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Archive for the ‘What’s Happenin’ in Spain’ Category

Down the Rabbit Hole

Wednesday, October 4th, 2006

You are probably all wondering what happened to me. Basically, I am being held captive in a cool house surrounded by mountains and gardens and stuff. I can´t make any attempts to escape because there is a guard rabbit watching the road and also, there are scary drain pipes that you can fall into if you aren´t careful. I know this, because I have seen the rabbit and because Clive and Sue´s landlord fell in a drainpipe. So I guess I am trapped here and am being force fed all kinds of fresh garden vegetables that Clive cooks on a big metal thing on an open fire, and then we have to have stuff like lemon merengue pie and chocolate mousse that Sue made for us. Then I have to get in a jeep thing and be driven around to Roman ruins and white towns on the sides of mountains and places where they force feed me wine and fried fish. It´s been rough, let me tell you.

I feel like I have been traveling a really long time. You get to a place where you seem to have forgotten what it is like to be home. Where is home, anyway? Maybe I can just hang out here for a while longer and remain a captive. Yesterday I went to a Sherry tasting thing and there were some cute Czech architect students types at our table, and I was REALLY thinking it might be nice to hang here for a while. Only they are probably going somewhere else soon, like Cadiz or something, but when you think about it, there is probably a constant stream of young backpacker types at Sherry tastings. Right? It´s like, almost a perfect world.

Today I went down in a cave and saw some prehistoric paintings that were 35,000 years old but I have to say, caves are not my cup of tea. Caves are scary and slimy and dark, but the paintings were pretty amazing. If I weren´t so scared of caves, it would be kind of cool to find one and paint something in it, then in 35,000 someone might find it and be like, who IS that blond guy and are those beans and noodles or what?

There is so, so much more but my mind is sort of on overload, what with Czech youngsters and Fino sherry and Roman bricks and all that. Tonight we have to eat some gazpacho and some pork thingys cooked on a big metal thing, and I will try to write more tomorrow.

Adios, El Norte

Friday, September 29th, 2006

Tomorrow we are leaving the Rioja for Bilbao, and Sunday we are leaving Northern Spain for the south.

The Rioja is incredibly beautiful. But it is a place that needs time. There are layers of beauty. I´m not real fond of some of the towns to be totally honest. (Like Abalos, where we are staying.) The land though, is really special, and in time I am sure I could even find Abalos special. Well maybe not. Anyhow.

Today we went to the Dinastia Vivanco wine museum down the road, and before you get visions of little dusty rooms with an old wine press and a couple of old corkscrews in them, let me tell you that this museum was AMAZING. They had wine artifacts from ancient times up through the ages, and a crazy carved ivory staff with a guy eating a naked girls foot, and a painting of Jesus pressing grapes in a vat with his crucifix on his back. Plus films of every part of the winemaking process, as it was in the old days, and as it is now, like picking grapes, making bottles, and making corks. Really and truly a great museum.

Then we went and ate a Big Lunch. It was awesome. We have been starving ourselves trying to see too much. I think you have to make a decision – see a monastery or eat a big lunch. Today we chose the lunch. We ate at a place in Laguardia, the walled town where they have wine cellars bored like a swiss cheese underneath the town… leeks stuffed with ham and cheese and topped with cream sauce, a huge piece of cod cooked only with olive oil and coarse salt, and the Riojan dish of potatoes and chorizo, sort of like a stew. Plus a bottle of Rioja, of course. Then we drove around for a while, then we came home and packed.

Lunch always makes me want dinner so we are going to try the stuffy hotel restaurant again tonight. There are lots of Spanish here so maybe it won´t be like a few nights ago when it was just middle aged English couples. Not that middle aged English couples aren´t sometimes a riot, but here they didn´t say much until the end and then they all started talking to each other.

So we head to the south on Sunday to Clive and Sue´s, which will be a whole new experience. We can´t wait.

Oh one more thing, I forgot to write yesterday, that on that Desperate Housewives show, one of the housewives was a NUN.

Visions of Green (Peppers)

Thursday, September 28th, 2006

I can´t stop thinking about food. Two things: Pimientos de Padron, and Fried Chicken. You know how sometimes you get a bee in your bonnet about something, and it totally consumes you? Well, Pimientos de Padron have consumed me. They are these little green peppers they have in Galicia and Asturias at almost every tapas bar and restaurant. They fry them in olive oil and then sprinkle them rather liberally with coarse salt. They are really addictiing and I think we ate them for every single meal last week. But here in La Rioja – no Pimientos de Padron! I saw some raw ones at a veggie stand and I almost bought them to bring back to the hotel to BEG the chef here to cook them for me. I mean, I would pay fifty euros for a plate of those puppies. Well maybe not fifty euros but I think maybe I might, well, do something random or unsavory. Well, maybe not. But I really want some. BAD.

And then, we went to this church in a town called Santo Domingo de la Calzada or somethingorother, where once upon a time there was a miracle involving a chicken and now, they have a live chicken and a live rooster in a cage in the church. So we were walking through the town and I swear to you, I smelled fried chicken. A la Kentucky Fried. I was like, Mom, do you smell that fried chicken? I WANTED it. I never want fried chicken at home. Maybe it was really fried zucchini, but they were also cooking chicken stock, so the overall aroma was one of fried chicken. But whateves. It was a good smell and I can´t stop thinking about it. That and Pimientos de Padron.

I think part of the problem is, I am hungry. Really hungry. Tonight we are going to eat Jamon Jamon Ruffles and Chocolate for dinner, because there is nothing else in this town except the hotel restaurant and it is unbearably stuffy. Speaking of ham, the other night on TV there was a Spanish take-off on Desperate Housewives, and on the show there was a cocktail party and George W. Bush was at the cocktail party. And he says to the Desperate Housewife that is having the party, MAS JAMON POR FAVOR. Or, more ham please. It was a comedy.

It´s harvest time here in La Rioja. The vines have big, fat, almost obscene clusters of purple-black grapes on them. And there are flatbed trucks everywhere, filled with grapes, going 25 miles an hour. Driving through these little villages, it is easy to almost run over someone with a juice-stained white apron crossing the street. (Which brings me to this point – why white? Why a white apron? Hmmm…) The land is very beautiful here, and we have seen some really cool stuff. But I am starving. Starving!

Speaking of starving here is how it is up here. Yesterday we were hungry so we decided to go get some cheese and bread and stuff and have a picnic in our room. So we look in one town, and there are no food shops. So we go to another, bigger town, and there is this big sign that says Supermercato. So we park, can´t find it. We look and look. All we saw was an auto parts store with dudes coming out with grape juice stained aprons. So Mom went into a Farmacia and asked, and the lady came out and showed us where it was. So we walked down there, but it was the auto parts store – said right on it, Autoservicio.

Der! Autoservicio is a food shop! No wonder we are starving, we don´t know what the hell is going on!

Well, I gotta go and eat my Jamon Jamon flavored Ruffles now, with some Rioja. Today we went to a winery that is built in caves below a town. That was pretty cool. But the shrimp with a quarter cup of mayonnaise I had as a tapa after that was gross. Man, I want some Pimientos de Padron BAD. But I guess I already said that.

Pimp this Town

Tuesday, September 26th, 2006

Well, here we are in La Rioja, where I am having an episode of melancholy because I did not want to leave Cervera de Pisuerga. It was so insanely beautiful there, and that Parador was, without doubt, one of the finest places I have ever stayed. Last night I sat on our little balcony watching the mountains as the sun was about to go down and there were hundreds of spider webs floating in the air. Like there were spiders in the trees spinning webs to be let loose into the sky. And when I went to sleep I didn´t want to shut my eyes because there were so many stars. It makes me a little teary, thinking about it now. I am sad because I am not there. But this is travel, right? On to the next adventure and if it´s not right in front of you, well then, find it.

Also I miss the German Mtv we had there, we got to watch Pimp My Ride last night which amused Mom to no end.

Today we drove for several hours along a questionable road through great expanses of high desert and sometimes, forests. It was a completely different reality, and I feel like I have passed through something like twenty five eco-climates since we got here. Spain is a lot like California, this way, and many times I have been reminded of California. But today we had a picnic in the shadow of a medieval castle. You don´t see that, in California.

Now we are in Abalos. When we booked the room here I knew it was a quiet town, but this town is, well, DEAD. There is nothing going on at all as far as I can tell, unless, and this could totally happen in Spain, at exactly 8:21 doors open and all the people spill out. Tomorrow we´ll get out and check out La Rioja, but I am not exactly stoked that we will be kind of stuck here at night. Oh wait, this is travel right? WE CAN TAKE A CAB TO ANOTHER VILLAGE FOR DINNER. (Obviously, we won´t be driving, not while inhaling Tempranillo.)

Also, we made it here today without getting lost! I think I am getting the hang of it – it´s called Connect the Dots. Only instead of dots, substitute towns. That seemed to work today. Tomorrow? HA HA HA HA HA.

Tonight we are eating in the hotel dining room and it´s going to be stuffy. But the menu changes every day and it looks fantastic. Avocados with goat cheese…. mmm. Fig ice cream. Mmmm.

Onward. There is a computer here (probably to appease the people who just can´t sit still, like me) so I should be able to post more often now. And also answer some email, so hang in there, peeps.

Reasons to Have Extra Wine with Dinner

Monday, September 25th, 2006

Of all the crazy places for an internet cafe, we have found one in the town of Potes at the bottom of the Picos de Europas. The fact that I am sort of illegally parked makes this all the more thrilling.

It is so beautiful up here, it is out of control. In fact the whole journey has taken us through so many beautiful places… through valleys with trellised vineyards so thick with black grapes that the whole hillsides are varying shades of purples and greens, to some of the most beautiful coastline I have ever seen. We have drunk wine in old monasteries and driven the curviest roads on the face of the planet. Also, we have gotten seriously lost on several occasions. But what would driving in a foreign land be without some frustration? All the better to have some extra wine with dinner, right? Oh wait, I already do that. Extra wine for mom then.

There has been some humor around the whole driving around getting lost thing. Before I left I told Clive who we will be staying with down south, that I had printed out some Mappy instructions. He was like Mappy? HA HA HA HA HA. So now whenever we can´t make sense out of the map (and he was right, TOTALLY forget about Mappy) we just laugh a la Clive Style, HA HA HA HA HA. Hey, the number of the highway just changed mid-route for no reason! HA HA HA HA HA. Hey, how come we are heading west now instead of south? HA HA HA HA HA.

Yesterday we were driving along a gorge at the bottom of the Picos, through all these little towns in the rain, and we rounded one corner and here comes a whole herd of cows and two cowherds up the street. We stopped and the cows were running into the car, sticking their heads in our windows (well almost) and it was like behind in another century, or at least another decade. Earlier we had missed a turn outside Oviedo and driven some time before we figured that out (HA HA HA HA HA) so I stupidly (now I can hear Clive laughing) decided to take a couple of back roads to make up the time. Well, forget about MAPS much less Mappy. We got impossibly lost on top of some hill and we were like Wha the Fa? Finally we asked some guy at a bus stop for directions, and his friend came in a car, and they led us to the highway. That was the first of maybe four confusing road moments of the day.

Anyhow. Now we are staying at a Parador in the foothills of the Picos, the Parador of Cervera de Pisuerga, and it is oh, so worth that drive. Our room is huge with wood floors and a view of the hills and a lake below. Last night we ordered room service, and I have never, ever had tastier food from room service, ever. We had thinly sliced steak on a baguette, and a casserole of potatoes and peppers served in a clay pot. I love the Paradors. But more on that later.

Now, after I retrieve my car from it´s questionable spot, we are headed up to Fuente De where they have a cable car that takes you up the sheer face of a cliff, and tomorrow, we head to the Rioja.

Northern Spain has totally exceeded my every expectation. I love it up here.

A Note from Asturia

Saturday, September 23rd, 2006

Greetings from a land with no internet cafes… weird huh? So I must be quick as I am on our hotel´s business computer. Later I can fill in the gaps.

We have gone from touristy (Santiago de Compostela) to a local´s town (Pontevedra) to some extraordinarily beautiful, remote places. The past two days we covered a lot of ground and now we are in the impossibly picturesque seaside village of Cudillero on the Asturian coast.

I don´t know when I´ll next see a computer… but I will write more when I can. It is awesome up here. Tomorrow we head into the Picos de Europas.

Tales from a Granite Town

Tuesday, September 19th, 2006

We are leaving Santiago de Compostela tomorrow and I feel kind of sad. This is such a cool town. This morning we were walking through the praza to get a coffee and barreling through the archway on the left of the cathedral of St. James were four young men who had just completed the 500 mile or whatever journey on the road to Santiago. They rounded that corner and they just lit up. The praza is filled with people who have made the journey, laying down and looking up at the church. And inside the church you can put your hand where a million pilgrims have done before. It´s pretty wild. We went in the church and went through the part where they have the weird statue of St. James looking down on the cathedral. You walk behind it and there is a priest there taking donations and everyone puts their head on the back of St. James. I wasn´t going to do it, but the priest was like, Mira (look) and he showed me that I had to do it. So I did it, I put my head on the back of St. James. The crazy thing is, I was really tired today, I think between the journey and the chorizos my body is sort of exhausted, but after I put my head on the back of St. James I was suddenly filled with energy. I swear! We immediately went and had some more chorizo and wine and I STILL have energy. St. James rocks.

Anyway. This is a city of travelers moving around in circles, but the people who live here seem completely accepting, sometimes friendly, sometimes slightly indifferent, but I haven´t come across one place that I haven´t felt completely comfortable in yet. It´s a cafe society, and I love that kind of place. It´s also a student´s town and that is clear when you walk though the public park and they have a display of photojournalism on the sides of the path. The display we saw is about violence and war, and at first I did not want to look, but we really couldn´t help it, because the photographs were very powerful. There was a section on the Sudan, and a section on Palestine, and a section on Iraq. The photographs were big – maybe three by four feet – and they were images we probably would not see in the U.S. So when you walk through the park in Santiago de Compostela, you get a lesson, and for young people, this is really important. Especially in the world we live in right now. It was a balanced viewpoint, I would say for the most part, but there were some pretty disturbing images. The photography was so good that some of it was actually beautiful in an achingly sad kind of way. Anyway.

Onward with our day yesterday, last night we basically walked around eating and drinking in various locations, and walking back to our hotel at 11:00 or so, we got corralled by this crazy guy, George, who proceeded to tell us all about the roving minstrel bands of Santiago and sell us a CD that he basically had nothing to do with (but autographed anyway.) I knew we were going to buy a CD from him, there was no getting out of it. So now the new rule is, if someone tries to sell us something, I will simply say, But I bought one from you YESTERDAY! That´ll get rid of them. George immediately disappeared from the praza, presumably to get a couple of copas de vino tinto with the cash he made off the sucker American ladies. He was fun, and it was worth getting suckered, to have the experience of getting suckered by him.

What now? It is the afternoon, that time between the fifth and sixth tapa. We´ll wander a bit, and I have to get some photographs when the light is good. This place is really and truly beautiful. Tomorrow we head to Pontevedra, and I am sure we will say that about it, too.

OK, time for more Albarino. Onward!

Estamos Aqui!

Monday, September 18th, 2006

It´s about 7:15 in the evening of our second night in Spain. All´s I can say is, I really,really, really love this country.

We are in Santiago de Compostela, and our hostal is on the very edge of the big square, Praza do Obradoiro. I can´t even begin to tell you all how amazing this square is. The cathedral is massive and every time we walk out the door it´s the first thing we see. When the cab dropped us off yesterday, totally exhausted, our jaws dropped. It´s a pretty impressive public space, let me tell you. I wasn´t really prepared for it.

There was a public demostration in the praza yesterday, and the entire square was filled with people waving flags that said “S con luma.´´ There was a big stage and a giant screen, and in between the people talking on stage, they showed images of the fires that recently ravaged this area, and then politicians talking on screen with words like “`manipulation,´´ “incompetence,´´ and “lies´´ imposed on the bottom of the screen. The people in the square were very emotional and heated and it was pretty powerful. Me and mom pretty much got it that they are not too happy with the way the government is handling the pursuit of whoever started all those fires. I know nothing about why and when and for what reason but I could still feel it. I almost started crying.

The rest of the city is a maze of twisting streets and houses made of granite. There are bars and restaurants everywhere. Everywhere. This also reminds me of Venice – wherever you go, there is some really cool little spot to have a glass of wine and a tapa.

Speaking of tapas, can I start talking about food now? After our bit of time checking out the demonstration, we walked down the hill to a little bar. It was just a local bar – nothing special. A couple of local guys drinking beer and reading the paper. At this point we were really tired – you know that 23 hour journey and now I am not feeling so great kind of tired. I saw the owner in the back frying up a Spanish tortilla – the frittata of eggs and potatoes that is a staple in every Spanish bar. She came out and we ordered two glasses of white wine, and she poured them and then brought us a couple of squares of the freshly made tortilla, and a dish of olives. Then she brought us a little dish of pimientos padron, the little flash fried green peppers that we fell in love with on our first trip here. We had two more glasses of wine and some other guy gave us a plate of banderillas, pickled vegetables on a stick. And when we asked for the bill, I was shocked. It was 5.20 Euro. 5.20 EURO. The day before, stuck in O´Hare airport for four hours, we dropped about seventy bucks in the Wolfgang Puck Cafe for four glasses of wine, a salad, and a little pizza. The equivalent in this bar? SIX DOLLARS. For better wine, too.

After that we slept for a while – we had to – but then we went out and had more tapas. In one place, a little dish of miniature chorizo and a plate of bread brushed with tomato and oil, and in another some empanadas stuffed with tuna and some fried sardines. Then we went to a really cool wine bar and had some of the local cheese – called Tetilla because it is shaped like a woman´s breast (I think) and some red peppers stuffed with a seafood mixture. This was my big splurge of the night because I ordered a reserve Rioja at the whopping price of 4.50 Euro a glass. It was a fine night of eating and drinking, and it all came in for well less than a couple of rounds at the O´Hare airport.

The Spanish know how to do it right, food and wine-wise, that is for sure.

We walked home through the square, the cathedral all lit up, and watched some young musicians dressed in costumes play and dance. There were probably fifty people there, watching them, laughing, and singing along. Then we went home and totally crashed.

Today we really got out and explored. It´s an easy city to walk in, clean and safe. It seems extremely livable. I know where I am, I can get around, I don´t get lost – I move from campo to campo. Did I tell you this place reminds me of Venice yet? We had to stop, of course, for a couple of tapas. We had bread topped with a mixture of lettuce, mayonnaise and ham, and bread topped with cured chorizo, and bread topped with a pickle and fresh anchovy marinated in vinegar and sugar. We also had more pimientos padron because we are seriously hooked. I´m hooked on this city. Gotta go have some more tapas now. Bye. Oh, actually some messages. Stella – I was happy you talked me out of the big suitcase my very first day. Deborah – you need to spend one week in this city when you come here next year. Clive – I bought a little bottle of that crazy brandy you were telling me about. Everyone else – this place rocks and I am never coming home. Just kidding. OK now it is really bye, because I have to go eat some little sausages now.

Lost in Translation

Tuesday, May 4th, 2004

At a cafe in Sevilla during Semana Santa, we sat down at a table and were given a menu that almost gave me a rupture then and still gives me fits of giggles now. The menu, clearly created and photocopied for the fiesta, came home with me in my journal.

Each menu item is offered in a full size portion (racion) and a half portion (media racion.)

Media racion in a straight translation = half racion. Media racion in screwed-up English translation: Stocking racion.

Hmmm. How does “half” become “stocking?”

But it gets better. Check out of some of these menu items.

Lom Lunny Dry
Cane Loin
Loin Flesh Oven
Tuna Pickles

Let’s try to break this down.

Lom Lunny Dry. The Spanish dish is called “Mojama.” This is a blue fin tuna prepared in some manner. Lom Lunny Dry? What Spanish-English dictionary is this? At least it was only 6 Euro for a Stocking racion!

Cane Loin. Probably Spaniards crack up when we say stuff like “Tender Loin.” They probably threw this one on the menu with a snicker. As far as I can tell, “Cana de lomo” is either a meat cone, a meat bone, or meat in a draft beer from Paraguay.

Loin Flesh Oven. Ahhh, my favorite. It sounds like the title of a porno movie! I about peed my pants when I read this one. This came from “Lomo Mechado” which according to my Eating and Drinking in Spain book, this can “mean any number of things, but most often refers to a roast.” Please, elaborate, what else can it mean? There has got to be something sick and twisted somewhere in the usage of this term.

Tuna Pickles. This is pretty tame compared to the others, but I bet one could get children to eat their fish by calling it a “pickle.” I, for one, am going to attempt this dish very soon, because anything that is pickled or is served with pickles rocks.

So on this day, we ordered a simple plate of “Prawa,” a Fino for me and a beer for mom. I wasn’t yet into my Fino phase, but that’s what I got and so that is what I drank. We peeled the little shrimps and watched all the locals celebrating the first day of the fiesta. Someday I will go back and order a Stocking Racion of Loin Flesh Oven. It will probably be on my mind until I do.

I’ll have some fried worm crisps and a Scorpion vodka chaser, please.

Saturday, April 17th, 2004

I guess it is a sign of a good trip when you don’t want to go home.

Today is our last day in Barcelona, and our last day in Spain. Last days are sad days. So we will try not to think about it.

Yesterday it rained hard most of the day, a strong and slanted rain that made it impossible to walk too far. Thankfully, when the sun was out the day before we realized it might be the last of the Spanish sun for this trip and made good use of it. Yesterday we did not wander far. But you don?t really have to… the area right around the apartment is enough. Every tiny street has something cool to look into or at. We did go into the Picasso Museum, even though we were hesitant because of long lines, and even worse, long lines of school groups. It was stuffy and crowded inside, but I am glad we went. We had an incredible lunch at a sit-down tapas place called 99.9% de Origens. They serve “historic” dishes from the region. This was our second meal there – the first meal I had these incredible cannelonis stuffed with meat and covered with bechamel sauce. They were so good I ordered a second one the first time, and wanted more for lunch yesterday. We also tried a fantastic meat stuffed baked apple… and toast rubbed with garlic and tomato, and a piece of fish with a garlic sauce. A bottle of red wine and Crema Catalana. What else is there to do when it is pouring rain? Then I slept.

Last night we entertained, my mom’s friend Isabel and her husband Javier, and their two delightful children (and anyone who knows me knows I don’t throw around words like “delightful” too often when it comes to children.) I roasted a couple of chickens and some potatoes and onions, and fried some little green peppers and cherry tomatoes in butter. We had cheeses and chocolates and strawberries. It was great to cook for people in our cute Barcelona apartment. We are having lunch with them today, then they have to go home to Montpellier, France where Javier is working as a scientist. They come from Seguenza (near Madrid) and just spent the holidays there. Having those kids around will take the edge off a bit as I am really feeling quite sad that we have to leave.

This morning we got up early and went to La Boqueria, the huge food market here. As a foodie type, it is pretty embarrassing that I waited until my last day to check this place out. It was so colorful it made me dizzy. There was so much to look at, it made me anxious yet wanting more. There were snails and skinned rabbits and roosters hanging from ropes. There were crazy fruits I have never seen before, and plastic cups of exotic juices. There were strings of multicolored peppers and chocolates and bars with guys drinking wine at 9 in the morning. And let’s not forget about the Cheddar Cheese flavored worm crisps and Scorpion vodka. Just when I am getting into Barcelona, I have to go.

The sun is attempting to come out. We will try to see the Sardana dance tonight, have a few farewell tapas. I have really fallen in love, so I imagine each bite will be accompanied by the threat of tears.

Spain! What took me so long.