It is Friday, a little before 9:00 AM and, since we forgot to close the blackout curtain, the morning sun is streaming brilliantly through the curtains. A minute later the loudspeakers from the school next door begin to pulsate with a song whose title I do not know, but features heavy bass and loud drums. It is calling the elementary faithful to class and, given the fact that we are directly across the street, we get to be part of the experience whether we like it or not. We shower and dress and hit the street in search of breakfast.
We find a small, welcoming restaurant and we sit down and soon our table is filled with the smell of a café con leche, a hot from the oven toasted roll slathered with chopped tomatoes, olive oil and garlic, and freshly squeezed orange juice. The simple pleasures of life are always the best ones. While Susan finishes up the last sips of her coffee, I heed the siren call of the slot machine that is directly behind me. Within ten minutes I have coaxed it out of 50 Euros and that more than pays for our breakfast and will cover our lunch expenses, also. Given the fact that Antonio and Carmen will be coming by for us later that afternoon, we decide to take advantage of the time that we have to visit with our friends at Estudio Internacional Sampere.
We first made the acquaintance of the Sampere family in the summer of 1974. Bob Leipheimer, the Associate head of Foxcroft School, had asked us to set up a Miniterm Program in Spain, similar to the program that already existed in Spain. I had done some research prior to our trip and one of my colleagues had steered me towards Sampere. I met with Alberto Sampere, the founder of the school along with his wife, and a relationship was begun that has lasted until today. Every group that I have lead to Spain, save one, has taken daily classes at the school and has lived with families that were carefully chosen for us by the school. The school is currently run by Juan Manuel Sampere, Alberto’s oldest son and all his brothers and sisters are involved in the running of the school. In addition to the school in Madrid, there is one in Salamance, a third in Alicante, a fourth in el Puerto de Santa María, and the latest addition is located in Ecuador.
We have a brief, but enjoyable visit with Juan Manuel, his sister Virginia, Asunción Pleite, who is responsible for language students and Margarita who makes all the arrangements with families and solves all attendant problems related to families. We make a plan to have dinner Monday night and we make our way to Goya Street hoping to make a brief stop at the Corte Inglés at the top of the hill. However, no trip up the hill is complete without a stop at one of the Palazzo gelaterías. We fortify ourselves for the next bit of our journey and within minutes we are at the Corte Inglés in search of a fan. Even though technically it is fall, today’s temperatures are in the high 80’s. Almost all the fans have been put away to make room for the umbrella display, but the clerk manages to find a small cache of them and Susan picks out one that suits her needs and we are back on the streets.
We head down Narvaez Street and are attracted by the menu of the day at El Chipirón. We make our way up to the second floor and seat ourselves. Susan has a wonderful piece of hake fish in a seafood sauce that is replete with mussels and calamares. I am still nursing my stomach along so I settle (no pun intended) for a grilled piece of dorade. A touch of dessert and a cortado later we make our way to the metro and head back to the hotel. We finish our packing for the upcoming weekend and we head downstairs to wait for Antonio and Carmen. They come by at 5:30, as promised, and we fight our way through traffic to finally hit the clear spots on La Carretera del Norte and some four and a half hours later we pull into the town of Ezcaray. Antonio and Carmen have arranged for a room for us at a small place owned by their friend Loli. We drop off our things and at 10:30 we are seated at a lovely little restaurant called Echauren where Francis Paniego is currently cooking. I will talk a bit more about Echauren and our lovely little dinner in a later blog entry. At 12:30 we are back in our room, having agreed that we will all meet at 9:15 tomorrow morning and begin our wine country adventure.