Thursday, January 21, 2016

missing dogs

I’m missing my dog walking on a Wednesday morning.

When I am in Vieuzos, I try to keep Wednesday mornings free.  I go to Lannemezan market to shop  - all my favourite stalls for bread, cheese (right smelly stuff sometimes) pesticide free veg - for the things I haven’t yet grown in the garden, fruit and anything else that takes my fancy.  It’s great to have a good nose around and see what’s available before buying and have a chat with some of the stall holders.

Then, after the market, I head out of town to the local dog refuge and volunteer dog walk.  A team of volunteers arrive each week to give all the dogs a walk, it depends on how many people turn up as to how many dogs you get to walk and how long it takes.  

A great opportunity to meet new folk, have a good chat, plenty of fresh air and give the poor abandoned pooches a bit of love and exercise.  I love going and it’s so warming to see how happy the dogs are when the get to stretch their legs, they are all so lovely, even the damaged and lost souls appreciate the attention and respond well to having a bit of calm away from the pound if only for a short while.  

Most of the dogs seem to be re-homed fairly quickly, though some stay for months and months and become favourites to the walkers.  I tend to get given the more boistrous, bouncy individuals as I am seen to have a calming influence on most of my charges. I have my brother, the earstwhile dog whisperer, to thank for imparting his wisdom, fairly subconsciously, in my direction, it seems to have stuck and on the whole am able to reproduce his teachings and techniques with positive results.

Unfortunately I don’t often get a day off on a Wednesday during the winter, so I miss my weekly walk.  Here are are some photos of the most recent dog walk I did.  

do I get a treat now?

a balmy early January day

some of the pound

some more of the pound

wanting another walk already

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

heading to work

I’ve found my morning routine now.  I get up just before six, pass by the bathroom, put the kettle on and spend fifteen minutes involved in stretching and breathing exercises.  (the first chapter of a Tai Chi book that I started a couple of years ago)  I’ll proceed through the rest of the book one day, but for the moment this does me the world of good,    Make a cup of tea and enjoy a bowl of fruit and nut porridge, slow cooked in a thermos that I start off the night before.  Put on my outdoor gear over what I am already wearing, thick ski trousers, my big jacket, equip myself with snow boots, gloves, goggles, wooly hat and ipod and set off towards Saint Lary at around seven ten/fifteen.   Have to be there by seven thirty.  It’ll have to be earlier when it’s snowed hard, but for now, that’s not happened.  During the brisk walk through the village I listen to Michel Thomas teaching Spanish.  Fifteen minutes every morning gets me to work with a few extra words and I go over and over the class till it sticks in my head.  If I get other opportunities, such as alone in a ski lift, of an evening or on the way home, I listen to more, but it gets me to work every morning in a productive manner.

I say to work, it’s the meeting point for where everyone who works in the refuge or another restaurant on the slopes, the Merlans,  has to meet to start the communal journey up the mountain.

There is a mini bus that takes nine of us, any one else has to take the cable car and a bus for the first leg of the journey.  Twenty minutes or so drive up the windy mountain road to the next stage of the journey, the ‘eggs’  enclosed pods that seat six that take us another 600m up into the ski resort.  Before we leave on these there are usually a couple of lorries waiting with deliveries for
the two establishments.  

The deliveries are unloaded outside the building and the boxes carried upstairs to the departure level by hand.  Once all there and the ‘eggs’ are ready to go, some of the team heads off to the top to receive the boxes.  Down below, one or two people load each pod with a couple of boxes, making sure that they are easily retrievable as the pod passes by at the top.  

The lift takes eleven minutes to reach the top when running well, a lot longer when there are technical difficulties or it is windy, the longest ascent for me has been over half an hour, howling sub zero winds outside, swirling snow and minimal visibility in the dawn twilight (if there is such a thing).  

At the top, the team manhandle the boxes out of the pods, pass them along a human chain to be loaded into a snow scooter trailer for the next leg of the journey.  There is frequently too much merchandise for one trailer, so it heads off to be unloaded before returning for the remaining items.  My, our, goods always get loaded second as they go to a different location where they are unloaded once again, in preparation for a downward journey by chair lift to the refuge.  To catch up with the snow scooter and our goods, we either take a ski lift on it’s descent, which takes five minutes or so if it’s running, or a brisk fifteen/twenty minutes by food along the edge of a ski slope, way before any skiers are about.  Not too bad when it’s calm and sunny, but when the weather sets in, all that clothing I mentioned earlier comes in mighty useful.

We then wait with our goods until the lift team arrive and go through their start up procedures and ensure that the lift is running.  Sometimes they are already there.  Our goods are then manhandled again and precariously placed on individual chairs on a chair lift, one person sets off ahead to receive them down below.  Smaller items go in large plastic crates, though care must be taken as the crates then have to be lifted on and off of the ever moving chairs as they pass by.  (Never would this be allowed in the UK, Health and Safety would have a field day)

This lift then drops down into the most remote and inaccessible part of the resort.  Frequently accessible by ski slope, but this season, due to the lack of snow, only by this lift.  A glorious setting overlooking wild mountain scenery where mountain beasts roam and birds of prey circle overhead.  No lights are visible at night and the only sounds are from the constant torrent of water in the stream and the wind in the trees.  

The boxes are grabbed off the chairs as they pass then walked, barrowed or sack trucked the last twenty metres to the back door of the refuge where they are sorted and stored immediately.

The morning team frequently don’t arrive and finish putting away the delivery of the day until way gone ten o’clock.
on top of the world at sunriseo 
loading our delivery onto the snow scooter trailer

last weeks rubbish heading down the moutain

en route - walking down an empty ski slope 

we came from right up there in the distance

going down again with boxes of stores

and down further

this is going to look amazing covered in snow

to the refuge - new wooden fascade on the left of the photo, the Lac de l'Oule dam is visible on the right.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

days off without much snow

On my first day off I had expected to be heading for the slopes to ski, but with the beautifully warm weather, blue skies and sunshine, I decided I would rather enjoy a good hike instead.

In the view from my front door, I can see across Saint Lary village and the valley across the other side and away towards the mountains in the distance,  There is a road pass that rises to the lowest part of the valley over there with stunning 360 degree views at the top.  that was to be my destination.

The road and then hiking trail that I joined, part of the Atlantic to Mediterranean Pyrenean GR10 trail, took me in exactly the right direction to reach the pass, col d’Azet and I spent a very enjoyable day hiking up through quaint mountain villages, past miniature working farms, through patches of woodland, through fields of pasture, over babbling streams and, nearer the top, across more open moor type land rising to the ridge and view on the other side.  

Strangely, for the end of December, the vegetation remained lush and green, insects and even a butterfly or two whirled about in the air and tiny lizards, basking in the warm sun, darted to safety as my foot steps warned them of my approach.  Violets flowered under hedgerows in places and catkins plumped themselves, imagining that spring had already arrived, in preparation for wind blown pollination that doesn’t usually happen for another three or four months.  I marvelled at the power of sunshine and warmth on our natural vegetation and prayed, at the same time, for cold winter weather to arrive promptly and put a stop to the untimely advance of the season before it was too late.  

I had already had a conversation about cherry blossom that someone had seen in a neighbouring valley and feared that if things advanced too far before the real winter set in, we would see disasterous harvests of fruit next year.  If the flowers open and are then frosted, they come to nothing, the resultant fruit, that usually takes the better part of spring and summer to ripen, has no time to form and there is no chance for flower buds to be created again before winter real sets in.  The trees are then in a weakened state through this unnatural effort and start up again in the following spring  less able to protect themselves from disease and insect attack.

I averted myself from dwelling on such possibilities and concentrated on the majesty and grandure of the landscape, marvelled on the immense power of bye gone glaciers that carved the landscape millions of years ago, the constantly changing scenery, that we will never see, over millennia, as the iberian peninsula constantly pushes against the rest of europe, forcing these ancient mountains to resist the ever present attack of natural erosion, whilst, on the surface, we busy ourselves with every day life as if it is the most important thing in the world.  To be outside in such amazing natural scenery can put everything into perspective, even if it only lasts an afternoon or a day, it’s a joy to behold and something to be remembered on other occasions.

On the third picture, Vignec, where my flat is, is visible in the distant valley.

Monday, December 14, 2015

another winter in the mountains

Now I am in the mountains, the Pyrenees to be exact.  Back again for another winter season.  This time its somewhere new, a mountain top refuge and hostel for walkers in the summer and in the winter a ski lodge and restaurant.   No doubt I’ll write more about the Refuge de l’Oule during the winter, so will leave it for now.

Unlike before I have to find my own accommodation.  Fortunately, after the last few years being here, I knew that renting would be difficult close to the start of the season, with the number of seasonal workers that arrive to make the place function as it should.  Forewarned, I rented a small apartment back in November, before heading to the UK, so that all would be in place on my return.  It’s a great little place, quite modern - so not draughty, about ten minutes walk from where I need to be in the mornings for work, slightly removed from the touristy part of the village so nice and quiet too.  There’s a tiny snug little bar just down the road, just to make it easy to stretch my legs of an evening if I feel the need.

For the last few days I have been driving backwards and forwards gathering all my belongings here for the winter.  Sorting out work contracts, seasonal worker ski passes and making sure that I am properly equipped for the next four months.  The flat has two bedrooms which makes it ideal to sub let.  I’ve bagged the small room for myself and, with minimal difficulty, now have two younger lads to share the large double upstairs.  Their room so big that, with the right configuration of furniture, the two beds are almost completely separate and both are very happy especially as they both have decent work contracts for the whole season.

view from my apartment window

village of Vignec, my winter home

the way to work

the green lights show the open ski runs - waiting on more snow......

festive lights in Saint Lary

I’m excited to have the whole winter pre-planned and am looking forward to getting stuck in to whatever is in store for me up in the mountains.  It’s going to be a bit like before, but more.  Snow clearing, bar work, kitchen hand and server, washer upper and cleaner, though no ironing or making beds, the guests have to do that themselves. An entirely french team, with a proper work contract and decent wages, a real step up in the greater scheme of things.  The journey to and from work is by cable car, bus and chair lifts, with a bit of a walk across the snow somewhere in the middle, I can see that being a blog on it’s own one day.  It’s remote, and at night the only visible light from the building is going to be the stars.  It should be amazing.  Just watch this space.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

belated celebrations

I have moved on yet again.  Since I last wrote a lot has happened.  I left Spain full of dreams and excitement for relocating only to arrive back home, in Vieuzos, to the most wonderful spell of weather imaginable for early November, It was hotter, sunnier and more enjoyable than the weather I experienced in Spain.  My heart was captured once more.  Confused yet again.  I spent a couple of weeks in Vieuzos tidying up for the winter and preparing for my departure.  House sat for a neighbour with 8 cats and enjoyed the glorious weather.

Relocation to Spain manifested itself once again as I headed to the UK.  Away from the enchantment, a more all encompassing vision of the future rematerialised and it is that that I have focussed on ever since.

I need to jump ahead, else I will be writing for a very long time indeed.  My trip to England was a great success, I celebrated my 50th Birthday again with the rest of my family and then many friends, some of whom I had not seen in years.  The venue was in London, to make it accessible to more people, and a good friend found the most amazing room in a pub, The Cellars, in Stoke Newington to host the event.  A wonderful occasion, the landlords were very welcoming, hospitable  and arranged great food and kept everyone well plied with drinks throughout the afternoon and evening.  The room was just right and provided a warm atmosphere for everyone to have a good chat, catch up and meet up with folk that they too mightn’t have seen for years either.  It was just as I had imagined, a gathering of my wonderful friends, though a few were sadly missed due to prior engagements of one sort or another.  We thought of you too!!  

Friday, November 13, 2015

around vilanova i la geltru

I have visited the area several times on holiday, but never considered it as somewhere to live.  Hadn’t taken time out to explore or consider the less touristic and leisurely options of the area.  Difficult to do when without a vehicle and on a short break with friends.  I was shocked at the prices of property, the amount of unfinished building projects (due to the economic crisis) and quantity of coastal development.   Once I’d gotten my head around that, I started to discover little pockets of suitable land, between the urbanisations, considering my new criterion:

**Still a large piece of land suitable for growing a productive fruit and vegetable garden.  With a property ready to move into, perhaps some work needing doing, but not a huge building project straight off.

**With easy access to a town, ideally on a bus route, or close enough to access at least some basic shops by bike or foot.

**If I’m to relocate to somewhere near the sea, it might as well be accessible without too much effort.  A walk or bike ride would be ideal.  A 20 minute car journey wouldn’t do!

**Somewhere with a more diverse community, where I can meet like minded folk, participate in a variety of community and leisure activities and have more fun.  It doesn’t need to be on the doorstep, but accessible without much of a problem.

** Find a location that will encourage more of my friends to want to come and visit, so that I can spend more time with them and share what I create with as many people as possible.

I could go on and on, but I hope that I have learned enough from the previous two years to make a well informed decision.  Requests please......

Thursday, October 29, 2015

decisions, decisions

Ongoing, I am not so sure.  My straw bale build project in France seems less appealing for a variety of reasons.  Though have still NOT ruled it out.

a raft of new rules and regulations for new build properties will push the cost up dramatically from my original estimations.

I already feel that the location is somewhat isolated and for the prospect of one, meeting a significant other and two, for attracting paying guests at a later stage, it is not the most obvious place to be located.

should I build, I would have to keep the property for ten years before being able to sell it as a house.  Rules stipulate that any new build property has to be guaranteed for this period and, as a self builder, I would be unable to offer such guarantee.  A sale before such time would only be as building but a not a house.

it is significantly more difficult to start and run a small business in France than in many other european countries.  The rules and regulations are daunting even with a fairly decent understanding of the language.  The french think so too.

if I choose to change location, my improved budget gives me much more scope to get ahead with other plans, rather than spending two years building, before I can even start.

the longer term plan is still to create the example of a productive garden and invite/allow people to come and learn how to grow fruit and vegetables hands on. 

Building a straw bale house still remains an excellent idea.  It was a means to an end to enable me to afford a home within the budget I had.  Where as now it can become a more leisurely project in the back garden should I move on.

a move now would give me ample opportunity to do something else before I get too old.  Not a valid reason at all, it’s never too late!!

I can now afford to invest more in a better located, more attractive piece of land/property than I could have done until recently.  

after a couple of trips away, the lure of sunshine and beaches is pulling and is now also achievable and within the new budgetary constraints.

All of that said, I still love my piece of paradise, where the occasional tractor, car or aeroplane are about the only things that disturb the peace, where the birds sing and the weather does it’s thing (mainly sunnily) throughout the year, I enjoy my time there, almost without exception, although, for a more rounded life experience, there is a whole lot missing.  Oh how much easier it would be if I disliked being there or the idea of building an ecologically sound house, I could be gone in a shot.