Friday, December 27, 2013

A day in Oviedo at Christmas

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Apart from our Christmas tree and decorations, a neighbour's tiny, climbing Santa Claus scaling her otherwise bare balcony and a rare glimpse of fairy lights through lace curtains as you drive by houses and apartments in nearby Ribadesella, you wouldn't know it's Christmas here. Technically it isn't I suppose as the main event is the Epiphany on the 6th of January, the time when the three kings visit carrying gifts or if you're a western Christian, a celebration of the visit by the Magi to baby Jesus. Northern European customs and traditions are gradually filtering down and many Spanish families now celebrate both; Santa Clause and the birth of Jesus (presents); The visiting Magi and the recognition of the baby Jesus as the son of God (more presents).

We decided to visit Oviedo today to take the opportunity to visit the Artisan fair, the Bethlehem exhibitions in front of Oviedo's main cathedral and the markets. The post Christmas sales haven't started here yet so the city was fairly quiet with people still buying gifts for the 6th January. The Christmas decorations are fairly low-key but tasteful in Oviedo. No doubt it looks very pretty with the addition of overhead Christmas lights adorning most main streets, squares and terraces but that's for an evening trip maybe next week.

The artisan fair is an annual event. A large marquee hosts about 40 artisans selling their creations. We often wonder how they make a living as no-one ever seems to buy very much but we see the same stalls and stall-holders year after year so somehow they keep going even through these tough times. There were many jewellery, ceramics, leather goods, soaps and wood-turners, some lovely objects but nothing you haven't seen before.

The Bethlehem and nativity sets outside the Cathedral were fewer than usual but still very impressive. Large dioramas portraying every aspect of life in Bethlehem and the nativity. This year the exhibition was fenced off and guarded by two police patrol cars which seemed rather over-the-top but there was a nearby street protest by the mining community who were demonstrating at the lack of investment in their futures. The demonstration might account for the police presence.

The indoor and outdoor markets are always a joy to wander. Nothing unexpected on sale but the bright, colourful rows of fruits, vegetables and plants in stark contrast to the icy blue and grey hues of fresh fish or the red raw and cured meats were a feast for the eyes. We bought several specialist teas from Inffusions (how they spell their name) which we will enjoy over the coming winter months.

The city has a gentle pace and I doubt that once the sales start it will change much. There is always an air of grace in Oviedo which is punctuated with fine architecture from the past 100 years and historic structures that now house worship, education, fine art and music. It's just a shame more people don't stop and look, up and from side to side. I am often amused when pointing the camera up to photograph some of the buildings, many people spot you, look skyward to see what photograph you are taking and then do a double take when they see the beauty that reigns above eye level.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Happy Christmas - Feliz Navidad

To everyone around the world who takes time to visit our blogs, we wish you a happy Christmas.

We hope you have a healthy, prosperous and fulfilling 2014 - keep it simple.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Tales from a bit further afield in Spain: Navarra

As winter approaches there is nothing like the look and feel of a real log fire... Now thereby hangs a tale. As this post is mainly about our need for a warming winter fire, it did involve a rather long trip to the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz where we found some wonderful street art; bizarre and not so bizarre. Here are a few photographs from our visit as I tell our tale.

We have two log burners, one in the studio and the other in the lounge. Neither have been behaving particularly good of late; more smoke than usual, not burning efficiently, poor heat output. We decided to investigate. The studio fire was easy to sort out as we knew from previous experience that the metal tubing occasionally needs cleaning and re-sealing; a dirty job but soon resolved. The lounge fire was more of a problem.

We had refurbished the fire-proof seals, replaced the metal tubing and attempted to fix the glass door which was getting looser day by day. The screws and brackets that held the glass in place were impossible to release and we couldn't make a tight enough seal. After three days of soaking in WD40 and a trip to a local metal working factory who tried without success, we decided to contact the manufacturers. They suggested we wrap, pack and post the door and they would look at it. With extremely high postal rates in Spain and Christmas but a week away we decided that we would drive the 320km to Navarra where they are based to let them look at it and replace the screws and clamps if they could, either that or buy a new door.

We set off early and made a decision to use the opportunity to have lunch in Vitoria-Gasteiz, a city we have always wanted to visit. The journey was without hassle and the changing landscapes were an interesting contrast to Asturias. We arrived at the factory around 10am, handed over the door and was told to go get a coffee whilst they had a look at it. Thirty minutes later the phone rang, the door was ready; fully refurbished with new screws, fireproof cord and glass clamps. Expecting a hefty charge for short-notice, drop everything repair job we were delighted when they said there was no charge. Thank you Lacunza - you are stars.

We drove to nearby Vitoria-Gasteiz walked around the lovely old city and lunched on some rather flashy (and expensive) pinchos and tapas.

The stained glass entrance to the Opera house was stunning. We came across an outside skating rink and sledging slope which looked great fun and we were surprised to see escalators installed the full length of pedestrianised roads leading up to the old churches and cathedral.

We came across this horse meat butcher's shop which reminded me of the horse-meat scandal back in the UK. I wonder how popular it can be in Spain as shops such as these are a rarity. There was meat hung at the back of the shop but curiously, none in the window.

We drove home via the scenic route until Bilbao and arrived back just as the sun was setting. We are now looking forward to a roaring log fire on these cold winter evenings throughout the Christmas and New Year period.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Winter food stores

As the evening mist settles in the lower fields and the sun sets behind the mountain, there is something quite comforting about checking the stores and seeing them well-stocked and knowing that you'll have food on the table and a fire to keep you warm.

Over past year we have made a few jams: fig and vanilla; fig; red berries; rhubarb; raspberry. We are yet to make orange jam.

We have produced: mustard seed and gooseberry pickle; green tomato chutney; ginger, chili and marrow chutney; piccalilli; pickled figs; pickled walnuts; pickled peppers; and pickled chillies. We are yet to make date and apple chutney. We have jars of tomato frito and pisto from Luis' sister but fewer than usual due to her crop being wiped out by a hail storm earlier in the year.

We tend to buy in bulk where possible so having somewhere dry and cool to store things is important for us. We have a dedicated area for food storage which houses a freezer and the dehydrator, a series of shelves and racks. We also use a cool floor area to store crates of apple and squash.

Luis has just returned from the Matanza and as usual loaded up with supplies of eggs, apples, pulses, potatoes, onions and oranges. The oranges (14kg) are particularly welcome as they are from a farm in the south of Spain which do not use dye or wax to improve the appearance of the fruit unlike many commercial oranges. We have ordered 10 kilos of Kiwis from a local organic kiwi farm which will last us through until spring if kept cool.

Our dried herbs and infusions are now ready for processing and will hopefully last us through until the fresh plants are available along with the other dehydrated produce such as figs and apples.

With plenty of fresh vegetables in the garden we are set for winter and look forward to making nourishing food fit for a king on a winter's day. We will cook, sometimes in bulk, more hearty soups, casseroles and stews and use dried herbs and spices, our home-made stock cubes and home produced balsamic vinegar to flavour and enhance.

It is times like these you really do see the fruits of your labours and welcome the storage space...oh and a warm cosy fire.

Friday, December 06, 2013

December days and nights

The Picos de Europa mountains are capped with snow and looking good. The garden is too wet to work and although many plants and bushes want chopping, hazels need coppicing and vegetable beds need turning, it will all have to wait for the warmer, sunny days we normally experience in December.

Until the ground dries out a little we are taking the opportunity to walk with friends, take photographs, make plans for 2014, complete mosaic projects and continue writing; exciting times ahead.

As we don't have television it is always good to have things to do during autumn and winter as the evenings and nights are long. Having recently transferred to DVD some old recordings from bands I was in when much younger, the memories and long evenings prompted me to take up the keyboards and midi sequencers again which after 30 years is great fun. I might even upload some compositions to Soundcloud, not sure about re-visting the look though....

Luis is away helping his sister and family helping with the Matanza. There is always lots of work to do once the pigs are slaughtered. Chorizos, black pudding and salami to make, joints of meat to prepare, hams to salt and crackling to make in bulk. We have written about it before and this is the link (click here) if you want to find out more.

The wildlife in the garden never ceases to fascinate and entertain us. Since installing the Bushnell Trail cam we have seen: deer, fox, pine marten, field mice, hedgehogs, cats, stoat, badgers and many birds. Our You Tube channel has many of the videos from the trail cam. Apart from birds, daytime sightings are few and far between. Yesterday morning I did however, come face to face with a stag which duly roared and ran. My heart was pounding, it was just a pity there was no camera to hand.

This magnificent buzzard was perching on the telegraph pole near to our garden, it took flight and I just managed to get a shot but alas not the sharpest photograph. I just love the power of these birds.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

A local photo walk

The rain had stopped and we awoke to a bright sunny morning and decided to make the most of it and walk from home to Cuevas del Mar (Caves of the sea) and enjoy the changing scenery and autumn light.

We packed lunch of Tortilla, bread, fruit, nuts, and drinks and made our way through the country lanes that lead from home. We travelled along the Camino de Santiago heading east towards Llames de Pria via the roman bridge.

The sun was low in the sky and shone through the autumn leaves and drying foliage casting shadows on the woodland floor.

The small meandering local river; Rio Guadamia was swollen with recent rains.

The young cattle were curious as we passed by and admired their beautiful big eyes. 1152 was particularly cute. 

The insects and birds enjoyed the renewed energy they absorbed from the sun, collecting food and nectar along the way.

We reached the coast and sat for lunch. The local rocks attract climbers who hone their skills and strengthen their grip.

Heading back we made our way along a well defined coastal path which wound its way through woodland, scrub, pasture and even a duck pond. We sat and had a drink whilst being observed by a local cat whose curiosity was stirred by our presence.

As the birds of prey battled high above we walked at a slower pace and took time to enjoy the remainder of the afternoon and to savour the sites of a fresh autumnal day.

With home in sight, our tired bodies and weary feet were looking forward to a warm drink and relaxing in front of a homely log fire. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The geese/cranes fly south

The weather has turned cold here in Asturias with snow on the mountains, rain on the lowlands and winds making their presence known as they travel east from the Atlantic through the Bay of Biscay. It has been a bit too wet to do very much at all in the garden but today the sun is shining bright and out of the shadows, the warmth is welcome. One bonus of the cooler weather is that the Acers are in full glorious colour and look wonderful.

We have been collecting leaves and composting them to make valuable leaf mould for next year. The green oats we have sown for green manure are sprouting and the vegetable garden is still producing a healthy crop of leeks, flower sprouts, endive, beetroot, celeriac, chard, cauliflower, cabbage, carrot and fennel. The early sprouting broccoli suffered early on with rot at the tips but has recovered a little.

The cats Wentworth and Gawber are spending increasing amounts of time indoors and it does not take them long to suss out if the fires are lit or not. This little clip shows them play fighting in the garden, taking the opportunity to enjoy the brief spell of sunny weather.

There is still plenty of wildlife activity in the garden with visits from the pine marten, many birds and insects. You can following the visiting creatures on our other supplementary blog Smaller tales from Toriello. 

Luis is back from Ravenna and in full scale mosaic production. Needless to say he is full of new ideas and energy and is currently finishing fish and water-lily mosaics for the terrace and a sculptural mosaic he started a few months ago. He is currently writing an article about his Ravenna trip for an online mosaic site which I will publish the link to when it is up and visible.

We have seen several formations of geese/cranes flying overhead but as is always the case, I never have the camera or right lens to hand when we spot them.  I did manage to get one not too clear photo and hope to spot them again soon...

footnote: a friend from France says these could be Gru (cranes) I think she might be right. What do you think?