Sunday, 30 June 2013

Lizard in trouble

When awaiting the rain I placed an old enamel wash bowl in one corner of the outbuilding hoping it would be filled with water draining from the gutter (the last photo of my previous post here). Having some rain water closer to the pansies and other plants in the yard would save me a few walks with the watering can to the tap by the house.

It turned out to be not such a good idea for one of our protected species. My husband noticed a common lizard (Zootoca vivipara) sunbathing, or so we thought, in the bowl. It wasn’t moving and we stepped closer. We could see that the skin was starting to cast from its tail.

The close-ups reveal it is a male: there is a bulge at the base of its tail and its head is slightly wider from the neck.

We soon realized the lizard was not staying at the bottom of the wash bowl of its own free will but because the inside of the bowl was so slippery it couldn’t climb out. We flipped the bowl a bit and it was free to disappear into the vegetation. Fortunately, we hadn’t shocked it so much it would have shed its tail.

I am just wondering. How did it know we weren’t dangerous? I read common lizards may live up to 10 years so it isn’t entirely impossible it recognized us, the friendly residents of the place, the owners of the furious beast terrorizing the neighbourhood.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Waiting for the rain

The week was warm with the highest temperatures ranging between 25 and 31°C (77 and 88°F). For several days now, the weather forecasts have been talking about showers and thunderstorms. A couple of days ago the nationwide number of lightnings recorded on a single day amounted to almost 30,000.

No no, not a drop for us. We’ve heard some thunder all around but the rain just won’t come our way. Merely some drizzle that feels nothing more than a trifle of morning dew. Hey you up there, we’d welcome some pouring on us, too!

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Feline caresses

The visit of the Maine Coons is now over, at least for the present, but before returning to the Cinque Terre I must share something else about the cats. The breakfast table in front of the window in our kitchen-diner is one of Sheena’s favourite places. She often sits there gazing out to the garden. The other day I happened to see Tidy Tiger joining her and starting to lick her neck and ears.

I had to grab the nearest camera to record how these feline companions socialize and show affection. Most of the grooming was done by the older and stronger one (neutered male) and below you can see how enjoyable this was for the one being groomed (spayed female). When you care for one another it will be a delight for both the help each other out. These two certainly are happy together.

(The photos are in chronological order except that the first one was taken last.)

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Whiskery weeks

Last Saturday was Midsummer, for people living in Northern Europe probably the second or third most celebrated holiday after Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Our country is one of those that come to a standstill by Midsummer Eve when people have left the cities and towns rushing to spend the festival in the countryside.

Last year we were at home just the two of us (I told about that here). As any celebration feels more festive when you have company, this time we were lucky to have visitors. Half of them were the hairy and whiskery sort.

My daughter spent the long Midsummer weekend with us with her two Maine Coon cats. In fact, the beauties already arrived to entertain us a couple of weeks earlier when she travelled to visit a friend.

Tidy Tiger is such a pushy fellow. He simply can’t help poking his nose into every imaginable spot. And you certainly won’t miss and can’t ignore the moment he needs to be cuddled.

Sheena, on the other hand, is a ladylike princess, both very timid and extremely curious. That is a combination hard to balance sometimes, especially as her need for tenderness seems to outrun even that of her pal. Females are just built that way I guess.

Both the Maine Coons are the best of friends with our Jack, their country cousin. Still their stay is nothing but business as usual for him. 

To complete the whiskery weeks, my sister and brother-in-law visited with their daughter’s German Spitz (Mittelspitz).

A bit shorter trail might have been enough for me.
By the way, now that we are about to turn into hikers we took the three to the Nuuksio National Park for a very nice Midsummer afternoon picnic walk. (My post on our first visit to Nuuksio here.)

The Spitz is not exactly friendly with cats. The in-house Maine Coons were suspicious enough to stay out of the way upstairs if the dog was around but Jack wasn’t bothered much even though the Spitz tried to chase him whenever he got sight of the cat in the garden.

When you know the tricks there’s no need to panic. Watching out and reacting – with the speed of light if need be – is perfectly sufficient. Few things in life are as solid as the independence and self-confidence of a thoroughbred domestic cat, my idol.

Finally, the visitors are gone and I'm having the place all to myself again.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Hiking with sea views

The Cinque Terre (see my previous post) is a popular holiday destination not only because of the five fabulous villages and the extraordinary terraced hillsides but also thanks to the National Park and its network of marked hiking trails. 

There are walks of all levels to choose from. Some travel by the coastline and are more like paved paths or sidewalks than trails. Others rise up the hillsides treating you with breathtaking views down towards the sea and the villages. There is even one taking you up on the hilltops from sanctuary to sanctuary.

Amateur hikers as we are, our plan was to walk the paths by the sea between Corniglia and the neighbouring villages. However, because of the heavy flood and mudslides caused by the torrential rains of October 25, 2011 both the coastal trails were still under repair and closed. So we ended up taking the trail through the vineyards behind the church of San Pietro up towards the mountains.

The stony trail winded up the hillside with an occasional steeper patch of rough steps made of rocks.

Wasn't I happy this creature was just a tree stump.
It was rather a warm day in late April.  Before long we were feeling hot. Luckily, the fantastic scenery and the blooming shrubs offered us plenty of excuses to stop every once in a while to take some photos. The few other hikers we met appeared to have the same approach.

The higher we climbed the clearer we saw the traces the heavy rainfall had left on the vegetation. Or at least we couldn’t think of any other reason for the enormous amount of trees that had dried out on the slopes further away from the sea. The flood must have flushed away soil from around their roots leaving them without proper nutrition.

Finally, we reached the spots with the stunning views down to our village Corniglia and the neighbouring Manarola (below). Too bad there was some haze in the air but I believe the photos will give you an idea of the height of the climb because I have to confess this was how far we hiked. We were thoughtless enough not to bring any picnic lunch, only something to drink, and had to turn back as we were both in need of some rest and starving.

Down in the village, we did get a bit carried away on the sunny terrace of the Er Posu Cafè – considering we were having dinner only a few hours later – ordering a tableful of antipasti: a huge bruschetta to share, a plateful of ham and salami, a plateful of cheese, and some vegetables to dip (the fennel tasted fantastic). For all I know, we must have had those with ice-cold beer and I am sure we finished the lunch with a caffè, that is an espresso. The time spent on the restaurant terrace was almost as delightful as the hike. Sometimes it is nice to be an amateur so you can be pleased with yourself for so little.

Hiking in the Cinque Terre is one of those things we absolutely want to try for real one day. Another glorious Italian location we have pledged to return to because of its fabulous sea views and great potential for outdoor activities even for an ‘unsporty’ old couple like us is the island of Elba in the Tuscan archipelago. (My post on Elba here.) I’m hoping writing these promises down will speed up the process and we might turn into (small-scale) hikers in no time. It will be just wonderful to hang out at places like this without any haste. Santiago de Compostela will have to wait.