Wet, wet Wednesday

Although last night’s storm abated in the morning it wasn’t long before the village was shrouded in dense cloud and heavy rain again. It was fascinating watching the cloud roll up from the valley below and creep across the grass plain in front of our chalet. Out one window it was dense grey and out the other side it was clear. But not for long. Soon no other buildings could be seen at all.

We decided to light the fire and after our morning quiz test from the Age newspaper we all hunkered down with books, needlework and sudoku puzzles. The rain was really torrential, at times beating hard on the windows and the tin roof. We were all happy. The men poked and prodded the fire between reads and we just enjoyed the luxury of nothing to do but read ( and maybe eat!).

Kim had brought her travel watercolours and I demonstrated the techniques I had picked up at my workshop at Horsham in January.

Soon it was lunch and the clouds were lifting with the rain easing to mizzle. We noticed a few intrepid hikers but decided every track would be muddy and slippery and hardly enticing.

Kim, David and I opted for a short undulating walk around the village until the rain restarted. It was a refreshing break and meant we had walked everyday since we arrived.

Village playground with emu and horse sculptures

Dinner at the Ramada restaurant that night was delicious and a suitable farewell celebration as we were leaving very early the next morning to be back for appointments in Melbourne.

We returned home, packed ready for a quick departure the next morning and fell into bed. It has been a wonderful circuit breaker for all of us. Fresh mountain air, time to really catch up and lots of laughs. I love this place- shame it is such a distance but perhaps that is the reason it is so peaceful!

Coming down the mountain this morning just as the sun started to wash over Mt Buffalo was spectacular. It was about two degrees!

Blue day Tuesday

Another slow start- so relaxing. Weather wet and cloudy but after lunch we walked to Room with a view and the Montaigne Loop. Room with a view is a gentle decline to the edge of the mountain looking back towards Hotham and the Cobungra Valley.

As we walked back up the hill on the return loop track we came across a mob of emus. There were at least 10 and they seemed to have very black heads and dense feathers. We went very quietly so as not to startle them and tried to get some photos. It is the first time in my trips up to Dinner Plain that I have seen one emu let alone 10! I know they are around lower down the mountain.

It was a lovely walk through trees and then back to the chalet. For awhile it was sunny and bright. We have seen so many changes in the light and weather in just these few days. Shortly after this gorgeous respite the thunder started, followed by lightning. It continued all night. The rain was heavy and persistent and apparently there was a massive thunderclap during the night that woke everyone but me!

I was doing the dinner so I set to work on the vegetables which I needed to stir fry. The kitchen has basic implements so I needed to improvise and the fry pan was really too small for the quantity of vegetables so I had to blanch them first. We are all used to the minimal kitchens here so most of our meals are precooked and we only need to defrost.

We eat like kings and queens because we all like cooking and usually bring interesting meals. I was doing a new recipe of curried eggplant and green beans over rice, served with stir fried broccolini and snow peas in lemon and garlic, sprinkled with pepitas and sunflower seeds. This was followed with Coconut yoghurt and baked strawberries in sumac. I was so pleased because it was light and delicious but satisfying. That is a recipe I will repeat.

The fresh air, good food and perhaps Bill’s cognac have really relaxed us.

Lazy days

Last night we dined at the High Plains Hotel. They have the QR code menus. David was not impressed and resisted using the mobile phone to get the menu. I am not a great fan but can see how the order goes straight to the kitchen and saves staff time as well as fussing at the end of a meal about payment. It worked very efficiently and I had a receipt emailed to me instantly. The meal was good but you do miss the interaction with staff.

After dinner we walked home and we were surprised that it didn’t seem very cold. That was until we discovered we couldn’t get into the chalet! When I tried to open the door, my digital card wouldn’t work. David tried his and then Bill announced that he had deadlocked the door when we left! We were all astounded. Why? We have never deadlocked the doors before (I didn’t even know they had deadlocks!) Anyway we needed to ring the reception for assistance and suddenly the cold started to seep into our limbs. It was only about 10 degrees Celsius but standing around waiting we started to be aware of the temperature falling. Fortunately it wasn’t very long before the hotel sent a young guy to open the door for us. We felt pretty dumb but had a good laugh as we scurried into the warmth.

Rain was predicted today and we were all slow to rise. The day was gray but because we are in the mountains and looking across the cloud shrouded valleys from our cosy chalet it didn’t seem oppressive. It was rather atmospheric and soothing. The drip of rain drops onto the tin roof is comforting. Living in an apartment now I never hear rain on the roof. It reminds me of happy times in the past. We all lazed around chatting and taking a slow breakfast. It was so relaxing. I am very engaged in my book Pachinko. It is luxurious to read in large chunks of time so I was happy to stay in.

When we finally roused ourselves to go for a walk after the rain had passed, we made sure no deadlock was engaged. Bill kept his hands in his pockets and was NOT the last to close the door. We wandered up to JB plain and then across the main road to Dead Timber trail. There was a fine mist but the path was good and not muddy. Dead Timber trail is amongst many dead snow gums. They are a tree endangered by the more frequent fires that have occurred over the last few years. Because they are slow to grow the young seedlings have been burnt along with the older trees. Regeneration is stunted or halted all together. This means they are in danger of disappearing from our mountains. They are quite beautiful with many colours on their trunks and branches and soft grey green leaves. Kim suddenly remembered a poem from her school days about trees by Joyce Kilmer. It seemed so pertinent to the environment through which we were walking.

We returned just as the rain started to get heavy. The rest of the afternoon was spent reading and doing puzzles and chatting. Soon it was nibbles time. Kim had these delicious smoked salmon and balsamic pearls hors d’oeuvres. They are little black balls which look impressive and taste of balsamic vinegar. We decided to eat in so Irene provided a delicious dinner of Goulash and greens followed by a Cranberry cake. She had made three batches over the week before coming. Each had a mishap. The first was burnt because she had been distracted by a Zoom class, the second had too much paprika but the last batch was just right. For us it was fabulous but had been quite an ordeal in production. Irene and Bill are having the family bathroom renovated and the dust and destruction has been extensive. It has been a very trying time like all renovations.

We had lots of discussions ranging across serious and silly topics which produced many laughs and hilarity. Precious times with dear friend is priceless.

Serenity in the Mountains

Yesterday we arrived at Dinner Plain in the Victorian High Country. It is one of my favourite places. Set amongst the alpine Snow gums and button grass plains it exudes a sense of tranquility. Dinner Plain is a village but there is little here so a great place to escape the over stimulation of our city lives.

It was a beautiful sunny day in Bright and Benalla where we had stopped for a visit to the art gallery and later ice creams. As we drove up the mountain the fluffy clouds resting on the top became a grey solid wall! We could barely see the road. Bill discovered that his BMW did not have its lights on, something it does automatically in the dark. The grey mass was too glarey and it was only when a guy flagged us down to tell us we were virtually invisible that we became aware. Smart cars aren’t always so smart!

After arriving at our chalet, a spacious place with great views but a very small fridge, the clouds lifted to reveal the valley and trees our place looks out over.

We all relaxed and it wasn’t too long before Kim set out our dinner of chilli con carne (but without the carne-Spanish for meat!) It was delicious but we had a laugh when I said I had made a vegetarian curry as Irene and Kim had decided to do meat based meals this trip!

Today we walked to Precipice Plain a pleasant if rather boggy track; Made more so by the dirt bikers who had slithered and skidded through the puddles. It is so quiet, although Kim and I chattered so much we left the others behind. Our excuse is noise is a deterrent to any snakes🤣🤣.

We lunched at the Precipice and then walked back through woodland trees and a steady up hill climb. The rest of the afternoon was spent lounging around, sharing photos and chatting.

The old gang back together. From left to right; Bill, Irene, Kim and David
David and Kath ( me)

It is so relaxing. Heavenly. And my leg held up well. No trouble at all. Yippee!!!

4th-5th Sept Homeward bound

Leaving Madrid was seamless and my Uber driver Daniel was charming, chatty and fast. Madrid’s early morning traffic density surprised me because in our part of the city it is quiet till about 9 but in the outer suburbs it is all go at 6.30!

Madrid’s airport is the second largest in Europe and I needed a train to get to my gate. So efficient. No delays and very well organised boarding. My seat companion was Elena from Woodend in Victoria and we hit it off immediately. How lucky? She had been visiting Spain with her husband who is a French Australian,working on a project in Kuwait with a Spanish team. Very international. She was a musician, high school career advisor, budding potter and painter. We had lots in common and the flight went quickly.

She was only in Abu Dhabi for a couple of hours but I had a 14 hour stopover. We parted ways and I opted for the airport transit hotel. It was more expensive than I expected but the luxury of a bed, private ensuite, TV , wifi and tea making facilities was worth it. Especially when I emerged at 4 am to find bodies slung over chairs and across the floors.

I grabbed a breakfast and then did some exploring. When I found a waiting lounge and a chair I was only there for awhile before Airport staff came by and closed the lounge and sent us all off! I went in search of a lounger seat and eventually found one where I settled to read and nap. As boarding time neared I headed down the very long corridor to my gate, got settled and proceeded to wait. Once again we were all roused to leave the lounge so that we could all have our carry on checked for liquids and aerosols before returning to the lounge area.

I am getting hungry again but will wait for the plane. They have been giving me Gluten free meals this flight which have been good. Not long now!

3rd Sept. Last day in Madrid for me.

Previous visits to Madrid had not allowed enough time for art galleries so I was determined to squeeze them in this time. Madrid is a city of arts and galleries and really you need a much longer time than I have to really make the most if it.

I was up early and Peter and I headed for the Prado. Wonderful and overwhelming at the same time. We did a self guided tour ( meaning we walked back and forth missing and then finding, our special paintings!). It was a sensory explosion. We decided we had seen a lot of medieval religious art over the month so we only gave that area a cursory look. Still one painting from that era has stuck with me. It seemed so fresh and modern but was from the 12th C. Lots to see but after 2.30 hrs we were done. There is only so much you can absorb. Peter and I headed off to revive with fresh air and ice creams.

We needed to meet up with Karen and Andy at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Gallery. I had been here before but as they were only just starting their visit, ( they had been waylayed by a couple they met at a cafe) Peter and I went in for another art bath. This is a more modern collection with impressionists and Renoir and Jackson Pollock to name a few. It was also interesting and inspiring for me. About 1.30 hrs later I was starving and needed a break.

We were all hungry now and brain dead! I wanted to wash some clothes I needed for the return trip so I was eager to get back to the apartment. We only have one set of keys so keeping tabs on each other was needed. Andy wasn’t hungry but we found an Indian restaurant close by and had a massive lunch. I should have shared the plate because I had indigestion all afternoon.

Although I was ready for a nap we decided to play our last game of cards. I have become pretty competent over the last few weeks and gone from a regular loser to a frequent winner. By 7pm the washing was done and out drying( thank you Madrid for turning on a nice 27 C finish), we headed off to the Reina Sofia Muséum to see Picasso’s Guernica. That was my final wish and then a snack and bed!

Guernica – extraordinary.

Trying to find the exit was a bit of a challenge. We can find our way across Spain but not out of the Gallery! Flashes of my experience in Kyoto station came to me. Once again we headed back to our apartment but we were looking for an ATM so I could withdraw some money to pay my share of the car. It seemed like I would be thwarted as there were none to be found and when we did, it was out of order. A bit like this trip. Haha!

Of course there turned out to be more than one and all was sorted. Close to home stopped for a light dinner and drink to mark the end of the trip. It was light and tasty but with tiredness plus indigestion from lunch, by the time I got to the top of the stairs at the flat I was desperate and hurrying Andy to get the three locks(!) open because I was about to vomit. I felt ghastly and was scared it might go on and on. I vomited on my hair too( damn long hair) so I needed a bath and hair wash.

I ventured upstairs to our public bath but found there was a modesty screen provided at least. Standing up was out of the question so it was a sit down shower in the bath. I don’t think Peter will cope!

I went to bed with queasy stomach but slept and was fine in the morning. What a relief. Called the Uber and I was off for my marathon journey home. Farewell Madrid , I hope to return.

2nd Oct. Madrid

We strapped on our backpacks to hike up to the car and make our last journey in it to Madrid. We have been very grateful for it and though our trip changed it added dimensions we would not have experienced without a car.

This route was much more a hike through Spain than a Camino. The distances between towns were longer and accommodation more difficult, especially for a group of four. The Ruta de la Lana is a trade route and as such is not so well supported for walking continuously. Having said that, it was a fabulous opportunity to see much of wild Spain and some different and significant historic cities. It has been one of the most scenic walks I have undertaken and the quietest. The car gave us opportunities to visit places we would not have been physically capable of doing without a tent!

We managed to exit Burgos quite easily in the end and travelled on to Madrid with one stop for Churros and Chocolste. Our first in the whole trip. The chocolate was liquid – just and the churros fresh cooked. Delicious but not gluten free!

Churros and Chocolate

Arriving in Madrid was daunting for Karen and the plan to get as close to the apartment to drop bags was thwarted by the special zone restricted to residents it was in. Plan b was just go to Hertz at Atocha station after filling up with petrol first. All was accomplished without mishap though Karen was somewhat strained as the driver! Once we left the car Peter and I decided we were not walking but would take a taxi and so we grabbed one large enough (just) for all and where at the apartment in about 10 mins. And €10. Well spent as it turned out because Karen and I had to go to another street ( not far) to retrieve the keys from a key safe in a Lock and Go place.

As it turned out we didn’t have an access code that we could find for the actual lock and Go but some one came at the same time who did and we were able to enter and retrieve our keys. We would have been ropable if we had walked there and had that bother. Once we returned to the men minding our gear on the footpath we entered and climbed to the 4 th floor (again – what is it with us and 4th floors?)

Colour coded keys for colour coded door (no number I could see!) and we were in a very cool but quirky place. Bright light, spare, IKEA furnished odd. There are two fold out beds downstairs and an attic bedroom and bath up a winding , narrow staircase. The toilet is downstairs near the front door abd my bed. Bath has no privacy but is open in the bedroom. It was not meant for four old fogies that is for sure! We all like it despite the oddities. Very artist/young person on an adventure in Madrid feel. You could write your novel sitting in the bath.

Once we’d all had a cup of tea and snacks as well as wine we went out to explore. Heaps of restaurants- very multicultural area near the Reine Sofia art gallery. It was a bit overwhelming for us because apart from Burgos every place has been so quiet and siesta time was adhered to strongly. Big City, lots of people, more shops and bars open and it was aperativo time. Not a table to spare! We walked about three streets before returning and finding a table at last. We had a jug of Sangria and some lovely snacks. Then we headed back closer to home to La Barbiera an Italian restaurant. Very busy, cool and with good food and a fabulous blues singer and guitarist. The noise was energising for me but Karen was finding it a bit overwhelming.

The news that Bolselro fromBrazil was likely to be ousted had brought out the Argentinians to celebrate and they were loud, happy and singing!

What a fun start to Madrid.

1st Oct. Exploring Burgos

Last time I was here I was walking the Camino Frances and arrived tired and time pressed. I had a massage and did the minimum sightseeing. This time I have really enjoyed exploring the city and discovering its vibe. We are so lucky to have finally arrived in the middle of a festival. The Cidiana- festival of medieval times and commemoration of El Cid. I have decided I have a crush on him. He seemed a really interesting person and what a looker! He is buried in the Cathedral here. He is a real hero in Spain.

Peter and I visited the Museum of human development. It traces human development from the earliest times with bones and artefacts retrieved from the archeological dig at Alapuerta outside Burgos that has traced the development of humans in Europe. It was fascinating and with new human species discovered in the last 20 years it is filling the gaps in evolution. They had excepts from Darwin’s journal that made me think I should read The Origin of the Species. His wonder at the variety of flora and fauna was inspiring.

All that brain strain brought on a raging hunger so we left for lunch. Our tickets were free because we are Seniors and lasts all day.

Revived by lunch we went up to the castle that looks over the town. While we were wandering around we kept seeing people in medieval costumes. Then we heard music and singing so we returned from the castle to watch some jousting, archery and sword fighting.

I made a trip into the Cathedral while Peter went souvenir shopping. It is the fanciest cathedral with lots of embellishments but also some beautiful sculptures, altars and stained glass. This time the cloister was open. I had not registered previously that it had one!

We bumped into Karen and Andy and headed back to the jousting for a snack and a look at the medieval falcons. There were several birds and two kookaburras. I felt a bit sad to see them but the carer was very attentive and the birds seemed affectionate with him.

We finally returned to the flat for a dinner of lentils and rice and headed out for the night parade. There were horses and lots of people dressed in medieval costumes with flaming candles. At the end we went home but there was another parade at 11.00 pm! It was all to do with El CID’s life. Also the commemoration of the Cathedrals 800 years was achieved by art installations around the town and a lot of restoration work in the Cathedral.

The music

The place was abuzz and occasionally I wondered about Covid. It has not been mentioned here though people wear masks sometimes and always in a pharmacy and on public transport. Life seems so normal. It has been a great relief to be away from the constant barrage of Covid news or in fact any news! We have dipped in a little but not much.

It was a wonderful day and so lively compared to many of our nights on this trip where everything was closed.

29th to 30th Sept. Santo Domingo de Silos to Burgos

Today Andy and I returned to Quintanarrayo to complete the walk to Santo Domingo de Silos. I was a bit undecided about doing it but I didn’t want Andy to go alone and Peter was in too much discomfort to do the hilly part of this day. I was so glad I did go. It was a wonderful walk with forest and ravines and more quaint towns and I felt really good at the end when we came over the hill to see Santo Domingo below. It was about 23kms and pretty cold so we walked fast. We were also racing the potential rain. I put my poncho on and felt like a walking plastic bag but it did feel warmer if noisy! Swish , swish!

We arrived starving but just minutes before the rain finally fell hard and persistent for the rest of the day. I was cold and needed to wrap up in a rug to get warm. Karen had made a substantial lentil soup. God bless her! I had two huge bowls. None of us wanted to go out so we did our media etc and then settled in for cards.Andy has had a run of bad luck ( losing) so he and Karen suggested we learn to play bridge. Well, I kind of got the basics but after three hands we reverted to Nomination Whist.

I think we just didn’t quite have the brain energy for more challenges. Peter is feeling even worse and really needs a dentist. We decided that he and Karen should go straight to Burgos and the dentist suggested by our Airbnb host in the morning. Andy and I would walk from Santo Domingo de Silos to Covarrubias about 17 kms. Hopefully Karen and Peter would meet us there and we would go to just outside Burgos and walk the last 5 kms.

It was a sobering walk out of Santo Domingo de Silos through fire devastated forest. Even more extensive than we had seen the other day. Everything was black and silent and one tree had branches snapped off leaving an almost red wound. The burnt timber was being harvested as it was charcoal outside but still usable timber inside.

Devastated foredt

We also came across a limestone quarry and I was blown away by the size of the blocks that were cut.

It was cold again even with another layer and we walked through cloud mist as we climbed the mountain. It was good when we finally heard a few birds and saw a deer.

We came into Retuerta past some very fancy bodegas but alas no bar or cafe. So it was a cold seat outside the church with a banana and a muesli bar to fortify us for the next 4kms. We had good news from Karen and Peter. They had presented themselves to the dentist surgery at 10 am and were seen immediately. The dentist X-rayed Peter’s mouth and ascertained an infection in the root of a tooth. She prescribed antibiotics and anti- inflammatory drugs and said she could remove the tooth on Monday after the antibiotics had done their job. it cost €20 and €6 for the drugs. Roughly A$40. Very good value! Peter was soon feeling considerably better and felt he could do the last 5 kms into Burgos which is part of his commitment to walking to Burgos.

With that good news we quickened our pace and we were soon in Covarrubias. I was cold and starving as usual and decided to have something from the panderia with a hot coffee. Not gluten free but food!

What a charming town. A bit touristy but with good reason. Very quaint buildings, rubbish bins disguised as buildings, a story of a young Norwegian princess married to Felipe abad de Covarrubias in 1257 which has since instigated a twin city arrangement with Ionsberg Norway in 1978. They also have an arms museum and seem to do re-enactments of the fight between Christian’s and Muslims on Saturdays. It was one of the first towns reconquered from the Moors.

We headed off to our drop off point outside Burgos while Karen headed into Burgos to find the Airbnb and a parking spot. She has the tough job!

Our walk was much more pleasant than my first encounter with Burgos which was through industrial areas. Since then there has been a new alternative path avoiding the highway and using a defunct railway line. It was flat! We walked quickly and covered the 5 kms to the Cathedral easily. Andy was disappointed to find the bar he had visited many years before which had been in the movie The Way has been renovated. We had our photos taken outside the city walls as per the photo on Peter’s fund raising poster to mark our arrival in Burgos.

Our apartment building overlooks the Cathedral but has 95 stairs (4 stories) to climb. Second time up with the contents of the car, parked 10 minutes away seemed quicker! Best aspect is the JAPANESE restaurant down stairs!!!