Sunday, July 27, 2008

Congratulations Spain, another first, another Tour de France

Carlos Sastre today doing the honour lap round the Champs Elysees.

As an ex cycling fan, the sport still has a place in my heart so I couldn't be other than delighted to hear that Carlos Sastre won the Tour of France today for the 11th time for Spain. He is also the 7th man to do so after Federico Bahamontes, Luis Ocaña, my friend Pedro Delgado, Miguel Induráin (5 times in a row), Oscar Pereiro and last year's Alberto Contador. This is also the third year running for Spain, quite a feat for this sport which for me is the probably the hardest there is.

Congratulations Carlos Sastre and congratulations Spain on yet another sporting victory. I somehow imagine the Frence are not very happy that in the same year and yet again Spain garnered both the Roland Garros tennis championship - the French Open - as well as their beloved Tour de France

Allé l'Espagne!

Cheers from cloudy Cambados in Galicia

Friday, July 25, 2008

The family

Hi again unexpectedly just before we leave.

Julián (Poyo) took this lovely picture of the 4 of us which I couldn't resist posting on my blog. There are so few good ones of us together and this is the best I've seen in a long time.

There is no make up, you can see all our defects, our ageing, etc, but it's how we are.



Thursday, July 24, 2008

Can't wait for tomorrow

One of the views from the Parador fortress in Baiona
Hiya again

Just a few lines to record that tomorrow Eladio, my Father and I are finally going on holiday. I know I've been all over the place recently but that has been mostly related to work. This will be our time and our choice of destination.

And where are we going you will ask if you haven't read my last post? Well, to Galicia, to the Rías Bajas, the same area we went to last year. It is in the north west coast of Spain, quite far from here but a paradise on earth.

We will be doing a Parador route and stay in Verin, Orense, for two nights and then make our way to Cambados and then on to Baiona in the province of Pontevedra.

After Galicia we will travel to Eladio's village in Montrondo for the annual family gathering on the first Saturday in August. The girls will join us of course. Suzy will come from Ponferrada where she will have been staying with Marta her cousin and Oli will come from Madrid as she is working with RTVE of course.

So more news from me on all that during or after the trip.

Happy Holidays

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Santander with the Chauffeur and the Inspector, Frómista and Santa María de Mave and too expensive Marques de Riscal wine from Rueda

Me with my face just burnt but happy to be in El Sardinero beach with Eladio
Hi again

This last week I was in Santander with Eladio on a site inspection trip for 2 events I am organising there at the beginning of September. One is a huge party for 300 people so the trip, although really pleasurable, was very important.

Eladio came along in his capacity as my husband, of course, but his main mission was to be my chauffeur and co inspector. So I had every one intrigued in Facebook as I kept updating my status with cryptic comments such as “have just come back from the beach with the chauffeur and the inspector”. I certainly had an old boss of mine, now working in China, intrigued.

Santander is one of my favourite cities in Spain, together with that other majestic city on the northern coast, San Sebastian and 2 magical cities in the south, Córdoba and Sevilla. Luckily my job brings me to Santander once a year in September which is the place chosen by the main Spanish telecommunications association to hold the biggest telecoms conference of the year where all the big guns meet and debate the state of the sector, straight after the holiday period and before going back to work. The conference is held in the University grounds in the Magdalena Peninsula which is surrounded by Santander’s beaches and mountains and is simply beautiful.
The Magdalena Palace
The Magdalena Peninsula is in between that most superb Spanish beach, “El Sardinero” and the town centre. I always stay at a hotel in El Sardinero and enjoy the walk to town past the old style grandiose Cantabrian houses and past the other great beaches of La Magdalena, El Camello and El Peligro. The views are breathtaking and I never tire of them; rather photograph them endlessly as if I were packing them up to take home with me, which I can’t.
A lovely angle of the Sardinero beach where you can see the Magdalena Peninsula
Eladio having an evening drink at the Hotel Real; what a marvelous place and location
It was Eladio’s first time in Santander with me and it was also the first time I was going to enjoy the beach right across the road from our hotel, The Silken Rio Santander. I have been going for years and have never really had time to enjoy it. But this time we did and we walked both lengths of the Sardinero beach at least twice a day. We even got sun burnt one afternoon. It didn’t seem that sunny and we were caught unawares and without any sun cream to protect our winter skins.
The Sardinero beach early evening; it looks like a painting by Sorolla
Santander is famous for its gastronomy and certainly rivals the Basque Country. It has some superb restaurants too and my favourites are La Bombi where the cockles and local squid “maganos” are delicious and you are made to feel at home by César, La Posada del Mar where the food is just as good or even better and where Thomás Merendón treats you like family and Zacarias, possibly Santander’s best culinary offer. I also discovered on this trip a well kept culinary secret in Casa de luz which is actually a private English style mansionette turned into a restaurant.
Casa de Luz, a discovery
One of the things we had to inspect was the Pedreña Golf Course of Ballesteros and Emilio Botín fame (owner of the Banco Santander). I know nothing about golf but appreciate beauty and was certainly bowled over by the views from the golf course over the Bay of Santander. We were taken on a trip on buggies and after a coffee in the very elegant golf club I was swept with the desire to learn golf. It didn’t last long though, so don’t’ worry, I won’t. What a place; just look at these photos.
The Pedreña golf course which has fabulous views
Me in the golf buggy at the golf course
On our way to Santander which is 450 km from Madrid, we stopped for lunch at a restored hospital of the Jacobean Way in the historic little town of Frómista in the province of Palencia. Thanks, once again to the Campsa road and restaurant guide we found this jewel, the Restaurante Los Palmeros which I highly recommend if you are ever in that area.
Frómista church
Frog at the fountain in Frómista
Los Palmeros restaurant in Frómista

The fountain in front of Los Palmeros in Frómista

Eladio enjoying his coffee after lunch in Frómista
And on the way back and once again recommended by the Campsa guide we stopped at the Convent Hotel in Santa María de Mave, also in Palencia which is another little jewel on the Jacobean Way.
Santa María de Mave Convent
The gardens at Santa María de Mave
On our way back we also stopped at Rueda, the white wine capital of Castilla. We meant to buy some marvellous Marques de Riscal sauvignon and “verdejo” only to find the winery closed. We ended up buying the verdejo at 7.50 and the sauvignon at 9.50 euros a bottle only to find today that Mercadona, our local supermarket, sells the verdejo for 6.25 euros!! Imagine how stupid I felt!

And now we are home again with the girls and my father enjoying the long Summer days, even if it is a little hot. I think the mercury reached 40º today! You can’t see me but I am writing next to the swimming pool; well now you can as I just took a photo!

Next week will again be quiet workwise; just preparations for September activities really. However next Friday Eladio, my Father and I are going on holiday to Galicia which we are much looking forward to. We will be staying in Paradors in Verin in Orense and on the Portuguese border, in Cambados, the capital of Albariño white wine, one of Spain’s best kept secrets and in Baiona in that wonderful fortress overlooking the Atlantic. From there we will be going to Eladio’s village, Montrondo to spend some time with the family and then back home again.

Cheers for now and enjoy this week coming up


Last week

Jane and me, 40 years later in Madrid!
Hi again

The highlight of last week was dinner with Jane and Hywel (it took me a while to get my tongue round that - it is a Welsh name pronounced "Huwel"). Jane (nee McEvoy) and I were at school together, SJC (St. Joseph’s College) and were actually in the same form, “Kappa”. We saw each other recently at the SJC reunion dinner in May. Jane and Hywel, both GPs in Cardiff, had just come from the bull run in Pamplona (Los San Fermines) and were stopping in Madrid on route to the coast to stay with friends. It was a great Anglo Spanish evening where we compared the different styles of life and all agreed that the weather in this country is Spain’s great plus. We had dinner at that very emblematic Spanish building, La Casa de América or El Palacio de Linares as it is also known in the terrace of the restaurant run by the Paradis restaurant group. The food, unfortunately was nothing to write home about.
Jane and Hywel a very united couple
Hywel and Eladio, very different physically, one so Welsh, one so Latin but absolutely on a par mentally.
Suzy was back on Friday from El Escorial from her course on health in pregnant women. I guess her memories though will be much more linked to the new friends she made and their evenings out than anything clinical to judge by the photos she showed me. As soon as she was back, she was off again. And “again” it was to El Escorial, this time to the camping site with her boyfriend and another couple.

Meanwhile Oli was fully into the swing of things at RTVE. She is working in the Internet and new technologies department and seems to be churning out articles for the RTVE website non-stop. Just take a look at these to see the sort of stuff she has to write: Oli’s articles Oli’s articles I can’t help feeling quite proud of her. She is working from 3 pm to 10 pm every day and doesn’t get paid a penny. However the experience is well worth the effort.

Last week I also had lunch with my girlfriends Ana, Jill, Zenaida and Fátima at a great Asian place in Las Rozas. We hadn’t seen Ana since she had baby Mencía last October and so there was a lot to catch up on. Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo for my blog 

As you can see not much really to recount but a quiet week at last working at home and with the family which was very much needed after so much activity in June.


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Silver shoes, cats, Wimbledon and other things

Dear Phoebe found somewhere cool to sleep in the sweltering July heat.
Hi again

The title to this week’s post sounds quite fun and well it is except that there were more mundane activities such as visiting the gynaecologist – yes I passed the annual MOT with flying colours but I could hardly include that in the title could I?

I had coffee with Elena again and she is doing fine. Friday last found me at the TV studios once again with Jill and Lisa, my American and Chinese co participants. It was very much Jill’s day as Friday was Independence Day. We are going back for more on 18th July so if you are in Spain watch out for us on Intereconomía TV – it also gets repeated during the weekend.
Representatives from 3 major countries!
After the programme I felt on a bit of a high and as the Corte Inglés was nearby I thought I ought to visit the Sales. And what did I get? Yes a lovely pair of silver shoes from a shoe shop in Serrano and a silver bag from that attractive shop Musgo. I am in lovely with my silver purchases and have been wearing them ever since. In fact they deserve a photo.
My new silver treasures, a handbag and matching shoes, just the fashion this Summer!
I suppose there should be a reference to food too as Eladio and I pigged ourselves by going out for dinner 3 nights on a row last Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Friday was our weekly treat to La Alpargatería. Saturday was a mistake at a ghastly place called La Gitana here in Boadilla (they don’t accept luncheon vouchers, are very expensive, very unfriendly and have only acceptable quality food) and Sunday was a lovely tapas outing with our friends Roberto and Mari Carmen to a great little place whose name I can’t remember, very near home.

There is not much reference to the girls these days. Well they have been away. Oli came back very brown and happy from Mallorca and just as she came back Suzy went off to Santa Pola with her cousins, Laura and Ali (my Goddaughter) and her friend Elena. Then Suzy came back from Santa Pola - we managed one family lunch in between – and was off again, last Sunday with Elena to a course in El Escorial on Health in pregnant women organised by the Complutense University. She seems to be having a great time as the course hours are quite short and she is meeting loads of new people from here and abroad.
The 3 cousins, Laura, Suzy and Alicia brown as berries after Santa Pola
Meanwhile Oli started her placement with RTVE and we don’t see much of her. Thankfully her timetable will now be from 3 pm to 10 pm which at least will allow her to have lunch with us.

You probably want to know about the cats or maybe not. The cats for us are an important part of family life and right now we are in the midst of Joe and Phoebe getting to know each other and become friends and for Joe to become acclimatized. It’s amazing to watch how each day they become less and less estranged and how they both now eat from the same bowl! Joe gave us a fright the other night by completely disappearing for some 12 hours. We really thought he had gone forever, possibly raptured by a bird of prey. But no, he suddenly appeared the next day eating at Phoebe’s bowl as if he had never been away. He seems to be a bit of an adventurer so his future could be somewhat uncertain. Here are some photos of them for you to enjoy:
Phoebe and Joe eating from Phoebe's bowl. Phoebe prefers aldult cat food and Phoebe prefers kitten food!
Phoebe and Joe beginning to play
Joe, still very small and frightened and taking time to get acclimatised.
The most important thing that happened since I last wrote was that Rafael Nadal,that 22 year old Spanish tennis player from Mallorca, better know in the tennis circles as “muscleman” and number 2 in the world ranking won Wimbledon.

If you are a tennis fan you will know why that was so important; because it was Spain’s second Wimbledon win in 42 years since Manuel Santana won in the 60’s. Wimbledon is the most important tennis tournament in the world. Life sort of stops in England for the 2 weeks it lasts. Funnily enough the English don’t watch any other tennis tournament. That’s the one that matters and it is steeped in very British tennis tradition such as strawberries and cream and well behaved tennis crowds.

Nadal didn’t just win Wimbledon in his 3rd attempt. He beat Federer, that Swiss cardigan clad gentleman who has now won it 5 times in a row and is possibly the best tennis player in the history of the game. And the game they played was arguably the most dramatic and incredible match ever televised; not just in my humble opinion but in the opinion of the likes of the very people who played the most famous match ever, Borg and McEnroe in the early 80’s. I could not watch past the 3rd set, so equal were the 2 it felt the match would never end. But it did and Nadal won 6-4 6-4 6-7 6-7 9-7. It was also the longest match in the history of Wimbledon, nearly 5 hours.

I am very proud of Spain as it is becoming a country to contend with sports wise; winning Wimbledon just one week after winning the European Football championship is really something. Spain is very good at tennis, motorcycling, Formula 1 (well not so good this year), cycling (this year’s Giro and last year’s Tour with Contador), basketball, etc, but I wonder how well it will do in this year’s Olympics. Athletics are not top sports for the Spaniards but we will see.

This week brings dinner in Madrid tomorrow night with a friend from school I met at the recent St. Joseph’s College reunion, Jane McEvoy, now Jane Evans. Jane and her husband are in Pamplona for the bull running (San Fermines) and will be stopping off in town on their way to the coast. I am really looking forward to that Anglo Spanish evening.

And Friday will bring a girly lunch with Ana, Jill, Zenaida and hopefully Fátima and Susana. But more about that in next week’s post. On Friday Suzy will be back but off again camping for the weekend. She is having a very busy July.

Next week will be busy in a pleasurable way for me as I have to do a sight trip to Santander, that majestic northern coastal city with arguably one of the most beautiful beaches in Spain, "El Sardinero". June has been very hard but July, fortunately is more of a planning month.

Cheers till next week

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Work life balance, from San Sebastián to La Rioja and home again; the parties are finally over until September and Suzy in Alicante + Oli in Mallorca

Me in the Marqués de Riscal vinyard in La Rioja, an excellent place to be!
Hi again,

I think the epitome of the perfect work life balance is using your laptop on the sun bed in the shade by swimming pool which is what I am doing right now.

My blog has become part of my “work” as work for me is both home life and company life and so, once a week or so, I have to update it. And this is the latest update:

Apart from the posts on “it’s” new name, Joe, and on Spain winning the European Football championship, I last left you when I was in San Sebastian with Oli for the company Summer Party last week. It went really well, especially as the dinner coincided with the semi final where Spain beat Germany. We all got kitted out and Oli and I even had our faces painted with the Spanish colours. In the afternoon I had 150 people in 12 different teams doing a Gymkhana around the old part of the town, the port and the beach. They had to do things like distinguish the local beverage, Txacoli, from white wine blindfolded or get more than 13 people in a car, including someone from the street, and be able to shut the doors.

Oli and me with our faces painted with the Spanish colours!
It was a great event which needed one hell of a lot of planning and when I got up on Friday morning to catch the 11 flight with Oli to Madrid I felt absolutely exhausted and looked like something the cat had brought in! Eladio was at the airport to pick me up as we were off to La Rioja.

Oli was going to Mallorca that very evening with her best friends from school for a week. She must be having a great time as every time I ring she seems to be too busy to talk! When she comes back she will be starting a summer work placement with RTVE, Spain’s national TV and Radio broadcasting station. I must publicly say here that big thanks go to my friend Pedro for his help. Thanks Pedro!!!

Eladio and I drove up to La Rioja to a small village called Elciego where the famous Marqués de Riscal Hotel is. As I said in my earlier post, this was a trip with Dircom, the Spanish Association of Communications Directors. I had jumped at the opportunity as the Association had negotiated an enormous discount and package at 300 euros per couple which would include the dinner, a spa treatment, the visit to the wine cellars as well as a wine tasting session and lunch when the most economical room costs 450 euros/night!!

I wish I hadn’t been so tired after San Sebastian otherwise I would have enjoyed the trip more. As it was, it was great but my energy level was at an all time low unfortunately. Even so I was bowled over by our room and bathroom, the hotel itself and its surroundings.
Eladio enjoying our room!
The Marqués de Riscal Hotel was designed by Frank Gehry, that rather creative American architect. The style is rather strange and for me, at least, is too much of a contrast with the local village of Elciego and the architecture of the region. The colours, gold, silver and red are supposed to represent the colours of the Marqués de Riscal bottles and wine.
Eladio by the main entrance of the hotel.
Me at the hotel
The spa was superb as was the treatment we got; a 15 minute wine bubble bath soon after we arrived at the Caudalie Vinotherapie Spa – I’m sure it has a more sophisticated name but I don’t know what it is. This helped me to partially recover and enjoy the enormous dinner prepared for the Dircom group that evening.
Ready to go to the spa
The next day, Saturday, Eladio and I slept till 10.30 and nearly missed breakfast not that we were at all hungry. Funnily enough the breakfast was a bit disappointing for such a luxurious hotel.

As we were staying in what the brochure of the hotel denominated, the City of Wine, and we were in La Rioja, Eladio and I invested in quite a few boxes, only to realise later that we had also bought Marqués de Riscal wine from Castilla León rather than La Rioja! We also got a great tour of the wine cellars which date from 1860 and host barrels of wine for the King of Spain. The whole production for one year is 4.5 million bottles!!
All the different brands of wine produced by Marqués de Riscal
Very soon it was time for the wine tasting and buffet lunch and then time to leave as we wanted to explore the area before heading off home. Unfortunately I was far too tired to take in properly the beautiful towns of Laguardia nearby or San Millán de la Cogolla, the birth town of Castillian Spanish, or even that other Castillian jewel, Santo Domingo de la Calzada.

As usual coming home was the best thing about both trips. We were back so late I only caught a glimpse of Suzy and of my Father and Ernestina, Eladio’s Mother who is staying with us.

Sunday was spent recovering and sleeping and of course watching the European Cup Final which the whole world now knows Spain won!

Monday was spent still recovering and actually doing some personal errands such as choosing some new glasses. That is actually news as my current varifocal prescription glasses apparently make me look “old” and are very unflattering. Ever since I heard that I have wanted to get some new ones but of course, they cost a bomb and I knew I had to choose the right design this time. Well I hope I have as unfortunately my image advisors, Suzy and Oli, were not with me when I ordered them.

Yesterday, Monday, was the day of Suzy’s final exam for this summer and so she will have a rest until the second half of August when she will be in revision mode again for the September exams. When Suzy will finish her degree is actually a bit of a mystery. To celebrate and to wind down, she went to our apartment in Santa Pola yesterday by car with her friend Elena and cousins, Laura and Alicia. Laura and Ali (my god daughter) arrived from León by train in time for lunch with the family.
The 3 cousins
And today I went to the Spanish Parliament, the Senate or Upper House or however you want to call it. That was quite an unusual place to visit but it was where the Spanish Government body that regulates the telecommunications market had chosen to present the annual report for 2007. Here I met quite a few cronies from the sector as well as the telecoms media.
The Senate (El Senado)
Work this week is at a gentle pace, thank God. This month I have prepared 5 events and now they are finally over. The next one is in September and in Santander which should keep me ticking over for a while.

On Friday I will be going to the TV programme again to talk on the chat show again. I will be joined by Jill and Lisa the same as last time. I still haven’t thought about any topics, oh dear ….

And that’s about all for this week.

Cheers till next time,
Masha (in sweltering Madrid)