January 2020

We spent all of January in Peniscola, a little village about 200km south of Barcelona. We were escaping the cold of winter and enjoying some sunshine, even if it’s not very hot.

The feast of the Epiphany on January 6th – or the Three Kings Festival as it is known, is celebrated all over Spain with parades in every village. This year in Peniscola the parade didn’t start until it got dark and it was quite a spectacle, with lots of lights and horse-drawn floats.

Our friends from Stuttgart, Moni and Waldemar are also here and at the end of December we were joined by Andy and Samantha from the UK. We amused ourselves with long walks and lunches in the sunshine. As they were about to leave for Portugal, Samantha bent over to look in a cupboard and did something serious to her neck. We have never seen someone in so much pain! An ambulance was called and she was taken to a nearby hospital and then transferred to the nearest large town to see a neurosurgeon. After a week or so there she was taken by air-ambulance to London, where she has to undergo two operations. Her experience led us to re-check our insurance and re-visit our emergency plans!

One day we came across a different parade. Lots of beautifully groomed horses drawing carts full of young people, accompanied by a band of pipes and drums. The last horse carriage, drawn by 8 large horses, dragged an olive tree behind. Apparently it was part of the Peniscola Festival but we think the significance got lost in translation. Anyway, it was lots of fun.

Peniscola is basically joined to the next town of Benicarlo, which is then joined to the next town of Vinaros. There is a bicycle path along the promenade joining all three towns. Each town has a market on a different day. When we arrived in Peniscola, Waldemar & Moni took us for a bike ride to show us the best butcher, greengrocer, supermarkets and bodegas (wine stores) in the region. We often rode to Benicarlo because we liked their butcher and the covered market. Their Wednesday market was fabulous.

The campsite we stayed on (Camping El Eden) was full of ‘snowbirds’ with perhaps 80% German people, the rest being a mixture of Dutch, Danish and French. Many people had some English language. We met some lovely people and enjoyed some meals or aperitifs with them. We’ve also heard some funny comments, some being:

‘Denmark has a great spare parts store for older people – I got a new hip and my wife a new knee’.

‘We got divorced for an hour this morning’, meaning that they stopped speaking. Another one like this that we love is holding up your hand and wiggling all your fingers, while you glare into your partner’s eyes. It’s like giving your partner ‘the bird’, but it lasts for a week!

The German saying we liked was ‘looking at the potatoes from underneath’ meaning that you’re dead.

We’re still at the younger end of the campground demographic at this time of year, with most people being very late 60s or in their 70s. It’s nice to feel young!

We had 2 weeks of good weather, where it started cold in the mornings but then became clear blue skies by lunchtime and quite warm in the afternoon. The nights were very cold. It quite reminded us of winter in the Australian Outback. But then came Storm Gloria! This was basically a cyclonic storm, with huge winds and driving rain. It was coupled with high tides and the result was a disaster!  We were stuck inside for a couple of days and when we emerged from our cosy camper we were shocked at the damage. The sea had breached the seawall and dumped many feet of sand and seaweed up to a block back from the beach. The road and bike path between the towns was closed for several days due to the flooding.

It was such a disaster that the President of Spain, Pedro Sanchez, visited to view the damage. His media stop was down the end of our street. Michael got right into the media scrum and the President singled him out to shake hands with – a bit of a wasted political opportunity on his part!

We celebrated our 37th Wedding Anniversary on January 15th with a lovely lunch at a tapas bar. A few nights later we watched the ISS (International Space Station) fly over. It’s orbit is only 408km above the earth and it travels at a speed of 7.66 km per second!

Another fun event we attended was the Artichoke Festival. Benicarlo is the recognized “home of the artichoke” in Spain and they grow millions of them around here. On a Sunday we rode our bikes along the bike path to Benicarlo, which was still a bit hazardous because the sand hadn’t all been removed yet. However, it was worth the risk, as the festival was amazing.

The large main square was lined with stalls selling food made from artichokes. You bought a terracotta plate and then went from stall to stall to try the recipes. It’s a competition between stalls (many run by local restaurants) to win the Best Artichoke Recipe Award and the people who eat get a vote. We couldn’t believe what could be made from artichokes! As well as the predictable paellas and stews – such as slow cooked beef cheeks with artichokes – there was

a croquembouche of profiteroles filled with artichoke custard

artichoke tiramisu

cream of artichoke soup with a fried cod crisp

artichoke sliders

gyoza artichoke

and the list went on! There were thousands of people there, many of whom were Spaniards who came in from afar on big buses.

After awhile we got overwhelmed by the crowds and headed to the marina restaurants for some sun and fish.

It was a fantastic day!

Grubie had had a cough for a while so we decided on yet another visit to see the vet. We were very distressed to find that she has a heart condition that is relatively advanced. She had an x-ray and her heart was quite enlarged and her lungs were ‘dirty’ (had fluid). She also has a problem with her trachea. The vet prescribed medication but after waiting 3 weeks her cough was no better, so back to the vet. Her heart and lungs were clearer, so that was good news, but her trachea was the reason for the cough so he put her on cortisone, to be assessed after a week. Fingers crossed!

We don’t know how long she has with us, but she wont be coming back to Australia. We’re very sad, but she is not in pain and is having a lovely life.

 

After Storm Gloria the weather improved, back to cool but sunny and we continued to explore the local area and sample the restaurants.

Life is good!