Closing the circle (or G)

poolIt was a splendid warm week with a few visits to the pool purely to stimulate the thought processes of course. I sat diligently in writer’s corner in the shade and have achieved what I hoped for – enough written down that it has its own momentum now and writing a chapter now and then among other commitments will be OK. If any of it is any good that is,

Sunday was a dull cloudy, Essex beat Hampshire by an innings and lots and Watford lost 5-0. The only upside was it was my daughter’s birthday.  So Monday was time to set off after my stay at Cortijo Alto. It is so peaceful except when the farmers start spraying the olive groves at 6 am. Still it got me on the road in short order. My excitement today was twofold. I would virtually complete a circular tour of Spain being in Valencia only 100 km from Tortosa. Secondly thanks to the kind proprietors I was going to meet ‘The Hornet’ an olive tree my daughter and the family gave me for Christmas. I had a certificate and have already sampled some of its excellent first cold press extra virgin Arbequina oil. Now I was going to hug my tree!

IMG_2461I left the house and set off eastwards along the A92 autovia, pausing for breakfast near Granada with a fine view of the Sierra Nevada, still living up to their name. I came off at a junction signed Huercal-Overa, the town nearest to my tree but SatNav was not happy as we did some N roads with a few trucks making progress a little slower. I soon arrived and found the original San Francisco deep in the heart of Almeria. We had agreed I’d find my way to Olivas Querencia by amazing good luck or not at all so Angela kindly came to find me – the red Audi and a tall bald bloke are a bit of a give-away.

Angela and her husband Willem (yes, he’s Dutch) have owned Querencia since 2010. They bought a lovely house, a big farm and 22,000 olive trees.

IMG_2475They’ve made a brilliant fist of sorting the place out and have achieved coveted status as first cold press virgin olive oil with International Olive Council approval which means a lot of tasting by people in Jaen,  the capital of olive oil – one might say the Vatican of olive oil such is the mystery that surrounds it. Oh and it’s pretty tasty too like less fatty butter with added sunshine. And of course you’ll live longer.

We shared stories and I was treated to a fabulous unexpected impromptu lunch before going to visit the trees. Where I’ve been staying the olive trees are probably 100+ years old. At Querencia they are 10. I’m used to multi-trunk gnarled old things, these are beautiful single trunk olives neatly trimmed and already showing good olive production after blooming. But no hugging in case unwanted pruning took place!

It’s going to be a good year. FACT. Isn’t it great when something so serendipitous works out so well. Hey, I even played with their dogs! We will keep in touch and one of Fuzz’s yellow wristbands will be The Hornet’s identifier in the future.

But I had to be in Valencia and olive trees needed pruning and tidying up – sadly yellow leaves are a bad sign and have to be pulled off. So I got back onto the A7 Autovia del Mediterraneo which should take me straight to Valencia in about four hours. I guess it must have been my cheapskate settings at the start that say “Avoid Tolls” but we veered off round Alicante north towards Albacete and Madrid and then picked up the A31 into Valencia from the west.  My circle was rapidly becoming a capital G. It was fascinating as I drove through Spain’s granite and marble supply zone – every other building alongside the road proclaimed quality stone. It was a bit filled with mountain passes too – not as big as the 1379 metres  in Granada but at Lorca you top a rise a see the polythene plains of Murcia – I hope things have picked up after the disastrous rains earlier in the year. And later you come over another pass as the road turns into the A35 and there is the green plain of Valencia with fruit of every kind, then orange trees and then rice.

It takes me two attempts to find the hotel as SatNav lady has no truck with No Entry signs exhorting me repeatedly to turn left where it’s prohibited. I got here, showered and changed and went walk about in the old part of this fabulous city, remembering that when we were last here the Town Hall Square was an ice rink.

I went to the amazing Mercado de Colon, redolent of Victoria in Cordoba and San Miguel in Madrid and checked out a few bars where we’d been before including some great ham at one near the Hospes de Mar hotel we’d stayed at in 2015, took a light dinner in a nearby tapas bar and retired to post this. Last day tomorrow and fully back into the swing with a meeting about the Watford Community Trust Anniversary book on Wednesday.

Early weekend

Three days of writing as planned – it’s harder than I expected and quite tiring. Also characters went off-plan and started introducing new plot lines and new characters which weren’t in my outline at all. Whether any of it works remains to be seen. I had arranged to meet Natalie and Graham, who have a house in Antequera, in Cordoba on Friday. They would take the train and I’d meet them at the station.

20170511_171018Thursday brought an absolute downpour and the forecast for Friday was dodgy so I sent a message asking if they want to postpone but we decided to risk it anyway. So I set off in blinding rain with the wipers the only things going fast along the windy road through Villanueva de Algaidas to reach the A45 autovia to Cordoba. All was well and I made it to the very modern station with a huge plaza in front of it in good time. But it seems there’s no short-stay, pick up and drop off parking. However two cars were waiting in a slip road in front of the station which had bollards to stop you entering from the obvious direction. No one seemed to be about so I failed to see a No Entry sign, went in did a three-point turn and was ready to receive Natalie and Graham when their train arrived just five minutes late.

All aboard we headed off for the recently opened Gourmet Food Mercado de la Victoria which I’d not visited before. There was one further tour past the station before we found the correct route to the market, parked easily and bought a ticket for €1.70 for the maximum stay of two hours. We walked across to the market but it was only just getting under way so we walked down a little further to a café that offered breakfasts. We asked the waitress if we could have a cloth to wipe our pavement table and chairs before sitting down. She came herself and gave us a dry base but warned us it wouldn’t be for long – rain was coming. And it did before she was even able to bring us our first coffee. So we scuttled inside while the rain lashed down on Cordoba. Natalie had thoughtfully provided two umbrellas so we only got mildly damp as we moved from café to the market. It’s a fun destination in a wrought iron pavilion with lots of small outlets for a wide variety of food and drink inside. It’s modelled on the Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid which Dee and I had discovered by happy accident several years ago. It was by now past midday so time for a beer to dry off, explore the market and then move the car. When I got my next ticket it’s expiry time was 18:02 which came as a surprise until I remembered that they don’t charge during siesta from two o’clock till five-thirty. Plenty of time to explore the old town and the famous mezquita

May is the time for the Festival of the Patios in Cordoba and the first corner we turned led us into one. Spectacular arrays of geraniums in pots rising to the sky through a three-storey courtyard with excellent ground level planting too. The lady standing looking proudly on told me that she looks after the whole thing on her own. We didn’t do the right thing and pick up a plan, visit all 60 of them and vote for the one we liked best. This one if you scroll down the list in the Juderia section was Judios, 6.

After admiring the patio Natalie and Graham led me to one of Cordoba’s most famous bodegas Guzman a proper Spanish place that doesn’t have a website for me to send you to. Three vast barrels dispense Montilla-Moriles – we are in Cordoba not Jerez after all – but the fine dry cold wine accompanied by some excellent goat’s cheese in olive oil made for a pleasant moment or three watching established locals and whizz-in-and-out-tourists explore this iconic bar. A very atmospheric, authentic corner of Cordoba.

Mezquita
When I went in 2010

We then moved on past the queues waiting to enter the main attraction which we had all visited before but were impressed by the cleaning that has been going on revealing colourful Arabic designs on the exterior walls of the building which was started in the 700s and as with so many buildings has changed religions and had bits added over the years.

 

8A15BAFC-0974-464C-AFC8-CCC380842190To the south, the banks of the Quadalquivir have been opened up and developed and we took the opportunity of a sunny spell to walk across the Roman bridge, even earlier than the mosque dating from the first century BC and rather spoilt by some later concrete balustrades. Time for a visit to a favourite which Natalie had recommended to Dee and me on our visit in 2010 El Churrasco. We just had a drink on this occasion but it is famed – rightly I remember – for the size and quality of the meat it grills. (photos thanks to Natalie, I’m rubbish with phone photos and didn’t have a camera with me).

The place was occupied by a constant stream of diners, often queuing for some time to get a table. We supped up and walked on through the old quarter in which Graham and I looked round at one point to find no sign of Natalie. She had vanished into a favourite jewellery shop, purchased a bracelet and left the umbrellas behind. We decided to wait for her to catch up with us in a bar situated on a corner she would have to pass so we would spot her. They had a delicious looking tapa of chicken liver with a mushroom sauce, which sounded appetising and just had to be tried. And then another had to be ordered once Natalie rejoined us. Then it was time to head back to Mercado Victoria for lunch – a parillada (mixed grill) of steak, sausages, morcilla and chorizo with chips and those delicious pimientos de padron small green peppers blistered in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. Back to the car for an easy exit from Cordoba and back to La Parilla.

The hamlet where I’m staying has two bars and of course we had to pay them both a visit. I deposited my guests in the first and took the car back to the villa, just in case. We met up here with Paul and Tamsin who look after the house for its owners and live here all the time. They had to leave, so we walked up to the other bar where a little hunger was returning and tapas were available. Excellent morcilla de Burgos, which is black pudding with added rice, topped by a quail’s egg at Graham’s special request – he is extremely fond, some might say excessively fond, of fried eggs in all sizes. I’m going to fry him an ostrich egg one of these days! Also there were some very good homemade ham croquetas – a staple of Spanish tapas which can often disappoint. These were crunchy outside and creamy and tasty within. The bar is run by a charming young couple who have a six month old baby whom we could see and hear on the baby monitor sitting on the bar. Lucia is lovely. He’s from Catalunya, came for a holiday, met, married and stayed.

It was just as well we’d been eating steadily all day because despite inviting them to stay the night I hadn’t really thought about food to offer them. As it happened all we needed was a bottle or two of a stupidly good for its €2.75 price Ribera de Duero and then to bed around 2 am in proper Spanish style. And I didn’t have to listen to or watch our plucky defeat at Everton or Hampshire contrive to lose to Glamorgan after scoring 330+.

On Saturday I did provide homemade tostadas con tomate y ajo and coffee out on the terrace where we are promised another changeable day before it brightens up on Sunday and soars to 30 degrees all week next week. We then set off to return Natalie and Graham to Antequera where I can’t leave without a visit to their local – and oft-visited by us too – La Socorilla.

On several previous visits we had been promised a trip to the rabbit restaurant – Venta El Conejo on the outskirts of Antequera. It’s a bit erratic serving only rabbit and opening when they are available. So we’d never made it together. We walked through the former textile factory district of Antequera of which I was completely ignorant but there’s a river valley with lots of buildings of increasing dereliction which were once a thriving industrial hub with 13 factories making woollen goods and blankets along the course of the Villa river, now dammed and diverted so it’s a trickle until it dries up completely in July. It seems they developed from the mid-1800s  and died out early in the twentieth century. We reached the rabbit restaurant and ordered a plate and a half of rabbit and a platter of chips with a side salad of tomato, onions and garlic. All were huge, all were delicious. Following yesterday’s offal tapas I enjoyed rabbit liver and kidneys but drew the line at its tongue which may have been a mistake given how tasty all the rest was. Oh and of course there was a perfectly fried trio of eggs to round it all off. Then back through the town and a small shower for a final coffee at La Socorilla before driving back to La Parilla. On Sunday true to promise the skies are blue the temperature is rising and the week ahead looks good. Washing’s on the line – dry within an hour – I’ve swept storm debris off the patio and am listening to a distant hoopoe call – I saw one yesterday with a great flash of pink, black and white – the wonderful odour of ripening figs and these trees with their pretty pinky mauve flowers and yellow seed pods. I’ve never seen them in bloom before. I think they are a kind of acacia but will ask Paul when I see him.

Time to get back to the real work now listening to Semele which I only know from  extracts in preparation for the whole thing in two week’s time at Garsington Opera. It’s great Handel, good tunes, lots of drama and as usual the Gods meddling with mortals. Precursors of politicians, I’d say. Looking forward to it very much.