Saturday, June 16, 2018

A 60th birthday in Lombardy, Nadal makes history in Paris, leaving Italy in style, Trump-Kim summit in Singapore, home again, the Aquarius refugee boat to come to Spain, the World Cup takes off and other stories.

Sunday 17th June 2018
My last moments in Italy had to be done in style
Good morning everyone.

How has your week been? This time last Sunday I was still in Italy having gone out to celebrate my soul sister Sandra's 60th birthday. It was a long weekend of celebrations with her family and closest friends who all came from afar. 10th June was her actual birthday and that day she invited us all out to lunch. We didn't have to be ready until 13h, so her brother, Paul, kindly took Adele, Olivier and me to the local market (mercato) in nearby Caseggio. They wanted to buy cheese and I wanted to buy parma ham which I never got as the electricity broke down and the stalls had difficulty weighing produce and charging for it. 
Olivier, Paul and Adele by the cheese stall
While they waited patiently at the cheese stall, I wandered around the market with its amazing colours and smells. I wished I could have bought some of the incredible tomatoes but no way could I put them in my suitcase. A fruit and vegetable market in a small town in Italy is a sight for sore eyes, as it is Spain but the atmosphere is different. I enjoyed every minute there.
The choice of tomatoes was overwhelming

I wish I could describe the atmosphere at the market 
Apart from parma ham which I didn't get, I wanted to buy rice to make real Italian risotto and so did my companions. Paul took us to a special shop and here we all bought a big bag each. I was to try it out when I got home as you will read later. 

Soon we had to head back to join everyone at Villa Arabella from where we would be driving up the mountains to a delightful place called Cella di Montalto for Sandra's special birthday lunch. Our hosts know the owners well. They are owners of a hotel and restaurant where they serve home grown produce. In fact I think their main business is selling salami, etc from their pigs and cows. We were to try it out for lunch.
The hotel and restaurant Cella di Montalto
Nestled in the mountains it commands beautiful views, like the ones we had seen the day before during our "sound of music" moment hahaha.
The view from Cella di Montalto
Apart from our crowd and we were quite a few, we were to be joined by Sandra's family friends from their Bombay days, "the Rossis": Esmeralda, Sandra's best friend in India, her amazing 90 plus mother Fiametta  who survived the 2nd World War and Esmeralda's husband Giulio who all live in Milan. Fiametta and Sandra's Mother, 92 year old Magda, are old friends and I was happy to have a picture taken with these two extraordinary women both of whom are absolutely "with it" despite their age. 
With Magda left and Fiametta right 
Nicky, by the way, was her other great childhood friend in Bombay. It was an amazing group of people and oh what wonderful food we were to eat. I love Italy but am glad I don't live there as if I did I would look like an elephant hahaha. Once again we were treated to a full 4 course meal, starting with the typical "antipasti" (cold cuts or "entremeses" in Spain) except that they were home made. They were very fattening too as you can see in the photo below.
The "antipasto" the first course
Accompanied by delicious focaccia bread, I was already full when the second course came. As it was cheese I skipped on this course which was actually two courses as they served both ravioli and risotto!  The main course came next which was delicious thinly sliced roast beef with sauteed potatoes. Here I had a field day as I love roast beef. 

My favourite course in a meal is always dessert so of course I was looking forward to the birthday cake. Paul asked me to be the "official photographer" bless him - not that I am particularly good and if I am it's because of a few tips and above all because of my super duper new phone. And here is a photo of the birthday girl with this amazing cake which had me bursting I can tell you haha. 
Sandra and her wonderful birthday cake. 
If I was to take photos of the group, I had to call everyone's attention, so up I got to announce it and somehow there I was suddenly making an impromptu speech about Sandra and how we all know and love her with a mention of everyone at the table. I think it was good and if it was it's because it came from the bottom of my heart.

It was quite a job moving everyone from the table to a spot which would be ideal for a photo, except that they all wanted to be in the shade. So I got my photo but not the ideal spot hahaha. And here we all are -  me included - as this photo was taken by a member of staff with strict instructions from me hahaha.
Group photo at Sandra's birthday lunch last Sunday
Later I did find the perfect spot and was able to take these lovely photos of my two best friends Adele, Sandra and Barney who is like an extension of her, a bit like Pippa with me hahaha.
Beautiful Adele

Sandra with Barney, sassy at 60!
We spent the afternoon at the best place possible after the copious lunch, by the swimming pool at Villa Arabella. People gradually left and my visit was coming to an end. It was my last night in Italy. When it started getting late and the sun was coming down and we were literally being eaten alive by mosquitoes, dear Paul and Arabella rustled up a light dinner for those of us who were left, Nicky, Sandra, her Mother, Adela and I. 

It was at dinner that I heard that Rafa Nadal had made tennis history once again. Last Sunday he won the French Open, Roland Garros, for the 11th time by beating the Austrian Dominic Thiem 6-4 6-3 6-2 in the final. No one has ever won it 11 times. There is the history in the making. What a guy, what a champion, what an ambassador for Spain. Rafa the king of Clay. 
Nadal with his 11 Coupes de Mousquetaires
I would love to see him do so well at Wimbledon which he was won twice, but he will be very tired after an intense season and also grass is not his favourite surface. 

Hopefully he went out to celebrate in Paris. We, on the other hand, for once during our time in Italy, went to bed early as we were all exhausted from so much partying and short nights. I loved sharing the "blue room" with Adele. It felt like being back at University except that our accommodation was on a much higher level. After chatting we both turned to our kindles until we fell asleep.

On Monday, still in Italy, but about to leave, "all good things came to an end". I woke up at 6.30 and first things first, I made a cup of coffee in our room with my new travel kettle. Later Paul made me a proper capuccino. We had a leisurely breakfast until we were joined by Sandra and Nicky who were staying at the hotel in Fumo with her Mother. She was looking beautiful, despite the ravages of her birthday celebrations and I took yet another photo of her which I love.  I do wish my friends didn't live in Brussels and Orleans but much nearer  as seeing them only once a year is just not enough. 
Sandra on Monday morning at Villa Arabella
When we were at Nottingham University, Sandra was the only person I knew who had a car and she was often our chauffeur. In Italy she was our chauffeur again and that morning she would take us to the station to catch the train to Milan. En route we stopped at the hotel to say goodbye to Magda. They remained in Italy after our stay and are driving back to Brussels with Barney this weekend. I must say Magda is extremely fit for her age despite having to use a zimmer frame which she calls her "car" hahaha.

Very soon we were at Voghera station, about 1h away from Milan. We were on plenty of time so decided to have a cup of coffee at a bar there. It was to be my first and last bought capuccino in Italy and was delicious. I couldn't believe it cost just 90 euro cents. 
My capuccino at Voghera train station.
Italy is cheap, at least is was cheap where we went. Maybe Milan and Rome are different. When our train was approaching, Sandra and Barney saw us off on the platform and it was  a sad moment. Here are my friends just before our "tren regionale" came. 
Sandra, Adele and Nicky on the platform at Voghera station
The "tren regionale" which felt like being on inter rail, got us to Milan on time thankfully as Nicky was in a bit of a rush as his plane was leaving earlier than ours. He had booked an earlier train, the "inter city express" which was very delayed so he had to take our train. I was very grateful to have him as a fellow passenger as he helped me with my huge suitcase carrying it up all the steps at the station. There was a shuttle bus just about to leave which we caught and which for just 5 euros would get us to Milan Linate airport in 25 minutes.

Adele and I sat next to a couple from Singapore. Coincidentally at that very moment Singapore was the centre of the world, as it was where the King Jong Un and Donald Trump Summit was taking place. News of the historic talks was the biggest news of the week. It has now been dubbed the Trump-Kim Summit. And below are the two men shaking hands would you believe? The pair shook hands at a luxury hotel on Singapore's Sentosa island before the talks. It's funny because I asked my fellow bus passenger from Singapore where he thought Trump would be staying - it had been a big secret - and he said he thought it would be the Sentosa Island. It seems he was right. 
The handshake at the Trump Kim summit in Singapore on Monday
These two leaders have become the first  sitting US president and North Korean leader to meet, something no one ever thought possible after a year of exchanging threats. My opinion is that Trump wants North Korea to denuclearise and Kim Jong Un wants his economy to grow by the lifting of sanctions although I think he may only pretend to "denuke". These are funny times. Disappointingly, human rights, the biggest issue, was not on the agenda. 
As I was travelling I couldn't follow the day's events but would  catch up later. We were well on time at Linate although Nicky was in a bit of a rush. Security was pretty fast and once through we said goodbye to dear Nicky. I do hope it won't be another 40 years until I see him again hahhaha. Adele and I were very hungry and had asked where the best place was to eat at the airport. We were told to head to the Michaelangelo restaurant and that's where we went. I had 30 minutes before I had to go to my departure lounge so lunch had to be fast. Fast, but in style I said to Adele. It's not often you see a luxury restaurant at airports these days but this is Italy so I guess it's normal. We loved the place but above all we loved the wine and the food. Here is Adele sitting at our table and choosing the wine.
Adele at the table for our delicious lunch at Linate airport
We chose the dish of the day, "risotto milaese". Before it came, the waiter brought a plate of the most enticing bread you can imagine. We couldn't eat it all so I put the rest in my handbag for dinner with Eladio that night haha.
The bread at the restaurant at Linate airport
If the bread was to die for, so was the risottto. I think it's the best one I have ever had. Needless to say we ate it all. Disappointingly there was no time for a dessert as I had to rush to my gate for departure.
The risotto at the Micaelangelo restaurant at Linate airport

We certainly ended our stay in Italy in style. My goodness what wonderful food they serve in Italy. 

Adele came with me to my gate as her plane to Paris was an hour later than mine. My plane which was pretty empty, left on time and even arrived early at Barajas Terminal 2. I was quickly out and a few moments later, Eladio arrived to pick me up. It was only 20c and raining, cooler than in Milan. What is happening to the weather? Thankfully as the week went by it has got a lot warmer. 

It was funny to be home after so much excitement in Italy; a bit on an anti climax and of course my house wife duties resumed and I had to make dinner that night although I wasn't at all hungry. When I don't know what to make for dinner I always prepare scrambled eggs on toast, it's so easy and quick to make. 

Before making dinner I met our Jewish guests. They would be leaving the next day. Amiram, a retired judge and his sister whose name I didn't catch, had loved our house and it seems they will be back in September. They must come often as their mother lives nearby. They explained that their father had been a viola player in the Reina Sofia orchestra, although he had passed away since. 

But back to dinner because something funny happend. I walked into the kitchen after unpacking and found Eladio had opened a big bag full of hams and cheeses and had even opened one of the packets of "lomo". He thought I had brought it back from Italy but I hadn't. It belonged to Amiram and his sister. Funny they eat ham or maybe it was for friends. Whatever, I panicked, was going to leave a note inside and in the end decided to swap the open packet of lomo for a packet of good "iberico" ham I had in the cupboard and just hoped they wouldn't notice. 

Over our scrambled eggs, we watched the news and apart from the US North Korean summit, the main news in Europe and in Spain was the future of a boat called Aquarius with 629 refugees on board, including 120 minors travelling alone. Unbelievably, the new far right government in Italy had refused to let it dock and so had Malta. The Spanish government, under the new socialist leader Pedro Sánchez, offered to let it dock in Spain and it will be arriving in Valencia today. The refugees from North Africa and Sub Sahara countries were in no state to continue on the Aquarius in the conditions it was in so they have been separated into 3 boats and from then on were looked after as well as possible. Let's see what their fate is after they arrive. The Spanish government said it was letting the Aquarius come to Spain to solve a humanitarian crisis but that it wanted the EU to try and solve together the problem of migration to Europe. I am happy with the Government's decision but not so sure there really is a solution to migration. It's a sad story but hopefully will end up well, at least for some of the migrants on board. 
The Aquarius is now on its way to Spain.
Just before retiring to bed, I had a quick phone call with Olivia. She has been preparing her next programme which will be about Tampa and the west coast of Florida. She flies out on Tuesday and it will be her first time in the US. 

The day ended watching a new series on Netflix, Line of Duty. We didn't really like it so have moved on to new films and series since then. 

I was exhausted when I hit the pillow and I must have slept quite well as I woke up at 7 on Tuesday morning. Suzy video called me from Bali but it was too early for me so I rang her back after breakfast. It was amazing to "see" her in her new environment, the Monkey Surf Club. She is loving Bali and the relaxed style of life which is what she was seeking. 

The news that morning was about the outcome of the Trump Kim summit in Singapore centred on nuclear disarmament and reducing tensions and I was eager to catch up on all that had happened. After the talks the two egocentric leaders signed an agreement. I wonder whether their signatures on the document mean that much.

Signing the agreement
From what I could understand, the agreement said the two countries would co-operate towards "new relations", while the US would provide "security guarantees" to North Korea. Now lets see how that pans out. 

Our cupboards were very bare as I had been away and we hadn't done the shopping last week, so that morning the most important item on the agenda was stocking up on food. I got loads of fruit and vegetables and it was fish and veg for lunch. I needed a food detox after so much heavy eating in Italy. I also needed to resume my walks as soon as possible. 

At 3.30 pm I had an important appointment, my annual "MOT" with the gynecologist. I left the house at 3 for the Quirón hospital in Pozuelo and believe it or not I was home by 4.30 with absolutely no waiting. I was received by a very young doctor; possibly in her 20's. She pronounced the results of the tests I had done and the one she performed on me that day as all good. I still have to have the results of another test but things are looking good. You see my Mother died of breast cancer and previously had bowel cancer so I have to be careful. I remarked to her when she gave me the all clear how nice it was to hear those words as no doubt she often had to give bad news. I was happy to be on the receiving end of good news and thanked my lucky stars. 

On the days following my return from Italy I was very tired and needed to catch up on lost sleep, so when I got home I went straight to bed for a late siesta and slept 2 whole hours. Afterwards we went on our walk, my first for a week. We were home by 8.15 and for dinner that night we had one of our favourite evening meals; tuna fish salad. 

Wednesday was a big day for news in Spain. The previous day, Julen Lopetegui, the Spanish football squad manager, had been announced as the new Real Madrid manager after Zidane left. The announcement took place in Russia where the team were preparing for the World Cup. The new head of the Spanish Football Federation, "Rubiales" was so furious at the appointment, saying he only heard about it an hour before it went live, that he sacked the Spain manager. Yes, he sacked him just 2 days before Spain's first match against Portugal. He must have been mad. I do not see the reason for this. The best thing would have been for him to continue managing the team during the World Cup and then start his Real Madrid job. The whole affair  will have put the team into turmoil and spoil their concentration on the sport. The news rocketed the football world.

Rubiales, right, sacked the Spain manager Julen Lopetegui
A short while later he appointed the team's Sporting Director, Fernando Hierro as Club Manager. I felt really sorry for Hierro who had to step into Lopetegui's shoes at the last minute when he has little managerial experience. On the other hand he played football for 30 years and was one of Real Madrid's star players. I remember meeting him once and found him to be a real gentleman. Thankfully he will have the team behind him as he was a very respected football player. He is 50 years old and hails from Malaga. 
Fernando Hierro the new Spain manager
So we had a big sport scandal in Spain that day and during the week. But we also had a big scandal around the new Minister for Culture and Sport. Maxim Huerta a former TV presenter who had been minister for 7 days and who professed hating sport some time back on twitter, was found by an online newspaper, El Confidencial, to have evaded taxes in the past. His resignation was called for and by the end of the day he had no option but to resign. 
Maxim Huerta probably Spain's shortest lived Minister ever
It is not a good start for Sanchez’ government which overthrew Mariano Rajoy precisely for these kind of practices. Sánchez had only a few days to form his government but I wonder why he and his aides did not look into each and everyone of his new cabinet member's past. The press stirred up this story and they are now accusing the new Agriculture Minister for another scandal and they will hound the government at each step. It's funny how powerful the press are becoming in Spain. This never used to happen before; maybe because the sitting government then controlled the media, something I hope Sánchez never does. 

That wasn't the only scandal that day. Iñaki Urdangarin, the King's brother in law, who had been sentenced at the beginning of the week to 5 years and 10 months in jail after a long drawn out court case for fraud, money laundering and influence peddling, went to the court in Palma (Mallorca) to  receive his jail order. He has to report to jail by tomorrow although he can still appeal to the constitutional court. In a corruption case that has shaken Spain's royal family, Urdangarin will become the first member of a Spanish monarch's family to go to jailIt's good to see justice done and that a member of the royal family is equal, or nearly equal, before the law. It will be a historic moment when and if we see him entering jail. 

Iñaki Urdangarin
His wife, Cristina, the King's sister, who has supported her husband throughout and who has been shunned by her brother and sister in law is a "broken woman" according to El País. No wonder!  Discussing the case with Eladio that day, I pointed out that he must have been very greedy as he had absolutely no need for more money and that he could have lived the Royal life without his shenanigans. I'm sure he thinks the same now and regrets every moment of his corrupt dealings. 

Wednesday was a beautifully warm day. After working hard in the morning I rewarded myself with a few hours by the pool reading my new book, The President is Missing by Bill Clinton. The day ended with a lovely walk in the evening sun followed by dinner on the terrace and a film we fell asleep over on Netflix that night in bed. 

Thursday was a quiet day for us. Finally the good weather was here to stay and temperatures rose to 26c. Pablo, our sweet guest from Airbnb who had come for the night left us that morning. He is from Seville and had a very heavy accent which I actually found charming. He wrote me a lovely review bless him. 

It was on Thursday that I tried out the risotto rice I had brought back from Italy. I semi followed a recipe for Risotto Milanese I found on internet but chose different ingredients to put in it; mushrooms and ham. I was very pleased with how it turned out, delicious and creamy as you can see in the photo below.

My attempt at Italian risotto turned out well
The trick it seems is to pour  lashings of vegetable stock. I now wish I had bought more "riso" in Italy but will have to make do with what I can find in the supermarkets here. No doubt I will be making it again and it will join our repertoire of family meals. 

If it was a quiet day for us, it was a huge day for international football as on Thursday the World Cup being played in Russia, kicked off. That day the hosts, Russia beat Saudi Arabia 5-0 which probably wasn't difficult for them. If you are interested in the group formations, these are them.

The World Cup groups
Some countries have it easier than others. Spain is in a group with Ronaldo's Portugal team who are the reigning European Champions. That was to be the biggest match of the first part of the World Cup. England plays against Tunisia, Panama and Belgium so let's see how they all get on. 

On Friday after breakfast I had another video call with Suzy. It's amazing to see her there in her new chilled out surroundings. She showed me them including the room she shares with 4 Indonesians where they all sleep on bunk beds! She has hired a scooter to get around the island which she told me costs her just 50 euros a month to hire!  She seems so happy and is learning Bahasa the official language of Indonesia which derives from Malay or so I read. Good for her.

That morning I went out shopping again as last night we were having friends for dinner. Benito and Loli who we met when we first lived in Madrid in the working class area of "Saconia", were our guests. I had decided on a menu of: home made gazpacho, potato salad with king prawns and cherry syllabub for dessert. I cooked all day and had everything ready so as not to have lots of preparatory work on Saturday so  thatI could be free to be with Oli who came on Friday to spend the weekend with us. I hadn't seen her since the night before Suzy left for Bali on 6th June. 

That night I prepared dinner to have in the TV lounge from where we would watch Spain's inaugural match against Portugal. It was the most nerve biting match I had seen for a while and I couldn't watch it, I kept having to go out and each time I came back there was a different score. Cristiano Ronaldo was the man of the game scoring a hat trick. It felt like Ronaldo against Spain as the rest of his team would be nothing without him. Spain played well and scored 3 goals so it was a draw at the end 3-3. At least Spain was not completely knocked out. Both Portugal and Spain will probably beat the other teams in their group; iran and Morocco, but it remains to be seen who will go through as the leader of the groupo. 

Thus we went to bed late that night. We started watching a new series on Amazon Prime, the Spanish production called "La Verdad" (The truth). It was so good we watched 2 whole episodes and didn't switch the light off until past 1 in the morning.

Saturday dawned and I was up at 6.30. We were expecting new Airbnb guests, 5 Spanish girls who were arriving early. I put flowers and fruit in their rooms. However, 8 came, not 5 and they had obviously thought they would have the house to themselves and that we didn't live here. They hadn't told me they would be celebrating a hen party when our listing says strictly no parties and no extra guests who haven't booked.  They were nice girls but had come armed with balloons and huge lilos for the pool and God knows what other paraphernalia but at least they behaved reasonably. 

With lunch and dinner organised, Oli and I went off shopping after they arrived. She was wearing a beautiful jump suit she had bought when we last went shopping. Isn't she gorgeous?
Oli looking glamorous when we went shopping yesterday

My youngest daughter wanted to change some trousers at Stradivarius and of course we looked at everything in the shop. Oli bought more clothes, I had no need for any but my dear sweet daughter bought me  a lovely white summer top. I then treated her to coffee with a pastry of some sort at Rodilla. And here is a selfie of the two of us enjoying the treat. 
Coffee with Oli yesterday when we went shopping together
It was great mother and daughter time. There is nothing I like better than going shopping with my girls.  We stopped off at Lidl on our way home to get some of their delicious bread as well as some of their BIO products which are so popular these days. 

Lunch was another healthy option; gazpacho followed by grilled cod garnished with parsley from the garden and chopped garlic which we had with vegetables. 

As the hen party girls had taken over the swimming pool completely, I decided to sit in the shade under a tree in the garden to read my book after lunch. I also read the news now and again on my phone and was following the results of some of the early stage matches of the World Cup. I was surprised to see that Iceland drew with Argentina 1-1 and that Messi, yes almighty Messi, failed a penalty. It was Iceland's debut in the World Cup and that was a good start. 

Eladio would join me later  until it was time to lay the table for our dinner guests. Thankfully by about 8, the girls had left the pool and were getting ready to go out on the town to party. That was a relief. It also meant we could have drinks with our friends by the pool when they arrived. 

Earlier on in this post I told you what dinner would consist of. Now I can show you the end results which I am quite proud of. I love cooking although I'm not very good at sophisticated cuisine. Below are my gazpacho, served in individual bottles and the garnish, my king prawn potato salad and the dessert, cherry syllabub. No one around the table knew what syllabub was but now they do hahaha.
Home made gazpacho

Potato salad with king prawns

Cherry sylabub
If you are interested, here is the recipe for the syllabub which of course can be made with nearly any fruit. I just chose cherries because they are in season and I love them. 

Our guests who we have known since I first came to live in Spain and who were our neighbours when we lived in Saconia, arrived early and came armed with 2 bottles of delicious Ribera wine as well as some lovely biscuits from my favourite cake shop, Mallorca.  We had such a good time that I totally forgot to take a photo of them - unusual for me hahaha - or maybe it was because I drank too much of the lovely wine. 

Thankfully this morning I only had a small headache which quickly went away after I had my coffee. 

Today it will be another hot day. Today also is when the Aquarius boat refugees will be arriving at the port of Valencia. France has offered to take those who are entitled to asylum and want to go to France. More than 1000 Red Cross officials, police and authorities will be there to welcome them. This is in sharp contrast, at least in my mind, to the other 933 migrants who have arrived this weekend on the shores of beaches in the south of Spain in Andalucia and there has been no hooha about them. It seems everyone wants to get medals for helping the migrants on the Aquarius but there is no talk about the other migrants arriving. What the fate of the migrants on the now famous boat will be, we won't know until each and every one of them has been interviewed. From what I have understood only those with asylum rights will be allowed residency papers. Does that mean that the rest will be shipped back to their countries? I would not like to be in their shoes today or any day.

So now my friends, I have reached the end of the tales of this week. It's early, nearly everyone is asleep except for my Father. He will want a printed copy of this week's post so I shall make haste to publish it for him and then I shall get on with the day.

I wish you all the best. Have a good Sunday,

Cheers till next time,

Y cuenta gente les espera. Tantos como el Aquaruis? Andalucía recibe 933 inmigrantes llegados en patera en menos de 48 horas

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