Monday, December 31, 2012
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
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?
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
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 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
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.
Sunday, December 23, 2012
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.
Friday, December 21, 2012
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
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.
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
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 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 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
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
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.
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 finale of the afternoon was the stunning sunset of mottled black and shades of red mixed with the twilight blue of the sky. Beautiful.
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
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.