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.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Palafrugell's magical coast

It was another beautiful day and time to escape the tranquility of the Port. We headed down the autopiste towards Palafrugell in the Baix Emporda or lower Emporda, still in Catalunya. We left the highway and headed through fairly flat land with a mixture of farming and industry. Begur and several small towns were filled with many shops selling ceramics. We passed several ceramic factories and one that looked like something out of the industrial age, with its huge brick smokestacks. It is now a ceramics museum that is probably worth visiting at another time.

Finally, we reached Palafrugell and followed signs to the beaches. We drove through areas with low rise apartments with lots of bright flowers to arrive in Calella de Palafrugell. After walking down a narrow path we were on the ronda, a walking path  that goes along the coast right by the beach. There were lots of people enjoying swimming in the sea and lying on the lovely, sandy beach. For us it was lunch time and here was an interesting restaurant, Tragamar. You could just tell by the menu that  you wanted to eat here. Luckily, we got the last table outside, probably because no one wanted to sit in the hot, hot sun. Lunch was half a bottle of rosat and sardines grilled in oil, garlic and parsley to crispy perfection served with pan tomat, which is toasted pieces of baguette with fresh tomato rubbed in the bread. Simple and so, so good. Followed by an espresso, it made for a perfect meal.

Afterwards we had a walk along the ronda admiring the beautiful views over the rocks out to the Sea. We passed many beautiful summer homes, wound our way through some woods to look over the long beach at Llafranc. All the sandy beaches were surrounded by rocky outcrops enclosing beautiful Mediterranean blue water. At that point we returned to the car because we wanted to visit several beaches on the coast. We drove through Llafranc, since parking wasn't readily available, to Tamariu. We stopped here and had a little wander on the beach and then decided to sit down on an adjacent bench. It must be school holidays in England because there were a number of English families enjoying the sunshine and one lovely, shaggy Irish Wolfhound.

We continued in the car again always climbing back to the main road passing lovely homes  and then descending to the beaches. It reminded us of the Amalfi coast south of Sorrento. Finally, we ended up in a tuna port where the local llauds, small fishing boats, were lined up on rollers on land. They must be rolled out to sea to fish in a fleet.

Finally, we drove back to Begur passing many Catalunyan independence flags, much more than we are used to seeing. We had passed signs in English and Catalan, "Catalunya, the next European country" and "Catalunya is not part of Spain." This should make for very interesting elections in November.

It was a lovely day but the drive from Begur to the autopiste is quite uninspiring. However,  this area might provide a really special overnight getaway.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Enjoying Cadaques in fine fall weather

At night time there are far fewer lights from houses in the village. Many stores in the village are closed. The gelato stores have been closed from the middle of September but now even the deli is closed except on the weekends, another deli and bread shop is closed for October and the  chicken rotisserie shop is open only on the weekends. I was going to shop at the "other" supermarket a couple of days ago only to find that every shelf was stripped. The store will open next year. Worst of all the coast guard dismantled the buoys marking the swimming area and removed the raft. The weather is still warm so this was a little premature.

To help us get over the removal of the buoys, we took a quick trip over to Cadaques, which is always pretty lively. After a cortado -- espresso with a little milk -- we set off to look for Casa Anita, a restaurant that has been highly recommended to us. We walked up a little lane way by the coffee shop and there it was. The forty-year-old restaurant is open very limited hours and  is quite small. Best of all there is no menu, they just bring you what they have cooked on the day. I love restaurants like this.

We continued our walk around the back lanes of Cadaques admiring the still flowering mauve and pink bougainvillea that climbed high on the stone faced buildings. Many of the pathways were just cut out of the rock and many houses had rocky outcrops as part of their foundations and ground floors. Finally, we ended up back down at the sea front admiring the sun's rays making a pattern through the fast moving clouds.
Eventually we ended up by the church that dominates the town. On previous visits the church had been closed but today the doors were open and the sounds of an organ being played beckoned us inside. It was quite spectacular inside with gold leaf from floor to ceiling behind the altar. It wasn't really what I expected in a small town.

We are looking forward to returning to Cadaques soon to have a special meal at Casa Anita.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Santa Helena archeological dig

European Heritage weekend. Saturday and we were really looking forward to visiting the open house at the church, Santa Creu de Rhodes also known as L'eglise de Santa Helena and the medieval village surrounding the church. This summer  students from the University of Barcelona have been restoring the village atop the mountain where we live. But this was not to be. It was a day of very heavy rain and high winds.

Today we thought that there might be someone at the dig or at least information about a rescheduled open house. We made the journey up the mountain by car and climbed the last part up to the church. What a difference from almost a year ago. Although we couldn't get into the church we could see through a tiny window that quite a bit of restoration has been carried out. The surrounding village of Santa Creu de Rodes probably had more than thirty houses, some two stories high. The earliest buildings have been dated to the 900s, with the village being abandoned in the sixteenth century coinciding with the decline of the nearby monastery. This year more houses have been restored. Some are quite large and the theory is that they were used for hotels for pilgrims. The gate leading into the town has been also restored and is quite imposing.

I sat down on the little stone bench at the back of the church admiring the view over El Port de la Selva, with all the windsurfers, as well as the surrounding countryside.

We returned to the car happy that we had visited the dig. Unfortunately, there was nothing to indicate if there will be another open house. It would be really informative to talk to someone working on the dig. Perhaps they may even give me a trowel and a brush so that I could work on the excavation!