Friday, August 18, 2017

Travel Chaotically! - To Spain with love

In September of 2013, I was blessed to experience a beautiful trip through Spain. It began with a trip to Tampa for my 3 month post nivo trial follow-up visit. But, with clear scans and the promise of no doctors for 6 months - we were off - flying from Tampa to JFK to Madrid. Finding the bus to Atocha was managed - by me and MY Spanish!!! - culminating in our arriving at the best little B and B, Lope de Vega, run by the sweetest young couple.
We fell into the Spanish tradition of half raciones with 'dos canas' very happily!!  Pulpo a la gallega (octopus and potatoes, B's fav!), toastados with gambas al ajillo, and patatas bravas!  Followed by strolls through Plaza del Sol and Plaza Mayor.

Night life in Spain is an amazing, friendly, delicious, family affair!

Next morning we shared breakfast with Australians who enjoyed talking about themselves a great deal, but were entertaining enough.  Then out to a beautiful explore of Madrid and the Royal Palace.
Yes, we did.  We went to the famous and rather hokey, Botin!  Hey!  It's a landmark!!  Touted to be the earliest restaurant in the world, founded in 1725.  We enjoyed roasted ham and lamb with Sangria!!  Not bad, not a'tall bad!!  Followed by a walk along the Passeo del Prado with music from an amazing guitar player on the steps of the Prado floating through the air.

Next morning, after a run in the Parque de el Retiro, which reminded me more of green spaces in France than Britain or the US, with sculpted trees, fountains, fine graveled paths filled with runners, bikers and dog walkers - and another breakfast with Aussies who, "though they dove deeper, came up dryer!!!" -  we were off fabric shopping.  I had not sewn very much at that point, but I wanted to get something beautiful for Ruthie.  And at Ribes and Casals, there it was, a lovely Chanel-like tweed with brilliant pinks that was perfect!!  From my journal that day:  "B was all for it and got the attention of a guy who thought I knew all about sewing AND Spanish - both completely untrue!!!.  B persevered. I did my best to answer the many questions flying back and forth - 'quantos suficiente' and 'tejidos por pocket' (which I took to mean lining!!) all in rapid fire Castilian Spanish with a bit of a slur- not exactly the Spanish dialect I am used to!!!  Questions  about Libya and Syria came up!  Oh, Lord!!  B still managing!!!  Suddenly, a final question left us stumped and lost - as the entire shop came to a stop and all eyes turned to us.  An older lady ahead of us in the check out line repeated the question more slowly.  "¿Por qué estás comprando tela aquí?"  B, thinking quickly replied, "Porque no podemos conseguir tejido de esta belleza y calidad en casa!"  Big smiles all around.  And, thankfully, all involved returned their attention to their own affairs!!!"
(THIS!  The dress Ruthie made from the fabric!!!)

We spent the afternoon wandering through Reiana Sofia ~ Picasso's Guernica!!!  The Prado ~ Velazquez (especially Las Hilanderas and Las Meninas)!!!  Leaving me simultaneously filled with wonder inspired by the incredible beauty, intelligence, talent and horror of man.

A short walk to the marvelous madness that is the Market of San Miguel!!!

Verms!!!! Well, technically - eels!!  Angulas!  (FYI - they tasted like tough spaghetti with garlic sauce.) Chorizo! Croquetas!  Gildas!   
When in Rome!!  Or Spain!!!

Seriously, plazas, restaurant displays, and nightly adventures are a beautiful way of life!!

Waiting on the train to Barcelona!  I love watching new sights fly by train windows.  The landscape leaving Madrid was much more arid and brown than expected, though it was September.  To our left were canyon like formations in the foreground with mountains in the distance.  Patches of olive trees quilted the hillsides, giving way to more verdant fields dotted with wind turbines as we neared Barcelona.  

Another interesting B and B - La Casa de Marcelo.  Don't you love the doors in these buildings???  At Bar del Pla we first experienced berenjenas con miel.  So, so, good!!!  Basically, fried egg plant drizzled with cane syrup.  Afterwards, we tried it in many places and LOVED all versions!!  We took in the sights and markets as we wandered through lovely Barcelona.

We enjoyed tapas at Segardi Euskal Taverna.  Look at all the yummy Basque pintxos!!  Little toasts/tapas, with a wide variety of fillings and toppings - all skewered with a toothpick.  When you are done...your toothpicks are counted, with the size and quantity determining your bill!! 

Thanks to reading Rick Steves' travel book, I was eager to try txakoli (cha-kolee), which according to him, was a sparkling wine served from great barrels poured at a height.  I ordered it, and indeed, it was a most delicious sparkling wine, although disappointingly poured from a glass bottle. A bit later, B was off to chat with the Fred-like waiter and order the beverage from the "wall"

Blech!!!  Mr. Steves, you are most confused or have a serious typo in your book.  The barrels are cider.  It was okay.  Just not quite what I expected. Live and learn!  I adore txakoli!!  Cider...despite its romantic barrels...not as much!

Next morning, we had a lovely run toward la Playa and Barceloneta, down the boardwalk.  Saw a woman rinsing herself at a fully exposed public shower - naked as a Jay Bird.  Don't know if she was a visitor or a local.  If visitor, perhaps she is part of the reason behind recent complaints regarding tourists (in addition to the unfortunate jacking of property rents and prices) in that area!!!
I love markets.  All shapes, all sizes, all sorts!!!  I like to pretend, "If I really lived here ~ what would I eat, where would I shop, what would I do?" Were I a resident of Barcelona, I would certainly avail myself of Las Ramblas!  (At least for things that fit my budget!!) The pedestrian walk is a destination in and of itself!  Flower vendors. Butchers with chicken, tripe, kidneys.  Every fish and mollusk. Hams - priced from 60 to 200 euros.  Sausages, cheese, eggs.  Boxes of saffron, large and small! 


Next day, after another beach run, we took a walk to experience 'Barri Gotic', a metro ride to Sagrada Familia (Incredible!!!), and the metro back to Barceloneta.  The fish displays outside the restaurants reminded me of those in Greece. 

We settled on one that smelled delicious with a lovely view of the beach.  B had fish.  I had shrimp. On admiring the ring of our server, I got his first real smile.  He was from Morocco and the ring was from his family, his homeland.  He took our pic.  

As we walked back from the sea, the moon shown bright as day.  A beautiful finish to many treasured moments in this magnificent city.

Back on the train - on our way to Sevilla.  From the train windows there were garden plots, vineyards - giving way to sandy grey soil with olive trees and terraced fields.  In two hours more, acres and acres of sunflowers!!! Followed by reddish fields with more green, fruit trees, and vineyards.  After a warm walk...we found the - Street???  Path??  Corridor???  that led to our hotel.  Our requisite evening paseo took us down Constitucion and back, with a giant church, amazing facades, sangria, chipironies a la plancha and espinacas con garbanzos for supper!!

Next morning, I slept in, but B brought me hot chocolate and churros for breakfast.  A walk to Mercado Arenal brought us:  pale green zucchini, pears of all shapes and sizes!  Fish, lobsters, cigaretellos, langostines AND shrimp!!!  Razor clams, snails, dorado with their golden noses, hake, chicken, eggs, and ham!!  More espinacas con garbanzos and my first experience with ensaladilla Rusa!!!  YUM!!! On to the Cathedral, though by now B was rather tired of "God on a stick" and a bit like a well behaved though sighing 4 year old.  But, I had a plan!!!  Here you could climb 330 feet up in the bell take pictures!!!  So.  We did!  More wandering, admiring the amazing tile work throughout the city and dinner at what may have been the best restaurant of the trip:   El Jardin de las Tapas.  Barbadillo Blanco!!!  Two different types of gazpacho, one lighter with bits of pepper, onion and herbs on the side to add as you wish and another richer version with ham (salmorejo).   Lamb with gravy and potatoes.  Peppers stuffed with merluza (hake).  Followed by a Flamenco show down the street.  B was a happy man!!!

After our morning run on a Sunday, we meandered down to the river.

I would live in the blue house!!!

After exploring the lovely streets and neighborhoods along the river, we landed at Taberna Miami!!  Oh my goodness!! Here you need an appetite for crazy as well as delicious food.  I was befriended (as are many) by the exuberant owner and filled to the top with my Frito Pescado (bright red shrimp, a whole little flounder, big pieces of fried cod, pieces of what must have been merluza, calamari rings, topped with what at first appeared to be thin shreds of fried onion - but on closer inspection tiny little eyes were visible -  angulas - delicious!!) B's oxtails were amazing.  And B's increasingly proficient Spanish won him this story from the proprietor:  "I've worked hard in life, but I have played hard as well.  Take the road to adventure.  In doing so, along the way, the women have been the best."  In the end, B was not sure if he was encouraging a lech or if, in fact, women are simply of 'mi corazon'!

Further exploration of Triana led us to Alcazar.  Beautiful tiles and arches.  Reflecting ponds. Koi and carp.  B took incredible pictures that I will have to share sometime. The tile work there and throughout Sevilla is truly one of the most beautiful artistic accomplishments humanity has ever produced.

An early breakfast (check the pic in the mirror) before heading to the taxi stand.  In much of Spain, bars (where you may find a group of older ladies, families with children....not your usual "bar"!!!) from the night prior, are the breakfast places of the morning. Cafe con leche and pan con tomate.  Usually with salt, pepper, and olive oil to add as you like.  All a growing girl needs!  Off at a mad pace in the taxi with the usual white knuckle, in and out of traffic drive to the train station.  Jovial young gent, with a love of 90's pop Kansas, Dust in the Wind...judging by the radio, was our driver.  Such an efficient drive to the station gave us time to review our plans for Granada.  Our 2 hour train ride (its duration due mostly to 11 stops along the way) showed arid fields with drying sunflowers.  Others were plowed or newly mown.  Occasional impressive haciendas with white stucco walls, red Spanish tiled roofs.  Olive groves as far as the eye could see.  Landing at the smallest (and sadly, dirtiest) train station of the trip, we found our hotel rather easily and discovered, when grabbing a bit of lunch at the last moment before siesta, that Granada actually embraces the premise of 'tapas' as a "free plate"  - an appetizer you get with your beverage - much more seriously than the rest of Spain.  Elsewhere you may get a little bowl with 5 olives with your beer.  Not bad!!  But here, we were given a good sized bowl of chicken cooked with peppers and potatoes!!  Really delicious!

Up early next day for a trek to a different hotel to catch a bus to take us to the Alahambra.  Bus and taxi rides are often the most 'exciting' part of our travels.  This was no exception.  Imagine.... People hopping on and off. School children scattered in the melee. Huge bus - narrow streets, through which the only car I would willingly drive would be a Smart Car, as a Mini Cooper would be over large!! Motorcycles and pedestrians whiz about in all directions.  In order to make the turn around a square, the driver and another girl actually leave the bus to lift a parked motorcycle out of the way.  Mid-maneuver, an alarmed looking guy walks over, deciding the better part of valor is to hop on his bike and zoom away, though the girls must now shoo a taxi out of their path!!!  We careen around other obstacles and roar up the hill to the Alahambra.
Incredible tile work. Gardens. Fountains.

Reportedly painted in brilliant colors years ago...still unbelievably beautiful.

In awe of all that we had seen, we wandered back on foot.  Because we never mind walking, and in the chaos of arrival, we didn't see any way to find the bus we were supposed to return on!  Discovered camarones al pil pil for dinner.  

Modern art. We saw many lovely examples of 'artful' graffiti!!  Next morning, walked back to the train station.  Now knowing the lay of the land, we realized it was not far from our hotel.

Cordoba.  With streets smaller than ever, we determine them to be pedestrian only...when a car came barreling along, tires rubbing along both sides of the curb!  Bright and hot.  We procure tickets to another Flamenco show.  Attending that evening, we realize we are in the presence of an incredible dancer, clearly ballet trained as was noted in her bio.  The guitarist and singer made it an impressive trio.  Stopped by a little place after for a glass of wine, manchego and chorizo.  Speaking with each other almost completely in Spanish.  A sweet waitress asked that we complete a survey. B wrote a glowing recommendation but added, all in Spanish, that it would, perhaps, be better if the servers would sing.  The girl got tickled with that one, and told Brent, "No, no, no. No puedo cantar."  But, a bit later, as a male waiter cleared the last few dishes, he burst into song!  Earning a big hand and nice tip!!  Such fun! 

It was in Cordoba that I saw what remains the most beautiful thing I have ever witnessed in all my travels and years on this planet.  Cordoba's Mezquita.  The architecture of this mosque, built between the 8th and 10th centuries, is an exquisite example of Moorish architecture.  850 columns made of jasper, marble, granite, and onyx are placed in such a way to make the space a most beautiful forest.  Founded in 785, the mosque was completed in 987.  Yet, the Mezquita has also served as a cathedral since 1236, when King Ferdinand reconquered Cordoba.  And here's the even more beautiful part of the story ~  rather than destroy the beauty of the mosque, only 16 columns were removed and replaced with Gothic arches to create a chapel within.  Meanwhile, Muslims have been repeatedly denied their petitions to be allowed to pray in the cathedral since the 2000's.  If folks back in 1236 can be wise enough to reconcile their differences and avoid destruction of a building representing the beliefs and heart of those they now controlled (invasion and war not withstanding)...can't we become wise today? I know it's a long shot, but wouldn't it be a deflating kick in the pants to those who would work to do evil by hijacking a religion that has nothing to do with them or their evil agenda, if Muslims were again allowed to worship here?  Just say'n!

I have held Spain and its joyful people in my heart since this visit.  I have long meant to put this post together.   The pictures of the horror evil individuals brought to this lovely place yesterday, broke me as I recognized the patterned side walks of Las Ramblas and pushed me to share your country's beauty today.  For all of you who have lost dear ones, or have those you hold close hurt and in pain, I am ever so sorry.   Despite the limited support coming from some in this country who have access to loud headlines...many more of us are holding you in our heart.  Love, c