Saturday 28 January 2017

Walking from Camping Ametlla - olive trees & rocky beaches

Toucan guarding the motorway tunnel 
One of the big draws of our current campsite, Camping Ametlla just outside Ametlla de Mar, is its proximity to the Catalan GR92 hiking route which passes along the coast about 200m away from our pitch. We have now walked several 1-2 hours sections of this path in both directions and it has gorgeous scenery. The coastline is only half the story though. We also discovered pretty walks directly from the campsite by turning inland. A few days ago we again set out on foot from our caravan, but chose to start by edging through a somewhat flooded tunnel under the motorway.

Narrow agricultural roads (camis) criss-cross the land here in all directions as far as distant mountains so there are no end of routes to choose. The trick is to stick to camis that actually lead somewhere rather than picking those which peter out after a couple of miles, usually at a house guarded by a half-dozen loudly barking dogs! Fortunately Dave usually plans our wanders ahead of time by perusing Google maps. Unfortunately this was more of a spur of the minute excursion so ended up being an out and back walk rather than a loop!

Anyone recognise this flower? 
Like the Olive Gardens walk I blogged on Wednesday, most of our scenery was olive and carob trees with an occasional smattering of almond trees to ring the changes. I loved the colours of wild shrubbery along the roadsides and on unfarmed land. It is yellow-and-purple season at the moment so we saw bright yellow flowering gorse and whatever-the-pictured-plant-is interspersed with tall purple heathers and unbelievable amounts of wild rosemary with its delicate pale mauve flowers. It's a shame none of our regular meal recipes call for rosemary - there's acres of the stuff here growing as a weed! At one point, as we crossed a derelict field, we trampled thyme, releasing its beautiful scent. This might not have been the sunniest or most picturesque walk, but it was one of the more aromatic!

Eroded sandstone cliff 
We returned to Camping Ametlla after not much more than an hour so decided to extend our walk by looping down to the nearest beach, along that and returning by a tarmaced road on the other side. The walkway down to Platja de Santes Creus is sandy and passes between roped off natural spaces. We both were intrigued by this eroded sandstone cliff. The holes and caves make fabulous shadowed images against the glowing stone towards sunset.

We'd had strong winds for a few days prior to this walk so the beach was scattered with debris washed up from the sea. Much was natural including seaweed and lots of sea urchins and sponges that we hadn't seen in such numbers out of the water before. There was also a depressingly large volume of plastic items, presumably discarded from boats and on other beaches along the coast. Faded and worn, but still mostly recognisable as bottles, cigarette lighters and other common items, it was a reminder of just how much litter is swirling around our oceans and that it won't simply rot away as the seaweed will. Greenpeace have recently started a petition for a Deposit Return Scheme on plastic bottles in the UK. I think it's a great idea. For more information and to add your signature, Click Here.

Thursday 26 January 2017

ThrowbackThursday - where we were on this date in Januarys past

Leia Charleson art at Beanzz Coffee 
I love looking back over my nearly five years of consistent blogging and remembering all that has taken place during that time. My life is very different now to how it was in 2012 that's for sure!

On the 26th January 2013 I went to my favourite Eastbourne cafe, Beanzz Coffee on Grove Road, and saw their exhibition of serene pastel art by local artist Leia Charleson. I loved the colour combinations and restful abstract images and got to ask Leia a few questions about her work which formed this Theatrical Eastbourne blog post. Initially born from a dark period in her life, Leia's art helped her cope with shocking bereavement and bring herself back to health.

Footprints in the sand at Tavira 
The same day in 2014 saw Dave and I about half way through our first European Caravan Adventure. We had just pitched up at Camping Ria Formosa near the pretty Portuguese town of Tavira. I liked this site very much, despite it having some of the dreariest weather we encountered that winter. They had a library room and, on nice days, walking along the river and around the nearby countryside was a real treat. I didn't have my bicycle then, but could happily return to Tavira in order to explore further afield by bike.

Pitched up at Roquetas 
We had just arrived at a new site on the 26th of January in 2015 too. This time our new home was Camping Roquetas at Roquetas de Mar in southern Spain. I liked its proximity to a long wide seafront promenade, but didn't yet know that in a few days we would visit the local Decathlon store where I would buy myself my now beloved folding bicycle (in the sale!) Roquetas was a busy campsite, but everyone got a double pitch in the low season so we never felt crowded.

Alfred Nobel factory at Paulilles 
And do we get a fourth country for 2016? Yes we do! Last year we were coming to the end of our nine week stay at Camping Casteillets in St Jean Pla de Corts. This was a great campsite for us because there was so much to do and see in the local area, and a low season offer meant that for every two weeks paid camping we got a third week free. The photo here is of Albert Nobel's dynamite factory at Paulilles which we visited at the end of January. It is now a fascinating museum with easy access to the coastal walking paths too.

This year we are, of course, in Spain, but who knows where we might be this time next year? The world is our lobster!

Wednesday 25 January 2017

The Olive Gardens walk from l'Ampolla

Olive trees near l'Ampolla 
Olive trees are such an iconic feature of the Catalan countryside that I was surprised to learn they aren't actually a native species. Originally introduced by the Phoenicians and the Greeks, olive farming really took off in the 7th century AD when Moorish farmers planted trees across the Iberian peninsula. It wasn't easy either. Over the centuries thousands of tons of rocks and stones have been cleared from olive orchards in an ongoing process. This rubble is put to good use though in the creation of distinctive terraces and dry stone walling, houses and water tanks. The needs of the olive trees have dramatically shaped much of the landscape around this part of the world.

Walk number nine in our Footpaths Of The Mediterranean folder, The Olive Gardens, took us on a leisurely wander through seemingly endless groves and orchards, mostly impeccably maintained, but with an occasional field that had reverted to scrub and looked abandoned. We also saw numerous carob trees which are similarly farmed on a large scale. When dried and ground, the powder is used in cakes and biscuits in lieu of cocoa powder.

Olive trees near l'Ampolla 
The walk was discouraging at its start as we left l'Ampolla by going under a trio of drab concrete rail and motorway bridges. We then walked alongside the noisy motorway for a short distance. However, once we turned away inland the noise faded and we could enjoy the scenery in peace. The route is practically all on reasonably well-surfaced agricultural roads (camis) and is mostly flat so would be ideal for cyclists as well as walkers. There is a circular cycle route which we found ourselves continually intercepting and crossing. If I remember correctly, it is a 16km circuit whereas this walk was 'only' 12km. We did struggle with the directions a couple of times as judging our distance was tricky without any GPS and we weren't always sure the junction we stood at was the one referred to. However we only briefly went very wrong once and this actually led us to a pleasant picnic spot for lunch so maybe it was fated!

Cacti near l'Ampolla 
On the return part of the loop we saw these huge cacti competing for space on a high bank.

We took a moment to peer through a fence of a For Sale property. There were some very cute little white painted houses along the way, all with their own olive fields and terraces, but this one would have needed more attention than we would have wanted - if we were serious about a purchase! I remembered Rudy and Annick harvesting their olive trees at one of our first Portuguese campsites four winters ago. It did look like hard work!

The end of the Olive Gardens walk was heralded by increasing traffic noise as we got closer to the motorway again. After the three bridge-tunnels we were back in l'Ampolla and our car. We didn't have to walk all the way back to the centre though. At this time of year at least, parking is much easier out by the number 2 on the below map than it is right by the Tourist Office (shown near number 1).

Tuesday 24 January 2017

Scottish Drop Scones recipe

Scottish Drop Scones 
Like the Scottish Oatcakes recipe I blogged a while back, Scottish Drop Scones have a hundred and one variations because everyone's grandma has their own special ingredient or secret method! They are a thick batter pancake rather than a scone in the jam-and-cream sense which, just to add to the confusion, is what Americans call a biscuit! We used to buy Scottish Drop Scones readymade and heat them up in a toaster for lunch, but once I realised how quick and easy they are, I now make my own. Freshly cooked always tastes so much better!

If you have self raising flour, use this and omit the baking powder. Wholemeal flour is also good if that's what you have to hand. I think a finer sugar is often called for, but we only have the golden brown kind at the moment and it did the job without any grittiness to the Scones. I fried the batter in rapeseed oil, but again whatever cooking oil you normally use will probably be fine.

Batter in the pan 
4oz / 100g plain white flour
Scant tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
2oz / 50g brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 free range egg
Milk to mix - approx 4 tablespoons
Squeeze of lemon juice
Rapeseed oil for frying
Various toppings to serve

Place all the dry ingredients into a bowl or 1 pint pyrex jug and mix them together.
Make a small well in the top and break the egg into it. Mix in the egg a little, then start slowly adding the milk, 1 tbsp at a time. Mix well in between each tbsp and make sure to incorporate all the flour mix.

Add a squeeze of lemon juice and mix in.

When your batter is ready, heat a little oil in a non-stick frying pan until it begins to crease. Drop a tbsp of batter into the frying pan. If your oil is hot enough it will begin to bubble at the batter's edges.
Each Scone is 1 tbsp of batter and I can cook 3 at a time in my frying pan.
Keep a palette knife (or similar) handy. After a minute or two if should be possible to lift up a pancake and look underneath. If it has started to brown, it's time to flip them and I find sliding the knife underneath is the easiest way to do this. It does take a steady hand!
A couple of minutes later both sides should be cooked through and you can either serve your Scottish Drop Scones straight from the pan or cook up the whole batch ahead of time and reheat them just prior to serving.

Traditionally Scottish Drop Scones are served at breakfast time and, despite being sweet, are good to mop up fried egg yolks. I like mine with just a smear of salted butter or a nut butter. You could try nutella, soft cheese, marmalade ....

Cooking the other sides 

Sunday 22 January 2017

TreatYourself - special offers that caught my eye

Excalibur sword at English Heritage 
It seems that no sooner has the Christmas tinsel come down, than every shop is adorning itself in pink and red for Valentine's Day! Actually that's not quite true - English Heritage sent me a refreshingly non-romantic email this week advertising their replica swords! This Excalibur model is made in Toledo, Spain and I was surprised at just how beautifully detailed it is. Good replica swords and armour don't come cheap - Excalibur is £165 - however English Heritage are softening the blow (!) until the 31st of January by offering free standard UK shipping on orders over £45 when you use the checkout code AFJD. The code applies to all items in their online shop, not just weaponry.

Heart pendant at Tobisias Lil Thing 
I have got two suitably romantic special offers for you though and will start with a 10% discount code for the Tobisias Lil Thing shop which is based in Blyth, Northumberland. Simply enter the code VALENTINE10 at checkout. I spotted this offer on Twitter and love the jewellery that Monika creates. This heart pendant is made by hand-wrapping copper wire and features a purple amethyst bead making it a perfect gift not only for Valentine's Day, but also as a February birthday gift because amethyst is the February birthstone. Ancient Greeks believed wearing amethyst would protect against drunkenness!

Liane Moriarty book 
at Amazon is offering a selection of 150 books at special discounts of up to 70% off the normal retail price in their Valentine's Day Sale. Sadly they haven't picked any of the titles on my Wish List, but there is still a pretty wide choice. The sale lasts until the 19th of February and includes women's fiction and chick lit titles, science fiction and fantasy, crime thrillers and cosy mysteries, historical fiction and romance. Most seem to be intended for a female readership though. Wouldn't a man appreciate a good book as his Valentine present too?!

Roskilde Fleece at Weird Fish 
It's unseasonably chilly in Spain as I am writing this post (and raining too. If it's nice where you are, feel welcome to gloat!) which has turned my thoughts to warm clothing, mainly not having brought enough of it! Fortunately the Weird Fish sale has cosy fleeces, waterproof coats and even a knitted dress at up to 70% off the usual price. There's no checkout codes to remember, simply click through to the sale pages and enjoy browsing. I couldn't find an end date either so its probaby a first come, first served situation. I particularly liked this Roskilde Funnel Neck Knitted Fleece reduced to £35 from £50.

Nova suede boots at Jones Bootmakers 
And new winter clothes need new winter boots so Jones Bootmakers' two concurrent offers are well timed. Firstly they are offering 20% off all full priced footwear when you spend over £100 with the checkout code 20OFF100. It gets better though! Their sale pages have discounts of up to 70% off an extensive range of shoes and boots for men, women and children. As an extra incentive, there's free UK delivery on orders over £50. My favourite boots are these burgundy Nova Italian suede ones. Completely impractical for caravan living of course, but they are gorgeous!

That's all my special offer ideas for February. Let us know in the Comments about bargains and sales you find and I will search out another five great deals for March.

Thursday 19 January 2017

A new year on Kiva

Kiva, the microfinance charity I support, recently sent me an overview of my 2016 loans which I thought it would be fun to share. In 2016 I made 45 loans totalling $1125 to women in 31 different countries. I supported a trainee dentist in Moldova and a beautician in Costa Rica; farmers in Myanmar, Kosovo and Burundi; shopkeepers in Brazil, Madagascar and Armenia; and a school driver in South Africa.

Since my very first loans to a Peruvian shopkeeper and a Kenyan fish seller in August 2012 I have made 165 loans across 67 countries. I paid in a total of $667 which has become $4125 of loans by being repaid and relent. I love the idea that I can keep relending my capital as it is repaid so I don't need to find new cash each month if it isn't convenient. I ask for Kiva cards for birthdays and Christmas too so I can feel good about using gifts I receive to help others. Then I eagerly look forward to the 17th of the month which is Repayments Day - the date most repayments come into my Kiva account and there is a mad rush across the website as lenders send their money out again across the globe.

This month I lent to Nataliya and Yvette Delva, shopkeepers in the Ukraine and Haiti respectively, and to Peggy who has just opened a Zoona money transfer booth in Zambia. If you would like to join me in lending and making a different via Kiva, click through here to find out more about it.

Nataliya in the Ukraine 

Yvette Delva in Haiti 

Peggy in Zambia 

Tuesday 17 January 2017

Walking the Coll de Balaguer from l'Hospitalet

Footpaths Of The Mediterranean 4 
We thought our Saturday walk was just going to be an easy 6km legstretcher, but it ended up being considerably longer and lasting just over three hours! The route was another from our new Footpaths Of The Mediterranean folder and the first half was along another section of the GR92 coastal path. L'Hospitalet de l'Infant, our starting point, is named for its original purpose, a 14th century hospital for travellers traversing the Coll de Balaguer pass on their way from the Ebro delta to Tarragona. The hills here look very different now to how they did then because tons of earth were moved to create two motorways, the railway line and the N340 road, but in medieval times this area was particularly dangerous. With no towns to speak of for over seventy kilometres, travellers were at risk of frequent attack from bandits in the hills and corsair pirates from the coast. Fortunately these are no longer a problem and the only evidence of violence we saw were the remnants of wartime gun emplacements and a sign warning of the start of a hunting area.

View from Coll de Balaguer 
We parked up on the outskirts of l'Hospitalet, past the Arenal beach, and followed the GR92 south-west along sandy beaches as far as the Cala d'Ocques campsite which has pitches practically on the beach. We were a little envious until we got back home and looked up their prices online. I think we'll stay at Camping Ametlla for now! The GR92 turns inland up the Barranc de Cala d'Ocques and briefly follows a road until it turns off again and becomes a proper narrow stony footpath leading upwards to the ridgeline. The views up here got more and more stunning the higher we climbed until we almost had a panoramic 360o view. We could see for miles towards Miami Platja and Cambrils!

View to Platja de les Rojales 
The GR92 did have one short but scarily steep scramble at this point, but otherwise wasn't too challenging. The mapped route finished at a high point, Punta de les Rojales, with us then having the option to make our own way on a circular route or to retrace our steps. We prefer circular routes anyway and I certainly didn't fancy trying to get back down the steep bit! Continuing along the ridge until the GR92 descends to a beach-bound road looked hardly any distance on the map, but was probably the best part of an hour's more walking. Good walking certainly and with more fabulous views!

We were all the way up there! 
We descended by way of a winding road to Platja de les Rojales, a long sandy beach with gently lapping waves and beautiful colours from the setting sun. Two cyclists zoomed downhill past us which looked great fun, but we were less encouraged to emulate them when they turned around in the car park at the base and started back upwards again! From that car park, we walked through a short tunnel under the railway to reach the sand and, beforehand, could look back up over trees to the ridge from which we previously gazed down. Steps lead up from the other end of the beach so we had a short section along a wooded footpath passing El Templo del Sol nudist colony. It looked pretty closed up at this time of year! Then we rejoined our outward route to get back to the car and were both proud of our three hours non-stop hiking.

Sunday 15 January 2017

Cycling the Ebro Delta

L'Ampolla sculpture 
The first excursion we chose from our new Footpaths Of The Mediterranean folder (thank you Ametlla Tourist Office!) was actually, for us, a cycle ride although walking around the Ebro Delta is perfectly feasible too. We parked up just by a roundabout on the way into l'Ampolla. It had the distinctive sculpture pictured here which I have been unable to find online so I am not sure what it depicts or who created it!

From the roundabout, it was an easy cycle down to the seafront with just a little confusion once we got there as we expected the promenade cycleway to have started already, but we had to navigate a short road one-way section first. Then the open path beckoned and we tootled along the prom in gorgeous sunshine, only screeching to a halt to take a look at this amazing sculpture, El lector de l'Ampolla by local artist Paco Morales who is from Deltebre. The book being read is Odysseus which I am taking as a second sign to get on and read my own copy (the first sign having been the Phocaean Greeks at Empuries speaking the same Ionian language as Homer.)

El lector de l'Ampolla sculpture 
Footpaths of the Mediterranean 10 
The best thing about cycling the Ebro Delta is that it is practically flat for miles - and not just looking so, but actually cycling flat! We soon shot off the end of the leaflet map pictured below and made up our own ride along the camis and levees that separate the natural park from acres of rice paddies. At this time of year we hardly saw anyone else, just two other cyclists and one walker so it felt like the whole delta was ours alone!

The Ebro is a favoured area for birdspotting and we saw several varieties of waterbirds, a couple of which we could even identify! We definitely saw cormorants, herons and flamingos. I tried to photograph the flamingos but they were just too distant for my phone camera to cope with. If you enlarge and squint at this vista, I promise you that is what the white blobs are!

Flamingos on the Ebro Delta 

Our visit lasted about three hours in all including a brief picnic lunch on a convenient bench out in the middle of nowhere. I was delighted to finally see the famed Delta especially as it might not exist in such a way for much longer. Threatened by sea level rises from one side and lack of incoming sediment from the other (the River Ebro has been dammed upstream), I would say get there soon if you want to experience this amazing habitat. However erosion from so many tourists' feet (and wheels) is another threat.

Footpaths of the Mediterranean 10 

Thursday 12 January 2017

Our visit to Tortosa

Cat in a derelict Tortosa building 
Yesterday we jumped in the car and drove ourselves 45 minutes into Tortosa, a historic town a little inland from the Ebro delta. In Roman times it was known as Dertosa, although the town predates Roman occupation. It was also ruled by the Moors for over 400 years and this Arabic legacy is seen in some of the remaining architecture and in traditional foods of the town. Sadly many buildings were destroyed during various wars over the centuries so there is now a mix of the old jutting up against the very new throughout most of the centre. We had hoped to follow the Hemingway Route through Tortosa as Ernest Hemingway lived here in 1937 and 1938 reporting on the Civil War. Ten points of interest are named and we visited the Tourist Information Centre, a beautiful building, to get a map of the Route so we could explore. Unfortunately 'no tengo nada' (I have nothing) said the staff! Apparently we needed to have downloaded and printed out what we wanted - maps of the town, the Hemingway Route and the Via Verda cycle path - from the internet prior to our visit. Unlike the very helpful Ametlla de Mar Tourist Office, Tortosa's one was useless!

Tortosa Tourist Office 
So, instead of literary inspiration leading us, we wandered more aimlessly, but still managed to find El Portal del Romeu which is the old Roman gateway, now a stone arch under and between more modern buildings. We also circled the 14th to 18th century cathedral, as impressive a structure as could be expected, but surprisingly short-looking from its river frontage because it doesn't have a great tower or spire reaching to the sky. Out in the river nearby is the Battle of Ebro monolith, this being almost entirely a spire, which was inaugurated by Franco in 1966 to honour those of his forces who died in Civil War battles across the Ebro. I found this interesting Progressive Spain article talks about how the monument is now technically illegal as it breaches Spain's 2007 Historical Memory Law that serks to remove or recontextualise symbols glorifying the Franco victory. Tortosans voted last year to decide the monument's fate and decided to rededicate it to honour everyone who died.

Away from the riverside, we ascended towards the huge stone Castell on the hill and were surprised to find a fairly large area of derelict looking buildings and streets. They didn't look lived in, other than by stray cats, as pictured above. Above this, we climbed up steps to fortified walls where we had great views out across the town, towards the delta and further up the narrowing river valley. The Castell was originally a Roman fortification, but was rebuilt by the Moors so much of what towers over the town today is based on the Arabic construction.

We ended our wander with a delicious Menu Diario lunch at an olde worlde looking restaurant next to the cathedral. Forn de la Canonja serves a three course lunch with bread, wine, water and coffee for just €12 per person and we had excellent food. I tried a couple of regional dishes, peas and artichokes as a starter and borage fritter for dessert, with a lightly cooked bacalao main course. Dave had pumpkin soup to start, grilled meats (cooked over a wood fire) for main and a nougat cheesecake for dessert. Together with efficient friendly service, we'd highly recommend Forn de a Canonja to anyone visiting Tortosa!

Tuesday 10 January 2017

A week of water problems

Ferreteria La Placa, Ametlla de Mar 
Our Bailey Orion caravan is generally reliable and we have been mostly very pleased with it over the past three and a half years. However living in it for over two years during that time does mean consumable parts wear out far sooner than they would do were we not using it so intensively. The water problems of my title were caused by wear to our Whale water pump. First up, the plug that pushes into the caravan inlet socket has been getting more and more difficult to connect recently and this turned out to be due to a little rubber o-ring having started to disintegrate. Removing said o-ring allowed us to fit the pump ... but resulted in water spraying out every time we ran the taps. Fortunately we have a bucket!

We had to leave it over the long weekend - the 6th of January is a public holiday here in Spain - but went into Ametlla de Mar yesterday where Dave had located Ferreteria La Placa. This shop was perfect. A proper old-fashioned hardware store where we could buy individual o-rings in a couple of sizes, not have to stump up for a sealed bag of a hundred! The shopkeeper was helpful too, happy to spend far more time than our 40c purchase warranted!

Books from Ametlla Tourist Office 
While in Ametlla we also visited the Tourist Office and now have a folder of ten walking route maps, a large tourist map of the local area and two interesting books about Catalonia, all free! The magic phrase was '¿Tiene mapas de senderismo?' We celebrated with a two hour walk along a further section of the GR92 coastal path and back into town via its parallel cami.

Back at Bailey, super plumber Dave got the new o-ring fitted in almost no time at all and our water pump was once again both pumping and leak free! Until this morning when we woke up to find the pump's indicator light on but no sound and no water. FFS! Fortunately we already carry a spare Whale water pump and had established the tricky process of replacing the actual mechanism part when it previously failed on us at Vera two years ago. We even knew to keep a tiny paint brush cover and (eventually) found the safe place in which I had stashed it! Fingers crossed we will now have running water for many months to come!

I'll leave you with two relaxing scenes from our walk.

Sunday 8 January 2017

How I choose a good indie author book

Image from Books Direct
This post was inspired by a great question I was asked by DubaiReader on Goodreads a couple of days ago. I started to type a quick reply, but soon realised my indie book choosing process isn't just a snap decision. I've tried to describe below how I think through choosing my books and I'd love for other indie author readers to chip in their ideas too!

If you'd like some Indie book suggestions from me, I blogged my Top Ten for Indie Pride Day in July 2016. You can also see all the Indie books that have been reviewed on Literary Flits and reviewed on Stephanie Jane.

DubaiReader said: "I'm fascinated by your preference for Indie authors and small presses. I also favour global literature, like you. However, I find Indie authors a bit daunting - how do you choose a good one? Often I'm put off by Indie covers too. For obvious reasons they tend to be low budget, but do they have to be quite so obviously Indie? Interested in your thoughts."

Squashed Possums
by Jonathan Tindale
I am lucky to now be offered a lot of review copies of books so my decision of which to read is often down to the initial message I receive. Good spelling and grammar are vitally important and I like to be directed to webspace where I can read reviews of the book in question or, for a brand new book, sample a couple of chapters before committing. Terrible prose in the message, synopsis or first chapter will definitely have me saying 'thanks, but no thanks'!

Other reviews probably have the greatest influence over my decision whether or not to accept a book, however I have learned to be suspicious of books with entirely 5 star reviews. No book is absolutely amazing to everyone so I tend to take more notice of the words used than the rating itself. Seeing a good review by an author whose work I have enjoyed is encouraging as I am likely to appreciate their taste in literature and the same goes for reviews by readers and bloggers whose opinions I respect. For this approach to indie (or any) book finding, Goodreads is a far better search tool than Amazon.

Gulag 101 by Nico Reznick 
When looking to buy books, or when I'm using sites like NetGalley, Smashwords or KindleScout, I approach the process differently. Other reviews are still a good pointer, but they are not always available so I have a couple of rules that generally work for me.
Ever since the Stieg Larsson trilogy and Gone Girl I tend to automatically avoid anything with Girl in the title, especially where similar fonts are used! I steer clear of books claiming to be 'just like' some other book too. If Book B is basically a rehash of Book A, why bother with it? I don't want to read the same story over and over again. Where's the fun in that?!
Generic genre covers are a good avoidance indicator for precisely that reason. If it looks like Mills And Boon romance or fashionista chick-lit, military science fiction, gruesome horror or Game Of Bloody Thrones I click away! There are too many formulaic stories in these genres for my tastes although I accept this is a very personal decision.

My favourite category is usually Literary Fiction and I find the vast majority of my good and great indie books here although I also look through memoirs and poetry. Authors who consider themselves literary tend to take pride in writing stylishly and seem to explore more unusual themes and settings. I am getting to know certain small presses - Guernica Editions, Crime Wave Press - that I know I can trust to put out good books, otherwise I look out for interesting artwork and synopses. Non-English looking names always grab my attention as I love to read global literature. Many turn out to be American, but as the internet becomes more widely available internationally I am finding a higher proportion of global books too. I am limited by my language as I only read fluently in English. Indie authors generally can't afford to have their work translated, however smaller publishers like Gallic Books and Aardvark Bureau offer a good variety of lesser known works.

An Ishmael Of Syria
by Asaad Almohammad
I am swayed by cringingly amateur book covers and think the off-putting effect is usually down to how the text is displayed rather than the image used. Elegant or classic fonts in neutral colours can look classy. Vivid orange Comic Sans does not! The cover doesn't have to look professionally created to catch my eye, but it does need to have a pleasing aesthetic. I can overlook amateur cover art if I think the author and I might have similar tastes.

Trawling thousands of indie author and small press books to find the gems is a real labour of love. I probably read one for every twenty I seriously considered and still then end up with occasional Did Not Finish books. Self-publishing is wonderful in that it does enable amazing books to potentially find an audience, but it must be even more frustrating to be one author trying to be seen through the dross than it is to be a reader trying to find one good book!

If you have read a good indie book, please help the rest of us find it by writing a quick (or long) review. I am happy to publish Guest Reviews of Indie, Small Press and Global Literature over on Literary Flits so do get in touch. My best contact methods are via Goodreadsmy Facebook page or Twitter.

The Lovely Brush by Heather Awad 

Saturday 7 January 2017

On the Catalan coast at Ametlla de Mar

Rocky coast near Ametlla de Mar 
We've moved again! Having been fairly static last winter with two campsites accounting for over three months of our winter, this season we are struggling to stay put anywhere for long. Perhaps our current halt, Camping Ametlla just outside Ametlla de Mar will be the answer?

A reasonably priced campsite, we are paying €15 per night here with our ACSI card and this includes electricity. Camping Ametlla has long-stay discounts too so staying 7 nights will mean we only pay for 6, stay 14 pay for 11, and stay 30 pay for 21! The wifi is good and just €5 a week, and we have a good shower block with excellent facilities, hot water throughout and the heating is on! So that's Dave almost happy! We have a large pitch with warm sun in the afternoons although it is often breezy up here. There is a little shop in reception and a few shelves of books to swap although most are in Dutch or Spanish! The supermarket and restaurant are closed at this time of year, but Ametlla de Mar has shops and bars.

View from the GR92 coastal path 
We almost had a disaster on arrival as the roads here are being rebuilt to provide easier access to the campsite. When confronted with an unexpected fork, we stayed on the tarmac road when, it soon turned out, we should have taken what looked like rough access to a building site! Fortunately we realised our error within a few dozen yards, but had to unhitch in order to turn around and retrace our route! If you come to Camping Ametlla, when the road peters out continue straight on over the 'dam'. (That will make sense when you see it!) Walking around later, we discovered that we could have carried on our downhill diversion, but this would have necessitated a steep uphill bend to get to the campsite which I am not sure our car would have managed whilst towing. Phew!

The big attraction for us here is the proximity of the GR92 coastal path and the Ebro delta. We encountered the GR92 last year when walking from Pratdip and have now completed a few more kilometres of it by walking into Ametlla village along its route on Thursday! The Ebro delta we believe will be good for cycling so we are looking forward to discovering its Via Verde routes in the near future!

Rocks 'glowing' in the sunset