Spanish Tapas

October 30, 2015

“A Spanish tapa bar is one of mankind’s inspired inventions . . .”
— James Michner, Miracle in Seville

Tapas bar in Seville

Tapas bar in Seville

With their late lunches (2:30 – 4:30) and very late dinners (9:30 – 11:30), how do the Spanish not faint from hunger during the day?  The answer is tapas.

“[A] tapa, a word derived from the verb tapar, which mean ‘to cover.'”
— Talia Baiocchi, from Sherry: The Wine World’s Best-Kept Secret

” . . . tapas originated . . . in the nineteenth century, when bars and taverns used to keep saucers over glasses of sherry to both keep the flies our and preserve the wine’s aroma. . . . on top of the saucer, barkeepers would generally offer a small slice of jamon, either alone or on top of a piece of bread, as a welcoming gesture.  This, as it’s told, eventually evolved into a collection of small dishes meant to be consumed in bars, with wine.”
— Talia Baiocchi, from Sherry: The Wine World’s Best-Kept Secret

Carol and I loved sharing two or three tapas and calling it a meal.  We were novices at making selections.  Even when the menus included English descriptions, the arrival of the small plates to our table was invariably a surprise.

Chicken with potatoes

Chicken with potatoes

Once, for example, we ordered chunks of chicken on a skewer for one dish, beef with mushrooms for our second, and a tapa of potatoes brava.  We did not know that each of the meat dishes would come with its own side of potatoes, so our meal was very heavy on the starch!  The potatoes were so delicious, though, braised and crusty on the outside, warm and soft on the inside.  Hard to resist.  Total cost, including two small beers: 10 euros.

After that, we tried to include at least one vegetable dish for a more balanced meal, which was a good strategy!

We ate at this Seville tapa bar twice.  We loved the artichokes tapas.

We ate at this Seville tapas bar twice. We loved the artichokes tapas.

Another time we ordered a tapa of shrimp fried in batter.  We were expecting something like a dish of popcorn shrimp.  Instead, what came to our table were four large shrimp fritters, thin pancakes fried to crispy perfection.  Delicious.

We stopped here for tapas, a quick pick-me-up

We stopped here for tapas, a quick pick-me-up

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Our tapa from Quimet & Quimet

Our tapa from Quimet & Quimet

“Nobody drank without eating — it would have been thought uncivilized . . .”
— Laurie Lee, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning

Of course, you could not eat tapas without drinking, so if you stopped in a tapas bar for a late morning pick-me-up, you might actually find yourself drinking a small beer before noon.  (It’s been known to happen.)

Alejandro, one of the chefs on our Al Andalus train

Alejandro, one of the chefs on our Al Andalus train

We had the chance to see a tapas-making demonstration during our Andalusian train tour.  Alejandro, one of the Al Andalus chefs, made three batches of tapas, which we got to sample:  a cold tomato soup called salmorejo; a melon, tomato and cheese salad; and a pate of black olives on toast rounds.  Yum!

 

 

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What We Carry

October 22, 2015

“He who would travel happily must travel light.”
— Antoine de Saint Exupery

The clothes I am packing for Spain

The clothes I am packing for Spain

It was a fun challenge to pack everything for a 2-1/2 week vacation in just one carry-on bag and one small daypack.  My strategy will be to dress in layers and sacrifice high fashion for comfort.  All three pairs of shoes, for example, are flats and casual rather than dressy.  They will have to do.

My daypack will hold my comfort and pleasure items — my camera with bag and lenses, my traveling watercolors (squeezed from tubes into two 7-day pill organizers), a notebook, various pens and brushes, and my iPad.

“Like with any journey, it’s not what you carry, but what you leave behind.”
— Robyn Davidson, Tracks

I realize that what I pack in my bags is less important that the intangible things I carry: my curiosity, my sense of adventure, my willingness to meet people and try new things, my sense of humor.  I want to be a good companion for my friend Carol.  With this in mind, I think I am ready to have a wonderful trip.

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us of we find it not.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

“A man sees in the world what he carries in his heart.”  — Wolfgang von Goethe

“Some fortunate persons find freedom in their own minds; I, with less spiritual power than they, find it in travel.”
— W. Somerset Maugham, The Summing Up

My old passports and a travel photo of me on the sand dunes of Namibia

My old passports and a travel photo of me on the sand dunes of Namibia

” . . . the deepest kind of travel — a wild, inward journey, which leads not to a place but to a way of seeing.”
— Tom Montgomery Fate, Cabin Fever: A Suburban Father’s Search for the Wild

We were a family of nine children and one car.  So in my childhood, we simply did not travel far.  Even our weekly trips to church were split between two Sunday masses;  I presume we would not have fit in one car!  The very first time I set foot outside the State of Minnesota was my senior year in high school when my family drove just over the border to Superior, Wisconsin for my uncle’s silver jubilee celebrating his 25th anniversary as a priest.

I’m not sure, then, where my wanderlust and love of travel come from.  But travel is one of the joys of my life.  I love having a big trip on my horizon, to plan for, dream about, and ultimately realize.

“If I stay at home I am repeating the same day over and over again.  When I travel every day is different.  Every day brings a gift.”
— from Borges at 80:  Conversations, edited by Willis Barnstone

I could easily become one of those “lister” people who love nothing more than to check a new sight off a bucket list.  Here are some travel lists I would find worthy of executing:

  • to see every National Park
  • to stay in every National Park Lodge
  • to visit every state
  • to drive the entire coast of the lower 48 states
  • to travel around the world!

“There is great peace at the start of a long journey.  The end is so far away that all you see is the journey itself.  You think of nothing else.”
— Miles Morland, Miles Away: A Walk Across France

Here are some things I’ve learned about traveling well:

  • “Questing is more important than finding, and a journey is more important then the mere arrival at a destination.”
    — E. B. White, Letters of E.B. White
  • “Thinking in terms of ‘doing’ rather than ‘seeing’ will enhance that most vital, often elusive dimension to your travels:  depth.”
    — from The Rough Guide First-Time Around the World
  • “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we will find it not.”
    — Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • And here are “Five Practices for Travelers” by Phil Cousineau
  1. Practice the arts of attention and listening.
  2. Practice renewing yourself every day.
  3. Practice meandering toward the center of every place.
  4. Practice the ritual of reading sacred texts.
  5. Practice gratitude and singing praise.

 

 

 

“I think the best vacation is the one that relieves me of my own life for a while and then makes me long for it again.”
— Ann Patchett, from “Do Not Disturb,” Gourmet, August 2006

A month is a long time to be away from home and husband.  I am glad to be back.

Photo by M. Vauterin

Photo by M. Vauterin

But before I move my thoughts back to my life here, I’ll share a few photos of cats from my travels:

Israeli cat, Gypsy

Israeli cat, Gypsy

Haarlem cat in a window

Haarlem cat in a window

Amsterdam cat with cool bow-ties

Amsterdam cat with cool bow-ties

Another Holland cat

Another Holland cat

 

 

 

 

 

 

Final Days

May 29, 2013

Square by the Abbey in Old Nice, France

Square by the Abbey in Old Nice, France

The final days of my vacation were rather anti-climactic after the exhilaration of seeing Iceland for the first time, spending nearly two weeks travelling with my sister, and realizing my dream of hiking the Goldsworthy trail in France.  Still, it was nice not to have to rush back without a couple of unscheduled days to make the transition to my regular life.  I spent one night in Nice, France and another in Amsterdam before catching the long flight home to Seattle.

I love the soft color palette of the Mediterranean.  The buildings in Nice, especially in the Old City, were lovely pastel yellows, apricot, peach, blues and greens.  Very picturesque.

Narrow street in Old Nice

Narrow street in Old Nice

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The Cours Saleya

The Cours Saleya

Line-drying laundry

Line-drying laundry

Cafe on the Cours Saleya

Cafe on the Cours Saleya

Peonies in the Marches aux Fleurs

Peonies in the Marches aux Fleurs

Street entertainment

Street entertainment

The Mediterranean Sea, Nice

The Mediterranean Sea, Nice

Balcony, Old Nice

Balcony, Old Nice

Over Iceland on the flight home

Over Iceland on the flight home

“There is this form I can’t stop making which is really snakelike, but I often think of it as a river.  It’s the idea of fluidity that is the connection, but I’m not really talking about  a river either.  It’s the movement that interests me.”
— Andy Goldsworthy, Wall

Andy Goldsworthy clay wall sculpture in the Vieil Esclangon Art Refuge

Andy Goldsworthy clay wall sculpture in the Vieil Esclangon Art Refuge

On Days 3, 4 and 5 of our hike, we saw five Goldsworthy works installed in Refuges d’Art, small buildings or shelters, where individuals are allowed to camp overnight.  Our hiking trails took us up and down mountains, across rivers and creeks, with some of the most spectacular scenery of my trip.

We returned to the wild valley of Vancon and hiked to the Church in the abandoned hamlet of Forest.  The ruins of the church were restored to house a Goldsworthy wall sculpture, another recessed elliptical space.  In contrast to the one at the Chapelle Saint Madeleine, this one was a light hole in a dark wall.

Goldsworthy installation in the Church of Forest

Goldsworthy installation in the Church of Forest

Old cruxifix over a grave outside the church

Old crucifix over a grave outside the church

Goldsworthy wall sculpture

Goldsworthy wall sculpture

Lunch break and nap in the hamlet of Forest

Lunch break and nap in the hamlet of Forest

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We hiked high in the mountains along an old “tax trail” to the abandoned village of Faissal.  We seemed to climb ever higher, with grand views of the distant Alps and curious mountain goats watching us from the summit of an adjacent mountain.  And then down, down again.

“Hill and valley followed valley and hill.” — Robert Louis Stevenson, from Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes

Hiking is much too absorbing to allow much thinking, I’ve found.  I moved through the day, step by step, always alert to where I was planting my feet.  I didn’t want to slip on a loose rock and fall or hurt myself.  I was very much in the moment, a satisfying feeling.

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Blue doors on ruin, the village of Faissal

Blue doors on ruin, the village of Faissal

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The refuge at Vieil Esclangon

The refuge at Vieil Esclangon

Goldsworthy river-like clay sculpture

Goldsworthy river-like clay sculpture

Goldsworthy sculpture with x-ray effect

Goldsworthy sculpture with x-ray effect

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The Refuge of Eschuichiere featured two rooms with wall art fashioned by Goldsworthy of rock with natural lines of contrasting color.

“Stretching out lines that already exist interests me more than imagining new ones.  I have made lines that explore and follow the contours of a rock, the edge of a river, the growth of a branch, the junction between house and street . . . The intention is not just to make a line, but to draw the change, movement, growth and decay that flow through a place.”
— Andy Goldsworthy, Wall

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At the end of Day 5, our guide Eric drove us in the van to the farm Belon, which was formerly owned by one of the leaders of the French Resistance in WWII.  In the basement we found several of Goldsworthy’s stone arches.  One of our hikers, Michele, mused about the significance of this “underground” space and its resonance with the “underground” resistance movement.

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I found the entire five-day hiking experience very rewarding.  Not only did I get to see some Goldsworthy art that I would never have been able to find on my own, I also enjoyed the company of some French natives on their home turf.  It made me realize how difficult it is for me when travelling to spend ordinary time with local people.  Typically I am staying in hotels, eating in restaurants, and going to tourist sites — with a bunch of other tourists.  With this guided hike, I had the unusual (for me) opportunity to keep company with some interesting French people, share home-cooked meals at farm tables with them, and even sleep in shared rooms in auberges and gites.  I found that they are great conversationalists (even though I could not understand or speak French, they made an effort to speak English from time to time, and I watched their lively conversations with interest), they were enthusiastic eaters and enjoyed leisurely meals together, they were well read, and they liked President Obama!

On the scenic Train des Pignes

On the scenic Train des Pignes

After almost two weeks together, my sister and I parted ways.  She returned to the kibbutz in Israel, and I flew to Nice, France for the next leg of my journey, a five-day guided hiking expedition along the trails in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence that featured several land art installations by the artist Andy Goldsworthy.   I had long wanted to see some of Goldsworthy’s work, especially after seeing the movie Rivers and Tides about his unique vision.  When I ran across some newspaper articles (here and here) about the Refuges d’Art and Goldsworthy sculptures along a trail in France, I added this experience to my wish list of things to do before I die.

So I was very much looking forward to the France part of my vacation, although I did not have many details about the hike itself.  I did not know who else might have signed up and I knew little about the area.  My guide, Jean-Pierre Brovelli of etoile-rando.com, was taking care of all meals, lodging, transportation and logistics.  All I had to do was to show up in Digne on the morning of our first hike.

I took the little scenic train, the Train des Pignes, from Nice to Digne, enjoying the warmer Mediterranean weather, the blooming lilacs and wisteria, the green grassy pastures, orchards of white blossoms, and villages (Entrevaux and Puget-Theniers looked especially interesting) from the train windows.  I arrived in Digne in the late afternoon, and had time for a short walk around the town before turning in early.  I wanted to sleep well before the hiking started the next day.

In the morning, I was met at the hotel by Jean-Pierre and then the rest of our group made introductions.  There were five other hikers, all French, four women and one man, and I was heartened to see that they were all roughly my age.  We would be lead by Jean-Pierre and his fellow guide, Eric.  I felt we were in good hands.

Old shuttered buildings, Digne

Old shuttered buildings, Digne

The Boulevard Gassendi in Digne, lined by trees with their branches lopped off

The Boulevard Gassendi in Digne, lined by trees with their branches lopped off

Trees were in bud

Trees were in bud

I loved the rustic, weathered shutters

I loved the rustic, weathered shutters

Weathered blue doors

Weathered blue doors

Wall mural in the breakfast room at my hotel, the Hotel de Provence, Digne

Wall mural in the breakfast room at my hotel, the Hotel de Provence, Digne