Sunday, November 12, 2017

The antics and adventures of Puigdemont in Brussels, to Segovia for a foodie winter break, visit to Pedraza, home again, Oli went to the Maldives and other stories.

Sunday 12th November, 2017
Visiting Pedraza on Tuesday. Here in the medieval Plaza Mayor, the centre of the village
Hello again, this sunny and crisp Sunday morning in November. It has been an interesting week with lots happening both at home and in the news.

Last Sunday 5th November, Guy Fawkes Day, was the day the fugitive Puigdemont and 4 of his aides appeared before an investigative judge in Brussels after the European Arrest Warrant had been issued by the Spanish judge Carmen Lamela. He had chosen Belgium because of the support he hoped to get there from the Flemish separatists. His lawyer is also Flemish and in the past had defended Spanish ETA terrorists. They chose for the case to be held in Dutch so as to have a Flemish judge who they thought would be more sympathetic to his cause. As we all expected, they were set free late that night with conditions only. Since then he has been proactively looking for support from the EU which has not materialised and now  is criticizing the European Union. He has little support too from his own party, the PdeCat, many of whose supporters consider him a traitor.  He does have support though from the likes of Julian Assange and Yono Oko who are in the ex government's payroll for tweeting in their favour (!) and also from, unsurprisingly, both Russia and Venezuela. Russia seems to favour meddling in affairs in the west where it can help cause havoc or make things go the way Mr. Putin would prefer, as happened in both the elections that Donald Trump won and in the Referendum for Brexit. It seems now they also have a hand in unrest in Catalonia. 

Friday 5th was also the day the now famous Paradise papers leak became breaking news. It's all about the super rich, including the Queen of England, who have offshore accounts in tax havens where they can avoid taxation. It's all very dodgy and more and more names are emerging, including the ex President of Catalonia, Puigdemont's crony, Xavier Trillas. He at first denied the accusation then later had to admit it was true. 

But much worse was the mass shooting at a Baptist Church (Sutherland Springs) in Texas that day. A disturbed and deranged man, 26 year old Devin Patrick Kelley who was  not a terrorist , killed 26 and injured 20 people. He shot them while they were in the church service. How awful! He was shot by a male civilian and fled in his car which was chased by the police and later found dead after shooting himself in the head. The media have called it the "deadliest mass shooting by an individual in Texas and one of the deadliest in the US".  A church is the last place you would expect to be killed. This is just another story of mass shooting in the US and they will go on as long as individuals are able to buy weapons on the high street. I often ask myself in how many other countries can you do that so easily as in the US? 
The Baptist church where the mass shooting took place. 
On Monday Eladio and I set off for Segovia for our 2 day romantic winter break. It was too bad we couldn't take Pippa with us but no hotel in Spain allows dogs, at least the Spanish state run Paradors don't.  We were going to stay at the Parador there. The first night would be thanks to the Smartbox voucher my ex colleagues from Yoigo gave me for my 60th birthday. It included accommodation, breakfast and dinner. The second night would be on points I had with the Parador loyalty programme called "Amigos". We could have gone to any of the 95 establishments around Spain but chose the one in Segovia as it's just 90km from Madrid.  We chose the scenic mountain route instead of the motorway and stopped for a mug of hot broth at the Navacerrada mountain pass which stands at just under 2000m high. It was both freezing and foggy and the temperature was exactly 0ºc and we were glad of the hot broth hahah. Thankfully it wouldn't be so cold in Segovia itself

We arrived at the Parador at around midday. Located on a hill about 2 or 3km outside the city, it commands amazing views of Segovia's skyline, including the Roman Aqueduct, the ancient city walls, the Gothic Cathedral and Alcázar (Royal Palace) but as a building itself the Parador could not be uglier. I knew it was a modern construction but had no idea how ugly it was. Most paradors in Spain are converted historic buildings which are lovely. Some are modern and the modern ones I have seen or stayed at are at least pleasing to look at. Not so with the Parador in Segovia.
The ugly Parador in Segovia
It seemed a bit of a paradox that the medieval town of Segovia with its multiple historic buildings should then include such an ugly building. Thankfully inside everything was ok although I did not like the decor. Our room however was fine. One saving grace is that most of the rooms seemed to have a private balcony and ours had a view of the skyline of Segovia. Paradors are always a guarantee of quality in service, installations and food and this was no different.
The view of Segovia from the Parador
The room was nice, the bathroom needed some renovation and I, at least, was disappointed to find out that the indoor swimming pool and spa is only open at the weekends. As soon as we had checked in, we went out to explore the gardens and admire the view. Here we took lots of photos. It was a cold but sunny day and we were glad we had brought thick coats.
Eladio in the gardens of the Parador 
It was time for lunch so we drove into Segovia and parked under the famous Roman Aqueduct. It is a national heritage sight and was built by the Romans at the end of the 1st century or beginning of the 2nd.
Eladio by the Aqueduct in Segovia
The imposing aqueduct is the defining feature of Segovia and is supposed to be the most important Roman structure in Spain. I have seen it countless number of times but never tire of seeing it. It really is an amazing feat of engineering and attracts tourists from all around the world.

The best place to have lunch in this medieval town which has been under the rule of the Celtics, Romans, Arabs and Christians, is at Mesón de Cándido. Here the most famous dish on offer is suckling pig. Their extensive menu also includes suckling lamb which is my favourite. Believe it or not my husband ordered tripe with chickpeas!!! 
Mesón de Cándido in Segovia which sits right next to the aqueduct
"Cándido" himself showed us to our table with a view as we requested. He deserves a mention as the owner of the restaurant. Alberto now at least 80, is the son of Cándido López who started the family business. He is quite eccentric and greets everyone personally. There are photos of him or his father next to kings and queens and famous people all over the walls of the quaint and old restaurant. We have been to Mesón de Cándido countless times too and never tire of it either.  It was funny to see how the other guests, mostly Chinese or of Asian extraction were tucking into suckling pig and using knives and forks. 
Eladio at Mesón  de Cándido
After lunch a good long walk was in order. So we walked the streets of medieval Segovia. Our first stop was the Plaza Mayor (every Spanish city has a main square) which is dominated by the Santa María Cathedral. It was consecrated in 1768 and was the last Gothic Cathedral to be built in Spain. We didn't go in as we have been in many times and I always find it freezing inside.
The Cathedral in Segovia as seen from the Alcázar (Royal Palace) inside the ancient city walls. 
From there we walked to the Alcázar (Royal Palace) which is quite a way. I love the Alcázar as it sums up just what a medieval castle should be like.It was first documented in 1122 but was devastated by fire in 1862 and thus built again. No wonder it is in such a good state. It was apparently the favourite residence of the Kings of Castille. Segovia was then considered the capital of Castille and it is in this city that the Catholic Queen Isabella I of Castille crowned herself Queen in 1475 following the death of her half brother Henry IV. I wonder if she celebrated the coronation in the Alcázar. I also imagine it must have been a very cold palace and castle with only fires to keep the court warm.  Segovia, I should mention, is one of Spain's coldest provinces nestled under the  Guadarrama mountains  with peaks of over 2000 metres high. 
The Alcázar in Segovia
It was getting cold and it was also time for our siesta so we walked all the way back to the aqueduct to get our car and drive back to the Parador. We spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening sleeping, reading and watching the TV in our room.  I had a bit of a headache and was not very hungry after lunch at Cándido, but dinner was free so we went down to the restaurant. The dining room is huge with lovely views of the skyline of the city or is it a town. Segovia is the capital of the province of the same name but only has some 56 thousand inhabitants. We were just 3 couples having dinner that night and the place seemed empty. But we weren't complaining as we had chosen to go on a Monday rather than at the weekend to avoid crowds. Thus we got perfect service. There were 3 waitresses for 3 tables hahaha. Both of us ate a very light dinner and I didn't touch the wine of course. 

Tuesday dawned and early in the morning the temperature was just 1ºc. Again I admired the views of the town from our room.  Before venturing out we went down for breakfast. In my mind possibly the best thing about staying in a good hotel is enjoying the breakfast and the Paradors do a very good breakfast buffet. Here is Eladio choosing his breakfast. He always goes for savoury and I always go for sweet. I have coffee, he has no drink - neither tea nor coffee and we both generally eat fruit. See how different we are hahaha.
Eladio choosing his breakfast at the Parador in Segovia on Tuesday morning. 
I especially enjoyed my breakfast which was a big break from the bowl of oat bran I have at home. I particularly enjoyed the pain au chocolat, my favourite. 

We were going to visit Pedraza that day, a medieval walled village, considered one of the most beautiful in Spain but first we would explore a bit more of Segovia. We had been told there were equally beautiful views of the town from an area called the Alameda where there are various monasteries and churches outside the ancient city walls and on hills above the town.  The city walls were built, I read later, around 1088 during the "Reconquista" or reconquest of Christian states in campaigns to recapture territory from the Moors.  Segovia must have been well fortified.
The ancient walls surrounding Segovia
So we drove to the Monastery of Santa María del Parral. Here we followed a little path up the hill called "el camino del asombro" (amazement hill) and it really was amazing. Here we could see the main monuments of Segovia but at a much closer distance than from the Parador. Particularly close was my favourite, the Alcázar.
The Alcázar as seen from the hills outside the city walls. 
In fact it looked so near you could nearly touch it. Here I tried a little creative photography and got Eladio to touch one of the spires. Oli congratulated me on my efforts hahaha.
Eladio touching one of the spires of the Alcazar from a hill above the city.
From the monastery we drove down to the old Casa de la Moneda (Mint) by the river Eresma. Here we parked and took a lovely walk along the river enjoying the autumn colours. We would need a long walk in between the Parador breakfast and lunch in Pedraza.
Eladio on our walk by the River Eresma in Segovia on Tuesday morning this week. 
From here we drove to Pedraza, a small walled medieval village some 37km from Segovia. It is one of the most beautiful villages in Spain but also one of the best conserved medieval villages in the country. With a population of just 500 it is made entirely of stone. There is not one glaring modern advert nor coca cola sign or any sign in fact of globalisation and that perhaps is why I like it so much. When we were first married we would often drive the 125km from Madrid to have lunch there. If Segovia is famous for its suckling pig, Pedraza is famous for its suckling lamb, my favourite, as you know. We went many times and even took my parents there. Then in the early 2000s I did a big European event for Nokia (for the NGage for those of you in the know) where we used the whole village one night. I shall never forget how beautiful the stoned streets and squares looked with the candles we laid on the paths. I had not been back since there and was keen to see the pretty stone village once again, this time with very few people. 
Pedraza, the walled medieval village we visited on Tuesday 
We walked around the beautifully kept streets admiring the stone houses and buildings as well as the castle and village walls. At the centre of everything though is the Plaza Mayor (I told you every town in Spain has one - it means "main square") which has probably not changed on the outside since it was built in medieval times during the Reconquista I think. I chose a picture of me in this square for this week's feature photo. 
The Plaza Mayor (main square) in medieval Pedraza
I was so glad to see that the village was totally unspoiled which is not something you see often in Spain. 
Eladio walking on one of the streets in Pedraza
It was cold and although we weren't very hungry it was time for lunch and after all it was what we had come to Pedraza to do. There were various places to choose from but the one that looked most thriving and attractive was the one in the main square, Horno de Asar El Soportal 
The restaurant where we had lunch in Pedraza. Our table was at the window you can see in the photo. 
Lunch was wonderful and inexpensive. We both ordered roast suckling lamb and this is what we got. If you are hungry it may make your tummy rumble, that is if you like lamb as much as I do.
Our roast lamb at El Soportal in Pedraza
With heavy stomachs we drove back to Segovia. It was a 30 minute drive on a beautiful sunny autumn day on a country road. But once back at the Parador we would see no sunshine until the next day. We had a siesta and at about 6pm it now gets dark. We watched the TV too and it was on Tuesday that the fugitive ex President of Catalonia, Carles de Puigdemont held a makeshift meeting in Brussels for pro independence mayors from Catalonia who only really went to show their support. Also invited were separatist mayors from other regions in Europe such as the Basque Country, French Catalonia, even Ireland and the Italian LIga Norte. If Puigdemont could have his way his Catalonia would also include French Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and the Valencian region all of which the separatists call "Paisos catalans" (Catalan countries).  The mayors with their batons arrived on a chartered plane and there have been questions on how the trip was financed; hopefully not from Spanish taxpayers' money. 
The separatist mayors with their batons showing support for Puigdemont in Brussels this week
That night neither of us were hungry so, very unusually, we skipped dinner. In this week's headline I was going to call our trip a romantic winter break but later changed it.  Yes it was of course romantic but I think it was more gastronomic or should I use the word "foodie" so in common today? Yeah, I'll go for foodie hahaha. 

Wednesday came, the end of our winter break. It was another sunny day. I was up at 7 which is very late for me. I was happy to finally read an article against Catalonian independence in the left wing broadsheet The Guardian. Entitled "Carles Puiddemont gambled and failed" it was written by a professor not a journalist so maybe that explains the change of mind. In any case you can read the article here by George Kassimeris who is chair in security studies at the University of Wolverhampton.  

Once again we enjoyed breakfast and I posted this lovely photo of our table calling it "breakfast with a view". I never tired of the view of Segovia from the Parador.
Breakfast with a view at the Parador in Segovia
Just as I was packing to leave, I got some very good professional news, news that will make my professional life a little more stable.  I shall still be freelance which is what I want but I shall be working on a continuous basis now with one of my main customers. That was really good news. Oli had good news too. The programme she had filmed and edited about St. Petersburg had been given the thumbs up; i.e. no changes to be made. It will be broadcast by the way this Tuesday evening on Telemadrid. She would be off to The Maldives on Thursday night (lucky her) on a new programme assignment so we agreed to go out to dinner to celebrate that night. 

We were home on time for lunch and this time came the quick way on the A6. I don't remember what we had that day as I wasn't really hungry after all the eating in Segovia and Pedraza hahaha. What I do remember though was a lovely photo and call on whatsapp from 3 of my favourite ex colleagues who now work for Qvantel, Dragutin, Marta and Laura.
The photo my 3 ex colleagues sent to me on Wednesday
They wanted me to organise with them a Yoigo Christmas party and we agreed to meet on Friday. They suggested holding it at a gin distillery belonging to the husband of another ex colleague. Called Santamania it is doing very well and has recently opened a very cool venue in Las Rozas. I rang my ex colleague and she was happy to collaborate. I was also happy to hear her good news that she and another colleague who had been unfairly dismissed from Másmóvil after the takeover of Yoigo, had been compensated outside court. That will be good news for other colleagues who have also been fired and not given their due dismissal severance pay. 

That afternoon Eladio and I went on our walk with the dogs who had missed their walk while we were away. The cupboards were bare at home so I also did the weekly shopping helped by Lucy.  Once we had packed everything away it was time to get dressed to go out again and to dinner again, this time with Oli and Miguel. We would be going to Filandón a lovely restaurant I remember well from my Yoigo days. Quite plush, it prides itself on good quality  food and being a country restaurant in a town. Filandón in Spanish usually means a cosy gathering of people talking around a fire and table or in the kitchen after a meal and is a word often used in Montrondo. And cosy it is and beautiful too. It's a very large mansion type place set in grounds with open fires outside. Inside there are spreads of vegetables which look amazing.
I love the decor at the Filandón restaurant
Filandón restuarant where we went with Oli and Miguel on Wednesday night.
 I had expected it to be very expensive but it wasn't really and we all loved it so much we shall be going again soon. For Oli and Miguel it was a short drive home to where they live in Mirasierra. For us it was a bit longer as we live out in the sticks as many of you know hahaha. 

On Wednesday I should mention there was a general strike in Catalonia in favour of separatism and in protest for the politicians in prison or those who had fled justice to Brussels. It was not backed by the main trade unions but even so caused havoc. Some people used small children as human shields on motorways as you can see in the photo below. For me that was outrageous.
Children were used to block roads in the strike in Catalonia on Wednesday
Hundreds of radicalised students blocked the railways and interrupted the service of the high speed trains. More than 150.000 people were affected. In any normal circumstances, police would have used force to stop them but I suppose the central Government is now wary of using force after the criticism of what happened on 1st October in the illegal referendum. And yesterday, Saturday, there was yet another huge demonstration in favour of independence. I just wish those who are not in favour, the so-called silent majority, would be half as active or vocal as the separatists. 

Thursday was "La Almudena", a holiday in Madrid in honour of the patron saint of the city, Almudena. It felt like a Saturday. I cooked in the morning making coq au vin for lunch. I also made multi cereal loaves of bread and in between managed the walk with Eladio and the dogs. Here is my lovely bread.
The bread I baked on Thursday
I made a special effort as Olivia was coming for lunch and bringing the girls' oldest friend, Copi whom we don't see often these days as she now lives in Victoria. Oli was busy that day getting ready and packing for her trip to The Maldives. She was leaving that night for 9 days there. I must say she does have a dream job. She would fly first to Dubai on Emirates and again on the same airline onto Malé. I did not know the capital of the Maldives and had to learn it from Olivia who now knows a lot about this small Muslim country made up mostly of islands and a population of just 400.000 nestled underneath Sri Lanka and just a few hundred kilometres from India. I also learned it was an ex British colony which didn't surprise me. We wouldn't hear from her until Friday morning.  She was mostly looking forward to the good weather. Right now the maximum temperatures are around 29ºc and the minimum is 26ºc. 

She left and we got on with life. Who was fighting for her life (outside prison) that day was Carme Forcadell and 5 of her aides. She is the speaker of the ex Catalan Government and one of the main instigators of the unilateral declaration of independence. That day she faced questioning from the supreme court. In contrast to the government members who were imprisoned the previous week, she and her colleagues, answered questions (the others refused only answering to their lawyer). They even said the declaration was symbolic, not something the lady had said before and they agreed to abide to the Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution as well as not entering into any politics that go against it. She was granted bail for 150.000 euros which would be paid for by the separatist organisation ANC of which she was the previous President. She spent just one night in prison until her get out of jail card, the cheque from the ANC, was paid the next day. She got off lightly but of course still has to face a proper court case. Everyone said afterwards that she had lied to get out of jail and she had. She certainly did not appear at the demonstration on Saturday as advised  by her lawyer. 
Carme Forcadell arriving at the Spanish High Court on Wednesday

That night I was expecting 3 French Airbnb guests, 3 women who were coming for 3 nights. Later, Celine, the girl who did the booking, told me they had come to do a course at the local university on hearing aids of all things. Maybe I didn't hear right hahaha. 

As I waited for them to arrive I settled into bed and started watching a film I have had an eye on for a while now on Netflix. Called "First they killed my Father. A daughter of Cambodia remembers", it is directed by Angelie Jolie and reminds me very much of the film The Killing Fields also about Pol Pot's Khmer regime which killed 2 million people, a quarter of the country's population. 
Angelina Jolie's film about Cambodia

Set in 1975 it is the memoirs of 5 year old Loung Ung who was forced to be trained as a child soldier while her siblings were sent to labour camps during the dreadful regime of the deadly Khmer Rouge. After seeing the film I have downloaded the book written by Loung Ung as an adult. It makes for terrifying reading. 

When I was awake on Friday morning, Oli was still travelling. She wouldn't arrive in Malé until 11 in the morning Spanish time.

I missed my walk on Friday but walked a lot in the centre of Madrid instead. I went into the city to meet my ex colleagues from Yoigo. We met at their Qvantel offices bang in the centre of Madrid. Qvantel provides IT business services to telecom operators and is Finnish based. They only opened the office in Madrid very recently and I was amazed to see they already employ 70 people, my colleagues included. After seeing their offices we walked across the road to the Suecia (Sweden) hotel which was quite coincidental as Yoigo was Swedish owned and I had once done a press event there. It was great to see my colleagues and I think we have put in motion the organisation of a lovely Christmas party for all our ex colleagues and friends.
With my ex Yoigo colleagues on Friday
It was nice to dress up to go out, to walk the busy streets of Madrid and do something different for a change. I left at about 13h and walked from the Calle Alcalá to the Plaza de España where I would take the metro. On my way I couldn't help going into Zara where I spied a few items I liked but it was so busy I had no time for queuing and vowed to go to my local branch the next day. 

That afternoon I had a conference call with my telco customer. I was also happy to hear another Yoigo colleague who had been unfairly dismissed, had been employed by them too. They are very much into google and so the conference call was using Hangouts. It was a first for me but I soon got the hang of it hahaha. 

Saturday was another sunny day. I got to meet the other 2 French Airbnb guests who I hadn't even seen as they had arrived at midnight, hours after Celine arrived on Thursday night. Finally on Saturday we got news from Olivia. She sent us a photo of her with a young Spanish pilot of a hydroplane who will feature in the programme. She flew in the plane with him over resort islands which looked just like paradise.
Oli in the Maldives - here with the Spanish pilot who will feature in her programme.
She told us the capital Male was nothing special but that the resorts were beautiful. She doesn't have much wifi so news from her will be sporadic.

As I had promised myself on Friday, I went to our local Zara branch yesterday afternoon. Funnily enough I could not find the items I had seen in the branch in the centre. But I did buy myself a black and white striped jumper haha. I also got some winter leggings from Calzedonia. And before heading home I went into Carrefour to get some smoked salmon for dinner - theirs is the best in the world - as well as some cabbage and minced meat for Zena, our Ukrainian weekend carer, to make "gloubtsy" for lunch today (stuffed cabbage rolls). 

And today is Sunday and I seem to have been writing this blog post on and off all day. I said goodbye to our French Airbnb guests early this morning who will be returning in 2 week's time. Then I went for a lovely sunny walk with Eladio and the dogs. I say lovely but there were weekend hunters shooting rabbits and pigeons and Eladio said it sounded like warfare. Thankfully they don't shoot on the path but you never know if a bullet might go stray. Zena's "gloubtsy" was divine. It is one of my Father and I's favourite dishes. 

The week coming will be busy and will include a day trip to Barcelona for work purposes on Wednesday. I do hope there will be no strike that day and no disruption of the high speed train service. 

So my friends and readers, I have come to the end of the tales of this week. I hope you enjoy the stories. Of course there will be more tales in next week's post.

Meanwhile I wish you all the best,
Cheers Masha. 

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