We have been allowed back in the huerto. Along with an hour’s exercise and children being allowed out with parents for a walk or play in open spaces, getting back to the garden has been a gift.
I have to admit to having been a bit grumpy when the huerto was closed. I was not alone in thinking that with common sense and care , we could have maintained it and still not endangered any one . However the rules applied to every one who is part of a small neighbourhood project like ours. If you have a larger plot or orchard , you were permitted to tend to your produce. Our garden is surrounded by houses and we could , on reflection , see how our pottering in the garden when no one else was allowed out of their homes could be demoralising and not helpful in keeping the ‘stay at home’ message universal. Eight weeks later, a certificate to prove we have permission to be there, a timetable of when we will be there and a padlock to keep every one except huertanos out and we’re back in business.
A very wet April and hot sunny start to May meant that nature has taken back what is rightfully hers. The weeds and wild flowers are head high, the birds and rabbits loving the peace and quiet. While we have cleared and replanted our plot, the common areas are still wonderfully wild. It won’t last, the crazy summer heat will mean the birds and bunnies heading for shade and snoozing most of the day and the wild flowers dying back until the autumn rains but at 8.30 this morning it was beautiful. We have tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, onions, herbs and salad all bedded back in but I have kept some of my make shift planting at home as well. Stepping out the front door and being able to add to dinner, fresh basil, oregano, thyme, mint , salad leaves and….. a small but very tasty first harvest of potatoes is a brilliant feeling.
Our quarantine is still in place, the relaxations are being phased but with a careful eye on how case numbers of the virus respond to the humans having more freedom. I for one am in no hurry to embrace ‘ going back to normal’. The dangers of complacency seem to far outweigh the fleeting pleasure of mixing with the masses again! I am not a crowd person normally , I do miss family and friends and the ability to plan ahead, however it is a great lesson in taking each day as it comes and in being grateful for the little things. Getting to the garden, dirty knees and mud under my finger nails ( I can’t keep gloves on ) , dropping Walt off at the top of the hill for his first proper run in two months and now a glass of chilled rioja blanco… simples! Have a wonderful weekend.
It’s pretty fair to say that the last few months have seen my emotions roller coaster. Me and most of my fellow humans. To stop the overthinking I have baked, cooked, grown stuff, sewn stuff and knitted copiously! I have meditated and chatted on zoom , taught on zoom , learned on zoom…again like most of my fellow humans but it has all become more difficult since a very special little human arrived and I have had to get to know him …..on zoom! Oh how I want to cuddle him and get to know him properly not virtually. It was nerve wracking and exciting at the same time therefore when Scotland lifted its 14 day quarantine for travellers from Spain. We decided that before there were spikes in the UK, this seems to be inevitable once restrictions are relaxed , I would make a flying visit, and then the quarantine was reinstated less than a week later! Gutted, cross, sad and all the work I had been doing on myself to be a better, more grateful,more accepting human collapsed in a weekend. As I calmed down, breathed deeply and walked Rocky with Walt, two things became obvious once again. One- I have no control over this current and awful crisis other than to keep following the guidelines on how to stay safe and keep others safe. To worry, be angry or judgemental is not good for me on any level. Two- we had planned a tour of The Picos de Europa long before the dreaded c word, hostels and hotels all booked. Walt’s itinerary carefully worked out based on his falling on love with the region last year on his solo tour. The temperatures in Murcia had cranked up to 33 average and even all the usual activities that keep my overactive brain from buzzing had to he crammed in between 7am and lunch time. Too darned hot! As we walked, slowly and at sunset we realised that there was nothing to stop us bringing the trip forward a few weeks. The original dates had been to allow family to visit in the school holidays!!! Walt walked swiftly (ish) home,got on line and voila…3 days later we were on the road.
The first leg of our adventure was from home to a town just north of Madrid, Colmenar Viejo. We set of just after sunrise and had a super cool start to the journey. Apart from fuel ( a motorbike needs more regular topping up than a car) we only had one stop at a roadside cafe for bizcocho (cake) and coffee. Vonnie style boo boo as I went to order my coffee and Walt’s hot water…my brain was not in gear and I wondered why the lady behind the counter was shouting ..’ señora..para, para. El gel de hidroalcoholico está junto a la puerta’. As I looked at the table where I had been cleaning my hands, I realised that the sign on the stand said ‘do not use…strong chemicals!’ It was the table disinfectant! Too late. I went back to use the gel aswell. Very clean hands! Once I had placed my order and tried to juggle the two cups , a plate of cake and my purse, the same lady quickly came to my aid and at a distance helped me to the far end of the outside terrace with our elevenses . It was the first of many reasons to be grateful for hospitality workers juggling the need to work and keep businesses afloat along side the risks that they have to take all day, every day. As we continued , the day warmed up and Walt had to cope with the Madrid traffic. The autovia goes through the city, there are alternative routes but much , much slower and at 35C in full bike gear , getting to that cold shower was more important! Colmenar Viejo is a working Spanish town with the usual pretty church and concrete 1970s plaza/ square with cafes and shops. ( Think Dalkeith or Abronhill !) However we had not eaten anything apart from our cake and so the meal made for us sitting outside a little Italian restaurant ( on the concrete plaza) was very welcome.
Another early start to beat the heat. Day two. Burgos is a city brim full of Spanish history, recent and ancient. As it was on the way we decided to stop and stroll around a little. It was a flying visit but first impressions were of a leafy, park filled city and a wonderful medieval cathedral. A beer in the shade and we were off again. Perhaps we had made a mistake stopping? The temperature by early afternoon was pretty unbearable and the autovia horrible. We came off at a Repsol in a tiny farming village for water and a sandwich and programmed ‘avoid motorway ‘ in to the sat nav. It was still hot and much slower but far more interesting and the fields full of sunflowers all standing to attention were glorious. As we travelled further north, the countryside became steadily greener and as we began to go through forests…cooler!
Riaño is a village at the foothills of the Picos de Europa. It was a cool oasis as we arrived, dusty and sweaty from the journey. There had been a ‘plume’ of unusually hot air across the whole Iberian peninsula ( we knew that! ) and even in Cantabria and Asturias 30C had been reached that day but the temperature was quickly freshened up by a spectacular storm and by the time we had had our cold showers , a walk around the village and settled on the terrace with a very welcome drink , the evening air was a blissful 22C! I needed a sweater at dinner ! Walt had stayed in the Hotel Presa last year and remembered the young Romanian waiter …not sure if he remembered Walt! However he was very attentive and we had two very tasty dinners on the terrace. Although quieter than normal August time, the hotel had a steady trade, locals and visitors. Suze had plenty of company in the garage. Mainly Spanish bikes as a staycation is the in thing this year ! However there were three bikes with UK plates and on chatting to their riders, they seemed confident , safe and delighted with their adventure.
I had seen Walt’s photos, watched his and other bikers’ videos and read my friend Lis’ blog ( This Simple Life) of and about the Picos and Aturias but nothing had prepared me for the real thing. I am smitten! Our first morning, on the road by 8, no traffic, blue skies and cool, clean mountain air. Fantastic. One of the best things about travelling on a motorbike is that you can smell as well as see everything. Being pillion also means being free to gaze constantly…Walt does all the hard work !
Collado de Llesbo…the bear. My first real immersion in the Picos. There were three campervans and a farmer at the top. The campers were still sleeping! As we rode up to the statue several cows and their calves wandered on to the road. A farmer in his 4×4 appeared, disturbed over breakfast? He tried to round those very determined mamas and their babies up. It was hilarious. One very cross farmer. Stress, country style. He did get them back where he wanted them then threw his staff across the road in frustration. Oh dear! Once at the top, walked up to the statue of the bear. The only sound was birdsong and cow bells. It is a beautiful statue and a reminder of how few wild bears remain in Europe. Murcia zoo has a breeding programme and their bears live in a big enclosure with a pool but on visits with grandchildren and friends I have always thought they looked pretty scunnered ( fed up). Perhaps Murcian summer temperatures don’t help. I recently read that numbers in the wild have increased slightly but that then also brings the problem of coexisting to the fore as farm plundering becomes an issue. There has to be a way?
The sense of peace that morning was wonderful. I think my over thinking was overtaken by the sheer beauty and perfection around us.
As we hadn’t had breakfast,after drinking in gallons of clean , clear air and the smell of quite a lot of cattle we decided we needed real food!
A quick birl ( Scottish for a round trip or a country dance move!) to book tickets for the cable car at Fuente Dè and then back to Potes . This pretty little town is a tourist attraction and was surprisingly busy but still not scarily so ! The Policia Local were keeping an eye on everyone and making sure we followed all the rules. (We only took masks off for photos !) It didn’t spoil a gentle stroll around and then breakfast/ lunch by the river. Lots of lovely local cheeses!
I am not good with heights but Walt wasn’t going to let me away with not going up in the cable car…disinfected after every stage and with half the usual number of passengers, it was why we had had to book 4 hours in advance. It was amazing or rather the views as we went up and at the top were ! Definitely worth it.
I am happiest outdoors and we finished our eight hour day in the fresh air at another mirador..deer pass or Mirador del Corzo and more breathtaking views.
Tired but happy we wound our way ( literally with some interesting hair pin bends to negotiate) back to Riaño and more fresh air with our al fresco dinner. We would have happily made this hotel our base for four days but because of the last minute changes to our plans we could only book two nights. No problem sleeping after all the fresh air and alarms set for our next adventure!
Early on Saturday morning we packed our bags and left Riaño. The luggage on a motorbike challenges you to travel light and to remember all about those pilates classes and using your core! When the side luggage is attached to the bike, Walt is next on then I have to use his peg ( foot rest) as mine is too close to the luggage to push up, holding his shoulder, my tummy muscles contracted and deep breath to then swing other leg over both bags , my seat and avoid hitting top box or pulling Walt and Suze over! Phew! After a long journey, as things stiffen up , the reverse process is usually harder and even less elegant! Walt wanted to take me to Cangas de Onis , a slightly larger town but with a very interesting bridge and to the Mirador del Fitu. This mirador had been swathed in mist last year and Walt was determined to take advantage of the promised vistas…as our new digs were on the way to both of these , we stopped at our hostel in a beautiful little village called Oseja de Sajambre and asked if we could drop of the luggage. No problem, it could sit in their office until our room was made up then the manager come receptionist come breakfast chef would pop them in our room. While Walt was in the hostel organising this, I was having a Joanne Harris moment…the old bakery across from the hostel is for sale, a project! Behave Yvonne.
After our early start and no breakfast the next stop was Cangas de Onis which was indeed an interesting town if slightly busier than our previous stops. We had walk over the bridge, a breakfast and then hit the road again. The day had started sunny , blue skies and very warm. That was all about to change. As we climbed higher towards el Mirador del Fitu, the clouds gathered and the mist descended on us! By the time we reached the Mirador, we couldn’t see a thing! Walt doesn’t believe that it’s ever any different up there now!
Aswell as swirling mist, it was also raining by this time. Fine, soft rain and not cold but enough to make our visors almost impossible to see out of! Slowly, we descended the mountain and as we did, we came out of the clouds! The sun came out again and when we saw signs for the seaside town of Ribadsella only 25 minutes away, we decided to get some sea air to top up the mountain air! The sun stayed out just long enough for us to get there and then it began to drizzle again but the smell of the sea did not disappoint. It had obviously been a sunny morning as swimsuit clad families were all heading off the beach. A beautiful promenade and beachside homes that reminded me of Hendaye …so different from the Mediterranean costas. We were loving the weather …knowing that we would be back in 35C Murcia in a few days…this was bliss!
Time to head back to the hostel and find our luggage…the Cuna de Sella is a small and immaculate hostel. A traditional building completely renovated inside. We had our temperatures checked on arrival and our ground floor room was spotless. The modern extension that houses the breakfast room was small and cosy but this meant a strict timetable for breakfast so that there was ample distance between guests. It all felt very safe and as our room overlooked a terrace and Suze…she was safe too!
Although tiny, the village had three restaurant/bars and all with terraces. There are loads of wonderful walking opportunities nearby and so a steady stream of customers plus locals of all ages, popping in and out for a blether. Like Riaño, for a small village, there was a definite sense of community and no lack of life about it.
Long walks are something we miss in July and August. To grab an hour with Rocky we have to be out before 8am. The upside is ofcourse that we can walk all winter, the snow poles at the side of all roads in the Picos suggest that might not be possible all winter in this region. I have to admit to being envious however when Lis describes her hikes in Asturias,even in July! We were determined therefore to get one good long walk in. Lis recommended the national park of Ponga but as we had already planned a walk and as we were limited to one afternoon we decided to stick to this and come back to Ponga. We rode through it and it is beautiful even from the road,we will be back!
Our last full day dawned grey and damp but we were not daunted.. bike rain gear, walking gear and a picnic all packed, we set off for Caín de Valdeón. The route took us on to a single track road with a surface not dissimilar to a basic track and it was wet…very wet. Tricky riding at the best of times, add in the twisty road and visors with no windscreen wipers and it was a bit scary! We stopped at yet another view point where there was no view, just to take a break. To demonstrate how wonderfully changeable the weather is in green Spain, here are the before and after photos…we stopped in the same spot on the way home 6 hours later!
As we left the ‘before ‘ spot we were seriously doubting the sense in ploughing on. I had shorts and a t shirt packed for our hike, no fleece or Scottish style walking gear. Once again the weather surprised us, gradually improving until by the time we had walked for a while and decided to have our picnic, I needed sun screen ! Our walk was along a gorge on a path built for practical purposes as the incredible canal built alongside proved but now very popular with walkers. It was busier than we had expected but not so much that it spoiled it or that we didn’t have plenty of space to enjoy the spectacular scenery at every turn. It was perfect. We walked for three hours, not a huge hike but much more than we can do at home just now and added to the excitement of riding in the rain and mist early in the day, we were happily tired.Two stops for coffee and una caña ( small beer) on the way home and we couldn’t have been more content!
We were beginning to feel a little sad by dinner time, our journey home began the next morning. Three full days in the most wonderful region. I am country mouse not a town one and Cantabria and Asturias equalled my idea of bliss!
We set of early again the next day with Toledo as our destination and break in the journey south. We had stopped there for an hour or so last October and I loved bring immersed in the history. I was reading Giles Tremlett’s Isabella of Castile at the time. There was also a lively atmosphere and we were looking forward to some people watching. After a long , progressively hotter and sticky ride, Walt negotiated the narrow, cobbled streets to our hotel and we cooled off for a while before going out to explore. Toledo is stunning but what was very strange was that it was quieter than the Picos! Cafes and shops closed, very few visitors and not the atmosphere that we remembered. It’s a city that relies on international tourism and that no longer exists. Sad to see so many businesses closed down. We did find a great wee cafe by the city walls where we were well fed and watered and Toledo is still beautifully kept. Hopefully more Spaniards will visit as the autumn brings cooler weather for a glimpse of their own heritage and to restore some of the businesses in its historic centre.
It is nearly two weeks since our final leg home to Murcia. It’s taken me that long to write this and I didn’t intend for it to be so lengthy. In a way it’s more of an indulgence for myself…a diary to keep the memories of a very special holiday fresh in my mind. I have been struggling with the realisation that getting to Scotland and seeing my family could still be a long way off. Those few days in the Picos were incredible and as I stood at the statue of the bear on our first morning, I relaxed properly for the first time in months. Thank you Walt for taking me there. Thank you Picos de Europa for being simply magical.
It has been a few weeks since my last post and quite a lot has happened here in Calle Jacaranda. We are no longer in a State of Emergency and can move about more. This is a huge relief because as temperatures are now steadily in the 30s we can at last go to the beach to cool off! We do this during the week and can easily social distance. We are lucky as retirees..I think the social distancing at the weekends will be much more difficult. It does seem however as if the Policía Local and cruz roja (Red Cross) are keeping an eye on the beaches to prevent overcrowding. Strange times.
So strange that I am finding it hard to write. I have never in my life felt so over informed and yet have no idea what to believe (or who!) It is therefore a case of taking each day as it comes and being grateful for little joys and dealing with less happy moments as best I can. I reckon many people will feel the same. A new baby, saying goodbye to our lovely old lab , virtual birthdays , gently meeting up with friends face to face and being so thankful for the internet to stay in touch with those we can’t meet for a wee while yet.
Pictures paint a thousand words? Better at this time than I can ! I hope you are all well and coping with the ‘new normal’. Nothing normal about it I hear you say! However there are silver linings and there have been many bitter sweet moments throughout all the craziness! Here are some of ours!
Apologies for publishing this twice… please ignore if you have already read it! I managed , when trying to edit the post, to relegate it to drafts which means it can’t be found on my site! Have a great weekend ! ( I have been to the beach for a swim since first writing this.. very quiet beach and crystal clear water.. bliss!) Very grateful.
Chatting ( on line of course) to friends and family over the last two months has been fascinating. Two months? Nearly 13 weeks here on Friday. Fascinating because of how everyone has passed their time ‘en casa’. The shortage of all but the most basic ‘harina de trigo ‘ (plain flour) is a big hint as to what many families are doing! Throw in the measuring of ingredients, timing the end product in the oven and mindfulness or patience needed for whole process and you can add home schooling to the list of things folk are doing while in quarantine.
There is of course a big difference between the parents juggling working from home and keeping the children entertained ( learning?) Or in the case of essential workers , having to tag team shifts to make sure someone is at home for the children. ( hubs in the UK have stayed open but there are not many – any?- here in Spain.) As restrictions are relaxed but schools are not reopening until September many parents are now very worried about how they will cope. Using abuelos is still a bit risky! These families are not finding it hard to fill the time… they are probably working harder than ever and close to exhaustion.
For us oldies however, we have had a lot of time to spare and I have wondered once or twice why I haven’t written that book yet or perfected my Spanish! How many of you have mentally beaten yourself up about similar? Even the photo albums that have been on my ‘to do’ list since 2003 have only reached 2007!
I have been addicted to reading since my Dad gave me ‘Five on a Treasure Island ‘ when I was seven. I can’t go to sleep at night without reading and I am very unsettled if I don’t have a good book on the go. Even the worthy tombs, novels in Spanish or Perfecting Spanish Pronouns will do! It seems reasonable therefore to think that I must have a book in me… well maybe not. I love writing my blog, long letters to friends, family history for the kids, an odd poem here and there and eulogies! I kid you not…it was after writing my Dad’s that I began to write the family history. Bottom line, I think I am lazy and hugely lacking in imagination. On the other hand, while writers will tell you that their craft is hard , hard work and dedication there is still necessary that spark of inspiration that is kindled in to life with the slog. Perhaps then I genuinely don’t have that spark or tiny flame and instead of beating myself up about it and decrying myself as lazy, I should simply continue to enjoy reading and doing the things that bring me joy. Best book read during quarantine? Inland by Tea Obreht. Fantastic. The kind of book that makes me wish I had that spark and enthusiasm for research. There was a mountain of amazing and true background to this story of the American west in the late 1800s.
And so.. back to our present situation and how to pass the time. It’s interesting talking to parents who are home schooling or trying to. Some children love it and happily follow a timetable, complete on line tasks sent by their ‘REAL’ teachers, take part enthusiastically in zoom classes and are a dab hand with Google classroom. Others point blank refuse to do any of this, preferring to play with their toys, build Lego towers, watch Netflix, draw , sing , dance when they want to or not. Don’t worry. This is a great time for learning more about ourselves and our individual learning and creative styles. We learn what we want to and what lights our fire. We cram and force the other stuff in to pass exams and get jobs. Little ones who are doing what they love at the moment will be bright enough to cram the other stuff in when school starts again. My light bulb moment pinged on only last Tuesday. Two months in and no book written! I have however knitted a shawl, cardigans and hats for our expected new grand baby, a tea cosy and half a rather odd looking sock! I have managed to keep my sourdough starter alive with harina de trigo and made bread every week. This week’s , a very tasty rosemary and olive oil version. I have baked like never before…but now it’s getting too warm during the day to have the oven on. What now? That darned book again?
No. I have ordered a new sewing machine on line. I left my old one in Scotland for the very talented girlfriend of my son to create on. I reasoned that there wasn’t room for it in our small home and have only missed it now and again. Then mummy- to -be daughter took down the curtains, I made several years ago, from her spare room as it became the nursery and she asked if I would make new ones. After quite a bit of deliberation, on line research and a lot of fun on a Spanish fabric and pattern sight, I was raring to go again. The machine I have bought is from a Spanish company , although outsourced and made in Thailand ! ( my faithful first Singer blew up aged 30 and was made in Clydebank). This little one gets good reviews and arrived in one day. The summer is going to be long and hot. I won’t be going far as travel will be restricted for a while. Working in the garden will be an early morning project , while still fairly cool. The afternoons I can pull down the blinds, sit under the fan and sew! My Grandma taught me to use her Singer when I was still in primary school. I made my first dress aged twelve . I’m so excited and realise that that it’s in doing things we love and want to do that we learn the most. Which is my excuse for not having written that book during quarantine. What have you not done and what have you done and loved instead?
This is a ramble but it comes with lots of love and best wishes from Murcia. Happy Easter.
One of the things that everyone will probably agree on is how all our lives now seem so very similar where ever we are in the world. We are all at home, relying on the wonders of wifi to keep in touch with the outside world. We are all worried about our family and friends and hoping that they are staying safe, especially the ones who are in essential industries and professions and who have to put themselves in daily danger by going to work. We are all trying to retain our sanity by keeping busy . And then we stop and realise that the tasks we set for today and didn’t get done will get done tomorrow or the day after or the day after that! Time is stretching out in a way very few of us will ever have experienced.
At the start of our quarantine I listened to a TED talk by an amazing women from Columbia who had been held captive in the rain forest of Columbia by rebels for six years . Her talk was specifically about fear and sanity. How to diminish fear and retain sanity. Six years! Six years in which she did not see her children. As a politician in Columbia life was always dangerous and she had sent her children to family in France shortly before being kidnapped. I am missing our planned Easter time with the grandchildren and very possibly will not meet my new granddaughter or son , due at the end of May until he or she is a few months old but it will not be six years. I was however,at the time of listening to the talk , consumed by fear. All the worst case scenarios of living through a plague or pandemic danced around my head for days, it felt especially isolating being in a foreign country and wondering, if Walt or I became unwell how would we cope with the medical jargon, who would we turn to , who would look after the dogs! The speaker described her strategies for dealing with fear and having hope. She is inspirational and helped me in those early days and hours enormously. I have included the link below. It is in Spanish but has English subtitles. I calmed down, neighbours and friends offered their phone numbers and help if we needed it. We are the oldies on the estate and perhaps this has been a factor in their kind offers. Practical kindness.. we have been given masks, spinach and seeds to keep the patio huerto going. We are not alone and we are well! The huerto has been closed down and we have shared all our new seedlings between our gardens . I was so sad when this happened but necessity is the mother of invention and I now have potatoes, onions, salad leaves, a pepper plant, tomatoes and more in tubs and even a cut down Mercadona bag! Here is the link to Ingrid’s wonderful talk.
I still have grumpy moments, trips to the supermarket are not good . We are trying to stretch these to once every nine or ten days but this is a big holiday weekend and the shops are shut today, tomorrow, Easter Sunday and Tuesday ( Murcia spring holiday!) I had to go yesterday. It felt like an army operation! Not fun at all.
There’s no one way to cope with being in quarantine. We are all finding ways to stay sane. Keeping busy, baking, knitting, meditating, praying, reading, keeping in touch with family and friends and teaching my classes on line. Emotions are on a roller coaster. Who knows how we will feel tomorrow. However it won’t last six years. Nature is loving the break this is giving her. Hopefully humanity can stop now and then from keeping busy and simply be. Let’s also hope than when we ‘are free’ again , we will have been still enough to understand what we need to do to make it a kinder, safer world for everyone and our planet.
I learned very quickly that while the internet is a wonderful link to the outside world it can be a double edged sword . I have had to limit its use. There is so much information and misinformation out there and not just on social media. The mainstream media can be equally as sensationalist and frightening. After Italy, Spain has had the highest number of cases of Covid 19 in Europe. The news from Madrid that first weekend had me in bits. It is still not great there and my heart goes out to all those who have lost loved ones or who are fighting the illness at this time. The news also frightened friends and family in Scotland and our phones began to go in to melt down. At this point the figures in Murcia Region were relatively low and although they have increased, by comparison to Madrid and Barcelona they have remained low. This was when I realised that main stream media was not necessarily helpful. I now have a filter system (Walt) and am gradually feeling strong enough to listen to a little bit of new every few days. For the first two weeks after that dreadful weekend, I stopped listening and watching either Spanish or British news. I was not disrespecting all the people who have had or have the virus nor the amazing people who are looking after them and who are keeping the country running, I know enough. I did however need to protect my own crazy brain .
Keeping busy has been a good way to do this but as the weeks have gone on I have also discovered that I have the ability to be still as well. I can now put down my knitting, or reading or baking and just sit .
As I mentioned earlier the huerto was closed down very quickly. It was seen as recreational rather than food producing. We felt pretty gutted as our world got smaller and smaller. There’s no daily ‘exercise allowance ‘ here. However , necessity really is the mother of invention. Anne, my huerto buddy, dug up her front garden and I resorted to pots and an old mercadona bag! All our spring planting was dug up and transferred home. Walt is not too keen on it, it is a bit untidy but I have potatoes coming on brilliantly, peppers , one tomato plant, salad leaves, herbs and onions. Spinach seeds are now sprouting and I am using an on line organic vivero who will this week deliver more tomato seeds and chili seeds. It is amazing what you can do in a small space.
I am writing this last paragraph on Easter Sunday.. what a strange Easter this is. We will get through it and for now simply knowing that family and friends are safe and well is enough. My Gran sent my Dad and his sister off to the countryside in 1939, two East End children found themselves first of all in Canterbury and then Devon. Aged 8, Dad had to feed the geese! A wee city boy hundreds of miles away from his Mum. My Grandma worked for a packaging company which was turned over to munitions and shipped to Scotland. Several months after moving to the tiny village of Menstrie in Clackmannanshire with the business, she sent for my Dad and Auntie Joan. They were lucky, they only spent a few months apart, for many the evacuations meant children being away from family for the duration of the war. We are only being asked to spend a few months apart from our families and friends , the reason is clear beyond doubt and so I will continue to keep busy, stay still and be grateful for our comfy home, beautiful views and the crazy duo, Rocky and Benny who allow us out each day for a short walk. Be still.
Tomorrow morning the Spanish prime minister will declare a State of Emergency . Today feels very strange. Every thing has changed and will remain changed for quite some time to come. We are luckier than many. My classes are now all on line. Some of my students live , in apartments , in city centres. If they have children, they are all confined to barracks for at least two weeks. Here we have our little garden and roof terrace, we can still walk the dogs in people empty spaces and retain our humanity by waving or shouting ‘buenas dias ‘ to neighbours across the street, getting no closer than that! I can’t imagine being stuck inside , especially with children for such a length of time.
I have to admit to being worried. My brother in Scotland was quite surprised at the concern that I obviously displayed in a text conversation with him this morning. It is a situation never before experienced in my life time. My parents experienced it during WW2 but as a baby boomer, apart from personal sadness through loss of loved ones, the three day week when I was a teenager which was all a bit of a lark to a 14 year old, a fear of nuclear war during the 70s and 80s and mild concern over mad cow disease in the 90s, I have never really been seriously challenged. This feels like a challenge and my usual optimism is being stretched.
However, there are people out there whose challenge is much greater than mine. My students living in Madrid cooped up with kids , the people who are actually fighting the illness and those who have lost family already come to mind first. And then there are those people looking after us.
We took Rocky up in to the hills today for a long walk. We can do that and not meet a soul. We can sit on the edge of the hillside and listen to the birds singing with the sun on our shoulders. On our way home, I was able to pick lemons, onions and lettuce from the huerto. A favourite viewpoint looks down towards the city and it was here that I realised how amazing those who have to keep going, those who have to look after us are and how grateful I am for them. Not everyone can work from home, many people will have to keep going and face a greater risk from catching this virus than we do up here on the hill. All shops, bars, cafes and places of entertainment are being closed as of midnight tonight however supermarkets and pharmacies have to stay open, they have to handle money and cards, they have to stand just feet away from possible contagion. From our spot on the hill I could see the motorway in the distance, trucks still heading in all directions, getting the food and medicines to the supermarkets and pharmacies. Every delivery, every depot for a pick up , signing firms , handling boxes that many others have handled. In the factories and fields, people are still growing, picking, manufacturing and packaging these life saving necessities. In the hospitals, fire stations, health centres, police stations, TV and radio stations, people are caring, saving lives, keeping us safe and keeping us cheerful. ( listening to cheesy 80s and 90s tunes just now! Thank you Melodia FM) . I don’t fully understand how the internet and social media functions but I suspect that not everyone in these industries can work from home either . Thanks to them, as we become more physically isolated, we can still talk to family and friends. So crucial.
And so, for the first time in my lifetime I am living in a ‘ state of emergency’. No travel unless essential or local to said supermarket or pharmacy – police checks to ensure this. No fiestas, no sitting people watching in cafes, no runs to the beach but none the less still realising how much I have to be grateful for and how ever scary and difficult the next few months are going to be , they will not last the six years my parents had to endure from 39 to 45 ( and beyond). Walt, prepare for a major domino tornament… it will be more fun than watching Hearts , I promise. And thank you, thank you , thank you for everyone mentioned above and any I have missed.
Winter in Murcia literally is a thousand (plus) miles away from that of Northern Europe and real cold climes. It tends to only come and go, with warm sunny days in between. It was cooler when I started writing this ( on Thursday) and had rained the day before that but the previous week had made news headlines for record temperatures! Benny, Rocky and I went walking with friends on Tuesday afternoon, at 25C we were looking for shade as the dogs were finding it a wee bit too hot! Sunday saw us sitting in a beach side cafe with friends, pushing our chairs under the sun shades.
Inconsistent is the best way to describe our winter here as the week before that was one of grey skies and torrential rain. Once again our perch on the hill kept us safe while the coast has been battered for the third time this winter. It is so strange not to see the sun here, three days is the longest I remember. Seven days later normal service resumed , what ever normal service is !
I had assumed that my sleepy huerto would have dozed off completely with our week of no sun and cold rain so it was a great surprise to go up when the rain stopped and find it stirring awake. We have five heads of broccoli ready to pick with quite a few babies following on,fabulous cabbage or spring greens, kale and finally flowers on the habas. I came home to drain off our tiny patio garden and enjoyed the sun on my shoulders as I tidied up the herb tubs. A free gift included? I found coriander sprouting in my lemon tree tub, seeds must have blown in the wind. Amazing as it’s difficult to find fresh coriander in the supermarkets here.
Just over two weeks before the rain and storms Walt and I went high up in the Sierra Espuña on the motor bike. Twisty hairpin bends and stunning views. At one information board there was a guide to finding ice houses from fridge free days in the past. I commented on these to Walt, wondering if it ever got that cold now. Two weeks later the snow gates were closed and we could see the snow covered peaks from our house! I love the change in seasons, I would struggle living somewhere with out defined seasons and although there are some very odd changes to the climate , it is still amazing and reassuring to see snow on the Sierras.
Yesterday we walked four miles along the Rio Segura, a path we sometimes cycle in to the city on. Fourteen year old Ben still manages to keep up and of course Rocky covers about four times the distance that we do! It felt like a gentle spring day along the river, blackbirds singing, a heron contemplating life, almond trees beginning to blossom . Perfect walking weather . There are seasons and some crazy weather but overall we are just a little spoiled!
Meanwhile back at the huerto ! Seasonality is a buzz word at the moment with the movement to lower carbon emissions and eat more healthily. It’s difficult not to here, our local supermarkets only have a tiny corner of fruits and veg from far away and they are way out of this pensioner’s budget! No, it is orange season and of course lemons abound all year round. They are almost the symbol of Murcia and appear with practically every meal or plate produced. I am surprised they are not on the Region’s coat of arms ! Recently we have not even had to buy our oranges and lemons, we keep getting given them from friends or friends of friends with orchards. This has meant lots of marmalade making, lemon curd , orange cake and simply just eating the most amazing oranges. I am also excited because I was given a dozen seed potatoes today – a potato growing experiment is about to begin! I loved growing ‘tatties’ in our school garden but have never tried them here. I’m thinking tubs as the ground dries out so quickly. One huerto neighbour has had success this winter growing his in raised beds. Fingers crossed.
Winter is much kinder on older bones here, Benny loves lying in the sun and much as we miss many aspects of Scotland- family and friends especially- watching the driving wind and rain at Murrayfield on TV yesterday evening as we sat with the front door open makes us realise once again just how very fortunate we are.
Happy new year and decade! How did that happen? It seems like only five minutes ago that we were all busily preparing millennium parties and waiting for all the computer systems to crash at midnight! Yet another Christmas season has been and gone and after a few wonderful days in Scotland with the children, I took Benny up to the huerto as it must have been feeling rather neglected. I planned to do some weeding and to be cheered by the abundance of bean plants, peas, kale, cabbage and onions that had surely come on in my absence. The weather here is perfect for being out doors , blue skies and sunshine with a top temperature of around 17 C. Not dissimilar to a Scottish summer day! However it goes down to around 3 or 4 C at night . Higher up from us, there have been frosts reported! In my ignorance, I assumed that the autumn rain and day time sunshine would be enough to bring on our winter crops. You might also remember that my huerto buddy and I ignored the wisdom of native gardeners and kept our summer crops going right up until October. It seemed such a waste to pull them out and throw them on the compost heap .
Meanwhile, our Spanish neighbours had done just that , turned over their plots, fed them from the very successful compost bins and planted their winter crops in September! After the Autumn storms and torrential rain, the soil was wonderfully workable but also much cooler! The September planters got the remaining summer warmth plus the rain. By the time we winter planted,everything had slowed down! When I went up last Sunday, the garden was not asleep like my garden would have been in Scotland at this time of year but it is most definitely dozing! There is kale and some chard to pick, even a few peppers hanging on from the summer and plenty of lettuce… it seems to like the cold nights. However all our other winter planting is coming along very, very slowly. We have three tiny broccoli heads, tiny pea shoots and the habas ( beans) that usually take over are toddling along, not even flowering yet! I am sitting in the garden writing this with the sun shade up and still puzzling over how it can be so warm during the day and yet the growth is so slow. My plan to weed didn’t even happen, the weeds have fallen asleep as well!
I think that this is a humbling reminder of how I am not a native and how much I still have to learn about growing in this part of Spain. Many of you will have bought salad, tomatoes and peppers from supermarkets this winter, they very likely will have been grown here in Murcia but not out side. The eyesore poly tunnels that cover much of the coastline between us and Almeria are the reason for the availability of what is normally out of season produce. Cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli all do grow well out side but only it would seem , if planted in September. Lesson learned. This year we will try to copy the locals even if our tomato plants are still fruiting. It will be hard but then we may be more successful in keeping produce going all winter.
Benny had a nice mosey around the huerto, the air was fresh and clear, the sky a perfect blue and of course the sun was shining. I will just have to be patient and hope the garden wakes up before it’s time to clear out the winter plants and start all over again with the summer ones!
My commute to school used to be a twenty five minute drive through the beautiful East Lothian country side , apart from the odd time when the weather was so bad that the journey became stressful, it was generally a great way to start the day. However the last stretch took me over the A1 via a fly over and I can remember many a Monday morning thinking how good it would be to take the slip road instead of the fly over and head north! My late parents lived in Stirling and as they grew older, I wanted to spend more time with them. A simple cup of tea and a chat often seemed more appealing than thirty lively teenagers for the following six hours! This feeling was often strongest as the new term sped from summer in to autumn, the changing colours and stunning countryside was so tempting. There were often more clear blue skies and sunny mornings on those Scottish autumn mornings than we had had all summer!
Last Monday morning I woke up in Salamanca. Two years of Monday mornings with no commute and I am still grateful but last Monday morning was extra special. We had driven up to Salamanca for our wedding anniversary and stayed in a lovely hotel right next to the Roman Bridge with views of this incredible city. It is a UN site of special interest , with breathtaking buildings and an otherworldly atmosphere. This was especially true on Monday morning as a mist surrounded the old city with only the Cathedral and towers of the taller buildings visible above it. It was as if the city was floating. Salamanca has the third oldest university in Europe and is famous for its teaching and learning. While we were there, the Plaza Mayor was filled with stalls and an exhibition of antique books as well as a good helping of modern literature and texts . While it is a huge tourist attraction, the city is not overwhelmed nor did it feel as if tourism was its only reason for being. It has not become simply a museum. On the Sunday morning as we walked up through the old town looking for breakfast, we had to squeeze ourselves single file against the ancient stone walled houses as an enormous sponsored walk, literally thousands of families from Grandparents to babies in buggies, snaked its way around the city, fund and awareness raising for cancer research. A city still very much alive and home to ordinary folk not simply tourists such as ourselves.
Salamanca is a six hour drive north for us therefore the climate is very different. For the first time in months , jeans, jumpers and my rain coat were retrieved from the back of the wardrobe…. and they were needed! After tidying ourselves up on the Saturday we arrived , we wandered the city getting our bearings and deciding what to go and see on the Sunday. By 5pm the rain was too heavy even for us Scots and we just happened to find a quirky little cocktail bar near the university. It was full of locals which is always a good sign, the staff were lovely, the music excellent and the people watching even better. I had crammed in six hours of tutoring and teaching the day before, in three different locations across Murcia which made the chilling out all the more delicious. We were sitting by the open door, watching the rain and people scuttle by the ancient buildings, bliss!
I love the contrasts in this amazing country. Several hours north and I was able to walk along the river in Salamanca enjoying the colours and smells of an autumn very different from that of Murcia. As we drove towards Salamanca there were even cows in the fields. Changing seasons make the year interesting for me and even in our sunny southern home there are subtle signs of Autumn but I really loved the smells and colours of a Salamanca autumn!
The rain stopped on Sunday and we spent the day being tourists, visiting the cathedral and climbing its tower for amazing views of the city and beyond. Not once did I experience that ‘ Sunday feeling’ and although it was only in my last couple of years teaching in Scotland that this feeling had really kicked in, I was still incredibly grateful not to have my drive to school the next day. It may not have been the A1 to Stirling but we had gone on a road trip. Spanish roads and motorways simply do not have the volume of traffic that the roads in Scotland or England do, apart from going through Madrid we had wide open roads, every changing scenery , no cones and no road works. Therefore after a picnic breakfast on Monday morning we decided to stop in Toledo. All those years of wanting just to keep going….. Yes! A road trip is made all the better if you allow for diversions. Driving through Madrid on Saturday had been a little too hectic so we decided to take a longer route home via Toledo. Once again Walt had done a reccy earlier in the year on the motor bike and loved it. Toledo is incredible especially for a history geek. I had recently read Giles Tremlett’s works on Isabella of Castile and her daughter, Henry the VIII’s wife, Catherine of Aragon. While a little busier and more touristy than Salamanca, Toledo was beautiful and very special. What a Monday!
As we drove home , much later than planned, the windmills both modern and ancient ( for tourists?) dotted the landscape . The motorway was deserted apart from the odd truck and the journey simple. How lucky , after all those Monday mornings to be able to enjoy just taking off the way I had imagined I would love to when crossing the A1 all those years ago.
It is exactly two years since I retired from full time teaching in Scotland, two years since Walt and I sold our home and packed our belongings in to boxes for their journey to Murcia. I can’t believe how quickly time has passed or how every new season feels different from those first few months living here full time. Walt and Ben had been the trail blazers from February until the end of June, walking ,studying Spanish and cooking! Our first autumn and winter together in Calle Jacaranda saw us turning our little holiday home in to a proper home! We took out the wonky breakfast bar, built a new dresser to house my well traveled china, installed a pellet burner for chilly winter evenings and cycled a good chunk of the pilgrim way to Caravaca de la Cruz. ( we have still to complete it.) We enjoyed the gentle autumn and winter, cold at night but sunny days , warm temperatures and longer days. It is light until 6pm even mid winter.
Our first house guests were my oldest daughter, her husband and the three wee ones.(the Watsons) It was only a month since our departure from Edinburgh but I knew that one of the harder parts of moving so far away would be missing the children and grandchildren so it was fabulous to see them again so soon. They arrived on the 31st October, in time for a Halloween treasure hunt with our neighbours and their children and making a pumpkin lantern for our garden wall. We had a lovely week , swimming in the sea, wandering around the city and generally chilling out. It was wonderful being able to share our home and happiness with them.
We were aware from conversations with other migrants to sunnier climes, that we would never be short of guests. Some said that the first year would be the busiest then the novelty would wear off and the numbers would dwindle. It’s safe to say that this has not happened! However , this is not a complaint, we love sharing our home, the chilled out life we have here in the very varied and beautiful region of Murcia.
In January 2018, my dear friend Audrey came back with me from Scotland and spent four days with us and ten days in a hotel in the city! She loves her independence and being able to watch the world go by with her morning coffee in a plaza cafe. She is more of a town mouse than I ! However Murcia is a beautiful little city and we had discovered a great cycle track along the river from a nearby town, Alcantarilla, all the way in to the city centre. I cycled in to meet Audrey and together we discovered more about the history and culture of Murcia. This is one of the big pluses gained by sharing our lives here… we tend to fall into a routine when left alone, walking , cycling, pottering well worn paths. With friends and family who come to visit, we explore more and find all sort of places and stories that we would other wise not discover. Audrey and I went on the city bus tour, it didn’t take long as Murcia is a small city , but I did learn more about its history . We also took her to Cartagena and the Roman theatre that has been so brilliantly excavated and preserved. History geeks day out!!
Several weeks later, Sue, a great friend from North Berwick and Ross High came to stay for a week. Sue like me is a country mouse and so we walked and cycled , chilled at the shore and ate tapas huddled in side our favourite beach cafe ‘Oasis’ as March winds whipped up a dip in temperatures. Spring seemed to be the least predictable season. Cycling the nature reserve at San Pedro del Pinatar was wonderful although we didn’t see many flamingos !
Liz and Leah came just after Easter and for a ten year old, the sight of a swimming pool glittering in the spring sunshine was just too much… I had to go in with her.. it was baltic! As were our picnics at Lo Pagan and Oasis once again! We had just furnished our roof terrace after 8 years of wonky deck chairs and did manage a couple of dinners out side . For the most part it was rather chilly, although Murcia looked beautiful decked in lemons and flowers for the spring festival. It was fabulous seeing our old friends and returning their hospitality which we had enjoyed on our journey south in the Autumn. They live in the gorgeous village of St Abbs, Berwickshire, it is a magical little place. The weather can’t have put them off, they returned this July for the 30 degree plus heat and like so many of our visitors, opened up new experiences for us. The Roman Spa at Archena had been on my ‘to visit ‘ list for a while but Walt is not a spa kind of guy. Liz, Leah and I had a girly day there, taking the waters and having a fabulous chill out. Thank you ladies! We also lathered ourselves in the healing mud at San Pedro, another first, and saw the flamingos!
I travelled in April, twice to Scotland for Dougie’s birthday and my daughter Hannah’s hen do and then I fell over! My brother, wife Laura and their wee boy Harry were due to stay with us at the beginning of May but as I had just been let out of hospital , they stayed in a nearby hotel. I felt dreadful but they insisted and we still had some lovely times together. It did rain quite a lot though! There’s a pattern emerging!
In June, my friend Gail came to baby sit me and allow Walt some time away on the motorbike. It’s safe to say that my dramatic escapade in April had scared him more than me! The sun had finally settled by then and we enjoyed a very chilled out weekend , swimming, watching soppy movies and building my confidence back a little. I normally bounce back from periods of not being so well, I have been very lucky with my health , so the time taken to regain confidence has surprised me. I think I am more or less back to normal now but have developed an annoying fear of going on the motor bike. This makes little sense as the bump had nothing to do with the bike!
In August as temperatures climbed to the mid 30s,the Watsons came back for a fortnight, our very kind neighbours gave us their little holiday home for the overspill! Walt and I were supposed to retire there at night for a peaceful sleep. However as we had a new puppy and my son in law is allergic to dogs, he and Rachel had the quiet house. We had three under fives a puppy and a geriatric labrador! It was a crazy couple of weeks, lots of pool time, water park and the zoo. I miss the wee ones like mad and it was brilliant having them here . They coped incredibly well with the heat and I was the only one to get a little tetchy mid visit!
After two weeks travelling to Italy for Hannah’s wedding, it’s fair to say that the following few weeks of quiet times were welcomed. I started teaching more and joined a dance class.
In October, an old High school friend, Patricia and her husband Greg stayed for a few days. They live in the Yukon and had been travelling for several months so their time here was very chilled. We ate well and swam in the sea. I think they enjoyed being at home and eating in after months of hotels.
We didn’t do as much cycling as the previous autumn, Rocky needed lots of walks and attention. Leaving him in the garden usually meant lots of plants dug out of pots and if we left him in his crate for any length of time, he would destroy all his bedding. He is much calmer now and a fabulous dog, I think he keeps us all , including Ben , young!
Hannah and her husband came out at Easter this year and needed to borrow sweaters! We had some wonderful walks and lots of laughs with them despite the chill, meanwhile Scotland was having a mini heat wave over the Easter weekend! While the ‘over three hundred days of sunshine’ promised in programmes such as a ‘ Place in the Sun’ is not an empty one , it does rain here! Many of our visitors have experienced it.
This year, my youngest son and his girl friend have been out to stay twice and enjoyed June and August sunshine. I think they have hit it luckiest with settled but not too hot weather! Our new ‘experience ‘ this visit was a night in Benidorm! Walt knew it from his youth and had painted a fairly wild picture. Benidorm has a beautiful blue flag beach and maybe because it wasn’t the weekend, we did not encounter one hen or stag do. It was remarkably civilised with lots of Spanish families enjoying the last of the summer holidays.
Most recently the weather was so extreme that it made the news in the UK and beyond. The ‘Gota Fria’ is not an unknown weather phenomenon in Southern Europe . As the summer heat wafts up wards and merges with the colder air, autumn thunder storms and torrential rain are expected. It can happen any time between September and December, very Spanish, no specific time! Sometimes it doesn’t happen at all. This year it happened in September and broke all records. Like the ever hotter summers, the Gota Fria two weeks ago was the worst storm experienced in the Murcia region for over 50 years. Its effect was devastating. There can be no doubt that our climate and planet are teetering on the edge. Sadly several people died, caught in their cars as the flood water rose. Towns on the coast and flat agricultural land have been flooded and property destroyed. Animal sanctuaries and farms washed away. We escaped with a sleepless night as the storm raged and a slightly scary diversion off the motorway, as my brother in law had just landed in Alicante airport. It was his first visit to our Spanish home, he won’t forget his first day in a hurry! We watched the TVE news with mounting dismay at how dreadful and sad the storm’s affect had been on many and with concern about driving to the airport to pick Drew up. His flight had left Newcastle and no delays were reported, Alicante airport was open therefore we reckoned that the A7 motorway must have been passable as well. What could we do? Ask him to get a hotel in Alicante which by all accounts was struggling with the effects of the storm as well? No, we would have to go and get him. This was a humbling lesson in not being smug. There was flooding and there were queues on the motorway as the Guardia Civil let cars through slowly, we were amazed that the camino rurals ( old roads that still run along side the motorway) were now rivers, we couldn’t believe how the mountains had been converted in to Scottish ones with burns running off them but over all the road was functioning and we arrived at the airport early enough to have a coffee and a snack. What was all the fuss about? We’re Scots, used to a little bit of rain. Smug or what? Drew’s flight landed bang on time and we set off back to Murcia but of course by that time , any rios or ramblas that had been struggling before hand had now burst their banks. The motorway was closed and we were diverted off on to muddy, flooded country roads with no idea of how to get back home. Eventually we circled a very muddy industrial estate several times , every road the sat nav told us to take was closed off, one had even collapsed and found ourselves back at the slip road that we had been diverted off. The police had reopened it and very slowly we were allowed to get back home. We were regretting our earlier smugness and feeling dreadful for those whose homes and businesses were in the paths of those burst banks.
Drew had come from Scotland expecting some autumn sun! It took another two days for that to reappear but when it did , all was forgiven! We went in to the city the next day where things were getting back to normal and the height of the river was the big attraction with crowds just standing looking at it. The cycle path that I mentioned earlier was now part of the river and most of the bridges were still closed for safety. It didn’t stop Murcianos enjoying their paseos, dressed to the nines and demonstrating brilliantly how life goes on.
I am back to work this week! Teaching business English and my conversation classes again . A quiet few weeks ahead with no visitors planned until November! Having house guests is a feature of living far from home I imagine. When we lived in Scotland, we rarely had visitors for more than an afternoon lunch or evening dinner. I love it when we have our friends and family to stay and can share our happiness here, they bring so much and help us appreciate how lucky we are to live on our hill!