Autumn : Mists, mellow fruitfulness and sweaty runners….

I guess we are hunkering down for winter. Not that we are expecting Arctic weather but since coming back from Spain, I’ve lit the Rayburn and we regularly light the wood burning stove of an evening. The house now benefits from a double glazed front door which has improved the temperature on the ground floor no end. Replacing two broken cat flaps might have helped too.

Our lunch time habits have slipped back into our previous routine too, visiting Cafe Gourmand, L’Aromate and L’Abbaye each week. It’s been a delight to drive round locally and see the trees in wonderful Autumn colours. We had an opportunity to see a more extensive display on Sunday, with a visit to Briouze.

Why Briouze? To find out we must return to Seville. Whilst there we purchased the set of hand painted ceramic bowls featured above from Xavier, the owner of the apartment we stayed in. There was a show cabinet outside our apartment door and we fell in love with the brightly coloured ceramics Xavier had for sale. Sadly we couldn’t transport them back in our luggage, so Xavier agreed to post them on to us….

The postal service in Spain does not come out of this episode in shining colours sadly. Apart from not having ‘fragile’ stickers to put on the box, their carriage was very expensive. However, Xavier was due to meet his sister at a family gathering in the south west of France where he originates. His sister Christine lives in Alencon (about ninety minutes drive from us) and works for La Poste. The box was handed over to her for posting off back in Alencon. Christine has as much faith in the French postal service as Xavier has for it’s Spanish equivalent.

Briouze is about 45 minutes drive from us and a friend of Christines was going there to run in a half marathon (or some similar energetic race) which was taking place during Briouze’s autumn fair and he kindly agreed to bring our package with him. We arranged with Christine to meet him in front of the church before his race and collect our well travelled ceramics.

After a slightly hurried and stressful lunch at L’Abbaye we set off for Briouze. The afternoon was glorious and the Normandy countryside revealed it’s golden hues as we drove along. I wish I could say Briouze is a delightful, charming town. Our view may be coloured by the diversions blocking access to the town centre and the huge number of cars trying to park. I managed to find a space in a small field, leaving us our own ‘mini marathon’ to get to the church on time. Negotiating farm equipment, burger stalls and men selling helium filled kiddies balloons, breathlessly we found our contact, still waiting patiently despite us being ten minutes late. He was pleased to hand over the package and he jogged off to warm up for his race.

We walked back to the car at a much more sedate pace, resisting an urge to liberate a medal from one of the passing junior runners in recognition of our own seniors pass the parcel event.

Ah well, it was worth it in the end…..

Seville and Cordoba, how to get lost…

It’s the best way, honestly. As long as you have a map, so you can find your way back. We found it delightful to look down a street, follow it and then be rewarded at the end by a magnificent building or open square, ringed with tapas bars.

There are many things we have yet to see in both cities. Probably more so in Seville, being the larger city. We didn’t have time to see the cathedral or the Alcazar there, though the endless lines of tourists probably dissuaded us from least this time round. We know there are many other places to try tapas. Even our stomachs couldn’t expand to sampling all of them..

Cordoba is smaller and we saw the Mezquita and the Alcazar but there are other hidden gems we feel the need to discover.  In both cases the popular areas are easily walkable, even for an someone with a stick and her companion, carrying the burden of his lunch time beer. We have many highlights from our trip, but for me the paella cooking course stands out. It’s an experience we’d readily repeat…..and more than likely will.

Playing the googly…

For my American (or indeed non sporting) readers the ‘googly’ is a term from cricket, similar to a ‘curve’ ball in baseball. This hard to play delivery was thrown, or bowled, or pitched to us when we returned to Seville from Cordoba on our last day.

The coach journey back to Seville was uneventful, even pleasant. The coach had wifi broadband and I luxuriated in being able to follow our progress on Google maps. We passed some previously unseen graffiti of a senora plus brolly before pulling into to bus station. We found a left luggage locker and stored our suitcase and, as we had quite a bit of time before we needed to be at the airport, we intended to have lunch..what else?

Jessica, who ran the paella cooking course had said we should try La Brunilda, a fairly short walk from the bus station. Sadly they were full and closing their kitchens in thirty minutes, but the helpful waitress suggested we try their sister restaurant Bartolomea, a couple of streets away. Luckily we managed to find a table at the rear and order a few tapas. Wow!! What a revelation. Beautifully cooked and presented food and friendly service in a great atmosphere. We’d been sat next to a Spanish couple when the lady asked Susie if we were American. We corrected her and struck up a lively conversation with them both as their level of English was pretty good. Soon we were chatting like old friends and even being shown family photos. We were totally bowled over when told us that they took their family holidays in Dorset!! It was a charming way to end our stay in Spain.

We caught a taxi to the airport and endured an uncomfortable and crowded wait to board our plane. Though luckily Susie’s stick got us first down the ramp on in our seats. Our flight landed at the entirely unreasonable time of 22:50 and after claiming our luggage, catching the shuttle to the Orly Hilton, checking in and getting to our room (no wait, we got a free upgrade to a suite) it was well after midnight.

The next morning was grey and overcast with a huge temperature drop from Seville. We suffered the expensive and largely inedible breakfast buffet and were pleased to get on the road. Three hours or so later we were home…

Would we go back to Seville and Cordoba? Yes, like a flash…Why?…well, I’ll cover that in the next blog..

Berenjenas with everything..

You may be able to detect from todays featured image, that this morning dawned grey, overcast and rainy. It gets light here at a very sensible time, about 8:15am. The temperature had dropped quite significantly and I actually had to put a light jumper on. Because the weather was so uncertain, we only ventured ten minutes walk away, to the Museum of Fine Arts, a gallery showing works by Julio Romero de Torres and Posado Del Potro, which houses a flamenco exhibit. The Fine Arts museum was frankly overburdened with heavy religious paintings, though we used the elevator, which was made by Schindler, hence ‘Schindlers Lift’…well it made me laugh, which is more than the exhibits did.

Julio Romero de Torres is a different thing altogether. True, there are religious influences in some of his works but in the main they are female studies with flamenco connections. Some of the canvases are stunningly beautiful.

Sadly I wasn’t able to take any photos in the exhibitions but could in the Flamenco museum. This has an interactive part, where you can practice your tap tempo and lots of small LCD screens, some with earpieces to listen to the Flamenco vocals. In the courtyard they were constructing an art piece representing a flamenco dancer. They were expecting quite a crowd judging by the number of water bottles on the table.

It was after 1pm when we left, so we stopped off for a quick beer and a non alcoholic mojito, then we trundled off towards Cordoba. We wandered into the Jewish quarter, searching for a statue of Maimonides, a Jewish philosopher, doctor, teacher and rabbi from the 12th century. Susie wanted her photo taken with him.

We found our way into a market, though it was similar to the one we discovered the other day, in that there was a central seating area, with food outlets on the outside. You chose one, placed your order, sat down and they brought it to your table. I have to confess crisply fried strips of aubergine, drizzled with honey and balsamic vinegar are becoming our fast food of choice. Today was no exception.

By this time a lot of the heavy cloud had lifted and the temperature was climbing rapidly. Time for our siesta, so we wandered back to the apartment. Tonight we are returning to Garum 2.1 (unless their software has had a revision). Tomorrow we leave Cordoba by bus for Seville, will have lunch there and catch a flight to Orly which doesn’t get in till almost 11pm. I doubt I’ll have the energy to write until Friday, when we get back home, so you’ll have to wait for our thoughts on Seville and Cordoba till then…adios..


Where have all the tourists gone?..

Most of them have gone home it seems. True the weather wasn’t as sunny or hot as it had been but it seems the hordes that were here over the weekend have disappeared. It was to our advantage however. We’d intended to return to the Mezquita and found the patio in front relatively deserted, save for the ever present tour groups following fans, umbrellas or whatever comes to hand it seems. The Mezquita is better in the daylight, which plays around the arches and creates beautiful effects. We concentrated on the original mosque, as the later Christian ‘improvements’ still seem to conflict with the simplicity of the original Muslim design.

Walking on the Alcazar, we relished not having to dodge crying kids and frustrated parents, slow moving chains of people with earpieces trying to keep up with their guide and the odd wedding guest.

The Alcazar is mostly about it’s gardens, which are beautiful. Full of water features and formal beds of roses, well tended trees and shrubs and on this occasion two groups of reasonably well behaved schoolchildren. The house interior, though housing Roman artefacts and mosaics isn’t quite as charming.

We ended up in La Juderia again. Not without being verbally accosted by the horse drawn carriage drivers eager for a mug. They’re very persistent and call after you in many languages even when you are fifty metres down the street. Restaurante Almudina looked promising. We were the only guests for quite a while, though the arrival of an Italian tour group livened things up eventually, as they tramped upstairs for a meal, leaving their two female guides sat at a downstairs table, chatting animatedly using hand gestures or so it seemed to me. Our meal was good without being remarkable and we wandered back, under gloomy clouds, threatening rain.

We didn’t venture out until quite late this evening, there had been one heavy shower and it was looking like more when we could no longer dampen our stomachs protestations for more food. The main street down as far as the Mezquita was very sparsely populated, some of the bars and restaurants were closed and we chose Bodegas Mezquita not just because it was open but because it looked friendly. We ordered our new favourite of berenjenas and a couple of desserts. Somewhat akin to a fast food restaurant our aubergine chips arrived very quickly but it was ages before the desserts came. We had to remind them too!! By the time we came out, thunder and lightning was rolling around and we dodged under shop awnings till we got back to the apartment. Who said it didn’t rain here??


Not chips but deep fried aubergines drizzled in honey…

Even without a knapsack on our back we went wandering again today. We have spent some time in and around the more ‘touristy’ parts of Cordoba, enough to put us off returning to be truthful. However, this morning we discovered more to persuade us that maybe, just maybe, we were being hasty…

We headed for the Alcazar, which we knew closed on Mondays but we thought the exterior was worth a look at least. It was and we’ll try to go again tomorrow. Further on we saw the stables of the Caballerizas, which put on evening horse shows. Sadly, neither of us being interested in things equine, we decided to pass on the opportunity.

We now reached an area of Cordoba called San Basilio. It’s streets are more uniform than much of the old city and when May comes around the patios will be open and resplendent with flowers. That’s May the month by the way, I don’t think Theresa has Cordoba on her list of cities to visit just yet…Stopping just by one of the old gates in the city walls we found a watering hole, with orange juice for Susie and an espresso for me. It was nearing lunch time, and we found Juan Pena, a tapas bar highlighted on our map. A very authentic place, with old tools on the wall and old blokes standing at the bar. Sadly their tapas were very average but it got extra brownie points for atmosphere and very clean loos…

The eagle eyed among you will notice their Google (other search engines are available) translated menu included RAF Tomato. Either this is the next generation of Red Arrow display jets or a secret bomber base in Lincolnshire…

Somehow we ended up back in the Jewish quarter and it’s warren of narrow, meandering streets. By this time we were again running out of steam and before you ask, neither of us had tried an RAF Tomato. The way back to the apartment seems longer with each passing day, either we are aging quickly or my map reading skills are deteriorating rapidly. It’s probably both…

We had a table booked for 8:30 at La Fuente a mere five minute OAP stagger from the front door. It has, rightly so, a reputation for it’s Berenjenas, deep fried aubergine chips, drizzled in balsamic vinegar and honey. They were as delicious as they sound. The other courses were excellent too but the aubergines were outstanding.

Let’s see what tomorrow brings and that the Alcazar charms us into returning..

Sunday strolls and tasting tapas..

We had a relaxing sort of day, through the portico opposite our apartment, past the church there. If there’s one thing about Cordoba, you won’t be stuck for somewhere to confess. On we went to Plaza de la Correda, large and open with bars and cafes around the outside. On again, pausing at the Temple Romano and baking in the October sunshine. Next stop was Plaza Tendillas, lined with boutique shops and a large fountain in the middle. Our main goal was Mercado Victoria, which turned out not to be full of stalls selling fruit and veg but a large selection of fast food stands. It was pretty busy so we laid claim to a table and fortified ourselves with two cups of different salmarejo, tortilla and two glasses of sangria. Not our usual Sunday lunch…

We strolled on to La Juderia (the Jewish Quarter), looked at the old synagogue, took in some more patios and stopped for a cold drink. While we were sipping, five men on horseback went past. I’m not sure if they were locals, out for a quick afternoon hack or tourists on 1HP Segways…

Back at the apartment, we got ready for dinner at Garum 2.1 which advertises itself as a ‘bistronomic tapas bar’. There was minor confusion about it’s opening time, however we took their tapas tasting menu and on the whole, were not disappointed.  Some of their inventive and unusual tapas are award winning and whilst we couldn’t face one that had a tripe like consistency the pre dessert of sheeps yougurt, flavoured with vanilla and sprinkled with cinnamon was heavenly. Service was rather slow but we weren’t in too much of a hurry, especially as it’s just five minutes walk from where we are staying…

It was well past 11pm when we finished eating, so apologies for the delayed publishing of what’s gone in our stomachs…