Sunday, October 15, 2017

A trip to Montrondo with Suzy, crisis in Catalonia, Oli in St. Petersburg, the fair in Villablino and other stories.

Sunday 15th October, 2017
It was wonderful to spend quality time with our older daughter Suzy this week in Montrondo.

Good morning everyone from our village house in sunny Montrondo here in the mountains of north west Spain where Eladio and his brothers and sisters were born. 

We love this village and we love the family house we restored 2 years ago. The girls love it too, having spent summer upon summer here since they were tiny. It's our place to relax and wind down, it's a haven of tranquility and the essence of slow living. That's why Suzy wanted to spend a few days with us here during her break in Spain after 5 years in stressful London. We have had great quality time together. 
Our house the stone one in the middle in the family enclave in Montrondo . Spot Pippa!
I was of course up very early last Sunday the day we left for Montrondo. We couldn't leave until Eladio had finished his private lesson in philosophy to his Brazilian student Luciano at noon.

At around this time, in Barcelona, a massive demonstration was being held against independence by the so-called "silent majority", i.e. those people who are against independence but who, until recently, hadn't dared raise their voices. Demonstrations were held too in other Spanish cities and even as far as London and Brussels. The "independentistas" did what they could to thwart the event but could not stop hundreds of thousands taking to the streets holding Catalan, Spanish and EU flags. I for one was very happy to finally see people on the street against independence. It was big news both here and abroad.  People came from all over Spain to join the silent majority and rally for a united Spain. 
The silent majority demonstration in Barcelona against independence last Sunday. 

Rafa Nadal, who spoke out recently in favour of the unity of Spain, would have been happy to join the crowds led by the Nobel literature laureate Mario Vargas Llosa. But he was in Peking garnering yet another victory for Spain when he played the final and won the Chinese Open. He is one of Spain's best ambassadors. 

I packed everything we would need to take with us, including food until we could go shopping in Villablino on Monday. I also packed, for the first time in many years, a picnic lunch to have on the way. We left at around 12.30 and stopped about 150 km north of Madrid to eat our lunch at a picnic area which was alright but a bit fly infested. These sort of places are not looked after in Spain unfortunately. I had made salmon and egg sandwiches with my home made bread and a salad which we all devoured. Here are Eladio and Suzy enjoying the moment.
Our picnic last Sunday on the way to Montrondo

As we got into the car after our picnic lunch, I couldn't find my phone. It was panic stations when it wasn't to be found and I realised I had left it in the loo at a petrol station we had stopped at about 50 km north of Madrid. Eladio rang it and no one picked it up until a woman rang him with my phone. God bless her, she had found my phone in the loo and had rung the last number registered on it. She agreed to leave it with the manager of the petrol station who we spoke to and asked to keep it until we got there. It took us a while as we had to drive all the way back and back again which added about 1.5h to our 4h journey.  But finally I had my phone again, my lovely Samsung Galaxy S7 with all the content in it. I had been envisaging having to fork our over 700 euros for a new one and being without one all weekend. Thank God for honest people. Suzy and I had an ice cream and M+Ms respectively to celebrate hahahah. 

We got to Montrondo after 6pm but thankfully it doesn't get dark here until nearly 8.30 pm. So, after unpacking and settling in, Suzy and I set off for a walk to Murias and back with little Pippa of course. The photo illustrating this week's post is of Suzy on that walk by the village sign post. She was happy to be here again after an absence of nearly 2 years and happy also to enjoy our still new house which she had only stayed at once back in December 2015. The village was looking gorgeous in its new Autumn colours although a little dry as it hasn't rained here for a long time and the temperatures are unusually high for this time of year.
The village just before dusk last Sunday when we arrived.
I also had to have a photo by the Montrondo sign post and, as always, with Pippa, my shadow hahaha.
Pippa and I by the Montrondo sign post on our walk last Sunday

It was nice to greet villagers on our way such as Salo, Mari Carmen and her daughter Choni. They all greeted Suzy like long lost friends as they hadn't seen her for such a long time.  

Monday came and I was up early. After my first cup of coffee I made everyone's breakfast and soon Suzy was down to join me. Here she is outside with her first cup of coffee - in that we are like mother like daughter hahaha.
Suzy happy to be in Montrondo - here on Monday morning with her cup of coffee
Meanwhile, back in Madrid, Oli was waiting to hear whether she and her cameraman had been granted a visa by the Russian Embassy. She had planned all sorts of interviews with people from Madrid who live there, including a Catholic priest who practices exorcism (!) and a young Spanish ballet dancer and if everything was to go according to schedule they needed to be in Saint Petersburg by Tuesday morning. That was her first taste of Russian bureaucracy of which she was to experience quite a lot. Finally it came through at 16.30 and they were able to take a midnight flight with Aeroflot to Moscow. I warned her that the Russian airline, at least in my time, was called "Aeroflop" hahaha. From there they would take another flight to SP or "Peter" as most Russians call it, by 08.30 on Tuesday morning.  On the way someone stole her winter coat and upon arrival my younger daughter's first mission was to buy a coat as it was very cold compared to Madrid. That day they would be filming the Summer Palace with its famous golden room. This trip with her new programme "madrileños por el mundo" was to be very special for her. She would be discovering her Russian roots as of course her Grandmother, my mother, was Russian. 

Suzy and I would be doing much more mundane shopping for food in the nearest town to Montrondo, Villablino a mining town about 25 minutes drive from here. But we were to enjoy it immensely. Before going to Gadis that lovely supermarket which you only find in the north of Spain, we went to have a coffee. I took Suzy to a place called "Selene", introduced to me by my sister-in-law in the summer. With the coffee comes a platter of delicious home made pastries which are so naughty but so nice I, at least, couldn't resist them. And here is Suzy pointing at the one she was going to attack first.
Coffee with free pastries and fritters at a bar called Selene in Villablino on Monday
I think I paid about 3 euros for both coffees and still can't work out how the bar makes money if they offer such big portions of free pastries and fritters with the coffee which is already quite cheap. 

From Selene we walked back to Gadis where we had parked our car and here we stocked up with all the provisions we would need for our stay in Montrondo. We were home just on time for lunch which I had actually made before we left, vegetable lentils which we ate with a lovely fish pie we bought at Gadis. 

After lunch I set about making bread with spelt flour I had brought with me. It would be the first time I was making bread without using a dough hook and I wasn't sure how it would turn out. Actually it was very easy and since then I have made bread twice and it has always been a success. 
Making bread by hand with spelt flour in Montrondo

The dough half proven

While my dough was proving, Suzy was enjoying the sunshine in the garden behind the house, the part we all call "la era"  which is really a sort of field that belongs to all the family. Here is Suzy on one of the sunbeds.
Suzy on the sunbed in the field at the back of our house
I made 13 small rolls which we would devour for dinner and breakfast the next morning. But before eating again, we had to go on our daily walk. That afternoon, Eladio joined us and we ventured up the mountains, destination the "abedular" (birch tree forest). It was a glorious warm evening and thankfully, for Pippa, there were no cows in the fields or on the path hahaha.  Once at our destination, about a 30 minute walk up the mountains from the village, we took a selfie which you can see below. I also had to have a photo of Suzy with her Father which you can also see below. Those were very happy moments together. We only wished Oli was with us too but of course we were happy for her being in St. Petersburg. 
A selfie of the 3 of us in the mountains or should I say the 4 of us with Pippa hahaha. 

Father and daughter posing for the camera by the Abedular. 
We would have loved to carry on up the mountains but it was getting a little late and soon the sun would go down and the temperatures would drop. The temperatures this week have been quite extreme with the lowest temperature being about 5ºc and the highest 25ºc!

As we arrived in the village we were greeted by a farmer, Manolo, the man who rescued me in his 4wd car when I broke my leg in the ice about 3 years ago. We chatted as I love to do with all the villagers. I asked after his stock wondering if he had any small calves to show me. It turned out he had a 5 week old calf whose mother had run out of milk and who he has to hand feed twice a day. My luck was in as it was feeding time just as we were talking and we got to see it first hand. I loved the little calf upon first sight. Poor little thing.
Manolo's 5 week old calf whose mother ran out of mil and which he has to hand feed

I was in my element as I love animals, especially 4 legged ones. I even got to feed the calf myself with Manolo's curious baby bottle. It sure did tug at it.
Feeding Manolo's 5 week old calf. What a lovely experience. 
Whilst there he also showed us his huge pigs and offered us a sack of his home grown potatoes and ginormous onions. That was so kind of him. We also got to see 2 bullocks being fattened for slaughter which I found a little sad.  I had a long chat to him about dairy cows and his bulls and find farming life really interesting although it must be very tough. Perhaps I missed my vocation. Maybe ...

We came back to make a delicious dinner - tuna fish salad - which we ate with my home made rolls. Food always seems to taste better  in Montrondo up in the mountains and our are appetites seem bigger hahaha.

Tuna fish salad for dinner on Monday night

My spelt flour bread rolls 
During and after dinner we watched the news on various channels to see what was happening in Catalonia. This is the only important news in Spain right now, the question of the illegal referendum and declaration of independence, something which would fracture Spain and something which is frowned upon by the European Union. This week we have seen more and more companies based in Catalonia change their HQ for other cities in Spain to make sure, if independence is declared,  they stay in the Euro Zone. Meanwhile, many individuals are taking their money into other areas of Spain near Catalonia and changing banks. It's also affecting tourism and even exports. The next day the world waited with baited breath for the man behind the division of Spain, Carles Puigdemont, to declare unilateral independence and all that that would mean. 

Tuesday was the big day, 10th October, the day of the  declaration but it wasn't taking place until 6 pm that evening. We had breakfast together and later, after preparing a lamb casserole for Eladio and I, Suzy, Pippa and I went for a long walk to Senra and back. It's about 2 hours there and back and the carrot stick is a cup of coffee at Senra which is the half way mark.  It was warm again as it has been every day and on our way back we stopped in Murias for a drink of water from the fountain in one of the squares as we were parched. Here you can see Suzy next to it. 
Suzy drinking water from the fountain in Murias on one of our walks this week
We came home to cook lunch together. Eladio caught us on camera as we worked in harmony. I even made more bread something which is becoming a bit of an addiction. 
Cooking with Suzy in harmony together
Later Suzy and I both lay on the sunbeds while Eladio watched all the pre-declaration debates he could on the television leading up to  Puigdemont's scheduled appearance at the Generalitat (regional Catalan government) at 18h. There was all sorts of speculation about it but Suzy and I preferred to lounge in the sun outside, accompanied by Pippa.
Lounging outside the house in the sun with Pippa, Mother and daughter. 
Olivia, meanwhile, was doing her first day of work in St. Petersburg. That day she would be filming the summer palace also called the St. Catherine Palace in Tsarskoye Selo (Tsar's town). When I was in SP the year I left Nokia in 2005, I also visited it. I was bowled over by the golden room and will never forget our Soviet type guide telling us that after it was built, there was not one rouble left in the country's coffers. Well, of course there wouldn't be.
The golden room at St .Catherine's palace outside SP.
At 6 pm sharp I joined Eladio to watch the TV and see Puigdemont's appearance. As he walked up the stairs of the Generalitat I think there have never been so many members of the press there in all its history. The whole world was watching events in Catalonia. I wonder what he was thinking as he walked up those stairs. Perhaps he was congratulating himself on the good job he and his cronies had done of whipping up support and sympathy from the international media by portraying Catalonia as a martyr region oppressed by an undemocratic country led by Mariano Rajoy. Their international media strategy has been second to none and that evening there was a big crowd of journalists from outside Spain. 
10th October and Puigdemont making his appearance at the Genaralitat.
However, all the members of the press and all the spectators watching the TV would have to wait another hour. For reasons unknown, the Catalan Government asked to delay Puigdemont's speech by one hour. There was speculation that factions in his coalition government were not in agreement with the text of his speech. Finally, at just after 7pm, he started and we all waited with baited breath to see what he would say. His speech was long and ambiguous and it was not clear whether he had actually declared independence when suddenly he stated that he would like to suspend it in order to have dialogue with the Madrid government. The dialogue being of course, only the terms of separation, something the Spanish government will never accept.  What he said was this: Today I assume the mandate for Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic ......... We propose the suspension of the effects of the declaration of independence for a few weeks, to open a period of dialogue.” Later the members of his coalition government signed a declaration of independence which apparently has no legal binding. 

I was baffled at his words and so were all the members of the TV debates going on afterwards. So had he declared independence or hadn't he? As I write now and it's Saturday evening, we still don't know. The pro independence crowds outside the Generalitat were very disappointed as were the most radical group of the coalition, the CUP party. 

Life continued and Suzy and I made dinner which was a delicious platter of scrambled eggs with mushrooms. More interestingly, Olivia ate pelmeni that night in SP (similar to ravioli), a very Russian dish which she has eaten many times at home. This is the photo of her pelmeni. I do wish I could have been with her to enjoy what is probably my favourite Russian food, a dish my Mother used to make. 
The pelmeni Oli had for dinner one night in St. Petersburg.
Oli was also glued to the TV in Russia watching the events unfold in Catalonia after Puigdemont's appearance at the Generalitat. Eladio and I watched the TV until we both fell asleep.  

On Wednesday morning I was keen to read the coverage of the events in Catalonia the day before and the Spanish Government's reaction.  That morning there was a Cabinet meeting to decide on whether or how to apply article 155 of the Spanish Constitution. The article would allow it to take over the government of the Catalonian regional autonomy. It is something that has never happened before in Spain and it is uncharted waters. But the first step was a letter to Puigdemont, incredibly, to ask whether he had declared independence or not!!!  He has until next Monday to reply before the central government takes steps. If he replies yes he then has 3 days to withdraw the declaration. If he doesn’t do that or doesn’t react or reply by Thursday the Government could seize control of Catalonia. I would not like to be in his shoes I can tell you. It's not a pretty picture. Thankfully the opposition party the PSOE (socialists) have given their full backing to Mariano Rajoy who  have conditioned it to a reform of the constitution to take place within 6 months. A reform could mean including a clause about a legal referendum for Catalonia but the whole population of Spain would have to vote for or against the reformed constitution. And so we all now have a respite until Monday, Puigdemont's D Day for replying. 

Life continued here peacefully. I got my first Airbnb reservation from Israeli guests. They would be coming the next day. It was a pity I wouldn't be there to receive them. But thankfully these days I'm pretty well organised and I send them an information pack and get Lucy to receive them. We would be having Italian guests at the end of the week. We have now had approximately 50 sets of guests. When I first started my Airbnb adventure in March, never would I have guessed that I would be receiving so many guests and from so many parts of the world. It's quite an adventure I can tell you. 

Suzy and I continued with our walks on Wednesday. But first I wanted to show her the new attractions in the village such as "La Fleita" fountain and bridge which was built about 2 summers ago. It was covered with Autumn leaves and is a lovely place to be. I couldn't show her the recently restored water mill as the the nettles on the path had grown  so much we would have been badly stung.
"La Fleita" fountain - Suzy sitting on the bench with her back to the camera
From the fountain and bridge we ambled across the village green known as "el campo" and greeted two men who are neighbours and who both have the same very unusual name of "Ulpiano" but are not even related.  We then walked up the mountains again to the birch tree forest (el abedular) before coming down to have lunch with Eladio who was glued to the TV. I had had enough of the Catalan crisis for the moment although it does worry me of course. 

Suzy and I would go for another walk in the afternoon, this time to Murias and back past the beautiful fields outside the village where Manolo's cows and bulls pasture.
On our walk to Murias past Manolo's cows and bulls. 
That day we walked about 12km, according to my fitbit. In fact that has been about my average here every day.  

Thursday 12th October was the Spanish national day, also called El Pilar. There would be big military parades in Madrid presided over by the King. Spaniards are not very good at being openly patriotic or proud of their country and the Spanish flag often has negative connotations. However, after the illegal referendum and crisis in Catalonia there has been a surge in national pride which I think is a good thing. What marred the day though, was the death of the pilot of a Euro fighter jet which crashed near its base after returning from the parade. What an awful thing to happen. 

There would be festive events all over Spain including nearby Villablino, where the annual fair, called "La Feriona" is held. I had been once and was keen to take Suzy and Eladio to see it and enjoy it as it's a great event. It consists mostly of a huge market with the usual made-in-china goods but it also has lots of local farming products and tools as well as food stalls which come mostly from the nearby northern provinces of Galicia and Asturias. It's very typical to eat "pulpo" (octopus) and we would have bought some to bring home but just one paltry ration cost 13 euros so we decided against the "pulpo" and bought a home made vegetable pie and home made cakes instead. Suzy and Eladio were particularly attracted to the pen knives which come from a town called Taramundi in Galicia. Eladio has a special fascination with both pen knives and walking sticks and here he was in his element.
Eladio and Suzy at La Feriona - here looking at pen knives 
People come from all over the province to visit the fair and spend the day there. We got to Villablino nice and early to avoid the crowds and also because we had to leave early, around midday, as some of Eladio's family were coming for lunch to Montrondo that day. It was cold when we got there and poor Suzy hadn't brought a jumper so she just had to buy the shawl she is wearing in the picture below.
Suzy enjoying being at the annual fair in Villablino
For me, at least, the most interesting part was the livestock market. Here we saw prize horses, ponies, cows, bulls, "mastines" (Leonese Spanish mastiff dog) as well as lots of different types of game. Eladio said it used to be much bigger and remembered his Father going there to sell cows. They would have done so on foot from Montrondo!
One of the cows on sale at the livestock market at the Villablino Fair on Thursday
We would have loved to spend the whole day but at midday had to leave. Once home, Eladio's family had arrived to spend the day. We all had lunch together, each family contributing food to the table. We then either slept a siesta or lounged in the sun. Later we all went for a walk which was to be via the "camino valle" up in the mountains and through a beautiful forest which stands high above Murias. Here we stopped for photos as it is not often Eladio is here with his brothers and sisters. Just two of them were missing. 
On the walk with Eladio's family on Thursday via "el camino valle"
I had drunk a bit of sparkling white wine on an empty stomach just before lunch that day which, unfortunately, gave me a huge headache. It completely knocked me out and I had to go to bed early to try and sleep and work it off as I was good for nothing but bed with such a big headache. It was not a good end to what had been a lovely day otherwise.

In St. Petersburg that night, my daughter Olivia was continuing discovering her Russian roots. That night she tried caviar for the first time and I have yet to hear whether she liked it or not. I maybe half Russian but I actually detest it.  She ate it the Russian way, accompanied by vodka hahaha.
Olivia trying caviar in St. Petersburg. 
I woke up on Friday 13th October with less of a headache thank goodness. I never touched a drop of alcohol after that during our stay here and have had to make do with water for meals. That morning Suzy was leaving us to spend the weekend in Jarandilla in the province of Cáceres with ex flat mates of the first house she lived in in London in Whitechapel. She would be taking the 12.20 high speed train and we were to drive her to Leon to catch it. However, just as I had finished my shower and was about to dry my hair, the electricity went. Eladio checked the electricity box and it seemed to be normal. What looked suspicious though was the mains which had no pilot light. We then embarked on trying to ring the company that serves electricity in this area which ended up being "Unión Fenosa". I finally found the right number to ring and after explaining what had happened, they sent us 2 technicians who would arrive later in the morning. That meant Eladio had to drive Suzy to León and I had to wait for the electricians. There was nothing I could do apart from read while I waited as without light you can't even cook which is very frustrating. They finally arrived at about 1 o'clock and soon fixed the fault in the mains which was apparently a loose cable. We wondered how it had become loose. Eladio was home just after they left and the electricity had been restored. 

I set about quickly making lunch which we would have at Eladio's sister's house, each of us contributing food to the table. 

As I was cooking, we got photos from Olivia from St. Petersburg. On Friday she was shooting at the Hermitage which also houses the Tsar's winter palace. The Hermitage is one of the world's best art galleries and from the picture I gather, to quote a cousin of mine, Olivia was completely overwhelmed by it. I was too when I went there.
Oli at the Hermitage on Friday
Suzy, meanwhile, was on the train, on her way to Madrid. The journey is just 2 hours. Here she is on the train looking relaxed and unstressed after a happy time in the village with her parents.  
Suzy on the train returning to Madrid on Friday morning
I would miss her as I lay on one of the sunbeds that afternoon after lunch and so would Pippa. I would also miss her on my walks. Eladio came with me on a walk to Murias and back that afternoon, although I would have preferred a longer walk.  We came back to prepare dinner where we would be joined by Eladio's sister and husband. She made a wonderful Spanish omelet "tortilla" which was made entirely of home sourcedmaterials; their potatoes and onions and her daughter's red peppers and free range eggs. It was delicious. 

We later watched the news together. I was shocked at images of the dreadful fires raging in California with so many people dead and so many houses burnt. We are used to forest fires here in Spain but they are nearly always in the countryside or mountain areas and hardly ever burn people's houses. 

Olivia was having dinner of course that night again in St. Petersburg. What was different about hers was that she was being invited free to a dinner at one of the city's top restaurants, "Percorso". She had interviewed the owner and he in turn had offered her a free dinner at his amazing restaurant. The food looked divine. Lucky Oli. 

Yesterday, on Saturday morning, I was up late for me, at 7 am. And I was delighted to see from a notification on my phone that I had been elevated to "super host" status on Airbnb. Wow, that made me feel very proud. To get it you have to have hosted at least 10 trips in a year, maintain a 90% response rate, receive a 5-star review at least 80% of the time as well as complete all reservations without cancelling. I would have been given super host status long ago if I hadn't cancelled my very first reservation because of a silly mistake in my advert. But now I have it and hope to keep it. One of the benefits is that advert gets more prominence and of course guests prefer to stay at homes run by super hosts like me hahaha.
Lovely to hear I had awarded super host status from Airbnb on Saturday
If you ever want to stay and this is directed at readers, not friends, here is the advert of our house on Airbnb. We would love to have you.

The day started with breakfast with Eladio, always my favourite meal of the day. Well it is here as instead of the gruel type porridge I eat in Madrid, in Montrondo I have toast for breakfast. 

My thoughts were then on the next meal of course, hahaha. I had a tray of 4 chicken drumsticks in the fridge, nearly the last of the provisions we had bought at Gadis and I wondered what to do with them. In the end I made a sort of "coq au vin". I gently fried chopped onion and garlic with the chicken then put in chopped carrots and red peppers and added vegetable water stock.  I also added a generous amount of white wine and placed all the precooked ingredients in the oven to make a casserole. I would serve it with thick home made crisps. This is the finished dish before we ate it of course.
My coq au vin which I made on Saturday for lunch
With lunch prepared I was free to go on my morning walk. I took Pippa and we went all the way to Senra and back. I missed Suzy when I had a cup of coffee there. Montrondo was looking lovely in the morning sun with its autumn colours, on my last full day in the village.
The view of the village from the old path to Murias on my walk on Saturday morning
We were back early enough for me to start making more bread. I had run out of flour from Madrid but had ordered some from the local bakery in Murias. They only have white wheat flour and rye so I used both. I experimented by using kefir instead of water and included a tablespoon of honey and a tablespoon of olive oil in the 350m of liquid. I also added pumpkin seeds.  It was the first time I have made bread using plain white flour and the dough certainly rose more than usual thanks to this I think. This is what my 2 lovely loaves looked like. I should add that I basted them both with whisked egg. In my mind this is the most delicious bread I have made so far. It's such fun experimenting. 
The wheat and rye bread I made on Saturday was delicious
We would have it for dinner with soup, leftover tortilla and a salad. For the salad we ate some of the beautiful home grown lettuce our neighbour, Toño, gave to Eladio that afternoon. That was so kind. I just love home grown produce from the village. It adds something special to meals; a bit or romance I think. 
A lovely lettuce from our neighours in Montrondo.
In the afternoon we had a visit from some of our family, Eladio's sister's son, his wife and their 2 delightful little girls. Hopefully we will see them again today before we leave.

Today is Sunday of course, our last day here. It has been a great stay made more special by spending part of it with our older daughter Suzy. Family is so important to me as I'm sure it is to you.

We will be leaving after lunch, heading home to see my Father, Lucy and the dogs. Let's see how next week will turn out to with a special emphasis on tomorrow, Monday, when Puigdemont has to respond to Rajoy. These are very tense times in Spanish politics and everyone is worried, those for independence and those against it. I do not want to see a fractured Spain because if Catalonia separates, the next regions to clamor for independence will be The Basque Country and Galicia. That is not a good road map. 

So my friends I have reached the end of the tales of this week. I hope you have enjoyed reading them and wish you all  a great week ahead.

Cheers till next Sunday,
Masha. 


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