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“Visit us in Spain! It will be so relaxing.”

An old friend was recovering from surgery and needed to escape her regular life which (on an intensity scale of 1-10) she generally lived at about 12.5. I pointed out my old blog post here which described our idyllic holidays in rural Spain every July and suggested it would be a relaxing place for her recovery.

The only sounds she would hear, I assured her, were the stream that had once powered the old mill we rented, the cow bells, and the occasional rooster. We could retreat from the summer heat to the pool or the cool interior of the mill with its three-foot thick stone walls. And we’ll take trips to gorgeous historical cities nearby like Salamanca and Avila.

Yup. That’s what I said. So she had her surgery and hopped on the plane to Madrid.

Only… things went a bit different this year.

Seems the farmer one field down is now breeding dogs. Dozens of them. At random intervals (not exceeding five minutes), they all go batshit crazy and howl at the top of their little canine lungs that they are hungry/bored/it’s night/it’s not night…

Jetlagged and in pain, my poor friend assured us that she could sleep through anything—that’s what her lovely surgery team gave industrial-strength pharmaceuticals for. That was before she met Waspzilla. Oh yeah, did I mention we have wasps this year? The biggest ones I’ve ever seen—at least two inches long and with a buzz that sounds like a jet engine readying for takeoff.

Next day she happily left our decidedly-non-soothing house to walk around Piedrahita with its beautiful old fountain-centered square. We went to the greengrocers, and stopped to pick up some of Marissa the butcher’s fabulous steaks. Friends were coming for dinner along with their two young children. This being Spain, they arrived late, concerned about a hotel mixup (translation: no reservation could be found). But all was forgiven because they brought the flower of the oil**.

**La Flor del Aceite (Flower of the oil)– According to their website here
“The flower of the oil is the small amount of oil that runs just after the olives are stone milled and before the first cold press. It takes more than twice as many olives to produce a liter of “flor de aceite” (24 pounds to obtain a liter) as it takes to produce the first cold press (11 pounds to obtain a liter).” All I know is that I could drink the stuff.

On the way to our door, our guests were waylaid by our landlords, who wanted to explain that the reservoir had run out of water but not to worry because they had a reserve tank which they would use as soon as they got a pump for it. In a few days. Of course, this info had to be imparted at a shout over the noise of the dogs down the hill going ballistic.

Finally, we broke out the wine, and everyone started to relax. [Barb’s gourmet food tip: serve dinner REALLY late, and offer lots of wine. Starving people think anything tastes great. Drunk starving people think it tastes even better.] 

I’m not great at cooking or entertaining, so I was just congratulating myself that we were all actually sitting down and complimenting the dinner (thanks for those steaks, Marissa!) when the Hub pointed to floor. “This one’s for you.” Everyone looked over of course, to see that the dog had dragged out the toilet brush and was happily shredding it. Cue the batshit cray-cray dog chorus from down the hill, and a Waspzilla flyby.

I cleaned up but it took a while for people to start eating again. We were all back at the table when my friend swiveled to look at the dog, now at her feet. Her eyes met mine with a look of panic. I inhaled and immediately covered my nose. Now everyone was looking up, faces covered, eyes watering, and we realized that (for once) the dog was innocent. No, this was a stench that could only have been made by pigs working overtime. Apparently, the farmer had decided that dinnertime on a Saturday was the perfect time to apply pig-poo to his fields. We flew to close all open windows but it was too late. I could just picture them, in years to come: “Remember that dinner Barb gave in Spain? The one where the dog ate the toilet brush, the wasps-of-unusual-size dive-bombed, four dozen dogs down the hill were having barking competitions, and the farmer spread pig-poo? Can’t wait to get invited there again…”

Luckily, the dinner was saved—again by Marissa’s shop which had also provided a wonderful local dessert. Membrillo is made from quince fruit and served with local cheese.

Red-eyed, still jetlagged, and nervously looking over her shoulder at every Waspzilla fly-by, my poor recuperating friend agreed that the best thing might be to leave the house and dogs for a soothing day of sightseeing. We headed for Salamanca. And it was, of course, gorgeous. We toured the old Cathedral (12th century) which is directly adjacent to the new Cathedral (16th century). We wandered the Art Nouveau museum and ooohed over the Lalique glass.

Old Cathedral, Salamanca

New Cathedral, Salamanca “Because there are just some tops you don’t go over,” said no Spanish cathedral designer ever.

By this point we were starving and she kept pointing to the happy people eating at the numerous outdoor cafes. Their food looked incredible but I stood firm. No, we were going to eat at the Plaza Mayor, the centerpiece of the city and one of the most beautiful central plazas in a country that knows how to do them right.

The completely empty tables should have been a clue. The new statue of the 25-foot upside elephant should have been a save yourself, run-for-your-lives red flag.

We sat at the tables for possibly the worst lunch in history. I thought about bringing my “roast beef sandwich”—one piece of greasy beef slapped between two pieces of bread with absolutely nothing else on the sandwich or the plate—home to my dog, but beyond the occasional public toilet brush nosh, she had never done anything to warrant such severe punishment.

Salamanca Plaza Mayor

Upside Down Farting Elephant, Salamanca, Plaza Mayor—I couldn’t possibly make this up.

Then we found out that the elephant farted smoke when the clock struck the hour. We beat a hasty retreat out of the plaza and past all the lovely al fresco restaurants full—as my friend sadly pointed out—of happy diners who didn’t have to watch cement elephants farting.

We made it back to Piedrahita, found out there was still no water, chased a few of Waspzilla’s over-achieving brethren on wasp steroids out of her room, and my poor recuperating friend tried to relax. That’s when the doggie chorus of the damned set up their loudest peal yet.

You could have cut the relaxation with a knife.

But luckily, the water was restored in time for showers, a (possibly pharmaceutically-enhanced) night’s sleep was achieved, and all was redeemed the next day within the Unesco World Heritage site walls of medieval Avila where we did NOT eat on the plaza. Or face the Inquisition.

Avila: lunch NOT on the Plaza—baked apples with goat cheese and honey, plus pasta with delicate curry sauce, and tinto de verano to sip. How relaxing!

Avila gateway

Medieval walled city of Avila, burial place of Tomás de Torquemada (Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition). [Image credit: Diego Delso for WikiCommons]