Jean Roberts Spain and travel blog

Jeeps, Painters, Old Friends, and a Place in the Sun

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This last month has been amazingly busy, so much so that blogging has taken a back seat, but it has also been amazing fun.

The end of April saw us loaded up and heading off on our annual pilgrimage to the big Jeep rally in Chambon-Sur-Lac in the Auvergne. 9 of us in 5 modified Jeeps were off to have some fun slipping, sliding, and rock crawling through tracks and forests in this beautiful part of France. This year the date coincided with a public holiday so the event was shortened by a day but, boy, did we pack a load in! Being the only Brits there we even got interviewed and photographed for a French magazine. We went up above the snow line and down into valleys to clamber around waterfalls. By a river that ran through a wooded area we came across some prospecters from Poland panning for gold. Adrian managed to impress them with the only bit of Polish he knows, Pivo Prosze – beer please.
Out on a run in convoy with 30 other Jeeps we bounced single file over rocks and through mud and then suddenly came upon a small clearing and everyone stopped. The Jeeps parked higgledy piggledy and everyone got out. Out of the back of one of the Jeeps baguettes, cheese, meat, and wine appeared and was spread out on the bonnet of one of the 4x4s. Lunch French style for everyone in the middle of a forest, a rustic feast, and with copious amounts of wine. 20k still to drive to get to the end but, hey, this is France and there’s no flashing blue lights on trees.

Ready for the off.

Through the forest

Over rocks and through the mud

 

Lunch, French style

Panning for gold


Up above the snow

 

I have to get in somehow!

 

The event over the rest of our party headed for home and we headed south to Figueres. I had a date with Salvador DalĂ­ and a planned meet up with an old

friend who I hadn’t seen for over 50 years. Karen and I grew up on the same street. We were like bookends, she lived at one end of the row and our house was at the other end. We went to the same school and shortly after we left she went off to live in Spain and has stayed there. It was great to catch up with her again. Let’s not leave it another 50 years, eh?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figueres was the birthplace and home of the completely bonkers but infinitely talented Salvador DalĂ­. A visit to the museum of his works was first on the list followed by a visit to his house in Port Lligat. The museum is also the mausoleum that he designed for himself. It’s interesting that he chose to be buried with his works and possessions all around him and not with his wife out in Pubol. There’s no inscription on his grave. He lays under a white oblong stone slab with a memorial stone in a completely separate room.


DalĂ­ Theatre-Museum

The grave of Salvador DalĂ­

Memorial Stone

His house in Port Lligat is in an area of outstanding beauty, possibly the prettiest part of the Costa Brava. We travelled along narrow windy mountain roads, most of the time with a sheer drop at the side, definitely not for the feint hearted, and arrived at a car park where a family of wild boar were living. Completely unfazed by all the traffic they wandered around the cars eyeing up the picnickers.

 

It’s a walk down close on a hundred steps to get to the sea and DalĂ­’s house with a well placed restaurant and bar about half way
down. We ate lunch in a spectacular setting overlooking the bay, small fishing boats, a turquoise sea, whitewashed houses, and two huge great silver heads looking over a wall. It wasn’t difficult to spot DalĂ­’s garden.

 

 

 

 

Guess which one is DalĂ­’s house.

 

The garden is beautiful, overlooking the sea, on several different levels, it is quirky and full of DalĂ­’s imagination. From the man made out of a rowing boat to huge flower filled teacups and the iconic DalĂ­ eggs, it was all there. His presence is everywhere. Full of art works it is also serenely peaceful, possibly an antidote to some of his madness. I can see why he loved being here. Inside the house was a bit bohemian but I was surprised at how conventional so much of it was. There are some oddities, like his stuffed animals and cricket cage, but otherwise most of it is surprisingly normal. There is a lovely touch in his bedroom where there is an oddly angled mirror. Port Lligat is the easternmost point in all of Spain and so DalĂ­ placed the mirror so that he could lay in his bed and be the first person in Spain to see the sunrise. Their bedroom is surprisingly spartan. There are frills and mirrors but mostly it’s rather bland. He and his wife, Gala, had separate beds side by side. Gala had planned to die in her castle in Pubol. When she unexpectedly died at Port Lligat they propped her up in the car as if she were still alive and drove her there. For anyone still questioning DalĂ­’s sanity I’ll just leave that there for a while.


Pirelli tyres and Mae West’s lips

Outdoor dining room

The penis pool

DalĂ­’s bed on the left. From here he would watch the sunrise in the mirror.

The sunrise mirror.

Unfinished painting of Gala

Left, Inside DalĂ­’s studio. Gala died before the painting could be finished.
Right, For his huge paintings DalĂ­ used an ingenious pulley system. He would sit in the chair in front and paint hoisting the painting up and down as he worked.

The pulley system

When we left Figueres we had planned to do the journey in small hops visiting anywhere that took our fancy along the way. We weren’t on the road long before what did take our fancy was to just go home. We’d had a great trip, done some fantastic things, met up with an old friend, and just felt that we couldn’t top that. It was an easy ride, an 11 hour journey but smooth and comfortable and we still arrived home in daylight.

Just one more photo. DalĂ­ woke up to see the sunrise from his bed, this is the view from mine. It’s good to be back.

 

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Numero Uno!

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Amazon best sellerJean Roberts new best selling author These have been the most manic 12 days that I have had in a long long time and I am absolutely buzzing! On the Friday the advance copies of my book arrived and on the same day Findley was offered a place at his first choice university. Time for a double celebration, and boy we celebrated well! By Sunday the paperback was on sale  and on Monday the ebook was on pre-release with sales of both shooting straight to the number 1 spot on Amazon.  Since then it has stayed at the top and has sold in places as far flung as Australia, America, Namibia, Germany, and Spain, and has gathered some stonkingly good reviews. I have been overwhelmed at the response and am very very happy. Who would have thought anyone would have been interested in my life!

 

 

 

Number 1 in Amazon!

 

My lovely family, concerned that Findley’s success had overshadowed my book release, decided that I needed a celebration that was my own and threw me a surprise party this Sunday so it’s been a week of eating, drinking, interspersed with a load of book promotion and late night messages to and from my editor who is currently trekking her way around the Far East. Yesterday I took a day out. Feeling the need to ground myself for a while I took myself off for a nice relaxing visit to my brother who I haven’t seen for a few months.

Back to normal now and working on book 2.

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Baby it’s cold outside!

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When it’s cold and miserable Our good friends.outside sometimes all you need to bring back the sunshine are good friends, good food, and a few good laughs. Lunch yesterday in our favourite local restaurant with our favourite local people.

We are back in Spain and to say it’s a bit nippy is an understatement but the sun is bright and we manage to find a few warm corners. The journey here was a bit of a nightmare. Just out of Santander we picked up rain, then sleet, and then snow. At one point it was a total whiteout and we followed the snowplough for about half an hour. I have to say, it’s impressive the way Spain deals with bad weather. Snowploughs line the motorways and are out clearing the roads at the first sign of a snowflake. The traffic keeps moving. We just take it easy and occasionally even a Spanish driver slows down.

Because of the weather we didn’t arrive until 3am but as we opened the big gates and pulled into the drive the cats came running towards us clearly excited that the feeding station was about to be open for business again. I’m completely convinced that cats have a 6th sense. We look after a bunch of strays while we are here but we’ve been away a couple of months and expected them to have forgotten us and disappeared however as we stepped out of the car we were surrounded by a clowder of kitties and had to manoeuvre an obstacle course to get into the house! Don’t they know they were meant to be asleep? We could barely keep our eyes open.

 

Excited cats. Hungry cats.

In the morning there was no chance of a lay in as we were woken by mewing, meowing, and howling as they called for their breakfast.

 

It’s good to be back. Mother nature has been kind while we’ve been away. All the moggies are plump and healthy as are the oranges and lemons on our trees. The fruits are sweet and so full of juice that their weight is bending the branches of the trees until they touch the ground. We have lemons as big as footballs, more O.J. than you could shake a stick at, and the olives are fat and ripe for the picking. It’s going to be a good harvest.

Now thats a lemon! Oranges weighing down the tree branches.

A few G&Ts in there, or how about a Bucks Fizz anyone?

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Happy New Year!

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Happy New Year everyone!

My first blog of 2019.

“Dear January, December has been very kind to me so you have been put on the back-burner for a little while. I promise to make it up to you.”

December started well. We had just returned from Spain and almost immediately set off again, this time in the opposite direction to Germany. It was Christmas market time and the start of our regular trips with Chrystal and Charlie. The first to Aachen (by Eurostar) and the second to Nuremberg. The train journey was fun and made a nice change from the stress of our usual budget airline. Picnic on the train, a bottle of bubbly. Very nice.

Aachen was very good but we didn’t get to see the market. Chrystal and I went shop shopping on the Saturday and then found the next day was the first Sunday in Advent and the market was closed. We’ve been in Germany before at Advent and the markets have always been open so this was unexpected. A bit of a disappointment but we more than made up for it in Nuremberg.

Arrival in Nuremberg and nicely tucked up in our comfy hotel we were excited to find all our favourites just a few steps away. Galeria and Bar Fusser opposite which meant saving lots of leg miles as we were backwards and forwards with shopping and didn’t have far to stagger after dinner. Despite this we still walked our feet off exploring bright and sparkly shops and even brighter and more sparkly markets. Colourful stalls designed Alpine style jostled side by side wafting out wonderful Christmassy smells, food stalls selling mouthwatering bratwurst, lebkuchen, and gingerbread, the heady smell of the gluhwein (mulled wine) everywhere, and all around people wrapped up warm against the winter weather drinking Christmas out of china boots. Under the cathedral a choir sang Christmas songs on a stage that had been erected for the occassion and above the Christkind with her golden robes, the traditional giver of gifts, looked down.  Wonderfully exciting!

 

Happy bread seller.
Happy bread seller
Meet the family.
Meet the family
Santa gets everywhere.
He gets everywhere

 

 

Nuremberg's famous prune people.
Nuremberg’s famous prune people
The Christkind.
The Christkind
Bright bauble stall.
Bright bauble stall. We bought Michael a penguin

 

 

Plenty of beer.
Just a small one then Adrian

We had a day to spare so Charlie suggested that we went to Rothenberg ob der Tauber. Oh my! What an experience that was. Firstly we went on a double decker train – upstairs of course (what children we are!) – and then travelled through fairytale forests with mysterious tracks disappearing into them before arriving at what must be the prettiest town in all of Germany. Most of it is medieval with cobbled streets, towers and turrets, and narrow windy lanes with houses placed haphazardly going off in all directions. Storks nests perched higher up on tall buildings adding to the overall atmosphere and appearance of the town. Walking through the fortifications into the town is like stepping back in time several centuries. On the corner of the town square is a huge Kathe Wolfart shop, a Christmas shop and museum that is open all year round. The enormous nutcracker standing outside inviting passers by into a treasure trove. The town is magical. It rained all day, that horrid fine rain that soaks miserably through everything, but nothing, absolutely nothing, could take away the beauty of this place or our enjoyment of it. We need to go back. In summer.

 

 

A rainy day in Rothenberg.
A rainy day in Rothenberg.
Story book architecture in Rothenberg.
Story book architecture in Rothenberg.
Rothenberg christmas market.
Rothenberg Christmas market.

 

 

 

Santa shopping.
Where the magic happens, – we caught Santa shopping.
Its christmas at the market. christmas nutcracker soldier

 

I do love our trips to Germany. They are exciting and fun and just good family time that get the run up to Christmas off to a good start. My favourite time of year. The house is warm, it is filled with the lovely inviting smells of pine, cinnamon, warm apples and baking, and there is a lovely buzz in the air.

Our Christmas tree in Essex.

 

 

 

Since the New Year there has been a lot of excitement in the Roberts household as the word from the publisher is that my first book is due to be released in March. Just 2 months away! The cover is decided, formatting done, and everything is on schedule for launching onto an unsuspecting public. Are you ready for this? Watch this space – I’ll keep you posted.

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A stomping good time

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 We have been on our travels again. We were going back to Spain to have the house re-rendered and repainted and just as we were about to leave we received an invitation from Bodegas Lecea in San Asensio in the Rioja region to an end of season grape stomping party. Who are we to refuse an invitastion like that? Also, the date of the party was 2 days before our ferry home so it was a perfect opportunity to catch up with José Camára who we had met in May this year just as he was about to open his own winery. Bodegas Lecea in San Asensio in the Rioja region.
Preparing a tasty snack.
Outside Bodegas Lecea tents and stalls had been erected selling food and locally made goods, a cross between a hippie fair and a German Christmas market. We picked up our engraved glasses and tickets for 4 glasses of wine each and had a wander around. Adrian eating a tasty snack. Food or wine? Dilemna.
Treading grapes.
A few wines, a bit of shopping and then onto the grape stomping. This was a on a much grander scale than our big red bucket but just as messy and as much fun. The grapes were piled in a huge cement vat and while we ‘trod’ from above some poor guy shovelled the vines below continually stacking and piling them back up on top. As the juice squished between our toes  the stomping was messy and sticky on our legs we were having so much fun, but spare a thought for the poor man beneath us, he was getting covered all over!
In the grape treading pit.
Thank you Lecea, you put on a good show. It was a fantastic day.

 

 

The following day we met up with José  in his new winery Bodega Del Tesoro in Cuzcurrita del Rio Tiron. As we drove into Cuzcurrita all we saw were what looked like really small, really old, run down houses. We drove past several times before we realised that these were the entrance to the winery. These places really are unique. The house fronts disguised the entrance to caves and cellars. Inside they were huge! When José bought his winery it was derelict and in just a few months he has made a miraculous transformation. It is amazing inside and his wine is absolutely first class.

cellar at Bodega Del Tesoro. Bodega Del Tesoro in Cuzcurrita del Rio Tiron.  José who owns Bodega Del Tesoro

JosĂ© had just bought another winery next door which he plans to turn into a wine bar. It looks like we’ll be coming back. Good luck JosĂ©, you really have created something very special.

 

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The Grape Harvest

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Thanks to the heavy rains this winter we have had an absolute glut of fruit. We’ve given loads away, frozen heaps, eaten tons, but there’s only so many figs a body can eat, right?  We had got to the stage when friends would run when they saw us coming with a carrier bag so we decided that we would have to try something different or they (the fruit, not the friends) would all have to go on the compost. So, after air and oven drying pears, making fig jam and chutney, and eating them in various forms of yogurt,  I scoured the internet, begged recipes from friends, and set about making our own hooch. I made 2 types of pear vodka (one spicy, one sweet), preserved figs in brandy, and then cast a beady eye towards the grape vine.

 

Harvesting our grapes.

 

For the first time ever our grape vine was struggling under the weight of fat, succulent, pendulous clusters of juicy sweet black grapes. It was crying ‘help me!’ every time we passed by. So, buoyed up with the knowledge gained from our trip to the Rioja region earlier this year we decided to have a go at making our own wine.

 

 

Grapes picked.

 

 

We bought a big red bucket and set out early before the sun got too hot chopping off the ones in the camino before setting about the garden. We filled a 25 litre bucket!

 

 

 

Within minutes it was wheelbarrowed into the house to be trod. Yes! a bare footed stomp to extract every ounce of juicy sweetness. My mum would have had so much fun with this. I was chuckling at the memory of her laughing as the grape skins squelched between my toes and I sank lower and lower into the bucket. It was as much fun as you thought it would be mum.

Jean Roberts treading our grapes.

Right now it’s fizzing and popping away in the bucket and smelling absolutely wonderful! I wonder if the family will be brave enough to try it at Christmas.

Watch this space.

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Hello – it’s me :)

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First attempt at blogging about our life here in Spain.

This is my first attempt at blogging. I’m very new to this so please be patient with me for any mistakes, mishaps, or general ditziness.

Let me tell you a little about myself. I am married to Adrian, have 2 daughters (with spouses), and 3 grandchildren who fill my life with love and laughter. Somewhere along the line we made the crazy decision to buy a wreck of a house in Andalucia and so now we flit between our permanent home in the UK and our happy place amongst the olive groves of Southern Spain. I am in love with both places. Spain, the country, her people, the culture, art, food, and wine hold on tight to a huge chunk of my heart. I absolutely adore Spain. Other things I like? Well, I love travel, cats, foxes, Christmas, snug winter evenings by a roaring fire, and family time. Adrian will tell you that above all I like swearing at the computer when I get things wrong (which I frequently do.) That’s me in a nutshell. Oh, and I write.

This has been an exciting week. On Monday we had a few friends over and it turned into an impromptu party. Isn’t it amazing how spur of the moment things turn out to be the most fun? We had a great time, and then on Wednesday I was offered a formal contract to publish my first 2 books. Excitement doesn’t begin to cover it.

We’ve not had time to sit and reflect properly on what it all means as we’ve been busy with builders all week. We now have hot running water in the caseta, a toilet that functions without our feet needing to be in the shower, and a monstrous structure on our roof! It’s all good.

I will be blogging about our life here in Spain, our travels, food, lifestyle, and sharing adventures as they happen. I hope that some of our travels may inspire others to make similar journeys. Life should be fun, don’t take it too seriously.

Thanks for dropping by, please call in again soon.

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