Thursday, October 30, 2014

Cycling in Asturias: El Fito viewing platform

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Ribadesella with the Sueve Mountains in the background
Cycling in Asturias is a great way to discover this beautiful part of the country although it presents some challenges: being a mountainous region. You need a certain level of fitness to be able to face the challenge that some hills present.

You are never too far from a hill even when you choose the coastal routes.
When you cycle off road, the paths tend to be poorly signed and at times you need to carry your bicycle as some of the paths are not very well maintained.

Mountain biking really applies to off road cycling in Asturias but in spite of the challenges it presents, it is a great activity as you are never too far from magnificent views. Personally I tend to cycle along the roads as they never get busy with traffic and I tend not to get lost as easily.


This particular ride up el Fito viewing platform takes me to the Sueve Mountains which we see in the distance from La Pasera and it is a circular route along the coastal road after leaving behind Ribadesella.

After passing several villages and small towns dotted across beautiful valleys I turn towards the mountains until I see a road sign indicating El Fito viewing platform where main challenge of this route starts, a 600 m ascent over a 4 Km distance along a very windy road used as part of an international car rally and favoured by many car and motorbike drivers.



On this occasion, I came across about 200 motorbikes and the photo opportunity was a good excuse to catch my breath and have a sip of water.

The viewing platform is a very popular tourist attraction because on a clear day it affords incredible views across the valleys with the Picos National Park in the distance and golden sandy beaches below. This viewing platform is within a protected natural space when the semi-wild Asturcon horse can frequently be spotted. Unfortunately, this time they were on higher ground according to one of the farmers I spoke with.


View towards Ribadesella from El Fito viewing platform.
After reaching the top, one of my favourite parts is the free ride you are rewarded with down the rather steep and windy road. The fastest I have managed coming dawn is close to 60 Km per hour. I am sure many will be happy gaining a greater speed but for me, the possibility of a car coming in the opposite direction is a good reason not to come down any faster.

The coastal views with La Isla beach and Lastres town in the background.

The Picos National Park from El Fito
At the end of the free ride the town of Arriondas is a good place to refill the water bottle if needed just before joining the road that runs along the river Sella and after 17 Km you reach Ribadesella and a further 5 Km before reaching La Pasera once more. I often take a few minute's break over one of the few pedestrian bridges over the river where I can enjoy the surrounding scenery and on a warm day wave to the tourists enjoying a day out, doing the river descent by canoe, a popular outdoor activity with those visiting the region and as the weather remains very warm a good way to spend a day close to nature..


The river Sella as it reaches Ribadesella.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Mosaicos La Pasera, an update.

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As a mosaicist and whilst living at La Pasera, I have designed and created numerous decorative pebble mosaics that now adorn paths and a small terrace. My passion for this mosaic genre stems from my love for pebbles and a holiday we once took in the Greek Island of Rhodes where we saw many decorative mosaics been used as pavement. After returning home, Ian got me as a present, a book by Maggy Howarth titled "the art of pebble mosaic". Since then, I have completed a good number of mosaics that decorate our garden and have had several as commissions.


For my latest pebble mosaic of a flower pot made out of small pebbles and terracotta roof tile, I spent several hours selecting the right sized pebbles no grater than 1 cm in diameter. Using these small pebbles, I was able to create small mosaics light enough to be used as a decorative picture hung on a wall,

This little Mosaic (31x22 cm)  was made as a present for a mosaic artist friend of mine who comes from Belgium and whom I recently met when I travelled to Chartres in France to visit several international mosaic exhibitions.
Although I usually I work with natural stones for my Roman style mosaics my last two commissions required me to use smalti (vitreous paste) made by the Orsoni family in Venice following centuries old recipes. This allows me to choose from a wide colour palette. This was the case of my latest commission for a birthday present depicting a lobster.

Using smalti has been an enjoyable challenge that not only required me to learn to use new tools but also required to adapt and use different processes and as a result I am researching several mosaic courses to see which one can suit my needs better specially since I want to learn more about colour use within mosaic art.

XII th century stone carving in one of the porticoes of the Gothic cathedral in Chartres.
I recently returned from Chartres where I attended the opening ceremony of the 10th edition of the internationally renowned mosaic "Prix Picassiette" celebrated on alternating years. During this event, I met many mosaicists and mosaic artists with whom I have been communicating via the Internet and several mosaic art forums I am a member of.

In Chartres I was able to spend time not only admiring the beauty of many works of art but also having an opportunity to study different mosaic techniques specially those used in 3D mosaics as I have in mind several projects for mosaic sculptures that in time I want to create and place around our garden here at La Pasera. You can follow my mosaic work on my dedicated and newly updated blog: Mosaicos La Pasera 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Beans - from plant to plate

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Beans are big here in Asturias, not in a huge way but in usage in all kinds of cookery. One of the traditional dishes is Fabada which is white beans with chorizo, black pudding and fat. Really not our cup of tea but very popular amongst the tourists and served in most restaurants. Being vegetarian, beans provide us with much needed protein and a stock that can be used all year round.


We sow our own bean seeds (dried from the previous year) in April indoors. These are then transplanted into soil when they germinate and put outside to grow on. We are fortunate in so much that we do not have frost and by April there is an ambient outdoor temperature throughout the night and day.


The young plants are put in the ground around the end of May. They are initially supported by an 'A' frame structure we construct out of locally sourced hazel. As they grow we may add additional support by introducing twiggy pea sticks.


Apart from ensuring that the plants wind their way through the support, they need very little attention apart from looking out for black fly which can be a problem if not caught early. We treat the black fly with soapy water with an additional spray of diluted alcohol if necessary: this usually works well.


The beans are eaten fresh as in green runner beans and dwarf kidney beans and what we don't use we leave on the plant to dry. When the outer casing is parchment-like we harvest, shell and leave to dry in the sun for a week or so. The dry beans are then frozen for 24 hours to kill any bugs and then re-dried before storing.


Our favourite dishes include home-made beans on toast, mixed vegetable and bean cassoulet, white bean and black olive pate, in salads and, bean and chestnut casserole. How do you eat yours?



The discarded bean plants are composted to provide much needed nutrients for the soil.

The insects are busy doing their work in the garden and helping, in their own unique way, the cycle of life, death and regeneration. More creatures from the garden can be found here:  Smaller tales .



Sunday, October 12, 2014

Autumn foraging: Chestnuts and Walnuts

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We may have mentioned this before but walnuts and chestnuts are abundant around here. There are many fully grown trees on country lanes, on field boundaries and in cultivated plots. This year is a particularly good year for foraging as the trees are heavy with fruit.


The good news for amateur foragers like us is that very few people collect these crops, preferring instead to purchase from commercial sellers on the markets: convenience I suppose. When out walking or cycling at this time of year we will take a small bag with us and collect what we find along the way. It is surprising how quickly you can build up a welcome stock of sweet chestnuts and fresh walnuts.



So far this year we have collected about 25 kg of walnuts which we will continue to add to over the next couple of weeks as the emerging autumnal winds shake the fruit out of their splitting green outer casing. We will dry them in the warmth of the autumn sun and store them in a cool, dry room to be consumed throughout the coming months. Similarly with chestnuts, although these can be slightly more hazardous to collect due to the vicious spikes that protect them.



Over the years we have come to know the trees which produce the most succulent nuts and fruit and we will make sure our walks include them. Occasionally you will see the evidence of other foragers who have beaten us to it but they are few and far between. We have a mature walnut tree in our garden which is not in the best of conditions but with some TLC, this year it has quite a few fruits on it which will will harvest soon.


We mostly eat walnuts as they are or baked in apple and walnut sponge cakes. I take my Mum a bag full and she will use them in a wonderful coffee and walnut cake recipe. The chestnuts will either be roasted slowly on top of the log fire on a cool autumn evening or peeled, boiled and added to a chestnut and winter vegetable casserole...delicious.


You may remember that earlier in the year we pickled green walnuts. These are now ready for eating and can be enjoyed with cheese, salads, veggie burgers and so on....



Monday, October 06, 2014

If you go down to the beach today....

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You're in for a big surprise... Well at least on the beach at Cuevas del Mar here in Asturias. This beach is about 5km from La Pasera and we occasionally walk to it from our house along the cliffs and through villages and country lanes. The area is peppered with caves (hence the name), many of which are shouting out to be explored.

The beach hit the local news this year as the severe spring storms devastated the sand, taking most of it out to sea and leaving very little apart from pebbles. This small beach is popular during summer as it's a quiet bay is ideal and safe for swimming. The locals campaigned for sand to be brought in as they were concerned that having no sand would affect the holiday trade. It is estimated that it could take up to 5 years for the sand to return naturally.

Earlier in Summer

The beach also has an interesting history with several pebble lined caves, steps and barbeque which was once a beach bar several decades ago according to locals (in the photograph with the climber). Climbers also use the cliffs on the beach for fine-tuning their skills.



The lack of sand hasn't deterred someone from making best use of their time on the beach, we don't know who built all these but we admire their patience and creativity. All rather splendid and needless to say Luis + Pebbles = Happy. I have to say his effort was rather good but don't take my word for it, judge for yourself. 









Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Dragonflies and damselflies in the garden

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Throughout summer and early autumn here at La Pasera we are witness to the finely tuned aerobatic skills of dragonflies and damselflies are they navigate the garden, ponds and plants. Each year they lay their newly fertilised eggs on pond plants or directly into the water where they develop into nymphs.


Most damselflies complete their life cycle in one year: egg, nymph, damselfly where as dragonflies can take up to 5 years depending on the climate, conditions and species. There are over 100 species in Europe and over 5000 worldwide.

As they emerge from the water in their nymph stage, they cling to nearby grasses and twigs, they dry out and break out of their distinctive nymph skins, spread their wings and take flight. 



Damselflies are weaker fliers and always lay their wings to the sides of their body when resting whereas the dragonfly keeps its wings open. The dragonflies tend to be much more inquisitive, often flying very near to you, hovering just in front of you and taking evasive action if you move. They also try this with the cats who are frequently tormented by the buzzing of their wings and close proximity.   

Here are a few photographs of visiting dragonflies and damselflies taken over the past few years...