Sunday, May 25, 2014

Oli’s birthday, a visit to Huelva, strawberry fields, Doñana, home again, Madrid wins “la décima”, voting day and other stories.

Me happy in the sand dunes at the Doñana National Park
Hi everyone,

Here I am another Sunday writing my blog.  Thursday was Olivia’s 29th birthday which together with our visit to Doñana, were the highlights of this week.

I left off last Tuesday when I should have remembered it was the anniversary of the passing away of my father-in-law Antonio.  We all miss him.  Every year the family gathers for a remembrance mass but this year as we had all been to Montrondo so often we didn’t have one.  In any case, he lives on in our hearts.  He would have been very happy to know that on that day, the rebuilding of the old family house which we have inherited had begun. 
Tuesday saw me in the office for an important meeting.  Later I relaxed at lunch with Marta a communications director like myself but of an insurance company.  We laughed as we left the restaurant when we bumped into another communications director, this time from another telecoms company.  Nice to see you Marta and nice to see you too Juan Carlos.

That night I made dinner for Olivia and Miguel who had come to stay for the week.  It is not often we eat together, so Tuesday night was quite special.  Here is a photo of me cooking for the occasion.
Making dinner on Tuesday night for Oli and Miguel
I have been sleeping worse than usual recently and seem to be awake from about 5 onwards, so on Wednesday morning I was up at 06.30.  It was a very productive day but I felt tired throughout for lack of sleep.  The two walks in wind and light rain felt more difficult than usual.  Of note that day, we, or rather Eladio, gave the dogs their periodic bath.  Here is a photo of Eladio washing Elsa in the tub while Norah looks on after her bath with a towel covering her to stop her from shivering.  I love having clean and shiny dogs that I can stroke, cuddle and kiss and just hate touching a “smelly” dog.  Ours are not smelly I can tell you hahaha.
Bathing the dogs

On Wednesday I found a moment in the morning to have a coffee with a friend, Ana who is very good at interior decoration.  Over coffee I asked her for advice on how to do up our house in Montrondo.  Thanks Ana for your help.  I'm dying for you to come out and see the house just before it's finished or at any time.

That nighty I was too tired to see the end of MasterChef, a programme I love to watch.  The problem is that prime time in Spain is far too late and starts at about 10.30.  There is a movement in favour of making it earlier like in the rest of Europe but the Spanish TV programmes are not for it.  So of course I missed seeing who the participant was who would be expelled from the show that night.  Eladio has no interest in the programme whatsoever as you can imagine, preferring political debates and the like; not my favourite genre I can tell you.

Then Thursday came and brought with it Olivia’s 29th birthday.  Family birthdays are very important in our home and we all look forward to them.  I was up early again and was able to prepare a special breakfast for everyone.  I also went out to buy “chocolate con churros”, Oli’s favourite breakfast.  The only damper that morning was that Suzy couldn’t be with us.  However she had sent a lovely card to her beloved sister; a present too but it still hasn’t arrived, shame on you Royal Mail!
Olivia's birthday breakfast
After breakfast I had to rush around like speedy gonzález as we were leaving for a weekend break in the afternoon.  At Olivia’s special request I made “salmorejo” (sort of thick gazpacho which comes from Córdoba) for her birthday lunch, had to go out and get more tomatoes and pick up her black forest gateau.  I had loads of work to do in between, as well as pack for the long weekend.  Thankfully I managed all my tasks apart from getting in an hour’s walk. 

Just before lunch Olivia had a surprise visit.  Her cousin Alicia, my god daughter, and her boyfriend Chema came to give her a birthday kiss.  Ali, who was studying for her 4th year nursing exams at the UEM University library nearby, coordinated their visit with me via whatsapp so that it would be a surprise for Olivia.  Oli was delighted.  It was just a pity they couldn’t stay for lunch.  Thanks darling Ali for coming.
The surprise visit of Ali and Chema who came to wish Olivia a happy birthday
The birthday lunch was wonderful.  Apart from salmorejo, we had prime fillet steak and chips, followed by the black forest gateau.  The cake moment was the most important of the day and we were all vying to take photos of Olivia blowing out her candles.  This is my photo of the moment.
Oli and the birthday cake moment
We had given Oli our presents in the morning but another parcel had arrived so I saved it for her to open at lunchtime.  It turned out to be an enormous box of exquisite chocolates sent from Bombay by her adored Erasmus fellow student and now lifetime friend Sumit.  This is her and the chocolates.
Olivia delighted with Sumit's brithday present ordered from Bombay
As soon as lunch was over Eladio and I had to rush as we had to be off to catch the 17h AVE (high speed train) to Seville.  We were going for a long weekend to visit the Doñana natural park and staying at the Parador de Mazagón.  We would be staying until Saturday and would be back home just on time for the Champions League final between the two rival Madrid clubs, Real and Atlético.

Once in Seville where the temperature was lower than usual (just 21ºc) we picked up our hired car and drove the 120km or so to Mazagón in the province of Huelva, the southwestern tip of Spain near the border of Portugal on the Atlantic Coast.

We didn’t check into the Parador till past 21h when it was beginning to get dark and was too late for a walk.  We loved our room with partial views of the sea. We had a late and light dinner as we were just not hungry after the birthday lunch.

We were in the southwest of Spain where at this time of year it should have been warmer.  This last week in Spain the temperatures have plummeted and I was amazed to see a photo on Facebook that day of snow on the mountains in Montrondo.  If it was 20ºc in Huelva it must have been about 5ºc or less in our village.
There was snow in Montrondo on Tuesday!!!!
In the morning I was awake early as usual, so took the chance to go for a long walk on the beach whilst Eladio was asleep.  To get to the beach I had to walk down 186 wooden steps from the cliff where the Parador sits over the wonderful “Castilla beach”. 
Climbing up the 186 steps from the Castilla beach to the parador
The beach is 20km long but if you include all the other beaches together along that coast it is about 70km long.  We were told it is the longest beach in Europe and the place where the sun sets at the latest time in Europe.  We were to witness that later.

The beach below the parador is unspoiled and wild with no buildings, just the cliff and dunes.  I decided to walk towards Mazagón the little beach town which we actually never visited but was recommended to me by a friend of Olivia’s who is from Huelva.  Here is a photo of what the beach looked like that morning.  The only people I saw on my way were fishermen.
The Castilla beach in the morning
Eladio came to find me, walking down the dreaded steps and when I had finished my walk we went up them together.  This is a photo of Eladio at the top of the steps overlooking the Castilla Beach.
Eladio at the top of the steps after the climb up from the beach
We spent the day visiting the area and fell in love with Huelva and its beaches.  What struck us most were all the strawberry fields, many of the berries being cultivated under plastic.  They were everywhere.  Of course I knew that in Spain strawberries come from Huelva as we love and eat strawberries which you start to see in the shops in Madrid from February to June.  I was told later that Spain is the largest exporter of the fruit in the world, shipping annually some 285.000 tons to Europe and beyond.  It is the second or third largest producer after the US; the second place being rivalled with Turkey.  I was not surprised to learn that 85% of all production in Spain of what is known in Huelva as “red gold” comes from this southwestern province.
Me by one of the strawberry fields in Huelva
We also learned that the main strawberry pickers are women from Morocco, Bulgaria and Romania, mostly from the latter.  Apparently these beautiful blonde Rumanian women have caused something of a sensation marrying the local men or stealing them from their Spanish wives!

That night I took Eladio for a walk on the Castilla beach just before sunset.  I was told but don’t know if it is true that this is where the sun sets the latest in Europe.  It was nearly 10pm when the sun started to disappear and I captured its setting on my iPhone with this little picture.
Sunset on the Castilla Beach
I so enjoyed that bracing walk in the wind with Eladio.  He leant me his jumper for the occasion. It was 20ºc at that time of night but there was a lot of wind which made it feel colder.
Walk on the beach just before sunset.
I soon felt warm climbing up the 186 steps back to the Parador, satisfied that day with the statistics my fitbit displayed of all the walking I had done that day.  Thus dinner was a slightly larger affair than the night before.

Saturday was to be the piece de resistance of our short break.  We were to be visiting Doñana, the wonderful national park nearby.  I was up early, on time for another walk on the beach before I joined Eladio for our last breakfast at the Parador. By 9 o’clock we were leaving the Parador with our luggage and on our way to the visitors’ centre at Acebuche near the Matalascaña’s beach.
Visiting Doñana in this jeep was a unique experience
It has long been a dream of ours to visit the park.  If you have never heard of it, let me describe it to you.  The Doñana National Park also known as Coto de Doñana is a national park and wildlife refuge in Huelva that covers 543km2.  Refuge to the Iberian lynx it is a bird sanctuary with a biodiversity that is unique in Europe.  There is a great variety of ecosystems and Doñana shelters wildlife including thousands of European and African birds, deer, wild boars, badgers as well as the endangered species such as the Spanish imperial eagle and of course the lynx, neither of which we saw.

Our guide, Manuel, an expert in environmental studies told us that “in Doñana writing happens at night and reading happens in the morning”.  We only understood what he meant when we saw different fauna’s footprints in the sand.  He, of course, could identify every print.  We couldn’t. 
In Doñana "writing happens at night and reading happens in the morning"
The best part of the tour was the beginning, along the beach and to the dunes where pine trees try to grow.  Driving over the dunes felt a bit like our visit to the Wadi Rum desert in Jordan of Lawrence of Arabia fame, except that we had a more experienced driver at the wheel.
At the sand dunes in Doñana, Eladio with our guides Miguel and Manuel (sunglasses)
Unfortunately the wetlands were not wet because of the time of year, but we were happy enough when we saw wild boar in the distance.  We went past the El Rocío pilgrimage path and through pine woods with plants whose names I will not remember but which smelled fantastic until we came to an area where there was a group of thatch roofed huts.  These were occupied by workers who felled the wood in the past and some still live in them today. However they cannot be inherited.  Here our host Miguel and our guide prepared a little picnic for us.
The thatched roofed huts at Doñana
We also went past the President’s palace, a sort of English looking mansion where heads of state come to stay. John Major the ex PM of the UK had been there on holiday many times and Tony Blair used to go invited by Aznar.  No one else can stay in Doñana, it is so protected.  The only way to visit is in official Park cars, so no picnicking or hiking, apart from on the beach.

I’m not sure what end of the park we came out at after our three hour visit but I was surprised that we found ourselves on the beach again, the continuation of the Castilla beach.  And there right across the water was the legendary town of Sanlucar de Barrameda, famous for sherry but also for a horse race on the beach.  Sanlucar belongs to another province, Cádiz.  No bridge has been built across this small stretch of water where the River Guadalquivir is born, so as to protect Doñana. Thus you have to cross it by boat which is what we did. In order to get on I had to take my shoes off and pull up my trousers which I was more than happy to do.
Coming off the boat at Sanlucar de Barrameda
Being a Saturday morning the town was full of people.  We only had time to walk along the promenade and have lunch before heading back to Seville to catch our train.  Lunch was at a very famous restaurant called El Bigote where we tried the local prawns which are very well known in Spain.

At 5pm we were on the AVE which seemed pretty empty but I suppose that’s because it was a Saturday.  We were eager to be home on time for the big match. We arrived to a very full house and the aftermath of Olivia’s bbq birthday party, i.e. most of the “manada” (the girls’ group of friends – meaning herd).  They were all in the lounge including my Father and the match had just begun.
Watching the Champions League final at home with "la manada"
Before I continue about the match I just must include a photo of Olivia with Miguel and the amazing carrot cake Ana, her friend, had made for her birthday party that day.  It is a masterpiece.
A wonderful cake (carrot cake) made by Anita for Oli's birthday party
I should also mention that that morning Oli and Miguel had run in a local 10km race in Majadahonda.  Here is a photo of Olivia all ready to run. 
Olivia about to take part in a 10km race in Majadahonda yesterday
Now back to the match. The first 90 odd minutes were awful for us as Atlético de Madrid scored a goal right at the beginning so it looked like they were going to win their first Champions League cup.  But in the last minute Sergio Ramos scored the equalizing goal with an apparently amazing header.  Of course that meant there would be a 30 minute prologue and I anticipated a penalty shootout which thankfully didn’t happen.  Then Gareth Bale, who until then had been named “Gareth Fail” on twitter, scored the decisive goal towards the end of the prologue and the score was now 2-1 in Real Madrid’s favour.  We were so close to getting “la décima” (Madrid’s coveted 10th cup). In the end Real Madrid’s players won because they were physically stronger.  A few minutes later Marcelo increased the score to 3-1 in favour of Madrid.  That was right at the end.  But then came the finishing touch; a penalty in favour of Real.  Of course it was to be Ronaldo, the Portuguese who would kick the ball in the Lisbon stadium in his own country.  Even if he hadn’t scored Real Madrid would have won but it would have dampened the victory.  To the delight of all the “blancos’” fans, he did it, took off his shirt and showed the world his torso.  Then the football fans went wild, Real Madrid had garnered the “décima” and their first victory in this league of leagues since 2002.  The atmosphere in our lounge was one of great joy, except for Olivia, Eladio and Anita who wanted the underdogs to win.  I went to bed happy that we were the champions.
Real Madrid players delirious yesterday with their "décima" cup in Lisbon
Suzy meanwhile, not interested in football and immersed in life in London, was having her own little party at their new home with her boyfriend Gabor and Italian flat mate Stefania.  She posted pictures of cocktails she had made as well as tiramisu made of strawberries which, no doubt, come from Huelva.
Suzy drinking home made cocktails yesterday in London
And today Sunday is the voting day for the European Parliament.  After a leisurely breakfast and clearing up of Olivia’s party remains, we went off to vote; Olivia, Miguel, Eladio and I.  Here is a photo of me voting.  Not sure it’s going to make much difference.  We’ll see.
Doing my duty and voting this morning
There is not much else to tell you now I have reached Sunday.  After posting this I shall be going on two walks, tomorrow will be Monday and another week will have begun. I wish you all a great week ahead.  Mine, I know, will be busy as usual.

Cheers till next week


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Roses from the garden, a killing in León, grounded, remembering George, to Montrondo again, Suzy’s first anniversary in London, KO for a day and other stories

Tuesday 20th May 2014

On one of my unprescribed walks in Montrondo
Hi everyone,

Here I am writing my blog this Tuesday early in the morning.  I couldn’t write it on Sunday as I was in Montrondo and yesterday apart from having to catch up with my work I had a migraine most of the day which left me pretty much KO.

So let me start where I left off on Monday 12th May.  It was the day after our friends from France and Belgium had left and I needed to refresh the roses I had put in vases for their stay.  So, I did the only job I ever do in the garden and that is to head them.  Now they are gracing every room in the house as you can see in this collage I made.  I adore roses, they are my favourite flowers and always will be.  My Father gets a special bunch including a rose of every colour available in the garden!
Roses from our garden that grace our home
On Monday I went for my two walks on my own in brilliant sunshine.  I missed our friends who had been on the same walk with us during their stay. I sent this selfie to Sandra and Adele to remind them.  There was no sight of any sheep that day.  Sandra told me she found their presence almost biblical and that the scenery on our walk reminded her of Israel and I think there is certainly some resemblance.
A selfie on my walk last Monday
That afternoon an assassination took place in León, the city where Eladio’s family live and which is very well known to me.  It is a quiet provincial capital town not known for violence.  Isabel Carrasco, the President of Leon’s local government (La Diputación) (aged 59), was shot dead in broad daylight that afternoon on one of the bridges over the river Bernesga.  The killer was found very soon after and turned out to be a woman with a huge grudge.   The story behind the assassination seems so far-fetched and is a true crime of passion which would probably be any novelist’s dream. Later it transpired that the victim who held 13 official roles in León was possibly the most hated person in the city.  There are many jokes now circulating around her death.  In a nutshell her killer, Montserrat González, aided by her daughter Triana, bore the victim a huge grudge for dismissing her daughter Triana from the Diputación and for impeding her from receiving a large severance pay.  Montserrat later confessed “I killed her because she deserved it”. The revenge is tinged also by the fact that Isabel Carrasco had a sentimental relationship with the killer’s husband, which is when she found a job for their daughter Triana.  Even more bizarre is the supposed sentimental relationship of the daughters of both women who for a period were lovers.  The story has shocked the city of León, not used to violent crimes and this weekend in Montrondo, our family told us lots of succulent bits and pieces of information about the people involved in the killing that for now have not come to light in the national newspapers.  The story continues and no doubt one day will make a great TV series.

Last Tuesday was a quiet day.  I had a very agreeable meeting with the social media editorial team or rather with the customer care team who take care of customers’ issues on our social media pages.

On Wednesday I was off to the office again, this time quite early in the morning.  If you read my last post you will remember I fell and hurt my knee in Toledo.  It had hurt a bit since then but mostly when I bent my knee.  That morning I was sitting in quite heavy traffic and of course my knee was bent to keep my foot on the brake when it began to hurt so much I knew I would have to stop and would not make it to the office.  Thankfully I was driving past our local hospital in Montepríncipe and decided to visit the Emergency services there.  I was quickly seen by a traumatologist.  An x-ray was taken that confirmed nothing was broken, thank goodness.  However I had internal bruising and the doctor’s prescription was to rest my leg, i.e. he grounded me with no walks for 10 days.  I was to wear a special knee support and take anti-inflammatory tablets three times a day.  How awful to be grounded for someone like me who walks between 11 and 15km per day!  At the end of the day on Wednesday my fitbit gave me miserly statistics.  Due to the lack of walking I had only burnt 1700 calories and of course had taken in more than that.

On Wednesday I would have liked to be at a press conference organized by the NGO Protégeles to announce an anti-cyber bullying application for young people. The “app” was supported by the four big mobile operators, including Yoigo.  The initiative got a lot of media attention which was to be expected as the issue is quite big these days.
The logo of the anti cyber bullying app announced last week and supported by Yoigo
Thursday 15th May was a sweet and sour day as it has been since my brother George passed away in 2001.  I think about him nearly every day but on the anniversary of his death I usually shed more tears than usual.  My golden brother George lives on in my heart.  He was an unlucky boy that always makes me feel that when luck was handed out I got too much and he was short changed. 
My beautiful brother George in his 20s.  I always remember him but specially so on 15th May, the date he passed away
On the bright side it was Eladio’s brother Isidro’s birthday, so there was something to celebrate in the family.  It was also a holiday in Madrid to honour the patron saint of the city, San Isidro, after whom my brother-in-law was named.  I think it is a lovely name. As Thursday was a holiday I decided to take a “Puente” (bridge in Spanish which refers to a day off in between a holiday and the weekend) and we were going to Montrondo with Eladio’s brother José Antonio and his wife Dolores to spend the weekend there.  We needed to go to see the builders we had finally chosen to rebuild the old house, to go over the final details of the budget and sign the contract.  Then the building could start and was scheduled to start this week. 

We left at 10.30 and by midday were enjoying a platter of ham and glass of delicious white wine at the Palacio de Bornos Bodega in Rueda.  Stopping at Rueda on the way to León or Montrondo is always a great treat.
A stop in Rueda on our way to Montrondo last Thursday
We got to Senra (two villages away from Montrondo, some 4km) at just after 2.30 where we were going to have lunch at the only restaurant in the area: Cumbres de Omaña.  There in the dining room we saw my brother-in-law Andrés having lunch with his cousin and the workers who are building his house (right next door to the one we will be rebuilding).  It was great to see him!  Lunch was rather disappointing; just not as good as it used to be, but good enough to quash any hunger we had left after the marvelous ham and wine in Rueda.

Once in Montrondo we soon settled in the house and then, despite the doctor’s orders, off I went with Dolores on a walk to Murias.  The weather was glorious as it would be throughout our stay and Montrondo was looking at its best, so lush and green.  We were joined as always by Nuba, Dolores and Toño’s delightful mongrel and Rusky the neighbour’s dog. 
The views on our walks near and around Montrondo were breathtaking
I was the cook that night as I was throughout.  There is nothing more relaxing for me than cooking in Montrondo and doing so in Dolores’ wonderfully equipped kitchen is a delight.  She has everything any chef could dream of. 

On Friday morning, Dolores and I went on our early morning walk with Nuba to Murias and back, as we would do every morning. Our prize was breakfast, usually my favourite meal of the day. 
Wearing Adele and Bernard's t-shirt from Brittany on the old path from Montrondo to Murias early one morning
Then the most important item on the agenda took place, the meeting with the builders Benito and Recaredo to go over the final details of the estimate of the rebuilding of our house.  Amazingly some 3 or 4 hours later we signed the contract; something to celebrate.  I took a photo but did not get permission from the builders to publish it unfortunately. 

To celebrate I made authentic British fish and chips with mushy peas for lunch, much appreciated by all.  In the afternoon whilst the men rested, I lay on the sunbed reading my chicklet book which actually had me riveted.  I lay with my head in the shade and my legs and arms in the sun and right now I can tell you I’m quite tanned.  Later Dolores and I set foot again on our longer walk, to Senra, via Murias and back, some 8km.  On our return we bumped into Adela, Eladio’s oldest sister and husband Primo which was quite a surprise as we didn’t know they were coming.  It was lovely to greet them.  We got back to Montrondo just as the sun was disappearing behind the mountains at around 20h and there was darling Pili (Eladio’s youngest sister) waiting for us.  So the numbers slowly increased.  For dinner that night we were 6.

The numbers increased on our early morning walk too as Adela also joined us.  More of the family was coming for lunch (Marta, Adela’s daughter and Isidro and his wife Yolig).  My contribution to lunch that day was chicken curry and rice as well as popadoms and mango chutney.  Here is a photo of all of us about to have lunch.  Only Andrés is missing. He was always late for every meal as he is so busy supervising the building of their house.  He seems like the foreman and is very much involved in the actual building.  It’s great to see him so happy with the project.
Everyone at lunch on Saturday in Montrondo (except Andrés)

In fact he is so involved he broke the nail of his left thumb earlier that morning which was a bit of a damper. Eladio took him to the hospital in nearby Villabino where they patched him up and gave him a tetanus jab.  Thankfully nothing was broken and bandage and all he continued with his “foremanship”. 

It was on Saturday afternoon on our walk to Senra and back that I found out at the bar in Murias (La Palloza) that the Atlético de Madrid had won the Spanish Liga.  They were playing Barcelona at the Camp Nou and they only needed a draw to win.  And they got it 1-1.  This is their first Liga win in 18 years and the first time in 10 years that a team other than Real Madrid or Barcelona has won.  Well done “colchoneros” as they are called.  On Saturday 24th of this month the “colchoneros” will be playing Real Madrid in the final of the Champions League in Lisbon and there I have my fingers crossed for Real.  You too I hope.
"Colchoneros" celebrating Atlético de Madrid's win of this year's Spanish La Liga on Saturday

My daughter Susana, commonly known as Suzy, would not have been aware of who won the Liga as she was having her own private celebration.  Saturday 17th May was the first anniversary of her life in London and she and her friend Chati were celebrating it in very English style, by having a pint of bitter each. It’s amazing to think that a year has already passed.  Their beginnings were difficult but now they seem quite settled and happy with their lives.  Congratulations girls.
Suzy and Chati celebrating their first anniversary in London this weekend
On Saturday evening Adela, Primo, Marta, Isidro and Yoli left and once again we were just 6.  We decided to stay until after lunch on Sunday to enjoy the weather and put the finishing touches to clearing out the old house for it to be ready for rebuilding. 

We left at about 16.30 and once data coverage was restored to my phone on the motorway I was able to keep up with emails etc and was delighted to read one from Socialbakers (the people who measure companies’ performance on social media).  Yoigo had been awarded the Socially Devoted certificate for Q1 of this year meaning we respond really well to our customers on the Yoigo Facebook page.  Our performance had gone down a few months ago due to lack of coordination but thanks to heroic efforts between communication and the customer service department we are up there again.  I was so proud and happy to see our efforts rewarded with the certificate.
I was proud to get this certificate
After a long drive we were home by 8.30pm. Fátima was there to greet us but would be leaving soon for her time off.  Olivia was playing Trivial (the Genius edition I should add) with friends from the “manada”: Copi, Carolina and Elena, my Father was reading in bed and the dogs were the most eager of all to greet us.  Both of them have conjunctivitis and thankfully I came to the rescue with antibiotic drops we had at home and which Dolores’ brother-in-law, Patxi, who is an eye specialist had recommended.

So a good time was had by all in Montrondo.  You can see the rest of the photos here.

Yesterday was Monday, a fasting day and I’m afraid it turned out to be pretty KO.  I had a headache during the night and woke up with a migraine which got worse through the morning.  In the end I went to bed and sent Eladio to the chemist to buy a vial of a pain killer called “nolotil” to give me as an injection.  I also took a sleeping tablet and at about 5pm woke up feeling groggy but with just a bit less pain.  I knew a walk would help so off I went.  It happened to rain but I dogged on without an umbrella.  Then the sun came out and I dried me off for the rest of the walk.  It was a very strange walk but thankfully calmed my head.  Later I went for another walk with Eladio and the dogs.  The final cure was a powerful hot shower and this morning, thankfully, I woke up with only a minor headache.  As I write now it has nearly gone.  I have a history of headaches but thankfully the bad ones, like yesterday, are few and far between.

Today is Tuesday and to quote Eladio, like the mythological bird Phoenix I have resurrected from my own ashes.  He always says that happens to me and I suppose it does.  I had to be in the office and this is what I looked like when I left.  I’m sure you prefer that photo than one of me with a migraine the day before hahaha.
Tuesday, this morning, the day after the migraine, resurrected from my ashes hahaha
I commented on FB when I posted the photo that I could be a mature model for Zara but actually I was wearing a combination of clothes from Zara, Marks and Spencer, Lindex and Clarks.  If they are reading this they can make me an offer haha.

So off I went to the office for another very productive meeting and did lots of administrative errands.  I also worked there until midday as I had a lunch appointment with Marta an old Nokia colleague, now the Communications Director of a big international insurance company.  It was great to see her. 

The news of the day came this morning via whatsapp.  Andrés, who is in Montrondo supervising the building of his new house, witnessed the starting of the rebuilding of ours this very morning.  He sent us photos of the beginning of the rebuilding and I have made a photo collage including the house as it looks now plus the three photos of the men working.  Let’s just hope they do a good job and don’t take too long.  I would be happy if it was ready in 6 months but it will probably take quite a bit longer.
Rebuilding on the house at Montrondo started today.
And that’s all for now my friends. This week brings with it my younger daughter Olivia’s 29th birthday so we have a birthday week to look forward to. 

Hope yours is a good week, cheers my friends and readers,


Monday, May 12, 2014

Olivia reporting for TVE1 from Galicia, Suzy on bank holiday in London, getting the pool ready for the summer, visitors from abroad, coca cola in Toledo, remembering Bruce, happy birthday Sam, the plight of 223 Nigerian girls and other stories.

Sunday 12th May 2014
Friends reunited at home in Madrid. With our visitors from abroad
Hi everyone,

I can hardly believe a week has passed and here I am writing again, on Monday like last week as Sunday was too busy to write.  So much has happened, so many preparations and now the events are over and I am feeling a little forlorn; not to mention quite exhausted.  However I continue to be busy and life is good.  I am a very lucky person to be able to write that life is good.  Well it is and I feel blessed.

When I left off last Monday Olivia was in Galicia reporting for TVE where she would be sent all over the province all through the week reporting on different stories.  Suzy meanwhile was enjoying the bank holiday in London.  She was out and about in the city with her new flat mate, an Italian girl called Stefania.  She posted a photo of the two of them which I wanted to share with you here. 
Suzy and her Italian flat mate Stefania out and about in London on Monday, a bank holiday there
Later that day, because of the wonderful weather and fantastic forecast of high 20s for the coming days and weeks, we decided to remove the cover of the swimming pool also for our friends to enjoy when they arrived on Wednesday from France and Belgium.  It was a huge job. My part was helping Eladio remove the very heavy tarpaulin. Then I had to sweep the leaves, dust and dirt that had crept in during the winter and mop all around the edge of the pool. Eladio cleaned the bottom of the pool and this is what it looked like afterwards.
The pool ready for the summer and our visitors
On Tuesday I fasted again, so as to be able to enjoy food when my friends arrived.  Olivia was sent to Lugo that day to do a story on the expense of Holy Communion celebrations in Spain.  They are turning into mini weddings and the average cost seems to be about 2.000 euros.  This is a far cry from the communions we celebrated for our girls when they were 9 as we did them at home and Suzy’s dress was passed down to Olivia.  You can see her live report here.
Olivia in a communion shop in Lugo where she did a report on the cost of the celebration
When I had a moment that day I went to do the food shopping for my friends’ visit.  I also made trifle for them, perhaps England’s most famous dessert and one mostly made for celebrations.
The fruit trifle I made for my visitors
On the work front I was happy that day to read a report on online reputation because the study revealed that Yoigo had the best online reputation of all operators in Spain.  That for me was recognition for years of work on social media where I focus a lot of my PR.
Yoigo has the best online reputation of all operators in Spain according to a new study

On Wednesday I was up at 06.30 as I had lots to do for my friends’ arrival but first I had to get my work of the day out of the way to be free to be with them.  I even had time to head the roses in the garden and put vases of different coloured roses in their bedrooms to welcome them. I left lunch prepared.  We were having a barbecue and Eladio stayed behind to light the fire, etc, whilst I drove to the airport to pick them up.  Thus we missed Olivia live on the TV that morning from Vigo.  However I got a sneak view via streaming on my phone in the car on the way to Barajas (naughty of me). She was reporting on the story of a woman who had an accident whilst driving her grandchildren to school. Fortunately no one was hurt.  You can see the clip here if you fast forward to 13.18h.
Oli reporting on a car accident in Vigo on Wednesday
I had arranged to pick up my friends at Terminal 1 and Sandra and Jeffer had already arrived from Brussels as I drove into the passenger pick up area.  About 20 minutes later Adele and Bernard arrived from Paris.

Adele who is English and Sandra (or Sandie) who is half Hungarian, half Italian, born in India but went to school in the UK, were my best friends at Nottingham University.  They majored in French whilst I majored in Spanish but we got to know each other as they took Spanish as a “subsid”.  Adele and I were in the same hall of residence (Nightingale Hall) in the first year.  I lived with Sandra at Church Avenue in my second year and in my last year I lived with Adele in Beeston Road.  We have remained friends ever since although there was a huge gap in actually seeing each other until we held a reunion in Brussels “chez Sandra” a few years ago.  Now we aim to meet at least once a year.  This time it was to be at our home in Madrid.  Adele is a teacher of English at the University of Orleans and Sandra is a coach, teacher, part time actress and many other things. Their partners Jeffer and Bernard get on well with my husband Eladio and it is great to see a Frenchman, a Spaniard and an American with so much in common. Bernard is a psychiatrist, Jeffer a marketing consultant and of course my husband is a philosopher and ex priest.  Whilst the three of them have profound conversations about life, we three girls chat happily about more profane subjects and we feel like soul mates.  For me, they are like substitute sisters and I only wished they lived nearer and I could see them more often.  I have many friends and acquaintances in Spain but no one like them which is why our once a year reunions are so important.
My dearest friends Sandra (glasses) and Adele (curly hair)
They arrived in time for a wonderful lunch.  They came loaded with presents.  Bernard who is a painter and a great copier of paintings of the great masters had brought a copy of Velazquez’s “menina” which is now gracing our dining room wall.  We also got lovely striped t-shirts from Brittany and lots of Belgian chocolates (yummy).  Jeffer gave all three girls the same scarf, blue with white spots which we all wore over the next three days.  

I had made a programme for the four days, so our friends got free time in the afternoon to chill out by the pool.  Eladio had to go off to his University tutorials and in the late evening when the sun was not bright we all went for a walk with the dogs as we would do every day.  I was very appreciative of the fact that both dogs, Norah our beagle and Elsa our golden lab, were a huge hit with all my friends.  As their “mother” it is important for me that my friends like my dogs just as it is important people to like a mother’s children!
On one of the walks with our friends
Dinner was at home and outside that night owing to the wonderful weather. I had made my famous tuna salad which was supposed not to be a heavy meal after the BBQ but I’m afraid the chocolates were our downfall afterwards.
Our first dinner together
On Thursday the programme for my friends started with a leisurely breakfast outside, although I was up early in order to do my work before we went out.  The first cultural item on the agenda was a trip to Madrid to the house and museum of the Valencian painter Joaquín Sorolla (1863-1923) and then a walk around the Retiro.  All my friends had seen the Prado several times and also the Thyssen Museum, so we all agreed to go somewhere new and manageable.  I had last visited the Sorolla Museum some 35 years ago, fell in love with it and had never been back until last Thursday.  I think my friends fell in love with it too.  His paintings are so positive and romantic, many of them including his beloved wife Clotilde and children. Many of them are of scenes of his native Valencia, the sea and the Valencian orchard. The paintings are housed in the house they lived in and as they were from Valencia they brought a very Mediterranean theme to the house with orange trees and typical tiles of the area.  The gardens themselves are spectacular.  Here is a photo of us outside by the painter’s bust.
With our friends around the statue of Sorolla at his house and museum in Madrid
It is difficult to say which is my favourite painting but maybe it is this one.
One of my favourite Sorolla paintings
From the Museum we took two taxis to the Retiro and we walked in the lovely ornate park which was lush with green and flowers at this time of year.  We took the proverbial photo by the “estanque” (little lake) with boaters on it and the monument to Alfonso XII (the current Spanish King’s great grandfather) in the background).
With Sandra and Adele (with a hat) at the Retiro park
Then it was time for a little something and my friends chose a very typical Spanish drink in the summer (lemon with crushed ice) called “limón granizado”.  We then walked towards the monument and then through the tree lined avenues until we reached the main entrance by the Plaza de Independencia.  Here we bumped into a group of postmen dressed in yellow and I convinced them to let us take a photo with them.
Fun picture in the street outside the Retiro park with Spanish postmen and women
In actual fact we were in need of a post office for stamps for my friends and some letters we needed to send, so for the first time in my life I entered the main post office in Spain by the Cibeles square, perhaps the best known landmark in Madrid.  Whilst we were at the square we had our photo taken.  It is here by the way that Real Madrid supporters celebrate the team’s victories.
Doing the touristy thing, a photo of us all at Cibeles
We came home to a table laid and a wonderful Moroccan meal of lamb tagin, caramelized prunes and couscous for lunch all made by Fátima our home help.  In the afternoon our routine was very similar except that whilst my friends relaxed, I worked only stopping to take them on our walk later in the evening.  Dinner was once again outside and I should mention we had homemade Eton Mess for dessert made with the giant meringues we had bought at a great pastry shop in the Plaza de Independencia.

On Friday we were to take our friends to Toledo some 70km from Madrid and perhaps one of the most interesting little towns outside the capital and which was once the capital of Spain until Franco decided to move it to Madrid.  Toledo is steeped in Christian, Moorish and Jewish history.  This is where the main Jewish community lived when they were expelled by the Catholic Kings in 1492.  There are only 3 surviving synagogues (none in use) in Spain.  Two are in Toledo and one is in Córdoba.  Toledo is also where El Greco lived and his house is one of the main attractions. 
Beautiful Toledo
We parked by one of the main gates of the partially walled city.  We had gone in two cars, the girls in mine and the “boys” in Eladio’s.  We all got out and when I did, I don’t know how but I tripped and fell on a big stone.  I only remember lying on the ground on the driver’s side of my car and calling for Eladio who couldn’t hear me.  I had hurt my knees, felt very weak and couldn’t get up.  Jeffer came to the rescue and then I think everyone else did as well as some passerby nuns.  I vaguely remember Eladio ringing the ambulance but then I passed out.  I have never fainted in my life.  This was my first time and actually it felt like falling asleep.  I even began to dream.  I then came too and everyone picked me up and sat me on a bench where I felt extremely whoozy wanting to be sick.  I was practically carried to a bathroom in a hotel which was very conveniently right there.  It was called Hostal El Cardenal.  Very soon the ambulance arrived and two nurses attended to me.  I had come round by then and felt much better although rather weak and my knees hurt, especially my right one.  My blood pressure was low but my sugar level was ok, I hadn’t broken anything.  Their prescription was to sit in the shade for half an hour and drink coca cola. My friends wanted me to drink the real stuff but I insisted on having diet coke not to take in too many calories!  I am no coca cola fan but the caffeine in it certainly did the trick and soon I was up and went off to explore the beautiful town in the sun although I did so holding on to Eladio’s arm and taking the stairs very carefully because of the pain in my knee. Unfortunately no one thought to take a photo of me passing out for my blog so there is no graphic souvenir of the incident.  I was so happy I got better soon as my biggest worry was spoiling my friends’ day by being taken to hospital.

Our first destination was El Greco’s house but it proved hard to find so mistaking the Sephardi Museum for his house we visited the Transition Synagoge and its beautiful gardens. Eventually we found Doménikos Theotokópoulos’ (his real name) abode which I was surprised to learn wasn’t actually where he lived.  The person who created the museum there bought it thinking it was his house but it wasn’t and no one knows where he lived.  However the house is beautiful.  Slightly disappointing are the paintings there which are not the more famous ones.  The best ones are in the Prado and other big museums in the world.  When the painter died in the early 17th century  his paintings went out of fashion and he only really became famous at the beginning of the 20th century.  Ah and part of the reason many of the figures are so elongated is that he had some sort of sight problem.
El Greco's house in Toledo
We had planned to come home for lunch but after my fainting incident we were running out of time so we decided to have lunch in Toledo and spied a nice looking place in the main street near the El Greco Museum called El Plácido with a lovely cool interior patio.  It was a lovely building which had once been a convent.  Right across the road was the Santa Tomé church where perhaps one of El Greco’s most famous paintings is housed, the burial of the count of Orgaz.  It is truly marvelous and interesting to note that it includes himself as one of the mourners.
The Burial of the Count of Orgaz in Toledo
We then ambled back through the narrow streets until we reached full circle and were back at the car park, the scene of my fainting, by the Hostal del Cardenal.  Here we decided to end our day in Toledo with a drink to quench our thirst. 

Once home we all gathered by the pool for a cup of tea.  It was Friday evening and Olivia was due home from Galicia.  She would be picking up her boyfriend Miguel in Madrid who was coming from Valencia for the weekend.  I hadn’t seen Olivia since she had left for Valencia and we had gone to Montrondo, so some 10 days without setting my eyes on my beautiful youngest daughter.  They were to join us for another dinner outside which proved to be one of the best.  These days I can’t drink much wine as I get headaches but I got a wonderful new tip from Bernard.  He recommended taking a paracetamol one hour before drinking.  I took the tablet, drank more than I should, got a little tipsy, but you know what? There was no headache that night.  I tried the same trick on Saturday night and it worked too. Thanks Bernard, your tip is very useful.

It was wonderful to have Miguel and Olivia with us.  Miguel being a good photographer he took this lovely photo of us around the table; laden by the way with Fátima’s tortilla, salad and plate of the best ham imaginable.
Dinner on Friday night at home when Olivia joined us
Meanwhile on Friday in London, Suzy, my oldest daughter was meeting up with Gillian H, another University friend of ours.  Gill studied law at Nottingham and lived with Sandie and I at Church Avenue in our second year.  Suzy who is immersed in paperwork to become a registered dietitian in the UK had asked me if I knew a lawyer who could help with part of the process; some signing I think.  I racked my brains to remember if I had a lawyer, doctor or teacher friend in London and remembered Gill.  It was sort of a coincidence that whilst Sandra, Adele and I were in Madrid together, Gillian was in London meeting my grown up daughter Suzy for the first time.  They hit it off I think and I have thanked Gill and we have now agreed to meet up again when I visit Suzy in London.

On Saturday morning my friends had “free time” on the programme, no more excursions, just the choice to lounge by the pool or go out shopping.  Sandra and Jeffer stayed at home and took the opportunity to play table tennis with Eladio whilst Adele, Bernard, Olivia, Miguel and I hopped into the car and made our way to a big shopping centre called Gran Plaza 2.  Here Adele had a field day, especially at Massimo Dutti. I found a lovely white blouse at Zara (Adele bought the same one or I should say I bought the same one as Adele) and some lovely blue and white striped espadrilles.  Just as we were leaving I spied a group of people dressed in Spanish flamenco dress promoting some event and begged them for a photo.  Miguel once again was our photographer.  That was a bit of fun.
A bit of fun at the shopping centre with Adele, Bernard and Olivia on Saturday morning.
We came home to another big lunch together.  The numbers increased as the girls’ friend Copi and her boyfriend also called Miguel joined us.  Fátima had made chicken tagine with spicy rice and saffron potatoes.  This is the photo Sandra took of us all.
Saturday lunch was a big affair
The highlight of Saturday afternoon was during our swim after the walk with the dogs. Jeffer tried to get Elsa our lab to go in the water with him.  However, although she is a lab she shies away from water.  The only thing that would get her in was playing with her tug rope.  That finally got her in and I got some photos like the one below.
Jeffer and Elsa in the pool
Our last dinner was to be out. Our friends wanted to invite us out to dinner and we recommended La Txitxarrería in nearby Pozuelo which offers wonderful Basque food.  I was so pleased our friends loved it.  They all said and I agreed that the meat was divine.  Jeffer summed it up: simple food but of the best possible quality.  Sorry there is no photo of the meal, I think we were having such a good time we forgot.

When we came home I insisted Eladio floodlight the pool so that we could sit outside and have a last drink which actually turned out to be herbal tea.  It was a great last night I must say and we were all very sorry that the next day their visit would come to an end.

On Sunday I was up early to make breakfast for everyone.  Olivia joined me and we decided to go and get some fresh croissants and the most typical celebration type breakfast food you can get in Spain: “chocolate con churros”.  Here is the picture of the man making them if you don’t know what they are (sort of fritters which you dip in thick chocolate).
Making churros for our breakfast on Sunday morning
Breakfast was our last meal together as Adele and Bernard were leaving at midday.  We would have the pleasure of Sandra and Jeffer’s company until the early evening.  Sandra went with us to the airport where we said our goodbyes.  On the way we started talking about dates and places for our next reunion but that’s not fixed yet.  It was sad to see Adele and Bernard go, but we had had a great time. Thanks darling Adele for coming it was great having you both.

For lunch yesterday we were just 5, as Oli and Miguel had gone off to his parent’s house to celebrate his Father’s birthday.  Sandra and I spent the afternoon talking by the pool. We also spoke to Suzy on the phone for a while as well as her Mother.  I’m dying for them to meet up in London and I hope they will soon as Sandie goes there a lot to visit her Mother Magda.  And very soon it was 7pm and time to drive our friends to the airport.  Eladio was to take them so I said my goodbyes outside.  Oh Sandra and Jeffer it was wonderful to have you here too.  Hopefully we’ll meet up in Santa Pola this summer.  Fingers crossed.

So I was left all alone.  Fátima had gone off duty, my Father was reading in his room so it was the perfect time for my walk, this time alone which felt very strange.  Determined to get in another walk, when Eladio returned he came with me again and we took the dogs.  Olivia was home when we got back and we had a late and light dinner the three of us outside together.  The house felt so empty without our wonderful friends.

Whilst I was on my walks Rafa Nadal was playing the Madrid Masters’ final.  One of our distributors had rung me on Friday to invite me to the semifinals but much as I would have loved to have gone I wouldn’t have left my friends alone for all the tea in China. 

Yesterday, Sunday 11th May, was the 11th anniversary of the death of Bruce, my cousin Zuka’s wonderful husband and her daughter Katty’s wonderful father.  What can I say? only that I felt for them yesterday.  Katty posted a lovely photo of herself with him on her wedding day which I want to share with you as a tribute to Bruce and his family.
Bruce with his daughter Katty on her wedding day
Funnily enough I got a message from Zuka yesterday night to tell me she had been in Bradford, had visited our neighbour Sue and that she had also visited my Mother’s grave.  She always calls my Mother “Tante Helene” as they always spoke in French.  Thanks darling Zuka.  You are in my thoughts.  Come and see us soon.

On the bright side today is Katty’s son Sam’s 10th birthday.  Happy birthday special little boy.  You now live in the furthest country from Spain; New Zealand.  We met you a few years ago when your family visited us and we fell in love with you. I hope you remember us.  Hope you have had a great day.
Sam (left) is 10 today.  Next to him his older brother Luc and Ruby their little sister.  
Today is Monday and it is been a bit of an anti-climax after the visit of my dynamic and fun loving friends. I had a lot of work to catch up on in the morning and of course I am fasting.  The weather continues to be great but the swimming pool is empty. 

I have been living in a bubble for the last few days with my friends so haven’t taken much notice of the news.  But there is one piece of news I have been following and which deserves a place in this week’s post.  It is the plight of the 223 Nigerian girls, many of them Christian, who were kidnapped by a monster called Boko Haram in April.  He insists education is bad for them and that they should marry! Today, Monday, he released a video of the poor girls in Muslim dress and praying.  Their fate is in the hands of a monster and the world looks on not quite knowing what to do.  I hate to say it but if these girls were French or American and not Nigerian, the outcry across the world would be far greater.
The story of the kidnapping of the Nigerian girls is a nightmare
The week will be short as Thursday, San Isidro, is a holiday in Madrid.  We shall be off to Montrondo probably to sign a contract with the builder we will be choosing to restore our house there. 

So, my friends, that’s it for this week,

Cheers till next time, Masha
PS Here is the full set of photos of my friends's visit.