Sunday, February 19, 2012

A romantic break during the week to Almagro and other things

In the main square (plaza mayor) in Almagro on Valentine's Day
Hello again

This week was quiet again without the girls who are still away in Africa.  Today they are in the island of Zanzibar and have sent me a message to say they will be going snorkeling and then diving with dolphins.  They love their hotel called The Blue Oystyer and one day I promise we will go there.  Unfortunately we have not seen any more pictures since their stay in Dar Es Salaam.

The Blue Oyster Hotel in Zanzibar where the girls are staying right now

From this end there is not much to tell, except for our romantic break to celebrate St. Valentine’s Day, the absolute highlight of the week and a welcome break in our routine.

On Monday I had a belated birthday lunch with my friends Fátima and Julio.  We went, as always to El Buey in Boadilla where I was able to keep to my Dukan diet thanks to the wonderful steak they have on offer there. 

Tuesday was St. Valentine’s Day but first I had to go to the office for the weekly management team meeting.  Luckily it was short and I was home by just before one o’clock.  We wanted to get off on time to have lunch at our destination, the delightful early 17th century Franciscan Convent in Almagro which is now a Parador.  The Paradors are a Spanish state owned chain of good quality hotels usually located in castles or other historic buildings such as monasteries and they are a favourite with us. 

Eladio and I have never really paid much attention to Valentine’s Day.  When I was young, of course it was celebrated in England but I was hardly ever on the receiving end of a much awaited card on that day.  Over the years we have got into the habit of going out for dinner on that day but we don’t exchange presents as I refuse to succumb to the commercialisation of love.  However I am very happy to celebrate our own marriage and relationship and will be forever grateful for having won the lottery in life by finding the right partner.  We have been together since 1980 and got married in 1983 and I have never looked back.  Over the years and on occasions English girlfriends have asked me: “Are you still with Eladio?” as if I should have got divorced by now like most of them, as if a lifelong marriage is a thing of the past.  So I always laugh and say, “yes, of course”.  This year, instead of dinner out, we decided on a little escapade on our own to a Parador not too far from Madrid.  

Almagro is some 200km from the centre of Spain and is a thriving small medieval and thankfully unspoiled town of some 9.000 inhabitants.  It is in the province of rural Ciudad Real in the Castilla La Mancha area, more famous for being Don Quixote territory. It has a magnificent main square (Plaza Mayor) with an arcade all the way round and is known best for its medieval outdoor playhouse (La corral de las comedias)  the only one of its type left standing in Spain. 
Eladio in the Plaza Mayor in Almagro

We arrived just after 15h and were not disappointed with the Parador as the décor fits in beautifully with the style of the town and our room was very cosy.  Being the middle of the week the place was quite empty and the only other people staying there were retired couples as well as a middle aged German couple of men. 

The Parador in Almagro, a beautifully restored early 17th century Franciscan Convent

Paradors in Spain are very popular with visitors from Europe and the clientele we found there this week is just the sort of clientele that is most attracted to these establishments.  We didn’t mind, although I must admit I was probably the youngest guest there!  Lunch was good, just as we expected and the dining room magnificent.  It was where the monks would have had their lunch and the pulpit for reading during their silent meals is still in place.

The dining room in the Parador in Almagro - spot Eladio!
After a short siesta for Eladio, a look at my emails and a tour of the Parador to take some photos for me, we ventured out whilst it was still light to explore the town.  This would serve as a replacement for our daily walk as we must have been out and about for the next two or three hours.  We visited the Plaza Mayor as well as the medieval play house, "la corral de las comedias" and thought about returning in the summer when plays are held there.
Me in the medieval play house in Almagro, the Corral de las Comedias
We also walked along all the well kept streets with their white washed houses.  I was struck by the commonality of the doors and windows of all the houses.  All windows had the same shutters and railings and the doors were covered with external curtains, as you can see in the picture below.  I was also delighted to see no outdoor advertising and very few brash multinational logos.  They would have spoiled the atmosphere of medieval Almagro which I suspect has not changed much over the last few centuries.
A typical window and door in a house in Almagro
There was also time for some shopping of local produce.  We did not buy the famous lace which is made there and sold on every corner, nor did we buy the wicker work baskets, as we have no need of these objects.  What we did though was buy food at a delightful little store which sold gourmet local produce, cheese, honey, chorizo and biscuits for my Father.

Shopping for local gourmet produce in Almagro
In the evening dinner naturally had to be at the finest restaurant Almagro has to offer.  All the internet sites coincided with my Michelin and Campsa guides (I always travel with these) that the best had to be El Corregidor and they were not wrong.  Again we were very few people and had the place to ourselves but that didn’t worry us as our only aim was to have a nice romantic meal together that night.  The waitress was no great photographer but I least I have one souvenir of that lovely evening at the El Corregidor restaurant in Almagro.
Our St. Valentine's Dinner this year was at El Corregidor restaurant in Almagro
The next day, after a great breakfast, we packed and left the lovely Parador for a day’s outing exploring the area.  As you can see in the photo below, we were using my Christmas and birthday present luggage, a fine collection from my favourite make,  Samsonite.
Me and  my new Christmas and birthday luggage ready to leave the Parador in Almagro
One of the main reasons for going to Almagro was to visit the Las Tablas de Daimiel nature reserve which is mainly a wetland and a sort of oasis for birds and ducks when they migrate.  It measures some 18.000 km2 but we were only to see the main paths.  We had the place to ourselves and enjoyed the four mile walk following the main path visitors take when they visit.  We loved the place.  It’s a bird sanctuary where nature is respected highly, unlike many other places in Spain. However, I’m sure it’s much prettier in the spring rather than in cold February when nature is bare.  Luckily, although it was cold, it was a lovely sunny day and the walk was definitely what doctors used to prescribe as a “bracing walk” when I was a child.
Thumbs up for the Las Tablas de Daimiel nature reserve
After our walk we debated on what to do next and the obvious choice was lunch as it was nearly one o’clock.  We both agreed on another nearby Parador, the one in Manzanares where we had been in October with our friends Adele and Bernard. 
Lunch on Wednesday was at another Parador, this time the one in Manzanares
During lunch we decided on our next and last destination before heading home and that was to be another nature reserve or park called Las Lagunas de Riduera.  I had never heard of the place or area but Eladio had and was keen to go.  

On the way there we were to pass a delightful spot, the Peñarroya reservoir right by a castle of the same name.  We got out of the car and marveled at both the reservoir and castle which we walked all the way around, taking endless photos of both.
The Peñarroya castle and reservoir were a real find on our way to the Lagunas de Riduera
A few kilometers further on we reached the Lagunas de Riduera which turned out to be a bit like the English Lake District, without the mountains.  They are a serious of beautiful small lakes (lagunas) in unspoiled countryside.  We drove past them wishing we had time to walk but realised there was no real path except for the road.  Had this been England, Eladio remarked there would have been an excellent foot path.  So we had to make do with enjoying the scenery from the car, only getting out on one occasion to take a few more photos.

A lake in the Lagunas de Ruidera, Spain's equivalent to the Lake District.  Spot me in the picture!
The visit to the Spanish Lake District marked the end of our romantic middle of the week break to celebrate St. Valentines after which we set off home and were back in the early evening. You can see the rest of the photos here.

Thursday was another quiet day.  In the morning I had a pleasant meeting with Cris and Gloria from my events agency to go over all the preparations for our participation in this year’s Mobile World Congress taking place at the end of the month.  We met, as we nearly always do in nearby Pozuelo at the Zielo shopping centre, although there was no time for any of that that morning, unfortunately.  The afternoon was spent at the office where I attended a meeting that ended after 8 o’clock.  Of course that meant the traffic coming home was heavy as it must be for most people who have to face it daily, unlike me.  The experience served to appreciate even more the privilege of being able to work mostly from home. 

The next day I was up at the crack of dawn at 6 o’clock in the morning as I had to be in the office by 9.30 for another long meeting.  In the end I arrived just after 8 and the meeting didn’t start until 10!  Luckily it was shorter than the last one, so I was able to be home on time for lunch with my men. It was Friday and we had a dinner date with our neighbours and friends, Elena and José Luis.  That night I used a new internet restaurant booking page called The Fork (El Tenedor in Spanish) and found a new restaurant in Boadilla called El Palacio de Boadilla.  The advantage of using the site was that we got 40% discount.  I was a little disappointed with the place which was rather cold and the food was nothing out of this world, so we will not be going back.

The weekend has been quiet too. We didn’t go out yesterday Saturday as of course Olga is not here to hold the fort.  Today, however, we are expecting guests for lunch. Benito and Loli, our friends from years back, since before we were married and, were a penny pinching couple living in Saconia, a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Madrid.  Benito, a retired teacher, rang yesterday to congratulate Eladio on it being his saint’s day.  That is something we don’t celebrate and hadn’t even realised it was his name’s day.  The good thing is that it has served to meet our friends again, whom we haven’t seen for quite a long time.

The week ahead will be full of last minute planning for Barcelona, mostly on the content of our press conference there.  But what I am most looking forward to is the return of  the girls who will be coming back on Tuesday.  I wonder now just how much longer Susana will be living with us as I heard from her last week that she and Gaby had been awarded a flat in a subsidized block of flats in Villanueva de la Cañada, a few miles up the road.  Oh, but we will cross that bridge when we come to it, albeit with heavy hearts.

I hope your week will be great,

Until next week Masha

1 comment:

shannon said...

Almagro is a very nice place to enjoy the romantic holidays. It will surely make the couple's romantic memory treasured and will make a trip unforgettable.