Sunday, August 23, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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