Sunday, August 10, 2014

Annual family reunion in Montrondo, a visit to Santiago de Compostela, home again, Olivia reporting on the repatriation of the Spanish priest infected with Ebola, Suzy’s last days in Madrid and other stories.

Sunday 10th August 2014
Olivia (left), Paula (in the middle) and Suzy (right) making dinner in the old stable on the first night in Montrondo
Hello everyone,

When I last wrote just over a week ago we were all together again as a family. Yesterday Suzy left for London and now we are not and it seems as if everything is all over.  However that’s not quite so as I still have another 10 days of holiday to go.  Then at the beginning of September I will be off to Santander for the annual telecoms conference and from there I will be travelling to Vilnius for a European communications meeting. It was going to be held in Helsinki which I was really looking forward to; however Vilnius will be a first for me and I’m now looking forward to that too.  But let me rewind and start from where I left off which was Thursday 31st July when Suzy and I had just returned from London. 

I had just one day to get ready for my next trip to Montrondo with all the family; Eladio, Suzy, Oli and her boyfriend Miguel.  Every year the family meets up on the first Saturday in August which coincides with the village “fiestas” to celebrate Santa Marta and this year we were all going together as last year Suzy couldn’t make it although she paid us a surprise visit on the Sunday.  We left in two cars on Friday morning and of course stopped for a glass of wine and plate of ham at Palacio de Bornos in Rueda.  This year Suzy couldn’t enjoy the ham as she has become a vegetarian.  She ate a healthy peach instead!
The stop in Rueda on the way to Montrondo
We got to our village just in time for lunch with the members of the family who were already there. We were 14 for lunch, would be 20 for dinner and 26 the next day for the annual family lunch.  The family complex was in the throes of building (Pili and Andres’ new house and ours) and it was a little like a battlefield getting from house to house with bricks and mortar and dust everywhere.  It was the first time the girls were to see our house being built.  Pili and Andrés’ house is nearly finished and was to be occupied by their son Mario, their daughter Paula and her boyfriend Pedro as well as Suzy and Olivia and Miguel.  Eladio’s first mission after lunch was to meet our builders; Benito and Recaredo to discuss the progress of the house. 
The building in Montrondo
After short siestas the girls, Miguel and I and some of the family went for a walk to Murias.  We went on the road rather than the old path which I prefer, so as to see the “Moncloa” a sort of resting place which had been built by Javier, a young boy who lives in the village who was also to organize the “fiesta” the next day.  It really is lovely and I know my father-in-law would have loved it too.
At "The Moncloa" in Montrondo with part of the family
As we were 20 for dinner that night, the only place we could fit was in the old stable, “la cuadra” and to please the younger generation we made them fried egg and chips.  In the end for everyone else we organized a sort of buffet where we all pooled our food together.  Thankfully the younger generation is now old enough to help with preparing and clearing away meals which makes life a lot easier for the women in the family, like me or my sister in law Pili.

Saturday dawned, the big day, the day of our annual family gathering and the day of the village fiestas to commemorate their patron saint, Saint Marta.  When I went on my early morning walk the sun was out but soon the clouds gathered and it would rain quite heavily off and on throughout the day.  When I got back Eladio was talking to the builders and they were laying the lines for the rooms on the ground floor.  We have changed the layout of the house twice now and on Saturday morning we were to take a final decision once the ground floor was measured.  So now it looks like this: Ground floor: Outside porch and main entrance, hall, boiler room and to the left the master bedroom and master bathroom. Second floor: kitchen and lounge in one with a big balcony and a terrace on the other side, another bedroom and a communal bathroom.  Top floor: three small bedrooms, one en suite and one communal bathroom.

Because of the difficulties of preparing lunch for so many people in the stable rather than in the kitchen of the old house which we are rebuilding practically from scratch, this year we decided to have lunch out at the only restaurant in the area in nearby Senra, Cumbres de Omaña, run by a bad tempered local.  I hardly dare ask him for a new glass as he generally snaps back or ignores you.  However the food is quite good; at least last Saturday it was and there is plenty of it too.  Here is a picture of us occupying the dining room.  I couldn’t get us all in so those sitting at the ends are not in the picture.  It certainly gives you an idea of what a big family we are.
The family lunch in Senra
Some of us wanted to walk back after the copious lunch.  It was raining a bit but we weren’t too bothered as we all wore rain gear. 

The rain got more serious and Juan drove back to pick us up.  However Miguel, Oli, Pedro and I decided to continue.  The rain got heavier and heavier and then Suzy drove back to pick us up.  By then we were so wet we decided we might as well continue.  A warm shower and a change of clothes awaited us as we returned to Montrondo.  Soon however the sun came out and it was time for the afternoon games organized by Javier and his sister Lorena and which were for children and adults.  They were very well done and I thoroughly enjoyed them.  Eladio didn’t get there till afterwards otherwise we would have taken part in the blindfolded eating of an apple between two people which was such a laugh. However he was there just on time for us to take part in the blindfolded feeding between two people of two biscuits dipped in chocolate which our nephew Roberto and his wife Ana won.  Paula my niece took this great video of the four of us participating which you can watch here.
Fun and games at the fiesta in Montrondo
Most of the family took part in at least some of the games: egg and spoon race, sack race and the piece de resistance, the tug of war.  The latter was played by different age groups, male against female.  The funniest tug of war was between my age group when we women tied the rope to a tractor so that the men wouldn’t win!
Tug of war in Montrondo
On Sunday people began to leave; notably Olivia and Miguel as she had to work the next day.  It was sad to see them go.  On the bright side Suzy would be staying until Tuesday.
Saying goodbye to Olivia and Miguel in Montrondo last Sunday
On Monday Suzy joined me on my second walk of the day to Murias.  On the way back she suggested we took an unknown path which I thought would lead to Montrondo up the mountains.  The path was very steep and there was a gate so we decided to go right instead and work our way down to the river hoping to follow it back to the village. Later we learned we could have gone up the mountains and there would have been a path.  Thus we found ourselves in the middle of a steep field thick with grass and potted with mole holes.
On the adventure walk with Suzy last Monday in Montrondo
Luckily Nuba, José Antonio and Dolores’ mongrel dog was with us and we made her go ahead so that we could follow her and avoid the holes of which there were many.  Eventually we made it down to the river where we realized there was no path to follow to the village.  Our only option was to cross it which we did; taking off our shoes and wading across the freezing cold water. Thankfully it was very shallow.
Suzy crossing the river on our adventure walk in Montrondo last Monday
We had such a laugh although we did have a few minutes of panic.

My days were spent on walks, helping make meals, washing, ironing and reading.  I took with me a book my Mother and I loved and which I read every ten years or so.  It is called The Willow Cabin and is by Pamela Frankau.  It’s a gem of a book and the end always surprises me.

On Tuesday Suzy left after lunch.  Adela and Primo who were going to León that day took her to the bus station where she caught the 17.30 bus to Madrid where she would be picked up by her loving sister Olivia. Meanwhile life continued in Montrondo. I was in a bit of shell shock that day as in the morning I had received a message that my boss’ wife had died after a long battle with cancer.  The burial would be the next day but I couldn’t go as we were far away and were going to Santiago in any case.  Meanwhile life continued in Montrondo.  Not having many ingredients for dinner that day, I decided to make pancakes for everyone.  I couldn’t use my usual recipe which was at home so resorted to internet to find one from the BBC which didn’t work very well.  I did not have the ideal frying pan, the pancakes kept sticking, I was not used to using an induction hob and I did not have the metal spatula I would have needed.  I was getting very frustrated and then very worried when Roberto, Ana and their delightful little girls, Lidia and Diana arrived, wondering what we would eat if the pancakes didn’t work.  In the end they did, although it took me nearly 5 minutes to make each one and I made about 20 whilst everyone was eating.  They were delicious and I received a round of applause but I have decided I shall never make pancakes again in Montrondo in the above circumstances.

In Montrondo this year I got to know little Lidia and four year old Diana a lot better and found them delightful. I specially love talking to bright Diana who is so well behaved and mature for her age.  After the pancake dinner she spied the cards we had been using to play “seven” and asked me to explain them to her which I did with some difficultly as the pack was the Spanish “baraja” which is very different to the normal English poker type pack although the principle is the same. 

The next day Thursday, I went on my last morning walk and was joined by Diana’s grandmother Adele.  Then after breakfast I did our packing and we said our goodbyes before leaving for Santiago in Galicia where we to spend two nights at “Olivia’s hotel”, the NH Obradoiro (now called NH Collection).  I say Olivia’s hotel because this is where she always used to stay when working for TVE.  From here for example she covered the train tragedy last year, as well as many other stories. 

But first we were to stop near Ponferrada to visit our niece, Marta (Adela’s daughter) and her husband Fernando (commonly known as “Ministro”, a nickname earned whilst he was a football player for the Ponferrada team) and see the lovely house they had built.  They have a lovely home and it is beautifully decorated.  We loved it.
Marta and Ministro's lovely house
We continued on our way and stopped for lunch at a delightful little place called La Casilla in Guitirz.  Here we had our favourite Galician dish, “caldo Gallego” (broth) followed by octopus for Eladio and by a huge piece of steak for me of which I only managed to eat about half.  Galician portions are notoriously large.
Lunch in Guitiriz
We arrived at our destination at about 17.30 and checked into our hotel.  Olivia had told us to ask for Laura and she was at the desk when we arrived.  She was delighted to meet us and from her we found out that everyone who worked at the hotel seemed to know and love Olivia.  I felt very proud.  We were given her extra big room, number 204 which we found very comfortable.
The NH Obradoiro (Collection) Olivia's hotel in Santiago where we stayed
Rain was threatening, so we donned a rain poncho and umbrella and walked the 1.4km to the historic centre of the town, to the Plaza da Obradoiro.  Before I continue I should tell you, if you didn’t know already, that Santiago, the capital of Galicia, is the seat of the famous Cathedral where the remains of the Apostle, St. James lie.  It is here where the people who walk the “camino” (Jacobean Way) come at the end of their pilgrimage.  We saw many people arriving and I could only imagine what they must have felt like after so many days or weeks of walking. 
The Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela
We tried to visit the Cathedral but chance had it that very sadly a woman had just died inside and it had been evacuated and would not be open until the next day.  So we walked through the beautiful old streets and squares getting lost in the process.  I had only been to Santiago once some 35 years ago and did not remember it.  Likewise Eladio, although his memory was better than mine.
In the beautiful square behind the Cathedral in Santiago.  I'm sorry I can't remember its name.
That evening we had dinner at the beautiful Parador in the Plaza da Obradoiro, the so called Hostal dos Reis Católicos builit in the 15th Century.  It was a truly wonderful dinner. One day I hope to sleep there.
The Parador in Santiago de Compostela, the 15th Century Hostal dos Reis Católicos
I should mention that that evening at the hotel I had an email from a Swedish producer, Lars who had made a film of my working day; basically how mobile phones and today’s technology permit me to work from home and be so productive.  I had seen the video but it wasn’t published or official until then.  If you are interested here is the link.  I am quite pleased with the result.

The next day after a great breakfast at our hotel we walked once again to the old town where this time we were able to visit the Cathedral home to the famous “botafumeiro” or “thurible” which is suspended from the ceiling from chains and in which incense is burned on special occasions.
The botafumeiro inside the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral
Many pilgrims and visitors were queuing up to put their arms around the statue of St. James in the altar.  The queue was too long for us so we joined the shorter one to visit his tomb housed in a splendid silver cask.

From the cathedral we made our way to the famous market, the Mercado de Abastos where women from the villages sell their orchard produce and which probably sells some of the best food in Spain.  We walked past a lovely tavern recommended to us by Keka, the 2.0 Abastos but we were not hungry. It looked very inviting. 
At the Mercado de Abastos in Santiago de Compostela
We had decided to spend the rest of the day by the beach and went to get our car to drive to Noia and see the famous fiord, the Ria de Noia y Muros.  The weather turned ugly, it rained and there was fog which made Noia look quite unattractive.  It was time for lunch and we made our way through the old town to a place we had been recommended, El Ferrador. The food was good but the service was so slow we left before our second course was served. When we ventured outside the sun was shining and Noia looked lovely in contrast to how it looked in the rain and fog.
Eladio in Noia by the "ria" when the sun came out
From Noia we headed to the nearest beach and found the Praia da Testal.  We couldn’t believe we were the only people there.  The sun was making its way through the clouds and we lay down on the towel we had brought from the hotel.  As Eladio slept I explored the beach and when he woke up we went for a walk together commenting just how much we love Galicia.
On the empty Testal beach near Noia
From the beach we hit the road again and made our way to Muros on the Costa da Morte (death coast) which has some of Spain’s most spectacular coastline.  Here we enjoyed an ice cream in the town square remembering being in Muros with my Father a few years ago. We had a long drive home but thankfully there was no more rain and fog.  Back at the hotel I went to use the spa and pool whilst Eladio rested in our room. That evening we had a table booked at a romantic restaurant called Filigrana which is part of a lovely boutique hotel called Quinta da Agua just 4km outside Santiago de Compostela on the Noia road.  Once again it was recommended by Keka.  We fell in love with the place immediately. It was just lovely, an old building that had been renovated with love and care and beautifully decorated.  The food was also out of this world.
Outside the lovely Hotel Quinta da Agua where we had dinner at the Filigrana restaurant
Eladio at our table at the Filigrana restaurant near Santiago
If we ever go back to Santiago we shall repeat the experience.  It ticked all the boxes of the perfect restaurant in our minds.

The next day was Friday and the end of our stay in Santiago.  We left the hotel thanking Laura for our stay and hit the road at 09.30. We put the satnav on to read that we had a drive of just less than 600km quite a long haul.  The satnav guided us out of Santiago and onto the Orense road.  The roads were good and we were in Benavente at just past 13h.  We decided to stop and have lunch at the Parador there.  Our stomachs began to rumble just at the thought of the dish of chickpeas the lovely Parador serves and which was our sole purpose of stopping there.
The end of our trips to Montrondo and Santiago de Compostela - lunch at the Parador in Benavente on our way home
As we were driving home to Madrid, Olivia sent us a photo of her and her team who had been reporting on the repatriation of the 75 year old Spanish priest, Miguel Pajares who is the first European to be infected with Ebola.  The story of the new batch of virus from Africa is in all the media, as is the story of the Spanish priest. The WHO announced that day that the Ebola outbreak in Africa is an international public health emergency.  Over 1.500 people have died in Liberia where the priest was repatriated from and in Sierra Leone and Guinea Conakry and this particular type of Ebola virus is especially life threatening. Olivia later told us that the hospital he was sent to, the Carlos III, had been evacuated of patients.  Imagine.
Olivia and her team reporting on the return to Spain of Europe's first patient infected with Ebola, the priest Miguel Pajares
Once back at home I saw her on TV reporting on the development of the story from the hospital itself and from the Spanish plane which had brought him back.  It is the main Spanish official plane used to transport the royal family, top government members and according to her is the utmost in luxury. 

Once home and after unpacking I greeted my Father, Fátima and the dogs, in that order.  Later I would see Susana who was enjoying her last days in Madrid before returning to London.  She brought some of her “manada” friends home after lunch out with them.  Later that evening she went out to a farewell dinner with them at Xinito.  Olivia joined them too and here is a great selfie of the occasion.
Suzy's goodbye dinner with the "manada" (group of friends) on Friday night.
In fact that evening, Olivia went to two special dinners.  After work on Friday her programme had organized a dinner to celebrate the 50th programme since its start at the beginning of the summer.  Here is the photo she posted of the dinner.  She must have left early to join Suzy and the “manada” at Xinito in Majadahonda.
Olivia's dinner to celebrate 50 editions of her TV programme last Friday
I wasn’t to see her until Saturday morning.  I was up early that day, wanting to get the most out of Suzy’s last day but also determined to get my two walks in early before it got too hot.  I can’t begin to describe the heat of Madrid compared to Galicia or Montrondo.  We have had to switch the air conditioning on each night since we have returned.  The dogs were in need of our company, a walk with us and most important of all, a bath.  They didn’t protest at all and I now think they really quite like it.

After the two walks, bathing the dogs and greeting both girls, as well as Juli who had slept the night at our house, I had to go and do the food shopping with Fátima.  Suzy needed some items to take back to London (olive oil, chick peas, ground coffee, tinned tuna fish, …) and of course we needed things for lunch and for the coming week.  The girls and Juli helped us unload everything and make the lunch too.  It was to be the last lunch with Suzy but we were determined to enjoy it. I’m afraid I forgot to take a photo for this blog. 

And so the moment came for Susana to leave.  Juli was taking her to the airport as he lives quite near it.  We all came outside to see her off.  Sitting in the passenger seat with the window down, she burst into tears.  Her last words were “look after Grandpa”. It was sad to see her go and the house seemed so empty after she left.  Olivia and I spent quality time together in her bedroom afterwards doing our nails and later I swam in the pool with Eladio and read more of The Willow Cabin.  The three of us had dinner together.  This time I did take a photo, it was of Elsa and Olivia and I love it.
Elsa with a relaxed Olivia at dinner with us last night.
Today Sunday with Suzy gone and Fátima away for the weekend, it has been very quiet. I went on two morning walks again and on the second one was joined by Eladio, Olivia and the dogs.  Later Olivia made salmorejo for lunch (excellent by the way) followed by my baked fish with chips.  It was a nice family lunch, although we still missed the presence of Suzy.

The coming week will be quiet too.  I’m not quite sure yet how I will spend the last week of my summer holidays.  We may go to Santa Pola but we are not sure yet.

And that my friends, is the end of the story of our trip to Montrondo and Galicia and this last week.  I hope you are all having a great summer,

Cheers till next time


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