Nochebuena, Dia bueno y Noche terrible

As I said yesterday, I had plans for Christmas Eve and none for Christmas Day. Plan one was to visit the market where I remembered the usual bright stalls of fruit and veg, hams and cheeses and especially here fish. (Tick 1) img_3965

Plan two  was to find a little cafe for breakfast that Dee and I had frequented on previous visits. (Tick 2) I have an orange juice, coffee and bread with ham and tomato in Plaza Mentidero, a pleasant square where many others were starting the day in similar fashion. From there I walk through the Parque Genoves along the side of the bay of Cadiz and make my way to the location of Plan three the Oratorio of the Holy Cave which has three large Goya frescos – some of his very rare religious works. (Cross 1) Today counts as a holiday and so it’s closed. I’ll try to catch it before I leave on Friday. So I next get the car from the car park and head for Medina Sidonia one of the white towns I’d heard about but not visited. I saw too much of the suburbs of Chiclana de la Frontera on the way but did fill up with petrol before catching site of the impressive town, thought to be the oldest town in Europe.

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I wind my way up to it (Tick 3) and find a buzzing square and lots of very steep streets (I’m beginning to share my late friend Toddy’s dislike for ‘up’) but persevere and am rewarded with a fine church but also a view back towards Cadiz in which you just see the elegant suspension bridge that carries the road in the city.

I walk back down to the plaza and take a beer and some tapas as a band of hairy rockers are entertaining people in the Plaza. They are joined by a lively young lady fiddler and are not bad at all, but when they start in on Jingle Bell Rock, I know that’s my cue to move on.img_3997

I retrieve my car and head off towards Jerez de la Frontera, somewhat staggered by the vast numbers of wind turbines everywhere and being sorely tempted on the way by another white town Arcos de la Frontera perched on its sandstone ridge – there’ll be more up so I park that one for next time.

We visited Jerez several years ago and enjoyed a bodega visit so I thought I’d go back and see how it was now. Apart from additional suburban sprawl – does anyone need that many DIY warehouses? – the centre looked familiar and the Parking Mercado Central displayed a green LIBRE sign so I though (Tick – lucky day). However after luring me down the ramp, the ticket machine pronounced COMPLETO and I had to wait for two cars to leave before I could slip in. I headed off towards the alcazar and the patio in front of it which are still there and sherry producers are in every corner (there’s a Gonzalez before the Byas hidden by the tree).

 

As indeed are oranges, literally falling from the trees and as we’re in Cadiz province not far from Seville a chap’s mind starts to think marmalade in a couple of months time. What a chap’s mind had forgotten from previous visits is that nochebuena, Christmas Eve, is the big day when everything closes at six thirty so that friends and families can all gather for the big meal. But before they go home they go mad – well in Jerez anyway. The streets were nigh on impassable with revellers carrying bottles of sherry, wine and brandy as they walked. At every corner bar was an impromptu song and dance fest. In the lower picture the guy in blue is encouraging us all to join in and sing. I did manage to get a beer before heading back to Cadiz.

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I think there had been a similar walkabout in Cadiz too as many families were making their way homewards. The only restaurant near me that was open was offering only a special 65 euro seven course menu which would have been completely wasted given my aged lack of appetite. So it was crisps, nuts and wine and thank you for the lunchtime tapas.

Christmas Day dawned bright and clear and I thought I’d walk along the Atlantic promenade as we had rarely gone this far south on previous visits. I started out just after nine and it was a fine walk with surfers making some progress, far too many dog walkers and my planned breakfast having to wait until 11:30 by which time I’d walked down the entire promenade, into the dunes and back up the beach before the Blue Dolphin came to my rescue. This was after eight kilometres so I was peckish by now.

As I walked along the beach I saw these goal posts and wondered if I should suggest that we paint ours yellow at the Vic as it might give our ‘strikers’ a clearer target to aim at.

6CFA4D38-5997-41E2-AC85-4388F6F4D411I then headed inland and walked up through the main thoroughfare past the football stadium – unimpressive, , a beautiful brick and stone tobacco warehouse and through the park of the five continents – except we know there are seven now don’t we?

When I get back to the main square my feet are beginning to ache a bit despite my present to myself – new socks. They were a freebie from a company called Bam who make clothes from bamboo and send out trial sets to wheedle you in to subscribing, so I thought I’d bring them with me and give them an outing. Most places are open again for Christmas Day and I have soup, bread and olives for lunch in front of the Cathedral with a fine glass of Albariño. I can’t believe I’m sitting in the sun at 23 degrees on Christmas Day. Then I head off to check that the Cafe Royalty is open this evening – it is until 11.00 so I book for eight thirty and come back to change into a shirt, jacket and trousers rather than jeans and tee shirt of the marathon morning’s march.

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The elegant interior of our favourite Cafe Royalty a real blast from the past and the food’s good too.

On my way back it’s all looking very Christmassy and it’s been a very fine day so far.
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Then disaster strikes. As I prepare for bed feeling quite sleepy after my day’s exertions, my new Christmas socks prove very slippy on the marble floor and I career across the room to head butt the wardrobe which has severely pointy brass handles. The room immediately looks like a set from a horror movie and as I ring for help, blood drips everywhere – big tip on leaving for wonderful night staff – who arranged an ambulance and I returned from hospital about three am looking like this – appropriate for Boxing Day! Thanks to my EHI 111 card all this attention is provided professionally and complete free – no falling over next year then. Thanks Johnson.

I had to go back this morning for x-rays, anti-tetanus, a course of antibiotics and a new dressing. I’m a bit tired (but not emotional, I promise!) and am thankfully back in time to watch us not quite beat Sheffield United, well at least we didn’t lose.

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The ghoul of Christmas present

Boxing Day Walk

Well it’s a tradition to go for a walk on Boxing Day but as I had totted up about thirty miles over the last two days, I had planned a visit today to the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation which is less than ten minutes from the hotel. I set off around nine in time to take breakfast on the way and arrive at opening time at 10 when I hoped it would be less busy than later in the day. The streets were totally different today – still plenty of Chinese tourists – but lots of Portuguese people grabbing a bite before going to the office, workers in hard hats everywhere, cranes swinging overhead – like most major cities, Lisbon will be lovely when it’s finished. With a fresh orange juice, a cinnamon croissant and the obligatory pastel de nata inside me I arrived at the foundation and followed signs through a large, very dark and leafy park to the main entrance.

I knew from earlier emails that I’d get in for half price as an senior and happily parted with my 7 euros. As I walked out just over four hours later it felt like good value.

Gulbenkian made most of his money from oil in Iran and the Gulf and as well as being an avid collector of ancient and modern art and artefacts also instituted a series of cultural and educational programmes. There are two main areas: The Founder’s Collection and The Modern Collection at opposite sides of the park. I started in the antiquities building with a sense that I was back in the Getty Mansion in LA, surrounded by a similar array of amazing pieces from ancient Egypt – how does glass survive 24 centuries? – encompassing pottery and jewellery as well. I was struck by the nautical theme of the last few days with this bronze from 500 BCE and also by the clarity and spaciousness of the galleries. I also fell for the Egyptian cat and her kittens.

I suspect that even on busy days you would be able to move around and read the captions without too much of a struggle. It was also a pleasing feature to catch glimpses of the garden through the large windows. The exterior is a bit brutalist for my taste but you forget all that concrete once you are in these intriguing galleries.

There’s a progression though Greek, Roman and a lot of Islamic art given the Gulf connection – lovely tiles and carpets and illustrated manuscripts. I ambled happily through the rooms until arriving at the French collection – all that overgilded, overblown Versailles furniture – not for me! But then the big surprise which proved I did a bit of reading but not enough, but then of course it wouldn’t have been a surprise. Gulbenkian also had an eye, or good advisers, for French, Italian, Dutch and English painters and OK Singer Sargent was American and his lovely Ladies Sleeping in a Punt under Willows is here. I positively wallowed in some excellent Corot landscapes, Guardi’s views of Venice which I have always slightly preferred to Canaletto, a brooding Rembrandt Old Man, a wonderful ahead-of-its-time Durer duck.

I was also taken by the Edo period Bento box with its flowery lacquer. Gainsborough and Lawrence portraits and two magnificent Turners, Monet, Manet and Degas completed the feast. Happy morning!

In the temporary exhibition space was a display of sculpture from Rodin’s time in Paris including one of the Burghers Of Calais. It was nicely arranged with section on standing poses, non-posed naturalistic work, group sculpture and nursing mothers. I then took myself across the park to the Modern building passing on the way a splendid amphitheatre at which concerts take place with a lake in the background. Should I ever be here for a performance I’ll bring a cushion as the concrete seats looked rather hard. Kenwood music by the Lake without the stately home.

The modern collection is mostly of Portuguese sculpture, painting and installations one of which really caught my eye and ear. There are 34 boom boxes forming the word NO while playing the spoken word YES in as many different tones.

Otherwise there were some interesting pieces and it’s odd isn’t it how you get drawn to particular items. I approached one thinking that’s good to find it was by Jim Dine and to another that proved a Rachel Whiteread, Maybe the old adage is true ‘Class will out’.

In suddenly realised it was after two o’clock and I needed to find somewhere to watch Watford v Chelsea so rushed back to the hotel only to look at my calendar and realise that it’s a 19:30 kick off. On my way I did pass a sports bar so I should be OK. My other afternoon disaster was to attempt to rent a car. I had always thought it would be a good idea to get out to Sintra and back via the coast at Cascais and Estoril. There was a conveniently close Europcar who could rent me a VW Polo or equivalent. The clerk then said: “I’d better tell you the price before we do the paperwork.” Doesn’t augur well. 210 euros for a one-day hire. The Raggett pauper reared again – I had a car in Spain for ten days in the summer for less than that. So if the rail strike permits (60-odd % running according to the news) I’ll go by train tomorrow. Then back to the hotel to blog and be amazed by the day’s Premier League earlier results – How many goals? – and prepare to pop off to the sports bar for 19:30.

The sports bar was part of a hotel and had a few scarves and shirts (Benfica, Sporting, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Man United) I didn’t bring mine with me or they’d have had a Watford one to add. What they did have was the game on TV and an IPA which truly sprung (or Springed) off the shelf:and at 6.5% it might well have had even me doing karaoke. As it was the few others in the bar were amused but not disturbed but my oohs and aahs and scream of delight at the equaliser. Their penalty was never in much doubt but the Portuguese commentators were adamant ours was a nailed on penalty on Deleofeu. They showed it in close up and from five angles about five times and were most agitated on our behalf. The bar had wings, nachos, burgers and other suitable sports bar fare so I consumed a modest supper during the second half. I’m not sure whether it was anger at the ref or the food but I had a very disturbed night and was actually quite glad I wasn’t going to be driving first thing in the morning.