mites. Then the silence would be broken by the machine gun rattling of a stork's beak. It was fascinating to watch as it stretched its neck so far back that its head touched its back  and the beak would make the rat-tat-tat noise. The pairs are monogamous during the breeding season and we did see some mating. So far no young have been hatched but we will come back in a few weeks to see the fledglings.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Carnival night in El Port de la Selva

At eleven o'clock last night we tore ourselves away from Inspector Montalbano, the Sicilian  detective, who is the creation of author, Andrea Camilleri. I've loved the books for years, and the TV series in Italian with subtitles is brilliant. But tonight is carnival parade night. With Inspector Montalbano safely in record mode, we quickly dressed in our Venetian costumes and walked down to the village to join the festivities. Excitement has been high all week and music had been blasting from the town's loud speakers since seven in the evening.

Luckily, the night was a warm eighteen degrees celsius as the six homemade floats and accompanying marchers took quite a while to pass by. There were wizards, pirates, cheerleaders and blackened, wigged African dancers all taking their time, having the odd drink of beer and chatting to the onlookers. We made a good impression with our choice of costume; some people in the parade came over to have their picture taken with us.

We tagged along at the end of the parade as it wound its way  to the local pavilion, which was decked out with strobe lights, a stage and a live Spanish rock band. There was a bar serving beer and mixed drinks but no wine. Beer was kept cool in an ice filled rowboat. People kept coming and coming until there were probably four hundred of all ages in the gym. The singer in the band had pretty swivelly hips, which he put to good use once things got going. With a mixture of Spanish and North American music he led the audience in a number of dance moves just like a zumba class. Most often you didn't dance with a partner you just followed along mimicking the singer.

Our anonymity didn't last very long as every time I had a sip of my beer I had to lift up my mask. We said hello to a number of people we knew, all dressed in their costumes. Our butcher was a rather busty nurse and our insurance lady had a beautiful tarty, gold lame, skinny dress and huge afro wig.

By three o'clock the band still hadn't had a break and people were still arriving, but we decided to take our leave. We didn't see any drunks just everyone enjoying themselves. Once outside we had to make our way through another hundred partyers who had their own music and beer served from one of the parade floats. It was a really fun night and we are already thinking about what to wear next year.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Up where the wild boar roam

Our fishing boats have been tied up in the harbour for three or four weeks because of the windy weather but on Thursday they were all out fishing. After coffee today we visited our fish shop, which has been closed for lack of fish. At first we liked the look of one fish but when we found out it was conger eel, we quickly opted for some sardines, which we will grill for our dinner.

Then it was home for a quick glass of freshly squeezed blood orange juice before going for a walk on a rough track that goes from La Selva de Mar to Puig d'en Grau. Several trucks passed us, some with hunting dogs. As we walked further up the track we heard the excited barking of the hounds and men shouting but we couldn't see if they had any wild boar in their sights. As we continued our walk winding around the mountain we could see a different hunting team spread out over several mountains dressed in their red garb. There was huge excitement from this group with lots of dogs barking, men shouting and a horn blowing. There will be fifteen to thirty men on each hunt. If they are successful they will take the boar to a local restaurant, where the chef will cook it up. Wild boar is pretty tasty and as a meat sauce on pasta, as one of our Italian friends makes, it is delicious.

We don't know if either team actually shot a wild boar as we had to cut our walk short so that we could be home in time to watch the Ireland vs Italy Six Nations game. Tonight Carnival.

Our first Catalan class

Spring has definitely arrived. It was a pleasure to shop at this morning's market in the bright sunshine with the temperature over twenty degrees celsius. At last we can walk along La Ronda right by the sea to our nearest lighthouse without being blown out to sea. One of the fascinating things we saw on today's walk were chains of caterpillars one behind the other. The first had five and the second eighteen. We must find out what these are. There were even some French people sunbathing on the rocks below us. The weather was so warm that I had to pop in the shower when we returned home.

Then it was another trip in to Figueres to buy our workbooks for our Catalan course. Everyone we speak to here is quite thrilled that we are taking the course, which is quite challenging. We started last night in one of the schools in Llanca, the next town. There are fifteen of us in the class, which is extremely multicultural with people from other places in Spain outside Catalunya, and from France, Chile, Morocco, Russia and Senegal. Everyone else has been living in Catalunya for three years or longer except for us. Since we don't really hear many conversations in Catalunyan, I found the class quite difficult and moving along at a speed that I found too fast. It eventually dawned on us that more than half the class were in Part 2. Both classes have been combined with the class geared to the Part 2 people. We bought the workbooks for Part 1 as well as Part 2. Hopefully, this will help us make sense of it all.

Tomorrow is going to be hot again. Excitement in the village is high as everyone in the village, including us, is looking forward to dressing up for the Carnival tomorrow night.

Shopping for carnival costumes

Today's bright sunshine and a temperature of twenty-three degrees celsius more than makes up for the cold, windy weather that we've had for the past few weeks. Unfortunately, today we had to go in to Figueres to buy our costumes for our village's Carnival on Saturday night; however we were successful in our quest. More will be revealed later in the week. Carnival starts with the parade at 11:30 at night with the party starting at midnight and apparently going on until the early hours in the local gym. We are ready.

Our plan was to buy our costumes yesterday but after spending two and three quarter hours buying Seamus' new prescription sunglasses, we decided to go home. Why it took all that time, I still don't know. The person serving us was a young German fellow, who used to be a chef and is now the boyfriend of the owner's daughter. That is just a snippet of what I know about him. At one point I thought that he was showing us 'Eichmann' glasses from Brazil and we didn't want them! As it turns out, we found out today, when we picked up our receipt that they were 'Ana Hickman' glasses named after a model, who apparently has the longest legs in the modelling field. It just goes to show what can be lost in translation.

Our Catalan class starts tonight at 7:30. We don't know why the date was changed but we have been assured that tonight is the night. Seamus made a wonderful risotto last night of serrano ham, fresh shelled peas, fresh thyme, wine, stock, and goat and parmesan cheese. There is plenty left over for dinner before we head off to our class. Now it's off to soak up some of the warm sun.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

No class today

Today was a 'stock up on staple foods in Empuriabrava' day. There is one hypermarket there where we can buy most of the things we are looking for without going from store to store. It sounds odd but we just can't seem to get everything in one place.

After a successful shop we drove down to the sea front and went for a walk on the wide sandy beach towards Santa Margarida. Unfortunately, the sun was behind a cloud and a cold wind was blowing full force in our faces, which made it really hard going. Luck was with us on the return trip with the wind at our backs and the sun in our faces. After being cooped up with all the windy days we were very happy to walk for just an hour.

Everyone in the Autonomous Community of Cataluyna speaks two languages, Catalan and Spanish, with Catalan being the primary language and the language of all legal documents. We get by with very limited language as French is also spoken here and people love practising their English with us as there aren't a lot of English speaking people here. Classes in Catalan are provided free of charge by the local  towns. We tried  to attend a class in our village in October but the first time we went the class was cancelled because of bad weather. We went twice more and still no instructor and no students. The people at the local town hall were baffled by this. We gave up.

Last month we signed up to attend Catalan classes at the local high school in Llanca. Tonight we set off for the 7:30 to 9:30 pm class. There are three schools close together but we didn't see much sign of life at any of them. We spoke to the custodian at the high school, who referred us to the other high school for sixteen- to eighteen-year-olds called the Bachillerato for university or vocational training. The custodian here didn't know anything about our Catalan class. Frustrated, we gave up again, although we will follow up tomorrow.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Carnival time in Roses

Flappers, centurions, Vikings, cheerleaders, boxers, pirates, men dressed as women with fake dogs that walked along with them, flamenco dancers and leprechauns and lots more were all in the Carnival parade in Roses today. It was a very different experience for us. When we arrived in town we parked in a big area designated for that purpose but no one told us where to park or charged us for parking. It was all done in an orderly fashion. We then walked down to the sea front which is lined with shops on one side and a long, long promenade on the other side. To our amazement there were chairs lined on both sides of the street, the whole way along. We could sit down and watch the parade pass by.

 The parade started shortly after 12 with home made and some probably quite old floats being pulled by huge tractors with lots of loud upbeat music and some dancers on the floats followed by more dancers from babies to the elderly. Each float had a different theme and everyone wore colourful, elaborate matching costumes that took some time to make. After several floats went by we understood how this worked. On every float was a complete bar that provided beer and often stronger drinks to the marchers behind. Quite often there would be a barbecue with chef cooking brochettes for the participants. It was quite common to see a centurion or flapper with beer and cigarette in hand. There were lots of men dressed as women. Oh the sight of those hairy legs in tights and the anatomically correct breasts complete with larger than life nipples!

Some thought had gone in to the choreography of the dancers behind the floats; in fact it was like a zumba class but as the afternoon wore and the drinks continued to flow the parade did become quite a bit more ragged. The drivers of the big tractors didn't seem fazed by three- or four-year-olds running in front of the them. In fact one little girl of about three was perched right on the front like a figurehead on a ship.

Everyone was having a good time and some of the marchers had such a good time that they joined in with different groups when they had finished their part of the parade. This was easy to do as the parade lasted for three hours.

No horses, no marching bands, just a lot of people having fun on a lovely Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Trying new wines in Banyuls sur Mer

At last a day without winds. We decided to drive up the coast to explore  Banylus sur Mer, a town we drive right through every time we go up the coast. There were lots of motorcycles on the road today and we were just in front of a group of BMW and Ducati riders ready to test their skills on the mountainous, twisting road up the coast. Seamus, obviously missing his motorcycle, decided to become part of this motorcycle group for a while before they all passed us. Sometimes I have the misfortune to suffer from motion sickness so ignoring the vineyards and the views over the clear, blue bays of the Mediterranean, my thoughts were elsewhere. At the 8 kilometres to Banylus sign I was repeating to myself, "I can do this." And I did.

Today the people of Banylus live off fishing, viticulture and tourism but for two centuries Banylus was a big centre of smuggling from Spain. We wandered around the marina and visited displays of local water colour artwork. After a walk along the beach we were ready for lunch choosing a restaurant right on the sea front with it's own Sebastien wines. The best option is always the menu of the day, a set menu, and this restaurant had an excellent variety. We both started with a lovely salad with lardons. Lardons are little cubes of pork fat, very well cooked and tasting a bit like salty bacon. Perhaps not terribly healthy but we did drink some red wine to combat it. For main course I had two selections from the tapas menu, a brochette of crevettes or shrimps done in a spicy sauce, and calamari frite. Seamus, a true meat lover, was more exotic choosing longue de boeuf with frites. Halfway through the meal he said, "I think this is tongue." It was. It was slow cooked and quite tasty but had a different texture to it. We finished with isles flottant and creme catalan, which is similar to creme brulee.

Since we hadn't actually been in to the town of Banylus and in much need of a walk we headed down a narrow street into town passing some magnificent old houses. There were several winery stores open for tasting and purchasing. Banylus is known for its dessert wine, which we think tastes like a sweet sherry. We sampled some of the dry reds and made a couple of purchases from the storekeeper, who had been watching a Boston vs Montreal hockey game.

Now it was time to wend our way back home. When we arrived in Llanca, our neighbouring town, we were very nearly part of the Carnival parade. With quick thinking from Seamus we took the one back route through the totally empty town to miss the parade. Our parade watching will be tomorrow in Roses.

Maintenance mode

With gale force winds blowing again for the last few days we went into maintenance mode. After cleaning the house, we made our first visit to our new Spanish dentist, to get our teeth cleaned. It was a little different from what we were used to, especially since the actual dentist did the cleaning along with an assistant, but it was fine. Then it was on to Fiat as we have had our lovely, little red rocket for three months. They really didn't want to see us until 12,000 kilometres or a year but we had them check the oil and tires anyway. This was a different experience as they just took the car off and brought it back 10 minutes later with no paperwork and basically said, "See you  in 9 months."

Then it was in to the costume shop in Figueres to see what kind of things people wear for Carnival. This is carnival season with a huge four-day bash going on in Roses, a nearby town, this weekend. Our carnival is next Saturday with the parade at 11:30 and the party in the nearby gym at midnight. We have been assured that everyone wears a costume so we have to get right on it. With so much selection in the shop we decided to think about what we want to wear and come back later in the week.

Today was the first time we haven't been blown away at our local market,where we stock up on fresh fruit, veggies and nuts every Friday. Our maintenance continued as we reviewed our contract for private health care coverage. In Spain, or at least in this part of Spain, even if you have Spanish health coverage many people supplement this with private health care.

Today is a cooking day with lovely minestrone soup made with our market veggies, and hot and mild sausage from the butcher's going into a hearty sausage and lentil stew that we will have for dinner. Seamus has fixed both the front door and gate on the driveway from making a huge noise when they are opened.

Now we are ready for tomorrow, the forecast promising  very little wind. We have had endless days of wind, including gusts well over one hundred kilometres an hour. We did feel reassured today when a friend told us that in all of his forty-eight years living here he doesn't ever remember winds like this. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Valentine's Day in Port Vendres

After a breakfast of hemp hearts and fruit our Valentine's Day had begun. We decided to go up the coast to Port Vendres in France for our Valentine's lunch. Out on the road we once again followed a cycling team dressed in red lycra this time heading along the twisty road, which is full of switch backs, on their way to France. This time we were lucky as we swiftly came to a sharp climb that slowed the team down so that we could pass them.

We drove through the terraced, dormant vineyards climbing up the mountains and finally wended our way down into Port Vendres. We walked around the harbour, which is filled with commercial fishing boats and private yachts only to find that the restaurant we wanted to go to was closed. Never mind, we went to the restaurant next door and sat in their covered outside area, from where we had a good view of the comings and goings in the port. I had the moules for starters followed by lieu fish, which was covered in a too thick sauce of eggplant, pepper, olives, tomatoes and a mixture of something with anchovies. I must say I've tasted better. Seamus had the goat's cheese salad followed by moules frites, probably a better choice.

We walked passed all the fishing boats and huge piles of rope nets, nylon nets, nets with large holes and nets that minnows would have difficulty swimming through. It was all quite colourful with floats of every size and colour mixed in with the mountains of nets. Finally, we reached the port fish store where we made a purchase of some Coquille St. Jacques, which we had for dinner tonight. We also bought some octopus in the most beautiful pastry, which will be an experiment, and some lovely fresh St. Pierre fish or John Dory.

As we were leaving we spotted the Charles Rennie MacIntosh museum, which opens on Friday. In one part of the museum building they had a wonderful photographic exhibit of the port, which really captured the beautiful light that is always present here.

This time when we drove through Cerbere on the way home we stopped at the swimming pool, which is right on the harbour. I had visions of coming and swimming in an old fashioned salt water pool but as we went down the steep steps carved in to the rock, every door was closed. When we got to the bottom of the steep hill there was an ancient outdoor pool completely filled in with earth and debris. No swimming for us in Cerbere.

Tonight has been spent watching some of the live feed of the breed judging at the Westminster Dog Show in New York including the gorgeous Newfoundlands. Sadly, we won't be awake for best in show. That will be for tomorrow's viewing.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Pantano de Boadella

On Sunday we decided to take a drive further inland and headed for a blue patch on our map, Pantano (reservoir) de Boadella. It is a man-made lake with a dam at one end and looks like it is a pretty popular spot in the summer. We had a coffee at a lakeside bar before heading home. Outside we admired a tall tree, possibly eucalyptus, its striking pale bark reminding Seamus of the ghost gums he remembers from Australia.

Behind the peleton

Can you imagine what it's like cycling in 6 degrees weather at sea level with the wind gusting at more than forty miles an hour? It's probably a relief after coming down from the mountains. Last week at the bottom of our hill we encountered a full Spanish professional  cycling team getting their snacks from the team car. Yesterday we passed some Team Sky cyclists. I wonder who they are? Today we followed a professional cycling team down from France, Credit Mutuel, for what seemed like ages. The first car in our peleton was reluctant to pass the team car immediately behind the cyclists causing the driving to become pretty hairy. Eventually the wind really picked up dramatically slowing the cyclists and allowing  us to whiz by the entourage. After watching the colourful, lycra clad cyclists training in this weather I have a new appreciation for professional cyclists.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Mikado Catalan style

Tonight at nine we were in Figueres, our local big town, to see El Mikado. We were quite excited to see a poster advertising the Mikado the other day. We found the theatre in the local culture centre. This touring company is only here for one night. Unfortunately, they don't have an orchestra. I must admit that we are really spoiled having seen some wonderful Mikados in Stratford, Ontario. The singers were quite good; although the choruses only had six people. There were jokes about the Minister of Finance but of course we didn't know what they were as we don't speak Catalan. The female chorus were dressed in more vivid colours and made up more than we were used to to. They were a little more risqué in their gestures. I even saw YumYum giving the Pooba the finger! By the time the intermission arrived we decided to call it a day.

Back in the car we passed the hospital but there opposite the hospital was the Figueres swimming pool, built for the Barcelona Olympics. It was too cold to park again but how serendipitous to look for one pool today and find another.

It was home to watch the Ireland vs France Six Nations rugby match, which we taped BUT merde!, the match is cancelled because of the very cold weather and the state of the pitch in Paris.  

Pool search leads to food

It is another windy day, and cold. We decided to go in search of a local swimming pool but found it is was outdoors, not exactly suited for this weather. We were very close to Gariguella where there is a local agricole, which has huge barrels of local wines, olive oil, cheeses, virtually anything local. We bought some eggs complete with feathers still sticking to them and a local digestive herb liqueur to be drunk after meals. This is made from the rapa or left over grapes from the wine barrel. It is distilled just like grappa. I'm not a big fan of grappa. Once in Italy at a friend's house his ancient father arrived to check the grappa he made every year. We went with him and I took a big sniff of the rapa and nearly passed out. It is strong.

On our way home we passed through Vilajuiga and discovered another agricole that we didn't know about. There were huge oak barrels of vermouth, various red wines, and a lovely granache reserve, which I sampled. Oh my. What a lovely dessert wine. There were also steel barrels of many other local wines and sangria. We toured around and looked at the goat and sheep cheeses. I picked up a sheep cheese ball wrapped in rosemary and some local fig jam. They also sold local mineral water. This was quite funny for us since a while ago I thought I had found the local pool, since we kept passing a gate which said mineral waters. We did go up a long narrow driveway only to discover a bottling plant.

There was a long bar at one end where for 1.50€ you could have a glass of wine and sample some local products. Seamus opted for the anchovies on crusty toasted bread with an olive tapenade. The anchovies weren't too salty so it was quite delicious. I had fois  gras on the same bread topped with a rose petal jam. I liked the jam best. We bought a new blended granache and carignanc wine to take home in time to watch the Italy-England rugby game. We had fantasised about going to Rome to see it but after one look at the snow on the field, I'm glad we're at home in the wind.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Sant Pere Pescador

Some days turn out better than you expect and today was one of those days. We woke up to silence, no wind. Even though it was a bit cool outside we decided to go for a walk on the beach at San Pere Pescador but this time go to a different part.

A few wrong turns in Castello d'Empuries and we were travelling the labyrinth of little narrow streets. It was lunch time and we had already passed several closed supermarkets but as luck would have it we spotted a restaurant up a side street. It was time to stop. The restaurant, "Portal de la Gallarda," Portal of the Brave was in a very old building, part of it a ruin. Inside the owners had preserved all the stone brick and arches as well as putting plate glass over the portals that would have been the outside walls. From here you could look across the local allotments to the Pyrenees in the distance. From the courtyard outside you looked down on the portal or gate, complete with a bridge crossing a moat.

Time for lunch. We had a glass of the local house red accompanied by some "tomato pulpo," small bits of toast, tomato and some garlic. You rub the garlic on the toast or bread, then mush the tomato in to it. It is quite delicious and goes very well with wine. I had a rabbit leg and Seamus a local sausage, both grilled and served with grilled asparagus. For dessert we shared some almond cake, which was lovely and moist and not too sweet. This was accompanied, as part of the dessert, by a shot of sweet wine. Instead of a glass to share we each got a glass, which wasn't quite what we expected but very nice.

Dali's photo was up on the wall and apparently he had been a regular, along with with Fages de Climent, a local poet, who Dali had been friendly with since he was a child. They collaborated on an "auca" or storybook with a series of pictures and rhyming couplets, "The Triumph and the couplet of Gala and Dali." This was our table mat at lunch and I asked if I could take one with me to translate what it says. So far I'm afraid I haven't made too much sense of it.

At the next table there was a very old lady, the mother of the owner, and another of her sons, who himself was quite old. The whole time we were there she opened a small pile of business mail and scrutinised every single word on the page. The odd time she would pass a letter or statement to her son, who would get worked up about whatever it was. I think I would be right in saying that she held the purse strings for the business. When I saw her it reminded me of an old Italian friend of ours who always tells the story of how his rich grandmother always counted her money and knew exactly what she had down to the last penny. Unfortunately, for him she would never buy her grandson an ice cream, something that rankles to this day and he's eighty.

I digress. We were very close to the main square of the town. After passing some arches still standing from the the customs house built in the 1200s and which later served as the poor house, we were outside the Church of Santa Maria d'Empuries. It has a very impressive facade with statues of the twelve disciples. The church, built between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, is the size of a cathedral but never received that status. There were four very elderly ladies vigorously cleaning the stone floor while we were visiting and after our short walk around the church we passed them again. This time they looked like a postcard, sitting outside the church enjoying the sunshine.

Finally, we went for our walk on the beach at San Pere de Pescador only this time the sand was quite soft and it was much harder walking on the dunes and the beautiful expanse of beach. We came to the river.....but it was just a little too deep to cross. By this time it was lovely and warm, thirteen degrees celsius as we returned to the car along the top of the dunes. I wonder if you could wrap up, take a chair and a book and sit for a while or is it still too cold for that? What a lovely unexpected day but now it's night and once again the wind has picked up.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

On frozen pond

Gale force winds and cold weather have kept us from going too far from home. With cabin fever setting in we decided to visit the Aiguamolls nature park in Empuriabrava to see how the flamingoes were faring in the cold.

First we decided to cook some rustic cabbage soup to fortify ourselves against the cold. It  takes no time to cook this soup of potato, onion, garlic, stock, cannellini beans and cabbage and it is perfect for cold weather. This accompanied by some double baked bread and a piece of sheep's cheese cut from the round we bought at the market made for a lovely lunch.

 When we arrived at the Aiguamolls  we were greeted by a robin redbreast on the sign to the park. We went to the first blind near the entrance only to discover that most of the large, shallow pond was frozen and there were very few birds in sight but at one end of the pond we spotted the flamingoes. Fortunately, we knew there was another blind close to them so off we went. We had nearly arrived when our path was blocked by two calves munching ferociously on the grass. Every time we went to pass them they did a little scamper off towards the blind. Finally we passed by them and headed into blind number two.

There were the flamingoes in front of us looking a little pinker than last time. Some flew off and the colour of their wings was quite breathtaking, a vivid hot pink and black. Quite beautiful. One flamingo returned and landed quite gingerly on the ice. You could see that he wasn't sure what to do next as the rest of the flock was on a grassy island. He started to fly but really he ended up walking and flying across the ice in total slow motion like a cartoon character. It was very funny.

On this same little island we spotted two newcomers, grusgrus or European cranes from Russia or Scandinavia. They are the largest European bird. Apparently, it is very unusual for them to stop here. Later I found that they normally migrate to Morocco or Ethiopia. I wonder if they will finish their trip or stay here?

We watched these birds and the geese and ducks for a while longer. The ducks were quite funny making noises like an ambulance that wants to move traffic out of the way with four short beeps. The geese walked very carefully around the pond and they were very funny when they landed quite often skidding across the pond.

As it was getting late and a bit colder we decided to go in to Empuriabrava for a hot chocolate. We ordered "chocolat" as you would in France but we got a cup of thick, hot chocolate that you could just about stand a spoon up in. I didn't think I'd be able to drink it but the first spoonful changed my mind. It was delicious like eating a melted chocolate bar in a cup. Once again fortified against the cold and blowing wind we headed home relieved of cabin fever.

Monday, February 6, 2012

So cold the fountain froze

Europe is in the grips of terrible cold and snow and this is the coldest winter for the last sixty years in Spain. We aren't faring too badly. Yesterday we had gale force winds and a temperature of one degree with bright blue skies. There were very few cars on the road and no hookers at their usual spots along the road to Figueres. It was brutally cold at the Figueres market and even the fountain in the square was frozen.

Although we will get more winds this week today we have some respite with a temperature of seven degrees celsius. We watched the cold temperatures of other places in Spain and the pictures of snow in Rome while we had our coffee inside for a change at the Nautica. It hasn't mattered that we can't really go off walking as we watched three 6-Nations rugby games on TV. Cold, windy but not a bad weekend.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Blown away by wintery weather

Friday morning is market day in El Port de la Selva but we could see from our terrace that there was only one vendor. With gale force winds and a temperature of 2 degrees most of the vendors had wisely chosen to stay at home. It was deceiving when we looked outside as the sky was bright blue, no snow, no rain. I was delighted to see that the lone stalwart was our fruit and veggie vendor. It was no easy task even securing a plastic bag to put our veggies in with everything blowing in all directions. And the cold on your hands as you were selecting the produce was numbing! Finally, we paid for our purchases and it was over to the Nautica for coffee.

We were very happy that the owner had extra heaters on inside. The boats in the marina were tossing to and fro but they were all well secured at bow and stern. As we were drinking our coffee we looked up at the building crane working at the top of the hillside. It was swaying back and forth very precariously with its load in gusting winds of over fifty miles an hour. Finally it would let its load down and start again.

There were no windsurfers out  in all the whitecaps in our bay today. After a quick stop at home to put on some warmer clothes we drove up the coast to get a good vantage point for the waves. We stopped at a few beaches in Llanca and Cap Ras, where I was very nearly blown right over. I literally couldn't walk and Seamus had to maneuver me back to the car. Here there were whitecaps everywhere and you could see the spume almost looking like a foggy haze far out to sea.

We drove even further up the coast towards France to Colera, which has a lovely, wide bay. Here the whitecaps were rolling in and breaking with that lovely Mediterranean blue colour. But the best part was the wind whipping across the bay from one side to the other at ninety degrees to the waves. This was causing spume to fly up and move across the bay resembling a tornado. Then it would spread out and you would see lovely rainbows. This was happening all over the bay and quite far out to sea as well. Lots and lots of lovely rainbows. In one case we saw something almost resembling a waterspout but I don't think it was as the conditions were all wrong with the blue, cloudless sky.

Finally, we decided that we'd had enough of the bracing weather. I can't imagine what the temperature is with the wind chill factor. Sufficiently frozen it was time to go home for lunch and to finish our hearty, home made sausage and lentil stew.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A walk on the beach

After yet another shopping excursion to Empuriabrava we decided to go for a walk on the beach. It wasn't really picnic weather as there is a cold front coming from Russia and it is definitely a bit cooler. This meant a quick trip to the Blue Sky cafe, which has a very talented Italian chef. Once we were fortified with handmade pear and cheese ravioli and an illy coffee we headed off to see if we could walk across the sand where the Muga River reaches the sea. Not quite so we drove past the Auiguamolls nature park along country roads until we found one that led to the beach.

We were the only people on the more than fifty-metre-wide Sant Pere de Pescador beach except for one person on a surf board with a paddle breaking through the big, white waves. We walked and walked until we could see a river up ahead and it was time to make the return trip to the car with my pocket filled with some lovely shells. This is going to become one of our regular walks and I can't wait until it is beach weather. What a fabulous spot.