Sunday, March 27, 2016

Goodbye Suzy and goodbye London, a bus crash in Spain killed 13 Erasmus student girls, horror in Brussels, to Montrondo for Easter, the clocks go forward and other stories.

Easter Sunday 27th March 2016

Eladio, Oli and I in Montrondo on our walk on Maunday Thursday
Good morning everyone,

I’m writing from Montrondo.  Today is Maunday Thursday and I am up early drinking my coffee with little Pippa beside me on the sofa.  I shall be writing bit by bit from now until Easter Sunday as I won’t have much free time to write my blog at the weekend.  So here goes.  I left off when I was in London last Sunday morning.

It was bright and sunny for a change but that didn’t last long.  At least it did not rain for the duration of my stay.  For my last full day with Suzy in London, we went for a walk to Primrose Hill near Camden.  I hadn’t been there since I visited my friend Amanda who moved there when she married some 35 years ago!  On our way, we saw many magnolia trees in flower.  I very well remember there being one at Belsize Park which was in flower in the garden of the house my dear brother George who was dying at the time (2001).  Every time I see one I am reminded of him.  On our way to Primrose Hill we saw many, but I particularly liked this one with the pastel coloured houses behind it.  This is the photo I took. Suzy is well wrapped up in my new Uniqlo white ultra-light down parka as you can see below.
The magnolia tree in Primrose Hill
We walked into the lovely park of Primrose Hill which is actually connected to Regent’s Park.  There is a mound in the middle which is very steep and at the top you get a superb view of the skyline of London. 
Suzy and I on Primrose Hill last Sunday morning
We decided to have lunch at a pub by the park and came upon one called Queen’s.  Just opposite was the house where the German philosopher Engel’s used to live.  The bartender who lived with his parents in the area told us many celebrities lived in Primrose Hill.  It is certainly a beautiful area of London.

Queens was a lovely typical English pub which for once was very clean.  Here is Suzy at the bar enjoying the moment.
Suzy by the bar at The Queen's pub in Primrose Hill last Sunday
We had a Sunday roast; mine was with roast beef and Suzy’s was of vegetable hash.  It was delicious and the portions just too big to finish.
Sunday roast at The Queen's pub in Primrose Hill
We walked back to Camden and the markets were in full swing.  It was pretty crazy with so much going on and you could hardly move for the people.  There was even a live Mad Hatters’ Tea party going on as you can see in the picture below.
The mad hatter's tea party in Camden last Sunday
Before going home, I had one more spate of shopping to do.  We went to Waitrose and M+S food store for me to stock up on all sorts of British food, mainly confectionary, to take back to Spain including hot cross buns for Good Friday.

I think Sunday was the day we walked least.  Even so we did some 8km approximately.  We got home in the middle of the afternoon.  Suzy’s 4th flat mate, Anita (a member of the girls’ group of friends “La Manada” (the herd) who had studied at University with Olivia) was back from Spain and it was good to see her. 

Frankly that afternoon after so many days of walking and getting up early in the morning, Suzy and I flaked out on the bed and had a 2 hour siesta.  We woke up to find Vicky, Suzy’s third flat mate, was back from her weekend in Frankfurt.  The 4 of us had a great evening together and I made us a lovely dinner.
Dinner at Suzy's house on my last night - left to right, Vicky, Suzy and Anita
Being in the house with the young tenants made me feel like one of them.  In a way I was living  for a brief moment the post University London first job period which I had never actually done as I went to Spain after Nottingham – bar a year at home doing a post grad diploma in administration at Leeds Polytechnic. I have always regretted it. 

Sunday was a historic day for world politics.  Barack Obama was visiting Cuba to meet with Raul Castro.  He was the first American President to do so since 1928.  One of the main items on the agenda would have been human rights, something the two powerful men do not see eye to eye on. His visit would be overshadowed by the events in Brussels.
The historic meeting in Cuba this week
In Spain there was terrible news. A bus full of Erasmus students, mostly female, was returning from The Fallas (firework festival) in Valencia to Barcelona.  It was dark and raining and it crashed killing 13 young girls, mostly of Italian origin. The bus overturned after hitting a car travelling in the opposite direction, One of the fathers would later say: “I sent my young daughter to friendly Spain and they brought her back dead”.  It doesn’t bear thinking about.
The fatal bus crash in Spain last Sunday
Monday was my last morning in London.  Suzy would be starting her new job with Bare Biology that day and had to be up early. We got up at 6.15 and I had breakfast with my darling daughter.  I was glad to see her wearing some of the smart clothes I had bought her on our shopping sprees.  I saw her off with a heavy heart at 07.30.  Here she is on the steps leaving for Richmond. When I spoke to her later in the week, she was delighted with how things had gone.  So cross your fingers it continues that way.
Suzy leaving the house on Monday morning to start her new job with Bare Biology
I spent most of the morning working quietly from the girls’ kitchen and was accompanied by Anita.  It was thanks to her I finally closed my suitcase, so full of all my shopping.  In the end I had to leave my feather pillow behind as no way would it close.  If you are wondering, yes I take it everywhere because I can only sleep with a soft and thin feather pillow. I shall now have to buy another one hahaha.
Anita helping me close my overweight and over stuffed suitcase last Monday morning
Once closed we weighed it and at 24.5 kilos it was over the 20 kilo restriction imposed by Easy Jet which would mean having to pay 40 pounds for excess luggage which I wasn’t very happy about.

My flight wasn’t until 15.30 but I decided to leave at around 11 so as to have more shopping time at Gatwick and to have lunch before boarding.  For some reason I cannot use Uber in England. I think it’s because I have a Spanish account and visa card.  Vicky and Julieta recommended a similar service called Addison Lee which I used.  It only cost 16 pounds from their house to Victoria Station.

No sooner had I got to Gatwick that I heard there would be delays due to the French air traffic control strike. So I had plenty of time for lunch and shopping.  My Portuguese came in handy at the baggage drop off when I spoke to the Portuguese ground staff official.  He was so nice he didn’t charge me the 40 pounds in excess luggage. I think he was so impressed that an English woman could speak his language!  So maybe it was worth having studied that minority language at University many years ago. In the end I didn’t buy anything as I felt guilty for having spent so much money in London.  But I did have lunch at my favourite place at the airport; The Seafood Bar. I splashed out on a lobster and crayfish salad. 
Lobster and crayfish salad at Gatwick airport last Monday
It would hold me in good stead until I went to bed as the day turned out to be very long.  We boarded the aircraft only to be told we would have to stay on board for 3 hours before taking off due to the French strike. So I settled down to read my book on my kindle.  Meanwhile the passengers were being entertained by a spontaneous music band, made up of two Irish men, an American and an Englishmen.  I later told them they sounded like the beginning of a joke haha.
Live entertainment on board the Easy Jet flight from London whilst waiting hours for take off.
The whole plane laughed and took pictures. It was a fun moment I must say.  I have a far better impression of Easy Jet than I do of Norwegian.  Even the pilot joined in with the fun and invited all the children on board to visit the cockpit!  In the end our wait was shortened to 2 hours.  Finally I was home at around 9.30 and happy to greet my Father and give him a huge bag of confectionary – his favourites: bounty bar, maltesers, polos, Turkish delight as well as mini Easter eggs.  In the bag I also included colgate toothpaste and imperial leather soap both of which he is partial to.

It was great to see Olivia too.  For her I had brought jelly babies and a bag of terry’s chocolate orange. I also gave her my new Geox shoes (the ones I waited so long for on Oxford Street) as they were a bit too narrow for me.  Lucky her, they cost me 110 pounds and I loved them.  At least she will enjoy them.

It was funny to get into an empty bed. No Eladio and no Pippa as they were in Montrondo.  I entertained myself by starting watching season 5 of Call the Midwife which had arrived in my absence.  I think I fell asleep at just after midnight, very late for me.

Tuesday would be Black Tuesday.  No sooner had I woken up than I heard about the terror in the heart of Europee, in Brussels. At 08.10 in the morning 2 bombs exploded at Brussels main airport.  They exploded in the area before check-in, before security. It makes you think that security to go into departures is pretty useless if terrorists let off bombs in the area before it.  The bombs killed 11 people.  One suicide bomber, whose bomb did not detonate escaped and is being hunted down.
Terror at Brussels airport
And then just one hour later, another suicide bomb went off at the Maelbeek metro in the heart of the EU district killing 20 people.  From both attacks up to 300 people were injured.  150 of them are in hospital and 61 remain in a critical condition.  In the afternoon ISIS claimed responsibility for the bombs which did not surprise the world. I was horrified at the terror in Belgium, a quiet friendly nation.  The city of Brussels went into lock down and all transport was suspended, including air traffic.  Literally no one could get into or out of the country.  People were told to stay at home, schools closed and the staff at the EU buildings were under siege in their offices.  The whole world looked on in horror.  This time we all changed to Je suis Bruxelles.  It is pot luck who is there when these deadly bombs go off. It could have been us as we have often been to Brussels to see our friends Sandra and Jeffer.  In fact we were there just a month or so ago. 

I was angry and sad at the events. I was brought up in a relatively peaceful and safe world and cannot understand this new type of terror.  I will not get used to it and the whole world has to stand up to it.  We must eradicate it.  We cannot live our lives under a constant threat of this deadly terrorism from the most fanatical and cruel group ever to have walked the earth.  Most of the world thinks the same and on social media these feelings were expressed again and again. Of all the pictures and memes I have seen, perhaps this one is the best, the up yours finger using  fingers made of Belgian fried chips against the Belgian flag.
Needs no footnote
These were my thoughts as I went on my walk that morning.  It was great to be back home and on my walks but the attacks of that day put me into a morose mood.  My heart goes out to the victims and their loved ones, as it does to my dear friends who live there.  I was glad to hear very early on that Jeffer, Magda, Sandra and little Barney were safe but of course shocked, upset and very worried at the situation; just as we had been when the train bombs happened in Madrid in 2004. 
On my walk on Tuesday morning
Life went on and if I was to leave for Montrondo the next day, I had to provide the household with food, so I went to do the hefty weekly shopping. I was able to have lunch with my Father that day and whilst we ate Salud’s delicious potato and meat stew we watched the live updates of the situation in Brussels on the BBC on my iPad.

In the afternoon I settled down to my work, looking forward to watching more of Call the Midwife that evening. I do so much relate to it as I, like many of the babies born in the series, was also born at home at around the same time it is set, the late 50’s and early 60’s.
And Wednesday came.  I was up early to take a taxi to Chamartin train station to catch the 09.30 new high speed train to Leon with Dolores.  The journey was just 2.15 hours and when we arrived our dear husbands were waiting for us.  It was great to see Eladio again. But I had a surprise in store, Pippa was there too as the brothers had taken the dogs to the vet in Riello on the way for an anti-parasite jab.  Oh what a joy to be reunited with little Pippa again.
I was so happy to see Pippa again on Wednesday
After a brief stop at the Gadis supermarket in León for Dolores to do some food shopping, we drove to Montrondo where we stopped for a very decent and wholesome lunch at Yordas in Pandorado.

By 3.30 I was on the walk to Senra with Dolores, my sister-in-law Adela, Manolita, Pili, a neighbour and her husband. The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day.

That night both Olivia and Miguel would be joining us.  They didn’t get here until 10.30 but we waited for them for dinner; a simple meal of salad and cold cuts.  It was great to see them and I knew Oli, especially, was looking forward to time in Montrondo to relax and rest from her stressful job as a live TV reporter.

Maunday Thursday was a glorious sunny day but it was a sad day for football.  On that day, 24th March, Johan Cruyff the football player and coach legend died of cancer aged 68.  He is linked exclusively to the Barceona Football Club here so there was much news of his passing away.  RIP you will forever be remembered.

We had breakfast together as we always do here, then Oli, Miguel and I ventured out to the village, making our way to Los Palacios for a coffee at Adela’s.  From there we could hear the jingle from the fish van that brings fresh fish once a week to the village.  You see there is not one bar or shop in Montrondo as there are so few villagers and food is supplied “on wheels” so to say. 
The fish van in Montrondo
It’s quite a novelty for us to buy fish from a van so we asked to take a photo; the one below.  I bought fresh cod to make fish and chips on Good Friday, a dish we all love.
Buying fish with Olivia on Thursday in Montrondo
Just as we finished buying the fish, the bread van from Senra arrived and we bought bread too.  The rest of Eladio’s family had arrived by then, so we found ourselves buying bread together along with other people who had cometo spend the Easter Break here.
The bread van in Montrondo - in the picture from right to left: José Antonio, Salo, Pili and Yoli.
We had a lovely lunch and then my goodness, we all feel asleep and I didn’t wake up until 5.30.  I was cross with myself for missing the sunshine, so we quickly got ready to go on a walk to Murias and back.  My sisters-in-law had already been (they called and had been told we were all asleep hahaha), so off I went with Oli, Miguel, Eladio and Pippa.

The photo illustrating this week’s post is of me with Eladio and Oli (notice she is wearing my new blue Uniqlo parka) by God’s Rock the halfway mark between Montrondo and Murias.

On the way back, Eladio took us on a different route, via “El Bao” – the big stretch of fields.  He took us down to the river to an area called “la barrera” (every nook and cranny has a name in Montrondo) which we had to cross by stepping on stones, some of which he added to aid the crossing.
A romantic picture of Eladio and I by the river in Montrondo on Maunday Thursday
I remarked he had taken us on a bit of an obstacle race and he had.  It was quite fun though.  Here are Oli and Miguel just after crossing the river.
Miguel and Oli by the river on our walk on Thursday 
We reached the church and walked across the potato fields to Adela’s house to join the rest of the family for a cup of coffee.  Whilst there, the weekly grocery van, run by Jelo, was finishing its rounds and I had to rush out to stock up on some fruit and vegetables.

Dinner that night was vegetables, artichokes, which I adore but are very laborious to prepare.  In the picture below: Eladio, Oli and Miguel about to start dinner.
Dinner at home on Thursday night
Some people went to more exotic destinations than Montrondo like the British Prime Minister for example.  David Cameron and his wife Samantha, jetted off to Lanzarote, the island in the Canaries the girls recently went to, for a family holiday.  He had apparently told MPs he needed "more time to think".  Well, I'm sure he will have a lot on his mind.  Here he is with his pretty wife posing in the sun.
David Cameron the British PM and his wife chose Lanzarote as their Easter holiday destination this year.  Must be good publicity for the island.
Well I wouldn't change places with him as we had a great time in our little village with no celebrities, cameras, etc. 

Good Friday came and as tradition dictates, we had hot cross buns for breakfast, the ones I had brought from England.  Eladio remarked that I am very traditional with these things and I suppose he is right.

That morning Dolores, Miguel, Oli, Pippa and I drove to Villablino; the nearest town from here, about 25 minutes away.  We were going to the weekly market.  Everything else would be closed.  In Spain Easter or Semana Santa as they call it here, is taken very seriously. There are processions in most big towns; some are very famous like the ones in Seville or Zamora and are now apparently  tourist attractions.

But there were no processions in Villablino, just the weekly market.  Dolores, who comes often, took us straight to a stall which sells local walnuts, delicious breads, cakes and pies. Here we both bought a local meat and vegetable pie which Eladio and I would have for dinner.  It was delicious.  In the photo below are Oli with Pippa and Dolores who bought many more things than I did.
Dolores, Oli and Pippa at Dolores' favourite stall at the market in Villablino
The market sells fruit, veg and all sorts of local cheeses and hams as well as clothes and lots of fake luxury handbags.  I didn't expect to find anything interesting but came home with two fleeces at 10 euros each; one for Eladio in green and one for me in blue. Happy with our purchases we left the market to go and have an "aperetivo" (a drink before lunch), We were very lucky in that the owner of the bar we went into was more than happy for Pippa to come in too. Usually dogs are not allowed inside bars and shops in Spain; nor beaches, restaurants, etc. so I was very grateful to the owner.  Here we women had a glass of "mosto" which is wine without alcohol.  I'm sure my British readers will not understand why we would want it but there you go, we are not such heavy wine drinkers as people in England or in other countries such as the Nordics.  With the drink came a free tapa; a custom in these parts.
At the dog friendly bar in Villablino on Good Friday
We were home by 1.30 and set about making lunch which was to be fish and chips; a rather greasy affair of course but delicious all the same.

It was a cloudy day on Friday in contrast to Wednesday and Thursday and rained on and off; gone the sun I'm afraid.  Eladio's family came round for tea and coffee with biscuits, the ones I had bought in Brussels and which Norah didn't manage to eat and the ones from my visit to London.  It's always nice to see all 6 brothers and sisters together with their mother and I wish I had taken a picture of them.  I only have this one which I took from the stairs whilst they were not looking and it's not very good I'm afraid.
The family having tea and coffee at our house on Friday afternoon
Oli and Miguel were leaving us to go to Gijon, a famous seaside town in Asturias, about 2 hours drive from here. They would be staying for the night with friends who lived there for and on Saturday evening would drive back to Madrid - a four hour stint.

When everyone had gone it was raining lightly and getting dark but we hadn't had our walk that day, so Eladio, Dolores, the dogs and I went off to Murias and back. We only saw one person, Eulogio, an elderly man who is from Montrondo but lives in Murias and does that walk twice a day to keep fit. We came back to our warm house; Eladio lit the fire and it was the perfect moment to make apple crumble with the "reineta" apples I had bought from Jelo's van.  

At Easter in Spain the television channels always put on religious old films, such as Ben Hur or The 10 commandments.  We are always a sucker for these and last night after dinner enjoyed bits of the latter.  I have seen it many times and love Charlton Heston as Moses and Yul Brynner as the Pharoe (the brother he was brought up with) but once again I only saw a part of it as I fell asleep after the the bit about the plagues in Egypt.  

Easter Saturday was our last day in Montrondo.  I had a bad headache and woke up at 4, then 5 and finally got up at 6.30.  Thankfully my first coffee of the day and a painkiller kept it at bay.  I spent the morning on household tasks including changing sheets, washing and ironing and cleaning bathrooms (hate the latter) but there was also time for coffee with my sisters-in-law Pili and Adela, Eladio and their Mother who was knitting squares for a woolen quilt.  My household tasks also included making lunch and yesterday I made lentil stew with potatoes, chorizo, carrots, onion, garlic and the greener part of leek.  This is what it looked like.
The lentil stew I made for lunch on Easter Saturday
There was also time for our last walk on this stay.  The day had begun with rain but thankfully when we ventured out the sun had made its appearance although it was a bit blustery.  
View of the village on our last walk yesterday to Murias via the old path.
As usual we walked to Murias and back accompanied by Pippa and Nuba. Once again we walked back via "El Bao" and here is Eladio opening the gate for me to step into the field.
Eladio on our walk on Saturday
After lunch we all had a short siesta until about 16.30 when we began the loathed task of getting ready to go and leave the house in ship shape order for our next visit which will be in April when our friends Keith and Lorraine visit us.

We left Montrondo at about 5.30 with Toño and Dolores and both dogs and stopped just once on the way.  During the trip we discussed hotel plans for our stay in Málaga at the end of September for Pili's daughter Paula's wedding.  We booked 2 rooms at the Malaga Golf Parador on the coast which looks a lovely location, just 11km from the centre of the city.  I prefer to stay there than in town as Málaga itself doesn't have much to offer, unlike other Andalusian towns such as Córdoba, Seville or Granada.  That will be something to look forward to indeed.

We were home by 9.30 p.m. to find everything in order. Zena was home looking after my father and I asked him if he had been well looked after.  His answer couldn't have pleased me more when he said "she is very attentive".  

Last night the clocks went forward to summer time.  At 2 a.m. it would be 3 a.m. which would rob us of an hour on Sunday.  On the bright side we shall have longer lighter evenings, something I love.

And today is Sunday, Easter Day and we shall be celebrating it with the family.  Oli and Miguel are driving now from Gijon and we shall all have lunch together, including some of the mini chocolate eggs I got at Waitrose.  Unfortunately I don't have any big Easter eggs as there were none at Gatwick airport and any bought before leaving would have got crushed in my suitcase. 

So wishing you all a Happy Easter, I shall sign off now and get on with the day which will start with my walk, an hour later than usual of course.

Next week I'm off to Marrakech but of course you will read all about that next Sunday.

All the best for now,


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