Friday, June 24, 2011

Siesta, NO myth.

Bust of Alphonso X
I ventured out this morning into the local shops & markets of El Puerto de Santa Maria. With the assistance of my phrasebook and the patience of shopkeepers, I managed to buy postcards from a tiny bookshop, toys for souvenirs, and fresh frutas from a little grocer. The locals were sincere and accommodating.

All one's daily tasks must be completed by 2:30pm. The early afternoon hustle and din softens to a murmur as siesta approaches. It's a challenge to find lunch during siesta as many businesses close, and people tend to lunch leisurely at home. Usually, by the time I realize I should eat, it becomes apparent that nearly everything has closed! I've developed a habit of making a cup of tea, reading, sunning by the pool, or enjoying a walk on the quiet streets to pass the time. Some businesses re-open from 6-8pm, while people go out again for drinks and tapas. Dinner doesn't begin until around 9 or 10pm. Little children laugh and play alongside their parents late into the night. It's both an 'early bird' and a 'night owl' culture all in one!


And speaking of drinks, this is the Rioja region of Spain. The regional wine is smooth, heady and delicious! One should simply request a, "DO" (Designation of Origin) wine for a nice quality. It will typically only cost about 4 euro per glass. As Louis Pasteur wrote, "A bottle of wine contains more philosophy than all the books in the world."

Image c/o
May the libations flow...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

An Afternoon in Cadiz

It is a scenic drive from El Puerto de Santa Maria to Cadiz flanked by vibrant unending rows of golden sunflowers. Possibly the oldest city in Europe, Cadiz was originally inhabited by Phoenicians then traded hands between the Romans, Byzantium, Visigoths, and the Moors until the 13th century when they were conquered by King Alfonso X. It is home to an extraordinarily stunning coastline from which Columbus set sail on several voyages. It was my first weekend in Spain and I wasn't staying indoors. Unfortunately, after spending virtually 2 days in the air, flying across four time zones and racing through airports with tight connections, my body wasn't as cooperative with the agenda I had laid out for Cadiz.
The busy yet placid Plaza de la Catedral was beautiful. I took a seat at Bar Terraza, where I soaked in a marvelous view and attempted to avoid fainting. Yet the waiters were incredibly rude despite my attempts in espanol. I was served a plate of patatas dowsed in olive oil with canned tuna atop it, yuck! Amongst the array of amazing seafood available in southern Spain I am puzzled by their affinity for canned tuna. As my senses gradually recovered I passed by the Puertas de Tierra. Constructed in the 16th century, it was formerly the only land entrance to historic Cadiz.

...sort of like a modern Venus of  Willendorf
I strolled further down the Avenida Andalucia and wandered into a zapateria where I discovered my European shoe size, 36. I bookended my tour with a sassy new pair of zapatos. This picturesque city definitely beckons a return trip! It is certainly not complete without a visit to The Museo de Cadiz notable for its collection of paintings by Murillo, Rubens, and Zurbaran as well as many archaeological artifacts. Adios, for now...

Friday, June 10, 2011

Hola, Espana!

A room with a view in El Puerto de Santa Maria.

After catching all three flight connections by sheer luck I arrived in Spain last weekend. The southwestern region, known as Andalucia, is where the famous Rioja wine originates and, of course, flamenco. The lovely town of Puerto de Santa Maria in the province of Cadiz is where I shall spend the next few weeks. Last night a friend and I took an evening stroll to the restaurant Casa Flores on Ribera del Marisco for dinner. Our reservation was for 9:00pm, slightly early by Spanish standards, but we were greeted with a smile. The restaurant has a classic and refined interior with wood paneling and vibrant Spanish tiled walls. Original seascape paintings and framed nautical photographs of the region hung about the rear dining room. Plants in hand-painted clay vases decorated window sills, and antique furnishings created an old world atmosphere. We enjoyed succulent local swordfish and a fantastic bottle of red wine from Arcos de la Frontera, a nearby gem of a town...

Our day trip there a few days earlier was dreamy and picturesque. Arcos is a beacon of white that sparkles atop a sandstone cliff. We headed up the Calle Corredera and were delighted as our eyes took in the breathtaking sight of Iglesia de Santa Maria, the town's principle church, which was actually constructed atop an old Arab Mosque. Arcos marks the frontier where Spain battled the Moors in the 13th century. Here one will find three glorious churches that blend Baroque, Gothic, & Renaissance styles. The castle dates to the 15th century and is currently a private residence. But the view of distant hills, fields of chartreuse, and the Guadalete River below is most spectacular.

Iglesia de San Miguel 

Placard at Iglesia de Santa Maria

Flying buttresses of Iglesia de Santa Maria

Clay pots brim with fresh lavender