Winter drawers on!

The Spanish meteorological office AEMET is forecasting strong winds, low temperatures, and snow for Mallorca over the coming days, for areas as low as 300 metres above sea level. That means that even parts of the capital Palma could see some of the white stuff. Apparently Mallorca is suffering the coldest January since 2005; we remember that one well (and not with fondness): it was our first winter here – and we had a leaky roof without insulation and no central heating.

On many winter days the temperature is comfortable enough to have our coffee and/or lunch outdoors on our most-sheltered terrace, basking in the warmth (sometimes even heat) of the winter sunshine. Our cats also like to feel the sun’s rays and take advantage of any warm places to snooze. Best not tell them what’s in store for the coming days.

Snoozing cats

Room for three cats only in this particular sunny spot

The Boss has just returned from the wood supplier we use in Porreres with a fresh load of logs for the woodburner, so we’re well prepared on the heating front. And we’ve just received a goodie-packed food parcel from our lovely Oxfordshire friends Kristina and Duncan – who visit us every year from the UK.

Fortnum & Mason goodies

Fortnum & Mason comes to rural Mallorca

No, they weren’t expecting us to be snowed in and unable to go out and buy any food; our box of Fortnum & Mason gourmet treats was their generous Christmas gift, which was somehow delayed in transit. If, by any chance, we do become snowed in, we won’t be going hungry…

©Jan Edwards 2017

Advertisements

Season of mellow fruitfulness on Mallorca

Autumn arrived very suddenly this year on Mallorca. On the day the season officially changed, it was as though someone had flicked a switch and disconnected summer. It was off with the shorts and on with the jeans. We’re not really complaining because autumn has so far brought a decent amount of rainfall – something desperately needed on the island.

Within a few days of rain falling (at times, hammering down), our garden was re-invigorated: plants that had seemed on the verge of death perked up and sprouted new growth, autumn crocus popped up around the base of the birdbath, and flowers have bloomed again. What had recently been a parched rock-solid patch of garden is now lush with the dreaded heart-shaped weeds that return every year. After more than a decade of painstakingly digging them out individually, with a view to killing them off forever, I raise my hands in defeat, flying a white hanky on the handle of the garden trowel: “Enough!” The weeds are green. It’s the colour of a garden.

Not quite winter, not quite spring

This time of year is called ‘winter-spring’ by the locals and there are clear similarities to the official springtime. New growth, plenty of lambs frolicking around in the fields, and chirpy birdsong surround us. The big difference is that winter, rather than the warmer summer months, is to follow. The Boss is already making preparations to ensure we’ll be warm and draught free indoors.

dsc_1686

dsc_1687

The damp weather also brings mushrooms and toadstools. We find plenty on our land but, being nervous about identification of these various fungi, wouldn’t dream of eating any. But don’t they make great subjects for photos …

 

 

 

 

Shady experiences in rural Mallorca – part 2

Parasol or gazebo? We needed some shade from the sun on our rural Mallorcan finca terraces, but the parasols we’d had in the past hadn’t proved man enough to withstand the odd tornado or unexpected strong gusts that occasionally rip through our valley.

Finca Son Jorbo

Pretty gazebo on the terrace of Finca Jorbo’s Rosa apartment.

Gazebo then. We saw quite a few variations on the gazebo theme. Some were very attractive – like this one at Finca Son Jorbo in Porreres, where we recently stayed for a night’s B&B (much-needed respite after visitors). But none looked as though they’d survive on any of our exposed terraces.

The sunshade solution for us

In 2011, we found just the thing in Palma’s Leroy Merlin, one of those large out-of-town stores that we’re not that keen on, but sometimes resort to when all else local fails. Although the store didn’t have anything sturdy on display or in stock, by chance we spotted just the thing in a Leroy Merlin catalogue that was on display. It was billed as a Pergola Tenerife and had to be bolted to the ground. Well, that had to be strong, didn’t it?

We ordered our first one (for our small back terrace, most battered by the wind) and waited for Leroy Merlin to order and deliver it. It arrived in two huge packages: one for the framework, the other containing the actual canopy part. Did I mention how heavy the frame was? Being early in the season (we were planning ahead for the summer), there were no strong part-time neighbours around in their holiday homes to lend The Boss a hand. I ate a huge plate of spinach for breakfast, flexed my biceps, and went to his aid.

Erecting the thing was an interesting experience. Once The Boss had bolted the two side columns onto the terrace tiles, the heavy top bar had to be hoisted up and fixed across the top of them. Ladders (wobbly, one at each end), language (fruity), and luck (we didn’t drop it) were all part of the process. It was hard work, but worth it. So much so, we bought another one for the front terrace the following year and put ourselves through the whole process again.

The winds won …

Although the metal frame has (so far) proved invincible, the fabric coverings themselves had become very tatty by the end of last year; yes, the strong winds again. This spring we found a local company to make some stronger (we hope) replacement toldos. It took weeks to get a quote for the work and several more for the new ones to be manufactured and installed, but they finally arrived … after our first two lots of visitors had been and gone home again.

Installing the new covers

Installing the new covers

It’s been 35 degrees in the shade today. Phew. Perhaps what we should have bought was one of those canopies (seen on a few cafe terraces) incorporating a system that regularly squirts a fine cool mist over those beneath it. Having spent a small fortune on two new toldos, we’ll have to be satisfied with a session with the garden hose …

Terrace pergola

Shade at last …

 

 

 

How to drive on Mallorca’s off-the-beaten-track country lanes …

In a word, slowly. Living, as we do, a couple of kilometres down a country lane from a main(ish) road, we have become accustomed to the potential hazards of driving in rural Mallorca. It must be said – with the greatest of respect to Mallorcan drivers – that anticipation of the possible dangers that lurk, for users of country lanes, is sometimes lacking.

Road surfaces on Mallorca are generally very good. It was something we – and our visitors from England – often commented on in our early days of living on the island; even though our lane, at the time, was just a string of potholes linked together with bits of ancient asphalt. But even with a good road surface, driving in the country can present some challenges – particularly in lanes that are too narrow for cars to pass each other easily when travelling in opposite directions. Once, a neighbour’s son (a budding Fernando Alonso) missed our car by just a few centimetres because he’d been driving too fast from the opposite direction.

Here are some other things to watch out for on Mallorca’s roads:

Cyclists

Cyclists love Mallorca's rural lanes.

Cyclists love Mallorca’s rural lanes.

Mallorca is a magnet for keen cyclists and, during these cooler months of the year, many professional and amateur club cycling teams come here to take advantage of some excellent cycling conditions. If you’re driving, there’s every chance that you’ll find yourself crawling behind a Lycra-clad  peloton.  Or facing an oncoming one in a narrow country lane. Given the speed these bikes can travel, it doesn’t pay to be driving too fast.

The rabbit and the tortoise 

Our valley was full of rabbits when we first moved here and, what with the potholes and Bugs Bunny’s numerous friends, driving down our lane (particularly after dark) sometimes called for lightning reactions. The buck-toothed population has diminished in recent years (myxomatosis contributed to this), but rabbits do still suddenly shoot out onto the tarmac from the verges. As do their larger cousins, hares.

The Mediterranean tortoise is another creature you could encounter on your travels. They will often just retreat inside their shells when a vehicle approaches, so careful driving is needed to avoid squashing them.

Stone curlews

These rather inelegant birds give out a distinctive cry and we regularly hear their spooky shrieks at night as they fly over. After dark they also have a tendency just to stand around. Sometimes, even in the middle of the road. On one occasion, we had to brake hard to avoid hitting one that we’d been sure would take off as we approached. It just stood there looking defiantly at us until one of us got out of the car and approached it on foot.

Polyester-clad bottoms 

After a period of decent rain, there’s yet another potential hazard. Mallorcan country folk (often women; often wearing polyester pinafores) wander along the sides of the lanes, bent double and collecting the snails that have been lured out by the damp conditions.  Watch out for foragers – for snails and, in season, wild asparagus – particularly as you drive around bends, as they may not be visible below the level of the stone walls. Seemingly abandoned unfamiliar vans or small cars along a country lane may be an early warning sign of foragers who have driven out from a town or village for some of nature’s bounty.

Sheep

Beware of sheep (and goats) jumping from the tops of stone walls.

Beware of sheep (and goats) jumping from the tops of stone walls.

 

"Mum, wait for us!"

“Mum, wait for us!”

 

Sheep have a tendency to escape, because of their remarkable aptitude for climbing over dry stone walls. These woolly Houdinis can be a real danger if you come across them while driving too fast. And, take it from me, it’s almost impossible to shoo them back to where they came from. Another possibility is that you’ll encounter a shepherd moving his entire flock from one field along the lane to another field. There is no hurrying these beasts.

Horses

Horses came before cars ...

Horses came before cars …

In our valley we often see individual riders and also groups of people out with their horses. Occasionally you see a trotting horse – complete with trotting carriage – out for some exercise.

Random hazards

The above are all commonplace. Some of the more unusual hazards we’ve seen in our lanes have included a team of brightly dressed speed skaters (speed skating up the hill, no less), two donkeys that had escaped from their field and gone walkabout, and a couple of piglets that escaped from the truck transporting them from a nearby farm to their unfortunate destiny. Oh, how we cheered those two little pigs on in their Great Escape attempt … which sadly failed.

Motoring on Mallorca can be a really pleasurable experience: traffic is a lot lighter than in the UK, for example, and the island’s scenery and distant views are beautiful. But don’t spend too long gazing at the views if you’re driving … you  never know what may be ahead!

Jan Edwards ©2016

Almond blossom time on Mallorca

The Boss and I have just come indoors after having lunch on our rural Mallorca home’s small front terrace. It’s something we’ve been able to do more than is usual for January, as the weather has been surprisingly warm and sunny for the time of year.

Today’s home-made guacamole (from creamy avocados grown on Mallorca) served with a medley of crisp raw veggies (sounds like I swallowed a recipe description here!) was more the type of dish we’d eat in spring or summer; it was too warm today for home-made soup or a steaming jacket potato fresh from our Jotul log-burning stove.

This winter is proving to be like none that we have experienced since we moved to Mallorca in April 2004. Back then we started to record temperatures and weather conditions in a new five-year diary. It’s been interesting to look back occasionally at what we experienced in those early years:

January 26th, 2005: High 6 degrees C. Low of zero degrees.  “Woke to a covering of snow.”

And the same date in subsequent years, highs and lows as follows:

2006 – 11/4 degs C; 2007 – 12/6 degs C; 2008 – 13/6 degs C.

Today our outdoor thermometer (which stands in a shaded position) has registered 18 degs C.  And our rural part of Mallorca is often a few degrees cooler than, say, Palma de Mallorca, the island’s capital. We’ve had quite a few similar temperatures since winter officially began – and only a couple of short cold snaps.

The downside to the unusual amount of warm sunshine and blue skies is the lack of rain. Farmers are having a tough time with their crops and, this week, the Balearic government has announced measures to help the agricultural community during this time of drought. Other sectors are also being affected by the unseasonable weather: yesterday I heard of a heating company that has done hardly any business so far this winter.

Mallorca’s dry warm winter has both good and bad sides, but one positive has been the early blossoming of the almond trees across the island. This beautiful, delicately scented blossom never fails to make me smile in the winter months – whatever the weather.

Almond blossom Majorca

Captured on camera today.

Majorca blossom

Almond blossom from 2014 – when the sky wasn’t quite as blue as today’s!

 

If you’re on Mallorca in early February, it would be a pity to miss the Fira de la Flor d’Ametler (the almond blossom fair), which takes place in the town of Son Servera on Sunday, February 7th, 2016.

 

Keeping dry in rural Mallorca

Bathers in Med

Spotted at Cala Ratjada on November 15th 2015.

Mallorca is enjoying some exceptional autumn weather this year: daytime temperatures peaking in the low 20s; blue skies, and very warm sunshine. This is what the locals call the veranillo de San Martín or, as we’d call it, an Indian summer. It looks as though it’s set to continue for the rest of November at least, which means we may save some money on logs for the fire this year.

But despite the warmth and sunshine, we are still experiencing the early morning mists and fog that are typical at this time of year. Very often the sea mists are below our finca, moving through the valley and creating an ethereal beauty that begs to be captured on camera. Sometimes the mist moves around our house, the swirling droplets visible in the air and settling on the coats of the cats who have adopted the finca as their favourite restaurant and hotel.

Fighting the damp 

It all adds up to a damp environment, of course. In our first autumn here I had to throw away several pairs of shoes that had grown furry in the damp conditions. It really was uncomfortable before we had electricity – especially as the gas heaters we were using to warm the house were increasing the dampness in the atmosphere. Once we had an electricity supply, we purchased a portable dehumidifier – and still sing its praises every year throughout the ‘soggy season’.

Portable dehumidifier

Our essential finca friend.

The damp situation inside the house did improve dramatically once we’d had a new roof and a chunky layer of insulation added, but our living room still suffers until we start to have regular log fires. It gets no sunshine at this time of the year, and the north-facing wall at the end of the room is built from concrete blocks, rather than stone.

And recycle . . .

With ample sunshine recently we’ve been running the dehumidifier every morning for a couple of hours. It makes a real difference to the comfort level in the room. And because we have had very little rain for some time, the extracted water that accumulates in the dehumidifier’s tank is proving useful in the garden; we do love a bit of recycling . . .

 

Since I drafted this on Sunday (after enjoying a tapas lunch by the sea), the forecast is for the warm spell to end within a few days. This weekend, from Sunday, we shall see wind, rain, and daytime highs of around 13 degrees Celsius. It’ll be a shock to the system after such a warm and sunny two-thirds of the autumn . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Solar panels get their summer spruce-up

We’re great fans of our solar-powered electricity system. We can run our air conditioning all day without worrying about the next GESA electricity bill – although, of course, such a system does require a fairly hefty investment up-front, so it’s not (as some people suggest) really free power.

During the summer the system trundles along without too much input from us – correction, The Boss. Sure, he still disappears down to the dependencia (the building where batteries, invertor, and back-up generator are stored) every Monday, just to make sure there are no red warning lights flashing anywhere.

Hose at the ready

But during a long hot, extremely dry, and dusty summer, the solar panels do appreciate a little bit of TLC. Which is where The Boss, a ladder, a mop and bucket, and a hose come into play. This morning – just after 7am – he was up a ladder cleaning several months’ of dust and dirt off the panels, first mopping them with soapy water, then hosing off the suds. They’re gleaming clean now and probably soaking up lots more rays as a result.

If anything’s going to bring on the long-overdue and much-needed rain, this morning’s clean-up  should do it. Umbrellas at the ready, Mallorca?

A summer wash for our solar panels. Note the presence of Pip - always ready to assist.

A summer wash for our solar panels. Note the presence of Pip – always ready to assist.