Category Archives: Food

A Previous Visit to Morocco

Epcot World Showcase

The Disney Web Site introduces Morocco like this: “A realistic Koutoubia Minaret leads the way into this faraway land of traditional belly dancers, intricate Moroccan architecture and swirling mosaics made by native craftsmen. The Morocco Pavilion has 2 fascinating sections: the Ville Nouvelle (new city) and the Medina (old city). Discover a bustling plaza with a variety of shops and be on the lookout for some familiar Arabian Disney friends throughout the day.”

Read the Full Story…

Advertisements

Travels in Spain, Guadix and the Cave Houses

Guadix and Sierra Nevada

Not a great picture – it was on the wall of a bar and the lighting was poor but still better than any picture that I could get of Guadix!

“For almost the first time I felt I was really in Spain, in a country that I had longed my whole life to visit. In the quiet back streets of I seemed to catch a momentary glimpse, a sort of far-off rumour of the Spain that dwells in everyone’s imagination.”  –  George Orwell

It didn’t take long to reach Guadix, it is only a few miles east of Granada and we arrived there about at lunch time and instead of going straight to the city centre we took a detour into a neighbouring village in search of something to eat.

We were in a coach trip tourist sort of place lined with shops selling local earthenware and pottery but being just out of high season there weren’t any tourists there today, the shops were empty and we found a bar/restaurant with outside tables and busy with local people, which is always a good sign, so we selected a spot on the pavement in the sunshine and ordered a small selection of tapas.

The owner must have thought that we looked under-nourished because the food just kept turning up, we thought that we had ordered a light lunch but very soon the table was in danger of collapsing under the weight of rustic tapas and plates of fine food. It was rude not to eat it all but this took us some time and after we had finished our glutinous challenge we settled up and continued on our way.

Guadix Street

Guadix was quiet, almost as quiet as Puerta de Don Fadrique and we needn’t have worried in advance about car parking because the streets were empty, the shops were closed and there was almost no one about.  We found the hotel easily enough, checked in, unpacked only what we needed for an overnight stay and then went back out into the centre.

I liked it, it wasn’t Trujillo in Extremadura or Almagro or Siguenza in Castilla-La Mancha, it wasn’t Santillana del Mar in Cantabria but it was authentic and rustic, Spanish and Andalusian and I was glad that we had chosen to spend some time here.

We walked around the centre, along the banks of the crusty dried-up river bed and through some lush public parks but in late afternoon there was never much sign of life.  I looked for a shop to buy some wine but I had forgotten my corkscrew key-ring thingy that I can smuggle through airport security and there were no screw cap bottles anywhere in my price range so I was forced to buy a carton of Don Simon Vino Tinto which is really cheap and tastes just the same.

The product manufacturers make this extraordinary claim…  “Don Simon Vino Tinto Wine offers an expertly and exquisitely manufactured wine with fruity aroma; light fruit flavour, crisp acidity, light body and dry, tart finish. Good for every occasion. Best when served chilled. It looks as good as it tastes.” 

No grape variety information or expert tasting tips and in truth it is the sort of wine that at about 1.50 a litre, if you have got some left over you don’t mind pouring down the sink when you leave if you are not too concerned about environmental damage or taking the risk of destroying the hotel plumbing system.

Don Simon wine in a carton

We sat for a while in the lonely Plaza Mayor which was abandoned and quiet but decided anyway to return later for evening meal.  Two hours after it was transformed, the square was busy and there was fierce competition for tables but we swooped on one and the owner talked us into a Menu Del Dia which, as it turned out was a brilliant bit of salesmanship by him although not a brilliant decision on our part, but we had a hearty meal which filled us up including a truly enormous portion of Tiramasu for sweet for Lindsay which arrived just as she was explaining her planned dieting schedule.

I liked Granada and I liked Guadix, two completely different places which all adds to the richness and diversity of Spain and keeps me wanting to go back again and again.

The following morning we had a good breakfast at the hotel and we cleaned them out almost completely of tomato for the tosta and then we checked out and drove a short distance to the cave houses.

006

This is the main reason for visiting Guadix.  It is like Bedrock and the Flintstones.  People still live in caves.

People still live in caves!

Just outside of the City old town there is a community of residents who cling to and persevere with the old ways which includes digging a hole in the limestone cliffs and then setting up home inside.  Not just any old cave however and today the mountain homes have brick façade and all of the modern home conveniences inside.

After a walk to the top of the village to an observation platform and then down again a man asked  us in to his cave home and invited us to look around.  People in Andalusia used to live in cave houses because they are cool in summer and warm in winter and they are cheap to build.  Some people, like those here in Guadix still do!

We spent an hour or so investigating the intriguing village and then we left and set off back east towards Rojales and the Mediterranean coast.

008.jpg

 

Travels in Spain, Granada Old and New

Alhambra Walk

If you were to visit just one city in Spain, it should be Granada” –  Ernest Hemingway.

We had a leisurely start to the day with breakfast in our apartment and it was gone ten o’clock when we finally left and walked back into the city.

We began the day in the Albayzín neighbourhood which is an important cultural area of the city which is recognised by inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage list for the protection of cultural and natural heritage.  The area has a distinctly Muslim heritage with architecture and street arrangement based on Almohad, Berber design which stretches back over eight hundred years to when the North African Moors were in control of almost all of Spain but strongest here in Granada and nearby Cordoba.

Of all the foreign nationals living in Spain the greatest number are Moroccans and as we pushed our way through the busy streets, politely declining invitations to take tea or to look inside the shops I was immediately transported to Marrakech and Fes, Meknes and Tangier.  This was an interesting part of the city which reminded me once again at just how varied and diverse is the country of Spain.

Alhambra Gate

Although we didn’t have entrance tickets to the Alhambra Palace we decided to walk there anyway because we had been told that it was possible to gain access to parts of the complex without tickets.  It wasn’t very far away but once again the walk involved a steep climb especially towards the latter stages through the woodland approach to the city gate.

Once inside it was indeed possible to see quite a lot of the Palace grounds even without admission to the formal gardens, the Palace or the Alcazaba but we could walk around the battlements and enjoy the views over the city, visit the Palace of Charles V and some minor buildings outside of the main complex.

In a moment of mad optimism we did visit the ticket office  but it was not to be and so an hour after we had walked up to the Palace we began our slow walk back down.

After a light lunch we now went our separate ways, Kim and Lindsay went to the ships and because men don’t do shops, Mick and I didn’t.

Granada Cathedral

So I visited the Cathedral.  Mick doesn’t do Cathedrals so he sat outside and waited.

An interesting one this, unlike most cathedrals in Spain, construction here was not begun until the sixteenth century as it had to await until after 1492 and the acquisition of the Nasrid kingdom of Granada from its Muslim rulers.  While its earliest plans were Gothic the construction of the church in the main occurred at a time when Spanish Renaissance designs were supplanting the Medieval preference in Spanish architecture of prior centuries.  As a consequence of this the interior is light, bright and airy with soaring white columns and high windows and a fine collection of Renaissance paintings to boot.  I liked it, it was different to so many other Cathedrals in Spain.

On the way out I visited a small museum with examples of Muslim architecture which I didn’t really understand and there were no interpretation boards to help so didn’t linger and then the City Hall, the Ayuntamiento, but as I wasn’t registering for citizenship or applying for a Spanish bus pass this didn’t take terribly long either.

Granada Balcony 5

We all joined up again at a pavement café in front of the Cathedral and wasted away the last of the afternoon over beer and wine and then returned to our accommodation to prepare for the evening.  This didn’t take a lot of planning because as I have mentioned before once we find a place that we like then we generally tend to use it again and tonight was no exception.

The food was good but the highlight was the street entertainment, not a musician or a dancer or a singer but a street corner beggar who was an absolute professional when it came to wagging a paper cup at people and putting on a show that ranged from high drama to low despair.  He was quite successful too and every time a coin was tossed into the cup he scooped it out, examined it and swiftly put it in his pocket so he could present an empty cup to the next victim.

Granada Donkey Picture

The next morning we got caught in a ‘sting’ ourselves.  We were leaving Granada to move on to nearby Guadix and we were doing quite well navigating our way out of the city until a moment of hesitation was spotted by a man on a tatty old scooter who approached us, went in like a stiletto and convinced us that we were going the wrong way (even though we had a perfectly reliable SatNav) and invited us to follow him and for some unexplained reason we did.

The SatNav was frantically giving instructions to turn around but we just blindly continued on until we reached a point at the opposite end of the city to where we really needed to be and he pulled up, approached us, told us to follow signs for the motorway and held out his hand for payment.  We were going to give him €5 but Lindsay, feeling generous offered 10 at which point he demanded 15 which was completely absurd but Mick didn’t want a screwdriver being run down the side of his shiny new car so we meekly paid up and went on our way.

We made our way to the motorway junction and drove a completely unnecessary ten miles or so to get back to the place where the Satnav would surely have taken us thirty minutes sooner.  We should have got a discount on the €15 for all the extra fuel he had wasted for us!

We had been thoroughly tucked up, completely skewered, absolutely kippered but once on the open road and heading towards our destination we soon saw the funny side of it and laughed about it all the way to nearby Guadix.  People have got to make a living somehow I suppose.

Granada Matador

Travels in Spain, The City of Granada

Granada Pointless Souvenirs

“Granada! Holy place of the glory of Spain, Your mountains are the white tents of pavilions, Your walls are the circle of a vase of flowers, Your plain a Moorish shawl embroidered with colour, Your towers are palm trees that imprison you” –  José Zorrilla y Moral

We had nice accommodation in Granada, a studio apartment with kitchen and living room.  We liked it and congratulated ourselves on our good fortune and then immediately set off into the city in search of something to eat.

Unlike the previous stop in Puerta de Don Fadrique the streets were busy and everywhere was open so there was a lot of choice.  It was mid afternoon by now so we only wanted a snack so we found a tapas bar and then proceeded to order far more food than we really wanted.

We needed to walk it off so after we had finished and settled up we set off towards the Alhambra Palace and a viewing point called the Mirador directly adjacent.

Alhambra Granada

After a gentle stroll along the banks of the Rio Biera the road turned sharp left with signposts to the viewing platform which involved a much steeper climb than we had really anticipated when we had set out.  The road seemed to go on forever and become steeper and steeper by the step.  The smart people zoomed past on the shuttle buses that were taking passengers to the top but without a ticket we just had to continue slogging away.

It was one of those climbs when every so often you think you are there but you are not, hopes are dashed and another set of steps appears ahead and then another dog-leg to tease and to taunt.

Eventually however we were at the top, there was nowhere else to climb and there was a welcoming bar and some vacant tables.  Hardly surprising really because the prices were as high as the elevation but to be fair we were paying not only for the beer and wine but the magnificent view as well and we sat and looked out over the snow capped Sierra Nevada mountains to the south and in the foreground the Alhambra Palace and the hundreds of visitors climbing around the walls.  Busy because with three million visitors a year it claims to be the most visited site in Spain.

The top ten most visited are the Alhambra, Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, the Mosque at Cordoba, Santiago de Compostella, Burgos Cathedral, the Alcazar of Segovia, Roman Theatre at Merida, Casa Mila in Barcelona, the Cathedral and La Giralda in Seville and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. I have visited them all except for the Guggenheim.

Granada Alahbra Face

The Alhambra complex was built for the last Muslim Emirs in Spain during the the Nasrid dynasty who at the time were becoming increasingly subject to the Christian Kings of Castile.  After the final expulsion of the Moors and being allowed to fall into disrepair for centuries, the buildings occupied by squatters, the Alhambra was rediscovered following the defeat of Napoleon, who carried out retaliatory destruction of the site.

Our original plan was to visit the Palace but due to some sloppy travel planning on my part this wasn’t going to be possible this time.  It seems the place is so popular and so busy that during the peak season it is necessary to book tickets at least three months in advance and when I eventually got around to doing it I had left it too late.  Never mind, on the plus side it means we may need to back.

Alhabra from the Mirador

So for this time anyway we had to satisfy ourselves with a wonderful view of the exterior which I have to say provided a significant amount of compensation. When we had finished our drinks and had stopped drooling over the view we made our way back down into the city which thankfully was a lot easier than the climb up.

We sat for an hour or so now and enjoyed the accommodation before going back into the city for evening meal. We didn’t go far, just into the next street where there was a good choice of restaurants, using the selection criteria of looking at what other people were eating and spotting a man with a very nice steak we chose the first one that we came to and enjoyed a simple meal and a jug of house wine.

We liked Granada and we looked forward to a full day in the city tomorrow.

Granada Tapas

Travels in Spain, Rojales to Granada

Road to Granada

The sun was shining when we left the Spanish east coast town of Rojales just south of Alicante in the Province of Murcia.  It is close to sea level so it didn’t occur to me to take a rain coat or even a pullover in the event that it might later turn cooler as we drove inland and into the mountains.

We were in Spain and the sun always shines in Spain – doesn’t it?

We were driving inland towards Andalusia on the way to the city of Granada and just a few miles after we left the clouds began to build and the temperature began to drop. Kim worried about this and concerned for my welfare asked if I needed to stop and put on something warm. I shivered but didn’t own up to not packing anything that might usefully be described as warm so this wasn’t an option. She pulled a cardigan out of her bag and wrapped it around her shoulders. My sister, Lindsay did the same.  I tried to look brave.

Shortly after bypassing the city of Murcia there was some improvement and we took a planned detour through the Province of the same name towards Andalusia and towards the small town of Puerta de Don Fadrique which is a small village that makes the extravagant claim to be the prettiest in Spain.

Puebla de Don Fadrique 01

As it happens I have been to a number of self-proclaimed prettiest villages in Spain so I was interested to see how this one compared.

Santillana del Mar in Cantabria is a picturesque town and often appears in any top ten of best villages in Spain along with Cudillero, Almagro, Ronda, Trujillo and Alcala de Henares.  This may of course have something to do with the fact that the French writer, philosopher and all-round clever dick, Jean Paul Sartre declared it to be the prettiest village in Spain in 1938 (“Le plus joli village d’Espagne”) although I am not absolutely sure just how much of Spain he visited and just what he was comparing it with or how he came to this rather sweeping judgment.  Perhaps it was just a lucky guess!

The approach to Puebla de Don Fadrique was indeed stunning set against the backdrop of the Sagra mountain range and we continued to climb to three and a half thousand feet before eventually arriving in the town.  As we parked the car I couldn’t help noticing that everyone was wearing pullovers and coats.  By necessity (not having a pullover or a coat) I declared it warm enough to walk around in shirt sleeves!

It was time for refreshment but the first café was closed and so was the second and the third.  The whole place was completely desolate as though there had been a nuclear accident and the place had been abandoned in a dreadful hurry.

Puebla de Don Fadrique 04

Everywhere was shuttered and closed which led me to speculate that maybe Puebla de Don Fadrique was suffering from a collective hangover from a Festival the day before, which is usually just my luck,  or maybe it just doesn’t open on a Monday.

It was a pretty little place for sure, whitewashed houses and black metal grills in the Andalusian style but without people it lacked any sort of vibrancy or interest, no bars, no restaurants and no shops.  We walked through the streets half in anticipation and half in disappointment and made our way back to the car and suddenly there was signs of life as a group of men in coats and pullovers were sitting at a street corner debating the big issues of the day and at the end of a street about a hundred yards away we finally spotted a bar that was open.

Puebla de Don Fadrique 03

So we made our way towards it, alarmed the owner by sitting down and ordering a coffee and then slightly bemused by all this left and drove out of the village and resumed our journey towards Granada.

As we drove further west the weather continued to rapidly deteriorate.  Ahead of us we could just about make out the Sierra Nevada Mountains, at eleven and a half thousand feet the highest in Spain and the third highest in Europe after the Caucasus and the Alps.  But the storm clouds were gathering, the sky turned black and it started to rain.  The temperature sank like a stone and I began to plan my first task in Granada, to find a shop to buy a coat.  And I am not a great shopper!

A few miles out of the city we passed through the wet weather front and the mercury and my spirits began to rise once more and by the time we reached our destination I was pleased to see people wandering around in tee-shirts and short sleeves.  Almost effortlessly we found an underground car park located conveniently next to a supermarket and just a couple of hundred yards from our accommodation.

We found it easily and after we had declared it completely satisfactory and had settled in we set off to find somewhere for late lunch and a bit of a stroll.

More Attractive Towns and Villages in Europe

Puebla de Don Fadrique 02

Travels in Spain, Costa Blanca

My Costa Blanca

Back to Spain for my next sequence of posts. The Costa Blanca and a few days in Andalusia.

European Capital of Culture 2014, Riga

Riga

First of all today we reacquainted ourselves with the fabulous Art Nouveau buildings that were all quite close to our hotel.  There had been a lot of restoration activity since we were last here and the pace of regeneration to repair years of neglect was very impressive.

The buildings looked different this time bathed in soft winter sunshine with snow on the roofs and when we had done enough neck craning to peer upwards towards the statues and friezes we left this part of the city and walked once again through the spacious parks towards the city centre.

Read the Full Story…