Sunday, August 16, 2015

Leaving Montrondo, home again, off to Santa Pola, Spain no country for dogs, the crime of Cuenca, history in the making in Havana, shopping with Jackie at a British supermarket, back to Madrid and a lovely welcome from Norah and Elsa, Carolina Marin did it again and other stories.

Sunday 16th August 2015

On the lighthouse walk with Pippa in Gran Alacant
Hi everyone,

It’s Sunday again and blog day.  Last week I wrote from Montrondo.  After publishing my blog post, Eladio, Toño, Dolores and I went to Senra to get bread for lunch and also to have a cup of coffee at the only bar there called Cumbres de Omaña run by a very grumpy owner. 
Eladio with Pippa and his next brother down Toño in Senra last Sunday
Meanwhile Pili stayed behind to take her Mother to mass.  Mass in Montrondo is the only “entertainment” and is the occasion for locals to go out, dress up and chit chat after church.  Here is a photo of Pili standing on her balcony all ready to take her Mother out.
Pili ready to go to mass last Sunday in Montrondo
It was to be Pippa’s last few hours in Montrondo too.  She had a great time as the village is certainly a great place for dogs compared to most public places in Spain – more about that later.  One of her favourite spots is Toño and Dolores’s wooden rail sleeper steps that lead up to her house and I caught her on camera looking as sweet as she is in real life.
Pippa loves Montrondo
We left after a short siesta and were home by 9.30pm where Olivia was waiting for us as were the other dogs, Norah and Elsa.  The best thing about coming home is always being able to sleep in your own bed and ours is the best in the world, for us, at least. 

On Monday morning on my walk I realized how the temperatures had dropped compared to the previous week; but never as low as they can get in Montrondo of course.  Here I am on that first walk after coming home, complete with my earphones to listen to music via Spotify.
About to go on my walk last Monday morning
I had a lot of work to do that day.  We were to announce a tiny increase in the setup fee in our lower end tariffs, from 18.5 cents to 20 cents, more in line with the market but we got a lot of stick from consumers on Facebook and Twitter which was to be suspected.  We dealt with it as best we could but it wasn’t an easy task.  Yoigo brought cheap mobile phone prices to an expensive market in 2006 and has been lowering them ever since and a one and a half cent increase is only in line with the market and makes the tariffs more viable for us.  Water, petrol and electricity bills go up; so I think it’s fair that after nearly 9 years an increase of 1.5 cents is understandable and that companies have to make money and do not exist to offer free phones and free data and voice tariffs; something people tend to forget.

That evening I read more of the Grant County book series by Karin Slaughter as I tried to keep my mind off Suzy’s pending operation.  The waiting is the worst part.

On Tuesday I read with astonishment that 2 people were stabbed to death in an Ikea store in its home market Sweden.  It’s very rare to hear stories like this one from such a peaceful country.  It would have made great material for a new book by Stieg Larsson if he had lived.  I’m sure.

That morning whilst I was reading the news on my iPad having breakfast, I learned that Google is to be called Alphabet or rather that the holding company will be called Alphabet; Google just being a part of it.  As a communications person I’m not sure that makes much sense as the Google brand is so strong I`m pretty certain it will carry on being called that by everyone.

But the most interesting news, for me at least that morning, was when I learned that Atul Kochhar, the only Indian chef with a Michelin star, is to open a “colonial style” restaurant called Benarés (same name as the famous Ganges town aka Varanasi) in Madrid in September. Now I am looking forward to that.  I love Indian food and am keen to see how this endeavor goes down with Spaniards who do not like hot and spicy food.  Will he tone it down to meet their palates I wonder?
Atul Kochhar the first Indian chef to earn a Michelin star.  He will be opening a restaurant called Benares in Madrid soon
We left for Santa Pola, a 420km drive, and arrived at our flat in Gran Alacant (an urbanization some 4k from Santa Pola on the Alicante road) just after 2. After a quick clean up and unpacking I made a makeshift lunch of steak and salad washed down by gazpacho.  It was very hot and humid, more than usual even for August so I kept taking a shower the effects of which didn’t last more than about 10 minutes.  

Apart from unpacking and cleaning and having lunch, one of my first tasks was to set up my office.  The dining room table doubles as my work space at the flat as you can see from this photo.
My working space at the flat is part of the dining room table
After lunch and a siesta we sat on our cool terrace which thankfully doesn’t get the sun in the afternoon.  Here is Eladio with Pippa on the terrace where we read and drank tea until it was time to go to the beach.
Eladio with Pippa on our terrace in Gran Alacant 
We always avoid going to the beach in the middle of the day because of the heat, the crowds and the impossibility to park, so that day we went down at 7.30 pm. 
Our beach  .  you can see the apartments where we live on the cliff at the end of the photo
On the signs with rules about the beach it was clear dogs were not allowed.  When we were last there in March we never spied the sign and saw lots of dogs on the beach. So I told Eladio it was probably a rule that most people broke.  Unwillingly he agreed to take Pippa down to the beach but from then on was worried about what people would say.  Most people thought she was gorgeous and didn’t seem to worry. However she did appear to be the only dog there.  We took her for a walk on her leash and not on the beach shore where people were which made it very difficult for us to walk.  Eladio, seeming more British than I, decided we should give up on the walk and go home as he didn’t like breaking the rule about no dogs on the beach.  So, no beach for poor Pippa and it got worse.  There were signs too in the gardens of our complex forbidding dogs.  That rule I passed on.
Spain is no country for dogs in public places
We tried taking her to the communal swimming pool which didn’t seem to feature forbidding dogs in its list of rules.  But as soon as we walked in, an unpleasant man who was an obvious dog hater told us we shouldn’t have brought her in.  When we protested saying there was no rule in the list about dogs, he answered it was common sense not to take them there.  Eladio obeyed and I stayed behind feeling furious with the country I love, Spain which I now know is “no country for dogs”.  Many people have dogs in Spain but animals in general here are not revered and have never been so.  Especially animals in the villages where they often roam free and are not fed on a regular basis.  The English, on the other hand, adore animals be they dogs, cats, horses or donkeys and their tribulations form part of daily news articles – not so here I can tell you and no self-respecting fireman would be seen dead climbing up a tree either to rescue a cat. I just wish it was the same here but it isn’t and dogs can only enjoy their homes and the countryside until that perhaps will also become forbidden for them.  I sincerely hope not.  As one man commented to me on the beach, Pippa looked a lot cleaner than many people there and I totally agree.

That night we went to dinner to a new restaurant in Gran Alacant, Marandi, recommended to me by Miguel, Oli’s boyfriend.  According to The Fork it is the most popular in the area. It was full of Nordic and French customers.  I didn’t see any Spaniards except the staff.  The meal was good. I had fish and chips (surprised?) but the best part was the dessert which was apple crumble.  The fish and chips were ok but nowhere near the quality of Derby's Chippy which unfortunately we didn't get to go to this time.
The restaurant we went to on our first night at Gran Alacant
That night we slept with the fan on as it was so hot and humid.  The next morning I was up at 7 and after a quick cup of coffee I took Pippa with me for a long walk to the lighthouse on the cliff at the Cape of Santa Pola.  We would do this every morning of our stay.  Sunrise was at 7.30 approx and the views from the cliff are amazing.  The photo illustrating this week’s post is of Pippa and I at the lighthouse cliff which now boasts a new and rather ugly pathway and balcony to take in the views of the nearby inhabited island of Tabarca.  I didn’t like it and neither did Pippa.
Sunrise by the lighthouse on one of my morning walks.
We spent most of the day in the flat and went down to the beach again in the evening, this time without Pippa who had to stay alone in the flat poor sweetie. That night we were expecting to see lots of shooting stars in the skies thanks to the Perseid Meteor shower which was much advertised on TV.  Unfortunately it was too cloudy and I never got to see them.  They were supposed to peak on the 11th, 12th and 13th August.

But the main news in Spain both last week and this week has been a crime in Cuenca, a quiet inland provincial capital in between Madrid and Alicante.  Two young girls, Laura del Hoyo aged 24 and her Ukranian friend Marina Okarynska went missing the week before and their bodies were found on Wednesday night covered in quicklime by a passerby.  The autopsy proved their death had been violent and the cause strangulation.  At the same time Laura’s ex-boyfriend Sergio Morate disappeared too and is the prime suspect of the crime.  Previously he had been in prison for kidnapping and torturing an ex-girlfriend.  Laura had gone to his flat to pick up her things and was accompanied by Marina.  Sergio was found the next day in Romania when he switched on his mobile phone. 
Laura and Marina RIP
Crimes like this are uncommon in Spain and the news has shocked the country.  Even the suspect’s family has disowned him. Whatever could have been his motive? There is a famous film in Spain which is actually called El Crimen de Cuenca (the crime of Cuenca) and in many articles this week the story has been called the crime of Cuenca.  It’s a bit ironic as Cuenca is a sleepy little town where not much happens.

Olivia covered the story and the next day was sent to Cuenca to the funeral parlour along with most of the Spanish press.  Coincidentally her boyfriend who is a cameraman for Spanish TVE in the Valencia region was also there.  That was the happy story of the day.
Olivia with Miguel and one of his colleagues in Cuenca where they coincided on Thursday
On Thursday after my walk and breakfast Eladio and I decided to go the beach in the morning too before it got too hot or the crowds appeared.  It turned out to be a great decision as the water at that time in the morning is much cooler and the walk along the beach more pleasant without so many people.  Here is a photo of Eladio setting up our parasol and chairs.
Eladio setting up our space on the beach one morning
We then came home to let little Pippa out.  We took her to the new market which is comes on Thursdays and is now located diagonally across from where we live.  This is just some of the lovely fruit we bought.
Fruit bought from the local market
Then we had a boring task to do; go to Alicante to the estate agent for our block of flats to get a new clicker for the car park as ours had stopped working.  Once back in Gran Alacant, we did a bit of shopping at a new supermarket called Urbine which stocks some very good food as well as a lot of British produce.  There are so many Brits in Gran Alacant which is why many of the local supermarkets stock UK products.  That makes me very happy.  I stocked up on Sharwoods curry sauces and crumpets at Quicksave across the way from our flat.

Meanwhile in London Suzy was seeing an EENT (ear eyes nose and throat) specialist as she had an ear plug stuck up her ear since the beginning of July and which the local GP couldn’t remove.  It had bothered her for more than a month, plus of course she couldn’t hear with that ear. At the same time the consultant examined her throat to see the polyp there.  It will be removed in September.  They also discovered her blood pressure was very low; not a good thing for her operation next week. I suspect it is because of the vegan diet and she needs lots of iron and protein to be fit for the laparoscopy and recovery.

Poor Suzy, she has lots of health issues at the moment.  On the bright side she has lots of hope for her professional future after an interview with a job agency which specializes in health care professionals.  One of the things he told her is that London is saturated for jobs and that it would be easier to find one outside London.  He also said that if she worked for a hospital as a locum dietitian she would be entitled to hospital accommodation at a very reasonable price.  I have been telling both her and lots of other young Spaniards seeking their fortune in London, that they really should try their luck elsewhere.  I recently read and commented here that in Yorkshire for example in just one year there had been more jobs created there than in the whole of France. 

That night Eladio and I went out to dinner to Batiste, the best in town in Santa Pola.  We wanted to have an “arroz a banda” (rice dish similar to a paella but in my opinion much nicer) before we left.  This is what it looked like.
The arroz a banda we had at Batiste.
We would have far preferred to go to our favourite restaurant of all in the area, Maria Picola but for some unknown reason it has closed.  I do hope it's not closed permanently.

Friday was much like Thursday.  I was up at 06.45 and the visibility on our walk that morning was super.  We could see the island of Tabarca very clearly, well I could. I’m not sure about Pippa haha. I was rather surprised to find a completely naked man in his 40’s or 50’s doing exercise up on the cliff by the lighthouse.  He even said good morning to which I replied but looking the other way.  Later I saw him walking off with his shorts on thank goodness. I suspect he didn’t expect to find anyone else so early on the walk.  Well he did didn’t he?
Friday was much like Thursday for us but for my nephew Miguel who lives in Havana and for Cuba, the United States and the International community it was a historic day.  Miguel lived history that day when he witnessed the hoisting of the US flag at the newly opened US Embassy in the Cuban capital. It had been closed for 54 years. The ceremony was presided over by John Kerry, the first US Secretary of State to visit Cuba in 70 years.  Apart from the significance of the opening of the Embassy which is part of the thaw in relations, what I found most newsworthy about the occasion was that the US flag which was raised last Friday was presented by the same US marines who brought it down in 1961.  That is one hell of a story.

Photos posted by Miguel (in green) outside the US Embassy when the flag was hoisted - an historic moment he will never forget

Saturday was our last day.  I was up even earlier than usual at 06.30 and went on my last walk to the lighthouse with Pippa.
The lighhouse we walked to every morning (Pippa and I)
By 9 in the morning Eladio and I were on the beach for the last time until we go back.  Here is a selfie of the two of us just after our last bathe.

A selfie with Eladio just after our last bathe on Saturday morning
We went for a quick walk along the uncrowded beach until it was time to return.
On the walk on the beach on Saturday morning
On my return from the beach I always went to the pool for a quick dip before having a shower in the flat.  Well on Saturday morning it was completely empty.  I have no idea why.  It’s a lovely pool mostly because of the location, surrounded by a Mediterranean garden and overlooking the bay of Alicante. 
The pool belonging to our block of flats
I couldn’t dally as we had a date with our friends Jackie and John at Guardamar that morning before we left for Madrid.  We met at the port there which is very pretty and had a coffee and a good hour’s chat to catch up on our lives.  I wish it had been longer.  Here are my friends with Eladio by the port yesterday.  I’m very sorry Jackie that we were half an hour late.
John, Eladio and Jackie at the port of Guardamar.
The main mission that morning was to see our friends but Jacky had also offered to take me to the cash and carry in Torrevieja.  However, Saturday was 15th August, a holiday in Spain to celebrate the Assumption so it was closed.  Instead they took us to Iceland in nearby Marina.  It was the biggest British supermarket I have ever seen in Spain and reminded me of Lidl.  Eladio wasn’t very interested of course as he cannot understand my need or craving for certain British products.  I always tell him that if it was the other way round and he lived in England he would want to visit Spanish food shops for sure to which he reluctantly agreed.  Here I stocked up on lots of things for my Father, Olivia and myself, mostly crumpets again in my case. The place was so British even the cashier was from the Isles. Actually he was Scottish and from Glasgow and I could hardly understand a word he said as his glaswegian accent was so thick. Before saying our goodbyes Jackie and I posed outside the shop with our trolleys.  Thanks Eladio for this great photo and thanks Jackie and John for taking us to the Iceland store.
Shopping with Jackie at a big British food store called Iceland in La Marina between Guardamar and Santa Pola

We were soon home as Marina and Guardamar are very near Santa Pola.  As usual, Pippa freaked out when we opened the door, so delighted was she to see us.  As I made lunch, Eladio cleaned the flat and afterwards I did the bathroom and the packing. 

We left our little holiday place at 4.15 and were home by just after 8pm.  On our way home Olivia sent me a photo of her with her ex school friends Begoña, Elena and Sonia.  They were all in the same class and I have known them since they were about 3.  It was Sonia’s 30th birthday last week and they met up to celebrate.  Happy birthday sweet Sonia and welcome to the 30’s to quote Olivia.
From left to right: Sonia, Olivia, Elena and Begoña
Finally the heatwave is over and we came home to a pleasant 28c. It was lovely to be home, to see my Father and Oli and of course the dogs.  They gave us a great welcome as they always do. I’m sure both Elsa our lab and Norah our beagle know that Pippa gets to go away with us and they must be a little jealous.  I always post photos of Pippa on Facebook and feeling guilty I recently posted some lovely ones of Elsa. At Jackie's request yesterday I posted one of Norah too.  The only way to get her to pose, by the way, is holding out a morsel of food haha.  The best photo though is of the three of them queueing up for food from Eladio. 
We got a lovely welcome from the dogs when we got home yesterday.
In the picture Eladio with Norah our beagle left, Pippa in the middle and Elsa our lab on the right.
We slept beautifully last night in our own bed; that is the three of us – Pippa too after a bath haha.  And surprise, surprise I woke up late for me this morning at 8 a.m.  It was this morning whilst I started writing this post that I heard that Carolina Marín the Spanish European and World champion of badminton had done it again.  Today she beat the Indian girl Saina Nehwal to retain the title in the final of the World Badminton Championship in Jakarta and is thus the first European player to win the world championship on two consecutive occasions.  All I can say is well done Carolina.  I love to see Spaniards excel at sport as I think it is the best kind of ambassadorship a country can have for a good image. 
Well done Carolina Marin, badminton world champion for the second year in a row!
That is a very nice story to end this week’s post.  I shall leave you now that I have told you this week’s tales and get on with our family lunch.

Next week will be the week Suzy is operated on, so please all keep your fingers crossed it goes well. We shall not leave her side throughout nor will Juan our Doctor friend who has promised he will make sure she is treated like a queen.  Isn’t that reassuring?

So folks, lots of good vibes until next time

PS here is the full collection of photos of our stay in Gran Alacant this week

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