Saturday, October 29, 2011

Bargain Cafe

We had a walk round Eastwood town yesterday afternoon, had a look around the 5 charity shops, and also  found a cafe ("The Coffee and Cream") that had just opened .and was doing everything half price for the first week, We had a Sirloin steak meal, roast lamb meal with all the trimmings and i had steak pie, chips and peas with 3 drinks the total price = 7.50p.What a bargain.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Calais to Nottingham

We stayed at Balladins, Calais for the night and got up bright and early for the Ferry, amazing sunrise as we left Calais, -- when we pulled up in the line for embarkation we parked behind an identicle car to ours even the same colour, sitting waiting and all of a sudden the back door of our car is opened an this guy is looking for something, so i asked him what .. and he realised he was in the wrong car , that he was from the car in front of ours, poor guy was embarrassed but it was funny. my first thought was we were being searched by customs!.
Onto British soil and the traffic is nose to tail virtually all the way to Nottingham, the weather - dreary and wet, Oh well.
Our return journey starts 4th November, we will blog the trip back.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Villiers de Morhier to Calais

Another day of the french leg of the trip draws to a close. The  nearer we get to the channel the colder it gets, even John has donned jeans and sweater.
today we have seen so many sights to its hard to list them. The iconic Eiffel tower loomed up at us as we negotiated the city of Paris. It seemed even larger than the time we were moored below it whilst working on a hotel barge through France, Belgium and the Netherlands. The Paris trafffic was as crazy as ever, thank goodness for the Sat nav we say.
We set off today through very rural france, tidy villages and little towns, took a detour to look at Roman remains and drank coffee at a cross roads where stood a depiction of Christ crucified. All the time looking around and trying to make sense of another centuries descent into madness that was the first world war. In these very fields thousands of young men lost there lives. Roadside cemetries with row after row of white crosses marking a lost generation in the corner of some foriegn field.

The country roads where sometimes alarmingly filled by roaring lorries taking sugar beet to local refineries. All very indicative of East Anglia in UK, same flat vista, same tooth rot crop!

The last leg of the day took in busier and faster roads, three accidents spotted along the way, can driving like lunatics be a national trait, or maybe a national pass time?

Now Calais for the night and the ferry early tomorrow, cheapy hotel today, yesterdays was a more expensive B and B, but thats a long story for another time. At which point we will share with you "thoughts from the french (self styled) middle classes". Watch this space.............



Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Isle to Villiers de Morhier


                  LAZING AROUND

First of all a word from our sponsors! we rather think the hotel we stayed in last night had a not so hidden agenda. The hotel was described as being handy for anyone visitng the local hospital, bit surprised to find it was surrounded on all sides by what seemed like the biggest hospital site in the EU. "It feels like a hospital in here" I said, I looked at the info on display in the reception area, no local places of interest, all about health insurance and the like?? What was strangest of all though was finding the bed linen had the words "university hospital" woven into it.(in french of course)We have stayed in some strange places but I mean really.
It rained last night and was still  very damp looking when we set off, another real autumn start to the day. We planned to take a couple of stops to look a the towns of Chateauroux and Vierzon.
The weather was holding so we where able to take a good look at the two places, both with interesting old quarters.  We stopped for coffee in the main square in Chateauroux,  must the say the coffee was non too good, the cups tiny and it was twice the price of Spain. However its always fun to sit and observe local daily life in a new place.
Vierzon  has a real water theme going on and we crossed three bridges over the shallow fast running river before we got to the main town area. All very attractive with lots of well maintained flower containers to brighten the streets.
When we set off again we could see we were heading into heavy rain.  We were soon through it however and a rainbow told us it was a good time to stop for a picnic lunch.
The afternoon took us by the awesome, in the true sense of the word, Chartres cathedral which dominates the landscape for miles around. For some reason most of the churches we are seeing put us in mind of rockets. Begining to wonder if God has extra terrestial connections.
Tonight we are staying in a converted farm building over 200 years old, will there be any ghosts I wonder.
Tomorrow  our destination is Calais to stay overnight for the morning ferry.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Auch to Isle (Limoge)

We got an early start this morning, it was just getting light, though the drive is only 360 kilometres we were ready so we left, i set the sat nav to NO tolls, so we followed the motorway on country roads for 200 kilometres then joined the non paying for motorway for a 100 kilometres, we stopped at  an aire for lunch, a really nice picnic area with great relaxing surroundings the only problem was the weather is getting worse the further North we travel, and it was quite cold and very windy. but we still have not had any rain.
 While we were on the motorway today we there was a Red Kite hovering about fifty foot above our carraigeway, just as we were near it it started swooping down in front of us so i blasted the horn and it veered away but it was a close thing. but we had an amazing view of it, A noticable thing the further North in France we travel the faster people are driving, but the traffic so far is nothing in volume compared to the UK.
Tomorrow we travel from Isle to Villiers de Morhier

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Huesca to Auch (France)

The second day of our drive proved to be a little longer than we had planned. Having arrived in Ainsa we took the turning towards the tunnel that would get us part way through the pyranees, only 52 kilometres till we crossed into France. Its was a most unpleasant surprise to see a digital road sign telling us the tunnel was closed. Time for a stop and rethink on the route. Thinking we had a short driving time today we had taken a wonderful, and very winding road to Ainsa, the unavoidable change would now add an extra 100 kilometres to the days journey.
We decided to look on the bright side however and enjoy yet more spectaculer scenery. The day was bright and sunny, a little autumn chill in the mountain air but wow how fantastic the trees were. The gold of the poplars mingled with colours that at times seemed unreal. We were delighted by ever more alpine style villages and towns. Empty roads for the most part through passes that held rivers and little meadows. Several times we came upon lazy cows grazing on the road sides or indeed standing in the road. We saw groups of hunters setting off from their 4 wheel drives for a days shooting in the forest, camp sites that were busy at the start of the hunting season. Whole families seemed to be taking part.
We hope very much that the hunts people will repect the law and the very many birds of prey  will continue to thrive. Red kites seem to be doing particularly well, we saw them in large numbers. Also caught sight of Jays, a lovely bird.
We checked in to our hotel which is on the outskirts of Auch and then went into the town, where we had a look at the cathedral and walked through the historic quarter and by the River Ger.

Travelling in Autumn when the weather is this good is just great. Tomorrow we wend our way to Isle near Limoges. As for tonight we are just about to settled down for the rest of the evening at the hotel Robinson, surrounded by squirrel filled trees, ah bliss.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Blanca to Huesca

We left home around 8 oclock, It was still dark, being Saturday the roads were very quiet, i had set the Sat nav to the shortest route to Requena so we had an interesting drive down some country roads, it was single track at one stage! from Requena to Teruel there are some fantastic rock formations, landscapes and the autumn colours were amazing. we stopped in a small village called Libros for coffee, this village is between the mountains and has the River Turia running through it. After Teruel we got onto the A23 which is a fast, fairly straight road most of the way to Huesca, we did stop for lunch but the flies drove us away. The landscape is very flat and we saw quite a few Vultures and Kites on this part of the journey. We found our Hotel and after sending some emails on the hotels free Wi Fi went for a walk around the town (city)? there is some amazing architecture, and a cathedral, thinking we were going to an art gallery we went to the Cultural centre the exhibition was of the sculptor (Steve Gibson) had created around a hundred pidgeons of cardboard? which filled the Gallery floor space, they were placed as you would probably see them feeding in a public square, very unusual as some of the pidgeons had no heads. After that, time for dinner but the Chino was closed up, and it appears that most restuarants dont open till after 9:00pm. We were hungry and as there are many Tapas bars, decided on a selection of tapas and a couple of glasses of beer each. and sat on a terrace watching the world go by. Its much colder here than down in Blanca, the hotel receptionist tells us the early morning temperatures are near freezing. Tomorrow we will drive from Huesca to Auch in France. around 270 Kilometres and crossing the Pyrenees. I will be wearing Jeans and Jumper tomorrow instead of shorts and T shirt.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Trip to The UK

Tomorrow we start our journey to the UK, we are driving up through France over 5 days and will explore a bit of France on the way, hopefully will be able to post any events and highlights of our trip. so will keep you posted. Tomorrow night we have a hotel booked at Huesca which is roughly 600 kilometres from Blanca and we hope to leave around 8.00 in the morning. Our son Jude is house and pet sitting while we are away and really would like to come and live in Spain so he will have the chance to check out the possibilities.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tales of the river bank

When we think about the many places we have lived its seems that being near water is a theme. Having been brought up, met and married in a city that is about as far from the sea as you can get in UK we still found water to enjoy. It may only have been inland waterways, canals that is, but walking the tow paths provided us with relaxation and a way of getting away from the hustle and bustle, still does in fact when we go back to visit. Living in Cornwall we were never far from the sight and sound of the sea. Then in the Highlands we lived for many years by the deceptive River Enrick, such a mild little stream in summer but quite capable of becomes a raging torrent that flooded the area in winter. Likewise the River Ness which we also lived near. On moving to Spain we were close to the Rio de Segura in both Formentera and Guardamar, in the latter we also over looked the Mediterranean with all its changing moods. Now here we are in Blanca, close to the source of that same river, but oh what different river it is in this time. Not mostly sluggish, always muddy sometimes smelly. Instead its a babbling and beautiful fast running body of water. We have not seen it in full spate as yet but the clarity of the river is such a delight, when nearer the sea it becomes rather like an Australian river to look at muddy in the extreme, though I think at its tail end its not a clean as Australian rivers we have seen and been afloat on. We have swam in the mighty Murray but i would not do so anywhere in thelast few kilometres of the Segura. As I said its a different story here. we have all been in the river where it is easy to access down in Blanca, especially before we had our own pool. The river also provides us with a winter activity we look forward too. Just as we enjoyed walking the towpaths back in UK we plan many walks along the side of the river here. We started this week with a walk from the recreation area at our side of Abaran. Lots of things to hold our interest, including a huge red squirrel we watched for sometime as it tried to decide a good hiding place for its winter stash. This part of the river that circumnavigates the town of Abaran takes you past many little allotment size plots where local people grow there own food. We do wonder if the up and coming generation will put there hands to the plough as the older ones hang up their hoes. It may be just a well this area had a reputation for longevity, our neighbours are in there 80s and still working hard in there market garden. Only time will tell if they will be able to hand on the land to others who will care as much and work as hard.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Heart Warming Stuff

The weather remains glorious, albeit a little cooler in the morning and evening. During the day however its better than summer, not to hot but sunny and warm. On Sunday we took full advantage by cooking and eating outside. We have a great wood fired oven outside which is amazingly efficient. A surprisingly small amount of wood soons brings it up to cooking heat. As I say yesterday we made good use of the fine autumn weather. Rebecca and Joaquin came over with local lamb, wine and local vegetables. Theses were pretty soon cooking away nicely, the lamb in red wine with fresh rosemary and bay from the garden, also in the horno was a pear and apple crumble, again local produce. I also knocked together some ratatouille using the excellent quality aubergines we get here. As we sat around the table we all expressed amazement that here we are in the middle of October enjoying the outdoor life that makes living here such a pleasure. Our brick oven, know here as an Horno ( dont sound the H of course) is built of red brick, as is all of our outdoor kitchen. I actually like the red bricks, reminds me of the most common building materials where i grew up in the midlands of England. The tradition of these type of solid fuel masonry ovens can be found all over the world. Historicly they where used by the Romans and in precolumbian Americas, similar ovens were often made of clay or adobe. In India, tandoors are traditional clay ovens. The open-topped tandoor is a transitional design between the earth oven and the Roman-plan masonry oven. I guess they have lasted so long because they not only work so well, baking in them is a joy, bread turns out so well. They are also not reliant on a fuel supply which a third party has control of, a bit of wood is all you need. As i say great for baking, in fact I popped in a couple of trays of biscuits after the lunch was ready making use of the residue heat. Waste not want not, thats our motto.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cooling pool

Here we are in the middle of October and still swimming in the pool at least twice a day, at night the air certainly is a lot cooler and this is cooling the water a bit, but because we have a solar cover on the pool, the sun in the day is warming the pool water up to a certain extent I do think we are also aclimatising to the water temperature as it must be dropping slightly all the time now, the question is how long will it be before we find it just too chilly to be enjoyable.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The postman always rings twice!

Well maybes that’s where we are going wrong, we haven’t got a bell, we haven't got what you could call a postal service either it seems. Here in Spain the service has never been what you might call first class. In Formentera it was hit and miss, our bank had to use am alternative delivery method to get important documents to us. In Guardamar we got everyone’s post but our own, SOMEONE out there is no doubt enjoying the House DVDs my brother sent me. When we moved to Blanca we were hopefully it would be better, even though we are in the campo. The odds seemed good as Rebecca has an good service, in fact when we lived in Guardamar I did get packages sent to her, which arrived, as it seemed safer. Well as I always say travelling in hope is sometimes better than arriving in disappointment. We arrived here safe and sound, not so the majority of our post. The story so far: We call at the Correos in Blanca, we are told that post is delivered to the house, hurrah. No sign of a postman. We were called on by close neighbours, British, who have been away. On there return they find "someone" has thrown a bundle of post over their gate, its addressed, correctly and clearly to us. "You need a post box" they tell us. We return to the post office and are told A. post will be delivered and B. not worth getting box till the new year starts. We eagerly await our post. We get an email from the estate agent, we have some of your post, another British couple brought it to them in the hope they would know us. We collect the letters and return to the Correos. We speak calmly, aren't we good. We leave a map, an invitation to the postie to stop by for a drink. We eagerly await our post We get no post, we call at the correos, we call at the correos, we call, oh you get the idea. We start to politely protest, we are waiting for important documents, we have had no post for weeks, we have a real problem now. "I am on the case" the head honcho informs us, We eagerly ( well maybe not quiet so eagerly )await our post, trusting souls us. At the beginning of the week we call again, the counter clerk she says no, no post for you today. We protest, a little louder than usual, we say we await insurance documents for the car. She asks the previously mentioned Head Honcho. He picks up a letter from behind the counter which is ours, seems the counter clerks vision is somewhat blinkered! We tell him again, and maybe even again that we are waiting for important mail. He disappears into the back office and to our utter disbelief returns with several letters, all ours, all properly addressed. Whats the story? the regular postie has been on holiday, he has the map we gave him, so the holiday relief did not deliver. What could we say, well we could say it seems to us the usual guy needs some lessons in map reading in our humble opinion for a start. Trouble is they are all so pleasant and apparently trying to get it right and goodness knows we would not want to upset them, well they might not deliver the post if we do! Footnote. John worked for many years a a postman in Rural Cornwall, it particularly galls him that the services is so bad here. He frequently struggled along muddy tracks and fought off farm dogs and marauding mad geese to get the post through.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

You Shall Have A Fishy

Even though we live inland now its still possible to get some wonderful fresh fish. Mercadona has its usual wet fish counter, there a branch in Abaran and two in Cieza. However there are also some extremely good dedicated shops dotted around. Our nearest is the little one in Blanca on the Calle Gran Via is called ROSA opposite the hotel ( I think every city town and village in Spain has a Gran Via. There is also fresh fish for sale in Blancas indoor market, so lots of choice. The little shop in Blanca gets our vote as it happens. On Saturday Rebecca and Joaquin came over for lunch and brought a nice big piece of Mero. Maybe it is because it feeds mainly on other fish, crabs and octopus that it tastes so good. It is very greedy and one of the major predators in the Mediterranean sea, a local fish and thats a major factor with us we do not want to buy imported foods. Mero is consider the finest of fish here in Spain.A member of the grouper species it has wonderful firm flesh and a taste somewhere between halibut and sea bass.The Spanish say 'De la mar el mero y de la tierra el cordero' (From the sea the dusky grouper, from the land the lamb). With freshly picked lemons to season it lived up to its reputation as a very special dish indeed. Sitting outside in the early autumn sunshine enjoying a family lunch, how good can it get? no better indeed.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Two for Joy

The thieving magpie, magpies are often referred to as "thieving magpies" due to their attraction to shiny objects, such as jewellery and shiny coins - They are also consider to be bad luck by some. In Scotland a single magpie near the window of a house is not just bad luck but the sign of impending death; the somewhat scary idea that they carry a drop of the devil's blood under their tongue adds to this tradition. When we lived in the Highlands of scotland we missed this striking bird, it is the one part of UK were you do not see them. Take a close look next time you see one, they are not just black and white you know. When seen close-up its black plumage takes on an altogether more colourful hue with a purplish-blue iridescent sheen to the wing feathers, and a green gloss to the tail. Remember to salute them too to ward off bad luck, better safe than sorry, As I say moving to the Highlands from Cornwall meant we left the magpie behind. Living down on the costa blanca we had no sightings of them either so its been a real pleasure to make their acquaintance again. They are a noisy chattering species who will get up to all sorts, they are many things,scavengers, predators and pest-destroyers. To us they are a welcome, homely site and we rather prefer the view the chinese traditionally have of them, in China their name translates as the happiness bird. Magpies usually mate for life so seeing one on its own is as sign of sorrow because it's lost it's mate, whereas if you see two it's is a sign of joy as it's with it's mate. This is why when you see a single magpie you ask after it's wife, thus suggesting it has a mate and is in fact happy - hence the rhyme one for sorrow , two for joy! The magpie is consider by some to be the cleverest of animals, I suppose by stealing other birds eggs it is eating well and cutting down the competition. Personally I would not rate its intelligent by the fact that it can be taught to speak as parrots can, I am sure the clever ones stay well away from we humans. if you have missed hearing the little rhyme about our feathered friend here it is: One for sorrow, Two for joy, Three for a girl, Four for a boy, Five for silver, Six for gold, Seven for a secret never to be told.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

you'll be older too.

Its nearly here I am almost a fully paid up Pensioner or pensionista as they say in Spain. I will receive my UK pension from mid November although I have been 60 since the beginning of this year, this is due to the movement toward equality in pension ages in UK. As I often say back in the hippy trippy sixties this day seemed light years away, note to self stop repeating yourself its a real give away, not to mention being to ramble! So back to the point.
Having filled in the 23 page form that Newcastle sent me, question like have you ever lived in UK, YOU HAVE MY NATIONAL INSURANCE NUMBER I YELL. Duly received the information and paperwork necessary to tackle the Spanish health care system, so off to Cieza to do the business.

All went well and our Spanish held out, we had every piece of official paperwork known to man, and woman, with us, we've learnt a few things about how to do things here over the last 7 years. Then at the last hurdle, the processing of Johns form as my dependant, we fell. The very nice and very helpful chap in the office wanted the form to be completed by "Newcastle".
Back home and a couple of weeks of emails to the UK later we have our answer. Using the very efficient appointment system we phoned and got an appointment for 9 o’clock the following day. The man from Newcastle he says no! What we have is what they issue.
We explained what we have learnt, took original emails and translations, printouts from EU websites giving details of law and procedure. Our man in Cieza is again as helpful as can be but his Jefe (boss) wants an officially filled in form. He will do his best and explain what we have told him and ring us. We have no doubt he will, on the morning of our second appointment he rang just after 8 to ensure we took our marriage certificate.
Its all been a bit frustrating but throughout the local office have been polite and helpful, we figure they have just never done this before. Its a learning curve. We have no doubt it a will all be sorted in the end and Spain will get the payments from UK. And after all its good to keep the brain active at my age.

Whilst we are on the subject we just love the Spanish word for retirement, its jubilación,. Sounds so celebratory doesn’t it.

Photo is of me aged 6.

Friday, October 07, 2011

True Colours

If you ask many people to name a plant you see in Spain they will almost certainly say Bougainvillea, its brilliant magenta blooms are seen in town and country alike. We tried for years, without much success, to grow them on our Formentera terrace. The only one we had a little success with was a hybrid gold one but we longed to have the "true" original one.
When we bought our house here there was already an established one out back. We immediate set to to bring it back to life., it had been neglected for quiet a few years whilst the house stood empty and uncared for. So it was a case of cut back, prune and prune again. All the work has paid off in triplicate, for summer and now autumn. We have a truly beautiful plant that is starting ramble over the gazebo that shelters our newly tiled terrace (thanks Joaquin, nice job done).

Better give a few facts about bougainvillea before any expert gardener readers puts us right here!
To begin with its not a native European plant it originated in South America.It was brought to this continent by French botanist Philibert Commerçon who was travelling with Louis Antoine de Bougainville a French explorer in the 18th century. No guesses on how they named the plant.

Bougainvillea are evergreen if they have significant water and are in fact a vine. And here the interesting fact, the coloured "petals" we love to see are in fact bracts* not true flowers. The flowers are the tiny white part in the centre. You learn something everyday, if your not careful!

*A bract is a modified or specialized leaf, especially one associated with a reproductive structure such as a flower. Bracts are often (but not always) different from foliage leaves, for example being smaller, larger, or of a different colour or texture.

I took the above picture yesterday, stunning colours I'm sure you'll agree.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

A Mellow time of year

A slight chill in the morning is telling us Autumn is really with us, mind you its still very warm during the day. Morning are glorious at the moment though, golden and hazy with smoke as the local market gardeners light bonfires early in the day. All very atmospheric and mostly sweet smelling as long as its not prickly pear that's going up in flames. Can understand why its being burned, its so invasive. but oh the pong! It must be such a relief for those people who work so hard in the huerta when the weather cools down, its certainly far better for gardening. We are really pleased with how the garden is coming along. We had a trip to the local garden centre recently, only went to look of course, came back with a car full including a fine Buddha that now sits on the side of the pool. it was well worth the time we found a great variety of plants which are all looking nice and healthy in our wee plot. The guy who runs the place is really pleasant and presented me with a huge basil as a gift as we were leaving.
Although the front of the house is mostly patio there is a decent sized border of garden, problem has been the local feral cats, of which there are many had gotten used to using it as there litter tray. I know the whole campo and they choose the garden. We tried various method to deter them, lemons, cuttings from our rose bushes nothing was working. We have been reluctant to put in new plants because of this and then inspiration struck, rocks, of which we have many. We have gone for a Zen inspired look, lots of rocks with plants growing through. if we want to add more plants we can just move a rock and pop one in, perfect. We have seen a number of disgruntled looking moggies in the last few days though.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Its a Wild World

Before we moved to Spain we spent most of the previous 30 years living in the countryside. We loved to be able to see the changing seasons bring different flora and fauna to our doorstep. Moving to Blanca has been like coming home for us. As a family we are keen bird watchers, our daughter and family over from Australia were thrilled to see the Beeeaters which come here for the summer to breed, they have been a joy to see and hear all through that season. We know know there are wild boar in the area and would like to see them, from a distance! We did have a lovely welcome visitor the other day. I was busy in the kitchen preparing an evening meal,the layout of the kitchen means I can work away with a faboulous view through the sitting room window to the front patio garden and the surrounding hills. Imagine my surprise when a red squirrel leapt through the rejas onto the window ledge. I think it was just as surprised to see me. It looked for a moment and leapt down, hurrying to the window I saw it standing on the patio look around and then run up the cypress tree we have. Later that day whilst swimming in the pool Mr.(or mrs.) Tufty came over the roof and down on to the garden wall. What a treat we was able watch this beautiful creature make a dash for the carob tree that borders our back garden, no doubt intent on finding a hearty supper.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Follow on to Wierd Experience

Apparently there has been reports from around the world of meteorite showers, fireballs and large meteors in the last 12 hours, reports of green/yellow glowing balls and Red fireballs. When reasonably close, meteors are known to emit sound and also smells that can linger in the air. So most probably this is the answer to what happened and would explain the very short time span of my experience, This Meteor must have been really close to light up the sky and create the sound that i heard.

Wierd Experience

Around 3.00am this morning, i was woken by the dogs around the campo all barking like mad,then i heard the sound of what seemed like a very powerfull engine go overhead, i sat up in bed and looked out the window and the sky was a bright red which faded silhouetting the hills over Blanca. I jumped out of bed and went to the window but by then the red glow had faded completely,and there was no sound,(even the dogs had stopped barking). what ever it was moved very fast although the engine seemed like it was just idling, because this happened in no more than 5 or 6 seconds. Today we have been smelling a indistiguishable chemical type of scent in the air, Was the happening chemical spraying? was it a UFO?