Friday, December 28, 2018

Rocking Your World 2018: Week 52

Well here we are at our last post for 2018. What a great year it has been, with every week a list of things to be grateful for, and to make us smile. Sometimes it is friends and family members, sometimes it is events, or the glorious scenery, our pets or even the many and varied little creatures that have crossed our paths, but all work together to give us moments of joy. Of course there have been some sad moments too, when we have lost a family member, or our friends have moved away, but all in all, 2018 for me has been a good year! So now it is time to say 'Good-bye' to it, with a few happy moments from this week.

We have enjoyed having our grandson Mikey staying with us. He comes each Christmas and is really just looking for some brighter days than UK has to offer, and a time of relaxation away from work, and the sometimes frantic run up to an over-commercialised time of celebration. Here it is quieter, more relaxed, but not without some celebrations of our own.

We managed to do our last shopping before the weekend, so apart from going to church on Sunday morning, we spent much of our time sitting on a sunny porch, until the sun dipped below the hills and it started to feel chilly. Then we moved in to sit by the fire, to be lazy in front of the TV and feast on chocolates, (balanced out with fresh fruit!). But we did get some exercise by taking the dogs for long walks. Chris and I sometimes struggle with them, especially Foxy, who although the smaller one, is by far the strongest. But with Mikey to take her lead, I was happy to hold Kim, our gentle giant who is much too lazy to give any trouble. Chris came with us one day and we went all along the rambla (dry river bed), that goes around the village. It has been tidied up considerably this year and now is a pleasant walk between rows of tall bamboo, and agricultural fields. It was a bit wet in places but there was plenty of gravel down to make the walkway more level. Foxy kept smelling rabbits nearby and darted off to investigate. But Kim was very slow on the last stretch down through the village to home and we noticed a faint limp that he has had for a while, was more pronounced. It doesn't seem to be bothering him much, so we will wait until our vet reopens in the new year, and take him in then to be looked at, but we decided not to walk him too far before then. 
So the next day Mikey and I took just Foxy over onto the campo. It is tricky getting out with just one, but we persuaded Kim to sit in Chris's office with him, and with a bone to chew on to distract him, and crept out as quietly as we could. Foxy had a great time. She is ten years old now but just as energetic as she was as a pup. We let her loose to run through the shrubs, and up and down the banks, but she never strayed too far from us. I think she would happily have done it all again, but we were ready for going home.
Christmas day is officially Kim's birthday and he was six this year. For the first time ever, he actually sat and posed for his birthday photo, with Foxy not far away.
Mikey loves the dogs and they love him, so when he sat between them he was treated to plenty of Christmas kisses.

Every Christmas day it is a tradition for us to take a photo, raising a glass to toast family and friends, wherever in the world they may be. I post it on Facebook, and I am overwhelmed by the number of reactions and comments we received this year.  We also kept a group chat with all our boys, going on and off for most of the day. The internet has made the world a smaller place for sure, and it was good to know they were all enjoying a lovely day with their families.

It was helpful to have Mikey around to take the photo for us, but we also took a selfie so he was included in one.
We have been here for ten years now, (ten years in this house in February), and every year we have had enough sunshine to take our pictures out in the garden, and this year was no exception.
We decided to go out for dinner again on Christmas Day, and we had to book our places back in August, as everywhere gets very busy. We went to the campsite, where we have our fish and chip dinner every Friday. They were fully booked in their restaurant, the 'ball room' on a lower level, and out in the bar area, and we had an excellent three course, meal. The main course was a carvery with turkey of course, as well as ham and beef, with a choice of half a dozen vegetables. Everyone was happy and friendly and we really enjoyed it all.
Afterwards there was live music and as the sun was still shining we sat out on the patio to watch for a while. (It looks empty but we had an early booking, so we finished our meal and got out there before everyone else). The patio was soon full with some folk dancing their dinner down.
They were a local band who sang a range of songs from rock and roll, to pop numbers and some Irish songs as well, with cheeky banter in between to keep everyone smiling.
Yesterday Chris was busy, but Mikey and I decided to have our Boxing day walk along the sea-front, a day late because by the time we were ready on Boxing day, the clouds had come up and it didn't seem so inviting. But yesterday was beautiful, and we even shed our jumpers as we walked.  The sun was bright on the water and it looked lovely.
We walked one way along the new promenade but then came back on the sand. We found a patch where someone had been having fun building with the big smooth stones that litter the beach.
I don't know how long they had been there, but amazingly they had remained in place. This was quite a fancy one, and even the waves had not destroyed it.
We saw some interesting plants as we walked. This cacti, a type of aloe-vera I think, was in flower everywhere, making bright patches of colour in all the beds.
These trees were interesting. They are from the mimosa family (acacia to some of you, and wattle to out Australian friends). It self-seeds and grows prolifically in this area, but I have never noticed these bright red seed pods on it before.
And on the next branch there were fresh young leaves and the new flowers already beginning to form. I don't expect to see flowers on them until March-May, but I am not sure these buds will wait that long.
At the end of our walk we went to our favourite café for a well-earned coffee, and met up with several friends all out for a stroll and then refreshment.

Today we just visited the local market for some fresh veggies, and visited another bar for our coffee. It is one of the joys of our life here, that we can sit outside a bar for a warm drink almost all year round, and with blue skies above, and good company all around, who could ask for more.

So this final photo is just one of the lovely skies we have seen this week; one when I happened to have a camera nearby, so I could catch it before it disappeared.
And now I will link up with Rocking Your World on Virginia's blog, and go and spend one last evening with our young man before we take him back to the airport tomorrow.
So that just leaves me to wish you all a really good New Year, full of moments to make you smile, reasons to be grateful and happy, and friends and family to share your moments with. I'll see you again in 2019.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Rocking Your World 2018; Week 51

Week 51. My word, where did that year go? One more week and I'll be changing my header to 2019. I am really sorry I didn't manage a post last week It was such a busy week and there was just no good time to do it. I didn't even manage to visit anyone, but I will do a double catch-up this week, and now I am back on track.
This is an incredibly busy time, and I always seemed to be rushing off somewhere, but as so often happens when life is a bit hectic, I didn't actually remember to take many photos.
But I will go back to a week ago last Sunday. We have two Spanish red days in December; days when shops close, schools are out, and most folk have a day off work, so much like bank holidays in UK. These two are just two days apart, December 6th is a secular day - Día de Constitucíon, and 8th is a religious day - Immaculate Conception. Schools and some other places will have the day between them as a holiday too. They call it a bridge day. But because this year the 8th fell on a Saturday, some people had at least half a day off on Monday as well, so it was a bit hit and miss whether shops would be open etc.

We do not usually have a public celebration for 8th, so we were surprised to hear rockets going off and then band music. In the end our curiosity got the better of us and we jumped in the car for a quick drive round. Following the sound of the music we ended up in the rambla where it curves around the top of the village. There is an old sandy football pitch there that was used by the village until the new sports pavilion opened up at the top on the other side of the rambla. The old one is now used by the Ecuadorian group in our community. There are  quite a lot of them, and although they are quite friendly, and will speak if you pass them in the street, they do keep mainly to themselves and stick to their own folk socially. They come from all around on a Saturday night for music, food and dancing, and have set up little booths around the football pitch. And it became clear that for them, Día Immaculada is a day for parades, music, food and dancing. When we arrived, we just caught the end of their parade and there were some amazing costumes. I have seen them dressed up before and noticed that some of their masks border on being ugly or gruesome. But they also like bright colours.
This man had a pretty impressive mask on.

When they had walked, danced, shuffled, around the square they gathered in a small marquee with some religious pictures, and flowers, for a short ceremony, but I didn't understand much of it, so we left them to their partying.

We have had some parties of our own, or at least some lovely lunch gatherings. On Tuesday of last week my house-group and our partners had a meal together down on Mojacar Playa. It was a restaurant that we hadn't used before, and it was very good. It was a little more expensive than some, but we would go again for a special occasion. 

The next day I was out again with my sewing group. This was a ladies day so we left our other halves at home. We always go to the same place and they treat us very well. There was quite a gang of us and we had one long table down the room, but we still moved around and chatted to everyone while enjoying a lovely meal, and plenty of wine and Christmas cheer. I sat with my friend Joan, who is 83 now and still manages to join in with most things. Other friends sat opposite so we could chat easily, and it was nice to get together in a different way before several of them travelled back to spend the holiday with family in UK.

While on the subject of food, we had a good collection for our food bank at the church. Two recent arrivals in the congregation, Keith and Peter, have taken on the running of the food collection, and with the help of Hazel, they put together twenty five bags of food to take up to Zurgena Town Hall for distribution to the needy. Every bag cantained the staple foods, rice, oil, pasta and dried pulses, as well as tinned meats and fish to make meals, and this time there were biscuits, sweets and other Christmas treats in each bag as well as a card from the church. It is good to be able to spread a little love into the community in this way.

On Thursday night Chris and I went to Simon's bar, just around the corner from our house, for the final quiz evening of the year. We don't go to the quiz very often unless we have visitors to make up a team, but we sometimes go round later for the card bingo and other games they do at the end. The couple who run it also do a raffle every week, so we buy into that as well. For this special week, there was new local choir there singing some of the old favourite Christmas songs and carols and they were good. Then we had mince pies and mulled wine, and a Christmas themed quiz. We teamed up with another couple for that but we didn't do all that well, but at least we didn't come last! Chris then won a bottle rum and box of Malteasers in the raffle, and we both won 22€ as joint winners on two of the bingo rounds. So all in all it was a good night.

Last Friday one reason why my blog didn't get written, was that I had a practice at church for a song we have been learning ready for our carol service, and then I rushed home to get changed and collect Chris, and rushed straight back up to Albox for my choirs Friends and Family concert. This is always a popular event, and again we were singing to a crowded hall. It all went very well. Here we are in the purple dresses we had for our trip to London last month. It makes us look more professional when we are all dressed well.
We sang a few songs from our London repertoire, and then some Christmas songs and few carols for everyone to join in with. It was a good evening.

Last year the village started a new tradition of a local trade market in the big marquee that goes up on the car park each Christmas. We went to this last year and there was a good range of stalls selling clothes, food and Christmas flowers. In the evening there was a carol competition with choirs from all the villages around. It was the same format this year, but in the morning we were off to the airport to collect our grandson Mikey who has spent the last four Christmases with us, so I just popped over to the village square to look at the preparations before we had to leave.
It was all looking nice and bright and festive, and I knew those chairs would all fill up for the singing that evening. I bought some sweet breads, and then we set off for the airport. Mikey had a good flight and arrived on time, so we were soon home again.
We went back in the evening and watched one choir, but we didn't stop because we were invited to a birthday party in the evening so we went straight on to that. We have an English friend who is a mechanic and always looks after our cars, and it was his wife's fortieth birthday. They had taken over a big restaurant on the edge of the village and there were over a hundred guests there. We had some lovely food, and there was a very good singer who entertained us all night and kept the dance floor busy. It was a great party, but again I didn't get any photos.

Despite the party, I managed to get up for church the next morning and Mikey came with me. It was our crib service, and we always invite some local children to join in. Father Vincent was there to bless to the crib, and then the children helped with a little nativity play that our church warden, Janet, had organised. One of the congregation , Darren, was the inn-keeper and he was very funny. We all enjoyed it, and the children have already asked if they can take part again next year!

This week has been relatively quiet but we did have a special evening on Tuesday when it was out carol service. We usually have a congregation of around thirty people, but on that night we managed to squeeze 140 people in! I was singing in the little choir we had formed especially for this service and we were originally sitting up at the side of the altar, to leave more space down in the church. But some of us ended up in the anti-room, clustered around the door, so that some late arrivals who had children with them, could squeeze into our seats. It was wonderful to see so many people there, but sadly a few turned up and saw how full it was, and went away again, so we think next year we will have to do it on two nights, or find a larger venue!
We had to share service sheets and carol leaflets, but I think everyone enjoyed it. It was a bit scary when all the candles were lit for the last carol, in such a crowded space, but we have never had an accident with them, and we had buckets of sand and water at ready, just in case...
Our little choir had learned a Spanish lullaby to sing and I think everyone appreciated it.
We are always looking for something to make each year a bit different, and this year a lady suggested we made some tableaux to go just outside the church that people would pass as they arrived. I was asked if I would make one of them and was given a big plastic crate to put it in, and I said I would do the first one - The Journey to Bethlehem. It was a difficult space to work with and in the end I made it in a cardboard box which was easier to fix things to, and slotted it into the plastic crate with a card surround and a cloth wrap to hide all the workings. It was lit with a string of battery operated fairy lights around the inside, and behind the scene. Here is the one I did. It was too dark to get a very good picture, but everyone liked them and I heard lots of comments so it was worth it.
Two other ladies were persuaded to do the other two, shepherds and kings, but it was not something they were used to, so I cut the characters out for them on my computer cutter - silhouette cameo - and one of their husbands helped with the construction.

Now we just have a last little bit of shopping to do this morning, before our usual Friday meal at the campsite, of Fish and Chips. 
I am very grateful to our grandson Mikey who spent yesterday painting our kitchen ceiling. We had a new dropped ceiling with recessed lights put in when the kitchen was done earlier in the year and Chris had put a quick skim of paint on it at the time, but neither of us are good up ladders, nor at bending our necks up to work on ceilings these days, so Mikey did a good job for us yesterday and it does look nice.

I have at last written a post about my few days with my son Tom in his home town of Aarhus in Denmark. It is a very photo heavy post but if you are interested, do look at the post below.

Here is a funny picture of our little campo cat Luna. She rarely sits in the house, being a semi feral cat who likes hunting in the green zone. She does always come in for her meals, and when it is cold she will occasionally curl up on a chair or even share one with Paco, but I have never seen her sitting like this before.

Yesterday Mikey spotted a little visitor in our garden. We did see him once before. You may remember we failed to get a photo of him then. I had no idea he was still around, but yesterday the men came and rotavated the land next door so they probably disturbed him.
But this time he was walking along the concrete drainage at the back of our house, and then he disappeared into the green zone. He will hibernate if it gets cold enough, but after all the rain we have had this autumn, there is no shortage of food for him, and he seemed quite awake still. Mikey was surprised how fast they can move when they want to. They are a protected species here and you can be heavily fined for moving them to keep as pets, but Mikey did just pick him up for a closer look, and then put him back in the same place. Like most folk in England, he has never seen one in its natural habitat before.

And finally a lovely sky photo. How else would I end my year!

So all that is left is for me to link up with Rocking Your World on Virginia's blog. Thank you for 'keeping the faith' and visiting me each week, and I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and I hope we will continue to walk through 2019 together.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

A Short Stay in Denmark

Our middle son, Tom, lives and works in Aarhus, the second city of Denmark, so as part of my visit to UK last month, I flew over to spend a few days with him. I have only visited him once before, in mid-summer, so I was looking forward to seeing Denmark in the Winter. My first impressions were not favorable as I landed in thick fog, but from then on it could only get better.
Of course I took loads of photos and ever since my return I have promised my blog friends that I would post a folder of them. It has taken until today to sort them out, but here they are now. (I should warn you here, that this post is long with a lot, and I mean a lot, of photos, so make yourself comfortable before you read any further!).
My first day was a Thursday. Tom had to do some video conferencing for work, which he could do from home, so I took myself off to walk around the city, and give him some space. 
It was a dull, fairly chilly morning but at least it was dry. The main shopping street is pedestrianized and all the big shops put their wares out on the walkways. It is a good way to ensure they catch your eye when new stock arrives, but they do it whatever the weather, and the air is often damp there, so you have to wonder how they keep everything in good condition.
Most of the Christmas lights were up by then, ready for the switching on ceremony the next night. At the end of the main street I found this huge sphere, covered in lights that were being tested. I later learned it was a photo booth, where you could pose with your friends for a Christmas selfie.

At this point I went down some wooden steps to the lower level where there is a wide walk-way along both sides of a canal. It was full of holiday makers seated outside the many cafés in the summer, and even now it was a pleasant walk.

I like this picture for the reflections in both the water, and the glass fronted office blocks that line the canal. Although many of the trees had already lost their leaves, there was still plenty of Autumn glory to enjoy. This was taken in the park at the end of the canal walk.

This is almost the equivalent of a car park in Danish cities. Very few people use cars. Car parking is at a premium and there is a good network of bus routes. But most people seem to cycle. They 'abandon' their bikes outside the shops. Some are chained but many are not. I don't know how anyone manages to extract theirs from the centre of the pile.
Parking at the railway station is much the same. Part of the popularity of cycling is the complete lack of any hills in Denmark!

At lunch time on my first day, Tom came out to meet me and he took me to a lovely roof terrace bar on top of the largest departmental store there. The empty wire basket at the front of this photo, was originally filed with warm blankets that any customer can take to wrap around their knees or shoulders while eating 'al fresco'. The Danes are a hardy race, and enjoy outdoor life all year round. Most bars and restaurants have blankets on all their outside seating to encourage its use in all weathers.
On this particular day the sun had come out, and we were quite warm sitting there without a blanket, and as you can see, the patio heaters were all turned on as well.
From our table, Tom pointed out a new viewing platform that had only opened a few months earlier. It stretched out beyond the edge of the terrace, so when we had eaten, I wanted to go and see the view. 
When we got up there, he told me that the floor of the platform was glass so you could see down onto the street below! I did manage to stand on it, but it did make my legs feel a bit wobbly.
And I even managed to smile was I was doing so!
I walked across to look down the street, but I was quite happy to step back onto solid concrete ground again! This was the road below us.
The next day Tom had to work from his office and I wanted to revisit the ARoS art museum, which is just a stone's throw from Tom's flat. One of the main attractions there is the rainbow walk; a circular tube of glass that changes colour as it goes around the roof terrace of the museum.

But first I visited some of the galleries, so here are just a few of my favourite exhibits. I took too many to show on here, and I am sorry, I have temporarily lost the information about these. But this was at the entrance to the 'Art across the ages' room. It was called Kitchen Totem, and was made entirely from pots, bowls and other utensils that are found in most kitchens. I am only showing two paintings although there were many other interesting ones. I liked The wave, an almost abstract painting in fairly neutral colours. The second one I liked because there was so much going on in it. I sat and looked at it for ages.

Of course I finished my visit with a walk around the rainbow gallery. It is strange inside because the light constantly changes as you travel round it and view the city landmarks through different filters. This picture was taken on sunny day when we visited in the summer.
But this visit it was a much duller day so the colours were more muted, but it was also less crowded with tourists, so I took a selfie in each area (I seem to have missed the blue one!), and I have put them all together in a strip.
It is a fun and interesting place to visit and I would recommend it to anyone. There is another attraction there, a statue just called 'The Boy' by Ron Mueck, which was shown in the millennium dome in London, but now has a permanent home in ARoS museum. It stands nearly 5 metres tall, and it is the absolute image of one of my grandsons when he was a little!
I saw this on my previous visit and it is beautifully sculptured and incredibly life-like. Sadly, when I asked where he was this time, I was told he was 'on holiday' in an upstairs room while they were rearranging the spaces, and would be on view again this December.

I had a rest when I got home because we were going out again for two events that evening. The first was to listen to the bells ringing out in the Town Hall clock tower. This is a modern structure, again only five minutes from Tom's flat. Last year Aarhus was Denmark's city of culture, and as part of its celebrations, 48 new bells were installed in the tower. They are still rung by hand, and on the first Friday of each month, at 4.00, they ring out a thirty-minute concert, so we stood in the rain to listen.
We rushed home for some quick tea and then set out again at 6.00 to see Santa arrive and parade through the town. He came on board a fishing boat, and we joined the crowds at the dock to see him arrive.
He left the boat while the band was playing, and got onto his open carriage, which then paraded all around the town along with children dresses at Christmas trees and stars, other animal characters, and about twenty other santas! I don't have photos of the parade as I am too short to see enough in such a crowded place, but the atmosphere was fun,and we did see the lights all along the street, come on for the first time.

Here is another view of the lights taken from that glass platform up above us. (Not my photo I must add! But as Tom said, it is probably easier to stand on it when it is dark). We met up with some of Tom's friends that evening and went on to a very friendly bar with them after the parade. So here we are with three friends, one is Welsh, one German and one Romanian! He does have Danish friends as well, and I gather they usually meet up when they want a night out. They were in the bar with us, but didn't make it into the photo!

On Saturday we had planned to walk along the coast, so despite some rather cold drizzle, we set off. We did the first bit on the bus, and then set off along the sand. Tom took this photo because it has (just) got the Danish flag flying behind me.
It was the first time I had needed to wear my raincoat all holiday, but I was glad of it that morning. We were heading for an infinity bridge that was installed last year, and I was keen to see it. It was a narrow platform running in a circle from the beach, out onto the sea and back to the beach again. Unfortunately when we arrived at the site, it had been dismantled for the Winter, and only the first part of the framework that was embedded in the sand, was still there!
So we had to turn back, going inland a little and following the path that ran parallel with the beach, past this pretty waterfall and back down to where we had started.

We decided that instead of catching the bus back, we would walk all the way. It was quite a distance. You can just see the misty outline of buildings across the bay. That are where we were heading for.
It was good to just take our time, chat together, and enjoy the scenery. We were constantly unzipping our coats because we were too warm, and then zipping up again against the next shower, so we were quite glad to get back to the dock and the start of the city again. We entered across the open area under the new library that has been built on the dockside. The city tram runs under it, and there is also a high-tech machine that parks your car for you! Next to the booth for this there is this intriguing sculpture of a city hanging upside down. I don't understand the significance but it is quite fun.

We thought we deserved a treat after all our walking so we went to a little bar and ordered a glass of Glogg each. This is the Danish traditional Christmas drink and it was delicious. The girl behind the bar spooned generous portions of plump dried fruit that was soaking in a spirit, into a glass, added finely chopped almonds and filled the glass with hot mulled wine. She then twisted strips of orange peel to release the oils and dropped it into our glasses and served it with crisp almond biscuits. It was a great way to warm up and set us up well for the short walk back to the flat.

Sunday was my last day and we had intended to hire a car and explore a bit further away from the city, but the weather was bad with heavy rain and high winds, so we cancelled that idea. But after lunch it cleared and we walked out to the Botanical Gardens. Here are just a few of the pictures I took there. The exotic room was the best, and there were lots of butterflies in there, but I didn't catch many of them on camera.

We had out tea there before we waked back to pack, and we had tomato soup served in a dish made from a dried palm leaf.

We finished with a Danish apple cake, which had very little to do with 'cake' but was delicious all the same.
We both had to get back to pack then as we were up early the next day, me for my flight back to UK, and more travels to visit our other sons, and Tom for his flight to Stuttgart for a work conference. It was a lovely few days, and I shall try to do it again; maybe in the Springtime next time.
I hope you have enjoyed travelling around with me. Thank you to those who have stayed the course!