Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Summer Party in La Rioja, Michael Jackson died, Oli in Guatemala, Suzy away and the end of an era.

Oli enjoying working with underprivileged kids in Guatemala.
Hi again

What a week, what with my Summer Party for over 170 people and then Michael Jackson died.

I’m really late with my blog this week and it’s because I have been overloaded with work for the Yoigo employee and partner summer party. I took 177 people on a two day activity packed trip to La Rioja last Thursday and Friday. It seems an easy thing to say but actually it meant over 3 months of intense preparations. The sensations the work and event caused can be summarised in: total exhaustion, a sense of great fulfilment and now a sort of emptiness. That always happens after a big event and somehow I never get used to it.

For you to get an idea, this was the programme.

It included the company presentation and lunch at the Parador in Santo Domingo de la Calzada and an auto gymkhana (21 teams in Yoigo cars with 8 people each which all went to different neighbouring villages and had to compete against each other doing things like building a 4 metre Yoigo logo in the main square and getting the local mayor to appear in the picture!). It also included a fantastic dinner at the famous Márques de Riscal winery in El Ciego where we had cocktails in the lobby of the hotel designed by Frank O’Gehry, the great Canadian architect who also designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.
Pretty good photo of the whole group at Márques de Riscal. Rafa, the photographer had to get on a ladder to take it. I love the result. Can you find me?
To top it all, the “Summer party” ended with visits to the centenary wineries in Haro, Cune and Bodegas Bilbainas.

And here is the full set of photos which you can see on Flickr.

Suzy came with me and helped the girls at the agency which made everything much easier for me.
Suzy with Cristina, Gloria, Bea, Nuria and Marina during the party. Her red hair was and is spectacular
She also drove as we went the night before and we managed to have some good moments together.
Me sticking my head through a pilgrim photo call in Santo Domingo de la Calzada. The town is on one of the Jacobean Way routes (el camino de Santiago) and is full of pilgrims.
We heard about Michael Jackson’s strange death just after the dinner at Márques de Riscal, apparently caused by a heart attack as he was rehearsing for 100 concerts soon to take place in London. Well that was probably a bit much for someone aged 50, stuffed with barbiturates or whatever and with his eccentric background. I’m afraid to say he never was my favourite character or singer as a matter of fact. Apparently the album Thriller (I had to look that up as I do not know the name of one single song!) by him is still the best selling album in the world but I must be one of the few people on this planet who is not a fan.
The face of a young Michael Jackson as he appeared in the era of the Jackson 5 and their discovery at the famous Apollo Theatre in Harlem How plastic surgery changed the face of Michael Jackson
Meanwhile Oli continues in Guatemala and is now well into her second week. The experience from what she writes is very positive. She commented that the children she works with have NOTHING. She says they are dirty, poor and dressed in rags and yet have beautiful smiles for her. The photo illustrating this blog above proves it, as does this charming one of her with a little girl.

Suzy is away too. After La Rioja she went to Badajoz for the weekend with her school friends and then yesterday she galavanted off to Santa Pola with her cousins Laura and Alicia (my god daughter) and a friend, Juli to enjoy the beach for a few days. I do hope she will come back soon and start revising for the many exams she has to sit in September!

So this week there are just the two of us and my Father plus our lovely pets, Norah the beagle and Joe and Phoebe our cats. The place seems very lonely without the girls. I suppose we should start getting used to it as soon it will be permanent. Oli will be the first to go as she will be moving out as soon as she returns from Guatemala. I imagine it will be just a question of time until Suzy goes. Oh dear, this is certainly the end of an era in our house and family. I wonder what the next era will bring. I hope that just as much happiness as before.

And that’s it for this week folks.

All the best till next time

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Montrondo, La Rioja, castles in Burgos and Oli in Guatemala. Eta killed again. Quënco, 26 years later.

The family "property" in Montrondo, gorgeous in June.
Hi again

Another week has past and here I am sitting in the shade by the pool this hot first day of summer, 21st June which is the longest day of the year too. Suzy is studying upstairs. Tomorrow she has her last exam before September and is waiting impatiently for her holidays to start. Eladio is finishing his siesta upstairs and doesn’t want to leave the air conditioned room. Grandpa is finishing his and will soon be down for his afternoon cup of tea.

Oli is missing. She’s missing because on Friday she went to Guatemala with her friend Laura to work with under privileged children in a rural area near Antigua in collaboration with an organisation called “Cooperatour”.
Antigua in Guatemala where Olivia is staying.
They will be living with a family and probably actually helping to teach the children. The experience will be fascinating. So far the few messages we have received are brimming with amazement.
Children in Guatemala.
When Olivia’s back she will be moving out. She and her colleague Miriam have found a little place in the Delicias area of Madrid. It sounds very small and pokey but for Oli it means so much as it’s her gateway to independence.

Meanwhile, Eladio and I spent the better part of the week between Montrondo and La Rioja.
Eladio's parents' house in Montrondo and where all 6 "children" were born.
We went to his village to receive the furniture we had ordered from Ikea the week before for our room and for the room the girls sleep in.
The lorry with our furniture outside the house in Montrondo.
We spent a happy time cleaning and clearing as much as we could (you could clean for a year there and you would still have to go on). There was some time for walks and a quick visit to see Primo who is building a small house next to where he was born. It’s called “El Huerto” and is right now the passion of his life. He gave me the first lettuce of the season which we enjoyed later both for lunch and for dinner. Lettuce from his orchard in Montrondo tastes so much better than from a supermarket I must say.
Primo outside the unfinished house, El Huerto, he is so lovingly building.
We were quite happy with the end result, although Ikea had made a mistake with a couple of items which means we will be going back again. Going back again means yet another 400 odd kilometre drive. However as we still have a few more finishing touches to make to both rooms, we don’t really mind going back. The problem is fitting a date into our already busy diary for this month and next.
A view of our "new" room.
The other finished room where the girls sleep when they go to Montrondo. I thnk they only went once a year before as their slepping conditions were dreadful. I hope that changes now.
You can see the whole set of photos here on Facebook.

From Montrondo we drove to La Rioja as I had to visit the “city of wine” in Elciego, belonging to the Márques de Riscal wine makers. It is here that I am taking the Yoigo staff and partners to dinner during the Summer Party next week. The object of my visit was to make sure the dinner went perfectly. I was also on a mission to make sure the cocktail takes place, not in some characterless wedding lounge but in the grounds of the hotel itself. The hotel is unique and was built by the famous architect Frank O’Gehry. Gehry is famous in Spain for having designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, sometimes hailed as the most important structure of our times.
The spectacular Márques de Riscal hotel in Elciego, La Rioja.

On our way we drove through that quintessential Spanish province of Burgos. We stopped for petrol at about lunchtime and we were in luck as in the very village we had stopped at there was a castle restaurant cum hotel which was irresistible to us. In turned out to be more impressive on the outside and the food not the best we have had on our travels.
The castle hotel in Olmillos de Sasamón in Burgos, quite a find on our way to La Rioja.
On our way back we visited another castle in Burgos or rather palace, this time the Hostal Landa Palace. We stopped here to do a quick site tour as this will be the stopping off place for the Yoigo summer party participants next week.
The Landa Palace in Burgos
The Landa Palace, hotel, bar and restaurant, is just outside Burgos and is somewhere we have been stopping every time we go north. We have never stayed at this 5 star hotel which looks very promising but have often tasted the great Burgos delicacies it offers such as morcilla or suckling lamb. This is truly the best roadside restaurant we have every found in Spain.

We drove back on Friday afternoon just on time for an important date. That evening we were going to have dinner with Irene and Gerardo and their partners at Qüenco.
The unpretentious little Andaluz family run restaurant in Madrid which has remained unchaged since our wedding.
Qüenco is where we celebrated our wedding on 21st August 1983. My Spanish family was a big part of it. Gerardo, who was 18 at the time, drove me to the wedding and his sister, Irene, was one of my bride's maids.
Gerardo and I during the wedding celebration at Qüenco 26 years ago. In the picture too, my best friend Amanda and Gerardo's youngest brother, Toti.
Qüenco has become one of their favourite places but we hadn't been back since the day we married until last Friday.
Me flanked by Tomás on my right and Gerardo on my left at Qüenco.
-Eladio flanked by Viki on his right and Irene on his left at Qüenco.
The reunion was great, even the waiters remembered us. We shall be returning. By the way, the salmorejo is out of this world.
You can see the whole set of photos here on Facebook.

That’s what we’ve been up to this week. We were away in own little world in Montrondo and in La Rioja, very disconnected from what was going on in the world as I only used my pc for work purposes.

It was therefore a bit of a shock to learn when we got back that ETA terrorists had killed once again. This time their victim was Bilbao anti-terror chief Eduardo Puelles García who was killed in a car bomb attack. Spain is in a state of shock this weekend. When will the terror end I ask myself?
The car bomb in Spain on Friday
This flag with the symbolic black ribbon can be seen everywhere now in protest for the killing.
On an international level I learned there were disturbances in Iran after the general elections which the radical candidate, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, won. The protests are about the supposed electoral fraud which seemingly robbed the more liberal candidate, Hoseein Mousavi, of presidency. Will there ever be a democracy in Iran I wonder?
Disturbances in Iran. Could this be the beginning of a movement towards democracy?
That’s what this week brought. I know what lies in store for me in the week coming up but more about that in my next post.

Cheers for the moment.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Oli’s leaving home, Montrondo again, cut off from the outside world and more Emma Bridgewater pottery

Olivia on her 24th birthday last month.
Hi again,

Wow I’ve written it. Oli’s leaving. How can that be possible? Well she is 24 and she is working so, yes, of course it’s possible. When she first told me, I was sad but not shocked as I was expecting it at some stage. Then I shed the odd tear and then I accepted it and now, of course I am helping her. What else can I do? Soon Suzy will be going too. It’s just a question of time. That will leave us three “oldies”, Eladio, my Father and I in this big, big house. Will we move out? Will we heck, we shall enjoy it and enjoy hosting the girls when they come back to visit.

Suzy won’t be going yet. She is doing what appear to be her finals but when they finalise is another question. The bets are on: this September, next February or next June? One thing I know, she will finish even if it’s over my dead body. She is studying quietly next to me on the table by the swimming pool with lovely background music by Mozart (piano sonata number 11) thanks to Spotify. Norah is at my feet chewing the ends of my beach wrap and I can hear children nearby splashing in their pools.

We are all suffering from the heat. Yesterday in Madrid it hit 40ºc! A swimming pool in another country may seem a luxury but most people have access to one in Spain to cool off when it gets hot as it does so often here.

We escaped a lot of the heat this week when we went to Montrondo. There was a national holiday for Corpus Christi which we took advantage of to travel north to order some lovely new furniture from Ikea for our room and the room the girls use in the village house in Montrondo. Ikea is very modern and very low cost but surprisingly does not have an online service. To avoid the hefty transport costs from Madrid we had to go to the nearest Ikea from Montrondo which is one hour away in Oviedo. A further inconvenience, we learned, was that the delivery service is when they want not when the customer wants. This means we will have to go again at the end of the week to supervise the delivery and assembly of the stuff we have bought.

The furniture we have bought in Ikea, it's from the Hemnes collection.
It was the first time Eladio and I had gone to his village house on our own for a stay and we have been going for more than 20 years. It was strange, yet nice to have the whole house to ourselves rather than share it with his huge family. Montrondo as I always write is very small and isolated. It is a rural village in a remote location in the north of León and there is no access to newspapers. In fact there is not even a shop. The television works but reception is weak and the internet connection is extremely slow. You always feel a bit cut off from the rest of the world but this time, being alone, we felt it even more. The third world war could have broken out and we wouldn’t have known it.

Our only socialising consisted of visiting Primo, my brother-in-law and Eladio’s sister’s husband, who is also from Montrondo. He is building a small house in the village and we went to see how it was progressing. From what we saw he is putting in a lot of time and effort but then Montrondo is his passion as it is for most people who were born there.
Primo picking wild strawberries from his kitchen garden for me. Thank you Primo.
We were joined on Friday afternoon for a few hours by his Mother, his two sisters, Adela and Pili and Pili’s do-it-yourself specialist and handyman husband Andrés. Always in fashion, he arrived wearing some lovely red leather moccasin shoes. I immediately wanted some for Eladio but who I know would never wear them, like the pink M+S lamb’s wool pullover sitting at the bottom of his pile of jerseys upstairs.

The few hours they were with us were spent on intensive spring cleaning and throwing out some old trash, such as the dusty plastic flowers that had adorned the staircase since before they were probably born. I had been campaigning against them for some years now so was very happy to snap the moment as you can see here.

Our mission in Montrondo was to prepare the two rooms for the new furniture. That meant an awful lot of work. We had to remove the old furniture which had been there for donkey’s years and was in a frightening state and find somewhere to put it. This was all very heavy and hard work.
This was the state of one of the beds we got rid of. It was high time too.
Eladio dismantling some of the old furniture in our room which he had literally thrown out of the window. How happy I was to see it go.
When the rooms were finally empty and ready for painting, we encountered dreadful damp patches on the parts of the walls where the wardrobes had been which made us think we had bitten off more than we could chew. To top it all, at one stage, Eladio fell of the ladder (or rather the ladder fell whilst he was on it) and developed a huge bruise on his thigh which had me very worried. Montrondo is very cut off and about an hour away on windy roads from any medical service. Luckily the next day it was better and he was able to get on with the job in hand.
Eladio and one of the damp patches he had to tackle.
Eladio, my painter husband, did the best he could do with the patches and by Saturday afternoon he had finished all the painting.
One of the newly painted rooms.
We spent the 3 days working hard but there was also time for making lovely meals together and for going on walks. Nature in Montrondo is at its best in May and June. This, coupled with sunny but tolerable heat, made for glorious walks. Eladio was only able to join me once but I went three times to Murias, the nearest village, some 1.6km each way. I took the old route rather than the main road which I love.
Nature at its best on the old walk to Murias.
I went twice for bread which was actually the excuse, although Murias’ bread is one of the best and now I have 3 loaves cut up and frozen in our deep freezer. When we have it for meals here at home it adds a little something just because of the connotation.
La Panadería in Murias.

Eladio told me that when they were children they used to dress up to go to Murias. I, of course wore shorts and a t-shirt. Murias, is bigger and there must be a sort of inbred inferiority complex in people from Montrondo and certainly a rivalry. As with most bordering villages or even countries, there is not much love lost between the two communities.

After leaving everything spick and span, we left and drove back to Madrid and arrived late last night to a very warm house but also to a summer storm so typical of these times.

It was nice to see the family and our pets but also to open the parcel of pottery I had ordered from Emma Bridgewater to increase my collection. It looks like this now. Isn’t it lovely?
My Emma Bridgewater collection so far.
That’s it for now. The week coming up promises to be busy as I have to fit in a second trip to La Rioja in preparation for the Yoigo summer party on 25th June (yes I’m organising a party there for 150 people!!), another trip to Montrondo for the furniture as well as dinner on Friday with Gerardo and Irene at Quënco, the place we held our wedding party in Madrid and to which Eladio and I have never been back. That will be something. I just hope the Ikea transport people won’t spoil my plans.

Cheers till next week.
PS you can see the full collection of photos of our trip to Montrondo here.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Not just any Sunday, Federer, remembering my Mother, European elections, exam time, leaving home, Coco Chanel, Magritte and other stuff.

My Mother in the mid 70's during one of the Norwich Russian Courses where she used to come into her element.
Hi again,

It’s Sunday and this time I’m not going to be late with my weekly post. Here I am in the kitchen on my own listening to Charlotte Church (what an angel of a voice and why haven’t I heard of her earlier) singing “Ave María” who I have just discovered on Spotify. Suzy is upstairs studying, Eladio and my Father are probably having a siesta and Oli too. The cats are lying on the best sofas in the lounge whilst Norah is flat out on the mat outside the kitchen as you can see below.

The French championship has just finished as I write and Roger Federer beat Soderling (6-1, 7-6, 6-4), the unseeded Swede who knocked out Nadal, the world’s number one, in the first rounds. This is his 14th grand slam and first Roland Garros, the one championship that had eluded him. This win also makes him theoretically the best tennis player ever. Only Sampras had won 14 grand slams before but they never included the French Open. Roger also joins the elite club of 6 to have won all the grand slams. His obstacle had always been Nadal who has won it now for the last 4 years but with his opponent out, this was Roger’s one chance to win and he did. Well done Roger, you are the greatest now!
Roger Federer happy to have finally garnered the French Open.
Today’s also the Turkish Formula 1 Grand Prix. Incredibly the British driver Jenson Button won again today for the 6th time in a row. Well done Jenson.

Jenson Button celebrating on the podium today in the Turkish GP
It’s not just any Sunday, it is Sunday 7th June which would have been my late Mother’s 89th birthday and it’s a date I can never forget as I can never forget her. She will be more in our minds more than ever today, my fun loving, aristocratic, academic bohemian rebel Mother who was deeply religious yet never went to church and who always voted for the conservatives yet behaved like a liberal.
Mummy unusually well dressed in the lounge at Heaton Grove in 1974.
Talking about voting, today is also the day of the European Elections and we went to vote. I went out of duty more than anything but also voting is something quite social. I had hoped for the 5 of us to together but in the end things didn’t work out. Suzy had to stay behind to study (I think she was too lazy to go!) and Oli was in a rush. So I ended up going with my two men and this was the second time my Father had voted in Spain. I think he quite enjoyed it. From what we heard at lunchtime the percentage of people who had voted, however, was very low, only 24%. Here is a picture of Eladio voting where you can see the queues were very small.

As this was a social outing there was time for a quick “aperitif” with my friend Fátima, her mother and daughter also called Fátima. We had missed her First Communion when we went to Montrondo recently so this was a chance to hear about that. Little Fátima proudly showed us the mobile phone she got from her cousins for the occasion. Fancy being 9 and owning a mobile phone!! She is what is called now a “digital native” and I am only a “digital immigrant”.

Yes it’s exam time and Suzy is supposedly “up to her eyes” in it. In Spain there are three exam periods, February, June and September. Officially a degree is normally done in 5 years but students in Spain are never in a hurry and most take over 6 years. Suzy is into her 7th year and at the age of 25 is in no hurry to leave home either. She hopes to finish in September. Here is a photo I took of her and which hopefully could be the last photo ever of her studying. Could that be true? I have my doubts.

Coincidentally Oli has just done a video news report on the exam period in Spain for the RTVE website and the difficulty in finding a space in the public libraries. Here it is.

All this made me remember my own exam times and I dug out this photo of myself on my Graduation day, July 10th 1980 at Nottingham University. There are more here on Facebook.

Photo of me the day I graduated. That time was the end of my “single days” as just a few weeks later I met Eladio. I look awful as I had just literally spoiled my hair by having a perm which was so in fashion at the time!

I left home when I was 18 and went back after finals for one year and then came to Spain aged 24 and have never gone back except on holiday. Things are different in Spain. “Children” tend to stay on until they marry, except that people marry much later these days. It seems though that Olivia may be leaving home, basically to be nearer work. That came as a bit of a shock this morning and I am still taking it in.

On another note it was good to be home after 3 days in La Rioja on the site inspection trip. I am extremely busy working on the programme for the Yoigo summer party but the weekend is the weekend and so, of course, true to tradition we went to the cinema and out to dinner on Friday. You know what we saw from the headline, Coco before Chanel. And you can imagine where we went to dinner, yes, La Alpargatería and table number 7 of course. Suffice it to say the film was ok with lots of buts.
A scene from Coca avant Chanel.
We are preparing for our trip to England in July and on Friday I spoke to our old neighbour, Susan Wright, and we have fixed dinner with her and her 100 year old mother Marguerite during our stay. We lived at number 6 Heaton Grove and they live at number 5 and have done for more than 50 years!!! I also spoke to my cousin Zuka, my only relative in England and we hope to meet up too.

The artist, Magritte, of similar name, has been in the news this week as a new museum of his work has been opened in Belgium. That caught my attention as I have always liked his work. You must have seen the picture of the man with the apple in his mouth, well that’s by the incredible Magritte but I don’t actually think it’s at the museum.
Probably Magritte's most famous painting. What is it about apples?
A great painting by Magritte, "attempting the impossible".
And that’s it for this week, except to record that yesterday was the 65th anniversary of the D day landing in Normandy. I can hardly imagine that it is 65 years since the end of the Second World War. Both my parents were heavily involved in it and it’s a subject that is part of my life. I hate to think that soon there will be no living survivors.

Cheers till next week. Hope it’s a good one.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

North Korea explodes an atomic bomb, another plane crash, a lesson in French literature, I went to La Rioja and many other things

The River Oja in Ezcaray which gives its name to the region La Rioja.
Hi again and late again. I’m sorry.

A lot has happened since I last wrote as you will guess from the headline. Barcelona beat Manchester and won the Champions League. They did a hat trick by winning the Spanish cup and league also. Madrid is not too happy, so unhappy, in fact, it now has a new Chairman in one Florentino Pérez. That is big news in Spain.

On the international front, North Korea, one of the last communist bastions in the world together with Cuba, exploded their atomic bomb whilst the whole world looked on with only verbal protests which got nowhere.
The Korean missile the world had to put up with.
Swine flu continues and the world is hastily trying to get a vaccine. Meanwhile that most elite school in England, Eton College was shut down after 32 cases of the illness were detected.
Eton College, England's most famous and prestigious boarding school.
The worst news of all came from Brasil when an Air France aircraft disappeared over the Atlantic with 228 people on board whilst flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris this week. I hate stories of air crashes as they always make me remember our own personal tragedy. In May 1971 when I was 14 my Father’s sister, Gloria, her husband Derek and their children, my cousins, Jacqueline aged 12, Michael aged 9 and Anthony aged 7 perished in a big air tragedy. They were going on holiday to the former Yugoslavia and the plane crashed on landing. Being good English citizens they heeded the air hostess’ instructions to remain seated with their seat belts on. The only person to survive did not obey those instructions. I wonder still today whether they would still be alive if they had not been so obedient. It’s a lesson I have learned as I always take my seat belt off as soon as I land.

On a lighter note or maybe not so light, dear Susan Boyle did not win. She needs no introductions but if you have been away or on a desert island for the last month or so, I’ll explain. She is one of the most visited people on You Tube. This ungainly 47 year old Scottish spinster who sings like an angel was discovered on the programme, Britain’s got talent. In the end she came second but in most people’s opinion, including mine, she should have won and in fact all the bets were on her to win. Follow this link to see if you agree. The whole thing was probably too much for the poor woman who was whisked away after the show and is now recovering in a London clinic with emotional exhaustion. She apparently cried for 24 hours after the show. Not fair, not fair. So who did win? Apparently a modern dance group called Diversity who is absolutely not my style.
Poor Susan Boyle as she leaves the final of Britan's got talent after coming second
On the home front, we had dinner with Pedro and Ludi, Pedro of Spanish cycling fame and former winner of the Tour of France. We went to the Filo restaurant on José Abascal where we enjoyed each other’s company and had a great dinner too.

Maybe you are wondering what the lesson in French literature was all about. It’s quite simple. Oli had to do a piece on the Madrid book fair and this year the highlighted country was France. Eladio and I helped Olivia in her research and we discovered two things: France does not have an equivalent to Shakespeare or Cervantes, in that it does not seem to have one giant who shadows all the others. Names like Moliere, Voltaire, Proust, Balzac, Victor Hugo, Jean-Paul Sartre come to mind, all of them great but in a different league perhaps. I wonder if you agree. And secondly we learned that France is the country with most Nobel prizes for literature. It has 16 and boasts the first and last prize in this category which I thought was very illustrative of this country’s prowess in the field. For the record England and the US have 11 respectively, Germany some 9 and Spain just 5. Remember who they were?
The French author Le Clezio, the Nobel Laureate in Literature for 2008
The Madrid book fair was on this week. It's highly publicised yet Spaniards are not great readers
I’ve been shopping too. You probably imagine me madly spending money on clothes. Alas no I’m afraid. A lot of my shopping these days is on internet. It’s so easy to spend there. So what have I bought? Some more Emma Bridgewater pottery to increase my collection, some books (“Clara’s war” by Clara Kramer, another Holocaust survivor, “I was Winston Churchill’s private secretary” by Phyllis Moir), some music (Barbra Streisand and Liza Minnelli) and finally a camera, well not just a camera, but the new top of the range Canon Ixus 990. It arrived yesterday and I am delighted with it. But you had a camera didn’t you? You will probably ask. Yes I did but it kept being borrowed by the family and was somewhat worse for ware. They will be “borrowing” it permanently now.
One of my purchases from Amazon.com, the book "Clara's war"
My new Canon Ixus 990
The most interesting thing that I did since I last wrote, however, was going to La Rioja. I imagine the name needs no introductions as Spanish Rioja wine takes its name from this wonderful region in the north of Spain which borders with the Burgos, Navarra provinces as well as the Basque Country.

Did I go to buy wine? Well yes partly, of course but actually I went for work purposes. Lucky wasn’t I? I went on a site inspection trip which sounds very important. It was too as I have to organise the Yoigo summer party for over 130 people there at the end of this month and there’s not much time to go. As a seasoned party and event organiser I’m not too worried. It’s funny to think I’ve been organising them since the age of 15 when I used to invite people to our old house in Heaton Grove to what would probably be known now as alcohol binges or botellones here in Spain.

Eladio came along with me for the company, moral support and all those things that come in handy such as his driving. So we mixed work with pleasure and travelled last Saturday to Haro, the centre of some of the very best Rioja wine brands such as Muga, Cune, La Rioja Alta, etc. The girls from the agency joined me on Monday and we spent two days scouring the region for right places and hotels. It took some doing but I think we have come up trumps. All we have to do now is put into practise the programme we have in theory.

Some of the highlights of our trip were staying at a lovely little place called Señorio de Briñas in Briñas, a small and delightful village by the river Ebro, the walk from there to Haro over a Roman bridge, the visit to the Cune winery in Haro, tapas at Atamauri (the best tapas in Haro according to my trusted Michelin guide), the visit to the small family Bodega/winery in Briñas, Heredad Bañas Bezares (what a find!), exploring medieval Casalarreina with its lovely Monastery (Monasterio de la Piedad) as well as lunch at Casa Fuerte in Zarratón.

Me outside the Señorio de Briñas hostal
Eladio enjoying tapas at Atamauri in Haro - great wine and food but very disappointing town
We also learned a lot about wine and how to taste it. The three main things are colour, smell and taste. We soon put this knowledge into practice and were tilting the glass, moving it around, using our nose and finally enjoying the tast in our mouths.
Eladio tasting wine and learning about colour, smell and taste at the Cune winery
Of all the things we did and saw, nothing could beat the last night in the pretty town of Ezcaray by the river Oja (Río Oja = Rioja of course). We stayed at a modest little hotel, The Echaurren which has one of the best restaurants in the region and not at all expensive at 19 euros a head. The place has been given some fame thanks to its illustrious guest, Julio Iglesias who apparently is a frequent visitor.

The village is pretty with lovely squares and well kept houses but what we loved best was the walkway by the River Oja, with splendid grass paths and peaceful lush views.
Me on the walk by the River Oja in Ezcaray.
Ezcaray is not famous for its wine and in fact there are no bodegas there. Rather it is famous for mohair blankets. Loewe, that luxury Spanish firm, sells them probably for a fortune. We bought some lovely colourful ones which the cats will probably sit on but they will always remind us of our visit to Ezcaray, not surprisingly one of the most visited towns in La Rioja.
Eladio and the mohair blankets we bought in Ezcaray.
You can see some more photos of the trip here on Facebook.

And that’s it for this week, or rather for this week and a half or more. Before I finish I must mention it was Miguel’s birthday (happy birthday again dear nephew) and that my niece Laura has started a blog which you can read here.