Saturday, February 18, 2017

Is it really spring?

I've been realising recently how much I struggle with winter. When I was a teenager in the UK, I had a very hard time with it and almost without fail, every February would find me at the doctor with my exasperated mother who didn't know what what wrong with me. It was just winter. I know that now.

In all the years I spent in South Africa, I never once had the winter blues. Winters there are just glorious. They are very cold at night, but during the day, it is wall to wall sunshine and warm. And best of all, it doesn't rain. I loved it and never once complained because the winters were too dry. Quite the reverse.

Winter in Africa - a happy visit to Postmasburg in 2008

Then in 2001, I returned to Europe. Enough said. I struggle my way through every winter and what has made things worse in recent years is an allergy to the cold. I won't go into to how that manifests itself, but it's a form of dermatitis and it's not nice at all. Anyway, enough of that. This morning I saw snowdrops in the garden at the crumbly cottage and we had a wonderful walk in bright sunshine that even had a hint of warmth to it. Last week, I walked into town in the sunshine without even needing my hat! That was a major lift up or uplift; whatever you like to call it, I felt a whole heap better.

I'm sure there will be setbacks but it's so heartening to know that spring is definitely on the way. I have to say I am very cheered by the prospect - as I am every year. And as I also say every year, next winter I am going somewhere warm for a serious amount of time. But that's in the lap of those who employ me - and I know that too!

For now, I'll just revel in the oncoming spring and the longer days, and of course that first spuddle of the year! It's coming soon and I can feel it... Happy spring holidays everyone!

A walk into town in the sunshine

View from the bridge

I wish I could have been on this one going south!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Winter back to normal: wet, windy, whiteouts

Following my lovely trip to Spain at the end of January, I am now grounded for as many weeks as it takes to get my new passport. When I booked my ticket, I only just realised in time that my passport expired at the beginning of this month, so I just managed to get back with a day to spare. Phew! The funny thing is that even though I needed to produce my passport to fly to Spain, no one really looked at it, so it made me wonder if it would have made any difference if I'd come back a couple of days later. Now, I'm back, though, it feels odd to think I can't really go anywhere for a while, but on the other hand, this is not the time of year for travelling unless it's to somewhere nice and warm, is it? I shall just dream up some warmth instead until I am free to go again.

Here in the flatlands we have the resumption of our normal winter weather. I enjoyed the earlier cold, sunny days because the sky was blue and the light gorgeous, but I suppose it was destined not to stay that way. February has brought the usual whiteout and we have snow, wind, ice and those spooky white skies. Yesterday, I was in Amsterdam to teach and the snow started then. It was bitterly cold, the wind was like a razor and the snowflakes felt like hail battering my face. Trains were cancelled and the roads in chaos - condition normal during winter 'wevver'. It crept southwards over night and this morning we had a good layer of snow on the hatches. Then it snowed fairly steadily for most of the day even though most if it didn't settle. Typically for the Netherlands, it's all a bit too wet to last.

Still, there were some people determined to enjoy the day regardless of the prevailing conditions. This is what we saw from the boat this morning. Even though I think they are totally bonkers, I can't help but admire their cheerful stamina, can you? It certainly made my day to see them!

Thanks to Koos for catching them before they disappeared!

Seen from a neighbouring barge

And yes, that is snow on the decks
Keep warm everyone! I hope it's not too miserable where you are, and if you're lucky enough to be in the southern hemisphere, send some of your sunshine this way....please?

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

A trip of the switch: another shabby blog story...

Stunning view across the valleys north of Alicante

In case any of you are wondering what happened next after the cliffhanger that I finished the last post on (well that's what I hoped it would be), I thought I'd continue the story of my adventures in a Spanish Airbnb. The rest of my stay wasn't half as eventful although it was absolutely lovely as I shall go on to show in photos, but the first night was the one made for storytelling.

Where was I then? Oh yes, I'd managed to scramble into bed after my dark and dangerous encounter with the switches from hell in the stairwell.

So there I was lying on the bed with my iPad for company when I felt the evening chill starting to creep up my legs from my toes. My hostess had shown me there was a small fan heater and had indicated by means of extensive sign language that I could use it if I got cold. She also pointed to an extension cable that would make it possible to do so without having to haul the wardrobe out of the way to plug it in. I'd peered at the cable rather doubtfully as it didn't look all too new, but deciding this was the right moment to trust her, I pulled the heater off the shelf and plugged it in. With some trepidation, I turned up the dial, and then with relieved gratitude, I felt the warm air flow into the room. I climbed back on the bed, put my feet under the duvet and started reading. Bliss. After all my adventures, this was just what I needed. The room started to heat up and I was comfortable. I began to think my mistrust had been unfounded. Big mistake.

Just as I was getting to a good bit in my book (I forget now what it was, but let's assume I was going to find out who dunnit), a sharp clap announced the end of my fun. The lights went out, the heater went off and I was left in pitch darkness again. Oh no? Oh yes!

So much for the extension cable. I felt sure that was the weak link in this particular situation but for a moment I felt guilty and rushed over to turn the heater off. What had I done? One night in Alicante and I was causing electrical mayhem. Of course I realised soon enough it wasn't like that and in fact it was nothing to do with me at all.

However, now I had a problem. If I wanted light in my life again, I'd have to report this to my hostess, but her rooms were right at the other end of the apartment. To reach her, I'd have to find my way through the dining room, into another passage and figure out which door I should pound on to get her attention. I peered out into the passage. Everything was black. Oh dear. I had visions of re-enacting my spider dance on the stairs only with the greater risk that I would start bashing into obstacles and break things other than myself if I had to grope my way all that distance. This prospect didn't seem very inspiring.

After plucking up courage and then losing it several times (picture a speeded up film of someone going in and out of a room - that was me), losing it won and I decided the world could get stuffed for the night; I would just go to sleep. Stumbling around in the dark, I unplugged the heater, pulled the blankets off the other bed, piled them on mine and crawled under. Fortunately, and in spite of the fact I was still quite cold, I went to sleep quite quickly. Unfortunately, I woke up in the middle of the night needing the loo.

I lay there for a moment sort of hoping that the lights would have miraculously untripped by this time, but no such luck. I got up, groped around for the switches and tried them all. The lights remained rather uncooperatively off. Then I had the genius stroke of remembering my iPad. Down to its last 3% (because of course I couldn't charge it up), I prayed it would last long enough to light me to the bathroom and back. So there I was again, holding my screen out like some kind of shield to negotiate my way through the inky darkness and whispering 'The dining room, the final frontier' and  'may the force be with me' to cheer myself up. It's amazing what fun I can have by myself.

The iPad survived until, business accomplished, I was halfway back to my room, but by then I'd noticed a ghostly light creeping through one of the windows. When the screen went off too, I managed to make the last few steps without disaster.

In the morning, I reported the incident to my hostess, who merely shrugged, walked to the switchboard in the passage, a mere couple of metres from room and pushed up the switch. If I'd only known.

I didn't fess up about my night time adventures, nor did I say anything about the cable. I expect she knew, but given our somewhat limited communication means, I think neither of us wanted to complicate matters any further. I had my breakfast (a curious combination of dry toast, fruit and coffee), packed my bag, and with broad smiles (what more could we do?) we bade each other farewell.

The remaining three days were heaven. I spent them in great company in a beautiful location and visited a charming local animal blessing festival in Teulada. For this, though, some photos will suffice. Enjoy the rest of your week allemaal!

Moraira sea front

The shack I'd adopt if I could

View from just below the shack

Wonderful walks

Beautiful almond blossom alive with bees

Lemons ripe for the picking

Waiting for the procession to begin for the animal blessing

Heading towards the church. All creatures
great and small

The great ones...beautiful!

And the priest dispensing holy water on all
the furry friends

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Adventures with Airbnb in Alicante

I have had so much fun this last weekend. I really have. I've been on a four day trip to Spain to stay with and see friends. I was due to stay near Moraira (between Valencia and Alicante) for most of the time, but the first night, I booked an Airbnb room in Alicante itself as I'd never been there before. I've also never used Airbnb before and it proved to be quite an experience.

Now I'll admit that I have little to no Spanish at all, and since Airbnb is often offered by people who have spare rooms in their own homes (actually what normal B&B used to be), this means that you are likely to be staying with local people. I won't name the lady I stayed with here or give her address, because she was really very sweet and I wouldn't want to put anyone off. Added to that, at least some of my problems were caused by a) the fact that I left my phone at home in Rotterdam (duh) and b) communication difficulties, which were hardly her fault. Anyway, all that aside my stay at her flat proved to be very good meat for a blog post, which is what you're getting here.

For the sake of giving her an identity, I'll call my host lady Sara. Well, Sara and I had been arranging things over the internet using the useful if not always accurate Google as our interpreter. So far so good. Even if the messages were slightly offside at times, we did at least understand I was going to arrive at her address at between 3 and 4 p.m. Which I did.

Last Friday afternoon, I found my way easily from the airport into Alicante by bus and walked the short, but very steep 400 odd metres to her house from the bus stop. To ensure I was at the right address and about to press the correct buzzer, I double checked the details. All was well till I rang the bell.

I pressed, pushed, leant on one side and then the other of the little button, but nothing happened and nothing I did would persuade it to ring. There was no sound and no one came to the door. Somewhat perplexed, I wondered how I could contact her. It was soon after 3 p.m., so I thought maybe she wasn't home yet. But how was I to find out without a phone? What a predicament.

What I did have, though, was my iPad, so I decided to go back down the hill to the centre and find a café with WiFi where I could email her. Which I did too. Again with the help of my friend, the sometimes mischievous translator, Google, I composed a message and sent it to her. I told her I'd left my phone at home, that I'd been to the flat and that it seemed no one was there. I then said I'd go back at 4:30 p.m. and try again. The message that came back translated like this: 'I hope you get your phone back. I'll be on the floor. The bell is 4b' As you can imagine, I was puzzled and my imagination went into overdrive.

Finishing my coffee, I hefted up my bag, which had gained weight significantly by this time (funny how they do that, isn't it?) and staggered off back up the hill to the BnB. Again, I tried the bell and again nothing happened. I peered through the glass and there was no one lying on the floor either.

Then (at last) it occurred to me that maybe the bell didn't work. I furtively pressed another one to see what would happen. Its loud and peremptory buzz made me jump out of my skin, and I prayed its owner wasn't in. How embarrassing that would have been! I began to sweat trying to imagine what I would say to any possible 'Qué?' that might come through the intercom. Luckily for me, no one answered, but it certainly confirmed that Sara's bell wasn't working.

What to do now? She patently wasn't on the floor and her bell wouldn't work. Was I really going to have to crawl back to the café with my ten ton load, buy more coffee and send her another message? Just as I was preparing to gather up my courage, a light came on and Sara appeared, right there 'on the floor'. She was clearly puzzled that I hadn't rung the bell as she was pointing at it when she opened the door, but when she realised hers was the only one in the whole block that didn't work, she was duly very apologetic.

We climbed up the eight flights of stairs to her fourth floor apartment, by which time I realised I was not as fit as I thought I was. I was practically on my knees by the time we got to her door. Well, she kindly gave me a restorative cup of coffee and introduced me to her daughter who did speak English. Apparently Google had played with my message too and they thought I'd lost my phone at the café which was why I'd gone back there. A litany of confusion, but anyway, they gave me a key for going in and out.

The next fun with breaking and entering - sorry, getting in - occurred when I went back to the BnB after taking an evening stroll round Alicante. It's a lovely city and I spent a lot of time walking around until well after dark, so by the time I got back, the entrance was dark too. Going in, I looked for a light and found one of those timed switches - you know the type. They stay on for a while and then turn themselves off. Lots of apartment blocks and hotels have them. I pushed this one and the light came on, so I started up the stairs, but it wasn't long before I realised I couldn't remember how many floors I'd climbed or how many storeys the building had. Oh dear. And there was nothing on any of the landings to say which one I was on. Oh dear, oh dear. I tried a key in the door I thought was the right flat and it didn't work. Oh dear, oh dearie dear. Not knowing now if I had to go up or down, I hesitated, and at that moment my time was up with the lights. Everything went black. And I really mean black.

Now just picture this - Val groping her way all around the walls in total darkness like a manic spider. It was crazy and I still couldn't find the light switch, so then I had a mild (micro) panic. I didn't dare go down or up the stairs. Firstly, I didn't know where they were and secondly, I was sure I'd break my neck if I tried. Can you imagine it? I could have sat down and pushed myself around on my backside I suppose or crawled, but didn't want to risk that either. I mean supposing someone came out of their flat, switched the light on and found me crawling up the stairs on my hands and knees. I was cringing at the thought. Then joy of joy, I remembered my iPad, which I'd thankfully taken with me. If I opened it, I would have the light from the screen. Talk about 'let there be light!' What a relief!

With the help of my trusty tablet, I confirmed my key was wrong for the door I was looking at and after shining the iPad around up and down the stairwell, I decided I needed to go up one more floor. I still couldn't find the light switch, though, so I used my screen light to find my way upstairs. Such was my gratitude that I'd got to the right door, I unlocked it, crept into my room and went to bed.

Now then,  shall I tell you about what happened when all the lights and heater in my room tripped out too? Hmm, no, I think I'll leave that for now. This is quite enough of a shaggy blog story :) More on the beauties of the Spanish coastal areas next time. Have a great week ending everyone!