Saturday, September 17, 2016

Colombia wins La Vuelta a España, Oli on holiday in Cantabria and Asturias, more Emma Bridgewater pottery, photos from my past, back to school, to Montrondo with friends, a wedding in the village and other tales of the week.

Sunday 18th September 2016
With our guests in Montrondo beneath the lovely arc of flowers ready for the wedding on Saturday
Hi everyone

I am starting writing this week’s post from Montrondo.  It’s 6.30 on Friday morning and here I am in my little study with Pippa sitting on the sofa behind me. We got here yesterday when it rained all day and today our friends Gerardo and Irene and their spouses Vicky and Tomas will be joining us.  They are very special friends, my “Spanish family”, the “González Galvez” with whom I lived in Madrid in my year in Spain in 1978 when I was studying Spanish at Nottingham University.  I lived with that wonderful family for a year and in exchange for food and accommodation I was supposed to teach English to Gerardo and Irene who were then aged 14 and 11 roughly.  They took me into the bosom of their wonderful family and we have remained close ever since.  They were a fundamental part of my wedding.  Here is a photo of them all on that day when Gerardo junior was our driver in his Father Gerardo’s Seat 132, quite a luxury car for the times.  Irene and her sister Julieta were also my bridesmaids, along with my nieces Sara and Marta.
The González-Gálvez family with us on our wedding day on 21st August 1983.
Gerardo and Irene are on my right. 
This week I dug out some old photos of those times and here you have Gerardo and Toti his younger brother (7 at the time) in Galapagar where they had a country house we would go to at weekends.
Gerardo with Toti on his shoulders in Galapagar in 1978
Also at Galapagar is a photo of Pili, the mother with Julieta.
Pili and Julieta in Galapagar in 1978
I also found these photos of myself and of Irene, Julieta and Toti at their lovely flat in Madrid.  I think it was in 1979 just before I was going back to England.
At my "Spanish family's" flat in Madrid probably in the summer of 1979.  To the right, Julieta, Toti and Irene.
They were truly my Spanish family and this weekend is going to be one full of laughs remembering those times when for example the children would lift up my skirt, lock me in my bedroom or hide under the bed to avoid the English lessons hahaha.

But let me start at the beginning, from where I left off. It was last Sunday 11th September, the anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in the history of the US. 

It was also the end of the Vuelta a España, one of the 3 big cycling tours.  It was to be the day for Colombia.  Nairo Quintana won theTour, his second great tour after winning the Giro in 2014.  Chris Froom came second and third in the podium was another Colombian, Esteban Chaves. With 2 Colombians on the podium, the country had raised the flag high for their country by winning the Tour of Spain for Colombia.
The winners of this year's Vuelta a España. 1st Nairo Quintana from Colombia, Chris Froom from the UK and Esteban Chaves from Colombia too.
Colombia is a country of cyclists, mostly climbers as they are the right size and weight for that type of cycling.  They are often called “escarabajos”, (beetles) and I can only imagine the commentators from Radio Caracol de Colombia or Radio Nacional de Colombia, going mad on the microphone when their countryman Quintana won the Tour of Spain for the first time since Lucho Herrera 29 years ago. 

When I used to go the cycling tours I knew the commentators from these famous Colombian radios and their style was very emotional.  I remember once lending them my Motorola phone to transmit the race as their signal had broken down.  We were great friends.  I also remember one of them at the start of one of the stages at The Tour of France.  He was in the portable toilet and didn’t realise it was being removed; literally being lifted up in the air and to quote him, “with his trousers down”.  This is an anecdote that has gone down in cycling history hahahaha.

Olivia and Miguel were just starting their holiday and on Sunday were in the region of Cantabria (near Santander), staying at a beautiful place on the coast called Cabezón de la Sal.  Here they are near the River Saja in Bárcena Mayor.
Oli and Miguel on holiday in Cantabria by the River Saja in Bárcena Mayor.
They wanted to explore the area and Sunday found them also in San Vicente de la Barquera, another nice town on that spectacular northern coast, still fairly unknown to the majority of tourists who always head south. 

Miguel and Oli on the beach in San Vicente de la Barquera this week
It was still hot in Madrid and in most of Spain that day. My friend Fátima came to visit. She coincided with Natasha, the Ukranian lady who was to care for my Father and the house whilst Salud was on holiday. She’s a nice lady but of course it’s not easy to get to know the ropes in such a big house in such a short time. 

Monday was a quiet day.  The highlight was the arrival of my latest Emma Bridgewater pottery order; more polka dot mugs and some plates to replace the ones our home helps have broken over the years.  Each time they break one my heart heaves as they can only be ordered from England and are very expensive.  But oh how I love my Emma Bridgewater collection.
My Emma Bridgewater order which arrived this week
Monday was when I started digging out photos from my past.  I noticed some of my Finnish friends posting photos of themselves when they were young on FB.  So I asked my Finnish friend Anne what it was all about. She told me it was a “throwback photo challenge” and challenged me.  This is the photo I came up with; one taken when I first came to live in Spain when Eladio and I lived secretly “in sin” in 1981 - it was not the done thing in Spain in those days.
Me aged 24 in Madrid in 1981 when I first came to live in Spain.
I was 24 there.  Everyone says Suzy my older daughter looks like me; perhaps she does, although I don’t see it. That photo was easy to find as it has been sitting in a frame at our house ever since it was taken all those years ago.  That spurred me on to look for more old photos from our albums of which we have over 30.  You see I was already taking lots of photos back then, albeit with a lousy “instamatic” camera.  It was a Kodak one. That much I remember. I wanted to find one of me outside our old house in Callosa de Ensarría which my Mother bought, I think in 1972.  And here it is. I am sitting in the street in a long skirt which I well remember wearing, with a stray kitten at my side that I had adopted.  It was so miserable and skinny we called it “Misery”.  My love for animals goes back to my childhood.
Me in Callosa outside our house with the kitten I adopted, Misery.  The Summer of 1978. I was just 21.  
As a child I was never allowed to have a cat or a dog. In revenge, today I have 3 dogs and 1 cat.  Thankfully I married a man who has the same passion for animals as I.

I found more photos of our Callosa Days and particularly like this one of my Father on a walk between Callosa and Bolulla.  Here he is in his 50’s looking very fit.
My very fit Father in his 50's in Callosa.  He was so happy there as we all were.
At lunch I showed him the photo.  He then reminded me that the first time he went to Callosa, he first went on a trip by train to Andalusia, visiting The Alhambra and Granada. He also told me he had climbed the famous mountain, El Pico del Veleta which is over 3.300m high. Boy was he fit in those days.  He used to walk everywhere and it is such a shame that now aged 97 he is immobile.

I also found a unique one of me with my brother George (RIP).  I don’t have many of the two of us together so was happy to come across this one. I think it was taken in Guadalest circa 1978.
A rare photo of me with my dear brother George (RIP).  Here possibly in Guadalest in about 1978.
All these photos of my past!  You are probably wondering why.  I wonder why too.  Now I am nearly 60, the past seems so important and I keep going back to it; to the places I used to go to and finding people from when I was young.  This week for example I was contacted by an Italian called Pasquale from Turin who used to attend the Norwich Russian courses where my parents and my Aunty Masha used to teach every summer at the University of East Anglia.  Pasquale came for quite a few years and we became fast friends.  My Mother adored him and my Father too. I even went to visit him with my school friend Maggie W. just after we finished “A” levels at St. Joseph’s College in the early 70’s.  I was just 18.  So when I got the message and then later an email it was amazing. I always love to find people from the past who were once important to me.  That’s the power of the internet and I am forever grateful for it. 

Tuesday came and it was shower time for my Father. It was a disaster as he fell in the shower.  Natasha didn’t really know how to bathe him despite having been shown by Salud and despite her having said she had looked after elderly people before. I just don’t believe her.  Thankfully Eladio came to the rescue but my Father had hurt the nail on his big toe.  I felt so sorry for him and cross with Natasha.  We were going away on Thursday and I was not happy with my Father being left alone with her.  Very kindly my dearest friend Fátima offered to stay whilst we were away which brought me great comfort.  My Father keeps asking when Salud is coming back and it is hard to explain that she is on holiday and that she deserves a break; like all workers in Spain and in the world.  I must say she is the best home help we have ever had.

I had a meeting that day in Madrid.  It was nice to dress up and get out of the house.  It was with my press agency and the head of press for Másmovil, the company which has bought Yoigo.  I was home just on time for lunch with the two men; Eladio and my Father.  Natasha’s cooking is not really up to scratch I’m afraid but then I didn’t expect it to be.  Even so it was eatable hahahaha.

Tuesday was also my oldest friend Amanda’s 60th birthday.  She was my best friend at school and we have known each other since we were 11, meeting at St. Joseph’s College in Bradford in “1 Kappa”, our first class there.  I can hardly believe we are now nearly old women. 
Amanda outside our house in 6 Heaton Grove in 1974.  It's unbelievable to think she turned 60 this week!
We were very different.  Amanda came from a very English family and I came from a multi-cultured one. She was very good at school going on to study at Oxford and I was a pretty bad pupil and only began to pull up my socks in the 6th form when it was too late to aspire to Oxbridge.  I did manage to get a place at Nottingham though.  On Wednesday we would have an hour long chat on the phone catching up on our lives.  She and Andy (ex BGS) live in Devon in a beautiful house on a cliff overlooking the sea.  I haven’t seen them since 2010.  It’s been too long.  We both agreed we must remedy that.

This week children in Spain were going back to school.  It’s called “la vuelta al cole”.  My friends were posting photos of their children going back to school after the holidays.  My girls are now aged 32 (Suzy) and 31 (Olivia) and I well remember their “vuelta al cole” each year to St. Michael’s school in Boadilla, a stone throw from where we lived.  Every September we would religiously take a photo of the two of them in their pristine uniform by the front door of our old house in Río Tajo in Boadilla ready for their first day at school after the summer holidays.  This is them in 1993 aged 8 and 9.
The girls "back to school" photo in September 1993. Suzy left was 9 and Oli right was 8. 
Those were very happy days and it’s amazing how fast time has gone by. I just wish I had realized that then and enjoyed those times more, rather than worrying about their homework or other silly things which usually end up sorting themselves out with no need for so much worry.

Wednesday was a funny day weather wise.  It was the first time it had rained in a long time.  The hot weather went just like that.  Thankfully the sun came out in the afternoon and we were able to sit outside with our books. The dogs as ever were at our feet. Here are the 3 of them playing together.
Our three lovely dogs: Elsa the lab, Pippa the mini dacshund and Norah the beagle
Meanwhile in London it was the hottest day in September on record; since 1911 I think I read. So when we told Suzy it was raining here we all found it quite ironic. The tables had turned.   Oli meanwhile was enjoying her holiday in Cantabria. That day they drove to Santander after a 12km run in the morning.
Oli running on holiday in Cantabria this week. 
They would have lunch in Santander and visit a zoo afterwards. Sometimes I have to censor myself in this blog and this is one occasion.  Olivia had very good professional news that day but unfortunately it is not official and I can’t say anything. All I can say is well done darling, I’m very proud of you as we all are. 

Wednesday saw them at some famous caves called “Cueva El Soplao”.  I have never heard of them but Olivia urged us to visit them one day as she says they are fantastic. Well we’ll have to take her up on that.  That day they moved to Asturias, one of my favourite provinces in Spain. They call it “Asturias Patria Querida”.  They went to stay at a spa hotel called Hotel Maria Manuela. That night we spoke on the phone and I asked her where she was. She had no idea and had to ask Miguel, the holiday planner hahaha.  The hotel is in a small village called Benia de Onis.  Asturias is famous for its cider and here they are having dinner that night and drinking cider out of a unique dispenser you only find in Asturias or in Asturian restaurants. It’s supposed to maintain the sparkle you see.
Oli enjoying cider in Asturias 
On Wednesday I made preparations for our trip to Montrondo, mostly food shopping as you know there is no shop or bar here. 

Thursday came and Eladio helped Natasha get my Father in and out of the shower, to my relief.  At 8 my friend Fátima arrived; she would be staying until we got back on Sunday.  I am so grateful to her. 

She brought her little dog, “Chispi” with her. We weren’t sure how our dogs would react but after 5 minutes or so of growling they were all fine. But it was Pippa and Chispi who were the happiest. They began to play soon after meeting and it was obvious they were to make good friends. Finally they both had a dog to play with of their own size hahaha. Here they are on Pippa’s blanket. Unfortunately for Chispi, Pippa would be leaving as we were taking her to Montrondo with us.
Chispi and Pippa made friends when they met this week.

I gave Fatima all the instructions on my Father’s day, when he gets up, his breakfast, coffee and tea times, etc.  I think Natasha was a bit put out at me giving the instructions to my friend instead of her, but I just didn’t trust her.  I felt very guilty as we left. 

We were in Rueda by 11 and of course stopped for the traditional break at Palacio de Bornos where we had the customary plate of ham accompanied by their delicious white wine.
Eladio at Palacio de Bornos in Rueda on our way to Montrondo on Thursday morning.
We got to Montrondo just after 2pm.  It was raining and would do so all day. Therefore there would be no walk.  We had a cursory lunch of “pelmeni”. I wasn’t at all hungry after the ham and wine at Rueda but Eladio was and asked if there was a tin of sardines! There wasn’t so he had a tin of tuna fish instead hahaha.

Both of us or rather the 3 of us (including Pippa) had a long siesta afterwards. It wasn’t my intention and I slept till 6.40. I felt like a zombie afterwards.  It was time for the food lorry to arrive so I put my sou'wester and wellington boots on and went out to find the van.  It was then that my neighbour Salo told me the owner, Gelo, was on holiday in Malta of all places.  I needed oranges for juice in the morning which I had forgotten to bring. Thus I would be going to Villablino on Friday morning to get them and probably more things too as Friday is market day there.  It’s a pity Dolores wouldn’t be here to go with me.

It's  wet outside today (Friday) but hopefully will rain less than yesterday, or, at least that’s what the weather forecast has predicted.  
A scene from Montrondo - wet yet beautiful on Friday morning
They have also predicted that on Saturday and Sunday the temperatures will go up and there will be sun and clouds and no rain.  I certainly hope they are right for the sake of Gerardo, Irene, Vicky and Tomas who are coming this evening.

Well very soon after I wrote that the sun came out.  As Eladio was reversing the car out of the old path to our house, I thought it would be a good idea to get a photo of the family houses whilst the old gate is still there.  There is talk of removing it and turning the lovely old barns into modern store places. I don't want to see that happening. Those gates as I've said time and time again are witness to the history of Eladio's family and it would be a shame to see them go.
The family plot, the old gates and new houses.
We were going to Villablino to the market.  We dressed in clothes for rain but it never came. In fact the day was beautiful.  Once in the town we went straight to the food stalls and there we bought a  home made meat and vegetable pie for dinner on Friday night, as well as the oranges we needed and some more fruit.  Eladio bought cheese as you can see in the photo below. We also bought some "cecina", a sort of smoked beef cut in thin slices a bit like the Italian braseola but much nicer. It is very typical of this province, León.
Eladio buying cheese at the market in Villablino
We came home to more sun so we opened up the terrace and cleaned the garden furniture ready for the arrival of our guests.  Lunch was home made lentils.

It was on Friday that Miguel and Oli moved from Benia de Anis to Andrín in Asturias. The latter is near the pretty village of Llanes.  

It has a beautiful little beach and I have always wanted to visit Andrín.  We will one day, I'm sure.

On the move too were Irene and Tomas.  They too, inspired by us, stopped at the Palacio de Bornos in Rueda on their way here, no doubt for some of their wonderful ham and wine. 
Tomas and Irene at the Palacio de Bornos winery in Rueda on their way to Montrondo on Friday

We would be waiting for them for our evening walk when they got here.  The weather was wonderful and I was really looking forward to it.
The good weather in Montrondo on Friday
In the meantime in Madrid, Fátima my friend was keeping me posted on how my Father was. She very kindly ate lunch with him each day and worked at my desk in our study where he watches the BBC World news every afternoon. She sent me this lovely photo of him watching the news with her little dog Chispi by his feet. It's such a nice photo.
My Father watching the BBC World news in our study. 
In London meanwhile Suzy was waiting for her boyfriend Telmo to arrive from Biarritz.  He was supposed to have flown out on Thursday but the Ryan Air flight was cancelled due to the French air traffic controllers strike.  I would only hear later that he finally arrived on Friday evening.  I hope they have a great weekend.

Tomas and Irene arrived her at just before 7 and once they had settled in, off we went for a long walk.  We took them on the path we had discovered in the summer that takes you to Murias via the fields and old paths through a lovely birch tree forest.

On our walk with Irene and Tomas on Friday evening.
It gets dark here half an hour later than Madrid which gave us more walk time. Gerardo and Vicky had set off later than Irene and Tomas but even so got here really fast; in just 3 hours - I hope they don't get a speeding fine hahahaha.  So when we got back they had already arrived and set off out of the village to meet up with us.  Now we were all together.

They had all brought lots of excellent wine some of which we would have around dinner.  For dinner I served a home made chicken noodle soup (sopa de cocido) with the meat and vegetable pie I had bought in Villablino, "cecina", cheese and fresh asparagus, all followed by local "reine claude" greengages. Here we are having dinner.
Dinner on Friday night with my "Spanish family"
We then had a long "sobremesa" which turned out to be a heated conversation around the table where we talked about the institution of marriage and how it is changing to the Catholic Church and all its wright but mostly wrongdoings according to Eladio who was very inspired that night. 

Meanwhile that night, outside in the dark sky, a super moon made its appearance.  It was amazing.
The super moon as seen in Montrondo on Friday night.
I had read there would be one that night and looked it up and found that it was being called "a spooky harvest moon"; a lunar eclipse which would not be repeated until 2024.  It was truly spectacular and very visible here possibly because there is zero pollution in this mountainous rural area. 

And today is Saturday and we have a whole day ahead of us to enjoy.  The weather promises to behave and no doubt we shall go on a walk up the mountains.  There will be a local wedding today.  My neighbour, Salo's twin daughter Patri is getting married.  I bet you didn't know that Montrondo is famous for its high percentage of twins. 
4 of the 5 sets of twins from Montrondo by the church in the village.  The two in the middle with shorts on are Patri and Adri but I can't tell them apart.  Patri is getting married today which will be quite an event.
According to this article there are 5 pairs of twins (4 identical) for just 49 inhabitants (not all live here all year round). Interesting eh?  There is no scientific explanation for this but the legend goes that it is due to the water in "la fuente del cuadro" high up in the mountains. So now you know, if you want twins, you must come to visit Montrondo and drink the water from this spring.

Saturday was a day packed with activities. I drew up a programme for our guests which started off with leisurely breakfast.  Mid morning we stepped outside the house to show them the village; the highlights and of course to meet many of its inhabitants.  First we went to the village common (El Camp), then to get eggs from Serafina and Ulpiano.  Right across the way from their house we took them to see one of the latest landmarks, La Fleita spring where they tried the fresh water that comes straight from the mountains.
By La Fleita spring.
From there we walked up the path that leads to the mountain, via El Retorno, to take them to where you get best views of the village.  However just as we up by the beauty spot we heard the bread van and had to come rushing down. Meals in Montrondo without the local bread are unheard of and Spaniards cannot conceive of them without it either.

We then walked towards the main landmark, the 18th century church of the village. At the beginning of the path we found many pear and apple trees and just had to try some of the fruit.  Here are Irene, Tomas and Gerardo helping themselves to apples! When Eladio was a child it was forbidden fruit, but today no one cares hahaha.
Picking apples in Montrondo
On our way we found Fernando, a local, tending his orchard.  He kindly gave us 3 enormous spring onions!  I had to get a picture of him
Fernando by his orchard.
Once by the church we took the customary photo just below the belfry.

In the church grounds were some of the local women; Manolita, Marisa, Pili, Blanca, Josefa and others preparing a surprise for the bride of the wedding that would take place in the afternoon.  They had done a splendid job and I loved the arch of flowers but especially the old bicycle.  We took loads of photos and I have chosen the one with the 6 of us beneath it as the main feature photo of the week.  I had to take one of the women too after their efforts.
Well done Josefa, Manolita, Blanca, Marisa and Pili for the beautiful flower arrangement at the entrance of the church for the wedding. 
By then it was time to walk to Murias to go and have a drink at La Palloza bar.  My friends loved the place; I do too because of its spectacular backdrop.  Below are Gerardo and Vicky raising a bottle of beer for sheer happiness.
Vicky and Gerardo at La Palloza bar
We walked home and we were running late on my programme but no worries as thanks to a super team effort, Tomas, Vicky, Irene and I made a delicious dish of bacalha a bras.  

Then it was siesta time but soon the bells were tolling for the wedding.  Irene, Tomás and I went to watch and to congratulate the family.  It was just so beautiful and the bride couldn't have looked lovlier.  
The wedding
Salo, the mother looked radiant. I just love the contented smile on her face and her dress of course.
The bride's mother Salo. 
Once the ceremony was over and all the wedding participants left for León where the reception would take place, the village seemed emptier of course.  

But there were still more activities that day as Javi, the youngest inhabitant, had organised a game of bowling (bolos leonesas) as they are played here.  It's really only the older generation who know how to play and they were teaching Javi and others of the younger generation.  I loved watching Eladio take part although his skills were rather rusty hahaha.
The complicated game of bowling which took place on the common on Saturday after the wedding.
After so much standing and watching and not understanding, hahaha, we needed to move, so off we went on our last walk of the day up the mountains. Our goal was to reach the birch forest (El abedular) where we just had to have a photo. 
By El Abedular in the mountains yesterday
We were back home just before 9 and thanks again to a super team effort, we rustled up a delicious dish of fried eggs, chips and tender local green beans from Serafina's orchard. The conversation after dinner was once again rather philosophical; thanks to my husband ex priest, philosopher and teacher.  He knows so much and I listen to him with awe.  I whispered to Irene that that was one of the reasons I love him so much.  

The night was not good.  I woke up at 3.30 with a migraine and was sick as a dog; throwing up countless times until finally I slept and then woke up at 7.15.  I am no longer feeling sick and the headache is receding as I write now.  But it's time to leave you now and get on with making breakfast for our guests.

As to today's programme, well it's pretty free but will include mass in Murias at 1.15 after which we shall of course go for a drink to La Palloza.

You will hear all about it my next post.  Meanwhile, let me wish you all a good week ahead,

Cheers from our beautiful village where the sun is shining and the day promises to be another glorious one like yesterday.


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