Where has the time gone, my last blog post was October 2022 and now we are in March 2023!
So, just a short update. From the photo above, you can see we finally moved into our own house, just over five months after arriving in France. back in June 2022. A hectic time and moving in at the end of November meant it was best to unpack the Christmas decorations first! That helped take the pain away of yet more French admin, setting up utility accounts etc…. As I type this, we have just had our health cards come through (Carte Vitale). All that is left on the French admin list is to change our driving licences and then start the application for the residency visa.
But back to Loubillé, where we now live. Unlike our house in Spain, we have quite a few houses around us and we are a less than a mile away from the the centre of the village. Our nearest town is Chef-Boutonne, a ten minute drive and where the supermarkets, vets, banks etc are located. We have beautiful countryside everywhere, even in the winter months, so lots of lovely walks for Charlie.
We have started French language lessons but Loubillé life has been some what ‘on hold’ as sadly my mum has been very poorly and I’ve had to travel back to the UK a few times. I’m very pleased to say that she is now recovering very well.
At the moment, we are waiting on a start date from our builder to get some works done on our home. Mainly cosmetic as the house is in good order. But we do need more insulation as it is a cold house despite the huge wood burner. Plus we are getting a quote for a heat pump, ‘pompe à chaleur’.
We have a large south facing garden that needs tidying and then we will wait a year to see what plants appear. I have so many ideas for a typical French garden! I already know we have many roses, honeysuckle, lavender and peonies plus right now a few daffodils. Also, plans for a kitchen garden at the side of the house. Steve is waiting to play with his ride on lawnmower!
A few jobs started in the garden including clearing tons of ivy!
Slowly we are getting a social life, meeting some lovely people. Everyone is so helpful. And with spring almost here, I cannot wait to be out and about discovering the area we now call home. And writing more interesting blogs, I promise!!
Every year, on the first weekend of October, the town of Chabanais celebrates La Quintinie.
Why? Well, here’s the history bit in brief!
Jean-Baptisite de La Quintinie was born in 1626 here in Chabanais, Charente. Initially, he went to Paris as a lawyer at the Parliament, as he was known for his exceptional writing skills. The president of the general accounting office requested that La Quintinie teach his son whilst on a trip to Italy. During the trip La Quintinie was impressed with the Italian gardens and became fascinated with horticulture. On their return from Italy, La Quintinie decided to give up his legal career and started studying and practicing in the gardens at an hotel. He visited England twice and King James II offered him a job managing his gardens, but La Quintinie declined preferring to be in France.
La Quintinie’s excellent reputation as a soil expert and gardener saw him work for many dignitaries. Then in 1661, Louis XIV gave him a job in the vegetable garden at Versailles. In 1670 the King created the role of ‘director of the royal fruit and vegetable gardens’ for La Quintinie who went on to design the ‘potager du roi’, the King’s vegetable garden between 1678 and 1683. This was a nine-hectare area. The objective being to provide fresh produce for the royal court and also becoming a horticultural experimental garden to cultivate out of season fruits and vegetables. When La Quintinie died in 1688 at Versailles, Louis XIV said to his wife ‘madame, we have suffered a great loss that we can never repair’.
So here in Chabanais they are very proud of this history. Many exhibitors participate selling their local produce of fruits, vegetables plants and flowers over the weekend, plus their arts and crafts, wine, cheese, honey, nougat, fresh bread and freshly prepared crepes. Indoors, there is a selection of handmade jewellery, soft toys and more.
The theme for the celebrations this year is ‘l’eau au jardin’ and unfortunately Saturday saw continual heavy rain all day, so quite apt! However, Sunday was better and the market nice and busy.
The event was organised in association with the Friends of Quintinie who also ran gardening workshops on the two days.
I just love the charm of these local events. I was so tempted to buy a plant or two, but we are still about seven weeks away to moving into our house in Loubillé.
We are two months into our French adventure and funny really, as this move just doesn’t feel as daunting as when we moved to Spain. I guess we know the sort of things we have to do and organise although this time after Brexit, it is an eye opener to say the least or maybe that should be a ‘wallet opener’!
We were introduced to Beatrice (Anglo French Solutions) who has outlined a schedule for us to work through. She is ‘holding our hand’ through the complication of French paperwork. I hate filling forms in at the best of times and that’s in English! She also arranged for us to have a letter signed by the mayor here in Chabanais, confirming we are living here, as we are renting and don’t have utility bills as proof of address which is needed for almost everything we have to do. She said it would be very useful. I’ll call it our ‘golden letter.’
So, step one was the validation of our French Visas here in France, not explained to us in the UK. Back online to our application account and “Darling where is the bank card?” That will be €200.00 each! And, no, I don’t know what the fee we paid in the UK was for either. A little Brexit gem?
Onto the car and first to declare it to French customs. We had driven over after our belongings had been shipped and declared. So, armed with our volumes of paperwork and our golden letter in hand, we drove to Angouleme, the capital of this region (Poitou Charentes) to the customs office. The French customs officer inspected our papers and also smiled at our golden letter and muttered ‘parfait’. The process was quick and easy and we even had the certificate issued while we waited which was free!
To matriculate the car onto French plates it is necessary to change our headlamps back to our Spanish ones as we are driving on the right hand side of the road once more. That done, next the French MOT, time for the wallet again! Since Brexit the UK MOT is not recognised. €80.00 later, our paperwork has been sent off to hopefully complete the process. Just the final fee outstanding which is one we know about just not how much!
Next, on our list, open a French bank account. Again copies of all our paperwork and our golden letter, which you guessed, was met with a smile by the bank assistant and a muttered ‘parfait’. Two and a half hours later, we had completed the bank’s paperwork and I think two hours of that was completing their security checks. However, we were dealt with by a person face to face who really made us feel welcome, the way UK banks used to be years and years ago. In fact, he was keen to give us information on good restaurants rather than sell bank products! Refreshing after an exhausting week of transferring money daily from our UK bank account to our existing Euro bank account. With every transfer having to be authorised with the bank customer services team (minimum 30 minute phone call), who are based in countries where scams and fraud are prolific. It makes you wonder how safe our customer data really is, as on one call, we could hear a voice in the background coaching the agent with the security questions, frightening! How do banks check on their employees?
Yesterday, a visit to the vets. Charlie needed checking for a skin problem and we also decided to get his microchip details updated to the address here. Another ‘to do’ ticked off our list. As mentioned in the previous post, Charlie has his Pet Health Certificate (PHC) which is valid for 4 months to re enter UK. Therefore, when the vet explained Charlie should have had his microchip updated in the first 8 days of arriving here, it was a surprise, as nothing is mentioned on the PHC. This means France will not let our dear Charlie out of the country for 6 months, which is OK of course, but what does the PHC ‘valid for 4 months’ mean then?
It does feel, and Beatrice also mentioned, that people and businesses are still working out what Brexit really means in day to day life? Anyway, we carry on ‘being processed’ into the French system and really look forward to our future here in France, where to date, everyone has been so friendly and helpful!
Of course, our main focus and most of our time has been to spent finding our new home. We’ve been busy travelling around the region viewing properties. Aigre, below, one of the places we viewed houses and added a nice lunch stop at Le Square.
So many beautiful hamlets and towns …..
And driving through the countryside full of fields of sunflowers, just stunning!
Charlie went to several viewings when they were over an hour away. He’s tested out quite a few gardens and was seriously not impressed when put back in the car and driven away, bless. But fantastic news, two weeks ago, we had our offer accepted on a house!
Here the process takes at least three months and I fear three long months as we are so excited! We’ve already decided where the Christmas tree will go! But, so I don’t jinx the sale, no more details for now as the paperwork is being prepared for stage one and yes, our golden letter was needed again!
Finally, I’m writing a blog post, well just a short catch up really, as the gap has been much longer than intended!
I can’t believe its 19 months since we arrived back in England from Spain. In fact, I think we’re all wondering how the last two years or so have vanished so quickly when we’ve been locked up, quarantined, socially distanced, masked, you name it, we’ve all been through it, haven’t we?
Back in October 2020, our plan was to return from Spain, decorate our apartment ready to sell and move on. But like the best laid plans things took longer than expected. Two buyers later and our sale is completing next month. Life also got busy, back to ‘normal’ spending time with family and friends. I became a volunteer at the vaccine centre in Chertsey Hall and felt a part of a real community sprit. It was very hectic and I have sanitized hundreds of chairs and had some great laughs!
We also joined the `’Big German Shepherd Club’ walks on many Sunday mornings.
Then, there was my lovely part-time job at Mercedes-Benz World at Brooklands which ended up lasting a year but I have made some truly special friends there.
We imagined moving to the English countryside for a while but our hearts weren’t quite there. Our budget was being pushed more and more with the ever increasing property prices, also there are lifestyle choices to consider, especially at our age! After many months of Steve showing me beautiful country houses online, we took a short trip to South West France and viewed some properties. Decision finalized, France would be our next adventure! Right now I’m thinking, goodness another language to try and learn!
Moving to the EU after Brexit certainly throws up challenges, a lot of research, visa issues, shipping belongings etc etc…. Now we cross our fingers that our visa appointment, early June, (after two month wait) will result in a huge ‘Oui’! Then, we will be on our way, first stop Chabanais, Charente where we have booked a rental property and storage for three months.
So, I must get back to packing and say goodbye for now or ‘au revoir pour l’instant?
Where does the time go as I cannot believe it’s been three months since my last post!
However, I’m so pleased and proud of my dear cousin Duncan who is holding his first photographic exhibition ‘Our Generation’ at The Lightbox Gallery, Woking, Surrey.
He is so creative and artistic in many mediums and designed the Mad Mods logo and video for the exhibition. So, I want to share this exciting event which is running from the 31st July to 22nd August.
But one step back, as some of you may not be so familiar with the sub culture Mods who were the baby boomers of a post war Britain. The Mods started in London in the late 50’s with a small group of men called ‘Modernists’ because they listened to modern jazz. The Mods were about fashion, smart Italian style suits and the music was jazz, rhythm and blues, soul and ska. They drove Vespa and Lambretta scooters. And the girls wore slim capri pants, twin sets, A line skirts and just think Mary Quant and the mini shift dress and skirts. All so different from how their parents dressed! There was a revival of the Mods in the 70’s and it hasn’t gone away and today still has a loyal passionate following internationally.
Black and white images are presented as ‘fine art printed onto aluminium’ giving an amazing, stylish, industrial, contemporary look.
Mods are never shy in front of a camera so there is never a shortage of content and inspiration! With lockdowns finished (we hope) Mods can get back to socialising and their live music, so key to their lifestyle. The ‘Mad Mods and a Camera’ book, of over 200 pages, covers Duncan’s first year of his photographic journey documenting the Mod scene.
But how did it all begin, here’s Duncan’s Mad Mods story.
“It was Remembrance Sunday, November 8th, 2015. I was heading back home with the Sunday papers and as I passed a local café I saw that a number of Mods with their scooters had congregated outside. By the time I got home I’d decided I was going to go back to photograph them. Don’t ask me why, but I knew I had to go back.
Bear in mind I hadn’t picked up a camera in years, so I was a bit nervous, to say the least! Outside the café, I asked if I could maybe take a few photos, not knowing what kind of reaction I’d get. Then ‘Smiler’, as he’s known, replied: “Of course mate, where do you want us?”
When I look back, that whole experience is an utter blur. What I do know is I was nervous as hell. After getting a handful of shots and saying polite goodbyes, I jumped back into my car and headed home. The big question was, had I captured anything worth showing?
Since then, my passion for photographing the Mod scene hasn’t stopped. I’ve photographed ride outs, weekenders and club nights– just about everything Mod. In fact I’m writing this after finishing a shoot with Paul Welsh, a suede head from Leeds, for a project called ‘Suited and Booted’. That’s what’s so great about this photographic journey – it’s introducing me to other subcultures, from suede heads to scooter boys and skinheads. And I’m learning from people inside the scene, which is so important.
“So, one day, when someone said to me “you must have enough photos to produce a book by now,” it got me thinking. And here it is. A book documenting the beginning of a photographic journey that started with that very first photo in Enfield in 2015.
So, a huge thank you to Mad Mods and Englishmen. If it wasn’t for the way they welcomed me that day, Mad Mods and a Camera might never have happened.
And who knows, one day I might even photograph Paul Weller. But that’s another story. Or even another book.”
“When I first planned this book it was going to be a simple celebration of how I started on my Mad Mods journey.
But almost a year after that day in Enfield, I started on another, much shorter journey. It was 1st October 2016, the first day I ever heard the word Glioblastoma.
Glioblastoma is an invasive, fast-growing primary brain tumour with one of the worst survival rates of all cancers. In the UK, around 3000 people are diagnosed with Glioblastoma every year. That’s why every single penny from the sale of this book will go towards The National Brain Appeal to support the pioneering work that my brother’s consultant, Dr Paul Mulholland is doing to find an effective treatment for Glioblastoma. I don’t want anyone else to have to go through what my family went through with my brother. A wonderful husband. A loving father. A beautiful son. And my little Bro.”
I really hope you can visit Mad Mods and a Camera ‘Our Generation’ at The Lightbox. If you would like to purchase this fabulous book to support the National Brain Appeal, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or contact me through my blog.
“It is more important to click with people than to click the shutter.”
The funny thing about dreams is that sometimes they are just that, dreams.
We had a dream to retire to Spain in the sun and where we would get more bang for our buck. So, we bought a beautiful cortijo and off we went! It was pretty idyllic and we were lucky to meet some fantastic people who have become good friends. We’ve had so many funny Spanish adventures as recorded in this blog and throughout that time Brexit was never in our sights until it happened and uncertainty crept into our lives and we decided to sell our house. We sold it within six months after expecting it to take at least a year and then rented an apartment on a golf complex until the Brexit situation became clearer but it still hasn’t!
And now 2020 is happening, a year none of us will ever forget. Many people’s plans and dreams put on hold or changed. Are we still planning to buy another property in Spain, may be? When we told friends of our big decision to go back to England, one of them pointed out to us that “you don’t have the same dream every night and so why shouldn’t you have a different dream!” So, here we are, currently back in England and feeling sometimes a little like Spain was just that, a dream.
We’ve moved back into our apartment which is in a lovely setting by the river Thames in Chertsey, Surrey. After years of having our property rented out, we now have repairs and decorating to keep us busy and from missing our Spanish lifestyle. Soon we will be ready to sell it fingers crossed etc etc in these weird times and buy our next house!
Meanwhile, we also have ‘project Charlie’ our nervous German Shepherd dog! His whole little life has been turned upside down, difficult for normal dogs, let alone Charlie. He has left behind his girlfriend, Aura, his neighbours, Ellie, Brando and Saba and his training classes. He’s left behind sunny warm walks, beach walks in the winter sun and generally a chilled dog’s life! I sometimes wish he could tell us what he thinks now seeing lots of people (his biggest fear), loads of traffic (he hates cars), even more cyclists and joggers (on a good day he’ll ignore!), rain, muddy paws and no garden. Thank goodness, just a two minute walk away are open fields where he can run and chase sticks, not that he ever brings them back!
All this is on top of a boring nine hour drive and overnight stay in Santander before catching the ferry!
Right now, I feel a bit like a foreigner in my own country, to be honest. Setting up utility accounts and new internet supplier (2 week wait!) has assured 100% frustration levels! I’ve been on intimate terms with automated robots who “would like to direct my call to the right person” or on a couple of occasions to a person who mimics a robot and has no common sense! The recorded message from one company apologised in advance for any background noise involving children, animals and clinking of tea cups ” in these difficult times while staff work from home” What I do know, is that overall these companies aim is to get the customer to do everything (their job?) online. But with internet access only on our mobiles it has made me feel like an uneducated tech alien with very fat fingers on a small keypad completing endless forms! Hey, I wasn’t going to be defeated and nor was Steve, who outsmarted our two-month old Samsung Smart TV which thought it was still in Spain for a few days!
However, the runner up, yes only the runner up, in my tech frustration charts is the Health Centre. After one hour, one green tea and one strong coffee, I completed both our registration forms which gave a link to an NHS app so we could make appointments online. Great and I downloaded the app on our mobiles and booked a video appointment for Steve later in the day. Guess what ….. it didn’t happen. So, I called the Health Centre and the NHS app isn’t actually linked to them! You couldn’t make it up but all was resolved with a good old fashion telephone conversation.
Well, I was all ready to publish this post as we had gone live with WI-FI and then Saturday happened. So, the winner of my frustration charts is my dear friend Alexa Echo. Steve reluctantly unpacked her, he just doesn’t see the need for this gadget, a waste of time and money! Anyway, I amended the app details with new UK phone number ….. Hello Alexa! She replied Hola! and continued in her perfect Spanish to tell me she couldn’t connect to the WI-FI. That’s probably as she thought she was still in Spain with the TV! One and a half hours on the phone to the Amazon Alexa helpdesk, explaining the problem to four different people and Alexa simply refusing to give up her Spanish, they finally sorted the problem. Now we happily say good morning to each other in English!
Our 14-day quarantine has now finished, so, our English adventure can really start!!!
The changeable ‘lockdown’ weather we had for a good few weeks really helped Colin’s plot although it was a bit unkind to some of the newly planted fruit trees.
An absolute abundance of potatoes, leeks, cauliflower, onions etc….. And as I type, Colin is busy planting out more of his seedlings.
Planting the courgettes attracted some friends!
As we approach phase two easing of Spain’s lockdown measures, I can’t wait until we are allowed to meet up, as last time we got together, Colin gave us a bag of goodies! Recently courgettes, strawberries and eggs have been added to Colin and Steve’s menus. Yes, eggs, so that was Colin’s next project he hinted at, in my post Basket Case in Jauro (February)
I asked Colin how this latest project came about? He said that developing the plots was always on their dream Spanish lifestyle ‘to do’ list but with the major renovations on the house plus their beach apartments it couldn’t be a priority. Fast forward several years, and an action plan was spurred on due to their neighbour Sofia subtle words in Colin’s ear about how some of the other neighbours were complaining that the weeds from the two plots were seeding on the neighbours plots!
Colin said that after they cleared the land, the plots looked so much larger than they first thought. Jokingly, Colin suggested to Steve they should keep some chickens and Colin already had a design in mind. A few weeks went by and Steve said if Colin drew up the plans he would build it. On discussing keeping hens with neighbours, there were lots of arm waving and warnings for Colin about foxes, wolves, wild cats and the village dogs! Also, beware of eagles and hawks, so a strong fenced run with a covering to stop predators getting to the hens was added to Colin’s design.
The good thing about Steve’s mancave was that he had lots of bits of timber laying around. An advert on Facebook resulted in 6 lengths of 6in x 4in and a small wooden window! These posts were cemented into the ground, and this set the villagers tongues wagging and funny how they then started going by the plots on their walks, pausing to stop and point, trying to work out what was going on?
The floor of the hen house was constructed on site in a morning and the side panels constructed and put up the same afternoon. The roofing being a sheet of marine plywood was put up just before sunset. On the second day the upcycled wooden window was fitted and doors put on.
Then the wood was stained and vinyl floor went in and that completed another long, mostly fun day! Egg laying boxes were connected at one end.
Next, support posts were cemented into the boundary for the run and left to set overnight. A boundary fence on the chicken run was cemented two foot underground so predators couldn’t dig under the fence and get in. The door was fitted with padlock and wire topping complete with a solar security light in place. Finally, finishing touches with curtains over the egg nesting boxes for privacy …. and pretty curtains up at the window! Cosy and safe! In total it was five days work at a cost of 275 euros on materials and after just fifteen minutes drawing up the plans. It’s super stylish and I am sure there is a business venture there for Steve offering 2 bespoke coup styles, the large model ‘Rural Jauro‘ and the smaller model ‘Urban Antas‘ …..LOL!
Last but not least Colin spent another 36 euros and enter the girls ….. Meryl, Beryl, Cheryl (grey hens) and Molly, Lolly and Dolly (orange brown hens). And no surprises they are very happily settled in their bespoke hand built hen coup.
They started laying eggs after a week and totalled 6 a day after a few weeks. Meryl lays double yolk eggs and several huge eggs which have triple yolks!
the first little egg!
Colin told me at night he always makes sure the hens are locked in, much to the delight of his neighbour Juan who always says to Colin as he walks by “todos los niños en la cama” (all the children in bed). Colins replies “si, y buenas noches besado!” (yes and kissed goodnight!) Juan gives the biggest toothless grin!
So, Colin another project? “Yes I want a donkey” ….. watch this space …..
As for me, I hope to be back out soon and sharing this lovely part of Spain I live in!
Meanwhile , here’s a video of Colin’s home seed production with the most beautiful views!
If I was having a coffee right now, I would be thinking, like many of us, what a strange world we are currently living in. We’ve completed the 7th week of lockdown and now we are beginning our phased exit. I was thinking of writing about what tricks we have used to survive this period but honestly, none of it was particularly interesting or original! (Apart from Steve’s self haircut and no photos allowed!) So, I thought I would talk about the first thing I would like to do on release from lockdown?
But my mind started wandering (not too difficult in these times) to the ‘firsts’ that Steve and I have experienced during our 5 year Spanish adventure, so here are a few of the more memorable ones …..
Realising quickly, that as a proud owner of gardening design City and Guilds certificate, it meant nothing in our garden where 3 meter plus cacti sat waiting to attack me rather than me pruning them! Eventually, I found them mostly stunning when in flower.
Owning a swimming pool and watching my husband learn how to balance the chemicals to keep it safe and clean so I could paddle safely!
Getting up close and personal with snakes and being bitten by a spider. Steve has seen the biggest centipede which the 6′ 3 gardener, working at the house, jumped 6′ 3 in the air and then decapitated the centipede with a spade but it kept on walking ! (no photos …..google this creature if you want!)
Steve and our neighbour removing processionary (or marching) caterpillars from a pine tree. They first sprayed the nest with hairspray, lobbed off the branch the nest was on, catching it in a bin liner and then digging a large hole in the ground placing the bag and setting fire to it. It is so important to do this, as the caterpillar hairs are so toxic and can become airborne in the wind and give nasty rash to humans and with dogs in severe cases can be fatal. (again google if you wish!)
The night a wild boar visited and re landscaped the front flower beds.
(Still thinking of moving to Spain ….. lol!)
Back to the nice things …..
Harvesting our olive tress, going to the olive press and exchanging our olives for pure extra virgin olive oil that was unbelievably delicious. However, our neighbours had to ‘lend’ us one of their olive trees in order for us to just to fill a crate! (read more – blog post December 2017).
Joined an art class and painted for the first time since I was 16. And I sold my first painting last December ….. who would have thought?
Obviously, speaking another language although still not fluent with our Spanish, we can get by of sorts. I recall the first time I went to a Spanish hairdresser and requested a cut and colour, it was as scary as the first visit to our Spanish dentist!
Started Spanish dog training classes with our German Shepherd, Charlie when he was a puppy….. that also helped with learning the language. Any shop assistant or waiter I can confidently tell to ‘sit’ stay’ ‘down’ ‘turn’ etc! But the highlight was entering Charlie into an obedience competition held in Vera bullring. Sadly, he didn’t achieve a rosette but I was just relieved he didn’t escape!
assessment day, best hide!
the big day!
after a few weeks, obstacles …
Administration here in Spain is a test of wills, not logical and extremely time consuming with different rules depending on who you are dealing with and what day of the week it is! So I will skip over setting up house taxes, car tax, car ITV (MOT in UK) and the 4 visits to Almeria to secure our residencia! But each mission accomplished was celebrated with a large vodka and tonic!
Oh! yes, so what is the first thing I will do on my full ‘release’ …… a walk along the promenade with Steve and Charlie, our dog, and stopping for a coffee. Sounds a dream? Well we are now moving forward with a slow easing of lockdown mode and heading for the ‘new normal’ that everyone talks about!
How exciting to think I can become a ‘new normal’ ….. ha! ha! ha!
Oh! PS, Steve has finished his book and one day to be published.
It never ceases to amaze me how people become part of your life. With Colin and Steve they became the font of knowledge, our Wikipedia de España. We were introduced to them by our Belgium friends Georges and Jeannine when my Steve was desperate to find a sports therapist to help with a sciatic problem he had. Ray solved the problem in a matter of weeks and my Steve was eternally grateful to them for their help. Fast forward four years and we are now firm friends!
Colin and Steve moved to a small pueblo in the hills called Jauro near Antas in 2006 after buying one house. Two years later they bought the house next door as well. They did the majority of the renovations themselves and completed most of the combined houses in 2012. The pool, terraces and garden were completed in 2013 and finally the front courtyard in 2015. They have maintained the Spanish character and furnished their home in a traditional Spanish manor.
(Just a little background info to set the scene of their latest venture we have comically called ‘The Basket Case in Jauro’)
Colin and Steve have two plots of land of 800m2 and last September Steve decided Colin needed a new challenge. Idle hands and all that, so they set about clearing plot one and readying it for planting. This involved weeding, digging and rotovating. No easy task as the ground here in Almeria is rock hard. Colin already had a vision of how it would look with interlocking paths, borders and a wooden gated entrance. The clearing was just a start, a treasure was unearthed in the shape of a set of false teeth and with five ‘gummy’ neighbours nearby, the owner remains a mystery!
Actually, this new mini series will be known as ‘What’s in Colin’s Trug!? And not just any old trug, it is a Thomas Smith Royal Sussex Trug (for those who have no idea what a trug is, myself included, its a garden basket used to carry flowers or produce). Trugs are hand made from sweet chestnut and willow strips of wood. A full insight can be found at sussextrugs.com.
But I digress, back to the plot literally! All of their produce is totally organic as no fertilizers or sprays are being used which is quite an achievement considering there are countless bugs in southern Spain ready to pounce at a hint of a shoot.
Everything is watered by hand as an irrigation system is yet to be installed. To protect the plants a high tech gnome called ‘Arthur’ has been employed, well actually Arthur is pretty low tech but appears more effective than shiny tinsel fluttering in the wind (maybe wind is Arthur’s secret weapon!). Whatever the success is down to, the local Spanish neighbours are highly impressed and have taken a keen interest in the local basket case, offering tips and advice. They themselves produce on a grand scale and it has been a lovely way for Colin and Steve to further integrate into the local community and improve language skills. Colin is pretty fluent so ¿Que hay en tu cesta esta semana, Colin?
And if you are also inspired here’s the planting schedule to get to this stage?
September – clear the plot.
October 12th – planted broccoli, cauliflower and onions
October 21st – planted garlic, leeks, red onions and broad beans.
October 25th – planted more broccoli and cauliflower
October – fencing put up as protection from the wind
November 1st – planted orange, lemon and lime tree
Then more features, a lovely wooden bench (ideal for those mid morning coffee breaks!) and herb planters made from reclaimed wooden pallets.
January 2nd – planted herbs, mint, rosemary, oregano, sage and chives.
January 12th the first crop harvested!
As Colin says, its amazing how quickly everything grows. Lots of work keeping the plot groomed and manicured but looks very impressive! And such a pleasure and the satisfaction is immense.
And veggie costs so far for this new hobby? Broccoli and cauliflowers – 10 for 1 euro. Garlic – 10 for 2 euros. Leeks – 30 for 1 euro. Seed packs – carrots 1.79 peas 2.40 and broad 2.79!
Colin and Steve’s house is the backdrop to this project!
What is happening next Colin? “Well, plot 2 cleared and propagated ….. so watch this space …..”
After months and months of lovely hot sunny weather, the first really cold snap and very windy weather arrived here in Vera (15C – when you live here that’s cold!). So, what should you do? Yes, visit Vélez Rubio and Vélez Blanco where it’s a balmy 5C!
In fact Vélez Rubio, Vélez Blanco, Chirival and Maria are the four villages of Los Velez and are situated in the northern corner of Almeria province amongst the Sierra de Maria – Los Vélez Natural Park. The landscape is stunning with mountains, pine forests and the area is also steeped in history.
Forty-five minutes drive and climbing 2800 feet aproximately, the sky is blue and bright and the air crisp and very fresh! As you approach Vélez Rubio, the pueblo is dominated by the church, Iglesia de la Encarnación.
It was built in the 18th century and is meant to be one of the best examples of Baroque architecture in Almeria.
The main alter is an amazingly detailed wood carving and some 65 feet high. The façade includes the arms of the Marquises of Villafranca and Velez who built the church.
As always, I’m not sure my Samsung mobile phone camera can do it justice?
The next stop is the Miguel Guiro Archaeological Museum to see more of the history from prehistoric remains and the Arab and Roman eras. The prehistoric caves and paintings at Cueva de Los Letreos and La Cueva del Gabar are UNESCO World Heritage listed sites. Cueva de Los Letreos dates from 5000BC with paintings of men, women and animals. It was here that the figure of Indalo was discovered. You see the Indalo man symbol everywhere in Almeria and it is believed to offer protection from misfortunes! We’ll see!
Time for a short lunch and then a 10 minute drive to Velez Blanco. The castle, Castillo Palacio is set high up on the rock and more than 1000 meters tall looking down on the pueblo. It was built on top of an old Arab castle in the 16th century. Sadly, only the exterior has been preserved to this day. You can take at tour but now it’s winter opening hours so it was closed when we were there. (We should have checked first!)
You will also see the remains of the Iglesia de la Magdalena on the hillside near the Castillo. In the church are the graves of the first two Marquises of Los Velez.
There are quite a few hotels here but they are all closed until the spring. But still a pretty place and nice to just wander around, soak up the atmosphere and stop for a hot coffee! Near to a bodega is the brightly coloured Fuente Caños de Caravaca (fountain) from the 18th century featuring the Vélez Blanco arms.
In the summer when the streets are buzzing with tourists and all the cafes and restaurants are open, it would be lovely to just sit outside with a drink and watch the sunset.
So, Los Velez to New York?
Met Museum of Art NY
Well, the marble patio from the Castillo was actually purchased by George and Florence Meyer Blumenthal in 1913 and was the centre piece in their house on Park Avenue, Manhattan. He gifted the patio to the Met Museum of Art in 1945 when he died. The patio was removed in blocks and placed in the museum storage until 1963. (Blumenthal’s house was demolished.) After further, research the patio was reconstructed and installed and during the construction two arches and other modern elements added by Blumenthal were removed. It now serves as the entrance of the Thomas J Watson Library showcasing the museum’s Italian Renaissance statues.
1997 to 2000 the patio was closed for refurbishment with a new floor of the same Macael marble put in which closely matches the original patio floor.
I didn’t expect this cosmopolitan ‘ending’ when Rhona (my blogging buddy!) and I set off to visit these sleepy pueblos!! But you never know what you might discover!
Coming soon ….. ‘what’s in Colin’s trug this week!’