Thursday, July 31, 2014

A wonderful week in London with Suzy including a day in Brighton with Keith and Lorraine and an evening with Sandra and all together at home again

Thursday 31st July 2014

With Suzy at Richmond near London
Hi everyone,

Well here I am a bit late with my blog but that’s because I’ve just been away for a week to London to stay with Suzy and Gábor.  Suzy and I came back yesterday which means we are all together again.  Tomorrow Eladio, Suzy, Oli, Miguel and I will be off to Montrondo for the annual family gathering so today is the perfect day to catch up with my blog and to tell you all about my fabulous week in London with Suzy.

I left off last Tuesday when we had just come back from a wonderful few days with Sandra, Jeffer and Isaline in Santa Pola.  I had just one afternoon to settle in and get ready to go again.  When we got back the greengage tree was heaving with fruit and Eladio picked as much as he could with his super homemade method and I packed some to take to Suzy and Gábor.  We just managed to see Olivia before I was off and had a nice dinner together.

And the next day was Wednesday, the day of my much awaited trip to London.  Eladio took me to the airport to catch the 11.35 Easy Jet flight to Gatwick. All went smoothly until I switched my phone back on again upon arrival.  It asked for my pin code which I had simply forgotten.  Thus I was not able to contact Suzy to say I had landed and was worried she wouldn’t be at Victoria waiting for me to arrive on the Gatwick Express.  Luckily she was and we had a huge hug; a great start to our week together. We made our way to Canada Water (south east London, one stop from Canary Warf and a couple of stops to Westminster) by tube and dear Suzy helped me with my luggage.  I particularly liked the walk from the tube station to their house through lovely Russia Dock Woodlands. Soon we were at her house having a cup of tea and then I got Eladio to ring Yoigo to find out my pin number.  I was so relieved to have my phone up and running again.  I mean, can you imagine me without my mobile? When Gábor got back he commented that I had quickly set up my little Yoigo office with my pc and he was right.  Their wifi came in handy in order to avoid using data whilst roaming which can be expensive.

I was delighted with their new house.  They practically have the whole ground floor to themselves and their nice big room has its own garden giving them a feeling of space.  Upstairs is more cramped. Thanks to their friend and flat mate, Stefania who was away on holiday in Italy, I had a room to myself upstairs which was comfortable enough but very warm due to the heat wave in London.  Thankfully it had air conditioning. What a luxury.  Their other flat mates are an Italian girl, Luana, who occupies a miniscule room and a guy from Singapore who occupies the other double room and whom we hardly saw as he gets up at the crack of dawn and returns late, never eating at home. The only drawback is that there is only one bathroom to be shared by all.  Otherwise the house is very pleasant, light, new and with wooden floors.  The big well equipped kitchen was probably my favourite room.

The first thing we did was to walk to Tesco very near the tube station to do some shopping mainly for breakfast.  We were joined there by Gábor who brought Suzy’s bike to carry the shopping back.  It is a huge Tesco and serves probably ever nationality in the area.  There was a incredible display of food for the end of Ramadan festival and a huge halal meat counter, not to mention all the rest, wonderful cooked food, superb bread and anything or everything you could ever imagine.
Shopping at Tesco with Gábor and Suzy.  They carry the shopping home on their bikes.
That night I treated Gábor and Suzy to dinner out and we went to one of my favourite restaurants in London, a Turkish place called The Grand Bazaar at the end of Marylebone High Street.  We caught the train to Baker Street and walked there as we would on the way back.  My idea in London was to walk as much as possible to make my wearable device, my fitbit, as happy as possible. Suzy you might be interested to know, turned vegetarian a few weeks ago after watching a documentary about how the human race treats animals and fish for consumption.  She was so put off she just doesn’t want to be a part of it.  She has asked Olivia and me to watch it but I’m afraid I’m far too much a lover of meat and fish, to a lesser extent, I would prefer not to watch it.  At the Grand Bazaar there were plenty of veggy options as there are all over London; not so much in Spain, so we all enjoyed a “mezze” together along with the spectacular balloon shaped bread.
I just love the bread at the Grand Bazaar
The next day I woke up at 7, thinking it was 8 as I was still on Spanish time.  Thus I went down to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee and catch up with my work before Suzy and Gábor got up to join me for breakfast.  We made lovely breakfasts each morning and here is a photo of mine on the first day.
Breakfast at Suzy's
As soon as I got to Suzy’s house I agreed on a programme with Suzy.  The idea was to do different things, i.e. not going to the usual monuments which I have seen countless times.  I think in the end, even though I have so much energy I even tired myself, not to mention tiring Suzy. Anyway, the first day we had agreed to go shopping: you see where my priorities lie, and Suzy took me to Westfield Shopping Centre in Stratford, just 2 stops from Canada Water.  I loved the walk from her house to the tube station through Russia Dock Woodlands.  I wasn’t really sure where I was in London so googled the famous London docks.  All I remembered as a child was the famous dockers’ strike there and didn’t really know what had happened since.  The docklands, I found out from a passerby on Stave Hill who works in Parliament for an MP, were closed down in the late 60’s as they couldn’t take the new freight ships which now ship from other big ports but at the time the London Docks were the biggest in the world.  Russia Docks takes its name from being the dock where timber was shipped from Russia and Scandinavia.  In actual fact they are part of the Surrey Commercial Docs, a large group of docks in Rotherhite on the south bank of the Thames in South East London.  The docks operated from 1696 to 1969.  Most were later filled in a redevelopment for residential housing and the area is now known as Surrey Quays. They have done a wonderful job as the residential housing is surrounded by beautiful woodland.  In fact one night we saw a stray fox walk right across our path. Today the area is quite trendy and a far cry from Whitechapel, otherwise known as “Bangladesh City” where Suzy and Gábor used to live.
Suzy at Russia Docks Woodland just a few minutes from where she lives

You won’t be surprised to hear that the first shop we went to was Marks and Spencer.  Here I bought some new denim jeggings to replace the pair I had torn when I fell recently.  I also got a pair each for my sisters-in-law Pili and Adela.  Next were polo shirts for Eladio and a summer shirt for my Father.  Later we went to H+M to buy clothes for Suzy after which it was time for lunch. We chose a nice English place called Bumpkin where I had, guess what?  Yes, you are right, fish and chips.
Fish and chips at Bumpkin at Westfield.
Pleased with our purchases we took the tube back to Canada Water and again went to Tesco, this time to buy food for dinner as Suzy was having guests.  She was keen to introduce me to her Czech friend Jane and her black Labrador, Connie, as well as Nacho who had worked for her at Oxo.

We had dinner in Gábor and Suzy’s garden, an itsy bitsy affair washed down with Pimms which is so popular in England.  I really enjoyed the balmy evening with Suzy and her group of friends and fell in love with Connie.
A selfie with Suzy's friends and flatmate 
Wednesday’s programme was a visit with Suzy to Windsor to see Windsor Castle which I hadn’t seen since I was a child when Aunty Gloria took us there.  The visit would bring back many happy memories which I wanted to share with Suzy. Gábor would be working everyday so he was only able to join us for breakfast and dinner but would be accompanying us the following Monday and Tuesday which is when he would get time off from working at Decathlon.  We caught the train from Waterloo which took just 45 minutes.  It was a glorious day so we decided to have coffee first at the Riverside Café.  We then walked up the high street to pick up our prepaid tickets at the visitors’ centre and soon we were in the grounds of this wonderful 900 year old enormous castle which is a residence of the Queen. 
Just a part of Windsor Castle, it is so big.
The Union Jack was flying so I thought she would be in residence but later found out that the Union Jack actually means she is not.  It is the Royal Standard flag which shows she is in residence, so obviously when we were there she wasn’t, not that we would have seen her. 
The Royal Standard Flag which denotes the Queen is in residence.
The castle is huge but visitors only ever get to see some of the grounds, St. George’s chapel, the state rooms and Queen Mary’s dolls' house – Queen Mary being the late Queen Mother, Mother of the current Queen and consort to George VI. We particularly liked the chapel which is home to the Order of the Garter and where many English Kings and Queens are buried, bar Queen Victoria.  King Henry VIII actually built a burial place for himself by the chapel but it was not finished when he died and he ended up being buried in a vault underneath. There he lies next to the beheaded Charles I and Jane Seymour, his third wife, one of the wives he didn’t behead and the only one of them to receive a queen’s funeral and be buried with him.
St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle
As we left the castle, the skies suddenly opened and there was a huge downpour.  We had nothing to protect ourselves and just had to stand under a shop.  Inside we bought two rain ponchos which we wore to cross the road and find a restaurant for lunch.  We went to the Duchess of Cambridge where once again I had fish and chips.

Luckily after lunch the rain halted and we were able to walk around the pretty streets of Windsor.  I wanted to visit Eton College so off we went.  Unfortunately it is not open to visitors due to building works but we were at least able to catch a glimpse of the courtyard of England’s most prestigious school.
The courtyard at Eton College
At about 16.30 we caught the train back.
Suzy on the platform at Windsor and Eton riverside train station
It was our intention upon arrival at Waterloo to walk all the way back to Canada Water via Tooley Street and Jamaica Road.  However once again the skies opened, this time catching us in the middle of Tooley Street and it felt like walking under a shower.  Despite our ponchos we got completely drenched, shoes included.  We just had to take the bus back, the 381 but it was so slow because of the traffic we got off when the rain stopped and walked back home.  We walked back via the beautiful woodlands and Suzy took me up Stave Hill, a prominence built under rubble from the redevelopment of the Docklands and which commands a view of the whole of London, or at least of nearly all its main monuments.
Stave Hill at Surrey Commercial Docks
That night we had leftovers for dinner together with Gábor and I went to bed early to read my bestseller, exhausted from the day’s activities.  I must say tourism is a very tiring activity.

Again on Saturday I woke up at 7 instead of 8.  The programme for that day was afternoon tea at The Wolseley at 15.30 in 160 Piccadilly next to the Ritz, but first we went shopping to Tesco again.  We went to get food for dinner but also I wanted to buy all sorts of chocolates and cakes to take home.  I knew my Father would love to eat things like Mr. Kipling’s Bakewell Tart or Battenberg cake.  This time we walked and took Suzy’s bike.  I decided to try it out and it did feel very wobbly as I don’t think I’ve been on a bike for about 20 years.  Suzy was terrified I would fall and so was I so I soon got off. 

We decided to tube it to Waterloo and walk to The Wolseley which was quite a way.  On our journey we stopped to go inside St. Martin’s in the Fields built by Sr. Christopher Wren after the great fire of London.  It was my Mother’s favourite church in London when she lived after the war and I was keen to show it to Suzy.
Suzy in St. Martin's in the Fields.
There were hoards of people in London that day.  Being July and very warm I suppose that was to be expected.  In Piccadilly we went past Fortnum and Masons and we decided to go in just to admire the food. I was amazed to see people with trolleys doing their shopping there and could hardly imagine what their bills would come to.  But what a wonderful shop.
Suzy in Fortnum and Mason's
After a quick sit down in Green Park and a look at the shops in Burlington Arcade, it was time to go to The Wolseley.  Whilst we were resting on the grass at the Park we heard that Olivia was at the wedding of her University friend Silvia together with their friend Ana.  She sent us a photo and just looked spectacular. I am sure you agree.
Olivia all dressed up to go to Silvia's wedding last Saturday
Suzy had never had a British afternoon tea and I hadn’t had one for ages so we were both looking forward to the experience.  My friend Marta had recommended the place to us and we were not disappointed.  It turned out to be lovely, quintessentially British restaurant and tea house and actually was not very expensive.  A full tea with finger sandwiches, scones with homemade jam and clotted cream and cakes came to just over 20 pounds each when it costs about 50 pounds per head next door at The Ritz.
Afternoon Tea at The Wolseley in Piccadilly
We polished everything off and then decided to walk all the way back home.  By the end of the day we had walked 19 kilometres.  My feet were killing me and I had blisters which I had to protect with those great new elastoplasts called “compeed”. On our way we passed a huge demonstration that was just beginning to fizzle out by the Houses of Parliament against the Gaza Attacks. We also walked all the way along the river past the Tower of London where we stopped to drink water.  All I could think of was the moment when I could take my shoes off, take a shower and lie on my bed for a rest.  And I can tell you that when it happened it felt glorious.
That night we were expecting Suzy and Gábor’s friend, David (from Olivia’s class at S. Michael’s school) where we had the same sort of dinner in their garden as we did when Jane and Nacho came.  I was bushed by the end of the day and made my excuses at around 9.30 pm.

The programme for Sunday was Brick Lane which is even more Bangladesh City than Whitechapel.  Once again we decided to walk there and all the way back.  I must say Suzy seems to know London like the back of her hand.  I was most impressed.  Brick Lane is famous for its curry houses and I was looking forward to lunch there.  We were joined by David who came on his bike.  Brick Lane also has lots of street markets and we wandered around quite a few of them.  It’s a very trendy place with lots of street art.
Brick Lane
There were so many curry houses to choose from it was difficult to pick one.  They all seemed to have some type of best curry house award either from a newspaper or trip advisor, so we took pot luck and chose The Famous Curry Bazaar.  The food was great, but not much better than other curries I have had in England.  The menus all cost the same, about 7 pounds.  It was David’s first Indian meal and he loved his chicken korma.  I preferred the lamb version and of course Suzy had a vegetarian meal, of which there were plenty to choose from.
We had a great curry here in Brick Lane last Sunday
Later we made our way to Spitalfields’ market nearby. Very soon we came across a stall selling delightful Swedish type flowery hair bands and here Suzy and I stopped to try them on. The stall was very popular and we bought one each and one for Olivia.
The Swedish flower hair band stall at Spitalfields Market
Spitalfields’ market was full of stalls of lovely dresses, many of them vintage.  It seems there is a revival for 50’s and 60’s type dresses which are no good to me as I do not look good in dresses that are gathered at the waist.  Here we bought Olivia two delightful dresses. As we left, Suzy wanted to go into Urban Outfitters, a shop I always thought was not for me as it is very trendy.  So I was surprised to find a lovely flowery summery dress and another striped dress for lounging at home.  I am very happy with them now. 

The next day was Monday and the programme was a visit to Brighton, that very famous English seaside town near London.  Gábor was to join us and we would be hosted by our friends Keith and Lorraine who live nearby in a pretty village called Cuckfield in West Sussex. Unfortunately the forecast was for rain.  Whilst we were boarding the train at London Bridge an almighty thunderstorm or freak storm hit the town. However when we arrived the rain had just about stopped.  Later the sun came out and the rain only made a very short reappearance in the afternoon when we were having a wonderful cup of coffee.

I have never been to Brighton and didn’t really know what to expect. I imagined it was a semi up market English seaside town but it is much more than that.  Of course it has some of the tackiness of English seaside towns but I didn’t mind that as it brought back memories of seaside holidays in England when I was a child to Scarborough, Whitby and other places.  I learned that Brighton is now the 22nd biggest town in England with a population of approximately 160.000.  It was made popular in the eighteenth century by the patronage of the Prince Regent (later George IV) after his first visit there in 1783. He of course built the wonderful Royal Pavilion which we were to see later. 

Our friends took us down to the seafront and I was surprised to see the beach was made of pebbles. Despite the rain and not so high temperatures there were plenty of people on the beach. 
Suzy, me and Lorraine on the Brighton Sea front with the Pier in the background
We were all hungry so made our way to a nearby restaurant called The Regency which Lorraine had heard of and which I had seen recommended on Trip Advisor.  Of course we all had fish and chips except for Suzy who went for yet another veggy option!
Lunch at The Regency in Brighton on Monday
After lunch we walked towards the famous Brighton Pier past the other one which is now an eyesore after it was burnt down years ago.  The pier is incredibly tacky with all sorts of fun fair rides and attractions but great fun to walk on.  Gábor had brought along his excellent Canon semi-professional camera and his photos are much better than mine. I particularly like this one of Suzy on the pier.
Suzy on the Pier at Brighton
From the pier our friends walked us to the Royal Pavilion which I thought was marvelous. There was no time to go inside but one day I really will. It is actually a former royal residence, built as a seaside retreat by the Prince Regent.  For the record it is built in the Indo-Saracenic style prevalent in India at the time.
By the Royal Pavilion in Brighton
After a wonderful cup of really decent coffee, our friends took us down North Lane and then The Laines, famous quirky but trendy streets in Brighton. We loved them.  We stopped in one of them for a great Italian ice cream as you can see here in the picture.
Ice cream in Brighton
Perhaps the most remarkable shop we saw was a chocolate and candy store called Choccywoccydoodah where works of art or sculptures in sugar and chocolate cost about 3000 pounds each. Needless to say we didn’t buy anything.
An incredible sweet shop in Brighton
After a wonderful day in Brighton, Keith and Lorraine took us back to their lovely mock Georgian house in the town of Cuckfield where we relaxed whilst Lorraine rustled up a lovely risotto for dinner.  I loved their home and garden and I think what Gábor loved best was playing their piano. I was very impressed how well he plays, especially after not having touched a piano since he left his native Canary Islands some two years ago. We were joined for dinner by our hosts’ daughter Becky who was very tired after a long day at work. I think it was great for both Suzy and Gábor to be in an English home, probably the only one they have been to since they started living in London.
Gábor playing the piano at Keith and Lorraine's house.
After dinner Keith drove us to the nearby station of Haywards Heath where we lucky to get right onto a train going to London Bridge.  I suppose it’s obvious it was too late and we were too tired to walk back from London Bridge to Canada Water so took the tube instead.

By this stage of the programme I had completely tired Suzy out.  Even I was feeling slightly tired so on Tuesday morning, my last day in London, we got up just a little bit later, or at least I did as “the kids” didn’t join me for breakfast until 10 am.  That day we were to pick up my great friend Sandra who was arriving from Brussels on the Eurostar at 16.45 at St. Pancras International.  Thus we debated how to spend the time on my last day.  In the end we went to Chiswick hoping to have lunch at one of the pubs by the river.  However when we got there and asked how to get to the river, we were advised to go to Richmond instead which apparently is far prettier. So that’s what we did but first we had to walk to Gunnersby Station, get off at Richmond and walk all the way to the river.  It was very pretty but time was running out and we were not served our lunch at The White Cross until after 3pm.
The White Cross pub by the river at Richmond where we had lunch on the last day
The photo illustrating this week’s post is of Suzy and me by the river at Richmond.  I do wish we had had more time to walk down the charming path by the river or to go into some of the lovely shops on the high street but I will have to leave that until another time.  It was quite a trek to St. Pancras and we were a little late but soon found smiling Sandra happy to be met off the Eurostar.  Gábor and Suzy carried her luggage on the tube back to Canada Water and she was just as impressed as I with the woodlands surrounding their house. It was great to see my friend after having been with her in Santa Pola but our meeting was to be short and sweet as we would be leaving the next morning at 9.30 to catch our plane.  Sandra would then be going to stay with her Mother whose birthday it is next week.  She will be 89. Many congratulations Magda.
Carrying Sandra's luggage through the Russia Dock Woodlands
It was lovely to have Sandra with us at “the kids’” pad and she settled in nicely into our routine.  She was to be sharing my room which brought us right back to where we started as friends at Nottingham University where we first met in the late 70’s and brought back many memories of the year we lived together in Church Avenue and paid 5 pounds rent a week or a month, I can’t remember, but it was very little even for those days.  I also remember there was no central heating, just one bathroom and the hot water only worked intermittently.
Suzy and Sandra in Suzy's kitchen
After the proverbial cup of tea we took Sandra around the woodland and up to Stave Hill.  Here we saw a boot camp exercise training group doing their drills and we laughed as Sandra and Jeffer had called me a boot camp leader when we were in Santa Pola.
With Sandra on Stave Hill.  Notice the flowery dress I bought at Urban Outfitters in Brick Lane
From there we made our way once again to Tesco to pick up food for dinner which the four of us would have in Suzy and Gábor’s garden.  Here is a great pic Sandra took of us with our shopping baskets at Tesco.
Shopping with Suzy and Gábor on the last day
It was lovely to share my last dinner with Sandra, my friend and soul mate who felt like an Aunty to Suzy even though they hadn’t seen each other for quite a few years.
Dinner on the last night in Suzy and Gabor's garden.  
Sleeping together in Suzy’s flatmate’s room was something of an adventure which had us in stitches as if we were students again.  We managed to get some sleep until about 5 in the morning when the other residents got up for their showers.  Then suddenly water was falling on my pillow after I had switched the air conditioning off.  Thus with many interruptions during the night, we got up at 8 with just enough time to shower, pack, have breakfast and leave. Gábor helped us to the bus stop and from there we took the tube to Victoria.  We said our goodbye to Sandra on the tube as she was making her way to her Mother’s house in North London.  Once in Victoria, a station which will forever signify international travel to me from when I was a teenager going on inter rail across Europe, we caught the Gatwick Express.  We were in a bit of a rush to catch the 12.15 Easy Jet flight to Madrid but made it quite comfortably, with time even to buy food for the plane at Pret a Manger which sells lovely food.  The plane was very full.  I slept part of the way whilst Suzy was worried about taking off and landing. Unfortunately we could not sit together as we had not booked the tickets at the same time.  Once in Madrid the heat hit us, if it was warm in London in Madrid it was literally boiling.  But there was dear Eladio, my husband and Suzy’s Father waiting for us at Terminal 1.  It was great to see him and to get into the air conditioned car and drive to our lovely home.  It is always great to go away but often even greater to come home.  There is no place like home.

We greeted everyone, unpacked and soon settled in. Both Suzy and I swam in the pool to cool off.  Oli and Miguel were home at about 7pm and it was great to see them.  Both girls fell into each other’s arms which I loved witnessing. Later some of their friends (Copi, Rocío, Pilar and Carolina) were coming round and Suzy served Pimms which we had bought at Gatwick Airport (made with one third Pimms, one third soda, one third lemonade, strawberries, cucumber and orange pieces with lots of ice cubes. The only ingredient missing was fresh mint leaves which were not available at Mercadona as there is no Pimms tradition in Spain.  Later Suzy posted this selfie with her friends. She was so happy, in her element surrounded by her friends and at home in Madrid.
Suzy in a selfie with Oli and their friends at home last night.
Needless to say I went to bed early and was up again early this morning at 7, which of course is now British time (8 am).  Eladio and I went for an early morning walk with the dogs before it got too hot. 

And tomorrow we will all be going to Montrondo for the annual family reunion which is going to be so much fun.  So I will stop here and you will hear again from me next week after our return from Montrondo and Suzy’s departure back to London the Saturday after next.

Meanwhile I wish you all a great week and hope many of you are enjoying your summer holidays like I am.

Cheers friends,


P.S. You can see more photos of my trip to London here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Germans won, to Santander and back, my summer holidays begin, off to see Sandra and Jeffer in Santa Pola, the MH17 air crash in the Ukraine conflict zone and other stories.

With my soul mate Sandra on the beach in Santa Pola this week
Hi again friends and readers,

Here I am in Santa Pola quietly writing from our pad near the beach.  I thought I would not be writing a post this week as we are here with friends but we are all having a quiet moment right now so I thought I should at least get started and finish when I get home on Tuesday.

As usual let me start from where I left off. That was last Sunday.  We spent the afternoon by the pool which is when the heatwave in Spain took off and became unbearable with temperatures in the very high 30’s.  Olivia had friends round including Rocío who brought Inda her black Labrador.  I captured them on camera by the pool in this photo.
Olivia and her friends with Elsa and Inda cooling off by the pool at home the Sunday before last
That evening most of the world sat down by their televisions or in bars to watch the world cup final in Brazil between Germany and Argentina or, if you wish, Europe against Latin America.  Oli, Miguel and I went out to get food for dinner for the occasion and they took me to an Asian eatery in Majadahonda called “Xinito” where we got all sorts of exotic food to take away.  We got back just as the match had started and which Eladio and my Father were already watching.  

The press and internet had a field day when they woke up to the fact that the teams both had a Pope from their countries.  I loved some of the jokes and the picture below in particular.  However I later read that Ratzinger dislikes football, preferring piano music and theology and would not be watching the match. As to the Argentine pontiff who is a professed football follower, the popular Pope Francis, he wouldn’t be watching it either preferring to remain neutral although his aides who would be watching it were keeping him posted on the results.
The two Popes playing against each other hahahaha
You may want to know which country we were supporting.  Well, here we were divided.  My Father being quite a Germanophile was of course supporting the Germans.  Miguel was supporting them too, not because he is a Germanophile but because he admires their football.  Eladio, Olivia and I were supporting Argentina and my Father guessed the reason as being because of the “hispanidad”. The Germans won in the end as you already know by scoring just one goal in extra time, the same way Spain did 4 years ago in South Africa. Being brought up in the 50’s and 60’s I am not one for German domination, so wasn’t too pleased with the result.  Of course I promptly forgot about it the next day whilst our richer European neighbours were celebrating in a similar way to Spain 4 years ago.

Whilst the football match was panning out, the Spanish socialist party were eager to see the results of the voting for a new party leader.  The rather vintage Alfredo Rubalcaba had stepped down after their disastrous results in the European Elections.  They had no clear candidate to follow in his footsteps and three unknown figures, at least to me, contended for leadership.  A young man named Pedro Sánchez won but it seemed to me there was more interest in the football in Spain than in his winning. 
The new head of the Spanish socialist party, Pedro Sánchez
One of the reasons I quickly forgot about the football was that I had to be up early the next day to take a flight to Santander, that wonderful elegant Spanish town on the northern coast.  I was going there on a site inspection trip to find a suitable location for a big corporate event I am organizing there at the beginning of September.  I was there quite early and decided to work from my room until the girls from my events agency, Cristina and Gloria, joined me in the afternoon.  It was raining when I arrived but just a few hours later the sun came out and there was time too for a long walk on the beach, the Sardinero, which I love because of the green and mountainous backdrop.
The Sardinero beach in Santander
Once we had found the perfect location we went out for dinner to La Posada del Mar in the port area (Puerto Chico) after which we walked back to our hotel along one of the loveliest coastlines in Spain. 

Whilst I was in Santander I learned that Spain’s great hope for winning this year’s Tour de France fell and had to abandon as did Christian Froome, England’s great hope too.  Now it looks like the Italian Nibali who earned his yellow jersey on English soil will probably win, unless Spain’s other hope, Alejandro Valverde, now second in the general classification upsets him which seems very unlikely.
The moment Alberto Contador had to abandon the Tour de France
The big news that day in the religious world, or rather the C of E (Church of England) was that the bishops’ Synod had finally voted for women to become bishops.  Now that is good news for women.  Pope Francis please take note is all I can add.

The next day I was up early, determined to be on the beach by 8 in the morning for a long walk and swim before we had to catch our plane back.  It was lovely and warm in Santander, some 23ºc so it was shocking to arrive in Madrid where it was nearly 40ºc.  Getting off the plane at Barajas airport the heat felt like a sauna.  

I had missed Olivia on the TV on Monday but managed to watch her on Tuesday evening with Eladio and my Father.  She did a report on how elderly people should cope with the extreme heat which was very appropriate because of the heatwave this week. Their main danger is dehydration which is why Eladio insists that my Father drinks water as much as he can.  Later Olivia had to report on the first men’s underwear fashion show to be held in Madrid!!
Olivia having a bit of fun reporting on a men's underwear fashion show with the Spanish actor Eloy Azorín
On Wednesday Fátima my friend came to spend the day here to work with me like we had done a week or so again.  Wednesday was the last day before my holidays started last Thursday although they wouldn’t start until after lunch.

Thursday morning was hectic.  It was the company second quarter results and I had to go into the office for a meeting at midday but I also had to pack to go to Santa Pola with Eladio after lunch where we would be joining our friends Sandra, Jeffer and his 15 year old daughter Isaline who were staying there for a fortnight.  The news about Yoigo came as a surprise, it seems our mother company is looking at alternatives to our future which of course will lead to a lot of speculation all round. 

Determined not to let the news bother me, once I had left the office and was home, my thoughts were on our journey to Santa Pola.  We had lunch with my Father and left the house at about 16.30.  We drove in the extreme heat thankful for the air conditioning remembering the times when we would drive to Alicante in the 80’s when we didn’t have it and the dual carriageway didn’t exist!  We were at our flat at about 20.30 and found a wonderful welcome party there.

Sandra, Jeffer and Isaline welcomed us into our own flat and we felt like guests.  They had made a marvelous dinner and were obviously very well settled and enjoying the place.  We nearly always go on our own so this time was going to be great with their company as we all get on so well.

It was that night that we learned the terrible news of the crash of the Malaysian airlines flight MH17 which was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.  We learned also that it had been shot down on Ukraine soil either by the Russian or Ukranian rebels.  Some 300 people lost their lives, nearly 200 of them being Dutch.  It is a terrible story for Malaysian airlines after the lost plane a few months ago which has never been found, but even more terrible is the fact that it is probably the first commercial airline to be a victim of this kind.  The news goes on and has astounded the world. 

On Friday morning Sandra and I went for an early morning walk, as I would do every day.  We went to the lighthouse on the cliff tops from where you can see the island of Tabarca.  The views are out of this world and the walk gives you energy for the rest of the day.
 A photo of the light house on the cliffs with views of the island of Tabarca where I went on my early morning walk this week nearly every day when we were in Santa Pola.
We spent the morning by the pool at our apartment enjoying the views of the sea. 
The communal pool at our apartment with lovely views of the sea
Later we had lunch at Vista Bella, a modest little place which serves quite good rice dishes and here we introduced our friends to “arroz a banda”, a type of paella.
Jeffer trying Arroz a Banda for the first time (at Vista Bella)
That night we had dinner at home.  Afterwards we all went for a midnight walk on the beach which was one of the highlights of our holiday.
Walking on the beach at  night was great fun
The next morning Jeffer joined Sandra and I on our early morning walk to the lighthouse which was probably the warmest morning of our stay and we all came home rather hot and bothered.  Thankfully it was the only “hot” morning.
Sandra and Jeffer on the early morning walk by the lighthouse
It was on Saturday that I learned to play “seven” a great card game which I enjoyed playing with Jeffer, Sandra and Isaline.  Eladio, not being a card player, preferred to read his book. We went for another walk on the beach that day after which we came home and had to queue for a shower.  Our little flat has three bedrooms but only one bathroom, its main drawback. However we were very civilized and in the end it wasn’t a problem. That night we had a dinner date at our favourite restaurant in the area, Maria Picola on the road from Santa Pola to Elche. 
All dressed up for dinner arriving at María Picola
Our friends immediately fell in love with the place too.  We were greeted by the owner and waiters like old friends and shown to our lovely table.  Then the owner surprised us by coming and thanking me for writing about his restaurant so favourably in my blog.  That really stunned me.  He was so happy with my posts that he gave us a plate of the most exquisite local red prawns, fished in Guardamar on the house.  There and then I also decided to write a review on trip advisor which I have just done although it hasn’t yet been published.  Maybe we will get another plate of prawns next time for the review.  Who knows?

Our five days at Santa Pola with our friends was going past very fast and suddenly it was Sunday.  That morning Jeffer, Sandra and I went down to the beach at 8 in the morning for a long walk and swim; at least I swam. That was just glorious.  Later on our way back to the flat we bought some rather disappointing “chocolate con churros” for breakfast.  I must say I really enjoyed our breakfasts with our friends at the flat.  If you know me, you will know that breakfast is my favourite meal of the day.

We spent Sunday playing “seven”, reading, lounging around and at the pool.  As our friends had treated us to dinner at Maria Picola we decided to invite them to dinner that night, this time at our second favourite place, El Varadero in Santa Pola.  It’s a lovely place but the food is nowhere near as good as at La Picola.  Once again we had an excuse to dress up and go out which I think we all liked. 

After dinner at El Varadero, we left our shoes in the car and walked across the road to the beach and again enjoyed a midnight walk on the beach all together.  The photo illustrating this week’s blogpost is of Sandra and I on the beach by El Varadero.

And yesterday Monday, was our last day in Santa Pola but it was the very best day of our stay.  Being an organized person who tries to get the most out of every day, I seemed to be the organizer of everything we did together.  My friends joked and said I was like a “boot camp” monitor or organizer with my daily programmes which had us all laughing.  In fact we spent a lot of time laughing together which was what made our stay such fun. 

Yesterday I wanted to take my friends on a trip down memory lane to the places where my adventure in Spain started when my Aunty Masha and my parents bought village houses for a song some 25km inland in that area in my beloved Bolulla and in Callosa de En Sarría. 

First we took them to Guadalest, a picturesque village in the mountains some 12km from Callosa.  It has a little castle at the top with the most magnificent views of a reservoir with turquoise coloured water.  Here there are lots of lovely shops too.  In fact it is quite a unique place.  For the record it was the place where the first picture Eladio and I have as a couple and which was taken there in the summer of 1980. On our way up to the castle, a kind fellow tourist took a photo of the five of us and here it is.

The five of us at Guadalest
The next item on the programme was a visit to Algar (Fonts de Algar) and the waterfalls in a valley some 2.5km in between Callosa and Bolulla which is surrounded by mountains.  Although the area is very arid this is a fruit growing area where I remember being bowled over as a teenager coming to the area for the first time and seeing lemon and orange trees and also “medlar fruit” (nísperos), the fruit that Callosa is famous for. When we used to come to Callosa and Bollula in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s Algar was one of our favourite places.

Here we took a table for lunch at Don Juan by the pool and had a dip whilst our lunch was being made.
Sandra at the pool in Algar
Then I allowed some “siesta time” for the excursionists before we would head for the waterfalls and bathe in the freezing cold water.

In the old days there were far fewer people and the entrance to the waterfalls was free but not so anymore.  Going into the river and swimming in the freezing cold water to the biggest waterfall at the beginning of the trail is perhaps the best experience.  It is so invigorating to go under the water which is like an incredibly powerful shower of freezing water where you find it not too easy to breath. A perpetual rainbow is formed above the waterfall which is a pleasure to your eyes.
The main waterfall where we all swam at Algar yesterday
We then walked up the trail to the next waterfall and next natural pool where people were diving into the water.  Only Jeffer and Isaline dared to do that whilst we looked on.  Then you climb up even further and come to a bigger and colder natural pool where we all swam.  We then came down again and all of us swam this time in the first waterfall. I remember my first experience there as a teenager with my brother George and cousin Sasha and I told Isaline she would remember her time at Algar all her life.  In fact she loved it so much she didn’t want to leave. 

But the programme had to continue and next on the agenda was a visit to nearby Bolulla, that village I consider mine and where our Spanish adventure started more than 40 years ago.  But before leaving, we all wanted to buy some of the wonderful fruit sold at Algar by a couple from Bolulla who I have known since I was a teenager and where Eladio and I buy fruit every time we visit Algar.  For the record this was where Eladio tasted nectarines for the first time in his life.
The couple who sell fruit in Algar and who are from Bolulla.  I have known them since I was a teenager
Very shortly we were in the pretty and sleepy little village of Bolulla where we parked in the main square by the only supermarket.  My friends immediately fell in love with this little village and I was so happy to share it with them.  We walked to my Aunt’s house in Calle Mayor and greeted old neighbours sitting out in the street and who remembered me.  I only had to say I was the “sobrina” (niece) of Sra Maria (how my Aunty Masha was known in Bolulla) and they immediately knew who I was.  We greeted many people and then found our way to the new bar (La Era) owned by the current mayor.  Here we asked for drinks but then found we were all hungry and suddenly we were having the most magnificent dinner possible with all sorts of different “tapas” the owner served us.  The bar is a modest little place but the views of the mountains, fruit trees and roofs of the houses were what I liked most.
My beloved Bolulla as seen from the restaurant La Era
We couldn’t believe that the bill for dinner for 5 only came to 35 euros! Later we wandered out and took a walk by the empty river bed from where you can see my Aunt’s old house and which brings so many memories back. 
Bolulla as seen from the dry riverbed
All in all we had a most wonderful day.  I loved sharing the trip down memory lane with our friends which I know they enjoyed as much as we did.  We were back in the flat by about 11pm and guess what we did when we got back?  Yes, you guessed right, we carried on playing “seven”. 

And suddenly it was Tuesday and our last morning.  I went on my last morning walk with Sandra and after breakfast all together it was time to pack and head home.  Sandra, Jeffer and Isaline will be returning to Brussels tomorrow. 

Now I am home and writing my blog from my desk and I am already missing our friends and the flat.  However tomorrow I am going to London to spend a whole week with my older daughter Suzy which I am much looking forward to. 

So now I must stop writing, publish this blog and then pack for tomorrow.  Meanwhile here are more photos of our wonderful 5 days by the beach with our friends.  We hope we will spend part of our holidays again with them next year, hopefully in Montrondo if the new house is ready by then. 

Cheers then till next time,