Monday, May 01, 2017

French elections, to León for a funeral, trip to the UK for Suzy’s birthday and a girly extended weekend, discovering The Cotswolds with Suzy and Oli, my yellow rapeseed field moment and other stories.

Monday 1st May, 2017 
My yellow field moment, just loved it and loved The Cotswolds
Good morning everyone,

Here I am writing from Suzy’s flat in Hackney London while both by daughters are asleep.  It’s been 4 months since we saw Suzy and now we are enjoying a lovely Mother and daughter extended weekend in the UK which included a trip to the The Cotswolds, a beautiful part of England (an area of outstanding beauty) I was keen to see for the first time and show the girls. The name by the way means sheep enclosure fields and oh how beautiful it was.

But let me start from where I left off, last Sunday and St. George’s Day. That day, our Airbnb guests from Valladolid, who had come for a wedding in Villaviciosa de Odón left. We had to quickly prepare the rooms for the next arrival. On the same day, Astrid, a professional golf player from Provence in France was coming to stay for 3 nights. I’m really enjoying being an Airbnb host. Apart from the extra pocket money it brings, we get to meet so many nice people. So far we have had guests from Spain, France, Italy, South Korea and Russia and I have bookings as far ahead as July of more from Canada, the UK, Colombia, Australia, Holland as well as from France, Spain and Italy. I am getting some lovely reviews which are very satisfying.

There was some good sporting news on Sunday when Rafa Nadal won a record 10th Master’s tournament in Monaco.  There would be another win on Saturday when he won the Barcelona Godo championship. Good for him. He’s only aged 30 and despite his many injuries, I think he can still make a comeback.
Nadal winning again. 
There was another sporting victory too on Sunday when the Spanish cyclist, Alejandro Valverde won the prestigious “Classic” race, Liège-Bastogne-Liège. In an emotional interview afterwards a tearful Valverde paid tribute to Michele Scarponi who was killed on Saturday after being hit by a van while training and said he would donate his €20,000 winnings from Liège-Bastogne-Liège to the former Giro d'Italia winner's family.

But of course the big news was the French Elections. It was pretty tight with Emmanuel Macron, aged 39, the ex-socialist coming first just ahead of the dreaded Marine Le Pene of the far right. Of course they will go through to the next round which is on 7th May and most of the world is hoping Le Pene won’t win which would mean France could well leave the EU and all that that would entail.

My French guest, Astrid, had voted for Macron who, I later found out is married to his former teacher, Brigitte Trogneux aged 64. When he was 15 he told his 40 odd year old teacher he would marry her and he did. It’s funny how we all seem to accept an older man marrying a younger woman and don’t bat an eyelid but when it’s the other way round it’s a different case.

Macron aged 39 and his 64 year old wife, his ex teacher
Monday started off peacefully. But it would turn out to be the saddest day in the lives of Eladio’s family.  Little did we know how it would turn out when Eladio, I and the dogs went for our morning walk. It was just past 9 in the morning when we got the devastating message from Eladio’s younger sister to tell us her husband had passed away. Oh my God my favourite brother-in-law A, who I had known since 1983, was no longer with us. Life seemed to stop but there and then but we had to rush and get ready to go to León to join the family to mourn for him. Toño, Dolores and Olivia joined us and it was a sad journey and a sad stop for a quick bite at Rueda. We didn’t get to the Funeral Parlour in León till 15.30. Nearly all the family was there. The wake was beautiful, with so many flowers and so many people and I know A would have been impressed. I can’t write much about this out of respect for his family but I have to add I had known him since we first met at our wedding in August 1983 and that he quickly turned into my favourite brother-in-law. He was vivacious, fun to be with, very good with his hands, a sporty type of person who always dressed impeccably.  He was the heart of the family celebrations always. I shall never forget him dressing up as an old woman once in Montrondo and, basket in hand, pretended to be begging. He was such fun and that’s how I want to remember him. I was his comrade in arms when it came to family parties and also remember very well going out with him to look for joke articles or fireworks for New Year’s Eve. I also remember that often when we arrived from Madrid at his house that he would take me out for wine and tapas while Eladio stayed with his sister. We had chemistry and I shall miss him enormously. As couples, we were very close as were our children and they often came to stay or we would stay at their house. One of the last occasions was in 2011. In the photo of the 4 of us below we were out to dinner in Madrid. I’m glad I have so many photos of him and our times together. They are a consolation.
With my brother-in-law in 2011 in Madrid.
He went too early in life and he leaves a great big gap in the family.

It was strange to be in Montrondo in the middle of the week so unexpectedly. We had taken no food, expecting to buy some in León. However, everything was closed as it was a bank holiday. Thankfully the locals rallied round and provided us with eggs, milk, bread and even a homemade pie. We had a lovely meal but it was so sad.

I woke up early in Montrondo on Tuesday morning, the day of the funeral. It was not only strange to be there but strange not to have Pippa. We had a quick breakfast and left, mostly dressed in black as befitted the occasion. We drove straight to the funeral parlour where I was privileged enough to be able to say goodbye to A together with the immediate family. It was a moment of closure, but only small closure. We walked to the church nearby and were all amazed to see just how many people had come to pay their respects and say goodbye. You see the family is well loved and A had many, friends. The funeral, as funerals go, was very somber, perhaps too somber. At English funerals there would have been speeches and of course a gathering afterwards for food and drink and the occasion to celebrate the life of the person who has passed away. That is not how it works in Catholic Spain. From the funeral we all drove to the cemetery where my brother-in-law was to be buried in his family grave, in fact, together with his Father who was also taken from life too early, in 1977, aged just 52. I felt so sorry for his widower who is now over 90. At the cemetery I was taken straight back to the burying of my own Mother in 1999 and of my brother in 2001. There is nothing so final as the coffin being lifted down and then the hole in the ground being covered with cement. For me that was the worst moment of the whole day. I kept a red rose from one of the reefs which had fallen on the ground and shall keep it always as a keepsake; although a very sad one.  Suddenly it was all over; just so final. The family met for lunch at the restaurant opposite the funeral parlour.

It was very ironic that the last time the family had been together was at his daughter’s wedding and now we were all together for his funeral. It felt so odd and strange that he was missing  family gathering. Oh yes, he has left a huge gap in our lives.

However, we were cheered up at the restaurant by the presence of the youngest member of the family, Dylon Alexander, aged just 2 or 3 months and who had been born to Alejandro and Carolina. I’m not very keen on babies, but this baby was lovely. I should add, It behaved perfectly. Oli adores babies though and held it in her arms for me to take lots of photos. This is one of her with the mother and baby.

Carolina and Olivia with little Dylon Alexander, the youngest member of the family.
The five of us left at 4.30 in cramped conditions in our Volvo. We were home by 7.50 and found everything in order thanks to Lucy, our new and very capable home help and carer. We went to bed early that night, tired both physically and emotionally.

Life continued as it does and on Wednesday I woke up a bit later than usual, at 6.45. I had breakfast with Astrid who I have to say was a delightful guest. I had lots of things to do that day work wise and to get ready for my trip to London on Thursday. I also had to do the weekly food shopping so that there were enough provisions for the family while I was away. Oli was in trouble at work for having taken 2 days off for her uncle’s funeral. It’s very unfair but there are no official days free for the passing away of an uncle. But she didn’t care and knew where her priorities lay and took the days from her holiday. That, of course, got her into trouble.

Finally Thursday came, the day of my long awaited trip to London for Suzy’s 33rd birthday. Oli would be joining us on Friday; although her trip was touch and go until the last minute due to the demands of the programme she works for. She will be starting her new job with Madrileños por el Mundo on 8th May.

I weighed myself that morning, rather worried I had put on weight as my diet had been rather out of control the week before. But I had good luck when the scales showed 55.6kg which meant it could go out of control in England too hahahah. There is plenty of margin and I shall be back to the diet after the trip. No way do I like diet when travelling.

It was to be my first time with Ryan Air and travelling to Stansted Airport but everything went smoothly. I even got 3 seats to myself after asking to change my middle seat for an aisle seat. Thanks Ryan Air! At the airport I was about to get some pounds out of a cash machine. But when I saw that it would cost 288 euros to get 200 pounds, I decided against getting cash and would pay for everything by visa. What a rip off! I got to Liverpool Street Station by 13.30 and ordered an Uber cab which, for just 7 pounds, took me to Suzy’s place in Hackney. My driver told me a black cab would have charged over 20 pounds. Oh I do like Uber. Chati, Suzy’s flat mate, welcomed me into the flat and soon I was having a cup of tea on the sofa chatting to her. Suzy wouldn’t be back till 5 and after settling in I decided to go for a walk on the Canal (Regent’s Canal).
Regents Canal near where Suzy lives in Haggerston (Hackney) 
It was cold and drizzling and I was glad I had brought my warmest coat.

I walked for 1.5h hours enjoying seeing the boats or barges and spring flowers. There were cyclists everywhere. I was clad in an esquimo type coat whilst the Brits were running along the path and cyclists were dressed as if it was August in Madrid hahaha. 

I was home just before Suzy and eagerly awaiting our reunion as I hadn’t seen her since 27th January; 4 whole months. Oh and what an emotional reunion it was.  We just kept hugging and couldn’t let go. Whilst we were hugging, Chati took photos of us. This is one I really like with my darling daughter Suzy.
My reunion with Suzy
Soon we were out in the street again. We went off in Suzy’s little hired car, an Opel Corsa, to buy food as her cupboards were practically bare. She took me to Tesco at Whitechapel. I just love the variety of British supermarkets. We bought tons of food, most of it healthy, except for a strawberry pavlova and raspberry meringue. One look at them was enough to tempt me I’m afraid.

We had a super dinner but as I had been up so early, before 5 in the morning, I was soon in need of sleep. I slept in Anita’s big but lumpy bed – she was in Spain – and I think I slept the night through. You see, I had some weed that night with the girls. Are you shocked? You are supposed to be. I wouldn’t repeat the experience though as it gave me a headache haha.
On Friday I was awake at 5 in the morning and saw Chati who was also leaving for Spain. I had a nice breakfast on my own. There was to be no special  birthday on Suzy’s birthday as she had to leave early for work, her last day as a Band 5 locum dietitian with the North Eastern NHS Trust. She will be starting as a Band 6 dietitian at the Ipswich NHS hospital on 3rd May. But I did give her the main present we had bought, a lovely blue HP PC which she is much in need of if she is to do private consultations. If, by the way, you are interested, she can give consultations via skype for any dieting needs at 50 pounds per consultation. I know I’m her Mother but I can highly recommend her as it’s thanks to her I have lost so much weight.

When she left, with time on my hands until I was to meet Oli at Liverpool St. Station at 13h, I got ready to go to Westfield Shopping Centre at Stratford. I took the Underground at Haggerston (the girls’ nearest station), changed at Canonbury and then took another train which got me to Stratford by 9.15. I didn’t realise the shops didn’t open until 10 hahah.  That gave me plenty of time to find my bearings and see where the shops I wanted to go to where. These were them in order of priority: M+S, Lakeland, Boots and Lindex. I had a field day at “Marks”. It was funny that everything I bought was a size 10. So what did I get?  Lots of skinny jeans, fleeces and wonderful bras; size 34B by the way hahaha.  Don’t think I’ve ever worn that size before. It made me feel like a teenager.

At 12.30h I had to leave and took the Central Line to Liverpool St Station where I was to meet Oli off the Stansted Express. She would be late though and I had to wait an hour. Of great interest to me at the station was a statue of the “KIndertransport”. This was to remember the thousands of Jewish children who fled from Nazi Germany to refuge in England. Their gateway to safety was through Liverpool Street. I had seen the statue before but it always interests me enormously as I was brought up on WW2 stories at home.
The Kindertransport Jewish children statue at Liverpool St. Station
Finally Oli arrived and we hugged, celebrating our being together in London to see Suzy.
A selfie with Oli when she arrived on Friday 
I ordered an Uber cab to take us to Poppies Fish and Chip shop near Spitalfields Market. That was where my ex University friend, Gill H, took me last August and I can highly recommend it.
Fish and chips at Poppies by Spitalfields market with Oli on Friday
Meanwhile, Suzy on her last day at work was given a surprise birthday cake. It was all thanks to her favourite colleague, Adam for whom it was also his last day at the North London Hospital Trust. She loved her time there and her colleagues, especially Adam.
Suzy with her colleague Adam and the surprise birthday cake on Friday at work
From Poppies we took another Uber cab and were soon chilling out at Suzy, Chati and Anita’s flat. We still had some time before Suzy came home and decided to go for a walk. I took Oli along the canal and, believe it or not, the sun came out. I’m not into canals, always worried I may fall in, but Regents Canal is actually quite beautiful in parts.
On Regents Canal with Oli on Friday afternoon.
No sooner had we got home than Suzy arrived and finally the 3 of us were together. I always love it when we are and love how close the sisters are.
Suzy and Oli hugging - love this photo.
The girls went out a while later on an errand and they used the bikes Suzy and her flat mates have. I was offered one too but passed as I have no practice and was worried I would be wobbly on it and fall over.
Suzy and Oli about to go off on their bikes 
When Eladio took Oli to the airport he told her to look after me at the weekend as I was 60! We had such a laugh about that.

We had a dinner planned that night at a very famous Spanish restaurant called Cambio de Tercio but first Suzy had to go to the goodbye party that Adam had arranged at Shoreditch. So Oli and I slowly made our way to South Kensington where the restaurant is, on Great Brompton Road. We were there early and enjoyed window shopping. We also bought a carrot cake and lovely breakfast stuff from Paul, that tempting French patisserie. As we walked along Great Brompton Road I glanced at prices of houses and flats. I couldn’t believe it when I saw a triplex flat going for 4.5 million pounds! Has the world gone crazy? It felt crazy also to go past a Ferrari show room. What an area S. Kensington is. Of course it’s Lady Diana land and full of rich foreigners. Before getting to the restaurant, Oli and I stopped at a pub for a drink. We were drinking cider throughout our stay. The pub only served normal apple cider but at the supermarkets I was introduced to ciders made with different fruit. All 3 of us particularly like the passion fruit Rekorderlig cider, made in Sweden. I do hope I can buy it online in Spain. It’s so refreshing and of course has a lot less alcohol than wine and it doesn’t give me headaches.
The wonderful cider I discovered on my trip to England this week
Soon the 3 of us were sitting down to dinner. We did not order any wine as the cheapest bottle was over 30 pounds and just one glass was 13 pounds which I thought was another rip off and I told the Spanish waiters so. They agreed hahaha. Dinner was good although very expensive. The worst thing though was the noise. I think I have never been to a noisier restaurant in my life. It’s a great favourite with Chati and her family but I’m not going back. The bill was hefty and the place far too crowded. The restaurant wouldn’t let us take in the birthday cake for Suzy so that’s another black point for them. We would have to wait to be in The Cotswolds for that. Oli and I left with a headache, not from the wine but from the noise! We walked back to the station and took the long tube ride back to Whitechapel and Overground to Haggerston dying to “hit the sack” as it had been such a long day. On the tube going home, we found out there had been 3 thwarted terrorist attacks in London that day, including one near Westminster. Thank goodness we would be getting away to the safety of The  Cotswolds the next day.

Saturday came, the start of our full 4 day holiday together. I was up at 6, cleared the kitchen decks and made a special birthday breakfast for Suzy. We left the flat at 10 am and it would take us more than an hour to get out of London. We were going to a hamlet called Woodmancote near Cirencester and would be staying at an Airbnb place ( for 2 nights where we would be hosted by a lovely retired man called Christopher and his wife.  He had suggested the route to take and we followed his instructions. We drove towards the West on the M4 towards Chippenham. From there we made our way to our first Cotswold village, Lacock. It was a lovely place and like many other pretty villages in the area, has been used for films and TV series. It was an introduction to unspoiled countryside and picturesque villages that all could have been used for picture post cards.

Beautiful Lacock
Our next village was to be what has been called “the prettiest village in England” and it’s called Castle Combe and wow it was true. It was a sight for sore eyes. Castle Combe has also been used in countless films and TV series, such as Pride and Prejudice and, by the way, is in the county of Wiltshire.
Castle Combe, one of the most stunning villages in The Cotswolds
 We had lunch there at a pub called The White Hart. Guess what we had? Yes fish and chips. But the piece de resistance was the sticky toffee pudding. It’s a favourite dessert of mine which I hadn’t had for donkeys’ years. The girls adored it. We also adore the name hahaha.
Sticky toffee pudding at The Hart in Castle Combe
Christopher had suggested we also stop at Tetbury of Princess Diana and Prince Charles fame but we were keen to check in to our little cottage, so drove straight to it via Cirencester which is the capital of the Cotswolds and is, by the way, in Gloucestershire.

We arrived just before 5 and were warmly welcomed into our tiny little cottage which is called The Annexe and was actually the granny flat Christopher built for his Mother in their garden. The garden is not big and the flat, although rather nice but rather cramped, is totally surrounded by a huge caravan and at least 2 cars, with not much garden leftover. The décor is a bit of a mix of old fashioned and Ikea stuff. However it is a very comfortable and warm place and has everything you need for a short stay. The big bonus was the fridge stocked with enticing breakfast produce.
Our delightful Airbnb cottage in Woodmancote near Cirencester in The Cotswolds.
Keen to go for a walk, we quickly settled in and then went out again. It was our first introduction, on foot, of the Cotswolds and we adored it; the sheep on the way, the bluebells in the forest and the yellow rapeseed fields in the distance.

On our walk in Woodmancote on Saturday
We explored the village when we got back and it is pretty too. I love some of the doors and entrances to the stoned cottages and houses, like the one in the picture below.
At the entrance of a delightful cottage in Woodmancote
Thankfully we had wifi which worked on and off but at least we had a connection to internet. I should add there was practically no mobile signal in the area.

We had a lovely dinner from the provisions we had bought at Tesco. We of course had the birthday cake moment that night and here is Suzy with the spectacular candles I had bought in Spain for the occasion.
Suzy and the birthday cake moment on Saturday night at our Airbnb cottage
The cake was not very good but we had also brought along Adam’s chocolate one and I had bought a fruit tart, so we had our sugar fix. It was to be the start of more and more food and I dread the scales when I get back.

The annexe flat has just one bedroom, a tiny bathroom, a kitchenette and a lounge. The girls slept on the double bed in the one bedroom and I slept, quite well, actually, on the so-called “fouton” in the lounge. It was a peaceful and comfortable night.

On Sunday I was up early as usual while the girls slept. I spent the time catching up on this blog and making our breakfast; another sumptuous meal. This is what it looked like before we polished it off.
Breakfast in our cottage on Sunday morning
Christopher had given us a suggested itinerary to visit the North Cotswolds, supposedly the most beautiful part of the area. We followed most of his plan. Setting off at 10.30 we made our way to nearby Calmsden which has one of the most beautiful rows of estate cottages. I was also enchanted with another set of houses I saw. You can see which you like better in the 2 photos below.

Beautiful houses in Calmesdon 
We carried on along the narrow country lane towards what is known as The Fosse Way. Our next stop was the famous Bourton on the Water, also known as “the Venice of the Cotswods” and which gets very crowded. I could see why when we got there. It was perhaps the most touristy place in the area but it is beautiful.
Bourton on the Water
The town is full of antique shops as are all the towns and villages in the area. My sister-in-law Dolores would have loved them. We didn’t buy any but what I did buy was more Emma Bridgewater pottery to add to my collection, a lot of which is chipped now. It was my chance to add to it at a good price as the transport price to Spain is almost as much as the pottery itself.

From Bourton on the Water we made our way to the historic market town, Stow on the Wold, famous for its pony and horse fair. We particularly loved the St. Edwards Church as well as the houses and streets.
St. Edwards Church in Stow on the Wold
Oli remarked it all looked the same to her. Well it did but marvelously so hahaha.  It was in Stow that we had lunch, at a bakery, very similar to Betty’s in Yorkshire, called Huffkins. Here I satisfied my crave for afternoon tea and I got the works as you can see in the picture.
Scrumptious afternoon tea in Stow

Huffkins in Stow on the Wold, a wonderful place, both the bakery and the town. 
Christopher had booked a table for dinner for us that night at a tempting gastro pub called The Colesbourne Inn but as we were so full, we decided to cancel the booking. We just could not take any more food hahah.

From Stow we drove to the one street town called Moreton in the Marsh and then back to Stow to take the A424 road, the so called “5 mile drive” towards Evesham. Our printed itinerary called it “one of the most beautiful roads in The Cotswolds and it was. Our final destination was a village which Christopher told us was his favourite, Chipping Campden. I think it’s mine too, although it’s difficult to choose between Chipping Campden and Castle Combe. Here we saw the most amazing thatched roofed houses and I just oohed and aahed away, making Suzy laugh when I said I had to buy one and move in there and then.
A stunning thatch roofed cottage in Chipping Campden
What a lovely to place to live, I kept thinking. We explored the beautiful streets, went to the “public convenience” – I do love English euphemisms hahaha and then decided it was time for a walk. There were various to choose from, The Heart of England Way, The Cotswolds Way and lots of public footpaths. We took the latter into sheep fields and through delightful styles.

Chipping Campden, a truly picturesque town

There were lots more places on our itinerary but we were tired, so after Chipping Campden, we decided to drive “home”. I wanted Suzy to stop for me to take a photo of one of the yellow fields I had fallen in love with. You can’t imagine just how bright the colour of the rapeseed flowers was. Finally she did, just as we were approaching Calmsden and I got my moment. I waded into the middle of the field and the photo of that wonderful experience is the one I have chosen to illustrate this week’s blog post. Oli took a video of me which is such fun and which you can see here.
Literally wading into the rapeseed field. 
We were back in our comfortable cottage by 6 and chilled out for the rest of the evening. There was no cake but there was some delicious raspberry meringue we had bought at Sainsburys which we had with fruit and yoghurt. Food glorious food hahhaa.

And this, my friends is where I am going to finish this week’s blog post. I am unable to publish it, today, 1st May, as the connection is too slow but shall do as soon as I am able.

Today is my Father’s 98th birthday, God bless him. I know he would have loved to visit the Cotswolds and it’s funny he never did as he spent most of his formative years in very nearby Bristol. I will be thinking of him celebrating at home today and opening the presents I got for him or enjoying the cake I ordered.

So cheers friends for now, until next time.
All the best Masha

PS. You can see lots more of the photos of our holiday in London and The Cotswolds here, posted on Facebook and with no tagging as instructed by my “girlies”. 

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