Category Archives: guest bloggers

Jia Xiang Xiao Chi (aka Chinese Food Under Plaza de España) – Guest Blogger Justin Perlman

In the last in our current Guest Blogging series, Justin Perlman shares the kind of Madrid secret that money just can’t buy…

Jia Xiang Xiao Chi aka Chinese Food Under Plaza de España

Shortly after moving to Madrid two years ago, a local friend of mine offered up some sound advice that I had never heard before, but my wife had pointed out is quite common. He told me when seeking out a good restaurant to look for the three B’s.

I thought to myself, I didn’t realize the Better Business Bureau (BBB) existed here in Spain. He proceeded to tell me that these three B’s are the characteristics one looks for in a first-rate restaurant that won’t break the bank; Bueno, Bonito, and Barato. It’s with these three qualifiers I wanted to share a diamond in the rough, a true gem of a restaurant, and speaking of treasures, this too is hidden below the surface. That’s right; you have to go subterranean to arrive at this Chinese Restaurant.

For two years, my wife and I had walked through Plaza de España and always detected a strong scent of what appeared to be some type of Comida Asiatica. We just couldn’t put our finger on exactly where it was coming from. I had suspected that perhaps the aroma was escaping from a nearby vent that had been re-routed to the Plaza. I could not have predicted that the restaurant actually resided below our feet.

Very recently, my wife commented on this to a friend of hers who’s a Madrileña (proud of her fine city, and is actually fourth generation, which as anyone can tell you is a rare find in this city – Most Madrileños are first or second generation at best.)

Right as this friend heard “Plaza de España” and “Comida China” she replied, “it’s called Jia Xiang Xiao Chi” (pronunciation may vary, but keep in mind this friend has been taking Chinese for two years and will be venturing off for a year abroad in China, so she was definitely a good choice of those to ask about the hidden restaurant!)

Without further ado, we went to Jia Xiang Xiao Chi aka Chinese Food Under Plaza de España the next day. It was a colder than average evening here in Madrid and perhaps some hot and spicy soup, fried noodles, etc. could do the trick. If you’re walking from Gran Vía downhill towards Plaza de España you would walk as if you’re heading to the main fountain, only to march down one flight of stairs towards the parking garage.

As you approach the restaurant you’ll notice a travel agency catering towards Chinese residents living in Madrid, a thriving community in the city of over 50,000, so I should mention one has the option to find a wide range of Chinese restaurants in town.

We were lucky enough to get seated right away. I should point out there are only a handful of tables so it’s first come, first served if you want to eat in, while many people do order takeout. We found the staff friendly and attentive, greeting you almost immediately after hitting the seat. They came by our table and took our order, while extending their hand out to offer you the choice of using a fork or chopsticks. After we made our utensil selection, it was time for the main event.

The menu for the non-Chinese speaker consists of 20 items, broken down into two columns and found on one side of a laminated white page. For those who speak Chinese, there are more options. The menu was clear and concise so it’s easy to make your selections. You know a place has appeal when you see others at nearby tables commenting on their neighbors’ selections.

We noticed many people had the dumplings so we ordered those without hesitation as well as hot & sour soup, a chicken dish, fried noodles, and ribs, finishing up with a fried sesame roll. The dumplings were bursting with flavor and mixed well with their soy sauce/vinegar side for dipping. The chicken was tender and cooked just right. The noodles were flavorful and veggies remained crispy, a perfect combo.

Jia Xiang Xia Chi aka Chinese Food Under Plaza de España

Soup provided spice while not overdoing the zip. Hot sauces are on each table so for the bold, a touch of added picante is not a problem. The ribs melted in our mouths, and effortlessly pulled away from the bone, were juicy and downright delicious. Sesame roll was satisfactory, but 5 out of 6 isn’t too bad, plus there were a few other dessert options we’ll try next time.

Jia Xiang Xia Chi aka Chinese Food Under Plaza de España

Most of the dishes fall under 5 Euros so you can order a range of food, fill your bellies, and enjoy a meal for around 20 Euros total for two people, not too bad in this city considering an average Menu del Dia can range from 9 to a whopping 25 Euros.

We ate our meal and took in the sights and sounds of our surrounding environment, from the hustle and bustle of people getting up and sitting down, to the 24” TV mounted up high with a DVD of flashy music videos.

The clientele that night consisted of 50% locals, a small percentage of tourists, and the remaining 45% or so of other Chinese clients – this poll includes the long line which began to form outside. People patiently waited outside the restaurant as one table at a time opened up to let in new customers. All in all it was an adventure worth repeating time and time again.

So, as you can imagine, this is undoubtedly our new favorite Chinese food hotspot. For those passing through Madrid looking for a lunch or dinner that’s Bueno, Bonito, and Barato, I highly suggest Jia Xiang Xiao Chi aka Chinese Food Under Plaza de España… you won’t regret it. I know we’ll be back soon enough!

Follow Justin’s continuing adventures in Madrid on Twitter!

In Bilbao… – Guest Blogger Jose Patino

Guest Blogger Jose Patino writes of important realisations on a trip to the north…

Bilbao

I’d come back to Spain to spend some time rediscovering the country I’d come to love as a nineteen year old. I wanted to find her as an old flame that had not changed, but became jilted as it was not the same country that I had left. I went north to visit a friend who was studying in Bilbao hoping to discover something new.

I walked along the Nervion River and took a ride up an outdoor elevator (only in Spain!) through the expansive Parque Extebarria with its amazing vistas of the city that sits in the valley of emerald hills. I walked into a lazy café outside of the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Begona, and this is what I wrote:

Here it lays, the Spain that I’ve been looking for since I left so long ago. It is a place equally exotic and comfortable. The Basque country was always some place alien and foreboding. The preconceptions of Basque separatism cast a cloud over this place, making it seem less inviting than Andalucia or Madrid; places that I’ve known and have embodied essential Spain. This place lies hidden like a glen in the middle of a forest.

It feels different than the Spain that I am familiar with. It is clear that this place remained hidden from the Moors and all of the other modern day invaders of Spain. The great catalyst of the changing face of Spain has again run against the mountains and washed back like waves against a bluff.

My friend Karina is in a rush to go back to America and begin the rat race again. She loves it here, and she knows that she can come back, but I didn’t have the heart to tell her… you can never come back. This thing that she’s found here is not a place that can be easily found again; to be reached by plane, train, or bus.

This is a moment. A moment in life that once left may never be had again. Unlike a place, moments can never be returned to.

I’ve spent the last eight years trying to reconnect with mine, and I thought that this was my opportunity. I rented a room in Madrid wishing and hoping for it again, but as I walked the streets, I began to feel something at the corner of recognizance. I didn’t realize it until I arrived here in Bilbao.

Spain has opened to the great immigration of our time. It is no longer the isolated peninsula whose modest economy and society kept the hordes at bay on its beaches. It is now a pluralistic society seemingly displeased with the fact that it has become so.

There is no magic or singularity in it which, I realize now, was what distinguished it in the first place. It was so different from my American society, but now with its new found European prosperity; its problems are now similar: poverty, immigration, housing, finance, obesity, decline of education, and loss of traditional values.

I used to think that the Basques were being stubborn and selfish by ardently refusing to centralize, but after only one day cut off from Madrid, I realize what they have been fighting for; what they are fighting against.

The fight is to remain free, yes, but more importantly it is the fight to remain singular, special and unique as they always have been. The fight to protect their identity and their culture may be in vain. They have built their country behind the mountains and from places like this, the reconquista began.

Hopefully their mountains are still strong enough to ward off the tsunami of globalization and help maintain their singularity. Moments like these are vital, and if missed, they can never be had again.

Pan de Vino?! – Guest blogger – Eleena de Lisser

Guest blogger Eleena de Lisser discovers a new culinary curiosity…

“Come, come, good wine is a good familiar creature if it be well used; exclaim no more against it.” – Shakespeare, Othello

A Spanish winery has taken the old Spanish proverb “con pan y vino se anda al camino” to heart and is developing a product called Pan de Vino (“wine bread,” in English). The purple-colored bread will reportedly have all of red wine’s health benefits with none of its side effects. In other words, it won’t make you tipsy. That means you can eat as much of it as you like and not have to worry about it going to your head. What it will do to your hips and waistline, if eaten in excess, however, is another matter.

The research unit of Grupo Matarromera, a large winery based in Valladolid, Spain, is creating the bread in conjunction with Spain’s Centro Tecnológico del Cereal. Its researchers claim that one slice of the bread will equal two glasses of wine, in terms of health benefits.

Red wine contains a large amount of polyphenols, naturally occuring chemicals that help reduce the negative health impact of fatty foods. These polyphenols, located in the skin of red wine grapes, have antioxidant qualities. In plain English, drinking red wine in moderation is good for your body because it lowers bad cholesterol and can help keep your heart healthy.

Pan de Vino gets its purple color from the skin of wine grapes. Because the wine bread doesn’t contain actual alcohol, Matarromera says it will be safe for pregnant women and children to eat. But perhaps the biggest plus of Pan de Vino, apart from its heart healthy benefits, is the fact that it will stay fresher longer than conventional bread, according to the company.

Pan de Vino is currently still in the research and development phase, although Matarromera has said it expects to bring the hybrid comestible to market sometime next year.

If Matarromera tiene éxito with this venture, perhaps other Spanish food and beverage companies will follow suit creating their own unique twist on classic Spanish foods. Chorizo-flavored churros, anyone?

Actually, it wouldn’t be surprising if someone were already in a laboratory somewhere right now trying to invent such a concotion. After all there are a lot of wildly creative chefs and food scientists in Spain.

Can you guess which of the following menu items do NOT currently exist in Spanish cuisine? Leave your guesses in the comments below. We’ll update this post later on with the correct answers once we get at least 20 responses!

1. Skate wing (a type of fish) with pig trotters (pig’s feet) and tabouleh
2. A “popcorn” made out of tomato water and olive oil
3. Manchego Cheese ice cream
4. Cow stomach lining and cow intestines with garlic
5. Bacalao butterscotch cookies
6. Dried octopus chips in soup
7. Vegetables with jelly
8. Peanut butter and jamón serrano bocadillo
9. Scallops in coffee cream, cinnamon and curry

Check out Eleena de Lisser’s latest project ReVerb Spanish

My Secret Spain: Gran Canaria – Guest Blogger Lisa Risager

Guest Blogger Lisa Risager takes us off the mainland, to an often-ignored paradise in the Canary Islands…

This island is a continent, and if you were born and bred here you wouldn’t call La Concha in San Sebastian the most beautiful beach in Spain. My mistake… it is of course Las Canteras!

Playa de Las Canteras, Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. Photo by Lisa Risager

Most visitors to Gran Canaria head straight for the south, the sun, the sand, the sangria… and so did we. A perfect place for a family holiday. Sunbathing for the teenage daughter, scuba diving for the 12-year old son and his father – and for me? I pottered about which is what I love doing on my holidays.

Warm days in the sun, sitting in the shade at a cafe, drinking cafe con leche, reading a paperback from the hotel lobby. I wasn’t bored… but jumped at the chance to join the scuba divers on their excursion to El Cabron marine reserve. And the nearby town Arinaga. “You’ll like it”, Annette said. “Take a walk by the shore and there’s a little cafe by the old lime mines.”

Annette was right and the next time we returned to Gran Canaria we didn’t even consider returning to the wonderful climate of those southern beaches. We headed straight for Arinaga in the municipality of Agüimes. So should you.

A man and his dog takes a rest. Photo by Lisa Risager

This year we went back for a longer stay at Nautilus Apartments. I was working most mornings but the afternoons were spent walking by the sea, stopping for a coffee or a drink, relaxing and trying to be as laid back as the locals. This is a town where you actually greet strangers you meet, where you chat with the shopkeepers – if you happen to speak any Spanish, that is – and where you do take that siesta in the middle of the afternoon.

Excursions were made to Guayadeque, Agüimes, Santa Lucia, Telde and Las Palmas.

We shopped for dinner at the local shops or headed down to the muelle for some pescado fresco del dia and cool white Bermejo wine from Lanzarote.

Universidad Autonoma de Arinaga. Photo by Lisa Risager

On weekends the locals meet at the Universitad de Autonoma de Arinaga by the muelle. Cold beer and tapas on a first-come-first-served basis. The food is a plate of cheese or a hardboiled egg or a dish of fish, potatoes and mojo picante and it’s good! The place is only open on Saturdays and Sundays and only for a couple of hours from noon till the food is sold out. I’ts a tiny, tiny place with only a bar and two small tables so most people sit outside on the steps.

Vaqueria, Playa de Arinaga. Photo by Lisa Risager

At the Vaqueria you can buy fresh cheese and if you sit down for a cafe con leche you could try adding some gofio like the locals do. I’m not recommending it, though, it seems to be an aquired taste…

The history of the Canary Islands and the indigenous people is fascinating as is the crafts and the caves. In the valley of Guayadeque you can visit the Centro de Interpretacion de Guayadeque before heading into the valley with the caves.

The old towns of Agüimes and Telde are nice places to wander about. The Podcasts of Gran Canaria are great for preparing a visit, but not so great for actually listening to while walking the tours. In Vecindario you can shop till you drop if that is what pleases you.

View from the cafe in Santa Lucia. Photo by Lisa Risager

For some stunning views and hairpin bends on the way visit Santa Lucia. Have a cup of coffee at the cafe with the view but pop inside Casa Antonio across the road for your meal. Rule of restaurants in Gran Canaria: pick the restaurant without a view for the best meals and don’t be afraid to ask which dishes are the most delicious.

And if you really miss a sandy beach – take the Guagua (bus 25) to Faro de Maspalomas.

All of these places are quite close to Arinaga. If you get a little restless – and this does happen sometimes when you’re trying too hard to relax – you have the whole continent of Gran Canaria to explore and even though it is small it is a grand, grand island!

I’ll be back. Untill then I’ll do my best to learn to speak Spanish.

Do check out Lisa Risager’s blog for more of her wonderful writing!

Epifanía – Guest blogger Hollis Duncan

Guest blogger Hollis Duncan walks across Spain …

My best friend, Thompson, and I walked the Camino de Santiago together in July 2004. We walked 813.3 km (505 miles) beginning in Pamplona and ending in Finisterre on the Atlantic coast of Galicia.

Although the Oficina del Peregrino in Santiago de Compostela will insist that you acknowledge “Spirituality” as one of the reasons for your pilgrimage before awarding you a Compostela, it’s virtually impossible for anyone to walk 28 days anywhere — never mind across a country as spectacular as Spain — and not have a spiritual experience … of some kind. Although many do not set out on a spiritual journey, the Camino ends up being one anyway. Quizá sea la magia del Camino de Santiago.

Along the way, Spaniards of every shape and size shout Buen Camino at peregrinos (pilgrims) wishing them a pleasant journey. Los peregrinos amble over mountains, through big cities, remote villages, across the hot, pancake-flat Meseta of central Spain, and finally, through the lush hills of green Galicia.

For every story I could tell ten more about all of the things we experienced on our way to Santiago. How I found a seashell on the beach at Finisterre and proposed to my beautiful girlfriend Luisa the night we finished, or how many charming churches we saw. Or about all of the amazing food we ate — jamón, chorizo, pulpo (y caldo) a la gallega, pimientos de Padrón, queso, aceitunas, y pasteles. Or the people we met — Gábor, a Hungarian hiker-converted-cyclist; les Québecois; John the Dane; the Americans Dave, Anne, and a power hiking couple from Mt. Diablo, Ca.; and the Austrians who led us by a mile with their trekking poles.

When you arrive in Plaza del Obradoiro in Santiago and strain your neck looking up at la catedral más bonita de España, maybe, if you’re like me, you will notice your arms covered with goosebumps; your hairs standing on end as straight as little ropes!

That’s when I had an epiphany. Although I thought finishing the Camino at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela would represent the end of my journey, I realized the opposite was true: this was not the end of my journey but only the beginning …

El Camino is a metaphor for life — for our respective paths, the roads we each choose to take on our life’s journey. Some follow well-worn paths; others take less-traveled routes. No way is wrong, but everyone’s Camino is different.

On the Camino, there are many lessons to be learned. One of the best bits of advice we got was — despacio (slow down) — which fellow pilgrims and Spaniards alike kept telling us; after awhile we heeded this advice and traveled as far, but with fewer aches and pains and much more enjoyment.

I leave the ending open … to invite others who have walked the Camino de Santiago to share their experience; also to ask readers what other Caminos are out there? What epic walks / adventures have you done, heard about, or are planning to do that rate right up there with the Camino? Can’t wait to read your responses!

Buen Camino … a todos

Hollis Duncan is an independent graphic designer based in New York. He and his wife, Luisa, who is from Santiago de Compostela, are moving to Barcelona this summer.

Monte Igueldo – A Very Special Theme Park – Guest Blogger Nuria Rubió Domingo

Today’s guest blog post comes from Spanish blogger Nuria Rubió Domingo… seeing as she come from Spain, we thought it only fair that we let her write in Spanish!

Monte Igueldo, San Sebastian

Hay un lugar en San Sebastián (Guipuzcúa) muy especial e inolvidable. Es el parque de atracciones del Monte Igueldo. Cuenta con unas vistas privilegiadas de la ciudad, dicen en la web de este parque, que es una de las vistas más bellas del mundo. ¡Y no es para menos!

Se inauguró en 1912 y desde entonces este lugar ha sido escenario de muchos que han venido a pasarlo bien: parejas de enamorados, familias enteras, amigos o viejos amigos, turistas…

Se sube en funicular. Es el más antiguo de Euskadi y el tercero de España. Este entrañable y único funicular sigue funcionando a diario con los mismos equipos y vehículos de su inauguración. Los coches aún conservan, con alguna modificación, la carrocería de madera originaria. El billete ordinario cuesta ida y vuelta, 2 euros y 50 céntimos y los niños de hasta 7 años pagan 1 euro y 80 céntimos.

Las atracciones son auténticas y cuestan, la mayoría, dos euros. Os describo algunas de ellas:

LA MONTAÑA SUIZA: Esta original atracción que ya lo es por su nombre, no es rusa, sino suiza ¿eh? Sube y baja con unas espectaculares vistas al mar Cántabrico. ¡Ahhh! No dejarás de gritar.

RIO MISTERIOSO: Un río con vistas al mar. Allí te encontrarás con el Cocodrilo de Igueldo. ¡Cuidado que muerde!

LABERINTO: Un poco más nuevo que el parque, de 1930, se nota poco. Un original laberinto donde tendrás que encontrar la salida.

PASEO DE LA RISA: Te reirás seguro. Lo más divertido: los espejos que reflejan tu perfil más favorecedor.

CAMAS ELÁSTICAS: No podían faltar en un este parque de atracciones.

Monte Igueldo, San Sebastian

Un parque por donde no ha pasado el tiempo y tiene el mismo encanto que hace años. Parece algunas veces más un museo que un parque de atracciones.

Además también no os podéis perder el torreón, un antiguo faro, desde dónde contemplarás un espectáculo paisaje: desde el vizcaíno cabo de Matxitxako hasta las Landas francesas.

La historia de este torreón también conocido como la farola es muy interesante. Fue uno de los mejores de la época y fue construido por el Consulado de San Sebastián a 180 metros sobre el nivel del mar. Era una torre de luz fija destinada a permanecer encendida entre el 14 de septiembre y el 3 de mayo. Finalmente fue abandonado sobre todo cuando se construyó un nuevo faro.

Monte Igueldo, San Sebastian

A partir de 1912 la sociedad de Monte Igueldo lo reconstruye y lo incorpora al parque de atracciones. Le incorpora una nueva planta con amplios ventanales a modo de mirador acristalado y, sobre ésta, una fabulosa terraza panorámica a la que se accede por dos de los cuatro torreones que rematan la torre.

A los adultos la entrada les cuesta 2 euros y a los niños 1 euro.

Please do leave Nuria a comment, then read more at her wonderful blog Zaragozando!

My Secret Spain – Guest Blogger Maureen Dolan

Guest blogger Maureen Dolan asks what you do when the romance of Spain wears off?

You’ve been here a decade and find yourself living in just another country, one sometimes less progressive than your own. You were drawn here by los toros, el sol, el flamenco and la siesta. Now you defend animal rights and prevent skin cancer. Your work ethic baulks at lying about in the middle of the day and Camarón triggers your migraine. Maybe you should “go back”.

But you can’t – you have a wife or husband and kids. And the sentimiento trágico de la vida sets in.

It happens to me. But I have a secret. Her name is Última. I found her in 1983, in the novel Bless Me, Última by Rudolfo Anaya, set in 1940s wartime North America.

Far from being last, as her name suggests, she was my first, connecting me, not only to a new culture, but to a new idea of culture. I knew about Spain’s South American colonies, but this was new, as it knotted my English-speaking life and my love of Spanish together in a new way.

In the mid-eighteenth century an expansionist United States invaded Mexico, finally ending a brutal war only when half of Mexico was ceded to them for $15,000. California, Arizona, Colorado and what is now New Mexico – names given them by the Spaniards – joined the U.S. But what about the people? They were given a choice – stay or go. Most stayed on their ancestral lands.

Bless Me, Última, published in 1972, introduced me to the New Mexican descendants of this land grab. The Spaniards (unlike other conquerors of the Americas) left their families at home and had offspring with the native population, resulting in a mestizo Spanish European and American indigenous race. Última’s people are Spanish-speaking vaqueros and farmers whose religious beliefs blend Spanish Roman Catholicism and Native American animism. Their horsemanship is Spanish and their speech contains archaisms from sixteenth-century Spanish.

Última, an elderly curandera, was so named to underline how the agrarian lifestyle of the Luna farmers and Márez cowboys is fated to disappear. The young people are schooled in English and seek urban jobs or join the army. The novel is written in English, although Anaya, a Spanish-speaker, not only reflects the underlying Spanish speech patterns but inserts many borrowings from Spanish (a strategy now used by non-Hispanic writers, such as Cormac McCarthy).

Yet, in the 1970s people of Hispanic origin clamoured for cultural survival and social equality. They carried out mass protests, adopting the strategies of the Black Civil Rights Movement. Their principal battle was to defend, not one or the other aspect of the Anglo-Hispanic environment in which they lived, but their bilingual, bicultural way of life.

One of the fundamental pillars of this movement, called the Chicano Movement, was the demand for bilingual education. Children born into Spanish-speaking homes and then schooled in English often became high-school dropouts as they were expected to acquire knowledge before they were well-grounded in the new language. The Chicanos, their numbers swelled by waves of Mexican immigrants to the U.S., won the battle which all other linguistic minorities in the United States lost – they retained their Spanish language while adopting the Anglo-Americans’ English, through bilingual education.

In the United States, throughout most of the 20th century, Spanish was regarded as a “poor people’s” language. Today, however, non-Hispanic North Americans are learning it in droves, due to the upward mobility of Hispanics and the Spanish transition to democracy after Franco. Politicians of every stripe, Barack Obama the latest example, court the Hispanic vote in Spanish. The Instituto Cervantes is gearing up to corner this huge cultural and linguistic market. It has centres in New York, Chicago and Albuquerque and centres are planned for San Francisco, Houston and Washington D.C.

And so, Última was not the last, but the first, as the wisdom of her hybrid culture, with what I like to call the struggle between the roots and the road. Far from disappearing, it has transformed itself and endured.

Today mainstream America emulates her ecological respect for the land and her embodiment of the “sacred feminine” so revered now by Goddess Feminists. With Última, I began to learn that nation state borders are arbitrary, that cultures have no boundaries and that there are no dividing lines on the land. Languages meet and blend, Spanglish being just one example. Politically, culturally and philosophically, nothing is static or monolithic. And while you can´t always move away, move back, move up, you must always move forward.

So forget romance. Forget tragedy, and move forward, with Spain.

Do check out Maureen’s blog for more inspiring writing, at www.cecyspain.blogspot.com

Travelling to Tame Tarragona – Guest Blogger Nancy Todd

Tarragona has long been out-glittered by Sitges, its sister city to the north. However, as guest blogger Nancy Todd explains, Tarragona, also on the Mediterranean, holds its own in the sparkle category…

Tarragona, Spain

Tarragona is a tame get-away from the noise and crowds of Barcelona. For history hounds, a day trip from Barcelona to the city of Tarragona is a treasure hunt. Founded in 218 B.C., Tarragona is only one hour from Barcelona by train. It offers two tree lined Ramblas, or walking boulevards, Rambla Nova and Rambla Vella – the new and the old Ramblas.

The first dates from the late 1800’s, and is lined with Art Nouveau buildings, the latter from the Middle Ages. Shopping is plentiful and restaurants with outdoor seating bustle during the warm months. Melissa, my daughter, David, my son-in-law, and I had a great Menu del Dia on Plaza de la Font. It was a cool day and sitting in the sun with a bottle of red wine reminded us that spring was on the way.

Roman ruins surprise as they are scattered about and suddenly appear jolting your awareness of that ancient culture. Tarragona was a prosperous trading city, in its Roman heyday, 40,000 inhabitants loved, did laundry, gulped wine, governed, and galloped their horses. Today a quiet city, it is easy to saunter without a map, to visit old churches, museums, and of course bask on the beaches. David was especially impressed as in his home city of Baker, Oregon, one hundred years is really old for a building.

Those Roman dudes knew about building sites. They chose to build their Ampitheatre, home of gladiator fights, right next to the Sea. As you exit the train station and face the Sea, hang a left and walk up on the promenade which takes you to an aerial view of the Ampitheatre. Climbing to the top of the Amphitheatre brings you to one of the best views in the City. Developers in Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Detroit probably imitated the Romans by building their stadiums on the water for their gladiator fights.

The Archaeological Museum was founded in the beginning of the 1800’s. It houses intricate mosaics and tall marble sculptures of men in drag with long white dresses. This small and manageable museum has a variety of oddities that depict everyday life: nails, anchors, perfume bottles, coins and terracotta vessels to hold olive oil.

Walking the Roman wall gives another sense of Tarragona ’s early history. Archaeologists have determined that the wall is the oldest Roman fortification in Spain and was built at the time the Romans first ventured outside of Italy. The night time view of the wall is especially beautiful. Wandering the excavations, I imagined Romans walking through the streets, the Forum, Temple and plazas.

I love rose windows in cathedrals, especially catching them as the sun shines through their small glass forms on the cathedral walls and floors. David, Melissa, and I lucked out at the Cathedral of Santa Tecla where the rose window made it’s spattered rainbow.

Tarragona, Spain

This Cathedral is a fine example of transitional architecture that combines the Gothic and Romanesque periods dating from the 12th century. The bell tower houses fifteen bells which I wanted to hear ring but I could not find out when the bell guy went into the tower to do his ringing job. Locals did not know exactly when the bells would peal but assured me they rang often.

Wandering skinny medieval streets by the Cathedral takes you by restaurants, balconies overflowing with flowers, and twenty-foot high doorways. The tranquillity of Tarragona allows the mind to imagine many different civilizations wandering about. No roaring motorcycles or discos in this city – a perfect day trip from the crowds in Barcelona.

GETTING THERE – RENFE train leaves from Barcelona every half an hour or whenever it moseys on down the tracks. Board at Sants Station or Passeig de Gracia Station. A scenic ride takes you next to artichoke fields and along the cliffs of the Mediterrean Sea.

Do check out Nancy Todd’s great Spain website www.thespainscoop.com

Bowl of the Scarlet Oak – Guest Blogger Simon Beckmann

Guest Blogger Simon Beckmann is setting up something wonderful in this, his most secret corner of Spain…

I step from the door and look aloft to the azure sky expecting to see the white scratch of the sun seeker’s jet stream, reaching from the north, moving south.

But not here, here the sky is clear celestial blue, and high in a rising kettle, I count seventy six vultures, tea trays in the sky blown upward in a levant. And beneath this tower of griffons pass a pair of golden eagles preparing to quarter the forested hillside, a surprise offensive against breakfast.

Our home, our secret Spain, is a cortijada, Cortijada Los Gazquez, a collection of small cortijos folded across a mound in the Hoya de Carrascal, the bowl of ‘scarlet oaks’.

These oak, Quercus coccifera, or kermes oak, were historically important as the food plant of the kermes beetle from which a cochineal type of red dye was produced. Kermes is the origin of crimson. It is more of a prostrate shrub than a tree, it’s leaves akin to the leaves of a holly, it’s acorns sitting in a spiny cup. It is evergreen and perfectly exploits the limy soil forming thickets called chaparrals.

Within these chaparrals on the edge of the barranca springtime brings a tribe of yellow bee orchids to flower. Ophrys lutea clearly displaying it’s mimicry of a bee abdomen on it’s extended lebellum, drawing unsuspecting andrena bees to fertilise a flower, not a fellow bee.

Here too we have seen three ibex, strangely unperturbed by our presence, and wild boar, the progenitor of our domestic pig, concealing their preponderance behind mauve and white florescences of rosemary.

The cortijada lies in the centre of the Parque Natural Sierra Maria-Los Velez in the top right-hand corner of Almeria. It is a primal place of semi-wilderness and long abandoned farm houses. Life, as it was in this alpine desert, was hard and fleet footed farmers moved to France years ago, never to return to the campo. Fifty years later time and the cortijada have changed.

Los Gazquez, today the power of the sun and the wind provides hot water and light within. Wood fires of almond, olive, poplar and pine, centrally heat the floors on cold winter evenings. Routine is to carefully stack the kitchen wood pile with chopped almond in preparation for cooking supper on our Spanish range.

Rainfall is collected from the roof in a series of acequias directing water to the aljibe for storage and provides the house with all it’s domestic needs. A series of reed beds cleanses waste water, and grey water from the showers and basins is filtered and used to irrigate the orchard terraces.

And today we make the final touches to the grey water system. We have prepared three south facing terraces, away from the north westerly wind. Their walls built from dry stone from the fields. On each I mark a corridor with string running the length of the terrace, as wide as I am long. This area I turn with a fork and rake smooth.

And here we plant a pear, kaki, fig, apricot and more, making wide circular depressions around their bases which are filled with wood bark to mulch the trees. On either side of the corridor I leave the profusion of wild flowers that sing with insect life, poppies and tangier peas, pheasant’s eye and tassel hyacinth.

Next I make clay from the soil and fashion a small canal. When it is dry, baked by the sun, the grey water from the household is directed to the base of each of the saplings. Our grey water contains only ecologically sound detergents so it will not damage the tree nor taint the flavour of the fruit.

Like every other member of mankind I am not a figure in a landscape but a shaper of the landscape. I manipulate land and life form to suit my needs.

As an artist I have made this project fulfil my aesthetic needs as well as my practical needs, I am an explorer of nature who has made his home in this wonderful place. And when I look aloft to the golden eagle in the sky at the apex of the food chain, I take great sustenance from having fulfilled a project which aimed to exist benignly on this land, and that our being here will no more effect the natural ecology other than to serve it.

Simon Beckmann can be found at www.losgazquez.com, please check out this wonderful project!

The Other Side Of Easter in Cadiz… – Guest Blogger Robert Gordon

Guest blogger Robert Gordon reflects on the recent Easter migration to his corner of the Bay of Cadiz…

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Just over 10 years ago the area in which I live was covered in woods and fruit orchards, indeed my own home is set on what was an orange grove – as you can see from the photo many changes have taken place. The development of this part of La Bahía de Cádiz has established it as a considerable attraction for Spanish tourism, indeed over ninety per cent of the visitors here are Spanish, most of whom are second home owners.

In my barrio, the Spanish swallows arrive from Sevilla, Cuidad Real, San Sebastian and mostly from Madrid. What brings them to a fairly ordinary town to pass their well earned holidays, and how do they pass their time?

Well in most part they come for the ambience. Los Gaditanos have a reputation: “Ellos saben reírse de sí mismo” (they know how to laugh at themselves) even in these difficult times. During fiestas they form sizable groups in the cork woods, break into song, and will adapt any handy object into a form of percussion to enjoy day long festivals created by their own initiatives and paid for by their “vaquita” (piggy bank).

Many of the city dwellers that arrive have told me they seek “turismo nacional” and it can be found here in a form much less “bomdardeado” than in many other parts of coastal Spain. They are “con su gente, como estar en casa” (with their own people, they feel at home).

Semana Santa, Easter, represents “un aperitivo del turismo” with the main course served in July/August. Alongside the week long religious festival, the visitors relax, recharge batteries, and enjoy the local attractions which are mainly the food, spectacular light, and the beaches.

I at first doubted that the food here (fish) had a national reputation, but those doubts are long gone. Seeing Madrileños queue 40 minutes for a table resplendent with a “surtido” of fried/grilled fish and an uncountable variety of mariscos is proof enough for me. After lunch they stroll around town licking their preferred ice cream from tiny plastic spoons.

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The swallows also tell me they love the beaches, not just for their natural attractions, but also for the fact that they have remained authentic in that they are both free and “bring your own”. There is no hiring of sun loungers, parasols etc. This leads to wonderful streams of beach pilgrims penguin-padding down to the shore laden with… well almost the kitchen sink.

During Semana Santa beach occupation is light, it is after all only the aperitivo, but the swallows are suffering from winter withdrawal symptoms. So down on Playa Santa Catalina they bask, preen and dip their wings in the fresh sea, revitalize all working parts and restore the canyons of their minds which have suffered from the winter grind.

They are easy to spot, sporting their recently purchased “pijo” (posh) spring outfits. During my evening stroll through my barrio, I see them, rollerblading, biking in family groups – enjoying themselves. They elegantly walk by with their tiny lap dogs cradled on their forearm. Couples with v-neck sweaters draped around the shoulder swan neck the plots which have changed since their last migration.

Their gardens come alive at night with chatter and sounds of local dishes being eagerly devoured, and later hoots and hollers over shared jokes and card games. I very much enjoy their arrival and whilst they are now gone, they will soon return for their summer visit, which will take both a similar and different form. For me there is something quite wonderfully distinctive and impressive in the style that my Spanish visitors pass their days here in Cadiz.