Exciting, anxious, stressful times?  If the adrenalin isn’t coursing through the veins every now and then something must be amiss.  It makes the senses more acute, awakening that primeval fight or flight condition.  An adrenalin rush isn’t exactly what I need at the moment, as having somewhat carelessly broken a bone in ‘me foot’ I’m now laid up in plaster for a month and with a move in the offing the timing couldn’t have been worse.  Hopping around the house I’ve managed to pack a few boxes, wrap up the odd item and make a prone nuisance of myself!  As a result I’m increasingly boxed in as we again pack up our things and prepare to move out of the house come warehouse of the last four years.  The last few days have been a mix of throwing out, sorting out, shredding, packing and stacking.

And yes up the road the place almost resembles Piccadilly Circus as carpenters, electricians and builders come and go.  From the outside the walls have taken on the appearance of a newly decorated Christmas cake whilst the inside is rapidly taking shape.  We are on schedule and with that we should be able to welcome you from the end of September.  A firm date still has to be set and when our website is up and running we’ll let you know when that is.

Thus we are beginning to make that transition from promoters/builders to guest house owners/operators and as a result this blog/diary will be up for change.  More ‘newsy’ stuff about La Rectoria and events past and present, recipes and life in and around La Garrotxa through the eyes of a scotsman.  Much of what has been said in the last 18 months or so might have been a little pedestrian, but I guess it will serve as a memory to us and those who have been involved with us.

It is over six years since we drove up to this area for the first time to look, think and dream about….what if we did leave Scotland and come here to start a guesthouse?  Now we are almost there.

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I guess you could include F****** A in the above but the F here alludes principally to the façade, floors and other fixtures and finishes. But firstly, the finishing and the closure of yet another chapter in my working life. The teaching year in Barcelona is beginning to wind down and I have started to say my goodbyes to ‘students’ some of whom I have known since I started teaching four years ago. Goodbyes uttered on a scale starting from the very poor English, to Spanglish and through to the very good. Along the way I have inadvertently picked up some good friends, got a good insight into Spanish and Catalan life and culture and would say that it has truly been one of the most enjoyable work experiences in my somewhat chequered career. The life of the peripatetic teacher is coming to a close. For my part, the teaching was largely learnt ‘on the hoof’ and one quickly learnt that students initially knew a sight more than the teacher about grammar and its associated terminology. Ultimately, the teaching was the easy part. It has been the 70km round trip to Barcelona on each working day and the getting about the city by metro, bus or tram between classes that proved tiring. Leaving the house just after seven in the morning and returning around nine at night, with the following day’s material to be pulled together after dinner. I’m not grumbling. It has been a bag load of fun and has provided me with a reasonable income in an alien country where I can still hardly string a sentence together in the local lingo, be it Catalan or Spanish. So to one and all thank you and “Fins aviat!!”.

Back at the site. Having seen numerous samples of differing renders applied to the outside walls, a recent trip to Girona and a visit to see a project Pere is working on sealed our decision. Thus that same texture and colour is now being applied with the customary aplomb of Vicents and the others that we are now almost taking for granted. The swirl and movement of their arms is almost discernable in the finish, key stones are left exposed and these contrast wonderfully with the mottled grey render finish.

On the basement floor intricate coils and lines of red plastic piping have been laid over sheets of expanded polystyrene which in turn look like giant pieces of white lego. Concrete is now being poured on top of this and when finished this will be our floorcovering – a continuous sheet of satin smooth concrete set against stone walls and white ceilings, cool in summer, touchy feely “calentet” in winter.

The tiles we purchased some weeks ago in Castelló are now in place in three of the bedrooms as bed heads, helping to underline the individuality of each room.  Elsewhere terracotta tiles – tova – are being laid. The dining room looks superb and we have all but chosen the tables and chairs. Easy one might think but trying to put the finishing touches to the rooms has been anything but.

Clichésville here we come….well, the circle has almost been squared and with each week that passes the finish line would appear to be just around the next corner.   No, we are not about to announce a concrete opening date, but the changes that are taking place each week are palpable.

Most recently, holes have been dug for clean and grey waters, some windows with glass have been fitted and the first doors are now in place.  Internally painting progresses, the stairway between the main and first floors has been rebuilt, pointing and plastering of the walls in basement floor is ongoing and the solar tube that will enlighten our living room is under construction.

My neglectful absence of writing can only be forgiven by a plate that runneth over with things to do.  Never having learnt the ability to juggle, the one ball that has been dropped of late is that of blog writing and for that I apologize.

Away from the actual reconstruction of the house itself much else has been done.  Construction of the website is well underway and however it is finished, photographs will not be finalised until the casa rural is up and running for obvious reasons.  Other finishes for the house are being looked at and purchased and to that end we have just returned from a couple of days in El Delta de l’Ebre, part pleasure, part business.

The city of Barcelona marks something of a watershed in the landscape of the east coast of Spain.  To put it bluntly, to the north of the city much of the countryside would be more familiar to northern Europeans, remaining largely green and verdant more most of the year.  To the south one is quickly confronted with the grape vines of El Penedes and the arid and angular hills and mountains of the area.  Further south the vines give way to mile after mile of orange groves interspersed with olives.  We spent two nights in the somewhat forgettable seaside town of Benicarló, just south of the Ebre in Castello.  The hospitality and accommodation were good, let the visitor make up their own mind on the rest.

Being Good Friday, what else would one expect except cloud and rain.  Yes, good old british bank holiday weather.   That didn’t dampen our visit to El Delta de l’Ebre….flat as a pancake, traversed by canals and rivelettes and criss-crossed with roads and paths this is the rice bowl of Spain…..the ‘P’ in your paella!  A bracing wet walk along a windswept beach at La Tancada was followed by a hearty shell fish fideua -a pasta type paella – at Cal Faiges in Poble Nou Del Delta.   The birdlife of the area is impressive and I will certainly return to this remarkable corner of Catalunya.

The business part of the trip took the form of a visit to La Sénia, ‘Furniture City’ Catalunya….and tables, chairs and all things furniture.  I can only guess that the place is hanging on by its proverbial fingernails, given the current economic climate.  La Sénia lives or dies on the making of furniture.  Surrounded by ‘factory outlets’ and factories crying out for customers to call.  A tour of one was like a tour of every other outlet….’follow the arrows and let us know if you like anything’…country, neo-classical, glitzy, beige, simply garish to the outright frightening.   We struck lucky at the fifth or sixth outlet I can’t rightly remember which and left with an order for a sofa for the TV room firmly in Goretti’s handbag.  Good luck La Sénia and thanks for an amusing lunch time at El Trull.

One diversion I’ve omitted to mention since we started this blog is skiing. Well, today I rolled back fifteen or sixteen years to enjoy a superb day’s spring skiing – in France. Hardly next door to La Rectoria, yes, but an invitation from friends to join them for a weekend’s skiing was not going to be passed up. So we are holed up in Marignac some 30kms north of Vielha. Right now the legs are like jelly but it was great to get back on a pair of planks. The snow was wet and heavy with a consistency close to that of damp sugar, but the sun shone and our son had his first taste of the sport.

Now our priority never was to be situated in a ski resort when we started out to look for a suitable house five plus years ago. But La Rectoria is not only situated in some stunning countryside, handily placed for Barcelona and Girona , it is also within striking distance of some not too shoddy skiing. The nearest resort whose name escapes me right now is under one hour from La Rectoria, La Molina in Cerdanya and Nuria near Ribes de Freser are one and a half and Andorra about two hours. Today we are about one hour further west of Andorra enjoying French bread, pork rillette and some skiing. So the point of all of this is depending on when you come to stay with us you can indulge in a variety of past times. Skiing, golf, cycling, walking, history, natural history etc…….

Meanwhile back at the ‘fort’ work has been continuing apace against a backdrop of rainfall on almost biblical proportions. Some 250mm – ten inches in old money – fell over a period of five days last week. Thankfully no damage was done, although a little water did enter a bedroom and measures are being taken to ‘root out’ this problem; a channel is being installed along the back wall of the house and a water repellent product will be used on the inside wall. The main cause would however appear to have been a pile of builder’s sand at the back of the building which resulted in the accumulation of water. All in all the rains have tested and identified areas where excess rainfall has to be redirected away from the house and disposed of. Tiling of the bathrooms is almost complete on the top floor and the tracking of wiring and cementing of walls continues. Any external work ground to a halt due to the weather as much of the surrounding country side took on the appearance of Chinese rice plantations with fields submerged in water. With spade in hand we have been able to plant a few trees and bushes. A greengauge and an apple tree and two blackcurrant bushes. The sole cherry tree has also been moved close to where the hort will be. Thus in time we hope to harvest some of our own fruit.

My weekly visit to the site has been postponed until tomorrow.   Persistent heavy rain prevented any kind of activity today including a visit we had planned to Montmelo.  The motor circuit is just down the road from here in Cardedeu and home to the Catalunya Grand Prix.  The plan had been to get there early to join the ‘petrol heads’ watch the ultimate Formula 1 practice day prior to the start of the F1 season later this month.  Personally, I’m no great fan of what I grudgingly consider a sport and the thrill was planned more for our son and to experience first-hand the speed and certainly the noise that permeates across this part of Catalunya whenever a race is on.

Sadly, the bad weather made us think otherwise and consequently we spent part of the day doing some desk research thanks to the wonders of the internet.  Light fittings have been our principle target and we found a superb website, ambientedirect.com for yes, lights and more.  Meanwhile up at La Rectoria the week’s principle activity has involved feeding cabling to the basement, removing the old plaster from the facade, and the application of the concrete finish to the walls of the ‘Old Economic Kitchen’.  Arguably this room has the most character of any in the house – the old stone hearth which will provide guests with an open fire.  The old wood fired stove with places for four ‘ollas’ (pans).  The large stone sink and the wooden beams that adorn the ceiling.   Here we intend to offer guests possibly a wee dram prior to dinner or alternatively a post dinner digestive whilst they warm their toes by the fireside.

Tomorrow should make for something of a muddy visit but we need to cast a critical eye over the finishes that will soon be applied throughout and the furniture that will accompany them.  And time permitting we’ll be planting both a greengauge and an apple tree next to where we intend the ‘hort’ to be.  Let’s hope the skies clear!

‘There aren’t enough hours in the day’ …..bollocks!   If there were more I can only surmise that I’d be awake for longer and therefore get proportionally less sleep.   As things are right now when we are not working our ‘spare time’ is taken up by La Rectoria.   And now our antennae are more acutely tuned as the pace of work continues on relentlessly.

Our principal task this week was to finalize our choice of paint for the upper floors…..white.  Easy enough, but as any of you who have had to undertake this exercise before will know, there are quite a mind boggling array of shades of white.  Our architect and builder had already selected and applied three samples to the wall in the hall on the top floor, none of which we liked.  Sowe took ourselves down to the paint shop where we chose three more samples which Goretti duly applied.  An hour or so later and with the paint dry our choice was made and we have plumped for Umbra Weiss….a kind of white.

Meanwhile work on what will soon by our home – the basement –  is forging ahead.  The dividing walls that need to be erected are now largely in place and the windows are now beginning  to be fitted.  Minor amendments have been made to the position of some windows at our request as we want to maximize the views and vistas.   Light fittings are now looming as the next major decision to be made and less importantly but something I want to make a start on this year is the planting of one or two more fruit trees.

 

Winter has but flirted with Catalunya this year.  Last Sunday we spent a sun splashed day in the garden continuing to cut back the neglected hazel trees which line the edge of the lawn.  In the bright, warm and intense ‘winter sunshine’ I had to strip down to my T-shirt as temperatures touched 20°C.  Not hot, but then again it is only the beginning of February.  And as I drove home from work on Friday afternoon spring spoke by way of pink and white blossoms burdening trees in the majestic splendor that says that a new year of growth and vitality is all but here.

Talk of Spring may well be premature but  our evident and continued impact on this fragile Earth was illustrated further this week by pollution laden (sm)fogs both here in Barcelona and in Madrid; exasperated by an anticyclone hanging over Iberia.  We await our flight to the hills of Catalunya!

La Rectoria is something of an old darling of a relic and we want to keep as a much of her idiosyncratic character as we can.  Stones, beams, wooden pegs, nooks and crannies are being left as far as possible to tell her story.   And so this week a seemingly small and insignificant window has been retained on the main stairwell, looking out on to the terrace between the house and church.    We surmise that in the past it enabled occupants of the house to scrutinize would be visitors prior to bidding them in, or not as the case may have been.  We want to keep this vista as one of a number of oddities which adorn the house.

In turn, with thanks to the design gene of our architects we are adding the occasional quirk of our own.  The latest of which can be seen in one of our bedrooms , where a series of random openings have been made in the bathroom wall.   The idea is not one of voyeuristic  opportunism, but is to enable natural light to enter the only bathroom that will not have a window.  The ‘windows’ will  be screened with adhesive slides that will depict varied scenes that may be seasonal or otherwise.  These will be changed at intervals depending on our whim.   Thus, while sitting on the ‘John’ you might be distracted by, photo’s of landscapes, people or places, poetry or whatever.   I remember BBC Radio 4 used to have an early morning slot ‘Pause for thought’.  We hope this might provide a similar distraction to future guests in bedroom 4.