May your New Year’s Eve grapes be seedless . . .

A native Mallorcan grape variety, Callet is for wine - not for New Year's Eve. Buy small, sweet and seedless grapes for easier gulping!

A native Mallorcan grape variety, Callet is for wine – not for New Year’s Eve. Buy small, sweet and seedless grapes for easier gulping!

For our first New Year’s Eve after moving to rural Mallorca (2004) we decided to do something we hadn’t ever done in the UK: go to the capital to see in the New Year. We booked ourselves into a very reasonable small hotel in Palma (Hotel Cannes – alas, no longer open) and took the train into the city from Manacor.  The country folk were heading for A Big Night Out in the City!

Much to our surprise, the return journey was free of charge – although the ticket man on the train insisted on giving everyone a ‘free’ single journey ticket.  At the time, there were no automated barriers in either station, so this seemed slightly quirky; we wondered how much it had cost to have these special tickets printed . . .

Whining about dining

We planned to eat out and then go to Plaza Cort, in the centre of Palma, where there’s a real party atmosphere on New Year’s Eve – with live music, plenty of revelry, and these days the presence of the Balearics’ TV station IB3. To our surprise, we found that most restaurants in Palma were closed, and after trudging the streets – stomachs rumbling – we finally found an Italian restaurant with one free table, which we commandeered without even looking at the menu. We were desperate – having been on the verge of gobbling down the 24 grapes we’d brought with us for the Spanish tradition of downing one grape each time the clock chimes at midnight.

The food wasn’t memorable, but we went on to have a great night in Plaza Cort, dancing to a lively band. It was 2.40am when we finally returned to our hotel to catch some sleep before our return train journey home.

Showtime! 

The journey was a long one: the train was packed (with free travel, no surprise), and stopped at every station and, unusually, there was music playing throughout the carriages. After a late night and a few glasses of cava, the driver’s selection (we imagined this was his privilege for working on New Year’s Day) of rousing show tunes made sure that we didn’t fall asleep during the journey. We couldn’t complain though: our journey again cost us nothing and we had another ‘free’ ticket to show for it.

When in Rome . . . 

The next year we decided to check out the celebrations closer to home, among the locals.  At 11pm we went into Manacor with the aim of having a drink in one of the numerous bars, before assembling at the church with the throngs of locals. It would have been a great plan if all the bars hadn’t been closed. We thought of past New Year’s Eve celebrations in the UK – all somewhat livelier than anything we’d seen – or have seen since – in Mallorca.

As we wandered around the deserted town centre, clutching our bags of grapes, we remembered friends telling us that New Year’s Eve is usually a family celebration for Mallorcans, taking place over a special meal at home (hence, many restaurants are closed for the night).  Finally, at 11.45pm the bar next to the church opened its doors: we bought ourselves a drink and watched as, slowly, groups of people began to assemble outside the church, where a band had set up their instruments on a wooden stage and was in the process of tuning up.

Our grapes at the ready, we joined the crowd outside and duly welcomed in the New Year. After the church bells had rung and we’d gobbled down our grapes, the band struck up and we joined in the dancing. But by 12.20am most people had wandered off home, leaving a not very large group of young hardcore partygoers still throwing shapes to the music. We ambled off to our car, making our first New Year’s Resolution: Do something different for the next New Year’s Eve!

Of course, this time of year is not all about partying. It’s a time to share with loved ones, to reflect on the year behind you, and make plans for the one ahead. However you spend your New Year’s Eve, enjoy it, and may 2013 be a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year for you and, if you’re a blogger, a successful one.

Molts d’anys – as they say in these parts.

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Blue sky thinking . . .

IMG_2460[1]

Following a few requests from friends who are missing their holiday homes in Mallorca, here’s a reminder of what blue skies and sunshine look like!  (Had I taken this picture yesterday morning, it would have reminded you of England: foggy, wet, grey and windy).

One of my early morning duties (once our tribe of adopted cats has wrested their food bowls from our hands) is to record the temperatures. We’ve been doing this ever since we moved here and although some recordings have been missed (there was that unfortunate incident with our previous thermometer), we have a fair picture of weather patterns on Mallorca.

December has been a fairly good month, and having retrieved the calculator from the depths of the desk drawer, I’ve worked out the following averages so far this month:

Daytime 15.1 Celsius

Overnight 7.6 Celsius

The heavy-duty duvet has not yet been commissioned this winter, but it’s surely just a matter of time. In 2012 we had the coldest and snowiest February for 50 years.  We won’t be sorry if February 2013 is warmer – even if it does mean that my Ugg earmuffs won’t get a tour of duty.

Merry Christmas from rural Mallorca

IMG_2430[1]Christmas is always a time for reflection and we’ve been reflecting on our first festive season here at our finca in rural Mallorca. Things have changed a lot since that first Christmas, in 2004.

Then, we’d only had our solar powered electricity system for a couple of weeks, which mean that  the kitchen we’d had installed was finally fit for purpose, and we were looking forward to an enjoyable Christmas dinner – our first in our Mallorcan home. Our last, in England, had been the saddest one of my life, and I was determined to make this one special.

Talking turkey

We’d ordered our turkey from one of the butcher’s stalls in Manacor market, and been served by a man who’d found our request for a whole turkey surprising. He told us that Mallorcans don’t generally roast a whole bird, and prefer to buy poultry jointed. We agreed the weight of the – whole – bird we wanted, and a collection date, thanked him, and turned to leave.  Our man on the meat counter had one final question for us, delivered in deadpan fashion and in Spanish: “Do you want it dead or alive?”

We had to laugh, because we’d recently heard a story of some expats who’d won a turkey in a raffle and, when it was delivered to their home, it was still very much alive!

Talk talk

Christmas Day duly arrived and the centrepiece of our traditional British festive feast was prepared and put into the oven to cook. While this was happening, we’d be contacting loved ones back in England to wish them a Happy Christmas. The only problem was that we didn’t have a telephone in the house (not, however, for the want of trying), so we had to use a mobile phone. And to compound the difficulty, there was only one place where we could get a mobile signal, and that meant standing on a wall.

We took it in turns to perch aloft, using the phone, while the other provided a useful leaning post in case of any wall-top wobbles. It being our first Christmas away from our families and friends, The Boss and I each spoke for quite some time, and it was probably an hour later when we finally went indoors to check on the turkey.

Fill ‘er up

No delicious aromas greeted us from the kitchen: the oven had gone out and, judging by the cold  door, it had probably done so shortly after we went outside to make our phone calls. The butano gas bottle was empty. So Christmas dinner that year was rather late – but we had a good laugh about it.

And every Christmas morning since then, we’ve made sure that we’ve changed the oven’s gas bottle for a full one – just in case.

Merry Christmas!

Five go with us into the winter: part 4: two small home comforts

Chilly damp winter days (and nights) in Mallorca – yes, we do have them – are made bearable with the help of five Important Things. In my most recent posts, three of these have been revealed: our generator, dehumidifier, and the woodburning stove.

And so to the final two items:  Firstly, there’s the electric slow-cooker. Mine is quite old now, but works a treat – without using much electricity (an important consideration when using solar power). Not only can I produce delicious casseroles that have been burbling happily all day, I can also warm my hands on it if my fingers get too cold to type properly!

March 2010  -  colder than usual!

March 2010 – colder than usual!

Warm hands and feet

And, finally, there’s the electric underblanket. Our first winter visit to the finca, before we’d moved to Mallorca, was a week’s ‘holiday’ to do some decorating. Fortunately, the previous owners had left us a double bed in the property (with mattress), so we had something to sleep on. After months of being closed up,  the house – and the mattress – were both very damp, which made for a very unpleasant first night’s sleep. The next day we went to town and bought a new mattress and some hot water bottles. I’d never felt so cold . . .

Once we had electricity, we bought ourselves an electric underblanket. How does anyone manage without one here? If the generator, dehumidifier, logburner and slow-cooker were all to fail, you’d know where to find me. In bed, warm and cosy – hibernating until the worst of the cold weather had passed.

Five go with us into the winter – part 3: the logburner

Not such a blast from the past - our old almond-shell-burning stove

Not such a blast from the past – our old almond-shell-burning stove

When we moved into our finca in Mallorca there was a traditional metal open fireplace in the sitting room. We’d been looking forward to cosy winters in front of a log fire, roasting chestnuts, as we enjoyed a glass or two of one of the delicious Son Sureda Ric (www.sonsuredaric.com) wines, produced in our region of Mallorca.

We had a small supply of logs delivered and lit our first fire with great excitement, but it wasn’t long before we had to open all the doors and windows because of the smoke billowing around the room. Somewhat counterproductive when you’re lighting a fire to keep warm!

The Boss soon got to grips with the fireplace, but meeting its demand for logs became difficult. Because it was an open fire – and our home is exposed to the north winds that often whip up the valley – the wood burned very quickly and little heat seemed to come into the room.

Norwegian Good

So we invested in a Norwegian Jotul woodburner, which has filled our winters with warmth and pleasure – and is one of the best things about winter in Mallorca. It’s very economical with logs and, even better, will burn slowly 24/7 if we want it to. Not only does it give us heat, I often cook jacket potatoes inside it, and make soup that sits in a large pan on top of the stove, slowly cooking through the morning so that it’s ready for lunch. Oh, and it makes a useful plate-warmer too!

One of the things left behind in our finca by the previous owners was a Hergóm stove. It no longer worked, having at some stage had its stovepipe removed, but at one time it would have been used to burn almond shells – a handy fuel on an island with so many almond trees. I’ve tried to persuade The Boss that we should recommission it and install it in the bathroom, but to no avail.

However, I gave the old stove a bit of a spruce-up and it’s become a purely decorative feature in our home – a rustic reminder of how homes like this would once have been heated. Except that on one of our visits to Leroy Merlin – a DIY store on the outskirts of Palma – we saw one of these stoves for sale. It looked exactly the same as ours at home, and had a price tag of 300 euros. So much for nostalgia . . .

Five go with us into the winter – part 2: A dehumidifier – a Mallorca essential

Our first winter in Mallorca was . . . challenging. It wasn’t until the week before Christmas that we finally had electricity in our rural finca (after eight months without being able to plug in anything electrical). Although we had a traditional Mallorcan metal fireplace in our sitting room, its heat failed to reach the rest of the house (and most of the sitting room, actually).

We had to resort to using the butano-powered heaters kindly left for us by the previous owners, if we wanted additional heat. And we did. Back in the UK, we’d been used to a centrally heated cottage, with an inglenook fireplace and, hombre, did we miss those warm radiators!

Water, water, everywhere

The problem with heaters using butane gas is that they give off a lot of moisture – far more than you’d ever suspect (I did once read some alarming statistics about this but can’t now find them). It was only after we’d been using the heaters for a while that we became aware of a general dampness around the house. We decided to buy a dehumidifier.

Back in the UK, we’d once had a radiator burst upstairs while we were both out at work. I returned home to find the house full of steam, the kitchen ceiling hanging down and water everywhere downstairs. We hired an industrial-strength dehumidifier for a week or two to help dry the place out. No way did I want to live again with something that noisy or large.

A sucker for comfort

Much to our surprise, every electrical retailer in town seemed to sell dehumidifiers; we’ve since realised that they are a winter essential.

Even though we’ve long stopped using butane heaters in our home, there is still good reason to use the dehumidifer every winter day when there is enough sunshine to fuel our solar power system (ie, when we have free energy).  Moisture from using the shower, cooking, and from the generally damp winter climate is all worth removing, for a warmer and drier feel indoors. I am often amazed at the amount of water that the dehumidifier sucks out from the atmosphere, even with regular use.

A five-star solution

I recently attended a press lunch at a luxury boutique hotel in the mountains, which coincided with my weekly radio broadcast about what’s on in Mallorca. The hotel manager kindly allowed me to use their best suite – and it was rather fabulous and pleasantly warm – for the 10-minute phone link to the radio station on the mainland.

One of the best pieces of equipment we've bought for our finca in Mallorca

One of the best pieces of equipment we’ve bought for our finca in Mallorca

As I waited for the phone call, I had a little look around and, to my surprise, found a dehumidifer (the same model as ours) in the corner of the lounge area. And it was almost full of water. Even luxury hotels and homes can fall victim to damp in the Mallorcan winter . . .

Five go with us into the winter – part one

Many people who know Mallorca for its long hot dry summers are surprised to hear that the island can be rather damp and chilly during the winter. Where we live in the countryside, we often wake up to a sea mist in the valley, which cloaks everything in a heavy dew. It does look truly spectacular some mornings, but there is the downside of the resulting dampness.

A misty morning in the valley

A misty morning in the valley

How we laughed (in an ironic fashion), when we read one of the first Christmas cards we received after moving here: “Bet you’ll be having Christmas dinner in your shorts!”.  At the time, we had no electricity and only a butane heater to keep us warm (and increasingly damp).

Winter wonder island

With the benefit of time and experience, we have learnt to enjoy the positive aspects of winter here. Whatever the weather – and it can be very bright and sunny in winter – the island is still naturally beautiful, and there’s no better time to do some serious walking in Mallorca.

But getting through the worst of the weather is made far easier with the help of our five winter essentials – the first of which is:

The generator  

When The Boss said he was buying a Lombardini, I don’t think I was listening properly. I thought he’d said a Lamborghini – and that maybe he’d won the lottery.

Said Lombardini – a beefy red number – is the diesel generator that acts as a back-up to our solar energy system, when there’s not enough sun to fuel it, or our energy requirements demand extra support. For much of the year, it’s little used. In winter, it’s an essential piece of kit.

The generator is cleverly rigged up so that it starts automatically when the battery levels fall below a certain point, then runs for about one hour before switching itself off. There’s also a system that prevents it starting automatically before 9am and stops it at 10pm. We chose these times so as not to disturb others living in the valley – although they all have generators too, so are probably oblivious to the distant low rumbling noise that is a facet of rural life in places like Mallorca.

A switch in time

We can also switch it on and off manually, using a switch within the house – even though the generator itself is housed in a small outbuilding halfway down our field. That’s particularly useful during the times when we want to use electric heaters in the early morning or in the evenings, when there’s no sun on the solar panels – and we don’t fancy going outside in the cold!

Although a Lamborghini would be a lot more exciting, when it comes to functionality, the Lombardini has to be the machine for me. And, unlike the flashy Italian sports car, it only uses one litre of diesel an hour . . .