Monday, 26 November 2007

The Yoga Show 2007

Sunday November 25th 2007

The Yoga Show 2007, Olympia, London


Linda has two days teaching on the Stott Pilates stand at the Yoga Show so we have an early start and a drive through the rush hour into London. Not something you'd want to do everyday but not as bad as it probably could have been.

The Yoga Show is scheduled at the same time as the Erotica 2007 show and I am keen to discover how many people will be going to both. Dita von Teese is performing at the other show and I'm sure she'd like to go on a Well Being Break next year. I thought it was interesting that the other show started several hours later than our one and goes on into the evening. Perhaps people who go to Erotica shows are not early risers.

We found the Teach Yoga stand and then the Stott area, checked where Linda would be working and then had time for a quick explore. I am weighed down with Well Being leaflets to distribute on the Teach Yoga stand, but the stand is dominated by acroyoga who are performing on the front of the double stand. I think this will really distract people away from both Teach Yoga itself and from me trying to get rid of as many leaflets as possible. Still acroyoga is very spectacular to watch.

Some acroyogis performing

There are a few people at the show that I have come across before, including Julie Hanson and Sue Woodd who I met in June on the Chi Yoga holiday I won at least year's Yoga Show. I spotted them from a distance early on but was keen to meet them with Linda later. Meanwhile Linda has started her work and was soon demonstrating Pilates matwork on one of the big stages.

Linda (on the raised stage) demonstrating STOTT Pilates matwork on one of the main Demo stage at the Yoga Show

On the way round to see Linda I met Tracy from my Yoga Course and her friend Ruth. We sat and watched Linda doing her stuff and it turns out that Ruth is interested in becoming a Pilates instructor. We arranged a short chat with Jill, the STOTT examiner and Ruth is planning to sign up for a course early next year. Ruth is a massage therapist which is something we remain interested in for next year. Meanwhile Tracy and I chatted about the yoga course and the next homeworks due for the practicum this weekend.

Linda has a few breaks during the day and we have a wander round looking for nice tops that Linda could get. Last year there were loads of really nice hippy outfits but this year is pretty sparce and we can't find anything she likes. I bought some old copies of Yoga Magazine and various other bits and pieces.

We also watched the most amazing demo by Duncan Wong, a martial arts and yoga person who was able to do some amazing things. Later I saw him doing a spot of adjusting on one of the acroyoga girls that might have been more appropriate in the Erotica show next door. I also saw Sharon Gannon, this year's star of the show, who, oddly enough, seems to have hair died the colour of broccoli. I don't see her partner, David Life, who always reminds me of Iggy Pop for some reason.

I had a short session "working" on the Teach Yoga stand answering questions about the course. Once or twice I spotted the odd Well Being leaflet disappearing off the stand. Not flying off in vast numbers, but the odd one going every so often. I was hoping to get rid of between 200 and 500 over the weekend. No sign of anyone wandering in from the Erotica show though.

More work for Linda through the afternoon. We managed to get Linda to meet Camille for a few minutes at one point. Camille seems very pleased with the proposed work next year, which is good.

And I eventually had a quick stop by the Chi Yoga stand and talked to Julie for a short while. They have done three sessions today on various subjects connected to their new book. She isn't planning any more retreats but was interested in how our plans were going.

Towards the end of the afternoon I met Natasha who was one of the poeple I met last April when I attended a couple of hours of their final teacher training exams. We had a talk about the course and I mentioned I was doing some editing of the material which she seemed to think was an excellent idea. She seems to have worked really hard for the last few months of her course and that has set me thinking about the sort of work load I should be planning for. I also met Rob, another person I first met in April at the exams. Both Rob and Natasha are teaching now and seem very happy with how the course went for them. But it turns out only 5 passed out of 12 who started it - something which has also given me something to think about.


Another early start to drive down to the Yoga Show. I don't think either of us would have been very pleased to have been doing the Saturday as well. On the other hand, it turns out that the STOTT girls who stayed in London on Friday all went to the Erotica show after the Yoga Show finished having wrangled some free tickets. On that basis, Linda and I would have gone as well. They were full of stories of odd looking people as was Julie Hanson who also apparently went on Friday it turned out when we met her later that morning.

And so to another day very like Friday but probably even busier for Linda as one of their team was sick. I spent several hours on the Teach Yoga stand today as acroyoga were doing workshop demos elsewhere. I even made a sale of a yoga course to a nice blonde haired girl who was there with her mum.

Linda supervising some Pilates matwork teaching

The Teach Yoga stand has a beautiful file full of the current course information and looking so much better than our copies do. I was joined late morning by Romana, who I often sit next to on the course and we were comparing notes on how things are going. She did a demo class with Camille and Elena while I sold the occasional cd and manned the rest of the stall. Camille had baby Ida with her who is really quiet and very cute.

And talking to Elena, I noticed she had added an "introduction to the course" session for the course beginning in February. I asked if I could teach this and was rather surprised when Elena said yes. So I hope February 3rd is free for me to do this.

Linda and I managed another walk round and a longer chat with Sue Woodd, the tai chi teacher from June's holiday. Meanwhile I had spotted a Thai massage place and after Linda returned to her teaching, I was able to book a short session which was pretty good. It would be really good to know how to to this properly.

And that was just about it for the weekend. A few hundred leaflets seemed to go eventually. Wonder if any will produce hits?

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Progressing a few things . . . .

Wednesday November 21st 2007

Longworth, Oxfordshire

Now that the website is up and running, it is time to move on to other things. Generally we try to focus each week's work around a small number of ideas and by changing each week, things move forward in all areas. This last week's main ideas are food and travel.

Over the years we have, like many people, accumulated a vast number of recipes from all sorts of different sources, stored in all sorts of folders and files. We have recently collected these together and are trying to impose some sort of order on them. In part this is to arrive at a more focused idea of what we will be cooking on the breaks next year. We need to get a better idea of what menus might look like and we have developed a list of ten food principles which we are applying as we sort through the piles of stuff. For instance, would we want to eat it? Does it have any sort of consistency with the idea of well-being? How much would it cost to feed twelve people? Does it have any sort of "wow" factor. And some dishes might be far too complex to cook for a dozen people but might work in combination with a lot of simpler dishes.

When I was younger I worked for 18 months in a professional kitchen and the main thing I learnt there was the discipline and organisation needed to cook for larger numbers. Since then we have been "keen amateurs" but have built up a pretty good repertoire. So now we have some order to our cooking plans and for the next six months we will be practising a number of proposed meals each week. Last night it was marinated mushrooms, grilled asparagus wrapped in ham, monkfish with tomato and olive sauce, and peperonata with a salad. Little portions of each as a tester of each.

Our travel plans for next year are somewhat complex. We are planning to take the land rover with us round Europe and so the logistics of moving from one venue to the next are not straightforward. And Linda will need to return to the UK during some of the weeks for various reasons. We have also been sorting out the travel plans for Eve - our life coach. Her plans need to link closely with ours. But the low-cost airlines are now taking bookings well into next year and there are some bargains to be had. Flying to Rome next August costs just over £100 return. One of the Toulouse-Gatwick flights is only £30. And the ferry to France with the land rover is only £150. So we have started booking a few things.

On other matters, we have managed to sort out some dates when Camille Litalien, one of the teachers on my yoga teacher training course, will be able to come over and teach the daily classes for us. These will occur at two of the bigger break venues when Linda and myself will have to be concentrating on food and other admin, etc. Camille will be bringing her "little family" and it should be fun to have a baby in residence. The breaks in question are the Chateau in France in late June and the second Italian break in Barberino next August.

Other work this week is centred around this weekend's Yoga Show in London. Linda is now teaching with Stott Pilates for much of the day on Friday and Sunday. Elena rang me the other day and I will be meeting her early on the Friday to see when I might be available to answer questions from prospective students. In return, Elena has said we can have some Well Being leaflets on her stand so I am furiously printing them at the moment. In the room next door to the Yoga Show is apparently the "Eurotica 2007" show where the burlesque artist Dita von Teese will be performing. I wonder how many yoga fans will be distracted by this other show? And if Dita von Teese comes round the yoga show, I will be more than happy to give her a leaflet about our breaks.

And finally, Linda and I saw "Into the Wild" last week. This is based on the book by Jon Krakauer and is one of the few books that Linda and I have both read. This was a very long film at just under 3 hours but was a really great adaption. I was particularly struck by how it avoided over-romaticising Chris McCandless but including a lot about the hurt that his actions caused to his parents and sister. Recommended highly.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Another yoga teacher training weekend

Sunday November 11th 2007

Yoga Teacher Training Course, Victoria, London


For most of the last week or so I have had a bit of a cough. It does seem to have got a bit better in the last few days but is still a nuisance and has resulted, once again, in me not doing as much preparation for this weekend as I had wanted. It is Anatomy test weekend and quite a few course participants are feeling stressed out as a result. When I first arrived this morning there was just Rhea around and she seems very concerned at the moment, not just about the test, but also about the workload for the entire course.

But first off today is Swami's next lesson on yoga philosophy. She seemed a little put out that she had only had four homeworks in since the last weekend. I sent mine in during the week and it came back with quite a few comments. She didn't agree with a lot of what I had written, that's for sure! This morning we are learning more about yogic physiology - prana, nadis and charkras to be precise. I tend to take much of this with a pinch of salt but I am also aware that most of it can be viewed in less literal ways. For instance, the chakras can be viewed psychologically.

Next up is Ivor lecturing on the digestive system. This is rather late as it could be tested in the Anatomy test tomorrow. The group's anxiety about this test does break through into some questions to Ivor about it, but he seems to think we should all be ok and gives a few hints about the format of the paper. For instance, we now know it contains some diagrams of the skeleton and muscles and asks you to label various features using a list of possibles. There are several extra items on the list, so it can't be entirely done by elimination. But at least we aren't just given the pictures and told to label them, which would be much harder. So I for one feel ok about it.

On Thursday this week Elena rang me and we agreed that I would do a short speech to the group about the way this course teaches the asanas, the posture labs, practicum, etc. This would be the first thing this afternoon. I can tell the group are a little puzzled when I announce that Elena has asked me to talk to them all. But armed with a short handout, I am soon in full flow going through the detail of how the course is set up. The response is rather as expected. Few people have really got to grips with what is involved and what needs to be done between now and the final exams. And as I suspected, this would have been an ideal session to have included in the very first two hours of the course back in June. We overshot my half hour slot but I thought the session went very well.

Elena starts the next session by emphasising that she does see the feedback process as being important and she does want us to take it as seriously as she does. Then she launches into her next technique lab - twists and inversions - and follows much the pattern that she has done to date. A long flowing sequence to warm us up and then a run through the specific postures in her usual playful and spontaneous manner. Tracy called it passionate during our session but I think many of us feel that a more analytical and detailed approach to each posture, with time to take notes, would probably be better.

I stayed after the final session for a little while distributing a few copies of the Well Being brochure to Romana, Eve and Elena. I would like to get rid of a few more and see what feedback I can get from them. Elena and I have a brief chat when we are packing up and Elena suggested that I could put some Well Being leaflets on her stand at the yoga show in a couple of weeks, which would be a very interesting idea. She and her husband were kind enough to give me a lift to my hotel, which was just as well as I had entirely the wrong idea about where it was.

As always I was pretty tired after a day's course and didn't go that far for some food. No doubt I should have done loads of revision for the test but probably managed less than 30 minutes all evening. Instead I read more of Nooteboom's "Roads to Santiago", a really fascinating travel book about Spain which has loads of stuff about the country's history.


Time for another hour or so revision first thing this morning at the hotel and then a half hour walk from the hotel down to Victoria through Hyde Park. It lightly drizzled the whole way down but didn't really spoil the walk. I was totally hooked on a couple of tracks on the ipod this morning as well, especially Sonic Youth's "Pink Stream" from their album from last year.

Elena had appointed me "master of the keys" as she wasn't going to be at the course today. So I actually arrived at 9:00 to open up early and had time for another hour of revision, focusing on diagrams of the body and labelling muscles, bones, etc. By just before 10:00 there was only Swami, myself and Sarah and I did think that maybe everyone had bottled out of the test. But most people turned up soon after.

Swami's lecture this morning lasted three hours, which was perhaps a touch too long and covered the rest of her chakra lecture and an examination of the contents of the "Hatha Yoga Pradipika", one of the earliest yoga texts to mention specific asanas (16 in all). This was actually very interesting stuff I thought, but three hours was a very long lecture.

A brief lunch break during which I talked to Sarah about Well Being Breaks. She has just finished a management course of some sort and was telling me last time that she was really keen to get involved in project work. So I wondered if she might like to review our brochure and website and see what things she might do differently if she were in charge. I'm hopeful this might produce some interesting feedback but I'm also aware that she is getting married in a month or two and so might be busy with far more important things.

Then it was the anatomy test that we have all been fretting about. And I thought this turned out to be a bit easier than it might have been. I reckon I scored somthing like 58 out of 77 which I think ought to be enough. In the brief ten minutes break afterwards there were a few people who found it really tough, but you never know. I think the test format should have helped people do better than they might have thought.

After this we have a class of over three hours on the use of props. Again I found this to be a really long session and I was just about finished by 6:00 when we finally came to a end. A brief chat to Christina and Suzanne who were here today but hadn't heard my talk yesterday and then a dash for the coach and sleep most of the way home.

Post website completion, I had thought this week might be a little more relaxed but I have already thought of loads of stuff that I need to get started on.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Website launch

Wednesday November 7th 2007

Longworth, Oxfordshire

An important day today. After over three months of work, the website has finally launched on the world. True, it isn't perfect and has one or two little gremlins (one of which currently stops the online booking system from working!) but it is good enough for the moment to get us started.

Since getting back from Spain I have worked just about non stop on the website. Last minute projects included getting Google maps for each property location. For a while I thought we might be able to include directions from the nearest airports but that proved slightly too much at this stage.

But I am already working on the list of enhancements for the first major upgrade which we are tentatively setting for two weeks time.

Our first press advert appears tomorrow and I have made a decision about some of our next advertising, selecting "Healthy" magazine, the one sold at Holland and Barrett. This apparently sells over 250,000 copies and is precisely the type of readers were are targetting. I have signed us up for three adverts beginning with the January edition published on Boxing day. This means we have now spent about 75% of our planned marketing spend.

Now to see what impact this all has. A nervous time as we wonder whether our product will find its market.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Spanish Trip - Saturday

Saturday November 3rd 2007

Cortijo el Castano, Nr Orgiva, Andalucia, Spain

The trip to Spain has been a great success and we feel much more certain of our ability to deliver the breaks we want to in these locations. We can now visualise ourselves actually there doing the breaks and we have loads of great ideas to fine tune what we are doing. So a very good trip we feel.

We have a late flight back this evening and Nigel and Zoe were happy for us to stick around most of the day. After packing up (and trying to find ways of bringing lots of goodies home with us) we met for drinks and delicious lemon sponge cake (made with their own lemons) in the main outdoor courtyard. We only had one or two things we thought worth discussing further - things like the plan in respect of keys during the week, and so on.

Afterwards, Nigel and Zoe took us on a tour of their house. This is decorated quite beautifully and full of features that we really like - especially the huge open shower with the sloping tile floor. We'd both like something like that back home in the UK.

It remains lovely and warm and we sit outside for the last couple of hours before we set off back. Next week is a really busy week for both of us. The website finally launches on Wednesday and our first adverts also appear this week. Linda has her final lot of exams and I also have some tests coming up. So lots to do and things could look very different in a few weeks time.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Spanish Trip - Friday

Friday November 2nd 2007

Cortijo el Castano, Nr Orgiva, Andalucia, Spain

So finally we manage to do our trip to Granada, postponed twice previously for various reasons. This involves a drive of about an hour past the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the east. Our aim is to check out some of the cultural sites and the shopping situations. After all, Zara is a Spanish brand - so Linda says - and it is important to find out whether things are much cheaper than they are in the UK.

After we manage to squeeze the car into the smallest parking place ever in the underground car park Nigel had recommended, it takes us less than 10 minutes to find a Zara store and confirm that, yes, things seem much cheaper here. Then it is off for a potato omelette for breakfast and the chance to see some sites

Fountain close to the cathedral
Our first stop is the cathedral, one of those buildings that took years to finish - 180 years in this case. It is tucked in among the other buildings around it and has very few open vistas. But it is a fine building.

The cathedral from the Plaza Bib-Rambla
The main nave of the cathedral
We are too late to get into the Royal Chapel to see the tombs of the "Catholic Monarchs" Ferdinand and Isabella. The chapel shuts for a siesta at 1:00 and re-opens at 3:30. So we wandered into the Albaycin, the city's arab quarter and soon came across a cake shop selling pistachio-topped pastries, which were very good.
Linda with cakes outside the cafe Baraka in the Albaycin
We made our way up through the numerous shops selling clothes and various other middle eastern bits and pieces eventually approaching the Sacromonte area of the city and with views out across to the Alhambra Palace - one of the great buildings of the world and Spain's most visited monument. But we had decided to leave the tour of the Palace for another day though.

Our first view of the Alhmabra Palace from the Albaycin.

A later view of the Alhambra with Mont Veleta in the Sierra Nevada behind it, covered with the first snow of the new season.

We did make it to the park next the the Alhambra though and then back round towards the main shopping area so Linda could acquire a few choice items. Then a much needed beer at a cafe after all our exertions. It was 25o C in the city today yet Mont Veleta has snow on it already and this won't fully melt until the middle of next summer.

Then we just have time to go and visit the Royal Chapel and see the tombs of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, together with their daughter, Joan the Mad and her husband, Philip the Beautiful. The main alter in the chapel is quite extraordinary - a huge gold covered piece about three stories high featuring dozens of lifesized statues of various christian figures. Yet even this is surpassed by other alters in Granada - the Chantel in the Basilica of San Juan de Dios or the main alter in the Basilica of Neustra Senora de Las Angustias are even more elaborate.

After this, we are just about fit to drop but make it to a supermarket for two pizzas to have back at the house (and which turned out to be very nice indeed)

Spanish Trip - Thursday

Thursday November 1st 2007

Cortijo el Castano, Nr Orgiva, Andalucia, Spain

A quiet day today after the long day out driving yesterday. While Linda got herself ready, I worked through quite a large amount of the information I had brought with me about Google Checkout and the booking system details. I am also starting to think about how best to incorporate lists of "other activities" that could be done at each location. I have a good list for this property and a modest list for the second Spain. Other properties will, hopefully, get their own lists later.

One of the other activities we hope to have available for this property is a range of massage treatments and the house book has one or two suggestions. So I gave Jo Hopkins a call to talk about the treatments she and her husband offer and sketch out what we were trying to do for next year. This all sounds very promising and is a good add on to our other stuff.

We had intended to visit Orgiva market this morning but when we get to the square in the centre where we assumed the market was held, it wasn't there. So we had another wander round, finding another hippie shop and reviewing more cakes and pastries in the shop on the main street. We also had a good look round the "Olive Branch" English secondhand bookshop opposite Orgiva church. And the kiosk by the church stocks English newspapers every day brought in from Madrid.

Back to the villa to drop things off and a chat with Nigel and Zoe about yesterday. We discovered that today is a holiday in Spain (all-saints day) which is why the market wasn't on. Then we were off to the nearby village of Lanjaron for more research, checking out the shops on the main street, several restaurants - including one with great views over the valley - and the spa which attracts people from all over Spain (the Balneario de Lanjaron to give it its full title). Some of our guests might fancy visiting a luxury spa for a day

Local whole hams in one of the produce shops in Lanjaron

Linda in the park opposite the spa in Lanjaron

The view south from Lanjaron - the ruined building to the right is a muslim castle

Back to the villa for the afternoon and more work for each of us. Linda continued with her Pilates work while I read some material on sales and marketing that I'd brought with me - not very thrilling but also not areas that Linda and I have much experience in. And it is less than a week till our first national advert appears now

I also managed a little swim - November 1st, 25o C air temperature and an unheated pool still at 22o C. Not bad at all.

We decide to try out the stove in the lounge tonight. We are big fans of open fires at home and it was really nice to have one tonight while we had tea. A phone call from Emma while we were making tea to see if we'd go and visit on Sunday just after we get back from Spain, which will be nice. And tea tonight is the rest of the chicken we bought earlier in the week with loads of fried peppers and more patatas bravos. A bit spicier that the version we did for Nigel and Zoe.

Spanish Trip - Wednesday

Wednesday October 31st 2007

Cortijo el Castano, Nr Orgiva, Andalucia, Spain

Our big day out and one that we were approaching with some trepidation. After we have done the first three weeks in our Moorish Farmhouse next spring, we then do a further three weeks at the Hacienda across the other side of Andalucia. On the middle Saturday we have to move from the one property to the next, leaving after everyone else has left the first and arriving hopefully before anyone at the second. We figured the drive couldn't be more that four hours, but that we should test it. We would also try and draw a plan of the second property and take lots more photos. And hopefully we would also have time to see a little of the immediate area.

So we set off around 10:00 travelling up towards Granada on the dual carriageway and then east on a road that ultimately leads towards Cadiz on the western coast of Spain. Our main surprise on the journey was the beautiful landscape that we were in throughout. For most of the journey we passed through vast fields of olives with large mountains on all sides. This is nothing like the Spain that people are used to and could be a very interesting aspect of the holiday for people coming to stay with us.

The journey ended up taking just over three hours and was 265 km. But it was actually a really nice drive and I don't think we'll be bothered too much by it next year. When we got to the right general area we decided to try and find the property straight away although we weren't due to meet Angel, the owner, for several more hours at 5:00. When we got to it we were rather surprised to meet a number of local Spanish people who appeared to be living in an attached farm bulding and were working round the back of the property. They spoke no English and phoned Angel to discuss the strange English people that had turned up. Angel does speak some English and despite the phone line being really bad I was able to agree with him that we could see the property straightaway as the poeple there had keys. That suited us much better than seeing him later on.

The property is very different from our Moorish farmhouse and is a genuine hacienda basically all on its own on a hillside. It is arrange around three sides of a central courtyard and has a number of terraces around it, together with a pool and sun terrace that has views out across the open countryside for miles and miles

So where we can have some help from Nigel and Zoe at the first property, for this one we are very much on our own. The property was also closed up for the winter and so we weren't seeing it at its best. But nonetheless, it was very possible to get a reasonable idea of how we might organise things. However, though we had about 30 minutes to go round, it turned out that we missed lots of stuff we should have looked at - mainly on how the main kitchen is organised. But nothing that would be likely to cause us a major problem for next year.

And we did get some pretty good extra photos, some of which are shown below with others on the gallery pages of the Well Being Website.

The main entrance to the Hacienda

The main lounge / dining room of the south wing

Linda making her way from the main lounge of the south wing to the second, smaller lounge in that wing.

One of the bedrooms in the north wing

The inner courtyard looking towards the entrance to the south wing

One of the main undercover terraces - this one is attached to the south wing

The view from the pool terrace towards the "white village" of Villamartin in the distance - the pool hadn't been used for several weeks before our visit and will not be this colour when we next stay!

View back to the hacienda - mid picture half way up the hill - from the road below
So the property has some really big rooms, plenty of space to sit outside, eight large bedrooms (only two of which share a bathroom) and some great views from the pool across miles of open countryside.

But much of the attraction of this property relates to its location on the edge of the Grazelema National Park and we now had time to explore this over the course of the afternoon. First stop was Villamartin for food and drink in the main square of the old part of town. We were remindered of a little version of San Francisco with all the roads going up and down steep hills. We found a tourist information office where we could collect our usually armfuls of leaflets for local sites and the girl inside was also able to give us a large map of the village and tell us where the nearest large supermarket was. So more extensive research on the contents of local supermarkets and the produce we can buy nearby.

One of the streets on Villamartin that reminder us of a tiny version of San Francisco

Then we set off into the National Park itself for a drive to Grazelema via several other Pueblos Blancos. Again this region is so unlike what you would normally expect of Spain with lush forests despite it being very late summer here. And all the villages we passed through were exceptionally beautiful.

We had time to stop in Grazelema itself for a walk round, collecting more guidebooks and leaflets on the way and examining several more cake shops. Then it was back towards the route home. This took us from Grazelema to the village of Zahara de la Sierra on a winding road that continually revealed some fantastic views. We also saw some of the local eagles circling round one of the major cliff faces we passed. Yes, this could certainly be an interesting area to explore further.

A typical bar in the centre of Grazelema

We were on the way back about 6:00 - our first experience of a really long drive in a European country at night. Our rental car has a daily display of info such as how long you have been driving that day, how far you've gone and what your average speed was, etc. By the time we got back to the villa we had been in the car for nearly 9 hours today and had travelled 625 km, with less than 3 hours outside the car in all that time.

As we walked towards the villa I saw a shooting star, the second I have seen in the past three weeks (after over ten years without seeing one). I take this to be another good omen, especially after what had been a pretty tough day (though very useful)

Spanish Trip - Tuesday

Tuesday October 30th 2007

Cortijo el Castano, Nr Orgiva, Andalucia, Spain

After last night's late night we decided on a relatively quiet day today. We had originally thought of going to Granada but have decided to leave this trip till later in the week. We did have a brief talk this morning with the agency we have booked the second Spanish property with and we have arranged to go and visit that tomorrow. It is at least a three hour drive each way to this property and we have been quite tempted to not do the trip but we really have to.

So Linda did some more Pilates work and I started on my anatomy revision for my next yoga weekend in a couple of weeks time. I also borrowed Zoe's laptop and had a quick look at the Well-Being website to see if there had been much progress while we've been away. There has definitely been some moves in respect of the online booking system, so that's good. I also logged on to our account at Google Checkout and our test payment appears to have been released to our bank account, so that system has passed its first test.

My other main project through the day was in drawing a plan of the entire property and taking loads of photos so we can really get it all set in our minds. Some of these are shown below with more on the galleries pages of the website

The "blue inner courtyard" - very cool in the heat of the day

The open outer courtyard where the evening Pilates class will be held when fully shaded

The house from the Petanque pitch under the olive trees

Linda studying her Pilates manual on the villa's terrace - this is where the evening meals will be served on our breaks (with a bigger table)

One of the twin rooms in the property

The view south towards the village of Los Tablones and the Contraviesa mountains from the terrace of the apartment (the Sierra Nevada mountains are to the north of the property)

The view towards the inner courtyards, with the blue courtyard hidden in the shade. Above it you can just see the terrace of the apartment

Another evening meal out in Orgiva tonight - delicious gazpacho soup with cut up peppers, tomato and onion followed by a shared paella "of the house". Not bad but we can easily match this standard ourselves we felt.

Spanish trip - Monday

Monday October 29th 2007

Cortijo el Castano, Nr Orgiva, Andalucia, Spain

We spent much of this morning in Orgiva having a good look round all the shops, tapas bars and restaurants. Last night we had eaten at one of the places we thought Nigel had drawn on his map but it turned out we were in the wrong place. Moreover, the one he had recommended closed last night for the next month, so we've missed out on that one. We are still pondering on whether it might be possible to have a meal out with everybody at least once during each week. If we can find somewhere good enough, that could be a really nice thing to do.

We did manage to find one of Orgiva's health food shops and bought some frozen berries for tonight's meal with Nigel and Zoe, and took a good note of all the things they stock there that we might use next year. We are also testing out the bakeries. At least one opens really early and we would be able to buy pastries for breakfast. There are quite a number of interesting cakes that we could also try out on people. The Spanish are not great dessert eaters apparently, either having fruit or various tarts.

Then we had a drive down to the coast calling in at the large supermarket for another check on what we can and cannot buy there. Today's main challenges turned out to be flaked almonds and cream, both of which took us ages to find. On my travels round the supermarket I did discover that local kitchen equipment is really cheap. We had been planning to buy a basic kit at home and carry it down in the Land Rover but instead we'll probably buy it all down here instead. For instance, large paella pans are about £6, compared to more than £20 in the UK.

So we finally settled on our meal plan and were then able to have the afternoon back at the villa. Linda is working for her next Pilates exam whereas I spent the time mainly reading the 50th anniversary edition of Jack Kerouac's On the Road, a book I haven't read for nearly 30 years! I had forgotten whole sections of it - for instance the really beautiful section about the Mexican girl, Terry.

Orange trees in full fruit by the pool - these will apparently be still available in the spring next year

So after a couple of hours of this we were set to start doing the meal for Zoe and Nigel. We had selected a somewhat ambitious menu of marinated mushrooms, prawns with chilli and an orange and avocado salad for starters, followed by peppered chicken, mojete and patatas bravas for main course, then forest berries with chocolate, honey and cream sauce for dessert. A couple of these we had never done before, but some are among our favourites back home.

We thought the evening went very well and we got the all-important thumbs up from Nigel - a committed foody. Just about everything was eaten, which is always a good sign. Once change from previous times was that we cooked the mojete for much longer - well over two hours - and that seemed to really make a big difference.

We stayed up talking till well after midnight and we now have even more ideas to think about for next year. Nigel and Zoe even offered us their house if we sell out our main bookings!

Zoe and Nigel hopefully enjoying their meal with us.

Spanish Trip - Sunday

Sunday October 28th 2007

Cortijo el Castano, Nr Orgiva, Andalucia, Spain

As forecast, today is slightly cooler and with a bit of cloud about. Snow may fall today on the highest peaks nearby (11,000 ft). We are trying to think about how our guests might approach their first complete day and so have decided that our first trip would be somewhere local - a trip into the foothills of the Sierra Neveda mountains to see some of the local "white villages".

So we drive through the local town, Orgiva, and out on the winding roads to our first stop - Pampaneira. This is a typical example of a small "white village" and has loads of local craft shops, which we are soon having a good look round. Linda is keen on rugs and pottery, I am buying loads of guidebooks to the whole Alpujarras region and to places like Granada. Every shop seems to have Chris Stewart's three books - Driving over Lemons, A Parrot in the Pepper Tree and The Almond Blossom Appreciation Society - which are set in this area of Spain. His books are even available in Spanish. He lives very close to Orgiva and has really put the area on the map. Linda has been reading his books over the last week or so to put her in the mood for the trip. Nigel and Zoe also seem to have quite a lot of dealings with Manola who features in the books.

Linda outside one of the many craft shops selling rugs and other local products

We have lunch in the main square. Linda has potatoes with peppers - which is a dish mentioned in Chris Stewart's books as a major part of the local diet - while I have a plate of various local hams and sausages, which also comes with potatoes and peppers. We are joined by a scraggy dog who obviously knows how to get titbits from people. A scraggy haired guitarist who looks quite a lot like the dog plays in the square while we eat and is pretty good.

The scraggy dog in Pampaneira

Scraggy guitarist in the main square of Pampaniera surrounded by local rugs

Capileira and Bubion - more white villages - from the road above Pampaneira

From Pampaneira, we drive on towards Trevelez. This is one of the places I most wanted to visit locally as it is the obvious starting point for a walking attempt on Mount Mulhacen, the highest mountain in the Sierra Nevada mountains at about 11,400ft. Some of the walking guides I have for the area feature this walk, but it is a tough one. Maybe five or six hours to the summit. Also next May it will still have snow on it, so a far tougher proposition. Trevelez is a famous producer of hams and there are loads of stores selling complete hams, yet we haven't seen any pigs. Do they import the hams and bring them all the way into the mountains to process them? We continue round the valley to Torvizcon and then back down to Orgiva.

For dinner tonight we decide to try Orgiva, just a couple of kms down the road, so armed with Nigel's hand written map showing tapas bars and all the restaurants they know, we set off for a look round. We settled in a place that looked quite promising, for fish soup (which was excellent), tuna steaks, more ham selctions and more potatoes, washed down with a bottle of local red wine which we'd never heard of. Not bad at all we thought.

Spanish Trip - Saturday

Saturday October 27th 2007

Cortijo el Castano, Nr Orgiva, Andalucia, Spain

We are slightly late arriving at Heathrow and can't get seats together on the plane. Then we have a wait of nearly two hours at Malaga airport to collect our hire car. Apparently there was a special offer on pricing by our car company and they have been swamped with customers - over 400 today compared to a normal 200. So we don't have time to call in at Nerja and have paella on the beach (as per Nigel and Zoe's suggestion), which was rather a shame. But this is a great idea for us to suggest to our guests to avoid them arriving too early at the start of a break.

We do manage to find the big supermarket in Motril and stock up with some stuff there. This might be the main big supermarket we use for the breaks next here next year so we have to have a very detailed look round, checking that we can find all the obscure bits and pieces we think we'll need for the food we want to cook. We are hoping to cook a meal for Nigel and Zoe in the next couple of days and have to work out what we'll do for this. We are hoping they will give us some good feedback on whether our cooking is suitable or not. So the pressure is on to do something really nice.
A nice drive inland towards the mountains. One of the main attractions of this property's location is that it is near both the coast and the mountains. The region is unlike any other part of Spain we have been to before and we are sure it will prove very popular with our guests.

We met Zoe outside the property and then have a tour round by Nigel. He starts in the part they call the "apartment" and then we work round the various courtyards to the part they call the "villa". It is all really beautiful as we hoped (and expected) and we are really pleased with our choice. We have a lot of detail to work out, but broadly speaking, we can already tell that it will be fine. It is warm enough to sit outside for a couple of drinks and a chat. They seem really nice and have loads of suggestions to help us develop the breaks here.

We are staying in the double room in the villa for our trip. This is the room we will aim to have for the three weeks next year as it has greater privacy than the other rooms. Next door is a twin room and the apartment has three further bedrooms. So we can have a maximum of 8 guests staying here in addition to us. We already think this property will be a big success.
Neither of us fancy a meal out tonight so we cook up a huge plate of prawns with green chilli and have that with loads of bread and wine - one of the nicest meals we've had for ages - and then we decide on an early night. There is so much we need to do this week and we already have extensive plans for tomorrow's trip out.

View of the Cortijo El Castano from the pool - the villa part is to the left while the apartment is in the two-story building. The undercover terrace on the far left will be used for evening meals as it gets the last sun of the day.