Monday, July 29, 2013

Surviving summer heat

With temperatures reaching above 35 degrees celsius every day, we are settled into our summer routine of going to the beach every day. Since the weekends are becoming busier and busier with double parking in the sand parking lot last weekend, something we haven't seen before, we have to be selective about our beaches. In the summer we avoid the main sandy beach in front of town even though it has a coffee shop and bar right on the beach. It is just too crowded and all the yachts dock in front of town. The far shingly beaches also get very busy.

We have named our preferred swimming spot 'Spanish Water Dog beach' after Edna, a Perro de Agua Espanola whose Dutch family have also been enjoying this particular beach. The breed dates back to 1100 AD and was originally a herding dog that helped out the fishermen. The breed was revived in the 1970s. Edna is a little black and white dog; although the Spanish Water Dogs come in a variety of colours. Life is never dull at the beach watching Edna, who leads her Dutch family to the beach twice a day. When it is time to swim Edna will cleverly duck her head down and pick up rocks from the bottom, which she will deliver to her owner. If someone throws rocks for her and they are too deep, she will return with another rock she has recovered from shallower water. Edna is a great swimmer and along with her owner and members of her family she swims out to the buoys, about 100 metres, and back again. She does this several times a day. Life will be dull when Edna returns to Holland.

As more and more people arrive in El Port de la Selva, everything is becoming busier. Sadly, the pizza maker Antonella and his wife Teresa have left our favourite pizza restaurant Sol de Nit, in Selva del Mar. Apparently, there was a falling out with the owner. We never knew who the man hanging about was. He was like a pizza delivery man but the mystery was here they don't deliver pizzas. It turns out that he is the owner, who is running the place with very poor service and a pizza maker who is just learning. As if you want to be someone's pizza guinea pig. For now it is a place to be avoided.

Our goal at home is to keep the house as cool as possible. It isn't humid so usually sleeping isn't a problem but last night the temperature didn't drop much below 30 degrees. With a hot sirocco wind blowing constantly from Africa if we open everything up it only makes things even hotter.

We see cars from all over Europe in the village. Although it is busy, we know that this  weekend and next, more and more people will descend on the Port. Then we will have the challenge of finding a new, quiet beach.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Summer visitors

It has been a hot, busy week. It is always interesting to see our area through the eyes of visitors and we had that opportunity this week, when old friends from Toronto spent a few days with us. They visited two places on the Dali trail; his wonderful house at Port Lligat and of course the Dali museum in Figueres.

We had a chance to taste the wines at Perafita, high in the hills overlooking the terraces. The Perafita wines are always good and it was fun assessing each wine according to our tastes. The young Perafita guide had excellent knowledge and greatly enhanced our visit. What a beautiful spot. If you don't have somewhere to stay, they even have a bed and breakfast.

We sat on a bench in Cadaques to admire the view and watch our fellow holiday makers while enjoying a sandwich. After a walk it was on to Port Lligat. Our friends enjoyed their visit to Dali's house, while we sat outside entertained by some French people trying to roll their llaud -- traditional fishing boat -- into the water. They had to keep moving the chock that held the boat at the front but it wouldn't budge. Eventually, they got help from an international group of beefsteak and the boat careened into the water.

A coffee at Cap de Creus, the eastern most point of the Iberian peninsula, finished the tour. It is always beautiful to see the strange eroded rocks and the wonderful little rocky coves.

The Dali museum in Figueres always has long lineups at this time of the year. Fortunately, our friend found the information office, where for  a few euros more than the regular admission he bought tickets for a guided tour that was leaving right away. This saved them standing in the 40 degree celsius heat. Definitely worth it.

It is always fun to see old friends, to share reminisces, some good wine and have a lot of laughs. We hope they enjoy the rest of their trip around Spain.

Yesterday, we made a trip to the Figueres market to stock up on our fruit and veggies. What a superb market this is. There are often new discoveries at the market and yesterday was no exception. We saw this green fruit about the size of a large walnut. The vendor partially peeled it for us and told us to eat the inside, which was white and quite soft. It was a tasty, fresh almond. Of course we bought a few. So far we haven't been able to peel it quite like the vendor did. We get to the almond shell and we're stuck. Not only that I can't find our nutcracker. We will keep persevering.

This afternoon started with a lot of thunder rumbling in the distance. Finally, it moved this way accompanied by some cooling rain. A bit of respite from the heat at last.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Hot! Hot! Hot!

Hot! Hot! Hot and even hotter! Spain is in the grips of a heat wave. We have gone from a mediocre spring, warm but with lots of very high winds, to a scorching summer overnight. El Port de la Selva has been busy but last weekend it was a madhouse. All the boaters, who had been unable to use their boats until now, were out sailing last weekend. I have never seen so many boats leave the marina. It was a nautical traffic jam.

The bay below us was like a parking lot filled with Spanish and French yachts. On the main beaches people were packed in like sardines. Even in August last year it wasn't this crowded. It was good to see all the restaurants doing a roaring trade. But Monday always comes and the Port is now pleasantly busy with holiday makers from all over Europe. There seem to be a few more Brits this year and there are even some Americans.

The house warmed up on Saturday, when it was 37 degrees celsius and sadly it hasn't cooled down. Since the bedrooms are downstairs and the evenings cool down to about 20 degrees, sleeping isn't a problem. Well it's a little problem since our windows, open to let in the breeze, also let in the noise of various early rising neighbours. Since we go to bed very late we don't like to listen to those morning conversations that we don't understand anyway.

Cooking is not an option. The kitchen hasn't been cooler than 29 degrees for days. A new canopy over the window helps a little. With inexpensive menus of the day, serving lovely fish right off the boats at the Nautica, great pizza at Sol de Nit in nearby Selva del Mar, lovely rotisserie chicken and lots of homemade gazpacho and lovely, fresh salads with local ingredients we are surviving, even thriving.

The crowded beaches don't bother us one little bit since we have found a number of small beaches and little coves with very few people. Perfection, especially since I bought a pair of beach shoes for walking on rocks or shingly beaches. I am unstoppable now. In fact it's off to the beach right now for a lovely, cooling swim.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Vinegar quest good excuse for trip to Banyuls

Since it was overcast today we took the coast road up to Banyuls sur Mer to stock up on some white wine vinegar, which we use in our gazpacho. Once on the winding coast road we had the misfortune of ending up behind an RV, which can often slow down the drive. This was not the case today.The RV had Italian license plates and at every strip of flat road the driver booted it. We could hardly keep up with him. Ah the beauty of Italian drivers.

We interrupted our trip to visit the marine reserve between Cerbere and Banyuls. This is a spot where you can go snorkeling along a marked course that tells you what is at each station. You can even get a "tuba FM" to put in your ear so that you get the full description. The course is fully marked and easy to follow. We are looking forward to bringing our snorkeling gear some sunny day to see all the fish and underwater plant life.

Once in Banyuls we walked along the promenade by the marina looking for one particular art gallery owned by an artist from Edinburgh that was only open on weekends in the winter. There was a sign that the owner would be back at 2 but it was nearly 3 and he wasn't there. Perhaps next time.

We stopped at Bla Bla, a lovely waterside restaurant with lots of cushions to sit on, somewhat like a harem. We both had a caramel crepe, he caramel served 'on the side' in a little mason ware jar. Delicious but oh my, so sweet. We ate about half the caramel and washed it down with a glass of milky pastis.

Finally we walked through the back streets to La Guinelle, the shop that sells our world famous vinegar. Since we usually always have a bowl of gazpacho on the go we are now stocked up for our summer gazpacho making. We also picked up a little jar of marmellatta that is made from the leftovers in the vinegar barrel and is used on cheeses. It is quite a treat.

Now our stores are replenished. The weather is going to be 30 degrees and up for the foreseeable future with little wind. Beach time.

A funny thing happened this evening when I was walking to the kitchen. There on the dining room floor was a snake, almost 3 feet  -- 90 centimetres -- long, just lying there not moving. I'm not afraid of snakes but it did take me aback. So much that I found myself standing on a chair. I asked Seamus what he was going to do. What else but take a picture? We opened the front door and with the help of a sweeping brush and dust pan Seamus swept the now angry, hissing intruder out the door. I suppose that is the downside of having the sliding doors wide open. We have found out that is was a serp blanca or in English, ladder snake that is native to the Iberian peninsula and southern France. It is aggressive and will bite but is not poisonous. Thank goodness. We are thankful that it wasn't a full grown adult that grows to over 5 feet, 150 centimetres.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Market day and a fun encounter with tiny fish

Tuesday is becoming our regular market day in the nearby town of Figueres. We have been disappointed lately with our own small Friday market, where we have seen prices creeping up while the quality of some of the produce declines. The Figueres market has a huge selection of local fruit and vegetables. So if you don't like what is on offer at one stall you just go to the next one. Then there are all the specialty products that you can buy like almonds right from the vendor's trees, cheeses and hams. Many of the sellers have their own land and it is these products you are buying, always fresh and in season.

Today we were really lucky finding some zucchini flowers. Tonight we had them for dinner. I found a fabulous Turkish recipe, which required stuffing the flowers with all kinds of things including currants, pine nuts a little garlic and grated zucchini, but it also required cooking them in the oven for 40 minutes. Since we don't have air conditioning and it is presently 30 degrees celsius, we took a simpler route: we made a light batter of flour and water, stuffed them with some herbed goat's cheese and deep fried them until they were a beautiful golden colour on either side. These are one of my favourite things to eat, so light and tasty. I know the deep frying is bad but we will have them only once or twice a year.

We also visited the herbal stall. This man grows all his own herbs. His dried camomile for tea is excellent but today we bought some of his bee pollen, which is very good for you.

Once everything was back in the car, we had a walk around the shopping area of Figueres, which is near the Dali museum. I am really glad to say that lots more shops are staying open all day. It only makes sense, as many of the tourists who come to see the museum will also want to do some shopping but until now would have found most shops shut from 1-4 or even later.

Today in the main square we spotted a newly opened fish spa, where tiny garra ruffa - toothless fish from Turkey - eat dead skin from your feet. Even better, you could go for only 10 minutes. It was fabulous. You put your feet in a tank and immediately get a really pleasant tingling feeling while the fish do their job. The lady could see that we were quite thrilled with the whole business and gave us an extra few minutes. I am happy to report that my feet and part of my legs that were in the water are lovely and soft and felt really good once we were walking outside. Next time I might try my hands in the fish tank. Of course I would never eat one of the popular Mediterranean dishes, little fried fish, on a day I'd had this treatment. I'm just kidding, the fish you eat are not the feet nibbling kind.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Hummingbird moths love our lavender

Saturday again saw high winds in El Port de la Selva. Every day it is warmer and warmer but the winds can discourage thoughts of swimming. On Saturday night we decided to forego the live band in the next village and opted for watching the Rolling Stones live from Glastonbury on TV. I'm glad we did. It was amazing watching them and Mick in particular, only a month short of his seventieth birthday. What fun!

Sunday morning we watched the hummingbird moths sharing the lavender with the bees. We had never seen these before. Curiously enough they move like hummingbirds and have a long proboscis with which they feed on the nectar. They live in a Mediterranean climate and there is a different branch of the family that lives in North America.

Once again there was a stiff wind this morning making little 'picollinos' - white surf -  on the waves. It was a good day to clean the house. We'll tape the Tour de France to watch tonight. After a quick visit to the Nautica suddenly there was no wind. After complaining about it endlessly for weeks, I think we miss it. Now the sun is scorching. The bay has been empty of visiting sailboats for awhile but now we see several moored offshore. And best of all the windsurfers are gone.

Tonight we watched our taped Tour de France, which we will enjoy right to the end of the Tour in three weeks time. We are still thinking we should go and watch the Montpellier stage. Since tomorrow is Canada Day it was fun to watch Michael Buble's Day Off. We know several Vancouver stories about Michael and he is a really nice guy.

Then it was off to the Nautica to watch the fireworks postponed from last Sunday night because of the wind. Miguel held back on some of the spectacular fireworks to let them off after the Confederation Cup Final between Spain and Brazil. We asked what would happen if Brazil won. "Puff, puff", Fireworks no matter what. At two in the morning we watched from our terrace but there were no more fireworks. Brazil's 3-nil win over Spain was too much for Miguel.