Saturday, December 10, 2016

"Aqueduct" in Montrondo, a family lunch, James Rhodes, Oli in Ezcaray, Polish grandfather learns English for Christmas, home again and other stories

Sunday 11th December 2016

Me in Montrondo on one of our walks this week
Dear all

This week was spent in Montrondo during the long December break thanks to two bank holidays close together, Constitution Day on 6th December and The Immaculate Conception on Thursday 8th.  In Spain when you take the days off in between bank holidays or a weekend, it is called a "puente" (bridge) and when there are 2 bank holidays and you take the whole week off it is called an "aqueduct". It is also called a "macro puente" or "mega bridge" and there is much discussion about how it affects the economy.  The latest though is that it helps the hotel and restaurant industry which I'm sure is true. Well, that's just what we have been enjoying "an aqueduct" in Montrondo.  

It's been a time to relax and get away from it all.  Sometimes I envy the slower paced lives of the 12 or so permanent residents here and I know that when I retire we shall be spending longer periods of time here.  We just adore our new house and our pleasures here are simple: walks, meals, reading, hot baths in our claw foot tub, internet and watching TV thanks to Netflix and generally enjoying the quiet life with little Pippa of course. It's also time to be with the family as often we are joined by Eladio's family. This week Isidro and Yoli, their daughter Laura and Eladio's Mother came to lunch on Sunday and on Tuesday we were joined by José Antonio and Dolores whose company we always enjoy.  

Talking about walks, when I left off last Sunday, it was raining, damp and cold but even so we braved the weather and went on our new walk along old paths to Murias and back which is just under 7km. 

On our wet walk on Sunday morning.  Even Pippa had to wear her raincoat
We were back at midday, just as Yoli, Isidro, Laura and my mother-in-law arrived.  It had stopped raining by then thank goodness.  We had lunch at our house which was so warm inside thanks, not just to the very efficient central heating system we have in place, but Eladio's fire.  Sometimes when the fire is on it gets so hot we have to open the windows hahaha. I don't know if anyone noticed but I had put up a little Christmas corner for the festive season. I haven't put up the decorations at home yet but look forward to doing so today now that we are back from Montrondo.  I love Christmas!!!
Our Christmas corner in Montrondo
Yoli made a dish similar to paella which looked delicious but I remained faithful to my Pronokal diet and ate a miserly portion of grilled fish with 50 grammes of boiled asparagus. That's the sacrifice I have to make if I want to keep on losing weight which, as you know, is my mission at the moment.  

And here is the photo of the family lunch last Sunday in Montrondo.
The family lunch in Montrondo last Sunday
Later I would go on my second walk of the day, this time accompanied by Yoli, Laura and their frisky dog Marley.  The rain had gone by then but it was still cold and damp and I was in need of my afternoon "cuppa" when we got back.  Our visitors left soon after as the "abuela", who is deaf, gets bored easily as she can't follow the conversation and was anxious to go home as it was already dark.  For the record it gets dark in Montrondo at just after 6pm.  I can't wait for January when the days will get longer.

On Sunday when they left, both Eladio and I took it in turns to enjoy a hot bath in the tub in our bathroom but my husband wouldn't let me take a photo hahahah.  We didn't really need any extra body warmth as it was like a sauna upstairs because of the fire and we had to open the windows as I mentioned before. 

Olivia meanwhile was together with the girls' beloved group of friends, "la manada". That afternoon they all went to play bowling in Majadahonda.  I'm sure Suzy would have loved to be with them.  Soon she will  be when she comes back for Christmas on Friday next.
Oli with the "Manada" out playing bowling with "la manada" last Sunday
That night we watched "Salvados", the in depth programme on social issues directed and produced by the controversial journalist, Jordi Evole.  I think it is the only programme we watch on conventional TV, apart from the news.  On Sunday night he interviewed the British concert pianist James Rhodes.  
James Rhodes, a discovery for me this week.
I had never heard of him but found him delightful as a person and very interesting to listen to.  The programme was about how music was his therapy to overcome the effects of the dreadful sexual abuse he had suffered from his gym teacher when he was 6!  It's a ghastly story but a wonderful man and how brave he is to talk about his frightening past.  When he did so, he couldn't look Jordi Evoli in the eye; it was so obvious.  Poor guy, I cannot even begin to imagine his suffering. 

Monday was my weekly weighing day.  Oh how I love the scales these days.  I was down just under another kilogramme, making it a total loss of 9,8 in 9 weeks.  I was delighted and very much enjoyed my phase 4 breakfast: 2 spoonfuls of oat bran, a cup of coffee and 85 grammes of fruit. Over my favourite meal of the day I read the news; normally The Times online. That morning I read that the Referendum in Italy for reforms under the controversial Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, had been voted against, causing a shiver in the EU.  A happier story was that the far right had lost in the Austrian General Elections.

True to tradition, we went on my first walk of the day, just to Murias and back. It was a little wet and cold and we all had to wrap up well as you can see in the picture below; yes especially little Pippa, haha.
Eladio and Pippa well wrapped up for our walk on Monday morning.
For lunch I made a vegetable puré for Eladio out of the huge pumpkin Yoli and Isidro had brought us from their kitchen garden. I would have loved to taste it but I couldn't. 

Finally the wet weather left us on Monday afternoon and even the sun came out. The weather continued to be dry throughout our stay and  Montrondo was looking beautiful.
Montrondo looking beautiful this week
I snapped away at the lovely images of the village and particularly like this one of the church and horses in the field. It's like a picture post card.
Picture postcard like view of Montrondo this week
As soon as the sun came out we set off on our second walk of the day, this time choosing the new longer route to Murias via the old paths, a walk I just adore for the views and pure tranquility of the woods and paths we follow.  Here is Eladio opening the old gate to the woods. To prove it was sunny, he was wearing his sun glasses hahaha. 
Elado on our long walk on Monday afternoon 
Once home it was bath time for little Pippa.  Here she is in what must seem like a very large tub to our miniature chocolate dachshund.
Bath time for little Pippa on Monday afternoon
Tuesday was Constitution Day and also Independence Day in Finland. For most people in both countries it meant a day's holiday.  That day we were joined by José Antonio and Dolores who would be arriving at lunchtime.  I made a simple meal for everyone, except me, of chickpea soup, fish and salad.  The sun was out again and with lots of time on our hands, Eladio, Pippa and I set off on our morning walk, once again choosing the new long route to Murias.  
On one of our numerous walks this week in Montrondo
Toño and Dolores duly arrived at lunch time and soon the 4 of us were around the table together at our house.  I joined Dolores on another walk that afternoon. We chose the long route again which meant that on Tuesday I walked over 14km in total.  My fitbit was pleased and so was I. According to the little device I always wear, I had burned 2.410 calories which should help shed another kilo this week as my daily calorie intake does not exceed 1000. 

We weren't the only members of our family out walking that afternoon. Oli, who had a whole week's holiday off from work, had gone with Miguel to stay in a pretty little village in La Rioja region called Ezcaray.  Upon our recommendation, they had booked 3 nights at the Echaurren gastro hotel  whose most famous guest is Julio Iglesias or so we were told when Eladio and I stayed there a few years ago.  It is a gem of a place.  The hotel is not luxurious but very cozy. What is special about it are the 2 amazing gourmet restaurants, one run by the the famous chef Francis Paniego and the other more traditional one run by his Mother.  After checking in they went for a walk by the river.
Miguel and Oli on their walk on Tuesday evening by the River Oja in Ezcaray
The river is called Oja, or in Spanish "Río" (River) Oja" from where the region, La Rioja, gets its name.  I well remember our walk by the river in Ezcaray with Eladio, a very beautiful one and one I hope to return to one day soon.

On Wednesday morning Dolores and I went to Villablino, the nearest town to Montrondo which is a 30 minute drive on mountain roads with views to die for.  I needed to stock up on food as I hadn't brought enough with me from home to last the week.  We went to Gadis, a fabulous supermarket which unfortunately only has stores in the north of Spain.  Afterwards we went for a cup of coffee and bought the newspaper before we headed back to the village for lunch with the men. 

In Ezcary that morning, Olivia gushed over the amazing breakfast at the Echaurren hotel which I well remember.  It is one of the best hotel breakfasts I have ever had and Oli agreed. Here she is on Wednesday morning having breakfast there.
Olivia enjoying the amazing breakfast at the Echaurren Hotel in Ezcaray on Wednesday morning 

It was on Wednesday that I discovered the best Christmas TV advert this year, along with more than 6 million people.  The ad is by Allegro, an auction company and portrays a Polish grandfather who needs to learn English if he is to visit his family in England for Christmas and speak to his non Polish speaking granddaughter.  It has all the elements best Christmas ads need to become so popular: a grandfather, a dog, a kettle whistling and of course an emotional story. If you haven't already seen it, you can do so here
An image from the advert of the Polish grandfather who has to learn English to speak to his granddaughter
It has caused a bit of a stir in the UK after all the recent racism against Polish immigrants there. But the ad has also stolen people's hearts and has beaten the up till now most popular ad by John Lewis in the UK and the most popular one here, the Spanish advert for the Christmas lottery which was my favourite until I saw this one  by the Pollish company Allegro.

Dolores and I had missed our morning walk but made up for it in the afternoon when we ventured out with our husbands on the cross country paths to Murias and back, our favourite walk in the area.  
Eladio, Toño, Dolores and our dogs, Nuba and Pippa on our walk on Wednesday afternoon
We came back to a warm house and the first thing I did was bathe Pippa.  As she is so short in stature she gets very dirty on our walks.  Immediately after her bath, she always rushes to sit on her blanket on the sofa in the main family room which is directly next to the fire. Here she is relaxing after the walk and bath.
Pippa chilling out on the sofa by the fire
After dinner we all chilled out on the sofa, watching the news. I was disgusted to hear that Donald Trump had been named Time's "Person of the Year".  Thankfully they added in the text on their front page "President of the Divided States of America".
I don't like Time's choice of Person of the year for 2016
But have you noticed the letters of the name of the magazine, Time, over his head?  Later I would read that the "M" may well be perceived as a devil's horns above his head, depicting him as the devil he is.  I wonder if the magazine did this on purpose or not but we will probably never know. 

There was nothing but rubbish on conventional TV after the news so we switched to Netflix and watched the end of episode 5 of The Designated Survivor. We now have to wait another week for the next episode as for some silly reason Netflix doesn't want us to binge watch the series and is only releasing one episode per week. 

That night I slept really badly, waking up three times and with a headache. I only realised when I got up at 6.15 that I had forgotten to take my sleeping pills.  I am such a light sleeper I have no option but to take them to get a good night's sleep.

Thursday was another holiday in Spain to mark the Immaculate Conception. Who believes that ever happened?  No me.  But it's nice to get a holiday for any reason.  It was to be a foggy and damp day although thankfully it didn't rain.  I had a headache all day which dampened my mood and made it difficult to do anything apart from go for walks.  I don't know how many paracetamols I took but they didn't help.  It was the walks that did.  That morning Eladio and I went on the shorter walk to Murias.  Pippa wore her red jumper to shield her from the low temperatures.  She looks a picture in it don't you think?
Eladio and little Pippa in her red jumper on our walk on Thursday morning
On our way back we passed the stud of horses in the fields just outside the village that belong to one of the only two or three farmers left in in the village, Manolo.  There are many foals and just as we approached we were rewarded with watching them frolic in the fields, chasing after each other, running around and even rearing up on their front legs. Unfortunately when I got my phone out to take a picture, the frolicking stopped; as if they knew we were watching.  It was a very inspiring moment.  I love most four legged animals but especially horses and always have.  As a child I longed to learn to ride but it was an expensive sport and my parents being school teachers couldn't afford it.  My mother once told me the nearest I would get to horse riding would be my own pony tail.  I have never forgotten that.  
The stud of horses in the main field (El Bao) outside Montrondo. I love watching the foals play.
If I felt a little down on Thursday, Oli was in high spirits enjoying her holiday in La Rioja with Miguel.  That day they visited the ski resort Valdezcaray just a few kilometres up the mountains from the pretty villlage of Ezcaray where they were staying.  They didn't ski as there was not enough snow and the resort was not yet open.  But it looked like they had the place to themselves.  
Oli and Miguel at Valdezcaray up in the clouds!
They made it up to the top and this is what they found when they got there, beautiful snow and scenery.
Oli at Valdezcaray
Meanwhile life continued in Montrondo and my headache got worse. The pain receded a bit when Dolores and I went on our longer afternoon walk to Murias and back. Thanks to Eladio's help massaging my head and neck and another paracetamol I was able to enjoy watching Netflix that night.   Waiting for more episodes of Designated Survivor to be released, we began a new series, "Shooter", another American political thriller which seems to be the genre we both like.  Again Netflix is only releasing one episode per week but there were 4 available last night and we binge watched the first three.  It is highly recommendable by the way, once you get into the story line which is slightly confusing; as many of these series are.
Shooter, an excellent political thriller available on Netflix
On Thursday night, making sure I took my sleeping tablets, I got a better night's sleep which is just what I needed and woke up at 6 on Friday morning feeling better although the headache was still lingering. Oh how I hate my headaches.

Of note on Friday, Kirk Douglas, the last of the legendary Hollywood actors, turned 100. Imagine.  He looks in fine shape by the way. I'm sure I've seen him in many films but the one that stands out is of course Spartacus made in 1960 which most of the world from then until now have seen countless times.  I loved it and always will.  Happy birthday Spartacus which I believe you have celebrated with your family including your look alike son Michael and his gorgeous wife Catherine-Zeta-Jones.
Kirk Douglas best known for his role as Spartacus, turned 100 on Friday
On Fridays there is a fruit and veg and flea market open in Villablino which Dolores and I love to go to.  The men prefer to stay behind, so the two of us left after breakfast, suitably dressed I thought for the 0ºc temperature my car showed, but oh no I was freezing all morning.  Later the sun would come out thank goodness.  Dolores stocked up on kilos and kilos of local walnuts and lentils and I bought a jar of home produced honey for Eladio. Then we ambled past the gypsy stalls mostly selling underwear and clothes.  Here we stopped at a slipper stall where Dolores bought a pair.  Here she is trying them on.
Dolores at the fair in Villablino on Friday trying on a pair of slippers which she bought.
I took the opportunity to buy some more Christmas presents to go under the tree for my Father, the girls and Eladio.  The best part of our morning out was having a cup of coffee in a warm bar to escape from the cold outside.  We got home at around 13h to find both men weeding using their Father's ages old scythes.  By then the sun had come out and before lunch, Dolores and I went to buy eggs from Serafina, Ulpiano's wife which is always a special moment, not least because of where and how they live; as if time hadn't passed. They had run out of eggs as all the village seemed to have been there before us so I asked them to save me a dozen for Saturday morning for me to pick up before leaving.

Meanwhile, in La Rioja, Oli and Miguel checked out of the hotel Echaurren in Ezcaray after a sumptuous breakfast.  They stopped on the way home at the Hostal Landa just outside Burgos as I had recommended to them. 
Oli and Miguel at the Hostal Landa on Friday
This place is very special and every time we go on the N1 (road from Madrid to Burgos) we always try to stop there, either for a bite or a meal.  My daughter and her boyfriend loved it and, although they weren't particularly hungry, ordered the house speciality, "morcilla" (local black sausage) with fried eggs which were probably as good as Ulpiano and Serafina's as everything the Landa serves is of top notch quality.
The house speciality at Hostal Landa
Dolores and I would go on our last walk with the dogs that afternoon on our favourite walk along old country paths and beautiful woods. We remarked just what  a magical setting it was. I was home with time on my hands before dinner and decided to prepare Saturday's lunch which we would be having in Madrid. I made oxtail soup from the Simone Ortega recipe (delicious) as well as a chicken noodle soup which Eladio enjoyed for dinner.  Neither dish was for me. Heaving a sigh here haha.

That night we finished watching the 4th and last episode of Shooter, available on Netflix. until they release the next one. As with the Designated Survivor we shall have to wait for the next ones to become available.  So we turned to Happy Valley, a police series set in Yorkshire.  I loved it. What I did not love was having to watch it in dubbed Spanish.  I would far have preferred to listen to the Yorkshire accents so familiar to me as that is the area where I spent my formative years. 

I slept better on Friday night as finally my headache had left me but I was awake as early as usual or even earlier at around 5 and made myself stay in bed until 6.  Oh how I hate my body clock and wish I could sleep longer.  

Saturday came and we would be leaving early that morning.  I was up as usual at 6 am with little Pippa.  The main news that day and in fact the main news of the week was the disclosure by the CIA that the Russian government had interfered with the US Elections; their goal to make Donald Trump win.  That is terrible news for democracy.  Thankfully Obama has ordered a full investigation.  But I ask myself, will it be on time to stop him from taking office?  It's an ugly story and a throwback to the Cold War which in my mind never really ended.  The news came from prestigious media such as The Washington Post and The New York Times, yet the story didn't make the big headlines here in Spain or even in the UK papers.  Does that mean the world doesn't care?  Well I do.

This is serious news but will anything be done about it?
We left after breakfast after having picked up a dozen eggs from Ulpiano. The worst thing about leaving are all the chores to be done; closing of all the windows and shutters, hanging out the washing to dry until we come back, changing the sheets, disposing of the rubbish, collecting all the left over food to take back, etc, etc.  

We were home in record time and arrived at 1.45 on time to settle in before lunch where we would have the company of Olivia and Miguel. They arrived loaded with delicious purchases from Ezcaray; wine and walnuts as well as turrón (Spanish Christmas nougat) Miguel had bought in Jijona (Alicante) for us for Christmas. 

My headache returned on Saturday - Eladio swears it's cos of my diet; well maybe - but a brisk walk with the dogs that afternoon helped to diminish it slightly.  I came back to chill out with Oli, trying on clothes I still thought I couldn't get into.  But I could to my delight.  

Oli was happy to see Pippa again and Pippa was happy to see her and even happier to see Miguel to whom she is very attached.  The happy couple were going home that evening and just as they were leaving, Oli played a prank on Pippa placing her in her basket as if to take her with her. Pippa doesn't look very happy in the picture does she?
Oli with little Pippa in her basket yesterday
The best thing about being home was being able to sleep in our own bed which is much more comfortable than the Ikea one in Montrondo.  We watched an episode or so of Season 1 of Happy Valley; the only season available on Netflix for the moment. It's riveting.  Have you seen it?

Now I have come to the end of this week's post. It's Sunday 11th December and the day we shall be putting up the Christmas decorations. I have made quite a few preparations for the festive season and was glad to see many of my online purchases had arrived but there's still a lot to plan. Suzy would have liked us to wait until her arrival next Friday to put the decorations up but that would be leaving it far too late.  So watch this space to see how it turns out in next week's post.

Wishing you all a great week ahead, I'll leave you now to get on with the day.

Cheers till next Sunday, Masha.

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