Tag Archives: tapas

Travels in Spain, Roman Ruins and a Bodega in Carmona

Carmona Street 01

“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. White sierras, goatheards, dungeons of the Inquisition, Moorish palaces, black winding trains of mules, grey olive trees and groves of lemon, girls in black mantillas,  cathedrals, cardinals, bullfights, gypsies, serenades – in short, Spain.”  –  George Orwell

I have seen Roman ruins advertised before and sometimes they can be quite disappointing so I didn’t have high expectations of those in Carmona but they turned out to be a real surprise.  It wasn’t the Aqueduct of Segovia or anything of the scale of Segóbriga  or Mérida of course but there were extensive excavations and a museum with an informative film about the Romans in Andalusia and the significance of this place.

It was principally an ancient Roman burial site or necropolis near the Seville road that was discovered in 1881 and there was also the site of what had been a rather large amphitheatre.  The best part of all was that there was free admission and we spent well over an hour to look around the site.

It seemed that we had underestimated the town of Carmona and there was a great deal more to do here than we had originally thought.

Close to the fortress gate there was a little bodega that we had picked out earlier for lunch.  The Abacería L’Antiqua was full to overflowing and heaving with activity and just as we were pondering whether or not to stay a table became available and we elbowed our way through the wall of people and made ourselves comfortable. The food looked good and the bar was doing brisk trade so we selected some items from the tapas menu and waited for our food to arrive.

All around the bar there were barrels of sherry and this is something else that Andalusia is famous for.

Sherry is a fortified wine made from white grapes that are grown near the town of Jerez on the coast. In Spanish, it is called Vino de Jerez and according to Spanish law, sherry must come from the small triangular area of the province of Cádiz between Jerez, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa María.  After fermentation is complete, sherry is fortified with brandy and because the fortification takes place after fermentation, most sherries are initially dry, with any sweetness being added later. In contrast, port wine is fortified halfway through its fermentation, which stops the process so that not all of the sugar is turned into alcohol.  So now you know!

The food arrived quickly and it was delicious and we enjoyed it so much that we ordered second plates of those we liked best and more drinks.  The bodega was a vibrant and effervescent place with people of all age groups and whole families enjoying their Sunday lunchtime gathering and we enjoyed the garrulous atmosphere and just being a part of it all.

But we couldn’t stay all afternoon because there were still things to see.

At the fortress we fished around in our pockets for the admission fee only to be told that today the entrance was free, so how glad we were that we hadn’t visited yesterday.  It wasn’t a big castle but it was a good place to visit with commanding views in all directions across the Andalusian plain.   This place had been chosen well as a castle of strategic importance.  It had been restored and modernised of course, some time in the 1970s, but that didn’t spoil it one little bit.  The sky was blue and it was warmer today so we had a good time climbing the towers and taking in the breathtaking views

I especially wanted to retrace our car journey of the first evening and we found the very narrow street and wondered just how we had managed to negotiate it without adding to the cars dents and scratches.

Practically every car in the town had some form of damage either from scraping past walls or from other cars squeezing past and a very high proportion of them had had their wing mirrors removed and were now only kept in place with sticky tape.  This wasn’t the sort of place to live if you are at all fussy about the appearance of your car.

We found Micky in San Fernando Square sitting on a bench in the sunshine with a red nose and flu weary eyes and looking very forlorn.  The man from Bar Plaza saw us and told us he had prepared paella for this evening but unfortunately for him we were determined to return to the Abacería L’Antiqua and so he had missed his opportunity.

We went first to the Forum Bar, which was busy and then walked to the Bodega, which was empty.  The contrast from the lunchtime bustle made the place almost unrecognisable and although other diners began to drift in the place never achieved the sociable levels of lunchtime.  We ordered some repeat dishes and experimented with some different ones and the food was equally as good and we stayed all evening before going back to the hotel for our final night at the San Fernando.

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Travels in Spain, A Walk Around Seville

“We are in the Spanish south.  The castanets click from coast to coast, the cicada hum through the night, the air is heavy with jasmine and orange blossom… the girls have black eyes and undulating carriages.”, Jan Morris – ‘Spain’

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

Travels in Spain, The Origin of Tapas

According to one legend, the tapas tradition in Spain began when the King of Spain, Alfonso XIII, visited a tavern in the town of Ventorillo del Chato in the province of Cádiz, and ordered a glass of sherry.  On this particular day there was a gusty wind, so the innkeeper served him his glass of sherry covered by a slice of ham supposedly to prevent the sherry from getting dirty but more likely because he didn’t want to have his head cut off!

The King finished the sherry and ate the ham, and when he asked for a second glass, he requested another tapa or ‘cover’ just like the first.  This evolved into the practice of using slices of bread or meat as a practical measure meant to prevent fruit flies from hovering over the drink. The meat used to cover the sherry was normally ham or chorizo, which are both very salty and activate thirst and because of this, bartenders and bodega owners began creating a variety of snacks to serve with sherry but, more importantly, increasing their alcohol sales as a consequence.

There are alternative stories about the origin of tapas but so far this is my favourite.

 

Image

Travels in Spain, The Bodega

Bodegas

Travels in Spain, Madrid to Belmonte via Chinchón

Regions of Spain

Some time ago now we set ourselves the ambitious task of visiting all of the seventeen Autonomous Communities of Spain and to begin our quest we chose Castilla-La Mancha, the land of Don Quixote, windmills and wide open plains.

It was an early morning .flight and in razor sharp skies the plane crossed the Atlantic Spanish coast somewhere close to the city of Santander and below us we recognised the two thousand five hundred metre high peaks of the Picos de Europa and then  crossed the massive northern mountainous regions of northern Spain.  It was brown and rocky with huge mysterious pine forests and blue shimmering lakes, long roads negotiating the mountains and valleys and snaking between towns and villages and from above it was possible to begin to appreciate the immense size of the country and of the task that we had set ourselves.

Closer to Madrid the predominant browns gave way to vibrant greens and then into a mosaic of contrasting colour  as the aircraft made its final descent and landed at the airport.  It was rather disorganised but the customs were brilliant and the United Kingdom immigrations control could learn a thing or two about getting passengers through an airport quickly from these guys.

Then collecting the car was gloriously simple as well and within forty minutes we were heading out of the city on the A3 motorway and on our way towards our first destination, the town of Chinchón, about thirty miles south of Madrid.

Chinchon x 4

Not far out of the city the scenery suddenly became more attractive with acres of olive trees and stumpy black vines slumbering in the fields each with the contorted face of a medieval gargoyle concealed within its gnarled and knotted trunk.  In the trees and on top of pylons there were stork nests and in the sky buzzards hung above us on the thermals looking for easy lunch in the fields below.

We arrived in Chinchón at about half past one and ignoring the edge of town tourist car parks steered the car towards the Plaza Mayor at the very centre of the town.  Parking has rarely been easier and there was a perfect spot right in the Plaza and I was sure there must surely be a catch.  There was a glorious blue sky and big sun and it was warm enough to change into summer holiday linens although this did take some of the locals by surprise as they were wrapped up in woollies and coats and still obviously uncertain about and distrustful of the early Spring weather.

Chinchon

The Plaza is in a marvellous location with a big irregular shaped square that is used for town festivals and the occasional bullfight; it is surrounded by a hierarchical arrangement of buildings of two and three storeys with two hundred and thirty-four wooden running balconies, called ‘claros’ and shops, bars and restaurants on the ground floor all spilling out onto the pavement.

It was the location for one of the opening scenes, a bullfight as it happens, in the 1966 film, ‘Return of the Magnificent Seven’ and was also used as a location for the film ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’.

Magnificent 7.Around the World in 80 days Chinchon

After a few minutes spent soaking up the atmosphere we compared menu prices in the bars and selected the cheapest tables on the sunny side of the square and settled down for lunch where we enjoyed salad, calamari and tortilla and after a couple of glasses of Spanish beer set off to explore some of the tiny streets running like a spiders web off of the square.

First through narrow lanes of whitewashed houses to the very top of the town and to a castle with excellent views over the houses and the surrounding villages and countryside but the castle was in a state of serious disrepair and closed to the public so we left and after calling in at the Parador hotel to see how wealthy people spend their holidays we walked to the other side of town and climbed again, this time to the church which had equally good views over the tiled roofs of the houses which in some way reminded me, in an ochre sort of way, of Tuscany.

Chinchon Castle

Beyond the houses there were the surrounding villages and the predominantly buff and grey coloured countryside stretching as far as the horizon.  From this elevated position it was possible to appreciate that despite its close proximity to Madrid that Chinchón is essentially a small Spanish village and despite the Plaza, which grabs all the attention this is a living and working community.

From the castle we took the road back into town which took us through lazy whitewashed streets where elderly ladies in black dresses sat gossiping in the doorways and men folk sat on benches discussing important matters of the day.  In the centre of town along streets leading off the Plaza there were a few shops, a mini market, butcher, grocer and a fishmonger, an electrical shop that didn’t look as if it had sold anything for a very long time, a florist and a photographer.

And we were back at the car park; we liked this place and wished that we were stopping longer but it was time to leave now and make our way to our accommodation in the provincial town of Belmonte.

Chinchon Windows

Travels in Spain, The Levante and Torrevieja

Torrevieja pier statue

 “I think you are missing the fact that ex-pats in little England actually do enjoy their view and their way of life in Spain. What’s wrong with sunshine and cheap booze and cheap fags?” – fellow blogger, roughseasinthemed  (Be sure to visit, you might like it)

I last visited the Levante east coast of Spain on a golfing holiday in May 2008.  We didn’t play golf every day and we alternated playing days with sightseeing along the coast.  One day we went to the seaside resort of Torrevieja and as we drove away I said that I would never go back.

I had to keep this ‘not on my bucket list’ thought to myself this morning when my sister Lindsay revealed that this was the plan for today.

In 2008 I still considered Spain to be massive holiday resort for the benefit of visitors from the north, it was only a year later when I began my travels into the interior and came to realise just how wrong I was.

Since then I have been fortunate to be able to visit almost all of Iberia, Spain and Portugal (except for Gibraltar, La Rioja and Navarre) and I am much better informed now and much less critical of the coastal Costas.

Torrevieja Street Art Spain

I didn’t like Torrevieja that day in 2008 because I wore blinkers and couldn’t see beyond the crowded beach and the long concrete strip overlooked by 1970’s high-rise hotels with towels hanging from the balconies like carnival bunting and littered with bars with cheap plastic orange furniture and tacky pictures of the food on the menu displayed on pavement boards.

Torrejievja Spain

To be honest, on that day I set out not wanting to like it and I successfully fulfilled my own petty ambition.  So here was an opportunity to set the record straight.

One thing that I did like that previous visit however were the impressive sandcastle artists who had constructed the most amazing displays of castles, dragons, ogres and naked ladies and were diligently carrying out constant running repairs to prevent the things drying out and collapsing back into the sea.

I was glad to see that they were still there…

Torrevieja Beach Sculpturesbeach-nude

It was rather cold this morning, there was no sun so there was no question or debate about taking the swimming costumes and towels and I think everyone was relieved about that and appropriately dressed we drove the short distance to the coast where we parked the car and set off for a walk along the seafront promenade.

It was much as I remembered it, still concrete, still lined with high-rise.  It isn’t an attractive place, it isn’t Alicante with its attractive patterned paving and palm fringed boulevards.  It is much more utilitarian and functional.  Sprawling and horizontal it invites a direct comparison with vertical Benidorm, fifty miles or so to the north.  Benidorm is better (in my opinion).

In 2008 I wanted to snigger about Torrevieja but today I wanted to find the good in it.  We strolled along the promenade, popped inside some tacky seafront shops because I wanted some postcards and then selected a café for a drink.  There were no orange plastic chairs and no pavement picture boards and there was an impressive lunchtime tapas menu.  We had a drink and as we left promised to come back later to eat – I wonder how many times the staff hear that?

TorreviejaTorrevieja 2008

So we continued the walk along the seafront and then Mick made the fatal mistake of taking us back through a shopping street and we were detained several times as Kim and Lindsay were distracted by shoes and sparkly things!  How many pairs of shoes does one person need I always wonder?

We went back to the bar for lunch and where it had been quiet and abandoned earlier it was busy and vibrant now and we set about choosing our tapas.  In this part of Spain a surprisingly high percentage of the population speak Valencian, a form of Catalan, and here the tapas were the northern Spain alternative – Pinchos.  

A Pincho is a Tapas where the topping and a slice of bread is held together with a small wooden skewer (a Pincho).   It is a good trick, you just keep choosing small dishes and lose all wallet control and when you have finished the waiter counts the sticks and makes a charge for each one at the same time as you pick yourself up from the floor and dust yourself down after the shock of the bill.

It is a system that relies completely upon a lot of trust!  I can tell you that they were all delicious choices and I could easily have blown our entire daily food budget in that place if Kim hadn’t insisted on a bit of gastronomic restraint.

After lunch we made our way back to the car park and left Torrevieja.  In 2008 I said that I would never go back but in 2016 I have moderated that and said that I wouldn’t rush back.  That is a compliment!

As we left I snapped this picture of the clouds over the sea.  Is it just me or can anyone else see an Angel smiling at my unexpected conversion?

Torrevieja Spain

Travels in Spain, Alicante

alicante-esplanada-de-espana

It was mid-November and the weather was just perfect.  Shirt-sleeve weather in fact with sunshine and big sky so after breakfast we were away to the nearby city of Alicante which I was sort of surprised to discover is the eighth largest in Spain.

The short drive north took us through a wild landscape of lagoons and wetlands and for me this was another surprise.  I would have to say that it is hardly the Camargue in the South of France but away from the urbanizations and the towns it wasn’t what I was expecting and it turns out that this is a region for bird spotters and wild life photographers and I could see why as flocks of vermillion flamingos strutted through the shallow waters like statuesque flamenco dancers.

flamingo-flamenco

We arrived in Alicante and found plenty of room in an underground car park – plenty of room because Spanish drivers object to paying for car parking in the same way they boycott toll roads and would rather drive around in ever decreasing circles wasting time and fuel until they disappear up their own exhaust pipe looking for a free spot than spend a couple of euro to leave the car in a secure place.

As we emerged blinking into the sunlight, even though I have never been to Alicante before I had a strong feeling of Déjà vu.  We were on the Esplanade de España where the coloured floor tiles undulate like a rolling sea in a storm and I knew that I had seen them before.  It took me a moment or two to drag up the memory but then I remembered – I have a picture of my granddad in this very avenue, perhaps even this very spot taken nearly sixty years ago.

Alicante Old Picture 1960Alicante promenade 1959

In the photograph below my grandparents whose names were Ernie and Olive were probably about fifty years old or so and they were clearly having a very good time sitting at a bar enjoying generous measures of alcohol, the same sort of good time that I like to enjoy when I go travelling.

I’m guessing of course but Granddad, who looks unusually bronzed, seems to have a rum and coke and Nan who looks younger than I can ever remember her appears to have some sort of beer with a slice of lime and that’s about forty years before a bottle of Sol with a bit of citrus became anything like fashionable.  With him is his brother George (no socks, very impressive for 1960) and his wife Lillian. Nan and Granddad look very relaxed and with huge smiles that I can barely remember.

Benidorm Bar 1960?

We walked first around the marina and stopped briefly for a drink and then on to the beach, abandoned today because although the sun was shining it was perhaps a little too cool for a dip in the Mediterranean so we bypassed the opportunity of getting into our bathing costumes and made our way instead to the castle which sits on a rocky outcrop and looms large over the area.

Finding a castle to visit is not difficult in Spain because, according to the Spanish Tourist Board, there are over two thousand five hundred of them, for comparison there are eight hundred in the United Kingdom but France claims almost five-thousand but it includes a lot of questionable  small Chateaux in that number.

It looked like a strenuous climb to the top but fortunately there was an express lift so we took the easy option and in a few seconds were standing at the very top of the city.  Alicante castle turned out to be as good as any in Spain, there is a lot of reconstruction and renovation of course but I find nothing wrong with that and we enjoyed an hour or so walking around the battlements, looking at the exhibits and enjoying the elevated views.

Alicante Castle

We had return tickets for the lift option but walked down instead and at the bottom at around early afternoon we searched for the old town and somewhere nice to eat.  We were looking for a tapas bar and found one that we liked in a pleasant square in the last of the Autumn sunshine where we ordered a beer and selected our favourite food.

According to legend, the tapas tradition began when the King of Castile, Alfonso the Wise (if I was King I think I would like to be called ‘the Wise’, so much better than ‘Andrew the Fat’ or ‘Bad King Andrew’) visited a tavern in the town of Ventorillo del Chato in the province of Cádiz, and ordered a glass of sherry.  There was a gusty wind, so the innkeeper served him his glass of sherry covered by a slice of ham to prevent the sherry from getting dirty.  The King liked it, and when he asked for a second glass, he requested another tapa or ‘cover’ just like the first.

Wine and Tapas

This developed into the practice of using slices of bread or meat as a practical measure meant to prevent fruit flies from hovering over the drink. The meat used to cover the sherry was normally ham or chorizo, which are both very salty and activate thirst and because of this, bartenders and restaurant owners began creating a variety of snacks to serve with sherry, thus increasing their alcohol sales.

As we finished lunch the sun slipped behind the tall buildings and cast long shadows across the square so as the temperature quickly dipped we paid up and left and strolled for a second time around the marina before returning later to the town of Quesada where we were staying and spending an hour or so in the garden before preparing to go out for an entertaining evening meal.

Alicante Tapas