Saturday, June 09, 2018

Women outnumber men in Spain’s new government, a farewell dinner, Suzy left for Bali, off to Italy and other stories.

Italy, Sunday 10th June  2018
Farewell dinner for Suzy on Wednesday night at Oli and Miguel's flat
Good morning all. 

Well how lovely to be writing and publishing this week's post from Italy. It's a country I have been to many times over the years and one I feel totally at home in. But it's a long time since I visited. If I remember rightly, my last trip here was to Rome in 2005. Spain and Italy have very similar cultures and Italian is not too difficult to understand if you know Spanish. I once did a short course in Italian many years ago so know some basic words and have enjoyed trying to speak it while I am here.

But let me rewind and return to where I left off last Sunday when Suzy was still with us. After finishing my blog, I had coffee with my Airbnb guests from Switzerland who you will remember were British and Spanish - delightful people. That morning Zena cooked and made her standard Russian/IUkranian dish - gloubsy - (stuffed cabbage rolls). The girls had been out on the tiles or rather Suzy had (until 7 in the morning) and we all had lunch together. We spent the afternoon together and I was very conscious that time was running out with Suzy and that soon she would be leaving.

Monday dawned and there was terrible news from the small central American country of Guatemala. The "Fuego" volcano erupted. Dantesque scenes of towns completely destroyed by boiling hot lava and people covered in ash after the horrific eruption when "torrents of super heated rock, ash and mud destroyed villages". The death toll is over 200 with many people missing. The picture of this poor man completely covered in ash seems to sum up the total disaster the volcano caused and is still causing.
Guatemala volcano
We are so lucky in Spain that we have no volcanoes, no tsunamis, or hurricanes or other natural disasters. Well, we have had the odd earthquake but nothing on the scale of the disastrous ones that happen in other countries. 

It was another cool day in Madrid. I saw my Airbnb guests off. Actually we sat at the table on the kitchen patio over a cup of coffee together. Magda and her partner Santiago and their boss Roger live in Neufchatel and are in the loudspeaker business big time. I think I told you last week that their equipment is used by the Bolshoi ballet! After signing my all important visitor book they left but I know they will be back in September. I love having repeat guests. Then I had to get down to work. I also had to cook and that day made vegetable soup and meat loaf. As I got the meat loaf out of the oven, it slipped out of my hands and on to the floor. Panic stations. I shooed the dogs out and got down on my hands and knees and scooped it all up and put it back in the baking tray and then into the oven. It didn't look great but tasted very good. Thankfully it had fallen on a clean floor haha. 

Monday was generally a very quiet day. I didn't see much of Suzy who was seeing countless friends that day. We are always on the bottom of her bucket list hahaha.  After an aborted walk in strong winds and rain, we came home to have  a frugal dinner and our day ended like it usually does, watching the TV from our bed; first the news and then our latest series. We were completely hooked to the Spanish series "Tiempos de Guerra" (War times) and binge watched it that night till nearly 1 in the morning. 

The next morning I was up as usual at 6 having only slept 5 hours. I think it's perfectly understandable then that I do need my daily nap after lunch, the wonderful Spanish siesta. 

As usual I read the news over my early morning breakfast on Tuesday as I do every day. This week in Spain has been all about the formation of the new Socialist government headed up by our new Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez (the handsome haha). I was no great fan of his but he has won me over this week after appointing so many women in his cabinet. The names were leaked gradually and very soon it was not only parity in the cabinet between men and women that we were to see but an actual majority of women. So hooray from me and from most women in Spain I imagine. 

Tuesday was not a good day for me. I spent the morning with Suzy doing errands but could feel what I thought might be cystitis coming on. For the record I've never had it before but I know how awful it is because my daughters suffered from it a lot in their teens. Then the second blow came via an email from Alitalia to inform me that my flight on Friday to Milan was cancelled. I immediately rang Edreams where I bought my ticket and they told me it wasn't cancelled. Who was I to believe? A few hours later while I was doubling over the loo in agony with full blown cystitis, I managed to take a quick look at Alitalia's Twitter and saw that my flight had been cancelled due to a strike on Friday. OMG what was I to do? It was already late by then and impossible to get through to Alitalia. Thankfully the next morning we sorted it out and I was able to get on another flight but one day earlier, on Thursday. As to the cystitis, Eladio, God bless him, went to the chemist to get me some Monurol (antibiotic) which soon took effect and I was better by the morning. For the record I wouldn't wish cystitis on my worst enemy hahaha. 

So, yes, I woke up on Wednesday feeling better. I spent a good part of the morning sorting out my flight situation, buying new train tickets from Milan to Voghera (near Pavia), packing and trying to leave everything in order before going off. Thus I found myself packing while Suzy was doing hers for Bali. In between we sorted out her CV getting it up to date, checking her flights too. I had lots of work calls too so all in all the morning was rather stressful. Lunch would just have to be leftovers again. Thankfully there were plenty of them after all my cooking at the weekend. 

The sun came out in the afternoon and Eladio and I were able to take the dogs for their walk. We came home to quickly get dressed to go out as we were going to Oli's house for dinner. Suzy was to sleep there on her last night in Spain as it's much nearer the airport and she had an early morning flight. 

This was Suzy getting out of the car with her huge rucksack and Eladio helping. I think it was then that I began to realise just how imminent my darling daughter's departure was. Up till then I hadn't really taken in that she has gone with a one way ticket and who knows when she will be back. Of course she will be back for Christmas as we cannot envisage it without her. Even so it's a long time. Then there's the worry of how she's going to make a life out there starting from scratch in a very different country and culture. She told me she was going out there because she wants to live a simpler life. I can understand that after 5 years in stressful London. Good luck darling. We are always here for you. 
Suzy and her father with her great big rucksack the night before she left for Bali
But we still had a few hours to be with her before we had to say goodbye. Oli and Miguel had invited us all for a farewell dinner. We got there early so as to spend as much time together as possible and also to help Oli and Miguel make dinner which was great fun. And here we are around the table on Suzy's last night, a bitter sweet end to her stay in Spain after leaving London.
A selfie at the farewell dinner
We had a lot to talk about at dinner, including the news of the formation of Spain's new socialist government. On Friday Pedro Sánchez formally announced all the names of his new cabinet members. There are to be 11 women out of the 17 members with women totally outnumbering the men. I read later that the Spanish government now has the highest percentage of women in the world. That's such great news. He's also some appointed some brilliant people such as Pedro Duque, Spain's famous and much loved astronaut, as the Minister of Science. Wow that was a stroke of PR mastery as was the number of women in his government.  During his press conference and audience with the King of Spain, he said his government was committed to equality and to Europe and to keep the economy going. I, for now, give him a  huge round of applause. In the formation of his government he has taken a giant step towards gender equality, something much needed in male dominated Spain.
Pedro Sanchez' new female dominated cabinet.

We also talked about Suzy's big adventure and ate delicious food too. All too soon the evening came to an end and it was time to say goodbye. I'm not a mother hen and love my girls to have freedom and come and go as they please but on Friday I felt very emotional hugging Suzy to say goodbye. I couldn't let go of her and, yes, I cried. She did too. We left feeling a little sad but also happy for her. I'm happy for her to "do her thing" and enjoy life. She's young, she's single and the world is her oyster. Her start in Bali would be at the Monkey House Surf Camp where in exchange for free accommodation (sharing with 5 on bunk beds!) she would be working 4 hours a day. The camp is run by a Spanish girl who is  a friend of a friend and they would be picking her up at the airport. I was pleased about that. 

Thursday was 7th June. Suzy would be leaving early that morning travelling through Munich and Singapore until she would land in Bali the next day. 7th June happened to be my Mother's birthday and I felt it was maybe a positive coincidence; as if she would be looking out for her darling grand daughter. I still miss my amazing Mother and think of her often, especially on her birthday.

However, I didn't have much time to think that morning as I was travelling too. I was to leave at 9.45 but before had to receive a team from a production company coming to do a photo shoot by our pool for a catalogue. The photo shoot was for VIPs, a famous fast food restaurant chain in Spain and had come through Airbnb.  I was a bit disappointed with the guy, Daniel, who made the booking as he didn't keep to his word and brought a team of about 13 people who totally invaded our place. He original agreement was for 5 people and just one morning. They broke one of our garden chairs and did not respect the agreement. So, no, the experience was not good. There was not much I could do about it as I was travelling so Eladio was left with dealing with them. 

I had a good journey to Milan, no issues thank goodness. I enjoyed the short flight and very naughtily drank a small bottle of Cune red wine with a packet of crisps followed by a kitkat. I would not be hungry until the evening. We landed in Milan to 27c which was very hot compared to Madrid. I was gong to take the taxi to the Stazione Centrale but spied a bus that only cost 5 euros to get there. 25 minutes later I was outside the station and wondering how I was going to lug my 18.5 kg suitcase up the steps at the entrance and everywhere else too. Well, Italian men are real gentlemen and I was helped at every stage without having to ask them. I am very grateful. In general the Italians are very friendly and I feel at home here. I can even get buy using Spanish of course, peppered with some Italian words I once learned on a short course many years ago. I'm sure if I came to live here I would learn the "lingo" fast. I soon found platform 22 where I was to catch the Genova train and get off a Voghera near Pavia. For the record the ticket only cost 6 euros which is pretty cheap too.
At Milan Stazione Centrale just as I got off the airport bus
Me being me, I talk to everyone I meet and on platform 22 I had an interesting conversation with 2 young Albanians. I know nothing about their country except that it was the last communist bastion in Europe. The young boy told me they have a population of 3 million but that half of it lives in Germany or Italy; sad. He also told me I must visit Albania as it is a beautiful country. Maybe I should put it on my bucket list. 

Soon the train came and I was helped with my luggage getting on. Interestingly, I sat next to a young Canadian girl doing Inter Rail. I told her I did it the second year it came into existence in the early 70's when it only cost me 33 pounds for a month's travel. She told me her ticket cost 400 dollars for just 6 days! That has changed. Christine is  nurse who has just graduated and is travelling solo. I asked where she was sleeping - we used to sleep on the trains and often on the floor hahaha - and she replied on "couch surfing". I know about it of course but did not know it was free. How things have changed since I did inter rail. We had no mobile phones, no whatsapp, no instagram and none of that. 

An hour or so later, I said goodbye to my fellow traveller as we were approaching my destination, Voghera. I couldn't believe it but when we arrived it was raining. Later I saw on the BBC weather forecast that the rain had come from Spain. Thankfully it would come and go during our trip and we were also to enjoy sunshine. But first I was to enjoy being met off the train by my darling friend and soulmate Sandra who was my great friend at Nottingham University as well as Adele who would be arriving on Friday. It had been a year since we saw each other, at my 60th bash at home last June. Sandra had come with her 92 year old Mother and Barney their dog all the way from Brussels by car!

After lots of hugs we drove off to the hotel or so I thought. But no, we had to stop off at a low cost off license to buy lots of wine for our stay. And here is Sandra holding up one of the bottles we bought. I wanted to try prosecco but later, her brother, Paul, who is a local told us we had chosen the worst quality hahaha. 
Sandra buying wine just after we had arrived.

I have to tell you that it's quite an experience being here with Sandra in Italy as she is half Italian. What I can't wait for is to experience being with her in India where she was born (Bombay) one day. 

Soon we were at our hotel Le Vigne di Cornino in a small village called Fumo (means I smoke in Spanish hahaha) which is near Caseggio and a ten minute drive from her brother Paul's place Villa Arabella. We were to stay 2 nights in Fumo and 2 nights at Villa Arabella.
Our hotel for the first two nights
First things first and we went to greet Sandra's mother. Magda is amazing. She is 92, was born in Hungary and as a Jew was hidden by a gentile family during the 2nd world war and survived. She is the only holocaust survivor I know and I deeply respect her and love her. 

I settled into my lovely room which I would share with Adele when she came the next day and feeling very hungry was soon downstairs on the outside terrace of the hotel having a picnic with Magda and Sandra and Barney of course. 

Sandra and Barney
Barney is their doted upon dog who is very sweet and very spoiled. Paul, Sandra's brother who is the owner of Villa Arabella, had sent us hams of all sorts, delicious mini tomatoes, focaccia, bread and butter, hand picked black cherries and even some pastries. Off course we had this with superb local wine. The hotel doesn't have a restaurant and it was much nicer than going out. At around 9 pm, Nicky arrived by taxi. No bussing it for Nicky haha.  He spent more on the taxi from Milan airport than he did on the flight from London hahaha but then Nicky always does everything in style. Nicky is a childhood friend of Sandra's who was also born in Bombay and they lived in the same  block of flats in India. I knew Nicky from when I was at Nottingham University but hadn't seen him since so it was great to meet him again. There was a lot to catch up on as you can imagine.
Nicky relaxing with a drink after our impromptu dinner on the hotel terrace on our first night in Italy
We spent a lovely evening, eating, drinking and chatting until way past midnight. We also touched on the Brexit issue as we all have strong feelings about it as staunch remainers. We were all tired after travelling and were dying for bed. Before going to sleep I was glad to see a photo of Suzy she posted from Bali the day she arrived looking very happy.
Suzy in Bali on the day of her arrival.
My bed was very comfortable and soon I was fast asleep. 

Back home, my Jewish guests, the retired Judge and his sister had arrived. Later Eladio told me they were lovely guests. I am much looking forward to meeting them when I go back to Madrid tomorrow. It's funny but in our crowd here this weekend in Italian there are quite a few Jews among us and so of course the Palestine Israel issue came up as frequently as Brexit. 

I should mention that on Friday, Rafa Nadal, the King of Clay won his semi final match at Roland Garros and is now through to the final today where he will play Dominic Thiems, a young Austrian player who beat Rafa in the Madrid Masters, one of few players to beat him on clay recently. If Rafa wins today he will earn his 11th French Open. What a man! He is Spain's best ambassador. 

I must have slept very well on that night as I woke up at 7 the next morning. I had taken with me my new travel kettle, some instant coffee and even a packet of milk so I was able to enjoy a cup of coffee before I faced the world on Friday. After writing a bit of this blog, I showered, got dressed and went down to have breakfast with Sandra, her mother and Nicky. 

Sandra, Nicky and Magda at breakfast on our first morning
Barney was with us too. I love the fact that Italy is so hotel friendly, thus Barney was able to go with us everywhere and was even allowed to share a room with Sandra .If I had known that maybe I would have brought Pippa hahaha. I am really missing her. When I left, Eladio went to Montrondo for the weekend and I was later sad to hear he hadn't taken her with him. I do hope she behaved well with our Jewish guests as she does to tend to bark at new  people. 

As we were having breakfast, our common friend from Nottingham University, Adele and Sandra's friend Olivier from Paris were travelling to Italy. We would meet up with them for lunch in Pavia, a beautiful University town which we visited that morning.

We left for Pavia, famous for its University and its medieval covered bridge at about 10.30 and were soon there and walking the old streets. It was market day and the only thing I bought that day was an umbrella as the rain was still with us. It felt like I had brought the rain with me from Madrid. Thankfully it cleared up at about 2 pm and from then on we have had sunshine and warm weather hurray.

We visited many of the shops in Pavia. Sandra bought shoes, some brand she loves. I am not a brand person when it comes to clothes but she is. Here she is with her new shoes which look to me like sophisticated flip flops.

Sandra buying shoes.
We strolled the lovely old streets of Pavia in the rain and finally reached the "Ponte Coperto" (covered bridge). The bridge is perhaps the main symbol of the town and is a stone arch bridge over the Ticino river. 
The covered bridge in Pavia

Built in 1354, it was bombed by the allies in the war but was restored in 1945. It is actually also a replacement of a previous Roman bridge. For sure it is the main attraction of the town. I loved it. That morning we saw it in the rain but we would see it again in the afternoon in the sun when it looked so much nicer. I got some young Italian girls to take a picture of us and here we are. 

On the covered bridge in Pavia
From the bridge we tried to make our way on foot to a restaurant Paul had recommended, La Korte dei sapori persi but got totally lost and just couldn't find it, despite google maps hahaha. Here is Sandra asking some carabineiri the way but funnily enough for Italians they were not particularly helpful.
Lost in Pavia
So we did the most practical thing and took a taxi to the restaurant. Soon Olivier and Adele were with us and our group was complete. I have to say there was something very special about the restaurant. We noticed a picture on the bottle of olive oil of Pope Bergoglio with the owner and thought it was a trick. When we asked  him, out he came with a full blown photo of him with the Pope in Rome with this oil. He told us he was the official supplier of the oil to the Pope. I was quite impressed and had to take a picture of him with the photo.
The owner of the restaurant in Pavia who is the official supplier of olive oil to the Pope
We also had to have a photo of him with us around the table as we were about to start our delicious meal.
Lunch in Pavia on Friday
It was here I had my first plate of pasta during this trip to Italy and it was divine. The restaurant's ravioli were the best I have ever eaten.
Pasta, delicious pasta
We had walked quite a lot in Pavia that morning but of course Adele and Olivier hadn't seen anything so we walked the streets again, the main aim being to see the old university founded in 1361. It may be old and prestigious but it was rather run down. And here are my friends during the visit.
Visiting the University in Pavia
From the University we walked towards the covered bridge to show it to Adele and Olivier and came across another gem of the city, the 11th century San Michele Maggiore church. According to Wikipedia it is "one of the most striking examples of Lombard Romanesque style churches.
San Michele Maggiore church in Pavia
From there we walked to the covered bridge and this time we didn't get lost. As I said before it looked far lovelier in the sun than in the rain and we took lots of pictures including the one below of me enjoying the moment.
By the covered bridge in Pavia
Soon it was time to go home. Being a Friday afternoon there was lots of traffic and it took a while. Once in our room Adele and I relaxed and wound down after a long day. I spoke to Suzy who had arrived that morning in Bali except that when we spoke it was 6 hours later for her and she was about to go to bed.  She is happy at the Bali Monkey House Surf camp and sharing a room with 5 Indonesian workers and they all sleep on bunk beds. She sounded in great spirits  but was very  tired because of the jet lag. She will be working there 4 hours a day in exchange for free accommodation. Her work is to make breakfast in the morning from 7 to 11. The next day she told me she made omelets for guests from Spain and from Australia. 

For us, it was time for dinner and from Fumo we drove to nearby Caseggio to another restaurant recommended by Paul, the Azetium where they serve the most amazing pizza. Well just look at how it is made.

Pizza in Caseggio on Friday night
It was a happy group that sat around the table at Azetium about to eat one of these amazing pizzas.

Dinner at Azetium in Caseggio. I love this photo of the 3  of us
We also had  photo taken of the 3 of us, above, the "class of 76" from Nottingham University. Isn't it lovely that we are still friends?

You may be wondering what we had for dessert after the pizza. Well being in Italy, the obvious choice for me at least, is ice cream (gelato). Sandra had to take her mother home so Adele, Olivier and I who had come in a different car, walked from the restaurant to the the Gelateria Vitoria our friends recommended. I was happy to see they had my favourite flavours, pistachio and coconut. There was some sort of fair going on with a man singing and a market but when we walked around the stalls we couldn't believe the tacky junk that was being sold. I was a bit surprised as I thought Italians had a lot of style. 

We were soon back at our hotel and once again sat outside on the terrace drinking wine. We talked more about Brexit and then the Israel Palestine issue as well as many of the world's problems including jihadism. As my friends live in France and Brussels it affects them quite a lot as you may imagine. But as we couldn't solve the world's problems, were tired, had drunk too much wine and needed our shut eye.

On Saturday we woke up to glorious weather and the temperature reached 30c yesterday. Adele and I had to pack as we would be moving to Vila Arabella (Paul's place). We would split up in the morning as the "boys" wanted to visit another nearby town but we girls wanted to go walking in the hills near Villa Arabella. We would meet again in the afternoon.

So by about 11.30 or so we reached Paul's amazing villa in the local vineyards with superb views. His place which is also a bed and breakfast is just out of this world. 

Villa Arabella

The pool at Villa Arabella

Here we were greeted by Paul who I also had not seen for 40 years, his wife Arabella who is half Italian and half English. Also there were their delightful daughter, Ambra, her husband Tomaso and 4 year old little boy, Pietro. Sandra, Adele and I did not want to disturb them so off we went up into the mountains to go for a walk and enjoy the views which were and are amazing. We left the car on the road and climbed up into beautiful scenery which reminded me of The Sound of Music. There we sat in the grass to enjoy the views and took lots of pics as I always do. And here I am having my very own "Maria" and "the hills are alive with the sound of music" moment hahaha.

My Sound of Music moment yesterday
It was hot but also very humid so we didn't walk far. Instead we decided to go down the road to the village of Montalto to have lunch at the Ristoriante Italia. It would also be where we went for dinner last night with everyone. On our way down we spied a cinquecento car which looked pretty old but in a great state. It was yellow and  very symbolically Italian and I had to have a photo of it. 
The yellow cinquecento I spied in Montalto
I just loved the simple restaurant with its amazing views. We were served by a beautiful young woman from the Dominican Republic, Ana, who had married the owner of the restaurant and it was great to speak Spanish to her. We had a simple meal but above all we had quality time together. Here are Sandra and Adele yesterday at our lunch table in Montalto.
Lunch yesterday in Montalto
We took loads and loads of photos and my favourite is this one of Adele and I which I shall treasure for a long time. How can we be 60? I don't feel it and can't really take it in.
With Adele yesterday at lunch
After our lovely lunch,  it was time to head back to Vila Arabella and join Sandra's family around the pool. Soon we were joined by Nicky and Olivier. It was warm enough to bathe and would be my first dip into a swimming pool this year.
With Adele by the pool yesterday
It was a great lazy afternoon in the sun by the pool. 

The next item on the agenda was pre dinner drinks so at about 6.30 Adele and I went up to our room - the blue room - to get ready. For the occasion I wore my lovely embroidered black transparent long jacket which Suzy wore recently. Here I am with my dearest girl friends ready to go out last night.
Ready to go out last night. 
Well what a blast it was last night. I have not been drunk for many years but last night I got quite tipsy, or rather "pissed" to quote Adele hahaha. We were at a big table at the restaurant with 4 generations from Magda down to her great grandchild Pietro. I took this lovely photo of her with her son Paul, his daughter Ambra and her son Pietro.
The 4 generations at the table last night. 
God how the Italians eat. Last night we had 4 courses, anti pasti, pasta, meat and then dessert all washed down by bottles and bottles of wine. It was such a fun evening which no one wanted to end. But end it did and at about 11 we left. That meant I was in bed quite early and this morning I woke up at 5.15. 

It was amazing to wake up at Villa Arabella and have it to myself. And now I am writing this post from the kitchen patio which you can see in the photo below.

This is where I am writing from this morning
People are coming down to the kitchen now and soon it will be breakfast so I must finish and sign off. Today is Sandra's 60th birthday and it will be a day of celebrations. Of course you will hear all about it in next week's post. Wishing my dearest friend and soul mate Sandy a wonderful day, I shall leave you now to join everyone for breakfast made by Paul.

Cheers then everyone until next Sunday.


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