Sunday, January 04, 2015

Goodbye Suzy, New Year in Montrondo with slippery paths and new equestrian friends, “Intrepid apostles”, farewell 2014 and other things.

Cooking with the girls on Suzy's last day last Sunday
Hi everyone and Happy New Year to you all.

Today is the first Sunday of the New Year and my first post in 2015.  Just one week ago when I left off, it was Suzy’s last day with us.  It was of course 28th December, Spain’s April Fools’ Day but when my Father woke us up at 7 in the morning instead of 8 I knew he wasn’t joking; he had just confused the time on his clock. 

Being “innocents’ day”, from a PR perspective we aimed to play a joke about Yoigo on our social media pages and even sent out a press release.  We were inspired by one of our new images (bananas and one single pear) and decided to announce that in the New Year Yoigo would be selling fruit and fiber and even distributing all the bananas from the Canary Islands!  I was glad to see we got some media coverage and lots of comments on social media.
Yoigo celebrating the diffference
But it was no joke that Suzy was leaving that day and I was determined to make the most of it.  We had our last meal together and we “girls” cooked it together.  The photo illustrating this week’s post is of Suzy, Oli and I cooking.  For the record Olivia made mushroom risotto which was delicious.

It was no joke either that day that another Malaysian airplane went missing, Air Asia over the sea of Java in Indonesia.  That was the main news this week.  A few days later bodies and wreckage began to appear of the more than 160 passengers and crew who perished last Sunday in an accident apparently caused by extreme weather conditions.

On Monday Eladio and I were going to Montrondo to join his brother José Antonio.  The idea was to inspect the progress on the house, spend a few days there and join the rest of the family for New Year’s Eve in León at Amancio, the restaurant we go to nearly every year. 

On our way, as tradition dictates, we stopped at Rueda, a small town famous for its white wine in the province of Valladolid, for a plate of Spanish cured ham and a glass of wine at Bodegas Palacio de Bornos. Here we are enjoying the moment.
Our stop in Rueda for a little something on the way to Montrondo  this Monday
We were glad to see some snow on the ground when we arrived and also happy that José Antonio had arrived the night before, thus warming up his house for our arrival.  The men went straight to inspect the building of the house whilst I quickly made our lunch.  As usual I was to be the cook.  When travelling to Montrondo you have to be very organized about meals and take all the necessary ingredients as there are no shops in the vicinity.  I am so organized I had even made up the menus for all the lunches and dinners from Monday to Thursday.  I think my efforts were appreciated.

Once lunch was ready to serve, l covered it up to keep warm and dashed to join the men to see the progress on the house. I had last seen it in November so there really was something to see and appreciate this time.  It is coming on nicely, especially from the outside.  The divisions of all the rooms have been made as well as the temporary staircases.  Finally it is now beginning to look as though progress has been made and I can begin to imagine what it will look like when it is finished.
The house is coming on nicely in Montrondo
After lunch, I managed to persuade the brothers to skip their usual siesta and take advantage of the sunlight as it gets dark at 6pm and off we went for a walk up the mountains.  It was cold but sunny and we enjoyed walking up the snowy path in our new boots.  However there were quite a few patches of ice and we had to step carefully because the path was very slippery in certain places.
Eladio and José Antonio on our walk up the mountains on Monday afternoon
Enjoying the snow in the mountains of Montrondo
We were amazed to see many animal footprints in the virgin snow as we climbed higher and higher.  At the beginning we thought they were dog footprints but soon realized they were very big, some even bigger than a hand.  We then began to imagine the big ones were from a bear and the medium sized ones from wolves.  Later I asked one of the villagers who confirmed that yes indeed there was a bear or even two and a pack of wolves in the area.  The prints were very fresh so it’s quite obvious the bear must have crossed the same path as us just a while before.  I don’t know much about bears but did know that in Spain there is only one type, the brown bear or “oso pardo” which mostly lives in the north of Spain and is an endangered species.  I would have thought it would be hibernating at this time of year but maybe climate change has altered its habits.  I later found out that there are 8 types of bear in the world with variations of some of them, the polar bear being the biggest.

Wolf and  bear footprints on our walk
On our way down we had to walk with greater care because of the ice and as usual, as I have a tendency to do so, I fell flat on my back.  Later Eladio tried to help me as I nearly fell a second time and whilst doing so he fell too.  We didn’t do any damage thankfully and lay there laughing as José Antonio took a photo of us. 

Slipping on the ice
We were home just as the sun had set and were not surprised to read on José Antonio’s outside thermometer that the temperature had fallen to -6ºc.  During the day whilst we were there it didn’t rise much above 0ºc which meant the snow on the ground never melted.

When I was not out walking or cooking, my entertainment was my kindle and I was riveted reading Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith, a crime novel set in Stalin’s Russia.  A film was made of it and I tried to find it on Amazon to no avail.  Then very happily I found it for free on You Tube (all this once at home of course) here and look forward to watching it soon. I have now also bought the sequel The Secret Speech and hope it is just as good as Child 44. There is no internet in Montrondo, at least at my brother in law’s house, which for me is very frustrating and why I cannot spend more than a few days in the village.  It is frustrating from a work perspective as my work depends on internet but also from a personal point of view.  Rest assured we shall have internet in our new house as I consider it a utility as important as water or heating.

On Tuesday morning whilst my Fabada (Asturian bean stew) was cooking we made a full inspection of the house and all the “rooms” which are small but will be very comfortable.  We measured them all to see if the furniture would fit and thankfully it will. What won’t fit in the master bathroom is the claw foot bath tub we bought at my insistence.  However there and then we realized it would fit perfectly in our bedroom and there it will go!

We had an early lunch so as the brothers could have their siesta before it got too dark and we could go on another long walk.  This time they wanted to show me a different path the one that goes up the mountain called “la peña mala”.  However the track was very difficult to negotiate and felt more like a path for goats then for people.  What I did appreciate though was the great view of the village from this side of the mountains.  Here is a panoramic view of our beloved Montrondo taken from there.
A panoramic view of Montrondo from "la peña mala"
As the path was too difficult to walk on we had no other option than to go down to the village again and take the old path to Murias de Paredes, a shorter walk but very pretty and more comfortable for me as the terrain is flat.

On Wednesday morning I decided to go on the walk all the way to Senra and back, some two hours whilst the brothers pottered around the houses.  By the way you might be interested to see the compound where we all have our houses.  In this photo you can see the converted barn, then our house to the right, then Pili’s yellow house and far right José Antonio and Dolores’ house.  Ours, the stone house, is the original family house, the one we are rebuilding which as you can see is something of a “sandwich house”.  The only way of making it bigger was adding a third floor and building a porch and terrace.
Part of the Freijo family compound in Montrondo.  Our house is the grey stone one on the left.
On my walk I was able to download the photos and video I had been sent from my PR team in Madrid, as the mobile internet signal is a little stronger in Murias and Senra.  They were of a PR activity we had carried out the night before 30th December, the “pre new year’s eve” event which takes place to make sure the clock in the Puerta del Sol would be working perfectly for the 31st at midnight.  On New Year’s Eve at midnight Spaniards eat 12 grapes, one for every chime to bring luck for the New Year.  In the trial run on Tuesday night we gave out some 15.000 thousand bags, not of grapes, but of sweets – 11 bananas and 1 pear.  The idea behind this came again from the new image of bananas and one pear, stressing that Yoigo is different and bringing the difference to the people celebrating with bananas and a pear instead of grapes. You can see the video here.
Yoigo's big PR stunt at the Puerta del Sol on the rehearsal night for NYE.

Just as I was leaving Murias on the path to Senra I saw three lovely horses in one of the fields.  I was particularly attracted to this beautiful red horse which came to me immediately when I held my hand out with the only thing I had available, a piece of chewing gum.  I stroked it behind its ears which it seemed to enjoy and I decided to bring more sweets the next day.
A selfie with my new friend on the road in between Murias and Senra
The afternoon was ours for the having until the evening when we would get ready and dressed up to drive to León to join the rest of the family for the New Year’s Eve dinner.  We decided our walk would be up the normal mountain route (Cumbres de Omaña; the path to the highest peak in the area, “El Tambarón” which is 2.102m high).  There seemed to be even more ice than the on our previous walk and this time we were to fall again.  Just look how treacherous some of the path looked and how we had to walk on the side of the ice to continue.
Eladio helping me steer past the ice on the path in the mountains 
Just as we got to the bear and wolf foot prints Eladio thought we should turn round and walk back.  I think he was worried we might see them but we never did.  It was on the walk down that I fell, this time hurting myself quite a lot.  I hit the side of my face and my knee.  I then had to walk down hanging on to Eladio’s arm.  When we got to the fork in the path where you either take the gentle path called “el retorno” back to the village or the steeper one called “la cuesta de la bidulina” we had to decide which one would be easier. So Eladio being a galant husband walked down the latter and we watched from above as he fell flat on his back just by the spring “la Fuente de Antón”.  I commented to José Antonio that that was not the path to take.  When we returned, via “el retorno” and got home, poor Elaidio’s hip and lower part of his back was inflamed.  The next day he would have a bruise which covered most of his back. Thankfully he didn’t break anything.  I must admit we were a little adventurous going up the very slippery paths with wolves and bears in the area.  On the bright side they were beautiful sunny walks in the snow and wonderful exercise with the best air in the world for our lungs.

Thankfully Eladio was ok enough to go to León that night, so the three of us got ready and left Montrondo just before 8 in the evening as it would take us at least 1.5 hours to get to León, as the roads are dark and very winding.  Nearly everyone was at Amancio when we arrived.  However I had to stay in the car for a while to send some emails which I couldn’t send from Montrondo due to the lack of mobile internet.  In León Yoigo’s 4G was working perfectly and by 9.30 I was in the restaurant with all the family.

This year there were only 16 of us around the table which is probably the lowest number ever.  There have been times when there were nearly 30 of us.  In any case it was a lovely meal and great to be with the family. 
NYE dinner with part of the family in León 
Just before the chimes I rang Olivia quickly to wish her a Happy New Year.  I did not have the same luck with Suzy as the lines were busy.  Later I was happy to know she had spent the evening in the company of her closest Spanish friends in London such as Mónica and Chati.  Here is a photo of the 3 of them together.
Suzy celebrating NYE in style in London with her Spanish friends
She told me they had organized a dinner at Chati’s house and she had bought crackers. At about 10 they went to a pub to celebrate and at 11 o’clock English time  and 12 o’clock Spanish time they went out into the street to eat their 12 grapes listening to TVE which I thought was a lovely thing to do.

It’s funny but my year ended in León and began there as it has it has nearly every year since we were married.  We left the restaurant at past 1 in the morning and didn’t get to bed in Montrondo till after 2 which is terribly late for me.  On 1st January 2015 I woke up at 9 am and after breakfast as the brothers cleaned the house ready to leave at 12, I went on my last walk to Senra and back.  This time I carried a pack of sugar free polos to give to my new equestrian friends.  Really I should have taken lumps of sugar or bits of bread but I didn’t have the former and didn’t think of the latter.

As we left the house just after 12 I asked Eladio to stop the car for me to say my proper goodbye to the horses.  This time José Antonio joined me whilst Eladio took photos of us.  As soon as I approached the fence, all three horses came to enjoy the polo mints from our hands. 
Saying goodbye to my new equestrian friends in Montrondo with José Antonio
On our way home we stopped at the Parador in Benavente where José Antonio treated us to lunch.  As usual we enjoyed the chick peas from Fuentesauco “garbanzos”.  Here is a photo of the two brothers at the Parador.
The two brothers enjoying lunch on New Year's Day at the Parador in Benavente
We were home by 6 and glad to see that everything was in order at home.  You see it was the first time we were leaving our new home help Gema alone at home with my Father.  Thankfully she passed the test.  She has now been with us for a month and will be staying on permanently, however long permanent means for a maid in our house.  We enjoyed dinner with Miguel and Olivia and we also had time to call Suzy and wish her a happy new year.  She sounded in good spirits.

On Friday we thought it was time to go to Ikea and order all the rest of the furniture we need for the new house in Montrondo.  We have already planned the furniture for the kitchen/dining and lounge area and needed some furniture for the 4 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms.  The task ended up taking till past 4 in the afternoon and giving me a migraine in the process.  We came home and all I could do was to lie down in bed, take more pills which wouldn’t help and breathe in tiger balm. The next day I read in the facebook forum for the 5:2 “fast” diet that a possible remedy for migraines is salt.  I read this article and shall certainly be trying it out next time I have a strong headache.

I was a bit better by 7 pm so we went to do the food shopping.  I must say I miss doing the shopping with our previous home help Fátima as she took care of everything especially loading the car, unloading it and putting everything away once back home.  Because of my headache we skipped on dinner out on Friday night and just went to bed early.

Yesterday was Saturday and I woke up headache-free thank goodness.  I was full of energy and our morning was particularly productive and efficient.  I was up at 7.30, had my breakfast and went for my hour long walk, after which I prepared lunch whilst Eladio washed both dogs.  We then went out to buy lottery tickets for the next big Spanish lottery called “El Niño” (the child) which is drawn on 5th January and which actually gives more prize money than the Christmas lottery “El Gordo”.  Whilst Eladio was buying the tickets I went to the post office.  When he told me later he had spent 280 euros I was aghast.  We could win a fortune but of course we won’t.  However dreaming is free so this morning on my walk I thought about what we would do if we won a million euros! 

After buying the lottery tickets we drove to Centro Oeste shopping centre to buy a new coffee machine and also buy a present for each member of the family for Kings’ Day on 6th January, the last festive day of the season.  In Spain “Reyes” is just as important or more than Father Christmas and Centro Oeste was packed. 

In the afternoon I finished Child 44 and then after our second walk I decided to start on the Downton Abbey Christmas special 2014 which had arrived the previous day.  I would have preferred to binge watch it but I had to make dinner so now I have the second half to look forward to watching this afternoon.

Suzy meanwhile was biking her way around London with Gabor and friends.  I’m not sure where they went but judging from the pictures the bikes were hired in the centre of the city.  They were lucky with the weather and must have had a great time.
Suzy cycling with Gabor and friends yesterday in London
And today is Sunday and to quote my Father “blog day”.  As soon as I finish this post I shall start making lunch for everyone (English fish and chips today!).  In the afternoon you will not be surprised to know I will be going on my second walk and will be joined by Eladio and the dogs.

I must also mention that today I found out that my friend Javier, who is an avid reader of my blog, has published a book which as soon as I heard, I bought for my kindle.  It is entitled "Apósteles Intrépidos: Jóvenes que (además) creen en Dios" (intrepid apostles: Young people who, also, believe in God) and is dedicated to his youngest daughter who just recently announced to her parents that she did not want to be confirmed.  I shall be reading it with great interest.  Well done Javier, I’m very proud of you.
The book my friend Javier has just published and which I shall be reading very soon
So I have finished telling you about this week, but I haven’t quite finished this post. As it is the first post of the year, I would like to make a quick reflection and summary of what this year has been like; my farewell to 2014 which all in all has treated us very nicely.

As I said earlier, 2014 as always started in León with Eladio’s family.  The year will be remembered in the news for the Ukraine issue, the Islamic State, Ebola in Africa and its repercussions in Europe as well as the silly ice bucket challenge.  In football terms it was the year Real Madrid won “la décima” (the tenth time it won the Champions League).

For me it will be remembered for some significant birthdays.  Suzy turned 30, my Father turned 95 and Eladio, my gorgeous looking husband became 70 in September which seems unbelievable as he doesn’t look a year older than say 55! In 2014 perhaps our most exciting project was starting the rebuilding on the house in Montrondo.  It will also be remembered for quite a few trips; two to Stockholm, one to Lithuania, two to London to be with Suzy, as well as visits to Santander and Barcelona and days away with Eladio to Soria, Santiago and Doñana.  We also entertained friends from abroad. Kathy and Phil came to see us in March, Adele and Sandie and their partners came in May and Keith and Lorraine came in June.  The summer was super with time spent in Santa Pola with our friends Sandra and Jeffer and in Montrondo. 2014 was also the year Olivia changed jobs, leaving TVE after 8 years and joining Aquí en Madrid a programme made by Boomerang for Telemadrid. It was the year the King of Spain abdicated and Olivia had the privilege of reporting on the story the very day the new programme went live. It was the year of our 31st wedding anniversary, the year my Father had a tumour removed from his bladder successfully and on a professional level it was the year I was voted best communications director in the sector. All in all it has been a good year.  I can only hope that 2015 will be just as good.  I do not want to be greedy and ask for anything more. I know I am a lucky person living a wonderful life and should not ask for more.  If I had to ask for anything it would just be health. If I could squeeze in another request it would be to finish the building of our house in Montrondo in a satisfactory way but I think that is a given.

So my friends, all that remains now is to thank you for following my life, for reading my posts every week and of course to wish you all a great 2015. 

Cheers till next week


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