Thursday, November 21, 2013

Men on roof may mean end of garage leaks

Good news. In the middle of the night I heard the radiator make a funny sound and this morning we had heat downstairs. Not only did we have the luxury of a hot shower but there was heat in the bathroom. And even better we were actually woken up with the sound of people clumping about on the garage roof. The workmen are here to replace it.

After a trip into the village we came back to find two trucks belonging to the man who built the house. It was him doing the work. A bit scary but somehow he has been put in gear and he had a big crew of men working up there. I say scary because that very day he had told one of the ladies at the agency to you know what and hung up on her. We decided to go to Empuriabrava for some lunch and shopping to get out of the way.

By the time we returned at four the men were gone. There are three huge plastic builder bags of stones on the roof of the house and one on each corner of the garage sitting on some tiling. One of these bags is perched quite precariously. There are stacks of loose tiling at the side of the house. You would think that by now I would be happy but I'm not. Tomorrow brings another tramontana with gusts to over 90 kph and on Saturday 110 kph. I hope the bags stay in place. When we will see the builder again remains a mystery.

Since the day was still sunny we decided to go for a walk down to the far side of the village, where we watched the crew of a llaud - a traditional fishing boat - pull in their nets. One end was attached to rocks on the shore. The boat would pull in close to shore but nothing would dislodge the rope until finally one of the fishermen just cut it. The fishermen were off to the fish market, where later we stopped to watch them clean an assortment of quite large fish. A good catch.

Next week we are going to warmer climes. We are optimistic that we will return to a warm, dry house and a newly sealed garage roof. What do you think?

Wet floors and cold yoga

Our up and down weather continues. We have had tramontana winds gusting to nearly 100 kph with accompanying blue skies but followed by 80 mm of rain in a very short time. This caused the leak in the garage to pour right down to the storage room below. We have known about the leak for a while and so has the builder but he doesn't want to fix it. He either never shows up or the odd time you see him he says the leak has to dry. This time the flooding was dramatic enough to get everyone's attention and two men came in the pouring rain and stopped the leak. It may mean a whole new roof on the garage. We'll see.

It has turned quite cold this evening so we are glad to turn on the heat and actually have it work. Our furnace, which also provides our hot water, has been breaking down more and more frequently for months. It feels like we are living in a borstal with the number of freezing cold showers we've had to take. Several experts have replaced various parts of the furnace with little success. The latest pronouncement was that we need a new oil tank because of oxidization in the tank. Previously the story was that our oil had not been processed properly because of the "crisis." Really no one knows. Now we have two little oil tanks right by the furnace. Oil is pumped in there from the big oil tank by one of the repairmen and checked every few days. So far everything is working. Could it be that the tank is just too far from the furnace or that there is a problem in the lines?  Slowly this problem seems to be being resolved. Fingers crossed.

Today we went to do all our recycling and drove just around the corner from the fishing pier to watch the waves. The sea was that beautiful Mediterranean turquoise blue. Just sitting there admiring the day totally unexpectedly the spume from a large wave washed right over the car. It will be back to the car wash tomorrow to get the salt off just like in colder climes.

Tonight we drove across the mountains to our yoga class in Cadaques. From the mountains we saw an unusual sight, a ferry quite close to shore. Apparently it was the Genoa to Barcelona ferry. In town we were faced with the streets flooded with the rain from two days ago. Some of the streets were mini rivers. Parking is very limited in Cadaques so it was a very unpleasant walk to the yoga studio. It is strange that there is so much runoff there since most of the riverbeds are still bone dry or have a tiny little trickle of water. That is how dry it has been.

It was an unusually cold night. If you have heard of hot yoga ours was the complete opposite, freezing cold yoga. One small heater can't heat up a room with no other heat and a stone floor. When we entered the studio there was a lady putting on her yoga pants behind a partition. She then plonked herself down right beside the heater and sniffed and sneezed so much that the instructor brought her a roll of toilet paper that took up centre stage in the room. Doesn't she know that coughs and sneezes spread diseases? The instructor was quite captivated with her and all the yoga instructions were given in her direction. Not very nice since there were only three of us in the class.

Meanwhile I was perched on my bolster atop my mat and some wooden floor covering with a blanket around me. By the time we got to the relaxation section  I had a blanket under me, around me and two on top of me. I was frozen. Unless it is warm and dry I won't be going to yoga class.

At bedtime we decided it was time to put the heat on downstairs. We bumped up the thermostat and you guessed it nothing happened. This house.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Banyuls sur Mer always worth a visit

It has been almost a week of high tramontana winds sometimes gusting to almost 100 kilometres per hour. Undaunted, we took a drive up the coast to the little French town Banyuls sur Mer. Of course we had that beautiful clear tramontana light, making everything look like it has been scrubbed clean. Since it hasn't rained for a very long time much of the ground on the vine terraces had a brown parched look.

We walked through the narrow streets to the la Guinelle shop to buy some olive oil. Of as it was after 12:30 the shop was closed until later. Since Banyuls is a 'summer town,' many of the shops and restaurants were closed for the winter. We found a pizzeria in a stone cave that was full of locals and was toasty warm. This looked like a perfect spot for lunch. Menu of the day was any pizza with any salad, wine and water. What a deal since they had lots of choice. The half pizza was served on a huge plate with a beautiful chef salad for Seamus and Roquefort salad for me. Superbe!

Then it was off to Carrefour on the edge of town. Closed until 3!. Never mind, not far away was the Mediterranean gardens that we had wanted to visit, with its collections of local and regional plants. We followed a narrow winding road up the mountainside, braving the horrible wind,  only to find it too was closed.

On the way we had spotted a lonely white chapel high on a ridge top. We followed a rough track that we thought might take us there. Our little Fiat gave its best impression of four-wheel drive. It scrambled nimbly up the first slope but as the ruts got deeper reality prevailed and we returned the way we came.

Carrefour was now open so we returned there to do some shopping. The French cheeses on display were magnifique. Back in the olive oil shop we discovered that there was none left because it was a small production from just one olive grove. Not a problem, we will come back in December when the new crop has been harvested. Now it was home for a cup of tea and a hazelnut croquant bought in the Roussillon specialty store. I would call that a good ending to our day.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tramuntana makes for great wave watching

The tramuntana bringing winds from the the northwest arrived full force in the middle of the night. We always hear rattling and unknown things shifting with the wind. Tramuntanas always bring clear blue skies with a very special light and today was no exception. When we backed out of the driveway we were confronted with the communal garbage containers that had flown 75 metres up the street. It was only the hill stopping them going further. This was a first.

Down in the village it was extremely difficult walking to the bar for our morning coffee. The sand  whipped us as we staggered in to the bar. The white rollers were crashing into the beach and little white rollers, picollinos or little sheep as the Italians call them, could be seen far out to sea. This was a perfect day for wave watching.

We went to the far side of the village admiring the waves crashing into the rocks, and kept driving until the road ended. Here the water again lashed into the bay. We got out of the car and to our amazement some people were walking on a narrow path on the other side of the bay. In fact two people were standing out on some far rocks. I don't know if they had special equipment or not. Later when we looked they had gone. For all we know they could be floating out at sea. The winds were so high it was very difficult to stand let alone walk.

A Catalan flag flies from the top of a hill behind the port and we had always wanted to climb up there. A few days ago we found the route. We parked the car and started up to the top of this south facing hill. We were totally protected from the vicious winds. In fact the walk was quite pleasant until we reached the top where the winds had started shredding the flag. I took refuge inside a bunker while admiring the view high over the village and marina.

Our next stop was a lookout on the Ronda, the path that goes all along the coast. The winds were really gusting. In fact my sunglasses blew right off my face. Fortunately, Seamus grabbed them before they sailed into the sea below. Once again we really had to battle the wind back to the car.

After several more stops we ended right up the coast at Cap Ras. When we got out of the car the gusts of wind actually slapped us. It was a strange feeling. When I felt the wind moving my sunglasses I quickly darted back to the car. From here It was much easier to admire the waves and all the rainbows created by the spume. What a day!

In the nearby town of Figueres we heard that people were being blown over in the streets. At the time of writing this we have lost power, something that never happens no matter how high the winds. After about fifteen minutes we could see all the lights come on in the village below us and a few minutes later we had light.

The tramuntana winds will last until Saturday morning with a big blow out on Friday. It is windy but today walking is not a problem. Things are back to normal with our furnace breaking down once again after only ten days.

El Castellar provides best view of Llanca port

With most of the restaurants and bars being closed in the village we had to search a little harder for our morning coffee. We tried a new place to us, Gus' with a view over the marina but it was a bit disappointing. With the Nautica closed for the month, we couldn't find a place in the village where we wanted to have Sunday lunch. Fortunately, we remembered a restaurant in Llanca that we had always wanted to try, and luckily it was open.

The restaurant had a great menu. It took us ages to decide whether to go the tapas route or opt for the menu of the day. Menu of the day won. My first course was scallop and salmon on a shortcrust pastry with a bib lettuce salad and little bread sticks. This was followed by filet of St. Pierre fish, also called John Dory, topped with a sweet potato coulis. Seamus had the duck breast with the same sweet potato topping. Usually you can find fresh fruit on the dessert menu but not today. I had what I thought was going to be a lemon dessert but it was a warm chocolate cake type dessert with hot melted chocolate in the middle and ringed with a lemon sauce. I'm not a big lover of chocolate desserts but this was very good.

Now it was time to head to Llanca port for a much needed walk. We climbed the hill that towers over the port, passing old Franco-era bunkers on our way. At one time the hill was a separate island but now is linked to the land. The view over the marina at Llanca and the hills in the distance is quite stunning. For the first time we could see where the Llanca fishing fleet ties up in a man-made basin at the mouth of the harbour.  As it was calm we now had a close-up look at the fish painting on the cement breakwater. It was probably difficult to paint but we are familiar with this artist's work and have seen the same simplistic fish motif repeated many times over. We try to be sophisticated but really, it was hard not to imagine a child coming up with the same result in minutes.

We enjoyed the rest of our walk in the sunshine knowing that a tramontana was going to bring high winds for the next five days.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Much to see in long overdue trip to wetlands

Our weather continues to be sunny and warm. In fact it is so warm that a friend of ours from Edinburgh actually complained about it, when we met him at the market this morning. He didn't complain that strongly but he is missing our wild, winter weather.

Yesterday we visited the Aiguamolls nature reserve for the first time in many months. It was a day for nature. As we drove along the road to Llanca, the next town, we had to stop the car to let three adult wild boar cross the road. You never see the shy wild boar so this was very special. Unfortunately, we weren't quick enough to take a picture of their lovely brown ugliness.

We drove to the Aiguamolls through vineyards painted in vibrant shades of red and yellow. Some people had nets down and were starting their olive harvest. Close to the road we spotted black water buffalo. There are a few herds of these in the area from which the the farmers produce wonderful cheese.

After a quick ham and cheese baguette at the Aiguamolls it was off to the first pond. The water was as high as we've ever seen it. The water in the Aiguamolls is controlled by pumps and dams. It certainly isn't from any rainfall.

The first pond was very busy and noisy with lots of Greylag geese, mallard ducks, rollers and off in the distance we spotted two adult deer. Above all the activity a marsh harrier patrolled the pond looking for his next meal.

From the blind on the other side of the pond we looked out on a pair of pure white giant mute swans sitting on an island right in front of us. They were surrounded by more mallards, common shelducks marked with their green heads and white plumage and a common pochard distinguishable with it's rusty head. A couple of cormorants were on their usual log but this had been taken over by little egrets. In the distance there were about twenty wading flamingoes in various shades of pink and greyish-white. One lone giant egret foraged for food along with two storks. We spotted several deer and were lucky to watch a stag walk into the water and wade to the next island feeding on grasses as he walked along. What a beautiful sight.

Walking further into the Aiguamolls I fed some grass to three young Camargue ponies. With them the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Unusually, they were well behaved and didn't bite each other. Suddenly, the most rambunctious one stuck his head through the fence and bit my leg, actually breaking skin. I'm not sure why. At this I retreated to the nearby bench to watch them chasing each other, bucking and biting legs. They raced up the field turned and charged at the fence just stopping right before it. It was a bit alarming and I was hoping that jumping fences wasn't part of their repertoire. Then my biter pony became fascinated with a short log and kept picking it up and walking around with it. Very strange behaviour.

On our way down to the beach we spotted more marsh harriers, a falcon and a common kestrel. There are two new blinds near the beach, where we watched a red breasted merganser do a dance with a huge fish. The merganser would dive under the water and the fish would leap out of it. This went on for some time with no one winning.

By now the sun was getting much lower in the sky. It was time to return to the car after a delightful afternoon in the Aiguamolls. We once again passed the field with the Camargue ponies and noticed that they had managed to completely knock down a part of their fence but fortunately not to the part that we were walking on.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Sea urchin can't spoil late season swim

A warm, sunny Friday attracted loads of people to the village, in fact so many that it was difficult to get parked for the market. Everyone was out and about walking on the promenade including the mayor walking hand-in-hand with his wife. This was a little strange for a Friday lunchtime but then we remembered that it was a national holiday, All Saint's Day.

There was a handful of people paddling in the water. Of course we had to pick up the gauntlet and go for a swim. This time the water was cold giving that feeling of an ice band around our heads. I had to stop and let my head warm up a few times but then the swimming was fine. Seamus had walked across some rocks returning to shore. By the time I got back to the beach he was limping quite badly. And worse his foot was going numb.

When we arrived home his foot was very painful. We found a black dot on his instep. It seemed likely that he had stepped on part of a sea urchin. One remedy for this is soaking your foot in vinegar and that is exactly what he did for several hours. Of course this made the house smell like a fish and chip shop. He also took vitamin D to help absorb the calcium that the sea urchin puts in your body. The numbness went away and now I am happy to report that his foot is as good as new.

On Saturday our furnace stopped working, leaving us once again with no hot water. This regular occurrence hasn't been quite as bad lately. The really annoying thing is it always happens on the weekend leaving us with the trauma of freezing cold showers for at least three days. Now we are waiting for the man to come and fix it. So many parts have been replaced we practically have a new furnace. We will wait for today's solution, which might involve eventually moving the oil tank nearer the furnace.

As I write this I am hedging my bets and hoping that the furnace will be fixed in time for me to have a hot shower.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Easing into autumn routines

It's Hallowe'en and the weather has changed. Now autumn has arrived in the Port with temperatures around 20 degrees making it slightly cooler and there are definitely more windy days. Swimming in the sea may be over for this year; however last weekend the water was at its best. So perhaps, just perhaps, on the next sunny day we can get in the water. Meanwhile the beach is totally empty except for the wind- and kite-surfers and their gear.

Another sign of autumn last weekend was waking up to the howl of the hounds hunting wild boar. In fact they were very close. Also in the distance we heard a few gunshots. And in fact at least one hunter was successful since later on down at the beach we saw a dead wild boar strapped to the front of a truck. The same day Seamus was very lucky spotting a tiny, baby deer right at our back fence before it skittered off.

Our swimming pool membership is now re-activated for the winter and we are attending kundalini yoga classes in the village. Kundalini is new to us. Although we get most of what the instructor is saying, we have purchased a book just to make sure. I think our understanding of the philosophy of kundalini is a bit lacking. Since we are really enjoying the kundalini, we will likely join a class in nearby Cadaques as well.

We haven't eaten many new things lately. However, one new dish at the Nautica, as part of the menu of the day, is langoustines totally wrapped in strings of potatoes and cooked and then served on a salad. Oh my. This is one of my favourites. Yesterday in Empuriabrava, I had tiny gnocchi served with a deer sauce. I followed this up with beautifully cooked duck breast but suffered for the rest of the afternoon because I had eaten too much heavy food. Both were delicious at the time. The windy walk along the beach promenade was much needed.