Monthly Archives: January 2017

Y viva Sevilla

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There is only one place to stay in Sevilla if you have a motorhome, and it looks like the scummiest district in town. You cross the river after sailing past Ikea and skirt around until you find the least salubrious place in view. Then you plunge off the road over some disused and overgrown railway tracks, and down two heavily pot-holed industrial estate roads, past abandoned buildings and dodgy-looking empty car parks, and up to a fenced off area of the port. There, amidst the lines of cars and lorries that are waiting for God know’s what, is a smaller fenced off area that is the motorhome park. It has electricity and a waste dump spot and water. Yeah, that’s about it. And yet it’s cheap and quiet and safe and calm, and I totally recommend it.

We stay here because we are meeting our old friends Phil and Esme in Sevilla on New Year’s day, and we’ve arrived a day early so that we can get set up and have an early night to finish recovering from the flu – on New Year’s Eve.

Wouldn’t there be fireworks or some kind of celebration, I hear you ask?

Well no, apparently, because Steve has done some research and this is what he has found out: there’s not much going on, but the city folk do gather in one of the main squares and eat grapes at midnight. Then they go home. Oh, okay, bit underwhelming, but we’ll give it a go.

So we drug ourselves up to tide us over the dregs of the flu, and go into town intending to explore a little, have something to eat out later, and try to stay awake until midnight. We find the square and it is pretty blank. Nobody is gathering, no celebrations are being advertised there, and it looks pretty dead. So we pootle off and find this joyously fabulous place instead – the Plaza de Espana. Wow.

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Situated at the end of a gorgeous park, this semi-circular building shielded a tiny boating lake. There are bridges, walkways, open squares and cloisters. It is beautiful. Everywhere you look it is decorated with colourful tiles, and the inner wall itself celebrates each major town or city in Spain with a tiled mural surrounded by a tiled seat. This one is Almeria.

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There are a constant stream of horse-drawn carriages that trot through the park and up to the Plaza, then down the road past all the foreign embassies, which themselves are a sight to behold. The Colombian one looks like a tiny Inca palace all on its own.

We go back into town to find that all the cafes and restaurants have shut and the city is completely dead. We ask a doorman at a posh looking hotel where we can get something to eat, and he directs us to a bodega near the main square. There are queues of people forming all with the same idea, but we get a table, eat a hurried, unpleasant and over-priced meal (because they can – they’re the only place open) and then decide to give up and go back to Georgie.

We watch a film that Steve has downloaded and then go to bed. At 11.15. On New Year’s Eve. And three-quarters of an hour later, we realise that Steve’s research may have been a little sparse due to flu-brain, because the fireworks kick off, big time, at midnight. At first I think that they are probably just a few local ones and it will stop in a minute. It’s not worth getting dressed because, by the time I do, it will all be over. Not so. It carried on for half an hour, with me dithering the whole time, until eventually I just fell asleep. Not quite the party animal I was in my youth.

So, yes, the town was dead in the evening because everyone goes home to eat a big meal with their families. Then they all come back out again, and gather in the square to eat a grape for luck on each stroke of midnight, and all the bars open up again and they party on for hours. Right, missed that then.

For the next few days, we meet up with our friends and do as many of the sights as we can. We have coffee at the Alameda de Hercules, then walk through town to the Plaza de Espana.

 

We go to the Cathedral to gawp, enthralled, at the tomb of Christopher Columbus. Those guys are massive.

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The bell tower of the Cathedral was once the minaret of the mosque that originally occupied this spot. It is over ninety metres high – which is thirty-four or so floors when you’re walking up it. Easier than you think, though, because it doesn’t have stairs, just ramps that were once used for the guards to ride up to the top. The view is marvellous, but the bells are fricking loud. The tower is called La Giralda, (and every time I’ve tried to write this, spell check has turned it into L.A. Gerald. Who he?).

We see peacocks in The Alcazar palace gardens, flamenco dress shops in the old Jewish quarter, and loads of interesting vintage shops in the north end of the city. It is here that we found this bonkers bag lady, who insists on making her dogs pose for us. Sweet.

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Then we have to say goodbye to our lovely friends (and carry on with real life by going to Ikea to replace broken glassware).

I remember that Elena has said that children in Spain get their presents on the morning of January 6th, after the arrival of The Three Magic Kings, so I wonder what the format for that day is. I don’t trust Steve’s sources after New Year’s Eve and decide to check it our for myself.

Which is why I drag a grumbling and complaining husband out into town on the evening of the fifth, even though his flu has relapsed, and he is tired and feels a bit shitty. Heartless cow, I am. Because a fantastic carnival parade is going to march right around the town and I have downloaded the route. The people on the floats will throw sweets for the children, and the special Magic King, Caspar, I think, will be represented, possibly even on a camel. Sounds good? No, it is BRILLIANT.

Firstly, we find a place to view the procession from, which necessitates getting a drink at a bar first. Steve discovers that a gin and tonic is served as a mug full of gin, over ice, with a splash of water in. He starts to cheer up no end after that.

As the first floats hove into view, they are preceded by lots of marching bands and cool Spanish guys, in uniforms, riding horses. Don’t know who they are, but the bands play songs that everyone sings along to, and we were amused to find our ‘spot’ is beneath a balcony full of young women with sequinned cat ears. The guys on horseback are delighted and stop to watch as the girls dance about and serenade them.

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The girls on the balcony are also much appreciated by the chaps on the balcony above.

I don’t know what the song is, but they jiggle about very fetchingly, and everyone in the crowd joins in the song. By the second verse, so do we, because the words are something like ‘Ole, ole, o-le o-le, ole ole’. There is a family with a 12 year old boy just next to us, and when I turn to Steve and  remark, ‘I reckon we’ve got the best spot,’ he agrees with me. The smile on his little face as all those boobies bounce around above his head. Bless.

Then the floats appear and we got absolutely pelted in the frenzy of sweet throwing. The lad next to me is beside himself when he catches a whole 4lb bag full, unopened. The lady in front of me is less so, when one explodes open on her head.

The floats go on and on, nothing very spectacular in themselves, but the interactions between them and the crowd create a really fun atmosphere. The final floats, and bands, and Magic Kings ride by and the street is suddenly filled with balloons. I see umbrellas hung from balconies to catch the sweets. Some people have even held out blankets.

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We look down at our feet where children and adults alike are still picking up the last of the sweets and we realise why everybody else has got plastic bags over their shoes. Ours are crusted with candy. By the time we get back to Georgie, we are ridiculously happy and our shoes are completely ruined.

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Fond farewells, Feliz Navidad and f***ing flu.

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ENTERTAINING MR BROADBENT (& co)

It was time to leave lovely Moncarapache and the fabulous Intrepids, so we decided to throw a little farewell party. To make it cosy, Steve and I tried to put up the safari room that fits onto the side of Georgie. We’ve done this once before with the help of Lawrence (Steve’s daughter Rosie’s partner – stay with me here) and it seemed pretty self-explanatory, but this time it  appeared to have morphed into a puzzle of double-mensa proportions. So I got Mr Jim Broadbent to help and went and cut up bread and cheese, and filled bowls with Pala-pala (a brand of micro-chipstick that we are all addicted to).

Despite days of running to and from electrical shops we’d been unable to find the right combination of TV, speaker, connecting cable, and microphone neccessary to get my karaoke working. In the end, Steve signed us up for 2 days of online karaoke. It had over 20,000 songs. Anything you could think of. No mic, but brilliant all the same.

Kick off was at six, and by six thirty we had crammed nineteen people into Georgie and the party was in full swing. At seven thirty Steve got the karaoke going. Now it must be said that when I’d mentioned the idea previously, several of the Intrepids had been somewhat lukewarm about the idea, but as the first song up was the Pogues’ Fairytale of New York, everyone sang their hearts out.

We did all the usual Christmas songs with the men trying to outdo each other on the Noddy Holder bit, then moved on to golden oldies and classics. Steve was wistful about having seen Dusty Springfield in concert when he was young. The warm-up band had been some chaps calling themselves The Beatles. And we all got well-oiled and sang until Georgie vibrated.

By about ten, some of the people had wandered home, and we were left with the party die-hards; Terry and June, John and Brenda, Mr and Mrs Jim Broadbent, and two couples that we’d never met before. That’s how parties go though, isn’t it?

Steve had somehow got drunk again, and was starting to be very bossy with the karaoke as it was playing from his phone. He put on obscure music that no-one but me had ever heard of, but then forgot to sing along. He also got very excitable as he was sitting next to Mr Jim Broadbent, who is always upbeat and who wanted to walk 500 miles, then do the entire Proclaimer’s back catalogue.

At one point Steve tried to get his attention, but due to the effects of alcohol on his not-quite-recovered-from-the-stroke brain he couldn’t remember either of his names and ended up yelling, ‘Darling! Darling!‘ at him, without noticing there was anything untoward about this. Honestly: pissed myself.

For me, this was the signal to wrest the phone from his hands and get the karaoke back under some kind of control. So I put on ‘Let it go‘ from Frozen for him to sing and you never saw a happier man. Apart from Jim, who also looked a little teary. ‘Great song, this,‘ they both agreed, as they mumbled the bit about fractals.

Sadly, the next day Brenda had gone down with some horrible bug, and by the time we left early the following morning, John, Mr Jim Broadbent and Steve were all complaining of feeling shit.

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Some of the fabulous Intrepids, on one of their boot-camp style yomps.

AND SO TO SPAIN

We’d been invited to spend Christmas with Elena’s parents (Julio and Emilia) in Don Benito, Spain. Elena is our son Sam’s girlfriend and they were both going to fly over and spend Christmas there as well. We were all very excited, (Sam especially so as he’d heard that Don Benito translated as ‘Mr Pretty Man’, which we both thought was terribly cool until we found out it didn’t).

We’d planned an easy journey so that we wouldn’t be too tired: across to Seville, then up the motorway towards Merida, stopping for the night at a truck stop on the way, and doing the last leg the following day.

Near Monasterio we stopped for petrol and found the motherload of truck stops: Leo’s 24hour service station, complete with mini-mart, gift shop, self-service cafe, restaurant, bar, showers, hotel, squash courts, enough parking for 100 trucks, and – get this – its own butchers and deli.

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We had most of the car park to ourselves, with a fabulous view of the mountains. Two eagles flew over the van as we drove in. Just spectacular.

It had everything and none of it was the usual down-market tat you get in Britain, though I searched and searched for something crap to photograph. The best I could find among the beautiful, soft, leather handbags and miles of artisan pickles, cheeses and marmalades was a shelf of pocket knives with artfully carved wooden handles – in the shape of slightly flaccid penises.

Now, I am generally a glass half full person and so this caused me to wonder why I judged them to be on the way down, so to speak, rather than on the way up? (Notice that I did not say ‘almost erect’). I once had a friend who was interviewed by a policewoman after seeing a flasher. ‘Was it erect or flaccid’, the PC wanted to know? My mate was twelve and had no idea what she was talking about, so the PC tried again. ‘Was it dingling or dangling’, she asked? Not helpful. No. But it came to mind as I looked at those penknives. Did they have a hint of dangle or a sorry attempt at a dingle?

Steve was now feeling terrible from the bug and I was succumbing to it as well. Bugger. Searched out all the drugs we had bought with us and cursed myself for not having thought of a gallon of Nightnurse and some industrial strength Sudafed when packing. We went to Monasterio and tried to persuade two different chemists to sell us as much vitamin C as possible and any other drug we could get. They’d never heard of time-release vit C, and if they had, they weren’t going to sell it to us. So we coped with what they gave us and went back to Leo’s for a three-course meal, with bread, and wine or coffee for €8.50.

FELIZ NAVIDAD (COUGH, SPLUTTER, SNIVEL, ACHOO)

Emilia and Julio have a town house in Don Benito for the winter, and a country house, just outside, for the summer. It was arranged that Sam and Elena, along with her sister Julia and boyfriend David, would stay with us at the country house. It had a huge driveway that Elena was certain we could get Georgie onto, and if it didn’t make it around the tight corner, then we could drive her straight onto next door’s driveway instead.

Well, we didn’t make it around the corner, so onto the neighbour, Manolo’s, driveway we went. We shoved everything we thought we might need into the house, took more drugs, and followed Julio around as he showed us where everything was. He didn’t speak English and we are total beginners at Spanish, but it amazing how much you can figure out by people pointing at things.

He built up an enormous fire, which had the advantage of being on an inside wall, on the other side of which was our bed-head. We were assured that the heat would transfer well into the room. Great. Because this was the summer house, which means it was designed specifically to stay cold. Great high ceilings, tiled floors, lots of drapes and shutters, no central heating. Dear old Julio came three or four times a day while we stayed there and built up that fire every time. Probably used an entire tree. Sorry, environment, but I was cold and had the flu, so it had to be done.

The family were wonderful, warm, loud, and gushing. We met the two grandmas, 93 year old Emilia, and 91 year old Visi (pronounced busy). Emilia wanted to know why my hair was grey when hers was still dark brown. Honestly, so did I. There were aunts and cousins and friends and Elena’s elder brother, Juan, with his wife and new baby. I had to tell them all that I had a bug and would only shake their hands, and I wouldn’t go near the baby. Steve and I were terrified that after our visit we’d find out we’d killed off both the grandmas and the baby would be in intensive care. So we kept our distance. And then we cried off and went back to the country, and fell into bed.

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Bad photo of lovely grandma Emilia

The next day was Christmas Eve and was the traditional day for celebrating: the big meal would be in the evening and the gift giving would occur after that. In general, only a small gift is given at this time, the main presents arriving with the advent of The Three Magic Kings at Epiphany. Or the Three Wise Men, as we know them. I asked Elena why they are called ‘magic’ and she thought for a long while and then said, ‘because they are magicians‘. So there you have it.

It makes sense when you consider that Santa Claus grew out of a Scandinavian tradition, and so would be of much less importance here. The Kings bring the gifts to baby Jesus, so that’s when the children get their gifts as well – on the 6th January. But because Elena and other members of her family could only get time off at Christmas, they decided to celebrate a little early.

Thanks to the flu and all the medication we took, the next few days are a bit of a blur. Steve and I had to take turns doing the meals while the other one crashed in bed. I ate spider crab legs, he ate a sparrow. Older Emilia became my very best friend despite not understanding a word each other said. We used Google Translate A LOT.

Elena’s mum kindly sent each of us home with jars of homemade soup and bags of food, which we were too ill to make use of. The next door neighbour cut us veg from his patch – some broccoli, a romanescu and the biggest cauliflower I have ever seen. I genuinely didn’t know they made them that big. Since Julio nearly severed his foot falling off the patio roof a year ago, he has been unable to grow his own veg. So he keeps chickens in what was his veg patch and Manolo grows the produce. Then they share it. Here is a picture of the cauliflower, with an orange, for purposes of scale.

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We went out to bars and met all their lovely friends. Julio showed us pictures of his house in Almancil, on the coast, and practically ordered us to stay there as long as we wanted. They showered us with every bit of hospitality it is possible to receive.

And then I disappointed my son.

Let me explain.

When I was a kid I had a phobia about ‘slimy’ foods: you know, things that have no bite to them, like custard. Couldn’t bear them, made me gag. Then one day my parents gave me a plate of tinned spaghetti, the mere sight of which was appalling to me. And my helpful elder brother, Mac, said, ‘that’s worms, that is‘. Fast forward fifteen years and I am finally able to eat both custard and pasta, but only in small quantities. Fast forward another fifteen and I am wolfing them down with gusto. Yay, sorted.

But……when you’ve got the flu……..you just want comfort food, and familiar things, and nothing that tastes a bit ‘funny‘. Don’t you?

So when a plate of angulas were put down in front of me, I admit, I freaked out a bit. Because they are baby eels. Elvers.  And, of course, they are small – about the width of a piece of tinned spaghetti – and grey. Oh yes. With no hint of a tomato sauce to disguise them. It was all my childhood food nightmares come back to haunt me. In my drugged up and bacteria-logged state I imagined I would have to sit there until I ate a whole plateful, just like when I was a kid (mums did that then – thought it was good for you).

So I did eat one. And it was actually nice, and nothing liked it looked. And my son commented that he thought I was more adventurous than that. And I wanted to be the mum he thought I was, and scoff them down with sophisticated assurance, but they were GREY! And then Julia, Elena’s sister said that she didn’t like them either, and I thought, ‘Oh thank God‘.

MOVING ON

On our last day, Manolo and Julio came and cooked lunch for us at the country house. Both Emilias came, and the long table was laid for us and all the neighbours. Julio said that he and Manolo have been best friends since they met on the first day of school, aged five, over sixty years ago. Sweet.

They were going to cook a traditional spanish peasant breakfast dish for us, and to do this, they needed to utilise the cauldron. The one that Julio had been using to take out the fire ashes all week. I love this.

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They worked really well together, as you would expect. Using knives that Crocodile Dundee would quail at, they hacked up bacon into lardons the size of your average chocolate brownie. They browned them off in loads of olive oil, then scooped them out to make way for three whole heads of garlic, split into cloves. Then they chucked in a washing-up bowl of red pepper strips, and softened and charred them. Finally, the oil was used to flavour and fry an entire cauldron full of breadcrumbs. This meant stirring and stirring, so that each crumb had some oil, and had crisped up a little – about 40 minutes of hard graft, I reckon. This was man food.

They’d also broken up different types of chorizo meat and mushed them in pans with wine and other flavourings. The peppers, garlic and lardons were stirred back in at the end, and bowlfuls of the mixture were topped with the fried chorizo. It was bloody lovely.

But then we had to leave. And the driveway that had been so easy to pull onto, was suddenly quite difficult to get out of. The gates opened inwards, so we had been at an advantage coming in. Trying to navigate our way out of a space that was only just big enough, with the gates catching and scraping along Georgie’s sides, was brutal. I’d held the right gate on the way in, but Steve’s angle must have been slightly different then because Manolo was getting crushed as he tried to do it.

But these were the men who carried knives and ate man food. They ate those bloody eels, for God’s sake – this was not going to beat them. In the end, one of Manolo’s sons had to climb onto the hedge, I kid you not, and lasso the gate for Julio and Manolo and Emilia to haul open with a rope. Don’t believe me? Here are the pics.

And then we were away. And where did we go? Back to Leo’s of course.