an excursion to Jumilla

an excursion to Jumilla

We joined our local friends Mark and Vicki on an excursion with Tu-Tours to the town of Jumilla, a local wine mecca. The group was larger than I would have liked (54), but the size provided us the advantage of English tour guides at our stops.

We began at Bodega Finca Luzon, a century-old winery that has been modernized but still prides itself on its attention to traditional methods. Our Portuguese tour guide was very knowledgeable and had an excellent command of English, although we had to clarify the distinction between flies and fleas for her. What we didn’t know: they encourage spiders in the vaults because they eat bugs that might attack the wooden barrels. She referred to them as “guards of the wine.” The wines were lovely—and they’re available in the U.S.

Our second stop: the Monastery of Santa Ana del Monte. There was some debate as to whether it was a convent or a monastery. Apparently, Spanish doesn’t necessarily distinguish between the two. In English, a monastery is for monks and a convent is for nuns. But traditionally, a monastery lay outside the walls of a city, while a cloister (or convent) was protected inside the city walls. Makes sense, therefore, that women would be in a convent and men would be in a monastery. In any case, Santa Anna is a monastery, perched atop a mountain with views of the valleys below.

The church, founded by Franciscans in 1573, was small but beautiful. Only five monks are in residence at this time. The monk who talked to us was delightful, with a sense of humor and an ability to share a lot of information in a little time. In the early days, the monks served as priests for the surrounding villages, and they carried large crucifixes with them as they made the rounds. While the largest “only” weighed 90 pounds, it was well over 6 feet tall. Imagine lugging that up and down the mountainside!

One highlight of the visit was a large museum of reliquaries containing objects left by pilgrims who journeyed to the monastery, a good 6 kilometers uphill from the Jumilla town square. Many of the items were archaeological finds, as well as natural history-type items.

Throughout the monastery were over 100 hand-painted signs which provided texts for daily inspiration.

A long day. A lot of walking. A good day.

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lunch at To-Bar

lunch at To-Bar

A note about Retired in Spain before this post actually begins…

I began this blog as a promise to friends and family back home that I would report on our adventures. I had rules in mind when I started, but those rules have evolved as time passes. I want this blog to be not only a record of our time here in Spain, but a help to others who might want to move here. So – my mental rule about not dwelling on individual restaurants has morphed into…if it’s great, post it!

We first heard about To-Bar from our conversation exchange partner. She hounded us every week about it, saying we HAD to check it out. We finally did. It’s behind the green door on a street near the Mercado. Like many places here, it looks like nothing from the street. We made a reservation, then showed up, not really knowing what to expect. As is still typical for us, we were there at 1:00, and we were the only ones in the restaurant for a while.

When we arrived, all of the tables were set up with carafes of red wine and half loaves of bread. The waiter arrived. Upon our request for white wine, he returned with a bottle and left it on the table. He also brought a selection of sausages—morcillo (Spanish blood pudding), mortadella, and spicy Iberian sausage—and toppings for the bread—aioli and a tomato/red pepper paste. We had a choice of seafood paella or not-seafood paella. We chose the seafood.

Then the real food started coming.

And coming.

  • Thin fried rice paper topped with tuna, goat cheese, cucumber, tomato, olives, and pickled onion.
  • Tempura fried vegetable. After several exchanges with the waitress and some help from google translator, we determined it was aubergine (eggplant). With a honey and red wine reduction.
  • Steamed bao bread with fresh grated tomato, tuna, and wilted baby spinach.
  • Shrimp. A lot of work to peel, but SWEET!
  • Pulpo Galicia: octopus on a bed of polenta with oil and spices.
  • THEN paella! With mussels, shrimp, and octopus.

By this time, the restaurant was packed – and LOUD. As I looked around the restaurant, I wondered how on earth these people could return to work after a lunch like this.

But we weren’t finished yet:

  • Dessert: a light sponge cake topped with sweetened condensed milk and a very light and fluffy chocolate mousse.
  • Alicante sweet wine
  • And – finally – coffee

Then the bill: 15€ per person, plus a whopping 5€ for the wine.

We finally finished and left 2 hours later, with the other diners still going strong.

Vale!

 

another weekend – another parade

another weekend – another parade

Sunday afternoon. Music wafting up to our apartment from the street. I look out. Just another parade. Mostly women. Mostly dressed in highly ruffled flamenco-style dresses. Two carts pulled by festively adorned mules. Two more floats pulled by cars. No idea who. Or what. Or why. Just another day.

We see 2-3 parades a month. And 4-5 protests. Most of the time, we have no idea what they’re about. Such is life in Spain!

And Sunday evening, all hell broke loose on the plaza. Car horns, air horns, yelling, singing. Real Madrid won la Liga, and the local supporters were out in force.

Vale!

a day trip to Murcia

a day trip to Murcia

We went in search of a bead store. I’ve gotten itchy fingers, needing to do something crafty.

Easy train ride – 30 euro total roundtrip for the two of us. It took a little over an hour each way, with a number of stops, but it was comfortable. As we traveled inland, we saw a variety of crops – not just the oranges close to home. Lots of lemon groves, including my favorite: a rogue orange tree in the middle of a large group of lemon trees.

Murcia has—in my opinion—several advantages over Alicante:

·       Lots of parks, with actual green space and fenced-in areas for dogs (We met Inca, a striped brindle who was happy to take treats.)

·       Flat topography

·       Lots of “new” buildings: houses, apartments, businesses

But it was already hot in May – and no ocean breeze. We’ll keep Alicante.

The cathedral was closed, but we were able to tour the cathedral museum. The splendor never ceases to amaze me.

We caught a display of “street art” at the MUBAM museum – modern art we could appreciate!

 All in all, a most pleasant day – Vale!

a stolen purse

I knew better.

I was stupid.

I was careless.

We were sitting on a bench on the promenade at the beach, admiring the Med and staring at the beach bodies. A scruffy looking guy stopped and asked Todd a question about the Melia Hotel, then persisted in his questions, which didn’t make any sense. When he finally headed off, he went through the parking lot, not toward the hotel. We got up to leave, and my purse was gone. It was the distract-and-snatch scheme.

I swear I was sitting on my purse strap, with the purse right beside me, but it was gone. None of us even sensed anything.

It being Good Friday, our local police station was closed. I called the English line for the national police. A very nice young man kept asking me if I spoke any Spanish. I finally understood that if I spoke ANY Spanish, I was to use the regular line. Once we got that squared away, he was very thorough in making out the report. He insisted our local policia should be open all the time. I gave up arguing with him. He said we could pick up the report the next day, but the office was of course not open on Saturday. When I went to pick up the report on Monday, I was scolded for using the English line when I was a resident of Alicante. I feigned ignorance and expressed gratitude.

  • Contents: credit card – both of ours cancelled, with new ones sent to us in Alicante – The theft happened on Good Friday; we had new cards on Tuesday.
  • debit card – a pain, as the bank wouldn’t ship outside the U.S. The new one was sent to our U.S. address. Fortunately, we didn’t have to cancel Todd’s card. (A side note here: we chose BBVA because it’s an international bank. It doesn’t matter: The Spanish bank doesn’t “talk” to the English bank – although our money is easily accessible here, nothing is reciprocal.)
  • Some cash – that’s the way it goes
  • My driver’s license – this is going to be the biggest pain, as I don’t know that we can take care of it from Spain. I filled out the living-overseas-lost-or-stolen-license form, so we’ll see. I may have to deal with the DMV when we return home in November.
  • My passport card (NOT the actual passport)
  • My residence card – and we know how much fun it was to get the original. After much confusion over which Modelo 790 to pay, we gave up and went for the cita. They confirmed it was codego 12 (in the amount of 18.54, not the original codego 52 in the amount of 15.45), and sent us down the street to the bank. The bank ended up being quite a ways down the street. We returned to the extranjero office and got another number. No problem – a new card ready to pick up in one month.
  • Apartment keys, including the key to the building. Apparently, the building key is no big deal. The landlord came and had a locksmith change the apartment lock. I wasn’t here, but apparently he scolded me in absentia for being so careless. I’d have to agree.
  • Cell phone – I needed an upgrade, but we hadn’t planned on paying for that yet!

I was busy for a few weeks, but all is resolved now (except the driver’s license – we’re still waiting on a response to that) – Vale!

All

a few days in Madrid

a few days in Madrid

Our first visitor from the States – of course we had to spend a few days in Madrid!

We cheated and took a cab from Atocha to our hotel. When the cab turned from Puerta del Sol onto a sketchy-looking side street, we were a little concerned. But the hotel, Casa de la Lirica, was lovely, and the location was perfect – just a block from the Montera “pedestrian walkway,” midway between Puerta del Sol and Gran Via. A large room, comfortable beds, a bathroom with space for a rollaway bed, and a heavenly shower. Framed posters throughout the hotel gave information about zarzuelas, including pages from the scores; it would have been much meaningful, I’m sure, if I knew anything about the Spanish operatic form.

The crowd was crazy on Montera – that evening was a match between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. Bands of fans roamed the area, wearing their team jerseys proudly, bursting into song as they met fellow fans.

We grabbed a quick bite at Tapa Tapa while we watched the roving pep rally. Obligatory sangria, tempura shrimp (with maybe almonds in the tempura – yum!), and a new favorite croquet: gorgonzola and nueces. A bonus half pitcher of sangria because the waiter knocked the first pitcher over while dropping off the plates. Vale!

We opted to do the 2-day red City Tour bus, and it ended up being a good deal. Over the 2 days, we ended up riding both routes, and we were able to access all of the tourist spots at the top of our list.

Our hotel was in the middle of stops 6, 7, and 17 on Route 1 (the blue route) and stop 14 on Route 2 (the green route).

Our first evening in Madrid, we rode Route 2, which took us past Stadium Santiago Bernabeu. At 6:00 in the evening, crowds were already thronging for the 8:45 match. It was delightful to be able to see it all from the top of the bus, without having to fight our way through it!

Real Madrid

We stopped at a chocolateria a little off the beaten track so Rox could have her priority churros. We split an order, then I had a chocolate crepe while she had another order of churros. We ordered coffee with brandy (just because) and it was served with a lemon slice. No bueno. Once we removed the lemon and were able to add leche, things were much better. We ended up having a lovely chat with the waitress, who was newly arrived from Cuba to be closer to her daughter and family.

On Wednesday, our full day in Madrid, we began with Stop 12 on the blue route at the Almudena Cathedral. A modern cathedral, the artwork was beautiful, but not authentic cathedral to me. Rox, however, basked in all of its colorful glory.

cathedral - from patio

 

The views from the top of the cupola were amazing – every side took our breath away.

Stop 14 on the blue route took us to the Real Basilica de San Francisco el Grande. While I huddled in a doorway out of the rain, Rox circled the basilica looking for an entrance. Turns out, the basilica has office hours, so we moved on.

Back on the bus, the sun came out and we exited at Stop 16 for Plaza Mayor and the Mercado de San Miguel. The plaza was just returning to life after the rain, and we shopped our way around it, then headed to the Mercado, which was so packed we did little more than circle it in open-mouthed, drooling awe.

Mercado San Miguel

Around a few corners, and we were able to find Restaurante Botin. We were even able to get a table, so we ate, even though we weren’t hungry. Sangria – always welcome – prawns (already shelled – bonus!), and the ever-popular croquetas. Not only a hangout of Ernest Hemingway, Botin has been a restaurant since 1725 – officially, the oldest restaurant in the world!

Botin

All too soon, time for Rox to return home. Thanks to a 6:30 a.m. train from Alicante, Todd was able to make it to the airport before Rox had to go through security. Big hugs and she was off to Texas while we returned to the hotel and regrouped.

The staff at Hotel Casa de la Lirica had been quite gracious and helpful about extending our stay.  

Our first stop: the Escher retrospective at Palacio de Gaviria. The palacio itself was worth the visit, but the exhibit was fabulous. It traced Escher’s career and influence, and we saw many works we had never seen before. His works are impressive enough when you think of them as sketches, but when you remember that they were carvings, they become even more amazing.

Some general roaming, and a return visit to La Cabana Argentina for a fabulous steak dinner – the best beef we’ve had since we left Texas.

Vale!