Saturday, August 19, 2017

Back from Montrondo, a few days at home then off again, to France for a multicultural wedding and time with my Russian family, terror in Spain and more stories.

La Teilée, France, 19th August 2017

With the bride and groom at their wedding. Anas and Marie. 
Hello all,

I am late with my blog but that's because I am in France and have been to a wedding and spending time with my Franco Russian cousins. So let me catch up slowly as I write from my cousin Zuka's lovely house in La Teillée, near Poitiers, in very rural France.

I left off a while ago, on Sunday 6th August. It was to be our last day in Montrondo. Again we had a super breakfast together, Eladio, Oli and I as you can see in the photo below.
Our typical breakfast in Montrondo
That morning, Oli, Pippa and I went on our last walk to Senra and back. On our way we passed a house with the typical wooden clogs they wear in the area, on the steps. I had to take a photo to show you. People here wear them with their slippers inside so that they can walk in the mud or in the past when they tended the cows. They then leave them on the steps and enter the house with their clean slippers on. They are quite heavy and have 4 small stilts to avoid contact with the dirt. I cannot wear them as I tend to fall. Eladio wears them naturally however.
"Madreñas" (wooden clogs) worn in Montrondo
It was a long way home from Senra in the sun. After lunch and another game of ludo which Oli won, it was time to pack to go which is a ritual I never really like. We left at about 5.30 with a heavy heart as we didn't want to leave our beautiful country house and return to hot Madrid. It was a long drive home (4 hours) and we were home by 9.30 to greet my Father, Lucy and of course the dogs. Unfortunately Lucy had hurt her hand when putting socks on my Father's feet, which together with a cramp in her back meant she wasn't able to take him upstairs to the dining room. I felt bad about that. 

The best thing about being home was sleeping in our own bed which is much more comfortable then our cheapo Ikea one in our house in the village. What I did miss was the cool of the night in Montrondo as at home we had to sleep with the air conditioning on. It's been such a hot summer, the hottest in all the time I have lived in Spain. 

Monday was back to usual and home routine as well as getting ready for our next set of Airbnb guests, an English family from Rushden in Northamptonshire. While Eladio did some repairs and cleaned the pool I went on my walk on my own. It was so hot I had to walk around the urbanization on the pavement rather than going on my usual path in the hot, dusty and dry fields. Later Oli and I went out to buy presents for my cousins in France. We also got some stuff from Carrefour, the French supermarket - the French have always fed the Spanish since Napoleon's times (hahah) and you find all the big French department stores in Spain. You never see it vice versa. In any case the Carrefour in Majadahonda is probably one of the best in Spain. We then had lunch together, with my Father of course and afterwards Oli and I spent time by the pool. 

When my English guests arrived, she disappeared as she is not that keen on meeting our Airbnb guests as she feels a little invaded. I do too but it's how I earn my money these days so I have to do it the best I can. I give everyone a warm welcome but receiving English guests is always my preferred nationality because of the synergies. They were a lovely family but who I fell in love with was their 6 year old boy, Brody who was a laugh a minute. He was also very bright and was keen to learn Spanish. His first words were "hola señorita". He was avid to learn new Spanish words and I taught him quite a few. As soon as he could, he went straight into the pool and later said he never wanted to come out bless him. He and Pippa didn't see eye to eye and I had to keep Pippa away from him until one day he bumped into her on the steps and waited patiently for me to come out and rescue him and get her to stop barking. He then said to me: "you must remember to keep Pippa with you as I am always bound to bump into her at some time". What a funny little boy he was, adorable really. 

Thankfully for our English guests,  Tuesday was suddenly cooler. I don't think they could have stood the high 30ºs.  I had lots of errands to do that day, such as a bank transfer of cancellation fees to the bothersome Airbnb American lady who after about 4 months of whatsapping and emailing finally decided not to come and left me in the lurch. On the bright side that morning, Oli and I went to the market in Majadahonda where I had to pick up the covers for our sofa in Santa Pola. Of course we also looked at the great clothes and of course we bought some. I got a great blue short jumpsuit which I have been wearing nearly every day since. I also got some colourful flat summer shoes which I adore. 
My colourful flat shoes from the Majadahonda market 
So, happy with our purchases, we came home to lunch with Eladio and my Father. Our UK guests spent all day at the pool. In fact in all their 5 days with us they hardly ventured out as the kids just wanted to be by the pool all the time. In Brody's case, he wanted to be in it all day and at one stage said he was "shivering with happiness" - words out of a baby's mouth haha. 

On Wednesday I was up early as usual. I was going away to France the next day for 12 days so preparations were in order. But of course before doing anything I went for a walk with Eladio and the dogs. This time I was wearing my new jump suit and the colourful shoes. I felt like a little girl, despite being  60 haha.
Wearing my new jump suit and colourful shoes and feeling like a girl again. 
Before leaving for France I had to make sure there were enough provisions in the house until I come back. So off we went to do the food shopping but before getting to Mercadona, our local supermarket, we went to have a cup of coffee which very naughtily was accompanied by churros and porras (the thicker version I prefer). It would mean I wouldn't be very hungry for lunch that day.
Churros and porras with coffee on Wednesday with Eladio
We spent the afternoon by the pool or rather at the end of the pool under the trees in the shade while our English guests sat in the sun. It's so funny how the Spaniards try to avoid the sun and the English want to sit right in it. I remember doing that when I lived in England and went on holiday to Spain. How the tables have turned. 

Thursday came, the day of my long awaited 12 day trip to France. I was going to to stay with my cousin Zuka and Aunty Valya who live in La Teillée, a hamlet about 40 minutes from Poitiers. 
Zuka's house and garden, a part of it actually as it's enormous.
We would be going to a a cousin's wedding near Geneva, then spending some quality time together in La Teilée and then attending our second Franco Russian cousin reunion in Marueil (not quite sure where hahaha) before returning to Madrid on 22nd August but of course I will be telling you all about my stay in this blog post. 

Eladio drove me to the airport to catch the 09.30 Easy Jet flight to Charles De Gaulle. It was arriving at 11.40 and the TGV (high speed train) was leaving for Poitiers at 12.15 so I had very little time to get off the plane, recover my luggage and rush to the station which is in the airport itself. But, thankfully I made it. The train was chock a block and late arriving in Poitiers where it was raining. It was so funny to come to rain in France after the dry heat of Spain. My dear cousin Zuka had come to fetch me but hadn't told me she had fallen the day before on her staircase and broken three toes. She hobbled towards me and I only wished she had told me and I would have taken a taxi. But she's very stubborn and would even insist on driving to Geneva and back for the wedding believe it or not. 

We were soon at her rural house in La Teilée and there waiting for us was my Aunt Valya now aged 92 and going very strong. She is pretty amazing, drinks and smokes to her heart's content and is very mobile and extremely independent. She was the wife of my Mother's darling brother (the next down after her, of six siblings of which my Mother was the fourth), Nicholas (Kolya). Zuka, who is really called Sophie, is her only daughter and my only female first cousin and is 10 years older than me. Zuka who was born in France but married an Englishman (Bruce) and was very close to my Mother. So, of course, there has been a lot of reminiscing during my stay here, much of which is rather emotional. 

You see, apart from the family Eladio and I formed, I have very little other family. On my Father's side there is just him and on my Mother's side, all 6 siblings are deceased and only 3 of them had children. So I only have 3 first cousins. But I do have second and third cousins on my Mother's side and these are the ones I would be seeing and meeting in France during this stay. They are all of Russian descent and continue many of the traditions and even way of life. I find it rather quaint, having been brought up to be far less Russian than them.

My Mother had 4 cousins in Paris (her family, the Lieven family fled to Bulgaria after the Russian revolution and their family, the Stachoviches fled to Paris - my Grandmother was a Stachovich) born to my Grandmother's brother Alexander  (or his wife but I don't know her name) and they were Sasha, Masha, Olga and Nastusha. I would be seeing the daughters of Masha and Olga, also Masha and Marie Heléne and their daughters Marie, Anna, Sophie, Elizabeth and Helen and Catherine. We would all be attending the marriage of Marie to Anas who live in Geneva. I hope you got all that hahaha. It's rather confusing. If you are interested in the origin and descendants of my Mother's family, the Lievens, you can find out more in the "online Gotha" registry, here

Whilst in La Teilée, my Aunt showed me some very interesting photos I had not seen previously of the family, like this one of my Grandfather, Prince Andrei Lieven, his brother Peter, sister Masha and Mother Alexandra. You might be interested to know that my Grandfather was over 2m tall and my Great-grandmother nearly as tall as him. I wish I had taken after them and not after my maternal grandmother who was small (and fat) like me! I do know that my Mother adored her Grandmother and I only heard good things about her, not so about my own Grandmother I'm afraid. 
My Grandfather Andrei (looking at his mother) with his siblings in Russia probably before 1910. What a great photo. 
Our most famous ancestor was Princess Dorothea Lieven, a German noblewoman and wife to the Russian Ambassador in London. She was a very influential political figure in diplomatic circles in the 19th century and is rumoured to have been the mistress of Bismarck. She was famous enough at the time to be painted by Sir. Thomas Lawrence and her portrait hangs in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. I have a copy (nothing fancy, it comes from a magazine) which hangs in our own dining room:-)
Princess Dorothea Lieven, our most famous ancestor (b1785 d1857)
But I am digressing. So back to La Teilée. Shortly after I arrived, my cousin Marie Helen arrived too as she would be going with us to Geneva for the wedding or should I say I would be going with them.  It was while talking about going to the wedding my Aunt told us she had decided it would be too tiring a trip for her to take which we respected. It was also then that she let the cat out of the bag and I heard that Zuka's daughter Katty who lives in New Zealand was surprising us all by coming to the wedding, staying here at La Teilée afterwards and joining us all for the cousin reunion which they all dubbed "la cousinade".  She was already in Geneva in fact. I was over the moon that darling Katty was coming. I last saw her a year ago for the "cousinade" at Zuka's place and was dying to see her again. Apart from a cousin, for me she is like a sister and we are soul mates. It was all going to be great fun. 

We had a lovely dinner together and very soon I went to bed exhausted by the day. I found it slightly cold and hadn't packed enough warm things and was much in need of pairs of socks of which I had none. Thankfully Zuka lent me some warmer clothing.

On Friday I was up at 6.15 as my body clock is so stubborn. We didn't leave until 9.45 and would be driving all across France to the village of Lully in Haute Savoie where we would be staying at a lovely Swiss type chalet called Zelie run by an Airbnb host. It would be interesting to see how he fared as a host compared to me hahaha. Lully is on the border of Switzerland and is over 600km from La Teilée. The drive would be mostly on country roads as there is hardly any motorway. Our journey would be very slow (9 hours) as, apart from the not particularly good roads it was the start of the 15th August bank holiday and it seemed that all of France was going somewhere too. 

But first we had to drive to Poitiers to go to a shoe shop (Halle) at a big shopping centre to get some comfortable shoes for poor Zuka's feet for the wedding. While there, both Marie Helene and I bought some great gold sandals which we would both wear and I love even more than the coloured flat shoes above. 
The gold sandals my cousin and I bought in Poitiers
And here are my cousins leaving the shop happy with their purchases.
Mare Helene (left) and Zuka outside the shoe shop in Poitiers.
The trip was long and slow due to the traffic and I felt sorry for my cousin driving with her broken toes but she wouldn't let us drive so there was nothing we could do.  It was raining most of the way and the temperature was about 15ºc which is a far cry from Spain I can tell you.  We were hungry by lunch time but funnily enough it was difficult to find anywhere to eat which is a bit of a paradox in France which is famed for its gastronomy. We had a ghastly meal in a fly infested place I wanted to get out of as soon as possible. The terrain got higher and higher as we approached Switzerland. Finally we arrived at the chalet at around 8.45. Katty had already arrived and was there to greet us. It was a great reunion and we all loved our accommodation although there was only one bathroom which is apparently typical in France. This was the chalet.
Our beautiful chalet in Lully in Haute Savoie near the border of Switzerland
Thankfully Katty had asked the host for restaurant recommendations and soon we were sitting down to dinner at Les Terrasses in nearby Brenthonne. We loved the place and dinner made up for the dreadful lunch. We were back in the chalet by midnight where I shared a comfortable double bed with my cousin Katty. We had lots to talk about but were both shattered, she from jet lag of course. I had a bit of a headache but actually slept relatively well. We would need the sleep as the next day, because of the wedding, would be an extremely long one.

On Saturday again I was awake at 6.15. Soon I was joined by Zuka who wakes up early too. First things first and I got my caffeine fix followed by a very French breakfast of croissants and "pain au chocolate". I would have the croissants nearly every day here and am seriously worried about my weight which I shall fix, I promise, when I get home. 

We had the whole morning to get ready for the wedding which wasn't starting until 14h. It was lovely getting ready together with my cousins as there was such camaraderie and a sort of "girly together" feel. I had brought my Queen Letizia black Zara outfit which in the end I didn't really like to tell you the truth and only wished I had brought my turquoise dress I got at Stanley Market in Hong Kong.  I could have killed myself when later at the wedding nearly all the women were in blue which is apparently Marie's favourite colour. That was a bit of a mistake. This is what I looked like. Nothing special really.
My outfit for the wedding.
The wedding would be very special and multicultural as my cousin Marie who is Russian Orthodox was marrying Anas who is Muslim. He is actually an Ismaeli Muslim who are tolerant believers and a branch of Shia Islam. The first part of the wedding would be a Muslim Nikkah ceremony at the Ismaeli Cultural Centre in Geneva. Seeing Marie dressed in a Muslim wedding sari outfit took my breath away. Here she is looking gorgeous. Sorry that the loo is just behind her haha.
Marie being given the final touches to her sari before the Muslim blessing.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that men and women worship together. The ceremony took place in English, French and in Arabic and was actually quite short with everyone standing up. 
Marie and Anas at the Muslim wedding ceremony.
We were not allowed to take photos during the ceremony itself so I was happy to get this shot just before although I'm not sure everyone heeded the warning. It was a warm and sunny day thankfully and after the knot was tied the Muslim way, a pink milky type drink was served on the terrace. There was no alcohol of course.  Now I could greet the rest of my cousins, Marie's mother, her partner and her daughter and their partners who I hadn't seen since last year. 

The next part of the wedding would be the Russian Orthodox blessing, reception and dinner which took place at the Château d'Avully, a restored 15th century castle belonging to the Duchy of Savoy, over the border in France  in Brenthonne and very near our chalet in Lully. It would start at 5.30 so we had time to go back to our chalet, freshen up and get a bite to eat as we hadn't had any lunch and my breakfast croissant and pain au chocolat were long forgotten. 

We were stunned by the beautiful castle as we parked and walked in over the portcullis.
The beautiful château
People had already gathered and soon we were standing near the altar waiting for the happy couple. Marie was led to the altar by her Father and soon the ceremony commenced led by a Russian Orthodox priest. 
The bride arriving
She looked stunning, this time in a white bridal dress. Then the most wonderful thing happened, her sisters, mother and friends gathered around the altar to chant the Russian Orthodox wedding songs in harmony conducted by their choir master. Marie was in tears and so was I as I suspect many other people were. Again the ceremony was short and soon the wedding party was gathered around the happy couple congratulating them. I was up there too and the photo illustrating this post is of me with the now married couple just after the Orthodox ceremony.

The wedding was truly multicultural, because of the mixture of Muslim and Orthodox traditions but also there were people from all over the world, including some of Anas' family who had come from Canada. They were all dressed in traditional outfits and I was happy to catch them on camera looking very colourful indeed and happy too.
Some of the Muslim guests in traditional outfits. Anas' father is on the far left. 
The whole wedding was peppered with different Orthodox and Muslim traditions throughout. The first, after the blessing was the giving of the bread and salt to the married couple by their parents. They were supposed to eat it all but they didn't haha.
The giving of the bread and salt
There was also lots of giving the couple or their parents a tray of drinks which they were supposed to down in one go which is called "tcharichiska" and which is accompanied by a very raucous Russian song called. Here is the couple being given the drinks and then drinking them.

The Tcharishka before and during accompanied by raucous singing. 
During the reception lots of photos were taken and of course there had to be one of all the cousins with the happy couple. Here is one of them I particularly like.
The cousins with the bride and groom. 
Soon it was time for the dinner to take place in the castle and here unfortunately no alcohol was served. Katty and I quietly sneaked in a glass of wine each which would last throughout the dinner. Others brought in whole bottles of wine they hid under the table hahaha. I suppose it is hard for Russians and the French to eat dinner without wine!! Throughout the dinner there were lovely surprises which started with a Hindi wedding entry into the banquet of the bride and groom. There was even Indian dancing which was beautiful. 

The Hindi entry ceremony 
The dinner was superb as was to be expected in a French medieval castle at such a multicultural and exotic wedding. Marie's sisters, mother and friends sang again but this time popular Russian songs including a favourite in the family: "Lietat Utki" which I remember very well singing with my Mother and Aunty Masha many many times when I was young. 

After the dinner and the cutting of the incredible cake, dancing commenced and here Katty and I joined in very enthusiastically. However, by about 1.30 in the morning after a very long day, we were shattered again and with a heavy heart left the wedding party to take the short drive back to our chalet in Lully. I have to say it was the most multicultural and exotic wedding I have ever been to and that it was organised with lots of detail and love, not to mention lots of fun and emotional moments throughout. Marie, of course, organised it all and got her lovely sisters and friends to help make everything perfect. 

The wedding didn't finish on Saturday. There was to be a brunch for everyone at Anas' brother's house very near Lake Geneva. Again we had lots of time to get ready and here are my two cousins, Zuka and Katty, Mother and daughter reunited after a year, here ready to go.
Zuka and Katty, Mother and daughter together for the wedding
But before arriving at the house, Zuka drove us down to see Lake Geneva or Lac Leman as it is called in French. It was a beautiful day and I was bowled over. The last time I had been there was when I finished my A levels and went to Taizé with the school, a famous Catholic retreat in France. Of course, photos were in order and we took many. Here I am enjoying being by Lake Geneva.
Me by Lake Geneva the day after the wedding. 
Anas' brother's house was perfect for a wedding brunch and his family had gone all out to prepare a superb spread.
Anas' brother's house where the brunch took place the day after the wedding. 
We left at about 5.30 with the mission of finding a table at a restaurant that night for the cousins and friends remaining near Geneva. On our way back to our chalet we were passing Yvoire which is classified as one of the most beautiful towns in France. It is a medieval town and there are more flowers than people. It is simply stunning. 
Flowers in Yvoire
It is right on the shore of Lake Geneva and is considered a gem of the lake. It certainly was beautiful but rather full of tourists. 

In the end we had dinner at Les Terrasses again. There were 14 of us and I was happy to sit next to my dear cousin Masha who is known as Mashenka. I am known as Baby Masha and that is to distinguish us. In fact at home I was always called Baby Masha to distinguish myself from my Mother's younger sister also called Masha. There were and are many Mashas in my family hahah. And here we are sitting round the table that night.
Cousins and friends at the dinner on Sunday night, the night after the wedding. 
It was a great place to have dinner the day after the wedding. But it wouldn't be the last dinner together as the following weekend we the cousins would meet again. 

That night Eladio and Pippa arrived in Montrondo and our English Airbnb guests left. They later wrote a beautiful review and promised to come again. 

On Monday 14th August, I was up early again and amazed I had no headache after all the wine at the dinner the night before.  After a leisurely breakfast, we packed and left our lovely chalet to take the road again to Poitiers. It would be a long drive again but thankfully there was very little traffic. We set off at 10 am, stopping for lunch on the way. Again it was difficult to find anywhere and I was surprised to learn that in France restaurants close at 2 pm at lunchtime. So we were lucky to get a meal at the Hotel Du Commerce in a small and sleepy town called Tronget somewhere in the Massif Central where we devoured their cold salads it being too late to get a hot meal as the kitchen was closed. Here are  my 3 travel partners and cousins enjoying their meal.
Lunch on the way back from the wedding
We had to get provisions for the next few days before arriving home as the following day was a bank holiday, 15th August (The Assumption) and everything would be closed. Zuka took us to the Intermarché supermarket in Couhé a pretty little town near La Teillé. We were home by 7pm and happy to see my Aunty Valya well and waiting for us. It was a very hot day, the hottest of my trip, and we all enjoyed a dinner of salady type things on Zuka's terrace. As we were all rather tired, we went to bed quite early. 

Tuesday 15th August came and I spent the day together with my cousins. Zuka took us to Lezay, a village nearby, where there was an open market. Here we bought all sorts of lovely local produce and even Spanish cold cuts. We also bought baklava, a great favourite with the family as my Mother used to make it having eaten it in her adopted country Bulgaria. In the photo you can see Katty and the baklava seller.
Katty at the stall in the market where we bought baklava
The weather had turned for the worse with clouds and rain but the sun came out after lunch and Katty and I went for a walk, my first since I had come to France. However it was to be short as that afternoon Zuka would take us on another outing, this time to a small village called Curzay. Here my cousins tried their hand at mosaic making on glass tiles. It was not my thing so I wondered around the village and sat in the sun with my Aunt. We were home for drinks which we have been having every night before dinner which is such a pleasure. Zuka made mussels for dinner she had bought at the market, a very French thing to do. And then of course we tried the delicious baklava. 

I have been following the news everyday here and on Tuesday evening was happy to hear that Rafa Nadal, the Spanish tennis player had returned to the number one spot in the tennis rankings, overtaking Andrew Murray. Well done Rafa!

Wednesday came and finally I got a proper walk. Katty and I set out for a 1.5h walk that morning before breakfast. I loved the paths and the flowers and trees and we even picked a very French sunflower as you can see in the photo. Katty got it for her grandmother.
Katty with the sunflower
We had a lazy day on Wednesday. I spent more quality time with my Aunt who showed me more photos from the past, some I had never seen before. She is probably the only person left apart from my Father who remembers my Mother so well and their past together and is a mine of information. We had barbecued lamb chops for lunch and later I went food shopping with Zuka as she had invited a retired couple who live near here for drinks and she wanted to make some canapés. Just as they arrived, Marie Helene left but we would see her again on Saturday at the cousin reunion at her house. The couple were really interesting, he was a pilot from Bristol and she a retired maths teacher from New Zealand, thus she and Katty had lots in common. 

That night I was happy to hear Real Madrid had beaten Barcelona in the Super Cup (5-1 agg). They are now the winners of the Champions League, La Liga, the Uefa Super Cup as well as the Spanish Super Cup! 

On Thursday morning, Katty I went for our early morning walk again and enjoyed it tremendously. The day was spent cleaning and Katty was a whirlwind clearing out and cleaning the old barn belonging to her grandmother. They chucked so much stuff out it was amazing. I did the cooking that day and made fish and chips which everyone loved. As we were eating, Oli was having lunch with my Father in Madrid and sent us a selfie. I immediately responded sending a photo of my cousins and Aunt at lunch for my Father who knows them all.
Zuka, Katty and my Aunt sending their love to my Father
Thursday would not end well. It was the day of the terrible Barcelona attacks when a man drove a van into the crowds thronging the Ramblas in the city. He killed 14 people and injured over 100 who I later read represented some 34 countries. The attack was claimed by ISIS as we had feared. Barcelona went into lock down as people hid and the man escaped. The world stopped in horror. I was in mourning for Spain, my adopted country and for beautiful Barcelona and my heart goes out to the victims, their families and friends.  I was also shocked because Spain up till now was not on the ISIS radar but we mustn't forget the Alqaueda train bombings in 2004, the worst terrorist attack in Europe ever nor that the jihadists want to reclaim Andalusia as theirs as it once was until 1492!! I have many friends in Barcelona, a city I love and I was relieved to hear they were all safe. I have been there countless times and walked down the Ramblas probably every time I have been there and could never imagine in a hundred years an attack like the one of Thursday. 

Barcelona in lock down on Thursday

On Friday I woke up to read that the terrorism had continued when 4 or 5 jihadists had been caught after trying to run down tourists in the peaceful coastal town of Cambrils not far from Barcelona in the very early hours of the day, just past midnight.  We would later hear that the terrorists had plotted worse damage having made bombs to explode in the vans but thankfully this was thwarted. Even so at least one person died and more were injured. I couldn't take it, especially as the death toll on the Ramblas climbed to 14 and God knows how many injured, many of them critically. 

Later in the day we would hear of more terror, this time in Turku, Finland, of all places, where a man stabbed people at random and killed two. It's not clear yet whether it was another attack of terrorism. I just couldn't imagine terror in peace loving Finland, a country I know very well after working for Nokia for 6 years. 

However, life continued here in quiet La Teilée and Katty and I went on our walk early in the morning. 
On our walk on Friday morning
It is so quiet with hardly a soul around and we enjoyed the country paths admiring the fruit on the trees and vegetables in the kitchen gardens. We even saw pumpkins until it began to rain and we got quite soaked. After a 10km walk we came home to make a splendid breakfast which included croissants of course. I just love French croissants ever since I discovered them when doing Inter rail as a teenager. I first ate them at Gare du Nord in Paris and imitated the locals by dunking them into a huge bowl of coffee which is how I still love to eat them today. 

We had a mission yesterday Friday, we had to go out and buy the ingredients for the dishes we were to contribute to the Cousinade which starts today. Zuka took us to the Intermarché supermarket in Lusignan and afterwards drove us round the beautiful medieval town.  I was to make an elaborate strawberry Victoria sandwich cake and apple crumble. My cousins would make the savoury dishes. So after lunch Katty and I started cooking, as you can see from the photo. Do please notice the wording on our aprons haha.
Cooking for the Cousinade yesterday
My two cakes came out splendidly in Zuka's super modern oven. You can see one of them here.
One of the layers of my Victoria sponge cake
However, when I started to decorate it, the top layer cracked, the icing started to melt and the strawberries began to slide off. This is what it looked like; a total disaster.
The cracked and melting cake
My ever practical cousin Katty came to the rescue whilst I was effing and blinding and being attacked by more and more flies. She successfully parted it in two and lifted them into higher cake trays so that it wouldn't fall even more apart. I can only hope it tastes good. On the bright side the apple crumble looks very successful. 

Everybody was busy, the gardener was here, a new washing machine was put in but finally at around 8 we all sat down for our evening drinks together. I had a long conversation with my Aunt about terrorism and where the world is heading too but of course we also reminisced and I ended up feeling very emotional and hugging my Aunt. 

The day ended with a lovely dinner together, after which it was more or less time for bed. The next day, Saturday, today, would be a long one as it would be the start of the much awaited cousin reunion. 

We woke up early again this morning and at about 7.30 Katty and I set off for another morning walk, determined to get some exercise before leaving for our other cousin, Marie Helene's place in Mareuil about 1.5h away from here. 

It was cold and wet but thankfully not raining and even the sun came out but the ground was full of dew and we got our feet and shoes drenched. We passed many fruit bushes, raspberries and blackberries - not all ripe and even saw grapes growing. And here is Katty picking some of the blackberries she would add to our copious breakfast hahaha.
Katty picking blackberries on our walk this morning. 

This morning our walk was only 1.5h long as we had to get on with the day and get ready to go to Mareuil. So my friends, I shall leave off now and publish this post of my time in France up and till the cousin reunion today which you will all hear about next week. 

All in all I have had a super time here with my cousins and Aunt,  enjoying their company as well as enjoying the French and Russian ways of life. I shall be leaving for Spain next Tuesday after a wonderful time here.  The only black cloud of course being the awful terrorist attacks  in Spain which shocked me to the core. 

That's it for now then, I shall leave you to publish this and then get ready to hit the road again. Thankfully the sun is shining again now.

On that note, it's time to sign off until my next post.

Cheers till then


Saturday, August 05, 2017

A week’s holiday in Montrondo with Olivia, cooking together, we climbed the 2.101 metre high Tambarón peak and other stories.

Sunday 6th August 2017
With Eladio, Olivia and little Pippa at the top of El Tambarón mountain. We made it!!
Good morning everyone,

What a great week it has been. Eladio and I and Pippa, of course, have spent a week's holiday in Montrondo accompanied throughout by our youngest daughter Olivia. That's news you see as she has only ever been able to join us here for a day or two. So a whole week together has been pure luxury. I think she hasn't spent more time here since she was a child. It has been relaxing for all of us. It would have been great to have Suzy too but she can't come until September. 

Who hasn't had a good week though will have been the newly appointed Communications Director of the White House who was appointed just as we came and was ousted the other day after a disastrous 10 day tenure. Anthony Scaramucci, an American financer with no PR background whatsoever, joined the White House like a bull in a China shop. He was on a mission to stop the news leakage from some of the staff and his fall came after a very "colourful" interview with The New Yorker where he used the foulest language you can imagine. What was impossible to imagine too was his background as he had been a Clinton supporter and spent his first few days deleting tweets from his account. Now we have to see how much longer his boss will last as on Saturday a Grand Jury convened to investigate the now famous Trump Russia election meddling. I am not sorry for Scaramucci as he was the worst example ever of how a Communications Director should do his job and that is something I do know about. Good riddance is all I can say. But I'm sure he's kicking his heels with regret at his behaviour. 

So, no it was not relaxing for Scaramucci but it certainly was for us in Montrondo. We have spent our time walking, sleeping, cooking, eating good food and Oli and I have been playing ludo.  As I always say, food tastes better in the mountain air here so unfortunately I just threw my diet to the wind. Thankfully at home I will have a few days to return to it before my next trip which will be to France for a wedding and Russian cousin reunion. But first let me tell you about our wonderful stay here. There won't be much more news on the international front as frankly I have also had a holiday from what's going on in the world whilst here. I'm not sure if that is good or bad but it's very unusual for me. 

Last Sunday after a lovely breakfast, the 4 of us (Oli, Eladio, Pippa and I) walked to Senra and back. The highlight of that walk is stopping to see the donkeys in a field just as we approach Senra. Both Oli and I adore these animals while Eladio can't understand what we see in them. Donkeys are not appreciated like they are in England and are considered working animals. Thankfully these lovely animals do not work and enjoy their days together in a field. And here I am stroking one of them. Thanks Oli for the photo.
With the donkeys which I adore.
We were to have more encounters with them as well as with cows and even a bull, as well as horses. That's rural life for you, which I love as you know. 

Our reward for walking to Senra is a nice cup of coffee there at Cumbres de Omaña served, unfortunately, by a surly bar owner. The walk back is quite long (4km) but we adore the views of the fields and mountains in the sun and always come back via the old path. Here are Eladio and Oli in matching colours haha on our way back that day.
Eladio and Oli (and Pippa) in matching colours on our walk back from Senra on the old path last Sunday
We came home to make lunch after which the 4 of us took a siesta. I must say I sleep a lot better in Montrondo than at home. It must be the walks, the food and the mountain air. After our siestas the family convene for coffee and on Sunday I contributed my amazing Victoria sponge cake which everyone found delicious. I shall be making it again next in September for Eladio's birthday. 

Of course, after the cake, and I had two pieces, another walk was in order, this time up the mountains as far as the birch tree forest, where my Father used to walk up to when he was in Montrondo. And here you have my lovely daughter and husband together there posing for the camera. 
Oli and Eladio at El Abedular on Sunday evening. 
That evening we had invited Eladio's brother and wife and their son, my nephew, Miguel and his adorable Cuban wife, Claudia for dinner. We went all out and served home made oxtail croquettes with chicken and mango salad followed by guess what? Yes, more of the fruity Victoria sandwich cake which I am sure had more calories than those we burned on both walks that day. Oh dear! 

Monday came and our routine on holiday here continued. It always started with a delicious breakfast together,  made by me as I get up so much earlier than Eladio and Olivia. I cooked chicken curry for lunch that day. I'm sure no Indian would think it is any good but we love it hahaha. This time it was only Oli, Pippa and I who went on the walk to Senra as Eladio stayed behind with his brother. They love to be together and always find an odd job needed doing here.  In the afternoon, there was more cooking as Oli and I made a cream of vegetable soup for dinner which we would eat with home grown runner beans and omelet made from eggs laid by Eladio's brother's hens. That was a real treat. But before dinner and, in order to build up an appetite, we went on our evening walk. No one wanted to go up the mountains so I had to make do with a shorter walk just to Murias. The temperature had gone down and for the first  time this week we had to wear fleeces on our walk. What a contrast to the 40ºc in Madrid. So nice to be away from the heat. 
Eladio and Oli walking in the distance. Notice they are wearing their fleeces as it was cooler on Monday. 
Monday turned into Tuesday and into another similar day in Montrondo. A group of family members had decided to trek up the Tambarón, the highest peak in the area but we preferred to go another day and at our own pace, admiring the views on the way. Instead we stayed at home and Olivia and I cooked. We spent part of the morning, before our walk, making "cocido madrieño" and oh so naughty but so nice, apple crumble. And here we are enjoying quality mother and daughter time together. Eladio was the cameraman for this great photo.
Cooking with Oli, one of the greatest pleasures here in Montrondo in our new house and well equipped kitchen.
Olivia and I always associate apple crumble with Montrondo as it is a dessert we usually make when we are here. This time I added oats and coconut to the crumble mixture.  We would be eating it all week. 

That morning we went on a different walk and were accompanied too by Eladio's brother and his wife. The men wanted to walk up the "Cueto" mountain to find the path that would lead to Murias via "el Camino Valle". They remembered the way from their childhood here but unfortunately there was not much path left, it was mostly bramble and lots of broom bushes we had to wade our way through. We also had to wade across streams and walk across big stones but the worst part was walking up "El Cueto" where the climb is very steep and feels endless.  Our reward, though were the views from the top, including a lovely one of our village here.
The view of  Montrondo as seen from the top of "El Camino Valle"
Once back in the village after a very strenuous walk, Oli, Pippa and I were parched and drank water from the small well which I think has existed here since before Eladio was born.
Drinking water from the well after a very long walk via El Camino Valle. 
We came home to a delicious lunch, especially the apple crumble.
Our apple crumble. 
Lunch was followed by a very long siesta after which we joined some of the family members who had returned from their trek up the Tambarón. In need of yet another walk, Oli and I walked to Murias and back via "El Bao" field which unfortunately had been watered that day and we got soaked hahaha. Here is Olivia trying to navigate through the soaked field.
Oli walking through the soaked field (El Bao) on Tuesday afternoon. 
We came home and after bathing Pippa in our claw foot bath tub which is for her almost exclusive use, hahaha, we had a delicious dinner of vegetable soup followed by duck salad.

I was happy on Tuesday to receive a new Airbnb booking which would make up for the cancellation of the American family. Next week we shall have a 5 member family from the UK, from the town of Rushden which I have never heard of. The Mother who did the booking, is a primary school headmistress so no doubt her 3 children will be well behaved. 

Wednesday was another quiet and relaxing day. That morning we only walked to Murias and back as we kept stopping to talk to people we knew. We also stopped to admire our neighbour's son's horses, a beautiful thoroughbred white one whose name I forget and an older brown one called Castaña. Oh how I love horses. But you know that don't you. I was so enamoured  I forgot to take photos, but Eladio took a couple and here is one of me in my element. 
Me stroking the neighbour's horses.
Once in Murias, Eladio, Oli and I had a coffee at the only bar there, La Palloza. It is famed for its tapas but we always get there too early for them. That day neither Oli nor I cooked as my sister-in-law had invited all the family for lunch. She made meat balls, rice and vegetables which we all wolfed down. It was on Wednesday that we decided to walk up the Tambarón mountain the next day, Eladio, Oli, his brother Toño and his wife, Pippa and their dog Nuba. I had climbed it for the first time last year in a 8 or 9 hour trek and remember saying when I got back that I would never do it again. Famous last words. It is 2.101m high and the highest peak of the local mountains. You can see the peak from the birch tree forest and it looks deceptively near but oh no it's very far and a hard climb up and a very difficult descent.  

So, on Thursday morning, we set off with a picnic lunch in our rucksacks at about 9.30 a.m. As soon as we hit the path at the end of the village leading up to the mountains, we had an encounter with a bull. Yes the same bull as last week. Eladio and his brother warned us to go past silently and of course we had to restrain the dogs. Oli was brave enough to take this photo hahaha.
An encounter with a bull at the beginning of our trek up to El Tambarón
Soon we were at the birch tree forest, one of the few points on our way where the Tambarón is visible. I had a photo taken to remember the very inaccessible but beautiful mountain I was to climb for the second time in my life.
By the birch tree forest with the mountain in the background.
We carried on up stopping for water at the Canalina spring and I took a photo of Olivia here.
Oli drinking water on the way
We carried on up past the Cabaña until we reached the last natural spring on the way to the mountain, "la fuente del cuadro". Here we had to fill up with water as there are no more springs and we wished we had brought more bottles as it would run out at the peak and we were thirsty coming down.
Oli, Eladio and I on the trek up
After 2 hours of walking up the main path of the mountain trek we reached the La Sistra and El Mular which are really two big fields at the bottom of El Tambarón. Here we rested for about half an hour, admiring the views. We rested quite a lot on our way to preserve our strength and stamina. I should add it was a very hot day and the temperatures were high even up in the mountains. We never wore the jumpers we took. Here we are resting on the way at some point before taking the ascent.
Resting on our way.
From El Mular we began our ascent which was not easy. We were surrounded by beautiful flowers, lots of heather and even bilberry bushes, although the berries were tiny. It would take us at least another 2 hours to get to the top. Oli strode ahead at a difficult angle while Eladio and the rest of us took a sort of path up. She reached the top first and I was second. My dear daughter made fun of me climbing the last part to the top by taking this video of me actually crawling to the top which you can see here if you want a laugh. It was amazing to have made it after a 4 hour trek. It was windy but not cold and the views were amazing. You can see both Murias and Senra from the top.
The view of Senra and Murias from the top of El Tambarón mountain.
Oli and I immediately climbed up a sort of stone structure at the top and had our photos taken. It was quite an achievement to have even got up there, so photos were in order to remember the day.
Oli at the top of El Tambarón. 

So happy to have made it to the top
And of course we had to have a selfie of all us and here it is.
A selfie at the top
We were all starving but were looking forward to our picnic which we had on the peak. I must say the picnic was the highlight of the day haha. I had made chicken, ham and chorizo sandwiches with tomatoes and all of them spread with olive oil. I had also brought yoghurts and fruit and we devoured all the food I had brought. We had to feed the dogs too as they were equally starving. The food tasted glorious up at the top.
Lunch at the summit
After a long rest, it was time for our descent which I was dreading as I remembered from last year just how long and difficult it is. In fact, for me, at least, the descent is far more difficult than the ascent. Eladio was our sherpa and his brother the assistant sherpa but even they doubted the exact path to take some times. Some of the way there are small piles of stones indicating the right route but they weren't always there at the critical turns. We had to walk down through thick heather which I did using my rear (hahah)  and through broom bushes and over wobbly stones and grass which if you took the wrong footing could twist your ankle in the holes which were not visible; all of this at a very steep angle. I stepped very carefully all the way, having once broken my leg on these mountains. The descent seemed endless until we reached the proper path and the sun was burning our backs and arms. Also we were all very very thirsty. On our descent I took a photo of the mountain we had just climbed, surrounded by heather, to remember our amazing feat that day.
The mountain surrounded by heather.
I took no more photos after that as I had to concentrate on climbing down and watching my feet. All we all wanted was to get to the "fuente del cuadro" spring on the main path and drink to our hearts' content. I think it took us about 2 or 3 hours to get there and oh how lovely the water tasted. From here it would take us around 1.5h to walk down to the village and we were all exhausted; too exhausted to take photos. I kept thinking of the lovely shower I would have as I felt so dirty from the walk, mainly from the dust and stones. We didn't get back until 7.15pm. We were not the only ones to be tired, the dogs were exhausted too. Poor little Pippa with her tiny little legs is the most valiant dog I know. She goes where we go so no way was she going to miss the climb with us.  We were all tired but pleased with the day and the great achievement of climbing this steep mountain. My fitbit was pleased too and recorded we had walked 22km.  
The recording on my fitbit the day we climbed El Tambarón. 

After our showers, all our clothes went straight into the washing machine, including my sketchers which were filthy.  Dinner was a small affair but delicious, soup and salad. 

It was that night that we heard the Spanish motorcycling champion, Angel Nieto had died aged 70 after an accident on a quad in Ibiza. He had won the world championship 13 times and it was ironic that he had to die when using a quad. It was big news in Spain. 

On Friday I was up with a headache at 6 in the morning wishing I could have slept more. That day Oli  and I went with my sister-in-law to the nearest town, Villablino, to shop at the Gadis supermarket and at the local market. At the latter Oli and I bought socks and stocked up on delicious summer fruit, local walnuts and a home made pie. We were home by 1ish and not particularly hungry for lunch so ate some leftovers.  

It was on Friday that Oli and I started playing ludo, something we used to do here when the girls were small. And here is Oli throwing the dice.
Playing ludo
I have always loved the game  but none of the family, apart from Oli and Claudia are interested. I should add that Olivia beat me nearly every time but I didn't mind. 

That night we were invited for dinner to Eladio's brother's house where we shared a delicious meal of tortilla made with eggs from their hens and great produce bought at the market that day. It was a very Spanish dinner and we loved it. 

Yesterday I was up at 7.20, very late for me but I was grateful for a better night's sleep. That morning I spent the time cooking lunch as we had invited Eladio's brother and family to our place this time.
Claudia by the lunch table yesterday

I made beef ribs and jacket potatoes and also served my delicious leftovers of curry and the last of the apple crumble which everyone enjoyed. Again we spent time talking afterwards until quite late after which everyone went off for a siesta. Oli and I took ours on the sun beds outside. Well, actually we read and were joined by Pippa but soon it got cold and we had to cover ourselves with blankets. Eladio caught the three of us unawares on camera hahaha.
On the sunbeds reading yesterday afternoon but covered by blankets hahahaha
 After so much food we were all in need of a long walk and I persuaded everyone to join me on a walk to Murias via the old path and the Camino Valle and through lovely woods like this one.
On our walk yesterday
We really needed it as we didn't go for a walk on Friday. We came home to play ludo again while Eladio and his brother spent time with an old friend from the village and his wife. After dinner Oli joined her cousins in nearby Murias where their fiestas were taking place. Meanwhile Eladio and I watched more of Ozark on Netflix until we fell asleep.

And today is Sunday, our last day here. We shall be leaving after lunch to return home after a very satisfactory week's holiday here. I don't want to go home but duty calls and we have to get everything ready for our next set of Airbnb guests. 

So, my friends, I have come to the end of the tales of this week. All that remains is to wish you all a great Sunday and week ahead.

Next week I shall be writing my blog from France where I am going to a wedding and to a family reunion. 

Cheers then till next time,