Sunday, October 22, 2006

Adios to Spain

When we last left our wayward adventurer, he was in Cordoba, admiring the Arabic architecture of the Mezquita & planning his trip to Granada.

Well…plans changed & I ended up “chilling” in Cordoba for a few extra days (that & the fact that I didn’t organise my accomodation in Granada).

I did a day trip to Seville instead. I, somehow, managed to order the correct train ticket, for the correct time & day. I was impressed !!

Seville is typical of a major Spanish city in this has a Cathedral & it has an Arabic fortress (an Alcazar). It also seems to be full of orange & lemon trees !!

The Cathedral of Seville is quite impressive: it has one of the largest high alters in Europe, it has an impressive treasury & also happens to contain the tomb of Christopher Columbus. The tomb is set in the middle of the chuch, near the high alter & is not hard to miss. It has these four massive pallbearers (each representing the kingdoms of Spain at the time), carrying aloft the coffin containing the bones. the Spanish would like to believe but it seems that recent studies have shown that the bones aren’t, in fact, those of Christopher Columbus. They could well be those of one of his sons. It would seem that the real bones are in the Dominican Republic. The tomb is still pretty impressive !!

Nearby to the Cathedral, is the Alcazar. It has the obligitary, beautiful, serene gardens...full of orange/lemon trees & fountains, that provide a sanctuary from the chaos that is the Spanish streets. It has amazing Arabic architecture & colours that are so refreshing from the dowdy, dingy colours you find in most churches.

Seville also has the Plaza del Espagna...a huge public space with interesting decorations around the pillars.

With time running out in Spain, it was off to Valencia to meet up with B. & G., as well as experiencing one of the great pleasures of Spanish food: Paella.

Paella comes from Valencia so it was our mission to find a decent Paella place, down by the seaside (of course). After a busy day exploring the sights of Valencia (more of that later), we managed to find ourselves at this restaurant, looking out across the Mediterranean Sea (if you stood on your chair & looked down the length of the restaurant). The meal started off with a serving of fried calamari (lightly battered & salted) for most of us (someone wanted to be healthy & ordered a salad), then the star of the meal arrived.

Out came the biggest pan I’ve ever seen (well...actually...I saw bigger Paella pans in the markets that could serve up to 100 people) with a Valencian Paella (saffron, chicken, rabbit, broad beans & green beans). It was devine !! Ok….maybe a little bit oily but something about the beans just really set off the flavour !!

After pigging out on the Paella, what better way to finish off the meal than with a Catalin Flan (ie: Creme Brulee) with a crunchy, burnt sugar topping.

Now, Paella is not the only thing to see in Valencia. Valencia is home to the City of the Arts & Sciences…some of the most architectually bizzare buildings that you will ever see. They are so space age in their design that they look as though they belong on the set of a ST:NG episode (sorry...Next Gen fan here !!). These buildings house an arts centre, an IMAX theatre complex, a science exhibition & a plant collection (for want of a better term) that seems to house alot of Australian plants !!

Valencia is also home to Lladro porcelin factory. I’d never heard of Lladro before coming to Spain but it is one of Europe’s most famous (& expensive) figurine companies. Anyway, next to the factory (located out in the suburbs), is the factory seconds store, offering figurines at greatly reduced prices. Not really being a porceline figurine person myself, the prices were still pretty steep. There was much buying up of figurines by my friends...they had a grand old time.

Another thing that Valencia is famous for is that it is the home of the Grail. Yep...THAT Grail !! At the main Cathedral, to the right as you enter, there is a little chapel. Behind the alter, is a glass cabinet containing a cup, said to THE cup that Jesus served the wine at the last supper.

Food Experiences

Apart from the great Paella in Valencia, it was more a case of experimenting with Tapas & seeing what it was that I was ordering. My favourite Tapas would have to be the the croquets with Bacala (salted Cod) & with Jamon.

I also love the potato tortilla that come out looking like a big, chunky frittata.

Oh !! Before I forget, I have to tell you about this Tapas bar in Madrid that specialises in prawns. This place was brought to my attention during the “Parker Tour” of Madrid. It’s called “La Plaza del Abuelo”. Their specialty is garlic prawns served as follows: a small, ceramic pot has oil poured into it. A spoon of garlic butter & some fresh chilli is then placed in the oil. This ceramic pot is then placed on the gas stove & the oil heated. Once the oil is bubbling away, the prawns are added. Once cooked, the pot is brought to you (oil still bubbling away) & you dig in. What’s even better is you can dip your bread in this oil !!

Observations of Spanish Culture

I have to share with you a sight we saw by the Central Markets in Valencia on Saturday morning, that, to me, sums up the Spanish attitude to life.

As we were sitting there munching away on our breakfast, we saw two old guys at the table next to us. They’ve probably known each other forever & probably have been coming to this cafe everydays for years. They certainly carried on that way.

They were having a grand old time with their coffee, their bottle of red wine, puffing away on a cigar & knocking back the odd glass of liqueur...all before 10.30am !! None of this eating a balanced breakfast first thing in the morning. These guys were enjoying life the way they knew how to.

Final thoughts on Spain

I did quite love Spain. They have a great culture with terrific food & a wonderful attitude to life. Staying at the “Casa Parker” & being shown around places that you wouldn’t normally see if you didn’t have friends immersing themselves in the culture (thanks B. & G.) really made for agreat experience.

The only thing that left a bad taste in my mouth was being targetted by pick-pockets three times in the space of a week (this only happened in Madrid). The third time, they nearly got my wallet…I caught the guy red-handed, reaching into my pocket. The bastard !! So if you’re travelling to Madrid & are using the Metro (a quite easy & effecient system to get around the city), beware of folks crowding around you, especially if they have a jacket over their arm (all the better to hide the other hand reaching for your wallet).

Well...that’s for this posting.

The next posting will be from Italy so, until then, take care !!



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