Saturday, April 11, 2015

We arrive.

A couple of hours on a train in Spain and you find yourself longing for train travel everywhere, all the time. So much less stressful than flying, you sit and watch the scenery go by, maybe you see the occasional castle, maybe a Stork or two. And then you’re there and wading into an argument between two taxi drivers that almost comes to blows over whose fare you actually are.
This is the first time in this apartment and there’s lots to talk about. First of all, I told the driver “Carretas” and he said “Que?” and so I showed him the printout and he said “Oh, Carretas” and off we went. Second there is the story of the rental agent who was supposed to meet us. I braved my well-known telephobia and called well in advance from the phone. He said he’d meet us at the front door. Well, as I stepped out of the cab my phone rang again and he told me that he was going to be late and asked if I could see the children’s clothes store to the right of the apartment entrance. “Go in there” he said, “The woman at the cash register has your keys.” I did and she did, only surrendering them when I correctly answered “Como se llama?”
When you rent apartments, it’s a bit of a crapshoot. We’ve never had a bad one per se, but we’ve had a lot of near misses. Our place in Valencia was on a nice quiet square that turned into a stage for drunken opera performers each night at 4AM. The first rental in Sevilla required a 10 meter extension cord to plug in the microwave. And it had a single bolster pillow which meant nighttime pillow coexistence and every night the AC would pull in the most delightful smell of sewer. The first time we stayed at our now favorite place in Sevilla, the owner, who also owns a perfume shop, doused the place so heavily that I went into allergic shock for the entire time I was there. The apartment in Granada had the most amazing set of life-threatening marble stairs and a washing machine tucked into a small cabinet under the roof joists. This place though, has turned out to be special.
Built into the attic of a 17th century building, every room except for the main living area varies in height from about 3 feet to perhaps 7 feet. To walk from one end of the kitchen requires bending in half and getting a tangerine out of the fridge means doing so on your knees. It’s clean, it’s a safe building and in a great location relative to what we like to do, but it’s designed for people who come up to a bit less than 5 feet with a fully straight spine. The bathroom is another story altogether, but as of this writing we’ve not yet challenged ourselves to make it work. Maybe more on that tomorrow.
After doing a quick shopping at Corte Ingles we took off down Arenal to our very favorite restaurant of all, El Mandela. When we arrived Jose, our favorite Spanish waiter, was there to greet us, and happy to have us walk in the door. He told us the story of our kids visiting last summer, even showing us the table where they sat. It’s such a nice thing to have these kinds of simple little relationships, born of repetition and good will. Before leaving home several weeks ago, we’d had the idea to bring them a gift, finally settling on a nice handmade ceramic tile of a chile ristra. When the chef came out to say hello, I handed it to him and explained the chiles and what we were thinking, telling him that they are popular in our state and in his cooking.He was very grateful and came back 2 minutes later with another man and asked to have a photo taken of the three of us and the tile. The photographer made some comment about lighting and the chef replied, “Dos blancos y uno negro”- do the best you can.
 I had my regular beef stewed in peanut sauce and MLW had that most spectacular whole fish that they feature. We promised to come another time before leaving. From there it was up the hill to Mercado San Miguel and that most amazing desert in the universe – Ponche Segoviano – layered sponge cake with some kind of marzipan coating that is completely impossible to duplicate.

Churros last night, Ponche tonight. We’re finally getting the swing of this vacation. 






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