ON MY WAY…

Hi folks! I hope this finds you all in good health and spirits.

Just a brief post to say that I probably won’t be writing ‘til the beginning of November as tomorrow I will be leaving for England and will be staying there until the end of October.

I am excited and nervous as it has been almost two years since I last saw my mother and brother. Emotions run high.

Anyway, what better than include a sunset photo and a prayer for travellers? So here goes…

Irish blessings for those who travel

«May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields and,
Until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.”

May God grant you always…
A sunbeam to warm you,
A moonbeam to charm you,
A sheltering angel, so nothing can harm you.”

May the Saints protect you
And bless you today
And may troubles ignore you
Each step of the way.”

God be on your road every way you go.”

Wishing you all a good October.

Take care!

Gilly xxx

My walk to the haunted Convent Santa María de Los Ángeles (in Hornachuelos, province of Cordova)

Hello folks — I hope you are keeping well and safe!

The other day it was grey, dull, cold, wet and windy, so I thought to myself ‘What a lovely day for a walk!’

And that’s just what I did!

But instead of going to my local Sierrezuela hilly range, close to Posadas, I went a little further afield to the National Park of Hornachuelos. (This was a few weeks ago before the municipal lockdown I might add! I am a very law-abiding person…)

Hornachuelos also has a village and lies some 10 miles (16 km) northwest of Posadas. The park is famous for its diversity of fauna and flora (but more about that in a later blog) and the whole area has a lot of historical hermitages and sanctuaries, as well as an 8th century castle and a gothic church with the ghost of the flying monk. It also has a dilapidated convent-monastery Santa María de los Ángeles— one which boasts its own peculiar history and where my walk took me close to, as you will see in the following photos.

There is a shrine built in honour of Our Lady of Crowned Angels
Hornachuelos National Park is home to many varied species of plants and animals. There are lots of eagles too
There is a lake and dam which contains the water from the Bembézar River. You can fish and canoe on the lake, but not swim
Looking down from the wall of the dam (note the wild fig tree in the forefront)
The starting point of the walk (next to the ‘Bathing Forbidden’ sign
Up and along it goes, skirting the flank of the reservoir
Looking across to the top part of the village which is perched high on a craggy cliff, with a school to the right. Towards the left you can just make out the rusted metal tower of the zip lines that stretch across the lake
You can see the while-washed school better now atop the hill (the rain didn’t do my photography any good!)
After walking for about 50 minutes I reached the point opposite the derelict, ‘haunted’ monastery
And here it is a little closer. Now it is forbidden to enter the building because it is deemed unsafe, but there are YouTube videos of the inside. On the outside, fourteen huge stone crosses on the path leading to the monastery mark the Stations of the Cross

The convent-monastery Santa María de los Ángeles gained more fame after being featured in Iker Jiménez’s Spanish television programme, ‘Cuarto Milenio’ (Fourth Millennium). In this production numerous facts and data supporting the convent’s paranormal history were revealed. These facts were backed up by exhaustive research and quantitative tests, while ample qualitative evidence was provided by witnesses. The evidence included eerie sounds and other psychophonic phenomena that were recorded on a tape, the cause of which has been put down to spiritism and psychic energy. The conclusion was that the strange sounds that hoot, whimper and cry out at night, accompanied by noises of certain ‘things’ moving about (as the experienced locals and some visitors will testify) are phantasmal voices from the past.

As well as these spooky sounds, there have also been sightings. One of the common spectral visions is that of a nun. She is dressed in such a way that is has been concluded (on the basis of other evidence too) that she was the first nun who inhabited the place some five hundred and twenty years ago, and (as the story goes) loathe to leave the convent when it changed ownership and underwent subsequent alterations, she stayed living there in secret for many years, until eventually she gave up the ghost. 

The story behind the Santa María de los Angeles convent-monastery goes something like the following. The hallowed site, originally a Franciscan convent, was founded in April of 1490 by Fray Juan de la Puebla (born 1453, nephew of Catholic Queen Isabelle, and nicknamed by the Italians as El Gran Español for his spiritual devotion and the exemplary life he led). As a result of his divine calling, he entered a Hieronymite convent when he was eighteen and then later, under the orders of Pope Sixtus IV, the convent of San Francisco in Rome. (It is reported, by the way, that this popeunder whose orders the Sistine Chapel was builtalso aided the Spanish Inquisition, though unhappy with its in-house abuse.)

Fray Juan then returned to Spain when his brother, Don Alfonso de Sotomayordied. (The latter was a great paladin of the Catholic Monarchs, Isabel and Ferdinand, fighting their cause during the Reconquest of Spain.)

Subsequently, Queen Isabel asked the then-acting pope (Innocence VIII) to grant her nephew, Fray Juan, permission to live definitely in Spain, and she herself would see to his spiritual education. Once agreed, he returned for good and devoted himself to establishing many new convents and monasteries in the provinces of Cordova, Seville and Extremadura. One of the monasteries was the aforementioned Santa María de los Angeles in Hornachuelos. This was erected upon the steep and craggy cliffs of the Bembézar Lake, far from any hamlet and village.

In 1494 the convent was visited by the Catholic Monarchs who, recognising and applauding Fray Juan’s famed heroic virtues, wished to give their thanks for the help they had received from God and indirectly, via Fray Juan’s spiritual intercession. This apparently had been instrumental in their victorious outcome of the Reconquest.

However, these were not the first and last monarchs to visit the blessed site, and some seventy-six years later, in 1570, Felipe II graced the monastery with his presence. Over the time there arose the legend that if this holy site were to be bought and altered then it would ‘rain fire’. Contrary to such warnings though, the site changed hands several times, each time undergoing various reforms. True to prediction, the monastery burnt down three times: in 1498, 1543 and 1655.

To rub salt into the wound, after the latter date of 1655 the convent was bought by somebody or other from the nearby town of Ecija and then sold to the Marquises of Peñaflor in 1884. They rather irreverently used the hallowed ground and edifices as a hunting centre. Subsequently though, the Marchioness (perhaps suffering qualms of conscience) donated the property to the church, and in 1957 it was opened as a seminary.

However, as is often the case when some good ideas fail, the new seminary was abandoned some fourteen years later when the upcoming seminarians chose to study in the newly-opened and more central, holy-training institution, San Pelagio in Cordova town. Since then, Santa María de los Angeles—which at last count consisted of seven buildings containing a chapel, various classrooms, dressing rooms, bathrooms, kitchen, toilets galore, patios and even a cave for meditationhas fallen into disrepair.

Now this sacred skeleton stands alone, balanced upon the vertical cliffs of the Bembézar Lake, inhabited only by ghostly nuns that glide about, accompanied by the phantasmal noises from former spectral devotees. The building (and its invisible inhabitants) is also visited by numerous hikers, nature lovers, history enthusiasts and psychophonic investigators, all of who must keep the spirits well-occupied.

Well, that’s all for now…

Thank you for visiting — as usual I welcome any comments or questions.

Take care! xxx

Me, my family… and the cat in the four-star hotel in Burgos!

During the last years, living in the countryside of Posadas (in the province of Cordova) has given us the freedom to enjoy some nice animals, and as I love cats, at one point the count of these animals totalled thirteen (as you will see in the following photos)…

The oldest of these cats was Chueif (spelt that way because at the time, my daughter was too young to being able to appreciate the rules of English spelling — or, rather lack of them!).

Now Chueif was both a fierce and loving creature, and she was a good hunter too, regularly bringing home a half-mutilated snake, and cleaning out the colony of huge grey rats that would often gate-crash our house.

This ‘Right Honourable Chueif’ was our favourite cat, the matriarch of all the others—so how could we leave her behind when we migrated north to our wind-swept cabin situated atop the lofty hills of Cantabria? This brings me to the explanation of how Chueif became a hotel-indulging cat.

From a young age Chueif became accustomed to long drives, but was encouraged to regularly stretch her legs in picnic spots or in fields; she was also allowed to stay in the kid’s tent when camping. On one such camping trip we were obliged to stay an extra night in Salamanca’s campsite because the campsite’s territorial and very fierce tom cat forced her into hiding. It was only by sheer luck and cunning manoeuvres on our behalf, that after pinpointing the source of her woe-stricken meows we managed to cajole her out of her hiding spot—the shrubbery dividing off the swimming pool from the rest of the plots.

When she emerged, we quickly thrust her in the van and calmed her with soothing endearments, as well as bribing her with some tasty tit-bits such as Laughing Cow cheeselets, La Lechera condensed milk and ‘leche merengada’ ice-cream (cinnamon flavoured). We then made a soft nest for her to sleep that night amid plump cushions on the plushly-upholstered back seat of our Volkswagon Camper Van, far from the reach of the campsite’s bully. She didn’t complain!

The following night, after having felt quite traumatised by Chueif’s disappearance, and suffering from the general side-effects that camping can have on some people (such as housewives and mothers who are in need of a proper break and certainly don’t need to take their work along with them when on holiday!), we threw all caution to the wind and booked into a four-star hotel in Burgos (which offered a special deal, but which did not extend to felines).

The name of the hotel was ‘Abba Burgos’, and I’m mentioning that not because I have shares or relatives in this establishment, but because I thoroughly enjoyed my stay there: nice, spacious, comfy, offering an asphyxiating sauna and an ample buffet breakfast sprawling over many long tables which luckily came with a good supply of thick, large serviettes just in case one couldn’t manage to sample all the wares and wished to ‘take advantage’ of the situation and ‘improvise’ by making undercover, doggy bags. (After all, it’s not every day that one stays in a four-star hotel!)

Another definite plus point of this hotel (which benefitted my drawers and cupboards) was the fragrant English lavender growing by the hotel’s entrance. I really had to take advantage once again. (When we did reach our final destination in the windswept hills of Cantabria, my daughter and I devoted much time to making lacy lavender bags.)

Statue of El Cid

The hotel is also situated in the historic, old part of Burgos (which is, by the way, the birth and burial place of Spain’s national hero, the military leader El Cid. He was a key figure in the recapture of Spain during the Spanish Reconquest in the 11th century, fighting both for the Christians and then aiding the Moors in their intertribal battles within Al-Andalus.

Anyway, the hotel lies not far from the Gothic-Renaissance-style cathedral which houses El Cid’s tomb, and is close to the bustling town centre with its many squares, cafes, shops and museum of human evolution; it is also within walking distance of the very full Ebro River.

Well, apart from a little light theft or ‘borrowing’, my second infringement of the hotel rules involved cat smuggling. It really didn’t occur to me that one had to make formal enquiries whether one’s cat could or could not stay in the suite. I actually didn’t think about this—I was just so overwhelmed with relief at not having to camp that I completely overlooked it. So when we did enter the foyer, that’s when I noticed the sign in reception, undeniably obvious, which read ANIMALES NO PERMITIDOS’ (‘NO ANIMALS PERMITTED’).

I gulped. I certainly wasn’t going to leave Chueif all alone in the van, still dealing with the psychological after-effects of her camping experience and feeling abandoned, wandering anxiously back and forth between the steering wheel and crowded luggage compartment (where she would probably be forced to relieve herself in the early morning hours).

So, with a feeling of guilt, we bundled her into my daughter’s pink, diamanté, ‘Little Princess’ shoulder bag. Luckily the strap was almost hip long, so I could smother any protesting wriggling or shifting movements by exerting a steady but gentle pressure with my elbow. It was what I imagine playing the bagpipes must be like.

However, as the minutes ticked passed, muffling the remonstrative meows proved to be more difficult than I had imagined. When Chueif let out the first stifled cry, I was actually in front of the reception desk handing in my passport, so I coughed loudly and started talking to the children with exaggerated excitement. The receptionist, while returning me my passport, shot me a quizzical glance which made me feel as if I were about to be interrogated by the SS. I didn’t wait for the sentence to be delivered, but just beat a quick retreat to the recesses of the nearby lifts. There I stood, cat in bag, hair dishevelled, uncontrollably static and unwashed after our camping, and my daughter clad in grimy leggings next to me. However, we were not alone: hovering next to us was a very poshly, sombrely-attired couple, wearing sombre expressions to match— they must have been there for a business meeting, I hastily concluded.

Just at that point, Chueif decided to let her discomfort be known to all of us. From inside the bag poured out an untiring string of miaowing laments, which varied in pitch from high to low, light to strong and sounded like the tuning of an old-fashioned wireless. What’s more, she squirmed and wriggled frantically inside the baby-pink, bejewelled bag.

I saw the couple’s eyes immediately rotate downwards as their focus travelled to the Princess bag that was firmly wedged between my elbow and hip. I tried to camouflage the movements by gently swaying to and fro, by rocking this way and that, by shifting my weight from one leg to another, by twisting to the right then to the left, and by flexing one knee followed by the other, all in a distracted, absent-minded sort of manner (which comes easily to me), and all in time with the over-animated conversation I was having with my thirteen-year-old daughter.

I was aware that by now a damask flush was colouring my cheeks, and my mid-length hair had become even more frizzy and unruly due to the static produced by the nylon carpets and the hotel’s de-ionised air; and this was compounded by the electric static that my nerves were generating.

The lift did take an awful long time in arriving—long enough, in fact, for the couple to shoot me a second quizzical glance, fraught with unspoken accusations. ‘Mad dogs and Englishmen’ was the berating sentence that immediately popped into my head, although ‘Mad cats and Englishwomen’ would have been far more appropriate!

However, luckily and at long last I heard the relieving ‘ping’ from the lift announce its arrival. I let out a sigh of relief in time to a muffled meow (which only made me look all the more ridiculous). As the couple entered the elevator, they deemed us worthy of a smile—an all-knowing smile, coloured by a hint of sympathy and pity, but which at the same time confirmed the unspoken agreement that they would remain mute partners in crime.

We waited for the arrival of the next lift in which we managed to enter quite painlessly, and which delivered us to our fifth-floor double-suite. It was a luxurious room, and even more luxurious for Chueif, who, before curling up on the plush carpets under the bed, had to push her inquisitive, discerning nose into every nook and cranny. As for us lesser mortals, after testing out the king-sized beds, the multitude of television channels and investigating the array of freebies in the bathroom and miniatures in the fun-sized fridge; and after then pocketing the pens and small writing pads (a mother is always short of stationary, isn’t she?), we then proceeded to unpack our few items of clothing.

My husband had even fewer items, being the ‘no-fuss’, simplistic and modest man that he believes himself to be, and so we had taken advantage of his minimalistic attitude by filling his half-empty bag with the cat’s sand box, together with a small bag of sand, a packet of wet-wipes, a rubber clockwork mouse, her favourite cushion and blanket, her bell collar, a lead and harness (just in case), some fish-flavoured chews, a 250 ml plastic bottle filled with milk and a tube of condensed milk.

The litter box, after having been nicely washed, using the hotel’s shampoo and perfumed with their eau-du-cologne, was neatly placed in the kid’s bathroom. Chueif soon settled down and was ready for a nice long nap; and we were ready to go and explore the historic town of Burgos.

We were enchanted by the town and after much walking and sampling delicious tapas in many bars, we finally arrived back, exhausted and ready for a good night’s sleep.

The night and following morning went according to plan, with both Chueif and the children behaving very well indeed. There were no other incidents or protestations from Our Right Honourable Cat when we handed back the keys on our departure. Perhaps it had something to do with the bacon and chorizo that we had smuggled for her from the ample breakfast buffet.

Since the hotel experience turned out to be such a success (especially for mothers and cats), the whole ‘cat-in-a-hotel’ process was repeated once again, but this time in a five-star hotel in the historic, medieval town of Toledo.

But I think that’s enough of cats in hotels for now!

Thank you for bearing with me so far!

This story was adapted from a chapter of my illustrated, humorous and factual book, An English Lady in Cordova — the Alternative Guide

As usual, comments and questions always welcome.

Goodbye for now — take care! xxx