Category Archives: My experiences in Spain

Bearded Woman

I looked sheepishly around the empty central courtyard of Pilates House, permanent residence of the Dukes of Medinaceli, right in the centre of Seville, and quickly pressed the shutter button again. Click click. The sound of the double shot is usually drowned by the noise of busy city dwellings, but there, in the quiet winter’sp1060689 air, it hung just that little bit longer.

We’d arrived early to pay our entrance fee, which included an audio guide and a guided tour of the upper floor. We were keen to roam the place before it filled up with other visitors. After all, we’d been waiting a few years for this day to arrive. 

During our last visit to Seville in December 2010, we were disappointed to find this 16th-century Mudéjar style gem closed.

Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz are here! They’re filming an action movie, we were told just after ordering, Dos cañas, media ración de croquetas de salmorejo y media ración de albondigas de choco, at a nearby bar. This spontaneous (the closure turned out to be a perfect excuse to stop for a small glass of beer and some tapas) but nonetheless vital break allowed us to ponder where to head next. And then the all too familiar tourist-native exchange followed as soon as one of the two cheerful Sevillanos behind the bar picked up on my non-native Spanish accent:

¿De dónde eres?

De Austria, pero vivo en Londres.

Ah, Austria  ¿Es la primera vez en España?

No, pero aquí, en Sevilla, sí, es mi primera vez.

I’d learned, that sometimes, for the sake of conversation flow, it’s best to stick to the polite ‘conversation script’. So, I left out my usual enthusiastic talk about Madrid and the small villages and towns of Castilla y León, and continued with my part:   

Me encanta Sevilla. Siempre fue un sueño para mí ver los naranjos.
(That is very true, and besides, I love Seville orange marmalade thinly spread on my breakfast toast, and the next time I return, it’ll have to be in March because I want to see the trees in bloom and take in their subtle fragrance.)

Tienes que venir durante la Semana Santa. 

Sí sí sí. Hay  que venir, sí sí sííí…, I nodded as the image of me bumping into Cameron Diaz in the narrow streets of Seville crept into my mind and …

Anyway. Back to January 2017 and Pilates House. We had about one hour to wander around the house to absorb the wonderful architecture of the central courtyard, its adjoining rooms and two gardens, a fusion of Italian Renaissance and Mudéjar-Gothic styles, before our guided tour started on the upper floor.

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For twenty-five-or-so minutes, I listened diligently to the man and woman trapped inside the audioguide picking up interesting information, such as why the palace became to be known as ‘Pilates House’. Then I decided to have a quick walk around one of the gardens. When I returned to continue with the tour,  patient partner called me inside a small room next to the Praetor’s Study. The room was furnished with a desk, a couple of chairs and on the wall behind the desk and …there she was, La Mujer Barbuda by Jusepe de Ribera, 1631.p1060698

Oh, what a portrait, I cried out and hurried towards it to have a closer look and read (yes, I admit, my audioguide concentration span had at that moment elapsed) to read the plaque below it. How utterly fascinating, I thought when I read the story of its protagonists, and how beautifully executed was the composition in its entirety. I absorbed Magdalena Ventura’s feminity, highlighted by a large breast – perhaps a bit too centred on her chest? – and her breastfeeding an infant. Her thickly grown beard, the one prominent feature of her masulinity. Apparently, Magdalena started to grow a beard only at the age of thirty-seven after having given birth to three sons.
Some may find the portrait disturbing, but I stood in front of it in awe. I was surprised that other visitors, who have slowly started to arrive, entered the room without looking at the painting.
An interesting article, La Mujer Barbuda by Ribera, 1631: a gender bender, by W. Michael G. Tunbridge can be found here

For me, Pilates House is all about fusion, that of Christian and Islamic workmanship. Thus, I thought it was the perfect place to have stumbled upon Ribera’s portrait of Magdalena Ventura, who herself – her body – is meeting point, that of male and female.




Locked Door

Two days before New Years Eve we stayed in an apartment minutes from Puerta del Sol (Gate of the Sun) in Madrid. That square contains, among other, the famous clock with its bells marking the eating of the Twelve Grapes, a Spanish tradition for good luck. I love this busy and historic place, its close proximity to all major sights and shops and bars and cosy squares. Yet, what fascinated me most on our visit this time was a door. The door to our apartment. That is, the inside of the door with its many locks. And that image has come creeping back into my mind again and again…


Locked Door

Still lying in bed she recalled how, a few hours earlier, she’d popped each one of the twelve grapes synchronously with each bell strike into her mouth, and how her gaze had been fixed on RTVE and its life broadcast from Puerta del Sol. She remembered how her friends used to make funny faces encouraging laughter when stuffing the sweet fruits in their mouths and that for far too long she’d been swallowing all twelve grapes without choking. And that she’d got used to jumping up from her sofa shouting A Happy New Year into the room and to the people on TV blowing them air kisses. After the main event she’d watched the late show on TV sipping sparkling Verdejo commenting the music and supposedly comic acts. The only difference this time were the bangs coming from outside at twentyfive to one. Fireworks. Slightly delayed, she thought. But she’d enjoyed looking at them all the same after pulling up the blinds, and probably because of the delay they’d seemed so special. After she’d finally gone to bed in the early morning hours she dreamt of grapes shooting down a large water slide and landing inside a pool of sparkling water reflecting the sun and blue sky. That morning, after finishing her first morning coffee of the New Year she went to her door, turned the rusty key inside the lock, unfastened the door chains, unbolted the iron door bolt and swung the door open.

A Magical Place

I still remember so well my first visit to Belmonte de Campos*,  Palencia, Castilla y León. It was September 2001 and I stayed for a long weekend at my friend’s family home. I remember the delicious food I ate and all those new flavours I could not yet describe. When Araceli asked me, Do you like it Gerdita, I answered, Yes, but what IS this taste? The new flavours were, amongst others, that of pimentón de la Vera and cumin, that Araceli used in many of her dishes. But then I also remember the stillness that surrounds this small place and the seemingly infinite days. It appeared to me then, that the sun would never set**.

In A Magical Place I tried to recreate the mental images that pop up every time I think back to that very first visit.


A Magical Place

I went upstairs after lunch to rest. Only twenty minutes, I told myself. Well, on second thoughts, no more than thirty minutes, I am on holiday after all. I took my shoes off and placed them carefully on the floor at the far end of the bed. At the same time I briefly considered taking my clothes off, too, and slipping underneath the freshly-washed-and-of-fabric-softener-smelling-pinker-than-pink bedspread. But then I feared I might fall asleep and instead laid myself on top of the bed. I closed my eyes, folded my arms lightly over my belly and listened to the cheerful voices coming from the kitchen downstairs, where three busy pairs of hands were tidying the long wooden dining table and washing six wine glasses and tiny coffee cups and the plates and bowels, that not long before had been filled with warm thick vegetable soup and fish, beans and meat. To the rhythmic sound of a brush sweeping the stone floors I must have drifted off to sleep. The next I remember was hearing my friend’s soft call, Gerdita, the sun’s shining, why don’t we go for a walk? At that particular time I was uneasy about time passing too fast, and I think I might have replied, slightly irritably, because of my annoyance that the maximum allowed thirty minutes rest had sneakily expanded into an hour-long siesta, But do we have time? Isn’t it too late? My companion’s voice reassured, We have time, Gerdita. There’s time for everythingHere time stands still and days last forever. Let me show you

Campo en abril with tractor marks

Belmonte de Campos

This is a magical place.
A magical place?Belmonte de Campos
This is where time stands still.
Where time stands still? Is there no race?
There’s no race. Take off your watch and place it on the table.
Let time be and it’ll take care of you, heal you.

…and then I placed my watch on top of the small round table next to the window and walked outside, no longer following the forever-running dials, and days turned into one endless ocean and suddenly I’d become the captain of my small boat and I decided to steer towards the sun and look for calm waters and suddenly I had time to see and to hear and to smell and to taste and to feel … and to be free.

*  Today, the village is permanent home to less than a dozen men and women, numerous sheep and dogs.
** Days are longer because sunset occurs some 80 minutes or so later than in the UK

Enchanted Forest


Ruta de la Tejeda de Tosande en Palencia, Castilla y Leon (2014)

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Now, will you please remember the way. I forgot my compass!        A compass?? Hmmm, really??

P1010865 (1)   P1010851

P1010850    P1010874 Lots and lots of beautiful trees …

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…and a nice view in between.                                  Careful, watch your step!

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We’ve reached the summit. FINALLY time for a rest. Rumble rumble, might that be thunder? No, it’s my stomach. A ver, el bocadillo de jamónbocadillo de tortilla… bocadillo de chorizo…pero…pero dónde está mi chocolate?

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Refreshed…and NO, in case you wondered, I didn’t find my chocolate, must have eaten it (completely unaware as so often) on my way to the mountain top… the way down is fast. I follow my, ahm, six (?) dwarfs…sure there were seven (???)


… ugh, eight??? Oh dear…confused…too much fresh air 😉



I instantly feel calm strolling between old trees,
I marvel at their arrangements
and cuddle in their embraces
feeling their kisses disguised as a breeze.

I feel blessed amidst curious shapes and
branches, where birds, bees and bugs                                                                                               made their home and hideaway(s).
Suddenly I feel enchanted,

able to choose any path I fancy.                                                                                                                   I follow my desires and dreams.                                                                                                                   I turn into an adventurer looking for secret places
hidden deep inside the forest’s mazes.

My quest – the hunt of the old man’s hut.*

Heading for my chosen path,
I hold closely that moment,
thanking the forest to leave
me enchanted that very day.


Not long ago I read Grimm’s story of the Hut in the Forest.

Goodbye my friend…


… I cannot express my sadness in words, Fernando, but I will always, always remember you as the Fernando we have known for so many years. You are  and will be OUR champion forever. R.I.P.

In memory of Fernando, July 1966 – March 2014

Un vinito


Un vinito, vamos a tomar un vinito,

rings in my head like a persistent caller

and makes me raise a glass.

You posing for a photo

makes me smile.

And your imitation of Bruce Springsteen

can’t be done better by anyone else.

You smoking a cigar after lunch,

its smell lingers in my nose.

And you paseando round and round el corro 

with friends and neighbours

talking, listening being a friend.

Us drinking una* cubata,

me copying your ron con coca cola,

and listening to you singing Camaron**

appreciating the perfect gentleman.

All of that makes me

rememberphoto (2)

the many good

and fun times

we had.


*una cubata is grammatical incorrect. It should be un cubata (cubata having a male gender). As a Spanish language learner I overgeneralized the rule that a noun ending with an “a” is usually classed feminine, hence requiring the feminine indefinite article “una”. But Fernando loved me saying una cubata, so I kept it for him.

**Camaron (1950-1992), a Spanish flamenco singer.


photo 1 (1)  photo 2


(in memory of Lassie and Estrella)


It was the barking that done it, you know.

I say, had they not barked they’d still be there.

On top of the garage looking down whenever someone passes by

ears pricked up, heads cocked to one side then the other

and tails moving frantically like an out-of-control-pendel of a cuckoo’s clock,

all the time barking.


It’s a shame really, but I tell you, it was all the barking, you know.

No-one knows who’s done it, but there’s been lots of break ins.

Some gang stealing diesel from the tractors and lorries that are left outside.

Breaking into warehouses if they don’t find nothing outside.

But if that wasn’t enough, they slashed the tires of my neighbour’s lorry,

out of boredom or malice, who knows?


I tell you, this used to be a quiet place.

All that was only for Madrid or Malaga.

Rich places, you know, where the rich live.

But here, here’s nothing, just tractors,

and harvest machines, lots of land, wheat, sugar beets,

corn, barley and sunflowers.


If you come here in the spring or early summer

the land is very beautiful.

It turns green then golden.

And you can see the wheat moving in the wind and think

you are standing in the sea watching the waves

and the sunflowers cheer you up all the way to León.


I tell you, I’ve been a farmer all my life.

Been working the land for 60 years.

I never left this place, you know.

I’ve seen things changing slowly over time.

But all that what’s going on now is terrible, really.

I never thought it could happen to one of us in the village.


They came to steal

and when the dogs didn’t stop barking

they threw them two pieces of

poisoned meat

and the dogs didn’t object no more.

It was the barking that done it.

Holiday and Harvest Time in Spain

Sitting comfortably on my sofa with a freshly brewed coffee in my favourite mug, I was reminiscing about my latest holiday in Spain…

…6 weeks ago today I arrived in Medina de Rioseco after a 2 night stay in Santander. This beautiful Cantabrian city located on the north coast of Spain welcomed me with glorious sunshine and perfect temperatures. So, I could happily start my desperately needed holiday.

Straight from airport to Santander El Sadinero

I explored the historic centre of Santander, strolled along the long promenade, feasted on good food which was washed down with cold beer. I also joined hundreds of people in their walks up and down the fine golden sandy shores of El Sardinero 1 and 2 (partly to burn off some of the excess calories). El Sardinero 1 and 2 are two long (combined total of 1,300 metres) and wide (80 metres) beaches and therefore great for exercising.

Joining hundreds in their walk along El Sardinero beach during morning hours.

Joining hundreds in their walk along El Sardinero beach during morning hours.

Then it was time to travel to Medina de Rioseco for a fortnight of peace and quiet. To escape the rising temperatures (35-38 celsius) I would rent a canoe and paddle along the calm and cool waters of the Canal de Castile.

This is where I forget my daily grind

This is where I forget my daily grind

And apart from reading some books and finishing my final essay of this year (yes, I am halfway through my MA!!!) most of my days were filled with walks or cycle routes along the canal and surrounding countryside. Or I’d just ramble with Lassie or Estrella (or both) alongside some barley, wheat and sunflower fields of Belmonte de Campos, …

walking in belmonte along the fields with estrella and lassie

… and get a ride in a harvester!! One of the many highlights of this year’s summer holiday in Spain. Usually I would miss the harvest period due to other commitments. So it was great to stand next to Prisciliano, who was in the driver’s seat. An experienced and ardent agriculturist ‘Pristi’ has been working the land for more than 60 years. He was the perfect ‘guide’ for my first harvester ride as he transmitted his lifelong passion for the land and you could sense how much fun he is still having working it.

Here comes the red beauty:

harvest machine

harvest machine

Prisciliano enjoying every minute of the harvest.

Prisciliano enjoying every minute of the harvest.

Faithful Estrella chose to walk along our harvester (and kept an eye on us) instead of staying behind with other family members, who waited next to some tractors and trailers. Estrella was overjoyed after we stepped down some 15 minutes later.