Saturday, December 23, 2017

Sunday morning in the centre of Madrid, Oli continuing her adventures in France, Suzy home for Christmas, annual seasonal dinner, Catalan elections and other stories.

Sunday 24th December 2017
With Fátima and Julio my best friends in Spain here for our traditional annual Christmas dinner this week
My goodness it's Christmas Eve and what a wonderful day it is too as our family is now complete with both girls at home.  

Just one week ago, Oli was still in France and Suzy in London. That day, Sunday 17th, our Airbnb guest, Borja, the student from Navarra left. Zena was going to make our lunch  - gloupsy again (Russian dish - stuffed cabbage rolls) so after publishing my blog and with time on my hands I suggested to Eladio that we go into Madrid and visit the traditional Christmas Market at the Plaza Mayor in the centre of Madrid after the disappointment  of the one we went to in Boadilla the day before.  This is something we used to do nearly every year and where we used to buy our Christmas tree when we lived in town and where we took the girls when they were small. Secretly I was hoping to buy a Christmas hat with a battery operated moving bobble on it. I once had one but it disappeared at a family party one year.

It was a freezing cold morning and later I was to develop a cold (sniff sniff) . We decided to drive to the nearest metro station and leave the car there rather than face the traffic and difficulties of parking in the centre of the city. We got off the metro at Plaza de España and walked up the Gran Via to Calloa and then down the most commercial street in Spain, "Calle Preciados". It was teeming and many people were queuing up to buy Christmas lottery tickets at the most famous establishment in Spain, "Doña Manolita". I think Eladio was tempted but put off by the queues. Calle Preciados leads onto the Puerta del Sol, the most famous square in Madrid and the one from where all roads are measured in the country. We were very careful with our possessions as  pickpockets thrive in these areas. 

Huge queues outside the Doña Manolita lottery establishment, the most famous in Spain
The Christmas market in the Plaza Mayor is nothing special and not at all like the Christmas markets which I so love in the northern countries of Europe. Here all you can find are cheapo Christmas decorations, funny hats and jokes made in China as well as Nativity scene figures. It seems all the stalls sell the same rubbish. However the atmosphere is very festive and we soaked it up. Here I am in my warmest coat posing for a photo in the beautiful square.
In the Plaza Mayor
It was really great to break with routine and spend Sunday morning in the centre of Madrid, something we should do more often. 

We visited every stall until I finally found the hat I wanted. I should have put it on for a photo but it was far too cold. However, as soon as we got home, I made Eladio wear it for this photo hahahaa.
Eladio and the bobbly Christmas hat
I knew it was going to be a great success at all our Christmas meals as it produces a laugh a minute as soon as someone puts it on.

From the Plaza Mayor we walked the short distance to the Mercado San Miguel, an old food market turned into an amazing gastro centre where just everything is enticing and of the highest quality. The idea there is buy what you want to eat from any of the stalls and then find a table to sit down and enjoy whatever you have chosen. The most difficult thing is to choose. I went for sweet and Eladio for savoury. It was full of people but not the fullest I have seen. It's become very touristy but really it is a first class place to try out many of the  tapas Spain has to offer.
Outside the Mercado San Miguel last Sunday morning
We walked back to the Plaza de España the same way we had come and it was to be our walk of the day. We came home to a laid table and delicious gloupsy, my Father's favourite Russian meal. In the afternoon I finished watching Victoria Season 2 and then together with Eladio watched the last episode of Season 2 of The Crown. I am sorely missing both now and don't have anything half as interesting to watch. 

Monday was a quiet day. I was going to spend the morning at Primark with my sister-in-law but she cancelled. Instead, Eladio and I went out shopping again, this time for the main ingredients for the most festive meals, tonight's Christmas Eve Dinner and tomorrow's Christmas Day lunch. And guess what? Eladio bought more lottery tickets. At one of the shops I had a problem with my debit card so rang my bank. For a reason unknown to me, Bankia, the bank I have been with ever since I came to live in Spain, had blocked my account!!  I couldn't believe it. I must have wasted an hour at our branch with a rather inefficient employee who was not able to explain why the account was blocked and my cards wouldn't work. Horror of horrors I wouldn't be able to do any more shopping! Actually it didn't really matter as everything was bought. The next day the bank called me to say the account was now unblocked and later in the week I went to pick up my new cards. Bankia seems very old fashioned to me when nowadays all these types of issues should be resolved online. 

After lunch Eladio and I were on the move again. We had to take Elsa to the vet for a scan which would reveal what the lump on her face was caused by. It meant she had to be sedated and it was a very worried Elsa we left behind at the clinic. She would have been sorry to know that while she was being sedated and given the scan, we went for our walk with Norah and Pippa. Later in the evening we picked her up and brought her home from the most crowded clinic I have ever seen. I don't know why we still keep going there, probably because it is the nearest one from home. It was such chaos there that the next day we realised Elsa still had the IV line attached to her paw. I made a formal complaint but all I got was a verbal apology. The good news is that the results of the scan show that she has 2 infected molars (or is it the roots?). I was relieved it wasn't a tumour. She will have them out on Boxing Day. Poor Elsa. 

I came home to make a delicious dinner of smoked salmon with fresh steamed asparagus - a very healthy choice I think. Just as we were having dinner, I became a Great Aunt as one of our nieces gave birth to a baby girl. She is called Sara and is now the youngest member of the family. Welcome to the world Sara.  I am very happy for the parents but especially for her grandparents, Eladio's youngest brother and his wife. I want to be a grandmother too one day. Soon please hahaha. 

Tuesday dawned, the day Suzy would be coming home for Christmas from London. But it would be a very long day until we saw her. She was arriving on Ryanair from Standsted late that night at 23.35 but the plane was delayed. 

I was looking forward to our annual Nokia girls Christmas lunch on Tuesday but it was to ne another cancelled engagement, the second of the week. We were to be 6 but everyone cancelled at the last moment except for Juana and myself. Determined to see each other, she invited me for a twosome lunch at her house near Pozuelo and of course I accepted. In any case I had to give her back all the elements I had at home with which she made the sweet table for my 60th birthday and which I used for the one I made for the Yoigo reunion party the week before.  Even though we were only two, Juana had made a delicious lunch served beautifully in their immaculate and festive dining room. My contribution was freshly made multi cereal bread which I had made that morning both for Juana and Suzy. I also took along a box of crackers. 
Table for 2 at Juana's house for lunch on Tuesday
It was good to catch up on each other's lives. And it's thanks to Juana that I shall be adding a new dish to our menu for tonight's dinner. Juana is from Galicia, one of the best places for food in Spain. Her star dish for Christmas Eve is to be "salpicón de marisco" a sort of seafood salad and I asked her how she made it and what the ingredients are; although I knew the main ones; small scallops, giant prawns and lobster with thinly chopped spring onion and peppers which I adore. She had bought them at the Corte Inglés supermarket so I stopped there on my way home and bought the same seafood. I unfroze them last night and shall follow her recipe and I know everyone is going to love it. 

Once home, I went for a walk with Eladio and the dogs and then prepared part of the dinner for the following night when Fátima and Julio would be coming for our annual Christmas dinner. 

We couldn't go to bed early on Tuesday as we had to pick Suzy up from the airport. As I said earlier, her plane was delayed and she wouldn't be arriving until past midnight. Instead of going to bed to watch the news, we watched the TV in the lounge. I was keen to seen Oli's programme, "Madrileños por El Mundo" although Oli wasn't the reporter that night. It was on Finland and focused on Spaniards from Madrid who lived there but not in Helsinki.  Of course I was interested as Finland has a special place in my heart after having worked for Nokia for 6 years and after so many visits there. I had helped her find candidates for the programme and one of them was Araceli who lives in Espoo and works for Nokia. She was a colleague of mine when I worked at Nokia.  The programme started with people living in Rovaniemi, the heart of Lapland and where Father Christmas "lives". I had been there during one of my trips to Nokia and had also met the man himself.  It was interesting to see Araceli interviewed, to see her home and her office, the Nokia HQ of course. And here she is in one of the scenes, after ice skating, with her son and partner.
Araceli, my ex Nokia colleague who appeared in Oli's programme "Madrileños por el Mundo" this week
You can see the full programme here

After it finished it was soon time to leave the house and drive to the airport to pick Suzy up. She landed at around 12.05 but wasn't out until 12.30. But what a wonderful moment when I saw her and we hugged. When she hugged her Father I just had to snap the moment on my camera. And here they are Father and daughter, reunited for Christmas.
Suzy home for Christmas. Father and daughter reunited
She came home to find what I now call our Christmas wonderland as I have gone all out to decorate the house. It gets more and more kitsch as the years progress hahaha.

Just some of the decorations of our own personal "Christmas wonderland" 
I'm not sure what my family think but they go along with it hahahaa. 

We didn't get to bed until extremely late but thankfully I woke up just a bit later than usual on Wednesday morning, at 6.50. Suzy slept in her own room as we had no Airbnb guests when she came, unlike when she was here in September. I have blocked the calendar for Christmas which I'm sure Suzy appreciates. 

Oli of course was still in France and enjoying it immensely. On Tuesday, the day Suzy was coming home, she was filming some Spaniards who pick truffles using beagles to sniff out the prized culinary ingredient. God knows how they got the beagle in the photo to sniff out the truffle without actually eating it. I could never imagine, Norah, our beagle doing that hahahaa. What I didn't know is that it costs 1400 euros per kilo!!
Oli filming in France. Here with a beagle who sniffs out truffles
So, when I asked her to bring us some back  she answered that the truffle was "tres tres chere" which of course I knew. She did bring us nougat back though which both Suzy and I adore. Everyone eats the equivalent here at Christmas called "turrón" but I don't really like it, far preferring the softer nougat.  

On Wednesday it was great to have Suzy with us. Her cheer and demeanour and general charisma seem to fill the house with joy and energy. Unfortunately I couldn't have lunch with the family as I had a meeting with Adamo in Madrid. I was meeting my two Madrid colleagues, Antonio and Pedro, both of whom had been my colleagues at Yoigo and Nokia respectively. It's a small world. We had the meeting and lunch at Whitby, the bar where I had organised Yoigo's 6th birthday for the press. I went by metro and with time on my hands when I got out at Alonso Martínez I decided to drop into the only English shop I know in Madrid which is just around the corner; "Living in London". Here I bought more crackers, some mince pies and a a pavlova meringue case. 

I was home quite early, by about 4 pm and had tea with Suzy. We then went for our walk. She had engagements that night so got ready to go out. Meanwhile, Eladio and I prepared everything for the cold supper I was offering Julio and Fátima for our annual Christmas dinner chez nous so to say. I put on a huge spread and served them: salad of giant prawns, pineapple, avocado and lettuce, tuna fish spread with hard boiled eggs, ibérico ham, "raf" tomatoes and giant asparagus. I also made the mayonnaise and thousand island sauce to go with the prawns and asparagus.

This is what the table looked like heaving with delicious and mostly healthy food.
The dinner table on Wednesday evening  - dinner with Julio and Fátima
They were with us by about 8.30 and we gave them a tour of  "winter wonderland" playing all the mechanical Christmas figures. The lounge looked lovely with soft lighting and candles. I'm something of a candle freak hahahaha. Before we tucked in I had to have a photo of my dear friends Julio, who I got to know at Nokia, and Fátima, who I got to know at Motorola and who went on to work for Julio at Nokia when I worked there too. So, we have a lot in common. And here they are:
My dearest friends at dinner on Wednesday night
None of us are the drinks after dinner type people. Instead, we drank water. I offered them chocolates from my very tempting sweet table and we were all very good only eating one each hahahaha.  We were all a little tired, especially Fátima who had had a chemotherapy session the day before and was still wearing the "bag", so they left just before midnight, a very civilised time in my view.  

Thursday was the Winter solstice, the shortest day of the year but in Spain everyone was focused on the Catalan elections. It was to be the separatists against the unionists and the polls already predicted a majority of the former as they have two parties, Puigdemont's Together for Catalonia and Oriol Junquera's ERC. 

But I had lots to do that morning after making everyone's lunch. Suzy accompanied me on lots of little errands. We had to go to the vet for more antibiotics for Elsa and the chemist. We were then going to have a coffee at our favourite cafe Alverán in Boadilla but oh my God the display on the dashboard of my mini told us we were quickly running out of petrol with just enough for 2 km to go. So we rushed to the petrol station not sure we would make it. Thankfully we did but it was touch and go hahaha. Then we did go to Alverán where, not only did we have a coffee but, we ordered all the croissants and delicious pastries we like  for our Christmas Day breakfast and which we shall be picking up today. From the cafe, Suzy and I walked to a health food store she likes to buy a few things. I was not tempted hahahaha. Our final errands were a visit to my bank to pick up the new visa card and to the post office. We were home just on time for lunch with Eladio and my Father. We eat in the dining room and normally the dogs are not allowed in except for when Suzy is here. I had to have this photo of Norah's head popping up in between her arms in hope of a morsel of food, in this case raspberries hahahahaha.
Suzy and Norah have a special relationship 
Feeling a bit off because of my cold which would get worse as the day progressed, I slept a little. We watched the news to see how the elections were going but it wasn't until Friday morning that we would get the final results. At around 4 pm, in brilliant sunshine, on the shortest day of the year, we set off on our walk. Suzy commented on the sunshine comparing it to dark London where at this time of the day the sun would have already set. I certainly appreciate the extra light living in Spain.

I came home to spend a couple of hours drafting a press release which I sent off just as Suzy called us for dinner. My darling daughter had made our dinner and I was so grateful as I was feeling lousy because of my cold. I sort of got the shivers and wasn't at all hungry.  In fact, all I wanted to do was go to bed and nurse my cold. 

On Friday morning after a pretty bad night, I woke up to see the results of the elections in Catalonia and they did not paint a pretty picture.   Here they are.

The Catalan election results.
The unionist party, Ciudadanos,  led by Inés Arrimadas, the only woman of the 7 or so main candidates, won but she won’t govern as the 2 main separatist parties led by the fugitive Puigdemont and jailed Oriol Junqueras  have the majority of seats. between them.  There is rather an unfair counting system in Catalonia which gives more seats for votes from  the provinces rather than the cities.  One way of looking at it is that the majority of Catalans voted against independence but the separatists got more seats and get to govern. So now we are back to square one and in the same mess we were in before the Spanish government invoked Article 155. Who knows what will happen now. 

On the bright side on Friday, for some at least, "El Gordo", the Spanish Christmas lottery was drawn and who knows, we could have been rich.  But it was not to be. None of us won anything, except for Lucy who won 100 euros.

On Friday too, Oli was on her way home by train from Montpeliier which would mean that finally the family would be complete and I couldn't wait. 

Suzy and Eladio have their breakfast later than me. While they do, the dogs sit hoping for the odd crumb that may come their way. It's always a lovely scene and I was lucky to get them all on camera that morning. I just love the photo.
Suzy, Eladio and the 3 dogs - just love this pic. 
Suzy would accompany me food shopping to Mercadona after breakfast and then we would be off again, this time to Madrid for her to pick up a certificate she needed from Aramark, a previous employer. While in the car I was feeling lousy. My cold was getting worse. We came home to find Lucy had burnt the lentils so I had to quickly rustle up an alternative lunch and made fresh hake, pumpkin and potato purée with broccoli. 

Oli was home by 5 carrying her heavy luggage as well as lots of nice French produce for us all; wine, nougat, honey, biscuits, etc. It was great to have her back. I was feeling too ill for a walk and eventually when I began to shiver, I decided all I could do was go to bed and nurse my cold. I was dreading being ill for Christmas.  

I woke up on Saturday morning feeling just slightly better. At least the shivers had gone.  However, I had little energy yesterday. I joined the girls on what is usually one of the happiest days of the year, going Christmas shopping with them. We went to Gran Plaza 2 and walking around tired me. Thank goodness I had done all my Christmas shopping. We came home to have lentils and coq au vin I had made early that morning. After lunch, all I wanted to do was go to bed. I slept till 5 and woke up feeling groggy but better. Suzy and I did lots of cooking in preparation for tonight's dinner. In Spain the most important festive dinner is on Christmas Eve as in England it is on Christmas Day. Thus, being an Anglo Spanish family we do both which of course involves one hell of a lot of cooking.  The girls and Miguel stayed for dinner before going off to Oli's flat for the night and we had a healthy and light dinner as there would be so much eating over Christmas. It was early to bed again for me and today I was up at 6 and feeling better but certainly not yet over the hill.

I have lots to do today and shall start by making bread for everyone and then  the "salpicón de marisco". We must get a walk in today before dinner as, owing to my cold, I haven't been on one for a couple of days. Let's see if I'm up to it.

So now my friends, I shall sign off and get on with the day. All that remains  is to wish you all a very Merry Christmas. I'm not saying "happy holidays" which seems to be the politically correct thing to say these days. That is because, first I'm not usually very politically correct and secondly I am a traditionalist and if Christmas is about the birth of Christ then the correct thing to say is Merry or Happy Christmas. You will hear all about ours in next Sunday's post which I will be publishing from Montrondo where we plan to spend New Year's Eve. 

All the best till next week.

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