Sunday, May 13, 2018

A relaxing Sunday, trying out Signal, a quiet time in Montrondo, Oli in Croatia, 100th birthday party and other stories of the week.

Montrondo, Sunday 13th May 2018
Enjoying Montrondo with Pippa. 
Good morning everyone from our little village, Montrondo, nestled high up in the mountains of North West Spain in the province of León, our hide away when we want to "get away from it all" or rather relax and wind down.

We certainly relaxed last Sunday. It was a beautiful day and I enjoyed every moment of it. It was Mothers' Day in Spain and my girls duly sent me their best wishes. Suzy even sent a special photo of the three of us, on one of our endless walks. We are, indeed, the walking family.  My Mother, who never walked would probably not be impressed. Suzy when she was small once said "Grandmother you never walk" to which she replied "oh yes I do, I walk a lot in the kitchen" hahaha. I have inherited my love of walking very obviously from my Father who walked literally everywhere, possibly because he never had a car. Anyway this is the lovely photo of the  3 of us. Or should I say 4 of us as Pippa is in the photo too? She manages to get into most of my pictures but that's because she's nearly always with us. 
My Mothers' Day photo from Suzy 
Oli was with us last weekend as she always is when Miguel is in Valencia working. She was up for breakfast and it was so sunny, she had it on the kitchen terrace. I caught her on camera. Hopefully she won't read this blog as she doesn't like photos taken of her in her dressing gown or pyjamas hahahaha. 
Oli having breakfast on the terrace last Sunday with Elsa next to her. 
It was a very warm day and, while Oli was having breakfast I spied little Pippa lying in the sun on the grass, something she loves to do in the good weather. I call her "long belly" hahaha. She is sooo long isn't she?  Pippa had a relaxing Sunday too. 
Pippa relaxing on the grass in the sun last week
Eladio didn't relax on Sunday morning. He spent the time mowing the lawn but I must say it was relaxing to hear him do it hahaha. Here he is with his gardening gear on.
Eladio mowing the lawn last Sunday
I made lentils for lunch that day which we would have on the terrace too. Just as we were about to sit down, our Argentinian guests, the racing driver, Esteban and his girlfriend, Mariela, were leaving. We would miss them. It had been Esteban's 4th time with us and it felt like saying goodbye to a son. He's such a lovely guy. Thankfully they will be coming back at the end of the month. This weekend he is racing in Germany. 

After lunch Oli and I continued to relax and we did so at our favourite place in the house and garden in the good weather, on our swimming pool terrace which is looking very spruced after our efforts to get it ready for the summer.
Our beautiful swimming pool terrace
Who would spend a lot of time there would be our next Airbnb guests, a 30 year old young German girl called Jennifer who is from Hamburg and who is currently touring the world on her own. She arrived earlier than I had expected, while we were on our walk so there were no fruit or flowers from the garden in her room which is how I like to welcome our guests. It's part of my super host strategy but also how I would like to be welcomed. But never mind, I did that when I got home. Jennifer was lovely and I would get to know her more during her stay and before we left for Montrondo. Eladio and I have both commented this week just how lucky we have been so far with our experience with Airbnb. About 70% of our guests are from "abroad" (meaning my dear English friends, not from Spain hahahaha) and nearly all of them have been people we can easily relate to. 

Jennifer, like my older daughter Suzy, is vegan. I noticed her dinner looked like Eladio's breakfast, i.e. whole meal cereal with nuts and fruit and kefir or soy milk in her case. She had it on the swimming pool terrace while we ate my spinach and onion omelet with Olivia on the kitchen terrace table. It's one of my favourite dishes for dinner these days, so healthy and delicious too. 
The spinach and onion omelet I made for dinner last Sunday
Oli left after dinner to return to her flat in Madrid. Miguel would be coming on Monday night and they would be there all week. In fact we won't see her for a while as when we go home on Wednesday she will be in Croatia for her next TV travel programme trip. She landed in Dubrovnik yesterday, lucky girl.

So, all in all, it was a very relaxing Sunday. It was for Suzy too in London where it has been very warm this week. She and some of her friends wanted to make the most of the good weather and had a picnic in a park in London that day. I asked for a photo and this is what I got.
Suzy with her friends having a relaxing picnic in a London park last Sunday
I also asked her which park it was. It's called Burgess park and  is apparently south of the river. I imagine many people in England were out in the sun that day and on Monday too as it was a bank holiday weekend. 

That night was a non decisive "clásico" match between Real Madrid and Barcelona in the latter's stadium, "El Camp Nou". I say non decisive because "El Barça" have already won "La Liga". Even so, a "clásico" is always exciting and this one didn't disappoint, although we couldn't watch it as of course most matches these days are on pay per view TV. The result was a draw 2-2. It was to be Andrés Iniesta's last match against Real Madrid, the Barça and Spanish squad player who will go down in history for scoring the winning goal for Spain in the World Cup in 2010. I wish him well as do most of Spain as he is much loved. 

On Monday it was nice weather again although it looked like it had rained overnight. Wouldn't it be nice if it rained a bit every night and then was sunny all through the day and all through the year?

That morning, reading the news, mostly about the tensions between the US and Iran, the upcoming summit between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump as well as who will be the new "President" of the Catalán government - what a tiring topic - I also read an article about a new instant messaging app  called Signal that caught my attention. We all know about Facebook Gate - the use of all our data via Cambridge Analytics. Well, not everyone knows that Facebook also owns Whatsapp and Instagram too. In the article I read that the founders of Whatsapp, in disagreement with the robot like American, Marc Zuckerberg, who I do not trust at all, over stopping encryption of the messaging system we all use, had left Facebook to create a new and safer encrypted messaging system called "Signal". So, I thought I should try and I have. According to some of my techy friends it's much safer and it also means less control from Facebook. 
From the creators of Whatsapp, Signal is the most secure messaging app available 
But what about Google? They have been keeping quiet but are just as bad as FB in that they know our every movement.  Like Facebook, who read our whatsapp messages, Google even reads our emails. If you want to be more in control, do what I did and go to this link. Here, on your activity page,  you can see the data Google stores on your web searches, browsing and You Tube viewing.  and decide what you want them to control and what you don't want them to control. They have made it easier now, do doubt after the Facebook affair.  But they still read our emails. That will have to stop. Google's motto is "Do no evil" but that is bull****".

The best thing about Monday was that suddenly my eyes were much better. I no longer have that scratchy feeling although I still can't see very well from my left eye. Finally, I was able to get down to the PR plan I had to do for a new customer. I started that day, continued here in Montrondo and sent it on Wednesday. I hope they like it. 

On Monday, in London, Suzy was doing something very exciting. She was being filmed for a Spanish TV programme who were doing a piece on Meghan Markle's wedding to Prince Harry. Suzy had to talk about Meghan's favourite places in London, the wedding cake, her dietary habits - she's a vegan like Suzy! - the flowers she would have, etc. Thus that day saw her in all of the American Actresses' favourite places in town. I wish I could have been there with Suzy and I can't wait to see the programme which I think will be aired on 22nd May, Oli's birthday. And here she is outside Kensington Palace on Monday during the shooting. She's wearing a t-shirt so it was obviously very warm. She told me later it was better weather in London than in Madrid although it was lovely here too.
Suzy outside Kensington Palace during filming on Monday. 
She also told me later she had had a great time. Part of the filming included her doing a "goodbye" party with her friends in a jacuzzi on the London Canal. What fun! Suzy will be leaving London on 22nd May possibly never to go back so she has organised all sorts of goodbye parties, haha, including one yesterday with her closest friends. 

Jennifer, our Airbnb guest from Germany, spent the day by the pool and I had a coffee with her and chatted. She quit her job in an events agency where she worked for a fashion brand as she had decided   that wasn't her thing. Therefore, like Suzy, she wants time off to think about her life and has decided to tour the world or part of it. Funnily enough, she too will be going to Indonesia in June. She was a lovely guest and I hope she keeps in touch and I can follow her travels around the world. 

I worked most of the day but when it was time for our walk, around 5.30 pm. I stopped. We had a great walk and I came back feeling really energised. While I chatted again to Jennifer before making our dinner, Eladio was sitting on a bench in the kitchen patio  next to the lovely marigolds our Venezuelan Airbnb guest, Lorena, had bought for us. I just had to have a photo and here it is.
Eladio relaxing on Monday evening before dinner. 
We went to bed at our normal time but suddenly, just before we switched off the lights, I got a new Airnb request from a Dutch lady who lives in Altea on the South East coast of Spain. It was her first time booking on the platform and she had lots of difficulties. I think we chatted on the app until about 2 in the morning and it wasn't until the next day she finally made the reservation. Clara or Claire, I'm not sure of her real name, is now staying with her boyfriend, his Mother and her Mother's nephew at our house while we are away. They came to visit a niece who is studying at the local University. So, no I didn't sleep very well that night, but the chatting on Airbnb was worth it as I got another booking, whoopee. 

Tuesday came and it was the day we had chosen to go to Montrondo where we hadn't been since December. We normally come a lot more often but either the weather has been awful or we had obligations. Before leaving we said goodbye to Jennifer. In our absence we would have more Airbnb guests, the Dutch family as well as an Iranian father and son. Our house sometimes feels like the  United Nations hahaha. 

We also said goodbye to my Father and to Lucy who worried us a bit just as we were leaving telling us she couldn't cope with her job and threatening to leave. She has said this quite often and each time we end up putting up her salary and trying to placate her. So we left feeling rather worried about the situation.  Oh dear!

Before driving to Montrondo, we had to go the police station in Pozuelo where Eladio had an appointment to renew his DNI as it is called here - his national identity document - something that unbelievably does not yet exist in the UK. By 12 we were on the road and by 2 at our favourite pit stop in Rueda. We stopped at Palacio de Bornos for a plate of ham and glass of white wine each. And here is Eladio posing for a photo for me to capture the happy moment.
Eladio in Rueda on Tuesday
We arrived in sunny Montrondo at about 4.30 and saw fire in the mountains in an area called "Las Calenturas" where there had been fire last year too. Soon though we saw a helicopter coming to unload water over it and it was quickly extinguished. We took about an hour to settle in, unload all the food, clean the surfaces at least and soon we were free to enjoy the rest of the day. It gets dark here at this time of year at about 9.45 which makes the days pleasurably long. I recovered my fitbit which I had left behind in December  but was gutted to see it is not compatible with the Samsung S9 series so doesn't work with my phone:-( In any case I can see the kilometres walked on the device itself which is enough to motivate me. 

We have walked a lot here since we came and my first walk was on Tuesday afternoon with Pippa. It was so warm I went in a t-shirt. Eladio stayed behind to do some gardening, mostly getting rid of the dandelions from the front lawn. Pippa and I enjoyed our walk in the spring air and when we got to the half way mark to Murias at "God's Rock" (la peña de dios) we had a photo session. The photo illustrating this week's post is of me with Pippa in a selfie. I'm not sure whose neck is scraggier hahahah. On the way back it was so sunny and warm we sat by the rock for a while for me to make some work phone calls and for Pippa to enjoy exploring. She actually posed for me and I love this photo of her I took in the grass.
Pippa on our walk on Tuesday
Everything was very green and there were and there are signs of spring everywhere but it is much less advanced than in Madrid. For example the lilac is just out here when it was out in our garden a month ago. Even so I enjoyed the views of unspoiled Montrondo.
Spring is in the air in Montrondo
We were home with plenty of time to make dinner. It was to be prawn cocktail salad,  one of our favourites. Then it was time for TV and the news, the main story being Trump's announcement to withdraw from the agreement with Iran, mostly about nuclear weapons. It's not that I like Iran having the atom bomb but I often wonder why countries that do have it can tell other countries not to. If there is an agreement on a ban on nuclear weapons between countries then surely they should all abandon them. Anyway it was  a big story . 

We fell asleep later on the sofa watching our latest series on Netflix, "Apaches" which is entertaining enough but not one of the best series we have seen. A Spanish TV series based on a novel by Miguel Sáez Carral it's the story of a young journalist who is forced into a life of crime to save his bankrupt father and family. 
Our latest TV series on Netflix which is keeping us entertained in Montrondo in the evenings.
Because we went to sleep early that night, I was awake at the unearthly hour of 5.50 on Wednesday morning. It was nice weather outside but I had to spend nearly all the morning and most of the afternoon working on my PR plan. I also worked on Adamo's next provincial launch in a town in the north of Spain to take place at the beginning of June. Even though I have done many events and quite a few for Adamo, there is still always lots to do. First there is the invitation, the choice of location, the timing of the event and of course setting it up. That day day I worked on the plan. Thankfully I have already done the invitation and we have chosen a location. In between working, I made "cocido" stew for lunch which would last us a few days. By the early evening I put a stop to work for the day and we went for a walk. We chose to go on what I call our "secret walk", the one that goes up the mountain sand along the river to Murias through a beautiful birch tree forest. I loved every minute of it and as it is "secret" we didn't meet a soul.
Eladio on our "secret walk" on Wednesday
It's quite long and takes about 1.5h. According to my fitbit it's just over 6km but the terrain is  hilly so it's quite a tough walk. 

I came home to work a bit more before dressing for dinner - my pyjamas hahaha - which was tuna fish salad that night. That night our smart TV refused to work so we couldn't watch Netflix and had to make do with conventional TV which was utter rubbish. Thus we were in bed by 11.

On Thursday I was up late for me at 6.35. I had a bit of a headache and my eyes felt slightly sore. The arthritis in my left thumb has been playing me up a bit too while we have been here. Thankfully, though, I always feel a  better after my first cup of coffee in the morning followed by an orange. I worked on my PC while Eladio was still asleep and then read the news. The main story that day was the date and place of the upcoming meeting between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump. It's to take place in Singapore and on the 12th June. I shall remember that date as that day I have my yearly gynecologist  appointment hahaha. 

It was another sunny day although there was a nip in the air. After preparing lunch, we decided to make the most of the morning and go on a walk up into the mountains which are snow capped now. We walked up to the Birch Tree Forest (El Abedular) which takes about 40 minutes and of course stopped for photos on the way. This time Eladio was the photographer.
On our walk up into the mountains on Wednesday morning
It got quite warm as we walked up so we both shed our jumpers and Eladio hid them behind a tree to pick up on our way down.

We got as far as the point where you can see the highest mountain in the area, El Tambarón, which is totally covered in snow still as you can see in the photo below.
The Tambarón mountain (2.100 metres high) covered in snow.
According to my Fitbit that was another 6km walk. We arrived home feeling quite hungry. After lunch and a short siesta, it was such a lovely sunny day, we went on another walk, this time just to Murias and back. Later that night my Fitbit showed me we had walked a total of 13km that day. Not bad at all. We didn't see a soul on that walk either but we did see lovely tulips in the garden of my favourite house in Murias. Tulips are late here too.
Tulips in Murias
I was thirsty as we approached the village on our way home and stopped as I often do at the spring for water. Here I am drinking from it. The water which comes from the mountains is so pure and cool it's always a pleasure to drink when I return from our walks. Pippa drinks from it too haha.
Drinking water from the spring at the entrance to the village after our walk on Wednesday afternoon.
That night the smart TV worked again and we were able to continue watching Apaches. 

On Friday I was up at 6.15. That morning was to be one of the highlights of our stay here so far. When we are here on a Friday we always go to Villablino to the weekly market and to do the main food shopping at the superbly stocked Gadis supermarket which is only located in the north of Spain unfortunately. We set off quite early so as to have plenty of time there and be back for lunch. At the market we stocked up on lots of fruit and vegetables:  peaches, apricots, nectarines, pineapple, big juicy oranges, grapes, tomatoes, lettuce, leeks and runner beans. Here is Eladio with our purchases as we left the lively market.
Elado at the Friday market in Villablino 
From the market we walked to Gadis which I noticed is located against mountains some of which are snow capped too. 
Gadis below snow capped mountains in Villablino
We filled the car with the fruit and vegetables and before going into the supermarket, we went to have a coffee at a nearby bar, part of our ritual when we visit Villablino on a Friday.

We came home to meet an anxious Pippa who hates being left alone. Soon all the food was packed away, except for the fruit which I left on plates on our table to ripen a bit more. It looked lovely.
Some of the fruit we bought at the Villablino market
It was a cool sort of day but the sun came out in the afternoon so off we went for our walk. We chose the "secret walk" again. I noticed the lichen on the birch trees which may be a parasite but is apparently a sign that nature is in good shape. Here I am pointing it out on one of the trees in the forest on our walk that day.
Lichen on the trees on our "secret walk" on Friday afternoon
It felt like being in paradise. I even heard a cuckoo coo and Eladio told me that it was very early for it to sing and that it was singing or cooing to herald the spring. He also said that cuckoos sing or coo when it is not raining. I love these snippets of information from Eladio about nature. Of course he was born in Montrondo so he knows all these things. 

We came home to make dinner, or rather I made dinner. But I don't do all the work as Eladio always washes the dishes and clears up after our meals. That night I made an omelet with spinach and onion but also added wild mushrooms. It tasted delicious. 

Yesterday, Saturday, it was supposed to rain all day and it did but it also snowed and there was intermittent sleet, rain and it was just freezing. The temperatures plummeted. 

While it was freezing here, Olivia was flying to Croatia and would land in Dubrovnik at around midday.  She arrived to 25c, much warmer than here hahaha. I wish we could have been with her. We had to make do with a photo of her in the Croatian sun. 
Oli in sunny Dubrovnik yesterday
After filming in Dubrovnik, she will also visit Zagreb and Split for more filming and interviews with her "madrileños" living in Croatia. It's her first time in the ex Yugoslav country and one I've never been to either. I look forward to her stories and maybe one day Eladio and I will also visit it. 

But back to Montrondo. I had run out of potatoes and was going to go and pay Jenaro for the ones he had sent us via my brother-in-law but it was so windy and cold we turned back. There was no way we could go out for a walk and the only option was to stay snug in the house. With work out of the way, I turned my hand to cooking and for lunch yesterday used some frozen oxtail I had in the deep freeze here to make a stew. It's not exactly a stew but a recipe I have always followed from the famous Spanish cookery book by Simone Ortega, "1080 recipes". You boil the chopped up oxtail together with vegetable water, whole carrots and an onion and add a glass of white wine. When the vegetables are soft you remove them from the stock and let the meat cook until it nearly comes off the bone. From some of the stock, carrots and onions you make a sauce to serve on top of the oxtail. Once the meat is cooked, you put it in the oven to brown a little. The meat and the sauce are served separately, as are the sauteed potatoes. It's one of our favourite meals but is extremely filling. 
The oxtail dish I made yesterday for lunch
With lots of time on my hands while the oxtail was cooking, I also started on making bread. I have to make the dough manually as I've got no kenwood here. But it turns out just as good. I also don't have a warm boiler room so yesterday I left the dough to prove by one of the windows in the sun. Funnily enough, in between the rain, sleet and snow the sun came out. It proved perfectly.
The dough I made for bread yesterday proving in the sunlight
The bread turned out splendidly as you can see in the photo below.
The loaves of bread I made yesterday
But we wouldn't eat it for dinner as you will see. The weather was better in the afternoon and we had a date yesterday. We had been invited to a very special birthday party.  The oldest man in the village, José García Sabugo, known as both Pepe and Pepín, the father of Blanca, had turned 100 on 1st May, just one year older than my Father. He wanted to celebrate his birthday in Montrondo and his family and many women in the village prepared an amazing party for him. Considering there were so few people in the village, I was surprised see so many people in the "salon de juventud" (the young people's saloon) where the party was held. Built  in 1936 during Spain's Republic and just before the Civil War this is it.
The "salon de juventud"
It wasn't full of young people though hahaha. The women in the village had made all the food and the tables were groaning. But first I had to have a photo of everyone together around the birthday grandfather, no mean feat. And here it is, the group photo of the 100th birthday party. 
Celebrating Pepe's 100th birthday in Montrondo yesterday
And what a great party it was. The birthday cakes made by Lourdes deserve a special mention as does her sweet table. I loved her chocolate lolly pops and the cake too.
Lourdes' cakes and sweet table
I helped serve the cake and particularly enjoyed the moment Pepe or Pepín was presented with one of them with the 100 figure candle. 
The cake moment
I took a video of the cake moment as I call it which you can see here

When all our stomachs were full and the cake had been served the party was to continue with music and dancing. But Eladio and I needed our walk that day to digest the party food not to mention the oxtail. We also had to consider poor Pippa at home alone so we said our goodbyes and a special one to the birthday man. Eladio knows him well from his childhood in the village and according to my husband he is a very much loved villager. That's the feeling I have too. So happy birthday Pepe and long may you live.  I look forward to my own Father's 100th birthday next May 1st. 
Eladio with the centenerian  at the birthday party yesterday
We left the party in the cold but at least it was a bit sunny and went to get Pippa to go for our well needed walk. Obviously then we would not have any dinner that night nor would we eat my freshly made bread. The cake had filled me up I'm afraid. Thank goodness for the walk. 

Yesterday of course was the Eurovision Song Contest held in Lisbon. Spain had high hopes for the romantic and sugar sweet, star struck couple Amaia and Alfred but they came a disappointing 23rd out of 26th contestants. There had been so much hype about them before the contest that even I, who liked their song at the beginning, got a bit tired of their song "La Canción" and even them. They are a bit corny and you either hate them or love them. It was worse for the UK singer SuRie who came 24th especially after a man invaded the stage and grabbed her microphone. We didn't watch it, preferring our TV series but I read the news this morning. The winner was Israel with a quirky song called Toy by a large funny woman, "Netta" and her chicken dance.
Israel's "Netta" who won the ESC yesterday
But at least Israel was in the news for a peaceful and positive bit of news. I found her surreal but then the ESC is a bit surreal these days too. I much preferred it when I was young and there were fewer fireworks and acrobatics and amazing lighting and when the song and the singer meant more. 

Today is Sunday and I have come to the end of the tales of this week. It's cold today too but hopefully the rain or snow will hold off and we will be able to go for our walk. No doubt I shall be telling you all about today next week. Next week we shall be going to another birthday party, this time for a 50 year old, a "quinquagenarian" being the correct term hahah. You will be hearing about that too in my next post.

In the meantime my friends, I wish you all a great Sunday and week ahead,

Cheers from Montrondo.

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