Sunday, August 23, 2009

End of the holidays, a visit to Salamanca, Usain Bolt the fastest man in the world, a new face for Spain, our anniversary and more.

Eladio and I in the lovely Plaza Mayor in Salamanca. The new pink fan came in handy to fight off the heat. Funnily enough Salamanca was the first place we visited soon after we met nearly 30 years ago and this was our first time back since then.
Hi again

This will be the last post of these holidays. I have been acutely aware all this month of August which is now coming to an end that it was coming to an end the whole time. I sometimes think I prefer the time running up to summer rather than the holidays themselves which seem to go past far too quickly. It’s often true you get more joy out of anticipation and preparation than the actual event or events themselves. Isn’t that so for example of Christmas??

We have been all over the place this summer and this last week at home has been a bit of a downturn. I, at least, have missed the frantic activity of all our travels and found the activity-less week a bit of a bore. On top of that we have had to put up with the extreme heat which this year for the first time in all my years in Spain has really bothered me. Every summer is hot but this year seems to be one of the hottest. We are sleeping with the air conditioning on every night (thank God for it too) and are actually abandoning our evening walks which are stifling in this heat. It is also true that this week marked my official return to work which didn’t help to cheer me up, although I usually enjoy my work. But holidays make you lazy I think.

This post was not meant to be a reflection on my feelings regarding time, but on our trip to Salamanca. So let me get on with that and explain why we went and what we did. Amanda and Andy and their kids, Jane and Cordelia, are doing a course in Spanish at the University there this August and we had agreed to go and visit them. We also had an open invitation to visit Javier and Ana at the house they had built in the village of Peñacaballera last year and which is just one hour’s drive from Salamanca. So we chose last weekend, one day after our return from Santa Pola, to hit the road again, this time just Eladio and I. We were to spend Friday night with Javier and Ana and their family in Peñacaballera and Saturday night at the Hotel Rector in the heart of Salamanca.
Ana and Javier, a happy couple.
It took just over 2.5h to drive to the small village of Peñacaballera near Béjar where Javier and Ana and their teenage kids, Ignacio, Laura, Cristina and María spend all their summers.
Ignacio and Laura, Javier and Ana's older kids who are now University students in New York.
Javier and Ana's three lovely girls, Laura, Cristina and María
It is thanks to Javier’s childhood friend, Jorge that they go there. Jorge, whose grandfather is from the village, not only has property there and is the owner of the only swimming pool in the area, but also keeps some of his horses in what could be described as 5 star accommodation. His wife, María and their three girls, Bea, Paula and María are all keen riders. Each of the horses had names of course, but the ones that I remember best are El niño, Príncipe (a pony) and an imposing dark horse they also called “el macarra”, the Spanish for hooligan, the one in the picture here with the equally good looking Jorge.
Jorge and one of his beautiful horses.
These two close-knit families whose houses form part of the same enclosure and share a formidable antique doorway, enjoy a tranquil time together and seem almost like the same family, their children having grown up practically together.The beautiful antique doorway to Javier and Jorge's houses in Peñacaballera

All of their children were extremely well behaved, almost too good to be true. Javier did later explain that, of course, they were on their best behaviour because of our visit which I hope was the reason. They certainly caused a good impression. The child I will remember most is Paula, who at 14 showed an extremely sharp and enquiring mind whilst discussing her impressions of the book we had all read, “The boy in the striped pyjamas” and which we found very unusual for a girl so young. She had a sort of charming cheeky personality also which I found very alluring and I had a lot of fun when I was asked to talk to her in English to check her knowledge of the language of Shakespeare.
Paula on her horse, I think it was actually, "El Niño".
In fact the language of Shakespeare seemed to be important to them all, not least Javier and Ana and their children who moved last year to New York. It was a big move for them all and the impact has been big from what we learned in our conversations.

And conversation was what took up most of our time whilst with them. Only Javier and I knew each other before, both of us being communications professionals in the telecoms sector in Spain, although I had met Ana, once on a trip to Helsinki. As Eladio pointed out, they all knew him because of my blog so only they were new to him. We spent the time getting to know each other. The children were terribly interested to know how Eladio and I had met, me being English and him being Spanish, so I tried to tell my story once again. Maybe one day I’ll write a book about it. When that story included the information that Eladio had been a priest at the time, the questions got more intense, and conversation about it took us into the early hours of Saturday morning over a wonderful impromptu dinner on the terrace.

Needless to say, the hospitality was superb, as was the accommodation and we would love to go back. Their house is very beautiful and built in a country style that befits the place and I would not have changed anything. We specially liked the big open spaced kitchen. As I hate to overstay my welcome, something instilled in me by Mother, we spent just one day and one night. The time went by so fast and we were sad to leave as we seem to have so much in common, especially our likes of books, travelling and cinema and possibly our outlook on life that hopefully we will meet again soon. Who knows whether that will be dinner in Madrid at the end of their holiday, a visit to New York some time to see them there or a repeat trip to Peñacaballera next summer?
Javier and Ana's house in Peñacaballera.
So after a very happy stay in Peñacaballera where we witnessed the village life (mostly pigs, including one big stud with the biggest pair of “vitals” I have ever seen (for want of a better euphemism) and even met some of the locals, like Sebastián and Santos, we hit the road again, this time to Salamanca to the centre of the province.
The stud pig we saw in Peñacaballera. Apparently his only mission is to service the sows of the whole area. He is a very lucky pig. Also it seems he will never be turned into chorizo.
The villagers, Santos and Sebastián with Javier.
We drove past Guijuelo, perhaps the most famous place in Spain for Spanish ham, and decided, on the spur of the moment, to stop and buy one. It was Saturday 15th August, the Assumption, so most places were closed. We did however come by a little shop where we bought a fine ham. The funniest thing was that the lady who sold it turned out to be called “Eladia”, a most unusual name in Spain, much more so than the masculine version. Hardly believing his ears, Eladio gave her a kiss on both cheeks. Here is a photo of Eladio paying Eladia for the ham, just for the records.
Eladio buying a ham from Eladia in Guijuelo, one of the highlights of our trip.
Soon we were in what turned out to be sweltering Salamanca and booked into the very quiet and highly air conditioned Hotel Rector, just across the way from the historic old town. Our room was a cool haven we were to be very grateful for during our long afternoon siesta and later nighttime. We booked there as Trip Advisor ranked it first. It’s a lovely place but I’m not sure it’s the best in town. It was also very empty and there were just 2 couples, including ourselves at breakfast.
The entrance to the Hotel Rector in Salamanca, an elegant and tranquil place.
Amanda and Andy came to pick us up and gave us a quick tour of the old town, the two cathedrals, the University where they had their classes, the old streets and other interesting buildings, such as the register of the records of the Spanish civil war, the House of Shells or the wonderful Art Nouveau museum we were unable to visit.
Amanda, Andy and Eladio next to the University in Salamanca.
Hungry as usual, it was late and hot and monuments always make one hungry, and we set our eyes on what looked like a good place to eat, Casa Paca. It turned out to be great but a bit lacking in air conditioning.
Andy and Eladio at Casa Paca.
We continued our sight seeing and visited the world famous Plaza Mayor but then, finding it too hot we all decided to spend the afternoon sleeping the siesta.

In the evening we were going out to dinner to Hacienda Zorita, a marvelous 15th century old convent turned into a 5 star wine hotel about 10km outside Salamanca, made famous by the Spanish chef, Sergi Arola. Thus the food and drink were to be guaranteed.

The place bowled us over and we took many photos. It was the chance to have photos taken in couples as usually when we travel together, Eladio and I can only take photos of one of us. Amanda snapped this one of the two of us when I was obviously not ready and laughing my head off. I can’t remember why I was laughing, well I always am when with Amanda and Andy, but the picture is just great.
Me laughing my head off with Eladio at Hacienda Zorita
Sunday was a day spent with the kids (Jake too) and after visiting their flat in Carbajosa, all 7 of us set of in our Volvo to explore the Salamanca countryside. It was the first time we were using the 7 seat facility of our new car and it was a good feeling. Eladio drove whilst Andy (or Candy as they apparently call him in the Spanish classes, hahaha) was the copilot and his sat nav from the UK worked better than our terrible Garmin (will be getting a Tomtom soon I’m sure). I sat in the next row with Amanda and Cordelia (known as Cornelia in the Spanish classes) in the middle and in the back row “naughty” Jake and Jane (known as Yane in the Spanish classes). On that drive they all got a lesson in Spanish swear words I’m sure they enjoyed. The main part of the lesson was trying to explain “ser bueno/a” and estar bueno/a” as the meanings here of “being good” can be very different. They were all told not to tell their teacher she was “buena” as they would be in trouble.

Our first stop was at the pretty medieval town of Candelario near Bejar, in fact also very near Peñacaballera. I realised later that we all had cameras except for Jake and sometimes ended up taking pictures of each other taking pictures. It was hot as usual and the walk up the cobbled stone streets made us hungry.
Walking up the main street of Candelario
So we set off again to our next destination which was lunch in the pretty town of Mógarraz. Andy had been recommended the Mirasierra restaurant there by Antonio, his swimming pool friend at their flat.
Restaurante Mirasierra in Mógarraz
It took us some time to get there, as the roads were windy, narrow and very steep but thanks to Andy’s sat nav we made it, if a little late. The restaurant was good but we were disappointed that the part with the views of the mountains was closed as that seemed to be the salient point of the whole place. If you ever go there try the grilled meat, it is superb.

After leaving the restaurant we bumped into Mogarraz’s mascot, their pet pig, San Antón with his collar and bell. We all immediately fell in love with it and spent the next 10 minutes taking photos. The best one I got is of San Antón with Cord. We later were upset to learn that San Antón, named after the fiestas and patron saint of Mógarraz, was to be raffled amongst the villagers and then of course sacrificed to become ham or chorizo. We were, after all, in possibly the best ham and chorizo land in Spain.
Cord and the pet pig San Antón in Mógarraz
Our next and final stop was to visit the famous village of La Alberca in the Sierra de Francia (range of mountains). La Alberca happened to be celebrating their own fiestas. Here we walked down the very touristy cobbled streets to the main square only to find it in preparations for a bull fight. Well, here was the real Spain for Andy, Amanda and family. Some of them found it unique and interesting and snapped away and others, like Cord, got quite upset. I looked for a while but don’t really like the cruelty either and so went exploring the shops. Here we bought a lovely panama hat for my Father and a closed wicker basket for fruit.
Eladio with the new hat for Grandpa in La Alberca with Cord and Amanda looking on.
It was too late to visit the famous Peña de Francia as we had to go home to Madrid that night. We shall have to leave that for another time. So we drove back to Salamanca to leave our lovely friends at their apartment in Carbajosa, said our goodbyes and got back into the car to return to Madrid.

At home waiting for us were Suzy and my Father, as well our lovely pets and a very warm house. It was good to be back of course, but the end of Salamanca meant the end of my holiday as on Monday last I officially started work again.

This week at home has been very quiet. On Monday we got the news that the problem with my Father’s hand is muscular, which is a great relief. I was dreading it being caused by a stroke. In fact he seems to have recovered some movement since and is nearly as active as he was before.

This week has also been the World championships in athletics. In Spain we had good news with Marta Domínguez who won the 3000m steeple chase race which made her the best Spanish woman athlete of all times.
Marta Domínguez with her talisman pink hair band winning the 3000 steeple chase race for Spain in Berlin last week, her first World Championship.
Spain didn’t get many medals but the small country of Jamaica did as that is where the fastest man in the world, at least for the moment, Usain Bolt is from. He beat his own record in the 100 and 200m and got a third gold medal in his other speciality, the 4 x 100m.
Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world
Usain Bolt was the fastest man there and was in all the news. But it was Caster Semenya from South Africa who broke my heart. She won the 800m but was later challenged for her sex and suspected of being a man. The poor woman looks like a man but has genitals. Who knows, she may have masculine genes but does that make her a man if she has female genitals?
Caster Semenya from South Africa. The judges doubt whether she is a woman, poor thing.
This week too was a first for Spain but this time not in sport but in medicine. The high profile Doctor Pedro Cavadas and his team of 30 transplanted a face, the 8th operation of its kind in the world. This time though the operation included the tongue and the jaw which have never been done before. Well done Dr. Miracle as you are known and good luck to the anonymous receiver whose life can only get better after this. The operation was not without criticism though, as details of the donor were filtered by the press.
The high profile Dr. Miracle as Dr. Pedro Cavadas is known, in a press conference after performing Spain's first face transplant. The operation which included the tongue and jaw for the first time ever brought fame to this amazing man who had just returned from operating for free in Africa, thus his kaftan like attire.
This week brought with it too Eladio’s sister, Adela’s 60th birthday. How can she possibly be 60? Women these days look so much younger. I gather it wasn’t a very happy day as Marta, her daughter was taken with one of her terrible headaches and the day was spent in hospital. Luckily they had celebrated the weekend before with a surprise trip to Santander.

It also brought with it our 26th wedding anniversary. On 21st August 1983, at the age of 26 I married Eladio. Friday was the day and we went out for dinner to celebrate. Oli joined us and we went to one of our favourite places, La Vaca Argentina. Last year, being our 25th, we had gone to Amsterdam on a surprise trip for Eladio. I can only say that our marriage gets better every year and that we have it as good as it gets to quote my friend Anne. May we live to celebrate our 50th and even more.

Oli was supposed to travel to Málaga this weekend but due to some mix up with the tickets she couldn’t travel. Thus we had the pleasure of her company this weekend. In fact we hadn’t all been together since the weekend in Santa Pola and it was lovely for me as a Mother for us all to be together.

This weekend marks the beginning of Ramadan and Muslims, some 2 million apparently live in Spain, will be fasting (food, drink, smoking and sex) during the day for the next 40 days. Swine flu is still with us and has even affected Ramadan. Some Muslim countries have prohibited people under the age of 12 and over the age of 65 of making the pilgrimage to Mecca in order to avoid spreading the disease. Fancy that!

As I am not a Muslim and don’t have to fast, although I should if I want to lose some weight, I will be going out tonight with Eladio to dinner with Roberto and MariCarmen to La Vinoteca again. We’ll probably be having some ham too, their speciality.

And that’s it for this week and for these summer holidays folks. Next week will be hard work in preparation for events I am organising in Santander. We will be travelling there too next Saturday for the annual conference. But more about that in my next post.

PS here, by the way, you can see the full set of photos of our trip to Salamanca.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

And so to Santa Pola, all the family together, bombs in Mallorca and the death of Harry Patch

One of the sea views from our flat in Santa Pola
Hi again

Every summer after the family reunion in Montrondo we go for a few days to our pad on the coast. I always say “Santa Pola” but actually the place is called Gran Alacant and is some 15km from Alicante and some 5km from Santa Pola. We bought it ten years ago but seem to go less and less. I have just read my entry from last year to see what I wrote and what was different this year.

Last year was the last time I saw my Aunty Masha alive. We would often visit her when in Santa Pola but perhaps not as often as we should. Now I am not able to make that decision. Last year I wrote that the girls didn’t come as we rarely went on holiday with them any more and lo and behold Suzy came with us this year. She came with us as she needed the right atmosphere to study for her September re-sits (just 3 subjects to go now before she finishes forever and it feels forever too!!). Oli joined us for the weekend and therefore for a few days the 5 of us were together for the first time ever in Santa Pola.
Suzy taking a break from her studies in the flat.
We celebrated by taking the girls out to dinner on Friday to La Picola and on Saturday to El Varadero. After both dinners the four of us went for delicious family night walks on the beach to work off the excess.
Eladio and his girls at La Picola.
We spent our time fighting off the heat and extreme humidity (this summer has been hotter than every in Spain), enjoying family meals together and going to the beach when we would also take long walks together.

The highlight of our stay was perhaps when we visited Alicante when we took Oli to catch her train back to Madrid. The obligatory thing to do when visiting Alicante is to walk on the Esplanade which is a smaller version of the Rambla in Barcelona but with a wavy mosaic floor. We bought things at the flea market there, like a fan to keep off the heat, and also had ice cream at the famous Pinet café. As this was a Sunday in August the Esplanade was especially full of people and also of side stalls and street buskers.
Suzy on the Esplanade (on the phone to Juli I think)
Here both tourists and locals mingle and you can hear all the languages in the world and could, amongst many other things, have your hair plaited by black African women carrying babies on their backs or bought pictures made of butterflies from The Congo.
Black ladies plaiting women's hair on the Esplanade in Alicante.
What grabbed my Father’s and Eladio’s attention though was the summer concert put on by the Alicante Municipal Brass Band on the Esplanade itself. Here we had to fight for seats but eventually found some. As my Father commented there was probably no one under the age of 60 listening. A great fan of brass bands, it made his day though.
The brass band concert on the Esplanade in Alicante which my Father and Eladio so enjoyed.
Suzy with her Grandfather and Father during the brass band concert interval on the Esplanade in Alicante.
The only cloud hanging over us was a problem my Father had with his right hand. Just as we were leaving he showed it to us and we could see how the first three fingers could not move and were paralyzed. We immediately thought back to the time when he fell over Norah in the kitchen and wondered whether this was a mild stroke. It severely limited his movements and made it difficult to do simple things like do up his shirt buttons or even eat. Now we are back we have taken him to the neurologist and he has had several tests including a brain scan. He has another appointment tomorrow to interpret the tests but it looks like the damage does not come from the brain but from a muscle. Thus it is very likely he will recover the movement in his hand or at least that is what we hope.
Grandpa reading the English paper in the flat.
We would go and get his newspaper, The Times, at the English shop, Quicksave, across the way which is what he usually does himself and I would always buy him chocolates, his favourite being Turkish Delight, to cheer him up as I suspected he was a bit down.

Believe it or not two days before we were leaving it began to rain, in fact all over Spain. That sort of spoiled the end of our stay and we decided to come back one day earlier. Here is the full selection of photos of our stay in Santa Pola which I have posted on Facebook, as usual.

Norah, our hyperactive 10 month old beagle stayed at home (bit cross with her at the moment as today after lunch she got locked in the dining room and when I opened it she had disgraced herself by weeing on the cushions and wet wee stained paw marks were all over the floor!). She is just too hyperactive to take anywhere. She hates being alone and this was her second experience. Thankfully Suzy’s friend Rocío and friends would come every day to feed her and play with her. We got a fantastic welcome when we came home of course and were delighted to see her again. It’s a long time since I’d taken any photos of her so I snapped a few and here is the result.
Norah on Suzy's knee. She is too big to sit there but still likes to think she is a puppy.
I should mention that whilst we were on holiday, the ETA terrorist group placed 4 bombs in restaurants and beaches in Mallorca to mark their anniversary. Some 8 or 9 years ago, there were bombs in Santa Pola too, just a day or so before our stay. I well remember the deserted beaches and the story of the little girl and old man who were killed. When will they stop I ask myself?

Also this holiday the very last surviving British veteran from the First World War, Harry Patch, died at the age of 111. You will remember from an earlier post of mine that I reported on Henry Allingham’s death, the second last surviving veteran who was aged 113. Now there is no surviving soldier in Britain who can recount his experiences in what was known as the Great War. Soon it will be the turn of the veterans from the Second World War. And that’s when we can only resort to the history books, which is just not the same.
Harry Patch the last WW1 British veteran
We seem to have been travelling all Summer and indeed we have; to England, to Montrondo and to Santa Pola. But the travelling didn’t stop there as on Friday, one day after our return, Eladio and I hit the road again, this time to visit friends in Salamanca.

But more about that in my next post.

Cheers till then

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Yearbook, the latest online craze.

Recognise me? That's the result I got for 1964 from

Hi again

You can do anything with images these days. Year Book Yourself seems to be the latest on-line craze which, of course, comes from America. It’s been around for some time but has now reached Europe.

As I love new sites like these, I had a go. All you need to do is upload your picture and see yourself through the years in various school album type photos.

This is what I would have looked like in 1974 apparently.

Eladio would have looked like this in 1952

Suzy would have looked like this in 1966

And, finally, Oli would have looked like this in 1960

I had good fun with this yesterday and uploaded the full album of myself through the years onto Facebook. A friend commented that Year Book Yourself was a bit like a free hair-do on-line. It is in a way, except that the hair-dos represent the different styles of the last few decades. The results are very funny and had us in stitches yesterday.

Try it out yourself and I’m sure you’ll find it great fun.

Cheers for now.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Santa Marta 2009, the Freijo family reunited once again. What was different from other years and what was not?

Alejandro and Andrés surprising us at lunch with this fancy dress. It's a laugh a minute with these two in the family always.

I am writing from Santa Pola (separate post on that later) this humid and windy afternoon in August whilst everyone else practises that wonderful Spanish sport, the siesta. So Suzy, Eladio and my Father slumber as I write. Oli was with us for the weekend but left yesterday as she has to work.

Every year in August we go to Montrondo for the village “fiestas” on the first Saturday of August and the whole family gets together for lunch that day which is cooked and prepared at home. Each year I include this visit in my blog. So what can I say that is different this year I wonder?

Certainly different was the journey. This year we travelled in our lovely new Volvo XC90. We means: Eladio, my Father, Oli and I. Suzy was travelling direct from Portugal where she was on a camping holiday with Gaby in Praia da Mira. What was different too was that we were joined by Andy, Amanda, Cordelia and Jane. As you will have read from my latest post, they had stopped at our place on their way to Salamanca where they are doing a Spanish course for one month at the University. So after just one rushed night at home from returning from England, we made our way to Montrondo.

The plan was for them to follow us and to stop for a light lunch at Palacio de Bornos in Rueda, of white wine fame. The stop, as ever, was delightful and we all enjoyed the local cold cuts (ham, chorizo, lomo, cheese) washed down by the delicious white wine (sauvignon blanc). Too soon we had to part but agreed we would travel to Salamanca to visit them after our holiday in Santa Pola. So, cars filled with newly bought wine from Rueda, we said our goodbyes, they made their way to Salamanca and we made ours to Montrondo.
The Palacio de Bornos in Rueda, a must on the way to León from Madrid.
This was my post from last year where I basically described the way the kids and the “grown ups” lived Santa Marta. They generally turn night into day and we keep life the same. But even that was different this year. They must be getting older though as this year we seemed to spend more time with them.

I use the term “kids” when actually the youngest, Alicia, my god daughter, is 17 and the oldest, Roberto, who I must mention is going to be the Father of the second great grand child in the family, Diana in December, is in his late 30’s. The “grown ups” start with Isidro who is in his mid forties and end with the “abuela” (the grand mother), Ernestina who is in her late 80’s.

We were 13 or so on each table this year in “la cuadra” (the old stables) which in recent years had been turned into a sort of lounge. Even the “cuadra” was different this year, thanks to great efforts from Andrés to restore old tools and instruments from the house and use them to decorate the walls. Also thanks go to him and his wife, Pili, for bringing new chairs and their old sofa, all of which contributed to making it a nicer place to be. I should mention too that I brought along 30 or so framed photos of some of my best pictures of Montrondo which now proudly decorate the same walls and which fascinated all and sundry.
One side of the "kid's" table in "la cuadra", notice this year's I love Montrondo t-shirts.
The biggest difference, at least for us, was our accommodation which had been improved with all our recent efforts in decorating and acquisition of new furniture. Thus we all slept much better and had room to put away our clothes rather than living out of a suitcase as we had always done in the past.

What marked a difference too this year was that it rained on Saturday 1st August. It did spoil the fiesta as we had to stay indoors most of the day. I do not remember it ever raining before on that day, at least not in the past 15 years of our going there.

What was certainly not different was the moment when Andrés and Alejandro put on hippy fancy dress to surprise us at the lunch. The photo of them illustrates this post. Of all the family they are the two who think up the things which make us all laugh over and over again. And this time was not different.

The rest of the stay was pretty much the same as ever. The kids went out at night to party, some of us went to church, some of us went to have coffee in Senra, the women cooked, the men looked for work around the house and garden, some of us went for our walks in the evening and we all ate the very same food over and over as we never get the quantities right. Well it’s not easy calculating for 20 odd people. I guess we are all getting a bit sick of chorizo, pie, potato salad, roast lamb, barbecue cooked meat and long for a change. Thankfully we are now on a diet of fish and vegetables and loads of fruitPili dressed for church posing in the unglamorous kitchen in the old house in Montrondo..
Yoli stayed behind to cook which she loves to do. She is the queen of the kitchen in Montrondo.
You can see the rest of the photos here on Facebook. Perhaps the most curious is the one of Toño, Eladio’s second brother carrying an enormous log of wood by himself. This was after the men had felled a lot of trees in the orchard next to the old house. They wanted to save the wood for making beams and thus removed the bark. In this photo he is actually carrying bark but you would never have known if I hadn’t explained.
Toño carrying the "log"
And all too soon people started leaving and numbers went down, from 26 to 20, to 18, to 16 until we ourselves left on Tuesday to return to Madrid. This time we were joined by Suzy instead of Oli who had actually returned with Gaby on Sunday night as she had to work on Monday.

Different again was the end of our trip in that we had the pleasure of the company of Suzy in our now traditional stop for lunch at one of the paradors on the way home. This time it was at Benavente as you can see in the photo of Suzy and Eladio here.
Suzy and Eladio outside the Parador in Benavente.
And that was Santa Marta this year, a mixture of tradition peppered with some differences. What does not change though ever is the harmony and good will that reign in this amazing family. And may that never change, so say I.

Cheers till my next post.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

A memory packed holiday in Yorkshire, reunions, church and too much food.

Robin Hood's Bay as seen from the Cleveland Walk in the direction of Whitby. I love that place.
Hi again

It’s been quite some time since my last post but that’s because I’ve been on holiday to England and haven’t had time. Now I’m in Montrondo again for the annual family gathering which is actually coming to an end and finally I have a moment to write my blog and recount the experiences of our holiday in Yorkshire.

As I write my mother-in-law is repairing some old jeans of Eladio’s sitting next to me on the “poyo”. A “poyo” (pronouced the same as pollo = chicken in Spanish) in Montrondo is not a chicken, but a stone slab attached to the houses that people sit on like a bench. The men are cutting wood from the trees they felled yesterday, the women have gone to see the house Primo is building and the girls, Suzy, Laura, Alicia and Paula have come home for a mid afternoon snack. My father will be having his siesta in Murias where he stays at the b+b called El Holandés Errante and where they take great care of him.

It wasn’t just a normal holiday in England. It was the first time we were taking my 90 year old Father back to Yorkshire since he left to live with us in October 2005. I should add for clarification that just the three oldies went; Eladio, my Father and I.

We spent the first 5 nights in Brontë country, at the superb 5 star guest house called Ashmount House in Haworth and the last 3 on the North Yorkshire coast at the charming little fishing village, Robin Hood’s Bay, two very beautiful places that meant so much to my Father and I and brought back many memories from my childhood and our past. At the latter we stayed at Manning Tree Bed and Breakfast. It was not in the same league as Ashmount House, but lovely, simple and clean and with a much nicer landlady. Katy took great care of us there. Thank you very much, by the way Katy, for the raspberry jam you gave my Father, the one your Mother made.
Ashmount House guest house in Haworth which was the old surgery.
We had a very tight programme as there was so much to pack into the 8 days. The first day was spent visiting Haworth, the parish church and the Brontë parsonage museum, after which we went for a wonderful walk by the moors where Eladio picked bilberries for my Father.
Eladio picking billberries on the walk outside Haworth.
The walk by the moor in Haworth
Afterwards we drove to one of our favourite places in Yorkshire, Ilkley, where we had lunch at Betty’s, that quintessential English tearoom and walked up to Ilkley Moor for old times sake. This was where my Father used to bring my brother George and I many a weekend and when he used to call me “his little moors girl”. At the time I hated walking but now I love it although I still have an aversion to walking up hills. My Mother would always stay at home as she hated going for walks.
The Brontë Parsonage where the sisters and their family lived. Today it is a museum but just as it was in their day.
That same day we had a reunion dinner at Valya and George Konzeviche’s house in Leeds where we joined by Richard Davies and Misha. Valya had been my Mother’s colleague at Leeds University where they both taught Russian. Richard was also a colleague and is still there. Richard and Misha were both instrumental in the publishing of my Grandfather’s poetry whereby they fulfilled my Mother’s life time dream for which my Father and I are eternally grateful. We had a grand time and the Russian blood in me flourished that evening and even had me singing songs like “Lietat Utki”. The food, as befits the great cook Valya always was, was, of course Russian and the table heaved with delicacies we had not eaten for many years. The reunion was emotional to say the least and brought back memories of my visiting my Mother at Leeds University when I was a teenager and proud she had an office and where Valya would always greet me so lovingly.
Dinner at the Konzeviches
On Friday we went into the centre of Bradford, the home of my childhood and where my Father had lived from 1965 until 2005, a mere 40 years of his life. I always hated Bradford, although I loved the surrounding countryside and vowed I would never live there. I hate it and still do but many memories were stirred that morning as I went from the Halifax Building society to Marks and Spencers and into Boots and all the old shops. It was raining and felt at times as if life had stood still as I watched the inhabitants shopping that morning. The only difference perhaps is that now there are even more Asian immigrants than before. It was difficult to spot white people on Broadway.

Soon it was time to drive to Baildon to Charlestown cemetery to visit my Mother’s grave. My Father and I stood in the rain looking at her tombstone with the inscription which includes some lines from her beloved Father’s poetry. It was a very sad moment.

We soon cheered up as we drove on afterwards passed our old home on Rownwood Road and via Hollin’s Hill where my brother once had a bicycle accident and to Guisely for lunch at the famous fish and chip restaurant, Harry Ramsden’s. We were to be joined by Andy and Amanda who had come down from Surrey to join us for the weekend. Amanda is my childhood friend and Andy was part of our “gang” and also my Father’s former pupil at Bradford Grammar School. The weekend was going to be full of memories for them too as well as for Simon and Gill, Amanda’s brother and wife. Simon too was a past pupil of my Father’s and very much part of my childhood.
Harry Ramsden's world famous fish and chip shop. We always go back there.
Harry Ramsden’s had not changed and we enjoyed our lunch immensely. We all laughed at Andy’s “challenging” portion which he got through with no problems.
Andy's portion of fish and chips.
Our whole stay in Yorkshire was marked by eating and by reunions and Friday evening was going to be the same. Amanda and I were going to drive to Manchester for a school reunion and “the boys”, Eladio and my Father were to have dinner at Embers in Haworth with Andy, Simon and Gill.

Our school reunion dinner was very special. Last year, Amanda and I attended the St. Joseph’s College centenary reunion and that spurred me on to organise a special dinner for a small group of us during our time in Yorkshire. I got together the closest group, Brenda, Ellen, Helen King, Stephanie, Jane, Amanda and myself. The first four all live quite close to each other near Manchester and Jane came from Cardiff for the occasion. Amanda, of course, came from Surrey.
The school girl reunion, class of 1975 at SJC.From left to right: Amanda, Jane, Helen, Stephanie, Brenda, me and Ellen
The evening started off with drinks at Brenda’s and from there we went to Picollini’s in Hale which is apparently Manchester United footballer land. There we were to meet up with Stephanie and Helen, the only two of the group whom I hadn’t seen since we left school in 1975. We had all been part of the Kappa class, except Ellen, and were a close knit group and so all had many memories to share that night. None of us were the “good girls” at St. Joseph’s and it is quite remarkable that we have turned out to be “pillars of society” to quote Amanda. Amongst us that night there was a teacher, two lawyers, a doctor, a highly qualified nurse and two PR professionals. I think we have done Sister Wilfrid, our head teacher at the time, proud or I like to think so. Here are Helen King's husband, Mark's set of photos and here are mine.

The night was not long enough for such a reunion and I know we would all have liked to spend many more hours together. Hopefully we will repeat the occasion, maybe even in Madrid, next year at the same time. At least that is what I have proposed.

The drive back to Haworth was something of a nightmare and we got lost on different motorways despite our sat nav. I had problems when I got to the Ashmount House b+b getting in. I kept ringing Eladio who had agreed to open the door for me when I rang him but he didn’t hear his phone which turned out later to be on silence. To my chagrin, Ray, the owner, heard my timid shouts to Eladio and came down in his dressing gown to open the door. I felt like a naughty school girl just as I had been at St. Joseph’s College. Thus the evening ended fittingly.

On Saturday Simon, Jill, Andy and Amanda came for us and we all set off for a long awaited trip to the Dales. The Dales is the countryside in Yorkshire which is actually a national park and is possibly the prettiest part of England. With its picturesque villages, stone walls, sheep farms, endless green fields and rivers it is somewhere I could happily retire to. When we lived in Yorkshire we would visit them often. I hadn’t been there since the girls were very small and was looking forward to revisiting them as was my Father.

Our first stop, of course, was to eat. Simon and Gill who are locals and know the Dales well, took us to a great little pub called “The Angel” at Hetton near Grassington. It was no less than the 7th best pub for food in the UK so our expectations were high. We were not disappointed, the food was fabulous. The service too, specially the gorgeous looking waiter, Georgio, who came from Georgia! I’d had a couple too many ciders and I asked him if he was related to Stalin!
Lunch at The Angel in Hetton.
From Hetton we drove to Hebden where our long afternoon walk was to begin. We walked along the river Wharfe all the way to Grassington via Linton. I was worried it would be a bit much for my Father but he never haltered, marching with us with the aid of his stick and thoroughly enjoying this glorious walk and afternoon when the sun shone throughout the two and half hours. We passed the superb suspension bridge in Hebden built by William Bell until we reached the bridge at Linton Falls, both with beautiful views of the river. I think this was the day I took most photos in all our time in Yorkshire. The afternoon ended with a cup of tea and beer at one of Grassington’s charming pubs.
On the walk in the Dales
I stopped writing there and have resumed now at home in El Bosque. We got home yesterday and here I am by the pool with Norah at my feet (how I like her best), Suzy working next to me and Eladio cleaning the pool. I can hear the hoover being used by Zena, our Ukranian cleaning lady and it is music to my ears. It is so hot in Madrid, a big change from England I must say.

After Grassington we had dinner at Simon’s, which was a great effort on their part, after having spent the day with us in the Dales. They have a lovely house in Sowerby Bridge near Halifax with an amazing garden. We were joined by the kids: Becky and Abbie, Jake and his new love Tash (Natasha), Jane and Cordelia so it was dinner for 14!!!
The kids at Simon and Gill's
On Sunday morning we did something very unusual. We actually went to church, not to any church but the one in Haworth which is steeped in Brontë history. So why did we go you might ask? Really it was for old time’s sake, a sort of cultural traditional activity. I did it to remember my childhood but also for my Father. He is not religious and in fact told Eladio just as they entered that he is agnostic. But he is, after all, the son of an English vicar and I know he did it for his parents as he told me afterwards. The vicar was a middle aged woman, which was a bit of a surprise but a pleasant one. I wonder what my grandfather would have thought. Singing the hymns had my spine tingling as did taking Holy Communion. I suppose deep down I sort of believe but am not quite sure. Eladio was quite happy to leave at the end and I know he could not fully understand what we felt and why we went. I can fairly say it moved us as I knew it would.
Haworth Parish Church, always a bit gloomy but oh so meaningful to me.
After church Andy came to get us and we drove over the moors to Sowerby Bridge which was a spectacular route. And there waiting for us was a truly British Sunday lunch, roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and all the works which Simon had lovingly cooked for us all.
Simon cooking for us all.
As I said our whole trip was full of reunions and the reunions meant more food. That Sunday we were absolutely stuffed but had awaiting us another dinner, this time at the Wrights, our neighbours at Heaton Grove which is where we lived in Bradford. Dinner was to be between 6 and 7 pm (so early for us) but in between we had to visit the Rothschilds, other neighbours at Heaton Grove and we were dreading food there too. Luckily we were only served sherry. I hadn't seen the Rothschilds since I was a teenager when I used to play with their children, Silvia, Joyce and Walter. Both Silvia and Walter are now rabbis. I remember being invited to their sabbath meals on Friday nights which I loved. I also remembering Mr. Rothschild making wine with us out of peaches. That I loved even more.
The Rothschilds at Heaton Grove, as we laughingly admitted, the poorer side of that famous family.
It was funny returning to Heaton Grove, the place my Father lived for 40 years. I only lived there from the age of 7 to the age of 18 but it was my parent’s home and meant so much to me. Our house looked just the same, as did our neighbours, Susan (in her mid 70’s) and her mother, Marguerite, aged 100. Certainly our trip included socialising with old people. They were very pleased to see us and had prepared a splendid dinner, thankfully a light one, on their beautiful dining room table where everything was “just perfect” including the 19th century Spode chinaware we ate off.
Dinner at the Wrights.
That ended our time in West Yorkshire for, on Monday morning, we made our way to the North Yorkshire coast, to that pretty little seaside fishing village near Whitby called Robin Hood’s Bay.

I included them on our programme as both Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay and indeed that whole area meant so much to my Father and I. I was also keen to show them to Eladio and knew he would not be disappointed.
The village of Robin Hood's Bay
My Father and I on the blustery pier at Whitby. That brought back a few memories for us.
We spent our time there exploring both places as well as the surrounding coastal villages of Sandsend, Runswick Bay and Staithes. But what we all liked most were the walks along the cliffs on the path that is called The Cleveland Way Walk. The views from both sides of the walk from Robin Hood’s Bay were spectacular and had we had more time we would probably have spent our whole days walking.
Eladio on the Cleveland way walk. You couldn't have a better backdrop for this photo.
Once again eating was an essential part of our programme in North Yorkshire and, upon the recommendation of my friend Kathryn Lindley, another ex SJC friend, we dined out at Estbek House in Sandsend. She told us we wouldn’t be disappointed and we weren’t. The food was delicious and the service very good too, although at times a little too "precious". The surroundings could not have been more beautiful.
Eladio outside Estbek House in Sandsend near Whitby
We had dinner the other nights at the Wayfarer in Robin Hood’s Bay upon recommendations from Katy at the Manning Tree B+B. It was actually around the corner from the B+B and to quote Katy, “at staggering home distance”. We did not stagger home but did have to fight off the wind and the rain and the cold coming home. Unfortunately the last two days in the area brought awful British summer weather with them.
Manning Tree House b+b in Robin Hood's Bay
The worst part of our trip, and the only bad part, apart from not being able to get into Ashmount House, was the drive from Robin Hood’s Bay to Manchester Airport. The weather was appalling, so much so, we later heard Heathrow had been closed for 2 hours due to storms. However we made it to Manchester in time to go through what I later called an obstacle race to catch our 2 planes, one in Manchester and one in London as unfortunately there are no direct flights. My Father was a hero on both trips, following us up and down escalators and through security and customs and walking endless corridors and refusing wheel chair assistance. I looked around and am fairly sure he was the oldest passenger to be seen. I could have cursed myself later when I realised we could have flown to Liverpool. Oh well, next time.

We arrived back to boiling Madrid to find our friends Andy and Amanda and their daughters Jane and Cordelia who have come to Spain to spend a month in Salamanca learning Spanish. It was late and there was no food at home, so it was yet another excuse to go out to dinner. We went to La Vinoteca in Boadilla and were joined by Olivia whom I hadn’t seen for a quite some time. Suffice it to say it was a fantastic night out.

As always it was great to be back but Yorkshire has left its mark on us all, so much so I think we will be returning next year to rent a cottage in the wonderful Yorkshire Dales.

That’s it for the moment, until my post on the annual family gathering in Montrondo which is where we went the day after we returned from England.

Cheers till then
PS the full set of photos, well the best selection of them, is on Facebook.