Sunday, August 27, 2017

The cousin reunion, the end of my stay in France, Prince Felix Yusupov and how we are related to him, back to Madrid, our 37th wedding anniversary and dinner to celebrate, march against terrorism in Barcelona and other stories.

Sunday 27th August 2017
Eladio and I raising our glasses to celebrate 37 years of marriage at dinner on Friday night
Hi everyone,

Well I'm back now, having arrived from France on Tuesday evening. It's been a return to routine and hot weather although thankfully, today, finally  rain came which will, hopefully, put out the fires raging in many parts of Spain. 

I left off on Saturday 19th August. That morning, Katty and I went on our walk before breakfast and again enjoyed our time together and the delights of the French countryside. We should have taken baskets on our walk as we could have picked lots of blackberries or miniature plums. 
Katty picking blackberries on our walk
We came back to have breakfast, once again croissants and toast and butter for me. Thankfully here at home I have returned to my oat bran porridge and hopefully will soon have lost any weight I put on in France. 

That morning, after filling Zuka's car with all the food we would be contributing to the cousin reunion, we set off to Marie Helene's house in a small village called Mareuil in the area of Cognac. 
Where Mareuil is located in France, sort of central west. 
It took little over than an hour thanks to Zuka's fast driving, despite her broken toes. We were the last to arrive and would be 14 people all together. I was bowled over by our host and family's house or rather mansion. I had no idea they lived in a "maison de mâitre" which was so beautiful with its red shutters and outer barns and huts and even a miniature house, not to mention the pool or the vineyards it is surrounded by.
My cousin's spectacular "maison de Mâitre" in Matreuil in Cognac. 
Our party was to be a jolly one and the second cousin reunion which my cousins dubbed "la cousinade". It would comprise of the five of us; Zuka, her mother - my Aunty Valya, her daughter Katty from New Zealand and myself, then my cousin Mashenka, her partner Serge and daughters Elizabeth, Sophie, Anna and her French husband they called "Chouchou" and of course our hosts, Marie Helene, her German husband Christophe and their daughters Helen and Catherine. 

Lunch was almost ready when we got there which we had on the terrace of the little house and where we would have all our meals.  I sat next to the younger generation and particularly liked my little chat with dear Sophie who I know better than the others as she came to stay in Spain twice.  We had more in common too as she has studied Communication and was keen to hear advice from me about her future  career which of course is or was mine. 
Enjoying talking to my niece and cousin Sophie in Spanish about her future career. 
Amazingly, she still remembers her Spanish. In fact most of the party were polyglots, unlike me as I only really speak 2 languages. More than once I regretted my Mother not having taught me Russian, her mother tongue, or my poor school French. 

It was a wonderful location for our reunion. The afternoon was spent lounging around. I enjoyed lying on the grass reading my kindle. Katty caught me on camera unawares and I quite like the picture.
Lying in the grass at my cousin's place in Mareuil, Cognac. 
We would meet again for dinner that night where there were surprises for some of us. In the middle of the meal, my cakes and apple crumble, were served as birthday cakes with candles on to celebrate my Aunt's 90th birthday 2 years ago, Zuka's 70th this year, my 60th in February and Chouchou's 33rd. It was a particularly lovely moment and we were all surprised and happy with our presents and that our cousins had remembered. 

The evening ended with us all skyping or video whatsapping with Katty's family in New Zealand, her husband Tony and adorable kids Luc, Sam and Ruby. The 3 kids had been part of the cousin reunion last year and so we were missing them a lot. They played the guitar for us, did a Maori dance and in return the younger cousins present in Mareuil sang them Russian songs.  New Zealand is so far away that as we were going to bed they had just got up haha. 

On Sunday morning, I was the first one up as I had been the first one to go to bed. It was 6 a.m. and I enjoyed my cup of coffee, albeit nescafé, in the garden. Soon I was joined by Katty who got up early to join me on our early morning walk which had become a habit during our stay in France.  We went on a beautiful 2 hour walk along the vineyards. I even tried the grapes but they were sour. We were told they were grown for cognac and a drink called pineau which I don't think I have ever tried.. We also ventured into the village where I spied some strawberries which were delicious. I think they had an owner but as they weren't fenced I helped myself hahaha.
Vineyards around Mareuil

Inside  the courtyard of one of the cognac making houses mansions in Mareuil of which we saw many
We came back to have breakfast with our cousins and had a lovely lazy morning together. Soon it was time for lunch and another meal all together. I must say everything was beautifully organised.  And here we are around the table. Photos are courtesy of Marie Helene.

Lunch on Sunday 
The afternoon was equally lazy. I slept on a sunbed in the shade while some of our group swam in the pool. It was a warm day but not warm enough for me to swim as I am used to Spanish temperatures hahaha.  Later the girls and Chouchou would play croquet, not my favourite game but they were fun to watch. Even more fun was seeing the winning couple thrown into the pool fully dressed. I do wish I had taken a pic but my phone was charging inside the house. We were to leave that day, that is the 5 of us who had come from La Teilée, but decided to leave after dinner which actually didn't wind down until past 11pm and then we all spent at least an hour saying goodbye. Next year's "cousinade" will be at our house in Madrid and I have no idea how I am going to fit everyone properly as we only have 3 spare double rooms. I was told not to worry and that people could sleep in tents but I'm not sure how practical it will be to turn our garden into a camp site. Well, I'll cross that bridge when we come to it. I do hope my girls can join next year and get to know some of the cousins they have never met and also understand  their Russian roots a bit more.  

We didn't get to La Teilée until at least 1.30 in the morning and after unpacking I fell straight into bed to find my room mate, Katty, already fast asleep.

Monday came and it was to be my last day in La Teilée with Zuka, Aunty Valya and Katty. Monday 21st August was also our church wedding anniversary. I think for the first time I wasn't with my husband to celebrate it. Of course I wished him a happy anniversary at a distance and looked forward to celebrating 37 years of marriage later in the week. And here we are together on our happy day. I think I have posted this photo before many times, but here it comes again as the others are in the album and I have only scanned a couple of them.  This is the one with the vicar who married us, the Reverend Brandon Jackson with my Father and dear brother George (RIP) behind. It's nice to have them in the photo.
Eladio and I on our wedding day 37 years ago. 
It was certainly a happy day and I have to say too that it has been a very happy marriage. I have no regrets and love my husband to the core as he loves me. We are very lucky to have met, as life is a chance and both made the right decision. We are very different as you probably know but then they say opposites attract. My parents were very different too but the thing is Eladio and I share the same values and same open opinion and views on marriage and life in general. I think that is one of the secrets of our successful marriage. 

That morning Katty and I would go on our last long walk together.  It had been amazing to have her with us during my stay in France and a complete surprise. I look forward to her coming again next year but this time to our house for the "cousinade".

It was one of the warmest days of our stay and we spent it quite lazily. Apart from the morning walks, another routine we had was evening drinks all together on the terrace where I am afraid I ate pistachios nearly every day. I am working hard now to shed any weight loss as I know I must have put on a couple of kilos at least. Eladio says he notices it in my thighs (OMG!!). 

Talking of Eladio it was to be his last day too but in Montrondo where he had been alone with his sister and mother whom he would be bringing home that day until the end of the month. 

The good news on Monday was that the police in Spain had caught all 12 of the terrorists who had perpetrated the Barcelona attacks, including the van driver, 22 year old Younes Abouyaaquob of Moroccan origin, the man who went on the run but was caught on Monday and shot dead in the town of Subirats near the Catalan capital.  

Tuesday came and it was the day of my return. My Aunt and cousins were also leaving for Paris for a few days after which Zuka was going on holiday to her beloved Cyprus and Katty to London to see friends and shop and from there home to New Zealand. 

Zuka and Katty drove me to the train station in Poitiers where I was to catch the TGV. Katty helped me with my 20 kg suitcase and we had to have one last selfie before saying goodbye for another year. It had been so good. 
A goodbye selfie with Katty at the train station in Poitiers
I got on to the packed TGV at 09.30 which would get me to Paris Charles de Gaulle airport by 11.45 with time to kill until my flight for Madrid at 15.15. Once at the airport it was teeming with police and security forces telling us to move on. I was a bit worried something had happened but thankfully nothing had. I spent ages in the queue to drop my heavy case off after which I went through security, most of it staffed by immigrants, many of them with veils on. I have to say I found France a little worse for ware possibly due to the crisis. Their high speed trains are not as luxurious as the Spanish ones, they seem to be short of good roads, their supermarkets look a little tired and all in all I found that the tables had turned and it is Spain that is smarter all round whereas when I used to visit France I always found it cleaner and smarter than Spain. Not so any more in my view at least and I hope no feelings hurt. Even the bread and croissants are not what they used to be. Hopefully things will change under Macron's rule although his popularity is waning slightly and I did not like the news I read this week where I learned he had spent approx 26.000 euros on make up!!! 

At the airport I bought my Father some maltesers and indulged in lunch at Pret a Manger which I love. I also had enough time on my hands to order a book for my Father via Amazon on my phone. 

When on holiday with my cousins we had talked a lot about the past and somewhere I heard of a book by Prince Felix Yusupov called Lost splendor and the death of Rasputin which he published in Paris in the 50's when he was there in exile. He is famed for having killed Rasputin together with the Tsar's cousin, Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovic although I have read in critics of the book that his tale is not completely credible. 
The memoirs of Prince Felix Yusupov which I bought for my Father and am avid to read too.
Prince Yusupov is another famous relative of mine. 
Prince Felix Yusupov in the days of splendour
Let me explain how. The Yusupovs were the 2nd richest family in Tsarist Russia (probably after the Tsar) and the Prince's mother, Princess Zinaida Nikolayevna Yusupova was both my Mother's godmother and my great grandmother's first cousin from the Ribeaupierre side of her family (my Grandmother, Sophie Lieven née Stachovic was a Stachovic on her Father's side and a Ribeaupierre on her Mother's side). 
My great grandmother (right dark hair) Olga Stachovic in Moscow circa 1910 with the Mother of Felix Yusupov, Zinaida, or Aunty Fairy. 
In this picture from an album I have at home is of my great grandmother and her first cousin, Princess Zinaida Yusupov. They must be having tea together as there is a somovar in the picture. What I don't know is where the photo was taken. It was obviously not  at the Yusupov palace in St. Petersburg as I know it was taken in Moscow in 1910 so possibly could have been at one of my Mother's family's palaces or homes there. They were very rich too as was her husband Prince Andrei Lieven's family.  Many years later my Mother asked her Mother, Sophie Lieven née Stachovich, what it was like to be rich. She answered that when she was rich she didn't notice it!! She then added that now she was poor (when they lived in exile in Bulgaria) she was too busy to notice it. No doubt I shall find out just how rich they were when I read Prince Felix Yusupov's memoirs. 

In fact my mother's family exiled together  with Princess Zinaida where they eventually landed in Rome and where my Mother was born at the ex Russian Embassy in 1920. My Mother used to refer to Yusopov's Mother as "Aunty Fairy".  She was apparently very beautiful and my Mother had this photo of her.
Princess Zinaida Nikolayeva Yusupova, Felix Yusopov's mother and my Mother's god mother and my Grandmother's first cousin. 
Amazingly on my first and only visit to Russia, to St. Petersburg in about 2004 where I took a group of journalists when I was working for Nokia, our guide took us to the Yusupov Palace. There I saw the original portrait of my Mother's godmother and her grandmother's cousin. I could not believe my eyes. I suddenly realised where I was, in a palace of the past of extreme wealth where once my Mother's family probably visited  for teas or dinners. It was a huge eye opener and a nostalgic moment. Of course I was unable to tell my journalists as how would they understand anything at all. What a story. One day I have to write my book. 

But back to the present and to my arrival home from my holiday in France.  I had had a wonderful time but it was great to be back home and to greet my Father, Eladio and of course my lovely dogs, but especially little Pippa who I had missed enormously. Possibly the best thing about returning home always is sleeping in my own bed and next to my dear husband.

On Wednesday, I resumed my daily routine and went on our walk with the dogs. It was lovely to walk with them and Eladio but I missed my walks with Katty. Meanwhile, my youngest daughter, Olivia, who went back to work last Monday, after  a super long holiday, was working on her next programme which is about people from Madrid living abroad (Madrileños por el Mundo). She is to be sent to Cyprus of all places, which delighted my cousin Zuka, who lived there for years until she and her family had to flee after the war there in 1974 when the Turkish invaded the island or islands.  

That night Eladio and I would watch a film, again about people having to flee their country. It was the wonderful Indian made "Viceroy's House" which I had recently bought on Amazon. It stars Hugh Bonneville from Downton Abbey. We watched it in two nights and yes I loved it as I am fascinated by the story of the independence of India and the incredibly violent partition of the country into two with the creation of Pakistan but somehow either it wasn't long enough or there were things missing. Gandhi hardly makes an appearance and the love story of 2 workers at the Viceroy's House, a Muslim girl and Hindu boy, did not really convince me. What it does do though is project perfectly how the British Raj must have been in all its splendor but unfairness to the native inhabitants. 
Our film of the week

Thursday was unbearably hot again. Even so I made fabada (bean stew from Asturias) for the family but had chicken myself. I just have to get back to healthy eating.

The highlight of Thursday  was a goodbye party for 2 ex colleagues from Yoigo, Dragutin an Laura who both worked in IT mainly. It was held at Laura's house in far away Alpedrete but a superb location for the party. It was lovely to see a lot of my ex colleagues but somehow I really want to move on and leave it all behind, except of course for the good times. But that is not easy when you are in the midst of your colleagues, some of who still work for the new company that bought Yoigo and some, who, like me, were forced to leave. Inevitably we talk about how it could have been had they not bought us and how Yoigo is no longer Yoigo. It was good while it lasted and I have moved on thankfully.
The goodbye Yoigo party for Laura and Dragutín.
I left while the party was in full swing as I wanted to be home for dinner with my dear husband. I so enjoy our quiet dinners together in the summer on our kitchen terrace accompanied by our 3 dogs. 

Friday came and we spent part of it preparing for our next Airbnb guests, a middle aged French couple who would be driving all the way from Perpignan on the border of Spain and arriving later that day.   We have had a few things to repair in the house this week, due to our Airbnb guests. First the downstairs room had a huge damp patch with paint coming off the walls which worried me stiff as in September we have a lot of guests coming. Thankfully the plumber came and dealt with the damp which he said came from the bath. Eladio pointed out that as it's used so much by all the guests it is probably their fault. Later that day, after our new French guests had arrived, we found the front door had gone a bit wonky and would not close properly. They were the last to use it so I can only imagine they must have done something. Who knows? Last, but not least, was a broken blind in the room they slept in. It's not the first time a blind has broken and I am beginning to think that people who are not from this country don't know how Spanish blinds work. I shall just have to tell them in the future. On top of all this, the review from Philippe, the French Airbnb guest, was not flattering. He gave me 4 stars and said 1) I should have provided breakfast which by the way is not advertised and 2) that guests have to pay for the air con. I explained later in my public reply that we don't do breakfast anymore as people tried to eat us out of house  and home and asking for it until lunchtime and that the air con now has a metre as we have had lots of abuse. I wish now I had added that after their visit the blind and door were broken and which would cost a lot more than the money they had paid for their stay. I could well have added too that the guests went away without even bothering to say goodbye. Oh well, you can't win them all I guess. 

Oli and Miguel arrived later that day and cheered me up enormously. They also brought down the average age in the house by quite a few notches haha. I hadn't seen my youngest daughter since before I left for France and it was lovely to be reunited. We spent some time by the pool and then it was time to get ready to go out for our 37th wedding anniversary dinner. For the occasion I had made a reservation at a new restaurant which is actually open only for the summer months. Called "Los jardines del palacio" it is situated in the gardens of the Palace of Boadilla. Of course I have seen the facade of the palace many times but had never been in the newly restored gardens which are magnificent. I was bowled over too by this place.
The restaurant "Los jardines del palacio" in the gardens of the palace of Boadilla del Monte

The palace was built by the Infante Don Luis de Borbon, the 6th son of King Philip V of Spain and his second wife, Isabel Farnasio. The Infante who went into the church and became the arch bishop of Seville, was also the brother of King Charles 3rd and in his later life a patron of the arts giving support to the painter Goya and others.  He had the palace built around 1761 and it is built to the plans of the Spanish architect Ventura Rodríguez in the neoclassicism style and is magnificent although mostly run down inside as it must need billions to restore properly. In any case it was amazing to be there. We could not have chosen a more romantic setting for our wedding anniversary dinner. As soon as we entered the gardens we started taking photos, like the one illustrating this week's post, the one of the palace and restaurant above and some selfies too like this one of the 4 of us who had the pleasure of dining there on Friday night.
A selfie of the 4 of us about to have dinner on Friday night at the new restaurant in the palace gardens. 
The food was good although simple as I heard they don't actually have a proper kitchen but bring it from the caterers' restaurant nearby.  The service was pretty fast too. We loved it so much, no doubt we shall return before it closes at the end of September.

Yesterday, Saturday, was  quiet day. After our walk, I went into Majadahonda to the local market again. I went to pick up some of the cushions missing from the order I had made to cover our three piece suite in the lounge of our flat in Santa Pola. They weren't ready so guess what? I shall have to go back again. I don't mind going at all as I just love some of the clothes there and yesterday bought another jump suit and similar dress, both of which I have worn today and yesterday. 

I was home on time to finish making lunch for everyone and it was nice to have the company of Oli and Miguel again. During the meal we had a call from Suzy from London airport (not sure which one). She was waiting for a flight to Dubai with her flat mates and friends from their "manada" group in Spain, Chati and Anita. From Dubai they would be taking another flight to their holiday destination, Malaysia. They would be joined today by 3 other friends from the group who would be travelling from Madrid, Rocío, Chati's sister Elena and Elena's boyfriend Antoine. They didn't get there until lunchtime today which is quite a haul. Once outside, Suzy rang to say they had arrived safely. I don't know why but as I get older I get slightly more worried about the girls travelling when I never used to do before. Particularly worrying for me was when I read that in Malaysia, a strict Muslim country, there is a death penalty for consuming or having drugs of any kind and prison for homosexuality. I warned Suzy but she didn't seem worried. Later she would post this photo of her and Chati about to leave on holiday. 

Suzy and Chati about to leave for their holiday in Malaysia and Indonesia

I look forward to vicariously enjoying their stay in Malaysia and later in Indonesia (only Suzy, Chati and Anita in Indonesia) with Suzy's posts, phone calls and photos sent to the family Whatsapp group. Thank God for modern technology that keeps us all in touch these days. 

But back to Madrid. In the afternoon yesterday, we lounged around the pool and I also played cards with Oli and Miguel; for the record  a game called "sevens" which I actually won hahaha. 

While we were playing cards, a big demonstration was held in Barcelona where more than 500.000 people marched chanting "No tinc por" (I'm not afraid) in protest for the 2 attacks in Barcelona last week which left 15 people dead. There were other marches and protests around the country including the town of Ripoll where most of the terrorists had their residence. Chillingly, the sister of 2 of them, Hafida Oukabir, spoke out against terrorism too. It must have been very hard for her. The Spanish King was present but was criticized by many for links to arms deals with Saudi Arabia who many people think finances Isis. They also called for the country's PM, Mariano Rajoy to "go home" in a clear cry for independence. It is unfortunate that the march was tinged with politics when clearly it should all have been about the victims and their families. I would have preferred a real show of unity. 
Yesterday's anti terrorist march in Barcelona. 
All I can pray for and hope is that the radicalized people behind these dreadful attacks will be caught out and that they will not crush our spirit or how we conduct ourselves daily. Since the Barcelona attacks there have been numerous others, some successful and some not, including a man with a sword who was thwarted outside Buckingham Palace. It's a new type of war I do not like and which is hard to deal with. That's why unity is necessary. 

And today is Sunday and I woke up to the sound of rain, something we haven't had in a long time. Even so we managed our morning walk. Right now as I write the sun has come out but rain has been forecast for the whole of the week. It will be great to have a respite from the hot temperatures and be able to sleep without the air con. 

The week ahead looks to be quiet. I have no trips planned or any events but no doubt there will be something to write about next Sunday that will interest you.

Hoping this post has interested you, I will sign off now and wish you all the best till next time.

Cheers for the moment,

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Back from Montrondo, a few days at home then off again, to France for a multicultural wedding and time with my Russian family, terror in Spain and more stories.

La Teilée, France, 19th August 2017

With the bride and groom at their wedding. Anas and Marie. 
Hello all,

I am late with my blog but that's because I am in France and have been to a wedding and spending time with my Franco Russian cousins. So let me catch up slowly as I write from my cousin Zuka's lovely house in La Teillée, near Poitiers, in very rural France.

I left off a while ago, on Sunday 6th August. It was to be our last day in Montrondo. Again we had a super breakfast together, Eladio, Oli and I as you can see in the photo below.
Our typical breakfast in Montrondo
That morning, Oli, Pippa and I went on our last walk to Senra and back. On our way we passed a house with the typical wooden clogs they wear in the area, on the steps. I had to take a photo to show you. People here wear them with their slippers inside so that they can walk in the mud or in the past when they tended the cows. They then leave them on the steps and enter the house with their clean slippers on. They are quite heavy and have 4 small stilts to avoid contact with the dirt. I cannot wear them as I tend to fall. Eladio wears them naturally however.
"Madreñas" (wooden clogs) worn in Montrondo
It was a long way home from Senra in the sun. After lunch and another game of ludo which Oli won, it was time to pack to go which is a ritual I never really like. We left at about 5.30 with a heavy heart as we didn't want to leave our beautiful country house and return to hot Madrid. It was a long drive home (4 hours) and we were home by 9.30 to greet my Father, Lucy and of course the dogs. Unfortunately Lucy had hurt her hand when putting socks on my Father's feet, which together with a cramp in her back meant she wasn't able to take him upstairs to the dining room. I felt bad about that. 

The best thing about being home was sleeping in our own bed which is much more comfortable then our cheapo Ikea one in our house in the village. What I did miss was the cool of the night in Montrondo as at home we had to sleep with the air conditioning on. It's been such a hot summer, the hottest in all the time I have lived in Spain. 

Monday was back to usual and home routine as well as getting ready for our next set of Airbnb guests, an English family from Rushden in Northamptonshire. While Eladio did some repairs and cleaned the pool I went on my walk on my own. It was so hot I had to walk around the urbanization on the pavement rather than going on my usual path in the hot, dusty and dry fields. Later Oli and I went out to buy presents for my cousins in France. We also got some stuff from Carrefour, the French supermarket - the French have always fed the Spanish since Napoleon's times (hahah) and you find all the big French department stores in Spain. You never see it vice versa. In any case the Carrefour in Majadahonda is probably one of the best in Spain. We then had lunch together, with my Father of course and afterwards Oli and I spent time by the pool. 

When my English guests arrived, she disappeared as she is not that keen on meeting our Airbnb guests as she feels a little invaded. I do too but it's how I earn my money these days so I have to do it the best I can. I give everyone a warm welcome but receiving English guests is always my preferred nationality because of the synergies. They were a lovely family but who I fell in love with was their 6 year old boy, Brody who was a laugh a minute. He was also very bright and was keen to learn Spanish. His first words were "hola señorita". He was avid to learn new Spanish words and I taught him quite a few. As soon as he could, he went straight into the pool and later said he never wanted to come out bless him. He and Pippa didn't see eye to eye and I had to keep Pippa away from him until one day he bumped into her on the steps and waited patiently for me to come out and rescue him and get her to stop barking. He then said to me: "you must remember to keep Pippa with you as I am always bound to bump into her at some time". What a funny little boy he was, adorable really. 

Thankfully for our English guests,  Tuesday was suddenly cooler. I don't think they could have stood the high 30ºs.  I had lots of errands to do that day, such as a bank transfer of cancellation fees to the bothersome Airbnb American lady who after about 4 months of whatsapping and emailing finally decided not to come and left me in the lurch. On the bright side that morning, Oli and I went to the market in Majadahonda where I had to pick up the covers for our sofa in Santa Pola. Of course we also looked at the great clothes and of course we bought some. I got a great blue short jumpsuit which I have been wearing nearly every day since. I also got some colourful flat summer shoes which I adore. 
My colourful flat shoes from the Majadahonda market 
So, happy with our purchases, we came home to lunch with Eladio and my Father. Our UK guests spent all day at the pool. In fact in all their 5 days with us they hardly ventured out as the kids just wanted to be by the pool all the time. In Brody's case, he wanted to be in it all day and at one stage said he was "shivering with happiness" - words out of a baby's mouth haha. 

On Wednesday I was up early as usual. I was going away to France the next day for 12 days so preparations were in order. But of course before doing anything I went for a walk with Eladio and the dogs. This time I was wearing my new jump suit and the colourful shoes. I felt like a little girl, despite being  60 haha.
Wearing my new jump suit and colourful shoes and feeling like a girl again. 
Before leaving for France I had to make sure there were enough provisions in the house until I come back. So off we went to do the food shopping but before getting to Mercadona, our local supermarket, we went to have a cup of coffee which very naughtily was accompanied by churros and porras (the thicker version I prefer). It would mean I wouldn't be very hungry for lunch that day.
Churros and porras with coffee on Wednesday with Eladio
We spent the afternoon by the pool or rather at the end of the pool under the trees in the shade while our English guests sat in the sun. It's so funny how the Spaniards try to avoid the sun and the English want to sit right in it. I remember doing that when I lived in England and went on holiday to Spain. How the tables have turned. 

Thursday came, the day of my long awaited 12 day trip to France. I was going to to stay with my cousin Zuka and Aunty Valya who live in La Teillée, a hamlet about 40 minutes from Poitiers. 
Zuka's house and garden, a part of it actually as it's enormous.
We would be going to a a cousin's wedding near Geneva, then spending some quality time together in La Teilée and then attending our second Franco Russian cousin reunion in Marueil (not quite sure where hahaha) before returning to Madrid on 22nd August but of course I will be telling you all about my stay in this blog post. 

Eladio drove me to the airport to catch the 09.30 Easy Jet flight to Charles De Gaulle. It was arriving at 11.40 and the TGV (high speed train) was leaving for Poitiers at 12.15 so I had very little time to get off the plane, recover my luggage and rush to the station which is in the airport itself. But, thankfully I made it. The train was chock a block and late arriving in Poitiers where it was raining. It was so funny to come to rain in France after the dry heat of Spain. My dear cousin Zuka had come to fetch me but hadn't told me she had fallen the day before on her staircase and broken three toes. She hobbled towards me and I only wished she had told me and I would have taken a taxi. But she's very stubborn and would even insist on driving to Geneva and back for the wedding believe it or not. 

We were soon at her rural house in La Teilée and there waiting for us was my Aunt Valya now aged 92 and going very strong. She is pretty amazing, drinks and smokes to her heart's content and is very mobile and extremely independent. She was the wife of my Mother's darling brother (the next down after her, of six siblings of which my Mother was the fourth), Nicholas (Kolya). Zuka, who is really called Sophie, is her only daughter and my only female first cousin and is 10 years older than me. Zuka who was born in France but married an Englishman (Bruce) and was very close to my Mother. So, of course, there has been a lot of reminiscing during my stay here, much of which is rather emotional. 

You see, apart from the family Eladio and I formed, I have very little other family. On my Father's side there is just him and on my Mother's side, all 6 siblings are deceased and only 3 of them had children. So I only have 3 first cousins. But I do have second and third cousins on my Mother's side and these are the ones I would be seeing and meeting in France during this stay. They are all of Russian descent and continue many of the traditions and even way of life. I find it rather quaint, having been brought up to be far less Russian than them.

My Mother had 4 cousins in Paris (her family, the Lieven family fled to Bulgaria after the Russian revolution and their family, the Stachoviches fled to Paris - my Grandmother was a Stachovich) born to my Grandmother's brother Alexander  (or his wife but I don't know her name) and they were Sasha, Masha, Olga and Nastusha. I would be seeing the daughters of Masha and Olga, also Masha and Marie Heléne and their daughters Marie, Anna, Sophie, Elizabeth and Helen and Catherine. We would all be attending the marriage of Marie to Anas who live in Geneva. I hope you got all that hahaha. It's rather confusing. If you are interested in the origin and descendants of my Mother's family, the Lievens, you can find out more in the "online Gotha" registry, here

Whilst in La Teilée, my Aunt showed me some very interesting photos I had not seen previously of the family, like this one of my Grandfather, Prince Andrei Lieven, his brother Peter, sister Masha and Mother Alexandra. You might be interested to know that my Grandfather was over 2m tall and my Great-grandmother nearly as tall as him. I wish I had taken after them and not after my maternal grandmother who was small (and fat) like me! I do know that my Mother adored her Grandmother and I only heard good things about her, not so about my own Grandmother I'm afraid. 
My Grandfather Andrei (looking at his mother) with his siblings in Russia probably before 1910. What a great photo. 
Our most famous ancestor was Princess Dorothea Lieven, a German noblewoman and wife to the Russian Ambassador in London. She was a very influential political figure in diplomatic circles in the 19th century and is rumoured to have been the mistress of Bismarck. She was famous enough at the time to be painted by Sir. Thomas Lawrence and her portrait hangs in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. I have a copy (nothing fancy, it comes from a magazine) which hangs in our own dining room:-)
Princess Dorothea Lieven, our most famous ancestor (b1785 d1857)
But I am digressing. So back to La Teilée. Shortly after I arrived, my cousin Marie Helen arrived too as she would be going with us to Geneva for the wedding or should I say I would be going with them.  It was while talking about going to the wedding my Aunt told us she had decided it would be too tiring a trip for her to take which we respected. It was also then that she let the cat out of the bag and I heard that Zuka's daughter Katty who lives in New Zealand was surprising us all by coming to the wedding, staying here at La Teilée afterwards and joining us all for the cousin reunion which they all dubbed "la cousinade".  She was already in Geneva in fact. I was over the moon that darling Katty was coming. I last saw her a year ago for the "cousinade" at Zuka's place and was dying to see her again. Apart from a cousin, for me she is like a sister and we are soul mates. It was all going to be great fun. 

We had a lovely dinner together and very soon I went to bed exhausted by the day. I found it slightly cold and hadn't packed enough warm things and was much in need of pairs of socks of which I had none. Thankfully Zuka lent me some warmer clothing.

On Friday I was up at 6.15 as my body clock is so stubborn. We didn't leave until 9.45 and would be driving all across France to the village of Lully in Haute Savoie where we would be staying at a lovely Swiss type chalet called Zelie run by an Airbnb host. It would be interesting to see how he fared as a host compared to me hahaha. Lully is on the border of Switzerland and is over 600km from La Teilée. The drive would be mostly on country roads as there is hardly any motorway. Our journey would be very slow (9 hours) as, apart from the not particularly good roads it was the start of the 15th August bank holiday and it seemed that all of France was going somewhere too. 

But first we had to drive to Poitiers to go to a shoe shop (Halle) at a big shopping centre to get some comfortable shoes for poor Zuka's feet for the wedding. While there, both Marie Helene and I bought some great gold sandals which we would both wear and I love even more than the coloured flat shoes above. 
The gold sandals my cousin and I bought in Poitiers
And here are my cousins leaving the shop happy with their purchases.
Mare Helene (left) and Zuka outside the shoe shop in Poitiers.
The trip was long and slow due to the traffic and I felt sorry for my cousin driving with her broken toes but she wouldn't let us drive so there was nothing we could do.  It was raining most of the way and the temperature was about 15ºc which is a far cry from Spain I can tell you.  We were hungry by lunch time but funnily enough it was difficult to find anywhere to eat which is a bit of a paradox in France which is famed for its gastronomy. We had a ghastly meal in a fly infested place I wanted to get out of as soon as possible. The terrain got higher and higher as we approached Switzerland. Finally we arrived at the chalet at around 8.45. Katty had already arrived and was there to greet us. It was a great reunion and we all loved our accommodation although there was only one bathroom which is apparently typical in France. This was the chalet.
Our beautiful chalet in Lully in Haute Savoie near the border of Switzerland
Thankfully Katty had asked the host for restaurant recommendations and soon we were sitting down to dinner at Les Terrasses in nearby Brenthonne. We loved the place and dinner made up for the dreadful lunch. We were back in the chalet by midnight where I shared a comfortable double bed with my cousin Katty. We had lots to talk about but were both shattered, she from jet lag of course. I had a bit of a headache but actually slept relatively well. We would need the sleep as the next day, because of the wedding, would be an extremely long one.

On Saturday again I was awake at 6.15. Soon I was joined by Zuka who wakes up early too. First things first and I got my caffeine fix followed by a very French breakfast of croissants and "pain au chocolate". I would have the croissants nearly every day here and am seriously worried about my weight which I shall fix, I promise, when I get home. 

We had the whole morning to get ready for the wedding which wasn't starting until 14h. It was lovely getting ready together with my cousins as there was such camaraderie and a sort of "girly together" feel. I had brought my Queen Letizia black Zara outfit which in the end I didn't really like to tell you the truth and only wished I had brought my turquoise dress I got at Stanley Market in Hong Kong.  I could have killed myself when later at the wedding nearly all the women were in blue which is apparently Marie's favourite colour. That was a bit of a mistake. This is what I looked like. Nothing special really.
My outfit for the wedding.
The wedding would be very special and multicultural as my cousin Marie who is Russian Orthodox was marrying Anas who is Muslim. He is actually an Ismaeli Muslim who are tolerant believers and a branch of Shia Islam. The first part of the wedding would be a Muslim Nikkah ceremony at the Ismaeli Cultural Centre in Geneva. Seeing Marie dressed in a Muslim wedding sari outfit took my breath away. Here she is looking gorgeous. Sorry that the loo is just behind her haha.
Marie being given the final touches to her sari before the Muslim blessing.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that men and women worship together. The ceremony took place in English, French and in Arabic and was actually quite short with everyone standing up. 
Marie and Anas at the Muslim wedding ceremony.
We were not allowed to take photos during the ceremony itself so I was happy to get this shot just before although I'm not sure everyone heeded the warning. It was a warm and sunny day thankfully and after the knot was tied the Muslim way, a pink milky type drink was served on the terrace. There was no alcohol of course.  Now I could greet the rest of my cousins, Marie's mother, her partner and her daughter and their partners who I hadn't seen since last year. 

The next part of the wedding would be the Russian Orthodox blessing, reception and dinner which took place at the Château d'Avully, a restored 15th century castle belonging to the Duchy of Savoy, over the border in France  in Brenthonne and very near our chalet in Lully. It would start at 5.30 so we had time to go back to our chalet, freshen up and get a bite to eat as we hadn't had any lunch and my breakfast croissant and pain au chocolat were long forgotten. 

We were stunned by the beautiful castle as we parked and walked in over the portcullis.
The beautiful château
People had already gathered and soon we were standing near the altar waiting for the happy couple. Marie was led to the altar by her Father and soon the ceremony commenced led by a Russian Orthodox priest. 
The bride arriving
She looked stunning, this time in a white bridal dress. Then the most wonderful thing happened, her sisters, mother and friends gathered around the altar to chant the Russian Orthodox wedding songs in harmony conducted by their choir master. Marie was in tears and so was I as I suspect many other people were. Again the ceremony was short and soon the wedding party was gathered around the happy couple congratulating them. I was up there too and the photo illustrating this post is of me with the now married couple just after the Orthodox ceremony.

The wedding was truly multicultural, because of the mixture of Muslim and Orthodox traditions but also there were people from all over the world, including some of Anas' family who had come from Canada. They were all dressed in traditional outfits and I was happy to catch them on camera looking very colourful indeed and happy too.
Some of the Muslim guests in traditional outfits. Anas' father is on the far left. 
The whole wedding was peppered with different Orthodox and Muslim traditions throughout. The first, after the blessing was the giving of the bread and salt to the married couple by their parents. They were supposed to eat it all but they didn't haha.
The giving of the bread and salt
There was also lots of giving the couple or their parents a tray of drinks which they were supposed to down in one go which is called "tcharichiska" and which is accompanied by a very raucous Russian song called. Here is the couple being given the drinks and then drinking them.

The Tcharishka before and during accompanied by raucous singing. 
During the reception lots of photos were taken and of course there had to be one of all the cousins with the happy couple. Here is one of them I particularly like.
The cousins with the bride and groom. 
Soon it was time for the dinner to take place in the castle and here unfortunately no alcohol was served. Katty and I quietly sneaked in a glass of wine each which would last throughout the dinner. Others brought in whole bottles of wine they hid under the table hahaha. I suppose it is hard for Russians and the French to eat dinner without wine!! Throughout the dinner there were lovely surprises which started with a Hindi wedding entry into the banquet of the bride and groom. There was even Indian dancing which was beautiful. 

The Hindi entry ceremony 
The dinner was superb as was to be expected in a French medieval castle at such a multicultural and exotic wedding. Marie's sisters, mother and friends sang again but this time popular Russian songs including a favourite in the family: "Lietat Utki" which I remember very well singing with my Mother and Aunty Masha many many times when I was young. 

After the dinner and the cutting of the incredible cake, dancing commenced and here Katty and I joined in very enthusiastically. However, by about 1.30 in the morning after a very long day, we were shattered again and with a heavy heart left the wedding party to take the short drive back to our chalet in Lully. I have to say it was the most multicultural and exotic wedding I have ever been to and that it was organised with lots of detail and love, not to mention lots of fun and emotional moments throughout. Marie, of course, organised it all and got her lovely sisters and friends to help make everything perfect. 

The wedding didn't finish on Saturday. There was to be a brunch for everyone at Anas' brother's house very near Lake Geneva. Again we had lots of time to get ready and here are my two cousins, Zuka and Katty, Mother and daughter reunited after a year, here ready to go.
Zuka and Katty, Mother and daughter together for the wedding
But before arriving at the house, Zuka drove us down to see Lake Geneva or Lac Leman as it is called in French. It was a beautiful day and I was bowled over. The last time I had been there was when I finished my A levels and went to Taizé with the school, a famous Catholic retreat in France. Of course, photos were in order and we took many. Here I am enjoying being by Lake Geneva.
Me by Lake Geneva the day after the wedding. 
Anas' brother's house was perfect for a wedding brunch and his family had gone all out to prepare a superb spread.
Anas' brother's house where the brunch took place the day after the wedding. 
We left at about 5.30 with the mission of finding a table at a restaurant that night for the cousins and friends remaining near Geneva. On our way back to our chalet we were passing Yvoire which is classified as one of the most beautiful towns in France. It is a medieval town and there are more flowers than people. It is simply stunning. 
Flowers in Yvoire
It is right on the shore of Lake Geneva and is considered a gem of the lake. It certainly was beautiful but rather full of tourists. 

In the end we had dinner at Les Terrasses again. There were 14 of us and I was happy to sit next to my dear cousin Masha who is known as Mashenka. I am known as Baby Masha and that is to distinguish us. In fact at home I was always called Baby Masha to distinguish myself from my Mother's younger sister also called Masha. There were and are many Mashas in my family hahah. And here we are sitting round the table that night.
Cousins and friends at the dinner on Sunday night, the night after the wedding. 
It was a great place to have dinner the day after the wedding. But it wouldn't be the last dinner together as the following weekend we the cousins would meet again. 

That night Eladio and Pippa arrived in Montrondo and our English Airbnb guests left. They later wrote a beautiful review and promised to come again. 

On Monday 14th August, I was up early again and amazed I had no headache after all the wine at the dinner the night before.  After a leisurely breakfast, we packed and left our lovely chalet to take the road again to Poitiers. It would be a long drive again but thankfully there was very little traffic. We set off at 10 am, stopping for lunch on the way. Again it was difficult to find anywhere and I was surprised to learn that in France restaurants close at 2 pm at lunchtime. So we were lucky to get a meal at the Hotel Du Commerce in a small and sleepy town called Tronget somewhere in the Massif Central where we devoured their cold salads it being too late to get a hot meal as the kitchen was closed. Here are  my 3 travel partners and cousins enjoying their meal.
Lunch on the way back from the wedding
We had to get provisions for the next few days before arriving home as the following day was a bank holiday, 15th August (The Assumption) and everything would be closed. Zuka took us to the Intermarché supermarket in Couhé a pretty little town near La Teillé. We were home by 7pm and happy to see my Aunty Valya well and waiting for us. It was a very hot day, the hottest of my trip, and we all enjoyed a dinner of salady type things on Zuka's terrace. As we were all rather tired, we went to bed quite early. 

Tuesday 15th August came and I spent the day together with my cousins. Zuka took us to Lezay, a village nearby, where there was an open market. Here we bought all sorts of lovely local produce and even Spanish cold cuts. We also bought baklava, a great favourite with the family as my Mother used to make it having eaten it in her adopted country Bulgaria. In the photo you can see Katty and the baklava seller.
Katty at the stall in the market where we bought baklava
The weather had turned for the worse with clouds and rain but the sun came out after lunch and Katty and I went for a walk, my first since I had come to France. However it was to be short as that afternoon Zuka would take us on another outing, this time to a small village called Curzay. Here my cousins tried their hand at mosaic making on glass tiles. It was not my thing so I wondered around the village and sat in the sun with my Aunt. We were home for drinks which we have been having every night before dinner which is such a pleasure. Zuka made mussels for dinner she had bought at the market, a very French thing to do. And then of course we tried the delicious baklava. 

I have been following the news everyday here and on Tuesday evening was happy to hear that Rafa Nadal, the Spanish tennis player had returned to the number one spot in the tennis rankings, overtaking Andrew Murray. Well done Rafa!

Wednesday came and finally I got a proper walk. Katty and I set out for a 1.5h walk that morning before breakfast. I loved the paths and the flowers and trees and we even picked a very French sunflower as you can see in the photo. Katty got it for her grandmother.
Katty with the sunflower
We had a lazy day on Wednesday. I spent more quality time with my Aunt who showed me more photos from the past, some I had never seen before. She is probably the only person left apart from my Father who remembers my Mother so well and their past together and is a mine of information. We had barbecued lamb chops for lunch and later I went food shopping with Zuka as she had invited a retired couple who live near here for drinks and she wanted to make some canapés. Just as they arrived, Marie Helene left but we would see her again on Saturday at the cousin reunion at her house. The couple were really interesting, he was a pilot from Bristol and she a retired maths teacher from New Zealand, thus she and Katty had lots in common. 

That night I was happy to hear Real Madrid had beaten Barcelona in the Super Cup (5-1 agg). They are now the winners of the Champions League, La Liga, the Uefa Super Cup as well as the Spanish Super Cup! 

On Thursday morning, Katty I went for our early morning walk again and enjoyed it tremendously. The day was spent cleaning and Katty was a whirlwind clearing out and cleaning the old barn belonging to her grandmother. They chucked so much stuff out it was amazing. I did the cooking that day and made fish and chips which everyone loved. As we were eating, Oli was having lunch with my Father in Madrid and sent us a selfie. I immediately responded sending a photo of my cousins and Aunt at lunch for my Father who knows them all.
Zuka, Katty and my Aunt sending their love to my Father
Thursday would not end well. It was the day of the terrible Barcelona attacks when a man drove a van into the crowds thronging the Ramblas in the city. He killed 14 people and injured over 100 who I later read represented some 34 countries. The attack was claimed by ISIS as we had feared. Barcelona went into lock down as people hid and the man escaped. The world stopped in horror. I was in mourning for Spain, my adopted country and for beautiful Barcelona and my heart goes out to the victims, their families and friends.  I was also shocked because Spain up till now was not on the ISIS radar but we mustn't forget the Alqaueda train bombings in 2004, the worst terrorist attack in Europe ever nor that the jihadists want to reclaim Andalusia as theirs as it once was until 1492!! I have many friends in Barcelona, a city I love and I was relieved to hear they were all safe. I have been there countless times and walked down the Ramblas probably every time I have been there and could never imagine in a hundred years an attack like the one of Thursday. 

Barcelona in lock down on Thursday

On Friday I woke up to read that the terrorism had continued when 4 or 5 jihadists had been caught after trying to run down tourists in the peaceful coastal town of Cambrils not far from Barcelona in the very early hours of the day, just past midnight.  We would later hear that the terrorists had plotted worse damage having made bombs to explode in the vans but thankfully this was thwarted. Even so at least one person died and more were injured. I couldn't take it, especially as the death toll on the Ramblas climbed to 14 and God knows how many injured, many of them critically. 

Later in the day we would hear of more terror, this time in Turku, Finland, of all places, where a man stabbed people at random and killed two. It's not clear yet whether it was another attack of terrorism. I just couldn't imagine terror in peace loving Finland, a country I know very well after working for Nokia for 6 years. 

However, life continued here in quiet La Teilée and Katty and I went on our walk early in the morning. 
On our walk on Friday morning
It is so quiet with hardly a soul around and we enjoyed the country paths admiring the fruit on the trees and vegetables in the kitchen gardens. We even saw pumpkins until it began to rain and we got quite soaked. After a 10km walk we came home to make a splendid breakfast which included croissants of course. I just love French croissants ever since I discovered them when doing Inter rail as a teenager. I first ate them at Gare du Nord in Paris and imitated the locals by dunking them into a huge bowl of coffee which is how I still love to eat them today. 

We had a mission yesterday Friday, we had to go out and buy the ingredients for the dishes we were to contribute to the Cousinade which starts today. Zuka took us to the Intermarché supermarket in Lusignan and afterwards drove us round the beautiful medieval town.  I was to make an elaborate strawberry Victoria sandwich cake and apple crumble. My cousins would make the savoury dishes. So after lunch Katty and I started cooking, as you can see from the photo. Do please notice the wording on our aprons haha.
Cooking for the Cousinade yesterday
My two cakes came out splendidly in Zuka's super modern oven. You can see one of them here.
One of the layers of my Victoria sponge cake
However, when I started to decorate it, the top layer cracked, the icing started to melt and the strawberries began to slide off. This is what it looked like; a total disaster.
The cracked and melting cake
My ever practical cousin Katty came to the rescue whilst I was effing and blinding and being attacked by more and more flies. She successfully parted it in two and lifted them into higher cake trays so that it wouldn't fall even more apart. I can only hope it tastes good. On the bright side the apple crumble looks very successful. 

Everybody was busy, the gardener was here, a new washing machine was put in but finally at around 8 we all sat down for our evening drinks together. I had a long conversation with my Aunt about terrorism and where the world is heading too but of course we also reminisced and I ended up feeling very emotional and hugging my Aunt. 

The day ended with a lovely dinner together, after which it was more or less time for bed. The next day, Saturday, today, would be a long one as it would be the start of the much awaited cousin reunion. 

We woke up early again this morning and at about 7.30 Katty and I set off for another morning walk, determined to get some exercise before leaving for our other cousin, Marie Helene's place in Mareuil about 1.5h away from here. 

It was cold and wet but thankfully not raining and even the sun came out but the ground was full of dew and we got our feet and shoes drenched. We passed many fruit bushes, raspberries and blackberries - not all ripe and even saw grapes growing. And here is Katty picking some of the blackberries she would add to our copious breakfast hahaha.
Katty picking blackberries on our walk this morning. 

This morning our walk was only 1.5h long as we had to get on with the day and get ready to go to Mareuil. So my friends, I shall leave off now and publish this post of my time in France up and till the cousin reunion today which you will all hear about next week. 

All in all I have had a super time here with my cousins and Aunt,  enjoying their company as well as enjoying the French and Russian ways of life. I shall be leaving for Spain next Tuesday after a wonderful time here.  The only black cloud of course being the awful terrorist attacks  in Spain which shocked me to the core. 

That's it for now then, I shall leave you to publish this and then get ready to hit the road again. Thankfully the sun is shining again now.

On that note, it's time to sign off until my next post.

Cheers till then