Travels around Spain ~ Bilbao

We have been planning our trips away , together with various events for the next 6 months. Well you have more time in retirement and after nearly 7 years I might just have it down to a fine art. Although these days there are more doctor, dental and hospital visits to work around.

But Ian has hatched a plan. Instead of travelling direct to Malaga as we normally do we will travel via somewhere else in Spain. He has planned a number of places all meticulously researched and each with a reason to visit. There is so much to see and do in Spain and it gives us a taster for places where we may want to spend a little longer. But. Not longer than 90 days obviously. Don’t get me started on that. Just as I retired freedom of movement gets restricted. For everyone. But as my father said don’t get bogged down in discussion of sex, politics and religion. It’s a bottomless pit.

Sex, politics and religion together you’ll never get back. Not even if you shout ~ I’m a celibate get me out of here.

November is the first new style trip and guess what. There are a few photos and a bit of a blog. Ian likes to get to the airport a week before the flight so early starts are nothing new. Everything looks quiet when you are getting the 5,30am train from Peckham Rye to Gatwick. I’d normally feel like everyone’s grandfather travelling at peak travel time.

The men all have trousers that just don’t quite touch their shoes _ ankle flappers ~ beards., Beanies and headphones. I can’t quite bring myself to wear trousers that short. My mother would say ‘ what’s wrong with those trousers. Best you put some jam on your shoes and invite them down for tea’. Normally the station is a great people watching place. Not today. I’d have to either look at Ian or in the mirror and I didn’t want to start a row with either. Not this early on.

The airport was quiet too. Through security. With the usual body scan. I’m convinced they just don’t believe the body concealed under these baggy clothes is mine. That I’m hiding the cash bags from the great train robbery under my jumper. Less six pack washboard stomach. More washing machine and tumble dryer thrown in for good measure. But stopped I am as usual. Nothing to declare.

Oh. I haven’t mentioned. Bilbao if your interested. If not then best stop now because there will be pictures. A bit of a ramble. A mumble and the obligatory spelling mistake. Why Bilbao? Because Ian wants to and we can fly direct. Plus the added bounds of great food. Fabulous Guggenheim and plenty of walking. No hire cars but great public transport. Two tips. Comfortable shoes. Buy a Barik card for travel.

My first thoughts as we fly over the Baltic Sea into Bilbao? It’s green. Compared to flying into Malaga. It’s lush. I suspect because the rain is torrential. The flight into landing was wobbly. Just as well I woke up 30 mins before landing. I had only slept for most of the flight. Tip. Be prepared. Rain. Wind. Glorious sun. All within an hour.

The bus into the city was. Fast. Very fast. And all for €3. ( you can’t get a Barik until you are at a metro); And a spectacular view of the Guggenheim as the bus hurtled over the bridge Opened in 1997 ( the museum. Not the bridge) it is a stunning piece of work by the Canadian ~ American architect Frank Gehry. I didn’t realise that the building is featured in a James Bond film ~ The world is not enough. But to be fair it’s not a Bond film I remember. Or the theme tune. I’ve also read that Mariah Cary used various locations at the museum for her video Sweetheart. I’ve just had a look. Maybe I’ll just have to copy some of the poses in the video. And mime. I didn’t.

This is a view taken from the summit of Mount Artxanda. Reached by cable car which took longer to find the entrance that getting to Bilbao. I exaggerate. But once you know where it is it’s easy. But it’s worth it. Tip. Don’t walk up!

Back to The Guggenheim. Our first afternoon was spent getting our bearings. That and sheltering from hideous rain which came in from nowhere. We had walked down to the museum and as we arrived the heavens opened. Cats and dogs. But not before I got a photo of the outside and of the giant spider first seen in the turbine hall at Tate Modern. I remember it from back then but I think it’s positioning here is more spectacular. And just a little bit creepy. I don’t know if they were blowing dry ice or whether it was mist coming in. But it looked great. Well the couple ( not us) taking a wet selfie were enjoying themselves. Going back two,days later I can confirm it’s dry Ice. Also best to get a picture in the rain. It’s quieter.

We dragged ourselves back to our Airbnb to dry out ~ be very Spanish and have a siesta and then headed back out for yet another walk. The light of the day had gone and the Museum took on another appearance. I think it’s my favourite one and the photo was taken from the other side of the river. From this angle the building to me looks like a large ocean liner. Very beautiful. Elegant and majestic. And shiny.

I love the riverside walks when the lights are on and there are shadows. The walk there and back was great. And dry. The bridge we had crossed earlier in the day looked spectacular earlier but somehow the lights make it look beautiful. Maybe I’ll adorn myself with lights.

The day looks very different. But there again I suspect I look better in the dark. That’s not a request for people to agree.

The bridge I mentioned coming in from the airport runs along the side of the Guggenheim and again at night the lights make it look pretty spectacular. I hope they have energy saving lights!

The whole walk there and back at night was spectacular. Obviously the locals love the walk as well as every other person was out walking their dogs. Or maybe because the afternoon weather was so hideous.

We had been recommended to eat at the Plaza Nueva which is a short hop skip and a jump from the Airbnb. A beautiful plaza with some fabulous places to eat around it. The small bars and small places to eat are filled with locals. And a few tourists getting quizzical over the choice of pintxos. Not a commercial chain of coffee shops and pizzas to be seen. Thankfully.

I love how these city’s have the fabulous plaza. Madrid. Salamanca are two I like a lot. The Plaza; Neoclassical in style was built in 1821.

Is this what they mean by green energy! Bilbao tram runs over the greenest grass I’ve seen and it’s real. I went back and checked. The trams run around the side Guggenheim through trees and over grass and it’s a pretty cool sight. Although without my glasses on and no sign of a tram I would have walked across the grass not knowing that there were tracks.

We took the metro to get to the funicular railway and this is the carriage. Modern. Clean. Bright and looking great. This line was quiet Norman Foster was commissioned in 1997 to design stations for a new extension and they are awesome. The entrances ~ glass tunnels take you down to the stations. The curved structures are known locally as Fosteritos. The stations are airy. Light and spacious. They are a joy to,use. And whilst I know many people don’t think wearing a face mask makes the slightest bit of difference, in Spain you are obliged to wear a mask whilst on public transport. And people travelling on public transport here are all compliant. Me. I find it comforting.

I am surprised at how many Unesco World Heritage sites there are and how varied they are too. Spain has 49 sites and one is here in the Basque country ~ The Vizcaya bridge. It’s a transporter bridge and the worlds oldest, having been built in 1893. It transports both vehicles and foot passengers across the river. Bilbao was a major exporter of iron and the structure was the first of its kind to use a combination of iron and new steel,cables. The carriage is called a gondola ~ no idea why. ~ no serenading from me in a stripey top and a funny hat _ and carries six cars and a load of pedestrians. There is also a lift to the upper platform where you can walk across. Sadly [not] today was too windy. I think I would have had issues. Major issues.

I don’t remember this one being opened but I do remember the opening of the Severn bridge. The first one. I was still in short trousers and it was a major event. The bridge. Not the trousers. Growing up I remember having to get the ferry across or drive the long way round to get to Bristol or down to the coast. In high season the queues were bonkers. Although years later the naive new driver that was me would panic at breaking down on the bridge. There were signs that said if you broke down there would be charges of £25 min. I thought that it was a charge per minute. Not the minimum charge. I held my breath every time I crossed the bridge. But I did wear my commemorative badge for the opening. I’m not sure if it came from TWW. ~ Television Wales and West where a neighbour worked. Probably along with my Tufty club badge.

It was pretty windy down by the unesco heritage site but we managed a bit of a wander but to be honest after yesterdays marathon all I wanted was to get back toto base and have a cuppa tea & cake. Marathon? 25,000 steps.

There were some interesting buildings. The Town Hall. An old multi coloured train station. All shut up but we didn’t venture up into the side streets.

They like painted houses here. Talk of multi coloured swap shop and it’s not all Farrow and Ball or Little Greene either. Other options are availabl. Well I don’t recognise the colours if they are. I could probably repaint them all,with the sample pots we have in our cellar.

There was the odd bit of black and white along the river which is a stark but welcome contrast to the colourful houses.

Thursday was supposed to be a wet day but it wasn’t we had planned to go to the Guggenheim so we did. It amazes me just how cheap the entry to the museums and places of interest are in Spain. But Ian said it was a bit much for me to have time enter an upstairs window if I got the reduced price for a senior. What bugged me more is that they didn’t seemed surprised,

The structure is fabulous and the inside spaces amazing. Lots of steel; glass and shiny surfaces. But it’s incredibly light and airy and never feels too busy. Like a lot of museums I don’t get all of the art or sculptures but I’m sure I am not alone in that.

I liked these ~ an exhibition called masking identities. An interesting collection. Big. Bright and interesting. Not so the next painting which I just don’t get. No doubt someone will. But it’s not me.

Yep. That’s it. I stood and looked for a while. And looked. And looked. But still I don’t get it. I’m sure one of my artist friends will enlighten me. But I still won’t get it.

Have I said I like tulips? This was a great creation ~ a bouquet of multicolour balloon flowers. 2 metres tall and 5 metres across. These were part of the Jeff Koons celebration series from 1994. I loved them. I think I will put a blog with just photos o many to put here.

I suspect you’ve had enough by now. I have so the rest will be in part 2. Till then it’s an exit from the Guggenheim and a snack.

Hola ~ Back again.

We didn’t manage to get back to Casa Verano Eterno for a year. Now we are on trip number two. The flight was busier. Epic fail on our part booking around half term ~ why would we book in school holidays when we don’t have to. Checks diary for future trips.

Temperature taken on arrival and Spanish entry form QR code checked and we were on our way up the mountain. Not before we made a mental note to make sure our passport was stamped when we leave. Those who know know we don’t go into the pueblo Blanco when we arrive but take a right at the donkey and into the campo. But who could get bored with this view. Not us. Have I said before how much I love this place. Well I’ll say it again. I bloody love this place.

Up the garden path
View into the garden

I never lose that feeling opening the gate and walking up the path to the house. It’s the same feeling I had when we walked up the garden path in March 2017. There is always a little trepidation as to how the garden will look. What may have died. What has have opened up. We – as in Spain ~ are pretty desperate for a bit of rain. Its been a long old summer in many ways but in terms of the heat and no rain it’s been endless. I’ve said it before but spending time here has made me think even more about the water we waste. Because we aren’t here full time I’m changing some of the planting to more drought tolerant plants. But to be honest. There are drought tolerant. And there drought tolerant. I’ve lost echiums in this heat. This summer has been exceptionally hot and October has been one of the hottest in years.


Talking of water. I drowned this lime tree two years ago. A real schoolboy error and not one I’ve repeated. Well not so far but I planted it in a pot. Watered it. Left it for a while during the rainy season. It drowned. I hadn’t checked that the pot had drainage. Repotted. Water drainage it was do or die. It didn’t die and is now full of limes. with more to come. There was a benefit of me not being here for 12 months. No seriously over watering of a pot with no drainage. I admit to being a serious overwaterer and I promise to change. As well as planting everything I get as soon as I get them and in labelling better and having a planting plan.

Buddha hand citron

There is blossom on the buddhas hand citron. A really weird citron shaped like ~ well the name gives it away. A buddhas hand. Very little juice. No pith. No. I’m not taking the pith. There isn’t any. Nor pulp. Or seeds. A gorgeous smelling citron whose peel is used in drinks and in candied peel. Not in this house though. After the first flush I’ve struggled to get the fruit to form. Maybe this is the year. Masses of blossom. A few citron forming. So fingers crossed.

Strelitzia Nicolai

I’ve been planting. I call it planting but is it really planting when you use a pick axe. I’m not joking. The photo on the left is a new strelitzia Nicolai that I had bought three weeks ago and now planted in the bed outside the kitchen area window. To add to the largest one In the garden. Which is too tall to photograph. The one on the right is the smaller of the two originals. I bought one last year before we left for our 12 month sabbatical in the Uk ( no corona travel). So then there were three. Roll forward 12 months and there are now 5.

Strelitzia Reginae and Clivia

Add a new Strelitzia Reginae ( left pic) and two new clivia ( pic 2) and my planting done. Wrong. There are 4 gaura. 4 creeping Rosemary. 2 lavender. And another clivia. I first had clivia as a house plant 25 years ago. My neighbour and friend in Somerset had a fabulous garden shop called The Potting Shed. It was Clare who introduced me to clivia as house plants. To beautiful orchids and to unusual Cornish bulbs for the Spring garden. Clare moved away but the gardening connection continues ~ as well as her animal sanctuary she produces the fabulous Donkey Gloves. Now in the spring as I walk up the garden path I’m reminded of Clare when the clivia are in full bloom. Oh. And when wearing the orange donkey gloves.

Torre del Mar

These Strelitzia Nicolai are on the coast at Torrie del Mar. I’m not expecting ours to get this big anytime soon. Ian suitably seated for scale. The biggest problem is that the banana like leaves shred like mad in the wind. Remember we are 620m above sea level. Up a mountain. Which gets pretty windy at times.

At this time of year there are spectacular sunsets. I bore the pants off myself to be fair. The gorgeous colour of the fallen pine needles on the bank take on a gorgeous red at sunset. But make the most of them. Ian and I spent three days clearing the bank and filling a skip of pine needles. Now I know that rhey can be a mulch. But they were so thick nothing was getting through. When it rained the water just ran off. Plus being Senor Paranoid I was worried about fire. There’s always something. Next the worry will be processionary caterpillars. Nasty little blighters they are.

The Pines at Sunset

Competa Sunsets

We drove down the wiggly road to Torrie del Mar for a walk along the beach. It’s so different in late October to the main summer months. But Spain marked up its beaches so that people could and did socially distance on the beach. Now the beaches are quiet and people social distance of their own accord.. Can I tell you a secret? In four and a half years we haven’t spent a day on the beach. We have walked along the prom. Paddled in the sea. But have never sat in a deck chair eating sandwiches getting pink bits and looking like a lobster.

We have had a wander around the pueblo Blanco. It’s hard to forget it’s hilly with narrow streets. No it’s not. It is. I get embarrassed when people older than me = yes. There are a few ~ who run past you carrying a weeks shopping whilst I gasp for breath. Looking for an oxygen mask.


A few days later just as halloween was approaching the mists came down and made everything look a bit creepy.

When the mist and clouds come down it really comes down. We get it occasionally and whilst it may look great it’s a nervous drive into town, the first time it happened I was driving the boys and their parents from the pueblo Blanco to home. Boy. You could smell the fear.


We had made huge progress back in September in clearing a lot of the overgrown bits in the garden. We had had some help before we arrived and 4 large dumpy bags were waiting to be taken away. We then filled skip no 1. So we were returning to a better position. I’d had a move around of pots and tables on the terrace and we could now see plants in the borders.


Ignore the tiles. They are looking better now. For now anyway and until they are covered in olives.

New Rosemary planting

When we moved in four and a half years ago ( yes time flies) we had a great lavender path. two years ago I replanted it. Which was a disaster. I lost some in the first year and then Corona hit. Not being there fir 12 months took its toll and in a fit of pique I ripped it all out. To be replaced with creeping rosemary. I planted it in September in haste ( story of my life) but it looks good. Rosemary does so well in this garden and my experience with creeping Rosemary has been good.

House plants now garden plants

One thing that makes me smile are the things growing in the garden that my parents had growing indoors. I think they would find it hilarious. The Swiss cheese plant was a staple growing up along with a rubber plant. I never liked either but the cheese plant in the garden is growing on me. Especially after seeing them in the botanical gardens in Malaga where they were monster monsteras. They were huge. The tradescantia planted by the door ~ my mother had one that was always breaking off . The aspidistra in a bucket by the jacaranda tree. The money plant. I will admit to hoping the monstera would die. But not anymore. It has had a reprieve.

Aeonium & Agave

There are a few aeonium dotted around along with plenty of agave. We have lost about 4 of the massive agave ~ which is in keeping with friends and neighbours. I’m not sure what’s affecting them but they just rot from the base. I need to look it up and see why.

There is still some colour and shape in the beds. Not a lot. But some. As soon as we get some rain more comes out. I have freesia over a foot tall. A couple of Allium summer drummer starting their way into their tall growth. All early here but the weather has been mild. All it needs now is some more rain. I have had a good old chop back of a number of things whilst we had the skip. The pomegranate trees are now shedding their leaves. They have grown really tall but in the pruning exercise I found a couple of pomegranates. In four years we have had just the one. The year we aren’t here it looks like there have been 5.


The area at the back of the house was cleared around the almonds. There are 5 almond trees which crop reasonably well. I’ve picked them. Dried them and have never used them. Have you tried cracking almonds.


Adjacent to the almonds we have two Nispero. The leaves are fabulous but I’m not a lover of the fruit. A bit messy and doesn’t travel well. But the blossom is nice until the rain gets on it. Then it’s like mush. Scent is good too. But the leaves are big. And beautiful.


The skip is the last for 2021 the next visit is purely pleasure. Famous last words.

Hard work

But I’ve bulbs to plant. Please remind me never to buy those small alliums. They will be the death of me. I’d bought 100 Allium Sphaerocephalon (Drumstick Allium) and planted half. I hate small bulbs. It’s a patience thing. Not one of my finer points if I was appraising myself. I love them. But as long as someone else plants them.

I have tulips. Ballerina for pots on the terrace. Freesia for pots. Allies ~ big ones for the borders. But first there are the Somerset pots to plant. I’m losing the plot already.

Didn’t we have a lovely time. Porto.

It wasn’t a great start. Let’s talk about airports. You like some. You don’t like others. For us London City is the best although things there are changing. Easy to get to for us. Quick. Convenient and small. Although it’s getting busier. Then there’s Gatwick. A bit further away but easy to get to. Both always by public transport. Have you seen the price of parking at an airport. Especially London City. But let’s talk Heathrow. We always try to avoid it. Busy. Used to be difficult to get to so that was always our excuse. But now the Elizabeth line is open it’s another easy option. But that’s it’s only plus for me. We avoid it as much as we can.

But flights to Porto and timings meant we had to use it. Terminal 5. Designed by the Richard Rogers Parrnership there’s no doubt it’s impressive. Designed to handle 38 million passsengwrs i doubt it was meant for them all to be there at once. Let’s say the travel experience was testing. Starting at security. Check in is always fine. Thank god for the ability to download your boarding pass to an app. We travel light ~ no check in suitcase ~ for travel to Casa Verano no suitcase. It’s a shame nobody told the man in front that he should have checked his case in. Too big for a carry on there was a carry on when it went through security. Sadly we were behind him. And Ian’s bag got stopped too. School boy error. his bag had moved over the liquids.

The man’s suit case was emptied. He was made to open the packages one by one. His clothes went into a pile on the right. The items to be scanned and tested to the left. Whilst we were getting irritated by the long wait the young security girl was engaging him in conversations. Why didn’t they just take him aside and tell him that it all needed to be checked in. There was no way he’s stuff that case in the overhead locker. Even the other security guys weee getting irritated.

To make matters worse inside the massive terminal at the far end of the building we were sitting charging phones and having coffeee in the lounge and guess what. He came and sat next to us. You’d be surprised. I bit my lip. He still had his suitcase.


You know that old Peter Paul and Mary song. Leaving on a jet plane. Don’t know when I’ll be back again. Well I do know when but I didn’t know when we would leave. Talk of a bum fight. I thought we were walking to Porto when the gate was announced. Then it was chaos. Theee weeks ago we were emailed. BA we’re having Finn air operate the flight. No big deal. At least it wasn’t cancelled. But at the gate passengers were told that if they were in certain boarding groups they had to put their cabin baggage in the hold as it was a small plane. This happens a lot at London city due to weather conditions and the weight on the flight. More often they have to odd load passengers. Next time they do it if I’m travelling to the casa I’ll take it. It pays for the flight and the next one in compensation. I digress. Chaos on boarding. Stuffed on buses. Driven so far I thought they’d changed the plane to a bus boarded and sat in the runway for an hour.

The upside. The staff from Finn air were delightful. So finally we took off and arrived safely in Porto. Late. But fed and ready to make our way to the Airbnb. I had no idea where. What it was like. Ian does the research on them and books it.

Arriving into Porto

Ian had booked another cracker. Close to the metro. The host was waiting there to meet us and it was a 2 minute walk to the apartment. The Porto adventure had begun. We had originally booked pre Covid and had to cancel because of travel restriction. But we had arrived and had a full itinerary to get through.

Terrace view
Terrace view

Early to bed. Early to rise. Up and out by 8.30 this morning to start the marathon walkabout of Porto. 20,500 steps later. First impressions. Excellent. People had mentioned the amount of building works. They were right. It’s huge. The amount of tourists. Again. They were right. There is a lot. But away from the crowds along the smaller side streets it’s easier. You see things that many will miss.

Usual view

The streets are narrow in the older parts of town and many of the properties are ripe for renovation. There is a huge amount of building work going on in the centre of Porto which meant a detour or two.

Drying your smalls

My brother had been here two weeks previously and had warned me of how steep the climb could be. So I’d like to say I was prepared. I wasn’t. My calves are as tight as tight can be. But as usual we walked and walked until we literally could walk no more. And then had a nata tart. A recurring feature of the trip. Portuguese tarts.

How many.

I loved these before we arrived but I ate so many on this trip with the best yet to come in Lisbon. oh. And warm they are beyond delicious.

We had walked over to the other side of the bridge. An area which held the cellars of the major port producers. The bridge gave a great view up and down stream as long as you dodged the trams. I didn’t aim to be knocked down by a tram.

Over the bridge

Helio. There’s a tram coming !


All the major Port producers have their cellars and tasting rooms here. We went to Sandeman in the Drouro valley who told us that the cellar had been moved to the town out of the country as they could control the temperatures better.

Riverside Porto
In disguise

I’d like to say this is is in disguise. Me on the phone calling a cab. But it’s not. A ship was in and these two had just come off board. Obviously an ear worm came into my head. So. Just to share. In the Navy.

River watch.

I love sitting and watching people and there were more than enough people to watch. People just hanging about watching the world go by. Drinking. Eating. Laughing. I loved this person quietly watching the world go by and couldn’t resist taking a photo.

Church of Saint Ildefonso

Oh my. There are churches. Big fat gothic buildings stuffed to the rafters in glitter and gold. Talk about pomp. There’s gold on gold. . Gilded frames. Paintings. Silver and gold. The treasures of the church. Then there are the more simple ones. Still a bit fancy. Beautiful blue Portuguese tules on the outside. Lovely blue and white. We always managed to arrive just as a service was about to start. Let’s be honest they have a lot of them. Some we went in. Some we didn’t.


I asked Ian if he thought these gates would be too much for the entrance to Casa Verano. He just rolled his eyes. I wasn’t sure if it was because I asked or because he needed sun glasses because of the glaring amount of gold. He had to have a sit down.

Look away.

I have a confession to make. McDonalds. We went in a MacDonalsa. Not to eat. Honest Guv. But we had read that when they took over this building they retained most of the interior and worked around it. A great entrance ro the restaurant. Can I call it that even ?

Yes. McDonald’s.

Would you believe it.

Just look at that interior. The glass had been kept and is now behind the servers. The chandeliers are still hanging proud. The only thing that has changed is the food. It’s still a MacDonalds

Btw city is a city of many parts. The splendour of some of its shops and buildings and then the run down building s which are still beautiful in their own way. Side by side. Or run down apartments above beautiful shops. But. There is huge developments going on. On large buildings and on a lot of the smaller ones.



Faded glory
Busy Porto

Friends who has also been to Porto recently had messaged and said it was busy. It was. And it wasn’t ro be fair. Like any major tourist city it was busy in parts. Let’s not talk about the queue for the Lello library. It was hideous. It looks beautiful on line and I would like to see inside. But as soon as anyone says anything about Harry Potter and a library’ the queue length trebles.

Apparently J.K. Rowling worked as an English teacher in Porto in the early 1990s while working on the first chapters of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The shop’s Neo-Gothic façade and majestic Art Nouveau interior with the fabulous crimson staircase are said to have inspired her depictions of both the Grand Staircase at Hogwarts, and the Flourish and Blotts book shop in Diagon Alley. I can’t say. We didn’t get to go inside. Well not this time. .

But walking down the side streets it was much quieter with the added bonus you get to see some gorgeous small shops. And avoid the crowds.

Station glass

This isn’t like our station in either Peckham Rye or Bruton. Or even the Temple of Doom. Now that’s a Harry Potter one. Harry Potter and the temple of Doom. This station has beautiful glass panels and tiles ~ they say 20.000 hand painted tiles depicting important moments of Portuguese history. I couldn’t honestly say. I didn’t count them. Oh. And plenty of tourists.

Shredded skirt

Street entertainment Porto style. Trust me it was entertainment. Bare footed hip swinging guitarist who was working his audience. Whilst swinging his hips and his fabric grass skirt. The video is funnier.

No passing place

This reminds me of a trip in Spain where I took the wrong turning. I have to say that it is one of only a few times I have ever wanted to get out of the car and leave it there. Once in Spain and once in Mew Zealand. But many of the roads in the old town are narrow. Very narrow.

Vintage tourist tram

Would I come back to Porto. Yes. It’s a lovely city and a highlight of the trip was a trip to the Deouro valley for wine and port tasting.

Did I say I like Tulips?

I started this blog two weeks ago. But it’s a long story. A lot can happen in two weeks and the blog was put to one side. So as Magnus Magnissson used to say ‘ I’ve started so I’ll finish!

Have I ever say I like tulips? Ok. Maybe a few times. Like a few hundred. I don’t like them I love them. It’s not always been like this though. Once upon a time. A long long time ago I was pretty indifferent. But my fascination has grown. And grown. A bit like dahlias. Without the earwigs.

Back in 2016 it was a sedate few in window boxes in London and the Pitcombe pots. Just a few. At that stage I didn’t realise I could stuff the pots with as many bulbs as I uncoils get in.

In 2017 the pots were stuffed with a few more tulips. Not stuffed really just a few more than the previous year. 2017 was a good year. I liked them. Good colours and a limited palette.

Somewhere in between helping at Common Farm flowers where Georgie grows row upon row of glorious tulips and a visit to the National Garden scheme open garden of Ulting Wick where Philippa plants thousands of tulips each year my addiction gained momentum. . There. I have admitted it. My name is Andrew and I’m tulip addict. . Or as when I was introduced to someone at the annual carol concert at our local church ‘ so you know Andrew? ‘Of course I know Andrew & Ian – the tulip men. ‘ at least it wasn’t the Flowerpot men. And at least they knew Ian’s name. He has been described as Andrew’s friend. Which makes me smile. As does being called Mr Jones in the local butchers where I have been going for 30 years. It made me feel old then. But then again I am now. 30 years older than when I first went in.

It didn’t stop. I found out that Peter Nyssen delivered to Spain and post Brexit I could still get them direct from Holland. No issues with the paperwork and customs. That’s a big deal. No company wants to deliver to Europe from the Uk. When we first bought the house we could get John Lewis delivered. Not any more. It’s too much hassle and too expensive. You lose the will to live with customs forms and customs charges.

Spanish tulips

In 2018 the first full year in Spain I planted some pots around the terrace. To be fair that was probably the best year for tulips in Spain. This year they have definitely been pants. The pots in particular. I think that the only ones I will grow going forward is in the white wall.

The tulips in the white wall which came on leaps and bounds after a shaky start. A bit short ~ like me ~ but that didn’t matter as they didn’t get snapped in the wind. The problem is water. They need two things. A cold spell and my only option is the fridge in Spain. And water whilst establishing. Which in Spain has been an issue.

Spanish tulip wall

In Somerset last year I went a bit bonkers ~ and at it’s full flow the bulb supplier described it as a dolly mixture of colours. It made up for the year before when I had planted the bulbs but didn’t see them once as we stayed away during the pandemic. We did get photos sent by neighbours and I randomly saw photos on instagram. Oh look. It’s our tulips in Pitcombe.

My attitude was I didn’t see them physically that year so I’m going over the top this. Grandad who’s not my grandad ~ you know like the roundabout that’s not a roundabout said early on as they were just getting into their stride ‘ not sure about these this year ~ not up to your usual standard. He’s nothing but honest is grandad. But even he had to eat his words. They took their time but were bloody lovely. Even if I say so myself.

I went a bit overboard as well in London. The front garden in London is small ~ oh. There is no front garden in Somerset it’s just a three feet bit of gravel onto the road.

First post lockdowns

I spend ages planning. Choosing. Changing my mind and then finding that the ones I want are out of stock and have to start again. It sounds like a lot of thought goes into it. It does. I talk to a few people where we share our favourites. I plan. I buy. Then leave it until the last minute to plant. And the pot list goes to , well pot and the bulbs are thrown in. Not literally. But I start off the best intentions. A bit like my approach to diets. Good start and then it’s all downhill. Except at the end with tulips the comments are better.


The truth is I don’t learn. Planting in late 2022 was late. So late some pots were planted in late January. When I first tried to plant the compost was frozen. I needed more compost. It was frozen when I bought it. My biggest fault ~ well as far as planting is concerned. Ian will give you a list of others if you ask – is the same whatever I’m planting. It’s labelling and sticking to the written plan. Which means when I’m asked what the flower name is it’s usually the same. Tulip unknown.

The London pots were filled with leftovers from the Pitcombe pots. Tulips. Not compost. Again grandad who’s not my grandad said. I’m not sure you’ll get as good a result as last year. Someone from the neighbouring village drove past the cottage and rolled down the car window and said the same. Just wait was the reply …. He did. She did And they were pleased. But not as pleased as me.

Pitcombe pots

Scented brown sugar

Tulip West Point

The most commented on tulip was West Point. A yellow lily tulip. It was lovely but I think yellow in Spring is for daffodils. I liked it. Ian loves it. It will be in the London pots as a compromise next year.

The London pots were a little thinner on the ground this year. Unlike Fed the geriatric cat who matches the path. The window boxes were pretty poor. Out of the three the small one with tulip royal virgin was ok. The main one was rubbish. I realised too late that it was an old window box I was using which had poor drainage. Schoolboy errors still continue and gardening isn’t all perfect despite what we see on social media.

Tulip rococo

Fred the geriatric cat

London tulips

I have already starting the planning for 2024 and I haven’t even emptied the 2023 pots yet. I’ve added names to a list. The colour. The height. Whether it’s early or late. I’ve decided solubles are ok for the window boxes but not right for the Pitcombe pots. I’ve decided that whilst I tried Angelique again this year it’s a non runner for me again. On its heyday it was stunning but it’s lost it for me. Tulip brown sugar remains a big favourite but maybe I’ve used it too much. Tulips pretty woman is a runner. I like oranges and some pinks. People love the dark tulips and black parrot grew on me tho I’m not a parrot fan. Oh. But Rococo is a stunner. See. I’m all over the place. Here. There and everywhere.

I have told a few people if they want any of this years bulbs for their gardens then they can dig them out but don’t take the pots!. I have emptied all of the London pots as they had gone well over and looked rubbish.

This year I planted some lovely reds, which may form the basis for next years pots. I have the names of the ones I want for the London window boxes as I randomly planted a large pot which was lovely. Really big and blousy so will form the basis of the window boxes. That’s a start. Oh. And if you are asking. Peter Nyssen is my go to supplier. Great service. Great bulbs.

2024 potential window box tulips

So the tulip spam for 2023 has come to an end, unless you go visit my instagram account 😂.

I’d like to say that the next flower spamming would be the agapanthus but we lost a lot in Somerset and some of the large ones in the London pots don’t look encouraging. So you may be spared. I’m sure I will find something. Don’t worry. I will warn you to look away. But on a high note . The tree ferns have come through the winter pretty unscathed. But I was sensible and wrapped them early. Changed the straw in the crowns when it started to freeze . And yes. I have already poo’d my plants having had a delivery of Alpaca poo feed from Arches at the Larches.

Tree fern

I said I had started but hadn’t finished. The blog that is. . There was a reason. Water. Not like in Spain where there is the lack of it. I could write about the three days off and one day in and the man in a motor cycle driving around the camp turning valves on and off but that’s for smith we day. Where reservoirs are being declared dead. Where the water table is so low the shallow rooted pine trees are dying. But in Somerset we got more than we wanted. Needed. Every house needs running water. Just not through the house. The garden was so wet I was planning to grow rice in the garden. I’ve always said that good neighbours are great. Awesome ones are the best. The clearance for us was done quickly and the community comes together in times of need.

We were in the centre of a storm. One minute I was checking the river. It was where it was supposed to be. 4 bricks down and nowhere near the road. The next it was coming at all angles. The one thing you can’t control. Water. I pretended to be Moses and tried parting it. I tried a Harry Potter spell. But it didn’t work. It obviously doesn’t understand expletives either. . It’s also very scary. The speed of the rise of the river was unprecedented.

Paddy field

It’s been an eventful week. I’d forgotten how businesses want you to do everything online. Which when it works is just fine. When talking to someone is difficult. Because the email you get says don’t respond to this email. And there’s no contact number.

But it’s only as good as their applications. We had been chased for a declaration that had to be confirmed. On an app. . We would have been delighted to confirm. Except we couldn’t. Despite telling them. We got reminders. they told us it was an IT issue. We emailed them. We had a nice bit chat in the app. All recorded. On the app. So two weeks later it’s still an IT issue. I did politely suggest to them to turn their system off and back on again. That usually works for me. Action 13. Turn it off and on. Calls to London when it should have been Somerset. Calls to tell us they would call tomorrow to make an appointment ~ quite why they did that still baffles me. I gave feedback. They listened. They agreed. It’s now better.

But we got off lightly. Neighbouring villages had front walls down. Cars washed away ~ 5 feet of water inside their houses and they are nowhere near a river. They sadly will be out of their houses for months. We won’t be. Thankfully. .

After the floods

I arrived back in London to have a video call from our neighbour in Spain. Look at this he said. Look at the bloody rain. It’s awful. Not want I wanted to see ~ whilst we are desperate for rain in Spain this wasn’t mainly on the plain. It was 2.000 feet up the mountain. Over head. But the rain is welcome. The gardens need it. The reservoirs need it. But a week after a flood rain is the last thing I want to talk about.

So it’s been eventful. Thrown in with my goddaughters 16th birthday. Grandad who’s not my grandad haymaking. Lunch and supper with friends and our Somerset family.

Birthday. Hay. Cake and walking

Oh and I forgot the MG rally going through the village where the cake stall under the arch made over £300 for various charities.

Vintage and tulips.
Girls just want to have fun

What did people mean when they said to me. What will you do in retirement? Won’t you be bored!

The Mediterranean garden

After a short break in Barcelona we are back on the Costa del Sol. Back up the wiggly road ~ 2,000 feet up the mountain to Cómpeta. An easy but packed flight where we had the offer of being off loaded with compensation of €250 each and being put on the next flight. If seats were available. Tempting but we thought the flight was overbooked because Spain were playing in Malaga in the Euro qualifiers. So that would mean the next flight would be full too. So it was a no for us. And I was wrong about the football flight. Very few to see but a plane full of saga travellers. Me included.

We are coming up to our 6th anniversary. Not us. We have lost count. But having the house here and I just wish we had found the pueblo blanco before. My love for the village the house and the surrounding area hasn’t diminished. We are here less since a certain event which will remain nameless. So we need to make the most of our time travelling in Spain. And in the garden. And with friends.

Let’s talk about the weather. A British obsession. It’s abnormally hot for March. Bonkers hot. Easter here can be a rotten time. Cold. Wet. And it doesn’t matter if it’s March or April. But not this year. The weather is hot. There hasn’t been rain in ages and there is still no sign of rain in the forecast. Unlike the UK. Where it hasn’t stopped and the reports say that March has been the gloomiest in decades. To. Be be fair Britain is the gloomiest it has been in decades. Not just the weather. But to be fair you often hear our Spanish friends commenting on the weather too. ‘hace frio’ you hear. Whilst we are still in shorts and T-shirts. The Spanish in polo neck sweaters with scarves and gloves.

So we arrive at the house. The mimosa tree by the gate is in flower ~ it started as a shoot from one that had been cut down and is now glorious. As long as you don’t have allergies. But I’ll take an extra anti histamine as the colour and effect is awesome. And there will be armfuls picked for the house.

The garden through the gate looks great and I sigh with relief. We are lucky to have friends who water the garden when it’s needed ~ these borders are largely drought resistant ~ but believe me. They still need some water. It may only be 28* now ~ yes. Only 28* but the scorching months of July and August means the most drought tolerant plants need the occasional drink. Last summer the temperature touched 40 in the garden. So I was told. We don’t come in those months. I did in the first lockdown. Well I got caught here for 9 weeks and trust me. The sun may be out but I spent most of my days indoors. In my pants watching Netflix. Air con on. And large bills. Not to be repeated.

There are times I wish we had smelly vision for social media. The curvy path is full of freesias. As well as Clivia and rosemary. But it is the whiff of the freesia that you get as you walk up the path. Bought over the last three years from my friends at Peter Nyssen they get better and better each year. The bulbs. Peter Nyssen couldn’t get any better in my eyes. The Clivia are gorgeous and there are still a few to flower. I did have a yellow one as a pot plant decades ago. Now I want one for the garden. One dozen.

I planted a row of scented pelargonium along the path. To fight off the mozzies. Mozzies love me and last year this path was a nightmare at times. We have cut a lot back. We as in the Gardner who comes in to help. Opened up the space so hoping this year we will be in a better position. This area gets late afternoon shade but still gets as dry as Jerusalem. There are two large strelitzia Nicolai here. One has flowered since we have been here and the smaller of the two looks like it’s going to flower shortly. Excited? Hell yes.

Now the above won’t excite you. Trust me I’m ecstatic. I think this is the new flower which will no doubt flower when we aren’t there. It’s a lovely black and white bird of paradise flower. It’s a particularly gorgeous flower. Black and white large flowers.

The main part of the garden border which has a variety of plants. Yucca which I’m in fear of losing. Small palms. A bed around the olive tree with creeping Rosemary. Creeping. Not creepy. The curry plant. The olive tree and agapanthus all co exist. There is also a lilac which is struggling. I have to think again and go check it daily re flowering. If it doesn’t then it’s time to say goodbye. It’s no use having something that takes up room. And not produce.

Have I ever said I like tulips. Only once or twice. Or a thousand times. I’ll say it again. I like tulips. Here. There and down in Somerset.

These are tulip palmyra. a little short but I don’t care. They are planted in the white wall and are prone to hit by the wind. So shorter than expected are fine. A glorious colour against the white wall. They are a bit early for me to use in the UK.

I planted two pots which included these. Dutch Dancer. These two are also shorter than I’ve grown before. But I love them. I have some in Pitcombe again this year. Well hopefully. I’m yet to see the pots in person.

A bit of a contrast to tulips. My favourite agave. Ever. The foxtail agave. It’s a beauty. This one is in a pot. Obviously. You can see that. I’ve already taken two out of the pot and planted them in the garden. There are a few more to do when I have the time. My worry. That it will flower. Why? Because whilst the flower is lovely like a long fox tail as soon as it flowers the plant dies. I’ll forego the flower for now.

I love these. Lovely black aeonium which has survived the heat of the summer and the low temperatures of Spring. The one I had in London has become mush. My fault as I should have brought it in. Two bits that broke off have been stuck in the ground and are growing well. It’s one thing that I never get tired of. Seeing what we can grow in the garden here.

Hello Prickles the prickly pear. These are all dying off in our area. It’s the cochineal fly. Ravages the plant. Squash it on the white wall and you get a red blob. Get it on your white T-shirt. And it’s a nightmare to get out. I hose it down with the hose to get the fly off. Covid breaks took its toll a bit but it’s still there. And it fruits.

You know I said I like tulips. Have I also said I like agapanthus. Well I like agapanthus. The garden is away with them. Mainly blue. Some white and the latest addition popping purple. They self seed too though it does take a bit before they are mature enough to flower. I have to admit to buying 6 more this trip and planting them at the rear of the house. It’s dry. Very dry so they should thrive. Added as well a medium sized bottlebrush. A friend once commmented that she though the bottlebrush was a bit common. I think in the right place with a beautiful blue sun it’s fabulous. It’s also a great pollinator and gets covered bt bees. Gorgeous and a bee magnet. Win win.

We have two large and a small nispero growing on the bank. Also known as loquat it’s the big leaves that do it for me. The fruit is ok. But they can and do go a bit mush on the tree and don’t keep well when picked. Nispero jam is pretty lovely though.

The view from the bathroom window. The strelitzia Reginae strategically planted. But not by me but by the previous owners. Now in full flower

Thankfully so far the large pines on the bank have survived. Many around us haven’t as the water table has been so low. Also absent this year are signs of the processionary caterpillars. Vicious little bathplugs. In previous years we’ve had the nests removed from the trees but this year there weren’t anybody there wasn’t the number in the trees on the windey road either.

The first time the double doors have been open since last September. Opened so the fly screen can be checked. Cleaned and the doors closed again.

The circle of planting under the olive tree. Osteospermum. Curry plant. (Helichrysum italicum). Rosemary and some succulents ~ a gorgeous crop of Carpobrotus edulis ~ a fabulous bright pink flower on long succulent arms. Not yet in flower so next time. Oh and some freesia.

Euphorbia candelabrum. Prickly pear. Foxtail agave.

A selection of plants taste dotted around rue garden. The cactus that’s not a cactus ~ the euphorbia candelabrum.

A selection of flowers giving the garden some early colour.

But it wasn’t all gardening. It was the start of Semana Santa. Easter is a huge celebration in Spain. Not huge. Massive with celebrations and processions. Each with a different meaning. We were around for one only. Palm Sunday. The procession travels through the village to the Plaza Almijara and to the church. Each procession is very different. There is the men’s procession on Good Friday very early in the morning. The children’s procession. And one for the women of the pueblo Blanco. Plus others. It’s a spectacular sight and one that is carried out all over Spain. We were in Salamanca in 2018 and saw the one there. The first three photos are Competa 2023.

Semana Santa 2023 Competa.
Semana Santa 2018 Salamanca.

But. The weather. Let’s talk about the weather. First time the legs had been exposed since October. A drive down the wiggly road to the coast. Nerja. I’m surprised how many people know where it is. An old colleague when I told him we had a house 30 mins away knew where it was. He’d been there in his honeymoon over 30 years ago. Ex neighbours in Somerset told us they went there often and came for lunch when they were last there. It has grown on us.

Nerja and the Balcon de Europe
Beach time.

Then along the coast is Torrox. Apparently has the best climate in Europe but we don’t spend enough time there to validate it. But it’s a great long walk along the promenade. It was another warm day. And no that’s not us on the beach. I don’t want to see myself in swimming trunks in March let alone make others suffer.

The man in the hat
Torrox Costa

It wouldn’t be the same without the pueblo Blanco. It’s six years since Ian booked a trip where we unexpectedly ended up staying in Competa. We had booked Frigiliana but it was cancelled a week before we arrived and we ended up staying in Competa instead. The best cancellation ever.

These steps are always a gem. Always bright. Always full and colourful. The planted balcony. Always catches you as you turn the corner in the narrow streets. The gorgeous blur pots of Casa Beaumont with the planting changing as the seasons change.

Competa by night. Competa by day. And in a blink of an eye another visit is over.

Casa Beaumont.

Viva España ~ Buenos Tardes Barcelona

You have to love a cheesey ear worm. Y viva España was one from the “70’s. I remember my mother singing along to it in the kitchen “ oh this year we are off to sunny Spain; Y Viva España’, Sorry not sorry if you remember it and you are now signing it all day. But. We are off to sunny Spain. But that’s nothing new for us really. Not these days..

Barcelona. Of course we are arrive at the airport early. We always do ~ but it’s a reminder today how little I miss commuter travel. It’s been going on 8 years since I did the commute and it’s one of the things I really don’t miss. Controversial I know but one of my pet hates are people putting on their make up on a packed overground train with arms and elbows going everywhere whilst they do it. I have never lathered my face , whipped out my razor and shaved on my commute. But as usual I digress. Enough of my irritations. There are many.

Travel brings out a lot. People stuffing cases into the overhead lockers irrespective of what’s already in there. Trying to squeeze an oversized case and not succeeding. We try to travel with as little as possible these days but it only works if we are heading up the mountain. But a 45 minute delay sitting on the tarmac doesn’t help but a good flight.

It’s been a while since we were in Barcelona. I first came 32 years PI ( pre Ian) when there was no protective circle around the Basilica and I can’t remember whether we had to pay to enter. I remember virtually climbing a wall and I am sure no roof. There is no fear of that these days. High security and arthritis stops that. And the fear I couldn’t get down.

Ian and air came here about 15 or so years ago. But then the queues were hideous and we hadn’t booked. So we didn’t go in. This time we have booked a tour guide and tickets so we are better organised. I’ll say it about this building what I always say about Stonehenge. It will be nice when it’s finished. Though this one will be.

So we are heading back tomorrow for a tour.

I’m sure these guys could tell a story or two. It looks like they are gentlemen of a certain age who will have seen the changes to the city. The amount of travellers to see thus Gaudi influence. The building. The influx of AIRBNB. But for now their concentration is on other things. Boules. And friendships.

But first the important Tapas and a walk around the Familia Sagrada to see the one light on the top which is illuminated daily with some of the stained glass lit as well. And an early night ready for three days of sightseeing.

The security and street lights are too bright to get a good idea of what it looks,like at night but Tomorrow is another day.

Another day. Another day of sightseeing carefully crafted by Ian. I just turn up and go. Today we have done it again. Dressed like twins. Almost the same and not on purpose. Both have dark jeans. I’ve got a maroon polo shirt. Him a maroon T-shirt. Both have either a navy or black round neck jumpers. Too late to change. But believe me it’s not planned.

So we made it into the Sagrada Familia. The queue was long and everyone had tickets as all tickets must be bought online. Easier for them but an issue for those still without the technology. Security checks at the door. No hats inside. No swimming costumes or short shorts. A reminder that it’s not a tourist attraction. First and foremost it’s a place of worship. Tick on all of them. A little time before we met our guide.

Ian’s first comment was that it reminded him of the set from Lord of the Rings films. Especially Rivendell the home of the elves. He should know. He’s probably watched the film a trillion times. Interesting as Gaudi’s concepts for the inside of the Sagrada Familia was one of a forest. the tree columns. I’ll have to go back and watch the film and take note.

To be fair I wasn’t expecting to have my breath taken away. By the cathedral. Not the tour guide. But the scale, the detailing and the pure majesty is breathtaking. Utterly breathtaking. So different to the previous visit. The first stone was laid in 1882, the building was consecrated by the Pope in 2010 and still remains unfinished. For now. Plans are afoot to finish it in two stages but additional time was needed due to delays with the Covid pandemic.

We don’t usually have a tour guide but this was a small group and he was amazing. Pointed out little details that we would have missed. A history of the building works and of Gaudi. Right up until his untimely death when he was knocked over by a tram.

How some of the carvings depict the architects that followed Gaudi : The faces of some of the children are Japanese. How another was finished not long before the architect died and is engraved with a C and the face is his. The architect. Not Gaudi,s.

I love the texture and shape of these stairs. To look at. When we stayed in Cordoba in 2018 the hotel we stayed in had a similar design which I loved. But I’m not a fan of using stairs like this ~ a tale of which will follow.

The light from the stained glass is stunning and changes as the light increases and decreases as the sun moves around the building.

The columns are massive and are a mix of sandstone and some red columns using imported materials from Iran ~ it’s made of porphyry. When polished they are highly shined but for the most part they are left unpolished. The acoustics from the organ is fabulous. The height of the columns immense. The design was to make it feel like a forest. The columns are the trees. And are not dead straight.

The colours from the stained glass are beautiful and very varied throughout. I love a bit of stained glass ~ to be fair I like glass. The windows have names of Saints and shrines from all over the world written on them. Not that I could read them from that distance. My eye sight may be food but not that good.

The Canopy over the altar with a brass crucifix is fabulous and very different from the figures you see outside. Look at Jesus head on this one and compare it with the one on the outside. This one is what you would expect. The one outside I feel is so amazing.

The Passion façade was built from Gaudi designed and feature Jesus, Herod and Peter amongst others depicting the crucifixion. They are i loves these figures for their stark angular shapes. Jesus head looks like a book and it said that it is to resemble the bible. These are just a few of the structures. There are so many on the building which could be a whole blog in itself.

Ian had booked a viewing from one of the towers. They are two which you can go up and you are allocated which one when you buy the ticket. Ian’s face was a sight when we entered the lift to be told that the lift is taking us up and then there are steps to come down the other side. He wasn’t worried for himself but he remembered an incident in Toledo in 2018 when we had to come down a spiral staircase. Too late. We were at the top. Amazing views across Barcelona. Views of some of the decorations on the towers. The current work being done on some of the towers. Then the descent. I was fine for a while. Spiral stairs with walls either side. I could take my time. Slowly. Then we got to the bit where there was a rail. But nothing the other side to hold onto. Don’t ask me why it’s a problem. It just is. Ian took my camera. My man bag. I took deep breaths. 500/600 steps later I was down. Literally. I had to sit down. Was it worth it? I’ll tell you when my is back recovers my nerves are calmer and my knees stop shaking.

Gausi designed and opened a school for his workers children and sometimes for the children of the local area. A lovely building with a wavy roof. Was a very different but lovely build against the magnificent gothic and art deco designs alongside it.

Tour over and a bit of a recharge it was odd to be at Las Ramblas. Apparently we stayed just off there when Ian and I were last here. I can’t remember a thing about the hotel but do remember bits of the trip. We must have been here in high season last time as I do remember the Ramblas being busier. This is one of the side streets off the ramblas which goes on forever.

Another walk down to look at the Gaudi buildings. We have been inside previously so could just stand and stare at the facade from outside and to be honest the entry price had increased hugely since we were last here. Hordes of students hogging the pavements waiting to go in. But I love this facade. It’s beautiful and simple all together. The balconies look like little masks for a masked ball.

Next on the agenda is Park Güell, one of Gaudi’s most notable creations in Barcelona. And a visit to Casa Vicens another Gaudiq masterpiece neither of which I have seen before.

But I think todays walking has been enough.

nearly 19,000 steps. 55 floors and just over 8 miles. No wonder I need a lie down.

A bit of Black and White.

It’s no surprise to many but I do like to take a photo or two. Just ask Ian. He will tell you that all my photos of him are ones of him walking ahead. That’s usually because he continues to walk on as I stop and take a photograph. Then when catching him up I take another. Usually of his back. I even had a photo book printed of a number of those photos. The funny thing is that he can say where each one was taken.

Since retiring I have rekindled my love of the camera and latterly taking photos with my iPhone. I always have my phone with me. Not glued to my ear but ready in hand in case. Not for a call but an opportunity. Years ago I took a lot of black and white. On a camera. No. Before yo say. It wasn’t a box brownie although I remember one in the house growing up. Mine was an Olympus trip. I didn’t realise that the Trip bit was a marketing reference As the camera was aimed at people who wanted a compact, functional camera for holidays. During the 1970s, it was the popular British photographer David Bailey advertised the camera. So that’s why I now realise why my mother used to comment when I was taking a photo ~ ‘ who do you think you are David Bailey!!

But with that camera photos were taken with real film with the added excitement of not instantly knowing what the picture would tell. Then the disappointment that out of a reel of 24 you might have at least one good one. If I was lucky. Then having a load of photos that were put in a box and not looked at again. My mother kept the ‘best’ ones in an old milk tray chocolate box. Now I keep them on my phone. Don’t ask how many are on here. Too many. This one came out of the chocolate box when the house was cleared. Taken in the early 1930’s and no. Not by me. Taken on Barry Island beach ~ pre Gavin and Stacey. My mother and her twin sister and brother with cousins and Granny Morgan. My great grandmother.

Back to now. My friend in Cómpeta , Dave, who is a great photographer ~ loves analogue photography, has given me the encouragement to take black and white photos again. Some on a digital camera. Some on iPhone. Some on both. Dave shoots on proper film and develops the photographs in his darkroom. I wouldn’t be allowed to be near the chemicals but more to the point I neither have the skill or the patience. It’s digital all the way for me. I envy Dave. He has more control over the finished photograph in the development stage. He exhibits his photos as well.

So this is a different blog than usual. Not a Garden blog. Not a Travel blog. But a Bit of black and white.

Somerset Lanes

We have driven this lane so many times over the last 30 years. I’ve always called it ‘Pig lane’ which it isn’t. But there is a large stone statue at the top end of the road of a Boar. I love the hedges when they have been freshly cut as the road draws your eye through what could be a maze. It’s a very different picture later in the year when the hedges are in full growth. And when you meet an artic heading up to the agricultural tractor place at the top. But to me it’s quintessentially English countryside.

Waterloo station concourse

Hello Waterloo station. I had been in Somerset for 3 weeks and because I’m an idiot who had forgotten an appointment for 6pm on a Friday I had to get the train from The Temple of Doom up to the city. Those that know know. For those that don’t The temple is Templecombe station. A pretty little station which is handy to get back to Clapham or Waterloo. Or Exeter. Or Salisbury. I thought I had time to kill so had a wander through the concourse. Well actually above it looking down. People coming and going. All with their own story to tell. Or not.

Somerset trees

Somerset. We can see these trees from the bedroom window high up in the fields behind the cottages. I love the shapes especially as the sun goes down. Looking back at the photos there are many shots of these.

Just a walk in the park.

There were some benefits of lockdown. It made us walk a lot more. We found places that were on our doorstep but we had never been to. When I was working it was home to office to home and an escape to Somerset on a Friday night. Or a Thursday when I dropped my days. This is Burgess Park. Not in lockdown but a few weeks ago. We were walking back from London Bridge through the park. No filter. An opportunistic shot. One I am framing.


Another on our walk back through Burgess Park. Quite often there are people fishing at this spot ~ little tents erected. Fishing wire. Little camping seats. Today they were the other side of the man made lake.

Sloping trees

Competa. Trees marching up or is it down one of the mountains It’s a great sight as we drive in and out of the Pueblo Blanco. I keep expecting them to tumble down in the wind and not be there the next time we pass by. Competa is 2,000ft above sea level.

One man and his phone

The awesome structures of the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias Valencia. The buildings are awesome. Futuristic and one episode of Dr Who was filmed here. We have visited Valencia twice and will be back.

Back to the future.
Tickets please.

Tickets please. The beautiful station in Valencia. A stunning entrance hall. A fabulous original row of ticket sales windows. Glorious in colour. Atmospheric in black and white. This is another that will be printed and framed. Thanks to Dave I use a place in Valencia for printing as these will be framed for Competa.

London calling

Waiting for Ian near London Bridge. The shard ahead. The old and the new. After 40 years in London I still love its architecture which changes like the seasons. Buildings pop up all the time and the skyline views are amazing. The costs of getting to the skylines are amazing as well.

Compra ~ Venta

Valencia. I love Valencia. A walk through the narrow streets through the area with a lot of antique shops. Compra ~ Venta. We did neither. Everything I wanted wouldn’t fit in my small carry on case. But we are off to Barcelona soon and guess what. The Spanish Mr Glass has a shop there. Makes note. Take a large suitcase. Each.

From a distance

This blog is like me gardening. A bit of a butterfly. Flitting from one bit to another. I do that gardening. A bit here. A bit there. A bit over there. This photo is back in Competa. Well it may be Competa. It may be Canillas. What I do know is that it’s the walk between the two.


Bilbao. It was cold outside. Cold and wet. That was us too. So we stopped for coffee. I loved the picture on the wall. We walked past the Guggenheim the night before ~ it’s such a stunning building. The people in the photo are a bonus. Currently being framed.

Up our street

I liked this one so much I’ve had it framed and it’s ready for hanging. Another one in Bilbao. I just loved the street scene ~ we were staying just along the road but I never got another chance. Another opportunistic shot.

People said what would I do in retirement. Take photos. Travel. Sleep. Be bored. Never.

As a foot note. Black and white photos are timeless. Two from the chocolate box. One late 1950,s. One early 1960,s. Neither taken by me.

Father and son
Well dressed and gardening.

Hello. Where are you?

I love it when photos pop up on one of your social media accounts as a memory of where you were this time last year ~ or in this case in 2020. Today was a reminder the last time we really dressed up and went out out. When we were invited to a fancy pants dinner ( no dancing) at the Mansion House in London. A dinner for the Worshipful Company of Gardeners. Guests of two fabulous gardeners. Good fronds and excellent company. They know who they are.

Dressed for Dinner.

How time flies. At that time we were going out and about to travel to Mexico. Pre pandemic. There’s been a lot happened since. Three years. Three prime ministers. And three or is it four vaccinations.

I had a message at the end of last week. Where are you? I can’t keep up. The trouble is neither can I. We are here and there and over there. Answering in Spanish when we are in Somerset. We were in Somerset. Essentially A five day gardening trip with some appointments with builders. Supper with friends and tea and cake with others. Ian’s highlight of the week. The arrival of godson Bradley to take two mattresses to the tip. I kid you not. It’s been on the list for ever. Taking up room under the bed. I still can’t get my head around the little baby I once fed ( bottle} now drives tractors and a car big enough to help us out.

Warmer in than out

We have travelled the route from London to Somerset for more years than I care to remember. The good thing is that I can. I should have counted the number of times we’ve passed Stonehenge. The number of times we have been stuck in that Queue. But it’s always been worth the trip. This time to a garden that’s always neglected in the winter.

The only colour crocus in the garden

Despite the neglect there are some things that reappear year after year other than us. Like these crocus. I have no recollection of planting them. I’m not a great fan of planting small bulbs. Thankfully tulips are os a suitable size otherwise I’d be in a bit of a pickle. But these have multiplied over the years and obviously I have accidentally moved some as there are patches popping up elsewhere. If you see me ordering small bulbs stop me. You should have last year when I bought teeny tiny alliums. Never again. Big fat bulbs of Allium yes.

A bit tidier

We as in the royal we have had a good old tidy up. There has been cutting back. Clearing. Emptying pots of compost where the plants have given up the ghost. I should have put them in the greenhouse but to be honest it’s probably warmer outside. I had planned to get a new greenhouse.p 8 years ago. I’ve been patching it up badly I might add. A new one is on the list. The never ending list of lists.

Dirty terrace.

There is a large terrace at the back of the house with some nice paving. Well when it’s clean it may be nice and that’s a job for another day. Or week. Don’t look at the fence which at the height of sumner you can’t see. Don’t ask about it either. It’s a jointly owned fence. If it wasn’t then there would be a new one. I’ve uncovered the slime off the tops of the agapanthus pots to discover tulips popping through. I’m convinced I’ve lost the agapanthus but I’m not giving up yet. If I have then I’ll get some more. They light up the terrace in the summer and are drought friendly so ideal.

The one clump

I watch in awe as friends post on social media of the snowdrop frenzy at this time of year whilst being thankful we don’t have any. Except we do. A small clump under the ancient and dead apple tree covered tightly by the rambling rector. There have been a few of those in this parish over the years. Rambling rectors whose sermons have rambled on. . This one has been in the garden for over 30. The rose. Not the rector.

Pretty pretty

I tried to get a decent Photo of the snowdrop in the garden. Give me the chance to photograph an agapanthus any day. There’s no getting down on one lneee or both to get ‘that shot’. Getting downs not usually too bad. Getting up is. I will stick to standing photos only. But this flower is rather lovely but I’m going to resist going down that rabbit hole of snowdrop desire. Well I will try anyway. Says the man who already has started his 2024 tulip list.


One benefit of the cutting back and a grand tidy up is that the primroses and the bluebells are getting some light. Primroses remind me of childhood walks along the Rusty line ~ an old disused railway line whose banks were littered with primroses. I bought some more last year to plant in a grassy area but also think I should plant some on the river bank. Or should it be wild garlic. Or lovely blue wild chicory. Or all of them. Where’s my list?

Spanish or English

Blue bells. ~ but are they Spanish or English. Interestingly ~ well for me anyway. I have never seen a Spanish bluebell in Spain in fact I’ve never seen any bluebells in Spain. . A few years ago a neighbour whose garden I love and who is a proper gardener, indeed an expert said that I hadn’t asked her to come and see the garden. I know. For me it would be like asking Picasso to come and look at my paintings. Or Mario Testino to look at my photographs. But I said if she’d like to come and look then she was always welcome. Right she replied. I will be around on Sunday at 2pm. Cold sweats. Hot sweats. Weeds pulled. Nail scissors taken to the grass and she did come and have a look. But I always remember her saying. I hope they aren’t Spanish bluebellls. If they are you need to dig them up. Every year since I look.


Pulmonaria grows like a weed in this garden. I could cover the garden with this ground elder and bindweed. It’s now growing well on the river bank and is always a welcome colour splash at this time of year and with it dotted all around the garden and is a great attraction for early pollinators.

The garden is wet in the winter. Even with the rainfall this winter the ground is wet. Bulbs don’t do very well in the back garden as they generally rot. So there are not many of them. The dahlias I left in are useless. Some years they are ok but this winter has been at times both wet and very cold. So it’s no surprise really. I’ve lost the daffodils along the greenhouse as well ~ a few are through but don’t look promising. I get asked why I don’t plant the tulips in the garden when I empty the pots after they have died back. I’ve done it once and it wasn’t a success. Too much effort for little gain. Last year I bagged them up and people who wanted them for their garden took them. But I must remember to water the tulip pots. They benefit from a weekly watering if you want decent flowers.

Down river

Once the lawn dries out a bit it will have its first haircut. Not a short back and sides but a gentle trim. I hate how at this time of year there’s a well worn path compacting the grass on the walk to the bottom of the garden and the compost bin. That’s along with the cat walk ~ not us practising our model walk up and down the garden ~ but the local cats path through. That and then badger when he can get across the river.

Up river

Im trying to plan a few things differently this year. Where to plant the runner beans. I’ve got an ear worm of my dad telling me I have to dig a trench. Growing up one of my jobs in the garden was to dig the annual trench for two rows of runner beans. This would be filled with all the peelings from the veg and newspaper. My father was disappointed to find that I didn’t continue to do it in my own garden. But as I’m a creature of some habit I suspect the two rows I put in will be in the same place and the ideas for the dahlia bed will not materialise either. I will have dahlias as I love to pick them for the house.

But we have made one decision and that is a new log store. Ordered and a place identified for its position. It’s all part of a bigger plan but that’s for another day.

Honeysuckle arch

There’s still a lot to do. We put in this inexpensive arch decades ago and it’s now smothered with the scent of honeysuckle. Not now obviously. But at the height of summer it’s glorious. But it needs a bit of a haircut ~ like me. It’s in front of the pergola which was put up two decades ago when we bought no 4 to make the two terraces flow. My big mistake then was bad planning for growing over it. but I have a plan. There’s a theme in this blog. Plans. Garden. House. Cottage. Oh another arch is planned toward the bottom of the garden.

This weeks job
View from back door no 4

So the work will continue this week. Some digging. More tidying. Cake eating. But. I have a day planned in Bath on my own. Except for my camera. And dreaming of tulips. Like the ones at Columbia Road Flower Market today.

Tip toe through the tulips

A cold & wet Mediterranean garden

Another eventful trip done. A trillion miles walked ~ OK that’s a bit of an exaggeration but that’s what it feels like when you squeeze as much into 4 days as you can. Am I complaining. A bit ~ I need to learn to pace myself better. I’m not as young as I was. Or as I think I am. I was reminded that I have shoes older than some of the people on the paella lesson we had in Valencia.

We were lucky with the weather in Valencia. Warm days but cooler nights. We knew that when we got home and up the mountain it would be cooler. First we had to battle the obligatory boarding chaos that seems to happen often. I blame cabin baggage and the fight to stuff as much as you can in the overhead lockers before anyone else can. We were away for 4 nights only but still had a carry on. A bag that is. When we come straight to La Casa we can travel with a tiny bag.

The drive from Malaga home takes an hour. The main roads in Spain move freely nearly all of the time and this route skirts along the coast of the Costa del Sol with glimpses of the sea and the mountains. It also means that on leaving the airport the temperature was 16/17* When we arrived 2,000 ft up the mountain the temperature had dropped considerably. Some 8 or 9*.

The campo houses aren’t built for winter. They were primarily used for the summer with the families spending winters in town houses. Poor or no insulation means when it’s cold it’s cold. Not ice on the inside windows which we had growing up but cold. Especially when all shuttered up. The sun warms the house during the day even in winter. But when the sun drops. I repeat myself a lot. So does Ian. He tells me often the same thing. Usually. ‘Andrew. You’ve already said that.’ But I’ll say this again. Good neighbours are worth their weight in gold. They are diamonds. We arrive home and there are the basics waiting for us. Bread. Milk. Biscuits for me. Orange juice. And because it’s cold the fire has been lit.

It’s a very small thing but to us it’s huge.

But once the tea is poured I have my own routine. The garden check. It’s been a month and even at this time of year a lot can happen in the garden. We have help. It would be impossible to maintain the garden if we didn’t. There are large parts which look after themselves but not the main area around the house. At this time of the year it’s pruning time. I have nether the knowledge or the time to do all of the pruning. But we are fortunate to know someone that does. We arrived to the grape vine pruned. A lot of the oleander pruned and the transparente cut back hard on a bank I just couldn’t manage myself.

There are two things I’ve learnt about having someone else do the cutting back. They cut far more than I would and two is that it’s ok. It grows back thicker and better. Unlike my hair. The gardener had cut back an Australian wisteria earlier this year. Cut it back to bare wood on the gates. I stood and stared and said to Ian. ‘That will never grow back.’ To be fair it had a lot of bare wood behind some green growth and flowers. Now we had twigs. I went out and bought a new one as I was so unconvinced it would grow back. How wrong was I. We arrived back and bingo ~ one side ~ the sunnier one showing great new growth. A lot. Lesson learnt.

The other thing you get is more light which means better growth for the plants. And a better view of the pine trees and the bank.

There’s no better place to deposit my money. Viveros Florena our local go to place to buy plants. To get advice from Lorraine. I may have told the story of the book. The book bought even before we had exchanged on the house. Expensive as I bought it on line in the Uk. When Ian rolled his eyes at my spending money on yet another gardening book only to unroll them when we arrived at the house for another viewing the book in hand to be told by the vendors that The author of the book was the owner of the above. 10 mins drive from the house. Quicker if you take the short cut. Which I don’t. The book and Lorraine’s advice has been invaluable!

Back to the garden. We have had rain. Some pretty cold spells with sleet and frosts. Expected in the Somerset garden. Not what I expect here. There have been times when the temperature has been colder here than in the garden in London. But it’s green. We both commented on the drive up the wiggly road just how green it was. That’s when I could see straight ahead. I still don’t take my eye off the road for one minute ~ sharp bends and big drops.

I love the variegated yucca in this bed. I much prefer them to the green. But I’m going to have to come to terms that we may lose them. There is a bug that has been attacking the large agave and it’s now moved into the yucca. Not just in this garden but all around. First it was the cochineal fly decimating the prickly pears. Then the large agave were dropping. With cochineal fly you could see them. With the agave and the yucca it’s hidden. I have remove a few smaller ones but I have to realise that these may go the same way. It’s incredibly sad that a lot of large mature plants will die. As you drive from La Casa to the town there are visible signs of the agave problems. We had an access drive with huge agave. Now all gone.

These were Ian’s request. The cactus that’s not a cactus ~ euphorbia candelabrum. growing in two smallish pots and tied to the railings so they don’t blow over. I love them. Good choice Ian. I keep thinking I should plant them in the garden but I don’t know where. They need to be pretty stable and not blow over.

The curry plant. Trimmed back last year which meant I lost the yellow flowers but it had gotten too straggly and pretty ugly. I may give it a slight trim this week to keep it in shape. The cold weather means no curry smell unlike the heat of summer. There are three under the olive tree which has hard a hard trim. It’s been haircut time all round.

It’s almond blossom time and it’s lovely driving through the campo and seeing the pink and white blossom. We have 5 trees at the back of the house. All planted before we arrived and one is flowering. The others are only just budding up. There are two different types of almond trees in the garden but don’t ask. I have no idea. I’m sure the question is in my list somewhere. I think one is a bitter almond. Every year I pick them. Dry them on a tray in the sun. And then do nothing with them. Talk about taking a hammer to crack a nut. I gave up the will to live.

The cape honeysuckle which originates from S Africa is flowering well. It’s at the back of the house up,with the almonds and I don’t get to see it very often. It’s a great evergreen autumn ~ winter flowering stalwart in the Mediterranean garden. I suspect it need a bit of a trim too. I have bought another. Along with a host of other things.

Tecomaria capensis

There is a very old banksia rose climbing through the jacaranda which has starting flowering since we were last here. very delicate yellow,flowers with even more delicate buds scrambling from the tree across to the white walks of the garage. A welcome sight at this time of the year.

I love the leaves of the loquat or nispero as it’s called here. The leaves are large and archtectural. We have two,trees with a third appearing over the last two years. There is fruit in the two,larger trees which is a surprise. Not because it dies t fruit but beaches usually the flowers go mouldy and the fruit dies t form. There is still time for the fruit to do the same. These trees are a fairly common sight in south east London on our walks and I can think of three that we pass regularly. I’d like one for the Somerset garden. Adds to yet another list.

I was hoping this mimosa tree would be flowering when we arrived but I think it will be another few weeks. This wasn’t here when we bought La Casa ~ 6 years ago ~ there was only the remains of the old one. A dead stump. Now we have a sign I can’t tree which will cause more sneezing than I would like. It’s pollen is a real hay fever starter. But it looks absolutely glorious in full bloom.

I have been trying to save this prickly pear for the last 6 years. It was going well until lockdown and we have had a bit of a set back with the lockdowns when we weren’t allowed to travel. It’s a hard task but I’m determined. You can just see a bit of the white fly ~ cochineal fly. Tomorrow that will go.

I mentioned that the oleanders have been cut back hard. Except one or two. This is one and it still has last years seed pods attached. They are fascinating setting off as red seed pods and when ripe bursting to throw the seeds out into the garden. Everything in the Mediterranean garden seems to be poisonous. The oleander particularly so. three years ago I had a run in with one. Don’t ask. I don’t know which one but I rubbed my eye when gardening and it swelled up badly. A singularly unattractive look.

The glorious melianthus major standing tall in the back or front of the border. Depending how you look at it. I pas a large clump on my way to Peckham Rye station in Holly Grove gardens and have wanted some here. These were bought last night and flowered. When we weren’t here. I suspect that will happen again this.

Echium candicans. I’ve tried echium before and last year was my first success. It looks like there will be flowers but not this one as I only planted it today. Along with 5 others. Why leave 5 back at Viveros. When I can find a home for them. Mostly disease free.. Tall. Drought tolerant. With lovely blue flowers. Great. If I get them to flower.

Maybe the massive violet carpenter bee will be attracted. The bee is big and beautiful with gorgeous wings when the sunlight catches them. You can hear them coming. They have the noisiest buzz. A common sight in the Spanish garden.

The sun comes down on another trip. It’s been a busy one. Meeting up with friends. Lunched and suppers. Gardening. More gardening.

Who said retirement would be boring!

Travels around Spain ~ Valencia.

It’s been just over three years since our last visit. How can that happen. I know time flys when you are having fun but three whole years? But then again this year will see me celebrate 8 years of retirement. I know. I must have retired early. Or I hide my age well. It was the former. Remember. People said I’d be bored. What on earth would I do. I still don’t know the answer. As usual I digress.

We have decided on Ian’s suggestion to travel via a different city on our way to La casa for a number of trips. A bit like bogof ~ buy one get one free. Except it’s not. The first trip for 2023 is back to Valencia for a few days before we head home to Cómpeta. We also decided on an airport stay overnight to beat travel difficulties with rail strikes.

So a hotel was booked. A room on the 12th floor with runway views. Yes. Runways views. Perfecto for the plane spotter which I’m not. But great to see the airport. The slight worry was the description of the room facilities on a major booking site. King size bed. ✔️ the standard facilities. But rather alarmingly it stated private bathroom and toilet paper. The first is a must for me. I may be an oversharer in many areas but bathrooms isn’t one of them. Toilet paper ~ I know during the pandemic there was panic buying but surely this is a given. I’m happy to report that the well known hotel chain had both.

We don’t usually fly from Heathrow. For us living south of the river it’s a pain to get to but the opening of the Elizabeth line has made it a bit easier. A tube line which is a pleasure to travel on as well. Light. Airy. And not too packed. I usually board the flight and shove in my ear pods and sleep ready for the walking I know that we will do when we arrive.

I was a little worried when listening to the flight attendant when she mentioned life jackets under the seats to see the man in the opposite aisle checking that his was there. I have never done that! Ever. Though it does remind me to check that the yellow vest and red triangle is in the car when we pick it up in Malaga next week.

I’m still wearing masks. It’s like a comfiest blanket for me and whilst many will say that it makes no difference, for me I’m happier wearing it in large gatherings or on public transport. I see a number of immune suppressant people and I feel more comfortable for them if I do.

In 2019 we stayed in a great apartment in the Ruzafa district in Valencia. Three years later we are back and it is just as we remembered it. Great hosts to meet us and a lovely clean bright and welcoming apartment. Ian is great at finding these and we have places lined up for Barcelona, Lisbon and Porto for the next few months.

Despite only arriving mid afternoon we don’t let the grass grow under our feet. Ian was happy after a chat with the hosts who complimented him on his Spanish ~ his is so much better than mine. He has conversations. I have sentences. He says I hear it and understand it and read it but putting my brain through to my voice is still a problem. Some will say it’s always been a problem. I disagree. Sometimes I speak and my mother comes out. It’s just a shame she wasn’t fluent in Spanish.

Ian and a stranger
Gorgeous streets

The side streets are narrow and the buildings colourful ~ though there are many fine buildings still ripe for development. When we were here in December 2019 it was wet. Biblical rain. Today we arrived in thermal vests and thick coats ~ not just those to be fair , but in the sun it was 20*. Cooler in the shade but still a tad warmer than London and warmer than our next destination.

Spain still has many things that we are losing in the Uk. Small shops. Independent artisan shops like this fabulous hand painted hat shop we passed on our walk into the centre.

Fabulous painted hats

Berets always remind me of two friends. People I have been friends with for decades. One Cate ~ who i first met back in 1980 when she was appearing at the Cardiff New theatre and who is the reason I have lived in the same street in London for the last 30 years | we became next door neighbours in London after she told me that a flat was for sale next door ~ who when we met was wearing a blue beret~ and my antique dealer friend Shirley who we met 30’years ago who is now in France. It’s funny how certain things remind you of people for ever.

The little shop and the hats are fabulous. We do have lots of artisan creators in the uk but many are on line only or at many of the wonderful fairs. Premises costs are too expensive.

It’s the same for restaurants ~ the city is full of small good quality eating places and not littered with chains. Yes there are the burger bars and the like but even their shop frontages look a bit more subdued. The weather is also better suited to outdoor seating which helps with smaller premises.

I remembered this wig shop from our last visit though I’m not tempted for either the fake moustache of the wig. I remember what I looked like with a moustache and it’s not coming back. I don’t want more hair on my lip than I have on my head. Oh. And I remembering because we walked past. Not because of a visit.

A walk into the centre to see familiar landmarks to visit this trip. The central market. The silk exchange. Just a mooch through the small colourful streets.

The joy of staying in an apartment is that you have a choice. Do you eat out. Or in. On the first night after arriving mid afternoon sometimes it’s just nice to grab something to eat indoors ~ we needed to soma bit of shopping anyway. We almost eaten all of the mandarins that the hosts has left us anyway! It also meant we could go for a good early evening wander ~ whilst it was dry and big too cold.

I love cities at night. Not for the night life these days ~ those days have long gone. But at night most European cities know how to showcase their architecture with good lighting. Take the train station close by timwheee we are staying. A beautiful but I’d valenciano Arg decor. Opened in 1916 and is simply like a step back in time. A fabulous entrance. Amazing ticket hall and booths. And trains that are running.

The entrance
The ticket booths. Still open.
The beautiful room off the rocket hall
The working clock
Indulge my current black and white obsession

It’s funny how some things are familiar even after only one visit. It was easy to find out bearings. There were one or two places we didn’t get to see last time. Which we will this. Some we saw during the day which we will visit at night. The list is endless

He’s still in the same position he was in back in 2019. Poor bloke must be freezing sitting in that water all the time. Talk about soggy bottom.

The colourful fountains on our walk. I thought they were lit just for the Christmas celebrations when we were last here. Obviously not!

The markets in Spanish towns are amazing. The variety of fresh produce is fantastic with locally grown vegetables freshly caught fish and a whole myriad of spices herbs and cheeses to tempt your culinary delights. The above is the central market. We visited a smaller local market when we went for a paella class which I preferred. Smaller yes but the chef who we walked around with knew all the stall holders ~ and it looked like he knows most of the shoppers in the market! explained that the fishmongers were closed on a Monday as there are no catches over the weekend. Obvious really , you want the freshest of fish. His mantra for a good paella. Good fresh seasonal produce to add to the rice.

Back to the restaurant as a group of six to jointly prepare and cook a fabulous lunch. A really interesting group. A guy from Korea. Another from Berlin a journalist who liked yoga and swing dancing. A girl from Manchester who was looking to get a digital nomad visa to teach English and a girl from the Ukraine who was working abroad pre the start of the war. And us. Old enough to be their grandfathers. It made for sn interesting chat over lunch.

We missed this last time and I remember why. The queue. It was massive and one thing we don’t do is queue. It eats into vital time when you have a timeframe on a short break. St Nicolas a Roman Catholic parish church. An absolutely stunning building in gothic style with more fabulous colours and more gilt than I have seen in a long time. Absolutely stunning. And guess what. No queue when we arrived. And a massive one when we left. Bonus.

It also has some stunning stained glass windows.

I hate steps. Not Steps as in but climbing steps. To be fair it’s the coming down that kills me. So we climbed most of the way up the Torres but not all the way. But it is worth visiting unless you have an arthritic hip a fear of heights and a feeling of falling when descending steps. I’m really selling myself again.

We visited the Silk Exchange in 2019 and loved it. This time I loved it more. the architecture. The tiles. The light. It was magical. How I’d love a house with those tiles. I’d also love a room as big to take them. But not the door. Imagine the draught you’d get when opening the door for the Amazon deliveries.

The majesty of columns. Talk shapely curvy ~ and difficult to get a clear view. What you don’t see is that there are half a dozen people hiding behind the columns.

From a distance

I stood for what seemed like ages to get a clear view and then……. But it does make a good photo even if I say it myself!

The La Lonja (The Silk Exchange) is a Unesco World Heritage site with the first stone laid in 1492. And is definitely worth a visit or two.

Ian is great at organising these trips and finding the Airbnb. But the next photo isn’t one of them. Thankfully. It’s one of the bedrooms in El Museo Nacional de Ceramica y de las Artes Suntuarias Gonzalez Marti~ long title. We called it the Ceramics museum. ‘ Housed in the Palace of the Marqués de Dos Aguas, it was founded on 7 February 1947, from the donation of Manuel González Martí’s ceramics collection. Seven years later, once the restoration of the palace was completed, the museum opened to the public on 18 June 1954.’

It is stunning and even better it was free entry on the day we went. I have to say that there are some irritating people wanting the perfect photograph. Not me although I am irritating. Three people were on the grand staircase going up to the first floor. Wanting the perfect Instagramable ( is that a word) photo. One at the bottom of the stairs. Two at the top. Posing. One leg one way. Pouting. Then suddenly telling someone off for interrupting their photo shoot and wanting to go up the stairs. We were about to go up too. What they didn’t realise was they told off one of the officials. Did they care. Not a bit. I was hoping they would have been shown the door.

The red room is well. Very red with a gorgeous chandelier and red chairs. The white room very calm with a grand piano a harp and some what looked like vintage guitars but they would have had a more interesting name.

I’ll admit to a better photo of this room back in 2019. But it wasn’t a Sunday that day and wasn’t as busy. In Valencia they wrap rope around the chairs and sofas to stop you sitting down. In the UK we are less subtle. We place something prickly to make sure you don’t even try !

I can’t imagine this getting through the narrow streets of Valencia and the occupants must have needed padded pantaloons to protect you from bottom bumps.

I had a fascination for the painted metal shutters of the garages and shops. These are just a few showing that grey roller shutters don’t need to be boring. Ever.

Doesn’t everyone dress up for a stroll around the street market?

Valencia is a city of many styles. The historic area. The central area. The trendy neighbourhoods.- one where we were staying Ruzafa. Then there is the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias. A sight that takes your breath away as you approach it and the second visit didn’t dilute the experience. An episode of Dr Who was filmed here and it’s like being in a sci fi movie. I suspect it’s a big like marmite. I hate marmite. I love this. It feels so light. Bright. Busy but not packed.

The Spanish love a fiesta. Or two. The year is littered with fiestas for everything. In Cómpeta we have one for the wine. One for the chestnuts. The annual Feria. Coming up in Valencia is The Fallas. Every year there are fireworks. Parades and hundreds of large paper mache figures made. And all but two are burnt on the last day of the festival. Two are saved by a public vote and the city has kept two from each Fallas since 1938. The 2023 exhibition is fabulous , spooky and bonkers. At times all three ~ we loved it.


These are just a few. There were hundreds. There is also a children’s section where the figures are smaller. With more clothes as well.

It was a full on four days but a fabulous trip and a great idea of Ian’s to travel to La Casa via another Spanish destination. Now we are heading to Malaga and that drive up the wiggly road. I’d like to say it will be relaxing after all that walking. I suspect not.

Next trip. Barcelona.

Adiós 2022. Hola ‘23

It’s been a glorious Christmas and New year. We missed being in Spain for Xmas 2021 and this year even the weather was kind. Lovely warm days. Cooler nights. Broken heating in parts but a lovely clean chimney so the fire burned even brighter.

The sunsets at this time of the year are pretty spectacular and this year they didn’t disappoint. Many a night I’d suddenly jump out of the chair ( not literally ~ not with my dodgy hip) to go and stand on the terrace and watch the sun go down. This is our 6th December on the mountain and I never get tired of the sunsets. But then again very little tires me from our Spanish adventure.

But the trip wasn’t all festivals lights and food. Almost. But not quite. I’m still not back to being great in crowded spaces so our festivities were pretty low key as most of them are for us these days. small groups of friends for supper or coffees ( and the obligatory cakes) outdoors. Oh. And the garden. There’s always work to be done in the garden. We do have help ~ there are so many plants which I still am unsure about. The pruning the feeding. The timing of both. But our help knows and appears at the right times to do what is required.

Two weeks before we arrived there had been rain. A lot of it but still not enough. We still don’t have mains water every day out in the campo. . But enough to make the countryside look green again. There was also the signal of a new season. On 1 January we noticed that there was a lot of smoke hanging over the Valley. No. Not a new pope but the signal of a new season where bonfires were officially allowed. I’d forgotten that there are strict rules on the months you can and cannot have a bonfire. My rule is never in our garden. Call it paranoia which is correct but I’m terrified of a lone spark setting the campo alight.

Things are starting to wake up. The first freesia are flowering along the path and there are many more in various stages to continue. The first two were picked and given to a neighbour. Sadly last year we lost a dear friend, his wife who together with her husband checked the house for us during the year we were unable to travel and who would water the garden ifit needed it. I’ve said it before. Good friends are a joy but good neighbours are awesome. When we weren’t at the house she would pick any flowers ~ after my constant nagging at first ~ and freesias were her favourite. So it was appropriate that the first of this season went to her house.

Hiding in amongst various pots or rather languishing there was a surprise. I had thought the colocasia mojito which has been bought and paid for at Vivero Florena before one of the lockdowns and stayed there for months and months had died. It came home when we could return and I had thought it was a another casualty of the drought and severe heat. But I move the pots around. A lot ~ my late sister did the same with furniture ~ and I found that the plant hadn’t died and it’s gorgeous silky leaves were again growing. Fingers crossed it continues.

Another surprise was on the central border. These Carpobrotus edulis were straggly. Dry and almost non existent over the last few years. But I cut ( hacked) them back last year and thought if they recover they stay. If they don’t they go. It looks like they listened and hopefully we will get those glorious pink flowers again this year. Native to South Africa it must have liked last years extreme heat and drought. Also known as sour fig, or ice plant. We also have a large clump on the rear bank which to be honest I largely ignored this visit. The bank. Not just the clump.

Instructions have been left for the almonds to be pruned and I’ve just realised I haven’t mentioned the fig. But I did mention the bottlebrush which needs a good tidy up.

This is a flower from two or three years ago. The problem with not being at the house permanently is we often miss what is flowering. Although we do get sent photos. Seeing how well these are doing I must get some more or split these for the dry bank at the front of the house.

There is an ever increasing bed of these at the side of the house. I always think they are in the way out as the lower parts go dry and crusty. But they never cease to amaze me by throwing up their orange tall flowers. Childish I know but I help saying Aloe Aloe when I pass. But I am. and I do. Nobody is listening anyway.

I love the Strelitzia. Some years we see them. Some we don’t. This one is in full flower and there are eight more flower spikes dotted around the garden in various stages of growth. We will this year at least see some. The ones I want to flower the most this year are the strelitzia Nicolai. They are very tall plants with flowers high up. Blue/black and white flowers. Someone once said you should look up as you walk around London. The upper parts of the buildings are more interesting. Well the same can be said about a lot of plants. Especially this bird of paradise. Huge fat banana type leaves. Shred like mad in the wind. But despite that I’ve planted three more in the garden. By the time I reach 50 ( in my dreams) they will flower.

Theee isn’t much colour at the moment. Well there is but not bright colours. Except for the bird of paradise. The few Clivia. And the start of the freesia. But the foliage is looking good though. The grape leaves turning colour. Well the ones that are still on the vine which they are still this year. They should have all fallen by now ready for pruning. The dodonea is looking great.

Agave Americana

I have also spent time scrubbing up a lot of agave from the garden. First it was the prickly pear. Attacked by the white fly ~ the cochineal fly. Whole swathes of them rotting along the roadside. I have saved two in the garden. It has been a hard slog but worth it. But. There is now something attacking the agave. You don’t know it’s happening until the keel over and die. They attack from below. We had a lot on the communal road but they have all gone. We had a few large ones on the roundabout that’s not a roundabout. Gone. I wandered around the garden scrubbing up more dead ones. This small one will go next. It’s also attacking yucca. Which will be a shame if it gets ours as there are a number of large variegated and non variegated ones. Fingers toes and legs crossed.

We have one of these in London. In a pot. In the top floor bedroom. It makes me chuckle to find plants in the garden in Spain that we have in the UK as house plants. Like the Swiss cheese plant. One of the staples in our house growing up. With a rubber plant which my mother cleaned the leaves with milk. Don’t ask. I have no idea whether it was skimmed full fat or semi skimmed. What I do know is that it wasn’t soya.

Thankfully this prickly cactus is on the bank on the way up to the house. It’s a nightmare if you get to close but it’s redeeming feature is it’s flowers. That’s why it gets a reprise.

I salvaged this Aeonium once again from a falling over in the wind. It’s in a large pot now. Staked. The broken limbs have been planted in the garden. Last years breakages have taken well.

Another house plant we had growing up ~ Tradescantia pallida I think and growing strongly but very brittle in a bed outside the door. Very pretty leaves. Pretty flowers but breaks off every time you pass. There used to be on on our kitchen window.

Foxtail agave

I couldn’t post without putting in a photo of the foxtail agave. This one is in the ground at the rear of the house. I have about half a dozen more that need replanting.

Ian often reminds me of things I’ve said. Like. ‘No more pots ’. As this demonstrates I’m tone deaf. I have had a move around. But I haven’t lost any.

Sometimes things shouldn’t work. These ferns shouldn’t but they are getting bigger and bigger. I can’t repot them again. They have to be moved using a sack truck.

First ignore the irrigation pipe ~ it hasn’t been used this last year. The photograph is of the sea squill ~ Urginea maritima. Planted over three years ago they are all now coming into their own. Green leaves which die down totally. Then later the tall white flower appears. Totally drought tolerant the bulbs are huge. Peter Nyssen supplies me with them. Good old Peter Nyssen.

One bit of colour. A little bit of rain and back comes the flower. Although two bushed have been lost in last years drought.

Finally. The space aliens have reappeared ~ Plectranthus. I’m not sure of the species and it dies have a scented leaf. Spreading slowly and making a bit of ground cover.

That’s it in the Spanish garden for a few weeks. Oh. But I did plant the tulips. The white wall has been planted with palmyra tulips. Last years Armani did well so I hope these do too.

I have planted a few pots with Dutch Dancer ~ black hero and El Nino and a few with a random selection. Which of course I haven’t labelled. Yes. They are late. Yes it’s a risk but at least I didn’t have to defrost the compost of dig three inches of ice off the top.

Photos from Peter Nyssen

Back in London and tulip planting continues. They have almost all been done. Two large pots to finish once the emergency top up from Peter Nyssen arrive. But that’s it for tulip planting. I’m starting to plan early for next years. ( believe that if you will )

Lights. Music. Walking.

This Christmas trip has been a bit of a lights extravaganza. I’ve said it before and being one to repeat myself I’ll say it again. Malaga is a vastly underrated destination. For many reasons. What they do so well and is a huge tourist and resident attraction is Festivals. Semana Santa parades and Christmas being two. The pueblo blanco’s have their Ferias. Their noche del vino. at Christmas the lights are spectacular.

Malaga has a great backdrop for the light show in the Botanical Gardens. La Conceptuon ~ the Jardin Botanivo Historico. A great place to visit during the day to see the extensive planting and the great walks through the gardens. Originally created in 1885 and which remained in private ownership until 1990 when it became municipal property and then opened to the public in /994. The gardens have a vast array of tropical plants collected from around the world over its 23 hectares.

Whilst a great place to walk during the day with cheap admission prices and a small cafe it is magical illuminated at night for this years Christmas show. This is the second year that it has been held in Malaga and this year the info says ‘ the walk is ‘ 2.2 kilometers in length where more than 20 light installations will transport visitors to historic places such as Persia, Babylon or Bethlehem.’

That is once you navigate the parking and the queue to get in. Parking generally for the gardens is small and like everything the Mathieson – Jones household does we aimed to arrive early. Like when we fly we are usually at the airport a week before if Ian has his way. He hates lateness. I hate rushing as I’m a bit of a panicker. What if the traffic is bad. What if we can’t park. Let me fast forward. We parked ok after a bit of a turn around. But the parking wasn’t difficult. The leaving was. Not because of traffic but because of the very kind person who felt it necessary to park so close to the drivers door that not even Twiggy would be able to slide into the drivers seat. Let alone a man of certain age and certainly not on the thinner side. I couldn’t even get a leg through the door. So. With someone waiting to take my space holding up the traffic I had to scramble in from the passengers side. Climb over the gear stick with a dodgy hip and arthritic knee. I managed eventually. And the car waited patiently for my space. Yes. I digress again. But I am no contortionist and I’m not as supple as I once was.

The photo above was taken from the queue to go in which was a bit like a air con in its own right. People panicking because they felt the 19.30 tickets were being let in before the 19.00 despite being told that we were in the right queue. I’d like to repeat some of their conversations. But I won’t. Or my comments to Ian. Neither are appropriate after the event. But the queue was fine. Orderly and no. The 19.30 hasn’t gone in before us. They had been ushered to another queue.

Oh. And we didn’t get to see the parador lit up. The path doesn’t take us up amongst the cactus ~ I suspect a bit dodgy in the dark and health and safety would be an issue. No matter me wants to fall over. A prickly pear. A first for here in Spain. you haven’t seen our electrician work or the man climbing our trees. It takes health and safety to a whole new level.

I have realised that we did miss the parador out in the walk. That was a major fail on my part. Map reading was never my strong point. I have yet to tell Ian. We also missed the camels. There is always next year. .

To be fair the queue moves quickly and tickets checked ~ no question on my old man’s discounted ticket which always disappoints me that they don’t ask for documentary evidence. That’s vanity for you. I never got checked for alcohol purchases either.

The website says ‘ welcome to Stela ~ Embark on the Christmas journey of the Star of the East and the Three Wise Men and let your imagination fly with STELA.

It is a magical journey through visuals and music

A lot of the lighting is very visual and some doesn’t photograph well with the crowds but the colours and the lighting is spectacular. An incredibly clever use of the light and a self guided one way pathway way through the gardens. Despite the numbers it never feels crowded once you get in. It is hugely popular and last year had over 110,000 visitors. I think this year that will be surpassed as last year was the first year and word of mouth has spread.

These crowns are large. And are one of the first spectacular pieces that you encounter. Not the first. But the one that took my breath away.

Particularly spectacular are the crowns. How I would love one of these illuminated on the roundabout that’s not a roundabout to be lit to signify we were in residence. A bit like the flag flying over Buckingham palace. Two things stopping that. The roundabout that’s not a roundabout has no services. ~ electricity and a Waitrose local ~ and it’s in the campo where no new builds are allowed. This technically would fail but thankfully the bulbs are all Led so would get a good energy rating!


The bamboo forests look amazing during the day but lit up they take on an eerie feel but spectacular.

We three kings. Another high point but a low point in that as usual the idiot comes out in me as I sing the wrong words to the old Christmas carol | we three kings from orient are. One in a bus. And one in a car. One on a scooter blowing his hooter ……… I blame my mother for everything.

A rare sighting. But it’s Christmas and maybe a New Year’s resolution is to have at least one joint selfie a month in 2023. As long as we are in the same place that month! But also to show proof that we are out together and it’s not just Ian walking on his own.

The colours and placing of the lights is clever. Though at points a little dark. Which is fine until you put your glasss on your head to take a photo. Raise your head and they fall down your back. Onto the floor amongst a throng of people. Luckily we weee all standing still. So I was able to scrabble and find them. Without being knocked off my feet which would have been humiliating watching me get back up. And luckily I had packed a small torch.

The taking tree. We could hear noises as we weee approaching the areas where this tree was illuminated. To be fair we weren’t sure what to expect. It sounded from a distance that something was happening in the wood and maybe someone had left a microphone on. There were some strange and funny noises coming from the distance. You know that nursery rhyme. If you go down to the woods today. ….. you are in for a big surprise. Then there was talking and we realised as you do that it was the tree. I know. It so was weird but trust me. I recorded it and it does sound weird until the talking starts. think a bit Shirley valentine. Talking to a wall but the wall talks back. Remember next time you take the Kings advice and talk to your plants. They will sound weird if they reply.

Like the light show at the Cathedral there is a show against the mansion in the grounds. It’s pretty amazing and I think is one of the high lights of the walk. Oh. I’ve forgotten to say that there is music along a the walk which is a atmospheric as you take the journey which transports you to Persia, Babylon or Bethlehem. No Boney M singing rivers of Babylon but I had the look of Ian when I started to sing it. Quietly thankfully. Nino dodgy dance moves. Not on those paths. In the dark.

Not a spectacular photo but a special one for me. In our Spanish garden I have a bed of Clivia. Clivia and I go back decades ( not a dating relationship ) ~ but a plant I bought at a fabulous garden shop in Castle Cary owned by a friend and neighbour of ours at the time. I say she introduced me to a lot of interesting plants and hulks back then ~ an ex Blue Peter gardener and now living on Dartmoor with her rescue animals. Dartmoor ponies. Donkeys. Sheep and turkeys. I digress again. But I bought Clivia as house plants from her. So when we bought the house here and realised we could grow them in the garden I did. Then we came to the Botanical gardens and saw swathes of them planted under the trees I realised I could plant more. I have and will continue to . This photo is more to show the mass of Clivia than the lights. The following photo is an early one flowering at home I the garden. I will be back to see these beauties flower. In the daytime though oh. And for the record Clare the ex neighbour is the creator and seller of the fabulous Donkey Gloves with all profits going to the animals she rescues. Great gloves ~ I’m not biased. They are.

It was worth the 50 min drive down the wiggly road for sure and it’s a great tourist attraction not only for the international tourists here for Christmas but also the local residents who were attending. A lot of family groups old and young. Some even older than me which to be fair at some of the events we have been to lately is rare.

That’s the last of our Christmas outings for 2022. It will be a quiet New year for us as is usual. But not as quiet as 2020 and 2021 for sure. The blog will probably be like current forms of public transport for the next month. Few and far between and not terribly reliable.

Happy New year ~ Feliz año Nuevo and thank you for indulging me with my blogs again in 2022.