Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Panic Over

'Tis the season to be jolly because it seems I spoke to soon about my trusty camera, which is still functioning after all.

Here, to celebrate, is a picture of a sunset from a couple of evenings ago.

Saturday, 22 December 2007


First of all, let me apologise for the lack of photos in this post. It seems my camera has turned into a vampire as it sucks all the life out of the batteries before I can get a single photo taken, and spending €26 on new rechargables has not helped the situation. And this just when I wanted to entertain you all with pictures of the mulled wine, the grand lighting and our roaring bonfire. Although, to be honest, ones of me after one too many mugs of wine were never going to be posted anyway. I wonder if it's too late to convert and ask Santa for a new one?!

It's always wonderful to arrive home to the smell of mulled wine, especially when there's a warming chilli 'sin carne' awaiting too. So, defying the rest of El Entrego who all seemed to be determined that I should have a Feliz Navidad (I really should learn how to say 'Winter Solstice' in Spanish so I can wish everyone a happy one in reply), we scoffed our dinner and, mugs of spiced wine in hand, went outside to enjoy the evening. The night was clear, the moon almost full and the stars winked cheekily at us in the crisp air.

Bonfire lit, we spread out an old blanket and enjoyed the warmth and spendour of the fire, which I imagine could be seen all the way down in the town. We were soon joined by all three cats who took great delight in having an audience for their clowning around the kale plants before deciding that the stange glowing object wasn't a threat and coming to sit on the blanket with us. Eventually they got bored and went in, but we stayed out until gone midnight, sitting, watching, contemplating, and supping beer once the wine had run out.

We made it to bed at about 1.30 this morning with the plan of planting our peas today and preparing the bed for garlic. However, the weather has turned and it's been raining since mid-morning. Instead I'm planning on lazing next to the fire with a good book.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

A real nip in the air

This last week has been getting distinctly chilly, a far cry from the start of winter last year when we were still picking tomatoes. To make matters worse we've been getting up early for all sorts of reasons, curtailing my snug mornings in bed as I wait for the temeprature to rise.

The advantage to this is catching the first rays of sun on the mountains in the morning. And before everyone stands back in complete shock and thinks I've somehow overcome my innate aversion to rising from bed at a 'decent hour': the sun doesn't get over the mountains here until about 8.30am, although I do still like being able to say that I get up with the sun.

First sun of the day on the mountains

As the sun rises over our valley

I'd like to be able to say that I have been inspired by the natural beauty of the early morning to rise at a similar hour next week. However, I know myself too well and I expect that I shall be snug in bed waiting for it to warm up before I sneak so much as a little toe out from under the duvet.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Academia bits 'n' bobs

In the pell mell existence I sometimes lead at work, rushing from one lesson to the office to the next, I'm sometimes surprised into stopping, looking and marvelling. This week it was a twelve-year-old student who amazed me. Whilst his erstwhile companions were noisily milling around the entrance area waiting for class to begin, he was perched by the window, quietly humming Beethoven's Ode to Joy to himself, oblivious of all around him.

The previous week I'd been suprised my a ten-year-old who, in English, had told me that the President of Great Britain was Gordon Brown. After teaching the phrase 'Prime Minister' he quickly informed me that the previous one had been a certain Tony Blair. I congratulated him on his knowledge and and exercised some willpower so as to refrain from giving my own opinion on the subject.

Sometimes students just make me grin. Another twelve-year-old announced to me this week that he'd dreamt the world was going to end. It was a horrible dream, he said, the human race was wiped out by a nuclear attack. And which evil megalomaniac had pressed the button that cause all this distruction? Why, Homer Simpson, of course.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Enjoying the learning curve, part two

I dreamt in Spanish the other night, for the first time since I've been here, which I was rather chuffed about as it means I'm getting to grips with the language again, even if it was one of those disturbing dreams where I'm on the stage with no idea whatsoever of my lines. This time my co-actor, a young girl for whom I was supposed to be playing the part of governess, had to whisper the lines into my ear - in Spanish - and I had to do a quick translation into English before pronouncing them to an unseen audience. It all proceeded well, and next time I'm having one of those 'oh shit, I'm on the stage and have know idea what I'm supposed to say' dreams, I may try and introduce my little Spanish helper into the equation again.

Anyway, despite my grasp of Spanish, there's one word, or rather sound, that I have incredible trouble with, which lets it be known to all that, despite my rather good accent, I am indeed a foreigner here. And that sound is 'eu', most particularly when I have to say euros, which, as you can imagine, happens rather often. Having asked my boss tens of times to say the word for me so I could practice, I finally wrote down an approximation of the pronunciation which I will now share with all of you so you can practise for you Spanish hols:

'a (pronounced as you'd say the letter in the alphabet) - you- rose', with the accent on the a.

So, altogether now....."a-you-rose". Now run it all together: "euros".

Hmm, it takes a bit of practice, I've not got it quite right yet myself and walk around the house or the academia mumbling it to myself. Still, better than my attempts with the double r, which must be rolled. This is almost impossible for me as I apparently have a lazy tongue, (although it sometimes happens when I'm not worrying about it and I surprise myself) which was diagnosed at an early age and for which I was sent to sometimes excruciatingly awkward - when I couldn't say a word properly - elecution lessons while still a nipper. Anyway, the upshot of this is that I say words like 'dog' - perro - as 'but' - pero. Fortunately, as regular readers will know, I am a cat lover so don't have to worry about telling people 'I have three buts'.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Winter Approaching

After a quick session in the garden yesterday between downpours, it struck me that after much hard work we do, finally, have what can be called with no stretching of the truth 'a garden' rather than a field that someone had stuck a few plants in. And despite the fast-approching winter it was still a fine place to be.

Kale & cat

Wild peach tree & horreo

More splashes of colour in neighbouring fields

All tiny fig and hardly any leaf - should've resticted those roots a bit more

Our bargain €8 Japanese Maple

The contoneaster which survived, despite cat damage earlier in the year

Sunrise earlier this week

Monday, 19 November 2007

Cooking Today

I've been meaning to write this for ages, inspired as I was by a post by Lorenzo in, oops, July - I have been lax in my blogging, most recently due to running around after electricians and builders. No matter, here it is at long last:

We bought our house here fully furnished. What we didn't expect to find amongst all the furnishings were all sorts of bits 'n' bobs left behind. A lot of it was rubbish that we spent ages sorting through before eventually throwing most of it out (we were lucky, we know an English woman who lives round the hillside from us who was left a full chamber pot as a welcome gift).

However, the odd little gem did appear. My favourite of which is an old cookery book - La Cocina de Hoy or 'Cooking Today'. It's a third edition, published in 1960, although the recipes and advice contained therein can't have changed much, if at all, from the first edition. It's full of traditional Spanish recipes and all sorts of alimentary information ranging from calorific values and consumption - a 17 year old boy should eat between 2800 to 4,000 calories a day, and a girl of the same age between 2,500-2,800 - to breast feeding: " According to Doctor Casares the mother should first offer her breast to the baby twelve hours after birth, and from then on at intervals of six hours on the first day..."  I can't imagine Delia waxing lyrical on this subject, although she'd probably still sell by the millions if she did.

There's also a great section on the medicinal properties of food. Cauliflower is recommended to lower blood pressure and combat insomnia and asparagus to stimulate the nervous system. Young peas should be eaten by those suffering from tuberculosis, and young beans by those with diabetes and those who wish to "purify the intestines". Does anyone suffer from worms? Well, eat garlic, figs, spring onions and thyme on an empty stomach and you should soon feel better. The solution for gout is lots of fruit and anyone looking for a laxative should be eating prunes, grapes, cucumber, young beans and oats.

My favourite part of the book is entitled "Warnings to the housewife" and details all sorts of information on cleaning (another idea for Delia if she wished to branch out), use of the pressure cooker - "don't clean it with sand...use a pan scrubber"  - and electric whisk; losing weight - "in general, don't eat bread or salt with meals"; laying the table - "at lunchtime use tablecloths of a refined and discreet colour"; preparing menus - for a christening you should serve canapes, sandwiches and small cakes, cold meats, coffee or tea, cigars and brandy, champagne, sherry and Madeira wine; and service - "without the noise of plates or cutlery and with great skill. First, the lady with greatest social standing should be served, she will be sat to the right of the owner of the house, then serve the lady to the left of the owner and so on, finishing with the lady of the house, followed by any old people and young girls."

Got that everyone? Right let's carry on.

The best bit of the entire book is in a section entitled "Fellow Diners", the whole of which I would love to quote to you, but I shall try and restrict myself to the juiciest parts. " First, the oldest ladies should be sat at the table, then the young ladies and finally the gentlemen...The gentlemen will pull out the chair for the lady who is next to him to allow her to sit down and then put the chair back in position. At all times should one should be respectful of and gallant with the ladies....Although at times we would like a second helping we should never take it, nor fill our plate to overflowing. Neither should we eat our food quickly, or tip the plate to collect the last drop of food with a spoon....before and after drinking one should wipe ones lips with a serviette...Spinach or bones can be removed from the mouth with a fork, or with ones fingers, discreetly placing them on the edge of the plate. For fruit stones, discreetly raise a teaspoon to the mouth...At the table one should not make fussy movements such as touching one's hair, especially not with a comb, scratching oneself, fiddling with one's face, cleaning one's nails, etc...When one needs to blow one's nose at the table one will do it with the greatest dissimulation and never with strident and exaggerated noise which is bad manners in any place."

So there we have it. Would anyone like to come round for dinner (black tie optional)?

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Look at the size of my pumpkins!

Last Sunday I decided it was time to harvest our largest pumpkins. Matt had been letting them grow to see how big they could get - I think this is a rather macho thing to do, correct me if I'm wrong, although I did enjoy driving up the hill in the preceeding weeks and being able to spot three orange splodges from a fair distance away, and it must have got the neighbours talking (though that's easily done).

Slumbering giants

With careful manouevring - Matt rolling and me spotting - we managed to move all three across our finca and onto the terrace where Matt had earmarked sites for the largest two.

Pumpkin pixie

Sentinels. All pumpkins in place

I then got out my carving equipment and proceded to prepare the smallest, but still impressive one, for the academia. I'd never carved a pumpkin before - we did turnips one Halloween when I was in the girl guides, which I found quite pathetic, this was much more exciting.

Being sensible and marking where I wanted to cut the lid.


During the hollowing process - a spoon works best, as I discovered after almost slicing my finger off a couple of times.

The hollowed pumpkin - after much scraping and building up of arm muscles. All ready for the fun part:

Ta daa! The finshed item. Not bad for a first effort I thought.

Not only did I end up with a great, if I may say so, pumpkin lantern, but also with several kilos of flesh that I proceeded to turn into soup and curry, resulting in a very full freezer, and full tummies that evening.

Even after it'd been hollowed out it was still a hefty brute. After some difficulties, I managed to get it down to the academia on Monday morning where I set it up opposite the front door for all to see.

How to earn brownie points from the boss.
Pumpkins here are smaller and green/yellow in colour so my splendid example was remarked upon by all and sundry who passed through the door. In one fell swoop I gained publicity for the academia, was granted status of 'cool teacher' by my pupils, toned my arms and garnered enough food to keep us going for a week or so. Not bad for an afternoon's work.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Things that make me happy about living in Spain, part IV

OK, this is specifically an Asturias related one, but I say it still counts:

I'm sitting at my computer and gazing out of the window at the back of the house, I can see clear blue skies. I know that if I could be bothered to get up right now and look out of the windows at the front or side I would see the mountains, clear and looming in the distance, so clear that you can make out individual ridges despite the 20/30/40+ km away that they are.

It's apple-picking time here, and the trees are laden with hundreds of red and green fruit, soon to be picked for cider production. The countryside is covered with the green of these trees with spashes of colour on their branches. Some types of tree will remain green all winter, others are now turning and colour abounds. Oak trees are a particular favourite as their leaves change to a firey orange-red colour before they fall.

We have sweet-chestnut collecting planned for this afternoon, and despite always getting pricked fingers from the protective outer shells, the eating of roast chestnuts from our fire on a cool autumn evening, snug indoors, always more than makes up for it. This is also the time of year when the cats change their habits - giving up the nocturnal life for dozing on the sofa or by the fire in the evening and diurnal explorations when the sun appears; they keep us company more often now, in the house or garden.

Tomorrow we intend to pick our biggest pumpkins. We have three monsters growing in the vegetable patch, with stakes strategically placed to prevent them from rolling down the slope of the garden - I currently often daydream of a James and the Giant Peach incident where one breaks loose from its restraints to proudly roll and bounce its way down the hill to the town and then into the river whereupon it floats, magestically, to the sea. Matt has plans for the two biggest ones, but I shall enjoy carving the third to take down to the academia next week in time for Halloween.

Mushrooms are starting to appear, in all shapes, colours and sizes - pleasing to the eye if not to the stomach - and soon we'll be able to pick and feast upon large field mushrooms, delicious cooked with butter and garlic.

And, even though this isn 't specific to Asturias, or even Spain, the clocks go back tonight and I get an extra hour to enjoy all of the above (or an extra hour in bed depending on how I'm feeling).

Given all that, how could I not put Autumn in Rural Asturias onto my list?

Friday, 26 October 2007

Enjoying the learning curve, part one

Every now and again, I'll hear a Spanish word I've not come across before that really tickles my fancy. They always know when this occurs at work as I'll stop partaking in the conversation and chuckle to myself and/or look confused before asking for a definition. It could be a simple, everyday word for Spaniards but my English ear makes it sound much more interesting.

Anyway, I thought I could share some of these words with you and improve everyone's Spanish while having a bit of fun at the same time. For the first one, I've decided on fofo (with a short o, like in 'on') which I learnt a few weeks ago when my boss was considering going to the gym. This was because she thought her upper arms were rather fofo, or flabby (my dictionary also translates it as pudgy or podgy).

Personally, I don't think there's anything wrong with her arms, but was rather pleased to augment my Spanish vocabulary with such a fine and useful word.

Monday, 22 October 2007

How to enjoy a day off

Eager to take advantage of the glorious weather we are currently enjoying and my one proper day off, we decided yesterday to venture further afield than the land above the house. With this in mind we donned walking boots and set off to the Parque Natural de Redes, which, as I must have mentioned before, we are fortunate enough to have just half an hour down the hill and up the valley from us.

Hillside town of Collado, perched above the Tanes reservoir

Since I'd had rather a hectic week we decided on a gentle walk rather than a mountain yomp and, having checked the map, settled on a path that followed the river from the village of Orlé to Pendones. The departure point of the walk from the village wasn't clear and we wandered, confused, for a while before we found a map on the edge of the village which showed the route leaving from the right-hand bank of the river.

A nosey donkey on the way up the mountain

After half an hour of steep uphill walking it became apparent that we'd probably taken the wrong route. Never one to be deterred, Matt declared he wasn't going to turn back after all the effort taken so far and we carried on. Up and up went the path, (and cough and pant went I) twisting along the mountain side and bordered by trees boasting mixed foliage of reds, oranges, greens and yellows. It wasn't what we'd come for, but I couldn't complain about the views.

After much huffing and puffing the trees began to clear and we realised we were getting near the brow of the slope. Camera at the ready, I eagerly awaited the views from the top, until we rounded the last corner and were presented by the sight of a fence and gate barring the path and with no way around. Foiled at the last! We were more than slightly miffed but had no other option but to turn around and plod back downhill.

Never one to say no to free (vegetarian) food, and always ready to make the best of a not-what-we-planned situation, I greedily stuffed my pockets full of sweet chestnuts on the way back. Chestnuts are big business in Asturias, and the trees are ubiquitous in rural areas. Come this time of year, roads and paths are covered with prickly green casings and the shiny fruits they hold. We enjoying roasting them in the ash tray of our wood burner, or I'll make a chestnut and mushroom roast. It's even tastier if we find wild field mushrooms, a perfect combination, and one to make me even happier as I get all the main ingredients for nothing!

We wandered through the village on the way on the way back to the car, trying to find out where we went wrong, and not succeeding. This is rather strange in Redes as most walks are very well signed. I happened to ask a villager, who was standing outside his house, where the route started - for future reference - and we ended up being sat down while he went in search of his own map to show us and came back bearing beers for us too. His map turned out to be no clearer than our own, but I enjoyed the beer and the chat and learning more about the village. Ángel, as he was called, even took our photo, and we are now welcome back at his house any time we happen to be in Orlé. This is one of the things I love about Spain, the openness of its people and their willingness to share whatever they have with you, be it, food, drink, time or knowledge. Unfortunately, you don't find it quite so often any more, so coming across it on occasion make it even more special.

On the way home we went took a quick detour in search of a place which some neighbours had told us was good for a swim in hot weather, on the banks of the Nalón river. A handy site to know if we ever can't be bothered to drive the 50 minutes to the beach in summer. We got a pleasant surprise, as what they hadn't told us was that this rather splendid, medieval bridge (13th/14th century) was right next to the bathing area - and only 15 minutes up the valley from us. What was even more surprising is that it's still in use, and not just for pedestrians but for cars as well. It stopped and made me think - I wonder how many 20th/21st century structures will be around and still in use in 500 years time?

After reaching home, most of yesterday evening was spent on the sofa groaning and moaning about my aching legs. Although I did feel rather smug and pleased with myself for surviving so much exercise.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

You know you´re having a bad week when...

...you get an unexpected phone call meaning your partner has to rush out of the house just before you´re about to sit down to lunch and then go to work. At ten minutes before you´re due at work he still hasn´t reappeared with the car so you get the bike out of the shed and start racing down the hill. Half way down you meet your partner in the car - it transpires he had a puncture and had to change the tyre - in an admirable ten minutes as it turns out - so you exchange modes of transport and head down to work (while he trundles back uphill with the bike) getting there only five mintues late.

Upon going to get a new spare tyre you are informed that they no longer make that kind and so you need to buy two news ones so the back tyres are balanced, meaning the puncture cost you twice what it normally would have.

Going back into work a distraught boss meets you with the news that the new teacher she had employed to teach the 4-8 year olds (the most demanding and tiring classes for us) and who had been doing a good job, has suddenly announced that she´s leaving for employment elsewhere that very same day and has left us in the lurch. Much changing of the already full-to-bursting timetable ensues (and name-calling of said teacher) and we are all given a couple of extra hours to accomodate the younger classes. I said it before and I´ll say it again, phew!

Guess who´s looking forward to a rest at the weekend?!

Monday, 8 October 2007


The new academic year started in our Academia last Monday and the title of this post describes my reaction on Friday at 9pm when I left work for the weekend.

We have more students than ever, and they're still coming. I now have 30 teaching hours a week and we share a timetable that I'm never going to be able to remember as it's so complicated in order to fit everyone in; and all this despite the fact that we have a new teacher to take care of the youngest pupils (from the ages of 4-8), something that we're all rather delighted with as those were the most exhausting classes - imagine trying to 'teach' English to a four-year-old who's already been at school/nursery all day, doesn't even like colouring, is used to just being stuck in front of the TV at home and can't write his/her name, then put six of them in a class together.

Even though it was a rather tiring week, full of headless chicken impressions, I get on so well with my boss and everyone else at the Academia that I can't complain. And, best of all, I got a pay rise.

Anyway, please have patience with me at the moment. I'll post more once things settle down at work, whenever that is.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

A gain for Spain

When I left Cardiff, and my PhD, to come to Asturias I went though a whole series of emotions and questioned if I was doing the right thing or just running away. Should I have stayed to finish the thesis? Could I have finished it? Would my life have been any better if I had?

It was certainly less stressful to come here, I didn't have to deal with the UK uni system any more and my health improved too. After a year or so of creating a life for myself here I stopped wondering 'what if?' and Asturias really began to feel like home. I certainly wouldn't want to give up what I have here now and have no intention of permanently returning to the UK.

So, imagine my surprise earlier this year upon receiving an email from my ex-PhD supervisor, Chris, with whom I'd stayed in contact, that announced he too was making the move to Spain, to Madrid. He even went to far as to unexpectedly declare, 'I won't say you inspired me, but certainly your example was one that had an impact on some of my thinking '. Taking into account the fact that he'd previously accused me of being a hippy on more than one occasion I took this as a compliment, despite my not being an full-blown inspiration!

However, I must have set a good enough example to prompt Chris into wanting to start vegetable growing once he gets to Madrid. Since that email I have taken on the role of Organic Gardening Advisor and have enjoyed sharing my knowledge with someone who has freely shared his own (and his time and books) with me.

I find it slightly ironic that while I was questioning my abandonment of university, Chris was back in the UK planning on leaving his 'dream job' and coming here. Now I have settled the questions in my own mind, I hope Chris is just as content in Madrid after his move next month as I am here. If not, there's always Asturias.

Friday, 21 September 2007

The forgiveness of cats

When we returned from our camping trip Elbi was there, waiting at the bottom of the drive for us. As soon as we appeared, she rolled on her back and and demanded strokes with a series of chirrups. It's comforting to know that after our ten days away she was still hanging about for us and became ecstatic the moment we arrived. Our absence was immediately forgotten and forgiveness has been easily earned over the course of last week with a series of stokes, tickles, scratches and cuddles that we were only too happy to bestow.

The other two were a different matter.

Beeps materialised from the garden about half an hour after we returned, gave a little meow of welcome, and then continued her adventuring. For several days afterwards she carried on with her own routine and we saw her every now and again. One evening, about four days after we got back, I was lying in bed when I heard the pad, pad, pad of a cat coming up the stairs and along the landing. The next thing I knew, a small, black, furry ball was curled up on the bed demanding to be stroked and purring as loud as she could. Tummy rubs ensued for half an hour and she would've had more had I not needed to go to sleep. She stayed on the bed all night, purring, only getting up when we did. After that, everything was alright again.

Being half-Siamese, Mahou is rather highly-strung and easily offended. We returned at about 4pm from our camping trip and at 11pm she'd still not appeared despite our calling and tapping her favourite food bowl. This happens every time we go away, be it for a couple of nights or a couple of weeks. However, it doesn't stop me worrying about her every time, even though I'm sure she does it on purpose - we have upset her by going away so she wants to make us suffer a little before magnanamously granting us the honour of her presence. At 12am Matt went out and called and she appeared straight away as if nothing had happened. After a good scoff she came and joined us in the bedroom and spent the next couple of nights snuggling in the crook of my legs.

It's good to be forgiven.


Ribadesella is a small market town on the Costa Verde built around the estuary of the River Sella. It's most famous in Asturias, and probably the rest of Spain for all I know, for the competitive descent of the river by canoe every August; a time when the town becomes packed with locals and tourists alike and a festive atmosphere takes control of the town.

We'd visited the town once before, last year while we were camping further east on the coast, to visit the impressive Cueva de Tito Bustillo: a system of caves housing paleolithic paintings named after the caver who discovered them. Following our subterranean adventures we'd then had a walk around the town centre and along the beach in somewhat windy and cloudy weather, decided that Ribadesella was a nice enough town, and returned to our campsite.

After our second visit to the town during this year's summer holiday at Vega, Ribadesella has gone up in my estimation. The historic centre of this market town is full of gorgeous old buildings and the beach is lined with colourful villas that I would love to explore. Admittedly, we visited out of season - Ribadesella is one of the main resorts along this stretch of coast and the outskirts of town are filled with vile holiday flats, but at the beginning of September I found the town to be friendly, unpretentious and rather beautiful. It doesn't die come September like so many holiday towns, but rather it seemed that the locals reclaim it and life goes on as normal until the tourists hit the town the following season.

View from the car park - low tide in the estuary

The beach at Ribadesella

Somebody let me at them! Wonderful, wonderful buildings.

Wednesday is market day in Ribadesella, as we were to discover. The market stalls included the traditional as well as the more modern, imported-from-Asia, items unfortunately found in most small-towns around here nowadays.

Cheese stall selling locally made produce

Matt bought a smoked cheese, made in Llanes - the next large town along the coast to the east, and declared it delicious upon tasting.

Even had it not been market day, I still would've enjoyed our wander around the town. I must've been too busy trying to keep warm in the cold wind during my previous vist as this time all sorts of decorative gems caught my eye:

One in a series of tiled murals along the esturary walk, showing scenes in the history of Ribadesella.

Painted tiles on a gift shop facade

How to make posting a letter more fun

After walking around the town we made our way up the hill to the east of the beach, overlooking the beach and town.

We then made our way back down to the town for lunch. On the way we happened across a very handsome and friendly gentleman and I stopped to flirt for a while.

Even Matt was tempted to take him home. But when he jumped down as we were leaving, lay down on the sunny path and happily started to clean himself, without giving us a second glance, we decided that he mustn't have a bad life where he was and decided to leave him in Ribadesella.

A splendid three-course lunch followed my little flirtation. As veggie options do not abound in Asturias, I normally hate going out for lunch. However, we found a wonderful old tavern that was willing to do me a salad and egg and chips - my usual lunchtime fare - and I was very impressed by the multi-ingredient salad that came to begin with and also with the main course that followed: home-made chips and egg fried so that the yolk was just starting to turn solid around the edges but was still runny in the centre - perfection. After many, many lunches involving the same dishes, I am now an expert critic and this was the best lunch I've had since I've been here. Matt praised his seafood paella, followed by an equally tasty grilled sea bass (apparently). The set menu also included a bottle of red wine, water and desert. Matt opted for the creme caramel (a Spanish staple, but this was a posh home-made version) and I had blackcurrant cheesecake, which is one of my all-time favourites. Deserts are normally the weakest point of Spanish lunchtime menus, but on this occasion they were more than up to scratch.

After another brief wander around the town to walk lunch down, we headed sleepily back to the car with the idea of having a siesta when we returned to the tent.

Boat graveyard in the Sella esturary

I carried on snapping until the last minute, giving Ribadesella the accolade of favourite town on the Asturian coast while I did.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Lazy days

For our summer holiday this year we chose to go to Vega. Plans had been made to venture further afield to France or Portugal but due to time and monetary restrictions we opted for our favourite campsite on the Costa Verde instead.

As mentionned before, packing was not easy and I did indeed, after a hard afternoon's preparation, slurp some of our camping beers before we went. I thought I had acheived the near impossible in remembering everything we'd need for ten days away, but upon arrival it transpired that I had committed the cardinal sins of forgetting a)the brown sauce b)the cafetiere and c) the corkscrew/bottle opener. To be frank, I was only bothered about the last item on the list, for obvious reasons, and before I could properly panic the problem was easily solved when Matt produced his Swiss Army pen knife. The omission of the HP sauce was quickly forgiven but Matt was less than pleased about the lack of cafetiere for his morning cup of coffee. However, with some ingenious designing, Matt created his own coffee-maker using the top half of a water bottle tipped upside down with a small hole made in the lid, which worked a treat using coffee filters. This was highly fortuitous for me as Matt is nigh unapproachable without his morning caffeine fix.So  I breathed a sigh of relief when he declared his tester cup to be as good as one made in his cafetiere.

Elbi investigates - she was probably making sure we weren't taking the cat food with us

Our home for ten days

We enjoy going camping at Vega for several reasons: each pitch is surrounded by small hedges which makes it private, Vega itself is a traditional, unpretentious village - something that's hard to come by on the Asturian coast these days, and the beach itself is huge and unspoilt. It never gets too busy as it's out of the way and the car park is small, which limits visitors. Also, the walk to the beach from the campsite is lovely in it's own right. First you walk through majestic eucalyptus woods with a small stream running by the path.

Fallen eucaliptus leaf

Enough to make you feel dizzy

Then you pass through an apple orchard. A couple of times, at dusk, we've chanced upon a young deer, which has always bounded off as soon as it's heard us, and always before I can snap a photos, but not before we had the opportunity to watch it apple munching.

Passing through the orchard, you come to large, open fields...

...and then, once you've walked up the field and reached the brow of the hill, this sight welcomes you. I always feel like running down the hill, Julie-Andrews style, to the beach, but every time I'm inevitably wearing flip-flops which would make such a venture highly foolish.

We were kept company at the campsite by several cheeky robins, who had no compunctions about begging for food - quite literally, on one occasion a presumptuous little red-breast landed next to my camping chair and then proceeded to jump up and down, wings flapping while it chirped shrilly at me to demand food. Feeling that the little chap had earned it, I gave in immediately and went to look for bread. After this they appeared at every meal, and in between mealtimes too.

Matt even gained an audience for his guitar playing

Wondering what the racket is

I took full advantage of my holiday to laze on the beach and read, interspersing my lounging with walks along the coast and, on the one cloudy day, a trip to Ribadesella (coming up in the next post).

Hmm, now where shall we sit?

The local entertainment

If I didn't already know how bad my sense of balance is I'd like to have a go

Signs of other beach patrons

The sea looked inviting enough, but in fact it was the coldest I've ever known it at Vega. It felt as though the waves were slicing into your feet when they washed over them. Standing in the water for more than a few seconds was painful, but if you did manage to stay there for longer it became refreshing. I only managed a good wetting a couple of times and avoided swimming completely.
As I was developing a beach belly, we did a couple of walks along the cliffs. We managed over 10km one day, due to Matt's insistence more than my eagerness. I can't say it did anything to reduce my waistline but it did banish any guilt I had about consuming more beer and food.

The Camino de Santiago follows the coastline in this part of northern Spain, the blue and yellow shell sign marks the way.

Looking back at Vega on one of our walks

On our last day we braved the far end of the beach, which is nudist. There was no-one else around so we whipped off our togs and, as everyone says, it was indeed very liberating. After a few minutes we noticed a fisherman up on the rocks to our right, heading our way. It wasn't the fact that we had no clothes on when he passed that was embarassing, but rather that, after ten days at the other end of the beach our bottoms were a luminous white compared to the rest of our bodies. Next year I'll try that end of the beach before my tan develops.

We spent most evenings by the tent, enjoying the simple pleasures of eating, drinking and talking. We tried the sunset on several occasions, although low cloud prevented us from enjoying it fully. Still, we didn't do too badly:

And we got to make friends with this woolly fellow on the way.

We're lucky enough to have Vega almost on our doorstep - it's only an hour away. I wouldn't complain if we end up there again next year. Anyone fancy joining me?