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... 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.