I am happy to report that yes, we all loved our big adventure. We are home again after 18 days on the road and are confident that there are lots more journeys to follow. We have learned some more, picked up tips and overall are pretty chuffed at our teamwork but most of all delighted by the freedom Ziggy has given us and the fun of course!
In the planning stages we had a few concerns – would Ziggy be big enough to accommodate us, Rocky and the extra ‘stuff’ needed? Would we still love or even like each other after living in such close quarters? Would we feel like this was a holiday and not a chore after a few days ? Up until this trip, we had only been away for weekends. Two to three weeks would be a whole different ball game. Remember please that we are newbies to this , I know there are many van lifers out there who will scoff at our two to three weeks but we all have to start somewhere!
We started at 2am on a Thursday morning. It was fresh, even here, and we planned to go from the Mediterranean to cooler Cantabria and our favourite little village on the edge of the Picos- Riaño – in one day. It might have seemed crazy but the Iberian peninsula was in the grip of a horrible heat wave , even Riaño was recording 30 degrees ➕ and stopping off to camp in our usual half way halts of Toledo or Ávila where it was nearer 40 did not appeal. We did it! With a picnic in a service station carpark, lots of comfort and ice cream breaks and a fan rigged up for Rocky, we rolled in to or up to the campsite overlooking the lake and views we love so much and as the evening wore on, it was cool enough for a sweat shirt! Sheer bliss!
Walt is the driver, and a brilliant one at that, I will do an hour here and there on a long , straight motorway but as we were planning only to do motorway driving for day one and the return leg home, I was happy to be quartermaster. We were doing this trip on a budget as we wanted to see how feasible a much longer ‘on the road ‘ would be once I stop teaching. Could we feed ourselves using such limited space, two IKEA storage boxes , a small portable fridge and a picnic cool bag? Yes! It was a challenge but in 18 days, we only had one dinner , one lunch , one breakfast , a snack and a few beers out. I love cooking but wasn’t too sure about it before we left . Inspiration came in the form of ‘ Campervan Cooking’ by Claire Thompson and Matt Williamson . I pre- prepared our first two days at home using recipes from this great book and then adapted ideas and simple ‘cheats’ from it as we went along.
Day Two…. slowly, slowly. Coffee with a stunning view and then around midday, a drive to a very special place…Mirador del Oso or ‘The bear’! Two years ago in the middle of the pandemic but when we were ‘allowed’ to leave our municipality , Walt brought me here on the motorbike. It has become our our personal pilgrimage. The mountain air, cowbells, snow on the higher peaks and quiet away from the madding crowd! It is magical ,in the moment and totally relaxing.
We continued to another favourite view point, the deer , where Walt was able to use his new toy. Walt loves making films of his travels and added a small drone to the equipment used for this. He is still learning but has created some beautiful memories already using it. I just love the Picos and the mid 20s temperatures meant we could do all of this in the afternoon. Rocky was loving it too. I am writing this now under the fan in the bedroom, Rocky is on the floor beside me…we won’t be going walkies until about 9 this evening! Too hot! After our meander we returned to Riaño and a beer at the Hotel Presa, our digs on previous trips.
Day 3. A quick stroll up to the ‘ biggest swing in Leon’ breakfast, coffee in the Hotel Presa then on the road through the Picos National Park and Asturias. We thought it would be cooler still as we climbed higher, on twisty roads that Walt thought nothing of on the bike – they were a bit more challenging in Ziggy! It wasn’t cooler, the humidity was fierce. We had a picnic lunch on a Park for Night spot outside a village. It felt like a sauna! Very pretty but very sweaty!
Our next challenge in the van life adventure was to use the Park for Night App to find somewhere to camp. We wanted to be brave and try either wild or semi wild camping after the comfort of the Riaño site. Lots of people do it and we had a tiny bit of experience in Almeria. How would we fare in Asturias?
Using the Park for Night App, we found a free campervan stop on the edge of a lovely park and only 9kms outside Oviedo. Perfect? Almost apart from a very happy, loud celebration or party in the park! Happy families of all ages dancing and having a ball, they were there for the long haul judging by the trestle tables groaning with with goodies. The music was getting louder and chilling or taking Rocky for a walk was not an option. Time to look again. We turned to go down the narrow track from this park up when we were stopped by a very agitated cyclist in an adapted bike/ wheelchair. Were we going too fast down the narrow road? Didn’t feel like it. As we climbed out of Ziggy , we found two equally agitated Spanish ladies trying to free an old man who had been eating fruit on a bench, dropped his fork and tried to retrieve it. Hard to explain but he was wedged between the bench, a tree and a metre high drop in to his hen run! The wheelchair cyclist was simply asking us for help. Walt managed to free him and pop him back on his bench with lots of thanks from his carer and rather cross wife…’ we told him not to move’ . Thankfully the old gentleman was only a little scratched and shaken . He was probably in for an evening of ‘ I told you sos’.
We set of again, this time high up in to the mountains and El Mirador del Angliru… a mountain hostel’s carpark . The hostel seemed mainly dedicated to touring cyclists, brave and super fit to make it up here! For 10€ there was water, waste disposal if you have a big van with all mod cons, loos, a cafe and the most incredible views. It was still very humid even at that time of night, we had a good walk, snack and drink in the cafe and rigged up the mosquito net so we could sleep with the tailgate up. The park up was closed at midnight and super secure. Our first, not quite free park up but a good compromise!
Day four- Sunday morning seemed like a good time to visit the first city on our route. Oviedo is the capital of Asturias and one of the starting points for the Camino de Santiago. Ziggy was becoming a pilgrim! There are several different routes and we seemed to criss, cross them everywhere we went!
Ours was a double edged mission that morning, one to see the historical centre of this beautifil city and two to find a cafe with wifi. Our Orange contract was not working despite umpteen attempts to contact them and sort out the problem. I have a pay as you go UK sim that I use when in Scotland. Luckily it has roaming and worked perfectly in Spain but that wasn’t the point. Ironic that 3 UK was better than Orange ES. We had breakfast in a shady side street, the wifi was fine but Orange continued to play up. Time to put the phones away and take a stroll. The main square and cathedral are beautiful. There was a medieval market and procession of an Astursian pipe band in progress. Rocky wasn’t too impressed. He isn’t keen on drums! Memories of Ben and the North Berwick pipe band on parade…he slipped his collar and bolted. Where is their Celtic blood? The band was excellent however and the ancient part of the city very interesting. We had parked in a residential part of the city, about 20 minutes walk away. Parking in cities is not one our favourite things to do. Like so many Spanish towns and cities the ancient and medieval centres are ringed by modern flats and commercial areas. Some are 60s and 70s concrete and grey but this area , while made up of uniform and neat blocks was surrounded by trees and green areas. I still wouldn’t want to live in a city…definitely a country mouse! It’s always a relief to get back out in to the open.
We planned one more night in Asturias, on the coast but it turned into two. We needed a rest and when we found ourselves wedged into a corner of a huge ‘family ‘ campsite near Gijón -the touring/camping area was tiny and our pitch was blocked fairly effectively by a large German holiday home and a gang of teenagers camping in two tents plus lots of stuff scattered in teenage fashion all around- the enforced time of the road was actually pretty welcome! Camping El Molino might not sound like the rural idyll we were looking for but it was only a five minute walk from a beautiful beach and coastal walk. What was even better was that the ‘ola de calor’ broke on our first night there. We walked in to the small seaside town and back before dinner, a couple of miles each way without breaking sweat, what a wonderful relief. The following day was cool enough for a long morning walk, then as the teenagers’ parents came to round them up, we were able to squeeze out and explore a beautiful sculpture park on the edge of Gijón. It was a ‘let your dog of the lead park’ . Thank you Gijón ayuntamiento! Rocky had a wonderful run about.
We were now just about to celebrate a week on the road! After two nights in our cosy corner it was time to move on. I had my first swim in the Atlantic ( Bay of Biscay) while Walt and Rocky took some photos and drone footage then we said goodbye to Camping El Molino and Asturias. Now to explore Galicia.
After a very wet spring …almost six weeks of heavy rain between March and May , slowing down the growth on the huerto and curtailing long hikes as our soil is a pale clay that turns walking boots into diving boots when wet…we made a promise not to moan about the inevitable long, hot summer! It has been difficult! Almost as soon as the rain stopped we had a very unseasonal heat wave at the end of May and first two weeks of June. Temperatures reaching 37 on one day!
Our visitors have started to return beginning with Walt’s brother and his wife. They all escaped on motorbikes to the Picos de Europa while I stayed in my cave, teaching and walking Rocky before 7am.. it was a bearable 18 or 19 degrees until around 9 then up it would crank again! It is a good feeling however seeing the sun come up and we are much earlier risers now than in the winter. The problem is however that to enjoy dinner and relax in the evening, we have to stay up later! Siestas are crucial!
Our visitors however have loved it…pool , beach , a potter in the huerto and picking lemons for home made lemonade!Seeing our home from the perspective of others and appreciating just how lucky we are has balanced the moan factor and watching two years old Arthur cope brilliantly in 30 + degrees ( they had a slightly cooler week after a brilliant thunderstorm cleared the air) was amazing. He is a wee blondie but his Daddy was born in Malaysia and his Grandma on Dad’s side is Australian. Maybe that has something to do with his resilience !
Temperatures are on the up again this week with weather warnings ⚠️. The predicted Scottish heatwave looks wonderful ..24 in Edinburgh, bliss! I suppose it’s all relative! We are planning our first big adventure with Ziggy and as luck would have it, the ‘cooler’ northern Spain is about to experience a heat wave! Trying not to moan! Watch this space for our escape plans!
I have just spent a couple of hours in the huerto and as always, despite the heat, feel the sense of calm our beautiful communal space and own little parcela gives me. Bringing home more lemons , lettuce, tomatoes and our first garlic harvest also makes me happy. The bees were loving it too, especially the lavender. Time to be indoors now until 4 or 5ish when we will go for a swim and chat to our neighbours about….the weather! Hace demasiado calor 😥 . It’s reassuring that we are not the only ones finding it just a little too hot!
When it comes to writing at the moment, I am super lazy. My excuse is the amount of time I spend in my cave (spare bedroom) teaching on line. I began a post two weeks ago and am struggling to finish it. This is the edited version of ‘Meet Ziggy ‘ and I have no excuse not to write it….no excuse because I am sitting under the home made shade of Ziggy’s tailgate on a site called Orange Grove , five miles or so from Benidorm. Rocky and I are staying put while Walt walks in to Albir in search of supplies.I have to stay put because Ziggy is hooked up to a life support system ( battery charger) kindly lent to us by a van neighbour.
Ziggy is a 16 year old Volkswagen Caravelle that we bought in February after years of humming and hawing about one. We love a road trip, Rocky isn’t keen on kennels and Walt hasn’t flown for over two years. There is so much of Spain, Portugal and Europe that we would love to explore and this seemed the ideal solution. Oh golly…it is however a learning curve (1. we have a battery charger at home…remember it next time!) Ziggy came from Belgium and is in great nick for her age but checking the ancient battery should probably have been on our to do list. Having said that, this is our fourth outing with her and we had had no problems starting her up…until yesterday!
There have been other learning experiences but this one is the biggest so far! We are hugely grateful to ( I counted 4) English neighbours who are professional van lifers and who crowded round Ziggy resuccitating her and giving us some very useful tips. There is a local Baker who arrives on site at 9 every morning with fresh bread and delicious pastries…I think I will have to buy a dozen or so as thank-yous ! Luckily I have Madrid holidays and as tomorrow celebrates San Isidro, we have the whole day to get home!
Other lessons learned? We have solar panels and a Jackory power unit. We can also charge the unit when driving from main battery. We thought we could cope without an electric hook up and have done so – so far . We have even spent two nights wild camping in Almeria on beautiful, wild beaches . We were feeling very smug as we set up our solar panels and tailgate awning yesterday, dwarfed by the huge- home from home – mobile homes hooked up and toting everything from microwaves to TVs. ‘That’s not real camping’. Eat humble pie Team Barbour… I must have bumped in to a passenger courtesy light when we arrived. We had checked all the usual battery draining suspects, tail gate light, driver’s lights etc but it was super sunny and that one wee light escaped our notice. We made lunch, had a cheeky Cava to celebrate Walt’s birthday and a swim in the site pool. Very chilled! Then we decided to walk in to town for a treat…a birthday dinner out. When Walt turned on the ignition to wind up the windows, they creaked and groaned up enough for us to leave Ziggy safely but with the knowledge that next morning would mean either calling our road side assistance or asking neighbours for help. They have been amazing. The kindness of strangers.
Learning curve number one – remember battery charger. Two- buy new battery, ancient Mercedes battery in a volkswagen is a recipe for future disasters. Three- buy a hook up lead. At 3€ a night on European campsites, this is an inexpensive luxury when we choose to stay on site. Wild camping is great for escaping the madding crowd but every now and then Ziggy needs company and battery charger will not work from 500 watt Jackery! Previous lessons learned, four – put bed up before it gets dark! Our first night in Ziggy was beside a beach, just off a camino rural. It was beautiful. As the sun set , stars began to shine brilliantly in a light pollution free sky. We have had a very wet spring so frogs croaked nearby and the waves lapped gently just 20 metres away. Then we tried to put the bed up…it would have been comical if we hadn’t been so tired and the temperature was dropping to well below 10 degrees! It might be romantic to sit and watch the sun set but having a bed to climb into without a palaver is possibly better! Five- have little net or cloth bags that can hang from coat hooks or similar…put glasses, phone chargers, earrings and other easily lost items in these every night…do not vary the place. Finding things in a small space is a challenge especially for two oldies! Six- to be honest, we haven’t learned a sixth one yet but we will! There’s a whole lot more to discover and learn ! Now this is the honest edit of Meet Ziggy but I should also say that there has been lots of fun too and we have already explored new and wonderful places all less than 4 hours from home. ( The cost of diesel shot up just after we bought the van…Great timing and a learning curve beyond our control. However close to home in the meantime has been brilliant. ) After two years of living very quietly and in my cave, we have spoken to so many lovely people, Spanish, French , English and Argentinian …it’s what we have always loved about a road trip.
First night away.. Mojacar. Almeria.
Or maybe just ‘ during a break in the rain’! This week began with a calima or Saharan sand cloud turning the sky red and our garden brown . The rain that followed, thankfully cleaned away much of the sand and then continued to fall continuously for the rest of the week! Murcia is now green Spain and in a break between showers I made it up to the huerto.
The world is in such a sorry state at the moment and I have no words nor understanding of it but I also know how fortunate I am to have the garden to reset my mind and heart. These are just a few photos of my project this morning, the beautiful huerto and wee cat who always joins us when we are working.
The administration of the huerto or allotments is managed as part of our urbanization community and employs a team of organic gardeners to maintain the watering system , fruit trees and communal spaces between each individual plot. They are very particular about the compost bins which are restricted to green waste from the huerto only. Our patio garden is too small for a decent compost bin so for the last couple of years, Anne and I have composted our household vegetable peelings, egg shells, coffee grounds and cardboard in an upside down dustbin! We have produced lovely compost and lots of worms! In our (normally) dry, stoney ground this is fantastic. However the plastic dustbin collapsed and is now in the recycling bin..replaced by a small but perfect purpose built bin. My project this morning , to put it together and start filling it! Simple pleasures! I love it.
Once I finished tucking the bin into its corner, I picked some tasty odds and ends from our own plot and the communal garden while wandering round and enjoying the plants that are loving the rain and the blackbirds who were in full voice. A lovely couple of hours away from it all. Home now for a homegrown salad ! Very grateful.
I know that having officially bowed out of writing a blog in August this may seem a little surprising however the past weeks here in Murcia deserves a mention and an update on life on the hill!
For the first time in 18 months we have had family to stay..the Watsons. Rach, Graeme, Dougie , Penny and Anna. It was a reminder to me of a previous post ‘Sharing our Happiness ‘ and how much we missed doing just that. The week , predictably, went by too quickly but it was wonderful. Murcia weather was welcoming and warm enough for both pool and beach, hiking , eating outside and when ( it is Autumn after all) we had one very rainy day, we began knitting projects, jigsaws and lots of drawing! Saying bye bye was also predictably hard. Apparently there were tears at the airport because they didn’t want to go! Rocky mooched about all day looking sad after all the extra cuddles and adoration that he had become used to, not to mention extra snacks, that he had been getting for a week.
One of our visits during their stay had been to Hugo’s home farm. This is a small finca five minutes from our home which is now run as a donkey/horse/ goat/ hen/ dog/cat/alpaca…in fact any abandoned animal rescue. It is the passion , imagination and incredible hard work of a young Scot from Musselburgh and while the finca belongs to his partner’s family, the project began several years ago in Benidorm and moved to Murcia last year. Local cat and dog pounds and the police all know of Hugo’s and frequently supply them with new guests! This all takes a lot of funding and so on the Saturday of our gangs’ departure I spent a few hours on the ‘cake stall’ of a fusion . . British fete and Spanish paella day!It was a great success and the best of two cultures. I loved hearing the kids whose parents had moved to the region permanently and put children in to local schools, speaking Spanish and English with out missing a beat. The sun shone, animals were on best behaviour, cakes and jam sold and funds were raised. Éxito!
Four days later, the Mattisons arrived! Rocky had a playmate again ..the Duracell toddler that is Arthur with his Mummy and Daddy . So much fun ! The weather reminded us that even although this was Murcia, it was still autumn. Despite quite a lot of cloud and cool mornings it was still warm enough in the afternoons for braving the pools …freezing! the beach…invigorating and ice cream in the city…delicious. Once again, the week went too quickly but oh what wonderful memories to store away.
I was determined to savour every moment that I had with the ‘peques ‘ ( little ones) and as my classes now take up every morning, I had a mad baking/freezing breenge ( Scots for doing something with gusto- difficult to translate! ) for the fete before they arrived. October went by in a flash! It’s already half way through November and Walt has been able to get to Valencia for the final race of the MotoGP. Two years later for this pilgrimage aswell! My Fridays are suddenly busier than ever with classes all day, so I chose to stay at home with Rocky. This meant I could go on a very gentle guided walk this morning to learn about the flora in our Sierra de Carrascoy. It was a beautiful morning and perfect for wandering around learning about plants and flowers . All in Spanish! Tomorrow Anne and I will continue to amuse our Spanish huerto neighbours with our anarchic plot. We must be ‘the talk of the steamie!’ The tomatoes, especially the cherries have not stopped fruiting. We still have aubergines on the go, arm loads of basil and a few padron peppers. See photos for ‘us’ and them! We have planted some winter crops in wee spaces, kale, broccoli and onions and are using our first load of our own home made compost so haven’t done the traditional autumn clear out. Our squashes were also successful and the plants have just been cleared away. We both hate waste so while we can’t compete with the broad bean harvests that our neighbours will have next month, we are still taking edibles home everytime we visit! Anne took on the green onion chutney task this year with delicious results. I will do the annual marmalade marathon in December…when the fruit is free how can we not!!
And so another year rushes headlong towards its end…probably one of the strangest in most of our lives but with lots of wonderful memories still made despite everything and definitely so much to be grateful for. I think that is why I decided to write this wee diary. I do struggle at times, so far from my children , siblings and old friends . This past year and a half has made this even more difficult. However when Walt and I walk Rocky to the top of our urbanization and look over to the Sierra de Carrascoy, the Sierra de Espuña, our beautiful glittering city and the Ricote Valley in the distance, we realise just what wealth we have and how lucky we are to live here. Gracias Murcia..por todo!
I began this blog three years ago, not long after our adventure hit a bump, or should I say my head hit a kerb! I was hugely fortunate to recover quickly but for a few quiet weeks I had time to start writing Adventures not Dramas. To be fair my having a fit and passing out while Walt was driving was pretty dramatic for him. I am never allowed to nod off in the car now . I began writing it for two reasons, one as a diary and way of saving memories and two with the vague idea that I might find that I could write well enough and consistently enough to create a book. Reason one …definitely. Reason two? I am a reader, love playing outside and enjoy making stuff. I am not disciplined nor consistent enough to be a writer! I was a very similar scholar, if the sun was out , why stay at your desk? Therefore nearly four years, many brilliant adventures and a global pandemic later ( who would have believed it) I have decided to say goodbye to blogs. My memories will be photo books from now on! It looks more than likely that my teaching will continue and as permanent member of staff. Instead of an expat retiree , I have found myself with a job, social security number, healthcare and residency. When I showed my passport at Alicante last week the young official said that if I hadn’t been going to the UK, my residency card would have been fine….I am European!
My working days are now not quite as full or stressful as they were four years ago. It’s the anniversary of my retirement from school at the end of this month, but with mornings teaching , afternoons quickly disappear in a blur of doggy walking and gardening when cool enough , sewing and reading and now going out! We are back on the road again! Starting small, we had two days in Benidorm in July . Walt had also done a Portuguese road trip in May as soon as our borders opened up so he started big! I then moved on to two weeks in Edinburgh! I have to admit to being pretty stressed by the whole PCR, passenger locator and quarantine malarkey but it was nearly a year since I had seen the family. It had to be done and it was truly wonderful. I hope that it won’t be so long until next time. Getting bolder, tomorrow we head north again to the Picos on Suze! We will leave around 6am to avoid the heat here but pack waterproofs for Cantabria!
I am incredibly grateful for technology and the world wide web . It has kept us connected to loved ones and kept many of us employed but I am now a little internet exhausted. It will continue to be a work tool, family and friends chat platform and of course provide the odd bit of shopping! However I am bowing out of blogs and social media. I want to get back to real life and not a virtual one! To all my friends on social media and here, I have loved seeing all your adventures and ways of staying positive over the last crazy year. I have loved having chats with old friends and long lost family . I really appreciate all of you. So please forgive me if you don’t see ‘likes ‘ or comments or birthday greetings, I can still be contacted for a chat and will check messages but I am saying goodbye to everything else!
I know Walt and I will continue to have adventures but the moving abroad, finding your feet with new cultures, language and everyday living when everything seems different was a major part of this blog. When I popped down to the village yesterday, Sangonera felt normal , no longer ‘foreign ‘! Enough said. Hasta pronto amigos. Keep in touch…there’s always snail mail. I love getting letters! Besos y abrazos a todos.
A wee gallery of Edinburgh and North Berwick after quarantine with Arthur. So grateful.
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
Some of Murcia’s spring flowers…
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.