Saturday, June 16, 2018

A 60th birthday in Lombardy, Nadal makes history in Paris, leaving Italy in style, Trump-Kim summit in Singapore, home again, the Aquarius refugee boat to come to Spain, the World Cup takes off and other stories.

Sunday 17th June 2018
My last moments in Italy had to be done in style
Good morning everyone.

How has your week been? This time last Sunday I was still in Italy having gone out to celebrate my soul sister Sandra's 60th birthday. It was a long weekend of celebrations with her family and closest friends who all came from afar. 10th June was her actual birthday and that day she invited us all out to lunch. We didn't have to be ready until 13h, so her brother, Paul, kindly took Adele, Olivier and me to the local market (mercato) in nearby Caseggio. They wanted to buy cheese and I wanted to buy parma ham which I never got as the electricity broke down and the stalls had difficulty weighing produce and charging for it. 
Olivier, Paul and Adele by the cheese stall
While they waited patiently at the cheese stall, I wandered around the market with its amazing colours and smells. I wished I could have bought some of the incredible tomatoes but no way could I put them in my suitcase. A fruit and vegetable market in a small town in Italy is a sight for sore eyes, as it is Spain but the atmosphere is different. I enjoyed every minute there.
The choice of tomatoes was overwhelming

I wish I could describe the atmosphere at the market 
Apart from parma ham which I didn't get, I wanted to buy rice to make real Italian risotto and so did my companions. Paul took us to a special shop and here we all bought a big bag each. I was to try it out when I got home as you will read later. 

Soon we had to head back to join everyone at Villa Arabella from where we would be driving up the mountains to a delightful place called Cella di Montalto for Sandra's special birthday lunch. Our hosts know the owners well. They are owners of a hotel and restaurant where they serve home grown produce. In fact I think their main business is selling salami, etc from their pigs and cows. We were to try it out for lunch.
The hotel and restaurant Cella di Montalto
Nestled in the mountains it commands beautiful views, like the ones we had seen the day before during our "sound of music" moment hahaha.
The view from Cella di Montalto
Apart from our crowd and we were quite a few, we were to be joined by Sandra's family friends from their Bombay days, "the Rossis": Esmeralda, Sandra's best friend in India, her amazing 90 plus mother Fiametta  who survived the 2nd World War and Esmeralda's husband Giulio who all live in Milan. Fiametta and Sandra's Mother, 92 year old Magda, are old friends and I was happy to have a picture taken with these two extraordinary women both of whom are absolutely "with it" despite their age. 
With Magda left and Fiametta right 
Nicky, by the way, was her other great childhood friend in Bombay. It was an amazing group of people and oh what wonderful food we were to eat. I love Italy but am glad I don't live there as if I did I would look like an elephant hahaha. Once again we were treated to a full 4 course meal, starting with the typical "antipasti" (cold cuts or "entremeses" in Spain) except that they were home made. They were very fattening too as you can see in the photo below.
The "antipasto" the first course
Accompanied by delicious focaccia bread, I was already full when the second course came. As it was cheese I skipped on this course which was actually two courses as they served both ravioli and risotto!  The main course came next which was delicious thinly sliced roast beef with sauteed potatoes. Here I had a field day as I love roast beef. 

My favourite course in a meal is always dessert so of course I was looking forward to the birthday cake. Paul asked me to be the "official photographer" bless him - not that I am particularly good and if I am it's because of a few tips and above all because of my super duper new phone. And here is a photo of the birthday girl with this amazing cake which had me bursting I can tell you haha. 
Sandra and her wonderful birthday cake. 
If I was to take photos of the group, I had to call everyone's attention, so up I got to announce it and somehow there I was suddenly making an impromptu speech about Sandra and how we all know and love her with a mention of everyone at the table. I think it was good and if it was it's because it came from the bottom of my heart.

It was quite a job moving everyone from the table to a spot which would be ideal for a photo, except that they all wanted to be in the shade. So I got my photo but not the ideal spot hahaha. And here we all are -  me included - as this photo was taken by a member of staff with strict instructions from me hahaha.
Group photo at Sandra's birthday lunch last Sunday
Later I did find the perfect spot and was able to take these lovely photos of my two best friends Adele, Sandra and Barney who is like an extension of her, a bit like Pippa with me hahaha.
Beautiful Adele

Sandra with Barney, sassy at 60!
We spent the afternoon at the best place possible after the copious lunch, by the swimming pool at Villa Arabella. People gradually left and my visit was coming to an end. It was my last night in Italy. When it started getting late and the sun was coming down and we were literally being eaten alive by mosquitoes, dear Paul and Arabella rustled up a light dinner for those of us who were left, Nicky, Sandra, her Mother, Adela and I. 

It was at dinner that I heard that Rafa Nadal had made tennis history once again. Last Sunday he won the French Open, Roland Garros, for the 11th time by beating the Austrian Dominic Thiem 6-4 6-3 6-2 in the final. No one has ever won it 11 times. There is the history in the making. What a guy, what a champion, what an ambassador for Spain. Rafa the king of Clay. 
Nadal with his 11 Coupes de Mousquetaires
I would love to see him do so well at Wimbledon which he was won twice, but he will be very tired after an intense season and also grass is not his favourite surface. 

Hopefully he went out to celebrate in Paris. We, on the other hand, for once during our time in Italy, went to bed early as we were all exhausted from so much partying and short nights. I loved sharing the "blue room" with Adele. It felt like being back at University except that our accommodation was on a much higher level. After chatting we both turned to our kindles until we fell asleep.

On Monday, still in Italy, but about to leave, "all good things came to an end". I woke up at 6.30 and first things first, I made a cup of coffee in our room with my new travel kettle. Later Paul made me a proper capuccino. We had a leisurely breakfast until we were joined by Sandra and Nicky who were staying at the hotel in Fumo with her Mother. She was looking beautiful, despite the ravages of her birthday celebrations and I took yet another photo of her which I love.  I do wish my friends didn't live in Brussels and Orleans but much nearer  as seeing them only once a year is just not enough. 
Sandra on Monday morning at Villa Arabella
When we were at Nottingham University, Sandra was the only person I knew who had a car and she was often our chauffeur. In Italy she was our chauffeur again and that morning she would take us to the station to catch the train to Milan. En route we stopped at the hotel to say goodbye to Magda. They remained in Italy after our stay and are driving back to Brussels with Barney this weekend. I must say Magda is extremely fit for her age despite having to use a zimmer frame which she calls her "car" hahaha.

Very soon we were at Voghera station, about 1h away from Milan. We were on plenty of time so decided to have a cup of coffee at a bar there. It was to be my first and last bought capuccino in Italy and was delicious. I couldn't believe it cost just 90 euro cents. 
My capuccino at Voghera train station.
Italy is cheap, at least is was cheap where we went. Maybe Milan and Rome are different. When our train was approaching, Sandra and Barney saw us off on the platform and it was  a sad moment. Here are my friends just before our "tren regionale" came. 
Sandra, Adele and Nicky on the platform at Voghera station
The "tren regionale" which felt like being on inter rail, got us to Milan on time thankfully as Nicky was in a bit of a rush as his plane was leaving earlier than ours. He had booked an earlier train, the "inter city express" which was very delayed so he had to take our train. I was very grateful to have him as a fellow passenger as he helped me with my huge suitcase carrying it up all the steps at the station. There was a shuttle bus just about to leave which we caught and which for just 5 euros would get us to Milan Linate airport in 25 minutes.

Adele and I sat next to a couple from Singapore. Coincidentally at that very moment Singapore was the centre of the world, as it was where the King Jong Un and Donald Trump Summit was taking place. News of the historic talks was the biggest news of the week. It has now been dubbed the Trump-Kim Summit. And below are the two men shaking hands would you believe? The pair shook hands at a luxury hotel on Singapore's Sentosa island before the talks. It's funny because I asked my fellow bus passenger from Singapore where he thought Trump would be staying - it had been a big secret - and he said he thought it would be the Sentosa Island. It seems he was right. 
The handshake at the Trump Kim summit in Singapore on Monday
These two leaders have become the first  sitting US president and North Korean leader to meet, something no one ever thought possible after a year of exchanging threats. My opinion is that Trump wants North Korea to denuclearise and Kim Jong Un wants his economy to grow by the lifting of sanctions although I think he may only pretend to "denuke". These are funny times. Disappointingly, human rights, the biggest issue, was not on the agenda. 
As I was travelling I couldn't follow the day's events but would  catch up later. We were well on time at Linate although Nicky was in a bit of a rush. Security was pretty fast and once through we said goodbye to dear Nicky. I do hope it won't be another 40 years until I see him again hahhaha. Adele and I were very hungry and had asked where the best place was to eat at the airport. We were told to head to the Michaelangelo restaurant and that's where we went. I had 30 minutes before I had to go to my departure lounge so lunch had to be fast. Fast, but in style I said to Adele. It's not often you see a luxury restaurant at airports these days but this is Italy so I guess it's normal. We loved the place but above all we loved the wine and the food. Here is Adele sitting at our table and choosing the wine.
Adele at the table for our delicious lunch at Linate airport
We chose the dish of the day, "risotto milaese". Before it came, the waiter brought a plate of the most enticing bread you can imagine. We couldn't eat it all so I put the rest in my handbag for dinner with Eladio that night haha.
The bread at the restaurant at Linate airport
If the bread was to die for, so was the risottto. I think it's the best one I have ever had. Needless to say we ate it all. Disappointingly there was no time for a dessert as I had to rush to my gate for departure.
The risotto at the Micaelangelo restaurant at Linate airport

We certainly ended our stay in Italy in style. My goodness what wonderful food they serve in Italy. 

Adele came with me to my gate as her plane to Paris was an hour later than mine. My plane which was pretty empty, left on time and even arrived early at Barajas Terminal 2. I was quickly out and a few moments later, Eladio arrived to pick me up. It was only 20c and raining, cooler than in Milan. What is happening to the weather? Thankfully as the week went by it has got a lot warmer. 

It was funny to be home after so much excitement in Italy; a bit on an anti climax and of course my house wife duties resumed and I had to make dinner that night although I wasn't at all hungry. When I don't know what to make for dinner I always prepare scrambled eggs on toast, it's so easy and quick to make. 

Before making dinner I met our Jewish guests. They would be leaving the next day. Amiram, a retired judge and his sister whose name I didn't catch, had loved our house and it seems they will be back in September. They must come often as their mother lives nearby. They explained that their father had been a viola player in the Reina Sofia orchestra, although he had passed away since. 

But back to dinner because something funny happend. I walked into the kitchen after unpacking and found Eladio had opened a big bag full of hams and cheeses and had even opened one of the packets of "lomo". He thought I had brought it back from Italy but I hadn't. It belonged to Amiram and his sister. Funny they eat ham or maybe it was for friends. Whatever, I panicked, was going to leave a note inside and in the end decided to swap the open packet of lomo for a packet of good "iberico" ham I had in the cupboard and just hoped they wouldn't notice. 

Over our scrambled eggs, we watched the news and apart from the US North Korean summit, the main news in Europe and in Spain was the future of a boat called Aquarius with 629 refugees on board, including 120 minors travelling alone. Unbelievably, the new far right government in Italy had refused to let it dock and so had Malta. The Spanish government, under the new socialist leader Pedro Sánchez, offered to let it dock in Spain and it will be arriving in Valencia today. The refugees from North Africa and Sub Sahara countries were in no state to continue on the Aquarius in the conditions it was in so they have been separated into 3 boats and from then on were looked after as well as possible. Let's see what their fate is after they arrive. The Spanish government said it was letting the Aquarius come to Spain to solve a humanitarian crisis but that it wanted the EU to try and solve together the problem of migration to Europe. I am happy with the Government's decision but not so sure there really is a solution to migration. It's a sad story but hopefully will end up well, at least for some of the migrants on board. 
The Aquarius is now on its way to Spain.
Just before retiring to bed, I had a quick phone call with Olivia. She has been preparing her next programme which will be about Tampa and the west coast of Florida. She flies out on Tuesday and it will be her first time in the US. 

The day ended watching a new series on Netflix, Line of Duty. We didn't really like it so have moved on to new films and series since then. 

I was exhausted when I hit the pillow and I must have slept quite well as I woke up at 7 on Tuesday morning. Suzy video called me from Bali but it was too early for me so I rang her back after breakfast. It was amazing to "see" her in her new environment, the Monkey Surf Club. She is loving Bali and the relaxed style of life which is what she was seeking. 

The news that morning was about the outcome of the Trump Kim summit in Singapore centred on nuclear disarmament and reducing tensions and I was eager to catch up on all that had happened. After the talks the two egocentric leaders signed an agreement. I wonder whether their signatures on the document mean that much.

Signing the agreement
From what I could understand, the agreement said the two countries would co-operate towards "new relations", while the US would provide "security guarantees" to North Korea. Now lets see how that pans out. 

Our cupboards were very bare as I had been away and we hadn't done the shopping last week, so that morning the most important item on the agenda was stocking up on food. I got loads of fruit and vegetables and it was fish and veg for lunch. I needed a food detox after so much heavy eating in Italy. I also needed to resume my walks as soon as possible. 

At 3.30 pm I had an important appointment, my annual "MOT" with the gynecologist. I left the house at 3 for the Quirón hospital in Pozuelo and believe it or not I was home by 4.30 with absolutely no waiting. I was received by a very young doctor; possibly in her 20's. She pronounced the results of the tests I had done and the one she performed on me that day as all good. I still have to have the results of another test but things are looking good. You see my Mother died of breast cancer and previously had bowel cancer so I have to be careful. I remarked to her when she gave me the all clear how nice it was to hear those words as no doubt she often had to give bad news. I was happy to be on the receiving end of good news and thanked my lucky stars. 

On the days following my return from Italy I was very tired and needed to catch up on lost sleep, so when I got home I went straight to bed for a late siesta and slept 2 whole hours. Afterwards we went on our walk, my first for a week. We were home by 8.15 and for dinner that night we had one of our favourite evening meals; tuna fish salad. 

Wednesday was a big day for news in Spain. The previous day, Julen Lopetegui, the Spanish football squad manager, had been announced as the new Real Madrid manager after Zidane left. The announcement took place in Russia where the team were preparing for the World Cup. The new head of the Spanish Football Federation, "Rubiales" was so furious at the appointment, saying he only heard about it an hour before it went live, that he sacked the Spain manager. Yes, he sacked him just 2 days before Spain's first match against Portugal. He must have been mad. I do not see the reason for this. The best thing would have been for him to continue managing the team during the World Cup and then start his Real Madrid job. The whole affair  will have put the team into turmoil and spoil their concentration on the sport. The news rocketed the football world.

Rubiales, right, sacked the Spain manager Julen Lopetegui
A short while later he appointed the team's Sporting Director, Fernando Hierro as Club Manager. I felt really sorry for Hierro who had to step into Lopetegui's shoes at the last minute when he has little managerial experience. On the other hand he played football for 30 years and was one of Real Madrid's star players. I remember meeting him once and found him to be a real gentleman. Thankfully he will have the team behind him as he was a very respected football player. He is 50 years old and hails from Malaga. 
Fernando Hierro the new Spain manager
So we had a big sport scandal in Spain that day and during the week. But we also had a big scandal around the new Minister for Culture and Sport. Maxim Huerta a former TV presenter who had been minister for 7 days and who professed hating sport some time back on twitter, was found by an online newspaper, El Confidencial, to have evaded taxes in the past. His resignation was called for and by the end of the day he had no option but to resign. 
Maxim Huerta probably Spain's shortest lived Minister ever
It is not a good start for Sanchez’ government which overthrew Mariano Rajoy precisely for these kind of practices. Sánchez had only a few days to form his government but I wonder why he and his aides did not look into each and everyone of his new cabinet member's past. The press stirred up this story and they are now accusing the new Agriculture Minister for another scandal and they will hound the government at each step. It's funny how powerful the press are becoming in Spain. This never used to happen before; maybe because the sitting government then controlled the media, something I hope Sánchez never does. 

That wasn't the only scandal that day. Iñaki Urdangarin, the King's brother in law, who had been sentenced at the beginning of the week to 5 years and 10 months in jail after a long drawn out court case for fraud, money laundering and influence peddling, went to the court in Palma (Mallorca) to  receive his jail order. He has to report to jail by tomorrow although he can still appeal to the constitutional court. In a corruption case that has shaken Spain's royal family, Urdangarin will become the first member of a Spanish monarch's family to go to jailIt's good to see justice done and that a member of the royal family is equal, or nearly equal, before the law. It will be a historic moment when and if we see him entering jail. 

Iñaki Urdangarin
His wife, Cristina, the King's sister, who has supported her husband throughout and who has been shunned by her brother and sister in law is a "broken woman" according to El País. No wonder!  Discussing the case with Eladio that day, I pointed out that he must have been very greedy as he had absolutely no need for more money and that he could have lived the Royal life without his shenanigans. I'm sure he thinks the same now and regrets every moment of his corrupt dealings. 

Wednesday was a beautifully warm day. After working hard in the morning I rewarded myself with a few hours by the pool reading my new book, The President is Missing by Bill Clinton. The day ended with a lovely walk in the evening sun followed by dinner on the terrace and a film we fell asleep over on Netflix that night in bed. 

Thursday was a quiet day for us. Finally the good weather was here to stay and temperatures rose to 26c. Pablo, our sweet guest from Airbnb who had come for the night left us that morning. He is from Seville and had a very heavy accent which I actually found charming. He wrote me a lovely review bless him. 

It was on Thursday that I tried out the risotto rice I had brought back from Italy. I semi followed a recipe for Risotto Milanese I found on internet but chose different ingredients to put in it; mushrooms and ham. I was very pleased with how it turned out, delicious and creamy as you can see in the photo below.

My attempt at Italian risotto turned out well
The trick it seems is to pour  lashings of vegetable stock. I now wish I had bought more "riso" in Italy but will have to make do with what I can find in the supermarkets here. No doubt I will be making it again and it will join our repertoire of family meals. 

If it was a quiet day for us, it was a huge day for international football as on Thursday the World Cup being played in Russia, kicked off. That day the hosts, Russia beat Saudi Arabia 5-0 which probably wasn't difficult for them. If you are interested in the group formations, these are them.

The World Cup groups
Some countries have it easier than others. Spain is in a group with Ronaldo's Portugal team who are the reigning European Champions. That was to be the biggest match of the first part of the World Cup. England plays against Tunisia, Panama and Belgium so let's see how they all get on. 

On Friday after breakfast I had another video call with Suzy. It's amazing to see her there in her new chilled out surroundings. She showed me them including the room she shares with 4 Indonesians where they all sleep on bunk beds! She has hired a scooter to get around the island which she told me costs her just 50 euros a month to hire!  She seems so happy and is learning Bahasa the official language of Indonesia which derives from Malay or so I read. Good for her.

That morning I went out shopping again as last night we were having friends for dinner. Benito and Loli who we met when we first lived in Madrid in the working class area of "Saconia", were our guests. I had decided on a menu of: home made gazpacho, potato salad with king prawns and cherry syllabub for dessert. I cooked all day and had everything ready so as not to have lots of preparatory work on Saturday so  thatI could be free to be with Oli who came on Friday to spend the weekend with us. I hadn't seen her since the night before Suzy left for Bali on 6th June. 

That night I prepared dinner to have in the TV lounge from where we would watch Spain's inaugural match against Portugal. It was the most nerve biting match I had seen for a while and I couldn't watch it, I kept having to go out and each time I came back there was a different score. Cristiano Ronaldo was the man of the game scoring a hat trick. It felt like Ronaldo against Spain as the rest of his team would be nothing without him. Spain played well and scored 3 goals so it was a draw at the end 3-3. At least Spain was not completely knocked out. Both Portugal and Spain will probably beat the other teams in their group; iran and Morocco, but it remains to be seen who will go through as the leader of the groupo. 

Thus we went to bed late that night. We started watching a new series on Amazon Prime, the Spanish production called "La Verdad" (The truth). It was so good we watched 2 whole episodes and didn't switch the light off until past 1 in the morning.

Saturday dawned and I was up at 6.30. We were expecting new Airbnb guests, 5 Spanish girls who were arriving early. I put flowers and fruit in their rooms. However, 8 came, not 5 and they had obviously thought they would have the house to themselves and that we didn't live here. They hadn't told me they would be celebrating a hen party when our listing says strictly no parties and no extra guests who haven't booked.  They were nice girls but had come armed with balloons and huge lilos for the pool and God knows what other paraphernalia but at least they behaved reasonably. 

With lunch and dinner organised, Oli and I went off shopping after they arrived. She was wearing a beautiful jump suit she had bought when we last went shopping. Isn't she gorgeous?
Oli looking glamorous when we went shopping yesterday

My youngest daughter wanted to change some trousers at Stradivarius and of course we looked at everything in the shop. Oli bought more clothes, I had no need for any but my dear sweet daughter bought me  a lovely white summer top. I then treated her to coffee with a pastry of some sort at Rodilla. And here is a selfie of the two of us enjoying the treat. 
Coffee with Oli yesterday when we went shopping together
It was great mother and daughter time. There is nothing I like better than going shopping with my girls.  We stopped off at Lidl on our way home to get some of their delicious bread as well as some of their BIO products which are so popular these days. 

Lunch was another healthy option; gazpacho followed by grilled cod garnished with parsley from the garden and chopped garlic which we had with vegetables. 

As the hen party girls had taken over the swimming pool completely, I decided to sit in the shade under a tree in the garden to read my book after lunch. I also read the news now and again on my phone and was following the results of some of the early stage matches of the World Cup. I was surprised to see that Iceland drew with Argentina 1-1 and that Messi, yes almighty Messi, failed a penalty. It was Iceland's debut in the World Cup and that was a good start. 

Eladio would join me later  until it was time to lay the table for our dinner guests. Thankfully by about 8, the girls had left the pool and were getting ready to go out on the town to party. That was a relief. It also meant we could have drinks with our friends by the pool when they arrived. 

Earlier on in this post I told you what dinner would consist of. Now I can show you the end results which I am quite proud of. I love cooking although I'm not very good at sophisticated cuisine. Below are my gazpacho, served in individual bottles and the garnish, my king prawn potato salad and the dessert, cherry syllabub. No one around the table knew what syllabub was but now they do hahaha.
Home made gazpacho

Potato salad with king prawns

Cherry sylabub
If you are interested, here is the recipe for the syllabub which of course can be made with nearly any fruit. I just chose cherries because they are in season and I love them. 

Our guests who we have known since I first came to live in Spain and who were our neighbours when we lived in Saconia, arrived early and came armed with 2 bottles of delicious Ribera wine as well as some lovely biscuits from my favourite cake shop, Mallorca.  We had such a good time that I totally forgot to take a photo of them - unusual for me hahaha - or maybe it was because I drank too much of the lovely wine. 

Thankfully this morning I only had a small headache which quickly went away after I had my coffee. 

Today it will be another hot day. Today also is when the Aquarius boat refugees will be arriving at the port of Valencia. France has offered to take those who are entitled to asylum and want to go to France. More than 1000 Red Cross officials, police and authorities will be there to welcome them. This is in sharp contrast, at least in my mind, to the other 933 migrants who have arrived this weekend on the shores of beaches in the south of Spain in Andalucia and there has been no hooha about them. It seems everyone wants to get medals for helping the migrants on the Aquarius but there is no talk about the other migrants arriving. What the fate of the migrants on the now famous boat will be, we won't know until each and every one of them has been interviewed. From what I have understood only those with asylum rights will be allowed residency papers. Does that mean that the rest will be shipped back to their countries? I would not like to be in their shoes today or any day.

So now my friends, I have reached the end of the tales of this week. It's early, nearly everyone is asleep except for my Father. He will want a printed copy of this week's post so I shall make haste to publish it for him and then I shall get on with the day.

I wish you all the best. Have a good Sunday,

Cheers till next time,

Y cuenta gente les espera. Tantos como el Aquaruis? Andalucía recibe 933 inmigrantes llegados en patera en menos de 48 horas

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Women outnumber men in Spain’s new government, a farewell dinner, Suzy left for Bali, off to Italy and other stories.

Italy, Sunday 10th June  2018
Farewell dinner for Suzy on Wednesday night at Oli and Miguel's flat
Good morning all. 

Well how lovely to be writing and publishing this week's post from Italy. It's a country I have been to many times over the years and one I feel totally at home in. But it's a long time since I visited. If I remember rightly, my last trip here was to Rome in 2005. Spain and Italy have very similar cultures and Italian is not too difficult to understand if you know Spanish. I once did a short course in Italian many years ago so know some basic words and have enjoyed trying to speak it while I am here.

But let me rewind and return to where I left off last Sunday when Suzy was still with us. After finishing my blog, I had coffee with my Airbnb guests from Switzerland who you will remember were British and Spanish - delightful people. That morning Zena cooked and made her standard Russian/IUkranian dish - gloubsy - (stuffed cabbage rolls). The girls had been out on the tiles or rather Suzy had (until 7 in the morning) and we all had lunch together. We spent the afternoon together and I was very conscious that time was running out with Suzy and that soon she would be leaving.

Monday dawned and there was terrible news from the small central American country of Guatemala. The "Fuego" volcano erupted. Dantesque scenes of towns completely destroyed by boiling hot lava and people covered in ash after the horrific eruption when "torrents of super heated rock, ash and mud destroyed villages". The death toll is over 200 with many people missing. The picture of this poor man completely covered in ash seems to sum up the total disaster the volcano caused and is still causing.
Guatemala volcano
We are so lucky in Spain that we have no volcanoes, no tsunamis, or hurricanes or other natural disasters. Well, we have had the odd earthquake but nothing on the scale of the disastrous ones that happen in other countries. 

It was another cool day in Madrid. I saw my Airbnb guests off. Actually we sat at the table on the kitchen patio over a cup of coffee together. Magda and her partner Santiago and their boss Roger live in Neufchatel and are in the loudspeaker business big time. I think I told you last week that their equipment is used by the Bolshoi ballet! After signing my all important visitor book they left but I know they will be back in September. I love having repeat guests. Then I had to get down to work. I also had to cook and that day made vegetable soup and meat loaf. As I got the meat loaf out of the oven, it slipped out of my hands and on to the floor. Panic stations. I shooed the dogs out and got down on my hands and knees and scooped it all up and put it back in the baking tray and then into the oven. It didn't look great but tasted very good. Thankfully it had fallen on a clean floor haha. 

Monday was generally a very quiet day. I didn't see much of Suzy who was seeing countless friends that day. We are always on the bottom of her bucket list hahaha.  After an aborted walk in strong winds and rain, we came home to have  a frugal dinner and our day ended like it usually does, watching the TV from our bed; first the news and then our latest series. We were completely hooked to the Spanish series "Tiempos de Guerra" (War times) and binge watched it that night till nearly 1 in the morning. 

The next morning I was up as usual at 6 having only slept 5 hours. I think it's perfectly understandable then that I do need my daily nap after lunch, the wonderful Spanish siesta. 

As usual I read the news over my early morning breakfast on Tuesday as I do every day. This week in Spain has been all about the formation of the new Socialist government headed up by our new Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez (the handsome haha). I was no great fan of his but he has won me over this week after appointing so many women in his cabinet. The names were leaked gradually and very soon it was not only parity in the cabinet between men and women that we were to see but an actual majority of women. So hooray from me and from most women in Spain I imagine. 

Tuesday was not a good day for me. I spent the morning with Suzy doing errands but could feel what I thought might be cystitis coming on. For the record I've never had it before but I know how awful it is because my daughters suffered from it a lot in their teens. Then the second blow came via an email from Alitalia to inform me that my flight on Friday to Milan was cancelled. I immediately rang Edreams where I bought my ticket and they told me it wasn't cancelled. Who was I to believe? A few hours later while I was doubling over the loo in agony with full blown cystitis, I managed to take a quick look at Alitalia's Twitter and saw that my flight had been cancelled due to a strike on Friday. OMG what was I to do? It was already late by then and impossible to get through to Alitalia. Thankfully the next morning we sorted it out and I was able to get on another flight but one day earlier, on Thursday. As to the cystitis, Eladio, God bless him, went to the chemist to get me some Monurol (antibiotic) which soon took effect and I was better by the morning. For the record I wouldn't wish cystitis on my worst enemy hahaha. 

So, yes, I woke up on Wednesday feeling better. I spent a good part of the morning sorting out my flight situation, buying new train tickets from Milan to Voghera (near Pavia), packing and trying to leave everything in order before going off. Thus I found myself packing while Suzy was doing hers for Bali. In between we sorted out her CV getting it up to date, checking her flights too. I had lots of work calls too so all in all the morning was rather stressful. Lunch would just have to be leftovers again. Thankfully there were plenty of them after all my cooking at the weekend. 

The sun came out in the afternoon and Eladio and I were able to take the dogs for their walk. We came home to quickly get dressed to go out as we were going to Oli's house for dinner. Suzy was to sleep there on her last night in Spain as it's much nearer the airport and she had an early morning flight. 

This was Suzy getting out of the car with her huge rucksack and Eladio helping. I think it was then that I began to realise just how imminent my darling daughter's departure was. Up till then I hadn't really taken in that she has gone with a one way ticket and who knows when she will be back. Of course she will be back for Christmas as we cannot envisage it without her. Even so it's a long time. Then there's the worry of how she's going to make a life out there starting from scratch in a very different country and culture. She told me she was going out there because she wants to live a simpler life. I can understand that after 5 years in stressful London. Good luck darling. We are always here for you. 
Suzy and her father with her great big rucksack the night before she left for Bali
But we still had a few hours to be with her before we had to say goodbye. Oli and Miguel had invited us all for a farewell dinner. We got there early so as to spend as much time together as possible and also to help Oli and Miguel make dinner which was great fun. And here we are around the table on Suzy's last night, a bitter sweet end to her stay in Spain after leaving London.
A selfie at the farewell dinner
We had a lot to talk about at dinner, including the news of the formation of Spain's new socialist government. On Friday Pedro Sánchez formally announced all the names of his new cabinet members. There are to be 11 women out of the 17 members with women totally outnumbering the men. I read later that the Spanish government now has the highest percentage of women in the world. That's such great news. He's also some appointed some brilliant people such as Pedro Duque, Spain's famous and much loved astronaut, as the Minister of Science. Wow that was a stroke of PR mastery as was the number of women in his government.  During his press conference and audience with the King of Spain, he said his government was committed to equality and to Europe and to keep the economy going. I, for now, give him a  huge round of applause. In the formation of his government he has taken a giant step towards gender equality, something much needed in male dominated Spain.
Pedro Sanchez' new female dominated cabinet.

We also talked about Suzy's big adventure and ate delicious food too. All too soon the evening came to an end and it was time to say goodbye. I'm not a mother hen and love my girls to have freedom and come and go as they please but on Friday I felt very emotional hugging Suzy to say goodbye. I couldn't let go of her and, yes, I cried. She did too. We left feeling a little sad but also happy for her. I'm happy for her to "do her thing" and enjoy life. She's young, she's single and the world is her oyster. Her start in Bali would be at the Monkey House Surf Camp where in exchange for free accommodation (sharing with 5 on bunk beds!) she would be working 4 hours a day. The camp is run by a Spanish girl who is  a friend of a friend and they would be picking her up at the airport. I was pleased about that. 

Thursday was 7th June. Suzy would be leaving early that morning travelling through Munich and Singapore until she would land in Bali the next day. 7th June happened to be my Mother's birthday and I felt it was maybe a positive coincidence; as if she would be looking out for her darling grand daughter. I still miss my amazing Mother and think of her often, especially on her birthday.

However, I didn't have much time to think that morning as I was travelling too. I was to leave at 9.45 but before had to receive a team from a production company coming to do a photo shoot by our pool for a catalogue. The photo shoot was for VIPs, a famous fast food restaurant chain in Spain and had come through Airbnb.  I was a bit disappointed with the guy, Daniel, who made the booking as he didn't keep to his word and brought a team of about 13 people who totally invaded our place. He original agreement was for 5 people and just one morning. They broke one of our garden chairs and did not respect the agreement. So, no, the experience was not good. There was not much I could do about it as I was travelling so Eladio was left with dealing with them. 

I had a good journey to Milan, no issues thank goodness. I enjoyed the short flight and very naughtily drank a small bottle of Cune red wine with a packet of crisps followed by a kitkat. I would not be hungry until the evening. We landed in Milan to 27c which was very hot compared to Madrid. I was gong to take the taxi to the Stazione Centrale but spied a bus that only cost 5 euros to get there. 25 minutes later I was outside the station and wondering how I was going to lug my 18.5 kg suitcase up the steps at the entrance and everywhere else too. Well, Italian men are real gentlemen and I was helped at every stage without having to ask them. I am very grateful. In general the Italians are very friendly and I feel at home here. I can even get buy using Spanish of course, peppered with some Italian words I once learned on a short course many years ago. I'm sure if I came to live here I would learn the "lingo" fast. I soon found platform 22 where I was to catch the Genova train and get off a Voghera near Pavia. For the record the ticket only cost 6 euros which is pretty cheap too.
At Milan Stazione Centrale just as I got off the airport bus
Me being me, I talk to everyone I meet and on platform 22 I had an interesting conversation with 2 young Albanians. I know nothing about their country except that it was the last communist bastion in Europe. The young boy told me they have a population of 3 million but that half of it lives in Germany or Italy; sad. He also told me I must visit Albania as it is a beautiful country. Maybe I should put it on my bucket list. 

Soon the train came and I was helped with my luggage getting on. Interestingly, I sat next to a young Canadian girl doing Inter Rail. I told her I did it the second year it came into existence in the early 70's when it only cost me 33 pounds for a month's travel. She told me her ticket cost 400 dollars for just 6 days! That has changed. Christine is  nurse who has just graduated and is travelling solo. I asked where she was sleeping - we used to sleep on the trains and often on the floor hahaha - and she replied on "couch surfing". I know about it of course but did not know it was free. How things have changed since I did inter rail. We had no mobile phones, no whatsapp, no instagram and none of that. 

An hour or so later, I said goodbye to my fellow traveller as we were approaching my destination, Voghera. I couldn't believe it but when we arrived it was raining. Later I saw on the BBC weather forecast that the rain had come from Spain. Thankfully it would come and go during our trip and we were also to enjoy sunshine. But first I was to enjoy being met off the train by my darling friend and soulmate Sandra who was my great friend at Nottingham University as well as Adele who would be arriving on Friday. It had been a year since we saw each other, at my 60th bash at home last June. Sandra had come with her 92 year old Mother and Barney their dog all the way from Brussels by car!

After lots of hugs we drove off to the hotel or so I thought. But no, we had to stop off at a low cost off license to buy lots of wine for our stay. And here is Sandra holding up one of the bottles we bought. I wanted to try prosecco but later, her brother, Paul, who is a local told us we had chosen the worst quality hahaha. 
Sandra buying wine just after we had arrived.

I have to tell you that it's quite an experience being here with Sandra in Italy as she is half Italian. What I can't wait for is to experience being with her in India where she was born (Bombay) one day. 

Soon we were at our hotel Le Vigne di Cornino in a small village called Fumo (means I smoke in Spanish hahaha) which is near Caseggio and a ten minute drive from her brother Paul's place Villa Arabella. We were to stay 2 nights in Fumo and 2 nights at Villa Arabella.
Our hotel for the first two nights
First things first and we went to greet Sandra's mother. Magda is amazing. She is 92, was born in Hungary and as a Jew was hidden by a gentile family during the 2nd world war and survived. She is the only holocaust survivor I know and I deeply respect her and love her. 

I settled into my lovely room which I would share with Adele when she came the next day and feeling very hungry was soon downstairs on the outside terrace of the hotel having a picnic with Magda and Sandra and Barney of course. 

Sandra and Barney
Barney is their doted upon dog who is very sweet and very spoiled. Paul, Sandra's brother who is the owner of Villa Arabella, had sent us hams of all sorts, delicious mini tomatoes, focaccia, bread and butter, hand picked black cherries and even some pastries. Off course we had this with superb local wine. The hotel doesn't have a restaurant and it was much nicer than going out. At around 9 pm, Nicky arrived by taxi. No bussing it for Nicky haha.  He spent more on the taxi from Milan airport than he did on the flight from London hahaha but then Nicky always does everything in style. Nicky is a childhood friend of Sandra's who was also born in Bombay and they lived in the same  block of flats in India. I knew Nicky from when I was at Nottingham University but hadn't seen him since so it was great to meet him again. There was a lot to catch up on as you can imagine.
Nicky relaxing with a drink after our impromptu dinner on the hotel terrace on our first night in Italy
We spent a lovely evening, eating, drinking and chatting until way past midnight. We also touched on the Brexit issue as we all have strong feelings about it as staunch remainers. We were all tired after travelling and were dying for bed. Before going to sleep I was glad to see a photo of Suzy she posted from Bali the day she arrived looking very happy.
Suzy in Bali on the day of her arrival.
My bed was very comfortable and soon I was fast asleep. 

Back home, my Jewish guests, the retired Judge and his sister had arrived. Later Eladio told me they were lovely guests. I am much looking forward to meeting them when I go back to Madrid tomorrow. It's funny but in our crowd here this weekend in Italian there are quite a few Jews among us and so of course the Palestine Israel issue came up as frequently as Brexit. 

I should mention that on Friday, Rafa Nadal, the King of Clay won his semi final match at Roland Garros and is now through to the final today where he will play Dominic Thiems, a young Austrian player who beat Rafa in the Madrid Masters, one of few players to beat him on clay recently. If Rafa wins today he will earn his 11th French Open. What a man! He is Spain's best ambassador. 

I must have slept very well on that night as I woke up at 7 the next morning. I had taken with me my new travel kettle, some instant coffee and even a packet of milk so I was able to enjoy a cup of coffee before I faced the world on Friday. After writing a bit of this blog, I showered, got dressed and went down to have breakfast with Sandra, her mother and Nicky. 

Sandra, Nicky and Magda at breakfast on our first morning
Barney was with us too. I love the fact that Italy is so hotel friendly, thus Barney was able to go with us everywhere and was even allowed to share a room with Sandra .If I had known that maybe I would have brought Pippa hahaha. I am really missing her. When I left, Eladio went to Montrondo for the weekend and I was later sad to hear he hadn't taken her with him. I do hope she behaved well with our Jewish guests as she does to tend to bark at new  people. 

As we were having breakfast, our common friend from Nottingham University, Adele and Sandra's friend Olivier from Paris were travelling to Italy. We would meet up with them for lunch in Pavia, a beautiful University town which we visited that morning.

We left for Pavia, famous for its University and its medieval covered bridge at about 10.30 and were soon there and walking the old streets. It was market day and the only thing I bought that day was an umbrella as the rain was still with us. It felt like I had brought the rain with me from Madrid. Thankfully it cleared up at about 2 pm and from then on we have had sunshine and warm weather hurray.

We visited many of the shops in Pavia. Sandra bought shoes, some brand she loves. I am not a brand person when it comes to clothes but she is. Here she is with her new shoes which look to me like sophisticated flip flops.

Sandra buying shoes.
We strolled the lovely old streets of Pavia in the rain and finally reached the "Ponte Coperto" (covered bridge). The bridge is perhaps the main symbol of the town and is a stone arch bridge over the Ticino river. 
The covered bridge in Pavia

Built in 1354, it was bombed by the allies in the war but was restored in 1945. It is actually also a replacement of a previous Roman bridge. For sure it is the main attraction of the town. I loved it. That morning we saw it in the rain but we would see it again in the afternoon in the sun when it looked so much nicer. I got some young Italian girls to take a picture of us and here we are. 

On the covered bridge in Pavia
From the bridge we tried to make our way on foot to a restaurant Paul had recommended, La Korte dei sapori persi but got totally lost and just couldn't find it, despite google maps hahaha. Here is Sandra asking some carabineiri the way but funnily enough for Italians they were not particularly helpful.
Lost in Pavia
So we did the most practical thing and took a taxi to the restaurant. Soon Olivier and Adele were with us and our group was complete. I have to say there was something very special about the restaurant. We noticed a picture on the bottle of olive oil of Pope Bergoglio with the owner and thought it was a trick. When we asked  him, out he came with a full blown photo of him with the Pope in Rome with this oil. He told us he was the official supplier of the oil to the Pope. I was quite impressed and had to take a picture of him with the photo.
The owner of the restaurant in Pavia who is the official supplier of olive oil to the Pope
We also had to have a photo of him with us around the table as we were about to start our delicious meal.
Lunch in Pavia on Friday
It was here I had my first plate of pasta during this trip to Italy and it was divine. The restaurant's ravioli were the best I have ever eaten.
Pasta, delicious pasta
We had walked quite a lot in Pavia that morning but of course Adele and Olivier hadn't seen anything so we walked the streets again, the main aim being to see the old university founded in 1361. It may be old and prestigious but it was rather run down. And here are my friends during the visit.
Visiting the University in Pavia
From the University we walked towards the covered bridge to show it to Adele and Olivier and came across another gem of the city, the 11th century San Michele Maggiore church. According to Wikipedia it is "one of the most striking examples of Lombard Romanesque style churches.
San Michele Maggiore church in Pavia
From there we walked to the covered bridge and this time we didn't get lost. As I said before it looked far lovelier in the sun than in the rain and we took lots of pictures including the one below of me enjoying the moment.
By the covered bridge in Pavia
Soon it was time to go home. Being a Friday afternoon there was lots of traffic and it took a while. Once in our room Adele and I relaxed and wound down after a long day. I spoke to Suzy who had arrived that morning in Bali except that when we spoke it was 6 hours later for her and she was about to go to bed.  She is happy at the Bali Monkey House Surf camp and sharing a room with 5 Indonesian workers and they all sleep on bunk beds. She sounded in great spirits  but was very  tired because of the jet lag. She will be working there 4 hours a day in exchange for free accommodation. Her work is to make breakfast in the morning from 7 to 11. The next day she told me she made omelets for guests from Spain and from Australia. 

For us, it was time for dinner and from Fumo we drove to nearby Caseggio to another restaurant recommended by Paul, the Azetium where they serve the most amazing pizza. Well just look at how it is made.

Pizza in Caseggio on Friday night
It was a happy group that sat around the table at Azetium about to eat one of these amazing pizzas.

Dinner at Azetium in Caseggio. I love this photo of the 3  of us
We also had  photo taken of the 3 of us, above, the "class of 76" from Nottingham University. Isn't it lovely that we are still friends?

You may be wondering what we had for dessert after the pizza. Well being in Italy, the obvious choice for me at least, is ice cream (gelato). Sandra had to take her mother home so Adele, Olivier and I who had come in a different car, walked from the restaurant to the the Gelateria Vitoria our friends recommended. I was happy to see they had my favourite flavours, pistachio and coconut. There was some sort of fair going on with a man singing and a market but when we walked around the stalls we couldn't believe the tacky junk that was being sold. I was a bit surprised as I thought Italians had a lot of style. 

We were soon back at our hotel and once again sat outside on the terrace drinking wine. We talked more about Brexit and then the Israel Palestine issue as well as many of the world's problems including jihadism. As my friends live in France and Brussels it affects them quite a lot as you may imagine. But as we couldn't solve the world's problems, were tired, had drunk too much wine and needed our shut eye.

On Saturday we woke up to glorious weather and the temperature reached 30c yesterday. Adele and I had to pack as we would be moving to Vila Arabella (Paul's place). We would split up in the morning as the "boys" wanted to visit another nearby town but we girls wanted to go walking in the hills near Villa Arabella. We would meet again in the afternoon.

So by about 11.30 or so we reached Paul's amazing villa in the local vineyards with superb views. His place which is also a bed and breakfast is just out of this world. 

Villa Arabella

The pool at Villa Arabella

Here we were greeted by Paul who I also had not seen for 40 years, his wife Arabella who is half Italian and half English. Also there were their delightful daughter, Ambra, her husband Tomaso and 4 year old little boy, Pietro. Sandra, Adele and I did not want to disturb them so off we went up into the mountains to go for a walk and enjoy the views which were and are amazing. We left the car on the road and climbed up into beautiful scenery which reminded me of The Sound of Music. There we sat in the grass to enjoy the views and took lots of pics as I always do. And here I am having my very own "Maria" and "the hills are alive with the sound of music" moment hahaha.

My Sound of Music moment yesterday
It was hot but also very humid so we didn't walk far. Instead we decided to go down the road to the village of Montalto to have lunch at the Ristoriante Italia. It would also be where we went for dinner last night with everyone. On our way down we spied a cinquecento car which looked pretty old but in a great state. It was yellow and  very symbolically Italian and I had to have a photo of it. 
The yellow cinquecento I spied in Montalto
I just loved the simple restaurant with its amazing views. We were served by a beautiful young woman from the Dominican Republic, Ana, who had married the owner of the restaurant and it was great to speak Spanish to her. We had a simple meal but above all we had quality time together. Here are Sandra and Adele yesterday at our lunch table in Montalto.
Lunch yesterday in Montalto
We took loads and loads of photos and my favourite is this one of Adele and I which I shall treasure for a long time. How can we be 60? I don't feel it and can't really take it in.
With Adele yesterday at lunch
After our lovely lunch,  it was time to head back to Vila Arabella and join Sandra's family around the pool. Soon we were joined by Nicky and Olivier. It was warm enough to bathe and would be my first dip into a swimming pool this year.
With Adele by the pool yesterday
It was a great lazy afternoon in the sun by the pool. 

The next item on the agenda was pre dinner drinks so at about 6.30 Adele and I went up to our room - the blue room - to get ready. For the occasion I wore my lovely embroidered black transparent long jacket which Suzy wore recently. Here I am with my dearest girl friends ready to go out last night.
Ready to go out last night. 
Well what a blast it was last night. I have not been drunk for many years but last night I got quite tipsy, or rather "pissed" to quote Adele hahaha. We were at a big table at the restaurant with 4 generations from Magda down to her great grandchild Pietro. I took this lovely photo of her with her son Paul, his daughter Ambra and her son Pietro.
The 4 generations at the table last night. 
God how the Italians eat. Last night we had 4 courses, anti pasti, pasta, meat and then dessert all washed down by bottles and bottles of wine. It was such a fun evening which no one wanted to end. But end it did and at about 11 we left. That meant I was in bed quite early and this morning I woke up at 5.15. 

It was amazing to wake up at Villa Arabella and have it to myself. And now I am writing this post from the kitchen patio which you can see in the photo below.

This is where I am writing from this morning
People are coming down to the kitchen now and soon it will be breakfast so I must finish and sign off. Today is Sandra's 60th birthday and it will be a day of celebrations. Of course you will hear all about it in next week's post. Wishing my dearest friend and soul mate Sandy a wonderful day, I shall leave you now to join everyone for breakfast made by Paul.

Cheers then everyone until next Sunday.