Tuesday, December 11, 2007

between shifts....

365DAYS_6DEC_Day38, originally uploaded by Sabihabeautiful.

after the work do last week, i walked the streets home - the are quiet and peaceful, but still populated with the night workers, the silent army who clean and sweep and wash away the grim of the day before. These bins will soon be emptied and the city will be ready for another day. I too, need some sleep for the new day......because they pour fiercely strong drinks around ére!!

hike in Patones, North of Madrid

365DAYS_24Nov_Day27, originally uploaded by Sabihabeautiful.

a fabulous day in the mountains north of madrid. finally, we had time and a car and a sunny cold autumn day to walk, talk and think.

a quick catchup

Ive had trouble logging on lately, so very behind here......

As a very brief update, we went to Toledo last weekend as we had a 4 day holiday......ooooo the Spanish are crafty with their elongated weekends. ITs a lovely town with lots of sweets and swords and twisty windy cobbled streets. We didnt have enough time to see everything so we will try to go back another time - perhaps when there is snow as its supposed to be beautiful.

WE experienced a rocky start to the day when are little beast got caught on this wee hill. Poor pet had no guts to go up the hill without momentum and a standing start so after much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth, we got a tow truck to drag us to flat land where we were safe...... a little embarrassing and stressful but after a 3 hour delay we could start our exploration of Toledo. As a city that was occupied by the Moors, Christians an Jews AT THE SAME TIME, its got an amazing place in the history of spain and really, in the history of the world, in terms of shared learnings, cooperative translations of texts and religious acceptance.

With Ruben working and studying hard, Ive spent most weekends in his village while he recovers. its getting colder and we love walking the dog through the huge piles of Autumn leaves and rugging up in our hats and scarves.

His mum has been giving me cooking lessons and this week we cleaned and gutted boquerones (like fresh anchovies) and marinated them in vinegar - delicious! BUt really a gross process that was hard to enjoy. Eyes and brains and guts have never been a favourite of mine.

Only two weeks to Morocco and we have a place to stay for the first three nights, for Christmas itself, then we are free to get lost in the southern areas that we want to explore. Probably will hire a car and we will be taking the tent, so a few nights of relative luxury will be heaven!!

Its 2am and i must get to sleep, but will try to update more soon........zzzzzz

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Our night in the mountains of La Pedriza

La Pedriza, originally uploaded by Sabihabeautiful.

A few weeks ago, Gunther, Ruben and I hired a car and went exploring in La Pedriza, a natural park in the north of Madrid. We arrived late, but had enough time to walk the short 1 1/2 hours up the valley to a good camping spot. Camping is technically illegal, in that you can't put up a tent, but there are alot of people who start waking at the end of the day or in the middle of the night to reach the good rock climbing spots near the top. They stay the night so they can start climbing first thing.

We found a great cave that was filled with candles and a straw covered floor. We had a picnic lunch and spent the afternoon exploring the hills and getting attacked by the bushes and rocks (Ruben and I) or reading quietly on the "throne" rock, enjoying the view (Gunther). We enjoyed the sunset, chatting and joking until Ruben reported that our snug little cave was teaming with spiders after dark.....

Last minute change of plans.... and now its dark, so we scraped together our things, crossed a little river and went back to the spot we saw in the afternoon - a giant rock with an overhang perfect for protecting you against dew. We cut our own straw, laid out our mats and settled in with our head torches for dinner.

So peaceful and mild - what a great night. The stars were amazing with almost no light pollution in the sky. In fact I could hardly sleep - after relaxing and realising that we wouldnt be attacked by wild deer, I couldn't stop watching the bright fires in the sky!! A wonderful experience.

The next morning we woke to the sound of an army of climbers ascending the hill. We were smelly and tired so we stopped at a waterhole and had a little bath in the icy water. We finished the day with a much anticipated beer at the cafe near the car park while we planned our day exploring Segovia.


Camino Mosaic

Camino Mosaic, originally uploaded by Sabihabeautiful.

Playing with my photos Ive made a mosaic of some Camino photos. It all seems so long ago now, that sometimes I have to look at them to remind myself that it was real.

I sometimes think Ive been still too long and Im considering taking some time to walk the north coast route next year. BUT, its just a thought for now..... Getting back out there will be tough after my cruisy lifestyle in Madrid..... Wait and see if I make anything of it ;-)

Monday, September 10, 2007

coming back...

coming back to Madrid was surprisingly great! I felt sad leaving everyone at home - and after a few odd experiences I found myself sitting on the plane feeling very flat indeed..... But after I nearly fainted, cracked my head against the wall in the toilets and found myself lying with my feet in the air outside the loos as the hostess offered my oxygen, that my mind moved to other things..... I treated myself to a massage in Bangkok, had a near-miss with an upgrade, then spent the rest of the 20 hours watching really bad movies and eating "traditional British" meals....yummmmo!!

So to find Elsa and Ruben at the airport, with open arms was a real lift!! We spent the next 4 days recovering from jetlag - Ruben even thinks he "caught" it because he was so tired too, but after that we took a really great weekend in the country to visit the village where his mother´s family comes from.

Grandma and grandpa are living in the house in Almodovar del Campo for the summer with their 12 year old dog, Copy and new kitten "Rocky" (or "Chico" depending on who you ask!). We spent 4 days eating, sleeping, walking, translating, eating, drinking, sleeping, another meal, one more walk and a final sleep before driving back to Madrid! Really peaceful and beautiful.

The village is in the province of La Mancha and is filled with reminders of their most famous character, Don Quixote! The town windmill was just near the house and looked lovely at sunset.

All meals were shared on the terrace beneath the grape vine trellis. There is a shower hose hooked up on one side so we could all cool off after a walk on a hot day. One of their tricks is to sit the "new person" under the shower and surprise them, but I was forewarned so could be properly dressed when the joke was played.

We took a walk in the countryside amongst thousands of olive trees. The village is small but the land owned by the villages is one of the largest in the region. Every morning we walked from house to house buying the choicest tomatoes, lettuce, zucchinis and watermelons from the people who picked them that morning or the day before. Preparing fresh farm food every meal - doesn't get better than that!

The pimientos dried in the sun in the back yard and they will eventually dry completely in the sunlight to be ground into a powder to make paprika! Maybe if there is enough I can get a small amount for cooking ;-)

The area is also famous for the curtains on the doorways - in the civil war years, the wood for the doors was too expensive, so colourful curtains were made to keep the cool air in and the flies out. They now have doors also, but the tradition remains.

Buying the garlic was a big deal - there is only one person that is worth buying from in the area but they weren´t answering the doorbell when we got there, and then when they were home I'm told it was a bit expensive at 8euros for 30 odd heads of garlic! Looks great though.

Bar El Pajarillo - an institution for the family and where you have to watch the football and eat fried frog legs. The enjoyed watching me try them for the first time but really they were a mix of chicken and calamari and not something I would rave about.... They were happy - more for them... It seemed we couldn't drive past without the car parking (all by itself, we were told) so we could have a quick cerveza and tapa before going back to the women!

One day we joined grandpa on a walk and I thought it was to buy some bread etc, but turns out he wanted to take his grandson on a comprehensive tour of the town, since he hadn't visited for 10 years. I followed with the camera and enjoyed watching them talk for hours about the way it was in the old days, during the civil war and the amazing stories he recalled - stories about rivers of blood running out the doorway and down the street of the "prison" during the war, the store owner who dobbed in his competitor as a republican so the man would be arrested and he would get more business and the place where the town used to collect their communal water, where grandpa was arrested for "publico scandalo" because he took his shirt off in public, the tiny house his mother was born etc etc..... A really interesting day...

Of course there is always the men sitting in the squares gossiping, watching and waiting for lunch to be cooked....

We took a drive to a canyon were we explored the river and paths and found a lovely watering hole for a swim..... The place was teaming with dragonflies of all colours who were happy to pose for the camera. The day became extremely hot though and grandpa, uncle and cousins all passed out in the back of the van and we drove home with windows down and fans fluttering...

And at the end of it all we were given a beautiful sunset.... One last meal and we drove back to Madrid, stopping only to replace a flat tire and to fall into bed at 1am!

Our next escape from Madrid coming soon - mountain walking and sleeping rough in the mountains!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

This time last year...

IMG_1763, originally uploaded by Sabihabeautiful.

This time last year I arrived in Finisterre after almost 1000km and 40 days walking along the Camino Frances..... What a wonderful feeling to plunge into the icy Atlantic and watch the sun melt into the sea amongst fellow peregrinos!!

A very happy memory!

One week later I followed my nose to Madrid and laid the foundations for the next adventure - a life in Madrid. Since August I have been trying to etch out a life here - sometimes successfully, more often not..... But poco y poco!! I am slowly getting there....

Its all a big adventure, a big challenge, a big test of emotional stamina and ultimately a part of my life that I know I will never regret!

One year ago, none of this was even a seed in my head, and now it is a small, but growing existence...... Just that thought keeps it hopeful and exciting...

Monday, May 14, 2007

Thelma and Louise Part 2 - San Sebastian

Well, after the road trip of Portugal and the south, Mum was hoping to see some of the north of Spain. It was starting to look like the flights were too expensive, so we were researching other options, like Segovia and Seguenzia etc - both respectable, interesting, old towns close to Madrid, but really, deep down, it was the Basque country on the northern coast that held the most appeal.

So at the eleventh hour, we looked at the el-cheapo airline webistes and found a budget flight for the next day!!! woo hoo!! The flight there was 3 euros (+ taxes of course) and all up it was only 80 euros eachr return!! Pretty good.

Ruben was hired to help us book a room for the weekend - I mean, I could do it, but what would take me an hour, he can manage in 5 minutes....... After a few calls he decided that he liked the sound of a little old lady who called him "son" - so we were to stay with deaf, old Josephina for the weekend....

So we set off on Sat morning, checked in to our pension close to the beach and went straight to the old town to try the world famous pinxos of San Sebastian.

A litle history to start with:

San Sebastian is a coast town in the Basque region of Spain. The Basque´s dont think of themselves as Spanish, they have their own language, their own cultures and customs and they are fiercely patriotic to their region. ETA is the terrorist group that originate in the Basque region and the region has been fighting for autonomy from Spain for a long long long time....

The Basques have also been credited with "inventing" the pinxo style of tapas (slices of bread stick with a vast variety of toppings) and they are world famous for their innovative chefs etc....

So that brings mum and I to one of the many bars in the old town, eating pinxos and sipping a beer for breakfast (well, it was after 12!!) A big part of the pinxo (pronounced Pin-Cho) experience is the presentation... They look amazing - piles of food of a variety of colours loaded onto the bar ready for you to peruse at your leisure... you don´t order pinxos, you get a plate and take whichever ones you like.... you pay at the end by telling the waiter how many you had in a kind of honour system. The waiters have eyes like hawks - they seem to see every morsel on every plate in a very very crowded bar.... But there is little reason to cheat the system - its not too expensive and a few will be filling enough for the afternoon. These bars ahve an amazing atmosphere and the locals seem to enjoy this wonderful afternoon tradition.

Mum became a fan of the ham croquettes and I couldn´t stop choosing the crab salad one... hmmmmm, yummo! For the first day, we were just walking into every bar to see how much more exotic the selection could become. We had a number of bars now that had to be tried this weekend, and also a committment that this weekend was about eating and enjoying and we could deal with the exercising next week...

As we walked in the cobble stoned streets we heard a choir singing in one of the streets and we followed the echoing voices til we found about 100 people blocking one the tiny streets, except for one little area where pedestrians could squeeze through to continue with their day... I was certain that we had come across either some zealous religious folk or, perhaps even a politically motivated group, but either way, it was really beautiful - 100 voices singing with gusto and in harmony...... We stayed til they moved on to the next street and I asked if they were part of the church (they had a certain believers glow on their faces...) but in fact "no - we are proud Basque people who love our language and we love to sing and every third saturday we sing in the streets..." So perhaps a little political, but non-violent and really enjoyable. We saw them again later in the night, when their number had dropped to about 20 people, and people spilled out of bars with a drink in their hand (us included) to enjoy the free concert.

So, it warmed up a little and we took a walk along the beach, La Concha! The beach here is really beautiful - looking out ot the bay, on your right is the old town, and the old fortressed hill with the prominent statue of Jesus on top. To your right is the old summer palace and the funicular to the amusement park on top of the hill. Directly in front is a turtle shaped island like a dot in the middle of the bay. In summer pontoons are set up in the bay with slides and trampolines etc and you need to take a reasonable swim to get to them. Its still out of season, but a decent number of people were soaking up the early spring rays.

That evening we had a "proper" (ie not more tapas!!) meal in a restaurant - ok, not one with a world famous chef, but a really cute place with a nice chatty waiter and had a really nice meal. The walk home was lovely as the evening mists had rolled in giving the bay a really etherial look with the high tide and the lights along the promenade.

On day 2 we bought some fruit and took a walk up the hill to visit Jesus and get a view down over the bay and old town. A lovely day and finally out of the fleeces and jeans that we had come to despise over the last 3 weeks!!

When we were passing through the old town we heard some music and mums ears pricked..... "hey, thats Argentine Tango music!!" We followed the sound to the main squre to find about 80 people from the Friends of Tango group doing a display. They were fantastic and I decided that this would be a very cool dance to learn. When they finished we had a beer in the sun before setting off for the other side of the bay to see what there was to see.

We found an old Funikular that we took to the top where we then found a fun park for kids.... The first ride we saw were little boats going round a little path - designed for kids but we really wanted a go so as I was mum´s child, we used that technicality to justify it. We got some funny looks from the other adults, but I think they were a little jealous because they wanted a go too!!

It was on the walk home, as the evening promenade started that we realised that we were literally surrounded by strollers and babies - LITERALLY!! Mum thought that there was a baby-bonus here because it was a crazy amount of kids for one small town!

We saw everyone with an icecream, so of course, we wanted one too.... then we saw everyone with a white bag, eating something with a shell, so we followed them to find a seafood shop selling sea snails....... when i was young, we used to go to Bulli beach and get Baboushi shells, pop would cook them and we would eat them in their kitchen..... So, for old times sake, we bought a bag and ate them on the edge of harbour, surrounded by fishing boats.

On our last day (after a hurry on from our now-not-so-friendly host Josephina) we wandered the streets with our suitcases to find a suitable bar to haunt til our airport bus came. We found a good spot in the shade near the harbour and I watched these ladies mending the fishing nets in the hot hot sun. They worked together really well, telling stories and passing around a bottle of water to stay cool. I was thinking of the Stitch and Bitch group that I had with friends at home and decided to go over for a chat. My spanish is basic but they told me that they do this every month or so, or as needed, and that it takes all day - so there is no avoiding the worst of the heat. I donñt know if they ar the fishermans wives or family or if they are only employees, but regardless, its a tough job.

So that brings us to the end of our weekend escape. We caught the plane home, got back to the flat and crashed for the night. I have developed a pregnant looking belly from all those pinchos and pastries and icecream and beers, but it was worth it..... Ill just have to take the stairs a bit more this week ;-()

Friday, May 04, 2007

portugal and spain - the thelma and louise tour

Well, well well, the month with mum came and went in a flash, and now i am trying to record what happened..... It turns out that we did an awful lot really...... BUT - I am flat out catching up with work, paperwork, etc etc and cant give it the attention that it deserves here now.....

SO, here is the summary....

Mum arrived and had the jet lag to prove that she had a 32 hour journey!!

Ruben and I cooked up a spanish tapas lunch, Pete visited and we propped mum up with our news until we let her crash and try to catch up on sleep

We picked up our very cute hire car on Wed 4 April and drove on the wrong side of the road, in a manual, out of Madrid, through the countryside and into Portugal.

As we had no plans, we were able to stop in Portalegre just across the border as we were tired and couldnt face the next few hours driving into Lisbon. Cute walled town not built for foreign drivers - we drove around and around and around and around being quite lost but managed to get a pretty good feel for the place without walking a step! Found a room, had an (interesting) meal and crashed.

Next day we went to Evora and I managed to follow my nose to the pension that I stayed in in 1998!!! The same lady was there and i explained that Id stayed there before. The town is really lovely - we had some roasted chestnuts in the square, watching the old men standing around and chatting all afternoon while their wives cooked!! The Roman ruins were lovely and this is where I started to see the street art that i noticed everywhere throughout Portugal.

Driving into Lisbon was really lovely - the Golden Gate style bridge is really impressive, the Jesus statue on the hill mirrors the twin in Rio de Janeiro and watches over the gorgeous city. Again getting a tad lost we accidentally looped past the airport twice before getting into town. A visit to the tourist office told us that the city was fully booked, so we decided to push on to Sintra. Visited the Tower of Balem and San Jeronimos monastry before taking the hilly roads up to the picturesque town, known for its fairytale castles. We found a room and tried to visit the castle. When i came here in 1998 the hill top was shrouded in cloud and the "amazing views" were hidden from us...... but this was a clear day and it was time to finally see it..... except we were stuck in a traffic jam, kept missing our street and when we finally got there we were told that sorry, we are closed now....... Stoopid castle!!! Met some nice people in a winebar later that night and had some looooovely chees made from goat, sheep and cow!! yummmmm

Lisbon - finally!! Lovely day, strange but comfortable room and a beautiful city to explore on foot. We took the scenic bus, went up the old winding streets of the Barrio Alto - old district, found some amazing funky designer shops, ate some divine pastries and at the very end, when mum was about to crash, we ran into some Aussie boys with money to burn who bought us dinner and beers!! Think they were missing their mum as mum was duly adopted as the group mum!! The budget gods were smiling on us as our room that night turned out to be free also - we couldnt get the guy to let us pay, so we left, feeling guilty, but...... if they dont want it, they dont want it!!

Big day of driving to Lagos...... and finally the cold weather cleared so that we could enjoy the beach!! We walked and shopped and drank beers by the edge of the sea!! LOVELY!! Mum now got the cold I had the week before so we decided to slow down the pace and stay another night here to relax and unwind. Day two was more of the same!!

Time to leave Portugal and drive across to Seville! Again, struck on a cool pension with a friendly owner who helped us park illegally and watched over our car in its poll position outside the front door. Our central position made it easy to walk and eat and watch flamenco at our leisure...... then, in the middle of the night it all went a bit pear shaped...... yelling, screaming, breaking bottles, for HOURS..... who´s that yelling in the middle of the echoing stone streets..... oh, dear, its our kindly host and a lady.....got pretty scary actually and also meant that we didnt sleep at all from about 2-5am!! Then when we tried to pay the 40 euro per night that he quoted me became 80 euro..... ummm, no, we cant pay that..... on and on it went until he gave in (perhaps recalling that he told us the wrong price, perhaps not, i dont know). Regardless, we decided it was all a bit too much and high-tailed it out of there..... But the highlights were the tapas, the funny barmen and the flamenco show!!
Now, because we listened to the advise of a drunk irishman, we drove the looooooooooooooong way to Rhonda instread of the 2 hour direct road!! But it was scenic....... although with no sleep we had a few stops were we crashed in the car park of a roadside diner for a bit of shut-eye...... We finally arrived in the mountains around 7 and could see how lovely the place is. The ancient bridge (in this picture) is really impressive and is the main feature.... the deep gorge is amazing and this was apparently the town that Hemmingway used "For Whom the Bell Tolls" - and was one of the most dramatic scenes in the book where the republicans sacked the town and threw the fascists off the walls into the gorge and left to die.... Explored more in the morning and enjoyed being out of a big city!

Next morning we ventured into the lap of luxury to visit Kim´s best friend Bron and her hubby Spencer!! Pulling our dusty car into the Mansions Club in Marbella was a relief, but after negotiating the tiniest roads, lanes and walled cities, this is the first time i didnt feel brave enough to park the car..... a crooked park by the Jaguar in the next spot meant that it was too tight a fit, and as the owner is an Arab diplomat and his minder in the (not so subtle) parked car behind us is the chief of police, I decided that this was not the time to have my first accident! The flat was amazing and Bron and Spence were totally welcoming. A perfect finish to our budget road tour! We went for dinner at the posh wharf of Porta Banus, had lunch at the uber posh "Nicky´s Beach" beach club (think 1950 euros for a bottle of champers) and very relaxing time talking and drinking red wine.

Sadly, this brings us to the end of the road part of the trip - a 6 hour drive up to Madrid finished us off.... we picked up Ruben on the way through and knowing that we would have no food in the fridge, he came fully equipped to cook us dinner!!! Tired but happy we crashed in the pad in Madrid.

I worked the next two weeks, but we managed to do some other things along the way..... This was meant to be brief, but, well, there is a lot to tell.

Will update more soon with the rest of our time together.....

PS: The new pics are on Flickr (www.flickr.com/photos/kellieu) - not all captioned yet, but from our trip!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

...and out another window

Mojo Project Fotos 016, originally uploaded by Sabihabeautiful.

we have an inordinate number of windows in our flat (plus alot of chairs....but thats another story...i mean there are 4 of us but we have 13 chairs!!!) and this is one in the hallway that I opened for the first time last week...... and this was my reward!

I love the clothes lines between the windows and this lady kindly colour coordinated for washing for my photo!

Meet my first born...... tortilla!!

Mojo Project Fotos 004, originally uploaded by Sabihabeautiful.

Well, this is an achievement in my kitchen.... an emergency text to Ruben for the quantities, some valuable help from Charlotte and then ....voila!..... a tasty warm tortilla for our picnic in Retiro!!

You can see Kath´s salad in the background and the Sangria that we sipped in our lakeside patch....

R.I.P - the second tortilla was not photographed and will not be discussed...... fingers crossed the third is more like its big sister!!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

people as brainy and footsy as you...

Many years ago I bought the Dr Suess book, "Oh the Places you´ll go" for my friend Tash. Cristina had originally bought one for me, and Ive since bought one for Al and B (I think you both got one) and a special one for JS. Tash sent me an email today after reading it to her son and thought I might like this excerpt. Ill post it here so you can all enjoy it!!

Love kel

Out there things can happen
and frequently do
to people as brainy
and footsy as you

And when things start to happen,
dont worry. Dont Stew.
Just go right along.
You'll start happening too.

... Today is your day! your mountain is waiting, So.... get on your way!