Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Home from the hospital, juggling with life, back to normal, visitors and a wonderful trip to Andalucía with Adele and Bernard.

At the Miardor de San Nicolás, overlooking the Alhambra at sun set.

Hello again everyone,

Last time I wrote, some two weeks ago, I was so immersed in my father’s stay in hospital and his recovery there was not much time for anything else. It was a very stressful period and I must admit it got me down more than I would have wanted.  I found myself crying in bed or in the car and nothing else mattered except my Father’s wellbeing.  Eladio and I took turns to spend the night with him and the girls and Olga often spent the afternoons with him and Suzy spent one night too.  Someone had to be with him always.  I was determined for him to eat and get strong and the only way to do so was to bring enticing food made at home for his meals in lieu of the institutional and unappetizing hospital food. We shared a room with another family looking after their grandfather and we were often a comfort to each other.  Rosa and her daughter Lidia will remain in my memories of our time at the Hospital de Alcorcón.  

Grandpa was operated on his hip on Thursday 13th October and on Tuesday 18th took his first steps with a zimmer frame with the help of Paqui, the charming physiotherapist at the hospital.  There are so many people to thank but at the top of the list comes Rocio’s father, Juan Ignacio, the head anesthetist at the hospital.  He has been instrumental in care for my Father from the moment we entered the emergency unit and is still organizing all his after care and rehabilitation since we’ve come home.  I want to thank my friends on Facebook for all their support and prayers and for Fátima, Julio and Manolo for coming to see him too and for all the phone calls from Eladio’s family.   

My Father practicing walking after the hip replacement operation, the day he left the hospital.

We finally came home on Thursday 20th October.  Amazingly our return coincided with the death of Gaddafi, stories of which dominated the world’s news for the next few days.  In Spain, however, even bigger news that day was the permanent cease fire announcement from the Basque terrorist group ETA.  I for one, however, do not believe them and would prefer to see them disbanding and laying down their arms.  In any case, the biggest news for us that day was my Father’s return home which would mark his road to recovery, to his ability to walk again, something we are all determined will happen sooner or later.  Of course he uses a wheel chair most of the time but exercises in the mornings and afternoons with the zimmer frame with the help of Eladio.  Also he goes by ambulance three afternoons a week with Olga to the hospital for physiotherapy.  Finally he is experiencing less and less and pain and as a consequence his appetite is back as well as his zest for life and things going on around him.  He is back to his routine, reading the Daily Telegraph, his Russian books, enjoying his food, sleeping the siesta, watching the BBC news and generally being part of the family.  

The night he came home, was an important night for Olivia and I wish I could have been with her but it just wasn’t possible as I had to be at work for a meeting.  She was acting as an MC for the regional final in Madrid of the U4Energy pan European school competition on energy education organized by the European Union.  The contact came from my friend Sandie who lives in Brussels and to whom I am very grateful as the organizers were so happy with Olivia’s performance that night that they have asked her to be the MC at the final in Brussels on 22nd November.  There she will be sharing the stage with the EU Commissioner for Energy and I know she will do another “ace job” to quote the organizers. Well done Oli. 

Oli did a wonderful job as an MC at the U4Energy regional finals in Madrid recently.

Oli continues to work for her TV programme, La Mañana de la 1, and she appears most weeks doing live reports but sadly never remembers to tell us.  We missed one appearance while we were at the hospital when she interviewed Gerry and Kate, the parents of the missing girl Madeleine, on the occasion of the presentation of Kate McCann’s book in Spanish.  Funnily enough this was the first time Olivia has used English on screen on TVE1.  This is a story that touches my heart and just as I was writing the above, I clicked on Amazon.es and ordered the book in English.  Amazon.es only launched recently and I don’t know how they are doing.  What I do know is that they are extremely efficient and my book will arrive this Friday with free delivery.   I am sure when I read it that it will break my heart. 

Oli did a piece on the TV about the publication of this book in Spain and interviewed the parents in English on screen.

If Olivia is due some congratulations, so is Suzy.  Suzy has been made a full time employee of Aramark and now has bigger responsibilities such as taking care of special diets at the private Zarzuela clinic in Aravaca. I have yet to see her with her white hospital gown but I am still very proud of her.  Well done Suzy too.

Whilst my Father was in hospital, I had to continue working of course, so always took my PC to his room when I was accompanying him.  I had to go to the office too on various occasions. The day before we came home it was the TeliaSonera’s (Yoigo’s main shareholder) quarterly results announcement and we were to share them with the staff in a Yoigo Morning.  The news was good for Yoigo, nearly 3 million customers and still EBITDA positive.  There was more good news to be shared too the next day when we got this year’s customer satisfaction results from EPSI rating’s study on the mobile telecoms sector.  Yoigo has the most satisfied customers in the Spanish market.  Juggling being at the hospital, going home for my Father’s food and to and from the office was not the easiest of tasks and had me pretty exhausted.  Thank goodness it only lasted just over a week.

Last Friday, the day after we came back from hospital, I had an early morning meeting at the office which meant getting up at 6 to avoid the traffic!  But there was more juggling/organizing to do as Sasha (my cousin) and his Russian wife Svetlana were coming especially to see my Father and I had invited them for lunch.  There was virtually no food in the house so Eladio had to go and do the shopping.  Meanwhile I was to pick them up from the train station on my way back from the office as they would never have found our house nor do they have a sat nav in their car.  Well believe it or not, I got lost picking them up as there were horrific road works and no signs to indicate the way.  Finally I found my way again and eventually picked them up and brought them home for lunch made by Olga.  Thank God for Olga is all I can say, and not only for making the food and trying to keep the house clean but for how she takes care of my Father and all with a constant smile on her face and great enthusiasm.  We are very lucky to have her.

Sasha and Svetlana’s visit was a Russian tonic for my Father or at least I think that is the best way to describe it.  I hadn’t seen them since my Aunty Masha’s funeral in October 2008.  Sasha who lives most of the year in Calpe on the Spanish Costa Blanca is my closest remaining family on my Mother’s side together with my cousins Zuka (Sophie – daughter of Kolya) who lives in between England and France and Andrei (son of my Mother’s eldest brother Sasha) who lives in Canada.

My cousin Sasha and his Russian wife  Svetlana came to visit my Father the day after he left hospital.

Life was slowly going back to normal and the girls that night had a fancy dress party, one week ahead of Halloween.  It was actually their friend, Elena’s birthday.  Below you can see them together with their cousin Paula and her boyfriend Pedro.  Suzy was dressed as an explorer and was even equipped with a butterfly net and Oli was dressed as the mascot for the 1982 Spanish world cup (funny choice eh?). The girls love dressing up and the tradition comes from their school, St. Michael's.  I was never any good as a Mother helping them to do so and dreaded Halloween every year.  In fact it is a celebration that means nothing to me, a pure American pagan festival and another product of globalization.  I would prefer to see Bonfire Night also called Guy Fawkes Night, after the name of the main plotter who tried to burn down the Houses of Parliament in England in 1605.  I loved celebrating it with my family and friends in England on 5th November when I was a child with fireworks, home-made toffee and bonfires which culminated with the burning of effigies of Guy Fawkes and cannot forget this rhyme: “Remember, remember, the 5th of November, gunpowder, treason and plot.  I see no reason why gunpowder, treason should ever be forgot”. Unfortunately I forgot to bring up my children to celebrate this tradition so, of course, Halloween has taken over, at least for them but not for me.

The girls dressed up for a halloween fancy dress party with their cousin Paula and boyfriend Pedro.

The next day we were to receive more visitors.  Adele and Bernard were coming from France where they live in Orleans to stay with us for a week and we were going with them for a night to Córdoba and Granada to show them the Mezquita and Jewish Quarter in the former and of course the Alhambra in the latter.  Adele was one of my closest friends at Nottingham University and Bernard is her psychiatrist second husband who doubles up as an excellent painter in his spare time.  We have been meeting up recently once or twice a year, often with Sandie and Jeffer and it was great to host them again.  It was a pity Sandie couldn’t come but let’s hope she can make it next time. We have a lot in common with them, our ages, our likes and dislikes and probably too, similar temperaments, but most of all we share a love of all things beautiful and tasting good; i.e. culture and good food and wine.

It was great to have Adele and Bernard to stay

We spent a quiet weekend with them at home, our only excursions being to the local shopping centre where we all bought new clothes, mainly from Massimo Dutti, Zara’s up market brand, and out to dinner on Sunday night.  We went to the nearby De Brasa y Puchero where we introduced Adele and Bernard to “salmorejo”, the thick gazpacho that comes from Córdoba and which they would soon be tasting in the Andalusian town the following week.  On Sunday we had the last barbecue of the season in their honour.  It was a little cold so we had to dress Grandpa up in blankets and Bernard’s elegant hat in his wheel chair.  In any case it was a lovely family occasion, despite the shower of rain during the dessert when we had to rush indoors.  Of course we also went for walks with the dogs which we all enjoyed and found extremely necessary to work off the excess food we were eating.  When you have friends like Bernard and Adele to stay you always linger over meals, drinking coffee, eating chocolates and serving after dinner drinks like the wonderful port they brought for Grandpa and which we all enjoyed.

Grandpa on the mend the day of the barbecue with Adele and Bernard

On Tuesday, straight after my weekly management team meeting, the four of us set off for Andalucía, leaving my Father in Olga’s capable hands.  It was to be a mental break for both Eladio and I after such a stressful time. 

On the way we stopped at the Parador de Manzanares for a late lunch.  This turned out to be a magnificent buffet the four of us will probably not forget for quite a while.  Very soon afterwards we were driving past the impressive Despañaperros Gorge and into Andalucía.  We arrived in Córdoba at 7pm, just before sunset.

Adele and I enjoying our food at the buffet lunch at the Parador de Manzanares on our way to Córdoba

Both of us have been to Córdoba and Granada on numerous occasions but were happy to host our friends from France in two of our favourite locations in Spain.  I first fell in love with Córdoba on a visit there when I was studying Spanish at Nottingham University and that was over 30 years ago.  When I say Córdoba I refer to the old part, to the Jewish and Arab quarters, to the lovely white and narrow streets and to the magnificent cathedral mosque.  In its heyday, in the 11th and 12th centuries Córdoba, which became the capital of one of the Islamic Caliphates, was the most populated city in the world.  Since I first fell in love with its romantic unspoiled whitewashed houses, beautiful hidden patios and winding flowered streets, it has become more of a tourist trap and is now more populated with American and Japanese tourists, who, I hate to say, do not add to the magic of the place.  It is best therefore to explore the orange tree lined streets at night.  And there is no better way to do so than by a horse carriage driven by one of the local gypsy drivers. 

Showing Adele and Bernard Córdoba by night and on a horse driven carriage, very romantic.

There are many beautiful corners and streets to enjoy and explore in the Jewish and Arab quarters, the most famous being the street of the flowers, from where you get a glimpse of the belfry / minaret of the Mezquita.  Another street I discovered this time, is the narrowest street in the Judería and it is fittingly called the Calle del Pañuelo (street of the hankerchief).

Calle de las Flores, the most emblematic and beautiful street in Córdoba

We stayed at the Hospedería El Churrasco in the heart of the Jewish Quarter.  It seemed to be the most popular choice on Trip Advisor for couples of our age.  Getting to the car park via the narrow little streets was something of a challenge. The outside was lovely but I was not so keen on the décor of the rooms which was far too kitsch for Córdoba.  However, we were very comfortable there. Later we heard that the King of Spain had also slept there but it turned out he had only had a siesta.  In any case, this piece of knowledge added to the mystique of staying in the Hospedería.

The Hospedería El Churrasco, the little boutique hotel where we stayed in Córdoba

After our horse carriage walk we strolled the streets to work up an appetite for dinner and one of our finds was a jewel of a place, the winery (bodega) belonging to the Churrasco restaurant and hotel.  It’s an old house cum winery with beautiful individual dining rooms, each one with different décor, such as the fan room where all the chairs are made in the shape of fans.  From here we walked over the bridge that crosses the famous Guadalquivir River and which has a great view of the Mosque Cathedral at night.

The Mezquita at night as seen from the bridge on the River Guadalquivir

We had planned on having dinner at Bodegas Campos in the Arab Quarter but were disappointed it was closed.  Thus we decided on our all time favourite, El Caballo Rojo, where of course we all had salmorejo, the thick Córdoba gazpacho I am always mentioning. 

At the Caballo Rojo restaurant in Córdoba one of the best and most famous in town

The next morning we were up early for a scrumptious breakfast and then made our way straight to the Patio de los Naranjos, the patio that surrounds the Mosque Cathedral.  I have been here many times but its magic works for me every time.  So much so that Adele took the best photo of Eladio and I that I have seen in a long time; here in my favourite spot in Spain, the Orange Patio in Córdoba.

I am forever grateful to Adele for taking this superb photo of Eladio and I at my favourite spot in Spain, the orange patio outside the Mezquita of Córdoba.

The Mezquita never ceases to amaze me.  It was once the Great Mosque of Córdoba but was turned into a Christian Cathedral when the Moors left after the Spanish Reconquista. Today, tourists from all over the world, including many muslims, like the Iraqui-Saudi couple we met, now studying at Nottingham University, visit this unique building with its characteristic candy like striped columns.  I know Adele and Bernard were very impressed.

The Mezquita inside, half Mosque, half Cathedral, unique.

From the Mezquita we made our way to the Alcázar, the fortress which once upon a time served as a main residence for Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon (and V of Castile),  known in Spain as the Catholic Kings and famous for expelling the Moors and then the Jews from Spain in 1492.  They are equally well known for forming the infamous Spanish Inquisition but also for giving Christopher Columbus their blessing for his first voyage to the Americas.  From its towers you have magnificent views of the Mezquita.  What I liked best however were its gardens, very Moorish in their design and which reminded me of Generalife in the Alhambra.  As Eladio commented, the Moors were masters of water.

The Alcázar in Córdoba, magnificent.

From the Alcazar we went in search of the synagogue, one of only three remaining in Spain after the Jews were expelled.  Two are in Toledo and one small one is in the old Jewish quarter of Córdoba.  Next to the synagogue, there was, hidden away, the magnificent statue of the Spanish Jewish philosopher and physician, Maimonedes who was born in Córdoba in 1135.  I well remember climbing up his statue on my first visit to Córdoba when I was barely 20 to have my photo taken.  A huge group of Japanese tourists had just arrived, when I was about to have my photo taken some 30 odd years later but I didn’t care, I needed to take that photo again and remember my youth.  Lovely to see you again gentle and clever Maimonedes, sorry for making you wait Japanese tourists.  I learned that day from a young student from Córdoda that rubbing Maimonedes foot was supposed to bring luck.  Just in case he was right, I did as he said, after which I had all the Japanese tourists doing the same.

Me with Maimonedes and thereby lays a tale.

And here folks is the  picture of me in April 1977 or 1978 in the very same spot on my first visit to Córdoba.  Note I was wearing my Nottingham University sweat shirt!

Me in the same spot in 1977 or 1978, some difference eh!
After the synagogue we continued walking through the beautiful streets, visiting the Casa Andalusi (well worth the visit) and a typical Andalusian house of its time, now turned into a “zoco” for handicrafts.  

So much culture made us hungry, so before lunch we did what most Andalusian people do, that is have a drink with tapas.  We chose a place I had been on my very first visit, El Bandolero right by the Great Mosque.  Here we enjoyed a lovely glass of the local dry sherry called Montilla, accompanied by croquettes made with oxtail, the local speciality.

Having an aperitivo at El Bandolero bar in Córdoba, love the place.

We had an appointment for lunch at El Churrasco.  We were to partake of food at the same place President Chirac of France, the King of Spain and the Captain of the Spanish Davis Cup team as well as many other illustrious people have eaten. We were given a table in the lemon tree patio dining room and here Eladio feasted on his favourite food, oxtail.  I had excellent gazpacho, not quite being able to face another bowl of the thicker salmorejo variety.

Lunch at El Churrasco in Córdoba

After lunch, we packed our car and left through the winding streets of Córdoba, to take the road to our next destination, Granada, or rather the Alhambra.  The Alhambra is Spain’s most visited monument, a complex of palaces and fortresses set in wonderful parkland overlooking the snow capped Sierra Nevada mountains and built in the mid 14th century by the Moorish rulers of the Emirate of Granada.  Alhambra literally means the Red Castle or Fortress and there is still some red on the walls.  It is difficult to explain what is so wonderful about it if you haven’t seen it.  The Alhambra was extended over the years by the different rulers and it seems to me that the buildings and gardens rival with each other in beauty, with a constant theme, that of paradise on earth.  I remember from our last visit our guide telling us that it was the best conserved medieval Moorish architecture in the world.  No wonder it is so famous and so many people come to visit it.

We arrived again at dusk and checked into the Parador, a XVth century convent set in the grounds of the Alhambra and which looked very promising.  The building is amazing; this is where Queen Isabella 1st was buried for a time.  However the bland and modern décor of the bedrooms and communal lounges and dining were a complete disappointment.  I, at least, had expected décor in accordance with the type of building in question.  The price too was very hefty.  We were comfortable enough and the food was fine, but I was very disappointed to be staying in a room which was very standard and did not make you think you were sleeping in the Alhambra. 

The Parador in Granada is inside the Alhambra.  The building is magnificent but the rooms very plain and modern

It was nearly sun set when we arrived and we didn’t want our friends to miss the view of the Alhambra from the famous Mirador de San Nicolás in the Arab Quarter, Albayacín.  They were not disappointed and here I think we got one of the best photos of our trip, the one illustrating this post.  The view is spectacular and everyday at this time people flock here to see the Alhambra at dusk and when it is later lit up.

Photo of the Alhambra at sun set from the Mirador de San Nicolás in Albayacín
Later we tried to get into the Mosque of Granada, next to the Mirador and I nearly got into a fight with the local attendant.  He wouldn’t let us in, even though the gates were open. I suspect he was Muslim and it was time for prayers and we were not welcome.  Thus we wandered down the steep streets of the Alybaycín area and into Sacramonte, the area where gypsies live in caves and dance flamenco for tourists.  Unfortunately it was too early for any of that and we decided to come back later, which of course, after our copious dinner at the Parador we didn’t.  Eladio and I walked back up the hill to the Parador in order to get a bit more exercise and work up an appetite for dinner.

The next day we were up early, well Adele and Bernard, nearly slept in, and checked out in time to enter the Alhambra with our 10 o’clock tickets.  If you want to visit the Alhambra you have to buy tickets weeks in advance.  You can also buy them through the Parador a few days before.  Unfortunately that day it was raining and we were to visit the wonderful Unesco Heritage site using our umbrellas most of the time.  The last time we were here was with my Father in March 2008.  I think I have been 4 or 5 times but each time is like the first visit, I am equally bowled over and can never remember everything between visits.  What I will always remember though is the Lion’s court with the lions’ fountain, something I only ever saw intact on my first visit in 1980.  Unfortunately it has been under renovation ever since.  In its place, perhaps the most well known palace or part of the Alhambra is the Patio de Arrayanes.   

Probably the most famous building in the Alhambra, the Patio de Arrayanes with its mirror effect
It is said that the Taj Mahal architect copied the mirror effect achieved by the Moors here and which you see in many parts of the Alhambra, including of course Generalife, the summer palace complex of the Alhambra.

Adele and I in the gardens of Generalife, the summer palace of the Alhambra
After our visit we had a bit of fun at a tourist photo shop where you could dress up and sit in what was supposed to be the Lion’s Court of the Alhambra.  This was certainly one of the highlights of the trip and had us in hysterics.  Hope you like the photo too.

Looking the part at The Alhambra
Soon it was time to leave and we decided to stop off in Jaen, the olive growing capital of Spain, and have lunch at the Parador there, a beautiful castle on the top of the hill of the town that we wanted to show to our friends.  They were not disappointed, although it rained throughout our time there and we were nearly blown off the cliff.  The décor inside was absolutely in accord with the architecture of the wonderful Parador Castle of Santa Catalina.  The meal was delicious too and so filling we had to ask for a doggy bag.

The Parador castle, Santa Catalina, in Jaen where we had lunch on the way back
Just a few moments later, the wind destroyed our umbrellas as you can see in this hilarious photo.

Eladio and Bernard having a fight with the wind and their umbrellas at the Parador castle in Jaen
We were home in time for a small family dinner.  We were joined by the girls and it was another wonderful family affair at home, this time prepared by dear Olga who had made home- made vegetable soup and Spanish potato omelette for our arrival.It was good to see my Father again and to hear that Manolo, his Russian pupil and “father” of Elsa had been to visit him that afternoon for two hours.  He had given him to read, Tales of the Alhambra by Washingon Irving but in Russian.  Fancy.

Friday was Adele and Bernard’s last day.  I had to work and Eladio had to do the shopping, so they went into Madrid to spend the day, their first stop being the Museum of Modern Art, Reina Sofia where the star exhibit is the Guernica painting by Pablo Picasso. 

On Saturday, their last day, we took them shopping again, to Centro Oeste in Majadahonda, as they wanted to revisit Massimo Dutti and Oysho (both Zara owned). Eladio and I ended up doing our bit of shopping, with new shoes from Sebago for Eladio and a lovely long short sleeved imitation fur waistcoat, a white winter coat and black jacket from Zara.  It was my lucky day!  Later, we went for an “aperitivo”, a drink and tapa before lunch, nearby at a place called La Gitana.  The weather was so warm and sunny that of course we sat outside.  Instead of the montilla sherry we had white wine from Rueda, a discovery for Adele. And here I am toasting them goodbye and wishing them a safe journey home.

Enjoying a glass of Rueda white wine in Majadahonda on the last day of Adele and Bernard's visit
Lunch on Saturday was to be our last meal together and Olga had made oxtail stew using the Simone Ortega cookery book recipe which is how we always eat it at home.  And then there was just time for a short siesta before I had to drive them to the airport to catch their plane to Paris which was leaving at 20.30h and where they wanted to have ample time for even more shopping, this time duty free.  It was the end of a wonderful week of fun and culture and good food together, as well as marvelous conversations and company.  We haven’t fixed a date for our next encounter but I hope it will be soon.  We may well visit them in Orleans, the four of us and from there see Paris.  Who knows?  One thing I do know is that we are now firm friends and will be repeating these encounters as often as we can.  Goodbye Adele and Bernard, it was a pleasure having you.  

Since they left things have been very quiet.  Suzy went off to Salamanca on Sunday night.  She had taken Gaby on a surprise birthday trip to a wonderful castle hotel near Salamanca called ElCastillo de Buen Amor (Castle of good love).  Here is just one picture of her outside the medieval castle.  One day Eladio and I will have to go there too as it looks just like our kind of place.  Maybe Adele and Bernard might join us.

Suzy at the Castillo de Buen Amor in Salamanca (Castle of good love!)
On Sunday we were alone for lunch, so I decided to make a dish Eladio forever craves and one he ate countless amount of times at the seminary school when he was a child.  I made red beans in red wine, again from the Simone Ortega cookery book (1080 recipes) and here is the result.  We have now been eating them for three days running but thankfully they are finished now.  I am sure Adele and Bernard would have loved them as they did the lentil soup I made for their arrival and the oxtail stew Olga made on their departure.  It’s also nice to see how Grandpa’s appetite is back and how he is definitely on the mend since being discharged from the hospital just over 10 days ago now.

Red beans baked for Eladio.  Supposedly his favourite.
And on that note my friends, this bumper edition of my blog comes to an end.  Today is 1st November and a holiday so the week will be short and there won’t be much to tell you next Sunday, certainly not as much as in this edition.

In any case have a great week.  All the best till next time

PS, here is a bigger collection of photos of our wonderful trip to Córdoba and Granada with Adele and Bernard

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