Sunday, April 08, 2012

To Oropesa and back, Easter week, the latest social networks and other stories.

Eladio and I enjoying the countryside in Oropesa this week

Hello again and Happy Easter.

Today is Easter Sunday and I am writing from the kitchen table with the dogs asleep under my feet.

Elsa our labrador and Norah our beagle love to sleep under the table in the kitchen in the mornings.

Eladio and my Father are reading the papers in the dining room and I’m not really sure where the girls are.  The sun is shining in great contrast to the very rainy Easter weather we have had for more than a week now.  I should not complain though as Spain was in great need of water, it not having rained properly since about last November. The girls have a great social life so who knows where they are right now?  Suzy promised to be home for an Easter Sunday lunch but Oli will be off at 13h.  A car will be coming for her from TVE to take her to the airport, as she is going to Santander for the coming week to cover news from the north of Spain for the programme she works for, La Mañana de la1, TVE’s 4 hour long morning programme.  So we can expect to see quite a lot of her on the TV in the next few days.  

Last week she covered one of the worst stories in recent times, the story of a Mother, Adoración Cano whose 9 year old daughter, Ana Maria Jérez was raped and murdered some 20 years ago by the unrepentant José Franco de la Cruz, alias El Boca.  Adoración was protesting, something I can quite understand, because her daughter’s killer had been let out of prison, rather than finishing his supposed life sentence.  Olivia said the interview was traumatic and told me some of the ghastly details the Mother had revealed, details I have been trying to shake out of my system but which keep coming back.  On the bright side, I am left thinking what a fortunate and lucky person I am to have my whole life intact. How awful it would be to live with something like that.  

The week has been quiet, the highlight being of course our surprise two day trip to Oropesa to stay at the 15th century Parador which was once a palace belonging to a noble family, the Alvarez de Toledo, the Counts of Oropesa.  Oropesa is in the province of Toledo, just some 150km from Madrid.  We were there just before lunch and were delighted with the accommodation.  Our room was tucked right away at the top of the building and had three windows with great views over the nearby Gredos Mountains.  If you ever go there, I highly recommend room 403.  The receptionist told us it was one of the most sought after rooms because of the views.

The Parador in Oropesa is housed in a 15th century palace

The Parador, set in a magnificent courtyard with its wonderful open air balconies (soportales), sits directly opposite the equally magnificent castle, also belonging to the Counts of Toledo.  The castle dates back to the 12th or 13th century and was built by the Moors.

The castle in Oropesa, directly opposite the Parador

Off one of the walls hangs a relic from the cruel past, a cage where criminals were placed until their death, for all to witness, until they became a skeleton.  Thank goodness justice has evolved into something less cruel, at least in this part of the world.

A cruel relic of justice in past times hangs on the castle wall.

Lunch was in the wonderful dining room with its high wooden ceiling.  The gastronomy of the area is a little too heavy for me and I thought the menu was rather limited in choice.  Usually Paradors have better food on offer but not this one I’m afraid.

We spent the afternoon exploring the little town famous for its lace and pottery, although there is more choice of the latter in nearby Puente del Arzobispo or Talavera.  We had a great walk all around the town of some 4 or 5 kilometres where we saw signs of Spring with green grass and flowers like my favourite poppies all along the sides of the road.

Poppies on our walk in Oropesa

The next day we drove to nearby Puente del Arzobispo in search of ceramics.  We sort of collect bowls from different places which we use for salads at home.  Here there were plenty on offer.  We bought 9 small bowls and 1 salad bowl in the typical green pattern popular in these parts.  Just look what was on offer at this wonderful shop, all hand made by the owner in his own pottery factory of which I gather there are very few left.

The pottery shop where we bought some bowls in Puente del Arzobispo.

We discovered Puente del Arzobispo was actually much prettier than Oropesa although it didn’t have a palace or a castle.  However it has a stone bridge built in the 14th century, one of the most beautiful I have ever seen with great walks on both sides.

By the 14th century bridge in Puente del Arzobispo

Our next port of call was the lovely 5 star Hotel Valdepalacios which I mentioned last week.  It is on the road between Puente del Arzobispo and Oropesa.  Here we were to have a wonderful although expensive lunch and were nearly the only diners in the hotel.  The hotel is just beautiful with lots of land around it where you can do all sorts of things like go hunting, ride 4x4 cars, take cooking classes or enjoy the spa.  One day we will spend the night there, maybe on our next wedding anniversary in August.

Leaving the Hotel Valdepalacios where we had lunch on Wednesday

The afternoon was spent sleeping, reading and lounging around in our comfortable room after which we went for another walk, the same one as the day before.  We took our umbrella as it had been raining all day, but were lucky that it had stopped so that we could get some more pictures of our time in Oropesa, like this lovely one of Eladio in his green jumper against the very green grass in the field.

Eladio in green against green on the walk around Oropesa

In the evening, I dragged Eladio away from the boring quarter final Champions League match between Barcelona and Milan.  They won, as did Madrid against the Cyprus team, the name of which I cannot remember.  That means they will both play the semi finals and may even meet in the finals.  Everyone’s guess is that Barcelona will win the championship once again.

Eladio watching football from our room in the Parador . the Champions League Quarter Finals between Barcelona and Milan

Dinner that night was at the nearby La Hosteria, which was much cheaper than the Parador and had a better menu.  Here we feasted on what we love, a simple plate of typical Spanish lentils.  That night I learned from Facebook and Twitter that Instagram was finally available for Android phones, like my Samsung Galaxy S2, so of course I had to download the programme immediately.  Instagram is a social network which only works on mobile phones (so far iPhones and now Androids) where you can share photos.  I thought to myself that I just couldn’t take another social network, what with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Tuenti and now this.  But after initial worries, I was hooked of course.  Well I love photography, or capturing my life on camera, and I love sharing things, so of course Instagram is for me.  This was the first photo I took and uploaded to Instagram.  If you are not familiar with the programme, you can also share the photo which can be enhanced, with Facebook or Twitter and other social networks. 

My first Instagram photo was of our dinner at La Hosteria in Oropesa

Instagram is my latest social network.  The one I joined just before is Pinterest, a different sort of social media and one which apparently has now been adopted by more than 11 million people.  How can I describe it?  It’s probably easier to take this quote from Wikipedia: “Pinterest is a pinboard-style social photo sharing website that allows users to create and manage theme-based image collections such as events, interests, hobbies and more. Users can browse other pinboards for inspiration, 're-pin' images to their own collections and or 'like' photos. Pinterest's mission is to “connect everyone in the world through the ‘things’ they find interesting"[via a global platform of inspiration and idea sharing”. If you haven’t tried it you should, it’s lovely.  

The next day was Maundy Thursday and time to go home.  It was pouring down with rain, so instead of further exploring the area, we decided to come home.  Olga was leaving that day to go on holiday, believe it or not, to Turkey, sponsored by a wealthier friend of hers who was coming from Brazil the next day.  You are probably wondering how we are going to cope without her.  During her absence we have hired the services of a friend of hers called Hilda who will come twice a week to look after my Father’s hygiene.  If you thought I was going to clean and iron, then you are wrong.  Zena, the wonderful Ukrainian cleaner who worked here before Olga came, will be coming two whole mornings a week and I can’t wait for her arrival tomorrow.  First because she will make the house spick and span as Olga’s forte, I’m afraid, is not cleaning, and the house is in dire need of a thorough spring cleaning. And secondly because I have asked her to cook us some borsch, the Russian soup made of beetroot which my Father and I are longing to try again.  This is the typical Russian meat and vegetable soup my Mother used to make often and which I have never learned to make, mostly because you need fresh beetroot to make it which I have never found in the shops I go to here.  Like pelmeni and many other Russian dishes, it is very often accompanied by rich Smetana (sour cream) as in the picture here.

Russian "borsch" soup or stew

When we came back on Thursday the girls were out and about and on the spur of the moment we agreed to have lunch together in town; something we used to do more often.  So Oli picked me up and we drove to near where Susana was working last week, at a hospital near the Bernabeu Stadium.  Later Suzy had to go back to work and I accompanied Oli to the dentist.  

That night, fittingly for Maundy Thursday, the television was showing typical Easter films and we watched the 4 hour long 1951 Quo Vadis starring Tony Curtis, Deborah Kerr and a very young Peter Ustinov, this last in the role of Neron, the crazed Roman Emperor who burned down Rome.  I have seen this film many times, but never from beginning to end and I just loved it.  Luckily for me, Eladio seemed equally entertained.

We enjoyed watching Quo Vadis on the TV this week

Friday of course was Good Friday and again it was raining.  The rain spoiled a lot of the Spanish Easter processions.  Easter or Semana Santa in Spain is hugely celebrated with these amazing processions in many of the big and smaller cities.  Despite increase laicism, the processions are very popular.  I think they are also popular with tourists.  The most famous of all is the Macarena which is carried on a huge float through the streets of Seville by what are known as the “costaleros”.  In my experience it nearly always rains at Easter in Spain and I wonder when the brotherhoods who organize the different processions will start covering these medieval statues from the churches with glass to protect them from the rain, rather like the Pope’s car as that would certainly put an end to the problem.

The most famous Easter procession of all, the Macarena in Seville

Good Friday is of course the day most of the Christian religions commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  I say most as I know from my childhood that Russian Easter takes place at a later date as it observes the Julian calendar. In England, we always ate hot cross buns for breakfast, a tradition I have carried on in my own family.  So, I have been naughty and have been eating them on Saturday and today too.  I promise I will return to the Dukan fold tomorrow Monday!  Nowadays I think you can buy hot cross buns almost all through the year but when I was a child they were only on sale at Easter.  I, of course, have to buy them online.  Not a problem these days you will agree.

We have been having hot cross buns toasted for breakfast every day since Good Friday

In the morning I went with Susana to the huge Xanadu shopping centre.  I had warned her it would probably be closed as most businesses and trade are closed on this day in Spain.  I well remember when we first came to Spain that this was indeed so.  I was wrong and Xanadu was open.  Obviously times have changed. I promise you this time I did not get any more clothes.  The time was spent getting some items for Suzy’s new flat.  Ah and there was some quality time at Starbucks together too of course.

Later the girls were off to El Escorial to stay the night with their friends Rocío, David, Elena whose parents own the flat, Ana and another Elena.  It was bitterly cold that day and would have been even more so in El Escorial, a town in the mountains just outside Madrid.  Here is a photo of the 6 of them taken by Rocío.  They look like the front cover of an 80’s LP to quote Suzy’s friend Erika.

The girls and their friends in El Escorial this weekendSusana in brown on the far left and Oli in the middle with the only boy, David.

On Saturday the house was empty without the girls but I suppose I should get used to that as someday soon there will be just the three of us left, my Father, Eladio and I.  Luckily we have the dogs for extra company.  As usual, we enjoyed our walk with them on Saturday as we have done most days this week and will again today.

That brings me to the end of this week, to where I began, today Sunday, Easter Day.  Oli came home later to pack for her trip to Santander and went off duly at 13h when she was picked up by a car from Spanish TVE.  She will be back on Friday and we will be watching out for her on TVE in the mornings.  I never cease to be excited when I see her reporting live.  Well done little Oli.

Olivia being picked up by a van from Spanish TVE this morning to go to the airport

Meanwhile, whilst Eladio was mowing the lawn, taking advantage of today’s sun, I prepared the big Easter Sunday lunch.  I am very traditional at Easter so if on Good Friday we had hot cross buns and then fish for lunch, today I made roast lamb.  I make it the English way with all the trimmings, such as mint sauce.  I have to add I did this whilst writing some of this blog; multi tasking you know.  Suzy was home at 14.30 and we had a later lunch than usual.  Being Easter Day it was time to eat the amazing looking chocolate Easter egg I had ordered online from The Hotel Chocolate.  Here is the photo I took this morning before we attacked it after lunch.

The slightly disappointing Easter Egg from Hotel Chocolate which we opened today

It looked great, but actually it was not so amazing to taste.  I had expected it to be both bigger and the chocolate tastier, something similar to  the taste you get with Lindt or Belgian chocolate.  But no, it was nowhere near as smooth.  Next year I will go to the Lindt or Godiva website.

And now I am alone again.  Eladio and my Father are having their siesta, Olivia has now arrived in Santander and Suzy has gone off again to see her new friends from work.

Next week will bring with it routine, not a bad thing, as 4 quiet days at home have left me wanting more activity.  I wish you all a Happy Easter and a great week ahead.

Cheers till next week

PS You can see some more photos of our trip to Oropesa here.

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