Islandmomma

Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age


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Island Autumn

I probably wouldn’t be living where I am right now if I was as hooked on Autumn as I think I am. I could even choose to live up in the mountains, where chestnuts grow, mists swirl, and the season looks more familiar. But I don’t. I live on the coast, not the warmest part, but warm enough to remind me each day that these islands are nicknamed “The Islands of Eternal Spring.”

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Even sand dunes are parched in October, as early-morning swimmers paddle into the ocean.

Autumn here is often marked by a return to greenery, rather than the loss of it in a fiery display of gold and orange. Some time in Autumn the rains come, and days afterwards, as the sun warms the earth again, even the most barren-looking tracts of land turn grassy. Within days, tiny, green shoots flourish like triffids, and the landscape is much kinder than before.

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The One Where I Get a Bit Nostalgic

When I decided to expand the theme of this blog (coming soon! keep on reading, folks!) I wondered about fitting  in ramblings about the country of my birth, England, but, of course it’s a part of  Great Britain or…..the British Isles – voilá it fits….happily since my trip to UK this time took in some old haunts en route to WTM.

It had been some years since I’d visited my home town, and this was pretty much a flying visit, with plans constantly being forced to change. After sitting for two hours on the sultry tarmac at South Tenerife airport due to non-functioning air conditioing,  I, actually, didn’t think I could ever feel cold again! Not so!

I left a wave of heat which hadn’t eased up much since it began in late Spring, and I woke my first morning in my friend Maggie’s house to a crisp morning of crystal-clear sky and a light frost on the lawn. I pulled on clothes and grabbed the camera. Maggie and Mike live in the swathe of flat, green countryside between Blackpool and Preston, and I could see  a hazy sun emerging across the fields. Mike came out to see what I was doing, bemused, I think, by my attempts to photograph the slight frosting on the grass – a sight uncommon to me, but not to him!

Suddenly, he pointed upwards and  I heard a mournful cacophony which used to be very familiar. Following his pointing finger I saw the skein of geese in that unmistakable,  shifting V-shape as it strung out across the blue. Years ago I’d lived in an area like this, and the excited gabbling of  migrating geese was something which confirmed the onset of the “dark side” – those winter months I’d rather not remember!

It was from the geese I learned the word sehnsucht – their cries echoed that yearning inside of me to be in warmer, far-flung places as winter engulfed northern England.

A couple of days later and back on GMT, my cold fingers fumbled to capture an Irish Sea sunset from the beach at Cleveleys, north of Blackpool at what seemed a ridiculously early hour. The Promenade here has been remodeled since I was there, years ago, and its stark but graceful lines and colors now reflect those of the coastline. It was a little chill, but utterly in keeping with the place. The tide here goes out so far that you can’t even see the sea, as a small child I used to think that it disappeared over the edge of the world.

Moody skies over the Lake District hills from Cleveleys Promenade

Here there was that slightly desolate feeling I used to get at this time of year. The bleak sea breeze permeated my inadequate clothing (I long ago used up all my cold-weather clothing!), and whilst I admit to pangs of nostalgia, the short walk was enough to confirm my decision to have emigrated…….it would cost me far too much in clothing to live here now, but do you see all those dots on the pictures? They are all folk out taking a bracing stroll – hardy, these Northerners!

What made me more nostalgic was a visit earlier in the day, with my friend, Pat, to Stanley Park in Blackpool, a place I’d been taken to as a child and in turn took my own kids. It was also close to my senior school and the place we would sneak out to on occasion to read on the grassy knolls around the lake. Here I found the Autumn I always seek at this time of year.

The golden leaves, the sunlight through the trees and all that jazz. And, speaking of jazz, we had a very nice lunch in the café by the Rose Garden, which is, apparently, seared on my memory, because I remembered it quite clearly, the Art Deco-ish decor which must have been very popular in the Blackpool of my childhood I think. Even the brass boxes on the loo doors remained, although these days you don’t have to pay – tell me how could I get nostalgic about a box on a toilet door?…..jazz because on weekends they have jazz there, which I have marked down to go see on my next summer visit! Lovely venue right by the rose garden.

Stanley Park Rose Garden, Blackpool with the café to the left.

My few, short days on the Fylde Coast were warmed by wonderful friendships which have weathered the years and all life’s changes; by scrumptious full-on breakfasts and home-cooked dinners; by babies – my goddaughter’s, the next generation, and by happy memories, but much as I am glad to have grown up there (I think it made me tougher, physically and perhaps mentally) I’m more than happy to return to the sunshine and the sub-tropics!


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Grasmere : An Autumnal and Eternal Slice of Real England

I think I was around 10 years old when my aunt and uncle moved to the Lake District.  Until then my experiences had been lovely Sunday excursions of the sort we used to make in the 1950s, the family all piling into a chunky car (wow, but cars were SO different back in those days!), eating ice cream, feeding ducks on lakes and going across Lake Winderemere on the ferry if I was really lucky!

When Uncle Jim and Auntie Dot moved to Bowness-on-Winderemere my vacations and experiences took on a whole, new meaning, especially when I was old enough not to be accompanied by my grandmother, and we had freedom to explore the countryside in a very “Swallows and Amazons” sort of way.  Back in the 1950s it was safe for kids to roam a bit, and let our imaginations have full rein…..but that’s the subject of a whole other post one day.

I have the most vivid memory of the first time I saw the village of Grasmere.  We’d walked en famille from Rydal Water, through knee-high bracken and over hills, my stoic grandmother, handbag on the crook of her arm, as was the habit then, more like a Sunday stroll than a hike, but I knew that it was my first real hike, even then. Grasmere gave me a little thrill when we arrived.  It was so like the villages I imagined from books, quaint, pretty, with a neat church alongside a brook, and a few scattered houses. In essence, despite the increase in traffic and the hoards of tourists who now come from every corner of the world,  it hasn’t changed. Off  the top of my head, I can think of nowhere else I know which has retained its atmosphere in the face of the modern world in the way which Grasmere has.

When I came to study Wordsworth in high school it added interest that I’d seen his grave and the village he loved.  I like to think I wouldn’t have needed the extra encouragement. Wordsworth remains one of my favorite poets. He has always filled my soul with his words, produced an almost physical response in me. Later in my high school life there would be visits to Dove Cottage, his home for 8 or 9 years, and then and still a museum.

Grasmere has drawn me back so many times over the years that I couldn’t possible even attempt a guess at how often I’ve visited – there have been family afternoon teas in the cafe beside the river on whose other bank lies the churchyard, both with my  parents and later with my own children; it has been the starting point and the finishing point for hikes around the area; and in the last few years somewhere for a gentle amble and a re-living of memories with my father.

That was what October of this year was. A stroll along the main street, these days much, much busier than it was in the 1950s of course, although in October not too bad, and tea and scones in one of the excellent cafés; a turn around the churchyard ……..and a visit to the Gingerbread shop.

Sarah Nelson’s Gingerbread is world-famous to those in the know, and the story of how it came to be is both heartbreaking and inspiring, take a minute to read it in the words on their website, which are far more eloquent than mine would be.  As you approach the tiny shop your nose begins to twitch, and when you enter, the warm and comforting smell of ginger fills the air. It’s very addictive! Moreover, the taste totally lives up to the anticipation the aroma produces! The gingerbread is hard and crunchy, but then disintegrates in the mouth in a burst of flavor, leaving the sugary, gingery crumbs to be licked off the lips. Oh, yes, it’s addictive!

The only problem I have with it is that it’s also dense and heavy, meaning I can’t bring too much back with me in these days of low-cost travel consequences, but perhaps that’s just as well!


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Autumn in London’s Kew Gardens: An Unexpected Treat

I was five years old the first time I went to London. Needless to say, I was terribly excited. In my befuddled, five-year-old head I thought it was some kind of rite of passage – visiting the capital of one’s country.  After the visit I would be much more clever and sophisticated…….I didn’t think in those words, of course – I didn’t know those words then – but that’s the emotion I remember.What I remember about the vacation itself are the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, and being forced to eat my chips in Lyons Corner House (it was only 6 years after the end of WW2 and seeing food wasted was still hard for my parents to accept.)

The next time I went I was in my teens…….and London was Swinging (capital S intended). It was THE place on the planet to be. It was colorful and vibrant, and intimidating to a provincial lass chasing coolness and sophistication (oh, there’s that word again, but I understood it by then).  There were several visits in those years, I remember riverside pubs, Swedish saunas, seeing imposing signs like “Scotland Yard” or “BBC” – this was real life.  There were also the Tower of London, Portobello Road Market, Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral (not to be confused), St Paul’s, the Changing of the Guard – the usual tourist stuff in other words.

In my 20s and early 30s going to London was about posh weekends;  theater, shopping in Harrods, the latest movies, foreign foods you couldn’t get at home, dressing up, the 007 Bar in the Hilton Hotel (my idea of sophistication then – Ouch!)

Having transplanted my kids to a foreign land at tender ages, there came the point where a visit to London was a “must-do” on a lot of levels. By this time there were, to my horror, queues to get into the main attractions.  Still living in a sort of hicksville, I hadn’t realized just how big tourism had become back home.  So there was quite a bit we missed – it wasn’t really queuing weather.  It was a chill late October. We lapped up  movies in English (there were none available here then), we saw a couple of shows, and I discovered that museums were now entire entertainment centers, not just showcases of old stuff. I think we went twice to the Imperial War Museum (still a favorite of mine), and, of course, the Natural History Museum.  The thing which really sticks in my memory, though, is the parks, which were  breathtaking panoramas of golds, ambers and reds. It was crisp and dry, and the leaves were piled up in colorful clumps, just the way I remembered them from my childhood, and we  kicked them about, we scooped up armfuls and threw them into the air,   we fell dramatically into the heaps and we jumped on them, listening to the crackling sounds. It was one of those things you do as a child which you want to do with your own kids, a postcard from childhood.

In more recent years London has been about the London Eye, Camden Market, the London Marathon, Springtime in the parks, and it’s still about foreign foods (only the last time it was Cinnabon – well, it is foreign!) I can’t get at home and the latest movies. My Autumn trip this year, however, held a new experience, and one I can’t believe I’ve never had before. I went to Kew Gardens.

Guy took me as a surprise, so I didn’t know anything about it except that it is home to the largest collection of plants in the world, and some very attractive greenhouses, which I’d glimpsed from the air a couple of times, when my flight had been stacked, waiting to land at a London airport. I knew that it was an authority to be reckoned with – one absorbs a certain amount of information during one’s life without knowing it! It turns out that it’s a World Heritage Site, and covers over 300 acres, and it a world leader in scientific research into plant life, its consequences, history and future.  They have a pretty impressive mission statement.

Knowing very little of this, I enjoyed the outing simply as a beautiful, mellow, autumnal day.  We marveled at the beauty of orchids and waterlilies; we laughed about how plants in the Palm House, termed exotic, were perfectly normal roadside plants to us; we kicked up a few leaves too, but honestly this park is so neat and tidy there weren’t that many, although, as you can see the trees were quite spectacularly showing off their seasonal glory. We defended our picnic lunch from the very persistent Canada Geese, and we I kept a sensible distance from carnivorous flora!

I’m a sucker for history, so afterwards I read up about Kew, about how evidence from pre-history shows that there was almost certainly a settlement there, on the rich, alluvial soil by the banks of the River Thames; about how the first records of the area show it to be a huge field, which was then, over time broken down into smaller units; about how one owner, Sir Henry Capel was a fanatical gardener and began the transformations which have resulted in what we see today; and about how much of what we now see is owed to Augusta, Dowager Princess of Wales in the 18th century. That was a century which brought much exotic, new flora and fauna to Europe’s shores, as explorers and conquistadors spread out over the globe in search of society’s next talking point. In fact, the idea of botanical gardens was born then.  The Botanical Gardens here in the Canary Islands, in Puerto de la Cruz, were established as a kind of stopping off point, so that plants could be studied and acclimatized before being taken to the mainland.

There are so many sides to Kew that it must surely take more than one day to see it all, and our day was a short one – October, remember.  What struck me was how good a thing it is that folk want to spend a day looking at, essentially, beauty, in this often drab and chaotic world.  I suppose only a fraction of the people there that day were interested in the history, or in the science of what they saw, and it isn’t necessary. Just seeing, experiencing nature is enough, words aren’t always needed.

Oh, and they have a great sense of humor there too!

I can’t finish without mentioning that there was there a photographic exhibition entitled “Hard Rain” which is quite extraordinary and very moving. It’s all the more moving for being outdoors, surrounded by trees.  Hard Rain began as a project to set images to Bob Dylan’s iconic song. No doubt even Dylan didn’t realize the full impact of his words. What we were doing to each other and the environment back then seems little compared with the problems we now know we face, and the lack of concern. Because I have the book I didn’t take pictures of the exhibit, which was a bit silly, but there is a picture on the website.

One thing I know. Kew Gardens is high on my list of places to revisit the next time I go to London.  I will go armed with information about the aspects I want to see, and I have penciled it in for springtime too – it must look astounding in the spring!


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Finding Autumn at last on Tenerife!

Okay – I can hear you saying, “If she misses Fall so much why doesn’t she just move?” – so this will be the last time I mention it for this year, and anyhow I can now tell you that I know just where to go to get my Autumnal fix next year.

Some days here, October through May, dawn is so incandescently clear it simply makes me want to cry.  The heat haze of summer gone for a few months, no Sahara dust hovering in the air, and early enough so that the clouds which encircle the mountains later in the day are still abed. Yesterday was one of those days.

Cristina and I, for different reasons,  had missed hiking on Sunday with  friends, and since it was her day off yesterday, and I badly needed some fresh air, my sinuses filled with dust from all the pre-removal packing, we decided to head up to Spain’s highest village, Vilaflor (roughly 4,590 ft above sea level), for some fresh, mountain air. We left the south coast as the sun’s rays began to warm the skin, passed through Vilaflor and left the car by the roadside a little higher, at the beginning of the entry road to the Madre de Agua recreational area.

Just stepping out of the car the atmosphere felt different  – sights, sounds and the feel of cool air on the face are all a world away from the beaches. Though on the first steps of the walk we could see a landscape still in need of rain, it was nowhere near as parched as the coast. Vilaflor is an agricultural area, and soon we were looking down onto cultivated terraces, and over the tops of pines and hillsides to the ocean.  Montaña Roja, which I always think of as marking my home, was clearly visible, and though the countryside was dappled with shadows from passing clouds, the ocean still sparkled way below.

This route would take us through the municipalities of both Granadilla de Abona and Vilaflor, land which is the source of the bottled waters of Tenerife. Right now dried-up streams and water courses mark the route.  When the rains come, any time now, they will be in full flow again, and the detritus of summer will be washed away.

What I hadn’t expected was to turn a corner and see Fall colors, yellows and golds clinging to the black skeletons of chestnut trees.  I really hadn’t realized that they grew over this side of the mountains.  We noted that they aren’t the tall, leafy trees of the northern slopes, but seem stunted, as if deprived of some ingredient to make them grow.  Nevertheless, broken shells of chestnuts littered the ground along with the fallen leaves.  Clearly there had been fruit, and folk had been here to collect the bounty.

 

 

 

We walked for a couple of tranquil hours, occasionally greeting other walkers, returning or overtaking us.  It was good to see that people now realize just how rich this island is in walking routes as well as beaches. We breathed that fresh, energizing scent of pine trees.  We stopped and perched in a wee, stone circle to lunch, the sort of place I would have thought of as a fairy meeting place when I was little. I’d made sandwiches of  turkey mortadella – well, it was Thanksgiving!

When turning to return, we met the mists which we’d seen drifting through the tall pines, vistas which had been clear were now hazy, and the graceful needles of the Canary pines were strung with droplets of brume, and looked like delicate Christmas decorations.  The air now was perfumed with the smell of wild fennel, which reminded me of summer. It must have been aroused by the damp.

 

The colors of the  bare rock faces, which had appeared dry, now glowed, their reds and ochres enriched by the moisture, and I found the last flower in this autumnal scene amongst the dead leaves and grasses.

Now I know where to come when my homesickness for Autumn kicks in.


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Autumn Arrives

Autumn arrived on the back of a stiff Atlantic breeze the other day.  I had a visit from Katrina of TourAbsurd, and after a few days exploring the island we had awarded ourselves a lazy day, breakfast with friends and a snooze on a beach; but it wasn’t to be – at least not for as long as we hoped!  After consistent sunshine and a good forecast for the entire week, Thursday dawned cloudy and humid, but that’s not unusual, days often begin badly and end well, or vice versa, and sitting by the sea scoffing croissants and café con leche the lack of sun wasn’t entirely unwelcome.

By the time we were ready to move, the clouds still hovered, so I opted for the Las Vistas beach in Los Cristianos for practical reasons, and we even took sunbeds and organized ourselves in hopes that the sun would peep out from the grey.  Katina had a swim, and it was pleasant to be outdoors and sleepy, possibly even more so than if the sun had been fierce.

I was dozing when Autumn sneaked up, and woke me, swirling around the sunbeds on a warm but forceful zephyr, spraying sand in our eyes and sending the sunbed guy scurrying to close the parasols.

And there it was, like some cartoon character riding the elements and into our lives.  The season had changed on cue.

It had been only five days before that El Médano celebrated the end of its fiesta.  I’d sat on the wall of the boardwalk with friends devouring crêpes from the fair’s newest stall, and watching the amazing fireworks, and the next night nibbled kebabs and ice cream under balmy night skies, yet Thursday I could pinpoint the exact moment that Summer ceded to Fall. No frost, no gales, no dark mornings, the year simply shrugged off the intensity of the sun, and…….. turned.  Already the clouds have receded to their mountain hangouts, and the days are sunny again, but now we never know how a day will be.  There is the constant possibility of rain between now and, roughly, March; another few weeks and I will be shaking out the duvet and today already I bought veggies to make soup.  The differences in the year aren’t bold here, but Autumn has arrived for sure.

 

 


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Farewell to August

August has been hot. August is always hot here. The south is now arid and parched, but that thought crosses my mind every year, and it goes without saying that it’s nothing compared to some regions of the world.  It’s only around six months since it rained.  It does tend to make you realize how devastating prolonged droughts are.

On the wee hike up Montaña Roja the other day I met a perfectly nice, young, Russian guy, who lives in London.  He wouldn’t be convinced that the north of the island is a different world, where there are mountains where mists constantly seep through the trees, colorful cities full of colonial history, or lush valleys where bananas and vines cover the landscape.  He preferred his own version of Tenerife, which was the one before him at that moment.

It was a shame I’d deleted these photos from my camera.  I could have shown them to him to prove that just 3 days before I’d been in fragrant pine forests, shivering after sundown, and admiring this season’s crop of chestnuts.  I’m no expert – except on eating them, that is! – but it looked like rich pickings to me.  I adore chestnuts whether freshly roasted from a street vendor, mixed with onions and spices and crammed into a turkey, or the best sweet ever invented marrons glacés!  Yet another reason why Fall is my favorite season!

I wasn’t there for fun.  I was earning a crust, but since, as you guys know, I always have my camera with me, this is what I came up with.

I was just above Las Raices.  I’d driven slowly (because I could and because that’s how my little car likes to drive) through roadsides lined with the sharp scent of eucalyptus, and pine forests smelling evocatively of Christmas.  I’d trundled down a dirt track and emerged in the surrounds of a rural hotel.

Though the trees were green and shady you can see that even here the ground is dry and the grasses withered. The day was as hot as any on the coast.  The hotel was in a clearing.  But when the sun began to dip beyond the tops of the trees the mountain air freshened and a slight chill set in.  It’s the beauty of this climate, none of those choking-hot and humid nights you find in other sub-tropical places.

And the chestnuts, as you can see, are ripening nicely.  It will a while yet, barring some really bad weather, the heat will decline slowly over the next three months or so, until we awake one morning with cold toes and realize it’s time to put the duvet back on the bed.