Monday, February 24, 2014

Wild Boar in the garden

We've known for sometime that wild boar visit the garden but up to now we haven't seen them. We occasionally see a small group of them in the lower field at dawn or dusk but our garden visits happen in the dead of night.

The tell-tale signs are turf up-turned and small holes dug with trotters and snouts. They love bulbs especially allium, lords and ladies and Spanish bluebells. A small group can cause a lot of damage in a very short time.

This morning I went to check the Bushnell night camera and immediately spotted an area of up-turned turf and a few holes where the boar had been. I hoped that the camera had managed to get the evidence on film...

Sure enough there are half a dozen short videos of what looks like a young, solitary female, wandering back and forward around the wild area of the garden. When the boar goes out of shot you can hear her digging at the side of the camera before she returns into shot near the pond.

Thankfully they never seem to venture into the vegetable beds which are very close. Saying that, up to now, we have had little damage from any garden visitors including deer, boar, badgers, martens....Don't forget to check out the wide variety of wildlife we get in and around La Pasera on our Smaller Tales from Toriello Blog.

And finally, Wentworth and Gawber enjoying a moment of togetherness in the evening sun.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Preparing for Spring

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There is always an optimistic quality about longer days, brighter skies and glimpses of winter sun. The weather has been very mixed here with storms along the coast causing hide tides and gale-force winds, lots of rain, followed by a few days of warm day-time sunshine and bright clear night skies. A few trees down locally but no damage for us which is good.Whatever the weather, we know that at this time of years there is always lots to do.

We have pruned the fruit trees very little this year in the hope that we will have the harvest we didn't this past summer. The fruit bushes will be lifted and put into a new raised bed (when the wood arrives) and the vegetable beds and seed trays are slowly filling up with peas, twiggy pea-sticks, lettuce, beetroot and kohlrabi.

We are still harvesting flower-sprouts, purple sprouting broccoli, cabbage, leeks, kale, celeriac, winter lettuce, swede and fennel. The oats that were sown as a green manure have been dug in the bed where onions and potatoes will be planted. We have already bought our seed potatoes so it won't be long now before we have a day digging them in.

We have pruned some hedges but more needs doing and soon. We will thin out the hazel and use the poles somewhere in the garden. The wild flowers are out in force and there is plenty of colour in the flower beds and rockery area. A general tidy up of leaves, trimming back dead flower heads and moving the odd plant always brings positive results. The Gunnera has been chopped back as it had expanded in every direction and was becoming too dominating. We will leave the dead leaves on to protect the new shoots in the unlikely event of frost.

The water-lily plants have been taken out of the pond in readiness for splitting and thinning out. The root systems had already swamped the bottom of the pond and was in need of doing. We'll re-pot these and pop them back in the pond next month.

The hard-landscaping is at last coming close to an end and with any luck we should have finished the terrace later this month. Then it will be the final push on the front garden and driveway. With Spring just around the corner we are looking forward to another productive year in the vegetable garden and hopefully be able to relax and enjoy the garden now it has taken shape.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A road trip along the route of silver part 4:The Vultures of Monfragüe

After spending a few days based in the city we were eager to get out into the wilds of nature once again and relax into our normal pace of life. We had read about the Monfragüe National Park and as it was only an hour away from where we were. We decided to have a day walking in the hope of spotting some birds and wildlife we wouldn't normally see. On our list were: the Iberian Lynx (possible but highly unlikely x 2), Bonelli's Eagle (possible) and the Black Vulture (probable).

The park comprises over 18 hectares of mixed scrub and woodlands stretching along the river Tajo. It has been declared a unique refuge for the most representative Mediterranean wildlife. Driving through the national park, the evergreen oaks were impressive, the slate studded mountains and deep green gorges were worthy of the occasional stop. With binoculars in hand there were many small birds to spot and try and identify.

We parked at the visitor centre in Villarreal de San Carlos, a small village and amenity that is currently undergoing extensive infra-structure upgrade including new paths, road surfacing and car parking. There were a range of leaflets available both in English and Spanish, each detailing walking, cycling, horse-riding and car routes throughout the National Park. We decided we would head for Cerro Gimio in the hope of seeing the Black Vultures (Aegypius Monachus) of which there were reported to be up to 250 breeding pairs. It was only about 8km but we could extend it if we felt like, which in the end we strayed here and there but more or less stuck to the route as there was plenty along the way to keep you occupied.

The trails were well marked (for Spain) and the paths and tracks were is reasonable repair. The landscape was very interesting and so different to what we are used to in Asturias. My only disappointment were the hundreds/thousands of plastic tree guards and poles that were so obvious throughout the landscape on your way into the reserve. These had been placed when saplings were planted some time ago and there seemed to have been  such a terrific failure rate. We wondered if the now defunct tree guards would be left to rot or if efforts would be made to tidy them up?

Along the trail we saw small birds aplenty, we came across two Stags on separate occasions (but too slow with the camera) and many vultures gliding high above. After lunching at the side of a slowly trickling stream, we decided we would climb up to the top of  Cerro Gimio in the hope of closer views of the vultures. Only 372 metres or about 1000ft.

At the top we could admire the twists and turns of the Rio Tajo and spy on the roosting and nesting sites of the vultures way below. We were soon rewarded with fly pasts from many soaring birds, not too close but a much better view than from the valley below. We sat for quite a while and admired their grace and their impressive 8 foot wingspan.

We saw the vultures, we think we saw an eagle but couldn't see in any great details and we missed the Lynx completely, perhaps just as well.

Feeling very relaxed and a bit tired from a great day Monfragüe National Park we returned to our hotel and dined out at a really good Italian restaurant. The remainder of our journey home was uneventful but for the threat of snow as we headed for the mountain pass. Fortunately we made it home in time for dinner and looked forward to being back at home with Wentworth and Gawber who both made no fuss or acknowledged our return other than their usual laid back blink of the eye and flick of the tail....but that's cats.

Monday, February 10, 2014

A road trip along the route of silver part 3: Cáceres

We travelled south past Salamanca and onwards to Cáceres. We'd read about the old town built on a hill and how wonderfully preserved it was and we were eager to visit. We managed to park up and stroll through the busy pedestrianised shopping area that borders the old town and check into our hotel. To cut a long story very short we checked in and checked out about 5 hours later after two room moves... We did however manage to find a very nice hotel and the very last available room belonging to the NH World chain just around the corner...phew.

Cáceres is a a large modern city built around the old town of Cáceres. The old town has been declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO because of its cobbled streets, medieval houses and fortresses, and its many Renaissance palaces. Surrounded by thick walls built in the Moorish period,  Cáceres old town, with its ten towers, is like a film set. Take down the discreet perspex signs signalling government departments, restaurants, hotels and museums and it wouldn't take much to transport you back to 14th - 18th Century Spain and to imagine the silver traders, along with many others, idling a few days in town to buy and sell their wares.

The golden brown granite absorbs the setting sun and glows. Wandering through the many streets and alley ways you spot gems that are asking to be explored. There are many courtyards through half-open doorways, peaceful and cool with their large pots of Aspidistra plants, inviting you in to take a look, which we did.The main square which borders the old town was very quiet apart from half a dozen small cafe bars/restaurants vying for passing trade with offers of free Tapas and really good value menu del dia which was a three course lunch with wine and bread for 12€.

Cáceres out of season is very quiet but I suspect come the hot summer season, those tiny streets and open squares will be filled with chattering tourists and tired feet. We found some great Tapas restaurants and a excellent Italian restaurant and ate well.

Cáceres had a very different feel to Zamora and was very peaceful but we only stayed in and around the old town and there is a much larger city to explore maybe for another time. The highlights for us were the main museum, which once was a grand palace. An original and functional Aljibe still survives in the basement under the horseshoe shaped Moorish arches. Water draining from roofs and terraces was collected in the basement Aljibe, no light was allowed which kept the water fresh for home consumption; a basement reservoir in effect. Here is a link to the Museum brochure in English. There are many other things to see but spending such little time there we still have many things to return for.

We researched the Monfragüe National Park and planned a walk for the following day. Being in the city for four days on the trot is OK but we both miss the hum of the countryside and the fresh air. Bookmark for Part 4 Walking in Monfragüe National and watching the black vultures.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

A road trip along the route of silver part 2: The treasures of Zamora

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The architecture of Zamora spans Roman, Romanesque, Islamic, Gothic, Neo-classic, Art Nouveaux, Modernism and Post Modernism. The city, like many others in Spain, is struggling with high unemployment and rising prices. Many of the streets and alley ways are blighted by graffiti; a sign that all is not well amongst a disaffected youth which is understandable given that unemployment in the under 26 years of age is 52%. Winter doesn't bring the tourists in any great number and seasonal work is not available. There are many empty properties in the centre both in terms of shops and apartments, maybe a sign that rents are high and that cheaper social housing and a faltering economy is driving people out of the centre into the sprawling estates on the edge of town.

Zamora will survive not least for it's extravagant festivals, the Tapas and Ribera del Duero wines, its many glorious buildings and the treasure which they contain. Coaches bring people on a daily basis to see the Cathedral, its museum and various other gems dotted around the city, of which there are many.

The cathedral of Zamora dates back to 12th century and is Romanesque in style with later Proto-Gothic additions. The highlights for me were: the dome; the intricately carved choir stalls (15th C); the wrought-iron work.  The craftsmanship of the the richly decorated alter pieces constructed from silver with gold embellishments is to be admired but they leave me wondering how such extravagance could have been justified in past times full of hardship and suffering.

The dome is stunning with its sixteen arched windows that allow light to flood into the Cathedral as the sun circumnavigates it throughout the day.

The stone carvings are spectacular. On the south side of the Cathedral is the Bishop's doorway with its semi-circular arcades and Romanesque sculptures. Many other fine stone carvings can be found around the museum and Cathedral.

The Cathedral museum was equally impressive with its large collection of 15th - 17th Century Flemish tapestries and abundant religious artifacts and iconography. The tapestries include a collection of 5 from 8 original pieces that tell the story of Hannibal and his quest for power. Other pieces tell the story of Helen of Troy and the Trojan war and, the life of the Etruscan King of Rome; Tarquin. The amount of work and detail in the tapestries is mind-blowing. One can only imagine the thousands of hours young women and girls spent in the workshops sewing and weaving by candlelight with their needles and thread creating such beautiful works of art. (Slide show at the end of the post)

There are many churches and and buildings worth visiting but most do not allow photography. The Cathedral and Museum allowed you to take photographs without flash but only if you paid an extra euro on top of the 6€ entrance fee. They even issued me with a sticker. It was worth it just to photograph this magnificent pietra dura table with its polished stone and marble flowers, birds and butterflies. The lack of flash shows on the quality of the photos but I did my best under the circumstances.

Other highlights for us were the Parador of Zamora which we looked around at the insistence of the manager in the hope that we would dine, stay a few nights or spread the word to our friends. The Provincial Government council chambers were stunning if not somewhat over-the-top, but worth a visit as was the permanent exhibition of Baltasar Lobo whose stunning bronze sculptures are tastefully displayed in a modern gallery space built inside a much older town building.

We also came across one or two pieces of street art that were ill-thought out such as this Opus Sectile Mosaic by Domingo Iturgaiz. The majority of the mosaic was obscured by trees planted too close and without much thought of their size or proximity.

Our lasting memories of Zamora are for me, the tapestries and the graffiti which in much the same way tell stories of a time of hardship, war, extravagance, protest and privilege, both making a statement of their time; the difference being is that the former had great wealth and hope whilst the latter have little.  For Luis, the Romanesque architecture is a big draw and something he always relishes.

Don't forget to join us for Part 3 Onward to Cátheres.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

A road trip along the route of silver - Part 1 Zamora

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Part 1: Zamora

The Ruta de la Plata is a journey we have always wanted to travel. The route is an ancient trail that travels across 4 regions and 7 provinces north and south. Over 800 Km in length and covering more than 120,000 sq Kms it certainly has a lot to offer in terms of landscapes, architecture, history and culture.

We decided to focus on three main areas and get the most out of our road trip: Zamora,  Cáceres and Monfragüe. Leaving home we headed for Oviedo and down to Leon. As it was the middle of January we were concerned that the mountain pass from Oviedo to Leon might be closed but we managed to get through despite a growing snow flurry and snow-ploughs sat in readiness for their inevitable task ahead. The problem comes when the police will only allow you to drive through the pass if your car is equipped with snow chains. At some point it will close totally. The mountains were beautiful with their sparse woodlands stripped bare by winter.

The road to Zamora is mainly motorway with a short section of national road winding its way through sleepy agricultural villages. The further south you drive the increasing number of low-growing vines can be seen in their regimental rows, resting over the colder seasons.

We arrived in Zamora and drove along the river Duero into the centre of the old town and checked into our hotel which turned out to have been an old distillery. Our terrace included the original chimney. Remnants of the factory's distillery equipment were tastefully utilised for decoration when the hotel was built within its skin. A really good mix of classic and modern.

Zamora itself is a contrast of old and new. We mainly explored the old quarter and ventured through the many narrow streets and passageways that crossed to and fro between plazas and squares. The Cathedral was in a beautiful setting along with the remains of the castle near the edge of the hill top position the town holds. There are one or two gems in Zamora including the Cathedral and it's collection of 16th century Flemish tapestries, The Baltasar Lobo Museum, the classic Art Noveaux buildings, the street art and the many tapas bars that punctuate the city.

There was enough to experience in the two days we stayed with a good mix of history, culture and traditions. Like the hundreds of chattering storks that had returned to their nests on many public and private buildings, we shall also return one day soon.

Part two will feature the treasures and architecture of Zamora's finest buildings including one of the world's most famous and prized collection of tapestries. Bookmark now or sign up for email subscription.