Monday, 27 June 2011


Month pass: Global interail pass, proposed itinerary: south France, Tuscany, Venice, Hungary, Austria, Switzerland, Paris.
Starting with: The Alhambra & Generalife, Granada
First train: Overnight train Granada-Barcelona, arriving for coffee and churros on the beach.
Cousin time: back for a date with Rufus + newborn cousin followed by more camping in the Lakes with more cousins Harry, Noah and Theo.
Jaunt: with my sister-in-law to Europe's biggest flea market in Lille.
Temporary home Sept/Oct: a hut on a hill on a farm on Clyro hill above Hay.

Papers finally arrived in Coggeshall today seven days after paying 27 Euros for the express 2-3 day service from Spain-UK.

Oh, and I very bravely drove to Malaga and back on the Autovia, and even quite enjoyed it.

A productive day!

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Late on a Saturday night

There's a perfect little spot around the corner of the house that is my hideaway in the evenings. I pull up a low chair, prop my legs up on the wall and take in the silence and the view of the mountains marked out in different shades of blue. It's so peaceful. There's a light directly above my seat so I can read and sketch and enjoy the calm after another crazy day with my two imps.

By supper time their noise levels are really unbearable. That feeling is good for my legs, just what I need to make me go for a run at the end of the day. I have a great route, a pathetic 2.5km but with steep, steep hills, followed by shaded level relief, then gentle slopes with big sea views, and lastly a steep climb up before dropping down to home, where two boys are waiting at the gate, jumping into my arms telling me they've missed me.

We've had an intense six weeks. A lot of time just us, plus some big decisions. Ollie is mentally exhausted. I miss my mates. I escape for quiet moments in the evening, but I'd much rather be at an asado in Argentina, surrounded by friends.

Just one more week to go and I'll have my husband back, and I think this time next week we might even be on the night train from Barcelona to Aix-en-Provence.

(I'd post a photo of me in my quiet spot, but the only photographer available is still's 11.09pm).

Thursday, 23 June 2011

The aquaduct and the ampitheatre

Look what we discovered last week, just five minutes down the road! It's beautiful, we've never seen anyone else there, and what an idyllic setting for a playground. I lie in the sun and boys play, and there are the remains of an ampitheatre to walk round, and cool shadows to run through.

Lavender fields

We've decided to stay here for an extra week. Ollie is tapping out the last pages of his book, he's doing the edits to a chapter he's written for a book on sustainable business, and he's taking a month off his regular bread and butter jobs. We'll see him again! He's barely left his desk over the last six weeks, so after a week lazing around here and trips to Seville and Ronda, and Malaga to buy our tent and train tickets, we're heading north to Provence. Ollie's sister was there last weekend and sent this photo from near where we're staying. I can't wait!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Love this!

My stunning new jug - a treat from my sister-in-law (thanks Boney!).

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Granadino pottery


My travel buddies

One of Seth's favourite spots in Fort Cochin was the travel agent's office where he would stand on a chair and look at the maps of India. In Holland too, he'd lay out our maps showing the cycle paths and follow the routes with his fingers. Now, a year on, and much more bossy, he takes charge of the map and barks instructions.

(I can't have enough maps, but in this case I was really annoyed to realise I'd just paid 1 Euro for a map sponsored by those dreadful Segway tours. Oh, another thing, I never once asked someone to take a photo of me with the boys, but whenever we sat down together other tourists would ask me if I'd like them to take a photo of us. Funny that people can be so unecessarily helpful with photos but not one person helped me carrying the pushchair up onto the bus or up the hill!)

Seth cut his foot soon after our arrival in Granada, so our walking tour was slow-moving and I was relieved when Bo woke up and Seth asked to take place in the pushchair. He was asleep in seconds so I was left with my stand-in walking buddy. We headed for the Albaicín

We climbed together up the tiny, winding lanes, me pushing and pulling Seth and the pushchair up the cobbled streets and crooked steps. It was 28 degrees, and it took us over two hours to reach the top for the view over the rooftops and over to the Alhambra, which I can't do justice to in any photo. The boys played in some sand under the shade of a tree, and I sat and drank a litre of water, enjoying our hilltop view.

The anti-tourists

Kids have a great way of missing the the point. First stop on our day in Granada was the cathedral. The bus dropped us nearby, so with Bo asleep in the pushchair Seth and I chose some snacks at the panaderia  and went to find a spot in the plaza. We turned around corner and there was the cathedral towering over us. Seth craned his neck back to look up, dropped his bag of pastries and said 'WOW'. Delighted that he was showing such appreciation for architecture at the age of three, he then turned to me and added: 'LOOK at that man with ALL those balloons!'. We wandered over to the steps, sat with our backs to the church and watched a pretty Spanish girl train her little dog. Seth was happy, and I suppose that was really the point of our day out.  

Who needs a great view of the Alhambra when you there's a shiny orange two seater motorbike to swoon over and a mango-maracuya smoothie to slurp?

The Gate of the Moor's Sigh

By mistake I took the bus back from Granada that follows a mountain pass instead the direct autopista route. I was a little horrified when I realised, especially as I'd sent Seth and Bo onto the bus to bag two seats while I put the pushchair in the hold, and they'd plumped for for the front spot. We had the best view on the coach of the absolutely spectacular pass over the top of the mountains known as 'El Puerto del Suspiro del Moro'. Wow, it was incredible, breathtakingly beautiful, but totally petrifying as we saw the cliff edge fall away so sharply I couldn't see anything below as we turned corner after corner.

There were a handful of other tourists on the bus, and we collectively took sharp intakes of breath from fear and wonder as the bus charged around sharp bends. I hugged the boys tightly, the three of us crammed into two seats, as Bo cheerfully called out 'Aaaarghhh, me fall down, down, down....'

It was a relief to make it down into the lowlands covered in fruit trees, and under the familiar bridge stretching across the ravine we usually see in the distance, and back to meet Ollie for supper on the beach.

Photos taken from this blog post which has more photos of the route and som of Almuñécar showing our regular hangout spots.

The Welsh hills are calling!

THIS is why we're putting an offer on a cottage near Hay. I want to be on a bike, with the boys in a cart behind, cycling this route. That's August Bank Holiday sorted then.
View across the Wye Valley, photo taken by Rob Penn, author of It's All About the Bike (Penguin, 2011).

Friday, 17 June 2011

A really lousy day

Last thing I need when I have a pounding headache is two 'lousy' (Seth's word for loud and noisy) boys and news that our Argentine residency application, which we need for our house sale, hasn't been processed...


Bit of an end of the school holidays feel here. Kids are getting bored at the beach, I've exhausted the list of local sights: Roman ruins, aquarium, botanic gardens, tropical bird garden, castle, and cacti park, the ship built into the cliffside (pretty cool, I'll post a photo). The garden is fantastic, with a sloping path that the boys chase each other around and kick footballs down, they've discovered baby birds and hunt for woodlice, put their tent up under a tree, picked flowers from the garden, watched the diggers, dumpers and rollers working on the small road below, and enjoyed splashing about in their homemade paddling pool. But they're missing their usually sociable life, their little friends and our big friends. It's silent up here at the villa, we haven't met anyone, and down the beach Seth asks me every time he sees a friendly look kid checks 'Are they my friend?' and he goes up and starts chatting to them. So, for a change of scene and to get out of Ollie's hair, tomorrow I'm taking the boys to Granada and get them in the mood for travelling again.

Outside has disappeared

Yesterday, from our hilltop vantage point, we saw a huge mass of white cloud moving in from the sea. The villa looks out onto a valley, with the mountains beyond.  To the back, the hill falls steeply to the sea and there are views around the coast. By midday the sea and half way up the hill was covered in cloud, so the peaks around the coastline were rising up out of a sea of cloud. Throughout the afternoon the cloud edged down the valley, like a sheet of white card gradually blocking out our view.

This morning we woke up to a complete white out, the cloud and a chill seeping through the window. Seth looked out the window and said 'outside has disappeared'. I was more concerned that the sun and hot weather had disappeared, although I consider it a luxury to wake up to a cool mountaintop breeze. Cloud watching and an icy chill through my toes. Bliss! I'm in the mood for camping....(12 days to go).

Friday, 3 June 2011

Olive tasting

I could move to Spain for the olives. Actually, I could move to Spain punto, but the olives are enough to make me get out of bed out in the morning and wander down to the market and linger by the vats of olives, take a sampling pot and decide which ones to try.

I have many addictions, most unhealthy, so I feel my new-found addiction to Spanish olives is something I can indulge, and not feel guilty about. They don't even cost much. Back in London, when Ol and I first met, his office was next to Borough Market, and on Friday afternoons he'd go to the olive stall spend a small fortune on a pot of gourmet olives and leave them in a paper bag (with a handwritten letter) on my doorstep on his way home from work. Don't laugh. I'm nuts for olives, and soon I was nuts for him.

So back here in Spain, with Ollie in his writing cave, mostly silent, I'm making my own trip to the market and nurturing my olive obsession. Readers in Buenos Aires: if Argentina is the vineyard at the end of the world, who is going to plant the olive groves alongside it? I might be an olive lover, but I couldn't bear the generic variety they sell in jars and sprinkle over pizzas in BA. A business opportunity, no? (Mr Ward, Mr Mount?)

Dos Minas restock

Dos Minas fans: I've just had a delivery from Salta. The 2009 Malbec and the 2011 Torrontes are now available for collection from Palermo Hollywood, or can be delivered by arrangement.

The new prices for a case of 12 are:

Malbec $400
Torrontes $350

I am also now selling individual bottles mostly for people wanting to sample the wine with a view to buying a case. Individual bottle prices are: Malbec $45, Torrontes $38.

To place orders, email me at:  Same day collection or delivery is usually possible. 

Note: prices are in Argentine pesos, not US dollars.

India Rising

I've been thinking about India a lot lately. This week we received an invitation to the wedding of Sreeja, who looked after Bo when we were in India. This last time last year her family had begun their search for a suitable match, putting ads in the marriage classifieds, and asking around for suitable caste and star sign pairings.

I've also been reading Ollie's book, four out of nine chapters so far, which takes me back to the place where we were last year and all the frustrations, and intensity, and the appeal of India. I am really enjoying it (and being honest, glad to be reading it from the comfort of Spain, rather than in the chaos of India); here's some blurb on the book from the Faber catalogue:

India is on the up. Historically derided as the lumbering elephant of Asia, this vast sub-continent has quickened its pace. The economy is booming. Tens of millions have been pulled out of poverty. Software and service companies abound. Millionaire entrepreneurs are springing up at every turn. Bollywood is going global and Indian expats are flooding back home. What’s more, these changes are occurring within the world’s largest democracy – a far cry from the neighbouring totalitarian state of China.

In India Rising Oliver Balch takes the voices and stories of everyday Indians and presents a fresh, vivid, highly personalised account of the changes as they are unfolding. Travelling the length and breadth of the country, Balch leads readers off the tourist trail and onto the streets of modern day India. From cricket stadiums and shopping malls to rural schools and shanty towns, the book blends the best of reportage and travel writing. What emerges is a captivating protrait of a country at a crossroads. Old versus New. Global versus local.

India's march into the twenty-first century is full of tensions and uncertainties. But so too is it brimming with optimism and hope. With over half its billion plus population under the age of twenty-five, India's future will be written by its youth. In illustrating their hopes and exploring their fears, India Rising unpicks what makes this vast nation tick and asks where it's heading.

My dream studio space

Some of my favourite spots in Buenos Aires are hidden from sight, no sign on the street, and I only know about them through word of mouth. If I was ever to have a studio or office again in BA, this would be my dream spot. This courtyard hidden behind a dark green door on Costa Rica street in Palermo, is home to several studios and workshops, including Patricio Lix Klett's taller. The courtyard would be a great space for a pop-up cafe, or live music in the evenings, but I suppose security concerns prevent this from happening. If you want to see the space, book to visit Patricio.

Thanks to Jamie Crawford for this photo.

Creative improvement

Argentines have an impressive interest in learning and developing new skills. Almost all my Argentine friends take some evening course, English literature, poetry, photography, psychology, art history, and so on.

In our first year in Argentine I did a cookery course with Patricia Alfie (sister of fashion designer Vero Alfie). In those days she had a beautiful space on Gorriti, and my Catalan friend, Agnes Figueres, and I would go each week, me barely understanding a word of the recipes or instructions. Agnes adopted the Argentine way and was a serial course-goer. She took evening classes in French and Portuguese, and after our cookery course, signed up for a jewellery class. An accountant by training, she'd lived in Senegal before moving to Argentina, and there were African influences in her designs right from the start. She sold some pieces to the MALBA shop before moving back to Europe, and four years on she has a successful jewellery design studio in Brussels. See her website here:

So, I have high hopes for my mate Matt Ward, who has embraced Argentina with great passion during this past year,  marrying an Argentine, getting his DNI, and signing up to a course. He is learning about furniture and upholstery restoration at the Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo. Here are some pics of his first work in progress through to completetion: