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?

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Tagging cats

Elbi here, but shhhh, keep the noise down. I've managed to swipe the computer from mum and hopefully she won't realise I'm here until I've got this tagging thing done. Lorenzo decided it was up to us to answer the questions. I wasn't going to bother until I saw how well Plumpy had responded and decided to give it a go. I've been nominated by the girls to answer for us all as Beeps is too scared to come near the computer and Mahou thinks it's beneath her.

Q1. Are you happy/ satisfied with your blog, with its content and look?
No, not at all! If I had more time and mum wouldn't notice I'd been fiddling with 'her' blog, I'd put up lots more pictures of me and the girls. I'm sure that would keep Plumpy happy. Mum thinks that people don't want to see photos of us all the time, but I say how can people not want to look at pictures of three gorgeous felines? I'm always rolling on my back to show mum how photogenic I am, but she rarely picks up the camera for me these days, a change of strategy is called for. Actually, while I'm here.....

Mum has been trained to tickle me just where I like it best. Anybody else is welcome to line up for a try, although first place in the queue is reserved for Plumpy.

One at a time boys, one at a time.

A fine figure of a puss.

See mum, that's how it's done - take note!

Q2. Does your family know about your blog?
Ahem, mum doesn't know I'm here now and dad'd go nuts if he saw me fiddling with the computer. Let's keep it between ourselves shall we?

Q3. Do you feel embarrassed to let your friends know about your blog or you just consider it as a private thing?
Embarassed? Of course not. Everybody knows, and everybody says how lovely we are, as expected.

Q4. Did blogs cause positive changes in your thoughts?
No, although we get lots of 'positive' comments from Plumpy.

Q5. Do you only open the blogs of those who comment on your blog or you love to go and discover more by yourself?
We're really too busy sleeping, eating, hunting and lazing on the terrace to look elsewhere. If other people want to make friends then they can come to us, but they must be willing to snuggle, or bring food.

Q6. What does visitors' counter mean to you? Do you care about putting in in your blog?
The more people who see how gorgeous we are, the better.

Q7. Did you try to imagine your fellow bloggers and give them real pictures?
We already know how handsome Plumpy and Scaredy are. I think they've been giving each other posing tips.

It's also good to know what Maalie looks like so we know who to scratch (Mahou)/run away from (me and Beeps) should he ever appear in this part of the world.

Q8. Do you think there is a real benefit for blogging?
But of course, how else is a girl get such adoration?

Q9. Do you think that bloggers' society is isolated from real world or interacts with events?
How can we be isolated? We tell Plumpy about our voles and he tells me about his birds, and we all commiserate with Scaredy about his trips to the v-e-t.

Q10. Does criticism annoy you or do you feel it's a normal thing?
What is there to critcise? We're perfect.

Q11. Do you fear some political blogs and avoid them?
The only politics we're interested in is who get to the food bowl first.

Q12. Did you get shocked by the arrest of some bloggers?
Has Maalie had Plumpy put away?! Help! He'll be after us next.

Q13. Did you think about what will happen to your blog after you die?
Well, as it's mum's blog I'm sure she'll try to soldier on valienty without us, as difficult as that will be, of course. I bet she'll put up lots of photos of us then, when it's too late. We want them now, everyone needs to see just how wonderful we are.

Q14. What do you like to hear? What's the song you might like to put a link to, in your blog?
We all like to hear the sound of a tin being opened; the keys to the loft being picked up so we can go and play in there and annoy mum when we won't come out after, when she wants to lock up; voles squeaking when we play with them; mum telling the dog next door to shut up...
We'd like a link to anything by Cat Power (hint, mum, hint!) or perhaps 'What's New Pussycat?' by Tom Jones.

I've decided not to tag anyone because, really, after reading this, what else is there?

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Pre-holiday adventures

OK, so I sort of lied in my last post. Before I tell you all about my 'holiday' holiday, this post is all about my 'friends visiting' holiday just before, which was as much fun, though for different reasons. Matt was not at all sure what to expect when I announced that four of my girlfriends were coming for a flying visit, but I think he enjoyed himself too.

We were all convinced Dawn was cursed - last time she came it started raining as soon as she arrived and things followed a similar pattern on this occasion. However, everyone seemed to be determined to make the most of our terrace and we spent the first evening and following afternoon outside with our beer/cava jackets on.

Who needs a coat when you have cava?

Modelling the latest headgear.

The first of many (as I'm sure you guessed).

How to keep warm and drink in style at the same time.

I may have to beg forgiveness for posting those photos at a later date, so moving quickly on...

The third day of the visit dawned bright and sunny, Asturias was at its best and I was ready to show off the region to my friends. However, once we made our way up to the Peña Mayor the clouds reappeared so we quickly scoffed a picnic lunch and hid in a bar in Pola De Laviana, a town up the valley, while we waited for the weather to make up its mind.

This is where we ended up after:

Ladines is a traditional Asturian village in Redes Park. It's probably my favourite village there.

Admiring the view

Cheeky kitten on an horreo
After a wander round the village we stopped at another bar (can anyone see a pattern developing?) to enjoy the full sun and were joined by two enthusiastic young cats who proceed to show off. The lighter-coloured one sat on my lap once they'd worn each other out and purred contentedly. Depsite much encouragement from Dawn I managed to resist taking her home - Matt and our three would not have thanked me for it.

Also on the bar's terrace was this glorious sunflower.

In true Spanish style, we left Ladines and headed to a cafe for more goodies - cakes this time. I give English lessons to the cafe's owner, who sometimes gives me a package of edible treats after our Friday lesson, much to Matt's delight.

As if that wasn't enough we then headed home for more beer/cava before we went out for a very piggy meal at a local restaurant. It was a rather decadent few days but I see my friends so little I feel I have a good enough excuse for all that indulging.

Next up, my beach-camping holiday. Unless the cats beat me to it - they're been tagged by Lorenzo and inspired by Plumpy. I can't say what will come first.