Friday 22 January 2016
In Spain 9 degrees - 18 in France
Our house is very cold in the Winter. When we bought in 2004 we baulked at the cost of changing the windows (25000 euros) or installing full central heating (10000 euros). How cold could it get anyhow? The answer is that often in the winter it is colder inside than out but now it seems too late to make these modifications. We are ready to move on and this year will be a push to sell our big, cold, and much loved house with its huge gardens and peeling walls, and move onto other things.
We get particularly fed up in January and February, the coldest months, so go to a lovely hotel, somewhere in Spain, where we can enjoy central heating and sparkling and crisp white linen.
I dropped off the dog at 9 am and we set off in the rain. Eventually the landscape tipped and we were on a high mountain road, thick sausage rolls of mist in the valleys and passing through forests of Eucalyptus. Skeins of snow thrown over the jagged rocks.
We were passing through a village - Exchalekua - in Basque 'house-place' and it had one bar so we parked up. Two Alsatians paced in a muddy enclosure and a troupe of very woolly sheep was watching them from the road side of the fence. A car drew up in a burst of gravel and we followed its owner into the bar. He drew himself a half of cloudy beer and called his wife to serve us. We sat by the roaring fire and admired the fine sheep skins. The coffee came in large cups and was served with tiny bars of black chocolate, rich and bittersweet. There was an alpine feel to the place.
Twenty minutes later and we were on the outskirts of Pamplona, a huge sprawling city with commercial zones, layers of tower blocks of flats like giant dominoes in the landscape, glass fronted office blocks, university campus and, at its heart, the medieval walled city. And that is so typical of Spain. You can be in the heart of a city but, on looking over the city limits, you will see nothing but hills and the road out.
We went into a restaurant and there was one lady, eating an omelette, but it soon filled up. The starter was revuelto - scrambled eggs with ham, glossy and full of butter, followed by sardines and salmon, crisp white wine and bread with a thick liquorice crust. And then siesta.
Later that night, we joined the Paseo and wandered around the rain slicked streets and looked in the shop windows and milled with the locals. Small children everywhere, beautifully turned out. Adults enjoying epic amounts of smoking and drinking. Fat babies under many quilts. The Spanish don't bother with babysitters. They take their kids with them and go home when their offspring are too tired to stay upright.
Live music was coming from a bar so we pushed our way through the crush, grabbed some deep fried spinach balls and beer and parked ourselves next to a coat laden cigarette vending machine. A large Mexican was sitting on a small stool. Toad complexion, tall with gloriously embroidered sombrero. His thick, spatulate fingers caressed the strings of the guitar and he sang of love and loss. Everyone but we knew the words. A guy in a suit danced ecstatically. His hair was grey and he looked like a local dignitary but in his heart he was Mexican. The Star of Galicia posters shone on the walls and the bright lights lit up the heads of the woman, their hair falling in raven silk rivers over their shoulders.
Ears ringing and much, much later, we wobbled back to the hotel and sleep.