Do Triffids Like Nespera Jam?

 

We have recently returned from three weeks away from Casa Torta to find that Things Have Been Growing. We’ve been away for this length of time before but I don’t recall such a rapid change in the undergrowth. It must be the time of year. The broad beans are now of a greater population than that of the neighbouring village, and almost as big as a person. After picking them all (except for a few left to go to seed), the total yield was over 43kg, that’s over 700g per plant. Articles I had read suggested 300g of beans per plant would be reasonable, so I am very proud. Given that this is  our first permaculture bed effort in a wintery Algarve, not known for its easy gardening. Phew! That’s a lot of soup/puree/ etc. Anyway, enough about the beans; I’m not obsessed with them, really. And I haven’t named any of them. OK?

Photo of a hand holding a large broad bean pod

 

Photo of Broad Bean Salad

 

The other major growth in the garden is this stonking protuberance from the centre of our largest cactus, which I presume to be an agave. This entire stalk has emerged over a three week period, which demonstrates a pretty significant growth rate as it is must be around 8m tall. I am convinced that if I stand and watch it for long enough, I should be able to see it move. Cue much standing and staring at a stalk. Rest assured, Keith and I have pondered how we might measure its rate of growth, but have failed to work out how. Marking the stalk was an option, but getting to the stalk is a less attractive prospect, given the spikes. We’ve no idea how long it will take to do its thing, but wouldn’t be surprised to wake up and find that it’s moved into the house and is making itself a cup of tea. We have seen others around the hills all producing similar masts. It must be the time of year that they take over. Triffid nightmares are expected.

Photo of agave cactus with flower stem

Aside from trying to harvest, eat and/or freeze all of the broad beans before they burst, I have also been keen to use up the nespera on the tree, as I hate things going to waste and I love food that is free. Salt of Portugal tell a lovely legend/tale as to how these Chinese fruits came to be in Portugal. Much as I love to eat these little plums straight off of the tree, we are talking 100+ here and even I would struggle to get through that many – in between trips to the bathroom, I should expect.

 

Photo of nespera in a bowl

 

So, jam it is, then. Having searched the internet for recipes – it’s a simple process involving fruit and sugar and nothing else – I came across Azores Gal’s recipe for Nespera Jam and her tip for using the hand blender to mush them all up before sieving the skins out. It worked a treat – no pectin needed as you don’t peel the fruit and it thickened easily and within half an hour post sieving. I shan’t bother to replicate her instructions here as she has done such a great job of explaining – with images – how to do it, I shall let her get on and do so. The resulting jam is simply beautiful to look at and really delicious; a kind of cross between quince jelly, marmalade and mango chutney. It could be eaten with both sweet and savoury accompaniments or just straight out of the jar with a spoon.

Photo of two jars of nespera jam

 

Perhaps the triffid would like some. I come in peace.

Growing Tea And Being Wrong About Things

Growing Tea And Being Wrong About Things

Now, I’ve never been a fan of herbal teas; especially the flowery ones. They taste like hot, weak squash (cordial) to me. Insipid, weedy and pointless. I’m a caffeine sensitive individual and have delighted in the wide spread of Redbush tea, which I drink with milk like a normal cuppa without the palpitations (even decaff tea gives me the jitters). I can even dunk biscuits in it. That’s my kind of tea. My opinions on herb tea are long established and generally not open to challenge. And if this were one of those sensible ‘Life Lesson’ kind of blogs, there would be a deep message here about being open to new experiences because being closed and certain means you miss out on good stuff, but it’s not that sort of blog, so we’re good. But, it is true. Best to say Yes to everything just in case. Everything except drug smuggling and Marmite, that is. No good ever came from either of those.

 

Anyway, on a recent visitation to a new permaculture friend, Victoria, we were offered a cup of Olive Leaf Tea. Given my general thoughts and opinions on herb teas, I was not hopeful and said yes out of politeness and a lack of any alternative. Keith, who is a tried and tested Northern tea addict, who intersperses each and every activity in his life with a cup of tea – even immediately after a cup of coffee, was even more reticent that I. Long story short, it was alright. It transpires that Olive Leaf Tea is a thing and can be purchased online should one be unfortunate enough to live in the vicinity of an olive tree (gloat). It has been used medicinally since Ancient Egyptian times and used to mummify pharaohs, should that be a selling point for a decent brew. The list of medical benefits is lengthy and includes reported aid for urinary tract infections, candida and aching joints. On a next holiday to anywhere Mediterranean, may I suggest that you forego the bottle of Ouzo and max out your baggage allowance with a bag or two of olive leaves snaffled from the many trees which undoubtedly surround you.

Growing Your Own Tea -01

The leaves are picked and dried in either the oven on a very low heat or the sun if you have sufficient and crumbled into a teapot and steeped for a few minutes before straining. They have a fresh and invigorating flavour, which we heartily recommend.

 

The other pearl of wisdom shared with us by Victoria was that of Nespera tea. Nespera is a fruit tree, also known as a loquat which grows copiously around southern Iberia and elsewhere in the world. The small yellow fruits are delicious and seen in markets in March and April around these parts. Chinese herbalists and scientists rate nespera extremely highly in terms of its curative properties for all sorts of health conditions, ranging from reducing diabetes, releasing anti-oxidants to increase the immune system, blood pressure management and even potentially supresing some symptoms of HIV. It is truly a wonder tree. Fresh leaves and teabags can be purchased online again should you be lacking in a nespera tree (2nd gloat of the day).

Growing Your Own Tea - 02

Once back at home, I began to prepare a Casa Torta estate brew from nespera, lemon and rosemary leaves, all dried in the spring sun. Let me tell you that Mr Tetley has nothing on me. It is a delicious, refreshing night-time cuppa with an undercurrent of citrus and a backnote of rosemary. I have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about here, so I’ll stop, but it is really good.

 

So, what else can you make tea out of our should your leaf selection be limited by climate or location? Obviously, all commonly grown herbs such as thyme, mint, basil and lemon verbena can be brewed, but also plants such as certain types of lavender (not all – our Portuguese variety is too bitter and camphorous to drink), raspberry leaves, dandelion root, chamomile buds and passionflower leaves to mention a few. Some experimentation with blends and mixes may be required to adjust your brew to taste, but think of that: your own unique home-grown tea! Take care of course to ensure you know what you are putting in that pot – some plants are poisonous and will not result in a health benefit; quite the opposite. If anyone has recipes or suggestions for interesting blends, please share as I’m on a roll here with what could be a new obsession.

 

To say that we are converts is an understatement. It is not only the drinking of the tea, but the joy and satisfaction of the process of drying and crumbling the mix of leaves into my new glass ‘tea jar’ of which I am stupidly proud, steeping the leaves in a cafetiere due to a lack of tea pot before sitting up in bed and supping the bright green, steaming brew; it looks like absinthe but without the aftermath. Life doesn’t get much better than those moments and it just goes to show that sometimes you can be wrong about things and isn’t that wonderful? To know that there may be more discoveries and adventures out there that up until now I’ve been wrong about. See? There was a moral to this tale after all, I’m deeper than I look.

Photo of glass jar full of nespera leaf tea

This only goes to make me wonder what else I might be wrong about. Could it be that eating cake with my left hand doesn’t make it negative calories after all? Or that Marmite is nice? Get outta here…

21st Century Broad Beans

21st Century Broad Beans

Spring is a beautiful time of year here and the hillsides are ablaze with colour and the swallows and bee-eaters have returned. Our layered beds are planted, our fingers are crossed and we’re hopeful of some kind of harvest.

Photograph of colourful spring flowers in the Algarve countryside

This is our first year of determined growing efforts and we have bought/sowed one of almost every edible species going in order to experiment and see what works and what doesn’t. It’s like the Noah’s Ark of gardening. Luckily, trees, plants and seeds are incredibly cheap in Portugal and so this feels possible without any huge financial risk. Our newly planted ‘vineyard’ (it is a patch of ground with vines in it, therefore it is a vineyard) cost €24 for 12 vines. They have more than paid for themselves already through the joy and anticipation we have had in peering closely at this pile of sticks protruding from the earth all winter pining desperately for a sign that reassures us that we are not the laughing stock of the market for having paid €24 for someone’s kindling pile. And that we are in fact, the Algarve’s answer to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in the wine-making department (they make their own, but with considerably more staff, I suspect). Over the past few weeks our devotion has been rewarded and they all have sprouted.

Photograph of a young grapevine sprouting its first leaves
Broad beans have been the great success of early spring. We have observed that these are the crop do dia of rural Portugal and wondered why. My memories of broad beans are of pale minority members of a bag of frozen mixed vegetables thrown in a pan and boiled to death by my well meaning mother and the habits of 1970s cooking. To be honest, I only grew them because judging by their proliferation round here, they seemed like a sure fire success and I’m kind of desperate like that. I didn’t really expect to like them. Yet again, I was wrong.

We know now why they are so common: they are incredibly easy to grow and they taste amazing. Given the poverty in rural Portuguese communities in the past and to some extent in the present day, it is easy to understand why a twice a year, non-irrigated food source would become almost a national dish. From our perspective, they grow quickly, strongly and look like an impressive feat of garden expertise with zero effort. You get to see how the Jack and the Beanstalk tale originated when you see how tall they get in such a short space of time.

There are essentially two bean growing seasons in the Algarve – one sowing takes place at the arrival of the rains in the Autumn with a harvest around February and the second sowing goes in around February with a harvest in May before the heat hits. They don’t require watering or any assistance whatsoever. As an added bonus, the impatient gardener doesn’t even have to wait for the beans to reach maturity before reaping some free food from the plants: you can eat the plant itself. It is recommend by some that picking off the top shoots of the plants after flowering will stop the plant using its energy for leaf growth and instead focus it on bean growth, which makes sense to me. The tips are a pale, grey-green colour, but once wilted in a pan with a tiny amount of water they turn a deep and vibrant green and make a fine soup or addition to an omelette. Probably they could make a substitute for any recipe involving spinach or spring greens.

And if you end up with too many in your veg patch, you can always dry them and get fava beans, which should keep Hannibal Lecter happy should he ever pay a visit.

Photograph of a bowl of broad bean, courgette, and broad bean tip soup
Today we had them for lunch in the most delicious and pretty quick to make soup. I could eat this on a daily basis, it is so good, and so darned healthy.

Courgette, Broad Bean and Broad Bean Tip Soup
Makes 2 large bowls or 4 small bowls
Slug of olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large courgette, chopped
500g fresh broad beans in their pods (less if already de-podded). I leave the little jackets on, but if you prefer a creamier taste, take ‘em off
3 handfuls broad bean tips
1 litre stock – I used some boiled up roast chicken bones to make the stock but a stock cube of any variety will do
Slug of vermouth or white wine (optional)

Heat the oil in a pan, gently cook the onion for 5 minutes, then add all remaining vegetables and cook for 10 minutes. Add stock and wine if using and simmer for a further 10 minutes. Leave to cool for a few minutes before blending – either until completely smooth or leaving a few lumps for texture. Adjust liquid if required.
Serve with warm bread and some creamy cheese.

Sub-standard Brownies – Learning Acceptance through Carob

Sub-standard Brownies – Learning Acceptance through Carob

Here’s a question for you: If a food is free, organic and widely available, yet takes a considerable amount of time to ‘process’ and after having done so can only be used as an ingredient in things that you may not have otherwise made (therefore forcing the purchase of the other ingredients and making you eat more), doesn’t taste that great and can actually be bought from Amazon for £2.50 for 500g, would you bother? I’ll fill in some details for your contemplation.

We’re talking carob here.

Sub-standard Brownies - 01

Carob is a hardy old tree that grows without any assistance, decent soil or rain. It doesn’t produce any pods for the first 15 years or so of its existence, but when it does they come in abundance. Spain, Italy and Portugal are the top carob producing countries in the world. The harvesting of these giant pods involves the highly technical process of whacking the tree with a stick and making them fall to the ground. The word ‘carat’ as a measurement of the weight of gold comes from the world carob as the seeds were used a means of weighing. The tree produces these dark brown pods (which are more correctly called legumes) that are used commercially to make something called Locust Bean Gum which is used as a thickener in yogurts and the like. It is what desperate vegans and super healthy people salivate over as a replacement for chocolate convincing themselves that they DON’T MISS IT AT ALL. It tastes nothing like chocolate. It’s brown and can be made into a powder and cooked with, like chocolate, but so can gravy, so the phrase ‘clutching at straws’ springs to mind. Don’t get me wrong, I love a vegan. In fact, I know I ought to be one again (I was one many moons ago), but I would rather not bother with something that replace it with an unsatisfying substitute. I do not eat carob as a substitute for anything (although added to hot milk it does a fine impression of wet concrete), only because its free.

So, we’re surrounded by many of these trees, some clearly owned and harvested, whilst many others are just ‘there’ and nobody bothers with them – until we came along. I cannot, I repeat, cannot turn down the potential of free food. Cannot. It is free. We can eat it. It will save us money. It is good for us. There is no logic that I can apply to my utterly natural and deeply rooted foraging self that can resist gathering free vittles. It is irrefutable. It is pure primal nature. I am not far from our hairy stooping ancestors it seems. Cannot.

This leaves me conflicted about the carob foraging due to the reasons mentioned in the question above. Carob fans, and there are many on the internet, will tell you that carob is better than chocolate and makes ‘the best brownie you have ever tasted in the world!!!’ and other such superlatives. Yeah, well, having eating the stuff (in my vegan days) commercially produced and now my own best efforts, sorry, it’s not. It’s interesting and you can chew on the pods raw like a Mediterranean cow-person with a very healthy tobacco alternative. It’s extremely sweet and has a caramel kick to it, but definitely not chocolate. And as I said above, in order to do anything with it, you have to buy all of these other ingredients and then eat all the bloody carob-based cakes that you have created. In all ways, probably best to just leave them on the tree, go for a bike ride and eat an apple with all that time you’ve saved dealing with the carobs.

So, here we are with a lot of carobs…

It was a no-brainer. My evolutionary soul overrides modern day practicalities and economics. I’ve picked as many as I can and every time we drive past a tree where they have all been left to fall on the ground, it hurts, I tell you. Hurts. But I leave them be because I have another massive sack of them in the garage waiting to be processed when we finally run out of all of the carobs which have made their way through the system and await to be turned into sub-standard brownies.

You have to soak them for a day or two in a paint stained wheelbarrow to make them pliable enough to split in half in order to get out all of the rock hard seeds.

You then lay them outside in the sun (oven will do) until they are rock hard. After which you chuck them in to a food processor or Nutribullet and they turn into powder which you could have bought from Amazon for a couple of quid. But with added food miles and carbon footprint, of course. Sanctimoniousness is a under-rated quality which tastes a lot better than carob.

Then, oh joy, you get to make a whole host of delicious treats in order to try and get rid of the stuff…

I present to you ‘The best’ Carob Brownies ‘in the world’ (genuine quote) ( not very brown) and some Oaty Chewy Bar things. After eating both of which we wondered, if one had simply not bothered with the carob, would they have suffered in any way?

Which is a depressing thought that most of us, perhaps, can identify with which takes us to a place that I’d rather not go. Until then, the sub-standard brownie will remain a part of this household, loved for what it is and nothing more, something which all of us dream of.

Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Lemons

Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Lemons

I don’t wish to start moaning already, but… it’s a bit too hot. It’s only March and it’s 31 degrees. We moved from Worthing because it was too cold to cycle (yes, we’re pathetic) and now we’re thinking that it might be too hot to cycle. It’s beginning to sound like we’re looking for reasons not to cycle.

The whole experience so far has been utterly overwhelming. It’s just so perfect and beautiful; a proper country idyll. There’ll be bad days and worse days, I’m sure, but right now it’s like a very long held dream come true; something I wasn’t sure would ever come to fruition throughout the decades (yup, that long) that this lifestyle has been on the cards (spreadsheet). I won’t get too smooshy here, but this is all a pretty big deal. If you’re reading this and thinking you’d like to live differently, but are scared to take the step: take the step. Mostly this is all wonderful because we have a lemon tree.

Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Lemons - 01

The Algarve gets two crops of lemons a year because the climate is so warm for so long. These particular lemons are from the autumn batch last year and most were gathered from the ground, so are a bit old, but perfectly fine. The lemon tree is the paler green bush in the background, currently covered in blossom and green lemons. Hundreds of them, which will all be ready in the next few weeks. Lemon Armageddon. Lemageddon. Armalemon.

So, in the spirit of economy, good living and the utter joy of foraged food, we have eaten a lot of lemons in our first week here so as not to waste them. That is alongside three 200 miles round trip journeys to IKEA. That’s right, three visits to IKEA in one week. What fresh hell is this? In our defence, our doorways are both low and narrow and nothing but flatpack furniture will fit through them. We are in zero fear of burglars who will not be able to get anything out without first dismantling it, and no one in the history of the world thinks that would be worth a day of their life.

So, on the menu this week has been Lemon Chicken, lots of sparkling water drunk with, you guessed it, freshly squeezed lemon juice. I’ve also baked a Spanish Almond Torta, which is traditionally made using oranges; not this time.Served with Lemon Curd Ice Cream made from the Lemon Curd that I made with my… er… lemons. Lemon Curd Ice Cream is as good as it sounds and just requires Lemon Curd and whipped double cream chucked in the freezer, if you don’t have an ice cream maker.

As I still had around 30 odd lemons after all that lot of culinary creativity, my brother, Frank, reminded me about Preserved Lemons, which are a staple of Moroccan cuisine and have a very different lemony taste; the bitterness goes. They are pretty pricey in the UK and, as it turns out, pretty easy to make. I now have to wait four weeks before I can eat them, by which time there will be another 300 lemons ready for consumption. Ah well, no such thing as too much lemon cake. Here I am, looking proud with my jars of (free) Preserved Lemons.

Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Lemons - 04

Whilst making the house habitable, Keith has been banging his head. A lot. The doorways, as I said, are low and Keith is not. They are too low for me as well, but I don’t have to bend so far down and appear to have encompassed bending down into my general way of being whilst in the house and so far, I have not hit my head once. Keith probably does it at least once a day; a right hard thwack each time which has left him with lumps on his head and tears in his eyes, poor sausage. Apart from knocking through about 12 inches of stone which make up the walls of the house – interior and exterior – there’s not much we can do about the door heights, except…

 

A Post-It note Blu-taced next to every single doorway in the house. I somehow knew whilst I was packing for this trip that taking Post-It notes, marker pens and Blu-tac would be a good idea. Never leave home without stationery, I say.

The house next door to ours is a British owned holiday home and is empty most of the year (crazy fools). For the first time since we arrived, we saw a person in shorts getting debris out of the huge, turquoise, empty for most of the year swimming pool in the garden. We decided that this must be the owner and that we must be ‘sociable’. We spent about 20 minutes whispering,stressing, arguing and deliberating as to who was going to say what in way of an introduction to our neighbour. After approaching the adjoining wall in united and somewhat formal fashion and hailing the gentleman next door, we discovered that he was not in the slightest bit interested in making our acquaintance beyond a slightly confused and heavily accented hello… because he was the Portuguese pool guy and not our neighbour. Bollocks, we’ve got to go through all that again when the real neighbour arrives. The perils of sociability. It’d be easier just to ignore everyone and avoid the stress; but that pool next door is really rather lovely…

But it’s not all rural bliss in the country, I appear to be allergic to Portugal, or sun, or something. Since being here I’ve developed a lumpy rash all over my body, mouth ulcers, cold sore, streaming eyes and incessant sneezing. I’ve never suffered from hayfever or allergies of this nature, but it has been a while since I’ve been in the midst of quite so much nature. I’ve started eating a spoon of local flower honey every day to try and desensitize to the pollen and it seems to be working. A much greater risk to our new life is that we’ve also nearly run out of Tunnocks. Strangely enough, I’m not expecting much support or sympathy in our time of need here, guys. Guys?

Nice on €10 a day

Nice on €10 a day

Nice on €10 a day - 01

Every time we come here, the same thing happens:

Me: Keith?

Keith: Yep.

Me: Why don’t we live in Nice?

Keith: Don’t know, love.

Nice on €10 a day - 02

We bloody love Nice. We’ve been here quite a few times and it’s always just brilliant. I can’t put my finger on what it is that we love so much about Nice. It is quite a lot like Brighton with sun, but surely that can’t be it? Can it? We have come to the conclusion that we like everywhere that’s like Brighton with sun, so maybe that’s part of it, but Nice is just small enough, cool enough, sunny enough and interesting enough to keep us entertained. This visit was at the end of a weird and very busy week so I hadn’t had time to get my head around the fact that we were going away.

Nice on €10 a day - 03

Nice on €10 a day - 04

We set off at 4am to Gatwick and halfway through the afternoon, I found myself laughing out loud shouting ‘We’re in Nice’ as the reality finally hit me. I once had a minor mental breakdown here on my own (after Keith had caught an earlier flight home than me to go somewhere for work) and almost didn’t come home. Still wonder if I made the right choice. By now I would have fitted right in with the leathery elderly gents and ladies who frequent the beach during the day and probably sleep under a sunbed at night just to get their fix.

Nice on €10 a day - 05

Who could not love a place where you can swim in the sea and get horrifically sunburned within an hour in October. Idiots.

I first came to Nice 18 years ago in a time when it had a bad reputation. Guidebooks warned of pickpockets, dodgy happenings on the beach and a general sense that you needed to watch your back. It was a place where no one really wanted to go. Seedy, sleazy and full of dog shit. Since then, Nice has cleaned up its act and is now a very nice place to be. The city has had a whole bunch of money pumped into its redevelopment including a tram network, multiple public pieces of art and most recently, a fantastic new park in the middle of the city complete with squirty fountains and enormous wooden creatures for kids to climb all over.

Nice on €10 a day - 06

Nice on €10 a day - 07

This time we’re here on a budget as this is our new existence. This trip was booked when we still had jobs and cash so is a big of a hangover from the ‘Old Life’, but it was paid for so we had to come. In actual fact, we never spend much money in Nice. Buses to anywhere along the whole Cote D’Azur only cost €1.50. There’s something really joyful about going to Monaco on a bus for €1.50 and buying nothing more than an ice cream in the most stupidly, tackily affluent place in Europe. Once we went to the Casino at Monte Carlo and spent €5 on the slot machines. Living dangerously and hoping that some multi-billionaire would decide that his ‘Lady Luck’ for the day was a scruffy, slightly overweight sunburned middle-aged woman. Let me dream.

Nice on €10 a day - 08

This weekend we went in the other direction west to St Paul de Vence, made famous by none other than Bill Wyman in his classic hit, Je suis un rock star. It goes like this:

Je suis un rock star, j’avez une residence,Je habitez la dans la south de France,Voulez-vous partir with me,And come and restez la with me in Vence.

I knew the words without having to look them up because I remember reading and learning them from Smash Hits in 1981, and despite not remembering what I’m supposed to be doing tomorrow, I do know all the lyrics of Je suis un rock star. Thanks, brain, most helpful choice of data storage criteria applied there.

Nice on €10 a day - 09

Actually St Paul de Vence is made more famous by the likes of Chagall, Picasso and Matisse who all shacked up there for quite some time and have now turned the place in a crumbly bunch of expensive art galleries and posh restaurants. It is a really pretty place perched on top of an outcrop of rock an hour on the bus from Nice.

Nice on €10 a day - 10

Nice on €10 a day - 12

It is fair to say that house prices in St Paul de Vence are what you might call ‘bloody ridiculous’. This little number is up for sale for €450,000 and you don’t even get the shop underneath in order to sell overpriced Matisse prints in order to pay your astronomical mortgage. Worthing suddenly looks like excellent value, despite the lack of sun, romance, character… I’ll stop there before I depress myself.

Nice on €10 a day - 11

In St Paul de Vence, I think I found my calling in life. Two of my best favourite things in life are French villages and tidying up. So, what better job could there be than a French village hooverer? That was his real job. I would bloody love that. I wonder what qualifications you need. I would have got a better picture, but the fella saw me following him pretending to take photos of the surrounding houses unconvincingly. He could probably tell I was after his job.

Nice on €10 a day - 13

 

St Paul de Vence also progressed a new hobby which we started in Somo, near Santander on our bike trip: Life imitates art. I think this could catch on and go viral. I am wondering how best to set up a platform for other contributions to this fascinating new trend.

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Nice on €10 a day - 15

Once we returned to Nice from St Paul de Vence we found that we couldn’t stop.

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Nice on €10 a day - 17

We also have a favourite jam shop in Nice which sells a particular Lavendar jam that Keith is somewhat partial to.

Nice on €10 a day - 18

The shop is run by the owner and jam-maker himself who revealed himself on this visit as what can only be described as ‘a bit right wing’ on this occasion. I have read that the French do not balk at the topic of politics in polite conversation as we Brits might and quite enjoy a rousing debate, feeling no compulsion to agree out of good manners with what is being said. We discovered that Jam Man had no problem with contributing to the payment of welfare benefits to the unemployed, as long as they didn’t drink coffee and smoke cigarettes. He was positive about Sarkosy and had nothing but ‘boffs’ and disdain for Hollande. He didn’t mind the Polish, but wasn’t so keen on the Romanians or the Arabs, but none of these were as bad as the Russians, who were mafia and had too much money and no manners. If we’d have stayed longer I think we could have a jolly old time finding out his views on gay marriage. Oh, and he thought David Cameron was a good bloke. He does make lovely jam though. Keith has asked him for job in his jam shop twice but he either thinks we’re joking or is ignoring us.

Nice on €10 a day - 19

We always have ice cream in Nice. Our usual summertime dinner is take-away pizza, bottle of €1 fizzy wine, bottle of cassis and two chocolate moelleux puddings from the Lac Chocolatier shop in the old town, whilst sitting on the beach watching the sun go down, with the option of an evening swim while you’re at it. It’s an expensive night out for €17, but sometimes you just gotta push the boat out.

Nice on €10 a day - 20

Early sunsets in October mean no beach dinners this time but we managed an ice cream from our up-until-now favourite ice cream shop, which we will never visit again because the woman behind the counter wouldn’t let me take a photo of the ice cream in the shop, even though I was buying one, and even though publishing it on this blog would have rocketed her profits by at least €2 a year for the rest of her life. So, screw her. We shall go elsewhere. Yes, I am that churlish, don’t mess with me. Here is a photo of some cakes from the lovely Lac Chocolatier who did let me take a photo. Shame they don’t sell ice cream, but loads of other places do in Nice, it’s a bit of a thing (near to Italian border).

Nice on €10 a day - 21

We also came home with a new addition to our family on this trip. Sitting on the pavement all alone, we found Guillaume.

Nice on €10 a day - 22

He wasn’t called Guillaume when we found him (or was he?), but he didn’t look like his rightful owner would come back and get him, so we rescued him. Is he a lamb? Is he a dog? The jury is out, but he is Guillaume and he now lives in Worthing. Considering he used to live in Nice, I’m not sure we’ve done him any favours now I come to think of it.

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Nice is the kind of place that doesn’t have a ton of must-sees, it’s perfectly fine to just wander. There’s the Vieux Ville (Old Town), the Promenade des Anglais, the beach, the port, the cheap bus rides to anywhere along the coast in both directions, the food, the markets; really just the general laid-back ambience of a warm seaside city.

As someone once said: ‘If you’re tired of Nice, you’re tired of ice cream’.

I think it was me.

Nice on €10 a day - 24

Cost of trip:

Flights cost us £79.00 each – British Airways out, Easyjet back. We walked from the airport to our accommodation- Nice airport is about 4 miles along the beach from the centre. Bus ticket in costs €6 each (saving of €24). We decided to save the money and got somewhere to stay mid-way between airport and centre so neither felt too far in one stretch. We got a studio at the Adagio Access Nice Magnan which wasn’t the cheapest at £70.00 per night (Airbnb had studios for €34 a night when I looked later). Advantange of the apartment was that it had a kitchen including fridge, hotplate and microwave. This saved us a whopping fortune on hotel breakfast (saving of €34.60 in our aparthotel) and dinners out. We spent a total of €60 in 3 days. This bought us 2 x breakfasts for two people, 3 x lunches for two, 2 x dinners for two, bus tickets to/from St Paul de Vence, 2 x ice creams. We ate granola, yogurt, juice, coffee, rotisserie chicken, Dauphinoise potatoes, salad, Camembert, ham, tomatoes, bread, chocolate pudding, chocolate, soup and fromage blanc. We always take plastic cutlery and a tupperware box for storing, carrying and mixing stuff. Fill it with pants and socks in your luggage and it takes up no room.

The Cote D’Azur, where even the toilets have charm.

Nice on €10 a day - 25

Day 13: Biarritz. Rest day.

Day 13: Biarritz. Rest day.

Me: We should learn to surf.
Keith: I don’t want to.
Me: Why?
Keith: Because its completely bloody pointless.

Hard to argue with that, but I so want to be cool. Just for once.

Photograph of Biarritz beach and bay taken from top of cliff looking south.

 

It seems like everyone surfs here. Or pretends to. Unless you are an elderly lady who’s had ‘some work done’ who can’t surf because she has to look after her ridiculously small dog and her extensive collection of leopard print garments. Or one of the many gentlemen getting away with a specific shade of salmon pink trouser that would not be tolerated in Britain without homophobic comment being passed.

Photograph of surfers at dusk, Biarritz, France.

Today we had ice cream made by a ‘Champion du Monde’ in the ice cream field. As an ice cream maker myself, I was keen to see if his claims had any merit and if perhaps living in Biarritz could be achieved after all if I could open an ice cream shop to rival his (yet another use for Keith’s redundancy money). Suffice to say it’s back to the drawing board. We both had to concede that this could well be the best ice cream in the world. Rare and high praise not lightly given.

Photograph of two pots of Thierry Bamas ice cream on a Biarritz pavement.

 

The number of flavours were limited to about 14 – none of your messing about with fancy shit – and were just sublime. Keith had vanilla and blackcurrant and violet. I had raspberry sorbet and salted caramel. Divine. Biarritz is very much a French holiday resort as its not too easy to get to. Ryanair fly there from the UK. That would be worth suffering for a Thierry Bamas ice cream.

The other thing that feels nice about Biarritz is that alongside all the hoards of tourists, it’s a real town with real residents, even if they are a bit bonkers. It’s a bit like Brighton with sand. The market was packed on a Sunday morning. As not very brave travellers, we are frequently beaten by markets and other local establishments that have rules that we don’t know. We often queue for ages and appear to be overlooked only to discover that their was a ‘system’, despite the fact that it looked like the last thing that could ever possibly be in existence was a ‘system’. More often than not, we give up and scuttle off to a supermarket where we can pick up what we need without having to speak to anyone or get it wrong, but feeling like complete failures for our ineptitude at basic level intrepidness and bad about not supporting local tradespeople. If they would only form an orderly queue like civilised people, this wouldn’t have to happen. Perhaps we should move here and teach them a thing or two. Moving to warm, sunny places is a bit of theme in our lives.

Photograph of interior of Biarritz market with stalls and lots of people.

Photograph of vegetables on market stall in Biarritz Market, France.

But today wasn’t one of those days that we would be beaten by locally grown agricultural products. Today I win at markets. And it feels good. Small victories are claimed by cowards.

Today we also win at Basque cake. They come in three flavours: custard, chocolate and cherry, so we had all three. As Keith says in times of such deliberation: ‘It’s not an ‘or’ situation; it’s an ‘and’.’

Photograph of three Gateaux Basques cakes on a plate.

The cakes are ground almond based so super squidgy and moist. All were good, but custard just too sweet.

Biarritz being on the Atlantic is therefore tidal, so at certain times of the day,the beautiful golden sand beach of the main bay disappears.

Photograph of Biarritz surf beach on a sunny day with swimmers and surfers in the sea.
And all of the thousands of people have to find somewhere to tan their beautiful selves, so they pop round the corner to the town beach which doesn’t all get swallowed in sea. This was all a bit much for us (me, mainly). Too busy, too noisy, too visually overwhelming. Some of these people must have been before and know what it’s like, and come back for more year after year. This is puzzling. We do not comprehend such behaviour. We conclude that some people like to sit this close to other people and don’t get stressed about stepping on other people’s towels or losing their kids. They actually find it relaxing and fun. We are not those people. We have to live in a world populated by these people. This is harder than you may think. I am in awe of those people and wish I was that laid back.

Photograph of a packed beach in Biarritz, France.

We spent our final evening here watching CSI on telly and wishing we didn’t have to get back on the road tomorrow. Tomorrow means Spain, which means poor maps, poor planning, mountains and horror stories about how hard it is to get into San Sebastian on a bicycle.