Thursday, March 28, 2013

Many signs of Spring at the Aiguamolls

It was warm and sunny this morning. Time to visit the Aiguamolls nature reserve. Looking out from the first blind the water level continued to be very high. There were less mallards there than before but the rest of the birds, including the coots, shellducks, northern mergansers, geese and cormorants were all enjoying the day. We watched a male shellduck dragging what looked like a piece of wood only to find out when it finally surfaced that it was a female duck. It looked like a serious case of murder at the Aiguamolls but it really wasn't as both shellducks seemed to fly off with no harm done. In the far distance were lots of great blue herons, the pure white of giant and lesser egrets, with a few deer grazing in among the huge birds. The flamingoes were stirring up the bottom to get at the better choices of food.

Back on the main trail we could hear the clacking of the storks' beaks before we saw them. On top of the barn, there were several nesting birds in huge nests except for one very makeshift nest in the spot where the four chicks were born last year. It looks like this nest could blow away in the wind. All the nests on the nesting platforms and trees surrounding that field were full with nesting pairs. Of course the more mature birds had the best and biggest nests. One funny sight was two young adults perched above the fork of a tree, a perfect spot for a nest. They had placed three twigs in the fork and kept looking at each other as if they were saying, "OK, Now what?" They obviously couldn't come to terms with the whole nesting thing as they were still there two-and-a-half hours later and still looking at each other and the three twigs.

Further down the trail we spotted a lovely brown Camarague foal with very spindly legs. His mother came along and they set off together. The foal would move away from it's mum and then come frolicking around her. It was lovely to watch.

Finally we walked down to one of the far ponds that wasn't too deep. It was filled with stilts wading and feeding. 

Unfortunately, we didn't spot the baby otter or the elusive Grus Grus. Perhaps next time.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Agroboutique restaurant highlights local produce

We woke up to a cloudy day with a forecast that wasn't promising. After making our way through all the hikers in the village, to have our morning coffee, we decided it was a day to visit some local nurseries to look for a couple of plant pots.

We had some success at the second nursery we visited, where we found some lovely,  unblemished clay pots. Even better, at one end of the giant nursery we spotted two very friendly donkeys and in the long run next to them a very social Vietnamese pot bellied pig that had a huge stuffed toy lamb to keep him company and a soccer ball to play with. He was quite beautiful with his funny tusks and wrinkled face. I haven't seen a pot bellied pig for many years, not since one of our Newfoundland dogs made friends with one that used to go for walks on a leash. The little menagerie would have been very happy if we had some food with us. Next time.

On the way home we stopped to pick up some local produce at the Agroboutique in Villajuiga. As well as having huge barrels of local wine that you can sample, they have a shop filled with products from the Emporda, which is always good when you have visitors coming soon. I bought some fresh garlic, foie gras, figs in juice to serve with fresh cheese, biscotti and a couple of home-made fig bars that are good to eat anytime.

Recently, they have opened a restaurant with a few tables, and offer a set menu featuring their products. Since we weren't sure what some of the things on the menu were, one of the ladies took us around the shop and showed us. Of course this motivated us to stay for lunch.

It was an interesting meal, which started with slices of little pepperoni type sausage on toast accompanied by olives. This was followed by grilled white asparagus stalks, red pepper and onions on toast and topped with anchovies. The main course was a white sausage made from the "best" bits of the pig, crumbled and mixed with a local white bean. The sausage tasted quite peppery. We chose the local rosé to accompany the meal and a bottle was put on the table. Unfortunately, it must have had a lot of sulfites as I had a glass and could have cooked an egg on my face afterwards.

A plate of local cookies was the dessert course, wafers, biscotti, and some other biscuits spicy and crunchy. Along with this there was a dessert wine in a bottle with a spout -- to drink you must tip the spout towards your mouth and pour. My first try wasn't too successful. You have to master not having the wine roll down your chin on to your clothes. My third try was the best. The trick is to put your head right back and pour. Next time I have to coordinate moving my head upright and removing the bottle at the same time. It was fun though.

I like that the Agroboutique is running this restaurant. I first noticed the menu one day, when they were serving wild boar. And on a sunnier day we could have dined outside.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Village reawakens after winter hibernation

Although it is cloudy today, the weather is warm and the village is buzzing. You could hardly drive along the front there were so many people out walking. French, German, Dutch and even cars and caravans from Sweden were parked in town. All kinds of businesses that have been closed all winter are open and ready for business with fully stocked shelves. The ceramics store that carries local work has several new lines, especially a lovely blue and white. It was with some difficulty that we walked around the shop. In fact Seamus' quick dive saved a couple of vases that the owner brushed on her way by.

Best of all the chicken rotisserie store that can have over a hundred and fifty chickens 'rotissing' at the same time is open with that lovely smell wafting out to the street. The chicken is always delicious and is often a lifesaver, when you don't want to cook on a hot summer day. Even the exclusive jewelry store, flower shop and ladies and men’s clothing store are ready for business. Restaurants and bars that we had forgotten about have rolled up their shutters and are busy even on day one of business.

As we headed for our morning espressos, a zodiac was returning to port full of scuba divers. The Nautica was quite busy with the return of old regulars and staff that hadn't been working very much lately.

What a lovely feeling that the village is busy again and gearing up for the Easter weekend.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Household problems stretch patience

Today started with Seamus visiting the agency first thing to voice our house concerns. Perhaps concerns is too mild a word. Complaints is better and stating that I had had enough. While he was out I boiled the kettle, took it to the shower and mixed hot and cold to wash my hair and the rest. It wasn't pleasant in the freezing cold. Shortly after, the plumber, Godoy, a good guy, who is an electrician or vice versa arrived.

His partner fixed the electricity. That breakdown caused by an outside light being almost blown off the side off the house in a storm and letting water in. One problem solved.

It wasn't looking so good down at the furnace, where water and oil were on the floor, a filter was clogged, something else and the pump was broken. Imagine all that from just turning off the heating while we were away. This furnace, apparently loved by the Russians, has broken down several times. It is the Trabant of furnaces. If I was the owner of this four-year-old house I would be tired of paying for the lampista's mortgage.

Sixto, the painter, came right over and re-patched the wall, where the first electrician butchered it. He is a lovely man Sixto. We can have conversations helped by the computer nearby. He just translates this and that and asks Seamus to bring up google so we can check things out. He showed us pictures of his daughters on his phone, some with Barcelona football star Lionel Messi. But perhaps strangest of all were the pictures of Andres Iniesta as a young altar boy. If you don't know who these people are you are not a football, aka soccer, fan.

Then the lampista came back with all the necessary parts and after a few more hours we have heat and hot water. Of course we have now discovered that somehow we have used eight hundred litres of oil in three months rather than eleven months. But not to worry, we will get a delivery tomorrow.

This leaves only the question of the leaks, especially in the garage. Apparently Salvat the builder was not taking calls today, being Monday. The saga continues.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Asparagus festival has something for everyone

Our life is taking on the appearance of a day-in-the-life travel book, where the characters relocate to another country and have all kinds of difficulties with their house that require local trades people. The winds from the south caused us problems with the garage roof having sprung yet another leak along with two spots in the living room. All have been repaired before. The owner has asked the builder to come and fix these leaks. In fact it was supposed to have been done last week. We knew that it wouldn't be. Mr. Salvat, the builder works on his own time. When he does come he grumbles about the architect, who was crazy according to him. It is all his fault that there are reoccurring leaks and has nothing to do with Salvat himself.

Then last Saturday night for no apparent reason we lost all our power. It would come on for five minutes and then it would short circuit. An electrician came from the village and tried various things, including pulling a wiring access panel off the wall, bringing a little bit of the newly painted wall with it. He couldn't fix the problem. The builder's electrician then came and bypassed something so the electricity would work. This too was to be repaired last week but wasn't. Now we see we have a light hanging off the outside wall. This is probably the root of the electrical problem.

Of course we need the painter to fix the wall. Sisto, his name is, and he will come shortly. He is a very pleasant fellow, who speaks English that he learned from songs. His conversation moves from topic to topic with the speed of a disc changing the style of music. And conversation often lapses into German. All said and done all this is better than my Spanish.

Last night when we returned and turned on the heat not much happened except for many groans and clanks from the furnace. Josep from the agency looked at it, turned on a tap and managed to cause a flood. Someone was supposed to repair this again today but we are still without heat. In fact it is warmer out than in. I suppose this next few days will be a waiting in to see who turns up to fix what. This all becomes a bit of a scramble with much miming and phone and iPad translators working at full speed.

We were glad to escape the house this morning to go for our coffee at the Nautica. Once we arrived in town we found the road  blocked. It was Day 2 of the Asparagus Festival. Yesterday there were a number of activities including a parade for the children followed by face painting and chocolate.

Today we were lucky to grab the last parking spot in town. All kinds of local vendors were set up in the square and the main street. For 3€ you got 5 tickets to taste various foods. Unfortunately, I am still  lingering at the toast eating stage after my Sardinian revenge. Our butcher was sampling all kinds of local cheeses. I did have a little square of the sheep's cheese. Very nice. He was cooking sausages on a grill and sampling them on a piece of bread. Other foods that you could try were truita, like a quiche without the pastry, of course made with asparagus, oysters, little cups of anchovies, bread with tomato with anchovies, oysters as well as several cooked dishes with sea food, sticks with huge strawberries and fruit juices. Sadly, I didn't try anything.

There were lots of artisanal breads and we did buy asparagus empanadas, asparagus in a lovely pastry for later. Seamus sampled a pâté made by some men of the village accompanied by a little glass of Languedoc red.

People were selling clothing, ceramics, model boats and sculptures. There was even a Catalan independence booth, where you could buy flags representing the independence parties. They were even selling Independencia cava. I suppose you might have to keep it for a while though.

These days always have lots of activities for the children with an area for painting set up with boys and girls quietly concentrating on their art work. There were a couple of very busy, huge bouncy castles and a huge jungle gym brought in for the occasion. During the day there were various displays such as windsurfing. Finally, at six the Habaneros will perform in the ballroom and the older people will be dancing the traditional Catalan sardana. Something for everyone.

It was lovely to see the village so full of people. And best of all was walking over to the Nautica for our coffee and receiving a very warm welcome back to the Port.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Weather improves just in time for flight home

Our last day in Sardinia and of course the weather has taken an abrupt change for the better with the sun shining and the ocean calm at last. We didn't have a lot of time but we decided to walk along the promenade along with all the locals, who were out enjoying the sunshine and just gathering to chat.

We passed the Torre di San Giacomo also known as Torre di Cane, the Dog's Tower, reflecting its earlier use as an enclosure for the stray dogs of the town. There are a number of ramparts all along this walk as well as the giant catapults.

It was now time to head to the airport for our return flight. We knew where the gas station closest to the airport was located and left in plenty of time to gas up the car before returning it. Only in Italy would a gas station close on Saturday at one o'clock.

Our flight home was quite funny. Most of the passengers were groups of Italians on their way to Barcelona. They were having such a good time chatting that they missed the safety procedures. Even the Irish flight attendant had a bit of a smile about it. Taking off caused much laughter, hooting and clapping but nothing compared to the arrival. This wasn't a polite or relieved clap that we had landed, it was a swooshing with the plane, joyous clapping, laughing and lots of noise. It was quite an experience for the non-Italians.

I look forward to visiting Sardinia again, next time flying into Cagliari on the south coast, perhaps just a little later in the year for better weather; although Europe has been in the grip of unusually bad weather recently.

We were happy to be back at home only to discover that the furnace that we had turned off while we were away would not start up again. Twelve degrees is very cold in the house. Finally, we were warmed by a wood fire and a blanket and a couple of Six Nations rugby games and news that our contact at the agency is sending someone to fix it tomorrow.

Sheep, hail and pasta nero in castelsardo

The weather has taken a turn for the worse with cold weather and some rain. As a result we decided to trim our exploring for today and head off to Castelsardo on the north coast. It was a beautiful drive over the green hillsides dotted with flocks of sheep except for the intermittent rain and hail. Historically, the Sardinians are a nation of shepherds. At one point some shaggy sheep were moving pastures and coming along the road. There were a lot of them accompanied by many tiny lambs. We stopped to let them by only to be herded and harassed by a little rusty coloured dog, which was incensed that we had stopped. We took his advice and moved along. He and his partner, a little black dog, both of them from indescribable origins had the sheep and us in perfect control.

Finally, we arrived at Castelsardo perched on a volcanic headland. The town has gone through several name changes. It was originally founded in 1102 by a family from Genoa and was known as Castelgenovese, a name it kept until 1448, when it became Castellaragonese, after the new conquerors. The current name dates from 1776.

Up in the town we walked around the small alleyways lined with shops selling local handicrafts. It was a lovely little spot. We decided to stop for lunch at the Bounty, a funny little restaurant. We entered on one floor and had to wind down an enclosed narrow circular staircase to the restaurant on a lower floor. It was originally the cantina or storage place in the downstairs of the house. The old stone walls were hundreds of years old.

Since it was such a miserable day we were the only visitors. The owner and chef made us feel very welcome explaining what he thought would be best from the menu and what was fresh that day. You could see his passion for food as he was talking to us. Seamus had some pasta in a light tomato sauce with some langoustine. I had the most delicious pasta nero with shrimps and pieces of langoustine. I can never eat a lot of pasta but I ate it all and the langoustines that Seamus couldn't eat.

Back in the hotel and another swim, I could feel the lunchtime pasta wasn't sitting well and it didn't. I had the same bug Seamus had the day before. Now I wonder if it was the hot salt-water pool. Whatever it was put an abrupt stop to today's travels.

Friday, March 15, 2013

One of us will hear about this anniversary for a long time to come

This certainly has to be a strange wedding anniversary. One of the team was down with what we would call in North America, Montezuma's revenge. I'm not sure who's revenge it would be here in Sardinia. I braved the gale force winds and bought the appropriate drugs at the pharmacia.

It is very interesting in Sardinia how well people speak English. In fact it is word perfect English. Having asked a few people, they usually learn it in school. The people who don't think that they speak as well have learned on the Internet. Now having said this I have managed a few basic conversations in Italian. Usually, in Italy no one speaks English so this is quite different for us.

I had a long two and a half hour walk exploring the town and yes doing some window shopping. This was followed by some overcooked fairly horrible, vegetable soup in the hotel. After a brief respite it was off to the salt water pool, where five hundred yards in the hot water was enough. I tried all four of the jets in the pool before relaxing in the hamman but then it was back to the pool for a final float before having a rain shower.

This evening, while the patient was sleeping, I celebrated our anniversary by eating alone at Il Pavone. Since I am now a regular I quite enjoyed myself watching the food being delivered to the tables and just people watching Italian style. I love all those striking Italian looks and all the vibrant clothes. The owner and chef told me about today's fresh fish and how he would cook it. I opted for the beautiful, thinly sliced swordfish cooked in olive oil, a little wine and some capers. It was topped with slightly cooked tomatoes and accompanied by sliced boiled potatoes sprinkled with parsley as well as a little salad of lettuce, yellow and red peppers and beans served on the biggest parsley leaf imaginable. For dessert I had seadas, cheese in a very light pastry, deep fried and served with honey poured over it. This is a typical and ancient Sardinian dessert that used to be served as a main course. I then made my first mistake of the meal asking for a ristretto, small strong espresso. I know that I don't always roll my r's enough when speaking Italian. This must have been one of those times since I ended up with something that closely resembled Fernat Branca, a digestivo that demands an acquired taste. Fortunately, I like Fernat and quite enjoyed it.

That ended my very inexpensive meal. With regards being sent to the signor and hopes that he would be well tomorrow, I once again braved the elements and rain to return to the hotel. Fortunately, the wind was at my back so I was swept along the promenade to the bedside of mi marito, who is looking a bit better.

I have the rest of the evening to spend with a good book and perhaps the rest of the anniversary prosecco to finish.


Exploring the coast north of Alghero

Wednesday is market day in Alghero and of course we had to make this our first stop of the day. It was quite a large market with lots of fruit, vegetable, and flower stalls.  The artichokes looked slightly redder and longer than their Spanish cousins but other than that things looked remarkably similar to the Port. People were queuing to buy new, skinny stalks of asparagus. There were aisles of clothes of course Made In Italy but in reality many will be made in China with Italian labels sewn in. I bought a dress in Spain with one of these labels and all the dye came off on my skin, caveat emptor. There were several stalls with lovely Sardinian lace. However, my favourites were the ones selling Sardinian cheese, much of it pecorino made from sheep's milk. Our purchase was one tea towel with a map of Sardinia on it.

We travelled north up the coast stopping in Fertilia, a fascist-built town, to admire an old, arched Roman bridge that juts out and almost sinks into the lagoon.

The drive to Capo Caccia along the coast with its rugged rocks was quite beautiful. We stopped at the dock where the boats leave for Neptune's Grotto but it was empty. Not to be deterred we continued along to the place where you could climb down over six hundred steps to the grotto but unfortunately it was closed due to electrical repair. I suppose that the upside of this was that we didn't have to climb back up the six hundred steps, but it was disappointing nevertheless.

We continued on to Porto Torres past wind farms with adjacent fields of solar panels to the port, where ferries leave for Genoa, Marseille and Corsica. Further along the beaches were sandstone, which looked like hard packed sand with lots of holes in it. I think it would be difficult to walk on these beaches. Stretching for several kilometres and running parallel to the beach was a lovely walkway.

After an unremarkable pizza we continued  in a westerly direction to Stintino, a colourful fishing port, and by the looks of it, a very popular summer spot with yachts docked a long way up the river. Further up the coast we stopped at La Pelosa to admire the turquoise blue sea with a colour so vivid that it was almost unbelievable. This inspired us to go for a walk along the white, sandy beach. I even felt the water and it wasn't too cold. From the beach we looked across to the island where the white albino donkeys live, trying to figure out if a couple of white dots could possibly be the donkeys. Back in the car we rounded Capo Falcone and started our return journey.

Just after Stintino we stopped at Spiagia Salina or Salt Beach. We couldn't get right across to the beach because the storms had created a little lagoon but the beach was white. We think  the beach was made of tiny little, white stones but there are actual salt pans in the area. It was unique and very picturesque with the old wooden beach shacks dotted all along it. On the other side of the parking lot there were pillboxes used in World War II but the remarkable thing was they were only fifty metres apart. It seems an allied landing was expected here.

After a relaxing swim it was time for a good walk around town and dinner. We returned to  
Il Pavone where we shared some homemade shell-shaped ravioli  filled with pecorino and potato served in a very light  pecorino sauce. Seamus had the veal that I had on a previous visit and I had the roast suckling pig. Once again the food was delicious.

It is becoming decidedly harder to eat so much food. We were very glad of our brisk walk back to the hotel to plan another day.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Rain doesn't dampen charm of Bosa

We set off bright and early this morning traveling south on the coastal road to the town of Bosa. First we hugged the coast admiring the rollers crashing in on the rocky shore. Further south the road climbed the mountains that were a mixture of volcanic rock and sandstone. Lots of yellow wild flowers dotted the landscape along with some nameless almost lime green bushes and the ubiquitous maquis.

Bosa is a colourful town with all the houses painted in different vibrant colours. The main street, paved with stone, which runs parallel to the River Temo, is lined with aristocratic buildings and goldsmiths' workshops, where filigree and coral jewellry are made. Wood carving is an ancient Sardinian tradition. We visited one gallery filled with a variety of  masks of all shapes, sizes and colours.

It was raining when we visited the Bosa market, with its wonderful fruits, vegetables and flowers. The cheeses were enticing, especially the smoked cachiavella. They even had wild boar.

Our next stop was the Castello die Malaspina, which dominates the skyline. It is quite impressive even though just the towers and outer walls survive. Although the castle was built in the 1100s, it was taken over by the Aragonese in the 1300s. There is some restoration going on inside the walls. By this time it was raining and hailing as we were walking the ramparts admiring the view over the town and the Temo. I was hanging on to the railings trying not to do a Mary Poppins. We found refuge from the weather in the church, the only building remaining intact inside the walls. In 1976 some beautiful, intact frescos were found during a renovation. We walked back to the car in a light drizzle having worked up an appetite for lunch.

We stopped at a restaurant on the other side of the Temo with a view over to Bosa. Our first course, which we shared, was a beautiful sepia nero (squid ink) pasta with little clams, tomatoes and small shrimps. It was wonderful. For main course I had some grilled shrimps and Seamus had bolito misto, deep fried shrimp, sardines, octopus, squid and some other fish followed by a very short espresso. What a meal!

We stopped to admire beautiful sandy beaches at Bosa Marina before retracing our route back to Alghero in more rain and some hail. It was good to be back at the hotel for a swim in the hot salt water pool. We particularly enjoyed the hamman that is built like a cave with a cold rainwater shower in the middle, when it becomes too hot. Invigorating!

After being drenched in a short downpour, while wandering around the town, I had a lovely bowl of artichoke soup for dinner. A perfect ending to an interesting day.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Day one in Sardinia

It was an early start for us this morning as we had to be in Girona for our flight to Alghero in Sardinia. Now Ryanair is the butt of many jokes but the people who make these jokes could not have flown on many US airlines. For 12€ each we were on our smooth forty-five-minute flight to Sardinia. Just as we were making our approach we passed broken up fluffy cumulus clouds that looked like they were made of cotton wool. Every so often there would be a huge, tall cloud climbing much higher than any of the others. flying through them was quite magical.

We checked in at our hotel, a one-time palace to some minor Italian nobility. Apparently the Russian nobility visited often for sunbathing in the summer or hunting in the winter. There are some wonderful pieces of old furniture in a tired old sense. A bit worrisome was the huge painting of the owner in some kind of military regalia in the lobby. There is a remarkable similarity to a younger Berlusconi, who held his bunga bunga parties a little further along the coast.

We had a very invigorating walk along the promenade, right by the crashing rollers, into the old town. Alghero remains the most Spanish city in Sardinia and in fact Catalan is spoken here. Even the street signs are in Catalan and Italian. we passed several old seventeenth-century towers. One of these housed stray dogs from the town, Torre die Cani. There are several old ramparts along the promenade as well as several old, giant catapults facing out to sea.

As we strolled into the narrow streets of the old town most things were closed including restaurants. Finally, we found a small pizzeria. The pizza was really good but the giant cockroach crossing the floor was definitely off-putting.

This evening we walked around the narrow streets of the old town, window shopping, admiring the lovely clothing, shoes and ceramics that are unique to Italy. Clothes in Italy always look beautiful and stylish. 

We had dinner at Il Pavalone, a small restaurant on the waterfront. As we were waiting for our dinner, the owner came by with his home made tapenade spread made of pecorino (sheep's cheese), black olives, chile pepper and anchovies, which he put on the bread. I really could feel an explosion of tastes in my mouth. Mmmm. I had the milk-fed veal that came with leeks and a crust of pecorino cheese on top. Attached to this were crusty potatoes and a little salad. Seamus had grilled orado (sea bream) with mushrooms and red cabbage. All this was accompanied by the red vino de casa. Delicious. I have never tasted veal like it. The chef was interesting and enthusiastic about his cooking as only Italians can be. He helpfully told us the names of food in Italian and Catalan. The food being served to the locals at other tables looked quite exceptional. Even better, the meal was quite inexpensive.

Tired, we are back in our room planning tomorrow's explorations, weather permitting.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Back to our favourite beach walk

After all the weather we've had lately, it was lovely to have a warm and sunny day. Time to go for a long walk on the beach at St. Pere Pescador. We parked in our summer spot near the beach restaurant, Marlin. Although the restaurant doesn't open until Easter, the owner was there with her two dogs that enthusiastically greeted us.

Our usual path out to the beach was covered in water. When we eventually reached the beach the dunes had been all but obliterated with some small packed hills reminding us of what had been there before. The dunes at the back of the beach looked as though someone had cut into them with a bulldozer. This was the result of Wednesday's storm. Fortunately for us the sand was packed down very hard, which made walking much easier than usual, allowing us to move along at a speedy pace.

At one point there was a new stream coming down to the water with a two-metre high bank carved out of the sand. We negotiated this right down at the beach with not too much difficulty. Finally, we reached the bridge that would take us to the path leading to Sant Marti d'Empuries, our destination for lunch. Disaster. The bridge had been knocked askew and workers were using two huge earth movers  to get it back into place. We couldn't use the bridge over a fast running river. Finally, I went closer to the water took off my shoes and socks, rolled up my pants and ventured into the water. I used a stick to make sure it wasn't too deep and to anchor me in the fast running current. I made it. Seamus took a longer route right down where the river met the sea. Now we could go for lunch. It was worth fording the river.

We had our well deserved lunch sitting outside in the sunshine, a lovely green salad with smoked salmon followed by some sea bream. After an espresso it was time to make the return journey back along the beach. We approached the bridge to find that the workers had disappeared for lunch. It was easy to negotiate the repairs and we were on the other side. Now down to the water's edge where we removed our shoes and socks and paddled our way back to our starting point in very agreeable water.

There was no one on the beach and the water was very inviting. I've been reading, Pondlife by Al Alvarez, a journal by an older man who swims most days in the cold waters of the men's pond at Hampstead Heath in London. This has given me a lot to think about and much inspiration. I decided that it was time to literally take the plunge and in I went. Lululemon take note. Instead of advertising clothes for hot yoga or running, your bikinis make a lovely impromptu swim suit. The water wasn't too cold, probably in the sixties, and I did have a bit of a swim. I wasn't even cold when I got out.

Dried off and back in the car, we decided to drop in at the Aiguamolls, which was on our way. How did the birds fare in the storm? We only visited the first blind. Here the water was much higher than usual but that seemed to suit the mallards who were enjoying chasing each other and leaping about in the water as if they were swimming butterfly. The herd of deer were resting on their usual strip of land. A large group of gulls in the distance looked like they were at a political meeting. Two sparkling white European swans were enjoying a swim while the flamingoes foraged in the water in the far pond. Everything was back to normal after the storm.

Now it was time to return home where I enjoyed a lovely, hot shower.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Levant brings stormy weather

I was hoping for better weather today but when I looked out of the window the clouds were very low and quite menacing. On our way into Figueres this morning there were streams running down the rocks in the mountains, and river beds that were bone dry two days ago had flooded their banks. Even one of the local transit buses had run right off the road, through the metal barrier and was lying on its side.

Thankfully, the rain had let up a little while we did our shopping but near the end of our excursion down it came again with a vengeance. By the time we arrived at the car we were soaked through.

On the way home we decided to stop in Llanca to watch the waves as we had glimpsed a lot of turbulence driving by there this morning. Down in the port the police had blocked off the road that goes out to some of the restaurants and stores as well as the far parking lot. After parking we watched the biggest waves we have seen crashing in across the bay. The water was quite close to our parking lot and the first boat tied to the dock nearest us was swamped.

A quick walk along the promenade took us closer to the far parking lot, which was completely flooded and full of rocks, some of them quite large. The waves were crashing right over the break-wall and the parking lot wall before dropping down three metres to flood the street. It was quite spectacular.

When there was a break in the waves and the street was no longer a river, we climbed a slate hill to watch the waves crash onto shore. It was quite breathtaking standing there with these huge five-meter or more giant waves heading straight towards us. I have never seen anything like it. In fact I must admit that I did find it quite exhilarating. Fortunately, we were just off to one side but we did get sprayed a few times. In the parking lot beneath us we could see some big boulders and lots of rubble that had been picked up and swept along by the force of the waves. When we decided to return to the car, we had to wait for another lull in the wave action before we could cross the street that would become a torrent when the waves were at their height.

Back in the Port the water was the highest we've seen it. The beach was covered in rocks and every so often the sea water came through an opening and sloshed across the parking lot. Our waves were much calmer, long rollers quite different from usual. All of this is caused by the warm, easterly Levant winds that traditionally bring windy, wet weather at this time of year.

After returning home and hosing down the car to get rid of the salt, it was time for a lovely cup of chamomile tea. I hope that our guests are enjoying themselves in Barcelona, where they can spend time visiting the indoor attractions, when the rain becomes too much.

A lovely night out at Casa Anita

Tonight our guests took us out for dinner to Casa Anita in Cadaques. This restaurant has been in the family for forty years and is now run by the original owner's son, wife and his sister. The restaurant is quite small, two rooms with low arched ceilings. It was probably a wine cellar in previous times. It has loads of atmosphere with some pictures of previous visitors, including Dali of course.

We were  seated at a communal table that had lots of wine bottles for a centerpiece. There is no menu. The owner sits down with you and tells you what is on offer. We opted for some green salads with tuna and some white asparagus for starters. For the main course we chose two sea bass and a dorado or sea bream. These came accompanied with the best chips. Casa Anita only serves fresh, local foods. Their wine mainly comes from Perafita, the owner's brother's well renowned vineyard just a few minutes away.

All the tasty desserts are made in house. Our guests chose the traditional Creme Catalan while I opted for mascarpone  ice cream accompanied by figs. Seamus chose fresh cheese with honey. All were delicious.

To finish our meal we enjoyed some muscatel wine that the owner offered us. In fact, since the bottle was left on the table some of us had two glasses.

By the end of the meal we had made friends with our garrulous neighbour at the communal table, a slightly inebriated French chef. In fractured English and our broken French, we had a conversation about being a chef in France. I'm not exactly sure what conclusions we came to but it was an enjoyable conversation nevertheless.

Casa Anita, a fun place to visit for our guests' last evening here in the Alt Emporda.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Lots of spring activity in the wetlands

After the coldest, wettest and one of the windiest days of the winter finally a lovely day with beautiful blue skies. It was a day to visit the Aiguamolls nature reserve. After passing some flooded fields that were attracting giant white egrets and lots of greenery everywhere, we arrived at the Aiguamolls.

Before we left the car we could hear the deafening clacking of the giant white storks. The first nest already had a pair of nesting storks. Although we hardly see any song birds because of the dense vegetation they were in full voice today. The first blind was quite full with enthusiastic birders watching mallards, brightly coloured northern shovelers, gadwalls, ruddy shellducks, a few greylag geese and  some coots. On the far side of the pond the flamingoes were foraging for food. There were the usual black cormorants drying their wings, Great blue heron resting on an island and lots of gulls and moorhens.

The stork's nests had one or two storks in attendance with lots of building going on. Spring was definitely in the air with much courting activity. The male stork would fluff up his chest feathers, stretch his neck the full length of his back and then raise his tail feathers into a fan. All this was accompanied by much loud beak clacking. This behaviour was repeated over and over throughout the stork colony.

We passed a field filled with white Camargue ponies and one newly born, tiny brown colt that would first try to move from one leg and then the other. It was the same motion that you would use as stretching on alternate legs. That was all the colt could manage before flopping down on the ground. On our return trip past the ponies an hour later,  it had mastered walking but it was staying very close to its mother. I think the colt was born either in the morning or shortly before we saw it.

Near the end of our walk, our friend spotted a baby otter in a hole in a stump right near the water. Since it was quite curious it kept popping its head out of the hole. It was truly lovely with a beautiful, shiny lustrous coat.

After lunch in Empuriabrava, we finished our day driving by all the houses on the canals ending up at the vast expanse of sandy beach. Although blowy, we enjoyed our windy walk past the make-up cricket game on the beach to the main boating channel. It was exhilarating to be out in the fresh air after our mixed weather of late.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Dali's weird and wonderful seaside home

After many days of windy and wet weather we finally braved the elements to visit Dali's home in Port Lligat. From the distance the house looks quite magical with its white walls and burnished terra cotta roofs. Giant white alabaster eggs adorn the roof, dark green cypresses stand sentinel, and on the shore are the gaily painted fishing boats still in use today.

This was Salvador Dali's home until 1982, when his wife Gala died. Since they were attracted by the landscape, light and isolation, they wanted to stay in Port Lligat so that Dali could paint. They bought their first tiny fishing shack in 1930. You could call it a 21-square-metre fixer upper, with no electricity and no running water. Everything had to be carried in by donkey.

Five years later they bought the next-door cottage, adding connecting stairs and passages, to create a labyrinth. The entrance is the Bear Lobby aptly named because of a lovely jewellery bedecked giant bear standing on its hind legs. The house is a feast for the eyes with stuffed swans, books, dried flowers, masks, fans, statues, skulls and found objects such as shells and rocks. Most of the rooms have windows of different proportions overlooking  postcard views Port Lligat Bay or even down below into a fireplace.

The Dalis left Spain when Civil War broke out in 1936, only returning in 1948, by which time they had become rich. Dalí embraced Franco’s fascist regime, alienating many of his  former colleagues.

In 1949 the house was further extended adding a library, with a wooden book case installed above a fireplace, surmounted by three stuffed swans bearing lights on their heads. There was also a new studio with big adjacent windows framing dramatic views of hills and sea. A specially constructed easel was installed, with an ingenious pulley system to enable large paintings to be hoisted to the required height for the painter. Rising from the studio is a beautifully curved staircase shaded by a vast Japanese parasol, and accommodating myriad objects of inspiration. Other people’s moustaches were a particular Dalí obsession, and include Velasquez, Stalin and the Mona Lisa.

The bedroom was quite magnificent, with grand Russian samovars, a cricket cage, heavy inlaid Spanish furniture, dominated by two vast beds with red and blue canopies, bronze embellishments and an imperial eagle at the top. The white Dutch clogs add an incongruous touch. The circular fireplace is another Dalí design, flanked by plasterwork divans covered in silken cushions. Dali positioned a mirror so that he could see the dawn from his bed and thus be the first person in Spain to see the sun rise, since the Cap is the easternmost point of Spain.

Leading from the bedroom are Dalí’s own bathroom and Gala’s dressing room, which has glass fronted closets completely filled with photos of all the famous people who ever visited them, from Walt Disney and Gregory Peck, to the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson.

Beyond is the domed oval room based on the shape of a scooped out sea urchin with its strange acoustics, Gala’s secret refuge. It was based on an idea Dalí had for a nightclub in Acapulco which was never commissioned. A velvet bench runs right round the room, strewn with miniature silk cushions and furry animals. It is very weird to hear yourself talk in the room with some very strange echoes. Niches display Gala’s family photos, Russian icons, perfume flacons, enamelled miniatures, busts and statuettes.

The patio became the centre of the Dalí's increasingly extravagant social life, and this is where they put the summer dining room, a narrow white room with a window framing a view of the sea, and a horseshoe-shaped slate table presided over by a rhino’s head, and a giant white teapot. Very Alice in Wonderland.

Above the house are terraces of olive trees, rosemary and pomegranate trees. The long, narrow swimming pool, surrounded by rocky terrain has swan fountains spraying jets of water over it. There are two thrones in a pavilion at one end. One sitting area has a red-lipped sofa flanked by Pirelli tires, the Michelin man and a lone telephone booth.

Visiting the house in Port Lligat was a lovely way to spend a windy afternoon immersing ourselves in Dali's whimsical world.