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.
No truth so sublime but it may be trivial tomorrow in the light of new thoughts. People wish to be settled; only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
I finished my last ramble with a hint that the blog may be heading in a different direction… there was only one problem, writer of said blog has no idea what direction to go in! I have pottered about with bits of poetry, crazy 3am thoughts and reactions to other people’s writing and opinions then scrubbed the lot! ( see on line media and nonsense). Most of this ramble was written a month ago. Only two months to go until dose two of AZ! Only two weeks until the Scottish government makes its announcement on international travel, tension mounting! Therefore in its scrappy state, I am pressing the publish button on this post along with the quote above,which was also posted in an article by a much younger expat in foreign climes…. it made me feel better! Thank you! I’m off up to the huerto now, it’s a jungle after all the rain but wow! Lettuce, chard, onions, parsley, oregano, mint and coriander a plenty!
My writer’s block therefore lead me to simply cataloguing ‘ More stuff’ that I have realised about life and myself during the pandemic.
1.Just because I am reading addict, I am not necessarily a writer. Result? Allowing myself just to read! Bliss.
2. Time is bizarre, especially in a Murcian spring where one minute it’s warm enough for the beach and next day we have the stove on.
3. Couple this with year 2 of the pandemic starting …Easter feels like Christmas? Is it just me?
4. Waiting another 3 or 4 months until I see my family no longer feels like the lifetime that it felt like last April. The patience gene is definitely being strengthened. Walt and I have had the first dose of the vaccine, only 3 months until the 2nd…no time at all!
5. My left eye begins to wander after two hours on a zoom class…not a reassuring look for my students !
6. I love not being on my computer but being outside or making stuff. I had no classes during Holy Week /Semana Santa. We went to the beach, had lunch with friends and hiked a new and beautiful route just a few kilometres from home. It was bliss. I do enjoy my teaching and until our state pensions kick in, I need to keep going but those few days were super special!
7. Despite my wandering left eye, I am so grateful for technology. A chat this morning with a very special friend in Scotland, story time last night with the bairns and a chat with my brother in the afternoon, my online employment and fabric arriving from Germany for my next project, none of which would have been possible without my trusty old HP. ( it’s nearly 10 but Walt is very clever and keeps it going for me. He is on Zen and push bike maintenance today, Monday it was the motorbike. I am hoping that little Red, our 11 year old Hyundai is next in the queue for some TLC!)
8. I start sentences with ‘so’, ‘and so’ OK and ‘well’ far too frequently. I realised this earlier today when describing ‘filler’ words to students. Oh dear! Time for a cup of tea.
9. I need to keep busy , it’s my way of meditating, but sometimes my 63 years catch up with me and I need to nap!
10. I would much rather have a proper newspaper and books but technology does fill the gap a little. The trick I think is to keep online media in its place…most of it is nonsense! When we we allowed to leave our municipality recently, I took some clothes and books to a British run charity shop some 40 minutes away. They have a huge book section with paperbacks costing 25 cents! Result! That’s my summer ,when it’s too hot to do much, sorted!
And so …( two conjunctions at the beginning of a sentence…naughty) I can only sum up by writing that life goes on pretty much as normal here in the unpredictable Mediterranean spring…lots of rain, cuckoos, frogs at night and almost as green as northern Spain…for a couple of months. We are still not able to leave the region or travel to Scotland and that is the hardest part of all this but we still have so much to be grateful for. I began this blog three years ago almost as a diary of our adventure. I have made friends and had some wonderful chats because of it. I have learned through it. I would love the chats to continue and to hear more from you even if the blog doesn’t! Hasta pronto! Abrazos y besos. Xxxxx
A cold January with Filomena causing chaos in Northern Spain has given way to a very mild and pleasant February. It is crazy to think that we are almost a year in to this strange way of living. At the moment all our cafes and restaurants are closed and we can’t travel out with the municipality of Murcia city. We love an adventure, even a mini one and normally do something for my birthday in January but not this year! After painting the living room ( 18 foot high ceiling at one point) Walt found another creative outlet… country roads still within the municipality that allowed him out on the motorbike!
The crazy weather in the north touched us just a little with cold winds, night time temperatures of nearly zero and snow on the Sierra Espuña. It’s all gone now to be replaced by pale pink and white almond blossom. Our urbanization used to be terraces of olive, citrus and almond trees. There are a few wild ones left and despite no watering system they manage to flower and fruit each year. We discovered on our Christmas walk with neighbours that there are many underground springs in the hills and woods above us. With so little rain it does always seem amazing just how green our ´back garden´ is and how the boars, rabbits , squirrels and bird life thrive. Our neighbours took us in to a cave where a spring made everything green and damp. Scrambling down over mossy tree trunks with the smell of pine and damp soil was almost like being in a Scottish woodland! The eucalyptus and and odd palm tree among the pines reminded us otherwise! Another local small tree or shrub that I had never heard of is the hollyoak. I had noticed the shrub with small holly like leaves and was puzzled by acorns lying nearby. In my ignorance I thought hollyoak was a name created by a TV screenwriter! This only goes to show that we never stop learning .
My written rambles seem to stop and start at the moment. The mild February has regressed just in time for March! We are allowed out with the municipality now and so spent the last two Saturdays on the motorbike heading to the coast. Fabulous twisty roads, wild lavender, sea air and chilly weather! By the time we get home, the stove is needed to thaw us out! Not used to this!
Some other new stuff learned as we approach the first anniversary of going ‘not very far’ and a year since our last house guest, my daughter Hannah , falls in to two categories .
I will start with gardening! This has been a learning curve much longer than the current crisis but light bulb moments have occurred and augmented the long term process. The climate and growing seasons , the envy felt about my huerto neighbours’ harvests and finally nasturtiums blooming in February made me realise that things are very , very different here! ( stating the obvious I know but I think I was still subconsciously trying to garden like a Scot!). Patience and copying the locals is finally paying of. No matter how strange it feels, I have come to accept that many of the plants , vegetables and flowers that I expect to see thriving in the summer just can’t take the heat. I have also learned that a veggie garden here thrives on a good amount of benign neglect. It doesn’t seem to like being fussed over or even weeded! Our courgettes last summer were a disaster while next door’s weed patch produced wonderful courgettes…some as big as marrows! While the huerto is still experimental and we are about to begin preparing it for spring planting, my little patio garden has brought me great joy! I planted nasturtiums seeds in November and sweet peas just after Christmas. I have had masses of fresh coriander , flat leaf parsley and the oregano that I thought I had killed is going crazy once more. I also have some baby lemons on a pot planted tree. This has taken two years to happen. Previous blossoms have looked and smelled gorgeous then just dropped off! It all seems rather strange in February and I must admit that I do sometimes miss snowdrops and daffodils but this makes up for it!
What this very strange year has also taught me is just how resilient people are and how little difference there is between any of us even when cultural differences might tempt you to think so. I am teaching 10 hours a week online to students from all over Spain. Like homeworkers the world over, I have now been in my students’ living rooms and kitchens, met their children and pets and learned about customs from Catalunya to Andalusia, Madrid to the Basque Country. Every Monday morning, even when our lives have been so restricted and changed by the pandemic there are smiles and laughter. Everyone has had enough and wants to see and hug family and friends from other regions or countries but we still manage to joke and laugh. Patience is the virtue that we all agree we have had to nurture this year. When I first began writing my blog about moving to Murcia, I think I expected the differences in our life here versus that in Scotland to outnumber the similarities. The cultural, weather and language differences are what make this journey fascinating but the similarities between us all whether on zoom or in the street talking to neighbours about the weather are what make this home and that’s a huge learning curve!
Here’s to vaccines, hugs and family round the table on our roof again. We might need to be patient for a few more months but that is small beer after the last 12.
Post script. I feel that this one year anniversary of ‘ life in the time of covid’ and the 4th anniversary of our adventure beginning is a good time to change the direction of the blog a little. It’s a work in progress. Watch this space!
Winter isn’t really winter here in Murcia. In the last week temperatures have fallen , we have had rain and a thunder storm and things are greener again. It is cold enough for the duvet at night and the pellet burner for a couple of hours in the evening but still warm enough to take a cup of tea and my knitting outside in the middle of the day. ( I really do sound like grandma don’t I!?) It’s the first Sunday in Advent, how did that happen? For all the sadness and stress that 2020 has brought with it, the time has flown and here we are nearly at Christmas. Do I miss the cold winter , crisp frosty mornings , snow and ice? Not really! Last night was cold and clear here with a beautiful moon and hundreds of stars. Taking Rocky for his late night comfort break , smelling the wood smoke from neighbours’ burners and loving the winter sky is enough! Today once the Sunday walkers have gone home for their lunches we will head for the hills.
One week later and it’s the holiday weekend for the feast of the Immaculate Conception ( I think), we have had our hike for the day! Walt well wrapped up ! It has been considerably cooler this weekend, so much so that we had the burner on most of the day yesterday. Very unusual. We had been invited to a lovely lunch at our neighbours way back in July at the end of the first state of alarm and finally returned their hospitality on Saturday, the sun came out and we managed to sit out , socially distanced and well wrapped up for a three hour lunch. As there will be no going to Scotland this Christmas this was our Christmas socialising! Eventually it got a little too chilly and we all retired to our individual homes and firesides!
Life is very slow and quiet here as it is for so many and my writing has slowed down as well. I have been knitting, cooking, gardening,walking and teaching. No adventures or trips planned . Walt does short runs on Suze to keep her fit and himself sane but can’t go far. We think that by Wednesday we may be allowed a little further but still within the region……
It’s the last weekend in advent and slightly warmer during the day . Winter here really is for softies…perfect! It’s colder in the house than outside in the middle of the day. What a strange year this has been . Coffee in the huerto with my gardening partner this morning in a gentle warm sun . Neither of us even thinking about heading back to blighty this Christmas and agreeing that while we are so grateful to live in such a beautiful place, the fact that we can’t go or make plans has been the hardest part of this year. Rach sent me Penny and Anna’s nursery nativity video …it was brilliant. Well done to their teachers. A wonderful present even if it did make me greet just a wee bit !!
As hoped we are now allowed to go beyond our municipality…we all went to the beach this week. Had a lovely long walk and …..a coffee in a beach side cafe! Appreciating the things I took so much for granted before.
Marmalade…all the oranges and lemons are free!
A wee ride out, still in our region but so many beautiful roads and villages to explore.
On our run to Caravaca and Aledo on Sunday we passed the site of a Roman villa, Moorish castles and finished at a Moorish tower (above) which sits on a prehistoric ( millions of years old!)coral reef. The night before we had had a pre Christmas family zoom but it was preceded by the Scottish first minister’s special bulletin regarding much tougher new rules and not the relaxation that many were hoping for. Our family had decided before this to keep things low key anyway but it was the suddenness of the announcement and then the closing of borders to UK travellers that seemed to add to the general feeling that our va va voom has been given a hard dunt. The Roman villa and Moorish castles reminded me that life goes on and it will go back to normal . This strange year will become simply history too. Hang on in there. Enjoy the little things. Send love across the ether. Just because we can’t physically be with our loved ones doesn’t mean they don’t know how much we love them.
Have a peaceful, healthy and happy Christmas. We think our young neighbours are joining us for our Christmas day hike…watch this space..I might need oxygen or be totally embarrassed as they make light work of Pico de Águila while I puff and pant some way behind! What ever you do, have a wonderful day.
I am so lucky. Two weeks ago I was in Edinburgh, finally meeting my new grandson Arthur and reuniting, after 8 long months,with family. I was quarantined for 14 days with baby Arthur and his Mummy and Daddy and then had a week to spend with the other little people and the biggies too! It was done in shifts and mainly outside as Scotland began to experience a rise in case numbers and new restrictions were imposed. It was however, wonderful and I am so grateful for those moments. I know so many of my friends around the world have still not been able to see their families. It is really tough. The little ones grow so quickly, suddenly they’re not so little.
The three weeks flew by. One of the strangest things I have found throughout this whole pandemic affair is how quickly time has gone by. You would think it would drag but here we are…October already. I arrived in Edinburgh on the 3rd of September. The view from my guest bedroom come online classroom was still a summer one. Three weeks later, the trees were changing colours and the pavements were satisfyingly covered in enough leaves to kick through! I am still a big kid at heart. I said goodbye to autumn Edinburgh, not sure what season I will see it in again!
Back home, we had had rain! The temperatures had dropped to a comfortable 24 degrees average! Not quite as autumnal as Edinburgh but this morning it was. Misty and cool, the smell of wood smoke as farmers begin burning dead wood. Most of the trees in our woodland are coniferous and so the view from our kitchen window is always green but the few deciduous trees there are, are beginning to take on reds and golds. Citrus and olive trees are green/grey all year round! I never realised this until we moved here permanently. Evergreen as opposed to coniferous. The blossoms on citrus trees appear twice a year as the fruit is still being picked! We have lemons all year. Oranges are best in the winter months. The grape vines likewise are now almost bare and we have cleared the huerto and winter planted, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, onions, beans,chard, parsley, lettuce and coriander. Patience is needed now. I can’t believe the summer crops have come and apart from some chard, the sturdy aubergines and chillies that keep fruiting , all gone! The last green tomatoes are now chutney! The little orchard beside the huerto has given us some tasty apples, figs and now pomegranates. We are very few huertanos now and hoping the project will continue. It has been an unsettled year and people have had lots to contend with, especially the younger ones with families. It’s only a handful of us oldies keeping things going , which is a pity. We rely on a watering system that we pay monthly for and if the project becomes unviable and the system is shut off , we are thinking of ways to water physically and keep our plot going. Hopefully it won’t come to that.
The sun is burning the mist off now. It will still be warm enough to lunch outside. The swallows have departed but the blackbirds, sparrows, pigeons and occasional hawk have found their voices again after the August heat retreated. The gentle Murciano Autumn and Winter stretch out before us…walking, cycling, gardening . The big kid in me that loves kicking through leaves also loves and lives to be outside! So grateful.
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.